‘Hey you know we’re working down here’ – the Dam Bar

    The south entrance to the Wind River Canyon has a connection with Sitting Bull and his Hunkpapa war chief Gall through the man eternally riding the bronc “Steamboat” on the Wyoming license plate. Lizzie Lamoreaux, Gall’s niece married Stub Farlow, the man atop Steamboat.

    Farlow was well established in Lander, but a member of his family, Barney Smith, earned his fame a little farther to the northeast in the Wind River Canyon.

    The Dam Bar and Cafe with Barney Smith’s wife out front – h/t Pioneer Museum

    Without the annexation of Hot Springs County from neighboring Fremont, Park, and Big Horn Counties in 1911, this wouldn’t be a story. But county lines matter. They matter today for taxation, road maintenance, and law enforcement. They were vital markers in the days of Prohibition and illegal gambling.

    The south entrance to the first of the three tunnels defining the Fremont County side of the Wind River Canyon was the location of Smith’s “Dam Bar.”

    The suspension bridge used by dam and railway workers to cross the Wind River at the original Boysen Dam site – h/t Pioneer Museum

    The clever play of words in the establishment’s name was often repeated by angry wives with an additional “n” at the end of dam as their husbands spent many late nights drinking and gambling at Barney’s place.

    Ruth Orr walks across the newly constructed suspension bridge over the Wind River – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    When the Dam Bar was in its heyday, the swinging bridge was still in good repair above the rapids of the Wind River as it rumbled over the remnants of Asmus Boysen’s failed attempt to build a dam across the river in the early days of the 20th century.

    “Barney Smith looked just like Jimmy Durante,” retired attorney John Hursh said. “He was from Adel, Iowa.”

    Barney Smith was said to be the exact image of comedian Jimmy Durante – h/t MGM Studios

    Hursh has a connection with Smith in the home and adjoining land he once owned a few miles up the canyon toward Thermopolis.

    “He called it the Adel Homestead when he owned it. Later, it belonged to Harley Faust, and then I bought it,” Hursh said.

    Hursh sold the picturesque property located in a narrow canyon on the east side of the Wind River Canyon to Dean King and Jackie Dorothy before moving to Laramie.

    There was a still located at the place during Prohibition that was light enough to move across the Fremont County line if a raid by the Hot Springs County Sheriff was imminent. The reverse was true if Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputies were on their way.

    A still captured in the early 1930s near Rawlins, similar to the one operated behind the Dam Bar and the Adel Homestead – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    “The still and gambling made it a popular place,” Hursh said. “They had a gambling hall west of the main house. The still was in place during Prohibition. It was raided a few times.”

    When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the still remained a lucrative business, and Smith took it over later.

    Hursh remembers the gambling at the Dam Bar, which was never legal.

    “My dad would go up there and hit the card games and slot machines,” Hursh said. “I remember the women were disgusted.”

    1953: Riverton High School seniors walking down the steps to the suspension bridge west of the Dam Bar – h/t Jeanette Tucker

    Women had another reason to be disgusted with the antics going on at the Dam Bar.

    The bar and restaurant were located on the east side of the first tunnel. You can still see concrete foundations below the graffiti-laden cliffs above the tunnel entrance.

    The rocky structure didn’t allow an outhouse to be dug, so Smith put the privy across the highway on the east side of the road.

    The notorious Dam Privy – h/t Pioneer Museum

    That’s where the fun or the disgust, depending on your point of view, began.

    The privy was just an open pit outhouse, with men’s and women’s rooms marked with the signs, “Pointers” and “Setters.”

    Smith hid a speaker in the privy, pointed towards the “Setters” or women’s section. He had a microphone at the bar connected to the speaker by a wire.

    The bar window had a clear view of the privy.

    Smith wouldn’t do this with paying customers at the restaurant or bar when they went to use the privy, but many tourists and travelers stopped to use the privy as they drove north or south through the canyon.

    When the bar was full of patrons, and a woman was taking too long in the privy or maybe just for the fun of it, Smith would pick up the microphone and say, “Hey, you know we’re working down here.”

    The original Boysen Dam 1928 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    In just a few seconds, a startled woman would sprint back to her car as the bar roared with laughter. It never got old for Barney and his customers.

    Word did get around and while men may have laughed privately, their wives were disgusted.

    “It was a very busy period, a very colorful time,” said Dorothy, the present owner of the Adel Homestead and the director for Hot Springs Travel & Tourism. “Some people still remember their parents going to it. They said kids were sent to the café while the parents went to the bar.”

    Smith started his career running a pool hall and bar in Thermopolis before heading approximately 20 miles south to the first tunnel.

    Riverton senior girls on sneak day 1953 with plastic pipes from the store at the Dam Bar and Cafe – h/t Jeanette Tucker

    “He had quite the business going on,” said King, the other owner of the Adel Homestead and Dorothy’s husband. He is also with the Hot Springs County Museum. “And I think he did really well. He was quite the promoter for his time.”

    Copper Mountain, just east of the south entrance to the Wind River Canyon, experienced a boom in the late 19th century with a gold and copper rush. In the same era, the first Boysen Dam began to take shape under Asmus Boysen, the man whose name graces the present-day reservoir, and the Burlington Northern Railroad was marching west from Casper to Arminto and Lysite before turning north on the west side of the Wind River Canyon headed for Montana.

    The first car to pass through the newly constructed highway tunnels in the Wind River Canyon – – h/t Wyoming State Archives
    The Dam Bar and Cafe – note the rock foundation of the house north of the bar and cafe – h/t Pioneer Museum
    The south entrance to the first tunnel. Note the rock foundation once held the home of Barney Smith owner of the Dam Bar – h/t Randy Tucker

    There were buildings in place with local legends of stills producing moonshine whiskey for customers as far away as Dubois, Lander, and the Wind River Indian Reservation.

    Distilled alcohol in any form that doesn’t have a federal stamp is considered moonshine, and was illegal before, during, and after Prohibition. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t produced and wasn’t a lucrative business.

    Passengers pose before taking a Burlington Northern passenger train through the Wind River Canyon – 1924 – – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Smith took over the buildings after World War II and began to rebuild and refurbish them. He opened the Dam Bar officially in 1947.

    It was more than a bar, with a small store, gas pumps, and a restaurant called the Bar Café’.

    It didn’t have quite the cache of the “Dam Bar” but it did serve good food to locals and tourists.

    Riverton seniors on sneak day in 1953 Maryetta Pavey, Tess Blomberg, and Martha Cunningham – h/t Jeanette Tucker

    People from Riverton, Shoshoni, and the farming communities between them often came for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Anglers and hunters stopped by for breakfast at the café and a cold one after the day’s action.

    “I stare at that place, wondering how they had a huge café, a huge bar, and an outhouse all in that area,” she said. “I think must have been built into the hillside, but I’ve never seen a picture from the back.”

    Smith’s timing was excellent. A year after opening the bar and café construction began on the present-day Boysen Dam a few miles south of his business.

    The Wind River looking south from the original Boysen Dam site – h/t Randy Tucker

    Smith served beer, drinks, and food to the construction workers, and cashed their paychecks at the bar. The men would walk across the suspension bridge from the west side of the river, then head another couple of hundred yards to the bar. Though he had a big supply of cash withdrawn from his bank in Thermopolis each week he was never robbed.

     An officer of the bank arrived with $10,000 in cash, a sizeable amount worth about $115,000 today, before each payday. Each week Smith took his earnings to the same bank but did not deposit them. A man who experienced bank failures in the Great Depression, he didn’t trust banks. He kept all his earnings in cash in a safe deposit box.

    “They had housing by the lake and couldn’t make it into town to cash their checks, so Barney would cash them at the bar. I’m sure they stayed around and had a drink or two afterward,” King said.

    Many irate wives, after asking their husbands where they were going, heard them say, “I’m going to the tunnels.” That was the code for Barney’s Dam Bar.

    The Dam Bar in 1952 – h/t Pioneer Museum

    Stopping illegal gambling at the Dam Bar and at several establishments in Shoshoni was a challenge for law enforcement. It was especially difficult since many local elected officials played poker, blackjack, or slot machines at Smith’s place or in Shoshoni.

    The pool table at Smith’s place saw many high-stakes bets made as well.

    Alcohol was now legal, but poker, the high-stakes variety, was frowned upon by overzealous citizens.

    When the Fremont County authorities got a little too persistent, Barney moved the game to his hall on the Adel Homestead. When their Hot Springs County counterparts did the same, he moved it back to the Dam Bar.

    He was always tipped off before a raid took place.

    “Some of our biggest businessmen would be seen today as crooks, but people looked the other way because they were good for business,” Dorothy said.

    Front row: Carol Olsen, Jeanette Gasser, Lennis Golliher. Back row: Gracia Fox, Pat John Dorothy Albrandt, and Martha Cunningham. Riverton seniors in front of the Dam Cafe in 1953 – h/t Jeanette Tucker

    “He had a whiskey still in his Wind River Canyon gambling hall,” King said. “He’d take the whiskey to the Dam Bar and sell it there.”

    A nearby hilltop was cleared and leveled to grow potatoes and it is thought that many of those ended up as illicit vodka.

    A tribal elder from the Wind River Reservation told King they regularly bought whiskey from Smith, often drinking it at his gambling hall before going home. If they drank too much in the summertime, they just found a shady spot down by the river and took a nap before driving home.

    In 1958, while attending a family funeral back in Adel, Iowa Smith passed away.

    The view from the top of Copper Mountain looking down on the south entrance to the Wind River Canyon – h/t Randy Tucker

    For a few years, his widow ran the bar and café but she eventually sold it to a man named Trestler and moved to Shoshoni.

    In 1963, the bar, café, and privy all burned down.

    The bar and café were adjacent, but the privy was several dozen yards away.

    “That was suspicious, too,” King said.

    A woman from Ft. Washakie related this story to King.

    “She told us, ‘I hated that place. Most women did. Anytime I came around the corner, the place made me sick.’ She knew what went on there,” he said. ”She’d always say, ‘I wish that place would just burn down.’ One day, she turned the corner, and it had.”

    July 2, 1924 the formal opening of the highway through Wind River Canyon – – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    Others had memories of Barney Smith and his infamous establishment.

    “While Boysen Dam was being built, my family and others of the workers building it, lived in a government camp nearby. The location is now the Maintenance yard for the State Recreation area. The children went to school in Shoshoni, and families recreated and shopped in Thermopolis. The river was the site of whitewater boat races prior to the dam being completed. I can remember stopping several times at this location and the school bus turned around here,” wrote Marty White in a Facebook post.

    A Burlington Northern locomotive in the Wind River Canyon – h/t

    “My dad worked on the railroad in the canyon back in the 50s. He remembers eating there nearly every day, walking across the bridge from the tracks,” wrote Janet Reasoner.

    That rickety suspension bridge is gone. It was already dangerous in the 1970s when teenagers would walk across it on a dare, stepping or jumping across the missing planks.

    The Dam Bar, the Café, its infamous privy, and the still that made Barney Smith famous for that brief period from 1947 to 1953 are now also just a part of history.

    But the river still flows, and you can hear the sounds of horns honking to the delight of children as cars enter the tunnels.

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