Sheridan’s best-kept secret, part 2

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Just as former Sheridan County Library director Alice Meister and Helen Graham were recognizing the need for a Northern Wyoming Historical Repository, Henry Yapel with the Wyoming State Library called. He offered Meister the opportunity to take their duplicates of Wyoming related history books. Helen would identify those most valuable to us, and Alice drove to Cheyenne and brought home a U-Haul trailer full of hundreds of books. These, along with books the library already had, and Helen’s considerable collections, became the beginnings of the storehouse of treasures (as described in Part I, in Oct. 6 edition of The Press) in The Wyoming Room today.

After Helen and then Karen Woinoski retired, Judy Slack moved into the job and into a fast-moving world of new technologies. According to Slack, The Wyoming Room digitized over 100 interviews in collaboration with the then Senior Center (now The Hub on Smith), close to 100 movies, 211 Big Horn City Historical Society programs and interviews, 85 Sheridan County Museum programs and 98 Sheridan High School plays.

Collecting historical photos became much easier as now, rather than have a person give up cherished family photos, these can be scanned and saved with the originals returned to the donor. Almost all of the Sheridan newspapers have been digitized. Other benefits of technology included the saving of storage space, long-term preservation of the materials, easy access to researchers and other Wyoming Room patrons and the ability to share with other resources.

Among Slack’s achievements were the consolidation of information in the vast collections and making it readily available to the public through publications and programs. An outstanding example of her numerous publications is that of a photo history of Sheridan entitled “Now and Then.” Published in honor of the 125th anniversary of Sheridan County, project photos and restorations were done by local longtime photographer Anita Nichols. Research and layout were by Judy Slack, Michael Dykhorst, Kevin Knapp, Kara Bacon, Mona Brown and Trish Coffeen. Several dozen others are listed as providing photos and assistance. Additional materials include the listing of the roughly 400 persons who voted to form Sheridan County out of what was originally Johnson County.

The Miss Indian American reunions with public programs and events were instigated by Slack and Dykhorst, with two books published on these. Also, The Wyoming Room collections became the source of much of the material included in All American Indian Days and Miss Indian America, a national prize-winning feature by Gregory Nickerson published in Montana Magazine of Western History.

Gathering of photos and available information on Ernest Hemingway’s time spent in the area at Spear-O Wigwam, the Folly Ranch, the Sheridan Inn, and on the Spear roundup was published in 2011 and has been provided to the international group, which will hold the Hemingway World Conference in Sheridan County in 2020. One of Slack’s most significant achievements has been her work with Elsa Spear Byron’s daughter, the late Marilyn Bilyeu, to bring in over 100 of Elsa’s early diaries and scrapbooks to The Wyoming Room.

When Slack retired, and Kim Ostermyer became manager, he brought a background of over 16 years of experience working with genealogy and is well able to help the public get started or make use of the large selection of materials available. The staff has helped the Sheridan County Land Trust to research the former Acme Power Plant history, and are presently working with the American Legion on their history. Kim feels his primary job is to help patrons find the information they need.

As the area obituaries are among the most frequently requested items by patrons, they are continuously indexing and digitizing them while in the process also of researching and sometimes correcting the older ones. They now have digitized over 9,500 obits.

A progressive inventorying process is ongoing and is being entered into the PastPerfect computer base, so the items are searchable. They are also working with a clipping file audit and cleanup to sort items into better classifications for more practical research by patrons.

Throughout its existence, the collections have been a boon to authors. For just one of many examples, local author Tom Ringley has said that he used The Wyoming Room extensively for two of his books, “Rodeo Time in Sheridan, Wyo” and “Wranglin’ Notes: A Chronicle of Eatons’ Ranch.” He cites The Sheridan Press’ annual reporting as the source, giving him a plethora of information to take the reader back in time to capture the rodeo flavor of the community each year. (How else, he asked, were we to know that Arville Kruse and Mike Dregoiw were the first two people admitted to the very first Sheridan WYO Rodeo?)

On completion, the rodeo board donated all of the original information he had gathered back to The Wyoming Room, where it was cataloged and is available for future researchers. Ringley suggests that just an hour for anyone delving into any of the information available there can be a real historical treat.


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.


By |Nov. 6, 2018|

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