Historical Details

Extension Work in Niobrara County

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 08/17/1961

Extension Work Has Meant Much to Niobrara Since 1917

J. Carl Laney was Niobrara's first county agent. He came on August 24, 1917.  He immediately started helping ranchers vaccinate against black leg. Over 1400 calves were treated. A Farm bureau was organized in 1918. Farmer's institutes were held over the county on growing corn, building silos, and planting alfalfa and sweet clover. Canning demonstrations were held for women by Miss Olea Sands, the first Home Demonstration agent. Clubs for boys and girls were organized. Twenty-nine members were enrolled in pork, sheep, potato, garden, and canning.

The Farm Bureau brought a motion picture projector in 1919 for showing of educational pictures. A.E. Hyde from Colorado became agent when Mr. Laney resigned to take up ranching. Working with the Farm Bureau, Mr. Hyde set up a rodent campaign. Prairie dogs and ground squirrels were poisoned with treated oats. One silo was filled with Russian thistles for a feed project, Women held meetings on child welfare, cheese making and canning. Community fairs were held at Van Tassell and Keeline. The first county exhibit appeared at the State Fair. Mr. Hyde stressed the growing of pure-bred pigs and certified seed potatoes. A potato growers association was organized and 9,000 bushels of certified seed potatoes were sold by 81 growers. By 1922 the estimated income from certified seed potatoes in the county was $60,000. Boys and girls potato clubs and pork clubs were well organized and became known as 4-H clubs.

D. N. Mendenhall of Minnesota became agent in 1923. His records are the first ones on file at the Courthouse and are well filled with pictures. He organized corn clubs among boys and girls and had reported yields of 35 bushels to the acre at the end of the year. Mr. Mendenhall died in Buffalo, Minn., July 9, 1961. Demonstrations were given on testing seed for germination, A certified alfalfa seed growers association was organized.

Mr. Mendenhall worked with the cattle growers on a pure-bred sire campaign. A carload of bulls was purchased from the Wyoming Hereford Company of Cheyenne; 45 Hereford bulls were brought to the county. J.A. Hill wool specialist from the University, gave sheep culling and wool grading demonstrations. Turkey growers marketed their birds through a co-operative association in Torrington.

Home demonstration clubs were well organized by this time. The Royal Valley club, the Node Homemakers Club, the Mile Hi Keeline club, one at Manville and one on the Cheyenne river were among the earliest clubs. since no record of Homemaker clubs can be found, a worth-while county project would be for each present-day club to write up its history as well as can be remembered.

In 1923 there was no Home Demonstration agent. Mr. Mendenhall worked with women on a kitchen improvement project and in addition a contest was held; 35 women had their kitchens scored for efficiency. Six weeks later the improvement they had made was scored. Prizes were given. Sewing schools were also  held by specialists from the University. Chicken and turkey culling demonstrations were held. Four-H girls specialized in flocks of chickens. At the community fair in Van Tassell the women all wore sunbonnets and the men overalls. Those not co-operating were fined and the money used for prizes. Mr. Mendenhall had entire charge of the community fair, for which the commissioners appropriated $400 for prizes. 

Seventy-six boys and girls were enrolled in 4-H club work in 1923,  97 per cent finished their projects and Niobrara County sent its first delegation to the State Fair at Douglas. Mrs. Roy McLain was chaperon. They went up on the train and lived in tents. the boys' tent was close to the girls' tent and Mrs. McLain cooked for both. Cattle were housed under the grandstand.  Meals were served nearby. Mrs. McLain remembers that the flies were terrible and had to be shooed from the tables with leafy branches. The two days were filled with speeches and demonstrations. Miss Alta Jane Emerson, state club leader, commended Niobrara County for having the highest percentage of its children in club work of any community in the State.


In December, 1922, the county commissioners withdrew their support from county extension work. Mr. Mendenhall was so popular and needed in the county that farmers, ranchers and Lusk businessmen subscribed funds for him to carry on his work in 1923. This is the only time in Wyoming that people financed extension work from their own pockets. In 1924 the commissioners again supported extension work.

In the spring of 1924, Fred Boyd, a graduate of Kansas State College, became agent; 1924 was a very dry year with many crop failures. Mr. Boyd introduced barley as a better crop than corn, and encouraged the planting of wind breaks of trees. Potatoes prove the most dependable crop in the dry years. Kanred and Kota were tried. Some beans were grown.

E.A. Reeves came as agent in the spring of 1927 and remained for seven years. With the farmers he worked on certified potatoes, alfalfa seed and turkey growing. A greater part of his time was spent on 4-H club work. Starting with 9 clubs and 66 members in 1927, by 1930 he had 127 boys and girls enrolled. There was no Home Demonstration agent. Women leaders trained the girls in home economics projects. Judging and demonstration teams went to the State Fair. Second place in the State was won by both the sheep judging team and the by the home economics team. Eugene Tyrrel was State Health champion. 

Again severe drought handicapped the extension program. Mr. Reeves was key man in the government buying,in which 23,454 cattle were purchased and 23,064 sheep . This was then followed by a corn-hog reduction campaign, and a wheat acreage cut. These government programs were then handled through the county agent. He also conducted an intensive grasshopper poisoning campaign in which 239 men were employed at mixing plants.

Melvin Stephenson came to the county in the fall of 1934 and worked to build the 4-H program. The wheat adjustment program and conditions due to drought took much of his time. He stressed turkey growing and production, summer fallow, and improved tillage methods. Sleeping sickness in horses and poisoning of cattle by close grazing of weeds kept Mr. Stepehnson busy treating infected animals. Wilbur Brettell recognized the major importance of 4-H club work when he came to the county as agent in the fall of 1937. He stressed the importance of livestock clubs, the purchase of well-bred animals, and the feeding of well-balanced rations. After the drought years, the shift was away from farming to livestock. Mr. Brettell taught fitting, fattening and showing to his 4-H members, as well as the value of good animals to their fathers. He developed club camps, achievement day programs, and won many honors at the State fair with judging and demonstration teams.

 He helped organize the 4-H Leaders Council in 1938. Herds were treated for Bang's disease and a general stock water improvement system started in the county; 178 reservoirs were built, 46 wells developed, and 96 water spreading dams developed in 1941. War brought salvage campaigns for scrap iron, rubber and fat, rationing and bond drives.

In 1944 Mr. Brettell initiated and supervised a cattle grub control project. Fifteen hundred cattle were sprayed for 14 cents per head. This educational program led to extensive control of cattle grubs. The central Hereford Association was organized and held its first bull sale in Lusk in April 1945. Mr. Brettell was secretary of the association. Although working without  the help of a Home Demonstration agent, Mr. Brettell helped well-organized Homemaker's clubs hold training schools with specialists from the University recreation camps and educational achievement days.

Sylvester E. West became agent in September, 1946, when Mr. Brettell was transferred to Laramie  County. "Si" West stressed thorough work in every phase of the 4-H program. With his enthusiasm and the help of such Home Demonstration agents as Sadie Seward, coming in 1948; Ruth Harris in 1950, and Joyce Croft in 1954, the Niobrara 4-H programs developed many winning individuals and championship teams. The Up-and-Coming 4-H Club of Lusk and Node was honored by a KLZ radio broadcast in 1946 for its outstanding safety promotion, Farm Reporter Lowell Watts talked to Patty Shane, Phyllis Willson, Dorothy Humphrey and Mary Sabin.  In 1948 Anna Hansen was one of the first International Youth Exchange Youths. She spent several moths in the Scandinavian countries, living, working, and playing among rural people.


In stressing his livestock program, "Si" West coached nine State and national champions teams in 12 years. In 1949 the livestock judging team of Bonnie Shane, Rex Story John DeGering and Tom Reed won first in Wyoming. At the International Stock Show in Chicago, they were first in the nation, competing with club teams from 20 states. The 1950 team of Carla Mill, Jim Reed, Kenneth Freeman and Danny Langdon won first in the State, placed second in the national at Chicago. Winning the State championship in livestock judging the third year  in succession for a Niobrara team in 1951 were Wanda Mill, Willadell Story, Peggy Langdon and Donald Freeman. This win allowed Niobrara County to have permanent possession of the Wyoming Hereford Ranch's judging trophy. The team also competed in Chicago. In 1954 Ronald Podolak, Jimmy Shane, Alvin Kilmer and Jim Rumney won State championship in livestock judging and were in the Chicago contest. In 1955 the State Reserve Championship team of Clara Sedgwick, Francis Sedgwick, Betty Rumney and Janice Podolak competed in the regional contest at the Denver roundup. Winning the State championship in 1956, Janice Podolak, Betty Rumney, Clara Sedgwick and Katherine ZumBrunnen entered the Chicago contest. The State championship team in 1957 was again from Niobrara county, being Melvin ZumBrunnen, David Bredthauer, Jo Ann Hoy, and Bill Percival.They also judged at Chicago.

State Reserve champion team in 1958 was Larry Lund, Cody Thompson, Leif Thompson, and Karen Tyrrel. They also judged at Denver. In 1960 the State Reserve championship team of Cody Thompson, Leif Thompson, Larry Lund, and Ray Bredthauer competed in the regional livestock judging contest in Kansas City. 

Images & Attachments

County Fair, around 1946. Courtesy of Jimmy Shane
County Fair, around 1946. Courtesy of Jimmy Shane
County Fair, around 1946. Courtesy of Jimmy Shane

Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Historical Niobrara County Fairgrounds View Record