Historical Details

Van Tassell, Wyoming

Courtesy of Niobrara Historical Brevity, 07/01/1986

From "Niobrara Historical Brevity" published by the
Niobrara Historical Society, in observance of the Lusk Centennial 1886-1986

The town of Van Tassell is located approximately two miles west of the Nebraska-Wyoming state line on Highway 20.

Van Rensselaer Schuyler Van Tassell pioneered ahead of the railroad and came to Cheyenne when it was founded in 1867. The eastern part of what is now Wyoming was then Dakota Territory. In 1857 Laramie County was created by the Dakota Territorial Legislature at Yankton, South Dakota. This established, for the first time, what later became the eastern boundary of Wyoming. In 1869 Congress created Wyoming Territory. Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States. John A. Campbell was the first Territorial Governor (1869 - 1875).

R. S. Van Tassell first came to this section of Wyoming Territory when he bought the Jim Moore place - later know as the Jay Em Ranch. After Moore's death he married Mrs. Moore. He gained control of the land where Van Tassell now stands in 1880. When the railroad came through in 1886, railroad officials named the station and town that sprang up around it Van Tassell. Mr. Van Tassell was among the largest cattle raisers in the Rocky Mountain region. He died in California in April 1931 when nearing the age of 100. He is buried in Cheyenne.

With the coming of the homesteaders, Van Tassell grew rapidly, reaching its peak in 1913. At the peak of it's development, Van Tassell had two hardware stores, three general stores, lumber yard, bank, two churches, two newspapers (one of which later became the Lusk Free Lance), butcher shop, dairy, creamery, butter factory, blacksmith shop, land office, electric light plant, two garages, a hotel with sixteen rooms and a spacious lobby, three cafes, large warehouse, depot, two drug stores, a city hall with fire department, a city jail, an insurance office, pool hall, mortuary, livery barn, minister, doctor, dentist, barber, mortician, coroner, hairdresser, and a city law officer.

This panoramic view of Van Tassell was taken about the time the community reached its peak of prosperity.

Mr. Van Tassell donated the big bell to the Congregational Church. When it was no longer in use, the bell was purchased from the church by Bill Nolan and it is now in use in Jay Em.

A school was built in 1910. Charles Wheeler was postmaster from April 9, 1910 until December 27, 1910. Earl Criss was the first depot agent. A Mr. Hall lived in the first section house and took care of the railroad. The town was incorporated in 1916. The first mayor was Charles Calhoun. Councilmen were H. E. Zerbe, Charles Williams, O. I. Stenger and Walt Adams.

Van Tassell was an agricultural community and held many fairs. Grain and dairy products from the cream and butter factory were shipped on the railroad.

Charter No I - The first American Legion Post in the United States named for Ferdinand Branstetter - was granted to Van Tassell, Wyo. on June 28, 1919. Charles Calhoun was the first commander.

Many pioneers and loved ones rest in the small cemetery situated south of town.

Van Tassell has a current population of 12. It is governed by the mayor and four council members, served by a treasurer and clerk. A modern building serves as town hall, fire hall and community meeting room. The town owns a late model, well-equipped fire truck. The tiny Van Tassell Post Office observed it's 75th anniversary April 9, 1985. Its only other business is a grocery store.

The Lusk Herald
July 9, 1986
Van Tassell reached peak in 1913

With the coming of the homesteaders and the speeding Model T in 1909, communities such as Van Tassell grew rapidly, reaching its peak in 1913.

Three carloads of grain were shipped from Van Tassell in January, 1919. The new hotel was opened with sixteen rooms and a spacious lobby. Other new buildings were a bank, furniture store and pool hall.

By 1917 a full column of Van Tassell items blossomed on the front page of The Lusk Herald. Work on a new Catholic Church was started. In 1920 and 1921 the town and community held large agricultural fairs. In addition to exhibits of grain and vegetables, school and fine art exhibits won ribbons and prizes.

At the peak of its development Van Tassell had two hardware stores, three general stores, lumber yard, bank, two saloons, two pool halls, ice house, livery stable, two churches, newspaper, creamery and butter factory, blacksmith shop, electric light plant, two garages, meat market, hotel, three cafes, large warehouse, depot, two drug stores, city hall with a fire department and city jail.

A minister, doctor, dentist, barber and city cop were in residence. Mrs. Catherine McCabe was post-mistress. Dr. Edward G. Pendray, now the noted rocket expert from New York, attended the two-year accredited high school. His father, John Pendray, homesteaded near Van Tassell. Andrew McMaster, Niobrara senator, was a long-time resident of the Van Tassell area. Mrs. McMaster was Genevieve McCabe.

Van Rensselaea Schuyler Van Tassell pioneered ahead of the Union Pacific railroad, coming to Cheyenne when it was founded in 1867. The eastern part of what is now Wyoming was then in Dakota Territory. In 1867 Laramie County was created by the Dakota Territorial Legislature at Yankton, So. Dak. This established for the first time what later became the eastern boundary of Wyoming, as Laramie County was the full length north and south of what is now Wyoming. In 1868, Congress created Wyoming Territory. President U.S. Grant appointed John A. Campbell the first Governor.

Disliked the Town
R. S. Van Tassell first came to this section of Wyoming Territory when he bought the Jim Moore, later known as the Jay Em ranch, in 1877. After Moore's death he married Mrs. Moore. He gained control of land where Van Tassell now stands in 1880. When the railroad came through in 1886, railroad officials named the station and town that sprang up around it Van Tassell, against the wishes of Mr. Van Tassell. He never like the town named in his honor, ignored its merchants, and freighted his ranch supplies from Cheyenne.

The Van Tassell ranch holdings were extensive. He was among the largest cattle ranchers in the Rocky Mountain region before the coming of the homesteaders in 1909. He was a fine horseman. He guided President Theodore Roosevelt on the president's famous "50-mile ride" from Laramie to Cheyenne in 1908. When they met, Roosevelt grasped Van Tassell's hand and said "Oh, you Mohawk Dutchman." Roosevelt was then 50 years old and Van Tassell far past 70, but the rancher set such a hard pace on the ride that Roosevelt finally remarked, "Say, Van, you old rascal, I believe you are trying to show me up."

Van Tassell had five wives. He died in California in April, 1931, when nearing 100, He was buried in Cheyenne, the city he loved best.

The Lusk Herald
March 28, 1990
Van Tassell: It's a fantastic place to live

It's a fantastic place to live, say people who live there.

When driving through the town of Van Tassell, you see a lot of older buildings which are boarded up, and one would not be likely to guess that Van Tassell was once a bustling town of several hundred people. The current city limits sign states a population of 10 and an elevation of 4,736 feet.

According to Garnet Heckert, town clerk/treasurer and postmaster at the Van Tassell Post Office, the population is actually 12.

Van Tassell became an incorporated town in 1916, according to records filed in the Niobrara County Court House. The application for incorporation was filed Jan. 4, 1916, and a Notice of Incorporation was filed on Jan. 4, 1916.

Niobrara County was formed in 1913 when Converse County was divided into smaller counties.

The people who live in and around Van Tassell are ranchers for the most part and the town was first started by homesteaders. The town was named after a railroad siting near what was to become the Wyoming-Nebraska border. The siting was named for Van Rensselaer Schuyler Van Tassell.

The population of Van Tassell soared in the years after it became a town due to the homesteaders coming west to file claims on 320 acres. The population is said to have reached as high as 1,000, according to Charles Wheeler and others claim it was merely 200, but Heckert said she knows it was more than 200 at the peak of population.

The availability of land brought many people to the area, but many could not make a living on the land they had filed claim to, so they sold to other homesteaders and moved on, according to Wheeler, the first postmaster. Heckert said some of the first families to come to Van Tassell included the Larsons, Shoults, McMasters and Heckelbecks, as well as the Heckerts and Hansons. She does not have all the names of the early families, so a complete listing is not available.

"When Jessie Simpson came in 1909 she said there was nothing here - no fences, no buildings. All she remembers is a pile of cow hides because they had had a bad winter," Heckert said.

The Van Tassell Post Office is the oldest establishment in the town, having been put in April 9, 1910 at the request of Wheeler. Wheeler served as postmaster from April 1910 to Dec. 27, 1910. Mary Wilson served from Dec. 28, 1910 to Sept. 24, 1913. Catherine McCabe was postmaster from Sept. 25, 1913 until Nov. 30, 1941 and had the post office in her home, which is where Lee and Lori Bruegger live now. Lori Bruegger is the mayor of Van Tassell.

Robert Bancroft served as the officer in charge from Dec. 1, 1914 until Sept. 1, 1942. During that time the post office was housed in the depot across the highway from the present site. Bertha Bancroft became postmaster Sept. 1, 1942 and served as postmaster until July 31, 1964.

Mary Foutz served from July 31, 1964 until June 9, 1965. Ila Buckley served as postmaster from July 9, 1965 until June 30, 1972. Mary Davies served from July 1, 1972 to July 16, 1976. Heckert began July 17, 1976 and is the current postmaster.

In 1953, the current post office was built. The office has been moved back and forth between its current location and another office that was in a 10 x 16 ft. building that Mary Davies had when she was postmaster for 13 years. It was moved back to its current site last fall.

In the boom days of the early 1920s, the town boasted of having two grocery stores, two hardware stores, a bank, livery stable, blacksmith shop, pool hall with a restaurant, two churches, an ice house, hotel, drug store, restaurant, creamery, furniture store, lumber yard, city jail and a weekly newspaper (Van Tassell Booster). The town also had a high school, but had only one class graduate from a four-year program. That class had five members. Most of the classes only attended three years of high school. The high school was closed in the late 1960s and students went to Node or Lusk.

The town is home to the nation's first American Legion Post. Ferdinant Brandstetter Post No. 1 was officially formed March 17, 1919. Brandstetter was a homesteader south of Van Tassell in 1914.

The post office houses the first mail drop in Van Tassell in its lobby. The mail drop was donated by Lloyd Adams. The post office now has 48 boxes and serves 26 families, including mailboxes and routes. Bud and Shirley Owens carry mail to Van Tassell from Lusk and Nadine Ellecott takes care of the south route from Van Tassell. Adams also recently donated a wagon wheel and a water pump to help decorate the post office for the centennial.

The current post office has living quarters behind for the postmaster and her family in case of bad weather. Heckert said she has had to use the living quarters only about four or five times last winter. She lives five miles northeast of Van Tassell on the Frank Hanson ranch.

The current town council consists of Lori Bruegger, mayor; Eunice Miller, Mark Bruegger, Charlie Wise and Marcie Bruegger, council members.

The town has only had one significant event in history which occurred Oct. 15, 1924 when a man bought some alcohol in Harrison, Neb. and got off the train in Van Tassell because, "he wanted to spend some time in a quiet town." He proceeded to shoot up the town, then jumped on a passing train and proceeded to Lusk, followed by a posse.

The town was also known for its Buckaroo bar, which added to the night life of the town. It burned down in 1965.

"It was a thriving business years before, but not as the time of the fire. It had puppet shows, and dance floor which was used as a roller skating arena," Heckert said.

Charlie and Rita Wise said they enjoy living in Van Tassell.

"It's quiet," Charlie said. "And there's no elbow-to-elbow people. I like the friendliness, no traffic and the clean air."

Wise was born and raised on the San Francisco peninsula. He said he prefers the slower pace of Wyoming. Rita was born and raised in the Niobrara County area and worked in Lusk for a time before moving to California.

"Our first vacation we came back here to visit and I said this is where I want to be and retire," Charlie said.

Rita liked the move because, "I came home."

Jana Holman used to live in Casper. "I like the neighbors mostly because they are there for you. It is a small town. I just love it. I like people to remember me."

Georgia Shoults, who works as a relief person for Heckert at the post office, used to live in Node. "I like Wyoming," she said of why she like living in the Van Tassell area.

Eunice Miller, a member of the town council, enjoys living in Van Tassell.

"I was raised here and it's home to me. The neighbors and community - it's just a fantastic place to live," she said.

Miller said she went to school for eight years in Van Tassell. After she married Dale Miller she and he moved to Edgemont for a short time before moving back to the ranch. The ranch is in the city limits, but she says it feels like living in the county. "All the people in the community are just super people."

Images & Attachments



Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Bancroft, Bertha (05/16/1899 - 05/07/1971) View Record
Obituary Criss, Earl (01/08/1887 - 03/02/1965) View Record
Obituary Criss, Earl (07/31/1933 - 01/10/1981) View Record
Obituary Hanson, Frank (06/14/1912 - 03/01/1991) View Record
Obituary McCabe, Catherine (11/28/1871 - 01/25/1952) View Record
Obituary McMaster, Andrew (08/19/1896 - 06/11/1986) View Record
Obituary McMaster, Genevieve (12/18/1892 - 10/03/1964) View Record
Obituary Miller, Eunice (10/01/1934 - 05/23/2001) View Record
Obituary Wise, Rita (02/13/1933 - 10/30/1995) View Record
Obituary Pendray, John (04/04/1872 - 02/13/1953) View Record
Obituary Hanson, Frank (06/15/1870 - 05/11/1951) View Record
Obituary Bancroft, Robert (01/07/1887 - 04/07/1967) View Record
Obituary Calhoun, Charles (12/26/1875 - 11/08/1945) View Record
Obituary Wilson, Mary (07/16/1926 - 12/21/2011) View Record
Obituary Williams, Charles (09/15/1898 - 07/22/1987) View Record
Obituary Williams, Charles (11/30/-0001 - 08/12/1908) View Record
Obituary Heckert, Garnet (10/08/1935 - 03/15/2017) View Record
Obituary Owens, Shirley (07/09/1927 - 12/08/2018) View Record