Chugwater Wyoming Background

Town History

This article is from the August 14, 1952 issue of the Wheatland Times.

Portugee Phillips had first patent on where Chugwater located.

Wyoming's hero, Portugee Phillips, was the first to receive a patent on land where Chugwater is now located. John Phillips' official land entry was dated March 15, 1876. About the same date, Richard Whalen, Hiram B. Kelly and his brother-in-law Thomas A. Maxwell also took up land on which the town was later built.

This was a camping spot for the government troops on the Fort Russell-Fort Laramie trail. Frank W. Foss is said to have been the first government telegraph operator there.

The "White House", the main residence of the Swan Company was built about 1875 by Thomas A. Maxwell and operated as a hotel on the Cheyenne-Deadwood stage route. General Custer spent a night here, not long before the Custer massacre of 1876.

In 1886, the first townsite was dedicated. It was located on the southeast side of the railroad although it was never developed. This was on the northwest side of the tracks at the present location.

The old original Town Ordinance book shows that the first ordinances were made in September 1919. Alfred B. Sheldon was the first mayor, with Frank A Beard, Edmund A. Haney and Ernest M. Hedges councilmen and L.E. Hastings town clerk.

The town had a municipal light plant until 1948 when it went on REA. In 1938, it installed a complete water system with a 100,000 gallon concrete reinforced, steel water storage tank located about halfway up the bluff behind the town. This assures an abundance of good water.

At present, Chugwater may well boast of a newly constructed, concrete block building to be used as a combination town hall and fire truck house for the 350 gallon pumper truck.

Although the settlement is old, it did not develop into much of a town until about 1908 or '10, when the homesteaders moved into the vicinity. It now has a population of 283, and has the only bank in Platte County outside of Wheatland.

The present town council is made up of Russell Staats, mayor; Fred R. Cashner, Johnny Chasteen, Walter Larson and Tom Tarpley. Mr. Staats, who was first elected to the council in 1927, has served as mayor continuously with the exception of one term since 1932. He points with pride to the fact that his town is free of debt at this time.

From Travelers Journal 1994

Chugwater: the fame of the town's name precedes the town itself.

When you talk about communities of the United States with very distinctive names, you have to include the southern-most community of Platte County- Chugwater. The community's name ranks right up there with Walla Walla, Washington or the communities of Ishpeming. Paw Paw, Wyoming and Wyoming Park, all in Michigan, as far as having a name that will stick in your mind.

And please remember, the emphasis is on the first syllable — that's CHUG-water, if you please.

The name has been historically traced back to an old Indian legend, but the community itself was formed as a result of a huge cattle ranching operation formed by a group of stockholders from Scotland.

In recorded history, the area of what is now southern Platte County was first inhabited by the Native American Indians. The Comanche Indians were nomads and roamed most of what is now southeast Wyoming.

The Comanche left the area and moved south sometime during the 1700's. After they left, the Kiowas Indians moved to take their place. The Kiowas were not aware of the trouble that was headed their way.

Around the beginning of the 19th century, the Cheyenne tribe had moved into central Wyoming from the Dakota Black Hills and merged with the warlike Staitan Indians.

It wasn't long before the warrior Cheyenne nation moved in and pushed the Kiowas out of the area. The Sioux, who had been following the Cheyenne from the Dakotas, also laid claim to the area.

The Cheyenne and Sioux controlled most of the area until the Indian wars began in 1789. Other tribes ventured into south-eastern Wyoming from time to time, but were usually convinced by the Cheyenne, Sioux or Arapaho (their friend to the south that this was not the best place for them.

There are many legends that have been handed down through Indian-inspired folklore, but probably the one most well-known is the one that described the origin of the name "Chugwater".

Sometime before the white man arrived in the area, it was occupied by the Mandan tribe. As the story goes, the chieftain was, in theory, a mighty hunter. Unfortunately, a confrontation with a bull buffalo did not go in his favor, and he was badly injured.

He ordered his son, who was called "Dreamer," to lead the hunting party for him.

"Dreamer" was a thinker and considered manual labor a necessary evil and avoided it whenever he could.

He figured that the simplest way to kill buffalo was to just drive them off of one of the chalk cliffs in the area, and that is just what he ordered the hunters to do.

The word "chug" is said to describe the noise that the buffalo or the falling chalk made when it hit the ground or fell into the water under the bluff, depending on which version of the legend you wish to believe.

Indians began to call the area "water at the place where the buffalo chug."

Whites adopted the Indian name and called the area "Chug Springs." Chugwater Creek was named after Chug Springs, and from that came the name of Chugwater.

In September, 1886, J.A. Epperson, an engineer from Swan Land and Cattle Company, and several others laid out the Town of Chugwater on the east side of the Cheyenne and Northern Railroad.

Almost immediately, building materials were shipped to begin construction of warehouses, cabin, storage sheds and other buildings to house the railroad's winter quarters.

The original site was comprised of 160 acres of land that was subdivided into 12 rectangular blocks.

In the same year, the first post office was started under Postmaster Richard Whalen, a local rancher. The post office called the town Chug Water (two words), and it wasn't until 1896 that the post office, under Postmaster Frank Foss, recognized the name Chugwater as a single word.

The town was surveyed and officially filed as a town on Sept. 29, 1877. Although there was movement in the area, the town did not begin to really take root until after the turn of the century.

Unimpressed by the growth of the town, the Swan Land and Cattle Company the railroad, now know as the Colorado and Southern began surveying for a new plat for the town in 1913.

The new plat, filed in 1914, placed the town on the opposite side of the tracks and was 240 acres. Some businesses had already moved to that side of the tracks earlier.

Following an extensive advertising campaign, an auction was held Tuesday, May 26, 1914 to sell over 400 lots of land in the "new" town. Advertising claimed that Chugwater was the "Gateway to Platte County's Great Dry Farming District."

The influence of the Swan Land and Cattle Company would stay strong for many years to come. One of the more prominent influences right after the 1914 move was Curtis Templin.

Templin, from Chicago, came to Chugwater in 1915 as manager of the company. Templin immediately took the reins and instilled a new sense of work ethic in the company.

Templin's intrusion into the town was minimal. When not in the office, he spent most of his time in the "White House." The "White House was the nickname of the hotel that housed many of the company's management personnel.

Templin was only seen in town on occasional visits.

Although thrift was the rule in his handling of company affairs, Templin was somewhat of a philanthropist as far as the town was concerned. Many churches and charitable organizations benefitted from his generosity over the years.

There were many individuals who benefitted from his help also. He supplied the funds for several young people to go to college, and in his will, established a trust to provide scholarships for Chugwater graduates.

The Swan Land and Cattle Company employee that was most directly involved with the town was Russell Staats who first came to Chugwater from Central City Neb., in 1922.

Staats was employed as the company as a cahier. In 1927, he won a seat on the Chugwater Town Council. He was elected Mayor in 1934, and with the exception of a single term, remained as the Chugwater Mayor until 1985, a span of 51 years.

Homesteading brought most of the people into the area during the early part of the century. The homesteaders quickly moved into the flats that sprawled to the east of town.

There were three major areas in the flats. Immediately to the east was Chugwater Flats. Beyond that and further east was Iowa Flats, so called because of all the homesteaders there that came from Iowa.

To the northeast was Slater flats.

Robert Kletzing, an Iowa Flats resident, was a real estate promoter and in a 79-page booklet that was printed in 1910 and filled with stories, pictures and other information, he told people to "throw your beer bottles away cast your cigarettes into the sea." And "come and help develop the wonderful resources God has placed in Wyoming…"

It might be noted here that Chugwater had out-lawed alcoholic beverages in the town when it was re-platted in 1914, and Mayor Staats managed to keep it that way throughout his 50-year reign as the town's top elected official.

Kletzing also noted in his booklet that there were 500 people living within a five-mile radius of the town. Only three businesses, were listed in the town; Kletzing's real estate businesses, were listed in the won: Kletzing's real estate business, L.E. Hunt's Chugwater Trading Post, and J.W. Porter, who was in farm implements and real estate.

One of the most important businesses of the area was the Farmer's Cooperative Association, founded in 1912. The story goes that a meeting was held at the Methodist Church out on the flats. At the meeting, 21 homesteaders discussedthe need for a company to sell their crops.

By the end of the year, the Cop-op was in business under the management of L.E. Hastings, who was a farmer in the area.

Problems began almost immediately and were blamed on the management. The co-op went through several managers in a short period of time, and board members had to put up their own collateral to get the credit they needed to keep the operation going.

The operation was in trouble until 1920 when Archie Blow took over management of the company. Blow took the co-op and put it on the right track, and turned it into a profit-making concern.

Many businesses started to open in town as the immigrants poured onto the flats. Hotels, grocery stores, lumber yards, garages and many others took root.

The garage of E. M. Hedges was one of the longest-operating businesses in town. The pharmacy store was run by Bill Corry. There was the Chugwater Drug Store, and the Swan Mercantile Company, which was founded in 1911.

In 1914, the town's first newspaper was published. The Chugwater Record was moved to Wheatland and started carrying less of the Chugwater news. To fill the gap, The Chugwater News was first published in 1928. The News had a rough go of it, and went through several publishers. For brief periods, it was published in Wheatland before its demise in 1952.

Virgil Nickeson, a barber, immigrated to the Iowa flats from, of course, Iowa. He began working on the homestead and he is also credited with opening the town's first barber shop.

The barber shop was set up in a railroad boxcar, and he provided haircuts, shaves and baths.

Chugwater was not actually incorporated until 1919. The first mayor of Chugwater was A.B. Sheldon. After incorporation, major improvements were made in town services.

Before 1924, businesses had to provide their own electrical power, or to tap their power form someone else's generator. In 1924, the town bought "Tom," a diesel generator that was used to provide the town with electrical power… at least sometimes.

"Tom" only ran during the evening hours on a daily basis, and was turned off about 10:30 p.m. Users were warned that it was about to be turned off when their lights would dim a few times before it was cut off.

It would be turned on some mornings so that people could wash and iron clothes.

After a time, the "Dick" and "Harry" generators were added; the town was able to supply electrical power 24 hours a day. In 1948, Chugwater was added to the REA system, and the three generators were retired.

Another major improvement was the WPA installation of a modern water system in 1938. The project cost the town $10,000 and was probably the most significant single project that was ever done.

Windmills and outhouses became a thing of the past, and people were finally able to water their yards. This allowed people to plant the trees the town had been so devoid of in the past.

Before the water system, fires were a common occurrence in town, and usually resulted in complete destruction of the unit which was on fire.

The population of Chugwater has remained fairly constant since 1920, staying in the range of 200 to 300 people. The average age of Chugwater's residents has slowly risen over the years.

Town of Chugwater | PO Box 243 | 248 2nd Street | Chugwater, WY 82210 | (307) 422-3493
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