Wyoming has some of the oddest names for town and geographical features in any state. Sheridan County is no exception. Here’s a look at the origins of some strange titles of natural formations and businesses in the area.

CRAZY WOMAN SALOON AND CRAZY WOMAN TRADING COMPANY
There is no shortage of ecological locations and businesses with the phrase “Crazy Woman” in the title. Crazy Woman Creek and Crazy Woman Canyon in Buffalo are probably the most well-known, but a Crazy Woman Creek also exists in Niobrara County. Moreover, there is Crazy Woman Square Park across from the creek in Buffalo and Crazy Woman Liquors in the same town.

The phrase carries historical significance as well. The Battle of Crazy Woman occurred in present-day Johnson County in 1866 as part of Red Cloud’s War.

Despite the phrase’s popularity, its exact origin is difficult to pinpoint. There are two main legends that try to explain the “Crazy Woman” beginnings. The first is that a wife of a trader or settler was forced to watch her husband and children be killed by Native Americans after the husband ran out of whiskey to provide. The woman lost her mind and wandered around the creek and canyon area, screaming in pain and anguish. 

The second possibility is similar: A Native American woman “Everybody said once we bought it, the name fit,” Dooley said survived an attack on her area but lost her mind in the process. According to the book “Wyoming Place Names” by Mae Urbanek, the woman could be seen wandering around and jumping across the creek on moonlit nights.

Crazy Woman Trading Company co-owner Linda Fauth subscribes to the origin story of a wife seeing her husband and children killed and losing her mind.

“They say you can still hear her screams in the canyon today,” Fauth said. “I say, ‘No, she’s back. She’s on Main Street and she’s doing really well.’ I try to put a spin on it to lighten it up a little bit.”

Fauth has owned the clothing business on North Main Street in Sheridan with her husband since 1996. She said current Sheridan County Commissioner Steve Maier suggested the name. Fauth laughed but accepted the idea.

Interestingly, the couple had carved their initials inside a heart on a tree in Crazy Woman Canyon many years before opening the store.

“Little did I know that ‘Crazy Woman’ would have an impact in my life,” Fauth said.

Fauth claims to be the first business in the state to use the phrase “Crazy Woman.” That is difficult to verify, but the store does have the phrase trademarked, meaning she was likely one of the earliest adopters of the name for commercial use.

The name has been excellent for business. Tourists and potential customers notice the red awning outside the store with the name in large, white letters and wander into the store asking about its history almost every day.

“They see that and they say, ‘We stayed overnight, just so I could come in this store,’” Fauth said. “We hear that a lot, and it makes me so tickled.”

Crazy Woman Saloon co-owner Debbie Dooley said the name has similarly increased interest in her business, a bar in Dayton.

Dooley has owned the establishment since June 2001 with her sister Jody Herman. It received its name a few years prior, when a group of four women owned the bar. 

“Everybody said once we bought it, the name fit,” Dooley said with a laugh.

When Dooley and Herman became owners, Dooley considered changing the name to “Too Far Gone,” but Herman wanted to keep the “Crazy Woman” title.

Similar to Fauth, Dooley said people often ask about the name, especially out-of-towners driving through on their way to the Bighorn Mountains. During summer, Dooley said tourists always stop to take photos in front of the “Crazy Woman Saloon” sign in the parking lot and most stop in for a beverage.

Sheridan Travel and Tourism Director Shawn Parker said people stopping to hear more about “Crazy Woman” — or any other notable name — is fairly common.

“People are absolutely interested in the uniqueness of the name, if there’s a story behind it,” Parker said. “If they can impart a little bit of the information to folks, that’s absolutely value added to the traveler experience.”

He said it helps to own a business with a name related to the identity of Sheridan County. “

So many of the names, for not just tourism-facing businesses, but energy businesses and fitness centers — they’re all linked to the local identity or landscape,” Parker said. “They’re part of the allure of the West … It all adds to the experience for people when they come through.”

HANGING WOMAN CREEK
Part of this natural formation sits north of Leiter, just south of the Montana border, which the creek also winds its way through. The location in northern Wyoming, however, was where Hanging Woman School used to operate for students in kindergarten through eighth grade until its closure in the 1990s.

Ariel Downing, mercantile manager at the Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum, taught music at the Hanging Woman School — which was a one-room schoolhouse for local ranching children — every few weeks. Like the “Crazy Woman” origins, this name cannot be traced to a specific date or person.

“Local legend has it — and it’s folklore — that an Indian woman may have been found in that condition, or a settler’s wife,” Downing said.

The phrase was immortalized by a 1994 Louis L’Amour novel titled “Hanging Woman Creek” that takes place near the Wyoming-Montana border.

FALLEN CITY
Also in the Bighorns, a geological oddity sits high up in the mountains just off U.S. Highway 14 about 10 miles west of Dayton.

It is composed of several large Madison Formation limestone blocks and the name is fairly self-explanatory. Per Urbanek’s book, Fallen City is “a jumble of huge oblong boulders, deposited on a hillside by a prehistoric glacier, suggesting a city tumbled by an earthquake.”

The area is difficult to miss but can be overlooked due to the prevalence of pine trees surrounding the large rocks, especially by passengers in vehicles traveling 65 miles per hour. Ryan Patterson | The Sheridan Press
Fallen City is composed of several large Madison Formation limestone blocks. The geological oddity sits high up in the Bighorns just off Highway 14 about 10 miles west of Dayton.

OTHER UNIQUE TOWN NAMES IN WYOMING

TEN SLEEP
Located about 100 miles southeast of Sheridan, the small ranching community is home to a rodeo, Nowoodstock Ten Sleep Music Festival and Tensleep Canyon. According to the Worland Ten Sleep Chamber of Commerce, the town got its name by being 10 nights by horse between the Great Sioux Camps and the Platte River to the south, and the northern camp located near Bridger, Montana.

JAY EM
Situated near the Nebraska border about 120 miles north of Cheyenne, the unincorporated community is named after James Moore, who owned one of the largest cattle ranches in the Wyoming Territory during the 1870s. The center of town is on the National Register of Historic Places.

MEDICINE BOW
About 90 miles south of Casper and 55 miles northwest of Laramie, the town of a few hundred people is named after the Medicine Bow River. The river received its name from local Native Americans, who used wood found on the banks of the river to construct their hunting bows.

Medicine Bow is home to The Virginian Hotel, named after the 1902 book by Owen Wister that is considered the first western novel written.

SPOTTED HORSE
Spotted Horse is a tiny town about 70 miles east of Sheridan that contains the Spotted Horse Bar and not much else. The town is named after a Native American, though the individual is hard to pinpoint. A stuffed horse named “Old Spot” stands outside the bar and often attracts tourists, who stop for a photo.

Ryan Patterson | The Sheridan Press
The Crazy Woman Saloon sits in Dayton. During summer, co-owner Debbie Dooley said tourists always stop to take photos in front of the “Crazy Woman Saloon” sign in the parking lot.

By |Oct. 30, 2018|

About the Author:

Ryan Patterson joined The Sheridan Press staff as a reporter covering education, business and sports in August 2017. He's a native of Wisconsin and graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor's in journalism in May 2017. Email him at: ryan.patterson@thesheridanpress.com.

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