Casper the City, not the Ghost!

Saturday, August29, 2020

Sunrise in Casper WY

Before I get started with today’s blog I’d like to backtrack a little. We had seen signs on US 26 stating “Sand Creek Massacre Trail” and I had forgotten to mention it. The Massacre involved Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians who had been fighting the US government for quite some time. They had grown weary of battle, had ceded their land and agreed to move to reservations.

But on the morning of November 29, 1864 about 500 mostly women, children and elderly Arapaho and Cheyenne were waking from sleep of the banks of the Big Sandy Creek in Colorado Territory. Assured of peace, the tribes’ men were away finding meat. 800 volunteer troops from Colorado and New Mexico under the command of Col. John Chivington descended on the village slaughtering between 150 and 184. Accounts note extreme brutality by the soldiers.

Newspapers initially reported a valiant victory by Chivington and his men. The true story, when it came out, made even bigger headlines and shocked the nation. Neither Chivington nor his troops were punished. How atrocious is that? The 600 mile long Sand Creek Massacre Trail commemorates the route the surviving Arapaho took to their new home, the Wind River Reservation.

Most of the following was borrowed from Wyoming Sure saved me hours of research and a couple of worn out pencil erasers!

Located at 5,150 feet above sea level, on the banks of the North Platt on Wyoming’s high plains, Casper is the seat of Natrona County. The town began when the tracks of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad arrived in June 1888, and was named for nearby Fort Casper, by then a ruin. The fort had been named for Lt. Caspar Collins, killed near the fort by Indians in 1865. The Army misspelled his first name when they renamed Platte Bridge Station not long after his death.

Soon after the railroad arrived the town became an important shipping point for cattle and wool. On April 9, 1889, residents asked the officials of Carbon County to allow the incorporation of the town of Casper and the request was approved. Natrona County would not split off from Carbon County until the following year.

One can imagine that Casper was a pretty rowdy town in the early years. The west side of Center Street had numerous saloons and the raucous culture that went with them. By 1890 the city fathers began plans to bring water, streets, schools, a fire department and a library to the town as well as moving the city government into its first two story brick building on Center Street.

In Casper’s first two decades, most of its wealth still came from agriculture, primarily from sheep and cattle ranching. The most successful ranchers built fine houses in what is still called the Mansion District, south of downtown. The first electric lights from the Casper Electric Company were lighted in 1912 and telephone service began in 1900 with 49 telephones installed by Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone. The first hospital opened in 1911.

Casper grew to the status of an industrial city when the Salt Creek Oil Field began producing and several refineries were established, the first being the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Company of 1895.

Casper boomed with the oil and refining businesses when the population grew from 2639 souls to 16,619 between 1910 and 1930. The Great Depression took its toll and the city survived. It was when WWII broke out that its economy started to improve. The biggest boost was the construction of the Casper Army Air Field west of town where more than 400 buildings were built in three and a half months providing work for hundreds. The Army Air Corps trained 16,000 soldiers at the field, mostly bomber crews and pilots before it closed in 1945.

The economy rose and fell through the remaining decades as did the population. The local oil business waned but the coal-bed methane boom in northeastern Wyoming of the 1990’s revitalized Casper’s drilling services. Slowly, the population began to grow again, to 49,654 by 2000, and 55,316 by 2010.

Casper continues as a retail, medical and energy-industry service hub for the surrounding region and for much of Wyoming, and has continued to grow and diversify in the 21st century. Interstate 25 and the Casper/Natrona County International Airport are the town’s major connections to the outside world. Aaand Casper has the only international airport in Wyoming. Even the state capitol, Cheyenne, is void of an international airport. That airport and Interstate 25 are the city’s major connections to the outside world.

The city has many nice parks along the Platte River, some great sports fields, walks and bike paths also follow the banks of the river. There are several golf courses if one wishes to imbibe. We drove the mansion district and were in awe of the beautiful homes located on wide, tree lined avenues.

Replica of Fort Caspar
Centennial Park, town of Fort Caspar

Our campground is located right next to Centennial Park. Within the park is the Ft. Caspar Museum. We didn’t go inside the museum. Just on the other side of a split rail fence are historical log cabins set up much like the layout of old Ft. Casper. The old fort is gone, as it fell into disrepair and returned to nature.

The Mansion District just south of downtown

Grounds of the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center

At first we felt our stay may be one day too long. We couldn’t visit the Interpretive Center yesterday as we didn’t want to leave the dogs in the RV and it was too hot to leave them in the car. And I’m sure the Ft. Caspar Museum is a fine one- we just weren’t interested in visiting this time.

Casper Business District

All in all we spent as much time looking around Casper as we wished to, walking around downtown, even found a Walmart this morning during a lightning storm (Megan is afraid of the kabooms) and drove the very fine Mansion District. We also walked a ways at Amoco Park which lies on the northern bank of the Platte.

The Ft. Caspar Campground is packed. When we drove in on Thursday there must have been at least two vehicles, mostly pickup trucks, sitting in front of every RV. Hmmm. Worker bees. Our experience says that the camp should be quiet and that proved to be true. The working stiffs are gone during the day, are tired, thus quiet, when they return. There are a few families who appear to have been here quite a while. Not the most beautiful camp but doable.

Tomorrow we head out to Custer, South Dakota. We’ve visited Custer many moons ago and we are looking forward to refreshing our memories. We also have friends that now own a summer home just outside of Custer. It will be great visiting with Tim and Renee once again.

See you in Custer!

For all you Longmire series fans- A bumper sticker………..

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