101 Years of the Lysite Store

    Only 8.2 miles to Lysite – h/t Randy Tucker

    John Okie was a pioneer, a businessman, and speculator who performed a little entrepreneurial magic in some of the most isolated, barren real estate in all of the high desert that is Central Wyoming.

    Okie built stores in Moneta, Arminto, Lost Cabin, and Lysite, as well as a seasonal store in the Big Horn Mountains.

    John B Okie and one of his flocks of sheep – h/t Wyoming Rails and Trails

    This is the story of the store at Lysite.

    The Lysite Store was an icon of the small northeast Fremont County town for generations.

    Small stores, a dozen or maybe as many as three dozen miles apart were good business before the railroad, and then the highway arrived connecting Shoshoni and towns further north and west to Casper.

    Okie came to Fremont County to raise sheep, and sheep were big business from the late 19th to the mid-20th century in Wyoming. At one time, his store at Arminto thrived because of the railhead which shipped as many as four million sheep a year to eastern markets.

    The Lysite Store in the 1960s – h/t Fremont County Museum

    While Okie was an early owner of the Lysite Store, it has become synonymous with another man, the late Bill Ramage who was born in Lysite in 1931.

    “Lost Cabin was really here before Lysite,” said Bill in a 2011 interview. “It was built by a prominent man at the time, named John Okie. He came here in the late 1870s, and in the early 1880s, he became a prominent sheep rancher. He was very perceptive and could see the future better than most people. Along with sheep ranching, he built stores.”

    In 1905 the Northwestern Railroad was advancing across Natrona and Fremont Counties along nearly the same route as the present US Highway 20/26.

    Okie built a mansion at Lost Cabin, guessing the railroad would go through the town and bring fortune with it. He guessed wrong by a few miles.

    A locomotive that ran the rails through Lysite – h/t Natrona County Historical Society

    When the Burlington Northern Railroad was built, it went north through Arminto, and then Lysite before turning north to Billings through the Wind River Canyon.

    Okie didn’t get his expected revenue in Lost Cabin but recovered a bit of it with the Lysite Store.

    The Lysite Store was built in 1915 by B.J. Cunningham who later sold the store to Okie.

    Lost Cabin presented a higher grade for the railroad than the route through Lysite, so Lysite it was.

    “When the Burlington Railroad came through, they were building it from both ends from 1913 to 1917, and at the time there was a big tunnel at Arminto, where it goes over the divide between the Powder River Basin and the Wind River Basin,” Bill said. “My dad worked on that tunnel. They could get the trains to the east end of the tunnel construction, but they had to haul black powder around to the other end.”

    When the railroad took the northern route, Okie closed the store in Lost Cabin and opened one in Lysite.

    Bill Ramage’s father, William Elliot Ramage with two-year-old Bill in 1933 – h/t Ramage Family

    Bill grew up in Lysite, attending the K-8 school which had its own district before being consolidated with Fremont County School District 24 in the 1960s. High school was different, teenagers from Lysite east to Hiland attended high school in Casper and stayed at a district boarding house, or later in private homes.

    “We boarded in Casper, and by the time I got to high school in 1945 they’d closed the boardinghouse where most of my predecessors stayed, so I boarded with other folks my parents knew,” Bill said. “We’d come back on the weekends, and at the time the train had regular passenger service, especially going back home. I had to get on the train here at 7 a.m., and by night we were in Casper. Going the other way, we’d have to spend the night somewhere, so I used to hitchhike out here, and never had any trouble getting a ride. My big problem was getting from Moneta to Lysite, and usually I walked. The road used to be nine miles long, now it’s only 8.2.”

    Bill graduated from Natrona County High School in 1949.

    Bill Ramage 1949 Natrona County High School graduate – h/t Ramage Family

    Little did Bill realize Lysite would be his home forever, and the place where he raised his family.

    Okie sold the store to Tom and Florence Spratt. Tom was a rancher and Florence ran the store, while also serving as the Postmaster at Lost Cabin.

    In 1948, the Spratt’s sold the store to their bookkeeper, Evelyn Harper Titmus, along with the store at Arminto. Titmus ran the store until Bill and his sister Mavis Braddock purchased it in October 1959.

    Sister and brother Mavis and Bill Ramage ran the Lysite Store for almost half a century. Here they are in 1937 – h/t Ramage Family

    The Lysite Store was a complete general store selling groceries, dry goods, animal feed, ammunition, rifles, tires, clothes, and automobile parts, serving lunch and offering friendship and friendly advice to both locals and tourists to the area.

    The store was an informal meeting place and held the Lysite Post Office just a few dozen yards up the road from the Lysite School. The school was the formal community center for dances, elections, and public meetings, but a lot of business took place across the counter at the Lysite Store.  

    Ralph and Mavis Braddock outside the Lysite Store with Bill Ramage – h/t Ramage Family

    Bill commented once on the reason for Okie’s early success with the store, “Anything you bought, you bought from Okie, because of transportation the way it was in those days.” He carried on that tradition by selling anything the isolated ranchers, and later the gas and oil workers who flocked to the gas fields during the boom could want.

    Bill Ramage at work – h/t Ramage Family

    The store was a welcome haven for cold, hungry, weary antelope, deer, and elk hunters as well.

    With a career stretching to almost half a century, you’d expect a few wild tales, and the Lysite Store didn’t disappoint.

    “We’ve gotten to know people, we know everybody from around here,” said Bill. “We’ve had many people in the store. John Wayne was in here.”

    The Duke visited the store while visiting his friend, the legendary artist, Harry Jackson who lived in the area.

    Jackson created the iconic bronze of Wayne on horseback at full gallop with a rifle in his hand as Rooster Cogburn.

    Rooster Cogburn – h/t Harry Jackson Collection

    Not many people had the connections that Bill had both close by and across the state and region.

    One day a man from New York had a pet leopard with him while he was hunting for fossils along the No Wood Road.

    The big cat was bitten by a rattlesnake.

    “Not knowing anyone, he came pounding on the door. I knew the vet at Riverton, and I called him. He said to bring him in. He first thought I was pulling his leg. The leopard kept reaching up and grabbing the back of my neck on the drive, and I was a little apprehensive, but we finally got him in.”

    The Lysite Store on a sunny afternoon – h/t Randy Tucker

    The vet treated the leopard with anti-venom and the fossil hunter went on his way.

    A manhunt for George Sitts, who killed the Butte County Sherrif and a liquor store clerk in Minnesota in December 1945 and January 1946 escaped from jail in Minneapolis and headed west to Lysite. Sitts had worked on seismograph crews in the area and tried to hide out but was recognized at the store.

    Word reached Casper and Officer Lewis Cooper who came to Lysite to capture Sitts. Cooper deputized a local resident and the pair captured Sitts.

    Sitts was later executed in South Dakota via the electric chair.

    “It’s changed a lot from when I was a boy,” said Bill “At one time it was the largest shipping point in the state of Wyoming for livestock. The men would ride east to Omaha, Neb. with their livestock, where they’d be sold at auction. I got to make that trip a couple of times. We’d ride down the railroad in the drovers’ cars with our cattle, and I did that three times when I was very young. That was quite a trip in those days. There aren’t many people around who made that ride anymore.”

    Bill and Margaret Ramage in earlier years – h/t Ramage Family

    Bill turned over the store to family members after he retired. His daughter Roberta served as postmaster for several years and worked at the store.

    They had a lunch counter filled with hamburgers each day, beginning in the morning and lasting until the early afternoon for hungry delivery drivers, oil field workers, ranch hands, and hunters.

    Bill and Margaret had six children, Roberta, William, Barbara, Elliot, James, and David. There were all Shoshoni High School graduates and Bill served on the school board for many years.

    In 2007, the Ramage Ranch Company sold the store to Barbara Muir of Riverton.

    The store closed in 2016 after over a century of service to the people of Copper Mountain, Badwater, and Nowood.

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