Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office

Historic Context

Wyoming Homesteading, Ranching, and Farming: 1860-1960

Home> Mormon row, Andy Chambers Ranch
Andy Chambers Homestead, showing various farm / ranch buildings, Mormon Row, Teton County.
Photo: Michael Cassity, 2009


The Planning and Historic Context Development Program in the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office is developing a series of historic context studies to assist in the evaluation of historic resources in the state for their eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Because of the widespread history of homesteading, ranching, and farming in Wyoming, the resources related to that history are extensive and are often encountered in field work related to permitting for development. By preparing and providing a study of homesteading, ranching, and farming in the state, cultural resource professionals in the field can better evaluate those resources and do so more consistently and expeditiously from agency to agency, from project to project, and from one part of the state to another.

The historic context study includes several components. The most substantial part is the narrative history itself. That study is the result of professional historical research in secondary and primary sources relating to Wyoming’s agricultural, economic, and social history with an eye to establishing the broad patterns of events and developments in our history related to the part of the state’s history that took place on the homesteads, ranches, and farms. This study seeks to relate that history, literally at the grass roots, to the broader contours of change, the actual historical context in which people made decisions and took the actions that cumulatively make up our history; by examining that historic context the significance of local developments can be better understood. The way to do this is to see how those developments relate to what came before and what came after as well as what is happening at other places at the same time. In addition, the study seeks to provide guidance for field workers as they conduct archival research and field evaluations to determine whether particular buildings, objects, sites, districts, and structures are eligible or contributing features to eligible properties. The study also discusses issues in the management of these properties, issues that include threats to resources and information needs for better understanding them.

Home Pride
Stove from abandoned homestead, Campbell County.
Photo: Michael Cassity, 1981.

Wyoming history is a fascinating and important subject of inquiry. It is also an area that is very much alive and always changing as new information becomes available, as new techniques emerge, and as new questions are asked of old material. As with any exploration in the past, the answers that we find will always depend very much on the questions we ask. Understanding Wyoming homesteading, ranching, and farming history is never a matter of just taking a quick look at the written record in hopes that a resource can be summarily categorized. History is far richer and more complex than that and requires that we think in terms of the meaning of what we are examining as well as the names and dates. While one important goal of this study and project is to help professional researchers determine whether particular historic resources are eligible or not, and why they are or are not, another goal is to help them begin the process of inquiry that will lead to the most thorough and professional understandings of those resources and the past of which they are a part.

Two starting points are suggested. One is the brief discussion of the history of Wyoming ranching, homesteading, and farming history in the century that ended fifty years ago, Lives worth Living, History worth Preserving. The other is the complete study of that history prepared for this project; Wyoming Will Be Your New Home: Ranching, Farming, and Homesteading in Wyoming, 1860-1960 is a pdf document that can be downloaded; it can even be printed if you wish. It is primarily a historical monograph that presents the developments (in their broadest sense, to include sometimes also decline as well as growth, trouble as well as satisfaction, and frustration as well as achievement) associated with this part of Wyoming’s history. Some parts of these documents have been extracted for quick reference here, including a discussion of Management Issues & Opportunities relating to homesteading, ranching, and farming resources in Wyoming, a Timeline of Developments related to Wyoming Ranching, Homesteading, and Farming, 1860-1960, Links to additional resources, Resource Evaluation Guide for the various property types (and subtypes) related to this subject, and also a Bibliography of Sources on Wyoming Ranching, Homesteading, and Farming which both provides an idea of the sources used in this study and also opportunities for further reading.