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Ivinson Family History of the City of Laramie

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While Native Americans had used the Laramie Plains for years as a summer hunting ground, it was not until 1862 that permanent European presence began with the arrival of the Overland Stage line. Four years later the U. S. Army constructed Fort Sanders to protect the stage line and the surveyors marking out the path for the transcontinental railroad.

As early as 1864 plans were being made to place the Union Pacific railroad tracks across the Laramie Plains. Up and over the mountains from Cheyenne, the tracks reached Laramie on 4 May 1868. Regularly scheduled passenger service followed. Like most towns in southern Wyoming, Laramie began as an "end of the tracks" town. As the tracks approached, numerous tent houses and log buildings were thrown up so that a fair-sized population was in place when the first train came in.

The first summer was turbulent, with little or no effective law enforcement. On 2 May Melville C. Brown was elected mayor of the raucous settlement, but he resigned after several weeks under mysterious conditions. With no effective government in place the town was run by a gang of thugs.  In the fall, a vigilante committee drove out the worst of the outlaws (a few hangings helped) and the town settled down. One member of that vigilante committee was N. K. Boswell, who would later become sheriff of Albany County.

Within a year Laramie had a school, churches, stores and many permanent residents. Although it began as a railroad town, many businesses started and the surrounding area proved excellent for cattle and sheep ranching. Eventually the city boasted rolling mills for railroad rails, a railroad tie treatment plant, a brick yard, a slaughter house, a brewery, a glass blowing plant, a plaster mill, and others. Laramie was also one of the first small towns west of the Mississippi to have an electric plant, which was built in 1886 and provided electricity to individuals and businesses who subscribed to the company.

The area was separated from Dakota Territory and organized as Wyoming Territory in 1869.  During that first session of the Legislative Assembly the property rights of married women were protected.  Most importantly, the assembly passed a general women's suffrage bill on 10 December 1869 allowing Wyoming to become the first place in the United States where women could vote in every election.

Wyoming held an election on September 6, 1870 to choose county officials and cast ballots for the territory's congressional delegate. The first woman who voted in a general election of this sort was a Laramie resident, seventy-year-old Mrs. Louisa Gardner Swain. A year later resentful men in the Wyoming Legislative Assembly tried to take the vote away from women. By the slimmest of margins they failed and suffrage was secure.

Laramie also had the first jury upon which women served in March 1870. The women were praised by the judge for their honesty in the jury box and courage in the face of extreme criticism and ridicule. Unfortunately that judge fell ill and his successor ruled against women serving on juries. In fact, those first juries with women became the last for many years.

Higher education came to Wyoming Territory in 1886 when Governor F. E. Warren signed legislation providing for the establishment of the University of Wyoming. Laramie’s Stephen Downey pushed for the school in the assembly and it was decided that it would be located in Laramie. The University of Wyoming graduated its first class of two before Wyoming became a state on July 10, 1890.

The town continued to grow with the railroad and the livestock business in the forefront of employment. The Union Pacific Railroad was the largest employer in town with men working in machine shops, the roundhouse and the rolling mills. Mining and timber harvesting in the mountains west of Laramie also played a role in the city’s commerce. Local entrepreneurs such as banker Edward Ivinson and cattleman Ora Haley made the most of the situation amassing large fortunes.

A stable downtown business district was created and still thrives today. The nature of employment has evolved over the years. In the 1950’s the Union Pacific completed its transition for steam locomotives to diesel locomotives. The result was less need for maintenance which in turn caused the company to remove most of its operations to other sites in Wyoming. At the same time the University of Wyoming continued to grow with the influx of World War II veterans causing it to become the largest employer in town.

From its beginnings as an “end of the tracks” town in 1868 until today, Laramie’s history has shown that it is an enduring and multifaceted community which changes as needed with the times.



City of Laramie
Laramie Plains Museum  603 Ivinson Avenue, Laramie, WY 82070  (307) 742-4448  lpmdirector@laramiemuseum.org