The people just two generations ago were tough, or maybe those that survived were tough and the others did not make it too long in those rough and tumble days of the late 1800’s. The great movement west was made up of many types of people, perhaps most of them were just hoping to find a new beginning of freedom and opportunity. My grandfather, Elmer, was one of this type of westerner. His life started in Iowa in 1877 and following the death of his mother when he was just five and his father at age 10, he was thrust into the world at an early age. Pasted from relative to relative he soon found his role was mostly that of an indentured slave, a boy expected to work long hours to earn his board and keep. By the time he was 16 he had had enough of the drudgery of the labor he was expected to do and decided it was time to go on his own and to try to make a new life for himself.  Perhaps at the back of his mind was a hope he could strike it rich somehow and comeback to the girl he left behind a rich man. So away went Elmer, working his way west. He ended up in Billings, MT and worked there at various jobs for a dollar a day.

In the meantime the girl he left behind finished high school and did some additional work to earn a teaching certificate.  She also headed west to take a teaching job in Loveland, CO.  Many love letters were sent back and forth between the two so far apart.  Perhaps Elmer begin to worry that the love of his life would grow tired of just writing letters and might find some other young man to love. At any rate, November came and Elmer decided he must get to Loveland some way to see Carrie, the girl he left behind. November is not the time to decide to WALK from Billings, MT to Loveland, CO, some 400 miles or more depending on the path taken.

So, Elmer struck out on the long journey in spite of it beginning to be cold. He started on a bicycle but the cactus thorns soon wrecked that plan as riding a bike with flat tires is not a good situation. An early fall blizzard soon made walking very difficult, but he was lucky to hitch a ride on a wagon loaded with coal. The driver complained of cold feet all the way down the road. Finally they came upon an abandoned cabin and sought refuge from the storm inside. Once in the cabin they found that the boots of the driver had frozen to his legs. Unfortunately he died in a few days. Finally a rescue party looking for the coal wagon arrived and Elmer was able to continue his long journey hoping to get beyond the snow that covered the road ahead.

After several days of walking, another storm hit and Elmer was caught in a blizzard again. Exhausted and hungry he finally stumbled onto a farmhouse. The lady refused to allow him to come into the warm house and offered nothing to eat. Elmer collapsed in the barn until the storm passed.  After catching a ride on a freight train for part of the way and a long time walking, he finally made it to Loveland and reunited with Carrie. Following a winter-long engagement they returned to Iowa and Carrie’s family, the Barnards, and were married. The depth of his love for Carrie had kept him going somehow through the impossible journey all those many miles. 

After several tries at farming and operating a general store in the town of Oral, SD, just east of Hot Springs, a town that was founded by Elmer and others of his family, Elmer, Carrie and family moved to Riverton, WY in 1916. Like many others they came on the promise that land could be homesteaded and that the town was booming since it had grown quickly after its beginning in 1906 as a land rush town. Hardy pioneers had claimed lots drawn in a lottery in the new town that had been roughly surveyed in the sagebrush just prior to the land rush of 1906. Elmer seemed always looking for new adventures. Has various ventures included a flour mill, truck gardening, coal mining and he even dared to try his hand at oil and gold exploration and subsequent development. With a large family of 4 boys and 3 girls there were many mouths to feed, but many hands to do the hard work involved in  these ventures in these early days in Wyoming.

Climbing another “mountain” seemed to be the recurring theme of many of the early pioneers who were always hoping to find a way to improve their lives and those of their offspring, in spite of the many hardships they faced in those Wild and Wonderful Days in Early Wyoming.

PS As far as I know I was born in my grandfather’s home on North Broadway Street in Riverton, WY. My step-grandmother operated a midwife business in their home for many years.


  1. Jim. You have a good handle on your history…those pioneers were tough. I wish I had more first hand accounts of my German ancestors migration to Russia….the ones I do have , we’re not easy.

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