Cheyenne, A History…

WARNING- This post is long and picture heavy… I learned a lot today and I don’t want to forget any of it!

So my mom and I played tourist yesterday and did the historic Cheyenne Trolley Tour through downtown Cheyenne. It was actually super interesting and I learned a lot of stuff. We got the plus tickets which allowed us admission into some of the various museum stops along the way. Here are some of the highlights and things we learned…

Picture of our trolley.

The first and last stop on the tour is the old Cheyenne Train Depot, this is where you buy your tickets. Mom and I were just in time for the next tour so we decided to wait and do the depot once we were done with everything else. However, outside the depot is where we found our first two “big boots“. According to my grandpa there are like 30 of these around the city and it’s sort of like a treasure hunt to find them all. Each one has a been painted in a theme by different local artists. Here are some of the ones we found along the way…

My favorite one is a little farther down from the depot along one of the main streets. Pictured on it is an antelope and a deer dressed in human clothes playing cards. The title of this particular boot is called “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play.” It made me smile 🙂

Teehee, the artist is punny 🙂

Along our trolley ride we learned some interesting tidbits about the city. For example, when Cheyenne was first founded it was a pretty rowdy place in the wild western frontier and earned itself the nickname “Hell on Wheels.” (The wheel part mostly due to the part the railroad played in its creation.)

Cheyenne was the first city in the nation to have electric street lamps. They were apparently hardwired to run on a generator that someone turned on at dusk and off and dawn.

It used to have heated underground tunnels that patrons could use to walk from building to building during inclement weather, most or all of them have since been closed off.

Cheyenne also has the largest outdoor rodeo arena in the nation which is able to seat up to 19,000 people and home to Cheyenne Frontier Days, nicknamed- “The Daddy of Them All.”

Next up was the Nelson Museum of the West. This particular museum had a TON of stuffed animals because apparently, one of the owners- Bob Nelson, was a big game hunter. (You will be happy to know none of the animals killed were endangered and were all killed with what they call “fair kill” methods, ie. just a man and his gun, no helicopters or other equipment. Apparently that’s a thing…)

Mountain Lion killed in Laramie county.
This moose was so big I could have used its antlers like a reclining chair!

Buffalos don’t have fingers, I was simply helping a brother out…
Not a guy I would want a bear hug from…

I forget who commissioned this saddle, but if I recall correctly the whole thing took several years and many thousands of dollars to complete because most of it is made out of silver. I feel bad for the horse who has to lug that and a person around on it’s back.

This sucker probably weighs 50 plus pounds…
Compare that to a typical Native American saddle… seems way less complicated.

They also had a ridiculously large collection of ornate spurs. Some of them looked super cool, but again I feel bad for the horse who had to endure them getting stuck in their rear ends…

Floor to ceiling spurs…
Up close photo of some of the more ornate spurs

No wild west museum would be complete without gambling memorabilia…

Old-timey poker chips.
Old timey roulette table…

And with gambling comes the outlaws and the officers of the law who keep them in line…

Oklahoma out-law posters.
Old fashioned sheriff badges.

After we got done at the museum we hopped back on the trolley and swung by the state building.

Several fun facts about the state building…

1) It’s a functional state building, meaning the governor has an office inside. If you see police cruisers parked outside on any given day it means he’s in his office. (He was there when we went past.)

2) The dome is made out of 24 karat gold and can be seen from any road leading into the city. The base alone is fifty feet in circumference.

Fancy shmancy…

3) You would think since it’s gold it would be expensive, but according to our tour guide it actually has less gold in it than a typical 24 karat wedding band. The reason being is it’s made out of gold leaf and is so thin it’s see through. The tour guide says when a panel gets damaged, say from hail, they pop out a panel, iron it flat and stick it back in.

4) Wyoming was the first state to pass a law to allow women the right to vote, due in no small part to this woman- Esther Hobart Morris, whose statue resides outside the capitol building. She later went on to become the first woman Justice of the Peace in the United States.

The esteemed Esther Morris.

5) Wyoming was also the first state to have a woman governor. Nellie Tayloe Ross was the wife of William Ross, a previous governor. When he died in office a month before the general election they nominated her to take his place on the ballot. She ended up winning and took office on January 5, 1925.

From the State House we moved onto the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. Mom and I really had a lot of fun at this place. They are known for having one of the nation’s largest collections of horse drawn vehicles. Here are some of the highlights…

Horse drawn popcorn wagon, retired 1947.
An old sheep wagon, sort of the original “camper” for sheepherders moving their flocks to new pastures.

View inside.

Horse drawn ambulances were rare, but Cheyenne was recognized for its state of the art medical facilities in its day.
Milk Wagon

Fun story about this particular type of stagecoach… When gold was found in South Dakota, they developed a stagecoach line between Deadwood South Dakota and Cheyenne. Because Cheyenne was such a huge railroad town, shipping the gold there via stagecoach was the quickest way to get it east. As a result, many outlaws started holding up stage coaches for the gold they most likely carried. To remedy this they started putting an extra man next to the driver and gave him a shot gun so he could protect the coach while the driver drove. Hence the term “riding shotgun” was born 🙂

Mom in front of the stagecoach.
Horse drawn fire cart. The hose was folded this way to prevent mildew.

Side view.

I thought this particular coach was especially cool. Talk about your original book mobile! Apparently Cheyenne can boast another first- they had the first county library in the United States established in 1886.

The town furniture maker naturally got saddled with the job of undertaker and got to drive this lovely horse drawn hearse.

I also had waaaayyyy too much fun in the kids section…

I’m a good little frontier lady 🙂

Ride em cowgirl! I’m seriously surprised the little kid vest fit me…

Playing Native American princess with my “buffalo skin.” Seriously, how can they leave this stuff here and NOT expect me to play with it?

Also got to be a right proper Victorian lass.

In all my goofing around I even got mom in on the action ha ha…

Out for our daily ride about the park!

While we were waiting for the trolley to pick us up again I was able to snap some photos of some nearby statues. (There is a TON of art strewn about the city…)

This is one statue in honor of Lane Frost, a bull rider who was killed when he was gored by a bull he was trying to ride during the 1989 Frontier Days.

As I was shooting this photo a C-31 military transport plane flew overhead and was loud enough to set off some nearby car alarms.

Ironically, even though the FE Warren Air force base is located in Cheyenne, these planes actually come from the Wyoming Air National Guard. FE Warren is one of only two air force bases in the United States that do not have a working runway. Instead they deal with missiles. This didn’t surprise me after my conversation in the car with my grandpa on our trip to see the Oregon Trail ruts (see my post here…) My grandpa was a career military man in the air force and had been stationed at FE Warren for many years. When I asked him what he did there he told me that (later on in his career) he fed targeting coordinates into missiles. It took me a second to digest this and then realize he meant nuclear warheads. He said he was never high up enough to know what the targets were, just that he had to put the coordinates in when he was given orders. This was towards the tail end of the cold war so it’s possible they were Russian targets. How crazy is that?!

Our tour guide said if you would happen to see an airman working in a missile silo, NEVER approach them or even go near the fence… their orders are to “shoot first, ask questions later.” Kinda scary… though I don’t know who would be stupid enough to do that anyway.

Once we hopped back on the trolley we stopped in Holliday Park (named for the famous Doc Holliday, friend to Wyatt Earp) to see “Big Boy.” This sucker is the world’s largest steam engine and, according to our tour guide, could pull up to 105 full train cars in his day. It’s about as powerful as 5 of today’s diesel engines, but was retired due to the high cost of maintaining it.

He lives up to his name…

Finally we finished our tour back at the Cheyenne Depot Museum, which I found to be a bit of a disappointment. Most of the displays were a lot of pictures and a lot of reading. For someone who is really into trains, like my Uncle who is a retired Union Pacific train engineer, I am sure it would have been super cool. For me, not so much. What I did find interesting was, aside from slight changes to the entrance where you buy your tickets for the trolley, the depot hasn’t changed much since it was built in 1886 and has actually been declared a national landmark. Even the clock in the tower remains manual. Someone has to go up and wind it every single day to keep it running.

Train Depot
Clock tower.

The depot is right next to the main yard of the Union Pacific Railroad, and you can watch trains come through from a viewing area on the second floor. Apparently, Cheyenne remains a huge railway destination with 160+ trains coming through 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It doesn’t really surprise me because I am pretty sure I have seen WAY more trains than semi-trucks since we arrived almost a week ago.

Shot of the railyard.

So there you have it folks, there is my history lesson for the day. I hope you found my pictures and stories as interesting as I did. Who knew a state with so few people could have such an interesting history?

Sometime before we leave mom and I are going to hit up the State Museum and the Botanical Gardens so I am sure I will have more pictures to follow 🙂


Vacation And Learning To Forgive…

I am currently on day number four of my vacation out here in the beautiful prairie country of Wyoming. My mom and I flew out last Friday to visit my Grandparents in Cheyenne. This trip has been planned for well over ten months and was part of my original adventure year itinerary, for you see I didn’t come just to visit my family, I came to try and forgive them as well.

One thing you have to understand is my grandma and I have never really gotten along very well. She’s never been one of those people who is overly affectionate or good at showing how much she cares about people. Couple that with chronic pain, almost all of my memories growing up are of her being a sour, quick tempered, old woman who had nothing but scowls and harsh words for small children. I doubt it was really as bad as I remember it being but, unfortunately the bad memories outweighed the good ones. By the time I was a teenager and could comprehend the situation a little bit better, I was so wrapped up in myself that I didn’t even want to try and understand why she was behaving that way. I was angry at her for the “unjust” way she treated me all those years.

My Grandpa was the only silver lining to those month long visits growing up. His playfulness and jolly demeanor more than made up for Grandma’s surly one, and even though I knew it meant she would be coming too, I couldn’t wait for visits with him. At a very early age I learned you sometimes had to take the good with the bad.

But then when I was in college Grandma had a series of strokes that changed both of them drastically. Grandma had always had mobility challenges, but after she had her strokes she became completely bound to a wheelchair and lost a lot of her unusually sharp memory. Grandpa, who had long since lost his eyesight, no longer had someone to drive for him and he too became mostly homebound. Seeing my grandma in the state she was in was also very difficult for him and he became very depressed. He stopped whistling and joking around, and Grandma started asking about people who had been dead for more than 50 years. It was a very difficult time period for them.

I am very happy to report that today my Grandpa is doing much better and he’s singing and whistling again for the first time in many years. Grandma is still a little loopy and will say the most ridiculous things that stroke patients tend to say, but an unexpected side effect of the stroke is that it has really mellowed her out. She doesn’t complain as much as she used and is WAY more helpful. I spent almost twelve hours in a car with her yesterday, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t want to strangle her by the time it was over. That, my friends, is progress. I may not be able to have a conversation with her and tell her how her behavior made me feel growing up, but at least I can find it in MY heart to forgive her. There’s no point in being angry anymore. Anger is like a cup of poison you mix up for an enemy but end up drinking yourself, the only person it hurts is you.

While I was showering this morning, I realized that this trip isn’t just about letting go of all the resentment I have held towards my grandma, it’s about learning to forgive all of the dark places I have been harboring inside of me. It was exactly a year ago this weekend that I separated from my ex-husband and started (what seemed like) life all over again. Back then I didn’t know how on earth I was going to make it, but I did. I made it through to the other side with minimal bruises, and definitely a lot happier, and that’s something to be proud of. However, just because I have moved on in the physical world doesn’t mean I don’t have some emotional spring cleaning left to do still. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angry sometimes about my marriage, not just angry at my ex-husband, but myself too. I need to let it go, I need to learn to forgive others and, more importantly, myself.

Yesterday, on our twelve hour day trip around the state, a couple of the places we visited were Chimney Rock and Register Cliff, both important markers along the Oregon Trail. In fact, we also stopped at another park not too far from Register Cliff where you can actually see ruts carved into the rock from the wheels of thousands of covered wagons that made the crossing. It was humbling to stand in the presence of such a historical place.

On the way home, I thought a lot about the settlers and everything they risked to see their dreams become reality. Many of them didn’t make it. For those of you who ever played the Oregon Trail computer game, I am sure you are familiar with many of the perils they faced on their journey such as dysentery, cholera and starvation. (Screw you bear for having five hundred pounds of meat when I can only carry fifty!)

Present day, people don’t face as many life threatening dangers (at least not in this country) but I firmly believe even harmful emotions can hold us back from our goals. Dwelling on the negative has a nasty way of keeping us stuck. I have too many crazy dreams I want to bring to fruition to let anger stop me from reaching them.

Forgiveness is a process, but all life is. The most important step is the first- recognizing you who and what you need to forgive and then start doing it. Let it go. You’d be surprised how freeing it is. Life’s too short to be angry so here’s to learning to forgive, one grandma at a time 🙂

Our first stop was Chimney Rock… apparently it used to be a lot taller.

They forgot to mention drowning when your wagon tipped over while fording the river :-/

After we went to Fort Laramie (not pictured) we stopped by the wagon ruts… they are crazy deep for being cut into rock!

Me standing in the ruts, and this isn’t even the deepest part!

Last stop Register Cliff where the settlers used to carve their names into the rock. Unfortunately the oldest part of the cliff was blocked off for repairs… sad face 😦
Was able to get some photos of a few old ones… This one is from 1854.

Another one from 1880, probably not from the Oregon Trail but possibly a solider or gold miner heading west.

This one might be completely fake not sure, because it claims he was an Oregon Trail “Wagon Master” but it’s dated 1889. The major part of the Oregon Trail settlers went through 60 years earlier in the 1830s, so who knows?

Slightly blurry view of the way home. It was starting to storm over the mountains, which, according to my uncle, are part of the Medicine Bow National Forest.