Territorial Era 1868-1890

Central School (1871), Cheyenne, Laramie Co.
Central School (1871), Cheyenne, Laramie Co.
Photo: Wyoming State Archives, Department of State
Parks and Cultural Resources, Wacker Collection
On July 25, 1868, President Andrew Johnson signed the Organic Act creating Wyoming Territory. By this time most states in the North and West had passed laws calling for public-supported schools where education was compulsory. The first school law in Wyoming Territory, which took effect on December 10, 1869, followed this trend in stipulating that schools be supported by general taxation rather than voluntary contributions or subscriptions, as Cheyenne’s first school had been.


East Side School (1876), Laramie, Albany Co., 1938
East Side School (1876), Laramie, Albany Co., 1938
Photo: #30697, Ludwig Svenson Collection, American
Heritage Center, University of Wyoming
In the legislative session of 1873, a new school code was adopted, which appointed the State Librarian to ex officio State Superintendent of Public Instruction, with responsibility for general supervision of all the district schools of the territory. The State Superintendent was required to file all of each county's reports transmitted to him by the county's school officers each year, and to report annually to the Legislative Assembly on the condition of public schools. The 1873 act also included the state’s first provision for compulsory education, and attempted to create some standards for teachers in Wyoming schools. The 1873 School Code remained relatively unchanged through the territorial and early statehood periods.

Pleasant Valley School (1884), Converse Co.
Pleasant Valley School (1884), Converse Co.
Photo: #Wyoming State Archives, Department
of State Parks and Cultural Resources,
Bishop Collection

Public schools continued to be established along the Union Pacific Railroad during the Territorial period. Like Cheyenne’s first school built the year before, Laramie’s 1868 facility was a simple frame structure funded by a de facto school district, using monies from private donations and subscriptions. In this, it could not truly be considered a public school supported by taxation revenues, but it did have the distinction of being the first schoolhouse built after Wyoming became a territory. Laramie was followed in 1868 by Rawlins, whose citizens also raised funds for their first school through private subscriptions. Rather than build a schoolhouse, the townspeople rented a one-room frame building in the spring of 1869, where a single teacher taught five students. The westernmost of the early railroad towns in Wyoming Territory, Evanston, was the last to establish a public school during this first territorial wave. Another subscription-supported facility, Evanston’s school opened in December 1870 in a rented room above a saloon, accessible by an exterior wooden stairway. Of the major railroad towns, neither Rock Springs nor Green River had yet to establish schools. However, by the end of the Territorial Period, the major railroad towns had built stone and brick schools to replace their early frame buildings.

The School Code adopted by the First Territorial Assembly allowed for the establishment of secondary schools, and the first high school was established in Cheyenne in 1875, followed by Laramie in 1878, Buffalo in 1881, Newcastle in1889, and Rawlins in 1889.

Rural schools established in the Territorial period might be located in a log building with a sod roof, an upper room of a railroad section house, a rented building, a spare room on a ranch, the vacant office of a mining company, a blacksmith's shop, the basement of the town hall, or a sheep wagon. The first rural school established north of Fort Laramie in 1884 was on the ranch of Henry L. Read. Mrs. Read was the teacher and Mr. Read adapted a 12’x14’ log cabin with a dirt floor to be used as a school. The desks were made of packing boxes and the dirt floor was eventually improved by sewing gunny sacks together and laying them on the dirt like a carpet, staking them down with wooden pegs. Building an actual log school building constituted a major step forward. As populations shifted, schools were moved to where they were needed, using teams of horses to roll or skid them to their new locations. The log schools were often replaced with a frame building as the school developed. When these log or frame school buildings passed their utility as schoolhouses, many were torn down and the lumber used by the farmer or rancher for outbuildings.

Pleasant Valley School (1884), Converse Co.
Fort Laramie's Administration Building (1885),
Goshen Co.

http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/ftlar2.html
Several private schools had opened in Wyoming Territory by 1870. The 1870 census listed four public schools in the territory and five day and boarding schools. The public schools that year employed four teachers who managed 175 pupils; the private schools employed eleven teachers for 130 pupils. The territory’s first private school situated outside the Union Pacific corridor was opened at South Pass City in 1870 by James Stilman, who charged a group of about twenty students $1.00 per week for schooling.

Fort Washakie's First Post School (1879), Fremont
Fort Washakie's First Post School (1879), Fremont
Co.

Photo: State Historic Preservation Office.
Photographer: Richard Collier, 1985

Federally controlled schools also continued to open at the army posts through the Territorial period. Fort Phil Kearney, Fort Fetterman, Fort Fred Steele, and Fort D.A. Russell operated schools, most of which were housed in buildings designed for other purposes, such as a chapel or library. Fort Laramie's administration building, an L-shaped lime-grout structure, was built in 1885. The building housed the post adjutant's office, library, and an auditorium as well as the school classroom. Soon after the post was sold at public auction in 1890, the building was stripped of all hardware and lumber. It still exists as a ruin, with thick masonry walls varying in height from 10 feet to 14 feet.

Fort Washakie's first post school was constructed of locally quarried sandstone in 1879 by garrison labor using a standard military plan, and also incorporated a chapel and a library. The schoolhouse later became the administration building for the Wind River Agency located on the west side of the parade ground at the intersection of Washakie and Second Streets. It was considered one of the core contributing buildings to the Fort Washakie Historic District until it burned down in 2004.

Old Main (1887), University of Wyoming, Albany Co., 1908
Old Main (1887), University of Wyoming, Albany Co., 1908
Photo: #ah100248, Digital Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

At the end of the Territorial Period, the University of Wyoming was founded in Laramie and $50,000 was appropriated by the Ninth Territorial Legislature for the construction of a university building, which commenced almost immediately. University Hall (now Old Main) welcomed its first students in the fall of 1887.
Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources