SHERIDAN — Two local archaeologists discovered a mutual passion for history while working in an excavation pit together for a school archaeology project as Sheridan College students in 1994.
Kevin O’Dell and Jim Powers quickly became friends, eventually coworkers and now co-owners of Old Army Records.
Their specific interest in 19th century U.S. military history connected them again when O’Dell asked Powers to help him with contract work through a grant for the Fetterman Battlefield.
“The Fetterman project prompted wanting to get into more information about the individuals that died, especially the enlisted men,” O’Dell said. “(We) basically (wanted to find out) who they were as individuals, their character, backgrounds and what not.”
Following a trip to Washington, D.C., to begin looking up the history for 19th century U.S. military, they discovered a plethora of unpublished documents during that time period.
They also realized much of the published works today included erroneous information about crime and punishment.
So the two set out to bring the military men and women of the 19th century to life through their business venture and pet project — Old Army Records.
“It steamrolled into basically transcribing every official piece of military correspondence and document prepared long ago,” O’Dell said.
While the project has been funded primarily out of O’Dell’s and Powers’ pockets, they did find funding and development help from the Sheridan branch of the Wyoming Technology Business Center through the University of Wyoming.
WTBC was launched in 2006 as part of the University of Wyoming’s mission to provide affordable higher education of the highest quality; technology transfer and economic and community development, according to the UW website.
Sheridan WTBC director Scot Rendall and the developers, believe the website will help create a niche market of military history and genealogy on an easy-to-access web platform.
“Other genealogy companies/websites have very large databases for researchers to use, but information behind ancestor names sometimes is not that detailed,” Rendall said. “Old Army Records has attempted to add a lot of richness to facts available on individuals that would have served in the armed forces in the 1800s.”
O’Dell and Powers will publish the first set of documents detailing court marshal data and cases from the Old Army time period.
The duo, with help from third-party contractors — document scanning operators and database populators — will roll out their 15,000 or more indexed documents.
Court marshal documents prove rich with information, as names and other details are meticulously listed, including several names involved in each case, why soldiers committed crimes and why officers wrote them up for those crimes.
“It puts the person in context,” O’Dell said.
Documents list clothing type, crime and punishment orders, medical history, casualty data, weaponry carried and even what food they ate.
“You find that these individuals that we don’t have any connection with, they’re just like us,” Powers said. “There are the same type of motivations for everything they did. And the military has the same concept.”
O’Dell and Powers front as full-time archaeologists, contracting with oil and gas companies to survey land with an occasional contract to work under grant funding to survey battlefield sites around Wyoming.
Rendall said by the end of 2018, the website should be in a position to sell subscriptions and generate a revenue stream to help continue efforts of historic preservation and accessibility.
A $10,000 funding stream from the WTBC will help oldarmyrecords.com continue to grow as a database, which can be utilized by those looking into family genealogies, authors, interpretive centers or anyone generally curious about a person, place or event related to the military between 1800 and 1900.