Gathered up to the present

After four years of work, Elva Evans' 'Saratoga 150 Years' to be released on September 11

It is, perhaps, an understatement to say that the Upper North Platte River Valley has a wealth of history. From copper mines to coal mines, from manifest destiny to the lumber industry, the Valley and the communities within its borders have a unique story.

Fortunately, there are a handful of books-from Candy Moulton's "Grand Encampment" to Gay Day Alcorn's "Tough Country" to "Saratoga and Encampment Wyoming: An Album of Family Histories"-that can help guide even the most novice local historian. This week, longtime Saratoga resident Elva Elvans will officially release her contribution to the history of the area.

"Saratoga 150 Years" is not a big book, coming in at around 170 pages, but it took Evans four years of research using her own collection and collections from countless other places. Books, magazines, newspapers and oral history all found their way into the pages of Evans' book which is, in part, intended to serve as a roadmap for those who want to find their own place to start on discovering Saratoga's history.

Evans was born in 1934 to Sven "Swan" Hjalmer Olson and Margaret (Sjoden) Olson. Swan immigrated to the United States from Sweden at the age of 20 and, at the age of 24, was inducted into the United States Army at the onset of World War I. He would eventually make his way to the Valley where he would meet his future wife. Margaret was the sister of Charles Sjoden, owner of River Street Motors and grandfather of Randy and Carleen Sjoden. The two met when Swan was selling tickets at Saratoga's Annual Fourth of July Rodeo in 1929.

Five years later, Evans was born.

"I was born out on the Four Bar ranch where the Kerbs live now. I was born there and my dad leased the ranch. He finally got some cattle together and some machinery together and then he bought a ranch on Cedar Creek," said Evans. "Then, he bought the Pick Ranch. I was a junior when he purchased that."

In 1955, Evans and her husband, Valle, married and two years later took over the family ranch. By 1971, they had sold the family ranch and had moved into town. 

History was not always something that had consumed Evans, she admits, but her interest was piqued as a young child.

"I think mine started at the ranch table when I was a kid. In those days, children should be seen and not heard, so we sat there and we listened to the conversations and, in season except in the winter, we always had ranch hands, we had neighbors, we had visitors and, of course, everyone was welcome at the table," Evans said. "My father was excellent at guiding a conversation and we heard just all kinds of stories. We were just thrilled with it."

It wasn't until Evans attended the University of Wyoming and took a class from T.A. Larson that she realized how deep her interest was. Evans started with family history, interviewing her parents, Swan and Margaret, as well as the parents of her husband, Houston and Leona Evans. Eventually, Evans became involved in the founding of the Saratoga Museum as part of the Saratoga Historical and Cultural Association. She even served as the initial director for the museum following its completion.

Shortly after that, Evans became involved with the Saratoga Sun by writing "Reflections from Our Files", a feature that is still in the pages of the Sun today.

"I started writing those reflections and I did that for 23 years and clipping and filing and carrying on all that time," said Evans. "Here I sit with all these files and then came up with the idea, 'I better do a book because nobody will ever go through those files or know them like I do.' In the process I filed things I had forgotten I've even had." 

Her collection is massive. A large filing cabinet, four sections tall, sits in her office with newspaper clippings and other information filed in a way that Evans can easily find it. A smaller filing cabinet has one entire drawer dedicated almost entirely to the Town of Saratoga's water and sewer system. Whether it's newspapers, books or magazines, Evans collects it.

"I have always believed that history should be gathered up to the present," Evans said.

"Saratoga 150 Years" is an easy read, which is by design. Evans believes that many people don't have the chance to read as much as they used to and she wanted to give readers something that was easy to follow. True to her word that history should be gathered up to the present, the book starts prior to 1862 and ends in 2020. 

There are, as one may expect, a fair share of local characters in the book though not all of them are people. For Evans, the historical buildings that have survived the march of years and still stand are characters as well. While there is time spent on these structures, it's not nearly as much time as Evans believes they deserve.

"We had the Wyoming Recreation Commission come, the part of the recreation commission that does the national historic sites, and they're real strict now. It's got to be related to a famous person or special architecture to get on but they said you could have a local, a Saratoga historic district," said Evans. "So, I'm hoping that somebody will find the time to write a book on the structures and there's a lot of background stuff for them. They could make a really good book."

It can be seemingly impossible to summarize Saratoga, its people and its history, in less than 170 pages. Yet, Evans did so with pencil and paper and the support of family and friends. If Saratoga could be summarized, however, it may very well be with this passage: "Saratoga is a friendly place. Wherever we gather-at the post office, the grocery store or the Hot Pool-we get smiles and hellos that lift  the spirit and brighten the day. No one is left out-we love our town full of interesting characters, each one with a story to tell."

Evans' book will be released on September 11. She will be holding a book signing at the Party on the Patio on September 12 at the Platte Valley Community Center.


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