From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 45 - 6/29/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Looking Back to See the Future

History has much to teach us if we are willing to learn. The lessons of life that individuals or societies encounter have been lived and learned by all who have come before, and are there for us to benefit from.

I spent last week with guests in a cowboy horse camp on the Sweetwater River near South Pass about 60 miles southeast of Sublette County. We ate lots of good food, rode great saddle horses and contemplated the world around the nightly campfire in true cowboy fashion. I think it was one of the best trips we had ever hosted, and perhaps part of that was due to the difference in perspective we took with us to the desert.

The daily riding itinerary took us onto the Pony Express/Oregon/California/Mormon Trail to literally ride on the path of the western expansion of the United States. Explorers, trappers, miners, settlers and other characters of various descriptions all crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass, on their way to a new life, leaving behind the old. By cooperation between private landowners and the Bureau of Land Management, the trail has been marked with interpretive signs and stone markers that tell the story of the nation and her people, and what they went through to bring the lands between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans together as one.

I have always loved history and especially Wyoming history. All fourth graders in Wyoming have the history of our state as a required subject in elementary school. I remember the dioramas we built depicting Ft. Laramie and the big highlight of the year was the field trip to Cheyenne to visit the Capitol and the Governor's office. Those activities set the importance of the story of Wyoming in my mind and were the foundation of the perspective I have gained about why we are like we are here in the "Cowboy State" or the "Equality State," which I believe is the official nickname.

As I stood on South Pass next to the Oregon Trail stone marker and a smaller tablet noting the passage of the first white women to cross the Divide, I was truly awed by the greatness of this American legacy and the immensity of it all. I could imagine to some extent settlers plodding alongside a wagon full of necessities and their few treasured belongings, with the ever-blowing wind and dust for company. Though we had put in hours of hard labor to set up our comfortable tent camp, these pioneers had to do each day what we had taken three to do. They had to set up camp, prepare meals and pack it all up again, every day for months in every kind of weather, terrain and condition imaginable, whether they felt like doing it or not.

The Pony Express was in existence for only 18 months, but the influence of the horse-mounted mail service connecting the coasts of the country in a few days as opposed to months by whomever happened to be traveling between the wilderness and civilization was profound. Imagine riding a running horse through the home territory of natives who despised the presence of the white race in their land and their lives; it was hard to conceive of the courage it took for these young men to risk their lives to dutifully deliver the mail.

I pondered many things while riding this trail of our heritage. And, though this is part of the history of our nation, it is a piece of Wyoming history as well. Wyoming is a puzzle made up of many pieces and those pieces all fit together to make our state what it was and is today. Some of the pieces are ugly (the Johnson County War for instance) and others are inspiring, but whatever the characteristics, they are all part of the whole of Wyoming.

We would all benefit from some study and interpretation of our history. Many of us who were raised here probably embrace selected pieces of the story that most relate to us individually, but we need to read it all and take it into account when we are facing the challenges to our changing culture. Newcomers would be better prepared to integrate into the locale if they take the initiative to learn the story of the state and how all the events and politics of the past have and continue to shape the Wyoming landscapes of land and culture. History tells the future so we only need to look back to see what lies ahead of us.

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Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul