The evidence of a lively little town is gone, replaced by a private residence. Moneta once had a couple of stores, a hotel, a bar, and sheep shearing pens and served as a watering stop on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. It was the location for dances, deals and a central location for the Wyoming arm wrestling championships.
Now it serves as a mile marker on the trek from Casper to Shoshoni along US Highway 20/26. If you’re headed west, Shoshoni is just another 20 miles ahead, and if you’re going east, Moneta marks the turn-off to the busy natural gas fields of Lysite and Lost Cabin.
The 71 Cattle Company had its headquarters at the Big Spring on Poison Creek in the 1870s. The ranch remained viable until the infamous winter of 1886-87 that ended the open-range style of ranching across Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas.
The 71 never recovered from that brutal winter and moved their operation to Montana in 1897.
Adolf Kanson filed a homestead on the future site of Moneta soon after.
Moneta came into existence as the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad moved west from Casper in 1905. Located approximately 80 miles west of the Oil City,
The Chicago Northwestern Railroad operated from Chadron, Nebraska to Lander, Wyoming, supplying goods to farms and ranches along the route, and hauling sheep and cattle back to eastern markets.
One version of the history of the name Moneta was that it was named after Moneta, Iowa.
The little Iowa town was founded five years earlier in 1901 in O’Brien County, fancifully named after the Welsh island of Anglesey.
A second version is that the name came from a Spanish word meaning “little money” or alternatively, “green spot.”
In deference to its former title, “Big Springs” a final version of Its name is said to be from a Shoshone word meaning running water.
In 1906 it was platted, and settlement began with a depot and water tank. Livestock pens. A astore and a settlement soon followed.
Moneta was the last stop on the way from Casper to the reclamation boomtown of Shoshoni in 1906. Land on the Wind River Indian Reservation was purchased from the tribes and opened to homesteading on the Riverton Reclamation Project that same year. Many of the early homesteaders arrived at Moneta, before setting off across the sagebrush to Shoshoni and their chance at the newly opened land.
A US Post Office opened in 1906, a sure sign of advancing civilization with Walter J. Riley as the first postmaster.
The Moneta Store was one of many started by J.B. Okie, a sheepman, entrepreneur, and developer who opened similar businesses in Lost Cabin, Arminto, and eventually Lysite.
Okie followed the rails in bringing business and settlers to the arid eastern port of Fremont County and the western edge of Natrona County.
The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was his guide. Speculators hoped for the railroad to cut a path over South Pass to Utah and then the west coast, with sidetracks through the homesteading Meccas of Pavillion, Crowheart, Burris, and Lenore, but they never materialized. The tracks stopped in Lander after moving southwest to create Riverton and Hudson.
Okie operated the store until a second railroad, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy built a line north of the Chicago and Northwestern. Okie guessed the tracks would roll through Lost Cabin where he had established another store, and built a mansion, but the railroad located the route further north, through Lysite.
There was a store already at Lysite. Okie purchased it and moved his Moneta operation north to the new railroad route.
He sold the Moneta store to Walter Graham.
The store remained a good business with local customers and the more limited traffic on the run from Lander East to Chadron.
A few years later, the Moneta Bar and Café were built. A hotel soon followed.
In the days when Shoshoni and Casper were the bookends on the widely isolated little towns along the tracks, the hotel was a big hit with dances and social events.
The dances brought people from Hells Half Acre, Powder River, Hiland, Waltman, Arminto, Lysite, and Lost Cabin to Moneta. It was a festive affair with electric lights strung outside in the summer months to extend dancing hours into the early morning.
Inside, the hotel served as the official location for the Wyoming arm wrestling championships, an event that future Lysite Store owner Bill Ramage remembered fondly as a teenager in the 1940s.
The entire “business district” of Moneta was just over a block long. The Moneta Store marked the east end of the district with the hotel, bar, and café a half-block to the west.
Graham operated the store for many years before selling it to Bill and Janette Clark.
The Clarks operated the store until almost 1970.
David Manchester moved with his parents Sheldon and Audrea to Moneta in 1962, when his older sister Wanda was entering her senior year of high school, and David was about to start.
The family lived in Arminto previously.
The only option for high school in Arminto was to attend Natrona County High School and Sheldon didn’t want his children to have such a long bus ride each day.
“Dad said he wasn’t going to have two kids in boarding school,” David said.
In 1951, Sheldon moved a house from Shoshoni to Moneta. He decided to move his family, which included younger brother Larry to Moneta in 1962. The youngest brother Alan was born a year later in 1963 arrived the move. At Moneta, the children were able to go to school in Shoshoni after a long bus ride each day.
“Dad had a refrigerated box car in Moneta and moved the house next to it,” David said. “He bought a box car, split it in half lengthwise, put a roof over the two sections, and built a shop.”
Wanda wasn’t happy about moving schools in her senior year but found she enjoyed Shoshoni. The three boys were all Shoshoni High School grads with David in 1966, Larry in 1971, and Alan in 1981.
The store was the center of the world for the young family who doubled the population of Moneta with their arrival.
The store was well stocked for a very small, rural business. They sold Levis, shirts and socks, along with groceries, oil, fan belts, and small repair parts. The store had twin gas pumps located in front.
The post office was unique, there were no individual boxes, instead, the Clarks would gather the mail for customers unless they were busy in the store. When they weren’t available, people were able to walk around back and pick their mail out of a basket.
Next to the post office was the store office and the family lived just down the hall.
One feature that local customers enjoyed was the slab bacon, and tubes of salami and bologna stored in a large refrigerator.
“They had a hand-operated slicer,” David said. “You could put the meat in and cut it into slices.”
Sometimes customers were allowed to cut their own bacon and lunch meat.
Milk, cheese, and butter arrived on a truck driven by Gordon Roylance five days a week from the Meadow Gold Creamery in Riverton.
Other groceries came by truck. Each time a shipment arrived, Janette would calculate the price and carefully write it on each box with a grease pencil.
They kept a lot of supplies in the basement.
The basement was unfinished, cold, and dark. It ran the full length and width of the store above.
David had a part-time job taking inventory of the many cans, bottles, and boxes stored in the basement and was paid a dollar an hour for his efforts, a great wage for the time.
A cooler up front maintained by the Coca-Cola distributor had locals dropping in for a cold one, as opposed to the cold ones offered just down the street at the Moneta Bar.
The freezer had ice cream, available by the package or by the scoop, and a small selection of frozen beef, pork, and chicken.
Christmas was special at the Clark’s store, especially for the youngsters.
“They always had several big boxes of bulk candy from the Sweet’s Candy Factory in Utah. They had some of the best peanut brittle, nut clusters, and other chocolates, along with Dad’s favorite PecoFlake Brittle. It was a brittle of sorts but was made with big ribbons of coconut. That stuff was so good. There was a scoop and they kept small paper bags by the candy, so you just helped yourself to what you wanted and took it to the register to pay,” David said. “Bill and Janette always treated the kids very well.”
The store attracted its share of “characters” through the years. The area between Moneta and Jeffrey City was a haven for off-the-grid style living.
One time each year, a hermit, living somewhere south of the highway came into the store to buy his annual wardrobe, a new pair of Levi’s, and a couple of shirts. It lasted him until the following year.
The Clark’s had the best cars in town according to David.
They had a couple of Oldsmobiles and a blue Chevrolet pickup.
The heat in the eastern Fremont County desert could be intense in the summer months. One year, the Clarks had the windows up on one of their Oldsmobiles, and the heat became so intense that it cracked the rear windshield.
The Manchester family moved to Shoshoni in 1968, and the Clarks sold the store to a retired Wyoming Highway Patrolman a few years later.
The store remained open until the mid-1980s when a fire destroyed it.
It was the last store outside Lysite with a connection dating back to the early 20th century started by J.B. Okie.
Moneta had one more moment in the spotlight, albeit not the type of notoriety anyone wants in 2002. The vehicle Lisa Kimmell was driving when she was murdered by Dale Wayne Eaton on April 2, 1988, was found at Moneta. Eaton owned Moneta at the time and had buried Kimmel’s car then built a shop over the burial site.
In 2002 DNA evidence linked Eaton to the murder. He was convicted and remains in the Wyoming State Penitentiary on a life sentence. In a separate civil case, Kimmel’s parents won a civil suit against Eaton taking the land at Moneta. They burned all the buildings on the property to the ground.
Moneta has the same story as many Wyoming towns. A brief moment in the sun, a period of hanging on while hoping for the next boom, and the inevitable end. If you blink twice, you’ll miss it rolling by at 70 miles per hour, but it is a town with a history.