#Lookback: Joe McCarthy in Fremont County

    On October 12, 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin delivered a speech to a crowd of over 3,500 GOP voters at a Republican rally in Fremont County. “The American people are Americans first and Republicans and Democrats second,” he thundered, “and all Americans of both parties must rally on November 4th to rid Washington of the men with little minds.” Though damning, McCarthy had been using the phrase “men of little minds” since his campaign in 1946, then directed at federal bureaucrats for numerous sins besides communism.

    In this instance, however, Joe McCarthy gave his speech in the midst of the Cold War, leading his witch-hunt to root out “reds,” or communists in the American government. McCarthy pioneered a wave of anti-radicalism and anti-communism during the Red Scare which would be named after him: McCarthyism.

    McCarthy is best known for claiming to have a list of “members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring” who were employed in the United States Department of State during a 1950 speech. Though McCarthy never had such a list, his claim was enough to shoot him to stardom, and rumor has it that the piece of paper he so infamously waved was nothing more than a shopping list. The actual existence of McCarthy’s list proved to be inconsequential; the senator’s anti-communist rhetoric would soon ring through the halls of Congress and play a key role in the Republican Party’s foreign policy for the coming years.

    Two years after McCarthy became an American household name, McCarthy traveled west to Fremont County to deliver a speech along with other local Republican candidates including Gov. Frank Barrett, Congressman William Henry Harrison, state treasurer Minnie Mitchell, and the various county office candidates in Lander.

    McCarthy’s visit was well anticipated with his upcoming arrival making the front page of the Wyoming State Journal several times in the days leading up to his speech. The Wyoming State Journal issued a welcome statement to McCarthy in their paper that read:

    “Well, Senator, here in Wyoming as in Wisconsin, we approve your methods. Any method that turns up a communist, or a communist sympathizer, is O.K. with us. You just can’t be too rough when it comes to ridding the federal government of those who would bite the hand that feeds them. And so we say, a hearty welcome to Fremont County, Wyoming, Senator McCarthy.”

    The Wyoming State Journal also predicted that McCarthy would destroy all previously held attendance records for political rallies as long as the weather held out, predicting that between five and seven thousand voters would be in attendance. Even though the paper was overly-optimistic, McCarthy arrived on October 12 to a still-sizable crowd of roughly 3,500. His speech and the speeches of his fellow GOP members centered around combating communism and supporting the Republican Presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower in the upcoming election.

    On the podium, McCarthy tore into the practices of the current government with its Democrat majority in the House and Senate, and its leadership in the White House with Democrat Harry Truman. The Senator from Wisconsin declared that the ongoing U.S. “suicidal foreign policy has been dictated from the Kremlin” and was under communist control. 

    During the Red Scare, anything other than a complete damnation of communism meant complete political suicide, so while both Republican Presidential nominee Eisenhower and Democrat Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson denounced communism, McCarthy argued that “It is so easy for anyone to take the platform and damn communism… But if our way of life is to survive, there must be those with intelligence to ferret out the traitors and then have the fortitude to name names, to call them to account. Treason doesn’t just happen; it’s carefully planned. Governor Stevenson says he’ll fight the communists and the fellow travelers (another name for communist or socialist sympathizers during the time) but he won’t tell you who they are.”

    This speech in Lander, along with other speeches given during this election cycle, helped work towards the victory of Eisenhower over Stevenson in the 1952 election. While McCarthy had succeeded to some extent in igniting fears of communism and communist infiltration throughout the country, the firebrand would soon fly too close to the sun.

    Around a year after the election, McCarthy sought to investigate the United States Military and did so in a series of televised hearings. The American public, seeing firsthand McCarthy attempting to grill respected members of the Army on what turned out to be clearly false charges, reacted negatively. McCarthy lost most of his popularity and the sway he held over the country was broken. While the disgraced senator continued to serve in Washington D.C. until his death in 1957, McCarthyism was no more.

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    November 11, 7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “A Work in Progress: The Work of Jerry Antolik” Opening reception/Ribbon Cutting

    November 18, 10am at the Dubois Museum, “Kids Gingerbread Houses” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    December 2, 11-2pm at the Dubois Museum, “Christmas Open House”

    December 9, 2-4pm at the Riverton Museum, “Santa’s Workshop” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

    December 9, 10-4pm at the Riverton Museum, “Christmas Open House”

    December 16, 5-7pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Old Fashioned Christmas in a Pioneer Village” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration 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.  

    Related Posts

    Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?