Historic Photos

From Wyoming Tales and Trails

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Rawlins, Wyo., 1910, L. to R. Masonic Temple, Court House, and High School.

As is suggested by the photographs on this and the preceding page, Rawlins at first was a bit wild. In July 1878 the town became for a short time the center of the scientific world when visitors from all over the world descended upon the area for a total eclipse of the sun. Among those who came was Thomas A. Edison who described his stay:

"There were astronomers from nearly every nation. We had a special car. The country at that time was rather new; game was in great abundance, and could be seen all day long from the car window, especially antelope. We arrived at Rawlins about 4 P.M. It had a small machine shop, and was the point where locomotives were changed for the next section. The hotel was a very small one, and by doubling up we were barely accommodated. My room-mate was Fox[1], the correspondent of the New York Herald. After we retired and were asleep a thundering knock on the door awakened us. Upon opening the door a tall, handsome man with flowing hair dressed in western style entered the room. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was somewhat inebriated. He introduced himself as `Texas Jack'--Joe Chromondo--[sic][2]and said he wanted to see Edison, as he had read about me in the newspapers. Both Fox and I were rather scared, and didn't know what was to be the result of the interview. The landlord requested him not to make so much noise, and was thrown out into the hall. Jack explained that he had just come in with a party which had been hunting, and that he felt fine. He explained, also, that he was the boss pistol-shot of the West; that it was he who taught the celebrated Doctor Carver[3] how to shoot. Then suddenly pointing to a weather-vane on the freight depot, he pulled out a Colt revolver and fired through the window, hitting the vane. The shot awakened all the people, and they rushed in to see who was killed. It was only after I told him I was tired and would see him in the morning that he left. Both Fox and I were so nervous we didn't sleep any that night.

Above right, John B. "Texas Jack" Omohundro, see notes below

"We were told in the morning that Jack was a pretty good fellow, and was not one of the `bad men,' of whom they had a good supply. They had one in the jail, and Fox and I went over to see him. A few days before he had held up a Union Pacific train and robbed all the passengers. In the jail also was a half-breed horse-thief. We interviewed the bad man through bars as big as railroad rails. He looked like a `bad man.' The rim of his ear all around came to a sharp edge and was serrated. His eyes were nearly white, and appeared as if made of glass and set in wrong, like the life-size figures of Indians in the Smithsonian Institution. His face was also extremely irregular. He wouldn't answer a single question. I learned afterward that he got seven years in prison, while the horse-thief was hanged. As horses ran wild, and there was no protection, it meant death to steal one."

[Webmaster's notes: 1. Probably Edward Fox, correspondent for the New York Herald in the 1870's.

2. Reference to Texas Jack is to John B. "Texas Jack" Omohundro (1846-1880). Omohundro was born in Virginia and went to Texas at age 15. During the Civil War he returned to Virginia and served as a scout for C.S.A General J. E. B. Stuart. He subsequently returned to Texas and received the name "Texas Jack" on a cattle drive to Tennessee. In the late 1860's he made the acquaintance of Wm. F. Cody, James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, and Ned Buntline in Kansas. He returned east with Cody and Buntline and starred in a Wild West Show and was later made famous, together with Cody and Hickok, in some of Buntline's Dime Novels. In 1872 Omohundro served along with Wm. F. Cody as a guide for the Grand Duke Alexis on his hunting trip to Nebraska and Wyoming. The same year he participated as trail agent in the last successful Pawnee buffalo hunt. The government required that an agent accompany Indians on hunts so as to preclude the Indians from leaving their appropriate territory or harrassing settlers. In the next hunt in 1873 an inexperienced agent was employed by the Pawnee Nation and the hunt ended unsuccessfully at the Battle of Massacre Creek. Later Omohundro played with Hickok in a touring drama Scout of the Plains. Omohundro died in Leadville in 1880. Cody paid for the stone grave marker marking his burial site.

3. Doctor Carver, "Doctor" William F. Carver, a Texas marksman who toured with Cody's Wild West Show, now most famous as the inventor in 1927 of the "Diving Horse" act in Atlantic City, N. J., in which a horse and scantly clad young lady would dive from a forty-foot high platform into a 12-foot deep tank.]

Natural Piller, Washakie Badlands, chromolithograph by Julius Bien from a drawing by Gilbert Munger, Clarence King's 40th Parallel Geological Survey, 1869

Clarence King (1842-1901), a California geologist, in 1869 began a geological survey across the west along the 40th parallel. Gilbert Munger (1837-1903) was the expedition's guest artist. Due to his knowledge of geology, Clarence King is today remembered as the one who exposed one of the great business frauds of the 19th Century. The fraud also left one of the great unsolved mysteries of Wyoming.

To the west of Baggs and southwest of Rawlins in southeastern Sweetwater County lies a desolate area known as the Washakie Basin. Today most of the area is accessible only by occassional Jeep trails, and those are few and far between. The appearance of the area can be pictured in the mind's eye by the place names of the Basin: "Washakie Badlands," "Poison Draw," "Hells Canyon," "Poison Basin," "Colloid Draw, and "Poison Buttes." In 1872, in this area, John Slack and John Arnold reported the discovery of a rich diamond field. In order to convince potential investors of the legitimacy of the find, a well-known and respected engineer and some of the investors were brought to Rawlins and taken on a three-day trek, blindfolded so that would not know where they were, to a lonely butte. There they were shown the diamond field with diamonds everywhere, under the ground, in rock crevices and on the surface waiting to be picked up. The engineer reported that $1,000,000 a month could be expected from a mining operation. Stock was sold. Unfortunately for the investors, Clarence King, due to his knowlege of the area, was able to deduce the location, examined the site, and, with his knowlege of rocks, determined that some of the diamonds were cut and polished. Investigation found that the year before Arnold and Slack had purchased some $40,000 worth of low grade diamonds in London. Arnold was arrested in Kentucky where he was found with the proceeds of the stock sale. Slack was never found, leading to the suspicion that he may have been done in by his partner. The site of the diamond mine and the balance of the $40,000 worth of diamonds has never been found. Some believe that the location may be near Vernal in Utah, others believe it to be in northern Colorado, and yet others contend that it is not more than 40 miles from Rawlins. The irony is that the state geological survey reports that there is a very real possibility of diamonds in the state, but as a result of Slack and Arnold's fraud any interest in diamond exploration in the state had been deterred for over 100 years.

Lincoln Highway, Rawlins
Undated photo of freighters in Rawlins, lower left.

Note the crosswalks in the street. Similar stone or concrete crosswalks will be observed in early photos of Laramie and Sheridan on their respective pages. As is observed with regards to the discussion of Laramie, the Lincoln Highway did not come to Wyoming until after World War I. Indeed, until the 1930's, the highway was an "improved" road only in a broad sense of the word. The highway was finally gravelled in 1924 with the assistance of a grant from Willys-Overland. An early visitor to Rawlins was Harriet White Fisher, the first woman motorist to circle the globe. She described in her memoir A Woman's World-Tour in a Motor her 1909 passage through Carbon County in her forty horsepower Locomobile roadster:

We passed on through Point of Rocks, and near Bitter Creek had a very disagreeable time, having to fill in washouts in the road with sagebrush, every few miles. We crept carefully along through the soft mud, with not a vestige of life in sight---only miles of desert meeting our view. This place, I believe, is known as "The Red Desert."

From Bitter Creek we went on to Rawlins. Here we got off the road, and went around the country about twenty miles to get to Hanna. The road was sandy, with high centres, and the ground squirrels had burrowed into the ground, making it dangerous travelling for motorists. Every now and then we would find ourselves taking a sudden jump as the rear wheels would be buried in these holes.

From Hanna, after a great deal of hard pulling, we managed to reach Medicine Bow. All this time we were obliged to keep our chains on.

Webmaster's note: The chains were not for snow. It was July. In Medicine Bow the intrepid travelers found no room at the hotel and were required to stay in a boarding house where the proprietor was drunk and the travelers were awakened in the middle of the night by the sounds of the owner attempting to murder his wife. In contrast, however, as indicated in the photo below, Rawlins had decent accommodations in the form of the Hotel Ferris, photo at bottom of page.

Oregon Trail, Sweetwater County, 1905, above right

Ms. Fisher was not the only one to complain of the condition of the roads through the Red Desert. Twelve years later in 1921 two Canadian tourists, Charles and Doretta Beach, undertook a 10,850 mile odyssey in a brand-new Nash automobile which they picked up at the factory in Kenosha, Wisc., proceeding across the United States, up to British Columbia, down to Mexico, onward to Texas, and back to Ontario. In her diary Mrs. Beach complained that the stretch from Wamsutter to Rock Springs was the worst of the whole trip. She noted that it took the better part of a day to go the 115 miles from Rawlins to Rock Springs, and the first 40 miles of that was on a fine road.

Ferris Hotel, Rawlins, 1910

Note crosswalks. The Ferris Hotel was constructed by George Ferris. At the time of his death plans had been made for the construction of his residence at 607 W. Maple. The plans were carried out by his widow Julia Ferris. The mansion which had declined over the years has been restored and was recently featured on a cable television program, Restore America, as were homes in Douglas and Wilson.