Cheyenne was ccccold today with a fresh coat of light snow. But we’re Canadians, so we donned boots and winter jackets and set out from our hotel, the historic Plains Hotel and headed for the Wyoming State Museum which has the virtue of being a few blocks walk away and indoors!
What a gem! Here, we met Carolyn, a staffer whose great grandparents had taken the Mormon Trail which passed through this area to Salt Lake City. When great-grandpa’s wife protested that he certainly wasn’t going to take a second wife according to Mormon dictates, they left both city and church, and moved to Arizona.
Carolyn’s grandfather moved the family here to Wyoming via Colorado. Perhaps it’s in their history, a country born of many nomadic native American tribes and even more nomadic immigrants who settled here, but Americans seem more prepared to up stakes and move to more fertile grounds than most Europeans, or indeed, Canadians, who share many of the same roots.
The museum provides a snapshot of the earliest peoples of the area. The Sheepeaters, as the Shoshone people of the rugged buttes became known, were adept at corralling the Bighorn sheep who were abundant, using them as a source of food and clothing.
The advent of European settlers changed the face of the Prairies. Buffalo and bison were slaughtered to make way for the new residents. But one can’t help but admire a people who could cross such barren expanses in these covered wagons. And we get a glimpse into their lives – from clothes to crafts in leather and wood.
We were impressed by a little furniture setting by Thomas Molesworth, an American designer who was a significant figure in the creation of a distinctly Western style of furniture and accessories, using hides, horn and natural wood. Drawing from the Arts and Crafts movement, he is credited with popularizing the “cowboy furniture” style, which often combines clean lines with whimsy.
Cheyenne really blossomed when the young railway developed it as an important hub. Indeed, the Cheyenne Depot was a large and quite magnificent station that must have impressed all those coming to this outpost.
Here we met Scotty, the attendant at the railway museum now in this building. He showed us around the old waiting room, now used only for events. Scotty has spent hours polishing its terrazzo tiles to their earlier glory. On one side of this hall, an enormous map of the railway line is embedded in the floor, with all the major stops, their elevation, and the year the station opened. Cheyenne, we learn, was opened November 1, 1867.
But it’s the remarkable model train room in this museum that I find irresistible. Dedicated to a model train recreation of the Colorado and Southern Railway, it took Harry Brunk some 30 years to build.
The elaborate replicas of the slowly decaying railway line which was once the lifeline of this region, are still lovingly maintained and being expanded by members of the local model railways club.
Standing outside the station, we can see our hotel – the historic Plains Hotel – a short step across the square. In the warm months, this square bustles with activity. On our left, are the typical elevated front facades of the old Albany Restaurant and the Wrangler (which sells Western clothing, boots, and more). The architecture here is a reminder of the history that created this city. And, we discover, some ghosts of the past remain.
It’s 6 o’clock – time for an old cowboy tradition – a sundowner.