Carrying the torch of history
February 27, 2019
“Virginia Dale had been more successful at another time and place. (Jack) Slade was taken prisoner and plans were to lynch him. The condemned had persuaded his guards to send for his beautiful wife who quickly arrived on horseback and was ushered to her husband. The door of Slade’s confinement was opened, at which time Mrs. Slade flashed two revolvers and the pair walked away at gunpoint. They mounted the horse under gunfire and raced down the road; neither was hurt.”
~ Gay Day Alcorn “Tough Country”
Not quite 10 years ago, Dick Perue, one of the former owners of the Saratoga Sun, held a gathering at the Saratoga Museum where he held a reunion of sorts with former staff members. Lori Van Pelt, Candy Moulton, Carol Sherrod, Gay Day Alcorn and, of course, Chuck Box.
Stories were told of the days when Perue owned the paper and how the format and the intent of the small-town weekly had changed. Box himself told a story about learning never to leave a camera bag near a cow.
Alcorn, however, said something that struck me then and has stuck with me ever since. She told those gathered for the event that she had made the decision to begin exploring the history of the area after one of her grade school teachers said “Nothing interesting has ever happened here.” According to Alcorn, her mind was made up then to prove this teacher wrong.
“Tough Country” is arguably one of the most important and detailed books about the history of the Upper North Platte Valley River. From local characters, such as Winthrop Condict and Gershom Barkhurst, to famous explorers, like Kit Carson and John C. Fremont, it is a very wonderful book full of useful information for the most avid historian. Good luck trying to find an affordable copy, though. A quick look on Amazon finds you a copy for $275.
On the bright side, the Saratoga Branch Library has two copies available for circulation.
Despite Alcorn’s words those few years ago, I never really was motivated to look into the history of our Valley nor do any research.
“That is the job of the historians,” I told myself. “Let them do the research.”
It wasn’t until recently, however, that it hit me that our trusted historians will not be around forever. Alcorn passed away in December 2017. The last time I had talked to her, she was working on a cold case and was deep in research. I can only assume what she was working on at that time. Her contribution to the compilation of our Valley’s history cannot be overstated.
Van Pelt and Moulton have also contributed greatly to recording the history of the area.
Over the summer, the family of William James Toole came through Saratoga while on a road trip of family history. William James Toole, and his son, William Timothy Toole, and grandson, William Griffin Toole are all descendents of Roberta (Huntington) Toole. Roberta was the daughter of Reverend Roswell Elbridge Gerry Huntington, who founded Saratoga’s Episcopal Church. She was also the sister of Wyoming’s first women newspaper owners; Gertrude and Laura Huntington.
It was thanks to Van Pelt’s research that I was able to learn as much as I did about Gertrude and Laura Huntington, the owners of the Platte Valley Lyre and connect it to the Toole family after their visit to our office.
Of course, everyone knows that if you happen to run into Perue, he will tell you as much history as you will ever want to hear.
Maybe a bit more.
If we ever need a photo from the turn-of-the-century, we know we can reach out to him.
If ever I need to add something to an article for context, whether its what was going on in 1918 or a scathing editorial from Gertrude, it is good to know that there are resources available. We have our stacks of issues dating back to the late 1800s here in the Sun office and the Wyoming Newspaper Archive is a wonderful resource, but sometimes it can be better to follow the path blazed before us before hacking away at the overgrown jungle of history.
What will happen, though, when we inevitably lose these wonderful sources of information? Of course, we will still have the books, but who will continue the digging and searching to continue to educate and inform us about our own history? The answer can be found with us. Much like the question of who will lead our towns, states and nations into the future, the answer is us.
We are the ones who will need to grab the torch that has been carried by those before us and continue to illuminate the past as we head into the future. When do we start? Well, there is no better day than today.
Currently, John Perue is digitizing the Bob Martin/Dick Perue Collection for the Saratoga Museum. He is also digitizing the collection of Elva Evans during her time contributing to the “Reflections from Our Files” and will incorporate the extensive research that Judy Hodges has done in regards to obituaries of Valley residents.
This is no small undertaking.
My generation was practically born with computers, it’s like a second language to us. The generation after mine, Generation Z, aren’t just fluent in this language, but are digital natives. With the advancements in technology and the current undertaking to preserve many historical documents, I believe that Millennials and Gen Z residents can, and should, get involved in our wonderful local museums.
The preservation of the history of our towns is extremely important and getting involved in that preservation can lead to a shared pride that spans across generations. I know the busy schedules that many of us have. I, along with working for the newspaper, am a member of the Saratoga Friends of the Library and have recently joined the Saratoga Museum Board thus making my schedule that much tighter.
If you are interested in history, especially local history, I would implore you to consider becoming a member of your local museum, as well as taking part on their respective boards should any positions be available. As I stated before, we need to continue carrying the torch and there is always something new to discover.
Let’s continue to prove those who say “nothing interesting has ever happened here” wrong.