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Sheridan County's Best Kept Secret: Parts 1-3

by Mary Ellen McWilliams

Sheridan County's Best Kept Secret: Part 1
by Mary Ellen McWilliams

Many folks are somewhat familiar with the Wyoming Room at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library.  Only a few, however, have more than a cursory knowledge of the treasures  tucked away, out of sight, in its many file cabinets, drawers, shelves, and storage areas. These contain a remarkable wealth of information, primarily relative to Sheridan County, Regional and State history.

The extension was planned by then Library Director, Alice Meister, and the Wyoming Room's first Director, the late Helen Graham. Author-historian David McCullough,  a man with no lack for words, written or spoken,  gave the opening presentation Nov. 11, 1986.

The room would store, and make available to the public, birth, marriage, cemetery and early arrest records, city directories, and town hall minutes.  Graham established obituary files,  not generally found in community libraries.  A local educator, the late Charlie Popovich, provided the room with extensive school records.  The Civic Theater Guild,  the Hospital Auxiliary and many others, brought in their organizations' materials.

Shelves are full of publications going years back.  They include 'Annals of Wyoming',  'Wyoming Archaeologist,' the ' Montana Magazine of Western History',  'Wyoming Wildlife' and  many others. 
Graham welcomed the meticulous work of volunteer Deck Hunter in identifying all the early Sheridan County homesteaders and mapping their claims.  These, along with the Sandborn maps, tracking the City's development, are housed in an adjoining room.

An extensive genealogical collection fills many shelves  and includes   years of research on the emigrants into the early mining camps in the county, 'World War I Yearbooks', ' The Lineage book of the DAR' and 'Colonial Families in the U.S.'  The collection makes a fine supplement to the Ancestry information available today on the internet.

The Sheridan County Extension Homemaker's  publication of the Sheridan County Heritage Book contains over 200 family histories plus features on towns, businesses, schools, organizations and institutions as well as brands and land patents.  There is a like publication from the Clearmont, Ulm, and Leiter  area;  Vie Willits Garber's 'Big Horn Pioneers'; and Charlie Rawlins' history of the Dayton-Ranchester area 'In Our Neck of the Woods'. 

 Fifty-eight years ago, Myrna "Mac" Grimm,  a member of the fledgling Sheridan County Historical Society,   began keeping scrapbooks of our history and recently she brought in her last,  the 19th large binder, to the Library.  They include a wealth of clippings,  photos,  minutes  of  meetings and much more.

Major Sheridan County newspapers from the original issues to today's Sheridan Press are either digitized or available in print, as are many of the KWYO radio scripts from announcers  Bob Wilson and Dr. William Frackelton.  Many thousands of photographs are available including in collections of Don Diers, Elsa Spear Byron, George Ostrum, Herb Coffeen, Peggy Cooksley, Dick Lenz, and one just recently arrived, from Ike Fordyce.

Several hundred personal interviews are recorded and on file, including the early Robert A. Helvey taped interviews.  These include interviews with Han's Kleiber,  Marjorie Masters, Don King, Joe  Medicine Crow, Dee Brown, Floyd Bard,and Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf's daughter, Lydia Wild Hog.   Many special collections, such as those for All American Indian Days and Miss Indian America, and the Elsa Spear Byron materials, photos, and diaries,  are available for research.

  Dozens of  drawers include alphabetized files on individuals, families, businesses, organizations,  towns, places and events.  Thousands of library cards are available to  help authors,  visitors and researchers locate what information they  wish.  Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum Board member, Helen Laumann, has used the collections to gather information for over 50 programs,  titled 'Conversations in History' given at the HUB over the past 6 years, and repeated in many other locations.

Helen Graham retired in 2000, after 32 years with the library and 14 with the Wyoming Room. Her work earned her the State Historical Society's highest honor, the Cumulative Award for Lifetime Achievement in Western American History.  She also won a Distinguished Service award from the Wyoming State Library, and a Sheridan County Historical Society  Chapter award for her work in the Wyoming Room.

The room has had three managers since, with Karen Woinoski first taking the reins.  Karen worked primarily on further cataloguing the collections, and during her time, staff member Jeanne Sanchez meticulously researched and identified the graves in the old cemetery at Carneyville.

Judy Slack and then Kim Ostermyer followed and their achievements will be addressed in Part II of this column.  Thus, the work goes on and new and exciting discoveries never end. We ask the readers to watch for part II, recognizing co-operative projects, donors, volunteers, and further exploring  a smattering of the many treasures tucked away and awaiting public enjoyment and use  by authors, historians, program presenters, students, and researchers worldwide.


Sheridan's Best Kept Secret--Part 2
by Mary Ellen McWilliams

  Just as former Sheridan County  Library Director Alice Meister and Helen Graham were recognizing the need of a Northern Wyoming Repository for historical materials, Henry Yapel with the Wyoming State Library called.  He  was offered them  the opportunity to take their duplicates of Wyoming related history books.  Helen would identify those most valuable to us, and Alice  drove to Cheyenne in a blizzard and brought home a U-Haul trailer full of  hundreds of books. These, along with books the library already had, and Helen's considerable collections, became the beginnings of the storehouse of treasures (as described in Part I) in The Wyoming Room today.

After Helen Graham and then Karen Woinoski retired, Judy Slack moved into the job and into a fast-moving world of new technologies.  According to Slack they digitized over 100 interviews in collaboration with the then Sr. Citizens center,  close to 100 movies, 211 Big Horn City Historical Society programs and interviews, 85 Sheridan County Museum programs and 98 Sheridan High School plays.

Collecting historical photos became much easier as now,  rather than have a person give up  cherished family photos, these can now be scanned and saved with the originals returned to the donor. Almost all of the Sheridan newspapers have been digitized.  Other benefits of technology included the saving of storage space; long term preservation of the materials; easy access to researchers and other Wyoming Room patrons and the ability to share with other resources.

Among Slack's achievements were the consolidation of  information in the vast  collections and making it readily available to the public through publications and programs.  An outstanding example of her numerous publications  is that of a photo history of Sheridan entitled Now and Then.  Published in honor of the 125th Anniversary of Sheridan County, project photos and restorations were done by local long-time photographer, Anita Nichols, with research and layout by Judy Slack, Mike Dykhorst, Kevin Knapp, Karen Bacon, Mona Brown and Trish Coffeen.  Several dozen others are listed as providing photos, and assistance.  Additional materials include the listing of the roughly 400 persons who voted to form Sheridan County out of what was originally Johnson County.

The Miss Indian American reunions with public programs and events were instigated by Slack and Dykhorst, with three books published on these. Also the Wyoming Room collections became the source of much of the history of All American Indian Days and Miss Indian America  by Gregory Nikerson, a national prize-winning feature published in Montana Magazine of Western History.

Gathering of photos and available information on Ernest Hemingway's time spent in the area at Spear-O Wigwam, the Folly Ranch, the Sheridan Inn, and on the Spear roundup was published in 2011 and has been provided to the international group which will be presenting a Hemingway event here in 2020. One of Slack's most significant achievements has been her work with Elsa Spear Byron's daughter,  the late Marilyn Bilyeu, to bring 26 of Elsa's early diaries, and other materials, to The Wyoming Room.

When Slack retired, and Kim Ostermyer became Manager, he brought a background of over 16 years of experience working with genealogy and is well able to help the public get started or make use of the large selection of materials available.  The staff has helped the Sheridan County Land Trust to research the Acme Power Plant history, and  are presently working with the American Legion on their history.

As the area obituaries are among the most frequently requested items by patrons, they are  continuously indexing and digitizing them while in the process also of researching, and sometimes correcting the older ones.  They now have digitized over 9,500 obits.

  A progressive inventorying process  is on-going and  is being entered into the PastPerfect computer base, so that the items are searchable.  They are also working with a clipping file audit and cleanup to  sort items into better classifications for more practical research by patrons.

Throughout its existence the collections have been a boon to authors. For just one of many examples, local author Tom Ringley has said that he used The Wyoming Room extensively for two of his books, Rodeo Time in Sheridan, Wyo and Wranglin' Notes: A Chronicle of Eatons' Ranch.  He sites The Sheridan  Press's annual reporting as giving him a plethora of information to take the reader back in time to capture the rodeo flavor of the community each year. (How else, he asked, were we to know that Arville Kruse and Mike Dregoiw were the first two people admitted to the very first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.)

 On completion, the rodeo board donated all of the original information he had gathered back to The Wyoming Room where it was catalogued and is available for future researchers. Ringley suggests that just an hour for anyone delving into any of the information available there can be a real historical treat!

Sheridan's Best Kept Secrets--Part 3
by Mary Ellen McWilliams

Of all the themes addressed and  stored out-of-sight in the files, drawers, shelves and storage units in the Sheridan County Library's Wyoming Room complex, probably the most extensive are materials relating to our Indian history. Much of this is included as a part of wider theme collections of past local residents Elsa Spear Byron, Glenn Sweem, Robert A. Murray, Alan Bourne and many others.

Elsa Spear became interested in our area history as a young girl when another outstanding scholar, Vie Willits Garber, became her mentor.  Elsa's involvement continued throughout her long life.  Her materials and photos are extensive in the Wyoming Room and also in the Sheridan County Museum,  the Big Horn City Historical Society,  the American Heritage Center at UW, and elsewhere. Her early Crow Indian pictures reside at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

When serving as Wyoming Room Manager, Judy Slack, working with Byron's daughter, Marilyn, brought in  60 years worth of Byron's  many  diaries, and other materials.  Slack also, along with Michael Dykhorst, initiated the three Miss Indian America reunions held in recent years in Sheridan.  An extensive history of the 32 years of All American Indian Days and Miss Indian American activities are available in the room and include Hila Gilbert's book "Making Two Worlds One." Gregory Nickerson's national prize winning article on All American Indian Days for Montana: The Magazine of Western History is included.

Railroad Engineer and local historian, Glenn Sweem, went to grade school at Lodge Grass with the man who became the last Chief of the Crow Nation, and MC for the AAID events, Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, and they became lifetime friends. One of the cards in the card file simply reads "Glenn Sweem--4 boxes".

Dr. George Frison is a famous Wyoming archaeologist, whose book Antiquities includes the stories of the buffalo jumps on Big Goose and Piney Creek.  General Henry Carrington's book  The Indian Question and his scrapbook, gifted to the old Carnegie Library here,  includes his speech given at the Fetterman Monument when he was here in 2008.  The card file includes a report on Indian Treaties, 1778-1883.

In addition to accounts of the Indian Wars, such as Jack McDermott's 2-vol. Red Cloud's War, and The Six Campaigns of General George Crook,  Crow scholar Mardell Plainfeather's booklet, The Apsaalooke: Warriors of the Big Horns,  and Cheyenne scholar Bill Tallbull's We Are the Ancestors of Those Yet to be Born,  there is a huge amount of material regarding Indian cultures. These include materials on Indian sign language, the women and children,  Tipis--the best movable shelter, philosophies, art and artifacts, athletes, burial customs, ledger drawings, mythology, and Alma Snell's Indian recipes and herbal medicines.

Bozeman Trail scholar, Dr. Susan Badger Doyle, describes the late Father Barry Hagan's collection as "probably the largest Bozeman Trail collection in our nation."  Father Hagan, a Jesuit priest, was Archivist at the University of Portland, OR, and an early member of the  Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association Advisory Board.  His collection came to the FPK/BTA in l6 large boxes of paper materials and microfilm and was placed on permanent loan to the Wyoming Room.  A large card file, prepared by Hagan, sits above the file cabinets.

Manager, Kim Ostermyer, tells us the work goes on with re-organization and  some material, such as Carl Oslund's, not yet filed, and new materials to come.  These include interviews with Charlie Luxmoore and Sonny Reisch, and Sandy Spang's account of growing up on the Cheyenne reservation. A  90-minute documentary on the Bozeman Trail  is slated to air in March from Wyoming and Montana PBS.   It was written and directed  by prize- winning documentarian, Tom Manning, of Bozeman who made good use of the Wyoming Room for his research.  Copies will be available there, also, for the use of the interested public and researchers from around the nation and the world.  

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