#Lookback: President Chester A. Arthur Travels West




The 21st president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, spent some time in Fremont County as he traveled west on his expedition to Yellowstone National Park. After the assassination of President James A. Garfield, the position passed to President Arthur, who, with his political connections and avid interest in angling, was the ideal candidate to generate public interest in Yellowstone when it was threatened with commercial development in 1883. As part of his tour President Arthur, traveling with an entourage which included a 75-man cavalry escort and 175 pack animals all led by Lt. Gen. Phillip Sheridan, a vocal supporter of Yellowstone, also planned a stop at Fort Washakie.

The trek got underway with a train ride from Washington D.C. to southern Wyoming, departing Green River – a point along the Union Pacific Railroad – by wagon on August 6, 1883. The expedition traveled first to Point of Rocks (near Rock Springs) and then turned north to Fort Washakie. Although journalists were strictly forbidden from following or interfering with the caravan in any way, a few intrepid individuals did manage to record the flurry of activity in and around President Garfield’s journey as documented by this photograph from Fort Washakie showing soldiers lined up outside the settler’s post.

While at Fort Washakie, President Garfield met with Chief Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone and Chief Black Coal of the Northern Arapaho. They discussed many things, but most importantly “All the Chiefs expressed themselves against tenure in severalty” which was a proposal to force all residents on reservations to adopt private land ownership. Although the proposal did not pass Congress during President Arthur’s tenure, it was eventually ratified as the Dawes Act in 1887 to devastating effect.

From Fort Washakie, President Arthur continued westward toward Yellowstone. According to “Wyoming Place Names” by Mae Urbanek, President Arthur, his military guard, and guide Togwotee, tried to set up camp outside Dubois near the mouth of DuNoir Creek. When the landowner, Clark, found out he ordered them off. General Sheridan pointed out that they were accompanying the President of the United States but Clark supposedly responded by saying, “I don’t care what he is the President of; he’s camping on my property without my permission. I want him off” and the camp was subsequently moved.

The group entered Yellowstone National Park on August 23, 1883, and President Arthur was enthralled with what he saw. Publicity surrounding the President’s journey helped General Sheridan to successfully campaign for conservation, wildlife preservation, and strict control of commercial development inside the park allowing future generations to also be enthralled with what they see.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Fremont County Museums will reopen to the public Tuesday, May 26th. We will resume our regularly scheduled hours Monday-Saturday from 9-5.

Upcoming Programs

August 6th, 7 pm at the Dubois Museum “More Than Just Yellowstone: Recent Volcanism In The Dubois Area”

              Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

August 6th, 10 am from the Pioneer Museum in Lander “Wyoming: A History of the West” By Sam Lightner

              Virtual Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

(View on https://www.facebook.com/pioneermuseumlanderwyoming)

August 7th, 9 am at the Dubois Museum “Volcanic Geology of the Dubois Area by Mathew Brueseke”

              Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek

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 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.

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