#Lookback: Riverton, Wyoming

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.

At the Republican State Convention in 1898, Fennimore Chatterton was offered the nomination for Secretary of State by Charles W. Burdick. At the time, the Secretary of State also served as the Lieutenant Governor. After the convention, DeForest Richards and Fennimore Chatterton announced that they would run together for Governor and Secretary of State. Later, the pair set off on a campaign trip, which eventually took them to the Big Wind River in Fremont County. This trip had revealed the potential for agricultural development of the area north of the Big Wind River. After the trip, Fennimore Chatterton and DeForest Richards decided to devote their efforts as state officials to open a portion of the Wind River Reservation for settlement. 

In 1905, with the McLaughlin Agreement between the United States Government and the native residents of the Wind River Reservation, 65% of the land on the Wind River Reservation was ceded for white settlers. The land that was being opened for settlement was located between the Wind River and the Owl Creek Mountains. After an agreement was reached, plans for opening the land were made for August 15th, 1906. The Commissioner of the U.S. Land Office, W.R. Richards, decided that a lottery would be held for the prospective settlers. Settlers could register for a piece of land and then a drawing would be held. Successful registrants would file for their choice of land in the order their names were drawn. While the preparations for opening the land began, Fennimore Chatterton worked to persuade the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad to build the railroad through the Wind River Reservation and to convince the Department of the Interior to permit work on an irrigation system.

Commissioner Richards planned the drawing to be held on Saturday, August 4th, 1906, at 9 am. The plan was to erect a platform across from the registration office located in Lander. Envelopes containing slips of paper with the registrant’s information would be brought to the drawing location from all the other registration locations in Wyoming. The total registration for the drawing was 10,563 individuals who were competing for 7,240 claims available at the townsite of Riverton. There were registration offices in Lander, Shoshoni, Worland, and Thermopolis. The following envelopes were gathered from each registration office: 4,353 envelopes from Shoshoni, 3,690 envelopes from Worland, 797 envelopes from Thermopolis, and 1,723 envelopes from Lander. 

On the day of the drawing, 500 people watched as Commissioner W.R. Richards and his assistants, W.R. Schnitger and Martin Maginnis, prepared for the drawing. Three boys named Earl Honrath, Harold Rein, and Fred Allen were given the privilege of drawing the names from the box for the event. Fred Allen was selected through an additional lottery as the boy who would draw the first name from the box. The first name drawn by Fred Allen was Hans Berlin from Laramie. Once the drawing was completed, all 7,240 people who were drawn at the lottery were notified through the mail.

Shortly after the drawing, a section of land called NE ¼ 1-4 Section 34 T. 1 N R. 2 E was set aside for the townsite of Riverton by the Secretary of the Interior based on a petition made by F.M. Gill. This section of land was comprised of 160 acres. Commissioner W.R. Richards decided that the 160 acres of the townsite could be claimed through “squatters’ rights”. This meant that under the Homestead Act of 1862, any person who was over the age of 21 and had not taken up arms against the United States Government, could file a claim on a piece of land. After living on the land for five years and showing proof of improving the land, the person was able to claim ownership of the land. Commissioner Richards also further stipulated that at least 100 people should claim a part of the land that was set aside for the townsite of Riverton. 

People gathered in Lander and Shoshoni to await the official opening of the townsite land on August 15th, 1906. While they waited, many businessmen who were looking for new opportunities in the new townsite began to gather supplies and prepared to stake a claim on the best lots in town. The crowds of people waiting for their chance at a plot of land continued to grow. A newspaper article from the Lander Clipper dated August 17th, 1906, stated that the crowd had grown to approximately five to six hundred people by the night of August 14th. As a result of a large number of people, an emergency meeting was called on the evening of August 14th, 1906. An article from the Wind River Mountaineer dated August 17th, 1906, describes the meeting as follows:

It was the first intention of those present to make a run for the townsite, which is located a quarter-mile from the river, at midnight on the 14th, but it was seen that this would inevitably end in trouble and probably in bloodshed. After giving the matter consideration a mass meeting was called for the evening of the 14th. This meeting was attended by nearly every man and woman present… Everybody talked and then attempted to talk more, and several times it appeared that the gathering must break up without accomplishing anything. After much debating, pro and con, it was decided that it [was] impracticable to attempt to stake a lot in the dead of night and in pitchy darkness. Lieut. Keys, who was patrolling the townsite with his squad of soldiers, addressed the meeting and stated that he would agree to keep the townsite clear until nine o’clock. By a unanimous vote, it was decided to postpone the opening until the following morning at nine o’clock when it would be opened by drawing similar to the opening of the reservation.

A committee named by the Chairman of the meeting, E.H. Rathbone, was chosen to conduct a drawing. However, Indian Agent H.G. Wadsworth sent a night messenger instructing the soldiers to keep the sight clear for an additional sixty days. This announcement was made to allow the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad to build through the portion of the townsite. So, as a result, all the squatters who have snuck in to stake a claim by the cover of the night were run off by the soldiers. Finally, after approximately a week, the soldiers received new orders and settlers could enter the townsite. Originally, the railroad decided to call the town Wadsworth in honor of Indian Agent H.G. Wadsworth. On the opposing side, the settlers had decided to call the new town Riverton. The name of Wadsworth only lasted a few months until the post office was established in the townsite.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Oct 17th, 5:30-9:00 pm Riverton Museum “Pumpkin Trail”

Oct 17th, 5:30 Riverton Museum “Haunted Riverton Walking Tour”

              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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