Northern Wyoming News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis

Washakie Day

The Wyoming State Legislature enacted a statute in 1911 authorizing the establishment of Washakie County as a new county in the State of Wyoming.


December 19, 2017

The Wyoming State Legislature enacted a statute in 1911 authorizing the establishment of Washakie County as a new county in the State of Wyoming. This news was greeted with enormous enthusiasm and approval by the citizens of this new county to be. These people were ambitious, excited about their great quest to make the desert bloom, and the establishment of a county seemed to validate the risk they had taken just a few years earlier to come to the remote Big Horn Basin of Wyoming. During 1911, however, nothing changed in the Worland area regarding county government. All county governmental actions still took place in Basin City, the county seat of Big Horn County. If a Worland citizen wanted to record a deed, file a lawsuit, or complain about a tax assessment, he still had to go to Basin to get something done.

No governmental changes took place in what was to become Washakie County in 1912, either. One thing did happen, and that was an election to select the new office holders for the new county. That was held in November 1912, as citizens elected three county commissioners (Fred Bragg, Mark Warner and Robert Steele), a county attorney (C. H. Harkins), a county treasurer (Mary Culbertson), a county assessor (W. S. Green), county coroner (W. O. Gray), a county superintendent of schools (Mary Hatfield), and a county sheriff (Alti Pendergraft). None of these people undertook any official actions, however, as they would not take office until January 1913. 1913 was the year in which Washakie County finally came into existence and started operating as a full-fledged Wyoming county.

Once Washakie County started to operate as a county, the citizens of this new entity decided that it was time to celebrate the event. Sept. 27, 1913, was declared as “Washakie County Day,” or “Washakie Day.” Regardless of the proper name for the celebration, Washakie County people embraced this new event and dived into it. As the Worland Grit wrote on Oct. 3, 1913, “Every man, woman and child came forward and helped in every way.” The paper added: “All day long the people thronged the building where the exhibits of the products of Washakie County were on display, and were simply astonished at the wonderful showing the committee had got together and which had been artistically arranged by Sheriff Pendergraft.” The Grit mentioned farm products on display – apples, corn, tomatoes, wheat, potatoes, etc. – and noted that the best of these products weren’t even there, as they had sent on to Douglas for the state fair.

W. S. Green, the president of the Alfalfa Club (the 1913 version of the chamber of commerce), gave an address, and then the big crowd lined up on Big Horn Avenue, where a big free dinner was being served. According to the Grit, Milo Burke had barbecued an ox “to the queen’s taste” and this was followed by cake, pie and watermelon.

Mayor Gates read the Governor’s Proclamation and all that afternoon the citizens of the new county enjoyed a very full sports program. In the evening there were big dances with bands from Ten Sleep and Worland. A red-letter day, indeed, for this fledgling county where 10 years previous there were only a handful of settlers along the Big Horn River.

The enthusiasm, the sheer joy for the whole concept of Washakie County continued for years. In 1914, Washakie Day took place on Sept. 18, and based upon the calendar of events, it seems like the event was conducted with as much exuberance as the previous year. In the morning, there was an egg race, then an automobile race, then a three-legged race, a tug-of-war, and a thread-and-needle race, all accompanied by the music of “the Famous Gebo Band.” As in 1913, a big, free dinner was given. And in the afternoon and evening there were more races, culminating in a BIG DANCE AT NIGHT.

In 1915, Washakie Day took place on Sept.17; and in 1916, Sept. 18. But in 1917, things changed in Washakie County: no Washakie Days celebration was held.

I’ll explain this and tell you all about the remaining history of Washakie Day in the next column. In the meantime, you might go to the museum and ask the curator, Rebecca Brower, to show you the many interesting photos the museum has showing Washakie Day festivities.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is retired. He is the author of several books. John and his wife, Celia, were married in 1967, have two adult sons, and several grandchildren.


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