Pronghorn antelope all but outnumber people in wide-open WYOMING, the ninth largest but least populous state in the union, with just 570,000 residents. Above all, this is classic cowboy country – the inspiration behind Shane, The Virginian and countless other Western novels – replete with open range, rodeos and country-music dance halls. The state emblem, seen everywhere, is a hat-waving cowboy astride a bucking bronco, and the spurious “Code of the West”, signed into state law in 2010 and urging residents to follow such maxims as “ride for the brand”, illustrates Wyoming’s ongoing attachment to the myths of the Wild West.
Well over three million tourists per year head to Wyoming’s northwest corner to admire the simmering geothermal landscape of Yellowstone National Park, and the craggy mountain vistas of adjacent Grand Teton National Park. Between Yellowstone and South Dakota to the east are the helter-skelter Bighorn Mountains, likeable Old West towns such as Cody and Buffalo, and the otherworldly outcrop of Devils Tower.
Unlikely as it may seem, this rowdy state was the first to grant women the right to vote in 1869 – a full half-century before the rest of the country, on the grounds that the enfranchisement of women would attract settlers and increase the population, thereby hastening statehood. A year later Wyoming appointed the country’s first women jurors, and the “Equality State” elected the first female US governor in 1924.
The absence of rivers to irrigate farmland has put a lid on agricultural growth. Any weather-beaten, denim-clad stranger is just as likely to be an oil roustabout as a genuine cowboy, with mineral extraction having replaced livestock as the mainstay of the state’s economy in the early twentieth century; today, Wyoming’s coffers depend on profits from the coal, oil and natural gas industries.Read More
- Buffalo Bill Historical Center
- Yellowstone National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park
The classic triangular peaks of GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, stretching for fifty miles south from Yellowstone to Jackson, are more dramatic than the mountains of its superstar neighbour park to the north. These sheer-faced cliffs make a magnificent spectacle, rising abruptly to tower 7000ft above the valley floor. A string of gem-like lakes is set tight at the foot of the mountains; beyond them lies the broad, sagebrush-covered Jackson Hole river basin (a “hole” was a pioneer term for a flat, mountain-ringed valley), broken by the gently winding Snake River.
Though the Shoshone people knew the mountains as the Teewinot (“many pinnacles”), their present name, meaning “large breast”, was bestowed by over-imaginative French-Canadian trappers in the 1830s. After Congress set the mountains aside as a national park in 1929, it took another 21 years of legal wrangling for Grand Teton to attain its current size – local ranchers protested that the economy of Jackson Hole would be ruined if further land was surrendered to tourism. During this time, John D. Rockefeller Jr bought up large parts of Jackson Hole and presented them to the government for conversion to parklands, on condition that his Grand Teton Lodge Company be the park’s primary concessionaire, which it remains today.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Two of the most engaging characters to roam the Rocky Mountains, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, remain legends not only of the Old West, but of a romantic outlaw existence in which breaking the law became an expression of personal freedom. Thanks in large part to the 1969 movie (starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford), these two former thieves and cattle rustlers continue to cast a long shadow across the Rockies.
Butch Cassidy was born George LeRoy Parker in Beaver, Utah, on 6 April, 1866. Taught the art of cattle-rustling by ranch-hand Mike Cassidy, he borrowed his mentor’s last name, and picked up the handle “Butch” while working as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Having pulled his first bank job in Telluride, Colorado, in 1889, he threw in his lot with a like-minded group of outlaws known as the Wild Bunch. Among them was one Harry Longabaugh – the Sundance Kid – who picked up his nickname following a jail stint in Sundance, Wyoming. Eclectic in their criminal pursuits, the Wild Bunch’s resumé would include horse-rustling as well as the robbing of trains, banks and mine payrolls; between them, they gave away a fortune in gold to friends and even strangers in need.
The gang took to laying low through the winter months in Brown’s Hole, a broad river valley in remote northwest Colorado, and were also known to visit the southern Wyoming towns of Baggs, Rock Springs and Green River. Their saloon excesses were tolerated, however, because at the end of a spree they would meticulously account for every broken chair and bullet hole, making generous restitution in gold. The gang, however, was eventually undone by their own vanity and love of a good time: during a visit to Fort Worth, Texas, five of the men posed for a photo in smart suits and derby hats, looking so dapper that the photographer proudly placed the photo in his shop window, where it was seen the following day by a detective from the famous Pinkerton agency.
Wearying of life on the run, Butch and Sundance sailed for South America in 1902, and were soon trying their hand at gold-mining, while robbing the occasional bank or train. The Hollywood version was true enough to this point, but Butch Cassidy did not die in a hail of bullets at the hands of Bolivian soldiers in 1909 as depicted in the film – although it seems that Harry Longabaugh did. The last say belongs to Josie Morris, an old girlfriend from Butch’s Brown’s Hole days, who insisted that he came to see her on his return from South America, and claimed furthermore that he died an old man in Johnny, Nevada, sometime in the 1940s.