#Lookback: Blackwater Fire Anniversary

by | Aug 9, 2019

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.

Despite what modern news might want people to think, wildfires are not new things. Massive ones, small ones. Wildfires, also called wildland fires, have happened for millions of years. Fossilized charcoal dating back 350 million years mark the earliest evidence of wildfires.

Prior to 350 million years ago, there was not enough oxygen-producing plant life on the earth to support the development of fires. The moment plants evolved to the point of significantly raising oxygen levels in the atmosphere, fires started to occur.

Fire itself is the visible, rapid oxidation of a material during the process of combustion. This reaction produces light, heat, and other chemical byproducts. Humankind evolved alongside the use of fire, but fire is nature’s original way of cleaning up natural space, even making it healthier.

Many regions of Western Wyoming are designated as fire-adapted areas and depend on fire for plant health and wildlife diversity. Around the Wind River Valley, fire stimulates regeneration of sagebrush, aspen, and willow.

The month of August marks the anniversary of several significant wildfire moments for Wyoming: Yellowstone’s Black Saturday on August 20, 1988, the creation of Smokey Bear’s Wildfire Prevention Campaign on August 9, 1944, and the deadly 1937 Blackwater Fire on August 18-24, 1937. The Blackwater Fire was a disaster in terms of firefighters’ deaths; though, it only burned 1,700 acres.

Alfred Clayton, a forest ranger from Dubois and pictured at left in this picture, was one of the firefighters sent by the USFS to lead teams of Civilian Conservation Corp members to fight the Blackwater Fire.

Alfred “Al” Clayton served as Forest Ranger at the Sheridan Creek station west of Dubois from 1925-1936. During his stint in Dubois, he supervised the tie hacking industry, managed stock and range privileges for ranchers, and organized responses to wildfires.

He was an artist too, and the Dubois Museum has several of his paintings and drawings in its collection. The USFS often used his artwork USFS brochures and maps as well.

Clayton was mountain-wise and fire-wise, publishing articles in the American Forest Magazine and training forest service personnel throughout Wyoming and southern Montana.

Unfortunately, Alfred Clayton would only by 45 years old when he lost his life fighting the infamous Blackwater Fire. Clayton, along with 14 other men (10 of them CCC enrollees), would die either during the fire or after due to injuries. 38 other men were injured in the fire.

To commemorate this tragedy, community members erected a 71ft long memorial along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Highway (about 37 miles west from Cody, WY) to the Blackwater Fire crews who died or were injured during the fire. This redbrick memorial marks the beginning of the Fire Fighters’ Memorial Trail, which follows Blackwater Creek five miles to the fire’s origin point before leading past other points of interests like the Fire Camps, the First Aid Station, and Clayton Gulch, named after Alfred Clayton as that was where flames overcame Clayton and his crew.

Nearby Clayton Mountain also bears the highly respected USFS firefighter’s name.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

August 10th, 2 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Superhero Cuffs”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

August 13th, 7 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Historic Downtown Dubois Walking Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

August 15th, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Tribal Warrior Art”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

August 17th, 1 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Ed Young Apple Farm Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. 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. 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.

This County 10 Series is brought to you by:

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