September 7 through September 9, 2021
I asked Jil several times over the last two years if she would like to visit Devil’s Tower. “Honey, it’s only 20 something miles out of the way.” She- “Negatory, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna”. We head west on I-90 and stop in a visitor’s center/rest stop just inside the Wyoming border. Jil goes in and comes out with a handful of brochures, maps, etc. Again heading westbound she says “Let’s go to Devil’s Tower”…………
Devil’s Tower is located in drop dead gorgeous Wyoming hill country. Several views of the monolith appear way before reaching the monument’s entrance. I’m wondering if we should be inside the park at all as it seems a little crowded and parking for RV’s is limited. After driving the windy, narrow road up to the Tower we find ample room to park.
The land around the Tower is composed of sedimentary rock, mainly red and yellow siltstone and sandstone interbedded with gray shale or limestone and gypsum. The Tower itself is kind of a who dunnit. Geologists have studied the formation since the 1800’s and are still stumped on how it was formed. NPS quote: “We know that the Tower is formed of a rare igneous rock, phonolite porphyry, and is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world. To better understand processes which shaped the Tower, we look back through Earth’s history to a time long before this unique feature took shape.”
The Tower is considered sacred by Northern Plains indiginous folk. The Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Shoshone and Lakota are associated with the Tower site as well as two dozen more. Many associated the Tower with a bear- Bear’s Teepee, Bear Lodge, Bear’s Home, etc.. One can imagine a giant bear scarring the Tower with Giant claws. So how did Devil get into that Tower? A fella named Colonel Richard Dodge commaned a military escort for a scientific expedition into the Black Hills. In his journal he wrote “the Indians call this place ‘bad god’s tower'”. No records indicate that Native Americans associated this place with bad gods or evil spirits. Dodge, by the way, was no lover of Indians so he may have changed the name of Bear’s Teepee/Lodge/House to Devil’s Tower to show his distain for the people.
We spend three nights at the Sheridan/Big Horn KOA to visit the beautiful city of Sheridan (17,44 souls). The city was named after General Philip Sheridan, a Union calvary leader in the Civil War. In the early 1880s, the nearby town of Big Horn (480 souls) was larger in population. In 1888, Sheridan County split off of Johnson County, and voters chose Sheridan as the county seat in a run-off election.
The arrival of the Burlington and Missouri Railroad in 1892 boosted Sheridan’s economic status, leading to the construction of the Sheridan Inn, where Buffalo Bill Cody was once a financial partner. The railroad created numerous side industries as well as export opportunities for raw materials. Maps of the day show Sheridan as part of the “hinterland” providing raw goods to cities like Chicago. For the next twenty years the economy and population boomed.
Street Art Sheridan Style
Sheridan has a strong rodeo culture that draws from ranching history as well as a tradition of catering to the wild-west entertainment and shopping tastes of locals and tourists. The Sheridan WYO Rodeo is a professional rodeo. It was a professional rodeo from the beginning but took a hiatus because of the Second World War in 1942 and 1943. It returned as a working cowboy rodeo in 1944 with a new name, the Bots Sots Stampede. In 1951 it resumed as the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and became a professional rodeo again in 1966.
The mix of Cowboy and American Indian pageantry is still a major flavor in Sheridan’s annual summer celebrations, similar to rodeos in other reservation- border towns like Pendleton, Oregon. Sheridan’s cowboy-Indian social and community relations provided part of the inspiration for the Walt Longmire mystery novel and TV series created by local author Craig Johnson.
Interesting Storefront Signs
We walked downtown Sheridan admiring the numerous works of art placed along the sidewalk, the cleanliness of the town. The Mint Bar, touted as the oldest bar in town, “has been a meeting place for cowboys, ranchers and dudes” since 1907. King’s Saddlery and King Ropes has been in business since 1946 making custom saddles and ropes. The tack store looks like one has walked into a museum- until you walk back into their actual museum. The place is amazing! Jil said that the citizens of Sheridan are doing well considering the high quality of merchandise offered.
Across the street from King’s Saddlery is the very famous Fly Shop of the Big Horns. Anglers from afar are familiar with this shop. The establishment not only carries a wide range of fly fishing supplies but hosts fly fishing trips. Just down the street is the WYO Performing Arts Theater. The four blocks of downtown commercial district has a lot of interesting establishments.
We took a little tour just west of downtown driving by some pretty homes. Kendrick Park is really nice. Goose Creek runs through one side while a large buffalo pasture is on the other. We see a couple of nice sized bulls grazing next to the fence.
Our last visit is to the Brinton Museum. The museum is located on the 620 acre Quarter Circle A Ranch. The land was homesteaded by the Clark family in 1880 who originally lived in a dugout. It was sold several times with the Moncreiffes establishing the Quarter Circle A Ranch, building the Ranch House in 1892. The ranch was sold to Bradford Brinton in 1923 who used the ranch house as a vacation home.
Brinton, an avid collector of art, filled the home with American Indian artifacts, firearms and books and the works of the fine artists Frederic Remington Charles Russell and John Audobon. When Bradford Brinton died in 1936 he left the ranch to his sister Helen. She left the ranch as a memorial to her brother, wishing that the public should enjoy Bradford’s magnificent collection of art and that the ranch be kept in a natural state to provide sanctuary for birds and other wildlife.
Though Sheridan primarily celebrates its western culture through rodeo, the town’s history and culture includes major industrial, commercial, and recreational influences. Sheridan is a great place to visit!
3 thoughts on “Towers, Cowboys and Tourists”
I was (and still am!!) a huge fan of Close Encounters….. We were planning a trip to Wyoming some years ago – a couldn’t believe it when I saw Devil’s Tower on the map – I always assumed it was a movie prop or whatever!!! The joys of travel!!!
Loving your history reports!!
This trip is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing, not only the history but your observations!
Sorry to get back to you so late. Internet on the road varies between bad and non-existent so I didn’t see your comments until today. We love to dig into the history of the towns we visit. Hope you two are doing well.
Mike and Jil