Into The Great Wide Open: Touring The American West (Part III)…
“The Equal Rights” State, better known as Wyoming, is a mystery unto itself. From the State Capitol Cheyenne in the southeast to Yellowstone National Park in the northwest, the state harbors incredible vistas, lonely highways and rugged rolling ranches. Continuing my journey of the American West, it’s a part of the world where one might believe time had stood still. However, it’s not what it appears. Wyoming is much more than just another pretty state, for it’s here that history and contemporary society intersect.
At the core of this intersection is a woman named Louisa Gardner Swain. Her picture hangs on a wall at the State Supreme Court in Cheyenne. As history has it, on September 6th, 1870 in Laramie City, Wyoming, Ms. Swain became the first ever female to cast a ballot in a political election until that time. Wyoming then followed through with the election of the US’s first ever female State Governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross who won the election of 1924. She eventually went on to become the first ever female Director of the US Mint from 1933 to 1953.
These historical firsts were a result of Wyoming’s territorial government being the first to recognize a woman’s right to vote and hold public office. It did this in 1869, some 21 years prior to statehood. It was also 51 years prior to Congress ratifying the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
Little did I know that a visit to the Wyoming Supreme Courthouse, just steps from the newly renovated State Capitol, would yield such a fascinating story. Indeed, Wyoming led the charge in supporting the right to vote for women, and hence the State motto the the “Equal Rights” State.
“I could never resist the call of the trail,” said William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), also known as Buffalo Bill and who played a key role in the founding of the town of Cody, Wyoming in 1895.
Likewise, no “call of the trail” in Wyoming is complete without a trek across the state’s broad expanse through Casper, Cody and into Yellowstone. It’s reminiscent of the distances and rough terrain that homesteaders and settlers endured across the American West. Remnants of these wagon trails with historic markers still abound. However, now highway signs stating “No Gas for 80 Miles” and “Wyoming is Beef Country” garner the attention now.
Arriving in Casper, one wonders what it would have been like in bygone times. With an impressive homesteader monument atop a hill overlooking the town in the valley, it’s hard to imagine the hardships these settlers had to endure. Extreme weather, lack of food and unbearable physical exhaustion were part and parcel of surviving the early days of the American West. In comparison, we believe it an ordeal to drive a couple of hundred miles while listening to iTunes and drinking coffee. How envious the homesteaders would have been.
My journey continued via the breathtaking Wind River Canyon through Buffalo Bill’s historic town of Cody and then into Yellowstone National Park and the splendor of Old Faithful geyser.
Old Faithful is a sight to behold – at least once in any event. Its hot thermals erupt every 60 to 110 minutes and keep the crowds flocking to observe this natural wonder. Like Mount Rushmore (see Into the Great Wide Open: Touring The American West (Part II)…), Old Faithful is a “must see” in the American tradition.
The Old Faithful Inn located beside the geyser is also worth a visit. Designed by architect Robert C. Reamer (1873-1938), it’s an original. It’s lobby is rustic and idyllic and has multiple balconies overlooking the grandeur of the main fire place with a clock on it’s towering chimney.
As my time in Wyoming wound down, I headed west across the Continental Divide towards Idaho Falls. I couldn’t help but ponder the astounding beauty that Wyoming is. The diverse scenery from open spaces, crevice canyons, boundless ranches, and Yellowstone’s grandeur epitomize the American West like no other state can. Coupled with friendly people and a fascinating history, it’s a place to explore and a place to return to.
But now the west side of the Continental Divide awaited, with Idaho and Utah beyond…
Note: Photos are by the author.
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