When the young Trabing brothers, Augustus and Charles, arrived in Laramie in the summer of 1868, they were already experienced merchants, ranchers and freighters. Born in Germany, they came to the US in 1853 when “Gus” was 11 and Charles 8, and settled near Washington DC.
They became blacksmiths with the US Army’s Quartermaster Department and were part of a 268-wagon train headed from the capital to Fort Cottonwood near present-day North Platte, Nebraska in 1865. After Army service, they ranched near the fort, but Indians set fire to their property, inspiring them to head farther west on the new railroad.
By 1869 they had several stores, contracts for supplying the railroad with wood, and even a theater in Laramie. Nearly all of these ventures failed. But the ranch they developed near Medicine Bow and string of stores in Buffalo, Rawlins, Medicine Bow, Crazy Woman, and Laramie led to a successful freighting operation to supply the large “Trabing Brothers” stores. Theirs was the first store in Buffalo, Wyoming. At one time they had as many as 100 “freighters” (men who drove the horse- or mule-drawn wagons) in their employ.
But Laramie was always a draw for them; in 1877 they expanded their Laramie store on First Street. It was front-page Boomerang news when they built a brand-new building in 1883 on Second Street. Both brothers had homes befitting prosperous entrepreneurs. (Gus’s home on Grand is gone, but Charles’ remains as the core of the old Holliday Store at Fifth and Garfield, now empty.) They sold their Buffalo store in 1882. Gus moved to a penthouse atop the store in 1884. He was Laramie’s mayor for 2 terms 1886-1887 and 1889-90. He was elected to the Territorial Legislature in 1888, and after statehood, became a Wyoming Senator in 1895.
The size of the Laramie store was doubled in 1891 when a second building to the north was added. Those two buildings covered four lots at the NW corner of Second and Garfield. The basement had a boiler, storerooms, and a reservoir for the gas used as lighting (Trabing’s was the only building with gas lights in Laramie). Gus planned but didn’t follow through on installing a rooftop vegetable garden. Most of the new addition remained empty for a year.
The December 1891 Boomerang reports that “university boys now drill four times a week in the second story of the new Trabing twin addition.” Dances, cycling and roller skating were also held in “Trabing Hall”.
In 1892, Trabing cut a connection in the firewall between his two buildings so the retail operation now covered both. Wares included grain, wagons, housewares, furniture, hardware, and groceries.
A recession in 1893 forced Trabing to go to an all cash basis, closing out all credit accounts. The north building was rented to William Myers Dry Goods. The Odd Fellows Hall rented the space above, while Trabing’s store continued in the remaining building at 320 S. Second.
But in the evening of March 13, 1895, a fire started in the basement of the Trabing store. It consumed both buildings, also their stable/warehouse behind on the alley. One volunteer who tried to help put the fire out, UW student George Cordiner, then 17, died in the blaze when a wall collapsed. The Trabings' two dogs died and their personal possessions were lost.
Gus and Hannah Trabing stayed in Laramie and continued to invest on a smaller scale in freighting, retail stores, and land development including the Pioneer Canal. Charles had died in 1885, Gus died at his ranch on the Sybille in 1906 at the age of 64.
By Nancy Trabing Mickelson
Caption: Trabing Store at Second and Garfield, around 1892 when the twin addition on the north had been constructed.