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.

Continue reading

Patterns in the Platte River Valley

Looking toward U.S. 30, a grain elevator towers over Overton, Neb. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Looking toward U.S. 30, a grain elevator towers over Overton, Neb. (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

OVERTON, Neb. — While no two towns are exactly alike, there’s something of a pattern that the chain of human settlement in the Platte River valley follows. Long-haul travelers on Interstate 80 will miss this, but those following U.S. 30 will likely pick up on the template for these towns along the way.

Heading out of any city, town or Census-designated place along U.S. 30, and off in the distance, a tower will rise out of the alignment of the road a few miles down the highway.

A few minutes later, cruising alongside the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and through the flat countryside, the outline of the next town will come into view. Heading west, the tracks are on the left and the town is on the right, just north of the highway. Between the highway and the Union Pacific tracks is the tall grain elevator standing amid a cluster of warehouses and other support buildings.

The town’s street grid will start at the highway and assuming it’s a small place — and most of them are — it will spread out for a few blocks before the flat farmland reappears.

This pattern will repeat itself every few miles, though the positions of the highway, railroad and grain elevator may shift depending on town.

It’s hard to miss the Platte River valley’s chain of grain elevators, which stand in succession along the Union Pacific like the Great Wall’s beacon towers. After awhile, this repetition will play out town and after town.

Overton, with a population of just under 600 people, generally fits this Platte River pattern, but its history doesn’t.

Continue reading