9 – Cedar City, UT

Episode 9: A Melting Pot of Diversity, Acceptance and knowledge with Tamra Borchardt-Slayton

Tamra Borchardt-Slayton describes a Great America that is a melting pot of diversity, acceptance and knowledge, where people actually listen to each other instead of fighting.

She is the Chairperson for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

Tamra grew up in rural Enoch, Utah on a road past where the pavement ended. Although, Enoch acts as a suburb of Cedar City, it is actually its own town. Growing up, there was no gas station or store in Enoch so they would drive ten miles into Cedar City for supplies. She was one of very few minority students at her school, but loved the family and farm community she grew up in.

Link to the Paiute Tribe of Utah: https://www.utahpaiutes.org

Cedar City, Ut: The Great America of 1918-1941

Local historians in Cedar City, Utah, point to the period between the two world wars (1918-1941) as a time when the town showed its best as a community. In those years, residents came together to embrace a new economy and to save the town from collapse during the darkest years of the Great Depression.

Cedar City was founded by Mormons in 1851 as a hub for iron and coal mining in the region. It was a fairly modest community, with a population of less than 1500 at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, it remained growing and prosperous as an economic center for the region.

Expansion of nearby Mukuntuweap National Monument into Zion National Park in 1916 was seen as an opportunity by the town’s leadership. In 1919, the local chamber of commerce raised money to build an elegant hotel, El Escalante, to serve and attract tourists. Transportation would remain a problem until 1923, when the Union Pacific Railroad built a spur to the town to serve local mines and agriculture.

Tourism quickly exploded, and the hotel hosted thousands of visitors every year, including celebrities and President Warren G. Harding. The Union Pacific purchased El Escalante and ran a tour company, the Utah Parks Company, out of the hotel and adjacent depot. A vehicle fleet, first of Model T Fords, but of busses by the late 1930s, would take visitors to national parks as far away as the Grand Canyon.

Even with this new industry, the Great Depression (1929-1939) would hit Cedar City as hard as it did most other places, but resident’s willingness to come together as a community helped the town survive through the crisis. One such occasion occurred in 1931, when state regulators ordered the closure of the Bank of Southern Utah, the main financial institution in the town and the surrounding region, for not having enough cash on hand to cover its deposits. Residents raised $90,000 to re-open the bank and held a ball to celebrate its survival. This incident, and others like it, remain part of local lore as an example of Cedar City’s unique solidarity and resilience as a community.

This solidarity, however, tended not to include the local Southern Paiute tribe, who remained on the fringes of the community and the economy. Under a series of Federal and State policies intended to force assimilation of tribal people, the Southern Paiute had become landless and destitute, serving largely as laborers for local Mormon families and exploited as tourist curiosities. This state of poverty and dependence would continue for decades until the focus of Federal Indian policy moved to one of building tribal self-governance.

With the expansion of auto travel after World War Two, rail travel declined in importance, though Cedar City remained a “Gateway City” to the National Parks of Southern Utah. The town continues to embrace tourism and has dubbed itself “Festival City U.S.A.” for the numerous arts and cultural events that have located there. This was all made possible by the vision of the town’s leaders a century ago.

The rapid postwar growth of the town in the subsequent decades meant the loss of the community’s character as a scrappy small town. However, a spirit of civic pride remains from those days as the town continues to find inspiration in their forbearer’s willingness to set individual concerns aside to work together as a community.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

8 – Lander, WY

Episode 8: Where People Take Good Care of the Environment with Louisa Hunkerstorm

Louisa Hunkerstorm describes a Great America where people take really good care of the land, water, air and environment.

She is an educator who currently works at Central Wyoming College. In the past, she has worked as an outdoor educator and in other teaching and learning settings. She is a proud Wyomingite, a parent of two little kids, cross-country skier, and a lover of literature and beautiful places.

Louisa grew up in Wyoming on a farm, 30 minutes away from school and other amenities. She used her imagination and spent lots of wonderful time playing out in nature. This experience of growing up with a deep connection to the land lead her to a career in outdoor education. After many travels and adventures she returned to Lander to share her knowledge and raise her own family.

 The book by Rick Bass that Louisa mentions in this episode is “The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness.”

Louisa works at Central Wyoming College

Lander, WY: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1983-2007

Lander, Wyoming, experienced a heyday from the mid-1980s to the 2000s, as the city recovered from the economic blow of a mine closure to become an internationally known center of the emerging outdoor recreation industry. The city of less than 8000 residents is an example of a successful shift from extractive industry to ecotourism and tells a story of the American West in transition.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Lander served as a railroad hub for ranching, farming and mining in the region. By the 1960s, nearby iron mines dominated the economy and local affairs. This came to an end in 1983, when the last of the mines closed as the American steel industry collapsed nationwide. The streets of Lander were soon lined with for-sale signs as families went elsewhere to find employment.

But the foundations of a new economy were already in place. Already a destination for tourists for hunting opportunities and dude ranches in the Wind River Country, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which specialized in outdoor skills and eventually, environmental education, was established in 1965. It moved into a permanent headquarters in downtown Lander in 1971, and expanded rapidly through the 1970s and 80s as outdoor recreation came into its own as an industry nationally. By the 1980s, Lander became a focus for what would come to be called ecotourism as other outdoor programs and environmentally-oriented nonprofits like the Nature Conservancy would establish themselves there. In the 1990s and the 2000s, Lander achieved a reputation as a “college town without a college” for a youth-oriented culture and an active arts scene which belied its relatively small population, even becoming home to a well-regarded record label and an NPR affiliate. 

Lander, however, faces a problem common to other towns dependent on a tourism economy, namely housing. While after the closure of the mine, there was plenty of housing available, this would not last as NOLS and the tour companies expanded. The community has been hard-pressed to house the seasonal workers the tourist industry needs, and the shortage of affordable housing has increasingly made attracting permanent employees a challenge. This would become a perennial issue as local leaders continue to struggle to address this need.

Lander’s status as a “college town without a college” ended in 2007, when Wyoming Catholic College was founded there, attracted by the unique cultural vibe of the place. The city remains a center for outdoor recreation and the spectacular scenery of central Wyoming assures its future vitality as a community. However, recent efforts by state and county officials to attract investors to re-open the iron mine, something which has been met with a certain ambivalence in Lander, show that there are still those in leadership who have not accepted the new economy. This will doubtless be a source of tension in the future.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

7 – Cheyenne, WY

Episode 7: To Find Ways to Bring Peace and Equity to This Nation with Glenna Hirsig

Glenna Hirsig describes a Great America where Americans of all ages find ways to bring peace and equality to the nation.

She is a longtime resident of Wyoming. Glenna worked in retail merchandise and spent her entire married life as a ranch wife. She is a member of Cowgirls of the West, which has a museum in Cheyenne that is open to the public.

Glenna grew up post World War II in Wyoming working for room and board on a ranch, putting up hay, milking cows, gathering eggs and riding fences. They also cooked and cleaned, and all this was by kerosene lamp. This experience taught her that hard work could be fun and rewarding.

https://www.cowgirlsofthewestmuseum.com/

Cheyenne, WY: The Great America of 1867-1887

The time when Cheyenne was “great” was the years between 1867 and 1887, the years of the cattle boom in Wyoming. Though much has happened since then, Cheyenne continues to celebrate this era and Wyoming’s branding as “The Cowboy State” remains central to Wyoming’s identity as a state.

It is important to understand that the American cowboy, and the cattle industry as we know it, has its origins in Mexican-American traditions in the states along the southern border, but the image of the cowboy in popular culture owes much to the works of author Owen Wister, who is credited with creating the western as a literary genre. Though he set his writings in various places around the west, his two most famous and endearing novels, Lin McLean (1897) and The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902) took place in, and were based on first-person accounts of, Wyoming during the cattle boom. Together with his illustrators, Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington, two other great American mythmakers, Wister had helped secure a special place for the Wyoming cowboy in the popular imagination.

The origins of the Wyoming cowboy, the beginnings of the cattle boom and the genesis of the city of Cheyenne all happened at the same time. In 1867, the Union Pacific railroad laid track across what would become Wyoming Territory and established a railroad depot at Cheyenne. Within two years, the so-called “Magic City of the Plains” was home to 200 businesses, had a population of 4000 people and was the capitol of the new territory.

This growth was powered by the rapid development of the cattle industry. Though there was some ranching in the area since the 1850s, it suffered from lack of access to markets. The railroad not only addressed this problem, it also brought investors from the Eastern States and Britain. This ushered in the era of huge, heavily capitalized cattle operations. It seemed, for a time, that no one could lose money in the cattle business.

Cattlemen dominated politics. In 1879, the Cheyenne Club was established in an ostentatious building which nearly dwarfed the territorial capitol. This became the premier gathering place for the biggest players in the cattle industry, and functioned as some ways as a “third house” of the territorial legislature where deals would be made over liquor, cigars and oysters.

While this arrangement worked very well for a small number of cattlemen backed by Eastern and foreign financiers, it excluded many Wyoming residents. In their quest to monopolize land and water resources, the heavily capitalized large cattle operations were engaged in conflicts, sometimes violent, around the territory with sheepherders, farmers, and small-time ranchers. While these feuds did not involve Cheyenne directly, it is safe to say that the problems of these smaller players, many of whom were immigrants, were not discussed by the denizens of the Club.

Another excluded group seems a little ironic. Though the city was named Cheyenne, the tribe would not be a part of the life of the community. In the 1870s United States was actively at war with the Cheyenne and other plains tribes and the army was initially the primary market for beef. In fact, the cattle industry that gave the town life would not have even been possible had the Cheyenne sill been at liberty on the plains.

Beyond this, a lot of people got written out of the mythmaking of the period. Though a significant number of cowboys were African-American or Native American, and Mexican-Americans worked the initial cattle drives to Wyoming from Texas, these were not the men elevated by Wister. The author considered the Anglo-American cowboy to be a paragon of the nation’s values and dismissed others with words like “mongrel.” His heroes were White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, and this shaped the popular notion of the cowboy in Wyoming and beyond.

The cattle boom came to an abrupt end in 1887. The number of cattle both exceeded market demand and the capacity of the range to support them. The final blow was a particularly severe winter in 1887. The Cheyenne Club was soon abandoned. Though the industry survived, it was no longer dominant in the same way.

In 1897, Cheyenne held the first Frontier Days to celebrate cowboy culture and the legacy of the boom days. Now known as the largest annual outdoor rodeo in the world, it remains the major cultural even in Cheyenne. Today, government is the largest employer in the city, and fossil fuel production is the main driver of the economy, but the identity embraced of Cheyenne and the state of Wyoming very much harkens back to the halcyon days of the cattle industry and the iconic characters who it employed.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian