Cheyenne, WY: bison ranch, RR, and the town
Jul 21, 2010
|After a short drive north to Cheyenne from Boulder, we set up at Terry Bison Ranch and RV Park just south of Cheyenne. This RV park is unique since it is a large working ranch with not only over 2000 bison, but also alpaca, camels, cattle, horses, ponies, and even a ponkey (a cross between a donkey and pony). Sites here are long but a little narrower than the sites in Taos. It’s a nicely laid out RV park at the edge of the ranch, within walking distance of several of the barns and corrals, and only about 7 miles into Cheyenne from the park, so a great place to stay while in this area.
Fred went out and rode the motorcycle for a little while Tuesday afternoon and took both his CO and WY ABC photos. Unfortunately, the motorcycle’s clutch went out so Wednesday morning we took it into town to be repaired. The shop manager had to order a new clutch pack but we finally got the motorcycle back on Friday afternoon – good thing for us; because the Cheyenne Frontier Days began Friday, we had to leave Saturday since all the RV sites were already reserved for the coming week.
Cheyenne part one: overview of the town plus the Union Pacific Railroad influence here
The capital of Wyoming was named after the Cheyenne Indian people who inhabited present-day southeastern Wyoming before Americans and others came to the area.
The town was founded in July of 1867 when the Union Pacific Railroad tracks were laid through the site on the way west. Although at first, Cheyenne was a “hell on wheels town” with lots of businesses set up in tents as well as plenty of saloons and gambling establishments, it did not disappear as some RR towns did when the railroad moved westward; instead Cheyenne grew to over 4000 people by November of 1867. The town quickly became headquarters for cattle barons and their cowboys and was a convenient stopping place for tourists from the east traveling by train to the west, as well as for prospective settlers looking for business opportunities. In fact, by 1886, Cheyenne was considered the most important trade center along the transcontinental railroad line, became known as the "Magic City of the Plains" and gained status as the "richest city of its size in the world." When gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, Cheyenne grew again, since it was the southern gateway to the Black Hills. Wealthy cattle barons from the east and abroad invested in the booming cattle industry and built huge, elaborate mansions in Cheyenne. Many of these historic landmarks are still standing today, although some are no longer private homes; one mansion is now a funeral home while another is an elegant B&B.
We drove to one of the many parks in town to check out Big Boy Steam Engine #4004. This 3600 ton engine was the largest type ever built and the one in the park is one of only 8 surviving engines of the 25 originally built in the 1940s. The engine was retired in 1956 when diesel engines became more prevalent. We also noted that the town has giant painted cowboy boots all over the place– these are similar to the whales we have seen on Cape Cod, and the catfish, cattle, horse, bears, and buffalo we have seen in other cities and town during our treks around the USA and Canada.
We took a trolley ride through the town and our guide pointed out many historical buildings as he gave us the history of Cheyenne. For example, the Colonial Revival Executive Mansion served as home to Wyoming’s Governors and their families for seventy-one years, from 1905 to 1976, and is now a museum open to the public. In 1925 the mansion was the first in the United States to be occupied by a woman governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross. The mansion was quite modern in 1905 because of its central plumbing, hot water heat, and combination gas and electrical fixtures. The 2 ½ story structure’s portico features solid sandstone columns that were quarried locally in four sections and then placed one on top of the other. The top halves of the columns are fluted and the Corinthian style capitals were carved on site. In 2004 an extensive restoration was done on the Mansion and it now reflects décor from 1905, 1937, 1955 and 1960s era throughout the home.
We saw many lovely Victorian “painted ladies,” several large stone churches and a vibrant downtown area of stores and old buildings. Examples of our favorite buildings included the Victorian Tivoli commercial building built in 1892, the Plains Hotel which opened in 1911, the Atlas Theater, first constructed in 1887 and redesigned in 1908, and the large stone Episcopal Church built from 1886 – 1893, which has decorative buttresses and a two story tower with a sad story attached: when two Swedish workers were building the tower, one of them fell and died. Scared that he would be accused of killing his friend, the second Swede buried his companion within one of the walls of the tower and then quickly left town. Interviewed from his home in South America many years later, the Swede explained the sad story.
Another interesting building downtown was the one where the cattle detective Tom Horn was supposedly tricked in 1901 into confessing to a murder. Tried and convicted for the murder of a fourteen year old son of a sheep ranching settler, Horn was the last man legally hanged in this area, but even today there are historians who are not sure he was truly guilty. Was Tom Horn actually railroaded for a murder he did not commit? The murder and questionable nature of his conviction still ignite controversy among historians and Wyomingites. It was an interesting local story – the kind Fred and I enjoy learning about.
A mansion I really liked is the Nagle Warren Mansion B&B - this building was built in 1888 and every room has been uniquely decorated to recreate the elegance of the Victorian West, from the ornate staircases to the authentic period wallpaper to the antique furniture and 19th century artwork. This mansion offers afternoon tea in the parlor on Fridays and Saturdays so I plan to go there later this week to enjoy the tea.
The Cheyenne Depot Museum is housed in the Union Pacific Depot, first constructed in 1886-1887 and recently renovated. The depot is a massive stone edifice, 350 feet long with a lovely tall clock tower. It is considered to be the most distinctive depot built by the Union Pacific during the 19th century. We toured the depot and the museum, which tells the story about the establishment of Cheyenne during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the operation of the Union Pacific Railroad, and the history of the construction of the Union Pacific Depot. We could see the Union Pacific Main Yard from the west end of the Depot, and we also went to the second floor of the Cheyenne Depot Museum which is a “touchable museum experience” about the many people who have traveled on the RR to make Cheyenne their home. The Union Pacific, America’s first transcontinental railroad, is in the heart of Cheyenne’s central business district. The depot forms the cornerstone for downtown Cheyenne and is one of the downtown’s two most significant landmarks. It is prominently placed at one end of Capital Avenue, at the other end of the avenue from the Wyoming State Capitol, Cheyenne’s other major historical landmark and also very beautifully designed. Some say that the placement of the two buildings was “so the U-P leaders could keep an eye on the legislators, and the legislators could keep tabs on the Union Pacific officials.”