Bridger Valley, Uinta County, Wyoming History


The settlement of the Bridger Valley has gone steadily forward, and it is today one of the most important agricultural districts in the state.

Soon after the military reservation of Fort Bridger was thrown open three men named King Durant, Joshua Stewart and S. R. Brough took up land about five miles west of Fort Bridger. In 1891 a canal was taken out of Black's Fork under the direction of a Mormon bishop named Ferrin, and homesteads were located by F. L. Diffendaffer, William Snodgrass and Samuel Gross. Soon after there moved in a colony from Utah bringing cattle and horses. A canal that was taken out by judge Carter some years before was purchased, and at a place about a mile and a half east of the present site of Lyman a settlement named Minersville, so called from their former home in Utah, was established. On land belonging to Henry Blumell, one of the settlers, a town hall was put up, that served as a general meeting place and a schoolhouse. The first teacher was Mrs. G. A. Thomas, mother of W. A. Thomas of Mountainview. This district is now known as the Bench.

In 1898 Francis M. Lyman, an apostle of the Mormon Church, organized the Woodruff Stake, which included this newly settled region. On the loth of May the following year he and an associate named Owen Woodruff selected the present town site, which was originally part of the homestead of S. R. Brough. Lots were laid out and a town hall, built by popular subscription, was ready for the first religious service the 11th of February, 1900. This building served its purpose until the year 1914, when the present meeting house was erected. The first bishop, Mr. Brough, was succeeded by Melville Rollins. The town, which was originally called Owen, has for many years borne the name of Lyman.

To the unprepared it is a surprise to find so progressive and well equipped a town at such a distance from the railroad. There are excellent stores and garages and good hotels, the largest of which is the Johnson House. The Farmers and Stockgrowers Bank, a branch of the First National of Rock Springs, of which Edward Statmiller is cashier, occupies a substantial building. The Bridger Valley Enterprise, published by Loraine Rollins, is an excellent weekly newspaper, and has done much toward building up a fine community spirit A branch of the Uinta County Library was established in 1915 in a room rented for the purpose. It now occupies a convenient little building bought for a library. The following librarians have been in charge: Miss Margaret Guild, Miss Evelyn Brough, Miss M. Blackner and Mrs. Stanley Rollins. Mrs. Rollins is the daughter of Cornelius Evans, one of Lyman's pioneer settlers.

The descendants of Watson Rollins have been prominent from the date of settlement, and Loraine Rollins has represented the county in the state legislature. Augustus Youngberg, a member of another pioneer family, has served the county as commissioner. Others who deserve mention are : William Phillips, the Hollingshead family, Wallace and William Hamlin, Joseph Wall, several of whose children live in the valley, and W. G. Moyes, who moved from Lyman to Idaho. Ephriam Marshall, another of the first band of settlers, was the father of eight children who are well known in the county, one of whom, D. W. Marshall, is still living at Lyman. Mrs. Marshall, widow of the pioneer, lives in Evanston with her daughters, Mrs. Charles Cook and Mrs. George Brown.

The largest canal in this section was taken out by the Biglows of Ogden, and is known by their name. It supplies water for the Biglow ranch, a splendid property lying to the west of Fort Bridger, and for many of the valley ranches.

In the year 1891 a sufficient number of people had settled about six miles above Fort Bridger on Smith's Fork to sanction the opening of a postoffice, and in June of that year William H. Harvey was appointed postmaster. The place was called Mountainview from a ranch owned by Mrs. Groshon that was situated at the foot of a butte overshadowing the town.

Mrs. Agnes Hewitt, mother of William and George Harvey, has been honored by the title of the "Mother of Mountainview"' and her influence has outlived the span of her earthly life. The southwest corner of a homestead owned by her was laid out as a townsite, and in January, 1898, the first house was built by a man named David Young. The same year the Harvey brothers put up a store, the completion of which was celebrated by an all-night dance. Soon after there was built by popular subscription a community hall that served as a social and business meeting place until the erection of the hall of the Woodmen of the World in 1907. John Pfisterer, organizer of this order in Wyoming, built a pretty home on the edge of town, where the family lived some years before going to Ogden.

A branch of the Morman Sunday School of Lyman was started in Mountainview in l909 but was soon discontinued, and in 1910 a union Sunday School was opened. Three years later J. C. Whitsett was sent out by the Presbyterian Board, and under his leadership with the hearty cooperation of the people a tasteful church building and manse was built on a lot presented by Mrs. G. A. Thomas. In April, 1916, the Presbytery of Laramie which embraces the southern part of Wyoming, met at Mountainview, the church was dedicated and Mr. Whitsett was ordained as pastor. In 1920 he and his family moved to California. The present minister is Rev. Mr. Edwards, and the church is prospering under his able leadership.

The Uinta County State Bank, a branch of the Stockgrowers Bank of Evanston, is housed in a neat brick building, with William Newton as cashier. Mr. Newton's family consisting of his wife and daughter have a tasteful home near by.

Thomas Anson, one of the early settlers, has served as county commissioner for two terms. William Thomas is another of the older residents who makes his home there. He has long served on the school board and is a prominent citizen.

T. A. Megeath came to Mountainview from Sweetwater County, and held the position of United States Commissioner. His son, W. C. Megeath, bought the store and home of William Summers, and has a prosperous business.

South of Mountainview is a stretch of land known as the "Bench", on which two ranchers, Robert Kidman and Andrew Poison, settled in 1896. Poison had four sons, one of whom, Edward M., is well known in the county. His wife is the daughter of James Perry.

About five miles west of Mountainview is the settlement of Milburn, where John Wade, formerly of Evanston, for some years ran a grist mill. A. A. Davidson is a prosperous rancher here. C. B. Hamilton, son of Richard Hamilton, James Sharp, and J. A. Fackrel have valuable ranch properties in the neighborhood.

On upper Smith's Fork about ten miles above Fort Bridger there is a settlement known as Robertson, so called from the first settler of the Bridger Valley. To the west are the ranches of William Smith, S. M. Hawkins, and Daniel Nash. Wallace Johnson, son of S. M. Johnson an early settler on Henry's Fork, has a ranch high up on the stream. It adjoins and includes part of the holdings of "Jack Robertson". The outlines of old Fort Supply now included in the Robert Coburn ranch may still be traced in the burned logs and stone chimneys. Adjoining it is the ranch of G. A. Rassmussen, an early man in the region. Dr. William Carter, brother of J. Van A. Carter, had one of the largest ranches in the valley.

Other ranchers in the vicinity are T. W. Boam, Morgan Bond, J. W. Center, W. B. Goodrich, M. N. Hayward, Mrs. John Wall, John H. Overly, and Gustavus Heder. A figure whose long locks and flowing beard always attract attention, is that of Dick Jones, who came to the county with Coe and Carter, contractors for railroad ties for the Union. Pacific. He settled near Robertston and next to him is J. C. Spencer. Both are unmarried and are closely bound together by business and friendly ties.

Between Mountainview and Lyman is the ranch of one of the foremost citizens of the county, H. J. B. Taylor. He is a native of Pennsylvania and came to Fort 'Bridger in 1881 as government freighter. Mr. Taylor has been very active in introducing into the valley fine stock, and his activities in promoting the best interests of the state have been recognized beyond the bounds of the county. His sons, Edgar and Charles, are also engaged in ranching.

About the year of 1900, owing to the difficulty in renting or buying houses in old Fort Bridger, a settlement was made about a mile to the east and was called Fort Bridger. Joseph Guild, son of the Piedmont merchant, opened a store ; there was a hotel and the inevitable saloon of that day, a school was opened and a number of people made their homes there. The location was unfortunate for farming owing to the alkali that came to the surface. Neither did it possess the natural beauty of many parts of the valley, and after a few years the people scattered to more attractive surroundings, though most of them, including the widow of Joseph Guild, remained in the vicinity.

Urie consists of a schoolhouse and store surrounded by well kept ranches. Among them may be mentioned those of J. B. and E. M. Fackrel, Joseph and Guy Eyre, Mr. Godfrey and Watson. Mr. Watson is the son of a section foreman who made Carter his home for many years.

If a sightseer at Fort Bridger succeeds in enlisting the aid of John McGlaughlin he will be fortunate. Mr. McGlaughlin, who is known throughout the country as "Mac", came to the fort with the soldiers, and is a most interesting guide as well as an entertaining companion. He will point out the various government buildings in one of which a store was for many years conducted by W. A. Carter, and is now under the management of Louis T. Harding. Another is occupied by an excellent hotel known as the Rochford. Some have fallen into picturesque ruin.

An attractive home on the edge of town is that of A. J. Johnson, a prominent rancher. Others engaged in the ranching business near by are James A. Arthurs, Andrew Dahlquist, G. A. Taylor, the Delaneys, Larsons, St. Jeors, Bedlacks and Pattersons. Thomas Casto owns the ranch taken up by Louis Shirtliff, who for many years had the contract for carrying mail in the valley.

A. J. Valdez, a Mexican, and Louis Wheeler were employed by judge Carter in caring for his large herds of cattle, and both took up ranches of their own. Wheeler later moved to Lonetree.

Two miles from Mountainview there lives an interesting character named James Davis. He is of southern birth, and his father was second cousin to Jefferson Davis. In 1852, when he was five years old, the family came across the plains to Utah. Ten years later they returned to Kentucky and this boy of fifteen entered the Confederate Army, where he served for three years. At the close of the war he returned to Utah and enlisted under General Crooks in the Blackhawk War, after which he settled down on his ranch, where he has since lived. Mr. Davis is full of reminiscences of past history of the valley, and tells of being engaged in freighting for Miller, an employee of Russell, Majors & Waddell, from whom the stage station of Millersville was named.

In 1854, while Fort Supply was in existence, a man by the name of Henry Perry made a temporary home in the valley. He had been a freighter on the Santa Fe Trail, and as early as 1851 came out to the Rockies to hunt buffalo with the famous scouts Joe and John Baker. When Johnson's army came through he was one of the men employed as government guide. For a time he settled in Montana, but later, with his wife and several children, moved back to Wyoming. They were in Evanston and Hilliard from 1870 to 1878, and then went to Henry's Fork and engaged in stock raising. A daughter named Sarah became the wife of George Hereford, Laura was married to Thomas Casto of Fort Bridger, and James, who is in the mercantile business at Mountainview as well as ranching, married Nellie Hendrie, a member of another old family of the valley. Her mother came to Utah with the second band of Mormon immigrants.

John D. Watson came west as a government freighter in 1884. Four years later he was married by Father Fitzgerald of Evanston to a lady who, like himself, came from St. Louis. They made their home for a time at Carter, and then moved to the government meadows, at that time a favorite feeding place for hundreds of wild deer. Mr. Watson died in 1917, but the home ranch south of Fort Bridger, in which there were ten children, is still kept up by his widow. A daughter, Mrs. P. M. Mulhall, lives in Evanston.

Among others who deserve mention are Joseph Wall, several of whose children live at Lyman, the Hollingshead family and James Phelps. Mr. Phelps settled on Henry's Fork, but later sold his property there and acquired a fine ranch about four miles southeast of Lyman.

In an illustrated edition of the Wyoming Times of 1911, Mrs. Herbert Taylor, then superintendent of schools for the county, tells in her interesting way of a visit to a school in the Bridger Valley that was held in a one-room building which had served its original purpose as a chicken house and had been donated by the owner. The teacher and eight pupils traveled to it on horseback, and hitched their ponies to the rail fence in front of the building. In looking at the beautiful buildings provided for the schools today to which autos bring the children from remote parts of the valley, it is not easy to realize that such a change has been wrought within the memories of the settlers not yet of middle age. The several original districts have been consolidated into one known as Number Four, and the schools rank high in the ever-improving system of Wyoming. The Lyman School Band has won an enviable place in the annual state tournament, and many honors have been earned by contestants in various lines from both Lyman and Mountainview.

The agricultural importance of the region has been demonstrated. In spite of high altitude there has never been a failure in grain crops, and the yield per acre of wheat, barley and rye is double that of lower sections of the country. Vegetables of all sorts have been successfully raised, as well as small fruits and apples. The work of the university extension department has received hearty support, as have also the valuable suggestions of the county agricultural agents. The first director of the agricultural experiment station at Lyman was A. E. Hyde, who married Bernice Marshall and now lives in Douglas, Wyoming. A man by the name of Thomas was the first. county agricultural agent. He was followed by W. C. Carrington, now a resident of Colorado, and he by W. R. Smith, who is building upon the foundation laid by his predecessors and is alive to the needs of the various communities. A great event in the county is the Bridger Valley Fair, held successively at Fort Bridger, Lyman and Mountainview. Besides the usual exhibits there have been presented beautiful and instructive historical pageants that have been of great interest.

One of the very early settlers in southwestern Wyoming was Philip Mass. The story is told that he was once called as a witness in court in Evanston, and that in response to the question as to his nationality he answered that he was a Mexican. The next question, "When were you naturalized?" received the reply, "Never." It was then learned that the United States had acquired Phil Mass with the Mexican cession of 1848. He was well known in Evanston, his base of supplies. Among his interesting characteristics was his ambition for his children, for whom he employed a private teacher in the home on Burnt Fork.

Elijah Driscol, Shade Large, W. A. Johnson and Charles A. Davis, all cattle owners, were on the same stream in 1870. Bryan, then the end of the division and the most important shipping point in the region, was their trading place, to which they traveled fifty or sixty miles on horseback. Johnson, as well as Large, was a squaw man, and his wife, who was known as "Jonny," was said to be the most beautiful Indian ever seen. Their ranch was in Sweetwater County, but their cattle were driven up the valley in the winter. There was the usual dead line against sheep, and the cattle men were successful in keeping them out without much trouble. The cowboys were popular with the ranchers, for whom they did many kindnesses.

In the early '70s a rancher named John Forshay took up land on Henry's Fork, a short distance west of the present site of Lonetree. This ranch now belongs to Eugene Hickey, one of the largest cattle owners in Uinta County. Mrs. Hickey, who was the daughter of Robert Hereford, cattleman, schoolteacher and book lover, died in the influenza epidemic of z918. The home, a fine two-story residence, breaks upon the view of the traveler from the west as he emerges from the grotesque and barren bad lands, and the scene cannot fail to arouse a feeling of pleasure. To the south rise the snow-covered peaks of the Uinta Range, with forest-covered foothills in the foreground leading down to a well-watered valley dotted with ranches, where brouse contented cattle and horses, for here every one owns cattle and every one rides. Rail fences as well as those made of barbed wire divide the fields.

The nucleus of the settlement of Lone Tree consists of a neat little schoolhouse with two rooms, the meeting house of the Mormon Church and a store, in which the postoffice is located. J. H. Gregory, the storekeeper, who came here in 1898, is a cultured gentleman and the father of an interesting family. The first settlers were Mr. and Mrs. Jonathon Hoops and two little daughters. They had traveled by ox team by way of Echo Canyon and Evanston and brought with them all of their earthly goods, the most valuable being a small herd of cattle. They had stopped at Robertson to take advantage of the fine summer range, and arrived at their destination at the end of October, 1872. In a letter dated September 10, 1922, the daughter Annie, now Mrs. Summers, describes the early days in this isolated valley, the dependence of the scattered settlers upon each other, and the all-night parties to which they would gather from far and near to dance to the music of volunteer fiddlers. At the age of sixteen she was claimed in marriage by William Summers, who had settled in the neighborhood in 1877. An election occurred soon after their marrige and she was taken to the poles to vote, and although she protested that she was not of legal age, she was silenced by the argument that any one old enough to marry was old enough to vote.

At first mail was sent out by J. Van A. Carter from Fort Bridger by any reliable person who chanced to be traveling to the valley, and as much as six weeks sometimes elapsed between deliveries. In 1888 a postoffice was established and Mrs. Summers served as postmistress for four years and three months. During her term of office there was an advance from weekly to tri-weekly and then to daily delivery.

Only once in Mrs. Summers' life at Lonetree was there a genuine Indian scare. In 1879, at the time of the Meeker massacre in Colorado, a runner came across the mountains from the south with the news that Indians were headed for Henry's Fork. Mr. Hoops happened to be at the Summers' place, and he mounted a horse and started for his own home up the valley, five miles away, after giving directions to the others where to meet him. Getting into lumber wagons, they drove from one ranch to another, gathering up the women and children, but nothing besides, for, in Mrs. Summers' words, "We wanted nothing but our lives." Others followed and that night formed a camp down the creek, where they were joined by hunters and trappers from all the region around. On reaching Fort Bridger, Judge Carter put at their disposal an old building and the same night he went on his mission to Washington to urge upon the government the right of the settlers to military protection, with the result that Fort Bridger was again manned with troops. For five days the terrified ranchers remained at the fort, and then, upon hearing that the Indians had gone south instead of north, they returned to their homes, but the writer says that not until winter set in did they got over their nervousness, always fearing the return of the red men to the war path.

There were two schools on Henry's Fork about three miles apart, to which the children rode on horseback. Rev. F. L. Arnold, superintendent fur the county, made welcome visits to them once a year. One of the early teachers was William Moss of Evanston, and another who was remembered by many was J. T. Corns, a fine educator and a man of influence, who later moved to Seattle, Washington. The only church in those days was the services held by Mr. Arnold in the schoolhouse, and they were attended by all the settlers.

At the junction of Beaver Creek and Henry's Fork lies one of the prettiest of mountain ranches belonging to Joseph Steinaker, who, with his wife, came here from the old Utah agricultural settlement of Vernal They have two suns, Elbert and William. The ranch was originally pre-empted by Joseph Pierrot, who, with Mr. Hickey, came from Canada to Piedmont in 1872. He accumulated a goodly number of cattle and for many years lived alone in a cabin surrounded by pine and cottonwood trees in the midst of his fertile fields. Throughout the county, where he was well known, he was commonly called "Joe Parrot". He died in Evanston in 1919.

Following the valley to the east we come to the Workman, Hanks and Stoll ranches. "Grandma Stull", who died in 1918, was the beloved Mrs. Louder of the "Letters of a Woman Homesteader" and other books of Elinor Pruitt Stewart, who lived a little farther to the east. 'Both heroine and author were much loved and highly honored. The Episcopal Church has a mission just across the Sweetwater line, and conducts a prosperous Sunday school.

To the east of the old Pierrot place are the ranches of Frank Workman and Eugene Hickey, Jr. On Beaver Creek we come to the Wheeler and Wadsworth ranches. The Ray Johnson, Smith, Bullock, J. J. Johnson and Phelps properties lie between it and the town, and above it Wright Johnson and Jed Bullock have fine ranches.

The Lonetree country has not been without its tragedies. With the many splendid men and women who came here to make their homes there were some lawbreakers who sought this isolated spot to escape justice, and who did not leave behind the traits that had led to a change of residence. One of the most flagrant cases was connected with the disappearance of a man named Sam Smith, a kindly man and much loved. With a companion named Jacob Heyse he spent his summers excavating on the bad lands for Professor Marsh, and as his wants were few he accumulated quite a sum of money. Both were squaw men, and Smith had two children, whom he sent to "the states" to school after the death of his wife. In the summer of 1887 he disappeared, and when some weeks later his body was found it gave evidence of foul play. It was said that there were honest people who knew more about the mystery than they dared tell, far removed as they were from courts of justice, and the truth of the affair never came to light.

There appeared in 1921 a book, the plot of which was laid in this region. It is called "Judith of the Godless Valley," and contains some beautiful word pictures of the scenes on Burnt and Henry's Forks. Had the gifted author, Honore Wilsie, been content to put forth the work as fiction it would have passed for one of the fanciful tales woven about some interesting threads of facts. When, however, both editor and author protested that the story was literally true, a storm of protest rose not so much from the region itself as from the neighboring communities, where it was felt that an injustice had been done to a section of the state in which we have reason to take pride. It is doubtful whether there is in America or in the world a community more unique than this. Ambitions for their children and making every effort to supply them with the best of educational advantages, they are content to live in this beautiful valley, and they ask nothing better than to be able to hand down to their successors the possessions that they have wrested from the surrounding wilderness.

Back to: Uinta County, Wyoming History

Back to: Uinta County, Wyoming Genealogy

 

Search Wyoming Genealogy

Uinta Townships

Uinta Genealogy Resources

Wyoming Genealogy Records

 

Copyright, 2004-2010, by Wyoming Genealogy. All rights reserved.