#lookback: Benjamin Franklin Lowe: Co-founder of Lander

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

Benjamin Franklin Lowe: Co-founder of Lander

Benjamin Franklin Lowe was born in Crawford County Indiana in 1840. He first saw the Wind River country as an 18-year-old when he was put in charge of a supply wagon train under the command of General Joseph F. Johnston. General Johnston’s army had been sent to handle the problems with the Mormons in the Utah Territory. Lowe liked the west and stayed on as a trader at Gilbert’s Station, the ninth crossing of the Sweetwater on the Oregon Trail. Lowe became friends with the Native Americans, especially the Shoshone Chief Washakie. Lowe frequently acted as a scout and go-between, between the US government and the Native Americans.

On Jan. 20, 1861 Lakota Sioux attacked the Shoshone who were camped close to Gilbert’s station. The Lakota captured 400 of the Shoshone’s horses. Washakie’s oldest son, Nannagai was the Shoshone’s war chief, but he and other young warriors had been at Gilbert’s station drinking when the attack started. Washakie was furious with his son when he asked him, “What are you waiting for Why are you hanging around the lodges while others are fighting off the raiders? Even I, the old-man chief, have killed one!”

Feeling the sting of his father’s words Nannagai wheeled his horse around and went after the Lakota alone. He was soon killed and scalped within sight of his father. Washakie never forgave himself for his harsh words that played a part in his son’s death. Lowe was one of the white men helping defend the Shoshone when this attack occurred. Lowe remained a close friend of Washakie and was a pallbearer at the chief’s funeral in 1900.

Lowe was at Burnt Ranch in the mid-1860s when it was burned by Native Americans. At that time, the Burnt Ranch served as a trading post and a stop on the pony express. Lowe was also one of the pony express riders.

During the Montana Gold Rush, Lowe and Bill Hickman established a ferry at what is today Idaho Falls. The ferry was a great financial success earning $1000 dollars a day in tolls from the gold seekers, immigrants and freighters crossing the Snake River.

Later, Lowe returned to South Pass to try his luck in the Wyoming gold fields. The Native Americans were quite hostile in the late 1860s and early 1870s, so Camp Stambaugh was built near Miner’s Delight to protect the miners and settlers from attacks by the Native Americans.

Gold had been discovered at South Pass about the same time as Washakie’s people were given the Wind River Reservation in 1868. The goldfields were legally on the Shoshone’s land which originally went from South Pass to the Owl Creek Mountains.

In 1872 Lowe was one of the people who negotiated the Brunot Indian Treaty. This treaty moved the southern boundary of the Reservation from South Pass to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. The Shoshone lost one-third of their land in this treaty. The U.S. Congress took three years to ratify this treaty.

Fort Augur was established to protect the Shoshone from attacks by Lakota Sioux in 1869. A small community called, Push Root soon grew up around Fort Augur at what is today Lander. Push Root was an agricultural community that supplied gold miners and soldiers with vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat.

In 1874 Lowe relocated to the Popo Agie River Valley on what was still Indian land. A Post Office was established in 1874 for the community, but the postal service would not accept Push Root as a name for the town, so Lowe proposed the name Lander in honor of Frederick Lander. Frederick Lander was the surveyor who laid out the Lander Cut-off which ran from close to South Pass through Star Valley and on to Idaho. Frederick Lander had died in 1862 fighting in the Civil war.

Finally, in 1877 the government survey was made in the Popo Agie valley and Lowe filed on 80 acres along the freight road where Lander is located today. P.P. Dickenson, who had served at Fort Stambaugh filed on 40 acres and together these men started the Lander Townsite Company. Eugene Amoretti was asked to join them because of his business abilities. Amoretti bought a one-third interest from Lowe for $4000. On the original Township survey, Amoretti was given the 200 block of Main Street, Lowe was given the 300 block of Main Street and Dickenson was given the 400 block of Main Street. Each man built a family home in their respective blocks.

Fremont County was established in 1884 and after much competition with the community of Milford, Lander became the county seat after Amoretti donated land for the county courthouse. Lowe was on the commission to establish the new county and was appointed as the first county Sheriff. Lowe’s original jailhouse still stands at 307 S. 4th Street in Lander. The old jail had a reputation for more prisoners breaking out of jail than staying in the jail.

Lowe was elected to the state legislature in 1897 and appointed county assessor in 1898. Lowe’s final public act was to apply for a grant for the Carnegie Library to be built in Lander.

Lowe died in October of 1908. The town of Lander is his lasting legacy.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

June 28th, 8:30am at the Dubois Museum, “Meadow Wildflowers Adventure Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

June 29th, 9am at the Riverton Museum, “Shoshoni Cemetery Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

July 9th, 9am at the Dubois Museum, “Warm Springs Tie Hack Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.


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