A Brief History of Sheridan, Wyoming (2024)

This article was originally published by Michael Dykhorst as part of his book “134 Years of Mayors of Sheridan, Wyoming.” It has been revised and adapted for this blog.


The story of Sheridan, Wyoming, is a tale of frontier determination, growth, and adaptation. It's a journey that began in the late 19th century, with a vision and a few dollars, and evolved into a thriving community in the American West.

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In 1880, John D. Loucks, accompanied by his close friend Jim Works, embarked on a journey through the picturesque Goose Creek Valley. Their destination: Miles City, Montana. Little did they know that this voyage would be the start of something significant. It wasn't until 1882 that John Loucks returned to the area, specifically Big Horn, Wyoming. He had come to retrieve a mule team he had lent to a local resident named Oliver Perry Hanna, or 'O.P. Hanna' as he was known.

John D. Loucks, date unknown. Founder of Sheridan, Wyoming. Photo Source: Tom Stedtnitz owner of Sheridan Antiques, 123 N. Main Street, Sheridan, Wyoming.

During this visit, O.P. Hanna, the founder of Big Horn, recognized the potential of the region and attempted to persuade Mr. Loucks to stay. However, Loucks initially decided to continue on his way to Montana. Fate had other plans. As he ascended what would become courthouse hill, a breathtaking view unfolded before him. The sun was setting over the majestic Bighorn Mountains, casting a warm glow over the emerging green grass. It was a scene that captured the essence of the perfect town site, and Loucks couldn't resist its allure. In his own words, he later recalled, "It was a beautiful spring evening, and it all

appealed to me as an ideal site for our city."

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"Oliver Perry Hanna, My Grandfather was a Wyoming Pioneer, was a scout with General

Crook, camped at what is now Sheridan when Custer was massacred. He wrote an unpublished book "The Old Wild West" which I have the only copies. I also have his Buffalo Gun and Custer Battlefield pistol and saber." - Charles Hanna Carter. Photo Source: Ryan Carter, Great-Great-Grandson of Oliver Perry Hanna.

In that same spring of 1882, George Lord, employed as a mail carrier for George Mandel, stumbled upon two men measuring something in the lush fields between Little Goose and Big Goose Creeks. These two men turned out to be none other than Loucks himself and his associate, Jack Dow. Loucks had conceived the town of Sheridan using a simple sheet of wrapping paper to sketch out the layout. He decided to name the town after his Civil War superior, General Philip Sheridan, and enlisted Jack Dow, a resident of Big Horn, to carry out the surveying. As soon as the town plat was registered in the Cheyenne Land Office and the necessary certifications were obtained, the process of selling lots commenced.

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On May 10, 1882, John D. Loucks contacted engineer Jack Dow from neighboring Big Horn City to survey the forty- acre town. The streets were named after the men who had already taken up claims in the area and had helped with the survey. Corner lots in the 40-acre town were $5 and inside lots were sold for $3. This is an official copy of the Original Plat filed in Johnson County, Wyoming Territory, in 1892.

Source: Mayors Book and Wyoming Room clipping files.

In the early days, John Loucks was an advocate for growth in his fledgling town. He even opened a small store to serve the nascent community of settlers in the area. Loucks possessed the vision to promote commerce and encouraged the growth of various businesses, even if they were potential competitors. J.H. Conrad, a merchant from Buffalo, Wyoming, was one such example. Initially hesitant to encroach on Loucks' established business, he was persuaded by Loucks himself, who believed there was room for both to thrive in Sheridan. Thus, Sheridan's foundation for growth was laid.

By October 1882, Sheridan boasted a modest five buildings within its limits. A year later, in 1883, that number surged to fifty. These included a new school building, a Masonic hall, two stores, a couple of saloons, and a livery stable. It was a rapid transformation for a town that had just been conceived. The official incorporation of Sheridan occurred on March 11, 1884, although at the time, it was still part of Johnson County within the Wyoming Territory.

As December 1884 rolled around, most of the lots in the original forty-acre townsite had been sold. Thirty-five individuals and businesses were dutifully paying their taxes to support the burgeoning community. Sheridan was on an upward trajectory.

May 1887 marked a milestone in Sheridan's history with the birth of its first newspaper, The Sheridan Post. Subsequently, more newspapers like The Sheridan Enterprise, The Sheridan Journal, The Sheridan Star, The Sheridan Times, and The Sheridan News came into existence. The Sheridan Post and The Sheridan Enterprise eventually merged to form The Sheridan Post-Enterprise. On November 9, 1930, they evolved into The Sheridan Press, a name that still graces Sheridan's newspaper stands today.

In April 1888, the citizens of what was then Johnson County decided to reorganize themselves as a separate entity, aptly named Sheridan County. This decision led to the official formation of Sheridan County after a bill passed in the Territorial Legislature, overcoming Governor Moonlight's veto. In the ensuing election to determine the county seat, Sheridan prevailed with 486 votes, outdoing Big Horn with 248 votes and Dayton with 224 votes. Sheridan was asserting itself as a prominent community in the region.

The most transformative event in those early years occurred on November 18, 1892, when the railroad made its grand entrance into Sheridan. Almost half of the town's 1,000 residents gathered at the depot to welcome the first passenger train at 10:00 a.m. The railway opened up new opportunities for growth and trade, marking a pivotal moment in Sheridan's history.

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A photo thought to be the first train into Sheridan, Wyoming on November 10, 1892. Source: Mayors book and Wyoming Room clipping files.

The year 1893 brought about the advent of coal mining operations in Dietz, Monarch, and Acme along Big Goose Creek and in the Tongue River Valley. The demand for coal was substantial, leading to the emergence of several coal towns near the railroad north of Sheridan. Immigrants from around the world flocked to this area, seeking employment in the coal mines. Sheridan slowly but steadily grew to become one of the largest cities in Wyoming.

In 1896, Sheridan's population stood at 2,200, a significant increase from its early days. By 1903, the population had swelled to 5,000, a testament to the city's appeal. Remarkably, by 1908, the population skyrocketed to an impressive 10,000 people. While it dipped slightly to 9,500 by 1912, Sheridan had firmly established itself as a thriving community in the heart of Wyoming.

In its formative years, Sheridan's social scene primarily revolved around fraternity lodges and establishments along Main Street, including bars, nightlife venues, and brothels. One notable hotspot was the Sheridan Inn, which was completed in 1893. Buffalo Bill Cody himself took a keen interest in the inn, using it as his headquarters during tryouts for his famous Wild West Show. He often recruited local cowboys and cowgirls to join his company and travel with him. Another significant development during this period was the installation of a telephone system in 1897, known as the Rocky Mountain Telephone Company. The business district in downtown Sheridan also flourished, with many clerks and store owners living and working on Main Street. It was a time of transformation and evolution in Sheridan.

By 1903, as Sheridan celebrated its 21st birthday, The Sheridan Post published its 'Industrial Edition,' providing an extensive list of businesses that had sprung up in the city. This list included 7 grocery stores, 6 dry goods and clothing stores, 3 hardware dealers, 3 jewelers, 3 furniture stores, 2 undertakers, 3 milliners, 14 saloons, 2 tailor shops, 4 feed stores, 4 blacksmiths, 2 brickyards, 4 livery stables, 2 photograph galleries, 2 dealers in second-hand goods, 2 steam laundries, several Chinese laundries, 1stucco factory, 1 manufacturer of pop and soft drinks, 1 brewery, 1 billiard hall, 1 bowling alley, 1 taxidermist, 2 dealers of Indian curios and art, 1 shoe shop, 2 flour mills, 5 dentists, 6 real estate and insurance offices, 4 banks, 1 savings bank, 1 Building and Loan Association, 2 newspapers, 3 job printing offices, 4 hotels, 1 proprietary medicine house, 3 harness shops, 1 sanitarium, 2 florists, 1 marble works, 2 cold storage houses, 2 ice firms, 6 barber shops, 2 bakeries, 1 candy factory, 1 planing mill, 8 restaurants, 16 lawyers, 9 doctors, and numerous firms of painters, carpenters, masons, and other skilled mechanics.

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This photograph was taken in 1909. It is a panoramic photo of downtown Sheridan taken by F.J. Bandholts of Des Moines, Iowa. It was taken on the east side of Main Street in the middle of Brundage Street looking towards the west side of Main Street and towards Brooks Street. Source: Bandholtz, F. J. , Copyright Claimant. Sheridan, Wyoming. United States Sheridan Wyoming, ca. 1909. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007663084/.

In the 1920s, the specter of prohibition loomed large, forcing the brewery to shift its production to soda pop. Yet, this period also witnessed the rise of bootlegging, prostitution, and illegal gambling, as Sheridan adapted to the changing times.

In 1928, the renowned writer Ernest Hemingway made a significant mark on Sheridan's history. During his visit, he completed his iconic work, "A Farewell to Arms." He conducted his writing in various locales, including the Sheridan Inn, the Bighorn Mountains at Spear-O-Wigwam, and Folly Ranch. Hemingway was also not a stranger to the bootlegging trade in Sheridan. He visited locals' homes, sampling their 'product,' an experience that would inspire his short story "Wine of Wyoming," centered around the bootleggers in Sheridan.

The 1930s marked a period of efforts to promote tourism and the establishment of dude ranches, culminating in the creation of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo in 1931. Sheridan was embracing its western heritage with pride.

In 1939, a group of Sheridan residents and political leaders from Northern Wyoming embarked on an audacious idea—to carve out parts of Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana to form a new state. This proposed state was to be named 'Absaroka.' A local road commissioner, A.R. Swickard, even appointed himself as 'Governor of Absaroka.' License plates were distributed, and Miss Absaroka 1939 was crowned—the first and only Miss Absaroka. Even King Haakon VII of Norway paid a visit during the Absaroka state tour. The Absaroka movement had its roots in the discontent of farmers and ranchers, primarily in South Dakota, who felt excluded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies.

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Map of proposed 49th state of Absaroka. Sheridan would be the capital. It would extend north into Montana all the way to Hardin, over into South Dakota east of Rapid City and south to the Nebraska border, and would extend across Wyoming and encompass Yellowstone National Park. Source: Wyoming Room clipping files.

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Left to Right - Dorothy Fellows, A.K.A. Miss Absaroka, in the company of A.R. Swickard, "Governor of Absaroka", and Esther Aspaas. The Ladies are holding the proposed flag for what would have been the 49th State. Source: Wyoming Room clipping files.

The coal boom that had buoyed Sheridan began to wane, leading to the closure of the Monarch Mine in 1953. Interestingly, many houses from Monarch found new homes in Sheridan, a testament to the city's resilience and adaptability.

The 1960s brought about significant changes, including the end of passenger rail service and the arrival of Interstate 90, which transformed the city's transportation landscape. Additionally, the historic Sheridan Inn, which had played a central role in Sheridan's early years, closed its doors. However, the 1980s ushered in a new era. Sheridan played host to numerous notable guests and served as the backdrop for a string of movies. In 1982, "Endangered Species" was filmed in Sheridan and its surroundings, showcasing the city's cinematic potential.

Then in 1984, Queen Elizabeth II visited Sheridan, staying near Big Horn at the Wallop ranch with Lady Jeannie Wallop Canarvon, the sister of Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop.

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Queen Elizabeth II walks down Main Street in Sheridan in October 1984.

Source: Bob Zellar/Billings Gazette

In 1985, "Wild Horses" was filmed in Sheridan, featuring TV movie stars such as Kenny Rogers, Pam Dawber, Ben Johnson, and Richard Farnsworth, along with local Sheridan extras. The iconic Mint Bar was among the locations featured in the film.

The momentum continued in 1986 when music legend Prince came to Sheridan for the premiere of his movie "Under the Cherry Moon." The unlikely reason for Sheridan's selection was the Lucky 10,000th caller, Lisa Barber, a 20-year-old from Sheridan. This fortunate twist of fate brought MTV, national media, and one of the world's biggest rock stars to Wyoming.

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Centennial Theater in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1986 with their Marquee showing MTV and Warner Bros. present World Premiere "Prince" Under the Cherry Moon. Source: Internet Photo

The year 1987 brought another cinematic venture, "Into the Homeland," a TV movie that also featured Sheridan locations and extras. In 1989, "Powwow Highway" was filmed in Sheridan, with memorable scenes shot at the Silver Spur on Main Street and in front of Sam Mavrakis' Ritz Sporting Goods. As the 21st century began, the non-profit sector grew, supported by local foundations, and an increasing interest in preserving local history took root. In 2006, Sheridan was recognized as the 'Number One Western Town' by True West Magazine. It was an accolade that underscored the city's commitment to preserving its rich heritage. That same year, several scenes from the film "Flicka" were filmed in Sheridan, based on the novel "My Friend Flicka."

In 2009, Sheridan earned a place on Newsmax magazine's list of the 'Top 25 Most Uniquely American Cities and Towns,' an accolade celebrated by CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg. In his cover story, Greenberg hailed Sheridan as "the real deal," commending its dedication to preserving its rich history. Sheridan's journey, from its humble beginnings in the late 19th century to its recognition as a unique and vibrant American city in the 21st century, reflects the spirit of the American West—perseverance, adaptability, and an unwavering commitment to progress. As it continues to evolve, Sheridan's legacy endures, a testament to its remarkable history and promising future.

A Brief History of Sheridan, Wyoming (2024)
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