British Politician David Cameron once said, “Christmas gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us – a time when we can look back on the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead”. We have a lot to be proud of, and thankful for here in Campbell County, Wyoming. So, let’s take this opportunity to look back on, not just the last year, but the many years in which our region has been growing, developing, and always looking forward.

1892

Save the Railroad a Buck… Get a Town Named After You

Before Gillette was incorporated on January 6, 1892, it was a little tent town called “Donkey Town” where train company surveyors made camp. It was first occupied by four men: Frank Murrey, Robert and George Durley, and Charles T. Weir. These men filed homestead rights in Rockpile draw, where the Rockpile Museum is currently located. Mr. Edward Gillette was one such surveyor, and an engineer who worked for the Burlington and Missouri Railroad. He was in charge of surveying the area for a track that originally planned on following Donkey Creek and then move toward the south of present-day Gillette. However, Edward Gillette found a shorter route that saved the railroad.

Photo courtesy of Campbell County Rockpile Museum – postcard, picture taken from Second Street looking Southeast circa 1907

1913

Campbell County Named After… Wait Which One?

It is fairly disputed who the true eponym of Campbell County is. Some old records cite Campbell County’s namespiration as American Frontiersman Robert Campbell (February 12, 1804 – October 16, 1879), who was an Irish immigration-turned fur trader and businessman. Others argue the county was actually named in honor of Wyoming’s first territorial governor, John A. Campbell. Rebecca Hein, writer of Campbell County, Wyoming says on WyoHistory.org that other sources, probably trying to make peace, say the county was named after both individuals.

1922

The First Campbell County Fair

In mid-September, Campbell County residents gathered, determined to organize their first county fair. Committees were formed for each aspect of the fair: from financial, livestock, and concessions to home canning and baked goods and the dates of the fair were set for September 20-21. In the end, residents were able to enjoy viewing hundreds of exhibits, a “Wild West” show, foot races, and so much more that far outweighed the expectations of all involved.

1927

Fine New Plant at Wyodak Mine

On June 24th of 1927, the Wyodak plant burned down almost completely, save for the engine and boiler house. The overwhelming blaze began at the bottom of a coal chute and burned its way up into the plant facility. The Homestake Mining Company immediately set to replace the plant with a much more fireproofed facility; a “fine new plant” as they called it!

Advertisements

1931

A Different George Bailey

In 1928, a man named George Bailey was alleged to have committed robbery in Salem, Nebraska. Three years later, Campbell County Undersheriff Harold Harper received a tip while at a summer dance in Teckla, a small town in the south end of Campbell County. It was thought he had been in the area under the alias “George Reed” for almost a week after coming to town with his wife and 5-year-old son from Douglas. Bailey was arrested on the Marion Reed ranch near Teckla the next evening and taken to the Gillette station. Not the George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” we all know and love, but a humorous paradox nonetheless.

1932

Not Surprisingly: Wind Destroys Trees and Buildings

Just 19 years after the Campbell County Fair was first organized, fair celebrations and activities were suddenly put to a holt as an intense windstorm, like none they had seen in several years, ripped and tore its way through the area. Shrubs and bushes were ripped from the ground, and larger trees suffered great damage as huge limbs were snapped clean off. The wind overturned many small buildings lifted a long row of horse barns at the fairgrounds, and plopped the barn’s shattered remains in the Bicentennial nursery a few hundred yards away.

Photo courtesy of Campbell County Rockpile Museum 1983.014.0048 – 1935 – Two CCC
members stand in a pit watching while a General Excavator loads dirt into a dump truck.

1934

Roosevelt’s Coal Army

In case you missed last month’s edition of 82717, where our own Stephanie Scarcliff went in-depth on the role and significance of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Campbell County, here’s the low-down. Franklin Delano Roosevelt employed millions of young men from across the United States during the Great Depression. The program focused on many facets of environmental conservation and, specifically in Gillette and Campbell County alone, that meant fighting the underground coal fires that President Roosevelt believed to be costing the nation millions. The work of these men ultimately helped shape Campbell County by strengthening its economy, and building its first fairgrounds. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to visit the Rockpile Museum and see the rare gem that is the CCC exhibit for yourself at 900 W 2nd St.

1936

Too Much Scarlet Fever? Close the Schools!

As a rather grim cold wave swept across the nation, Campbell County residents found themselves dealing with a bacterial infection-epidemic. Apparently, in mid-February of 1936, there was such a bad outbreak of scarlet fever that schools closed for two weeks. The Public Health Officer at the time, Dr. J.C. McHenry, requested that residents postpone all public gatherings such as dances, parties, meetings, etc., in an effort to stop the further spread of the disease, of which already had 35 active cases. In addition, school children were disallowed from taking school books home and encouraged to avoid congregating, but, should the weather become warm, they should please play outside as much as possible.

1937

Discovery of Ancient Human Bones Proves Puzzle to Local Officials

In August of 1937, a sheepherder of the W. R. Wright range saw a bone sticking out of the ground. Six miles west of the KC Ranch and just 40 miles from Gillette, the sheepherder’s find led to the discovery of 5 human skeletons all in a 6-foot radius; including: one very, widely built large specimen thought to be over 6 feet tall, that of a smaller female, and a well-preserved jawbone supposed to have belonged to a dwarf. The skulls were filled with dirt and matted roots meaning the bodies were never buried, and eight arrowheads were unearthed with the skeletons. In observation of the skull structures, it was thought that the skeletons may have belonged to early Native Americans who lived over 1,000 years prior to their recovery, although only one skeleton had the cheekbones truly characteristic of Native American ancestors while the others seemed to be derivative of Mongolian progenitors.

1939

The Manhole Christmas Tree (On the Cover)

Pictured on the cover in front of the W.R. Wright house on Gillette Ave; looking north, you can see the municipal Christmas tree. In the early years of Gillette’s Christmastime celebrations the tree was placed inside a manhole smack dab in the center of Main street or Gillette Ave. An official tree lighting ceremony was hosted each year with a parade that brought Santa Claus, played for many years by Henry ‘Tiny’ Fritzler, down main street. Rockpile Museum Director Robert Henning said that the municipal Christmas tree was placed in that manhole each year during Christmastime from approximately 1939-1971, and was adorned with colored lights and a hidden speaker playing Christmas songs during the afternoons and evenings.

1941

Robbing Safes and Killing a Nightclub Owner

In 1941, there was a big murder case involving two young men: James Adams, 21, and Joe Rhoads, 25, who were alleged to have murdered 35-year-old Louis J. Turner, or L.J. Turner. Turner was found deceased in the office of the nightclub he owned in Billings, Montana, on the morning of December 29th. Rhoads and Adams were arrested less than two hours after the murder had occurred as Campbell County Sheriff Tex Martin and Gillette Police Officer Buster Griffin had been hot on their trail following a recent safe robbery at Gillette’s Ace Cafe. These boys had allegedly been on a large spree of robberies: starting at the Ace Cafe in Gillette, followed by multiple instances in places in and around Billings. Adams was ultimately acquitted for the murder of Mr. Turner, but upon release was immediately arrested for multiple counts of burglary. Rhoads later received a life sentence from a jury in Billings for the nightclub murder.

 

1955

Sunset Drive-In Theatre

In the same area where the Foothills Theater is now located, so was the old Sunset Drive-In Theatre. It was first opened in July of 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Shipley, who served free coffee and doughnuts to those who came to watch the surprise program for their first three opening days. A Memorial for the Campbell County Vets On the 30th of May in 1955, Memorial Day, a war memorial war was dedicated in honor of all the Campbell County men who gave their lives during the Korean Conflict, World War I, and World War II. It lists a total of 43 names. The monument, placed beside the old George Amos Library on Gillette Ave., stood at 8 feet and 8 inches before 14 inches were put into the concrete base leaving 7 feet and 6 inches visible from the base upward. At the dedication, the presentation of the memorial was given by Mrs. Charley Tyrrell, president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) auxiliary. Commander of Carl J. Cook post No. 579 Francis Gregg gave the dedication speech, and Reverend Robert M. Phoenix was the VFW chaplain.

1958

Installation of the First Dial Telephone

In an image from the local newspaper in 1958, D.A. “Kelly” Swensen, man of the first house which first received the momentous update, is depicted trying out the dial telephone. Joining him are two guests: On the right, Homer Ellison, local office manager of the “conversion crew”, and on the left Henry Zowada of Sheridan, installer. The four-man conversion crew, directed by W.T. Wills of Riverton, had arrived in town shortly before the photo was captured to update every telephone with a dial; although they would not be usable until later that autumn. A&W Root Beer Drive-In Opened Del’s A&W Root Beer Drive-In opened on the 27th of July, 1958. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Delbert L. Hollcroft of Powell, Wyoming, they served A&W Root Beer (a classic) as well as other soft drinks, and a menu of sandwiches. At the time, root beer stands were a staple service in many cities and towns all across America at this time: regarded by people of many ages as a wonderful place to congregate and spend time with friends of family.

1965

Campbell County: Home of the Antelope

For the State of Wyoming’s 75th Anniversary, Campbell County hosted a parade featuring the first ever Campbell County float. The float, which traveled on a trailer so as to be used by organizations in other parades throughout the state, featured the figures of a large diamond and an antelope. The diamond represented the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the state’s 75th anniversary, while the antelope reflected Campbell County and the words on the side of the trailer: Home of the Antelope. 1983 Crime Stoppers’ Successful First Year In 1983, Gillette’s Crime Stoppers was formed by a group of 7 locals: Dave Olsen (chairman), Sue Sharp (vice chairman), Mike Hughes (secretary), Donna Thorne (treasurer), Paul Treide, Butch Luth, and Jack Matheny. A 1984 newspaper article states that, in their first year, the program received 60 calls resulting in 22 arrests and $13,809 worth of stolen property was recovered. Today, the program resulted in approximately 322 arrests and the recovery of over $350,000 in stolen property and narcotics. In closing, Thank you to the many kind people at the Campbell County Public Library and the Rockpile Museum who have helped me in my researching endeavors!

1983

Crime Stoppers’ Successful First Year

In 1983, Gillette’s Crime Stoppers was formed by a group of 7 locals: Dave Olsen (chairman), Sue Sharp (vice chairman), Mike Hughes (secretary), Donna Thorne (treasurer), Paul Treide, Butch Luth, and Jack Matheny. A 1984 newspaper article states that, in their first year, the program received 60 calls resulting in 22 arrests and $13,809 worth of stolen property was recovered. Today, the program resulted in approximately 322 arrests and the recovery of over $350,000 in stolen property and narcotics. In closing, Thank you to the many kind people at the Campbell County Public Library and the Rockpile Museum who have helped me in my researching endeavors!

 

Works Cited
Works Cited

“Gillette History.” Campbell County Government, Rockpile Museum, www.ccgov.net/DocumentCenter/View/509.

Hein, Rebecca. “Campbell County, Wyoming.” WyoHistory.org, www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/campbell-county-wyoming.

“Local Officers Credited With Capture of Slayers.” Gillette News-Record, 2 Jan. 1941, pp. 1t–8.

Leave a comment