Reading the West 11-9-09 |

Reading the West 11-9-09

Before in this column I’ve written about the Images of America series that Arcadia Books publishes, and now there are a couple of new titles in the series. Both are Wyoming titles: “Platte County” and “Powell.”

Jeremy Johnston is a native of Powell, Wyo., who attended the University of Wyoming and then returned to Powell, where he now teaches at Northwest College. His prior publications include articles in “Annals of Wyoming,” “Points West” and “Yellowstone Science.” He has also appeared on two PBS documentaries, “Roy Barnes: Rocky Mountain Cowboy” and “Wyoming Voices.”

Powell would not be the farm town it is if the 1894 Carey Act and the subsequent 1902 Newlands Act had not passed bringing reclamation projects to the West, turning arid lands to productive crops and Jeremy Johnston rightly begins his book with an introduction that sets up that early history of water development.

The Garland Canal went into operation in 1908, and was the catalyst to agricultural production around Powell. This book includes early photographs of the Corbett Dam and Tunnel that diverted water from the Shoshone River to the Garland District irrigation project.

Johnston also includes chapters – and photographs – related to Early History of the Bighorn Basin, Homesteaders, Main Street, Earning a Living, the local school district and Northwest College, plus general life in Powell. And he takes considerable space in the book to recount one of Powell’s biggest stories: “The Saga of Earl Durand.” This small-town criminal, who had been involved in various altercations with the law including poaching of wildlife, walked into the First National Bank of Powell on March 24, 1939, pulled off a robbery and killed a bank teller, before escaping. He hid out for several days while being pursued by a posse of lawmen, killed two of his pursuers, and was finally killed himself by a teenage boy from Powell.

It is one of those stories that makes a good tale – or a movie – and has been both over the years. Johnston includes numerous photographs and illustrations related to the Durand Saga, including a copy of a letter the man wrote to the sheriff who pursued him, pictures of the posse, even gruesomely, a photo of Durand after he had been killed.

There is enough in this book to give you a basic understanding of Powell and its history. The photographs that have been included are for the most part interesting, informative, and intriguing.

Starley Talbott began her writing career in newspapers in Wyoming, and has written several other books, including guidebooks to wineries in Four Corners country and in the Dakotas. In the Images of America Series she has turned to Platte County, Wyo., where she now lives.

Her book also begins with a discussion of water development, as that commodity is essential to the livelihood of people throughout Platte County, with water diverted from the Little Laramie River to irrigate farm fields. One interesting map of the Wheatland Colony shows the lands that were to be irrigated under a development program set up by the Wyoming Development Company, which owned the water rights – though not the land. Although the document called for development of both the Sybille Tract and the Bordeaux Tract under provisions of the 1894 Carey Act, Sybille was never developed under that program, and only a portion of the Bordeaux Tract went into production.

Talbott also includes information about the towns in the county including Wheatland, Glendo, Hartville, Guernsey and Chugwater. There are photos of mining operations at the Sunrise Mine, plus the Wyoming National Guard Camp, as well as images of cowboys working on ranches in the southern end of the county.

Both of these books are capsules of history for their respective areas that are photo-rich, with interesting, informative captions.

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