From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 1 - April 4, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

It took a large hole to house the foundation for the museum. Construction of the Museum took almost 25 years.
History in the making

by Rhonda Swain

History in the making

It all began back in 1935, when Sublette County’s population was 2,200, and P.W. Jenkins, our first county legislator and the man who is considered the ‘father of Sublette County’, and others created a special organization to promote and stimulate interest in history. The history they so profoundly wanted preserved was that of Sublette County’s fur trade era, and its ties to past rendezvous held in the area.

According to Museum of the Mountain Man Executive Director Laurie Hartwig, the romance of the Rocky Mountains, the rugged characters and stories, and the business of the Green River Rendezvous are a small slice of American history, but of national significance.

The objectives of that first Sublette County Historical Society (SCHS), which numbered an even dozen back then, were "the preservation of historic sites of the fur trade and emigrant trails, marking of graves and trails, and to collect all records, documents and items pertaining to the historical background of the county," Hartwig said.

Breaking ground for the museum in 1974 included Lester Pape, Phil Marincic, Reverend Calvin Elliott, Bill Reisner, Richard Hecox, Bob McFarland, Bert Reinow, John Gallemore, Glenn Wise, Elton Cooley, Dean Binning, Raymonde Sell, Mike Steele.

With nearly 5,000 square miles of Sublette County to cover, the society had a daunting task to preserve a "cultural heritage so vast and of such national importance."

That same historic year, a small crowd gathered at Daniel to commemorate the 1835 Rendezvous held 100 years earlier. This commemoration was the society’s first re-enactment of the historical Green River Rendezvous, which is still going strong 67 years later.

That early-day board kept no records or minutes; the first indication of records for a formal body or society were dated 1936, and were filed by Secretary Celia Sargent.

The June 21, 1936, meeting minutes regarding the second rendezvous, which was a noon picnic followed by the program at 2 p.m. at the Daniel site, stated "Plans were discussed to make the day as nearly like 1836 as possible." It noted that "Indian suits" were to be made from burlap, and discussion was held of plans to buy 10 acres of land for a park site from Ralph Conwell.

The plaque commemorating the park, donated by the American Federated Women, was to be placed near the center of the park, with the historical society responsible for placing the plaque, getting the land and a deed for the land and surveying the park itself.

Originally, the members worked only with already-acquired funds, because they wanted no grant monies which could open a door to being told what to do with their treasures, and guidelines they would be required to follow. So with funds from membership and rendezvous receipts, they continued to acquire properties such as furs, wagons, teepees and other historical items from private individuals and estates.

As the collection grew, so did the responsibility that came with it, and the historical society members, realizing they needed to be more organized, incorporated in 1948.

Almost a quarter-century after the Sublette County Historical Society’s organization, the Wyoming Legislature authorized all counties to establish a museum board to allocate monies and grant mill levies. That first year, 1959, the Sublette County Commissioners approved $1,500 for the museum board, to be appropriated "for two large historical markers, 10 to 15 grave markers and photo copying of valuable papers and documents."

Hartwig noted that SCHS is the parent organization of the Museum of the Mountain Man. The two museums in the county submit budgets to the Sublette County Museum Board (SCMB) and are partially funded by SCMB because the museums exhibit, properly store and care for the collections of Sublette County.

The society’s focus changed somewhat again in 1964, when its members chose to change from a corporation to a foundation, which would give them greater financial freedom under taxation laws. Their long-term goal and main focus was to build a museum dedicated to the mountain man and the fur trade era.

It took 10 years, and "widespread support of the membership" for their dream to become a reality, but in March 1974, ground was broken and design and construction for a museum building began.

It took almost another quarter-century for the Museum of the Mountain Man to reach a point of completion that would permit its opening. In 1990, in celebration of Wyoming’s Centennial, "the museum was completed and opened its doors to the public," Hartwig said, and remains "an ongoing work in progress."

The museum itself is not the only change seen by SCHS – its 12 members have grown to over 300 in 2002, and Hartwig said, with the month of April their membership month, they hope to see the enrollment grow larger.

If you would like to become a member or have any questions or concerns, call the museum at 367-4101.

Photo credits:  Photos courtesy of the Museum of the Mountain Man

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 2002 Sublette Examiner
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Sublette Examiner, PO Box 1539, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3203