History of Wyoming/Wyoming in Popular Culture, 1868-present




The state of Wyoming has had its impact on American culture as strongly as any other state. Known for its sprawling mountain ranges, grass plains and low population density, Wyoming has been a romanticized part of American culture for over a hundred years. In the days of the Wild West, Wyoming was full of buffalo herds and cowboys. Wyoming was originally inhabited by the Crow, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute Indians, and the "Cowboys and Indians" theme of Wyoming was popularized across America by Buffalo Bill and his Wild West troupe. His circus-like attraction included stories from cowboys and Native Americans, feats of skill, staged races and other attractions.

Stuffed Jackalope in restaurant near Death Valley

The state has also inspired the myth of the Jackalope, which has become almost legendary in American mythology. A "killer rabbit", the Jackalope gets its name for having the body of a rabbit and antlers like an antelope. The Jackalope was supposedly discovered by Douglas Herrick in 1982, and stuffed "Jackalopes" have since become a popular addition to many American households, hotels and bars.

Wyoming is also notable for the many landmarks it has. Jackson Hole, Yellowstone National park and the Devils Tower are some important ones. Jackson Hole is a large valley located near the western border of Idaho, containing grasslands surrounded by picturesque mountain ranges. Yellowstone National Park is perhaps more widely known than Jackson Hole. It was the first national park in the world to be established. It possesses very unique, almost undisturbed ecosystems, a still active volcano and multitude of geysers, the most well known being "Old Faithful".

Old Faithful Geyser

Devil's Tower, located in Crook County was the first United States National Monument. Theodore Roosevelt established it as a national monument on September 24, 1906. It is a large igneous intrusion that rises over a thousand feet above the surrounding plains. Devil's tower was an important part of Native American folklore and is held scared by many. Today, it is a popular spot for climbers and sightseers.

Mountain meadow at Yellowstone

Wyoming's unique landscape, national parks and mountain ranges make it perfect for outdoor activities. Skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking are all popular and attract people from around the world.

Panoramic view of snowy mountains of the Teton Range, looking west from Jackson Hole.

Cowboys and the Wild West Ideal


One of the most iconic images brought to mind when asked about Wyoming is the cowboy and the "Old West" ideal. The Western cowboy image is one of a young man on horseback, wearing a Stetson, and taming the wild land. The cowboy is a character that has been a part of the Western image for a long time. Wyoming has long been known as a picturesque, beautiful, wild and untamed scene by the Eastern states that was ripe for plunder and discovery. This image of Wyoming lead to the creation of Yellowstone National Park and the dude ranches of the 19th century. The cowboy grew in popularity out of this idea because of his perceived intense connection with the wild nature which was lacking in urban states. During the 19th century, when many Eastern states were industrializing, the cowboy became the image that represented the idea of returning to nature, and the wild, untamed, and unconquered ideal of the west.

The Cowboy 1887

In the 1880s there was a great increase in the establishment of dude ranches, or guest ranches, which provided closer lodgings to Yellowstone National Park. Until that time, the park was comparatively unattainable to those who were not wealthy because it would have consisted of a very long journey. This created an increased stream of tourists into the state and helped solidify the idea of the rough, untamed land of Wyoming. The surge of tourism in the early twentieth century coincides with, and partially caused, the increasing popularity of the Wild West shows which maintained the idea that Wyoming was an exciting place filled with adventure where iconic western figures ruled the land. These Wild West themed performances, for example the Buffalo Bill shows, changed the idea of the cowboy, from someone who held a monotonous, lonely job to an American hero of the west. This hero embodied the strength, determination and rugged appeal of the Western frontier.

The popular image of the cowboy today refers to the idealized image of the past frontier life. In reality, this life was not as romantic or heroic as it has been made out to be. The real cowboys of the Wild West were often single men moving along with their herd, leading a nomadic life. Nature did not make it easy for them, taking a toll on both the men and their animals. The cowboy image created a romantic depiction of the west, it was a place where each man could succeed and could make something of himself. Cowboys in Wyoming represented the idealized past, a nostalgia for the untamed land and simple living.

Modern example of a dude ranch in the west.

Dude ranches are still popular throughout the States, and especially in Wyoming. They have come a long way since the early days of western expansion and offer 5 star longings, shopping areas and other tourist attractions. These ranches have transformed into a resort style business with outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts. They still possess the classic Wyoming ideals of rodeos, trail rides, hiking and hunting but with a twenty-first century twist.

Frontier Days and the Rodeo


The rodeo is an iconic image of Western American culture, such as in the state of Wyoming, has remained an American tradition for over a century. The rodeo combines multiple elements of the Western culture into an event that consists of competitions, displays of skill, and performances that involve animals, Native Americans, horse back riding, as well as rope, knife and gun tricks. Rodeos started travelling to the Atlantic US in the 1880s lead by “Buffalo Bill”,

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody

also known as William Cody. For many Eastern Americans the actions and culture depicted in the rodeos shaped their view of the Wyoming "Wild West."

Popular culture saw the rodeo as an arena of courage, strength, and tenacity but the injuries caused by such dangerous actions were a serious and hidden reality. Common injuries such as concussions and broken bones were and still are damaging to an individual’s body, but a less obvious danger was infection and disease. The rodeo arena was covered with animal waste and pathogens that created an unhygienic threat for anybody who came in contact with the space. When a performer was thrown from an animal, the impact with the toxic ground could create fresh wounds and expose them to infection. With poor living conditions and constant travel from one venue to another, infections were likely to become a serious and possibly life-threatening health concern. These problems were kept out of the public eye to maintain the popular culture perception of the invincible Western cowboy.

For much if its history, the rodeo has been a strong advertiser of cigarettes. This has lead to the coupling of cigarettes and cowboys in the rodeo which has been later seen in western movies. Mainly after the mid-twentieth century, cigarette companies, specifically smokeless cigarettes, have created their own image of the western cowboy through advertising and product placement. Most stereotypical cowboy imagery stems from cigarette advertisements.

Although rough riding and roping shows appear to have existed in the mid 19th century, the first official rodeo show is attributed to Lander, Wyoming in 1893. From here on, many rodeo shows continued to bring forth entertainment to the public. Closely following the first show, Laramie, Wyoming introduced a rodeo show along with the new addition of 'bronco bucking' in 1895. A reward of twenty five dollars was even offered to anyone who brought a horse which no one could ride. A similar show was held the following year, pulling in at least 1,000 people who came to watch the wild shows. Despite the popularity of these yearly rodeo competitions, the city of Cheyenne stole the spotlight from Laramie by hosting a "Wild West" themed show, called Frontier Days. The first of which was held September, 1897.

The 1901 Frontier Days was held on August 28th and 29th. Two months leading up to this show, there was a contest for providing ideas for the upcoming show and whoever submitted the best idea for the event received a ten dollar prize. The contest was a rather ingenious idea from the Frontier Days Committee as many ideas were submitted. The committee benefited immensely by obtaining a huge list of ideas in which they didn't have to think up and also did not have to pay for any of the new ideas. They only had to pay the winner of the contest with the best idea. This contest allowed them to spend very little and in return get a list of events people wanted to see in order for the shows to benefit them in the long run. Some of the events included masquerade balls that were added to the shows in 1900 and vaudeville performances also incorporated into the shows in 1901.

On the front page of the Cheyenne Daily Leader on June 24th, 1901, they had the headline "Greatest Wild West in the World". The article was referring to the eighth annual Frontier Days on August 30th and 31st. Some of the new events added were car races, as people were bringing vehicles from as far away as Denver, Colorado. The article claimed that "more than 1000 cowboys, cowgirls, Indians, United States troops, etc." would be "riding in the area at one time in a wild and indescribable rout of horseflesh and humanity." Special rates were offered by Union Pacific to promote more tourism in the area by bringing customers in from farther away. Highlights of the two-day show included a gymkhana race, and re-enactments of key events in Wyoming history including mock weddings and elections.

Annual Frontier Celebration, Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1910

By 1922, the Frontier Days Committee was focusing on giving visitors a true western experience as they encouraged natives to wear "Western garb" to the events. Even World War Two could not stop the Frontier Days from going on. However, the rest of the state did not enjoy the tourism rates as much as Cheyenne managed to garner. They were continually out-shined by the state's national parks. The shows and rodeos outside of Cheyenne were mostly attended by natives of Wyoming.

The Frontier is still an annual event in Cheyenne, and runs for 10 days at the end of July. Many events have been added to the rodeo in recent years, including a Wild West Museum and Indian Village where the history of Wyoming is proudly documented. Over time, out of state tourism has declined which has caused the Frontier to modernize the rodeo, trying to appeal to a younger demographic. Lady Antebellum, the popular American country music band, will be performing at the 2013 Frontier as a pull for younger attendants and increased revenue.

Bucking Horse and Rider


The two symbols most associated with the state of Wyoming may very well be the cowboy and his horse. Though the date is much debated, the symbol called “The Bucking Horse and Rider” was first used in 1918 where it was worn by members of Wyoming’s National Guard whilst fighting in France and Germany in the First World War. The logo was originally designed by First Sergeant George N. Ostrom and was soon after adopted by the United States Army as a means of identifying gun trails, trucks, helmets and other equipment. Units were ordered to come up with a symbol that could be stenciled to their equipment on the battlefield and the bucking horse and rider was born. “At this time we were in intensive combat and my battery commander asked me how we could possibly comply with this request,” Wyoming cattle rancher Ostrom commented.The commander of the 66th Artillery Brigade was so taken by the design he cancelled all other designs and began putting the insignia on all the equipment. Ostrom later returned to the 148th which became known as the “Bucking Bronco” regiment from Wyoming.

Since the First World War, the Bucking Horse and Rider has been used as a symbol of pride and a reminder of home in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. It is believed that the horse is meant to represent the legendary rodeo horse “Steamboat”. Steamboat was considered to be the best bucking horse of all-time and carried the title of the “horse that couldn't be ridden”.

The evolution of the symbol goes beyond military uses. In 1935, to combat license plate counterfeiting, Secretary of State Lester Hunt commissioned Littleton, Colorado native Allen T. True to draft his own model for a state plate; this, to no surprise, included the Bucking Horse and Rider. The license plate still carries that symbol on it today. The Bucking Horse and Rider further branded the state when the United States Mint came out with Wyoming’s state quarter in 2007. It was the forty fourth coin released by the Mint in symbolism of Wyoming being the forty fourth state to join the republic on July 10, 1890.

The University of Wyoming also uses the legendary logo on their helmet with the silhouette filled in brown and outlined in gold. The UoW tradition with the logo is almost as old and storied as the United States National Guard’s is. The logo, which the university simply calls “Steamboat”, has been the athletic department’s logo since 1920. The logo and the meaning behind it have become so important to the state and school history that in 1991, to commemorate Steamboat’s 90th birthday, a statue replicating the logo was erected at the entrance of the athletic center; it is titled “Fanning a Twister”.

"Buffalo Bill" William Cody

Buffalo Bill in 1875

Buffalo Bill was the nickname of the famous American Old West figure, William Frederick Cody. Cody was best known for his autobiographies which depict the adventures he had in his life. Many of the stories told are hard to distinguish between reality and fantasy due to the bewilderment of them.

Bill Cody scouting a hostile Native American camp

Bill Cody was born February 26, 1846 near Le Claire, Iowa. He was of Spanish-Irish descent. In 1853, his parents, Isaac Cody and Mary Anne Lealock moved their family of eight children to the Kansas frontier where they operated a small store. The family was against slavery, which was a prominent issue in Kansas and the United States at the time. This caused many problems for them as the pro-slavery group was very outspoken. These men tried to kill Isaac Cody, and ended up wounding him on one attempt. While his father was away on business, William heard of a plot to kill his father and rode out to warn him. This was his first of many adventures that inspired the famous stories of Buffalo Bill. In 1857, Isaac Cody died from a cold. This left William Cody as the oldest male of family at age 11. He left home to seek work. His first employment was as a cattle drover on the westbound wagon trains.

In 1863, after a drunken evening, Cody ended up signing up and became a soldier in the Seventh Kansas Regiment. He performed many services including spying on confederate soldiers as well as scouting for Native Americans.

After his time in the army, Cody worked as a buffalo hunter to provide food for the Kansas Railroad. During his employment Cody earned the nickname Buffalo Bill when over the span of an 18 month period, Cody claimed to have killed 4,280 buffaloes. Cody was known for his hunting skills, and recognized for consistently out-killing all of his fellow buffalo hunters.

Though Cody remained a scout for the American Army for most of his years, he only spent the summers participating in military causes. The rest of the year he would perform shows depicting his military accomplishments.In 1872 he began his performing career by playing himself in a melodrama of frontier life called Scouts of the Prairie. From here his entertaining career exploded as he became a National sensation. In 1872-1873 he formed the Buffalo Bill Combination. The trio consisted of Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and Texas Jack Omohundro, who travelled across America performing their renditions on the American conflicts against Indian Nations. The performances also included displays of skill such as trick shooting, knife throwing and rope tricks. In 1878 Cody began incorporating Show Indians into his performances. The most notable Indian performer was Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull, like most of the participating performers, saw the Wild West Show as an opportunity to make money, to see parts of the world they were otherwise not allowed to visit, and to have a chance to meet high ranking federal officials.

Buffalo Bills Wild West Show - 1890

In 1884 he conceived the concept for a show that would exemplify the days of the Wild West. It demonstrated the lives of the Native Americans and the first settlers, re-imagining the adventures of Cody and his past including buffalo hunting, his journeys over the plains, and other aspects of settling the west. The show grew international popularity, as Cody and The Wild Wild West show traveled across North America and Europe as the exhibitions brought Cody great fame and wealth.

It was in 1894 when Buffalo Bill Cody left his mark on the state of Wyoming. While visiting, Cody found interest in a region close to Yellowstone Park. Cody and a team of business men founded a town, which they named for Buffalo Bill called Cody, Wyoming. The town was perfect for hunting, it had land available for ranches and farming, and possessed a natural beauty. The town was used for irrigation and helped bring a railroad to the county. Cody owned a lot of land in the county and he used this land to create the TE dude ranch.

William Buffalo Bill Cody died on January 10, 1917. A memorial statue and museum was built in Cody, Wyoming to honour his life.

For More Information on the life of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody click this link for a documentary. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMgA1-zCq-U&feature=related

The Sundance Kid

Harry Longabaugh circa 1901

One of the most iconic outlaws of the “Old West” is Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. Also known as the "Sundance Kid”, Longabaugh was born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania in 1867. He was the fifth child in a family of devout Baptists. At the age of thirteen Longabaugh was thrust into the working world, as a hired hand at a local farm. Here he developed his skills as wrangler and grew desire to leave for the West. In 1882, at the age of fifteen, Longabaugh accompanied his cousin out west. Where they would work together to settle a ranch in Durango, Colorado. In 1884, Longabaugh moved to Cortez, Colorado where he found a job wrangling cattle. The drought of 1886 made work scarce, less water equaled fewer cattle, fewer cattle required less labour thus Longabaugh was laid off. Longabaugh crossed the border into Wyoming looking for employment from a local cattle company. Unfortunately the winter of 1886-1887 was particularly harsh causing the cattle population of Wyoming to decrease by fifty percent. Longabaugh was subsequently laid off again. This marked a transition period which would see Longabaugh transform from ordinary citizen to wanted outlaw.

The Hole in the Wall Gang with Harry Longabaugh pictured bottom left, circa 1901

In February of 1887 Longabaugh found himself in Crooks County, Wyoming broke and without a penny to his name, after he traded all his possessions for food. Longabaugh desperate for money, stole a horse, saddle, and revolver from a local cowboy who worked for a powerful cattle company. He was captured on April 12, 1887 in Miles City, Montana where he subsequently escaped while in transit on his way back to Wyoming. Longabaugh was eventually recaptured and by June 22 he found himself back in Crooks County where he would await trial in the Sundance Jail. After several failed attempts at escaping Longabaugh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eighteen months to be served in the Sundance Jail. Longabaugh’s moniker was born, he was known as the Sundance Kid. Upon his release on February 5th, 1889 Longabaugh increasingly found himself in more trouble with the law. After allegedly threatening a deputy sheriff, the Crook County Sheriff’s department issued a warrant for his arrest, and a short stint living in Alberta, Canada, saw Longabaugh charged with cruelty to animals. By the early 1890’s he was back in Wyoming holding up trains and banks, and in the year 1896 or 1897 the Sundance Kid joined Butch Cassidy's the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. By 1908 the Sundance Kid made his way to Bolivia to escape persecution from the growing arm of the law and as the legend goes the Sundance Kid was killed in a firefight by the Bolivian army and police after committing a robbery of a local silver mine.

In popular memory Longabaugh has been characterized as somewhat of a Robin Hood type character, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. There is however no evidence to support these claims for in reality Longabaugh’s holdups frequently turned violent. In 1969 the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released forever preserving the Sundance Kid’s legacy. In the film the relationship between Cassidy and Longabaugh is highly fictionalized as they are depicted working as partners throughout their careers while in reality Longabaugh joined Cassidy’s gang quite late. Regardless the film helped preserve one of Wyoming’s most prominent outlaws for future generations.

Owen Wister: Father of Western Fiction

Owen Wister the father of Western fiction
The Virginian novel published in 1902

The Western genre has long centered around the conflict between cowboys and Indians, which has impacted entertainment for many years through novels, television, and movies. Cowboys in Western fictions are commonly depicted as a lone-rider on horseback riding across the vast deserts seeking vengeance or justice. These ideas which have revolutionized literature and movies all started with one man, Owen Wister, who was heavily influenced by the time he spent in Wyoming. He is credited for the creation of this classic Western hero and bringing forth this new genre of Western fiction.

Born in Philadelphia in 1860, Wister grew up in a wealthy household which allowed him to study at Harvard and abroad in Europe during his youth. Struggling with poor health, he came close to a nervous breakdown in 1891. Taking advice from his doctor, Wister traveled to Johnson County, Wyoming in hopes of rejuvenating his health. In Johnson County, Wister was exposed to a different kind of life and a new America. He marveled at the open land stretching for miles with so much character. This new lifestyle, culture, and society intrigued him and inspired him as he began to record observations of his travels. These notes contributed to his creation of Western fiction. For 15 years Wister returned to Wyoming and continued to write about his experiences and encounters. His writing career began with his first published work in 1892 called “Hank’s Woman.” Wister got his big break in 1902 with the publication of his most famous piece of work. The Virginian was a historical romance centering around a cowboy on a cattle ranch. It inspired later authors in the Western genre, such as Zane Grey.

Wister wrote about what he witnessed while in Wyoming. He believed the men who inhabited the area, around whom he based the character of cowboys, lived the best life anyone could live under the severe conditions of the West. Wister truly believed in the ideal of the West, because of how it had impacted him in his life. He thought it was a place where individuals could find restoration and self-discovery, and escape the limitations of the East. Wyoming made a lasting impact on Wister which he shared with the rest of the world through his novels.

Wyoming and Hollywood


Wyoming has been a central location in many famous Hollywood films. Through its notable history of cattle ranching, Wyoming has set the stage for many popular movies. The age of Hollywood Westerns flocked to Wyoming for its idealized landscape and notorious image of cowboys and ranching. Cowboy boots and Stetson hats became the stereotype for Wyoming citizens in the eyes of society due to the many movies that were written and filmed around Wyoming. Through Hollywood hits by John Wayne, Charlton Heston and Kenny Rogers, Wyoming was portrayed as a Western state burdened with outlaws, cowboys and vigilantes.

Kenny Rogers preforming in later life.

The 1985 TV movie Wild Horses starring Western singer and icon Kenny Rogers was filmed and set in the Wyoming countryside. The movie recounts the struggle of a man who moves to Wyoming to find work, ultimately resulting in him settling in the countryside and working with wild horses. The movie depicts Wyoming in all its glory, showing the panoramic images of the mountains and grasslands. Wild Horses, and many other Westerns filmed within the state focus solely on the iconic landscapes and ignore the industrialization occurring in Wyoming during the 20th century. Hollywood’s focus on maintaining the image of Wyoming as a newly colonized Western state, lacking in industry and consumerism is no accident and allows the cowboy stereotype of the state to remain prominent in the eyes of society.

However, not all movies based in Wyoming are connected back to their roots of cattle farming. Director Steven Spielberg used Wyoming as a central location is his 1977 sci-fi film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In this movie they used Wyoming’s large expanse of open fields as a theoretical landing spot for extra-terrestrial activity. The movie was received very well by the public and box office and for once portrayed Wyoming in a different light.

The legacy of Wyoming in association with Western film culture is still present in their current society. On November 12, 2012 Wyoming PBS ran a John Wayne film from 1956 entitled The Searchers. The movie received great reviews and was recently ranked as the seventh best movie of all time by British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine.

Perhaps the most popular Hollywood movie to reference Wyoming in recent years, is Ang Lee's production of Brokeback Mountain. The film is an adaptation of a short story also titled Brokeback Mountain written by Wyoming native Annie Proulx, staring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.

Scene from the 1956 hit The Searchers with John Wayne shown in red.

This 2005 Oscar-nominated movie was a breakthrough and a shock throughout Hollywood, as it conveys the budding romantic relationship between two male sheepherders during a summer traveling through the Wyoming countryside. This movie had a shockingly large impact in Wyoming pop culture where homosexuality was unacceptable and virtually unheard of at the time. In the last few years, homosexual scrutiny and issues have plagued Wyoming media and newspapers, where pro-gay advocates are trying to decrease hostility for the gay population. Brokeback Mountain’s popularity helped advance the movement of equality throughout Wyoming.

Scene from the 2005 production based on actual events from 1998

In 1998, a homosexual student at the University of Wyoming, Mathew Sheppard, was murdered. This violent and upsetting murder dominated the media throughout Wyoming and the rest of the world. The murder was deemed as a hate crime, with Mathew being beaten by his assailants in the Wyoming town of Laramie. The issue remained a constant area of discussion in the media due to the controversial issue of homosexuality in the west. This event fueled the play “The Laramie Project”, which became a hit throughout the United States. Starting in New York, the play made its way across the States and finally played in Laramie, Wyoming two years after production started. Since then, The Laramie Project has been preformed in schools around Wyoming to help address the issue of homosexuality and prevent further discrimination and hate crimes.

Wyoming Art


Origin of Art in Wyoming; A Native Perspective

Art in Wyoming dates back to the early native population of the United States. The artwork of early Wyoming is thought to be part of traditional Dinwoody rock art. The first discoveries of these rock formation art works date back to 1870[1], from records kept by shoulders posted on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Legend Rock with the image of a "little boy"

Rock artwork is composed of a collection of painted imagery and engravings on the surface rock. Using radiocarbon dated soil deposits, archaeologists have estimated that these traditional Dinwoody petroglyph forms date back as far as three thousand years ago[2], before there was a formal language and material culture introduced to Wyoming's current native population of Shoshones.

Native rock painting in Wyoming
Wind River Canyon, Wyoming

Art was a form of early communication and a pictorial record of native life. The Dinwoody traditional carvings are only found in the foothills of Wind River Mountains, Wyoming and Bighorn Basin in Central Wyoming. [1] The largest collection of rock art is found in the Legend Rock Petroglyph site located in Hot Springs County, Wyoming.

The traditional rock art is a range of pictorial images reflecting life for native inhabitants including hunting and different gatherings, such as religious and social rituals.[3] For the most part these figures resemble human forms and animals,some of which were powerful spirits encountered during the natives Northern journey. About 75% of the mark making of the native tradition for petroglyphs composed of pecking, stripping and abrading techniques, using dark red and red-brown patina. This type of application of patina created a ghost like resemblance of the figures.

One of the images that have been identified is “Split boy,” which was found in Hot Springs County. The art depicts an ancient mythical figure that is split from the root of one set of feet. The image on the left is an image of “little boy”; however the meaning is unknown.[4] These pieces of art do not only provide a glimpse into the past, they are also a useful primary source detailing the Indians interactions with the land from their perspective. Carving and paintings on rocks were produced by both male and female inhabitants because the native population believed very strongly in the power of the spirit over the power division of the sex.[1] These forms of art were the early beginnings of a cultural identity in Wyoming.

Wyoming Scene Painting

Wyoming’s reputation in the late nineteenth century as the “Cowboy State” reflected in the artistic representation of the state. In particular, the American painter Frederic Remington (1861-1909) aggressively documented his version of the American West", in a collection of works capturing the picturesque landscapes and thriving cattle-boom in Wyoming during a period that spanned from 1868 to 1886.

File:Frederic Remington "The Roundup" 1888.jpeg
Frederic Remington "The Roundup" 1888

With his paintings of the American West, Frederic Remington constructed a romantic and nostalgic visual world that privileged a masculine, white narrative while omitting minority groups’ histories. Remington’s images allude to his identity as a man “hopelessly dislocated from an idealized, sentimentalized pre-industrial time.” His artwork “played a major role in creating the popular image of the West that persists today.” Most of Remington’s paintings do not explicitly refer to the state of Wyoming in their content or title. Arguably, his omission of locations and dates in the titling of his work was intentional; by refusing to reveal the locations depicted in his work, Remington allowed the paintings to be “transmuted ideologically into the American West itself.” Consequently, Remington’s paintings do not reveal their locations and cannot be definitively linked to specific geographic locations in Wyoming. However, his idyllic, generalized portrayal of the American West constructed and preserved archetypes of the state that persist to this day in the public’s visual lexicon of Wyoming’s history. Remington’s studio has been reconstructed at Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Historical Center, a testament to his lasting influence on visual culture in Wyoming and the importance of his vision in shaping a visual narrative of Wyoming during the cattle-boom.

File:Frederic Remington painting in Wyoming.png
The artist painting in Wyoming

Remington’s scenes of the west were defined the promoters of “masculinity, struggle, and depictions of men and horses,” as a theme and within this limited framework he omitted and manipulated his representations of native people and women to suit his perception of the past. In his paintings, native subjects adhered to common white misconceptions of natives; his images skewed reality and portrayed native subjects as savage characters, uncivilized and violent enemies who threatened white prosperity in the west. In his examination of Remington’s paintings, Peter Hassrick has argued that with his the stereotypical portrayals of natives, the artist romanticized their identity within American history, memorializing them as “mythic and thus less real.” Critics of Remington have labeled his work as exhibiting a “maudlin, uncritical sentiment for days gone by,” a conservative and traditional man longing to recreate his rose-coloured, white-centric view of the past. Hassrick summarizes his criticism of the world view promulgated by Remington in his paintings as a “metaphorical statement for the intrusion of an industrialized East of a basically defenseless and doomed West.” By choosing to dramatize Wyoming’s past through the lens of manifest destiny, Remington denies us an opportunity to construct an art historical narrative of the state’s past through any other lens but his own.

Modern Painting Origins in Wyoming

Wyoming is not only the home to traditional art and the discovery of Dinwoody rock art, but it is the birthplace of a prominent modern artist. On January 28th, 1912, Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming to Roy and Stella Pollock. To the family Paul was known as Jack. The Pollock family remained in Cody for ten months after Jackson was born, they then moved to San Diego, California.[5]

Jackson Pollock Signature

When Jackson was older, he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League of New York. Jackson emerged in New York as an elite avant-guard artist in the Abstract Expressionism movement, introducing drip painting technique. Instead of painting in an upright position, Jackson laid his canvas on the floor of his studio.[6] He stood over the canvas moving his arm across the canvas; Jackson’s movement was captured on the canvas as a series of drips. Along with a new technique Jackson also used unconventional material. His paint was resin based enamels and he often used sticks to transfer paint to the canvas. Some of his pieces even had remains of cigarettes often mixed into his paintings. In 1945, Jackson married Lee Krasner, but the pair never had children. Throughout his life Jackson struggled with alcoholism. The couple moved to the East Hampton area of Long Island, New York in hopes that the new location would help with Jackson’s struggle. On August 11, 1956, Jackson died in an alcohol related car crash.[6]


Jackson my have only lived temporally in Wyoming but his roots remained with him, he was of course the "cowboy" painter in New York, many colleagues noted he would walk the streets of New York in his beloved cowboy boots.

Another well-known Abstract artist and sculptor from Wyoming is Peter Forakis. Forakis was born in Hanna, Wyoming in September, 1927 to a family of Greek immigrants. At the age of 10 the family moved to California. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California School of Fine Arts and moved to New York City to practice art. While in New York, he founded the Park Place, a cooperative art space in 1960 unfortunately the park had to closed in 1967. During his time in New York City, Forakis became a well known influential abstract sculptor, as his works were crafted using large sections of metals, arranged in geometric patterns. Abstraction for Forakis weighed heavily on mathematical principles superimposed on the natural world. Some of his most well known pieces include Hyper Cube in 1967, Tower of the Cheyenne in 1972 and Archimedes Cube which was a series from 1968. He moved back to California in 1979 and remained there until his death on November 26, 2009.