Brief Wyoming History

Before the opening of the West to settlers, present-day Wyoming was populated by a number of Plains Indian tribes, including the Crow, Eastern Shoshone, Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Sioux. Francés Francois and Louis La Verendrye were the first Europeans to explore the region in 1743, but the State’s remoteness discouraged settlement.

During the early 19th Century, the first Europeans to move into the area were hunters, trappers and traders who became known as “Mountain Men.” With the decline of the fur trade, the area’s few settlers turned to ranching and supplying wagon trains crossing the area on the Oregon Trail, and later the Bozeman and Overland trails, which cut through the South Pass on their way west. Forts Laramie and Bridger became important stops on the pioneer trail to the West Coast. Wyoming was aquired as part of the Louisiana Purchace of 1803.

Settlement was facilitated by the 1868 construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. With the advent of large-scale ranching, the activities of rustlers and vigilante groups reached a climax in the 1892 cattle war of Johnson County, which was followed by similar conflicts between cattle and sheep ranchers. Oil was discovered in the early 1880’s, and production began in ernest in 1890.

In the 1920s, Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oil deposits became the center of a corruption scandal involving the administration of President Warren G. Harding. The 1970’s energy crisis and resultant increase in domestic oil prices and demand caused a dramatic boom in Wyoming’s economy, especially coal mining. By the mid-1980s, however, the fall in prices and a lack of systemic diversity led to a sharp economic decline.