Rooted in ranching: agricultural economy shaped the development, continuation of Crook County
Nestled alongside the Black Hills of South Dakota and north of the Thunder Basin National Grasslands of Wyoming, Crook County boasts a rich history in Wyoming, with agriculture playing a pivotal role in its development and continued thriving economy.
After years of tension with native Indian tribes, some of the first settlers arrived in Crook County in 1876 to stake mining claims and begin small ranches.
Beulah, then known as Sand Creek, is considered the first settlement in Crook County, drawing gold prospectors in the 1870s.
“The 1876 rush that began in Lead and Deadwood, Dakota Territory, extended west to Sand Creek, and while discoveries of the precious metal dwindled, the lush grass and plentiful water were enough to attract cattlemen to replace the gold-seekers who left,” says Nicole Lebsack in an article titled, “Crook County” at wyohistory.org.
In 1875, Wyoming’s territorial legislature created Crook and Johnson counties out of the northeastern portion of the territory, but it was almost a decade before a county government was organized and the town of Sundance became the county seat.
“By 1880, many large cattle operations were working the area and claimed all the land with direct access to Sand and Redwater creeks near Beulah,” Lebsack continues.
“Crook County’s industrial past dates to the discovery in the 1870s of coal deposits about 20 miles northeast of Sundance, near what would become Aladdin,” Lebsack says.
The Black Hills Coal Company was founded in 1895 and began mining in Crook County. To transport coal more efficiently, the company built the Wyoming and Missouri River Railroad from the Aladdin area to the main Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line in Belle Fourche, S.D.
Bentonite mining also became important to the county’s economy after the turn of the century as the demand for the mineral grew dramatically.
Since the late 1870s, cattle had been coming to northeastern Wyoming from Texas along the Texas Trail
“Once they reached the Wyoming end of the trail, some Texas cowboys from the trail herds stayed, settled in Crook County and went to work on large ranches; a few built thriving ranching operations of their own,” Lebsack notes.
In the 1890s, Moorcroft became the largest cattle shipping point in the U.S., and it remained an important shipping point until soon after the end of World War II.
Sheep production moved into the area, and soon, sheep outnumbered cattle in Wyoming by the turn of the century.
Looking at the present-day economy of Crook County, ranching and farming continues to play a significant role, with thriving ranches, farms and other agricultural businesses located in the county.
The oil, gas and mining industries also contribute steadily to the economy, with many companies operating in Crook County.
“Uranium was discovered in 1949, and the Homestake Mining Company opened north of Hulett to take advantage of this growing industry. The mine is still in operation,” Leback says.
Logging continues to be a large industry in Crook County, as well.
“Neiman Enterprises, Inc., founded in 1936 and using timber from U.S. Forest Service timber sales on the Black Hills National Forest, still operates a sawmill in Hulett,” she concludes. “In 2005, the county provided 58 percent of Wyoming’s timber, with more than 38 million board feet produced.”
This article is compiled using information from wyohistory.org.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crook County ranches featured in this edition:
1. Wilson Ranch
2. Nuckolls Ranch
3. Muleshoe Ranch
4. Judy McCullough
5. Crook County Veterinary Service
6. Jensen Ranch
7. Graham Ranch
8. Devils Tower FFA
9. Wishbone Ranch
10. Moline Ranch
11. Diamond 7 Bar Ranch
12. Williams Ranch
13. Rafter H Cattle
14. Neiman Enterprises, Inc.
15. Campstool Ranch
16. Devils Tower Goats
17. Crook County Natural Resource District
18. Warbonnet Ranch
19. Neiman Cattle Company, LLC
20. Ista Ranch
21. Sundance Equipment
22. Zimmerschied Ranch
23. Northfork Buffalo Ranch
24. Wolf Ranch
25. Pearson Ranch
26. Kuhbacher Ranch