Of all the themes addressed and stored out-of-sight in the files, drawers, shelves and storage units in the Sheridan County Library’s Wyoming Room complex, probably the most extensive are materials relating to our Indian history. Much of this is included as a part of wider theme collections of past local residents Elsa Spear Byron, Glenn Sweem, Robert A. Murray, Alan Bourne and many others.
Elsa Spear became interested in our area history as a young girl when another outstanding scholar, Vie Willits Garber, became her mentor. Elsa’s involvement continued throughout her long life.
Her materials and photos are extensive in The Wyoming Room and also in the Sheridan County Museum, the Big Horn City Historical Society, the American Heritage Center at University of Wyoming, and elsewhere.
Her early Crow Indian pictures reside at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.
When serving as Wyoming Room manager, Judy Slack, working with Byron’s daughter, Marilyn, brought in 60 years worth of Byron’s many diaries and other materials. Slack also, along with Michael Dykhorst, initiated the three Miss Indian America reunions held in recent years in Sheridan.
An extensive history of the 32 years of All American Indian Days and Miss Indian American activities are available in the room and include Hila Gilbert’s book “Making Two Worlds One.” Gregory Nickerson’s national prize winning article on All American Indian Days for Montana: The Magazine of Western History is included.
Railroad engineer and local historian Glenn Sweem went to grade school at Lodge Grass with the man who became the last Chief of the Crow Nation, and MC for the AAID events, Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, and they became lifetime friends. One of the cards in the card file simply reads “Glenn Sweem — 4 boxes.”
Dr. George Frison is a famous Wyoming archaeologist, whose book “Antiquities includes the stories of the buffalo jumps on Big Goose and Piney Creek. General Henry Carrington’s book The Indian Question and his scrapbook, gifted to the old Carnegie Library here, includes his speech given at the Fetterman Monument when he was here in 1908. The card file includes a report on Indian Treaties, 1778-1883.
In addition to accounts of the Indian Wars, such as Jack McDermott’s 2-vol. “Red Cloud’s War” and “The Six Campaigns of General George Crook,” Crow scholar Mardell Plainfeather’s booklet “The Apsaalooke: Warriors of the Big Horns” and Cheyenne scholar Bill Tallbull’s “We Are the Ancestors of Those Yet to be Born,” there is a huge amount of material regarding Indian cultures. These include materials on Indian sign language, the women and children, teepees — the best movable shelter, philosophies, art and artifacts, athletes, burial customs, ledger drawings, mythology and Alma Snell’s Indian recipes and herbal medicines.
Bozeman Trail scholar Dr. Susan Badger Doyle describes the late Father Barry Hagan’s collection as “probably the largest Bozeman Trail collection in our nation.” Father Hagan, a Jesuit priest, was archivist at the University of Portland, Oregon, and an early member of the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association Advisory Board. His collection came to the board in l6 large boxes of paper materials and microfilm and was placed on permanent loan to The Wyoming Room. A large card file, prepared by Hagan, sits above the file cabinets.
The Wyoming Room manager Kim Ostermyer tells us the work goes on with re-organization and some material, such as Carl Oslund’s, not yet filed, and new materials to come. These include interviews with Charlie Luxmoore and Sonny Reisch, and Sandy Spang’s account of growing up on the Cheyenne reservation. A 90-minute documentary on the Bozeman Trail is slated to air in March from Wyoming and Montana PBS. It was written and directed by prize-winning documentarian, Tom Manning, of Bozeman who made good use of The Wyoming Room for his research. Copies will be available there, also.
Mary Ellen McWilliams serves as an adviser and volunteer for the Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum and the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association.