#Lookback: W.S. Adams and the First Flight in 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.

William S. Adams was born in Brainerd, Minnesota, on December 18th, 1869. When William was about two or three years old, he and his family moved west to Wyoming. The family settled on a farm around the Laramie area. As a young man, William worked odd jobs on farms in the Laramie area. He also worked as a bronco buster around the state of Wyoming with one of his two older brothers. He did these odd jobs until he decided to become a United States Surveyor and he went to take the classes to get a license in surveying.

During his time in school, William S. Adams met Alzeeda E. Butler, who he eventually married on September 27th, 1897 or 1898. A few months after his marriage to Alzeeda, William completed his course work and received his certificate to become a licensed surveyor. After receiving his certificate, William began working for the United States government to help survey the land that would eventually become the state of Wyoming. For a while, William traveled around Wyoming with his crew surveying the land while his family continued to grow. During this time, William and Alzeeda had three children. First, Fern Adams was born in 1899, Heston was born in 1901, Thelma was born in 1903. 

Later, in 1906, William Adams was hired along with Goyne Drummond by a group from Shoshoni, Wyoming, to help survey the land that would eventually become Riverton, Wyoming. Once William came to Shoshoni, he wrote to his young family and asked them to join him at the encampment while he surveyed Riverton. After receiving his letter, Alzeeda, her three young children, and her sixteen-year-old brother, named Velmore Butler, loaded up a sheep wagon and traveled to meet her husband in the encampment by the Wind River.

During her time at the encampment, Alzeeda became known as the “First Lady of Riverton” and began cooking in her tent on a four-burner stove for the surveying crew. After the townsite was opened, Alzeeda built the Riverton Hotel, which was located behind what is now the Acme Theatre. This is where the Adam’s family lived while they were staying in Riverton. At the hotel, Alzeeda would rent out about a half-dozen rooms and serve two meals a day in the hotel dining room where some of the local bachelors would go to eat. The people who stayed in the hotel were mostly men who were coming to Riverton to get land and locate homesteads.

While in Riverton, William Adams got involved in several different business ventures. He was the co-owner of the first garage in Riverton with Roy Fairbanks. He also continued working as a surveyor in the area. Plus, he was scouting in Pilot Butte to look for oil wells. The Adams family also was involved in several organizations in town including the Masons, Eastern Star, and organizing entertainment for the settlers in Riverton. 

Prior to the Fifth Anniversary Celebration of Riverton, William Adams traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, to take flying lessons. It took him six months to learn how to fly. Before he returned to Riverton, William purchased a Benoist Bi-Plane which was a four-cylinder, 60-horsepower pusher-type plane. With the help of a young flight instructor, named Frank Holmes, William disassembled the plane and brought it to Riverton in pieces. The two men re-assembled the plane in Riverton just in time for the Fifth Anniversary Celebration being held in Riverton on August 15th and 16th, 1911. 

On August 15th, a crowd in the grandstands of the rodeo grounds, which were located at the northwest corner of 5th Street and Park Avenue, gathered to watch the Benoist Bi-Plane take off with William S. Adams at the helm. After a brief inspection, the plane sped off across the rodeo grounds for about 100 yards before it took off and began flying across what is now Federal Boulevard about 50 feet above the ground. The flight only lasted for about a quarter-mile, but this event was recorded as the first flight in the state of Wyoming. After the first flight, W.S. Adams made a second flight on the 15th, which had similar results, except the landing was rough and caused some damage to the airplane. On August 16th, 1911, flight instructor Frank Holmes took his turn behind the wheel of the Benoist Bi-Plane. His flight lasted about four and a half miles and included him completing a figure eight trick.

In about 1911, Alzeeda leased the Riverton Hotel to Mrs. Cook and the family moved to a piece of land that William had about a mile outside of Riverton. The family lived there for several years while William farmed and kept a small amount of cattle and pigs. After a few years in Riverton, the Adams family moved to Thermopolis in 1918, because William had become ill and was receiving treatments at the hot springs. While staying in Thermopolis, the last Adams child, Wilma, was born in 1919. The family stayed in Thermopolis until Heston Adams graduated high school. Then the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, for a few years while some of the older siblings attended college. Finally, the family settled near Chula Vista, California, in 1921. In July of 1954, William S. Adams died in California.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

Joe Scheuerle Art Exhibit: Native Americans of Wind River Country, 9-5 daily Pioneer Museum Lander

Handle with Care: Art Moving

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum are seeing significantly decreased visitation this summer as a result of Covid-19. As a result, the self-generated revenue we rely so heavily on to make ends meet is not keeping pace. We are counting on private donations to continue to maintain successful and engaging museums during this time. We urge you to make a 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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