Rich Histories: Colorful history covers Lincoln County
Lincoln County sits in the southwest corner of Wyoming and is rich with history. The county celebrated it’s centennial in 2011, marking 100 years of farming, ranching and mining.
Lincoln County covers just over 4,000 square miles, with only 18,106 people occupying the area. Three main regions, the Kemmerer-LaBarge area, Cokeville and Star Valley, comprise the county.
Kemmerer’s history stems back into not only agriculture, but in small business and mining. With fur trapping, ranching, railroads and coal mining all playing a role, the town has seen rich successes.
In 1911, Kemmerer was selected as county seat, after Uinta County divided, creating Lincoln County.
“Kemmerer has been a coal mining community for over 100 years,” writes Judy Julian in Images of America: Kemmerer. “Mining has played a major role in the past and present success of Kemmerer.”
Early ranchers, settling in the area in the 1890s, were able to obtain more than 160 acres, according to Julian, and most raised cattle.
“The earliest written account of sheep in the Kemmerer area came in 1852, when Kit Carson drove more than 13,000 head of sheep from Fort Laramie to California,” writes Julian. “The sheep industries in Wyoming began to take shape between 1875 and 1885.”
Hams Fork Cattle Company, started in 1897 by Patrick Quealy, was not marked as particularly significant at the time.
“Quealy was convinced that he had found the ideal way to incorporate the cattle, coal, mercantile and land companies, all of which would complement each other,” adds Julian.
Anna Richey, possibly the most famous area cattle rancher, was known as the Petticoat Rustler. Richey was the only woman in Wyoming to be convicted of cattle rustling.
“After they caught her, they sentenced Anna to death, but they gave her nine months to get her affairs in order,” says Kemmerer sheep and cattle rancher Truman Julian. “She was irrigating and someone slipped a piece of Strychnine into her coffee.”
The poisoning resulted in Richey’s death, an event that remains unsolved to today.
Kemmerer was also home to a wide variety of stills for moonshine.
“Kemmerer was the Moonshine capitol,” adds Truman. “Kemmerer moonshine made it all the way to Chicago and New York. This was tough country.”
Of the moonshiners, Joe Coletti was a kingpin, and Julian mentions that he was a distributer.
“At one point, they found 3,000 barrels of moonshine in the back of a building, and they broke all their casks,” Truman recalls of a story his mother told. “People say whiskey was running in the gutters, and there were people with cups and pans scooping it up.”
He adds that in every grove of aspens where there was a spring, it was almost certain that you could find a little moonshine.
Cokeville, which sits west of Kemmerer, began when “Syl” Collett and Robert Gee brought their families to the place in 1874.
“On the 1880 census, there were 18 households in Cokeville,” says Cokeville historian Eva Clark.
By 1910, the town had grown to include five saloons, a Mormon meeting house, a bank, hotel and a restaurant, according to the Cokeville Historical Society.
“The ranches in Cokeville, like many others in Wyoming, started as cattle ranches and were gradually stocked with sheep,” writes Clark. “By the time of the second World War, they were mostly returning to the raising of cattle again.”
Agriculture’s roots began in the area before 1900, as people began to enter the area in search of places to farm and ranch.
“Julius Jacobsen, a young blacksmith of Norwegian birth, fitted up a shop in a building and specialized in the making of sheep wagons,” Clark says. “He started with a dollar and a half in his pocket, but by honest workmanship soon built a flourishing business.”
Sheep ranching began with Fred Roberts, who was devoted to raising high-grade sheep, and Beckwith, Quinn and Company also started a horse ranch south of Cokeville.
Star Valley has deep roots in agriculture. In the book Star Valley and Its Communities, Bessie Beachler notes that many cattle were driven into Star Valley from Bear Lake, where the land was used as summer range, prior to 1886. When the Homestead Act was passed, the use of the area as summer range was halted.
In the same book, Eldon Erickson says, “Star Valley has 110,000 acres of rich, fertile soil. Sixty percent of the acreage is used as hay meadows.”
He also said, “No section of the United States can boast more acre-feet of water per acre than Star Valley. It has nine principal mountain streams from which it secures its irrigation water.”
The dairy industry in Star Valley is of historical importance to the area as well.
“In the early days, it was hard to get any kind of supplies into or out of the valley, as they would have to be hauled in with teams and wagons or sleighs,” writes Bessie Merrit in Star Valley and Its Communities. “This made dairy products, light in weight for their value, a logical development in the valley.”
The first creamery in Star Valley was at Osmon between 1889 and 1895. The county began making cheese in 1925. The Star Valley Swiss Cheese Company made its first cheese on Aug. 26, 1926, shipping the cheese to Portland, Ore.
“The dairy industry has been very instrumental in developing the Star Valley,” writes Merritt. “A more prosperous and beautiful valley cannot be found.”
Lincoln County today
Today, Lincoln County maintains it’s agricultural roots, with a number of sheep and cattle ranches, as well as several dairies, operating throughout.
“Lincoln County is also one of the most diverse counties in the state of Wyoming,” proclaims the county website, “with high mountain desert in the southern part of the county and the majestic Rocky Mountains, dotted with forests, mountain lakes and streams in the northern part of the county.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.