First Resident of the Laramie Plains—Phillip Mandel

The man who may have been the first permanent European resident of the Laramie Plains, Phillip Mandel (1835-1917), arrived at a date not well documented, but he could have been here 10 years prior to the 1868 founding of Laramie.

According to US Census takers, who located him and his family in the years 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910, Mandel was born in the Alsace region on the French/German border. He indicated his birthplace as either France or Germany, depending on which nation controlled the region at the time.

Stationmaster for the Overland Stage Company

Some say Mandel came to the Laramie Plains before 1860; definitely he was here by 1862, working for Ben Holladay’s Denver to Salt Lake Overland Stage Company. Holladay had just abandoned the Oregon Trail because of Indian attacks. The new route he chose went north from Fort Collins (then located at LaPorte), through Virginia Dale and northwest through the Laramie Plains. That route was already called the Cherokee Trail, but it became known as the Overland Trail.

We don’t know what Mandel did for Holladay at the beginning of his employment, but by 1864 he was the stationmaster for the Overland Stage stop at the Little Laramie River. There he and his employees provided accommodations for the stage and its passengers. According to several accounts the station provided safe haven for emigrants who had been attacked by Indians. Reportedly, sometimes the stage traveled at night to avoid attacks.

Mandel’s 1864 filing of a homestead entry for land where the stage line crossed the Little Laramie River, was the first one made in what became Albany County, according to Burns, Gillespie, and Richardson in their 1955 book, Wyoming Pioneer Ranches.

Two years later, in 1866, Mandel became a contractor for the newly established Fort Sanders (briefly called Fort Buford) that protected railroad and telegraph workers and emigrants on the Overland Trail. Mary Lou Pence wrote in “Fort Sanders—Sentinel of the Laramie Plains” (Annals of Wyoming 1961) that he provided hay and timber for the fort. He might have provided beef also, since he was one of the earliest stock raisers in the Laramie Basin.

Mandel marriage and family

In1870, the census-takers caught up with Mandel in Sherman, Wyoming at the summit of the railroad between Cheyenne and Laramie. The entry notes that he also had a home in the “Laramie Valley.” He was 35 at the time, and his household included George Mandel (1845-1900), probably a younger brother, considering that he also was born in the Alsace region of France. In 1890 George filed on land in Albany County but he died about 10 years later at age 55.

Also in the 1870 Philip Mandel household was Mrs. Jennie Alexander (1840-1907) and her two young children. The next year, 1871, they were married. Jane Louisa Campbell Alexander Mandel was her full name.

Eventually there were five children in the family, including John and Emma Alexander who were 10 and 5, respectively, when Jennie married Mandel. John is acknowledged as Phil Mandel’s stepson in the 1880 census, though Emma (listed as “Mary Emma”) is referred to as his daughter. The other three Mandel children were Louis Philip (who died as an infant in 1874), Catherine, born in 1876, and Margaret, born in1881.

Mandel Station

Mandel Lane was named for him (“Mandell” on some maps and in several census records). It also designated a neighborhood—newspapers of the late 1800’s often refer to ranchers who were “in from Mandel.”  The lane goes south from near the west end of Herrick Lane and continues on to Highway130.

In 1876, more than ten years after operating the Little Laramie Stage Station for Ben Holladay, Mandel received title by patent from the US government for the land around the station. Today, an active ranch on the site has one very old structure that is probably part of the original stage station, on the opposite (east) side of Mandel Lane from the Little Laramie Valley View School. The county formed an election precinct at the Mandel station in 1872, and in 1876 the precinct voters petitioned to have a school district there, which is still operating as part of the countywide school district.

Mandel Ranch

By 1880 Mandel had moved about a mile south to section 10, first granted to him in 1876 and enlarged in 1889 (though he probably grazed cattle on that land much earlier). He built a two-story wooden ranch house at the new location. This house still stands proudly, though no one was living in it 25 years ago (and probably not for many years before that). It and the outbuildings are easy to spot because they are the only structures after the school on the west side of Mandel Lane.

Mandel moved a blacksmith shop from the Little Laramie River Stage Station to a new location near the 2-story home. That building is no longer standing though there is a small barn and a larger outbuilding, probably much more recent.

Although the ranch was Mandel’s primary residence for many years, according to the 1880 US Census he and the family lived at 311 S. 4th St. in Laramie. Maybe they moved to town to provide a high school education for John and Emma (Catherine was four and Margaret was not yet born). At the time of the 1900 census, the family home was at 610 S. 7th St. In those days of unpaved roads, a trip to Laramie and back by horse and wagon could take most of a day, so it was not unusual for ranch families to have town residences as well, especially if they had high school children.

In 1904, daughter Margaret Mandel married Charles Henry Hopkins (about 1881–1966). They moved to Los Angeles, but by 1920 Charles was a widower and eventually moved back to his Laramie hometown. He was the source of information about the Mandel family that Mary Lou Pence used for the article referred to above.

Later Life

Soon after Mandel’s wife died (in Denver) in 1907, he moved to the Johnson Hotel in Laramie (1910 US Census). A modest fellow, Mandel declined to talk much about his life, and was rarely mentioned in the newspapers. He died in 1917 at the home of his daughter Catherine (or Katherine) at her home at 412 Grand Avenue.

In writing his obituary, the Laramie Republican said: “He came to the United States when he was 15 years of age and to Wyoming when he was 20, settling in the Little Laramie valley, where he lived the life of a frontiersman, dying as he had lived, in the simple, peaceful way of men who have wrought long and well.” The obituary further claims that his station on the Little Laramie was used by the Pony Express, though that is unlikely, since their route followed the Oregon Trail that by-passed Albany County altogether.

By Judy Knight

Caption:  One of the oldest ranch houses on the Laramie Plains was this one, built by pioneer Phil Mandel about 140 years ago—as it looked in 1993. It is easy to see on the west side of Mandel Lane, but permission of the landowner would be needed to get closer to it. Remnant metal flashing indicates a porch was added and is now gone, but the diagonal lines above the doorway show that a smaller pediment roof for a portico might have been on the front originally. Today the house looks much the same, 25 years after this photo was taken by Lenore Diem.