We are staying in the Casper area for the month of July. Only 90 degrees! As always, we use the Jeep to explore the area and quickly came to the little town of Douglas. Douglas is about 40 miles east of Casper on Highway 25. So tell me … Have you ever seen a Jackalope?
Home of the Jackalope
One of the things we always do in a new town is find the local history museum. I love to ask two questions. First, we ask about why the town was founded? The second, similar question is “why is the town still here?” In some cases, the second question is harder to answer! We stopped by they Wyoming Pioneer Museum, located at the State Fair Grounds in Douglas, to get the answers.
The docent at the pioneer museum was knowledgeable and had great answers. Douglas was, at first, a train depot for the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley railroad. The depot was built in 1886. Douglas boasted 805 people in 1887. Even before that time, many of the pioneers following the Great Overland Trail came through this region and were assisted by the soldiers at Fort Fetterman, about 8 miles away. Over the years, as the railroad became less important, the town saw booms and busts as cattle and sheep, uranium, coal and now oil were all produced in the area.
Now, the MOST important thing to know about Douglas, is that it is the birth place of the Jackalope. In the 1930’s Douglas and Ralph Herrick went hunting. They returned from their hunt with a jack-rabbit and threw it on their taxidermy table. When they came back to mount it, they saw it up next to some antlers. The brothers mounted their jack-rabbit and added the antlers. A modern myth was born! Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster are now in good company.
The Railroad Makes the Town
In many ways, it was the railroads running through Wyoming that really kicked the town of Douglas into gear. The Union Pacific Railroad crossed Wyoming to meet the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869, joining the country with a reliable means of transportation.
But after Wyoming gained its statehood in 1890, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad decided it was time to run their lines through the northern end of the state, into Newcastle, Sheridan, Gillette, Cody and Powell. They quickly expanded this line into a more southern route encompassing Douglas and Casper. Why did the railroad agents want this land so much? First, they wanted timber, coal and iron to sell back east. We often forget that the Railroad “tycoons” were not just interested in building transportation, but in facilitating and participating in trade throughout the country and the world.
For a detailed history of the Railroads in Wyoming, please see this excellent article.
In addition to natural resources, there was a very practical matter of geography. For all of the people and goods that wished to cross the continental divide, Wyoming was where they would cross. The best routes across the continental divide lay in Northern Wyoming.
There is a great railroad museum in the town of Douglas, that hosts three refurbished passenger cars. We could walk through them at our own pace and try to imagine what eating dinner would be like in the diner car as the train rattled over the track.
One we finished with the railroad museum, Bill, who is also looking for local dining stops, found “The Plains” trading post and ice cream stop. This place is worth the stop just for the ambience. The restaurant serves basic americana, prepared very well. The prices were surprisingly low. Great find, husband!