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Visitors to the Upper North Platte River Valley often ask how a bluff a few miles north of Saratoga got its name, “Sheep Rock.” Of course, there are several explanations, including legend, tall tales and something in between.

Probably the best account is that when sheep men started running woollies in the area in the late 1800s, the already-established cattlemen resented the intrusion, so a few cowboys ran a herd of sheep off the cliff into the North Platte River, along with the sheep wagon, herder, horse and a couple of dogs, thus “Sheep Rock.”

The following tall tale comes from a column in the “Platte Valley Lyre,” the first newspaper established in Saratoga in 1888. The piece was called:

The Sheep Walk

“The Sheep Walk” is a bluff, which, at a distance of two miles below Saratoga, rises bold and sheer, to a height of 250 feet above the broad and swift waters of the Platte. The top of the bluff is tableland in form, and here, in early days, was a favorite haunt of the mountain sheep. Along the dizzy edge of the bluff’s perpendicular face could be seen at almost any time from a half dozen to a score of surefooted mountain rams enjoying a pleasant promenade – a circumstance from which came the christening of the bluff as “The Sheep Walk.”

A few miles below “The Sheep Walk,” the Platte River is crossed by the old Overland Emigrant Trail, and as the bluff began to be noted as a mountain sheep haunt, it became a practice of the emigrants to seek thereon a supply of mountain mutton. On one such occasion, an emigrant hunting party, approaching the bluff from the rear, found on the tableland quite a band of sheep. These sheep, with the exception of one very large ram, broke through the line of rifles and disappeared in the surrounding hills, leaving behind, however, several of their number as emigrant mutton.

The hunters now turned their attention to the ram in question, the animal being in plain view at a distance of several hundred yards, standing on the very edge of the precipitous bluff. Sure of their quarry, for their rifles commanded every foot of the tableland, the hunters leisurely advanced with the intention of getting in a deadly volley at short range, but they little knew the mountain animal they so confidently approached. There was a quick, backward glance, a swift spring, and the gallant ram shot from the bluff’s dizzy edge into the sheer and awful depths below.

Scarcely had the startled observers time to realize the awful leap made when there came to their ears the loud splash caused by the plunge of a heavy body into water. Rushing to the bluff’s bold brow, they saw, 250 feet below them, the noble ram, uninjured from his appalling fall, bravely breasting the fierce current of the bank full river. He soon reached the stream’s farthest side and nimbly became lost to the eyes of his disappointed but admiring pursuers.

Readers should be cautioned that the writer of the column was known as the “lurid liar of the West” and published a couple books filled with his tall tales. Dick Perue possesses those books and delights in passing these legends along to his readers.

Eleven-Year-Old Son of Jack Kennaday Bagged a Two-Year-Old Bear with .22 Caliber Rifle

Fay Kennaday, the 11-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Kennaday, who reside in the upper Cedar Creek country, distinguished himself as a big game hunter last Saturday by tracking and killing a two-year-old brown bear in the hills near his home.

The boy found the track of the animal and, equipping himself with a saddle horse and his trusty .22, he took the trail, accompanied by a canine companion.

A few miles up in the hills, the dog located bruin in a brush patch, and leaving his horse, the boy made his way into the thicket until the bear was discovered. One shot from the small rifle did the business, the bullet striking the animal between the eyes. The boy then undertook to load his game on the horse, but the animal was too heavy for him, so he had to make a trip home for Dad to come and help him.

Mr. Kennaday brought the animal to town Sunday, and experienced bear hunters pronounced it to be a coming-two-year-old of the brown or cinnamon variety.

Information for the above article was copied from the Oct. 3, 1918, issue of “The Saratoga Sun.”

In previous “Postcards,” we explored Thomas Edison’s 1878 hunting, fishing and camping trip to Battle Lake, high in the Sierra Madre Mountains, above the present town of Encampment, and facts or fiction surrounding “invention” of the light bulb. This week the debate continues in an article written by a Will Yakowicz. The headline reads: 

A Total Solar Eclipse Inspired Edison’s Light-Bulb Moment (but It Had Nothing to Do with Science)

The story reads, in part:

In the book American Eclipse, author David Baron explores how the total solar eclipse of 1878 helped Edison discover public relations, while past astronomical events led to a slew of modern inventions. Among them is Thomas Edison’s light bulb, but his big breakthrough had more to do with learning how to handle people than science.

“If it wasn’t for the eclipse, Edison would not have made the incandescent light bulb,” says Baron.

The article continues:

Edison joined astronomer Henry Draper’s group to observe the solar eclipse in Rawlins. Edison traveled with a long-time supporter, physicist George Barker and Edwin Marshall Fox, a journalist for The New York Herald.

Baron writes that although Edison’s trip to Wyoming was a “bust” scientifically, it “helped foster the creation” of Edison’s incandescent bulb. In Wyoming, as Edison bunked with Fox, he learned how to master the art of public relations, a skill he would need as he entered the race to create an electric light bulb.

In September 1878, Edison announced that he had an epiphany and his incandescent bulb was weeks away. There was one issue – Edison was lying.

But Edison’s hype paid off. Gas stocks plummeted after his announcement, and he raised $300,000 after incorporating the Edison Electric Light Company. Edison was not close to a finished product and delayed the release for a year.

“People began to wonder if the Wizard was a sham,” Baron writes.

But as his investors and the public started to doubt Edison, he leveraged his relationship with Fox to prevent his investors from withdrawing their support and capital. Edison gave Fox shares in his company in exchange for glowing coverage.

In 1879, Edison finally released his bulb, and Fox broke the news with a flattering headline: “The Great Inventor’s Triumph in Electric Illumination.”

Baron says Edison’s success did not hinge on what he learned about filament technology. It hinged on how he handled, and manipulated, the press and how he used self-confidence to create hype and to get people to believe in him.

Yakowicz contends:

If Edison hadn’t gone West in 1878 to see the eclipse, it is quite likely he would not have been the one to invent the first successful light bulb. In his time in the West, he was with these other academic scientists who were encouraging him to take on the problem of electric lightning. But more than that, when Edison went West, he was mastering his skills at public relations. He had the newspapermen wrapped around his little finger. And that was a key skill that was critical to his success with the light bulb, to be able to keep the press on his side, to get investors excited about what he was working on during those long, hard months when honestly, he didn’t know what he was doing, but he was trying to tell the world that he had solved the problem of electric lighting. I just love Edison as a character. He was such a colorful, folksy genius.

Adding to this account is an item in the program which was used at the 1949 dedication ceremony of a plaque honoring Edison and his role in developing the light bulb. It states, “A newspaper correspondent sent a statement to the New York Herald . . . and it is reported he (Fox) and the Associate Editor came near losing their positions for publishing such ‘rot.’”

A headline in the Aug. 26, 1949 issue of “The Saratoga Sun,” reads, “Edison Monument and Plaque to be Dedicated at Battle Lake Sept. 4,” but we’ll explore that next time.

Between 600 and 700 persons convened at a point on the Encampment-Slater highway, near Battle Lake above Encampment, Sunday for the formal dedication of a bronze memorial to Thomas Alva Edison. 

The lead paragraph of a news item in the Sept. 8, 1949 edition of “The Saratoga Sun” emphasized the large crowd at the dedication of the Edison Monument.

The article continues: 

The ceremonies were sponsored by the Historical Landmarks Commission of Wyoming and attended by several state and national dignitaries in addition to many interested persons, spectators and sight-seers from throughout Wyoming.

The ceremonies got under way about 11 a.m. with the formal dedication of the bronze plaque, about two-feet by three-feet in size and imbedded in the face of a concrete monument.

Warren Richardson, Cheyenne, chairman of the Landmarks Commission, presented the memorial to the state of Wyoming. State Auditor Everett T. Copenhaver, representing Gov. A.G. Crane, accepted for the state.

According to the account, several speeches followed, with the most interesting being that of a representative of the Edison family. The “Sun” noted:

Adm. Harold A. Bowen, New Jersey, executive director of the Thomas A. Edison Foundation, gave a short address. He attended the ceremony as a representative of the foundation and of Charles Edison, son of the famous inventor, who was invited but was unable to attend.

C.H. Ashley of Encampment reminisced on mining days in the Encampment and Battle areas, and Congressman Frank A. Barrett, who was among the dignitaries present for the occasion, gave a brief talk. Joseph Weppner, landmarks commission secretary, acted as master of ceremonies throughout the program.

The Encampment high school band, directed by S.S. Sharp, provided the musical portion of the program.

At 1 p.m., a beef barbecue was served at the old Battle town site. A champion 4-H beef was provided for the barbecue by the Encampment, Saratoga, Rawlins, Medicine Bow and Rock River-McFadden Lions clubs.

The monument is located along the Battle Lake Highway, Wyo. Hwy. 70, between Encampment and Baggs.

As with the eclipse of 2017, Wyoming played a prominent role in the total solar eclipse of 1878.

Hundreds of articles were written about the 1878 event, and we will pass along a few of the local accounts from various sources.

An article by Rebecca Hein for WyoHistory.org, a project of the Wyoming State Historical Society, entitled “Moon Shadows over Wyoming: The Solar Eclipses of 1878” notes:

In the summer of 1878, William O. “Billy” Owen was working with a surveying crew high in the Medicine Bow Mountains, about 36 miles west of Laramie, Wyoming Territory.

“Over that vast forest,” he later wrote, “the moon’s shadow was advancing with a speed and rush that almost took one’s breath.”

This was the total solar eclipse of July 29, 1878.

Land surveyor Owen was still in his teens in 1878 when he saw the solar eclipse from the top of Medicine Bow Peak in southern Wyoming. Decades later, he recalled the onrushing moon shadow, saying, “It was terrifying, appalling and yet possessed a majestic grandeur and fascination that only one who has seen it can appreciate.

In its Aug. 24, 1878 edition the “Laramie Weekly Sentinel” reported, 

Awful Dark

We have heard several stories of the effects of the late eclipse, how hens went to roost, etc., but the most remarkable one is a story Slack writes up to us about how it got so dark in Cheyenne that a young married couple actually undressed and went to bed. If we did not know Slack’s veracity we should doubt the yarn.

Another story went:

One group of researchers, who had viewed an earlier eclipse from a height of around 5,000 feet, decided they wanted to witness the 1878 eclipse from somewhere even higher. They chose Colorado’s Pike’s Peak, an ultra-prominence with a summit at over 14,000 feet above sea level, which not only sat right in the middle of the eclipse’s path, but already had a meteorological station on top.

This group included Cleveland Abbe, who is today known as the father of the National Weather Service. One account states that he climbed Pike’s Peak in 1878 to witness the eclipse and nearly died from exposure to bad weather and altitude sickness.

Yet another article reported the following:

The 1878 eclipse

The path of totality of the July 29, 1878 eclipse crossed most of Wyoming Territory in a swath from northwest to southeast. It was 191 kilometers wide – about 118 miles. Darkness on the centerline of the path lasted three minutes, 11 seconds.

Wyoming residents watched the eclipse through smoked glass, as did Owen and his companions. They also viewed part of the eclipse using their Burt’s solar compass, a large brass surveyor’s device with a mirror and other attachments that allow the user to find true north using the angle of the sun, instead of magnetism.

Such a simple setup was not sufficient for the professional astronomers who spent 10 days or more in Wyoming Territory, however. They were there to gather data available only during totality and had to work fast and with the best possible tools.

University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts writes:

The inventor Thomas Edison traveled with a party that set up a temporary observatory near Rawlins, attracting substantial local publicity. Edison was eager to test his new tasimeter, a highly sensitive heat-measuring device. The July 30, 1878, Laramie Daily Sentinel reported that seven experts, some with their wives as assistants, were working at the observatory. Henry Draper of New York, director of the Rawlins observatory, was the most eminent astronomer in the party.

Edison’s experiment with the tasimeter was deemed a failure. However, Edison became better known in Wyoming for his hunting and fishing trip to Battle Lake in the Sierra Madres mountains of south central Carbon County, a trek we will take the next time we send you a “Postcard from the Past.”