There was much for Laramie residents to worry about as July approached in 1917. The United States had entered the Great War on the side of the Allies and a draft of military aged men started. Men in Laramie ages 21-31 began to register on June fifth.
Russia was in revolution; the French Army had mutinied and the first American troops landed in France on June 25, 1917. Families feared that it would not be long before young men from Laramie might be at the front.
Nevertheless, residents of Albany County went though with plans to celebrate the 141st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in fine style.
Planning for the big three-day celebration had been underway for months under the guidance of the Albany County Cattle and Horse Growers Association. The Boomerang urged their readers to join in the upcoming festivities.
Horse, automobile and motorcycle races were scheduled for the morning of July fourth. Rodeo events were featured later in the day as were marksmanship contests and trick shooting. The county fairgrounds, then located where Washington Park is now, was the venue for the equine displays of speed while the autos raced from Denver to Laramie and from Walden to Laramie.
The Laramie Republican newspaper carried the complete list of events on the front page. They noted weather was warm with a high of 81 degrees and a bit breezy with gusts to 25 miles per hour. News received by telephone from the fairgrounds indicated that the first race on July 4 was on motorcycles with Mr. Ames completing the five-mile race in 7 minutes and 50 seconds.
Next up were the morning horse races. Men rode on “cowhorses” over one-half mile with the winner, A. F. Chaha, besting six opponents with a time of just under 59 seconds. No doubt the men were greatly embarrassed at the conclusion of the next race. Six boys competed at the same distance with young L. “Mellody” (actually it was Len Malody) completing the course a full one second faster than Mr. Chaha. The boys also beat the “Old Timers.” That race was won by John Hunziker in 59 seconds flat with Lou Bath close behind in second place.
The automobile races garnered much enthusiasm and lots of coverage in the newspapers. The race from Walden to Laramie began at 9 a.m. and the winner, going over the brand-new Johnson Creek bridge by way of the Boswell ranch, arrived at the Connor Hotel in Laramie at 12:26 p.m.
The result of the race from Denver to Laramie was rewarded with headlines on the front page of the July 5th Boomerang. The paper reported that Denverite Bob Murray, driving a Buick, finished first with a time of 3 hours and 8 minutes. There was an accusation that he won because he was not using a stock engine, but an examination of the car proved the charge false.
The two cars expected to win the race wound up in ditches not far from Denver and the lone Laramie contestant, L.G. Peterson, driving his Paige motorcar, had a mechanical failure near Longmont while leading the race. Town Marshall Davidson announced he would clear all of second street for the finish because the previous year a young girl was injured when one of the cars “threw a tire.”
Additional events were held throughout the day and over the next two days at the fairgrounds. Featured events were additional horse races, steer roping, bronc riding and bulldogging. Only one injury was noted, that to a man named Brassfield, whose collar bone was fractured when his horse fell on him during the wild horse race.
One of the highlights of the event was a marksmanship/trick shooting demonstration by Captain Hardy and his daughter. The pair entertained the crowds between events. The paper reported, “Now and then
there was a little lull, but it never lasted long, for pandemonium would again break loose and hilarity once
more reign[ed] supreme.”
On the 5th the Boomerang reported that thousands had attended the first day of the event. Noting that the bleachers and grandstands were filled to overflowing, they also reported that special passenger trains brought spectators from Cheyenne and Walden.
Wyoming Governor Frank Houx and Professor William B. Guthrie, a visiting professor from New York, gave speeches appropriate to the Fourth of July. Houx became acting governor in 1917 when Governor Kendrick resigned. Their remarks “pleased the audience immensely.”
In concluding remarks, the Boomerang heaped praise on the organization of the celebration, particularly noting that the “wild west show,” referring to the rodeo, was carried through with only amateur cowboys, most known to all local residents.
The races and rodeo were not the only happenings on the 4th in Laramie. Life went on beyond the fairgrounds. A front-page article in the Republican announced the resignation of University of Wyoming President Dr. C. A. Duniway.
Duniway, who was president for five years, was leaving to accept a similar post at Colorado College in Colorado Springs at a higher salary. The paper also made a point of saying that the Colorado institute had one president in the past thirty years while U.W. had eight [the correct number was 10!].
The next day, the Boomerang reported that the university fall term start date would likely be delayed until October. The move was contemplated in hopes that more young men from farms and ranches could attend classes, boosting enrollment. It was also announced that a contract for $7,500 had been let to the Holliday company to build a new music hall.
Will Hansen and Annie Marie Donahue were married on the 4th at the home of Father Hugh Cummiskey. Will was employed at the Union Pacific telegraph office and Annie at the Western Union office. Although not known for sure, the telegraph likely played an important role in the courtship.
Mr. and Mrs. Leo Chase, he the forest ranger at Seven Mile, welcomed a new boy into the world. The birth occurred at the new Ivinson Memorial Hospital with Dr. Leake attending. A sad event also happened at the hospital. Sixteen-year old Rose House died of complications from rheumatism.
News of the day was capped off by the announcement that County Clerk Thyra Therkildsen and Otis Wallis both were driving their new automobiles. Thyra took delivery of her Buick from the Anderson garage and the Republican newspaper announced that, “She is able to manipulate the numberless levers and other contraptions and the wheels fairly sing as they cover the smooth streets.”
All in all, Independence Day celebrations were wonderful for the citizens of Laramie and Albany County in 1917 and diversions from global woes that would shortly affect all Americans.
By Kim Viner
Caption: An unidentified female rider appears to be bowing her horse to spectators at a July 4, 1906 rodeo in Laramie at the County Fairgrounds. In fact, she is described as a “bronc rider.” The fairgrounds were located where Washington Park is now. Note the uniformed soldiers from Ft. D.A. Russell in Cheyenne seated in the grandstand, in attendance. Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum.