Gold in the water – Neble and Wahaba Part II

    Mining the Wind River for Gold

    Another project Boysen and his fellow Dane, B.H. Aronson, were able to put into production was the dredging of the Wind River for gold.

    Boysen’s dam didn’t produce much electricity, but it did produce an abundance of silt. The Popo Agie and Wind River both had traces of gold in the black sand that prospectors found along their banks. If sufficient sand was processed, Boysen and Aronson dreamed the gold would have to be there.

    B.H. Aronson’s location business in Shoshoni 1908 – h/t Pioneer Museum

    It was, but not enough to make it profitable. Over a two-year span, the best the operation produced in gold was 28 cents per cubic yard in one dredging, far from enough to pay for the cost of the operation.

    The first step was to find, purchase, and assemble a dredge with a shallow draft to float on the Wind River. The second was to run a powerline 20 miles from the dam to an area three miles from Neble to power the dredge.

    The flood plain below Neble where the gold dredge worked – h/t Randy Tucker

    Electricity was far from the safest power source for an operation like this with the inherent risk of electrocution. Gas or coal-fired steam power would be the best method, but Boysen didn’t own any oil wells or coal mines. He did own a failing hydroelectric dam.

    Riverton Republican – June 9, 1911“A crew of twenty-five men are now employed on the work of installing the big dredge near Wahaba for gold placer work. Several carloads of machinery and material have arrived and are at the present rate of things will be in readiness for commencing work by the middle of July.

    The contract with the Big Horn Power company is for the delivery of electrical power at that time and the work of installing the transmission line is being pushed rapidly. The line when completed to the dredge will be within about eight miles of Riverton and the present indications are that arrangements will be made by the officials of the power line to tap this locality provided sufficient contracts can be secured to defray the preliminary costs of construction. The line will pass through Wahaba, ensuring that town with an immediate supply of electrical juice for lighting and power purposes.”

    The contract with the Big Horn Power company is for the delivery of electrical power at that time and the work of installing the transmission line is being pushed rapidly. The line when completed to the dredge will be within about eight miles of Riverton and the present indications are that arrangements will be made by the officials of the power line to tap this locality provided sufficient contracts can be secured to defray the preliminary costs of construction. The line will pass through Wahaba, ensuring that town with an immediate supply of electrical juice for lighting and power purposes.

    The key part of that story was the selling of electricity from Boysen’s dam to people living in Wahaba and farming nearby.

    The Marion Gold Dredge working near Neble – h/t Pioneer Museum

    Riverton Republican – April 26, 1912“Engineer Crabb finished the survey of the new additions to Dannebraugh the first of the week. The new town when opened for sale will contain not only the original townsite of 40 acres formerly comprising Wahaba but also the one hundred acres surveyed for that purpose the past ten days.”

    No definite information has been received by those in charge of the townsite work as to when Mr. Boysen would commence his colonization of the land under this proposed canal system, but it seems understood that no active campaign for settlers will be made before the latter part of June.

    No matter the hype, publicity, or lobbying efforts of Aronson and Boysen, the Dannebrog project and the fledgling town of Wahaba just wouldn’t expand as they hoped.

    Oak posts for insulators that brought telephones to Neble still hang on Black Bridge – h/t Randy Tucker

    Wahaba Becomes Neble

    A last ditch effort to get the town progressing came in changing the name from Wahaba to Neble. The Chicago Northwestern continued to call the station Wahaba, but with Boysen and Aranson’s promoting, the handful of local Danish residents voted to change the name to Neble.

    Gillette News – November 8, 1912“The station known as Wahaba in the state of Wyoming will, at the request of the Danish people, who compose practically the entire population of the place, be known as Neble. The Danes have asked this change to show their admiration and deep regard for Col. S. K. Neble, editor of the Danish Pioneer and a prominent Danish citizen of Omaha. – reprinted from the Omaha Bee”

    Colonel Solphus Frederik Neble was the publisher of the Den Danske Pioneer, the largest Danish language newspaper in America with a circulation of 50,000.

    Colonel Solphus Frederik Neble, Danish newspaper publisher that Neble was named in honor of – h/t Omaha Museum

    In the early 20th century, immigrants often settled in communities already homesteaded by their own nationality. Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, and Poles all settled across the Great Plains and the Mountain West, Boysen knew this and in naming the town after the most prominent Danish publisher in America hoped for some free advertising.

    A trickle of Danish settlers moved to Neble, but the cost of the homesteads on dry ground without the prospect of irrigation water had many of them moving further into Fremont County to find better property.

    The End of the Line

    The dream began to fade. The dam was in trouble, unable to sell electricity at the price needed to break even, and with a silt problem that couldn’t be managed Boysen began to cut his losses.

    The first thing to go was the forsaken gold dredge.

    The cook house and two bunk houses owned by the Shoshoni Gold Dredging Company at Neble were offered for scrap, along with fence posts, flooring, and material removed from the dredge.

    An ad offering low-priced lumber as the gold dredging company was dismantled – h/t Riverton Review

    The dredge was dismantled and sold to the Tin Cup Gold Mining and Dredging Company near Gunnison, Colorado in 1914 for a reported $11,000. The cost of moving the dredge was estimated at $65,000.

    The Tin Cup dredging effort was a disaster from the start. There was no electricity, so they had to build a small dam with a turbine to provide power at St. Elmo and then run power lines 12 miles to the dredge.

    The company went bankrupt the following year and the dredge was sold at auction for $5000 on September 2, 1915.

    Wahaba and later Nebel was between Neble Hill and Kirby Draw – you can see the outline of roads and the Chicago Northwestern tracks – h/t Google Earth

    Neble held on for a few more years. There were enough children to support a rural school, but not enough to form their own school district. Riverton hired Miss Anna Fobe to teach at the Neble School and maintained other rural schools at Freeman and Dobler.

    Though the town was fading, the Riverton Review ran an ad for rural correspondents in their September 15, 1913, edition along with requests for writers from Lenore Pavillion, Arapaho, and St. Stephen’s.

    Albin Riner ran the general store, the only non-railroad or gold dredging business in town with the Congregational Church, and the Neble School the only other building aside from storage sheds, the bunkhouses, and cook house from the dredging company and about a dozen private homes.

    Boysen didn’t pay property taxes on the 35 blocks he owned in Neble and they were sold for taxes in December 1916 for $144.38.

    A declining student population closed the Neble School in the fall of 1917, but it reopened later when more children reached elementary school age in the area. The school building had a habit of burning down several times.

    Riverton Review – September 26, 1923SCHOOL HOUSE AT NEBLE BURNED RECENTLY – “An account of the burning of the Neble school house a week or so ago – No school will be held at that place for at least two weeks yet. The fire was of unknown origin and makes the second time this school has burned In the past two years. Miss Rose Fliegner, the teacher of this school is compelled to spend an enforced vacation at the home of her parents Mr. and Mrs. I E Fliegner while a new building is being constructed. Building materials were shipped last week and J J. Arnold and Wm Mooney are now busily engaged in replacing it with a 16×16 structure.”

    A Better Railroad

    The Chicago Northwestern could not compete with the Burlington Northern. The two railroads came within three miles of each other in Shoshoni and Bonneville, but despite the best efforts of businessmen in Shoshoni and Riverton, no agreement could ever be reached allowing a connecting line between the two.

    Riverton’s City Council independently tried to negotiate a 23-mile spur from Riverton to Bonneville with the Burlington Northern. Railroad officials met with city leaders, but an agreement was never reached.

    The sign reads 1883, when Black Bridge was originally constructed, but it was moved and set up at its present location in 1925 – h/t Randy Tucker

    The original bridge over the Wind River at Neble nearly washed out in 1923. Repairs kept it in operation, until the new span arrived. Overall, the rails of the Chicago Northwestern were subpar in comparison to the Burlington Northern and the grades were much steeper, requiring more fuel and slower speeds than their rival to the north.

    In 1925 a complete bridge was brought to Neble and built adjacent to the old bridge. This structure was designed in Pittsburg and was built in 1883. It originally had three section spans. Two of those spans were placed over the Wind River south of Riverton on the rail line to Arapaho, while the other became known as Black Bridge three-and-a-half miles southwest of Neble.

    The Evolution of a Bridge – Construction and renovation in three states

    Black Bridge remains in place today. The tracks of the Chicago Northwestern were pulled and a hiking, biking, and ATV trail on the old rail bed was constructed in its place. 

    Though the town was fading to a population of only 25 people, local ranchers used the station to transport livestock. The area’s most famous rancher, Stub Farlow of the bronc rider on the Wyoming license plate fame used the station to move sheep from the range to his ranch near Lander in December of 1922.

    Good Shine at Neble

    Prohibition made little, out-of-the-way towns like Neble great places to run a still and produce moonshine. The clear water of the Wind River and a station to receive 100-pound bags of barley or corn made Neble an enticing location for moonshiners. There were dozens of stills across Fremont County during prohibition, this moonshiner was just unlucky.

    5 gallons of moon discovered–the kind that would make a jackrabbit spit in a bull dog’s face.

    Or after two drinks, give a man the courage to talk back to his own wife.

    Shoshoni Enterprise – January 6, 1928“Last Saturday morning everything was peaceful and quiet at Neble, a little hamlet twenty miles southeast of Shoshoni, nestling in the protective bend of Big Wind River, surrounded by great, silent cottonwoods on one side, and beetling bluffs upon the other. No portent of impending danger threatened; the air was hushed. No leaves stirred nor bird stirred, not even a horse, stirred–it was very quiet–when suddenly the crunching of many feet upon frozen snow broke the deathly stillness, and Federal Officers C.A. Davis and J. H. Genny, accompanied by Under Sheriff Spencer Gaylord and deputy Jimmy Thompson made a forward attack on a small shack near the section house. Abruptly entering they discovered a 30 gallon still, 5 gallons of moon–the kind that would make a jack rabbit spit in a bull dog’s face, or after two drinks, give a man courage to talk back to his own wife. A little brown brother from Mexico answering to the name of Elias Valdez was in possession and tamely submitted to arrest. The liquor had evidently been recently run as no mash was discovered. The five gallons of chained lightning was in pint and quart bottles, cunningly concealed about the room, ready for the holiday trade.

    The still, the moon, and the Mexican accompanied the officers to Lander Court being in session, Valdez asked permission to plead guilty and be on his way. Judge Fourt accommodatingly accepted the plea and presented him with a free pass to Rawlins, together with a forcible detainer of from 1 year to 18 months as a guest of the state–another evidence, of too much government in business.

    Images from the Past

    In later years, when the Wind River was low in late summer, teenagers would wade across the river to wander through the remains of the town. A few permanent foundations remain, but nothing else.

    “When the river was really low, I crossed the river three or four times that summer in my irrigation boots,” Robert Schrinar said. “There was an old building, with dead springs close to Dan Sullivan’s place.”

    Farmers on the west side of the river still find remnants of the old town and the short-lived gold dredging operation.

    A wooden water pipe – h/t Leniegh Schrinar

    Schrinar was disking a field on his property when he discovered a wooden pipe. The pipe was likely used as a culvert but was similar to those used to supply water to Wahaba. Wooden pipe was used to pump water into a Chicago Northwestern tank. Wood pipes, wrapped in iron or steel bands were common in America from 1850 to 1930 and used heavily in the west. They stand the test of time well once they’ve been buried and kept in constant use.

    The other item on the Schrinar farm is a cast iron marker from the Shoshoni Gold Dredging Company’s Marion Dredge. The marker identifies the dredge as a Model 1620, built in Marion, Ohio. It was washed ashore in sand and gravel near where the dredge operated over a century before south of the Neble townsite.

    “It was on the farm as long as I can remember,” Schrinar said. “I used to bounce a ball off of it when I was a kid.”

    The only reminders that the town existed are found in Neble Road a dirt track off Muskrat Road south of Shoshoni and Neble Hill.

    A Chicago Northwestern switch on display in Riverton – h/t Randy Tucker

    The signs for Wahaba Street in the almost ghost town of Bonneville 20 miles to the north from Neble are a forgotten reminder of the town as well. The rest is returning to sagebrush and native grass on the windswept hills above the river.

    To read all of the stories in the Country Store series, click here.

    Related Posts

    Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?