There is evidence of more than 12,000 years of prehistoric occupation in Wyoming. Among these groups were Clovis, 12,000 years ago, Folsom, 10,000 years ago, and Eden Valley, 8,000 years ago. The latter were the big game hunters of the Early period. Following these, and remaining until about 500 A.D., were many groups with a mixed hunting and gathering economy. These were followed by the predecessors of the historic Indians.
On the crest of Medicine Mountain, 40 miles east of Lovell, Wyoming, is located the Medicine Wheel which has 28 spokes and a circumference of 245 feet. This was an ancient shrine built of stone by the hands of some forgotten tribe. A Crow chief has been reputed as saying, "It was built before the light came by people who had no iron." This prehistoric relic still remains one of Wyoming's unsolved puzzles.
Southwest of Lusk, covering an area of 400 square miles, are the remains of prehistoric stone quarries known as the "Spanish Diggings." Here is mute evidence of strenuous labor performed by many prehistoric groups at different times. Quartzite, jasper and agate were mined. Artifacts of this Wyoming material have been found as far away as the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.
The historic Indians in Wyoming were nomadic tribes known as the Plains Indians. They were the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute tribes. Of all of these tribes, the Cheyenne and Sioux were the last of the Indians to be controlled and placed on reservations.
Among the Plains Indians, art is found in the actual form of the object as well as in its decorative value. The Indian artist is concerned with the technology or function of an object more than with the purely artistic merits of what he produces.
Plainsmen were the hunters, warriors and religious leaders of their tribes, therefore, their crafts were related to these occupations. Both men and women were artists and craftsmen traditionally, each producing articles for everyday use as well as for ceremonial purposes. Usually, quilling and beading were done by women and carving was done by the men.
It is as difficult to separate art from the Indian's daily life as it is to separate his religion from his daily life. All are tightly interwoven. There is one Indian reservation in Wyoming, the Wind River Reservation, with headquarters at Fort Washakie. The reservation is the home of some 2,357 Shoshone and 3,501 Arapaho Indians. The total acreage of the reservation is 1,888,334, exclusive of lands owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and other patented lands within the exterior boundaries.
One of the earliest explorers of Wyoming was John Colter in 1807. While exploring the Rocky Mountains, he discovered a region of steaming geysers and towering water falls so unusual that his written reports nicknamed the area "Colter's Hell." The same area, in 1872, was set aside forever as a place to be enjoyed by everyone. It became known as Yellowstone, the world's first National Park.
Wyoming owes its early settlement in part to the gentlemen of Europe. Their fondness of beaver top hats sent early-day trappers to the Rocky Mountains in search of the prized pelts. Famous mountain men such as Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Davey Jackson and Jedediah Smith were among the trappers, explorers and traders to first roam the Wyoming territory.
Gold in California and the lure of rich land in Oregon brought increasing numbers of pioneer wagon trains rolling over the Oregon Trails through Wyoming. Pony soldiers came to protect the wagon trains from hostile Indians, and the soldiers established forts along the trails.
The most important of the western military posts was Ft. Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. Ft. Laramie became a haven for gold seekers and weary emigrants. It was also an important station for the Pony Express and the Overland stagecoaches, and it served as a vital military post in the wars with the Plains Indians. Ft. Laramie witnessed the growth of the open range cattle industry, the coming of homesteaders and the building of towns which marked the final closing of the wild, western frontier in 1890.
Wyoming was the scene of the end of the great Indian battles. Ft. Phil Kearny in northern Wyoming had the bloodiest history of any fort in the West. Thousands of well organized Indians from the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux tribes fought battle after battle with the U.S. Cavalry. A famous battle took place in 1866 when 81 soldiers set out from Ft. Kearny and were drawn into a classic military ambush by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. None of the "blue coats" survived.
Great herds of buffalo once grazed on the rolling hills of Wyoming, giving rise to one of the state's best known citizens, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Today in the town he founded, Cody, near Yellowstone National Park, is an enormous museum dedicated to Buffalo Bill and the West he loved and helped settle. Near the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show to Great Britain and the European continent to give audiences a brief glimpse of the cowboys, Indians and other characters who lived in America's west during Wyoming's early days.
Wyoming is also known as the "Equality State" because of the rights women have traditionally enjoyed here. Wyoming women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office.
In 1869, Wyoming's territorial legislature became the first government in the world to grant "female suffrage" by enacting a bill granting Wyoming women the right to vote. The act was signed into law on December 10 of that year by Governor A.J. Campbell.
Less than three months after the signing of that act, on February 17, 1870, the "Mother of Women Suffrage in Wyoming"-Ester Hobart Morris of South Pass City-became the first woman ever to be appointed a justice of the peace. Laramie was also the site for the first equal suffrage vote cast in the nation by a woman-Mrs. Louisa Swain on September 6, 1870.
In 1894, Estelle Reel (Mrs. Cort F. Meyer) became one of the first women in the United States elected to a state office, that of Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In 1924, Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first elected woman governor to take office in the United States. She took office on January 5, 1925, 20 days before "Ma" Ferguson of Texas (elected on the same day) took office. Mrs. Ross went on to become the first woman to be appointed Director of the United States Mint-a position she held for 20 years, from 1933 to 1953. In 1991, women held three of the state's five top elective positions and a total of 23 women hold seats in the Wyoming Legislature, three in the Senate and 20 in the House.
Talk of statehood for Wyoming began as early as 1869 after the organization of Wyoming Territory in that year. The road to statehood, however, did not begin until 1888 when the Territorial Assembly sent Congress a petition for admission into the Union. Bills were introduced in both houses of Congress, but did not pass.
Though no legislation passed Congress enabling Wyoming to follow the steps that lead to statehood, Governor Francis E. Warren and others decided to continue as if an "enabling act" had passed. On July 8, 1889, Wyoming Territory held an election of delegates to Wyoming's one and only Constitutional Convention. Forty-nine men gathered in Cheyenne during September, 1889, and wrote the constitution. The voters approved the document November 5, 1889, by a vote of 6,272 to 1,923. Bills for Wyoming statehood were introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House in December, 1889. The House passed the bill March 27, 1890. President Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming's statehood bill, making Wyoming the 44th state.
[Return to top]