In 1977, the University of Wyoming released a study that showed wildlife was Wyoming’s most important natural resource. Even in 2010, the agricultural sector, including hunting and fishing, took in more gross domestic product revenue than oil and gas extraction. That hasn’t always been the case.
In the 1900s there was so much hunting and trapping done in the area, big game was very scarce.
Brodie Farquhar, a freelance journalist, once said that after the Indian Wars when the Native Americans were driven to reservations, Sheridan and the surrounding areas developed pretty quickly.
“Both the Native Americans and settlers found that Sheridan was the last sweet spot to raise horses,” Farquhar said.
He meant that the farther north you go, the colder and harsher the winters get, and the tougher it is to keep livestock.
Trappers had found their way into the area earlier than the settlers, though, either developing relationships with surrounding tribes, or staying away from the hostile ones.
According to Farquhar’s article for wyohistory.org, one of the earliest trappers, Montreal-based François-Antoine Larocque, found the Bighorns crawling with bears in 1805, and wasn’t really a fan of the mountains.
Farquhar said that once the land opened up and settlers flooded in, there was a very steady flow of traffic between trappers in the Rocky Mountains and fur companies and businesses in St. Louis.
“All of a sudden, there was no market and no supply,” Farquhar said of the fur business.
One of the reasons for this was simply over-trapping beavers to extinction in the area, and the other was fashion.
In 1840, the look for men included top hats, made of things like beaver fur. By 1865, John B. Stetson bought $10 worth of fur and founded his famous company. By the 1900s, women started wearing the very loud and feathery silk hats, thus eliminating most need for pelts in the line of fashion.
After that point, trappers became scouts for incoming settlers or the Army, and some of them even settled down themselves.
Some of these hunters and trappers turned Wyomingites are featured in Jay Lawson’s book, “Men to Match Our Mountains.”
Lawson wrote by the end of the 19th century, big game in the area had been eliminated by market hunting and unregulated shooting.
The only exceptions to be able to hunt were wilderness horseback hunts in the most remote portions of Wyoming.
These hunts would last a month or more, and draw pack strings of 20 or more horses and hunters.
Max Wilde was one of the many men Lawson wrote about, and maybe more of a famous trapper and hunter in the area.
Wilde set up his headquarters in 1916 on the South Fork of the Shoshone River, and in 1918 spent the entire winter in Thorofare wilderness trapping pine marten and red fox pelts.
When Wilde and his partner returned that spring, they had more than 120 pine marten pelts, and a number of red fox pelts.
“Everyone turned trapper after that,” Wilde said to Lawson.
In and around the 1920s, Wilde took some well-known names on a few successful hunts in the Thorofare region.
Baseball great Ty Cobb and Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey were among those hunters who bagged big game under Wilde.
Although all the men profiled in Lawson’s book have a fascinating story, there is one about a woman named Mary Price that stands out.
Price was born May 6, 1911. According to a 1940 census, she and her husband lived in Teton County. But the census was conducted when the Prices only had five kids. They went on to have two more.
By the time they had seven kids, Lewis Price became a wayward husband, drawn to the lights of the city, and was hardly ever home. This left Mary to take care of herself and the children alone. Sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, she had shot a cow elk, and after a man tried to claim it as his kill, she reloaded her Winchester, and told the man to move along before he “broke a leg.”
As Mary grew older, and her Alzheimer’s set in, she would be found wandering the banks of streams with beaver traps in her hands.
After she was placed in a nursing home, her daughter told Lawson she was “always huntin’ and fishin’ her way down the hospital hallways.”