My great grandparents, Moses and Catherine Byrne, came to this area in the mid 1850s. They earned a living by using scythes and hand rakes to gather hay for the Pony Express Stations. By 1860 they went to work for the Overland Stage Company to build stagecoach stations across part of Wyoming and on into Utah. They lived at one of the stations on Muddy Creek between Fort Bridger and Evanston. They added to their income by building a bridge across the creek and charging a fee for travelers to cross it. They also kept oxen so they could trade one fat healthy ox to a traveler for two oxen that had pulled a wagon so far across the country they were too tired and thin to go any further. Moses and Catherine would feed and rest the tired oxen until they were fat and healthy then trade those two oxen for four tired oxen. That was my family’s first experience with ranching.
As construction of the Transcontinental Railroad reached the area in the mid 1860s, Moses and Catherine moved a few miles south to a site where there was an artesian well. The pure water from the well was valuable for use in the steam engines of the trains. A small community developed as other families moved there to provide food and supplies for the railroad workers who were laying ties and rails for the train tracks. Later they provided the same services to passengers when the trains stopped to take on water. The community was named Piedmont.
Richard’s great grandfather, Richard Henry Hamilton, and his brother-in-law, Judge Carter traveled back and forth between Virginia and California several time to check out the California gold rush and look into other business ventures in the west. In 1857 the US Army appointed Judge Carter as Post Sutler at Fort Bridger (like a very small Wall Mart where the soldiers could buy food, clothing and other supplies). He and Richard Henry began trading one ox for two and before long were raising cattle in a big way over a large part of Wyoming. They did very well for a few years but since they were new to the country they didn’t realize how lush the grass could be one year but dry and barren or deep under snow the next. The result was that most of their animals starved. With that lesson learned they started to cut and store grass from the lush years to feed a much smaller herd of cattle during dry years and bad winters. That is how Richard’s family began ranching.
My mother’s grandparents, Charles and Sarah Robbins, came from the east to help build the railroad. They worked in the forest near Robertson cutting trees and hacking ties with handsaws, axes and special tools to make the ties flat on all four sides. They did this all winter until the spring thaw was about to start. Then they built a dam across the river and placed all the ties close to the riverbank below the dam. When the water was as deep as it could get they broke the dam to flood the river. The high water picked up the ties and floated them several miles down stream to where the railroad workers could get to them with wagons. Those ties were very similar to the ties that lay under the rails trains travel on today.
My Dad, Robert Byrne, was raised in Piedmont when it was still a booming, bustling town. When he was young he traveled around the area on horseback doing a variety of jobs for a variety of people. He often stopped to visit and old hermit who had homesteaded a ranch on the Blacks Fork River. While my Dad was taking part in the 1st World War in Germany with the 303 Field Remount Squadron (Cavalry) in 1919, the old hermit became deathly ill. He asked the doctor to let my Dad know the homestead was to go to him. This is the place where I began ranching.
Richard’s grandparents, Charles and Roda Hamilton, homesteaded a few miles south of Fort Bridger on the Smiths Fork in 1898. Roda earned a small herd of sheep in wages for teaching at the Poverty Flat School south of Mountain View. She canned a lot of their food from her garden and only rarely went to town for other supplies. This was at a time when raising cattle was still a lot of work. A team of two horses powered most of the machinery. There were no tractors with heaters or air-conditioners. One year they lost all their calves to blackleg. They earned enough to make it through the year by skinning the calves and selling the hides. This is where Richard began ranching. A portion of this ranch along with a portion of the ranch where I was raised is where Richard and I have lived and ranched since 1970.
There is a little left of one of Charles and Roda’s early homes and Piedmont is now a ghost town with the ruined remains of old homes, two graveyards and a historical site for several charcoal kilns built by Moses. Richard Henry and Judge Carter became important to Fort Bridger’s history and are buried in the small cemetery inside the Fort grounds.
All of this history took place a very long time ago and our ranch life is much easier than it was then; mainly because we have the advantage of our grandparents’ experiences and knowledge of their mistakes and successes. And, we do have tractors with air-conditioners and heaters and a pick-up truck with a horse trailer so we can ride home from long cattle drives in comfort. We have vaccines to protect our animals from diseases and we don’t have to chop wood for the cook stove nor pack buckets of water from the creek to wash dishes and bath. We have a lot more time to enjoy our work, our animals and our family.
That is enough about history. I want you to see a picture of our house. We are located about six miles due south of Fort Bridger at 1689 on County Road 263. Also, I thought you would like to see a picture of JR and Dazzy’s sleeping quarters. JR gets the big doghouse on the left and Dazzy gets the chain link pen. JR has to be attached to the doghouse with a small chain hooked to his collar and Dazzy is locked in the pen so they won’t run off during the night and get in trouble. They have all day to run and play anywhere on the ranch that they want to except for in my yard. They would love to be in the yard but Rufus makes sure they understand that they are not allowed in the yard
We hope you enjoyed the history. I will get the answers to your questions sent right away.
Carol, Richard and the animals
Uinta County Conservation District P.O. Box 370 204 East Sage St. Lyman, WY 82937 307-787-3070