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Niobrara County gets its name from the Niobrara River which heads just north of Manville and flows east across the county to three-fourths of the way across Nebraska where it spills into the muddy Missouri. Niobrara County is a land of gently rolling plains and beautiful cedar and pine covered hills. Though there are no streams of appreciable size, two important rivers have their origins within its boundaries. The southern one-third of the County drains southeastward into the Niobrara River while the northern two-thirds drains northeastward to form the Cheyenne River. Nebraska and South Dakota bound it on the east. Dakota Territory, a small part of the Louisiana Purchase, which was named after the Dakota Indians (richest tribe in the proud Sioux Nation) paved the way for Converse County, Wyoming Territory. The counties of Albany and Laramie were in the Dakota Territory when the Territory of Wyoming was created in 1868. The Wyoming Legislature established the boundaries of Albany and Laramie Counties shortly after the Territory of Wyoming received them from the Dakota Territory; twenty years later in 1888, Converse County, Wyoming Territory was carved from these counties; and in 1911 folks at this end of the County decided it was too far to Douglas and that the county was too big for their best interests and we find them cutting off the east end and naming it Niobrara County, Wyoming. (State by this time).
The county is approximately 42 1/2 miles wide, 61 1/2 miles long and contains a total land area of 1,672,320 acres with the elevation at Lusk being 5008 feet and rising slightly in the western part of the County to 5280 feet at Keeline. In the northeastern part of the County it is lower again being 4000 feet on the Cheyenne River. The 1950 census gave the County a population of 4,723, located on Highways 20 and 85 and as of 1951 there were162 miles of State Highways.
There are three villages in Niobrara County besides Lusk and the Lance Creek oil field, all on the C. & N. W. Railway. Manville, an incorporated town is 12 miles west of Lusk, and has a grade school and a Community Church. Van Tassell, also incorporated, is just west of the Nebraska line. Keeline is in the western part of the County. Silver Cliff was a town earlier than Lusk and was located at the foot of the hill of the same name just west of Lusk. In the 1880?s folks here were engaged in big mining ventures. The hill was the scene of a large milling plant and much ore activities. Thus, even today, the hill is burrowed with numerous shafts both vertical and horizontal. In this ore were silver and gold as well uranium and radium. We are informed by old timers that Silver Cliff was located on land owned by Ellis Johnson, father of Lawrence and Alfred Johnson. But with the coming of the railroad, promoters and Ellis Johnson couldn't get together on a price for the railroad to pay for the land so a deal was made with Frank Lusk and the townsite moved to its present location and the few buildings and tents at the old townsite gradually moved to the new townsite. Mrs. Cornelia Lusk (mother of Frank) was active in the affairs of the town, was one of the founders of the Congregational Church and at the election held after the formation of Converse County (1889) she was elected County Superintendent of Schools and was probably the third woman so elected in the Territory of Wyoming. A post office was established at Lusk, Converse County, Wyoming Territory February 15, 1884 with Frank Lusk as the first postmaster. Exactly two weeks later Hat Creek came into being when John Storrie received his Postmasters appointment March 4, 1884. The price of radium fell on the world markets and it was no longer profitable to mine and process the Silver Cliff ore. Hardly a week goes by, however, that someone local or imported, is not rushing to the hill with a Geiger counter.
East Central Wyoming, of which Lusk is the hub, is rich in historical lore. This section was the rendezvous of the early trappers and traders. During the Civil War period a sizeable army of Confederate prisoners, known as "Galvanized Yankees," explored this section under command of Union Officers and camped near the site of Lusk on Running Water (later called Niobrara River). During the Black Hills gold rush, which started in the middle 1870?s, this section was an important stopping place where prospectors, highjackers, and hangers-on paused to refresh and rest themselves and their weary livestock. When the Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage Line was established in 1876, the Running Water station, near the present site of Lusk, was the most important station between Cheyenne and the Black Hills. Cattle barons came here to inspect trail herds on their way from Texas to the northern ranges. When the railroad tapped Eastern Wyoming in 1886, the town of Silver Cliff moved over on the railroad and the town of Lusk really came into being and has since enjoyed a steady growth in wealth and importance, which was climaxed by the discovery of rich oil pools in the Lance Creek region in 1919. Uranium was first discovered in Wyoming at the Silver Cliff mine which had been worked as a silver mine thirty years earlier and uranium metals were found at the dump of the old mine. The only evidence which the traveler may encounter to bring back memories of pioneer days is the Texas Trail Monument, located a few miles east of Lusk on U. S. Highway 20 and the George Lathrop Monument two miles west of Lusk on the same highway, which was erected by popular subscription to mark the final resting place of George Lathrop, one of the early drivers and the last one to drive a stage over the famous Cheyenne-Deadwood stage road. The Texas Trail Monument marks the trail over which thousands of cattle passed on their long trek from Texas and Mexico to the summer ranges in Wyoming and Montana. These monuments, an old Cheyenne-Deadwood concord Stage Coach in the Lusk Museum and the deep ruts made by passing stage coaches are the only surviving evidence of the Pioneer days to be seen today. The tell-tale ruts may be found a few miles west of Lusk on or near the Niobrara Country Club golf course, and in the sand rock in the " Brakes" north of Lusk where the heavily laden coaches passed on their way to old Fort Hat Creek and on through Red Canyon to Deadwood and return.
Niobrara County is an unusually rich area for the archaeologists and paleontologist. Since the turn of the century many unusual discoveries have been made. The "rock hound" will find here a productive field for his hobby particularly in the "Spanish Diggings" area in the southwestern part of the county. This is an old quarry where early man made arrow heads and stone implements. It is thought to be much older than the Indian times.
Niobrara County is a rich area for the fossil hunter. Among the skeletons of pre-historic animals on display in numerous museums is a Mesohippus in the geology museum at the University of Wyoming. The Mesohippus is a pint-sized (21 inches at the shoulder) three toed forerunner of the present day horse. The teeth are very low indicating that he shunned Dobbin?s favorite diet of grass for a diet of soft leaves. The Mesohippus was found north of Lusk by Dr. Paul O. McGrew, associate professor of geology and Henry Roehler, a student assistant in the museum. The world's oldest mummy, a Billed Dinosaur, was found in Niobrara County in 1907. In its report the American Museum of Natural History of New York stated "The remarkable feature about this find is the fact that it is the only specimen of a prehistoric creature where the skin remains intact. The epidermis is shrunken around the limbs, tightly drawn along its bony surface and contracted like a great curtain below the chest area. The discovery of this specimen disclosed the fact that although attaining a height of fifteen to sixteen feet and a length of thirty the trachodons were not covered with scales of a bony protecting armature, but with the dermal scutes of relatively small size."
Oil is Niobrara County's greatest resource. With a total assessed valuation for taxation purposes amounting to $18,000.000, nearly half in oil and oil-producing property principally in the Lance Creek field, which is one of the largest producing fields in the state, development of which began in 1934. This field is approximately 30 miles northwest of Lusk and may be reached by oiled highway from Manville north or by another off of Highway 85 north of Lusk. Though not an incorporated village, the scattered Lance Creek community of company camps and business sections is Niobrara County's second largest community. It has a fine school with a new gymnasium built in 1952. A Community Church and a Catholic Church serve the field. Other sections of Niobrara County still hold great attraction for oil exploration.
Well-stocked ranches dot the County in all directions, making Niobrara County one of the principal stock producing areas of the state. The Lusk Livestock Commission Company is one of the largest livestock marketing centers in the Rocky Mountain Region. Range livestock production is the major agricultural enterprise of the county though recent years have seen a great increase in the amount of dry-land farming of small grain. There is also an increasing amount of irrigation farming with water supplied from wells. Some of the finest herds of Hereford and Black Angus cattle and numerous breeds of sheep will be seen as one travels across the County in any direction. Niobrara ranches are examples of the most modern living. In recent years a network of rural electric lines has brought great advantages to both the ranch home and to the activities of farming and ranching. Ranching methods are being constantly improved and the quality of both sheep and cattle is at an all-time high. Many fine registered herds of both cattle and sheep are found here, herds that have made outstanding records in the various shows and sales. In 1944 the Central Hereford Association, composed mostly of Niobrara County breeders, was organized and holds sales each spring and fall at Lusk. The Niobrara sheep breeders hold fall sales. Niobrara County native grass has become famous among livestock buyers for the finish it gives cattle. Pioneer cattlemen noticed in the early days that native grass animals roaming this area were unusually good flesh and followed that cue in selecting rangeland for cattle. Great progress has also been made in dry-land farming methods, and where a few years ago only a few car loads of grain were shipped from Lusk, now 30 or 40 are loaded out annually. The strip farming will be seen in many places by the traveler. The County maintains agriculture and home demonstration agents.
Lusk, Niobrara County seat, is a clean attractive town with fine churches, excellent schools, and vigorous, progressive business and professional services. Niobrara County is a single school district benefiting by the wealth of its vast oil resources and the fall of 1954 saw the opening of a beautiful, new, modern County High School building at Lusk, as well as the opening of a modern addition for the Grade School and in the winter of 1958-59 a Junior High building. Lusk has one of the finest hotels in Wyoming and outstanding tourist court accommodations for the traveler. A fine swimming pool and airport facilities are provided. There are also fine parks where visitors may picnic and one in which they may camp. A new band shell was erected in 1951 and weekly concerts are presented in the summer. Visitors in Lusk should not fail to spend some time in the Lusk Museum which houses one of the old Cheyenne-Deadwood stage coaches and many other pioneer relics and stone-age artifacts. The stage coach was presented to the Lions Club on Memorial Day 1927 and in later years they erected the Museum (building on 4th Street) especially to house it behind Gautschi's Service station. One of the outstanding features of the Museum building is the collection of pioneer cattle brands burned into the ends of the logs, properly identified with metal tags. The first log cabin erected in Niobrara County also stands in the Lusk City Park.
During the last few years the herds of antelope and deer have increased greatly in this county to the point where they provide some of the best hunting to be found anywhere.
Places of Historical Interest:
Lathrop grave and monument (two miles west of Lusk)
Lusk Museum (located on Main Street in Lusk)
Silver Cliff mines and Running Water Stage Station (just northwest of Lusk)
Old Hat Creek Stage Station and Old Fort Hat Creek (in northern part of county)
First Log Cabin in County (in Lusk city park)
Spanish Diggings (in southwestern part of county)
Dinosaur beds (in northern part of county)
Site of Buffalo Bill-Yellow Hand fight (in northeastern part of county)
Lance Creek Oil Field (north from Manville)
Last Indian battle in Niobrara County (on Lighting Creek in Northwestern part.)
In sight to the south over in the edge of Goshen County is a string of black buttes, in local parlance they are called the "Rawhides." One writer has described them as blue-black warts on the horizon. They sit there continuously and unmoved like a watch dog on the prairie. They serve as landmarks for the traveler. However, legend has it that in the day of 1849 when gold hungry mobs were hurrying westward to California to make their stake in the gold fields there, in a group who had hastily thrown together some covered wagons and headed west from Blackhawk County, Iowa there was a young chap who boasted that he was a hater of Indians and intended to kill the first one he saw. Camped in this area and by a large cottonwood tree which is still standing, so the legend goes, this young braggart stole out of camp one night and he did shoot in cold blood, his first sighted Indian, a young Indian maiden, and the rest of the tribe soon discovered their loss. Realizing that someone in the wagon train did it, the Indians demanded the culprit be handed over and revenge meted out. Otherwise the train would be destroyed. At first the young man denied his deed, but when the train was to be wiped out in a massacre, he gave himself up to be skinned alive by the revenging redskins. Miss Eva Lou Bonsell wrote a charming play. "The Legend of Rawhide" which is played each summer by a group of the people of Lusk and vicinity. Travelers through Lusk should inquire as to the date of the presentation. Presented first in 1946 as a feature of the Niobrara County Fair, it has gained wide acclaim. Its authentic covered wagons, trained ox team and its large cast make this spectacle one of Wyoming's outstanding shows each year. The Niobrara County Fair and Rodeo, held annually in August, is also an event that will interest many a traveler. Here is the west in its thrilling industry and adventure is seen at its best.
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