Long-lost Manuscript Offers First-hand Look at State History

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Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin

True recollections of Wyoming history involving such things as wolf roundups and recollections of historical figures like Gen. George Armstrong Custer and Sacajawea come alive in a uniquely historical book, whose story of how it came into being is almost as interesting as the stories it tells.

Wind River Adventures by Edward J. Farlow is an amazing book that details the early history of Wyoming. It features some of the more amazing characters in our state’s history. And the stories Farlow writes are exciting and full of detail.

This story would never have come to pass except for the good work of an historian who discovered it.

Does this sound familiar?

That is the identical story of the Best Picture of the Year just awarded by the Academy awards, 12 Years A Slave.  That movie came from a book written as a manuscript that was never published until a historian found it many decades later.

Farlow’s book was finally published over 50 years after he wrote it in the mid-1940s when he was over 80 years old.

It took the good work of some museum folks in Fremont County.  Sharon Kahin of Dubois heard about the manuscript at a history conference in Billings. She worked with Lander’s foremost historian Tom Bell to locate it in the files of the Pioneer Museum.  How Ms. Kahin ultimately put this all together is almost as interesting as the book itself.

She obtained a grant from the Wyoming Council of the Humanities, which funded the project as part of the Centennial initiative and worked with the publisher, High Plains Press (Nancy Curtis) of Glendo.  The foursome of Kahin, Bell, Riverton historian Loren Jost (who helped round up photos) and Curtis plus state staff teamed up to create this remarkable book.

We first promoted the book in 1998 through our local newspaper in Lander but I just recently reacquainted myself with it, and was just blown away by how “current” history comes alive in this manuscript.  These stories were written by someone who was actually there at the scene in our state’s early days.

         Here are some of the tales included in this book:

         • In August of 1917 Farlow describes a wolf roundup that involved 600 people. He put the event together as he recalls by “enlisting the services of Indians, cowboys, ranchers, sheep men, herders, camp movers and the young folks of the towns of Lander, Riverton and Shoshoni. Many of the riders were girls.”

         The Farlow Wolf Roundup ended up not finding a single wolf but they did round up 100 coyotes, one bear, 500 head of cattle and 2,000 wild horses. “

         Purpose of the roundup was that Wyoming was home to some three million sheep and predators were killing 60,000 each year.

         • In 1922, Farlow became involved in producing one of the most famous movies of that era.   He joined up with the legendary filmmaker Tim McCoy to make a movie called The Covered Wagon.

         McCoy called him on the phone and said, “I need 500 Indians for a movie.” And he needed them in a hurry.

         The movie, much of which was filmed in Wyoming, ended up costing an astronomical $1 million but was a huge success at the box office.  Its total take of $3.5 million made it one of the top 10 grossing movies for the decade.

       • Farlow spent some time locating Indians who had fought against Gen. George Armstrong Custer in the battle of Little Big Horn.

         He quoted an elderly Indian named Plenty Bear who described how 1,000 warriors advanced to the Custer’s force. Plenty Bear told Farlow that the soldiers would have gotten away but when they got to the higher ground, they stopped and tried to fight against the superior Indian force.

         The fight did not last long. Just 30 minutes.  The dead soldiers were mutilated and stripped of everything by the women and children of the camp, not by the Indian braves.

         • Legendary Indian scout Sacajawea is buried at Fort Washakie if you believe Farlow’s account.

         He claims to have known the son of one of her sons, whose name was Baptiste. There is no doubt in his account that this was the famous bird woman who showed Lewis and Clark the way to “the big water” of the Pacific.

         Farlow spent a lot of time with Baptiste’s son Andrew looking for a mysterious medal which was given to the mother and worn on special occasions by the son.

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com or fine book stores.

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