Traveling across Wyoming, you can come upon tidbits of history everywhere. Recently I was taking the road from Lander to Evanston, over South Pass, along the National Historic Pony Express Trail. It’s always fun to gaze out across the wide rolling landscape on top, from east to west, recalling the thousands of emigrants who traveled through this area on their way to Oregon or California. The two-track trail can still be seen here, carved into the soil by the wheels of wagons and handcarts, marking forever the determination and power of the dream of a better life out West. There are several marked historic sites, including one at Simpson’s Hollow, its monument marker stating: “Here on Oct. 6, 1857, U.S. Army supply wagons led by a Capt. Simpson were burned by Major Lot Smith and 43 Utah Militia men. They were under orders from Brigham Young, Utah Territorial Governor, to delay the army’s advance on Utah. This delay of the army helped affect a peaceful settlement of differences. The day earlier a similar burning of 52 Army supply wagons took place near here at Smith’s Bluff.”
While traveling this highway, you will notice, every once in awhile, white stone markers out in the sagebrush. These mark the sites of one or more of the historic trails that cross this area. I stopped and walked out to one of the 3-foot high obelisk. On each of the markers’ four-sides there was carved the name of one trail, this being an area where they all were the same route ... the Oregon, Mormon, Pony Express and California Trails. I looked across the vista of sagebrush and grass and wondered ... what would an emigrant wife have thought, the Wyoming wind grabbing her bonnet and blowing her apron and skirts with its normal firm ferocity, as she gazed west towards tall snow-capped mountains, knowing she still had hundreds of miles to go. Gosh, what strong spirits these women must have had ... heroic in my mind.
I continued along the highway to Farson, (famous for their ice cream cones) then down to Interstate 80 into Evanston, Wyo. Taking exit 5, I headed downtown to 1020 Front Street, home to the Uinta County Museum. I had heard the museum houses exhibits which tell the stories of the people, places and events that shaped Uinta County’s history. Nestled beside the train tracks, the museum is open 9-5 daily, Monday thru Friday, 11-3 p.m., on Saturdays, June thru September and with FREE admission, I eagerly stopped to visit.
As I wandered the artifact filled rooms I was amazed at the variety of memorabilia, spanning different eras of the county. I learned about the homesteaders and ranching families, many whose family members still work the same spreads. A large desk-like telephone relay switch-board told about the duty and job of the Evanston “telephone ladies.” Their Chief Operator was Emma Dunning and her girls were not only responsible for local calls, but also for fielding emergency Fire & Police calls. Although they took their job seriously, it’s suspected the ladies were also sure to know the “latest” happenings and perhaps, secrets in the area.
One fascinating story here in Uinta County happened in 1872, when bones of a gigantic saber-tooth mammal were discovered in the Washakie Basin, south of Fort Bridger. It was the Uintatherium Robustum, named after the place of their discovery in the Uinta Mountains. Weighing 2.5 to 3 tons, with foot long saber teeth and three pairs of horny-knobs on their skulls, the Uintatherium looked much like a giant modern day rhino. It was absolutely the gigantic saber-tooth of all times. ... but not a tiger! Living about 40-50 million years ago, long before any cats had evolved, the fact is, it was NOT a flesh-eater. The Uintathere’s huge molars were shaped for cutting the fruit leaves and swamp grasses which formed its main diet. On display are not only many bones but a huge saber-toothed skull, its mouth open as if roaring a challenge to another Bull Uintatherium.
Another fun exhibit was the re-creation of one of Evanston’s early businesses, the Blyth and Fargo Company. A general merchandise store, established in 1872, it was still in operation a century later in its original location on Main Street. As I walked into the circa 1880s store, each wall, corner and much of the floor space was filled with everything from groceries to hardware, clothing to sewing machines, most anything the 19th century shopper would want or need. A sliding ladder, attached to a long brass rail, ran across the back wall, making it possible for the owner to climb up and reach the dozens of drawers which filled the ceiling-high wall behind the counter. From lace makers to parasols, socks and gentleman’s hats, the room truly created a wonderful, step-back in time for the visitor.
The museum has many interesting permanent exhibits. There are stories of the historic Mines, Trails and the Union Pacific Railroad. Another exhibit, “Lincoln Highway: where the Rubber first met the Road,” tells the story of the impact of our nation’s first coast-to-coast highway. On display is an asphalt-rock chunk from the original Lincoln highway, recently found between Fort Bridger and Evanston.
But one small exhibit case caught my eye because it holds an on-going Mystery ... seems the museum was given a wallet in 2005 that came out of a safe of the Neponset Store (early 1900s). The wallet lay in a box in the museum for six years before they decided to piece together the intriguing mystery of the owner, A. Jenks Robinson. Dates on various papers found in the wallet date to around 1897 and are on display, along with the wallet. Everyone now is trying to figure out who he was and why he abandoned his wallet. The search is on and everyone is welcome to help ... stop on by the Uinta County Museum, the ladies there would love to discuss it with you. ❖