Casper
Pop. 50,000 Elev. 5,123

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Known as the "Oil Capitol of the Rockies," Casper now has a broader economic base. The city still depends, however, largely on its refinery, tank farm, and host of oil fields for its income. There has been a long-standing debate between Cheyenne and Casper regarding which city is Wyoming’s biggest and most important. Casper prides itself on having the only statewide newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s biggest shopping center, the Eastridge Mall, and top-notch medical services at Wyoming Medical Center. There are a host of recreational activities to keep Casperites entertained, and educational and cultural opportunities to keep them enlightened. Casper is also rich in Western history.

Robert Stuart and a group of fur traders (sponsored by John Jacob Astor) were the first Europeans to travel near Casper. Stranded here during the cold, hungry winter of 1812, they built the first rock cabin in Wyoming and kept it warm with buffalo hides. There was enough game around to sustain them through the winter months, but a visit from a band of Arapaho convinced the party to head east towards Nebraska until spring.

The Astorians had blazed the trail, and the route through Casper now became frequently used. Crossing the North Platte River still proved challenging until 1847, when the Mormons arrived and built a ferry, the first business run in the area. The Mormon Ferry did not remain the only ferry for long, and in 1849 travelers crowded the shores of the Platte, eager to head west and find gold. Other businesses sprung up as well, including a Pony Express station and a telegraph office.

In 1852, French-Canadian trader John Baptiste Richard (pronounced "Reshaw" by locals) came up with the idea of building a toll bridge across the Platte, one of several bridge projects he spearheaded. First crossed in 1853, the bridge could save up to a week’s travel time, and cost less than the ferries. It was not long before the ferries went out of business. During 1854, Richard made $17,000 from passing travelers, a considerable sum in those days.

Then, in 1859, Louis Guinard built a newer, longer bridge, first crossed in 1860. Travelers preferred to cross Guinard’s bridge, because it seemed safer. After all, Richard’s bridge had seen a lot of traffic in the preceding seven years. Guinard made so much money that myths arose regarding him sprinkling gold at travelers feet to repay them for the wealth they’d provided him.

The site became known as the Platte Bridge Station when the army arrived. Two dramatic battles took place here with members of the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes in 1865. The first resulted in the heroic death of Lt. Caspar Collins, for whom the town was eventually named. Collins was said to have been trying to rescue a fellow soldier when his horse went the wrong way and carried him into the Indian throng. He went down with pistols blazing and was found later shot full of arrows, some accounts say half-buried. The second battle involved Sgt. Amos Custard, who also died along with his men in a fierce fight to protect the supply wagons they were bringing in. The name "Caspar" was misspelled when the information was telegraphed to the east, and so the newly established military base was dubbed Ft. Casper. The name Ft. Collins had already been used in Colorado, in honor of his father, William Collins. The elder Collins was commander at Ft. Laramie at the time.

Ft. Casper was closed in 1867, and its components were salvaged and moved to build Ft. Fetterman, which was easier to keep re-supplied from Ft. Laramie. So much of the fort disappeared so quickly that local rumors sprung up about Indians burning it. Old Ft. Caspar (spelled properly this time) was rebuilt in 1936 according to Caspar Collins’ own 1863 floor plans. In 1971, it became listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

The railroad came in 1888, and the official town site developed three miles east of where the fort had been. In 1889, the city of Casper became incorporated. Many renegades were attracted to this wild place, and the air was often filled with gunfire. The first public building was a jail, and residents slept light. Vigilantism was rampant. Nearby, in what was to become the huge Salt Creek Field, oil was struck in 1889, and a flurry of claim jumpers rushed in, leaving behind the lives they’d known in the east for the promise of "black gold." The first refinery was built in 1895, and Casper would never again be free of the influence of oil.

With the oil came coarse workers, dishonest businessmen, prostitutes, gambling, and other threats to polite society. Honest people came too, including farmers, lumberjacks, and ranchers, and schools and churches emerged between the saloons. Women were only permitted to walk on the left side of Main Street, across from the saloons. Laws were passed to prevent the discharge of firearms within the city limits. The residents had big plans for Casper to become the capitol city of both Wyoming and the West as a whole. Some of the tallest buildings in Wyoming were built here in the early part of the 20th century. The town boomed until 1929, when the population diminished by half after the stock market crashed. World War II brought another boom, the 1960s a bust, the 1970s a boom, a bust again in the 1980s, and the cycle continues today.

Still, Casper is seeing the growth of more stabilizing industries, including tourism, which emphasizes its importance as the historic "Crossroads to the West."

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