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 🙂


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