Sheridan’s Best-Kept Secret: The Library’s Wyoming Room

Feb 14, 2019

This time capsule was placed in the corner stone of the original Central School, on May 25, 1891. The box was filled with various ephemera from local organizations, a U.S. flag, copies of both Sheridan newspapers, and even two copper pennies.
Mary Ellen McWilliams

By Mary Ellen McWilliams
Used with permission of the
Sheridan Press.
Part 1 of 3: read Part 2 and Part 3 on the
Sheridan Press website.

Many folks are somewhat familiar with The Wyoming Room at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library. Only a few, however, have more than a cursory knowledge of the treasures tucked away, out of sight, in its many file cabinets, drawers, shelves and storage areas. These contain a remarkable wealth of information, primarily relative to Sheridan County, regional and state history.

The extension was planned by then library director Alice Meister and The Wyoming Room’s first director, the late Helen Graham. Author-historian David McCullough, a man with no lack for words, written or spoken, gave the opening presentation Nov. 11, 1986.

The room would store, and make available to the public birth, marriage, cemetery, and early arrest records, city directories and town hall minutes. Graham established obituary files, not generally found in community libraries. A local educator, the late Charlie Popovich, provided the room with extensive school records. The Civic Theatre Guild, the Hospital Auxiliary and many others, brought in their organizations’ materials.

The elk hide was given to David Ellsworth Gwinn (1881-1955) by a member of the Washakie family. After serving the Spanish-American war, Gwinn made Sheridan his home.The painting was given to Mr. Gwinn by a son of Chief Washakie. It is unknown which Washakie artist created it.

Shelves are full of publications going years back. They include Annals of Wyoming, Wyoming Archaeologist, the Montana Magazine of Western History, Wyoming Wildlife, and many others.

Graham welcomed the meticulous work of volunteer Deck Hunter in identifying all the early Sheridan County homesteaders and mapping their claims. These, along with the Sandorn maps, tracking the city’s development, are housed in an adjoining room.

An extensive genealogical collection fills many shelves and includes years of research on the emigrants into the early mining camps in the county, “World War I Yearbooks,” “The Lineage book of the DAR” and “Colonial Families in the U.S.” The collection makes a fine supplement to the ancestry information available today on the internet.

This painting, created by well-known Polish artist Jan Walach, is of Pawel and Anna (Juroszek) Karch. Painted on a gunny sack, the piece shows the native dress of the Karchs and provides a distinctly Old World feel. The Karchs never came to the United States, but siblings of both Pawel and Anna immigrated and eventually found a home in Wyoming. Descendants from both the Juroszek and Karch families continue to be part of the Sheridan Community.

The Sheridan County Extension Homemaker’s publication of the Sheridan County Heritage Book contains more than 200 family histories plus features on towns, businesses, schools, organizations and institutions as well as brands and land patents. There is a like publication from the Clearmont, Ulm and Leiter area, Vie Willits Garber’s Big Horn Pioneers, and Charlie Rawlins’ history of the Dayton-Ranchester area, In Our Neck of the Woods.

Fifty-eight years ago, Myrna “Mac” Grimm, a member of the fledgling Sheridan County Historical Society, began keeping scrapbooks of our history and recently she brought in her last, the 19th large binder, to the library. They include a wealth of clippings, photos, minutes of meetings, and much more.

Major Sheridan County newspapers from the original issues to today’s Sheridan Press are either digitized or available in print, as are many of the KWYO radio scripts from announcers Bob Wilson and Dr. William Frackelton. Many thousands of photographs are available including in collections of Don Diers, Elsa Spear Byron, George Ostrum, Herb Coffeen, Peggy Cooksley, Dick Lenz and, one just recently arrived, from Ike Fordyce.

Several hundred personal interviews are recorded and on file, including the early Robert A. Helvey taped interviews. These include interviews with Hans Kleiber, Marjorie Masters, Don King, Joe Medicine Crow, Dee Brown, Floyd Bard, and Cheyenne Chief Little Wolf’s daughter, Lydia Wild Hog. Many special collections, such as those for All American Indian Days and Miss Indian America, and the Elsa Spear Byron materials, photos and diaries, are available for research.

Dozens of drawers include alphabetized files on individuals, families, businesses, organizations, towns, places, and events. Thousands of library cards are available to help authors, visitors, and researchers locate what information they wish. Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum board member Helen Laumann has used the collections to gather information for more than 50 programs, titled “Conversations in History,” given at The Hub over the past six years and repeated in many other locations.

Helen Graham retired in 2000, after 32 years with the library and 14 with The Wyoming Room. Her work earned her the State Historical Society’s highest honor, the Cumulative Award for Lifetime Achievement in Western American History. She also won a Distinguished Service Award from the Wyoming Library Association, and a Sheridan County Historical Society Chapter award for her work in The Wyoming Room.

The room has had three managers since, with Karen Woinoski first taking the reins. Karen worked primarily on further cataloging the collections. During her time, staff member Jeanne Sanchez meticulously researched and identified the graves in the old cemetery at Carneyville.

Judy Slack and then Kim Ostermyer followed and their achievements will be addressed in Part II of this column. Thus, the work goes on and new and exciting discoveries never end. We ask the readers to watch for Part II, recognizing co-operative projects, donors, volunteers and further exploring a smattering of the many treasures tucked away and awaiting public enjoyment and use by authors, historians, program presenters, students and researchers worldwide.

Mary Ellen McWilliams serves as an adviser and volunteer for the Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum and the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association.

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