National Register of Historic Places


Sommers Ranch Headquarters Historic District

Sublette County

Date Added to Register

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Smithsonian Number

48SU450

Read all about it

The Sommers Ranch Headquarters Historic District is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A as a representative example of the numerous modest ranches of the upper Green River Valley basin. The majority of these ranches are small cattle operations that began as homesteads. The period of significance begins in 1908 when the Sommers established the ranch headquarters with the corrals, bunkhouse, chicken house, and ditch continuing through to 1957 with the completion of the “new” house. The buildings, a mix of log, frame, and modern metal sheds, are typical of other ranches in the valley. Most successful ranches in the valley contain this mixture of historic buildings as well as modern metal structures and trailers

The Sommers Ranch is situated on the east side of the Green River between the confluence of Horse Creek and Cottonwood Creek in the midst of the sagebrush-covered hills of Sublette County. Surrounding land is used for the production of hay as well as grazing. Irrigation canals fed by the Green River and originally built with teams and fresnos, provide water for raising hay on the meadowlands. Multiple springs on the west side of the Green River provide water for cattle during the winter.

The Ranch Headquarters is an interesting mixture of hand crafted vernacular buildings along with modern buildings that help maintain the economic viability of this ranching operation, and is typical of how ranches in the Green River Valley grew from the turn of the century. Working ranch buildings, regardless of age and material, are part of the evolution of ranching in the Green River Valley. The property retains a high degree of integrity of location, setting, feeling, and association. The modern intrusions do not detract from the historic ranch but merely reflect a pattern typical of ranching in the region, involving moving and re-using buildings as well as construction of new ones as needed.

Pioneerering homesteaders, such as the Sommers family, created a ranch by a variety of means: land claims, family members’ homesteads, or outright purchase of land. The second generation often purchased additional land that further enlarged the ranch. The third and fourth generation ranch families of today have deep ties to the land their forefathers homesteaded and take great pride in those men and women who worked hard and persevered. They helped create a community by serving on livestock boards, participating in roundups, supporting churches and schools, and volunteering for various community projects. Without these small, independent ranchers and their ability to survive drought, weak markets, and other manmade and natural disasters, there would be no ranching in Sublette County as we know it today.

The experience of the Sommers family and the establishment of the Sommers Ranch is typical of many pioneer ranching families who settled in rural Sublette County. In a pattern that was repeated by numerous ranchers in the county, Prof Sommers settled a homestead and gradually increased his holdings. He did what others did before him to enter the ranching business; he formed a partnership with family members, and also worked another job in order to increase his holdings.

Sommers was a latecomer to the valley. By 1900, much of the land in the Green River Valley had already been homesteaded. Settlers first came into the lower Green River Valley in the 1870s and subsequent settlement followed the Green River north. This is an area of dry land that explorer John Wesley Powell in 1879 called "the arid region of the United States." With rainfall of less than twenty inches a year, the land was not suitable for crop production but adequate for stock grazing. As families continued to homestead in the valley, small family ranches grew in number and transformed the upper Green River Valley into a thriving cattle ranching community.

Albert P. Sommers, known throughout his life as Prof, was born November 8, 1871 in Ashtabula, Ohio to a German-Swiss family. At some point, he relocated to Kansas where he taught school in 1896 and 1897. Around 1900, Sommers came to Wyoming due to a lung problem, taught at the Opal school before entering into partnership with Charles Olson, and leased a ranch on Fontenelle Creek. Prof's brother, Pearl Sommers, joined him in the ranching operation about 1904. While trailing cattle to and from the Upper Green River country, they saw the open land where each would take out a homestead claim in 1907. Prof also bought isolated parcels, and filed on desert claims in the same area. He filed his first water right on the Sommers Ranch in 1908. Pearl Sommers moved to Jackson a few years later and eventually to California.

Prof married May McAlister on May 11, 1911. May, born in Illinois in 1879, moved with her family to Kansas in 1886. She began teaching school when she was seventeen years old. In 1903, a teacher friend urged May to join her in Wyoming, telling her the land was beautiful and there were lots of men. May did come to Wyoming and taught school in Big Piney. By the time May married Prof in 1911, she had bought land and had started homesteading. Later, she, too, filed a desert land entry. Her teacher friend, Nellie Yates, also homesteaded and bought isolated parcels, which Prof and May Sommers later purchased. May's parents, Jim and Josie McAlister came to Wyoming where Jim homesteaded. With the family and friends working together, the Sommers were able to establish a ranch of nearly 1900 acres.

Sommers is also associated with a number of improvements in the county. In 1912, he helped build an important road that connected Pinedale and Big Piney. The Big Piney Roundup Association was created, during 1890, in response to the so-called Equalizer Winter of 1889-1890 in which 90% of the cattle in the Upper Green River Valley died during the freezing months. The Big Piney Roundup Association handled the cattle so the ranchers had time to put up hay on the river and creek bottoms. Sommers was a charter member of the Upper Green River Cattle and Horse Growers Association, which formed in 1916, and served on the board.

Today, the Sommers Ranch Headquarters Historic District remains in operation on the land settled by Prof, Pearl, and May McAlister Sommers. The meadows, ditches, corrals and outbuildings they established in 1908 are still in use. They have been maintained or improved for over 100 years. The Sommers Ranch was awarded a centennial plaque by the Green River Valley Cattle Women and received a Centennial Ranch award from Wyoming's State Historic Preservation Office. The Sommers Ranch has raised beef cattle commercially since 1908, and Albert and Jonita started a small registered Hereford herd in the late 1980s. Brother and sister are what their grandparents and parents were: small, well-respected ranchers, the backbone of a ranch, a community, and Wyoming.

Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources