#Lookback: Frederick West Lander

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.

Benjamin Franklin Lowe, one of the founding fathers of Lander, named his fledgling
town after a man he admired and had helped guide when improvements were being
made to the Oregon Trail in the late 1850s, Frederick Lander. Lander was born to a
prominent Massachuttes family in 1822. He was a civil engineer and an explorer who
lost his life in the Civil War a decade before the town of Lander was named.

In 1857, Congress appropriated money to fund the Pacific Wagon Road Act. The
original Oregon Trail had grown organically as settlers flooded into the West in search
of gold and new homes. By 1857, it was time to improve the road, shorten the trail, and
build bridges across the rivers. Frederick Lander was a frontiersman, civil engineer and
explorer. He had worked for the railroads surveying routes for the tracks. He was an
obvious choice, but William Magraw was selected as the first superintendent of roads.
Lander was the Chief Engineer of the project.

By all accounts, the two men had very different temperaments. Lander was educated,
trained, experienced and cultured. Magraw was a drunkard, vindictive and shiftless,
who got his job because of political influence. By mid-summer of 1857, Magraw’s
superiors in the Department of Interior were growing frustrated with Magraw’s
mismanagement. His engineers, physician, and disbursement agent also wrote to
Lander and asked Lander to take command of the road project. Lander evidently did
not trust Magraw from the start of the project and requested a separate order from

When Macgraw and Lander decided to put their men into winter quarters, their guide,
B.F. Lowe took them to the Popo Agie river valley. Their winter quarters were called
Fort Thompson, after the Secretary of the Interior, and were sometimes referred to as
Camp Magraw. There is an historical marker outside of Lander that marks this spot.
Lander returned to Washington that winter and made his report. Lander replaced
Magraw as superintendent of the whole project, and there developed a great animosity
between the two men.

The next spring Lander hired laborers from Salt Lake and had supplies shipped in.
Lumbermen and bridge builders from Maine were also hired. Lander surveyed the
Lander Cut Off which shortened the route by 60 miles. Native Americans had used
parts of the Lander Cut Off for many years. Lander became acquainted with Chief
Washakie and maintained good relations with him in order to ensure the safe passage
of travelers on his road. He even requested a $50 uniform for Chief Washakie to
ensure his friendship.

In the winter of 1858, Lander returned to Washington and started writing his Emigrant
Guide, which was to be distributed at Burnt Ranch to travelers persuading them to take
his new road. Many did. While in Washington, Lander crossed paths with Magraw
again. Magraw was slandering Lander around Washington, so Lander challenged him
to a duel, but before the duel was scheduled, they met accidentally in a hotel and they
fought with fists and a billy club. Lander would have killed him but Irish waiters broke up
the fight.

In Spring of 1859, Lander was again out west working on his road and working to pacify
the Native Americans. Lander brought landscape artist Albert Bierstadt with him on this

That winter found Lander and Magraw again in Washington and hostilities once again
erupted. A hotel keeper had to separate the two men and keep them from shooting
each other. Lander apologized to the innkeeper and left. That was the last time history
records the two men saw each other.

In 1860, Lander went to California by ship and met the woman who would become his
wife, Jean Margaret Davenport, a well-known British actress. The marriage was short,
but apparently happy. When the Civil War broke out, Lander enlisted in the Union Army
and was promoted to Brigadier-General. He was sent on a secret mission to Texas to
try and dissuade Sam Houston from leaving the Union.

Later, Lander rejoined the fighting and was wounded at the Battle of Edward’s Ferry.
Lander requested a leave of absence to regain his health and recover, but the request
was denied. He never recovered his strength and died of pneumonia on March 2, 1862
in West Virginia.

The town of Lander and the Lander Cut-off bear his name. The Lander Cut-off never
came to the town of Lander but veered west to Idaho.

Next up for the Fremont County Museum

May 6, 9-5 “First Fridays” at the Dubois Museum, Pioneer Museum and the Riverton
Museum. State Farm Riverton/State Farm Lander
May 12, 7pm “Back to the Future: The Story of Climate, Vegetation and bone decay…”
at the Dubois Museum. Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
May 14, 2pm “Riverton Historic Walking Tour” at the Riverton Museum. Wind River
Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series
May 14, 10-3pm “Petroglyph Preservation and Stewardship Workshop” at the Dubois
Museum. Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series.

May 19, 7pm “Lander in 1922” at the Pioneer Museum in Lander. Wyoming Community
Bank Discovery Speakers Series
May 21, 10am “Lander Historic Walking Tour” with the Pioneer Museum in Lander.
Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

Thru October 2022, 9-5pm Monday-Saturday, at the Pioneer Museum, “Hurrah for
The Cowboy: Men of the Open Range” Art Exhibition

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 2 nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you
choose to support.

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