A Journey Through the Wild West

Four Days of History

A History of the Wind River Country

A ranching and outdoor recreation center for West Central Wyoming, Lander shares its founding year with that of the State of Wyoming with both occurring in 1890. The county seat of Fremont County, Lander retains the charm of an old wild west town with its late 1800s architecture and quaint retail and specialty shops. Lander today is a mecca for history lovers. The Four Day Itinerary below will take you along the still existing historic western migration trails, gold rush and ghost town history, the Wind River Indian Reservation, and the home of modern rodeo.

Day

1

Whether you stay in an Outlaw cabina boutique hotel, one of the city’s award-winning lodging establishments, or a campground, breakfast is just a few paces away to fuel your day. The Lander Bake Shop or Crux Coffee are two popular local hang-outs, or you can chose the upscale Middle Fork or the Oxbow Restaurant. To begin, after your morning wake-up, stop at the brand new Lander Visitors Center on the corner of Main Street and North First, next to the banks of the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River. There you’ll find just about everything you’ll want to know or do in the area.

 

Over the July 4th National Holiday, Lander hosts the Oldest Paid Rodeo in the World during Pioneer Days, complete with one of the state’s best parades, a buffalo barbecue in the city park, live music and, of course, fireworks-legal in the city on the 4th.

 

Let’s stay in town on this first day and explore Lander and the region’s history. Within a four-block area of downtown, the Lander Self-Guided Walking Tour identifies 26 different historic locations and the story behind each. Look for the window signs identifying each or follow along with a brochure available at the Visitors Center. You’ll discover such jems as the Noble Hotel and its spectacular lobby. And the 1903 Bossert Building, with its traditional Old West style of architecture has housed everything from a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, a movie theatre, a pool hall to today where a bakery is pleasing customers.

 

On West Main Street is the museum complex housing the Fremont County Pioneer Museum and the Museum of the American West, both in one location. The Pioneer museum features local artifacts from pre history through the 1920’s. Next door, the MAW, as it’s become to be known, is a collection of historic buildings from around the Lander Valley with artifacts unique to each. Be sure to see the one room school house, the chapel, a blacksmith shop and the livery stable. Other visitor centers in the city are located at the Wyoming Game and Fish Lander Office, the One Shot Museum, the Shoshone National Forest Washakie Ranger District and at the Eagle Bronze Foundry in the South Lander Industrial Park, one of the few foundries in the country specializing in “monumental” bronzes.

 

Sinks Canyon State Park is where the Popo Agie River mysteriously disappears into a cavern on one side of the canyon and bubbles back to the surface in a trout-filled pool a quarter mile away. The Sinks is a perfect location for a camp out or a picnic lunch or dinner.

Day

2

A short drive north of Lander on U.S. 287 takes you onto the Wind River Indian Reservation, home of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes. You’ll want to stop first at the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary where wild horses taken off of public lands will live out their lives in green pastures. There’s a visitors center there and daily tours are offered throughout the summer. At Fort Washakie, home to the Wind River Agency and the headquarters of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Wind River Intertribal Council chambers. Each June the Tribe hosts Wyoming’s largest Powwow, Eastern Shoshone Indian Days, a festival of dancing, games and music.

 

On the west side of the community is the Washakie Cemetery, where the great Chief Washakie is buried. A friend of the military, Washakie was the only Native American leader who was able to choose his own reservation, and he picked the east slope of the Wind River Range where the weather was moderate and the wild game abundant. Just down the road a few miles is the Sacajawea Cemetery, final resting place of the famous girl guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A statue there commemorates her life. The Fort Washakie School just east of Hines Corner on the Ethete Road contains the Rupert Weeks Traditional Center, the home of Eastern Shoshone stories, artifacts and culture displays. There’s a gift shop there where locally produced beadwork and leather-craft items are available for purchase.

 

On the way back to Lander, stop in at the Shoshone Rose Hotel and Casino for lunch or dinner and a bit of fun playing the casino’s games.

Day

3

Some 35 miles south of Lander on Wyoming Highway 28 is the historic gold mining town of South Pass City. When gold was found in the late 1860’s, the excitement created a rush as the gold fields of California were beginning to play out. The town once boasted several thousand residents and is the home of the state’s women’s suffrage movement. At South Pass City State Historic Site, 70,000 artifacts from the original gold rush town are now on display in their original buildings. The South Pass Highway leading to the site is designated as the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Highway due to Wyoming’s leadership in granting Women the right to vote, serve on juries and become judges. The first-ever female judge, Esther Hobart Morris, was a justice of the peace in the wild and wooly South Pass City, and her cabin and furnishings have been completely restored, along with a dozen other buildings.

 

South Pass City also features five miles of interpretive trails, telling the gold rush story from their actual locations. The highlight of a visit to the historic site is the fully restored Carissa Mine and Mill. Tours are available during the summer and fall months, by reservation. South Pass City’s Gold Rush Days is held the second weekend of July each year and features living history, mining demonstrations, vintage base ball games, gold panning and some great fun, with a lot of history and live music mixed in. You won’t want to miss it. Nearby is the village of Atlantic City, where lunches, dinners and libations are available at the historic Atlantic City Mercantile and the Miner’s Grub Stake. Atlantic City boasts “about 57 residents” and is the remnant of a once thriving mining town.

Day

4

The South Pass over the Continental Divide along the Wind River Range was the super highway of migration for the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails, plus the route of the famous Pony Express. A stop at the Bureau of Land Management Lander Field Office is a good first step to get maps of the area. The local Historic Trails corridor stretches from the Independence Rock State Historic Site to the Mormon Trail Handcart sites at the Sun Ranch and Sweetwater Station to the trails over the South Pass itself. Pack your vehicle with plenty of water and snacks, binoculars and your trail guides to follow along from U.S. Highway 287 in the Jeffrey City area, to Highway 28 over South Pass. All along way historical waysides help tell the story of the First Roads West.