The Best Little Store in the World

    Frederick “Roughlock” Smith came to Crowheart just after World War I. The nickname “Roughlock” came in reference to his abundant white hair.

    Smith was a well-educated man, a rarity in the wild days of the early 20th century in the Upper Wind River Basin.

    Smith and his wife brought three adult sons with them, all World War I veterans. Harry, Charles, and Willis joined their parents in ranching along the Wind River. Roughlock purchased grazing land on three ranches from J.K. Hill near the highway and Crowheart Butte.

    A 1941 Riverton Review advertisement for the Crowheart Station – h/t Riverton Review

    Smith also owned land that would become the Lenore Townsite, originally the townsite of King. A family linked to future President Gerald Ford.

    The family established a store at Lenore, primarily for the family and neighbors in 1919 along the main highway from Riverton and Lander to Yellowstone.

    “The Lenore Store was the foundation of their careers,” Smith’s great-grandson Steve Peck said.

    Lloyd and Delores Haslam – h/t Craig Haslam

    Smith depended on highway traffic to keep the store profitable, and the hope for everyone in the upper country was for a railroad to extend from Shoshoni.

    The planned “Triangular” railway would connect the line from Shoshoni to Lander with both terminals joining at Lenore. The dreamed of railroad never materialized, but the Riverton Reclamation Project did. The project diverted the Wind River below Crowheart to bring irrigation water to tens of thousands of acres of land in the area around Pavillion and Riverton.

    “A lot of things changed when Diversion Dam was built,” Peck said. “The highway no longer went through Lenore and Harry, the oldest brother died. They could still graze cattle, but my grandfather’s family moved up the hill to the plateau. The Lazy Double X was higher near the present-day highway and close to the Crowheart Store.”

    A lane of old cottonwood trees still grows at the site where Peck’s mother, Cordelia Smith was charged by a ram as a child.

    The home of Charles and Ina Smith at Willow Creek Station – h/t Riverton Review

    Peck’s grandfather, Charles Smith married Sarah Ina Rogers from Chicago. The couple both had college degrees. Charles studied law at the University of Missouri. He was the middle son, born in 1895. She went by Ina Smith.

    Charles was a decorated officer in World War I. He carried a scar from a German bayonet. The company cook stopped the bleeding by stuffing the wound with flour.

    Change came again when the tribes withdrew grazing rights in the area in 1938.

    “My grandparents, my mom, and her little sister moved to the Willow Creek Store, right across the road from the butte,” Peck said.

    A driveway that makes a half-moon circle then comes back out still marks the location. In the little half-moon between the highway and where the driveway circles back, was the gas station.

    Willow Creek Station was a small log building with three small cabins in the back.

    “It was the early days of motor hotels,” Peck said. “You could rent one, stay in the cabins and get gas.”

    The Willow Creek Station opened in 1942.

    Roughlock helped both his sons get into the store business. Willis, the youngest, ran the Crowheart Store two miles west of the Willow Creek Station on the north side of the highway.

    The home of Willis and Bess Smith by the Crowheart Store – h/t Riverton Review

    Charles and Ina decided to merge the two businesses after an accident damaged the Willow Creek Station.

    “A big haul truck lost its brakes, hit the little gas station and store, and demolished it,” Peck said. “That precipitated the merging of the two businesses.”

    The three log cabins behind the Willow Creek Station were moved to the Crowheart Store. One was attached behind the store to the north, and the other two remain as outbuildings.

    Charles and Willis became partners in 1942 and Ina was the postmaster.

    One of the popular attractions at the Crowheart Store was the bar on the left, down a narrow hall with a blue neon sign for beer.

    “Charles became the Republican Chairman he brought Senator Joe McCarthy, “Tail gunner Joe” to a rally at Crowheart,” Peck said. “Everyone got sick at the event from food poisoning.”

    Both brothers lived near the store; Willis and Bess lived a quarter mile behind the store.

    Charles and Ina continued to live in their log house at Willow Creek where Cordelia was born in 1926.

    “When she was a high school student she lived there,” Peck said. “Grandma lived there until the 70s.”

    Business was good at the Crowheart Store. They sold groceries, produce, meat, bulk fuel, and a wide variety of parts for trucks, tractors, and cars.

    The Crowheart Store today – h/t Craig Haslam

    “They had a big trade with tribal members,” Peck said.

    In 1949, Robert Peck married Cordelia.

    Controversy came to the store in an incident in the 1950s.

    Willis shot and killed a man named O’Neil at the bar inside the store.

    Bill Smith, the Fremont County attorney, prosecuted the case.

    “He went into the bar room, there was a gunshot, and one man came out, it was Willis,” Peck said. “He claimed O’Neil had a knife. He was acquitted.”

    Willis shot O’Neil with a rifle he had behind the bar.

    The store continued to thrive selling ranch supplies, retail goods, bulk fuel, parts, and alcohol.

    The Crowheart Store in the 1930s – h/t Riverton Review

    For the 1940s and most of the 1950s, the brothers remained partners.

    In 1956, at age 61, Charles and his son-in-law Bob Peck took the train to San Francisco to attend the Republican National Convention, where Charles was a Wyoming delegate.

    The men met Vice-president Richard Nixon at the convention.

    “Bob said Nixon was quite the dude,” Peck said.

    Charles continued to operate the store and run the family ranch.

    “Charles was more of a cattleman, Willis was more of a store guy,” Peck recalled his mother telling him.

    Charles drove the cattle to Hudson from Crowheart to load them for Omaha on the train.

    Hudson Train Depot – h/t Wyoming Rails and Trails

    “Mom said he could have ridden in a car, but he rode with the cattle, Peck said. “He took his suit with him. He always had money after the sale and brought back fruit. They subscribed to the New Yorker Magazine. Cordelia said I never knew a day in my life where we didn’t have a copy of the New Yorker on the table.”

    In the early days of both the Willow Creek Station and the Crowheart Store, everything was heated with kerosene or white gas, and electricity came only from a private generator, that all changed when lines from the power station at Pilot Butte Reservoir were moved west in the 1940s.

    “When electricity arrived, Charles bolted electric wires and circuitry to the living room wall. It was a pale green wall with erector set style wiring,” Peck said.  

    The couple approached Bob and Cordelia, and other relatives about taking over the store but none were interested.

    A snow dusted Sinclair Dino on St. Patrick’s Day – h/t Crowheart Store

    From 1950 to 1951, Clyde Rogers ran the store. In 1952 and 53’ Cal Urbigkit managed it, Charles and Ina sold the store to Don and Pauline Rice in 1954.

    The Rice’s hired Lloyd Haslam as a teenager to work for them. Lloyd later purchased the store from Don and Pauline.

    The change in ownership was a cordial one with all the parties.

    Charles and Ina, Don and Pauline, and Lloyd and his wife Delores often played cards together in the evening.

    In 1962, Charles died of emphysema. Ina continued to live in the log house at Willow Creek until 1974.

    All the quick auto repair supplies you could ask for – h/t Crowheart Store

    “Crowheart is the vital store, the one that survived all these years, the historic and indispensable Crowheart Store,” Peck said.

    Lloyd came to Wyoming as a teenager from Utah in 1957. He worked for Jim Fike while a student at Morton High School. He met Delores Winchester at school and graduated in 1958.

    Delores came from a well-established ranching family.

    Lloyd went to work at the store for the Rice’s full time in 1959.

    In 1968, Lloyd leased the store and was made “officer in charge” when Pauline retired from the post office. In February 1972, Lloyd became postmaster.

    Lloyd Hasla in 1989 – h/t Dubois Frontier

    As postmaster, Lloyd took on the responsibility for 70 post office boxes and 35 contract highway boxes.

    Lloyd and Delores have four children: Harold, Kenny, Laura, and Craig.

    The store was always the center of the Crowheart community, but Lloyd increased offerings, carrying a huge supply of necessary home and ranch items. He carried canned goods, bread, milk, and all the other essentials as well as veterinary supplies, tourist items, and fuel.

    Native American artwork created by local artists – h/t Crowheart Store

    He markets the beadwork and other artwork of Native Americans in the area in well-lit showcases. These are among the most popular items for tourists on their way to Yellowstone.

    “We lived in a trailer house with an addition east of the store,” Lloyd said.

    Living in that small space made for a cozy family with three boys, a girl, and mom and dad.

    The Crowheart Store a few years ago with lower gas prices – h/t Crowheart Store

    “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” their youngest son Craig said. “It was a sense of community. As long as I can remember guys standing around the wood stove drinking coffee.”

    Most businesses have regular hours, with set times to open and close. That wasn’t the case at the Crowheart Store.

    “We have varied closing times,” Craig said. “It was customer dependent. When I was older, I’d come back home and play cards at the store, mostly Pitch.”

    Lloyd and Delores had all four of their children work at the store; it was a source of pride.

    A wide selection of auto and truck additives – h/t Crowheart Store

    “All the kids and their spouses have worked in the store. It’s been a family operation since we bought it,” Lloyd said.

    The four kids learned to do everything at the store. As they grew up, their responsibilities grew as well.

    “We worked at the station. We pumped gas, checked the oil, checked the air in the tires, and cleaned the windshields,” Craig said. “It was a full-service station.”

    As time passed, and prices increased, Lloyd had a situation he had not anticipated.

    “The day gas went over a dollar, Dad was upset,” Craig said. “The old pumps only had cents.”

    A masked Easter Bunny rides the Sinclair Dino at the Crowheart Store in 2020 – h/t Crowheart Store

    Tourists were a big part of business throughout the year, with families traveling to Yellowstone and Teton National Parks, hunters heading for Dubois and Union Pass, and, in the winter, skiers bound for Jackson Hole.

    “Sometimes the tourists tipped well,” Craig said. “It was a lot of fun. We ran the fireworks stand, too.”

    The store sold Sweetheart bread and worked with Associated Grocers for a while. Then later went into a partnership with Fuzz Foster at Gardner’s Market 40 miles east for supplies.

    “I remember riding with my brothers to Gardner’s when they picked up groceries,” Craig said. “Later, I drove the stock truck and we’d fill it with kids to go to Fuzz’s.”

    The location of the Crowheart Store became more important as other stores in the area closed. Alexander’s store at Burris went out of business, leaving Crowheart the only store between the Kinnear Store and Gardner’s Market, and Dubois on the highway. Then Gardner’s closed as well.

    “Dad always treated people fair,” Craig said. “It’s a lesson I learned. About everybody in Crowheart had an account.”

    The store sold meat from Clark’s Meat House in Riverton, produce, and dry goods along with fishing and hunting licenses. Lloyd always had a good supply of rods, reels, and lures, and sold a lot of guns.

    “Dad had an FFL (Federal Firearms License),” Craig said. “He also had horseshoes, plumbing supplies, fan belts, oil and air filters.”

    The new Crowheart Fire Station under construction in 2022 – h/t County10

    Lloyd was active in the Crowheart Volunteer Fire Department.

    “That’s where I got started,” Craig said.

    Craig is the current District Chief of the Fremont County Fire District and has held many positions and a lot of responsibilities in firefighting during his career.

    “I drove my first fire truck when I was 14,” Craig said. “I learned a sense of community and responsibility.”

    The winter of 1978-79 was one of the worst on record. Neighbors rallied to get roads open and recovered stranded vehicles.

    The winter of 78′ – h/t WHTR

    “The snow was so deep that when they plowed, it looked like a tunnel,” Craig said. “Dad had to plow it since he had cattle up there he had to feed.”

    The sense of community remains solid but isn’t what it was once to Craig.

    “It’s not as strong a community as it used to be,” he said.

    Lloyd and Delores Haslam have operated the Crowheart Store for half-a-century – h/t Craig Haslam

    In comparison to more populated areas, the people of Crowheart still rally when one of their own is in need.

    “The store has been the center of the community for years,” Craig said. “If someone is having a bad time, people will come together. I wouldn’t change growing up in a small community like this for the world.”

    Related Posts

    Have a news tip or an awesome photo to share?