|Jane Ivinson's Letter
San Diego, Cal. Dec.20th 1899.
In compliance with your request for a description of the pioneer days of Laramie, I submit the following, with the hope that you will kindly consider that the time you gave me was very short, and has been spent in traveling, and that in presenting this I have simply drawn on my memory unaided by written memoranda of any kind:
In February of 1868, Mr. Ivinson with some friends came to Fort Sanders, on his way to California, intending to make the rest of the journey as soon as the railroad was finished. Memphis, Tenn., his former home having just passed through a siege of yellow fever and cholera, he thought he needed a radical change. So when Gen. Gibbons and some others went from Fort Sanders to Laramie to lay out the town he went also and purchased a lot on which he put up a store. By the last of February he returned to Memphis, settled up his business and brought his family with him to Laramie. On May the 10th, 1868, I, together with my husband, little girl and maid alighted from the first passenger train as it rolled into the first depot, situated where the present freight house is, in the little prairie settlement which was the site of our handsome city. As I looked around, the first glimpse of my surroundings was anything but reassuring. Where now are seen sightly buildings and green lawns, then only here and there could be seen a white tent rearing its unpretending head amid the expanse of rolling plains hemmed in by the mountains to the west and Black Hills to the east. Our own dwelling was more pretentious, being composed of logs and a board roof without shingles. Shingles were considered superfluous, as everyone informed us that it never rained in this part of the country. You may imagine my sensation in coming from my beautiful home in Tennessee , with its balmy air and fragrant flowers to this little pioneer hamlet, where luxury was unknown and fortunes were to be carved out by dint of great perseverance and stout hearts.
We found it impossible to find a place where we could get a meal, as the first restaurant of Laramie was then only a frame without sides or roof, but Mr. Ivinson took us over to a tent occupied by Mr. Aaron T. Williams, who had just started a bakery. There we had the good fortune to be served with coffee and ham and sandwiches. Mr. Williams placed two boxes for us to sit upon and covered them with newspapers. After satisfying our hunger, our furniture having not arrived, we then had to make arrangements for accommodations for the night, which was done by the clerks in Mr. Ivinson’s store dividing up their bedding with us. Then with a sigh as the only token of our homesickness, we settled down to rest, only to be aroused by a deluge of rain, in this country where shingles were never needed and it never rains. No it did not rain, it only poured and consequently we were drenched. When we arose in the morning, a new tent had sprung up like a mushroom and we learned that a Mr. Boise was the new-comer whose wife had gone east to purchase a stock of millinery.
As I viewed my surroundings that morning, I saw on the corner where Frezee’s handsome block now stands [218-220 S. 2nd], a large tent reaching from that point to about where the Diamond saloon is situated. This place was used for a gambling tent and was called "John Bull’s Tent."
Where the blue front of the old Trabing store now stands [300-302 S. 2nd] was a tin restaurant. Thus named from the fact that everything was served on tin. No meals were given for less than a dollar and ranging from that upward.
One of my former ambitions had been to have a field to labor in where help was needed and unlimited good could be drown, and I realized that I had now reached that place. So with a brave heart, I looked around to see what material was at hand to aid in the immense work now laid out before me. Tents were now springing up thick and fast and among the families coming in were several little children. This caused me to consider seriously the organization of a Sunday school which I did. Mr. Charles Wright and his family were among these new comers. They came to me and suggested that the school be a union school. But I thought it best to have the church Sunday school in the morning, and the union school in the afternoon. We had Mr. Boise, and wife, Mr. Boyd, Mr. Steel, Mr. Batchelder, Mr. Charles Wright and family, Mr. Valentine Barker and wife, who now live in Cheyenne, and a number of others whose names I have forgotten. We all worked in harmony and never tired of it, for the work we all loved to do. We had also at that time a private school, kept by George Lancaster, but some of the families in town were not able to pay the expenses of a private school, so that gave us the inspiration to start a public school. So we all started in to organize the school, but the greater part of the work fell upon Mrs. Baker and myself, who got up a number of social dances to defray expenses. And let me say, that there was more true enjoyment and harmony in that little band of earnest workers, than one could imagine.
The first Sunday school was composed of Eva Owen, now Mrs. Downey, Etta Owen, now Mrs. Roach, Willie Owen, Jimmie Symons, Willie Bath, Phil. Bath, Curtis Boise, Bob Baxter, the oldest daughter of Mrs. Naismith, and the Tamer family, three girls and one boy. In the fall, Mr. Harper brought his family, now Mrs. Alice Marsh, Edward Harper and Nellie Harper. There were quite a number of others whose names I cannot remember. It gives me great pleasure to see the girls and boys raised on our bleak plains such able men and women.
The Episcopal church was the first church to hold services in Laramie, and was conducted by Mr. Joseph Cook, of Cheyenne, who would come over and give an evening’s service, the money collected being given him to pay his expenses to and from. We organized the church on the anniversary of St. Matthew on the 21st of September, 1868, and the Rev. John Cornell was sent out in October by Bishop Randall. When he arrived, the first thing he did was to search for materials to build a first thing he did was to search for materials to build a church. We realized $1,000. Mr. Evans, one of the constructors of the railroad giving $500 and the balance was given by about a half a dozen others. The balance of the money Mr. John Cornell raised among his friends in the east. After paying for it, we had about $500 over.
When Bishop Randall made us our first visit, he said, "You must try to entertain the young men and keep them from the gambling hall." I said, "Well, bishop what shall we do?" "Give them a social with music and a little dancing." So being given permission by the bishop and being fond of dancing myself, I thought it was all right. When the judges came over to hold court, we being then a part of South Dakota, we gave them a social and served coffee, cake and sandwiches. How delighted they were! Each one giving $5.00 for a certain cup of coffee like mother made. In this way we realized $110.10, the extra ten cents being given by little Willie Owen. I felt as proud of that ten cent piece as I would of ten dollars from anyone else, as he was only a child and gave it so freely.
Before this when we held services, we had no permanent place, so any store room offered us, we would take and fix it up as much like a church with our scanty material as possible. This generally consisted of a dry goods box and a soap box covered and made to represent a reading desk. Around the walls were pinned blankets to keep out the keen blasts of wind. We had benches made and would carry the lamps and organ with us from place to place and make everything as comfortable as possible. Then after service we moved everything away. We had a number of gambling halls and dance houses at that time, but here, let me say with due respect to those men who had gone astray then before our services would begin, they would close their dance hall ‘till after the meeting was over, which showed they had not forgotten the little prayer at their mother’s knee, but still showed reverence to the Supreme Being. Then you would hear them resume business with the then familiar call "Keno, one more couple this way."
As the people increased, the denominations separated. The first to leave the union was the Baptists, then the Presbyterians, and then the Methodists, each trying to get to the same foot stool by different ways, but all leading to God our father.
The first Christmas tree was given in the dining rooms of the new railroad hotel, the present Thornburgh [at the end of Ivinson Ave.]. This house was built in one month in September; we all worked very hard, especially Mrs. Eliza Boyd, who proved to be a most indefatigable and earnest worker, and all of us entered into this undertaking with all of our energies, bent on making a success. The men going out a bringing in greens. We decorated the dining room beautifully and as the guests assembled on this first Christmas evening friends met, who had not seen each other for months, and exchanged greetings with hearts full of love and peace. When the passenger train passed through that evening, the passengers expressed surprise at seeing in that wilderness of sand and sage brush, such a beautiful Christmas display of good cheer and plenty. We distributed one hundred books, besides other presents. So you can see how the Sunday School had increased from 12 to 100 in such a short time. I am sure no tree laden with richer and more costly presents ever gave one-half the pleasure that evergreen tree, with its load of books and toys, did that evening.
We had now a flourishing school and everything was working the right way for the good of the children, and when I look at our beautiful and imposing university and realize the little band of workers who started the material for it, I feel very happy.
In conclusion I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year.