When you say to people that you are a revisionist historian hackles are instantly raised. This is because the popular interpretation of the term is false but well distributed. There is this assumption that a revisionist is in the habit of removing historic facts and changing them to suit. The revisionist historian does not change history they simple ensure all of the history is being told.
A revisionist historian may write about the cowboys of Wyoming’s gun slinging heyday but they would also write about their wives, daughters, pets, buildings, social mores and what they had for breakfast. When I think of revisionist history I think of the late great Paul Harvey. We like to tell: “the rest of the story.” And so I finally get to my point: the inclusion of all of Glenrock’s social history at the Deer Creek Museum.
A museum exhibit floor is often a reflection of the curator’s personal preferences. They will emphasize their ‘favorite’ pieces of the history time line and mute or even extinguish any opposing or diverting thoughts. Often this is conscious but most often its a matter of not having enough information or confidence in other areas and sticking to what you know. Last year I realized that our humble little museum had lots of information about the cowboys, the ranchers, the Depression and World War I but very little else.
I am not blameless in this constricting of historical fact. A restricted working time and limited floorspace provides the perfect stage for a fractured local history. I started noticing this winter that my penchant for the Progressive Era had begun to dominate the shelves and cases of the museum. It was time to revise things to better include other major moments in Glenrock’s social history: the Pony Express and the Mormon Trail.
Pre Territorial Glenrock- The Mormon Gardens
In the 1840s Wyoming wasn’t even a territory; it was a stop on the trail, a challenge to overcome, a place to learn what real snow and wind felt like. For the many persecuted Mormons on the eastern seaboard, Wyoming was a resting place on the way to a new home, a safe haven from misunderstanding and religious xenophobia. Before this period Glenrock was little more that a trading post and locally referred to as Dakota City or Deer Creek. The Mormons, whose ancestors still shop at the local stores and eat at the local restaurants, set up base with the intention of facilitating a new life in the soon to be Utah.
In the area now referred to as South Rec, the early Mormon travelers set up buildings, raised crops, assisted fellow travelers and provided a respite on the long journey to Salt Lake City. Glenrock was designated by early journal accounts a great place to stop and rest. One group of Mormons came in to set things up then when a new group rolled into town the first group left and the new ones took over cultivation of the fields. Then Hiram Kimball secured the postal contract from the government in 1856 and Deer Creek was on the map. Glenrock’s Mormon pioneers played a large role in early western communication.
War and the Pony Express- Glenrock Home Station
All was going well until the federal government declared war on the Mormon population of the country. And then there was that postal contract secured by Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express company. In 1860 the small post office and trading station became the Deer Creek Home Station, an overnight stop on the newly formed Pony Express.
As the majority of Glenrock’s Mormon population left to aid their fellow believers in Utah, the Pony Express began turning the humble yet established mail route into an enterprise the folks in the West still celebrate today. In the early days of the Civil War, the riders that slept in Glenrock’s home station were a vital communication link during a time of national turmoil.
So the Mormons left, the Pony Express showed up, the train showed up and the Pony Express left. Today in Glenrock we have a long abandoned railway track and markers commemorating the spot where the trading post, home station and telegraph office once stood but little else to tell the story of this early Glenrock era. Well, we do have the Pony Express re-riders. You know the folks that have kept the history of the Pony Express alive and well for over 150 years. Some of the major members of the group hail from guess where? You got it, lil ol Glenrock.
There’s another thing about us revisionist historians we know we really don’t know much. A museum can be a platform for the dead; a way to connect with the past. So who better to connect with the early Mormon pioneers than their local descendants? And who best suited to explain the story of the Pony Express and the Pony Express Re-ride than the riders themselves? Are they not more qualified and more capable to tell the rest of their story than me? Of course they are. And I for one am excited that the museum can give them a voice. That’s revisionist history folks: letting every voice be heard.
The Pony Express exhibit will include the mochilla or mail bag and Olympic torch carried by the reriders for the 1996 Olympics as well as the local history and involvement in the group. The Mormon exhibit will provide a more accurate time line of Glenrock’s Mormon history and its connection and relationship with the present community.