In 1940, fifty years after Wyoming was admitted to the Union, the people of Laramie marked that anniversary with a 2-day celebration called “Equality Jubilee Days.”
The next year, the name of the event was changed to just “Jubilee Days.” The length of the celebration has varied, but Wyoming Statehood Day, July 10, has always been a centerpiece.
In the Biblical sense, “Jubilee” means a celebration held every 50 years to mark an important event in the history of the Israelites. The Old Testament Book of Leviticus says “…consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you….”
So the Laramie organizers got it right that first year, but the meaning of “Jubilee” has eroded over time to describe the celebration of any anniversary for anything. So the cry of “Let’s Jubilee” resounds in Laramie every summer.
There was not much talk about rodeo events in the early years, but horses certainly were featured, from horse races, horse-drawn vehicles, horseback riders, to horse shows in the UW War Memorial Fieldhouse. In an oral history recorded in the 1980s, Centennial resident Bob Engen recalled how much fun he and his teen-age friends would have practicing horseback routines to show off in the Jubilee Parade.
A parade has always been a feature, and there has always been a Jubilee Queen. Gradually the celebration incorporated rodeo events that had been held previously under other auspices. Steer roping began in 1947, with Wyoming rancher and horse breeder King Merritt (1894–1953) furnishing the stock.
In 1949 a carnival was held in an unusual place—the city block on 2nd between Garfield and Kearney. That block was vacant then because all the buildings on it had burned to the ground in 1948.
The Top Hand award was initiated in 1955, with Andy Pirtle of the Miller Ranch the first winner in competition which continues today. To win this award is a great honor for those of Albany County’s ranching community.
Jean Howe Krafczik Britton wrote a history of Jubilee Days in 1987, published in the book “Laramie, Gem City of the Plains.” When she was the first Jubilee Queen in 1940, horse races took place at the site of “the old refinery” (the Midwest Refinery on Cedar Street)—which had been mostly demolished by that time. Betting on races ended in 1971, due to changing state regulations over the sport
Specific Jubilee Days events have come and gone over the years, some being missed more than others when they no longer happened. Old-timers will recall that in the 1960s the downtown was transformed with boardwalks laid over the cement sidewalks. A “whisker growing” contest came and went, as did the tradition of riding a horse into one of the many downtown bars. “They had to put a rope up over the entrance to the Plaza Bar (at 306 Grand Avenue) to keep out the horses and riders,” recalled Amy Lawrence, queen of the third Jubilee, in 1942.
In the 1970s the Jubilee Committee would “arrest” a family of tourists who showed up for the celebration not attired in appropriate western dress. With a mock jailing, the family was given free rodeo tickets and lodging, plus coupons for western clothing at obliging local shops.
“The Year of Jubilee” is a featured lyric in several gospel songs, signifying the time when slaves are set free and when peace, joy and harmony reign. In Laramie, it’s a good old-fashioned celebration, with a bit of reflection on what it meant to have finally become a state in 1890
By Judy Knight
Caption: Lyell Knight Snyder (1925-1992) 1944 Laramie Jubilee Days Queen. Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum