#Lookback: Civil War Veterans of Riverton

    A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
    where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
    presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    Even though the Civil War ended in 1865, with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse taking place 158 years ago this April, those who fought in it and survived went on with their lives as best they could. Their personal histories are a continuation of the story of the war itself. The stories of Riverton’s Civil War veterans also reveal some interesting facets of the lives of the early homesteaders. While most probably envision farmers and homesteaders in the historic American West as relatively isolated, living far away from their nearest neighbor with no fast means of transportation, the stories of Daniel Smothers and Aaron Buckman prove this to be not entirely true. While both farmed and Buckman certainly lived miles away from the town, they and their families were both very involved in their communities and with the various social organizations and political movements of the time. In fact, both men, at one point on opposite ends of the bloodiest conflict in American history, seem to have become two important pillars of the same community.

      Aaron Newton Buckman was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on January 21st, 1838 to a family of Quakers. While Quakers are typically pacifists, this did not stop him from volunteering for the Union Army. After the Union began creating all black regiments headed by white captains, Buckman was selected to be a captain of one of these new units in late 1863. As a captain, Buckman fought at the Siege of Petersburg, the Battle of Deep Bottom, and the Battle of Fort Fischer. His military career culminated in March of 1865 at the Battle of Bentonville, which forced the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston a month later, effectively ending the Civil War. According to the Riverton Chronicle, Captain Buckman was brevetted Major of Volunteers by President Lincoln.

    After the war, Buckman worked on building the Union Pacific transcontinental railway. He eventually settled in Iowa, where he sold insurance, taught, and got married twice, having five children. Around the turn of the century, he decided that he wanted to try homesteading. In 1907, Buckman traveled to the Shoshone Reservation, which had recently been opened for settlement, and claimed lands under the high line irrigation ditch. An error at the Lander Land Office delayed his settling in the area and the realization that his homestead was too dry to farm threw another wrench in the plans of the old veteran. He wound up buying another 120 acres six miles from Riverton, settling there in March, 1910.

    Although ostensibly new to farming, Buckman soon became the superintendent of the Riverton branch of the Grange, an advocacy group for farmers. Grangers believed that the farmer was the foundation on which all society rested and typically supported reform-minded parties. During Buckman’s time in Riverton, this was Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, also known as the Bull-Moose Party. Such was the reputation of Buckman that the Progressive Party nominated him to be their candidate for county commissioner without his knowing. Citing his age, Buckman politely declined the nomination.

    In May of 1916, Buckman’s health began to decline drastically. On May 27th, 1916, the old army captain died at the age of 78 of blood poisoning, surrounded by those who loved him. According to the Riverton Chronicle¸ he was “a man of high moral character” who “by his unselfish, cheery disposition, clean living and principles… won and kept the good will of his fellow men.”

    Daniel D. Smothers was born in Iowa on June 24th, 1847 and his family moved to Huntsville, Missouri shortly after. In 1864, the young man joined the Confederate Army at the age of 17. His unit participated in General Sterling Price’s Missouri Expedition.

    Even though Price’s campaign met with some success against inferior Union forces initially, the expedition came to an inglorious end at the Battle of Westport, one of the largest battles fought in the Western Theater and a back-breaking defeat for Price. The campaign thus ended in failure, succeeding only in cutting a swath of destruction across Price’s and Smothers’ home state.

    After the war, Smothers adventured West for California with a small party of travelers. However, he didn’t stay for long and took one of the first Union Pacific transcontinental trains back to Missouri around 1870, where he met his wife, Ella. They had four children together and moved to Houston in 1895, where Smothers got into the real estate business. Unfortunately, Smother’s eldest daughter died unexpectedly in 1900, followed by his wife Ella in 1906.

    In March 1909, Daniel’s eldest son, Estell, and his wife, Blanche, travelled from Houston to the Shoshone Reservation. In June of that year, Daniel and his daughter, Naomi, followed suit. By 1911, the two had moved into Riverton.  In 1913, Naomi got married to another Riverton resident, James Coffman and left for Texas, joining Estell who had returned the year before. Left alone, it’s possible that Smothers considered joining them, but he appears to have genuinely loved the Riverton area, saying: “there is only one Wyoming, and that the Riverton Valley is the heart of it.” 

    While in Riverton, Daniel was as energetic as ever. He and his family, whenever they returned to Riverton, were involved in the Methodist community, his daughter-in-law being a leading figure in the local Christian temperance movement. Smothers soon rekindled his real-estate business; in 1914, at the age of 67, the paper reported: “Daniel Smothers is one of the busiest men in Riverton, for he no sooner completes a residence until he sells it.” 

    Smothers contracted the Spanish Flu in January 1919. The devastating pandemic killed millions world-wide and, despite Smothers’ active life, he succumbed to it at 10am on January 25th, 1919. The veteran, who was “one of Riverton’s most highly respected and esteemed pioneers,” according to the Riverton Review, was 71 years old.

    If you would like to learn more about the Civil War and these two fascinating men, as well as the story of Riverton’s third Civil War veteran, come check out the Riverton Museum’s temporary exhibit on the Civil War, starting April 12th!

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    April 13, 7pm at the Dubois Museum, “What’s This Stuff Called Air” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    April 21, 10-11 am at the Dubois Museum, “Kids Corner: Scat, Tracks and Skulls” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    April 22, 11am at the Riverton Museum, “A 70’s Time Capsule” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    April 22, 9-3 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Garden-Expo: Planting Historic Vegetables for Kids” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    April 29, 1-3pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Sheep Shearing Day” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    May 12, 10am at the Dubois Museum, “Kids Corner: Aquatic Insects” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    May 13, 9-1 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander Area Petroglyph Trek” Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

    May 17, 7 pm at the Riverton Museum, “Gold Fever in the Atomic Age: Wyoming’s Uranium Boom” by Zach Larsen, Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    December 2022-October 2023 at the Pioneer Museum, “Wind River Memories: Artists of the Lander Valley and Beyond” art exhibition

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum.  The WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish.  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 Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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