Wyoming Historian Shares Stories of Homesteaders at Rawhide Butte
More than a century ago, a 70-year-old disabled Civil War veteran headed West with a dream. Leaving his home and wife in Iowa, Axim Lamm didn’t let his frozen ankle or arthritis hold him back. The old codger wanted to take a crack at homesteading his own piece of land in Gillette, so he made the trek with his unmarried daughter and the two set up shop next to one another on adjoining pieces of land, where he grew a “truck patch” selling lettuce and tomatoes to the shops downtown. After more than a decade in the West, he returned home to his wife.
This is just one of the stories of a hearty bunch of Midwesterners that writer and historian Bob Henry plans to share in his presentation, “Too short to Bind,” Friday evening at the Rockpile Museum. Henry is a descendent of one of the 11 families from the tiny town of Clarion, Iowa, who homestead in Rawhide Butte, near the Campbell County Airport, between 1910-23. He has spent the past seven years researching these families, many of whom still have ancestors and attachments to the community today and has a vast wealth of early history to share.
“There are a number of events that people will be familiar with,” Henry said, such as the legendary blizzard of 1912 that was one of the worst in local history. Or the first flight in Wyoming, which took place in Gillette that same year, after a group of local business men threw money together to bring in a plane that arrived by train.
“This area has an incredibly rich history,” he said, and at least three of the families he researched sold their homesteads to family members who, generations later, still live here today.
He became interested in studying these early families after hearing stories about his great-grandfather who homesteaded in Wyoming. Having grown up in Pennsylvania, he knew virtually nothing about this side of his family, and after a career with the Federal Bureau of Mines, he retired in Cheyenne and began diving into that side of his family history. The Wyoming Newspaper Project opened up the door for him, as did the Rockpile Museum, and as he read early news stories about his family, his curiosity widened.
“They were simple stories about so-and-so farmer going to town and girls getting married,” he said. “I was flabbergasted to read so much about my family.”
The idea of dry farmers, too, had always interested him, as did the notion of trying to make a productive living in the semi-arid high dessert of Wyoming and all the risks involved..
“That was a hook for me,” he said. “The theory that if you used the right methods and chose the right kind of crops, you could make a productive living in the semi-arid desert.”
The theory was flawed, of course, but that’s another story, as is the story about where his mother got her first name, which until researching, was something he’d never thought about nor ever questioned.
“I stumbled onto the story,” he said, involving a family with roots in both Sheridan and Gillette, who may or may not still live here.
He’ll save that story until Friday night, along with many others. Henry will present from his book in progress, “Too Short to Bind: Dry Farming at Rawhide Butte, 1910-1923,” at the Rockpile Museum at 7 p.m., followed by a question and answer session. On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., he’ll be giving a second presentation about the process of finding the story, offering practical advice on his experience researching, surprises found and questions unanswered, and how he learned to retell the history in narrative form. The talks are free and open to the public.