An Empire in the Wind River Country – the Noble Story – Nowood Store

    It might seem to be a stretch from the Battle of the Little Big Horn to the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, but it is a viable link through the life of Worden P. Noble.

    Noble was a pioneer, a freighter, a sheepman, and a businessman with holdings stretching from Ten Sleep to the gold fields at Atlantic City.

    He established a store, now located on the Orchard Ranch in Nowood Canyon with partner Fred Bragg in the mid-1880s, had another store at Ft. Washakie on the Wind River Reservation, and started banks in Lander and Salt Lake City. At his peak in Wyoming Territory and then in the early years of statehood, he ran up to 60,000 sheep and an estimated 50,000 cattle on rangeland from present-day Ten Sleep south to the edge of the Red Desert and east to west from Muddy Gap to Dinwoody. All these vast expanses of land, livestock, and gold began on a whim when he came west to get rich in the South Pass Gold Rush.

    Noble was born in Sacketts Harbor, New York in 1847. At 21 years of age, he set out for the West. He had a stint on a Missouri Riverboat, but eventually found Atlantic City to try his luck as a miner. He didn’t find gold in the streams running along South Pass but he did discover gold in another, more substantial way.

    Noble started driving a team of oxen from Ft. Laramie to South Pass for Jule Lamoreaux. On March 10, 1868, eight wagons, 15 men, one woman, and two children left Ft. Laramie for the South Pass gold fields.

    Woman Dress – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Noble told this story many times.

    “We started out on a fine morning and there was a lot of feed for the cattle. I drove three yoke of cattle hitched to two wagons for Jule, and he drove four yoke hitched to two wagons. When we got near the spot where Orin Junction is now located we were attacked by Indians in the daytime. They rode to the hills at some distance from us and shot at us but were too far away to harm us. This seemed to be a small party and they soon left us. Again, when near the present site of Casper, we were attacked, so corralled our wagons and remained in this position all night. In the morning no trace of Indians could be seen, and we resumed our journey. Near Split Rock on the Sweetwater, we were suddenly surrounded by a large war party, and it looked as though our time had come. We hastily corralled our wagons and got ready for the fight of our lives or so it seemed. The Indians were all around us and within two hundred yards. There was shouting and yelling by the Indians with arrows flying and now and then a bullet hitting our wagons. We thought it was all over, that it would be our last fight when all at once Mrs. Lamoreaux, A Sioux woman whose name was Woman Dress, began shouting at the top of her voice. She climbed down out of the wagon in which she and her two children were riding. She had a strong voice and she had recognized our assailant’s voice as Sioux. She stepped boldly out in sight, and this is what she said, ‘I am Woman Dress, sister of your chief, Gall. Beware lest you harm me and my two children here. Go away or you will rue it.’ They told her to step out where they could see her. She did and the attack was over. The whole party owed our lives to this brave Indian woman.”

    Woman Dress was seven months pregnant with her third child whom they named Willow since he was born on Willow Creek on April 25th, a day after the freighters arrived at South Pass. They later changed it to William. One of the two children was Lizzie Lamoreaux who married Stub Farlow, the man who will forever ride the bronc, “Steamboat” on Wyoming’s iconic license plate. The connections of the Lamoreaux and Farlow families extended throughout Fremont County and beyond into the Big Horn Basin.

    Lizzie related the incident at Split Rock she had witnessed as a little girl. “I wanted to peek out of the wagon to see the battle, but Mother gave me a good spanking and said to keep my head down.”

    After learning to haul freight for Lamoreaux, Noble soon set out on his own, starting a freight business with contracts to haul from Ft. Laramie to the desolate Point of Rocks.

    His first big break came in hauling almost all of the timber used to build Fort Stambaugh in 1870. He extended his freight line to Camp Brown, (now Lander) and built a home there in the mid-1870s.

    A cowboy rounding up cattle near Nowood in 1890 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    In 1878, he sold his freight business and became a full-time rancher. He’d started ranching in 1874 with a thousand head of cattle on the Sweetwater but by 1880 his herd had increased to 7,000 head and he located them on Nowood Creek south of present-day Ten Sleep. In 1882, he sold his entire herd to the Bay State Cattle Company.

    In retrospect, his timing was perfect in getting out of the cattle business since four years later the worst winter storm to ever hit Wyoming decimated ranchers across the state, killing most of their herds.

    Noble began managing stores and got into banking. In 1880, he started a store near Camp Brown (Ft. Washakie) with a man named Valentine but bought him out and instead became partners with his brother-in-law Albert Lane. The store was a success, and they started another one in Lander in 1885.

    Not content to just operate a store, Noble entered the sheep ranching business in 1882 with 2,000 head on the Nowood River.

    In the early days, Noble and Bragg sheared thousands of sheep, stored the wool in a large woolhouse, and hauled the bagged fleeces to Casper on huge wagons tied in line pulled by 20-horse teams. To guide a 20-horse team, an experienced driver had to hold 10 reins in each hand. Noble knew this from his youth as a freighter and taught it to his hired men.

    A fully loaded wool train headed for the rail head – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    By 1906, the Chicago Northwestern and Quincy Railroad began to creep west. They started to haul wool to Woolton, the site of present-day Hiland for transport east, but soon switched to hauling wool from Moneta, on the same line, but much closer.

    The Burlington Northern opened their new route across Wyoming in 1914. Though Noble had passed away by the fall of that year, his company began to make the much shorter run to Lysite to ship their wool.  

    A Chicago Northwestern locomotive pulling into Moneta – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Noble was an excellent businessman, with good judgment in finding business partners. By 1903, his flock was 60,000 head, and he had interests in other flocks in partnerships with John Carmody and Fred Bragg.

    In an 1899 interview, Noble indicated he had herds of 50,000 cattle as well.

    Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson’s grandfather, William Simpson, worked for Noble and later said, “I personally know that the first wagon that ever went over the Union Pass via Little Warm Spring Creek, reached the divide near Union Lake September 25, 1885.”

    Noble was a man whose interests encompassed the entire geography of Fremont County.

    The Noble, Land and Noble Bank – h/t Pioneer Museum

    His final move was starting the Noble, Lane, and Noble Bank in 1890 with his younger brother Fred and Lane, his brother-in-law. They began in Lander but started another bank in Salt Lake City as well.

    His legacy on Nowood Creek came in his partnership with Fred Bragg.

    In the late 1880s, the Noble and Bragg Store began operation on land now owned by the Orchard Ranch.

    “Bragg was here in 1886, Noble financed him,” Kenny Orchard said. “It was a bad winter in 1886-87, Bragg went broke.”

    Rob and Ken Orchard inside the Nowood Store 1985 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Orchard, now 87 years old, grew up at Nowood and knew many details of Noble’s cattle empire that have yet to be recorded in the history books.

    A 20 horse wool train head for Casper – h/t Wyoming Rails and Trails

    “Noble was a banker in Cheyenne, Lander, and Salt Lake. He was the Noble that was in Cheyenne before the Johnson County War, mixed up with the big ranchers,” Orchard said. “He hired Tom Horn as a regulator.”

    While Noble moved to Utah in later years, he kept his ranching interest in Wyoming going. He built a large shearing facility at Nowood, near the store.

    “The shearing plant was one of the first mechanized plants in the area,” Orchard said. “It used a Pratt and Whitney 1912 engine with a direct drive that shearers used with belts to run their clippers.”  

    The engine ran on kerosene.

    An estimated 100,000 sheep were sheared at this plant each spring before the ewes began to lamb.

    Sheep were a huge industry in Fremont, Big Horn, and Natrona Counties in the early days of Wyoming statehood after the disastrous winter of 1886-87 reduced the cattle numbers on the range.

    A lone sheepwagon surrounded by a huge flock – h/t

    “Foreigners were running cattle anyplace and every place, mostly English,” Orchard said. “The English put up the money then they hired guys like me to run the operation.”

    Many people living between Lysite and Ten Sleep simply knew the Noble and Bragg store as the Nowood Store. Although the store closed during World War II, it remained on the Orchard Ranch and is still standing.

    The store served local ranchers, men, and their families who had worked for Noble and Bragg in the early years.

    It had a candy counter, dry goods, and ranching supplies. A gas pump arrived in the late 1920s as automobiles and trucks began to take over from horses and wagons.

    Lavonne Ora Pollard grew up in Nowood after being born in Riverton in 1933. Her family lived by the Mink Farm, located just west and north of the intersection of North 8th West and Webbwood Road.

    The Noble and Bragg Store 1909 – h/t Pioneer Museum

    She spent summers at Nowood but lived near Webbwood Road during the school year. Webbwood was named after the Webb family, and Lavonne’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wood.

    “I haven’t gotten very far, from one end of the road to the other,” Lavonne said. “My folks worked for Noble and Bragg. They lived in the Big Teepee. When they sold it to Orchards, my mom and dad left.”

    The Big Teepee wasn’t a teepee at all, but rather a two-story house. The JB Okie Mansion was called the Big Teepee at Lost Cabin. Native Americans gave it the name after saying it was the largest building they had ever seen. It was much more massive than the one bearing the same name at Nowood.

    The Noble and Bragg Store in 1985 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    “It was just a two-story house,” Lavonne said. “It is still there. They burned down all the cabins except my folk’s cabin. We only lived there in the summer. We had to come here in the winter.”

    Lavonne was 15 years younger than her sister and brother and nine years younger than her brother Doyle.

    “We went into feeding here, after grazing sheep on the mountain in the summer,” Lavonne said. “Then we shipped them out of Lysite. Our feedlot was on both sides of Webbwood by the canal.”

    Cigars were big business in the 1880s and sold at the Nowood Store – h/t

    Across the creek from the Wood place was a ranch owned by Daugherty’s.

    “There was a big wool warehouse and the store,” Lavonne said. “There was a post office at Nowood, we used to get our mail there.”

    Nowood had a country school for local children near the post office, store, and wool barn.

    “There was a school, the stove is still inside it. It had a metal roof,” Lavonne said. “George and Pearl, my older brother and sister went to school there.”

    A general store vintage 1880 – h/t

    She recalled shopping at the store.

    “Inside, it was a full little store,” Lavonne said. “The Teepee house below the school was Mom and Dad’s sheep ranch.”

    Lavonne had a connection to early country stores besides being a patron at Noble and Bragg.

    “My husband Jack Pollard came here at nine. His dad worked at the store at Fort Washakie,” Lavonne said. “His uncle, Grant Pollard, owned the Ft. Washakie general store, then the Arapaho Mercantile. He spoke Arapaho and knew sign language.”

    Lavonne’s mother came from Scotland to the United States at age 13.

    “Mom came from Rawlins to Ten Sleep. There was nothing said after she came to the US from Scotland,” Lavonne said. “She was the foster child of Governor Richards.”

    A hand operated gas pump outside the Noble and Bragg Store 1985- h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Richards was Wyoming’s fourth governor and is best known as the man who pardoned Butch Cassidy.

    The Nowood store is now a storage shed on the Orchard Ranch.

    Bragg went broke after the collapse of open range cattle operations in 1887 moving to sheep, but Noble remains firmly fixed in Fremont County history.

    Carl Williams at the Nowood Store in 1985 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    If you take a close look at the NOLS building in Lander, you’ll notice small signs above or to the side of the main entrance and side doors that read, “Noble Hotel.”

    The hotel was named for Worden Noble’s nephew and Fred Noble’s son, Everett Werden.

    Fred Noble – h/t Pioneer Museum

    Everett died of an appendicitis rupture on May 24, 1918, at a U.S. Army hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts, while serving as a soldier awaiting deployment to France.

    His father and a business partner, H.O. Barber were already constructing a four-star hotel in downtown Lander when Everett passed away.

    “It will be the swellest hotel west of the Mississippi,” Barber claimed.

    The Nowood International Airport in 1985 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    A swell hotel it was. Early cowboy movie star Tim McCoy stayed there often when filming on the Wind River Reservation with his Arapaho friend Goes In Lodge in the 1920s.

    The arrival of the Burlington Northern Railroad in Lander in 1906 made it the demarcation point for trips to Yellowstone National Park, replacing the older stop at Rawlins. This influx of tourists led to the creation of stage lines, and the erection of a new hotel rising high above the surrounding buildings.

    the Noble Hotel 1930 – h/t Pioneer Museum
    The Noble Hotel 1973 – h/t Pioneer Museum
    The Nobel Hotel 2024 – h/t Randy Tucker

    They hadn’t settled on a name for it when news of Everett’s demise arrived.

    Everett was born in 1898 at Lander and was a popular young man. He was attending Cornell University when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. He quit school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, intending to serve as a pilot.

    Noble Hotel – home of the National Outdoor Leadership School – h/t Randy Tucker

    In his honor, his distraught father named the hotel Noble.

    The Main Street entrance to the Noble Hotel – h/t Randy Tucker

    Worden Noble passed away four years earlier in Salt Lake City, on October 6, 1914, a true pioneer in the Wind River Country.

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