An oil pump, a common site surrounding the plains of Gillette, Wyoming in 2019 which would be notably absent in the early 1900’s, just like Campbell County.
It’s hard to picture Wyoming without Campbell County, isn’t it?
A Wyoming without Campbell County would, theoretically, be akin to Jackson without mountains or Laramie without the University of Wyoming.
But just over 108 years ago, Campbell County, along with a good portion of the other 22 modern Wyoming counties, simply didn’t exist.
Prior to 1911, 11 counties ruled the whole of Wyoming prior to and a few years after the territory’s designation as a state in 1890, according to the Wyoming State Archives.
Following the transition to statehood, Wyoming added two additional counties, Crook and Sheridan, after which new and standing county borders were left virtually unchanged for nearly 20 years.
But in 1909, a fast-growing statewide population had nearly doubled, to which the state responded by adding another county, Park, to the fold, which brought the number of Wyoming counties up to 14.
It simply wasn’t enough; the population began to expand into uncharted Wyoming territories, leading Wyoming Governor Joseph M. Carey to ask the existing State Legislature for more counties.
“It is to be hoped that the conditions before many years will not only justify, but demand many new counties,” Carey said in his 1911 State of the State address. “In providing the boundaries for new counties, future divisions should be taken into consideration.”
Carey was concerned. The growing populations in remote areas of the state, far from each county seat, meant that residents in those areas would not have access to or adequate representation in their county governments.
Evidently, the 1911 Wyoming Legislature agreed, and 17 bills, all of them proposing the creation of new counties, were introduced into the House.
Some counties, such as the then-massive Uinta County in western Wyoming, were hot topics in the Legislature, with representatives arguing for hours on end on how they would divide it in two and what the new county would be called.
Several bills, each proposing a different plan to divide Uinta County, failed. Eventually, a chunk off the southern portion of Uinta became Lincoln County.
The bill that created Campbell County was introduced by Harry J. Chassell, who proposed naming the new county after the first Wyoming Governor, Robert Campbell.
Luckily, the creation of Campbell County, which was created from the western halves of Crook and Weston counties, managed to pass through the Legislature without too much trouble.
Once the bill was signed into law, Campbell County was officially established on Feb. 13, 1911.
Not long after, an election was held and Gillette was chosen as the county seat with a total of 381 votes, according to a report written by the Campbell County Government.
It’s a difficult pill to swallow; Campbell County was once an afterthought that was created to give people a more active role in government.
But in the last 100 years, the county has continued to grow and thrive.
Today, it boasts the largest open-pit coal mine in the world, the North Antelope Rochelle Mine (NARM), and its energy industry draws workers and business from all around the world.
Considering how important Campbell County is to the rest of the state, it really does seem odd to imagine a Wyoming without Campbell County and the Energy Capital of the Nation, Gillette, doesn’t it?
(Editorial note: This story originally ran on Feb. 14, 2019)