Historical Details

Niobrara County History Series, Part 3

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 02/09/1984

People, places outlined in history

Editor's note: The following concludes a three-part series on the history of Niobrara County as researched, written and submitted by noted area historian and author, Mae Urbanek.

The last armed engagement between Sioux Indians and white men took place in Niobrara county on Lightening Creek in the fall of 1903. A group of Indians had been given permission to leave their South Dakota reservation and go hunting. They were breaking Wyoming hunting regulations.

Sheriff Miller and Deputy Falkenburg of Weston County and a posse followed them into Niobrara County and attacked them at sundown. The sheriff and his deputy and five Indians were killed. The other Indians abandoned their wagons loaded with antelope meat, and fled with their squaws back to South Dakota.

The first Junior College in Wyoming was started at Jireh (the Lord will provide) west of Lusk in 1910. Farmers helped build the college. Representative Frank W. Mondell came in a buggy to give the opening address.

There were four courses in academic subjects, and six in music and arts. An experimental farm was added in 1911. Enrollment grew to a high of 65.

Meals were served in a dormitory. In the drought years of 1917 and 1918, the people moved away, and the college closed in 1920. Now only a cemetery and a few blocks of the foundation stones remain.

The Lusk Herald, established May 20, 1886 in a tent at Silver Cliff by J.K. Calkins, is the oldest newspaper in Wyoming still being published under its original title. Older papers have merged with others or changed their names.

Gerald Bardo, who retired from publishing it in 1978, worked on Wyoming newspapers since 1920.

Hans Gautschi drove the first horseless carriage, a 1905 Cadillac, down the streets of Lusk in 1906. It had a one-cylinder engine; no top, no windshield. It could make 25 miles per hour going down hill.

Oil was discovered at Lance Creek in 1917. Within a year, 25 rigs were in operation. A refinery was built, and a Carbon Black plant. Men, working around the clock, hired women to wait in line at the post office for their mail. The Lance Creek field was first in oil production in Wyoming from 1939 to 1945. It is still producing.

Niobrara County has had a number of noted citizens. Frank A. Barrett of Lusk was elected U.S. Representative to Congress in 1942 and in 1946. In 1950, he was elected Governor of Wyoming. In 1951, he was elected U.S. Senator, ending his career as governor. The Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne is known as the Barrett Building.

Doctor Walter E. Reckling of Lusk conceived the idea of a pageant, and promoted its production. "The Legend of Rawhide" was written by Eva Lou Bonsell of Lusk at Doc Reckling's request. It tells the story of an 1849 immigrant train. A member of the train swore that he would shoot the first Indian he saw.

He shot an Indian girl near where Lusk now stands. Her tribe of Indians, seeking revenge, surrounded the wagon train. In order to save his sweetheart, the culprit gave himself up to the Indians.

He was skinned alive while the wagon train fled. This incident supposedly named the Rawhide Buttes south of Lusk.

The pageant with many covered wagons, some drawn by oxen, started in 1946. Several hundred Niobrara people took part. Some of them were painted as Indians. The pageant was produced every summer for about 20 years. It was shown at Crawford. Nebr., and at the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas.

Another noted character of Niobrara County was Madam Dell Burke of Lusk. She received statewide publicity for her establishment, and for her generosity in giving great sums of money for civic improvement and charity.

James Watt, former secretary of Interior in Washington, was born and reared in Lusk. He is not popular with environmentalists.

Carol Jean Held of Lusk won the Wyoming beauty contest and was second in the national Beauty contest in 1945.

Elsie Christian, Lusk artist, has paintings of historical scenes and local landscapes hung in many places. Her picture of historic Fort Hat Creek is in the Wyoming State Museum.

Andrew McMaster, Niobrara rancher, was in the Wyoming Legislature from 1942 to 1967. He was majority floor leader in the House in 1949, and in the Senate in 1963. He was president of the Senate in 1965 and once acting governor.

However, Andy had the unique experience of falling from the 30-foot tower of a windmill he was greasing when his wrench slipped. He woke up on the ground to find a dog licking his face. He was not injured.

Because of its small population, Niobrara county lost its right to a senator in the Wyoming legislature in 1981. It was joined with Converse County in electing a senator.

In 1982, the League of Women Voters challenged Niobrara County's right to a representative in the Wyoming Legislature. Residents of the county fought the issue and staged a demonstration in Cheyenne.

A state court ruled that Niobrara County had a right to its lone representative. The League of Women Voters appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.

Randall Cox, aided by Richard Barrett, son of Frank Barrett, presented the case of Niobrara County's right to representation to the United State Supreme court. The decision of the Supreme Court was that Niobrara County does have a right to a lone Representative in the Wyoming Legislature.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Bardo, Gerald (12/10/1908 - 06/09/2002) View Record
Obituary Gautschi, Hans (05/14/1883 - 04/26/1966) View Record
Obituary Barrett, Frank (11/10/1892 - 05/30/1962) View Record
Obituary Christian, Elsie (06/05/1910 - 03/16/2002) View Record
Obituary Burke, Dell (07/05/1888 - 11/04/1980) View Record
Obituary McMaster, Andrew (08/19/1896 - 06/11/1986) View Record