My cousins and I are really looking forward to this book. Growing up we found that our parents knew almost nothing of their own parents’ history. That of course was because they were trying to forget the traumas that brought them to Wyoming. Once again, the Estonian future is looking dangerous so there might be another exodus. Thanks for publishing this book. It means a lot to descendants of that area who have spread all across the states multiplied and diversified.
Elizabeth C. Fine, Professor Emerita of Humanities, Virginia Tech
Lorna J. Whisler’s book, Rozet, Campbell County, Wyoming and its Homestead Families (1880 -1949), is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to know more about the lives of those who settled northwestern states such as Wyoming from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. The author, a native of Rozet, Wyoming, draws on her own experience in a homesteading family. Whisler’s maternal and paternal grandparents began homesteading in 1913 and 1922 respectively and she grew up living with her parents in a home that her grandparents built. A photo of that home graces the cover of this handsome and beautifully edited book that provides, “A brief history of Rozet, Wyoming along with a few histories and genealogies for some of the families who lived along the CB&Q Railroad tracks north along the Cottonwood Valley to Adon, northeast along the Little Pine Ridge to the Crook County Line, and south to the Belle Fourche River (p. iii).”
Whisler’s introduction provides an excellent overview of the early history of this northeast section of Wyoming that begins with the various Indian tribes who occupied the area before the Spanish Conquistadors and later the French claimed it, and continues with the creation of the Wyoming Territory in 1865 and the state of Wyoming in 1890. She recounts the coming of cattle drives along the Texas Trail during the open range period between 1869-1890, as well as the bad winters in 1886-89 that caused great losses to the cattle industry, and the subsequent conflicts with sheep raisers and homesteaders. She also notes the role that schoolteachers—mostly women, played not only as homesteaders, but as the chief producers of “community education, culture, and identity” (p. 3).
Whisler divides the book into four parts: Families, Communities, Schools, and Bibliography and Index. The largest of these parts, Families, constitutes two-thirds of the book. She organizes her history of families into five chronological sections, according to when they settled in Rozet, from 1880-1911, and the following four decades, ending in 1949. Each of these sections has an introduction to the period, noting major national and international events, such the Great Depression and wars that influenced life in the area. She writes about the Civilian Conservation Corp, 1933-1934 and includes photos of their projects. Especially vivid is her treatment of the Winter of 1949 and Operation Snowbound, “the largest bulldozer operation in American History,” in which the Army plowed county roads to clear them from snowdrifts “20 to 30 feet high in places” (p. 218).
The well-researched and documented histories of 144 homestead families in the Rozet area include where the homesteaders immigrated from, whether abroad or from other states, their births, marriages, children, deaths, burials, and fascinating details about their lives. Whisler writes about the families and individuals whose names she collected from reading local news items about Rozet and surrounding communities. She draws on birth and marriage announcements, obituaries, probate announcements, legal notices, tax records, federal and state censuses, birth, death, marriage and military records. Immigrants from such countries as Austria, Germany, Russia, Czechoslavakia, Estonia, Sweden, Croatia, and Denmark, as well as migrants from many different states in the U.S., shared the common destiny of homesteading in this arid and rugged landscape of northeastern Wyoming. These family histories, taken together, help readers appreciate the social dynamics, as well as the hardships faced by the homesteaders in this area over time.
In part two of the book, Communities, Whisler writes about the history and social life in the communities of Rozet and the nearby smaller communities of Adon, Little Iowa, Dillinger, and Timber Creek. Her introduction to this section covers house building methods, reservoirs, gardens, and food preparation, as well as social events such as dances and seasonal celebrations, and rites of passage such as Shivarees for newly married couples. Several communities had literary societies that held programs in which people debated social issues in order to keep “themselves informed of what was happening outside their immediate community.” They “also discussed literature, from Shakespeare plays to locally written poetry and stories, sang songs, played musical instruments, or other material of common interests that they decided to learn more about” (p. 230). A photo of the Rozet Women’s Club 1923 showing almost two dozen women of all ages appears alongside Whisler’s discussion of the homebuilding clubs that were organized through the University of Wyoming agriculture department in the 1930s so that women could learn “new methods of cooking, preserving food, sewing, gardening, etc. and learn of new health issues and some medical treatments (p. 230).”
Whisler reminds readers that although some areas had rural electricity and running water, many homes in the 1930s still did not have these amenities, and electricity was “still not available in most rural communities during the first half of the 20th century” (p. 256). Whisler documents the history of Rozet stores, bars, post offices, churches, cemeteries, rooming houses, hotels, and other businesses with numerous photos. Reproductions from newspaper advertisements recruiting people to buy land in Rozet, and a photo of the first oil drilling rig and crew about 1922 (pp. 233-35) give a feel for the economic promise that drew some people to the area.
The third part of the book, Schools, records their development, from the first Rozet School, established in 1903 in an upstairs room of the Burlington Railroad Section house, to the growth of a number of rural schools, and then school consolidation and busing starting in 1921. Whisler focuses on school districts three, four, and portions of five and twelve, identifying the names of teachers, superintendents, and pupils whenever possible. A “Photo Gallery of Classes Through the Years” provides a vivid glimpse of school activities, faculty, and students through the decades, such as male and female basketball teams, cheerleaders, and elementary and high school classes, giving a feel for school life during these years.
Of particular use are the excellent 1928 Plat Maps of Patented Homesteads and Owners in Rozet, Campbell County, Wyoming, the height of homestead settlement in the Rozet area, found in part four of the book. A list of owners accompanies each plat, indicating in bold font those who have brief bios in the book, and also listing those who own land in other townships. These maps allow the reader to locate various homesteaders and identify their surrounding neighbors. Whisler provides excellent instructions on how to read township maps, their sections, quarters, and smaller quarters.
This richly illustrated book provides an abundance of raw material for understanding the social history of Rozet, Campbell County, Wyoming and its homesteading families. Whisler’s deep roots in the area, coupled with her excellent research skills honed from forty years of gathering this material, provide readers with a wealth of information for understanding the settlement of this part of Wyoming. Clearly a labor of love, Whisler’s book will be especially useful to anyone wanting to learn more about the lives of homesteaders in northeastern Wyoming from the 1880s to 1949.