Like Rome, Sheridan wasn’t built in a day. The town came into existence through the sustained effort of many citizens. Meet five of the most notable people who helped make Sheridan the place it is today.
John D. Loucks
Perhaps the man most responsible for Sheridan’s inception, John D. Loucks founded the town in 1882 and became its first mayor from 1884-86.
Local historian Mary Ellen McWilliams, who serves as an adviser and volunteer for the Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum and the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association, said Loucks initially visited the area in 1880 and saw a promising future.
“He just fell in love with Sheridan and was just determined he was going to make this a town,” McWilliams said.
Loucks established the town’s first bank and was a school director and postmaster of Sheridan for a few years. He also founded Sheridan’s first newspaper in 1887, The Sheridan Post, from which The Sheridan Press descended.
Edward A. Whitney
“The mystery man is Whitney,” McWilliams said. “…He was just secretive.”
Personal details are hard to come by for Edward Whitney, but this much is known: He was born in Massachusetts in 1843, attended school in Europe and fought in the Civil War before eventually coming to Sheridan in 1885. Whitney became the second mayor of Sheridan in 1887 and built a fortune, mainly through banking.
In his will, Whitney prioritized granting low-interest student loans and creating and maintaining a college in Sheridan through his trust, Whitney Benefits. The trust began with $750,000 in 1927 and now has more than $100 million in reserves. It helped fund a local park, ice rink and a multitude of college buildings.
Northern Wyoming Community College District President Paul Young said Sheridan College would look drastically different without Whitney Benefits.
“We would be much more of a run-of-the-mill two-year college like you would find anywhere else in America,” Young said.
Henry A. Coffeen
Henry A. Coffeen made a significant impact on local and state events after moving to Big Horn in 1884. He served as Sheridan’s third mayor in 1888. Coffeen also represented Sheridan during the process to make Wyoming the country’s 44th state in 1890 and was Wyoming’s representative to Congress from 1893-95.
Later, Coffeen donated about 4,000 books to establish Sheridan’s first library. He also served on the University of Wyoming’s board of trustees from 1908-11. Before moving to Wyoming, Coffeen was a college professor in Ohio and a school superintendent and library director in Illinois.
Wayne Schatz, treasurer for the Sheridan County School District 2 Board of Trustees, taught at Coffeen Elementary from 1969-80 and helped remodel a plaque of Henry Coffeen located in the elementary school currently bearing his full name, which opened in 2014.
“It’s going to stay there forever, I hope,” Schatz said.
John B. Kendrick
A self-made rancher, businessman and legislator, John Kendrick’s influence stretched far and wide. He initially came to Wyoming from Texas in the late 1870s. He started the OW Ranch in 1887, which still functions today in southern Montana.
Kendrick co-founded the town’s second bank in 1889, which specialized in mortgage loans. He was also a state legislator from 1910-14.
In 1915, Kendrick was elected the state’s ninth governor. As governor, Kendrick established the state’s workman’s compensation system and public utilities, extended women’s rights and helped uncover illegal leasing of oil reserves. He also helped promote irrigation land use and protection of natural resources. After two years as governor, Kendrick served as a U.S. senator from 1917-33.
“His accomplishments that relate to Wyoming are just spectacular,” McWilliams said. “… His whole history is spectacular.”
The Kendrick family moved into the mansion known as Trail End in Sheridan in 1913. Later in life, Kendrick donated land for a park and a golf course that bear his name.
Cornelius H. Grinnell
A highly successful businessman, Grinnell made a fortune in the late 1800s through land, cattle and coal mining. He owned the Grinnell Stone Company, the Wrench Ranch, the Higby coal mine and other large tracts of land on the northeast side of Sheridan.
Grinnell was also on the board directors of the town’s original bank, the aptly named First Bank of Sheridan. He also formed the Sheridan Fuel Company with business partners.
For longevity, Grinnell was one of several landowners who claimed land in the initial 40 acres of Sheridan, which explains why three blocks and two streets downtown are named after him. ■