Looking into Wyoming’s political divide

Within our country, there is a clear divide when it comes to certain political views.  In Wyoming, there is a history of division, like the Johnson County War, just as any other state has.

The earliest division was simply between the north and south counties of the state. Farmers and stock growers dominated the north, while the Union Pacific Railroad ran through the counties in the south.

Until 1960, the north was largely republican and the south was mostly democratic.

There were divisions among cattlemen and ranchers. One specific event, as mentioned before, was the Johnson County Invasion.

“That was a case of big cattlemen versus small ranchers and was more economic than sectional even though the big operators tended to come from Cheyenne and the small operators in that incident were clustered around Buffalo,” Phil Roberts, professor emeritus of history at the University of Wyoming, said.

There have always been rivalries between towns in the state as well.

According to “Contest for the Capital: The Capital Location Election of 1904” by Phil Roberts, there was an election held that would determine the locations of state institutions, which included the state capital.

People debated on some aspects that integrated size and location of the towns that were included in the election.

Race is another issue in the state and “one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the history of the country occurred in Rock Springs,” said Dave Marcum, government studies instructor at Laramie County Community College.

This incident was the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885 that involved tension between white and Chinese coal miners. This massacre resulted in the murder of 28 Chinese people, 15 wounded and the burning of 79 shacks in Rock Springs’ Chinatown.

“I would also have to argue that an issue is women in Wyoming,” said Mary Ludwig, a history instructor at LCCC. “We like to promote ourselves as the equality state and yet Wyoming is known as an old boy’s club.”

Wyoming is referred to as the Cowboy State, which goes against women and equality being a huge part of the state as well.

“We have the fewest number of women serving in the legislature and even have one of the worst pay differentials in the country,” Ludwig said.

Other issues deal with public land versus state land, as well as private property. Energy development, economic development, and how to fund education are also debatable topics.

“We have been riding this coal boom since the 80’s and it’s brought a lot of money into the state and what we want is to keep that money coming in, but we aren’t sure how we are going to do that with the absence of coal,” Marcum said.

An issue that has always been a prominent discussion, but more so after recent events, is gun control and what should be done to stop horrific events.

In Wyoming’s history, guns have not been as big of an issue as it is in other states.

“If there is a political divide in Wyoming regarding gun ownership, it is a very small divide,” Marcum said. “You’re not going to see the same chasm as you would see in New York or California where you have a really distinct dichotomy going on.”

There are many groups and advocates that want gun laws and carry laws reviewed and made stricter.

“If there are anti-gun or pro-gun control groups in Wyoming, they are outnumbered,” Ludwig said. “Even the democratic party in Wyoming is not going to take an anti-gun stance.”

In Wyoming, a state permit is not required for someone to possess a shotgun, rifle or handgun. Anyone who is 21 and not a prohibited possessor can carry a weapon, openly or concealed, without a license.

In 2011, Wyoming became the fourth state that allows private citizens to carry concealed firearms in public without a permit or license.

“Hunting is huge within the state and we are a very pro-military state,” Marcum said. “You won’t get far in this state running a gun control platform.”

According to Robert and his research on the earliest town ordinances for six Wyoming towns, five of those six Wyoming towns, “had historical ordinances specifically stating that it was against the law to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed, in town limits.”

Some towns that had such ordinances during this time included Cheyenne, Lusk, Rawlins, Casper, Laramie, Sheridan, Cody and Thermopolis.

Not everyone agreed with such ordinances and such laws were hard to enforce then just as it is hard to enforce certain laws today.

In early Cheyenne days, police officers were to arrest anyone who violated the ordinance. These violations could lead to fines or jail time.

The Wyoming Legislature has yet to secure any bills enforcing stricter gun laws within the state.

“We have the same issues, maybe with a different spin or take, but Wyoming tends to struggle with solving issues that the Legislature can handle,” Marcum said.


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