One Town's Life, Part 2
Second in Series
(In the first installment of “One Town’s Life” published in the September 17 issue of The Herald, Jesse L. Hall, author, tells of the townsite of Lusk being laid out, its growth and improvements, building of the reservoir, conversion from board to cement walks, the coming of the first auto. )
I believe it was during the session of 1913 that the Wyoming Legislature effected a division of Converse County, setting apart the eastern portion to be organized as the new county of Niobrara; Lusk became the county seat. Had it not been for what was in the offing, this new status should have contributed much for the stability of the town. The local order of Masons had just completed their temple, two stories, with the ground floor designated for commercial purposes and the upper floor for lodge rooms and office space. I regret that I cannot recall the names of the first board of county commissioners, but they leased the lower floor of the Masonic Temple for county offices, serving that purpose until the courthouse was built about 1918. The Masonic Building was a total loss by fire in 1919.
An incident of public interest was that of the flag raising event in the World War I period. It had become quite a widespread custom that towns would manifest their community patriotism by erecting a flag pole in some appropriate place for displaying the nation’s flag. Martin C. Agnew, member of the firm of H.C. Snyder & Company, said to me one day, “I think Lusk should have a flag pole.” I agreed with him that the suggestion was a good one. We found that a representative number of citizens were also in agreement, and the project was soon under way. A suitable steel pole, about 60 feet or more in length, was ordered. Elmer Ranck, building contractor, placed the cement base centered in the intersection of Second and Main Streets.
Came the day for the flag raising ceremony, which was well advertised, resulting in a good attendance. The Reverend D.J. Clark, a retired presiding elder, delivered the oration from the veranda of the Henry Hotel. Mr. Orson J. Demmon, a Civil War veteran and former pioneer resident, was visiting form Florida. We thought it would be highly fitting and appropriate that he be the one to raise the flag, but he had set a prior date for leaving for his Florida home. When asked if he could delay his departure in order to participate in the flag service, his response was, “I’ll be glad to.”
At the conclusion of the oration, Mr. Demmon, his snow-white hair bared to the gentle breeze, walked with stately mien to the base of the pole; then grasping the rope, he pulled “Old Glory”, slowly, to the top of the pole, where, unfurled, it waved in the Wyoming breeze. It was an impressive sight. Many years later, the pole had to be removed because it had become a traffic hazard.
From early days, Lusk had a volunteer fire department, with the hose house located on the alley corner of West Second Street across, north, from the rear of Snyder’s Store. The hose cart was pulled by hand to the scene of the fire by the volunteer firemen. At some time before the following incident occurred, the hose house was relocated to the northeast corner of Elm and Second Streets. A bell tower was erected, holding a sizeable bell to give fire alarms, as well as sound the curfew each night about 8 o’clock, at least during World War I.
One clear, mild evening in October of 1918, after the curfew hour, the bell began to ring wildly, incessantly. Startled residents emerged from their homes, curious as to the cause of such a clamor. Excited words began to be shouted: “The Armistice has been signed! The Armistice! The war is over!” What a night of celebration! Main Street was lined with excited and happy men, women and children. Soon a huge, roaring bonfire was lighted on Reservoir Hill, to where most of the jubilant throng moved to continue the celebration. The fire bell continued its wild ringing until it cracked, like the historic Liberty Bell.
Alas! A day or so later, word was received that indeed the Armistice had not yet been signed. When the real Armistice Day arrived, Lusk received the news gratefully but calmly. The townspeople-and their fire bell-had already staged their own, unique celebration.
The ending of the World War I years was near the beginning of a new and exciting era, the reverberations of which were felt far and beyond the borders of the Lusk community, which itself suddenly became a whirlpool of activity and expansion. Alas, a little later it was almost as suddenly plunged into the agonies that traditionally follow a boom and bust period.
Geological formations in some areas of the north-central portion of the new Niobrara County were thought by certain persons in our midst, who appeared to have at least a smattering of knowledge of geology, to indicate the existence of oil structures below. A few superficial attempts were unsuccessful. It was about the year 1915 that Norbeck & Nicholson, deep well drillers from Redfield, South Dakota, drilled a well in Cow Gulch, striking a pocket of heavy black oil. The quality of the oil was not exciting, but the strike itself really caused a stir, Interest, however, became centered mostly in the area which came to be known later as the Lance Creek field, The federal government had not yet withdrawn the public land from entry; therefore locating, staking, and filing oil-placer claims on government land was done by many, On the basis of these claims there was a spate of oil companies organized whose stocks floated in profusion. A market of a sort developed through which they were traded. A few of these companies undertook developing their holdings with their own resources, but failure among them was universal.
Then, in those days of hopeful anticipation, suddenly the report came and spread that the Ohio Oil Company had brought in a well of high grade oil flowing from the casing head. The effect of this good news was, as it were, the bursting of the bonds that had held the community in reasonable restraint. The local “penny” stocks began soaring in price, and the owners thereof began to feel the thrill of daily growing richer. New and more lofty horizons were envisioned for our little city-to become “another Casper” in size, perhaps.
A great influx of people began, beyond the capacity of the hotels to accommodate. Residents’ private bedrooms were in great demand, and much used. Cheaply constructed quarters called “flopperies” were quickly thrown together and filled.
The character of the influx was made up of a mixture such, I believe, as is usually attracted to booms. There were those who came for legitimate economic purposes; others, in search for “cream” -skim it, if found, and get out. Then there was the “trash”. Reports became current of suspicious characters among the latter element that were feared to be a menace to personal safety. I am reminded here of an amusing incident in this connection happening in my own home, although it might have been tragic. Mrs. Hall had rented a bedroom to Ted Waugh, a young man who worked at the railroad depot. He was among others who began carrying a gun for self-protection. In his room was a dresser placed against a wall, the opposite side of which was in our bedroom, with the headboard against that wall. Ted came to his room late one night and switched on the light, Seeing himself reflected in the mirror of the dresser, he whipped out his pistol; in the practice of a “quick draw”, and bored a neat hole through the mirror, with tiny, evenly spaced racks in the glass radiating from it, The bullet was going in the direction of where we were sleeping, but had spent its force, lodging within the wall. Ted came to our bedroom door, a very upset young man. “Gee!” he said. “Oh gee! Mrs. Hall, did you hear that? I was practicing a quick draw, and the gun went off, shooting a hole through the mirror. Oh, gee!” I am certain that Ted realized the serious consequences the accident might have had, and he was much concerned about it; but the laughable aspects of the incident outweighed by far the importance of the ruined mirror, and, likely, he had to endure a lot of “ribbing” by his associates if they found out about it.
(To be continued)