One Town's Life, Part 1

Last updated: May 8, 2018

The Lusk Herald
September 17, 1970

By Jesse L. Hall


(April 17, 1970, Jesse L. Hall who was 93 years old completed and recently gave to the Stagecoach Museum in Lusk, a manuscript entitled “One Town’s Life.” It is his recollections of early Lusk. August 16, 1970, Mr. and Mrs. Hall celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in West Covina, Calif., where they have lived since leaving Lusk in 1920. Beginning this week The Herald will publish the manuscript in three installments.)

In the latter half of the 19th century, the Territory of Wyoming was bisected by the Union Pacific Railroad, with Cheyenne the principal point thereon in the territory. Stemming northward from this point, a stage line was established to Deadwood, Dakota Territory, for the purpose of transporting passengers and bullion, a lively traffic of which originated from the developing gold mining industry in the Black Hills. Wyoming’s eastern half was a vast area of grassland fed by an abundance of small streams, along which many cattle ranches were located at such convenient distances apart as would avoid overlapping of ranges and all possible consequent friction. This area served as a vast spreading ground for the longhorns which came in great numbers over the Texas Trail in this period of the century.

It was a long drive to Ogallala, Sidney and Cheyenne, the main cattle shipping points for this area, and the existing tonnage-and greater potential- were not being overlooked by other railroad interests. The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley (it later became the Chicago & Northwestern) was inching its way westward across the state of Nebraska to tap the products of this region. In 1886 it had reached a point one mile east of where the aforementioned Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Line crossed the headwaters of the Niobrara River at its Runningwater Station. (“Runningwater” is the English translation of the Indian name, “Niobrara”.) At this one –mile-east point, on land homesteaded by Fred Morris and later acquired by his cousin, Frank S. Lusk, a townsite was laid out jointly by the Pioneer Townsite Company and Mr. Lusk. The latter’s name was selected for the new town. Joint ownership by the parties was attained by Mr. Lusk’s taking the even numbered lots in the even numbered blocks and the odd numbered lots in the odd numbered blocks. Pioneer Townsite Company took the odd numbered lots in the even blocks and the even numbered lots in the odd blocks.

The initial spurt of growth was, I believe, characteristic of most frontier towns; and Lusk was just that-a frontier town, and for a time was subjected to incidents emphatically on the rough side. But nourishment for that element did not last; and so, in consequence, it had to die out to normal proportions. It is this commentators’ belief that the idea for quality and culture predominated from the beginning. Certainly these virtues were well grounded in the Lusk family relationship. Mr. Lusk built for his mother what for many years was the finest residence in town. (It is now the Peet Mortuary.) Mrs. Lusk was a gracious lady, possessed of quiet dignity. Residing with her was her mother, Sarah M. Stillman, who lived to be the community’s first centenarian-possibly the only one to date.

This writer’s knowledge is limited as to what were the first enterprises to locate in the new town. A few buildings were moved from Silvercliff, a hamlet a mile distant and near a silver mine that proved to be short –lived. In the early 1900’s, Captain F.F. Lounger conducted a furniture business in one of these buildings. Ellis Johnson moved a corrugated sheet iron building, which still stands, located on the west side of Main Street on the second lot north of Second Street. It is my impression that it housed a saloon. J.K. Calkins moved his printing equipment by team and wagon from Chadron, Neb., and ran off the first issues of “The Lusk Herald” in a tent. That veteran of the newspaper world, the oldest weekly in Wyoming, still sends forth its issues every week, dressed in professional makeup that receives accolades from the fraternity to which it belongs. This writer had been a continuous subscriber for 65 years.

In that era, among the essentials of a new and growing town was a hotel. In due time, the “Collins House” was built at the southwest corner of First and Main Streets. The name was changed later, becoming known as the Northwestern Hotel. There occurred changes of ownership and management from time to time. Once it was involved in an incident of both tragedy and folly. The lighting system was acetylene gas, with the generator in the basement under the dining room. The proprietor, Harry Herring, thinking he sensed the smell of gas, went into the basement and lighted a match. The resulting explosion made a shambles of the dining room floor and killed a waitress. Another generator was installed in a cave dug in the side of the hill that sloped to the alley a short distance behind the hotel. The same person entered the cave one day, carrying a lighted lantern. The resulting explosion, it is said, blew him out through the entrance, into the alley. He was not seriously injured in either accident.

Among the later owners of the Northwestern was Mrs. Lena Henry, who purchased it in the early 1900’s. She refurbished the interior of the hotel and built a substantial addition thereto. After some years, she disposed of it and later built the Henry Hotel, a two-story brick structure at Second and Main Streets.

Comes now the turn of the century, and with it a changed community atmosphere for the little town of Lusk and its environs. The aspects of the frontier have largely disappeared. Wyoming is no longer under territorial government, and it is admitted as the 44th state, with leadership among its people highly devoted to ambitious progress. The character of the Lusk community is a true reflection of the whole, with an urge for improvement and determination to enrich the job of living.

Beginning about 1904, there entered a period of renewed healthy growth and improvement which lasted to the coming of the oil boom, about 1918. According to my memory, Lusk’s stated population was 407. This writer and his family became residents in June, 1905, having purchased the remnant of a lumber and building materials business from Albert Collins. The little city had just recently completed the installation of a municipal water system, having bonded itself-again from memory-for $5,500 for that purpose. When this is being written 65 years later, the sum stated may seem incredibly small to those who may read it, but in those days it was a lot of money, and much could be done with little. The site chosen for the water system’s reservoir was atop the hill beneath which the town was situated. The reservoir was dug single-handedly by and elderly pioneer resident, Mr. Knittle, whose equipment consisted of pick, shovel, wheelbarrow, and blasting powder. He was the father of the late Frank Knittle, a city employee for some years.

With this facility, the owners could-and did-modernize their homes and beautify them with lawns and gardens, making of Lusk a charming little city, which it still is, Homes were otherwise improved, and a few residents built new ones. Mrs. Hall and I were married in the year 1905, and built our first home on the southeast corner of Oak and Third Streets. We had a cement walk laid from the front porch to the gate. That was the first stretch of cement walk to appear in Lusk, and it attracted much interest. Soon, a fellow townsman was seen removing his board sidewalk, having it replaced by one of cement. A neighbor followed suit, and the changeover gained momentum until eventually all the board sidewalks had disappeared, both in the residential and in the business sections.

Among the citizens who built new homes in this period were: H.C. Snyder, Lusk’s leading merchant, who erected a spacious two-story home on the northeast corner of Elm and Fifth Streets; Edward M. Arnold, whose home is now the Roy and Gertrude Chamberlain home; H. N. Callander, James E. Mayes, and Jesse L. Hall all built on South Main Street. Frank Duel built two houses on West Third Street for sale. Jurgen Lorenzen, Lusk’s coal dealer and drayman, bought one of them. Prominent ranchers also began in this period to build homes in town. Among them were Jacob Mill, Eugene Willson, Albert Rochelle, Lon Galbreath, Alfred Johnson, and John Roy.

Other civic improvements appeared. Already Lusk had outgrown its two-room school building, a wood-frame structure located where the present jail and courthouse now stand. A third room had been added, but the next year it was necessary to lease the Congregational Church Annex for additional school facilities. Now it was deemed wise to lay the foundations for a building adequate to meet the community needs for future years. The super-structure of an eight-room brick schoolhouse was erected on an out lot (area not yet subdivided into blocks and lots) at the southeast corner of Main and Sixth Streets. The basement and first floor were completed for use; the second story was left unfinished until needed later, when it was used for the high school students for a number of years.

A franchise was granted to Mr. M. E. Shipley, a telephone industrialist from Nebraska, for a local telephone system which he built and completed. Mr. Shipley’s brother, Guy, a local resident, was placed in charge of the lines and operated the “exchange” which was in the upper story of the Demmon Building—the first two-story brick building to be erected on Main Street.

The installation of the sewer system and the electrical power system were outstanding public achievements of this period. Incidental to the establishment of the electrical power system, a small “short circuit’ produced a few verbal sparks, but nothing serious. John Slater’s “Lusk Standard”, in critical comments about the street lights placed at a few intersections, referred to them as “pancakes hanging on goose necks”. They were a combination of light bulbs and flat reflectors suspended from the end of conduits bent downward from the top of poles. At least one of the councilmen, a close friend of mine, resented the ridicule but made no public ado about it.

In 1906 the automobile was just emerging as a glorified plaything. An interesting feature of Lusk’s Fourth of July celebration of that year was a young man from Douglas with his new Rambler car. I am unable to recall his name, but he drove it to Lusk the night before the celebration. Beginning in the morning of the Fourth, he was busy all day and into the ensuing night taking people for the ride to the stockyards and back, a distance of one mile each way, charging 25 cents per person. It was a gala affair for the children especially, and a novel and exciting experience for the adults. They would stand in small groups awaiting their turn. When at last the exciting moment came to be seated in the car, the adults would hold children on their laps—not necessarily their own child and often more than one child per lap.

It was in this year of 1906 that the first automobile owned in Lusk appeared on its streets. It was a 2-cylinder Cadillac, shipped out from Chicago by the Copper Belt Mines Company for use of their superintendent, Hans Gautschi, in commuting between town and the mines on Rawhide Buttes. On arrival, it became an object of intense interest in the community, from which it got a lot of looking-over. Of course, “self-starters” were not yet even thought of, and one must go to the side of this car to “crank” it. The side feature soon disappeared when models came with more cylinders.

From this vehicle came the inspiration for others to want a car. Mr. Harry C. Snyder was the first to yield to the urge by buying a Kissel, touring model. Two ranchers, Alfred Johnson and George Voorhees, purchased Kissels equipped with special 30-inch wheels, which were to provide clearance over the “high centers” which were often an annoying feature of the deeply worn dirt roads. In due time, cars of other makes ere appearing, among which were a Velie, Overland, Buick, Apperson, and in 1910, this writer purchased a Model T Ford. It was the third Ford within a radius of 60 miles.

(To be Continued)








Historical Search

Type your search terms into the box below and his 'Search!' to begin searching the historical archives.




Historical Links

Debbie Sturman, Director
425 South Main Street, P O Box 510
Lusk, WY 82225-0510
Phone: 307-334-3490
© 2018, Niobrara County Library