In the Red Desert of southwestern Wyoming, there is a butte called Black Rock. From atop this rock one can see eternity. Not the eternity of philosophers, but the eternity of geological time. From atop Black Rock, the weathered stone of Steamboat Mountain and the sand dunes of the Killpecker field stretch west and east to the setting and rising sun. Throughout Wyoming the vast landscape, unbroken by buildings, conveys a sense of timelessness. Only when man arrived was there an attempt to measure the days. In a land where stony spires scratch the sky, time does not seem that important. Measuring time in terms of hours instead of geological ages often seems senseless in a land broken only by rising hills and uplifted sandstone formations.
For over 10,000 years humans have lived in Wyoming. For only the last two centuries, have people been trying to write on paper a description of the events that have transpired on its landscape. Some of those writers wrote about the past. In fact, historians have been writing about Wyoming since the early 1800s. The historians were attempting to describe a place and how this place came to be Wyoming. Like other histories, this too, is an attempt to write down what has taken place in Wyoming in the years from 1803 to the present. This is a collection of essays about historical processes that made Wyoming unique. Being essays, they are points of view. Like looking from Black Rock across the desert, the perspective is set by time and place. The place the essays were written from is Rock Springs -- the time is the 1990s. Both time and place temper the point of view but they also aid the attempt to see Wyoming's distant past.
The first historians to describe future Wyoming were Washington Irving and Francis Parkman. Irving took the journals of Captain Booneville and wrote a masterpiece; Parkman wrote about his trip over the Oregon trail in 1846. Irving was a literary giant and Parkman a historian with a novelists flare for writing well and weaving a masterful story in the process. They were both the beginnings of what would be a long line of historians. Recently the list of historians who once lived in Wyoming includes such notables as: T. A. Larson, Robert Utley, Peter Iverson, Robert Righter, Gene Gressley, Dave Kathka, Roger Daniels, Paul Fees, Sheri Smith, Mike Cassity, Phil Roberts, and Virginia Scharff. Great writers all they are among the best historians currently writing and researching in the west.
All the historians who have lived and written about Wyoming in the last thirty years recognize the continuity and change that exists in Wyoming. The continuity is most obvious on the landscape where change seems to have only gently touched the seemingly ageless mountains and deserts. The rapid change is obvious in the towns where American culture complete with McDonalds, Village Inns, Malls, and cable television overlay ageless geological strata that were created by ancient lakes or oceans. The American culture began affecting the landscape in the eighteenth-century and as the broader culture changed so did its impact on Wyoming. Even Wyoming's history is viewed through the eyes of historians affected by the United States intellectual history. And as "New Historians" or "Old Historians" write about Wyoming they are reflecting broader concerns than just those evident in Wyoming. Most modern Wyoming historians are "westerners" - regionalists concerned with placing Wyoming within the context of a broader American society. Even admitted amateur historians who write their town, county, family or friends' history are placing their subjects within the broader context of American society. These local historians, as they are often called, are writing histories centered around a specific place and they are commonly very adamant about the importance of a person close to them or of the importance of the place in which they grew up in has played in American History.
The essays that will appear at this web site deal with western historiography issues: the contributions of Native Americans to Wyoming's history, the nature of the physical environment along the Overland Trail in the mid 1850s, women in southwestern Wyoming, the contribution of Chinese workers to the economics of the region, Wyoming politics in the 1930s and the Japanese contribution to the Cowboy State. It is designed solely for use by students who are beginning their journey into understanding the richness and diversity of Wyoming's past. It is intended to be used in courses at Western Wyoming College and was partially edited by students who took courses in Wyoming history from 1993 to 1998. The list of these students are contained in a separate appendix. Its present form is intended to enable both students and the author to discuss and analyze certain aspects of Wyoming history in the context of history and political science courses. The ultimate purpose is to touch on topics which have been often ignored and provide a point of departure for future research and debate. A. Dudley Gardner
If you have any questions please feel free to contact Dudley Gardner.