Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Treacherous Bitter Roots! Cora Leland

The Bryan Stage 1872

As the years of development in the West rolled on, even remote places like Wyoming Territory experienced change.  While railroad travel wasn't that well established yet, the Upper Plains were influenced by the expanded travel.  Wyoming built new roads to connect all the new towns springing up.

Some of these new towns were simply posts for storing government rations for Native tribes  and the expanding Army. Raids on these posts were thrillingly depicted in fiction, especially the raids that took place during the desperate times at the end of the Indian Wars. The government seemed to be sitting on a fence, pulled between opening every inch of land to prospectors, and agreements they'd signed before gold was discovered.  Much of that land was already staked out and under contract. But there were new obligations to meet and people to house.

Mining and railroads

These little towns and posts did get connected, and lower elevation was accessed through the South Pass route. 

All this time, the railroads continued to expand this undeveloped territory, working faster than would last into the future.  The difficulties were understandable, looking back at them.  The original plans were laid out on a straight line, but contractors insisted on a more twisting route.  

While the obligation to get these railroads finished was sometimes postponed, the tracks were laid.  Difficulties came because of the difficult terrain and the huge sums that had to be raised -- "hastily laid track...and congressional corruption."

Back in 1868, when  trains came to Laramie (close to what would be the capitol city of Wyoming, Cheyenne) the town springing up was nick-named "hell on wheels."  It had taken thousands of people working and then living in tents all along the line.  In fact, Laramie, Wyoming was made up entirely of tents.

Keystone Dance Hall and surrounding tents, Laramie 1868 

"End of the tracks" towns dotted the territory.  A surprising number of businesses moved along with the railroad construction crews, but some stayed. Even some of the citizens moved when the railroads started being constructed elsewhere.

But South Pass was not forgotten.  Twenty miles from that spot, a city was built that marks the beginning of women's rights.

South Pass City, 1870

Hundreds of thousands of new settlers had used the trails that traveled over the continent and went through South Pass to reach the far West.  In Wyoming's new legislature in 1869, a saloon-keeper named William Blake introduced legislation to give voting rights to women.  And Wyoming had the first woman to serve in public office, Esther Hobart Morris. She became Justice of the Peace in Feb. 1870.

South Pass, itself, enabled those thousands of emigrants to avoid frost-bite and even death as they traveled over the mountains.  Unlike the treacherous earlier route, Bitter Roots, South Pass offered a direct road Westward. 

Pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson based this sketch of wagons and the transcontinental telegraph line near South Pass, with the Oregon Buttes in the distance


Enjoy my latest historical romance novel!

In 1875, a blizzard wrecked the train Star Bird's family was riding.  She was sent from Minneapolis to Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, her orphanage had overlooked the Great Lakota War that was raging. It peaked in 1876 just as she was fired from her first job.

In Minnesota, a Lakota woman wasn't considered dangerous, like she soon was, in Laramie...

Read about Star and Purcell, the settler who loves her!

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