Unwelcome Signs in Wyoming

Heading westward toward sunset, somewhere along Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Heading westward toward sunset, somewhere along Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

EVANSTON, Wyo. — Traveling across Wyoming’s southern tier, I had one destination in mind: a hotel bed. Originally, my plan was to drive all the way from my mid-trip relaxation stop at Boulder, Colo., to Salt Lake City, but when a friend in Colorado asked me whether I knew “that’s a really, really long way” to do solo, I decided to reassess my options. I did, after all, want to make a few stops along the way and take the longer, more scenic drive along the Lincoln Highway’s original route via Medicine Bow.

I decided that Evanston, a city established when the Union Pacific Railroad pressed west through this part of Wyoming in the late 1860s, would be a good stopping-off point. It would still necessitate a long driving day because there is no such thing as a quick trip anywhere in Wyoming.

Like many towns along the transcontinental railroad, Evanston once had a sizable Chinese population in its early years. In fact, there have been archaeological excavations of Evanston’s former Chinatown which uncovered materials belonging to Chinese women, who were always a rarity in these male-dominated communities along the railroad.

According to Western Wyoming Community College:

The most distinctive pieces of jewelry recovered during excavations that can be attributed to women are earrings. Photographs of Chinese women in Evanston show women wearing earrings similar to the ones uncovered in excavation. Other jewelry items uncovered in excavation are less useable as indicators of gender. However, the earrings recovered, as well as the other jewelry items uncovered, come from one living space that posses an internal courtyard. Based on the gold, silver, Ming Dynasty ceramics, jade fragments, variety and number of coins recovered, and shear quantity of artifacts found in this one area, we contend that the occupants had a relatively high economic status–especially when compared to the Chinese coal miner’s quarters north of Evanston at Almy and even railroad laborers homes inside the Evanston Chinatown.

The history of Chinese laborers building the transcontinental railroad and the industries they served along the route is a decidedly unhappy one, especially in Wyoming.

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The Great Platte River Road Begins

The Great Platte River Road carried countless westward settlers across the Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

The Great Platte River Road carried countless westward settlers across the Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

FREMONT, Neb. — Of the most important waterways in the United States, the Platte River usually doesn’t rise to the top. Unlike the Mississippi and Missouri, it’s extremely shallow.

Washington Irving called the Platte “the most magnificent and useless of rivers.” But the Platte, called “Nebraska” by Native Americans, helped change the shape of American history. This route allows a relatively easy path into the interior.

The Great Platte River Road was used by countless settlers heading west to Oregon, California and Utah. The Union Pacific Railroad’s Overland Route follows the Platte westward along what was the nation’s first transcontinental rail link.

With a level route into the interior, it made sense to have the Lincoln Highway follow the Platte west as well. From Iowa, the original alignment of the highway takes the road into Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. But U.S. 30 makes a beeline from from Iowa’s Loess Hills to Fremont via Blair, Neb. Since I was continuing onto Kearney that day, I opted for the more-direct route.

Crossing the Missouri River adjacent to the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station — which was sidelined in 2011 after severe flooding along the Missouri River — U.S. 30 climbs from the valley to higher terrain on its way to Fremont.

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Abraham Lincoln’s Kalamazoo Speech in Bronson Park

Abraham Lincoln spoke in Kalamazoo, Mich.'s Bronson Park in 1856. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Abraham Lincoln spoke in Kalamazoo, Mich.’s Bronson Park in 1856. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Lincoln Highway doesn’t run through Michigan but I thought I’d point out an interesting Lincoln-specific spot I checked out during my brief detour to visit my parents in Grand Rapids.

Abraham Lincoln came to Kalamazoo in 1856 to deliver a speech supporting the campaign of John Frémont, the first-ever Republican Party nominee for president, who lost to Pennsylvania Democrat James Buchanan that year.

Lincoln, who was then relatively unknown, spoke in Bronson Park, which remains an important public space in downtown Kalamazoo. This speech helped lay the foundation for Lincoln’s eventual national prominence in the 1860 election.

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette:

Lincoln came into Kalamazoo on the train from Chicago. The train arrived late and he rushed down Rose Street to Bronson Park. There were four stages set up in the park and Lincoln spoke at 2 p.m. His speech touched on one of the halmark issues of the Republican party at the time: restricting the expansion of slavery to new territories and states, including Kansas and Nebraska.

Via the Kalamazoo Public Library, I’ve posted Lincoln’s Kalamazoo address in full:

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