History & News

Wyoming’s state seal scandal

Wyoming's territorial seal. A golden shield outline is split into 3 portions. The upper portion bears the date '1868' and depicts a train crossing a plain into mountains. The leftmost section depicts a ploy, crook, shovel, and pick on a blue blackground. The rightmost section depicts an arm swinging a saber on a red background. A red scroll bears the words 'oedant arma toga' meainng Let Arms Yield to the Toga

Photo #1 - Wyoming’s territorial seal

 H.E. Beuchner's proposed Wyoming state seal. It depicts a woman in broken chains holding a shield in her left hand, while pointing to a star with her right. She stands before a landscape with livestock, oil rigs, and other symbols of industry.

Photo #2 - H.E. Buechner’s proposed Wyoming state seal

 One of the proposed Wyoming state seals. A silhouette of an unclothed woman stands above a landscape depicting livestock and other symbols of Wyoming industry.

Photo #3 - Fenimore Chatterton’s first proposal for Wyoming’s state seal, featuring a nude woman

 A redrawn version of one of the proposed Wyoming state seals. A well drawn nude woman is the central figure.

Photo #4 - Chatterton’s redrawn design for Wyoming’s state seal. While superior artistically, it still featured a nude woman, and many objected.

 An early version of what would become Wyoming's official state seal. A robed woman stands between a cowboy on her right and a miner on her left. The phrase 'Equal Rights' appears around her head. It bears the words 'cattle' and 'mining' beneath her.

Photo #5 - Edmund Stewardson’s original design for Wyoming’s state seal. Note that it bears a scroll marked “Cattle,” which was later changed to “Livestock.”

 The final version of the Wyoming state seal approved in 1893. It is very similar to the previous version but the phrase cattle has been changed to livestock.

Photo #6 - Wyoming’s final state seal, adopted in 1893


Wyoming’s state seal scandal

(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - January 13, 2023)     Wyoming’s state seal was officially adopted just under 130 years ago, but two of the proposed seal designs that preceded it caused quite a scandal.

From 1869 to 1890 Wyoming was a U.S. territory, achieving statehood on July 10, 1890. During its territorial years - and for three years into statehood - it had a territorial seal that depicted agricultural and mining implements, an arm holding an upright saber, a scene with mountains and a train, the motto “Oedant Arma Toga,” (“Let Arms Yield to the Toga”) and the year 1868, when the Wyoming Organic Act was signed. (The territorial government would not be established until 1869.)

Wyoming’s first state legislature convened on November 12, 1890. Early in that session, State Senator Fenimore Chatterton of Carbon County, and House Members Nat Baker (Converse County) and H.E. Buechner (Laramie County) formed a joint committee to consider designs for a state seal. Several were weighed, including one submitted by Buechner; that of a robed woman with broken chains on her wrists standing above a banner reading “Equal Rights” - in recognition of Wyoming’s landmark adoption of women’s suffrage - and pointing to a star bearing the number "44," commemorating the fact that Wyoming was the 44th state created. In the background was a composite scene depicting agriculture, mining, and oil drilling rigs. It was this design the committee decided to recommend.

Chatterton wrote and introduced a senate file calling for adoption of the design, which passed both the senate and the house. Writing in 1975, historian Tom Bohnsack described what happened next:    Chatterton was chosen or volunteered to carry the enrolled act to Dr. Amos Barber, who was serving as acting governor, but while en route from the house chamber in January of 1891, he removed the Buechner design and replaced it with one of his own. It, too, featured a woman pointing to a star labeled "44," but this woman was nude.

Chatterton’s design was quite crude, and a decision was made to have it redrawn. A Rawlins artist was chosen for the makeover, which was a definite improvement in terms of artistic quality, but the woman in the second version was just as naked.

Chatterton and the design were savagely mocked in the press, even at the national level. (The New York Sun editorialized about the seal that “...just who the offenders are has not been discovered, but they have been able to do more damage to the reputation of Wyoming in a few days than did all the seal makers of Albany to this state in thirty years.”)

The uproar went on for months, and in response it was decided to replace the Chatterton design altogether. A Philadelphia artist named Edmund Stewardson was selected to design a new seal, which he submitted to Barber in February of 1892. Barber approved of his design and commissioned him to create a plaster model, which arrived in Cheyenne in March.

In 1893, Wyoming’s second state legislature approved Stewardson’s creation, which featured a thoroughly-robed woman, a stockman-farmer, a miner, an “Equal Rights” banner, and scrolls labeled “Cattle,” “Mines,” “Grain,” and “Oil,” four of Wyoming’s top industries. (One additional alteration would be made. “Cattle” would be changed to “Livestock” in recognition of the sheep industry. It has remained Wyoming’s state seal ever since.)

By the time the bill passed Wyoming had a new governor, Dr. John Osborne of Rawlins, who signed the new seal into law not long after taking office in 1893. (Osborne is famous - or infamous - for his footwear. After an outlaw named Big Nose George Parrott was lynched by a mob in Rawlins in 1881, Osborne and another physician named Thomas Maghee took charge of his body for medical study. Osborne skinned Parrott and had the skin incorporated into a pair of shoes, which he wore to his inaugural ball.)

The state seal affair was not the last controversy in Fenimore Chatterton’s life. Elected Wyoming’s Secretary of State in 1898, he was appointed to serve out the term of Governor DeForest Richards, who died in office in 1903. He was not nominated by the Republican party to run for the office in his own right in the 1904 election, and it’s thought this was due to his refusal to commute the death sentence of Tom Horn, who was convicted in the 1901 murder of Willy Nickell. Horn was hanged in Cheyenne on November 20, 1903. Chatterton served as Secretary of State until 1907. He left public service and practiced law until 1932, when he retired. He died in 1958 at age 97.   

Green River’s pedestrian viaduct and underpass

A black and white image of a pedestrian viaduct over an unfenced railyard into downtown Green River, Wyoming.

Photo #1 - The Green River pedestrian viaduct in its early days

 A black and white photo of a train going over an underpass in Green River, Wyoming.

Photo #2 - The Green River railroad underpass. Photo taken about the time of its completion in 1937.

 A headshot of Marna Grubb on a blue background.

Photo #3 - Historian Marna Grubb. In 1992 she received the Judge & Mrs. Percy Metz Memorial Award for Research and Preservation of Green River History from the Wyoming State Historical Society and, on two occasions, in 1992 and again in 2002, she was awarded the Distinguished Citizen Award from the City of Green River.



(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - December 29, 2022)     The Sweetwater County Historical Museum often fields questions from visitors about the origins of the pedestrian viaduct and underpass in Green River. Decades ago, distinguished local historian Marna Grubb provided an excellent summary of those origins in one of her many articles. Marna was a regular contributor to “Echoes from the Bluffs,” a series of accounts about Green River and Sweetwater County history that ran in the Green River Star from 1998 to 2003. The “Echoes” articles were later incorporated into a four-volume set of books published by the Green River Historic Preservation Commission and available for purchase at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River. They can also be found at the county libraries in Rock Springs and Green River.

Marna’s “Echoes from the Bluffs” article about the viaduct and underpass is reproduced below:


Underpass and Pedestrian Viaduct

By Marna Grubb

          Today, traveling from one side of Green River to the other is accomplished with great ease in a short period of time, but this was not always the case.

          For many years, Green River was a town of three-to-four thousand people located north and south of the railroad tracks and north of the river. Getting across the railroad tracks often presented long delays, while citizens would wait for the passing of long freight trains, or the heavy passenger and freight switching accomplished in the railroad yards.

          In October of 1935, Green River's town council approved a proposal to the Union Pacific Railroad for the elimination of the railroad crossing at Elizabeth Street (North First East) with the construction of an underpass at West Second South and a pedestrian overhead crossing of the railroad tracks at the Elizabeth Street crossing.

          This proposal was reported to have been brought about by the "persistence of Green River's popular mayor and his loyal supporting town council" according to The Green River Star of August 1937. Samuel S. Hoover was mayor from 1935 to 1939.

          The underpass was opened to public use in August of 1937, and The Green River Star reported that "This improvement has been at the cost of approximately $160,000 and one must see this structure to realize its beauty and fine construction, with a pedestrian walk on one side with steel railings for protection. The entire length is lighted by artistic iron lamp posts at the top of which are attractive large globes of the latest design."

          The underpass was constructed by the Inland Construction Company of Omaha, Nebraska.

          In September of 1937, The Green River Star reported that "Police Chief Chris Jessen is making an appeal to children, and particularly to parents, to avoid possible serious accidents by discontinuing the use of the underpass as a playground. Several children were reported to have been using the runways for roller skating and wagon coasting lanes."

          In the Agreement of September 7, 1936, the railroad agreed to grant a right-of-way for a pedestrian viaduct over the railroad tracks, the State Highway Department agreed to construct the viaduct, and the town agreed to take and maintain the viaduct. If any major repairs were needed, the town would need to notify the railroad.

          In 1937, the Wyoming State Highway Department awarded the low bid of $66,931 to Inland Construction Company of Omaha, who also were the contractors on the underpass project.

          The Green River Star, in December of 1936, reported that “The pedestrian overpass will be a decided contribution to the safety of Green River residents, particularly the children who must traverse the dangerous railroad tracks four times daily in their progress to and from school. The cost of the project would be out of Federal funds appropriated for railroad crossing elimination, but would be under the supervision of the Wyoming Highway Department.”

          The pedestrian overpass was opened to the public in June of 1938, and Mayor Hoover reported that it eliminated the crossing of 21 double rails, main line and switching lines.


The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River, and there is no charge for admission. While regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, the museum will be closed from Friday, December 30, through Monday, January 2, in observance of the New Year holiday, and will reopen on Tuesday, January 3.

New historical video about Bitter Creek now available

Left: Business owner Ed Varley sits in his Point of Rocks home. Right: A young Ed Varley in Bitter Creek rides a scooter.A historic skyline ini a black and white photo of Bitter Creek. Ed Varley and Eva Corson stand in front of the Bitter Creek Depot shortly before it is torn down. What is left of the Bitter Creek Skyline in 2021.Aidan Brady and Ed Varley sit at a table in front of recording equipment.

Photo #1 - Ed Varley today and as a boy in Bitter Creek


Photo #2 - Once a thriving community, very little is left of Bitter Creek today


Photo #3 - Public Engagement Coordinator Aidan Brady interviewing Ed Varley at Point of Rocks


(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - December 16, 2022)     A new YouTube video about the long-vanished community of Bitter Creek is now available online, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum announced on Friday.

About 34 miles east of Rock Springs, Bitter Creek once was home to a railroad depot, stockyards, huge sheep shearing sheds, a school, a post office, housing for Union Pacific employees, and the Varley Mercantile, but nothing remains now but a concrete water tower base, a tall, deteriorating water softener tank, and a few foundations.

Produced by museum staff and volunteers, A History of Bitter Creek, As Told by Ed Varley, can be found on the museum’s YouTube channel at


Varley and his wife Rae Dell are long-time Point of Rocks residents. He was born in 1936, grew up in Bitter Creek, and attended school there through the 8th Grade. After that, he attended the Rock Springs High School, graduating in 1954. He is the author of two books:  Bitter Creek Kid, and Grand Pa’s Stories - A Local History. Museum Executive Director Dave Mead and Public Engagement Coordinator Aidan Brady interviewed him at his Point of Rocks home. Afterward, Varley provided them a guided tour of the Bitter Creek site.

The interview made possible a rare,  and very personal, account of life in the little hamlet from the 1930s through the 1950s. By the early to mid-1970s, Bitter Creek was in its twilight - the Post Office there was discontinued in 1971, and the Union Pacific depot was torn down in 1974. Little remains now but memories, like those of Ed Varley.

A History of Bitter Creek, As Told by Ed Varley is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s “Museum on Main Street,” project, co-hosted by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, Wyoming Humanities / ThinkWY, and the Green River Chamber of Commerce. The museum will always be grateful to Ed and his extended family for making the video possible.

American Heritage Center article:  Green River was not the original county seat of Sweetwater County

A black and white photo of a valley full of buildings, the once vibrant community of South Pass City in the 1860s.A black and white photo of a brick multi-story building with Green River's 'Castle Rock' in the background. Men in suits can be seen on the balcony an scattered before the building. The building is the historic Green River Courthouse, which was replaced in the 1960s with the modern building.A map of Wyoming showing 5 vertical stripes representing the 5 original counties of Wyoming, the third from the left was Sweetwater County.

Photo #1 - South Pass City, the original Sweetwater County seat, in the late 1860s


Photo #2 - The new Sweetwater County Courthouse in Green River, 1876


Photo #3 - Wyoming’s original five counties:   Uinta, Sweetwater, Carbon, Albany, and Laramie. Sweetwater County once extended all the way from the Utah/Colorado line to the Montana boundary.


(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - November 26, 2022)     The back-and-forth story of Sweetwater County, Wyoming’s two county seats - South Pass City and Green River - is the subject of a new article on the website of the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River said today.

Gold was discovered in the area of what would soon become South Pass City in 1866. Prospectors and others rushed in, and within a year, the little boom town’s population had swelled to 2,000. In 1867, Carter County, Dakota Territory, (named for Judge William Carter of Fort Bridger), was established, and South Pass City was designated its county seat. In 1868, Wyoming Territory was carved out of Dakota Territory. In 1869, Carter County became Sweetwater County, and South Pass City continued to be the county seat. (In those days, Sweetwater County was immense, stretching all the way from the Utah/Colorado line in the south to the Montana border in the north.)

The Heritage Center’s “The ‘Peculiar Vibrations’ of the Sweetwater County Seat” picks up the tale of the political wrangling that followed. By 1873, South Pass City’s gold was swiftly playing out, and “the county commissioners started to discuss moving the county seat seventy miles south to Green River, which was a major town on the primary transportation route through both Wyoming and the nation: the Union Pacific Main Line or the Transcontinental Railroad. In the years leading up to the move, suffice to say some drama ensued.”

In 1874, Sweetwater County’s commissioners made the county seat’s move to Green River official, (at least for the time being,) but the die-hard residents of South Pass City weren’t going to give in without a fight. Over the next two years, county records moved back and forth between the two towns no fewer than five times. By 1876 the dust had settled and Green River’s new adobe-brick courthouse (and seat of county government) was completed. Finally, the transition was finished.

“The ‘Peculiar Vibrations’ of the Sweetwater County Seat” can be found at  https://ahcwyo.org/2022/11/14/the-peculiar-vibrations-of-the-sweetwater-county-seat/ .

Located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. There is no charge for admission.