Fist Fighting Bear River Tom Smith

Riots break out in small settlement of Bear River City Wyoming, southwest of Evanston, after the lynching of a murder suspect November 19, 1868. The two factions, the vigilantes that hung the suspect and the local friends and family of the hanged man start brawling and gun fighting in the streets and the hastily strewn together building that dotted the town. The ensuing violence claimed the life of 16 people and torched most of the town quenching whatever hope of future prosperity for the young community, until the courageous act of one man, Town Marshal Tom Smithresidence_of_ben_hampton2c_bear_river_stage_station2c_utah2c_by_savage_26_ottinger held off the fighting parties unarmed until forces could arrive from Fort Bridger enacting marshal law effectively quelling the violence.

Little is known about Smith before the Riots that made the ghost town of Bear River City Famous except that he was from New York where he served as a New York City police officer until the accidental shooting of a 14 year old boy caused him to resign. After his resignation from the New York Police it is reported that smith signed on with various railroads bringing him to Wyoming and his run in with fate creating the legend of Bear River Tom. One thing about Smith is known as fact, he was known as fearless in the face of danger throughout his career. Described in one occasion in Abilene Kansas Smith, again unarmed, overpowered two armed men known for their bad temperaments, Big Hank Hawkins and his Partner Wyoming Frank. Smith drove both of the men from town and furthermore implemented a no gun policy in Abilene, driving the local cowboys in the area to attempt assassinating Smith on more than one incident. After a few months of work making solid arrests and treating local citizens fairly, Smith developed a phenomenal relationship with the people of Abilene as far to say they admired the man.

Being Abilene Kansas is a slight bit out of the territory of this blog I will end the story here, Smith continued to be the local Marshal even earning a promotion to US marshal before his death in the line of duty November 2, 1870. Smith is Buried in Abilene with a large monument erected at his grave site. As far as The Great Divide region is concerned I think the story of Tom Smith says a lot of the fortitude of the men and women that founded the towns and cities that we now live and work in. The places we know now were once upon a time a real life “Hell On Wheels”.

Footsteps To Independence

    In October of 1812 along the banks of the Sweetwater River, an oasis in Wyoming arid landscape, the Robert Stuart Expedition while carving out the route that would become the Oregon Trail stumbled upon an extraordinarydsc07087 monument, a large granite outcropping that by 1830 would be know as Independence Rock and serve as the most anticipated land mark on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. One journal entry from the journal of Rachael Emma and Wooley Simmons, part of the Brigham Young Party in the summer of 1848, states.

     “We heard so much of Independence Rock long before we got there. They said we should have a dance on top of it, as we had many a dance while on the plains. We thought it would be so nice, but when we got there, the company was so small it was given up. We nooned at this place, but Father staid long enough for us children to go all over it. I went with the boys and with Catherine. It is an immense rock with holes and crevices where the water is dripping cool and sparkling. We saw a great many names of persons that had been cut in the rock, but we were so disappointed in not having a dance. Our company was so small, and we had not a note of music or a musician. I was told afterwards by some of the girls that we had traveled with that they had a party there, but President Young had all the music with him” 

     A visitor today can still walk around and on top the rock to read the names carved in the granite monument. There is even a rest area, a luxury not available to previous generations!! Of coarse time and the harsh winter and spring weather has taken its toll on the rock over patrick-family-vacation-2010-names-on-the-rockthe last 160-170 years but many names are still visible, I even found a party that visited the rock in 1850 with the same last name as me. I can only imagine what the rock must have looked like when the carvings were fresh. There must have been thousands as there was hundreds of thousands that passed by on their way westward. Although the trail that meanders westward mostly is lost to the prairie wind, advancements in civilization and the American highway system, there are still many spots along the Emigrant Trail that clearly have almost pristine wagon tracks impressed in the ground. Just a few miles down the road is Devil’s Gate and there a visitor can see almost the exact same trail carved in the dirt that was traveled on by nearly half a million Americans, but no place on along the any of the trail systems in the country captures the spirit of the pioneer and the American West like Independence Rock.

     Pioneers embarking on their journey to the west would often time their journey so that the spring grass for livestock would be sufficient along the entire route and to avoid pulling a Donner party in the mountains leading to the California and Oregon territories. In order to accomplish this one must be at Independence Rock no later than July 4th, one can imagine the congestion that ensued on what was no more than a two track and the celebrations that must have been held in times past at the Monument. Independence Rock is every bit as great a place to stop and stretch your legs today as it must have been in the 1850’s. So enjoy your visit but remember, Independence Rock is located on a state park so the rules must be followed.independence20rock2c20wy202007-06-172019-17-26

  • No defacing or writing on the rock.
  • No gathering of artifacts (anything found must be left there or turned over to State Park personnel on site.)
  • Metal detectors are not allowed.
  • The discharge of firearms and fireworks is prohibited.
  • Vehicle parking in designated areas only.
  • Dogs, cats and other pets must be kept on a leash.
  • No killing of wildlife, including rattlesnakes.
  • Please pack out your own trash.
  • Overnight camping by Special Use permit only.