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Introducing Carbon County 

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Wyoming Livestock Roundup is excited to highlight Carbon County ranches, farms and agribusinesses in the 2022 Fall Cattlemen’s edition. 

Named for its coal-mining origins, in 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad opened the first coal mine in the county. The county contains rich natural resources, mountain ranges, scenic views, rivers and streams. 

Today, the county holds 10 incorporated towns within its boundaries – more than any other county in Wyoming. They include: Rawlins, the county seat; Baggs; Dixon; Elk Mountain; Encampment; Hanna; Medicine Bow; Riverside; Sinclair; and Saratoga. 

Early development 

By the 1860s, emigrants were heading west through the area, often traveling by stagecoach or wagon on the Overland Trail across southern Wyoming. Indian hostility gave rise to a number of attacks on the stage, and in 1862, Fort Halleck was built at the foot of Elk Mountain to serve as a base for soldiers and protecting settlers.

Towns sprang up as the tracks moved west. Among them was Carbon, Wyoming’s first coal town, named for the rich reserves. From the 1860s through the 1880s, seven nearby coal mines fed the locomotives traveling through the country.  

On Dec. 16, 1868, Carbon County became one of the original five counties of Wyoming Territory by the Eighth Dakota Territorial Legislature Assembly. Carbon County stretched north across the entire territory, from Colorado to the Montana line. In years following, Sheridan, Johnson and Natrona counties were carved out of Carbon County’s original formation. 

In the 1880s, sheep and cattle ranches sprang up throughout the county. Many sheep ranchers ran herds on the ranges of the Red Desert and Great Divide Basin. Rawlins became well known for sheep production. At one time, Carbon County was home to two million sheep. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Jan. 2, 2021 inventory of all cattle and calves in Wyoming totaled 1.3 million head. According to the Jan. 1, 2018 USDA census, Carbon County has the second largest inventory of cattle in Wyoming with 92,000 head, producing $64.6 billion in sales. 

The USDA Jan. 1, 2022 sheep and lamb inventory totaled 333,000 head in the state. Carbon County ranks 13th in the state, producing $1.23 billion in sales according to Jan. 1, 2018 USDA census data. 

Today, Carbon County continues to inspire locals and visitors with its landscapes, tourist attractions and natural beauty. The county is cherished by local ag producers, community members, hunters, fishermen and others who enjoy recreational activities including camping, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. 

Agriculture lands, livestock and the economy 

Carbon County is always evolving, notes Carbon County Commissioner John Espy.

“We’re still an energy-based county, along with agriculture and tourism, but tourism is becoming a bigger part of our economy,” he says. “As coal died down in eastern Carbon County, renewables including wind energy have taken up that end of the economy.” 

There has been a big shift in ag production from historically sheep with some cow/calf operations to more of a cow/calf, summer yearling operation, he explains. 

“Sheep numbers have gone down more due to labor issues than anything else,” Espy says. 

Carbon County is a hot spot for winter tourism. Visitors come from near and far to go snowmobiling. 

“The county is getting a lot more people coming from the Midwest to enjoy the powder in the Snowy Range and Sierra Mountains – along with that, there is a Saratoga resort renting snowmobiles and has guides to take people out,” he says. “Brush Creek Ranch has really changed the equation too – we’re seeing a lot of people coming to our county to see what this part of Wyoming has to offer in terms of tourism.” 

As a county commissioner, Espy helps oversee county activities and works to ensure citizen concerns are met, federal and state requirements are fulfilled and county operations run smoothly. 

“Carbon County has changed over the decades – we’ve evolved – we were a railroad town with sheep and cattle operations, to now, more of a refinery, gas field and wind energy county,” he concludes. “Change isn’t always bad.” 

Information in the article was compiled from an article by Lori Van Pelt on For more information on Carbon County, visit

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Round up. Send comments on this article to

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