Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chugwater, Wyoming

 Today we wanted a short trip that turned out to be about 160 miles round trip. The town of Chugwater beckoned because of the odd name. Though Chugwater is just off I-25 north of Cheyenne we opted to explore a back road, the Horsecreek Rd. becoming the Iron Mountain Rd. It was fairly desolate, with only a few ranches here and there. We were traveling through the Laramie Mountains, elevation up to 6400, a little higher than Cheyenne. Here is a ghost ranch with only the outbuildings still standing. I imagine the house was in the grove of trees to the left. I wonder what caused it to be abandoned?

 We loved this sign at the entrance to Farthing Ranch. When the kids and I lived in Vancouver our neighbors and friends were named Farthing. I wonder if there is any connection? We didn't see a ranch house or other buildings. They must have been down in the draw.

 The town of Chugwater has a population of 244 and the elevation is 5288 feet. We were greeted by this ruined grain elevator next to the railroad track.

 The whole town had an air of days gone by. I'm sure this bank is an old original from long ago, still being used.

 We had planned to eat lunch in Chugwater so we chose, of course, the only place to eat in the whole town. That's Mr. Keith out in front of the Buffalo Grill. We wanted to ask someone about the name Chugwater. We figured it had to do with some thirsty pioneers, but didn't know for sure. It's pretty dry around this part of Wyoming. Upon being seated, we found ourselves at a table next to an old codger who began to talk to us and continued to talk all the way through our meal! Sure enough, he knew the story, and it proved to be kind of gruesome, not what I wanted to hear.

 This is the same story the old codger told us, but copied from Wikipedia.
Some historians hold that the name "Chugwater" is derived from a Mandan account of a bison hunt. According to this narrative, a chief was disabled during the hunt and his son took charge of the hunt or "buffalo jump". Under his direction, hunters drove the bison over nearby cliffs; when the animals reached the ground below, a sound of "chugging" was heard by the hunters. The story concludes with an etymology: since a stream was near the base of the cliffs, the site of the stampede has been called "the place" or "water at the place where the buffalo chug." Could these cliffs be where this awful massacre happened? Or some like them nearby? There is a creek running through the area, as shown by the trees in the photo. I don't like the story, would much rather it had been about some thirsty pioneers or ranchers. But that's how it was.

 We saw many of these lovely wildflowers along the way, growing in the sandy hillsides. The last time I saw these I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was able to find them on my iPad app, "The Audubon Guide". They are White Prickly Poppies. The flowers are definitely poppy-like, and the greenery is like a thistle. They are safe from roaming cattle and pronghorns because of the stickers!

  We traveled home the same way we had come, to see the land from the opposite direction.  We came across this tiny school house, dated 1919 to 1936 and labeled Capitol Vista School. Children must have come from far to attend here!

 Last, but not least, a common sight in Wyoming is a field with horses. After all, it is the "Cowboy State"!


Forry and Char said...

We visited a site in Montana several years ago that was also a buffalo jump. It sounded like several bands of Native Americans came together to herd buffalo over the cliff in order to obtain meat and hides for the winter. The guide told us that since every scrap of the buffalo was used, it was better than the way white hunters had later shot -- and pretty much wiped out -- vast herds just for the hides...
Not a pretty story.

Ginny said...

I was looking through Google images to find pictures of the area I grew up in and saw this entry in your blog. I'm glad you took the back road out there. The interstate is fun, but that "back road" is the highway of my youth. Growing up, the Farthing's were my nearest neighbors. They have been ranching that area for 4 generations. The start of the 5th generation was just born last year.

For many, many years my grandmother was the mayor of Chugwater and we drove that road you took about once a month to go visit her. That road is a difficult drive in the winter!

For junior high and high school I (and my brother and the 3 Farthing boys) was bussed from out there at the ranch into Cheyenne for school. When you drove past Horse Creek, you were near the one room school house where I went to elementary school.