Paper gives glimpse into life during Sheridan’s early days

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SHERIDAN — A paper written by a lifelong Sheridan resident provides a picture of what life was like in Sheridan during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Sheridan resident Matt Reeves said the paper was written by his grandaunt Pearl Urmson. 

Reeves said his sister found the pages in their mother’s paperwork after she died and scanned them into their computer.

Reeves said he had read a hard copy of the first page of the journal entry but did not discover the other five until recently when he was going through old family pictures with his son-in-law.

“I just wanted to share it. It’s an interesting read and I thought it might fill in the blanks for some of the people around Sheridan,” Reeves said.

The paper was written in response to a prompt that asked Pearl to write on “the theme of Wyoming history.” She chose to tell her family’s story, she wrote, because its contribution to the city and state as homemakers is often overlooked. 

“After all, America and Wyoming are only as strong as their homes,” Pearl wrote. 

Pearl’s parents moved to Sheridan from the “wild frontier” of South Dakota. There, they lived in a one-room sod house on the prairie. As Pearl describes it, her parents were at the mercy of the elements while living in South Dakota. Their home was at-risk from prairie fires and once, Pearl wrote, when her father was returning home from a supply run with his team of horses, a pack of wolves started chasing the horses and, because he was unarmed, the only way to stave them off was throwing provisions back to them so he could gain ground while the wolves stopped to eat the food.

After a brief stint in Nebraska, Pearl’s parents moved to Sheridan in 1895 so her father could take a job as a tinner and a plumber. At the time, only about 1,000 people lived in Sheridan.

The family moved into an apartment on the corner of Main and Grinnell streets where Louie’s Hot Tamale Shop later stood. That location was recently marked with a statue of Hot Tamale Louie. Pearl was born, in Sheridan, in 1902.

The children attended school at the Central School, which was composed of three frame buildings on a spot that was once the Little Goose Creek bed. Pearl wrote that the only thing of “special note” that happened while she and her siblings attended the school was, one day, as her brother was gazing out the window, he saw “the dignified banker (Edward A.) Whitney” slip and fall.

Her brother began laughing and when the teacher went to scold him and saw Whitney picking himself up, she started laughing also.

Coincidentally, Pearl wrote that Whitney became a close friend of her family and helped them financially. Pearl described her father as restless as he worked several jobs throughout Sheridan. At one point, her father was elected as the water commissioner. At the time, water was scarce and citizens were only permitted to water during prescribed hours. When Pearl’s father caught a local judge watering out of hours, he issued the judge a fine. Shortly after, he lost his job as water commissioner.

Her family moved to a house on Emerson Street, and Pearl grew up there and eventually bought the home and raised her family there. Reeves, who has lived in Sheridan on and off for 62 years, said he remembered visiting Pearl and her husband, Jack, at the Emerson Street house and said, at the time, it was very small.

“Some of the homes in Sheridan were just a basement,” Reeves said. “They poured a foundation for the basement and didn’t have the money to finish building up, so they put floor joists on the basement and built a deck on top of it, like you would if you were going to go up with another floor, and then they put tar paper and shingles on it so basically what they ended up with was an underground home.”

Ironically, Reeves said his daughter and son-in-law rented that Emerson house, which has since been renovated into a full home.

Pearl went on to become the first member of her family to graduate from high school and attend college. She returned to Sheridan and became a teacher in town and lived here for the rest of her life.

She concluded her entry by noting that her family never achieved great wealth, and their legacy is easy to overlook, but as dedicated citizens, their contributions to the city were lasting.

“My people did nothing outstanding I’m sure,” Pearl wrote. “But as homemakers they go down among Wyoming’s ‘great’ in the fact that they established a real home.”

By |May 14th, 2018|

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