You can’t get there from here – Birdseye Pass – Part I

    Railroads, steamboats, and hydroelectric dams once filled the minds of dreamers and engineers at the north end of Fremont County.

    The Chicago Northwestern Railroad leaped across the barren landscape between Shoshoni on the eastern edge of the Wind River Reservation and the soon-to-be-booming oil town of Casper in 1905.

    The early 20th century was a time of expanse, speculation, and downright gambling as minor league versions of the Robber Barons of the East Coast attempted to carve their fortunes out of the unforgiving, windswept landscape.

    As the Chicago Northwestern created towns across western Natrona and Eastern Fremont County in Woolton, Moneta, and Shoshoni, transportation in the form of stagecoaches and freight companies followed the tracks, bringing cattle, horses, sheep, and wool to the rail siding. As 1906 approached, the railroad was nearing the Wind River as it undulated the low ground between present-day Shoshoni and the buttes on the west shore of Boysen Reservoir.

    Asmus Boysen, the man the reservoir is named for, had a dream of building a for-profit hydroelectric dam across the Wind River at its narrowest juncture.

    The remnants of Boysen’s failed engineering project can be seen in concrete footings, twisted iron bars, and riprap near the first tunnel on the south side of the Wind River Canyon.

    Boysen Dam 1912 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    There were only three ways to reach the Big Horn Basin before a later railroad, the Burlington, Chicago, and Quincy blasted a route through the Wind River Canyon on the west side of the Big Horn River.

    The first was to head north from Moneta to Lost Cabin and then follow the Nowood River through Nowood Canyon to Ten Sleep. From Ten Sleep, it was an arduous journey through the badlands of present-day Washakie County to Worland and the Big Horn River.

    The other route was much further west, from Ft. Brown (later renamed to Ft. Washakie after the great Shoshone Chief’s passing) over the Owl Creek Mountains via Blondie Pass. Blondie Pass is often written as Blonde and Blondy in newspapers of the day.

    There was no safe overland route from Lander and Ft. Washakie, (the only towns in Fremont County before the railroad) to the Big Horn Basin.

    The Lander Stage approaching Blondie Pass – h/t Pioneer Museum

    There was no Thermopolis at the northern entrance of the canyon for many years either.

    Intrepid trappers, traders, and outlaws sometimes rode along the banks of the Wind and then Big Horn Rivers into the Big Horn Basin in the late summer, but it was a risky passage.

    Without Boysen’s original dam, or the later 1950s Boysen Dam there was a danger of flash floods that could sweep away the most experienced guide.

    Native Americans used this route for thousands of years, but always knew it was to be a quick 20-mile transit of the canyon on clear days with no weather in sight.

    October on Copper Mountain – h/t Randy Tucker

    Even the smallest cloudburst could send the river into a furious frenzy of high water, strewn with boulders, trees, and debris.

    A March 1906 edition of the Basin Republican published in Basin; the county seat of Big Horn County describes what could happen in a flash flood.

    “For three hours the citizens stood on the banks of the river and watched a scene which beggars description. The river was more than bank full and great cakes of ice were forced out on either side. The great mass, miles in extent, moved majestically down the stream, as a great serpent wending its way with ponderous force.”

    The story reported a newly constructed $10,000 bridge being swept away and a ranch house completely submerged with just the brick chimney rising out of the water.

    If you’re confused about the names, Wind and Big Horn River, don’t be. They are the same river, they just share names after they meet south of Thermopolis at a place the Eastern Shoshone called the Wedding of the Waters.

    The choice of heading north at Moneta, risking your life along the banks of the Wind River Canyon, or heading west another few dozen miles to travel on Blondie Pass had another option close to Blondie with the creation of the Nostrum-Red Canyon Route at about the same time that Boysen was blasting rock at the mouth of the canyon for his dam.

    Birdseye Stage stop 1912 – h/t Wyoming State Archives

    This is the story of Birdseye Pass, the third route, atop Copper Mountain, and its brief life as a town that included a hotel, halfway house, saloon, store, assay office, and newspaper.

    The Fort Washakie Stage Line operated from 1883 until 1898, carrying passengers, mail, and freight from Fremont County to Embar and then to Meeteetse before the small village known as Old Thermopolis was established.  

    Shoshoni opened to settlement in 1906 and quickly grew to a boom town of 10,000 people. It was a short-lived boom as most of these people were eagerly awaiting the opening of homesteading on a section of the Wind River Reservation that was set aside in a sale between the US Government, the state of Wyoming, and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe in 1905.

    The boom would extend north to the Big Horn Basin if a route could be found, Birdseye Pass, at least in good weather was the way. That route included halfway accommodations at the top of Birdseye Pass.

    Birdseye Pass winter 1911 – h/t Riverton Museum

    Frederick Hagen opened the Birdseye Hotel and Halfway House in December 1905. December was a tough month for travelers over Birdseye Pass, but Hagen managed to close in the building for winter months before storms shut down the road.

    Birdseye Road Ranch

    Thermopolis Record – December 9, 1905I now have my road ranch at Birdseye in full swing, and will furnish good accommodations to man and beast. Besides giving good fare and good treatment, I have the advantage of an ideal location, being close to the great Gold Nugget mine, and where it can be reached conveniently. I am also located on the main line of travel between Shoshoni and Thermopolis. – F.E. Hagen, Proprietor

    Hagen, and his brother Bill, operated the hotel and halfway house from December 1905 until August 1907. The primary owner and operator of the business was E.J. Richards.

    In August of 1907, the Halfway House was leased to Ben Bader.

    Cooper Mountain Miner – August 16, 1907The Hagen Bros. restaurant (at Birdseye), has been leased to Ben Bader for a year. Bader took charge of the restaurant on Tuesday morning. The Hagen brothers will move to Thermopolis.

    Bader purchased the adjoining hotel at the same time.

    Copper Mountain Miner – August 23, 1907Another change in the business arrangements of Birdseye was consummated on Wednesday when the new hotel started by C. D. Markham was purchased by B. L. Bader. Mr. Bader says he will continue to give the public the best service which can be had.

    Progress always comes at a price to existing technology and that price was paid when the Burlington Northern began to roll through the Wind River Canyon. The efforts of E.J. Richards and his stage line were applauded as his business came to a close.

    A freight wagon loading in Shoshoni – 1907 – h/t Riverton Museum

    Salute to E. J. Richards

    Thermopolis Record – October 25, 1913 Now that the opening of the railroad to the south has put the stage line out of business, we want to stop and reflect on the excellent service E.J. Richards has given during the years; he has bucked snowdrifts, plowed through the spring mud on the mountain, faced the summer dust on Badwater flat, and combatted the many floods of the Big Horn River. This writer is no novice at frontiering, and he will say frankly that he has never known better stage service. 

    And look at his horses. The claim may safely be made that no better stock, or in better condition, was ever seen on any of the great stage lines in the old West. We trust he has made his business pay—at the very least he deserves to have laid away something.  And those dinners at Birdseye—no traveler will ever forget. 

    The railroad brought settlers to land across the Wind River, but gold, and copper mining, cattle, sheep, and transportation to the fertile farmland of the Big Horn Basin created ample opportunities for lumber companies, hardware stores, clothing outfitters, and the usual band of outlaws and scalawags that accompany any booming economy.

    Dutcher and Robertson Store – Shoshoni 1906 – h/t Shoshoni Standard

    The biggest criminal scheme came from 1905 to 1908 with phony claims of gold at nearby Red Canyon.


    Operators Claim Red Canyon Ground Was Salted

    Landerites Say It Was Not.

    Copper Mountain Miner – October 18, 1907 – About three weeks ago T. L Greenough, the capitalist from Missoula, and about twenty more capitalists from Montana and Washington passed through Casper in a standard Pullman car on their way to Lander where they had purchased 26,000 acres of gold placer land, including water rights at an expense of $30,000, and after a thorough test by expert assayers reported the land to be worth wealth amounting to billions.

    Everyone wanted some of the land and a great rush was made to locate claims around the Greenough property.

    Now it turns out the property was salted.

    Greenough has ordered operations suspended and has canceled all orders for material which has not already been shipped.

    The representative of the company at Lander is very reticent, saying he is unable to learn the cause of the order suspending operations.

    A reliable source learned that the assays were not correct. Every test where a good run of gold was found the property was “salted.” All the lumber, machinery, and other mining material as all as the orders from supplies en route have been ordered stopped and returned. The workmen have been released without reservation. They are now hauling back the stuff which has already left Lander for the mines, including a carload of dynamite.

    The news came like a bolt from the blue.“I.T. Hosey, of Phoenix, Arizona, one of the principal owners of the Wyoming placer mines said in a dispatch yesterday.

    The loss sustained following the discovery that the holdings had been salted would approximate $200,000. This amount will be shared by Thomas L. Greenough, of Missoula and W.D. and J.B. Greenough of Spokane, Washington.

    J.H. Heward of Phoenix passed through Birdseye on Monday, and upon learning that he was one of the interested parties we immediately interviewed him.He said, “The ground which our company purchased in Red Canyon and neighborhood as a placer proposition was undoubtedly salted. It was done in a very thorough manner, too. Even the gopher holes had been doctored. The gold was placed in as nearly a natural position as the hand of man could place it. In the sandbars, the coarse gold was at the bottom and in the center with the light gold at the outside. We have suspicions as to who did the work, but this information is not for publication at the present time. We each will lose in the deal in the neighborhood of $40,000.”

    It was later discovered that about $10,000 worth of gold was purchased from South Pass and Atlantic City in various sizes and conditions, with more raw gold purchased from banks in Lander before the assays at Red Canyon took place. Those gold purchases were never tracked down.

    What was established was a pattern of gold being purchased, and mysteriously disappearing during the three years before the 26,000-acre claim was made.

    Despite the legend of $20,000 in gold hidden somewhere near Lost Cabin by a miner, there never was any appreciable gold discovered on Copper Mountain or nearby.

    A scheme came in the rapidly rising sediment created by Boysen’s Dam. As the silt built up, entrepreneurs thought gold might be present in the sand coming down from the upper Wind River Valley. An electric dredge worked the silt for a while, but with returns of only 28 cents per cubic yard in gold, it wasn’t profitable and ended in 1913.

    Gold dredge circa 1913 working the Wind River – h/t Wyoming Tales and Trails

    Later crimes were much more spur-of-the-moment, and traditional.


    Movie Thriller in Real Life Staged Near Kirby, Bandits Even Forcing Victims to Take Off Shoes

    Wyoming State Tribune – Cheyenne – August 12, 1921Three partially masked men held up a party of lowa tourists Wednesday morning at about noon on the Birdseye Pass Road, near Kirby, Wyoming. They took $700 and one ring, and disappeared behind the rocks from which they sprang to rob the party. The men wore red bandana handkerchiefs which covered the lower parts of their faces. The bandits did not care particularly for rings and jewelry, taking only one ring which appeared to be of unusual value.

    They made certain of getting all the cash in the party by forcing all members to remove their shoes. The party were traveling from Yellowstone Park and were homeward bound. They arrived In Casper on Thursday.  Members of the party (included Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Bvana of Crofton, lowa and Matt Bibey, Miss Mamie Largemanium, and Miss Romania Largemanium of Burlington, Iowa.

    Accidents were common on the Birdseye Pass Road, but few were fatal. The exception came in the summer of 1922, at a time when the road was considered at its best quality.

    A car travels through Wind River Canyon circa 1952 – h/t Riverton Museum



    R. S, Glover of Idaho Succumbs to Injuries Sustained When He Sacrifices Self for Stranger Near Shoshoni

    Wyoming State Tribune – Cheyenne – July 29, 1922 – SHOSHONI, Wyo, July 29Turning his car from the Birdseye Pass Road when he saw a collision was inevitable, R. S. Glover of Kilgore, Idaho, suffered injuries from which he died in a local hospital. He sustained a crushed chest and ribs, and one leg was so badly mangled at the ankle that four inches of the bone was exposed. Glover and a friend, J. W. Tevaughn, also of Kilgore, were descending the canyon road from the pass when the former, on coming around a turn, saw a car only a few feet away. Faced with the alternative of striking it and a woman who was pouring water Into the radiator, Glover turned his auto over the bank and was pinned beneath it as it fell. Glover was 52 years old and unmarried.

    Look for Part II – Dreams and Reality – Birdseye Pass – Next Week

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