#Lookback: James and Matilda Laird

    James Laird was born on July 9, 1844, in Illinois; he evidently lost his parents and spent some of his childhood in an orphanage before serving in the Union Navy during the Civil War on a Mississippi riverboat. He arrived at Miner’s Delight, Wyoming on July 18, 1869, during early territorial days when gold miners were flocking in to seek their fortunes.  He spent his first winter in Wyoming cutting wood for various customers including Camp Augur, the military camp that eventually grew to become Lander.

    In the 1870s, Laird worked as a freighter moving goods to the settlements and trading posts around Wyoming. He first came to Lander Valley in the winter of 1875.  He and other freighters wintered with Noyes Baldwin’s family at his frontier trading post just north of Lander.  Baldwin’s cabin, probably the oldest building still standing in Lander Valley, still sits on this property and is owned by the Pioneer Museum.

    Laird finally settled in the Lander Valley in 1879 and built a farm on North Second Street close to what today is the North Fork public fishing area.  He was married to Matilda Rogers on August 14, 1883, by Reverend John Roberts, the Episcopal missionary at Fort Washakie.  Matilda was only 14 years old when they married.  James was 39. They had 14 children; eleven children survived to adulthood.   Matilda’s parents, John and Philinda Rogers had come to Fort Washakie from Canada and worked as scouts for the army.  The Rogers family arrived by wagon train in 1875. There is some indication that the farm on North Second Street belonged to the Rogers family.

    Matilda never had an opportunity to attend school and so never learned to read and write, but she was purported to have been an excellent cook and must have been an excellent manager caring for a large family.  After her husband died, she received a small pension from her husband’s service in the Union Navy.  Matilda lived until 1935.

    Laird was in an accident with a runaway team and wagon just south of Lander in about 1894.  Laird was badly injured.  He lost an ear and sustained several broken ribs and a broken collarbone when he fell from the wagon, and the wagon ran over him.  He survived, but as a result of the accident, the family lost their farm on North Second Street and moved to Squaw Creek where they farmed and rebuilt their lives. Laird was considered to be one of the best farmers in the whole Lander Valley.  Many of their children attended Borner’s Garden school, which was originally 3 miles from their home on Squaw Creek. They rode horses to school every day.  Today, the school has been moved to the Pioneer Museum village.  The Laird cabin is also on the museum grounds.  It is a very tiny cabin and must have been very crowded with so many children, but it was soon replaced by a larger home.

    James Laird died in 1917 at age 74 of pneumonia that resulted from an infection with the Spanish Flu, a pandemic that killed so many people during that time.  His eldest son, Bert succumbed to the same flu a year later. 

    James and Matilda left behind many, many descendants, many of whom still make their homes in the Lander Valley.

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    August 15, 9-3 pm at the Dubois Museum, “History of Union Pass” Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

    August 16, 7 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Music at the Museum: Packin’ the Mail”

    August 17, 7 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Firearms in the Wind River Valley” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    August 17, 7 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “A geological History of Fremont County” 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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