African Americans have played a foundational role in Wyoming since the 1860s, when they served as soldiers at Fort Laramie, and owned and operated some of Cheyenne’s first businesses, which are just some of the historic nuggets uncovered by the Black Wyoming Project funded by the National Park Service.
Delia Hagen, the project’s director, is documenting the history and historic places of Wyoming’s Black community, a community underrepresented in the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks.
“The history of African American communities in general is underdocumented across the United States,” Hagen explained. “That is especially so in places like Wyoming and Montana.”
Hagen noted Black people in Wyoming played a major role as members of the workforce delivering fuel for heat and electricity to the entire nation. African Americans were prominent members of coal-mining towns including Green River, Rawlins, Rock Springs, and in Hanna, where dozens of Black men were among the 169 miners killed in Wyoming’s worst coal disaster in 1903.
Hagen’s research revealed Black residents have played important roles in all of Wyoming’s major economic sectors, including coal, railroad, cattle, the arts, and sports, and she said they were part of the political, social and cultural fabric of every major city, many towns and most of the state’s counties.
“Some sources even trace the origins of Frontier Days to 1870s riding exhibitions by a black cowboy named Sam Stewart,” Hagen explained. “Stewart was also known as ‘Bronco Sam,’ and was renowned as one of the best riders in the region.”
Hagen pointed out one goal of the project is to get more historic sites registered and into the written record we rely on, including the 1914 home of two of Sheridan’s most prominent Black residents, Charles and Minnie Hardaway Askew. But Hagen added there are numerous opportunities at sites across the state to make the contributions of African Americans more visible.
“This history is almost wholly unknown outside of the descendant community itself, and a few scholars,” Hagen acknowledged. “But this project shows that African Americans are an integral and prominent part of Wyoming history.”