Converse County supports diverse agriculture, energy
Converse County was created on March 9, 1888 by the legislature of the Wyoming Territory, and the county was formed from land ceded by Albany and Laramie counties.
Converse County was named for A.R. Converse, a banker and rancher from Cheyenne. Converse was a partner with Francis E. Warren in a large ranch in the eastern part of Converse County. In 1911, Converse County lost territory when Niobrara County was created, and the boundaries of Converse County were slightly modified in a special election in 1955, when land from Albany County was added.
While the county became official in 1888, the area was settled beginning in 1867 with the establishment of Ft. Fetterman northwest of present-day Douglas. Being on the south side of the North Platte River, the fort was excluded from the provisions of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which resulted in the abandonment of all forts farther to the north. It, thus, became the northernmost fort in eastern Wyoming.
The fort remained active until 1882, when the Army abandoned it. The adjacent town of Fetterman City continued on for several more years until the railroad reached present day Douglas in 1886.
Originally known as Tent Town, Douglas was named in recognition of Stephen A. Douglas’s support for the transcontinental railroad. In the Senate, Douglas was responsible for the extension of the Illinois Central to Chicago, Ill., thus making Chicago the rail hub in North America.
In 1887, Emerson Hosea Kimball (1842-1932), founder of the Douglas Graphic, wrote of the city: “We had great confidence in the future of Douglas, and showed our faith by our works, and we are sorry to say the present state of affairs here does not justify our expectations. Douglas made a wonderful growth for three or four months, but the expected spring boom has not become visible to the naked eye.”
Despite the doubts of Kimball, Douglas would soon become the permanent home for the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo. A Territorial Fair had already been held in Cheyenne in the 1880s and an Industrial Exhibition held in Sheridan in 1903 and Casper in 1904.
Today, Converse County faces many challenges as its citizens are watching activity from the oil and gas industry overtake their land. For some landowners it creates welcome income, while others are doubtful, wondering what their land might look like on the other side of this most recent energy boom.
“One of the advantages of living this far out is we don’t have to put up with much of that. If we have the disadvantages of living out here, and not the advantages, it will lose its appeal to our kids and grandkids, and that’s our concern for the future of ranching in Converse County,” says Frank Moore of the Spearhead Ranch in the county’s northern reaches.
Agriculture in Converse County consists mostly of ranching, with a little irrigated cropland. Cattle are the popular livestock for area operations, but sheep still maintain a foothold. Most producers run Rambouillet and Targhee sheep, and run them in conjunction with cattle to gain more efficiency from their rangelands. The county is also home to the successful Mountain States Lamb Cooperative headquarters in Douglas, and key players in its inception call the county home.
When asked their view on the future of the county, many who live there say only time will tell.
“For our dad, the powerlines and interstates were a change in his lifetime, but we see them and don’t think anything of it because we grew up with it,” says Marty Tillard of the Tillard Ranch. “With energy development, we’ll see the change, and our boys will, but the next generation will grow up with it and not realize it was ever different. Life goes on, for sure.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.