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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sidebar: The British in Wyoming

Some time ago I did an entry here on the Irish in Wyoming, which has turned out to be one of the most popular threads on the blog.  People must research the topic and hit it.  Shortly thereafter I did one on Hispanics in Wyoming.  I've been meaning to follow up with a couple of other ethnicity based threads, but haven't had a chance.

Now, however, everyone in the United States is being bombarded 24 hours around the clock by the news of England's Prince William and Princess Kate having a baby. Why this deserves this level of attention, I have not a clue, but none the less, it's a Big Deal, at least to the press, and apparently some Americans. Given that, perhaps this is a good time to examine the topic of the British in Wyoming.

 Abbotsbury England, ca 1905.

When I used the term "British" here, I use it advisedly. That is, I'm not using the word British as Americans sometimes do to mean English.  I mean, rather, people from Great Britain, but not Ireland, which has already been addressed.  This may be, quite frankly, somewhat unfair, but I don't think it is entirely, and this topic has to be handled this way for reasons I'll detail immediately below.  In order to get to that, however, I have to run very briefly through a very partial and incomplete synopsis of the history of the British, in an extremely brief and unfair fashion, as that story ultimately impacts the history of Wyoming. For those who have an interest of the history of the British themselves, I'd recommend the still good, but dated history by Churchill, A History of the English Speaking Peoples or, for those who read blogs (and of course you are) or why enjoy podcasts, there's Jamie Jeffers entertaining, monumental and ongoing effort The British History Podcast which has its own blog and forum.

 Portland England.

The fact that I have to start which such a disclaimer, let alone address part of the history of the United Kingdom, probably demonstrates that this story is a bit more difficult to address, and subtle, than the story of the Irish in Wyoming (who were, at one time, one of the peoples of the United Kingdom). That is, it's obviously a different story, as I've had to start off with the disclaimer that I'm not dealing with a single culture, like the Irish, but more than one and that I have to cover their history a bit to get there. That's because the influence of the British in general and the English in particular has been overarching in American history; indeed to such an extent that it's difficult to overstate it, even if we don't commonly even notice it all that much.

 Aberystwith, Wales.

It may be best to just start off noting the obvious that the United States had its origin as thirteen states that had been thirteen English colonies.  But that might just be too simplistic. Those thirteen English colonies came about in as part of a colonization policy that was one of the successful examples of three European efforts, the other two being the French effort and the Spanish effort.  Each left their own marks in their own regions.  But even that would be a bit too simplistic, as the efforts sponsored by the English Crown and the British industry resulted in early colonization by two peoples, the English and the Scots, and that itself is part of the story.

The United Kingdom, which colonized the Atlantic seaboard, was the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales at that time.  That was the union of that brought about a single British political entity on a formal basis with presumed finality..  The Act of Union in 1707 ratified what had been the actual fact for some time, which was that England and Scotland were really subject to a singular authority, and in fact their monarchies had been united since 1603.  Union with Ireland didn't come about, as a formal matter (as opposed to the reality of it) until 1801, after the United States had come into being.

 Loch Goil, Scotland/

The peoples subject to that union, while they may have had one singular monarch, were not, and are not, one singular people, which is important to our story here.  The Welsh, Scottish and the English are separate peoples, in terms of their ancient history and culture. The Welsh, it seems well established, were and are descendants of the original British inhabitants of Britain. The Scots, on the other hand, at least partially descend from the Irish, who started to colonize northern Great Britain in their pre Christian era.  The English no doubt descend from the Celts who first inhabited the land, but culturally and at least partially genetically they also descend from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, Germanic peoples who started immigrating and invading the island in the 5th Century.  And we have some Viking ancestry mixed in, particularly in England, as well, as the Norwegians and Danes in particular were aggressive colonizers themselves in their own era, which was put to an end in 1066 when the descendants of other Scandinavian invaders crossed the English Channel and established themselves as the Norman rulers of England

The English, it seems, have always been the dominant force on Great Britain, since they've been there, and we need not explore how that came to be for our story here. Suffice it to say, the English outnumbered the Scots and the Welsh, and dominated the politics of the island, and even the neighboring island of Ireland, for centuries.   And such was also the case for the culture and ethnicity of the early United States.

The early US, ethnically and culturally, was British.  It wasn't uniformly English, although it certainly was in certain areas, but it was British.  In many regions English immigrants or the descendants of English residents were by far the most numerous colonial inhabitants.  In others, Scots or "Scots-Irish", the descendants of Scottish emigrants settled by the United Kingdom in Ulster between the English and the native Irish, were the majority, as in the Appalachians.  Anyway you look at it, however, in most locations the American populations, save for the native population, was overwhelmingly British.  This meant that, culturally, they looked back to a collective custom of English law and culture and they were overwhelmingly Protestant; being either members of the Episcopal Church or Protestant dissenters from the Church of England in the case of the English, or Calvinist in the case of the Scots or Scots-Irish.

This remained the case well into the early 19th Century and it reflects the makeup of the country at the time the US acquired most of what became Wyoming with the Louisiana Purchase.  It reflected the makeup of the Corps of Discovery, but it also reflected part of the purpose of the Corps of Discovery, as the United States was not only seeking to discover what laid within the new land, but to make a claim to it in an area where the British were already known to be.

In conventional wisdom, the Corps of Discovery was the first time "white", meaning European Americans, stepped foot in the region that would become Wyoming. This, however, was simply not true.  The British had already seen a British explorer cross British North America to the Pacific, and it was feared that British interests were making entries into what had been an unexplored French and Spanish land claim, thereby making it note much of a claim. And the fear was well placed.  The Hudson's Bay Company was already everywhere.

The Hudson's Bay Company was founded on May 2, 1670 and can make a legitimate claim to being the oldest corporation in the world.  Formed as a means of exploiting a vast land grant in British North America, the company's prime interest was in dealing with furs, which it acquired through the use of of French Canadian trappers and Indians who traded with the company.  Occupying an enormous tract of land, in which it built numerous trading posts and forts, it did not content itself with remaining within it, but sent explorers out into neigbhoring lands.  Its exploration efforts took its agents as far south as Texas, and its trappers almost certainly routinely entered Wyoming.

Hudson's Bay Company trading post.

Those trappers were French Canadians, where they were not Indians or later Metis, but they were part of a vast English industry which had shareholders extending up to the British monarchy.  It can be legitimately said, therefore, that the first example of British influence in Wyoming came through the Hudson's Bay Company, which sent its trappers into the state.

When the Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific Ocean, it found that a Hudson's Bay Company post was located where its intended camping spot for that winter was, and it had to locate itself in a new location.  But the Hudson's Bay Company's days on American territory were numbered with the arrival of the U.S. Army in the form of Lewis and Clark's expedition.  The first, but not insignificant, era of British presence, in the form of economic interests, was over, but in some ways it would set the pattern, in terms of economics.

Fur trapping remained the primary European American enterprise in Wyoming up until Western migration really commenced in the 1840s.  By that time, the United States itself had begun to change.  The result of the War of 1812 had been that the US was not to be a solely maritime Atlantic seaboard nation, which was confirmed by the great leap westward caused by the Louisiana Purchase.   The great Irish famine and the European revolutions of the 1840s started a process of German and Irish immigration that would forever change the makeup of the nation, and which was already causing significant domestic turmoil in the nation.  Much of that would come to a head, but not be worked out, during the Mexican War and Civil War.  By the time the Union Pacific came into the state in the 1860s, the United States was a much different nation than it had been sixty years prior.  By that time, the country itself was much less English, although the distinctions between various European cultures was much more significant than it is today.

The next major example of British influence in Wyoming came with the European ranching boom in the 1870s.  And a major influence, with permanent impact, it was.  

Ranching got its start in Wyoming partially due to the efforts of pioneers to provide beef to the Union Pacific and U.S. Army.  But the real expansion of ranching, and ranching as we know it, came with the introduction of Texas herds in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Almost coincident with this, however, British owned companies began to invest in Wyoming ranches, and create Wyoming ranches, creating very British ranching companies on the range.  One of the earliest of this was the Frewan ranch which was one of the very first to enter the Big Horn Basin, entering that area in 1876 and claiming the brand "76" as a result.  Others soon followed.

The first waive of British ranches suffered terribly in the killer winter of 1886-1887.  That winter wiped out many of the early big ranches of all types.  But as severe as that experience was, it did not keep British companies from investing in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota ranches.  Fueled by investors in Great Britain, these ranches could become major ranching operations, such as the VR (Victoria Regina) in central Wyoming.  In northern Wyoming and southern Montana English and Scottish concerns also became significant in horse raising, with one such ranch even today being known as the Polo Ranch, both for the raising of horses and for the fact that it was associated with the game of polo.

At least one British owned operation was associated with the "big cattleman" side of the Johnson County War, but its association with that side of the conflict did not seem to hurt it in its overall operations.  By the early 20th Century many of these operations were well established, and certain communities in Wyoming and Montana had significant English and Scottish ranching populations.  Sheridan County Wyoming was notable in these regards, being a center of horse raising in Wyoming and, not coincidentally, the location of an Army Remount station as late as World War Two.  The British influence lives on today in the form of the still existing Polo Ranch and the Big Horn Polo Club, as well as in the architecture of the very English looking Episcopal Church in that town.  It can't helped be noted that, ironically, Sheridan and Sheridan County are named after the Phillip Sheridan, whose parents were Irish.

Southern Wyoming saw its own share of British influence, of a similar if less pronounced nature, at the same time. Albany County saw the Ivinsons come in, which left the town being the seat, at that time, of the Episcopal Church in Wyoming

Cheyenne, likewise, saw some similar English and British influence, leaving the town with impressive Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.
 Cheyenne's St. Mark's Episcopal Church, from 1888.

The Wind River Reservation was the cite of a significant missionary endeavor, sharing that distinction with the Catholic Church.  The Reverend John Roberts is well remembered for his service in that capacity in Fremont County.

Not all of the British influence of this period came from well funded British corporations.  Some came directly from much less well to do British immigrants as well. Scottish immigrants were present, perhaps not unsurprisingly, in the sheep industry but also in the cattle industry..  Casper apparently had a significant enough Scottish population in the early 20th Century that a Presbyterian minister who had hoped to form a church in Douglas Wyoming was sent, by another Protestant clergyman, to Casper on the basis that Casper was a "Scottish town."   Rock Springs Wyoming, which had an economy based on mining at the time, saw a significant immigration by Welsh and English coal miners, although not in the same numbers as Slavic immigrants to the same area. 

Ties with the United Kingdom were still so strong in some quarters that one ranching family that remained operating in Wyoming in the 1970s sent a member to fight with the Royal Flying Corps in World War One. That young pilot, who had been schooled in Canada, and whose family also gave its name it Irvine California, did not make it back.


World War One would be the end notable British enterprises in Wyoming.  The war brought about a boom in horse production, but the end of the war resulted in a crash.  The close ties to the UK seemingly went away, where they had existed.

Even if the influence in the ranching industry and through English immigrants largely ceased following 1918, the impacts have not totally gone away and linger here and there in the form of architecture and individual families.  It also exists, of course, as in every US state save for one in the form of the law.  Indeed, Wyoming formally adopted English Common Law early in its history, where it provided:
8-1-101. Adoption of common law.

The common law of England as modified by judicial decisions, so far as the same is of a general nature and not inapplicable, and all declaratory or remedial acts or statutes made in aid of, or to supply the defects of the common law prior to the fourth year of James the First (excepting the second section of the sixth chapter of forty-third Elizabeth, the eighth chapter of thirteenth Elizabeth and ninth chapter of thirty-seventh Henry Eighth) and which are of a general nature and not local to England, are the rule of decision in this state when not inconsistent with the laws thereof, and are considered as of full force until repealed by legislative authority.

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