A visit to Laramie, Wyo. -- a town similar to Salisbury
By Wayne Hinshaw
For the Salisbury Post
LARAMIE, WYO. — Driving into downtown Laramie on a Saturday afternoon, the town was strangely quiet and deserted. Almost no one was out on the streets in the town’s downtown historic district. It brings to mind the old western movies when the bad guys ride in on their horses, the townsfolk stay inside watching from their windows. Was I driving into an ambush? My mind is being silly — this is 2012 and there are no ambushes or gunslingers here, but I still have this feeling. Some of the wild West’s most notorious criminals have had an impact on this town.
Laramie was named for a French-Canadian trapper, Jacques LaRamie, who came in 1810 in search of fur skins but disappeared in the Laramie Mountains, never to be heard from again.
The city began as a tent city in 1860. People were coming in on the railroad into a lawless city of saloons and dance houses. In 1868, there were 23 saloons, one hotel, and no churches. Laramie was the “end of the railroad line.”
The first mayor, M.C. Brown, resigned after 3 weeks in office declaring the town to be “ungovernable.” Gunman Steve Long and his two half brothers, Con Moore (also known as Con Wagner) and Asa “Ace” Moore owned the “Bucket of Blood Saloon.” The three forced settlers to sign their property deeds over to them or be killed. Long killed 13 men in forced gunfights. A rancher, N.K. Boswell, became sheriff and led a “committee” into the Bucket of Blood Saloon capturing the three brothers, who were lynched. The sheriff continued the lynching until he established order.
In “Wyoming Tales and Trails” G.B. Dobson quotes Rev. Joseph W. Cook, the rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Cheyenne, “The activity is unimaginable and appalling. This is a great center for gamblers of all shades, and rough, and troop of lewd women, and bullwhackers. Almost every other house is a drinking saloon, gambling house, restaurant, or a bawdy.” His description was mild in comparison to this next story.
Charles Martin operated a “dance house” that he and his partner bought with money from an armed robbery. Martin then killed his partner. The jury acquitted Martin of the crimes. Seeking justice, five masked men burst into the Keystone Dance Hall, dragging Martin outside and hanging him at 300 East 17th Street, reported the Cheyenne Argus newspaper.
On the same night, two alleged mule thieves were lynched in the Elephant Corral stable in another part of town.
In 1872, Wyoming Territorial Prison held both Butch Cassidy and “Big Nose” George Parrott. The prison is now on the National Register and is a park. The old jail no longer stands, but it once held Calamity Jane and Frank McCall ,who had murdered Wild Bill Hickok.
In 1870, Laramie had the first five women in the United States to serve on a jury during a trial. That same year, 70-year- old “Grandma” Louisa A. Swain became the first female in the U.S. to vote in a municipal election.
In 1998, former Catawba College student Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was murdered, causing an international outcry. Shepard’s murder was the subject of the play and movie “The Laramie Project.”
Similarities to Salisbury
Laramie, the “Gem City of the Plains” as nicknamed by the newspaper editor in 1870, is a relatively young city compared to Salisbury. Laramie was founded in the 1860s while Rowan County dates back to its 1753 forming. In the 1860s while Laramie was forming, Salisbury was preparing for the Civil War and hosting a Confederate Prison. Yet, the two small cities remind me of each other. Laramie has 30,000 plus citizens and Salisbury has 33,000. Both are steeped in history. Salisbury has lost most of its buildings from the years earlier than the 1800s, while Laramie is preserving its buildings from the 1800s as their oldest structures. Both were great railroad towns. The Spencer Shops have been preserved as the NC Transportation Museum with the roundhouse and other buildings. Laramie was built on the Union Pacific Railroad lines. It was the jumping off point to the remainder of the West. It was the end of the rail line to some.
The Laramie Shops had a 27 stall roundhouse that was torn down in 1965, leaving only the smokestack. All the shops, water and coal towers are all gone. Until the 1940s, the railroad employed over 500 boilermakers, machinists, electricians, blacksmiths, etc. All gone now, like the railroad workers at the Spencer Shops, but the Spencer Shops buildings still stand preserved and treasured.
During World War II, 20 passenger steam locomotives per day puffed black coal smoke pulling into town. The last scheduled passenger train left Laramie in May, 1977. Their depot is now an event center hosting parties like wedding receptions with a small museum in one end. Their depot does not have the grandeur of Salisbury Station, which still has some daily passenger trains stopping for riders.
Laramie has many grand Victorian homes and downtown buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the downtown is located in a historic district with its 19th century buildings. Most of Salisbury’s historic districts contain examples of the best architecture of the 19th century. The courthouse constructed in 1854 that is now the Rowan Museum or the Utzman-Chambers House Museum was built in 1815, and of course the Hall House in 1820. Salisbury has 10 National Register Historic Districts.
Walking around the historic district, only an occasional car passed me on the wide, wind- blown streets. Two or three motorcycles fired up in front of the Old Buckhorn Bar and Parlor. This bar was built in 1913, having two different names before 1930 when it became the Buckhorn Bar. The decor of the bar includes a hangman noose hanging from the ceiling and a bullet hole in the mirror behind the bar. In 1971, a drunk customer got mad at the female bartender, pulled his revolver and fired into the ceiling. Going outside on Ivinson Street he fired a shot through the “C” in the Coors Beer sign. The shot struck the new mirror and has remained as a conversation piece.