Early Natrona County

Five counties were organized into the Territory of Wyoming by legislation in November, 1869. The area that was to become Natrona County was part of Carbon County at that time. As lands were opened to settlement under the Free Homestead Act, signed by President Lincoln in 1862, hundreds moved into the area. In the early 1870’s, cattle companies financed in the East and the British Isles saw the opportunities for quick profits. By the 1880’s the local ranges were dominated by great cattle companies (e.g., Searight’s Goose Egg Ranch– ten miles west of Casper, “CY” – the Carey Ranch where Casper now stands, VR – on Deer Creek near present day Glenrock, and Fiddleback – near present day Douglas). The Goose Egg house, now demolished, was celebrated in Owen Wister’s novel “The Virginian”, as the place where babies were exchanged at the dances. “The Virginian” was the prototype of “Western” stories.

On June 8, 1888, John Merritt and C.W. Eads established the town of Casper at the intersection of McKinley and A Street. One week later, on June 15, 1888, Casper’s 100 residents celebrated the arrival of the first passenger train (the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad) connecting Casper with the East. Since railroads were the most dependable connection to civilization, rural communities, like Casper grew around these early train stations.

By the close of the 1880’s, private land owners became sufficiently established to largely supplant the bigger cattle companies, though it took the 1892 Johnson County invasion of “nesters” to convince everyone that small stockmen were here to stay. During the years in which railroads were being constructed, pioneering stockmen were introducing to the area what was soon to become the county’s major industry, sheep. In 1888 the first band of sheep, numbering 3,000 was trailed in the county.

The area’s first newspaper was the Casper Weekly Mail, established in November of 1888. In 1889, a small school was started with funds subscribed by patrons. Then, on April 8, 1890, Natrona County was officially established. The town of Bessemer challenged Casper for designation as the County seat, but lost the ensuing fraud-wracked election. The County was first managed from offices above a saloon and court was held at the Town Hall. Early courthouses were built in 1892 and 1908. Finally in 1939, the current County Building was constructed.

The first electric lights were installed in 1900 and the first telephone in 1902. In 1912-13, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad laid tracks and established train service from Casper to Billings, making shipping and travel easier.