Monday, January 2, 2012

Homestead records of Sheridan County, Wyoming

I live in a small town and it always feels good when I enter the Wyoming Room at the Sheridan Fulmer Library. I feel like Norm from the 80's television show, Cheers. They know me by name there and by now they know some of the family I am researching.

While at the Wyoming Room a couple of weeks ago while conducting some routine data collection, the manager, Judy Slack, asked if I wanted to look at the homestead records they had acquired earlier in the year. I've been meaning to work on local homestead records for sometime and have to admit that I am not very knowledgeable about the homestead process. I do know that I have several homesteaders in my family and that the files the Wyoming Room obtained might be worth looking at.

About the records: The State of Wyoming initially had several boxes of records stored in a storage unit in Cheyenne, and apparently not in ideal circumstances at all. There was a gap by the door of about 4-5 inches which allowed a considerable amount of snow and particulate matter to invade the storage unit. The state decided it no longer wished to keep the records and offered them to the Sheridan Fulmer Library. Judy and her crew sorted through the boxes, many of which were moldy and unsalvageable.

Once the sorting and processing was completed, approximately 25 boxes of various records remained. Many of the records are regarding failed homesteads, one of which is a grand uncle of mine, Ned Lupton. Other records are regarding issues that regarding Desert Land entries and water, as was the case with Ernest Kester, another relative.

The diamonds in the rough were bits of information that I doubt I would ever have found elsewhere. In the file for my great-great grandfather, Gideon Lupton, was paperwork requesting a refund for his homestead money. He started to suffer from paralysis on January 6, 1913 and could no longer work the land and had no money to hire the work out. This is the newspaper 10 November 1919 article from The Sheridan Enterprise:

The funeral home record doesn't shed much additional light on the cause of death and states paralysis as the cause of death. While I claim to no medical training, I think this indicates the possibility of a stroke.

I am quite amazed that I located a specific reference to the date when he became ill, which I think is quite unique.

Another unexpected twist came when I found a rather large file for a woman named Amelia Wagner. I am not related to her but she and her husband were neighbors to other kin, the Schreibeises and Robert and Elizabeth Williams, my great-great grandparents. Amelia was a teacher to several members of my family. Her husband, William Wagner, was a well-known rancher known for his large stone house, which he built by hand.

The paperwork, it turns out, was a court case tried in district court over whether the Wagners filed a false land entry because of timber, stone and minerals that were available on the property. Allegations also surfaced that the land was worth more for the coal than anything else and should have been sold at a higher price. The testimony of Mr. Wagner is nearly 60 pages long and a bit tedious, but gives a good impression of the landscape in the area. There are also about 20 pictures in the back that were used as exhibits, as well as two maps, one of which was marked on in the courtroom by Mr. Wagner himself. The pictures show the coal mine that Wagner had constructed for personal consumption, as well as the lay of the land in question.

The added bonuses are two of the witnesses for the defense, Frank Lupton, my great-grandfather and Jacob Schreibeis, a member of other kin that ties in to more contemporaneous times. (Frank's daughter, Violet, married Jacob's son, George.) The testimonies are great to have found.

What shines through in all of this is a bit of humor. The Luptons that I descend from have a great sense of humor and I laughed at the very start of Frank Lupton's answers. When asked what his occupation was, Frank answered, "My occupation I guess would be farmer." Apparently he didn't feel that was substantial enough and continued with, "I don't know what else, digging in the dirt."

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