The Society is pleased to announce recipients of its 2021 Lola Homsher Research Grants. Grant monies are drawn from a fund established by the late Lola Homsher, a noted historian and state archivist who spearheaded establishing the Society in 1953. After her retirement, Miss Homsher made a major donation to the WHS that is used to help fund Society programs.

WHS president, and chair of the Homsher Committee, Leslie Waggener, said that COVID no doubt influenced historical research and the number of applications received this year due to many research facilities still closed. “COVID has had a widespread effect on many things, not the least of which is historical research. Nevertheless, we are thrilled to provide these three individuals with grants.”

Julianne Couch, Bellevue, IA. Julianne will receive $500 for her oral history project about United Flight 409. United Flight 409 crashed in the Medicine Bow Mountains near the Albany-Carbon County border on October 6, 1955. All 66 individuals on board were killed. This includes the pilot Clinton C. Cooke Jr., first officer Ralph D. Salisbury, Jr., flight attendant Patricia D. Shuttleworth, two infants, 19 members of the military and five members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The DC-4 aircraft took off from Chicago in the early morning and landed in Denver at 5:51 a.m., more than an hour late because of bad weather. It was bound for Salt Lake City, then on to San Francisco. The customary route would take the flight north into Wyoming then west at the radio beacon at the tiny town of Rock River, safely around the Snowy Range. The pilot was familiar with the route, having flown it 45 times in the previous year. But this time, he took a shortcut directly over the mountains, some 25 miles off course. The DC-4 was not pressurized and was attempting to fly well over the recommended altitude. The plane crashed when it failed to clear the 12,013-foot peak by about 75 feet. At approximately 7:30 a.m., 66 people lost their lives.

Kylie McCormick, Casper, WY. Kylie will receive $1500 to assist with her project “Fifty-One Years of Freedom: WY’s Suffrage Story from 1869-1920.” In 1869 Wyoming made history as the first U.S. territory to recognize women's right to vote. Fifty-one years later, the nation followed Wyoming’s lead. A fresh take on a longstanding controversy, this project offers critical new evidence to Wyoming’s suffrage story and restores the contributions to the movement made by both Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard and Esther Hobart Morris. Research discoveries so far include a 1902 speech from William H. Bright, in which he credits Esther Morris with teaching him about woman suffrage before he attended the 1869 Legislature. This fresh research has already uncovered previously ignored evidence, including speeches given by Grace Raymond Hebard and the incredibly significant 1902 speech from William H. Bright. Preliminary research into T.A. Larson's papers shows that he had a copy of this 1902 speech and ignored it. By gaining access to his archives, as well as other collections, I have the potential to offer critical analysis to other previously overlooked letters, articles, speeches, and events. My research is the first significant challenge to T.A. Larson and offers a new perspective on woman suffrage in Wyoming.

Kylie said, “I believe that this history is inspiring and has the power to uplift and educate Wyomingites. My goal is to publish and present my research, and to eventually change the way woman suffrage is taught to Wyoming students.”

Erik Wright, Paragould, AZ. Erik will receive $1,000 to assist with his topic titled “1868 Bear River Riot.” In November 1868, the Hell on Wheels town of Bear River City, Wyoming Territory exploded in a violent riot. Fueled by the vitriolic reporting and editorials of local newspaperman Legh Freeman, Bear River City became, for a moment, the center of Union Pacific’s attention. Angered by what had transpired at Bear River City, Union Pacific officials in their quest to help complete the First Transcontinental Railroad abandoned the site and pushed westward. In less than a year the famous ceremonial golden spike would be driven at Promontory Summit at the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads thus signifying the end to a dream envisioned and put into law by Abraham Lincoln several years earlier.

Contextually, the Bear River Riot raises many questions about immigrant labor and frontier violence, vigilantism, and the rush to unite the growing country by rail in the wake of the Civil War. Tough Irish workers and Chinese laborers led by ruthless engineers molded on the landscape a near-impossible task. Events like the Bear River City Riot, while not wholly unique, showcase the powder keg conditions that existed in the short-lived Hell on Wheels towns. Emerging from these towns were a new breed of both outlaw and lawman. One such lawman, Thomas Smith, an alleged former New York City policeman, bear knuckle prize fighter, and now enforcer of whatever loose knit laws existed, would grow his own legend. Earning the nickname “Bear River”

Smith would solidify himself in history as a brief, but notable lawman in Abilene, Kansas just prior to the arrival of James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and would even serve as later inspiration to young Abilene native Dwight D. Eisenhower. His topic will look at the riot through the lens of free speech, migrants, and heavy industry in the post-Civil War West.

Members of the Society’s Homsher Committee include Leslie Waggener, Laramie; Kem Nicolaysen, Casper, and Patty Kessler, Laramie.

Homsher Research Grant Applications are due each year by February 28th.