The Grim History of Hutton Lake

Twice in the 1800’s events at Hutton Lake would send shockwaves through the Laramie community.

Hutton was the largest and deepest of the three lakes originally in the area about 10 miles SW of Laramie.

The area was so popular for boaters and sportsmen in the 1800’s that at one time it was seriously suggested that a hotel be built at the site with the two large lakes joined by a canal.  It was proposed that small steamboats to be brought in and rented to vacationers. Luckily for the ducks, that disturbance did not happen.

Tragedy occurred there just 10 years after the founding of Laramie. On April 29, 1878, popular local businessman C. S. Dunbar drowned while duck hunting at Hutton Lake. Dunbar had operated a local grocery store and was briefly a partner in a Laramie bank. Having disposed of his interests in both, he remained in Laramie while deciding what to do with the rest of his life. The city was shocked at the death of the 28 year old bachelor.

The circumstances of his death were quite sensational. Dunbar, along with Edward Ivinson, Galusha Grow (later Ivinson’s son-in-law) and five other men arrived at the lake in the afternoon, intending to hunt that evening and the next day. They separated into groups with Dunbar and Grow deciding on Hutton Lake. They set off in a boat and immediately began the hunt. When a bunch of ducks flushed off the surface near the boat, Dunbar stood up and fired. The recoil from the shotgun knocked him backward into the water and, according to Grow, he immediately sank below the surface.

Grow extended an oar to Dunbar who attempted to grasp it but failed. He sank again and did not resurface. His body was recovered five days later.

Thirteen years later two more Laramie businessmen would meet the same fate on Hutton Lake. On October 16, 1891, Frederick Scrymser, president of the Wyoming National Bank of Laramie and the bank’s manager Matthew Dawson drowned while boating on the lake.

After having made a successful first sailing in the morning in their new sailboat, the pair set out again shortly after noon. By five p.m. others at the lake took notice that they had not returned to the shore and began a search.

Shortly the boat was found upturned on the lake. An extensive search was undertaken immediately.  By the light of the nearly full moon, Scrymser’s body was discovered under the sail of the boat. Dawson, sadly, was not found that night, nor the next day, nor in the next five months.

The saga of the search effort consumed the community over the course of the winter. Each and every detail was reported in the Laramie Boomerang.

Extensive efforts were made to find Dawson’s body. Many hours were spent dragging the lake with hooks to no avail. In desperation, the searchers raised the money to hire a diver and crew from San Francisco to search the lake, but they found nothing. Plans were even drawn up to drain the lake but abandoned due to cost and difficulty of the task. 

Finally, on March 23, 1892, two duck hunters from the nearby Homer ranch were out on the ice to retrieve a duck they had shot and saw Dawson’s body partially embedded below the surface of the ice. Soon thereafter it was retrieved and the funeral finally held.

Thankfully no subsequent tragedies have occurred in the intervening 123 years and all hunting is with field glasses and cameras now for the over 100 species of birds that frequent the area.


By Kim Viner

Shown is Hutton Lake and the old Sand Creek Road. The image is from surveys of Albany County townships done by Stephen W. Downey in 1870. Courtesy Bureau of Land Management.  In 1932, Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established here on about 2,000 acres. Hutton Lake has been divided into three so now there are five lakes: Hutton, Hodge, Rush, Creighton and George. About 2,000 people visit the Refuge annually, especially between March and October to see protected migrating waterfowl and resident birds.  Camping and boating are no longer allowed.  It is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through their Walden, Colorado office.