The first recorded experience of an American in Wyoming was not encouraging to future settlement. In 1807, John Colter, a fur trapper, mountain man, and Lewis and Clark expedition veteran, chanced upon an area of geysers where the earth itself seemed to bubble. He dubbed it “Colter’s Hell.” Nonetheless, other intrepid explorers followed. For decades, Wyoming was primarily a site of fur-trade rendezvous and a way-station en route to Astoria, Ore. Fort Laramie, the first permanent trading post, was founded in 1834. Mormons established Fort Supply, the first farming settlement, in 1853.
Native Americans were already here, of course. Wyoming’s most prominent tribes are the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, who were moved onto the Wind River Reservation in 1868 and 1877, respectively. (The Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne were removed to Oklahoma.)
Immigrants came to Wyoming in waves, especially following the 1868 creation of Wyoming Territory (carved largely from Dakota Territory). Chinese laborers worked on the Union Pacific Railroad, whose progress across the state from 1867 to 1869 created the towns of Cheyenne, Evanston, Green River, Laramie, Rawlins and Rock Springs. Many Irish also came to work on the railroad. They and others from the British Isles accounted for half of Wyoming’s foreign-born population in 1870. English arrivals were often Mormon converts.
Another early visitor to northwest Wyoming was “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He guided tours through the Yellowstone area, which became America’s first national park in 1872.
Germans and Russian-Germans came to Wyoming in the later 1800s, according to a landmark study, Peopling the High Plains: Wyoming’s European Heritage (Wyoming State Archives, 1977). The Russian-Germans helped found the sugar beet industry in northwestern Wyoming. Other major groups who helped settle Wyoming included Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, and Basques, who helped launch the sheep industry.
Wyoming became the 44th state in 1890. In 1925 it made history by electing America’s first woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, continuing a tradition of Wyoming milestones for women begun with the first equal-suffrage vote.
- Wyoming professional researcher and editor of History of Cheyenne Sharon Lass Field says that finding where an ancestor is buried can lead to clues such as death certificates, obituaries, probate records, cemetery records, and of course, the gravestone. Field also emphasizes the importance of using land records.
- “We do not have a lot of the old county histories and biographical collections states farther east might have,” Field says. “Catching a family on a census record is good — then a search of deeds, mortgages, cemeteries, and newspapers can be invaluable.”
- A Wyoming researcher’s first stop in the state, according to Field, should be the state archives in Cheyenne. Most court records, biographical files, books, census records, military records, newspapers and some courthouse records are there. The next stop should be the Laramie County Library, which houses the genealogy collection for the state. Also look for local data in county “Wyoming Rooms” or collections, Field says, usually in the county-seat library.
- The web site of the state archives http://wyoarchives.state.wy.us lists helpful resources such as school censuses.
- Federal census: 1860 (with Nebraska), 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
- Federal mortality schedules: 1870, 1880
- Special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows: 1890
- State/territorial census: 1905
- A Directory of Church and Religious Organizations in the State of Wyoming (Historical Records Survey, 1939)
- Empty Saddles, Forgotten Names: Outlaws of the Black Hills and Wyoming by Doug Engebretson (North Plains Press, 1982)
- Federal Postal Employees and Contractors in Wyoming, 1869-1911 (Medicine Bow Publications, 1985)
- From Rags to Riches: A History of Hilliard and Bear River, 1890-1990 by Margaret Moore Lester (First Impressions, 1992)
- Genealogical Guide to Wyoming by Joyce V.H. Spiros (Verlene Publisher, 1982)
- Guide to the County Archives of Wyoming edited by Jim Donahue (Wyoming State Archives, 1991)
- Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Wyoming (US Work Projects Administration, 1941)
- Guide to the State Government and Municipal Archives of Wyoming by Jim Donahue, et al. (Wyoming State Archives, 1991)
- Guide to Vital Statistics Records in Wyoming: Church Archives (Historical Records Survey, 1942)
- Guide to Wyoming Frontier Newspapers, in the Annals of Wyoming, vols. 33-35, (1961-1963 Wyoming State Archives)
- Guide to Wyoming Newspapers, 1867-1967 by Lola Homsher (Wyoming State Library, 1971)
- The Historical Encyclopedia of Wyoming, 2 vols., by Thomas S. Chamblin (the Wyoming Historical Institute, 1970)
- History of Big Horn Basin: by Charles Arthur Welch (Deseret News Press, 1940)
- A History of the Covenant Church in the Midwest and Southwest Conferences by Billie Hoy (Arrow Printing Co., 1961)
- History of Wyoming, 3 vols., by Ichabod S. Bartlett (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1918)
- History of Wyoming by Alfred Larson Taft (University of Nebraska Press, 1965)
- Inventory of the Church Archives of Wyoming Presbyterian Churches from the Historical Records Survey (filmed by the Family History Library, 1967)
- Mormons and Their Neighbors: An Index to Over 75,000 Biographical Sketches form 1820 to the Present, 2 vols., by Mavin E. Wiggins (Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 1984)
- Peopling the High Plains: Wyoming’s European Heritage by Gordon Olaf Hendrickson (Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department, 1977)
- Progressive Men of the State of Wyoming (A.W. Bowen, 1903)
- Some of the West: Biographical Accounts of Early-Day Wyoming by Lorah Chaffin (Caxton Printers, 1941)
- Women of Wyoming, 2 vols., by Cora May Brown Beach (S.E. Boyer, 1927)
- Wyoming Biographies by Lawrence M. Woods (High Plains Publishing Co., 1991)
- Wyoming Clue Book, 5 vols., by Virginia Cole Trenholm (Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department, 1991)
- Wyoming Research Outline by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (online at http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/RG/guide/wyoming)
- Wyoming from Territorial Days to the Present, 3 vols., by Frances B. Beard (American Historical Society, 1933)
- Wyoming’s Territorial Sheriffs by Ann Gorzalka (High Plains Press, 1998)
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