Reminiscences of the Founding and the Growth of the Town of Lusk

Last updated: February 24, 2009

Library Archives
May 28, 1936

(Editor's note: The following article, dealing with the early history of Lusk, was compiled by Mrs. Helen Willson, a native daughter of Lusk. It appeared in the May 28, 1936, Golden Jubilee Edition of the Lusk Herald, as well as the Centennial Edition on July 9, 1986.)

In the year 1880, or thereabouts, the Great Western Mining and Milling Co. operated mines and a smelter on what is known as the "Mining Hill," just west of the present town of Lusk, in quest for Silver and copper.

The mining camp was situated on the north side of the hill. By 1886 very little work was being done, as the pay ore was not found in the mine in sufficient quantities, but men of foresight realized that a town there, or nearby, had every feature which would point to its steady growth -- cattle shipping point, center of a territory thought to be rich in silver, copper, and mica, much of which had been located in the Whalen and Muskrat Canyons, and Rawhide Buttes, and the railroad, the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley, was on its way.

Land was chosen on the present site, and the railroad company appointed Frank Lusk as its representative in the sale of town lots, and the business houses and residences, most of them located in tents, were moved in the spring of 1886, from the Silver Cliff mining camp to Lusk, so named by popular vote for Frank S. Lusk, its patron saint, who spared no pains to help build the new town.

After much watching and waiting, the railroad reached Lusk on July 13, 1886, and a big celebration was held, the main feature being that of driving a silver spike, the silver being from the local mines, with a copper hammer, the copper coming from the Muskrat Canyon. Other features of the day were speeches, races and a big dance at night.

On July 20, 1886, the sale of town lots was opened and a public auction of forty lots was held, and the lots continued to sell rapidly thereafter.

Within a short time the town was blessed with many saloons, otherwise it seemed not to be overdone in any one line, and within 3 months it had a population of some 300.

Shortly after the coming of the railroad the first depot was built and served until the spring of 1919, when it was partially burned, and was shortly afterward replaced with the present one.

The first school was held in the "Tabernacle," a large tent on lots now occupied by the Post Office Building, and was taught for 3 months by Mrs. Margaret Goodwin. Within a few months a pay school, which was really open to anyone, whether they could pay or not, was opened by Mrs. Anna Gray's sister who was later Mrs. Dave Wucher. She was also engaged for the next term, nine months. The building which housed the school by this time was a frame one, formerly built for a restaurant for the Misses Eng and Larson (later Mrs. Charles Giinther and Mrs. Lena Henry) located on what is now the northwest corner of the D. E. Goddard residence lot. Later this building was purchased by Nat Baker and moved to its present location, directly across the street west of the Ord house.

In 1880 a new school house was built where the courthouse now stands. With various additions and improvements, this served until 1909 or 1910 when because of the large enrollment the lower grades were housed what is now the annex of the Baptist Church. In 1909 the present grade school was built to serve as both grade and high school, and in 1930 our new high school was completed.

The Collins House, later known as the Northwestern, was the first hotel in Lusk. It had a 60-foot frontage on First Street and 80-foot front on Main Street. It contained 26 sleeping rooms and was nicely furnished. It was considered the best in this section of the country. With various additions and improvements, it was in continuous use until torn down in 1930.

On a Sunday evening August 1, 1886 both the new and what was left of the old town, was all but wiped away. A storm of wind, rain and hail swept down from the northwest with such violence as had never been equaled in the Territory since it had been inhabited by civilized man. Most of tents were torn down and the goods they were protecting washed in mud and water or carried away in the flood.

Baker & Johnson's ironclad store withstood the onslaught and proved a haven of safety. One thousand feet of lumber was broken up for Kingman & Son. One restaurant was entirely destroyed, and every dish broken into bits. One Smails Bros. iron stoves was found the next day on a hill south of town, whither the fury of the storm had transported it. Baker Bros. was in the most exposed position and suffered damage, as did every other tent and building. However, courage was not lacking, and within a short time all damage was repaired and life, both business and social, went on as before.

Lusk continued to grow, and the great surrounding country began to settle up. The railroad naturally played a big part in this, but, credit, too, must be given to the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Line operated by Russell Thorp Sr., as this line made connections for Lusk from the north and south. The stage station was looked after by Jim Hogle and remains of the barn are still in evidence on the site of the old Silver Cliff mining camp one mile west of Lusk.

As in every boom town --- and Lusk at that time was considered a boom town--there is more or less lawlessness, and a cry soon went up for a place to incarcerate the more unruly ones, so in November, 1886, a jail was built. It still stands a sort of haven for transient bums, just east of the old hose house, opposite the Lusk Lumber Co.'s office. In most cases this building served until the present one was erected.

On Dec. 10, 1886 Hogle & McCoy gave a ball and supper in Criswell's Hall. Up to that time it was one of the finest affairs of its kind ever held in Lusk. On the evening of Dec. 24, 1886, members of the Masonic Fraternity held a masque ball. About 400 invitations were sent out, many to neighboring towns. The Ft. Laramie Military Band furnished the music, and, though an effort was being made to raise funds to erect a hall no expense was spared to make it the grandest affair in all Wyoming. The railroad offered round trip tickets from any town on the road within 200 miles for one and one-third fare. This was the first gathering of Masons held in Lusk, although a regularly constituted lodge of the Order was not instituted for many years afterward.

The first brick building in Lusk was built in 1886 by Frank Lusk, and is today in an excellent state of preservation. This is the home recently sold by Mrs. Anna Gray to George Earl Peet, for the Peet Mortuary.

The Congregational Church, the present Baptist Church was built in the spring of 1887. Funds were raised by donation and efforts of the Ladies Aid Society. I believe the Episcopal Church was built in 1890. Both the churches were dedicated free of debt. The Catholic Church was built in 1913 and the Lutheran and the new Congregational, as you know are of recent date.

From 1887 the town grew and prospered, but with nothing of great interest happened until the year 1888 when the county of Laramie was divided and Lusk was then in the now county of Converse. Wyoming Territory was admitted as the 44th state in the union.
Of slightest importance, but still of interest, the Lusk Herald which Jim Mayes purchased in full less than a year after it was started, from J. K. Calkins, Mr. Mayes having originally owned one-half interest, was changed to the Converse County Herald, after the division of the county, and ran under that name for about 2 years and then was changed back to the Lusk Herald.

In 1901, the city water system was installed. Considerable trouble was at first encountered through hidden leaks in the reservoir, but these were later located and repaired, and all enjoyed the use of running water rather than having to carry it from the old town pump, which was located on the south side of what is now the Paune Feed Store. Some, of course, had wells of their own but you can well imagine what it meant to have running water in her back yard and in the house. In 1918 the mains were enlarged and extended to accommodate the growing town.

Some of the business houses of 1901 were: Collins and Snyder (this was the outgrowth of the old Baker Bros. Store and the predecessor of the Snyder Mercantile Co.) W. B. Sargeant hardware; Wm. Holsapple, saloon; W. F. Louger, furniture and undertaking ; Barron Mercantile Co.; A. E. Collins & Co., Lumber; Harry Crater, livery barn; P. T. Millburn, barber; H. E. Millburn, pumps , windmills and pump work; Wm. Bradley & Sons, Blacksmithing ; Harry Herring Hotel (formerly Collins House, later Northwestern Hotel.)

Again Lusk was to experience changes of counties. The legislature session of 1911 provided for the division of Converse County into Converse and Niobrara counties, and in the election of 1912, Lusk was chosen the county seat of Niobrara County. This became effective on the first of the year of 1913, and in January of that year the county commissioners held their first session.

In 1912, Lusk realized cesspools were inadequate, so bonds were voted and a sewer system was installed. A 4 inch main was first installed, and within a few years these were found to be insufficient size and were then replaced with 12 inch mains.

In 1903, a town hall was built on what is now the space occupied by the Continental Filling Station. The second floor of the building was rented by the various lodge organizations and the first floor of the building was rented for dances and shows. Later this building and lot were purchased by Odd Fellows. In 1911, the Masons built a fine two story brick building with store and office rooms on the first floor and a large meeting room and office on the second floor. Both of these buildings burned in 1919. However, both orders still retain titles of the lots.


Electric Lights Installed

Bonds were voted to install electric lights on Dec. 8, 1914, and the following year lamps were discarded in most of the homes and electric lights installed. Later the town outgrew this system and a larger system was installed and housed in the modern plant we have today.

The first telephone lines into Lusk were built on these dates: Wilson Bros. 1904; Lance Creek Telephone Co., 1905; Rawhide Co., 1905; and the Kirtley Co. 1907. These lines were terminated at Snyder's store and were connected to each other by a series of switches and the connections were made at the request of the party calling. Later the first exchange was installed in the southwest room on the second floor of what is now the O. P. Skaggs building by M. E. and Guy Shipley. The Mountain States Telephone Co. took over the present location which was purchased from E. D. Holsapple. They then installed cable, replacing all old areal wire and changed the service from magneto to common battery.


The Coming of the Oil Boom

The next thing of importance was the discovery of oil at Lance Creek and Lusk's concurrent boom. For several years previous to the bringing in of what is termed the Ohio Oil Co.'s discovery well in 1918, geologists had asserted that oil would be found in plentiful quantities there. In 1916, the Ohio Oil Co. found a sand at 2,400 feet which showed for a few days only, a production of 100 barrels daily, then it settled down to 20 barrels. The shrinking was discouraging, and had it not been for the faith of the company's geologist, Mr. Charles J. Hare, who insisted that the testing of the field would in all probability have been abandoned.

More or less work of testing continued up to the bringing in of the "discovery" well, and at this time there was a rush of big companies to the field. By fall the following companies held acreages in the field; The Ohio Oil Co., Texas Co., Glenrock Co., Buck Creek Co., Big Indian Oil Co., General Petroleum Co., Cactus Petroleum Co., Carter Oil Co., Western States Oil Co., and Lance Co., Franco Wyoming Oil Co., and Lusk Royalty Co.

With the location of the big companies and the erection of their rigs, a road that would withstand the wear of many trucks with their thousands of pounds of freight became necessary, and a subscription was taken up, the oil companies and the citizens of Lusk being the donors, and a road costing approximately $100,000.00 was completed from Lusk to the Lance Creek Oil Field.


Population Increases Rapidly

Lusk soon began to increase in population that housing became a serious problem -- hotels were full, rooming houses were full, private homes were filled, and still some had to wait for others to arise that they might occupy their beds. In 1920, the population had reached over 10,000.

The post office was filled to overflowing and service was so inadequate that patrons had to stand in line for hours before they could get their mail, and men employed during the day hired women to stand in line for them that they might have some chance of receiving their mail. At the beginning of the boom the office was located where the Lusk Bakery now is. From there it was moved to what is at present the quarters of the Gamble store, and then to the present location.

The Express office too, was overrun and was moved from the depot to a building just back of the present Baptist Church that more room might be had. This building later burned in part and the Express office was moved back to the depot, the new depot having been built since the office was first removed. Later it was again moved, this time into the building now occupied by the Bradley Electric Shop, and from there into quarters now occupied by the Risberg Shoe Shop and the last move into the present location one door north of the Silver Cliff Hotel.


Freight Shipments Also Pile Up

Freight service was just bad. Tracks were filled to capacity limit. Business houses had increased almost beyond belief and the freight for these, coupled with the extremely heavy freight going out day and night to the oil field, proved the facilities for handling the same inadequate. Nat Baker, Lusk booster extraordinary, spared no effort to have the situation adjusted, and much of the credit is due him for the fact that Lusk was made the division point, more track laid, and a freight and round house built, he having persistently called the attention of the railroad officials to the inadequacy of the facilities.

Since housing was already such a problem, such provisions had to be made for railroad employees if Lusk was to be made a division point, so various citizens and business houses made donations and a railroad men's rooming house was built and was known as the Northwestern Employee's Rooming House. This was down near the wool warehouse. Later this was moved to the back of the grade school lot and used for a gym.

Town lots "sold like hot cakes" and various additions were rapidly opened up to supply the demand. Among them were; Midwest Subdivision, Reynolds Addition, Wallace Addition, Tom Bell Addition, High School Addition, Silver Cliff Addition, Mayes Addition, Daley Addition, and Wucher Addition.


Henry Hotel is Built

The fore part of the year 1918 saw the completion of the Henry Hotel, Mrs. Lena Henry having sold the old Northwestern Hotel to Miss Carrie Larson, later Mrs. Carrie Brown and August Larson, then put up the fine brick hotel on the corner of second and Main.

By January, 1919 at least 35 residences were under construction, and the following list of some of the business houses and public buildings constructed during the boom days; Silver Cliff, Ranger Hotel started (not completed until 1928.) Faust Building, Henry Hotel, Courthouse, Mayes Building, Reuter building, Bank of Lusk building,(remodeled), Steam Laundry, Lusk Bakery, improved and enlarged, Toggery Building, Bungalow hotel, new depot after partial burning of old Austin -Elquist-Slack building, Milburn building, after collapse of former building located there, Cafeteria, Lusk Apartment house, Lusk Restaurant, Giinther hardware store, Snyder Mercantile Co., the large store house for Midwest and the Western States Oil Companies, Royal Apartments, Northwestern Employees rooming house, the Modern rooms, J. and D. Building and the McWorter Refinery.

In 1919 the Carnegie Library was completed. This we might say, originated with a reading club, while the town of Lusk was still in Converse county, and books were gotten from the Library in Douglas. After the division of Converse county this service was no longer available, and a library was started by donations of books from local residents and named the Stillman Library in honor of Mrs. Lusk's mother, who was at that time celebrating her 100th birthday anniversary. Later the Reading Club was reorganized and named the Civic Improvement Club. The Civic Improvement Club then started the movement toward obtaining a Carnegie Library. Lots were purchased and the county guaranteed to take care of the upkeep of the building, thus fulfilling requirements and enabling them to receive the Carnegie Fund for a library.




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Debbie Sturman, Director
425 South Main Street, P O Box 510
Lusk, WY 82225-0510
Phone: 307-334-3490
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