History & Heritage of Sublette County, WY
Page Summary: Sublette County, Wyoming has a rich heritage. Home to the Museum of the Mountain Man & Green River Valley Museum.
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In prehistoric times, this area was covered with a large, shallow lake with contained fish-like creatures and a moderately warm environment. Dinosaurs roamed this land and fossils of dinosaur bones have been found here. Petrified tree logs can be seen today in certain places in the county. Over millions of years, the deposits from these early lakes and swamps created rich oil, gas and coal fields that today are being developed and are an important part of the county's economy.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Native Americans with artifacts dating back to approximately 10,000-11,000 years. An early buffalo trap site historical marker is located near the Green River east of Marbleton. Evidence of earlier populations has been lost due to extensive glaciation in the area which destroyed any remains prior to those dates. Much later, this area was the home to the Shoshone and the Sheepeater Indians. Early archaeological sites show evidence of earlier Native Americans who lived here and hunted buffalo and antelope. Artifacts of early Native Americans can be found at the local museums in both Pinedale and Big Piney.
The first white men to come to the area that is now Sublette County in late 1811 were part of an exploration party for the American Fur Company. The "Astorians" crossed Union Pass and camped near the Hoback"Rim" for 5 days to stock up on meat from the abundant buffalo herds in the Green River Valley before continuing on to the Columbia River. The Astor party with William Price Hunt, 61 people and 118 horses entered what is now the Hoback Canyon, and made their way westward to the Pacific Ocean. The three legendary trappers, Hoback, Reznor and Robinson, guided the party. The returning "Astorians" also entered the Green River Valley in 1812 and were the first white men to cross an established Indian trail over South Pass. This pass provided an easy crossing of the Continental Divide and became the gateway to Oregon and the west.
In the early 1820s and 1830s, western Wyoming was the heart of "mountain man" country. Hardy fur traders and trappers, such as Jim Bridger and William Sublette, came here to make a living from the beaver that inhabited the area streams. The Green River Valley was the site for most of the fur trade Rendezvous which were held in the spring to refurnish the mountain men with supplies and buy the pelts. The annual Rendezvous, which was held in a different location each year, brought many mountain men and natives together for fun and trade. This valley and the rendezvous were such a central part of the fur trade era that phrase "Meet me on the Green" was known by all. Many historical sites commemorate the Mountain Man in Sublette County including Trapper's Point and For Bonneville near Daniel, and Union Pass. The Museum of the Mountain Man, located in Pinedale, has many exhibits about the fur trade era and early county history.
In the 1840s through 1850s, with the fur trade era over, emigrants began passing through the area on their way to Oregon and California. The Lander Cut-Off, a short cut of the Oregon Trail established in 1859, passes through the county and parts of the trail are still visible today and can be followed. "Buckskin Crossing", on Big Sandy Creek, was a ford of the Lander Cut-off of the Oregon Trail. It was an important resting and watering campsite that was heavily used by the emigrants. Of their hundreds of wagons and thousands of mules, cattle and horses, only a few marked graves remain. This trail was the mail route from the east to the west side of the Wind River Mountains in the early 1900's.
Thousands of people, cattle and horses passed through Sublette County to the northwest when the Sublette Cut-off of the Oregon Trail was opened in 1857. None settled in this county. At the close of the Indian Wars in 1877, cattle herds from Oregon came this way to meet the railroad and to stock Wyoming ranges. As more and more people decided to stay in the area instead of moving on, the territory began to be populated with settlers. These early cattlemen began the ranching industry in the county. The first Sublette County herds were started with other western cattle settling on Fontenelle, LaBarge and Piney Creeks. Their cattle were not longhorns. The county's first barbed wire was unrolled in 1881.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, tie hacks came to the Sublette County area to cut down trees to create the ties needed for the construction of the transcontinental railroad which went through Rock Springs. The trees were cut and shaped into railroad ties, then floated down the Green River to Green River City. A large tie hack camp was located in the Upper Green River drainage north of Cora. Old tie hack cabins can still be found sprinkled throughout the forest in several locations. One such cabin is a historic site in the Cottonwood Creek drainage in the Wyoming Range.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, during a time when the west was still very wild and the law a long ways away, it was easy for outlaws to work this area. Butch Cassidy and the Wild bunch frequented this area to escape and hide from the law. Because of its remote and central location along the continental divide, the Green River Valley was used by horse thief rings to hide and transfer their goods to other areas.
The Gros Ventre Lodge, believed to be the first full time dude ranch in Wyoming, was built on a hill overlooking the Upper Green River in 1897 by William (Billy) Wells. It operated until 1908. It was named for the Gros Ventre (now Tosi Creek) and was locally called the 'Dog Camp' because a pack of hounds was kept for hunting. Improvements included a central lodge, guest cabins, and service buildings. Big game hunting was the chief attraction and drew prominent American and European sportsmen for extended vacations. A.B. Wallihan, early noted wildlife photographer made many of his outstanding pictures while staying here. A Post office, Wells, Wyoming was established in 1899 and continued during the years the ranch operated. All that remains today are ruins of the old lodge and water wheel. Today, there are several Dude Ranches in the county that offer cattle drives, horseback rides, outfitting and other "Dude" activities for visitors to the area.
Although very short-lived, the Pony Express was an exciting aspect of the early area history. For eighteen months, starting in April 1860, Pony Express riders carried the mail some 2,000 miles in ten days. Each rode over 100 miles a day, changing horses every 10-15 miles. They connected California and Oregon to the rest of the United States. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph in October 1861, and instant communication, signaled the end of the Pony Express. The Pony Express Route ran from South Pass, in Sublette County, to Pacific Springs, to Dry Sandy, to Little Sandy, to Big Sandy and Farson, to Big Timber, to Michael Morrins, to Hams Fork, to Church Buttes, to Millersville, and to Fort Bridger in southern Wyoming.
Sublette County is the newest county in Wyoming, formed in 1921. The largest town, Pinedale, is the county seat. In all, the total population of the county is approximately 5,000 people. The county encompasses approximately 4,876 square miles. Over 80% of the county is public land. Fifteen of Wyoming's highest peaks, including Gannett the highest, are within the county. Three mountain ranges and two wilderness areas form the west, north and eastern borders. The larger towns in the county are Pinedale, Big Piney and Marbleton. The smaller towns, with less than 150 residents, are Boulder, Bondurant, Cora, and Daniel.