“I must have books”

Last week, Dana shared with you her essential reading list. Of course, I couldn’t resist doing likewise! Before I do, maybe I should tell you a little about my obsession!

Image result for Thomas Jefferson meme "I must have books"

I confess it openly: I am a bibliophile! I love books. I don’t just love reading them. I love collecting them, too! I love the feel of them in my hand–the weight of knowledge and authority. I love the creases that form in the spine of a paperback–the trophy of accomplishment that you get when you’ve read every page. I love the smell of a used bookstore, where every volume–like a hungry orphan–reaches with outstretched arms for you to pick it up, take it home, and love it once more!

In short, books to me are more than just paper, glue, and ink. They are gateways to other worlds, or times. Perhaps this accounts for why I spend most of my “mad money” on purchasing them. My personal library–acquired over many years of higher education and personal study–now runs to somewhere around two-thousand volumes!

Some people buy fancy cars, or stylish clothes….I buy books.

How did this obsession begin? Some of you may remember the late 1980s and early 1990s television show Reading Rainbow. You know, the one hosted by Gordy LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation? Well, the opening song began with the lyrics, “butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high…”

Related image

And you know what? I really believed that with a book, I could do that!

I started in the early 1990s by reading children’s books on the Titanic that my Uncle Joe rented from the local library just for me! As you know from a previous post, this subject became a sort of obsession for me…especially when the James Cameron film hit theaters in 1997.

Related image

Then in grade school it was R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps. A new one came out every month, and the scholastic book orders would always highlight it on the first page of their monthly order form! My favorite was Night of the Living Dummy.

Then when Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation of Jurassic Park came out, it was on to Michael Creighton’s novels–my favorite is Sphere. Similarly, when Interview with the Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were shown on HBO (I wasn’t old enough to go to an R-rated movie in the theater), I had my mother rush me to the local used bookstore to pick up copies!

Today, I mainly spend my money on non-fiction, but I still occasionally dabble in a little fiction. For instance, in the last year I finished reading all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. My favorite was The Vampire Lestat.

Image result for Shakespeare Meme

I like to consider myself a professional student. I loved learning in grade school, high school, and especially college, and I expect that I will continue to have an insatiable appetite for learning until the day I “shuffle off this mortal coil”….that’s a Shakespeare reference…I’ll let you look up which play it’s from.

In that vein, I suppose I resemble Thomas Jefferson, our third president, who once wrote in a letter to a friend that he could do without most luxuries of life, but he could not “live without books.”

Image result for Thomas Jefferson quote books

Yes, it true–I just put myself in the same group as Gordy LaForge, William Shakespeare, and Thomas Jefferson. No, I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I do, however, believe that reading can make you as great as these men.

Image result for Han Solo Meme delusions of grandeur

By now, if you are still with me, you probably get my appreciation for reading. So, without further ado, I can get to my reading list!

Being a historian, it should come as no surprise that I will have a lot of nonfiction on it. Every one of them I have personally read. Every one of them I highly recommend. Some are more enjoyable than others, but all are important!

Dr. Neels’ Reading List:


Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Image result for Confederates in the Attic

George Washington by Ron Chernow

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel


Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S.

Grant in War and Peace by H. W. Brands

With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by

Stephen Oates

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by

Image result for A Night to Remember

Stephen Greenblatt

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush

Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria by

Richard Goldstein

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of

Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward

Image result for John Adams David McCullough

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon


John Adams by David McCullough

Lincoln and the First Shot by Richard


A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn


The Once and Future King by T. H. White

Image result for Les Miserables book

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Image result for Lamb by Christopher Moore

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff,

Christ’s Childhood Pal

by Christopher Moore

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rawling

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Image result for The Haunting of Hill House book cover

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

1984 by George Orwell

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

So there you have it! A reading list fit for a bibliophile! Of course there are hundreds more that I could have added! Happy Reading!

— m.a.n.

The cultural connection to books

Today I read about a terrible decision Spokane, WA public schools made: to lay off all of their school librarians. In order to try to balance their budget, they are removing the unseen hand guiding young students through the wealth (and litter) of information modern society has made available to them.

As Americans, we also don’t read enough outside of our job or career any more. Scholarly book sales are on the decline. Heck, even popular books sales are on the decline, and that includes e-books. Whether or not the problem might be that we are all so busy trying to make a living, the issue is there. We no longer have a cultural connection to books, or even to the acquisition of knowledge in general.

These two facts connect so much of what has been happening in our society for the last 30 years or so: the disinterest in knowledge, and the inability to gauge the usefulness of information presented to us. I truly don’t believe that social media created our short attention spans, but the other way around: that social media was created as a response to our demand for just the bits of information that we need, outside of the context that takes too long for us to understand.

I consciously noticed this trend myself my first year teaching, over a decade ago. I’m a complete nerd, I’ll admit, but when none of my students have read anything I reference? (I make a lot of pop culture jokes based on books and movies). I started making lists of books I’ve read that I can remember the titles to. And then I asked my students (at the time, I wasn’t much more that 10 years older than the traditional undergraduate) to make their own lists. When I had over 400 books I can recall the titles to on my list, and they could barely come up with 20? I knew there was a problem. But how to address it?

Ted Striphas, Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado, has been blogging about the cultural connection to books for some time (https://www.tedstriphas.com/teaching/the-cultures-of-books-reading/). It’s fascinating how other cultures looks at books and reading. Did you know that the UK has the highest sales of non-fiction books per capita (in countries where we have stats available)? And in Iceland, it’s the tradition that on Christmas Eve, everyone gives each other a book, and your family spends the evening reading. https://www.readitforward.com/essay/article/jolabokaflod-meet-favorite-new-holiday-tradition/

I think I must be Icelandic.

So I started passing out lists of books I think my college students should read. Not those lists of “Books everyone should read before graduating college”, but books that I think are interesting and important. Books that can change your mind. Students responded well, though as it wasn’t an assignment, I have really no idea if they ever took up the list to actually read through. But, ever the optimist, I then started a hashtag on Facebook, #Pertermannbooklist, where I listed 50 of my favorite/important/mygodyouneedtoreadthisbook books.

Now it’s your turn. No, I don’t think this will “fix” the world. But, like Kris Kristofferson, I can’t believe that no one wants to know.

(In no precise order)

  1. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
  2. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
  4. How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (It’s my favorite book of all time. Fight me.)
  6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  7. The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
  8. Alpha Beta by John Man
  9. Maphead by Ken Jennings
  10. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  11. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  12. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  13. To Reign in Hell by Steve Brust
  14. The Choose Your Own Adventure series by Vermont Crossroads Press
  15. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
  16. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  17. Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen
  18. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  20. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  21. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  22. The Seven Daughters of Eve by Brian Sykes
  23. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  24. The Tunnel by Russell Edson (poetry that will blow your mind)
  25. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

If you’re still with me, I hope you read some of these. 😀

I’ll probably post another list later, maybe with a theme. Happy reading!


The Titanic’s First Near Collision!

For those who don’t know, I am by training a Civil War historian and an Abraham Lincoln scholar. But, my first passion has always been the maiden voyage and sinking of the RMS Titanic. Coincidentally, I might add, the subjects of Lincoln and the Titanic share a common bond–the dates April 14 and 15 are not only the anniversary of the ship’s sinking, but also the President’s assassination!

Related image
The Titanic and President Lincoln share an important date! They both met their ends on the night of April 14-15! The Titanic sank exactly forty-seven years after Lincoln’s assassination.
Image result for Lincoln

But I digress…

Today, April 10, marks the beginning of the 107th commemoration of the Titanic‘s maiden voyage. As such, I thought making it the topic of this week’s blog post might be a fitting way to remember the event.

Specifically, though, I’m going to talk about a little known fact about the maiden voyage. Did you know that the Titanic’s voyage almost didn’t happen? 107 years ago today, as the RMS Titanic departed Southampton, England on its way to it’s first port of call in Cherbourg, France, the massive liner nearly collided with another ship, keeping it from departing at all!

As it passed alongside two smaller vessels tethered to the pier–the White Star Line’s Oceanic and the American Line’s New York–the suction from the Titanic‘s propellers drew the New York away from the Oceanic until its tethers snapped like gunshots. In an instant, the New York was free from it’s moorings, and it’s stern was swinging directly toward the Titanic‘s port side.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water
The stern of the New York swings perilously toward the Titanic‘s port side. This photograph was taken from the Southampton pier.

Onboard the Titanic, while passengers congregated along the rails to witness the impending collision, on the bridge Captain Edward J. Smith and Southampton pilot George Bowyer made a quick decision to increase speed to the Titanic‘s port propeller. The sudden rush of water was just enough to push the smaller New York away from the Titanic‘s side. Smith then ordered the engines stopped. At the same time, the crew of the tug Vulcan secured a line to the New York, and pull it forward and clear of the Titanic‘s stationary bow. The New York was then rejoined to the pier, and the Titanic continued on her way.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor and water
The New York is pulled by the tug Vulcan away from the Titanic’s stationary bow. This photograph was taken by a passenger on the Titanic’s deck. The passenger later disembarked at Queenstown, Ireland (the Titanic’s last port of call) and developed his film after the sinking.

The incident happened in only a matter of minutes, and almost no one took it as anything more than a passing moment of excitement in an otherwise easy send off. One second class passenger, however, was later remembered by his daughter as turning to his wife and saying “that’s a bad omen for a start.” Four days later, he died when the Titanic sank after failing to avoid a second collision…this time with the fateful iceberg.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor and water
The Titanic continues on it’s fateful voyage. This photograph was taken from the deck of the New York as the Titanic passed by.

I have been fascinated by this ship, and her story, since I was a boy of six years old. I was born a few years before Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the wreck in 1985 laying in 2.5 miles of water some four-hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. I remember my Uncle Joe showing me a National Geographic Magazine with photos from Dr. Ballard’s 1986 expedition, and from there I was hooked!

Image result for National Geographic Titanic 1985
National Geographic Magazine had exclusive rights to publish Dr. Ballard’s first images of the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic. This is the cover of the 1985 issue.

Today, my personal library spans some two-thousand volumes. A sizable portion of that library–about one-hundred books–cover the Titanic and her story. In my office at Western Wyoming Community College, however, are my most prized items related to the Titanic. Along with a first edition of Walter Lord’s classic 1952 account of the disaster, A Night to Remember, is a first edition of his follow up volume The Night Lives On–written after the discovery of the wreck. Between them is an original 1912 printing of the Sinking of the Titanic–written by a reporter as a means of cashing in on the frenzy of interest surrounding the event. And in front of these volumes is my favorite item: a piece of anthracite coal retrieved from the wreck of the Titanic in the early 1990s and purchased for me as a birthday present by my father.

No photo description available.
On Dr. Neels’ desk at Western Wyoming Community College are first editions of three influential books on the story of the Titanic, one from 1952 (left), one from the 1980s (right), and one written right after the sinking in 1912 (center). But his most prized possession is a piece of anthracite coal from the wreck itself (bottom).

If it weren’t for the Titanic, I might not be a historian today! So, this Sunday, April 14, I will raise a glass in memory of the event that made me the scholar I am today!

— m.a.n.


Wyoming Petroglyphs. They are absolutely stunning. And we have so many! Paleoindians (peoples inhabiting Wyoming around 8000 years ago), Fremont, Shoshone, Comanche, Apache, and Arapaho have all called Wyoming home.

Mostly Southwest Wyoming, though there are amazing sites in Northwest Wyoming as well, just as the Dinwoody and Medicine Wheel sites.

People ask me all the time: What do they mean? Short answer: We don’t know. There are a variety of reasons people make pictures. For decoration, to make the place special, to make the area holy, or because the area is holy. Special places are made or recognized by Native Americans then are used as “libraries”, or a place to store cultural and historical knowledge (All other cultures do this, to. Churches are a good example).

Image result for White Mountain Petroglyphs

Ancestral Shoshone petroglyphs (White Mountain Petroglyphs), carved into the soft sandstone. From Wikipedia Commons.

Some of the petroglyphs in Wyoming do have known meaning, as they are made relatively recently by cultures are still intact today. But many groups, having been mistreated by government actors in the past (and unfortunately still today), are not willing to discuss the meaning of their historical petroglyphs with anthropologists. This is akin to many religious groups not being willing to discuss certain details of their beliefs with outsiders.

Check out Wyoming State Historical Society – http://www.wyohistory.org and Sacred Destinations – http://www.sacred-destinations.com for more information on how to access these amazing sites.

So, when you visit these sites, be respectful. Obey all federal and state regulations. DON’T TOUCH. Don’t assume you can take pictures, check first. Try to engage with the local culture, especially if there is an interpretive center nearby. Consider the oppression these peoples had to go through, and be grateful that some of these cultures are still around today.

When visiting the White Mountain Petroglyphs specifically, remember that there is limited cell service, and the road is rough. Bring extra water and a vehicle that has a high clearance, with a full tank of gas. Be smart about going “off the grid.”


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I have degrees in both Geology and Anthropology. So I think a lot about the environment, and how we as humans survive in different environments. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about winter. Because it’s cold. Not a fan.

Winter still has it’s icy grip here in Wyoming. It keeps trying to change to Spring, but Winter comes back with a sarcastic smile. And we’re supposed to get more tomorrow. :O

I’ve lived in a lot of different places. But the best “Winter Culture” I’ve ever experienced was in Minneapolis. Zurich, Switzerland, comes in a close second, but I still miss Minneapolis’ Winter Carnival, the Skyway, the litter heaters at bus stops. All of it was created with a cultural understanding that one should be outside in the wintertime.

Here’s a great story about winter culture in Minnesota if you’re interested:


Wyoming has a slightly different relationship with winter. It’s more of a “hunker down” mentality that serves people well in the West, where resources during the winter are so scarce (particularly in the historical past), you might not make it to see Spring.

It was safer to walk to the area I wanted to see than to drive.

When regular people have the app for the Wyoming Department of Transportation on their phone, you know something’s different. Heck, I don’t think there are too many other states that even have an app for their state DOT. And when you have to really plan for a night stay along I-80 because there is a good chance of it being closed when you want to come back, you know this is serious stuff. I see many comments on social media, or even just on TV, that tell me that the rest of the country thinks The West is a bit ridiculous when it comes to our winter response. The idea of scare resources stumps most Americans.

But it’s still true here. My town has one bakery. It cannot service the entire town, so it doesn’t even try. They make only what they can sell between 6am and 2pm every day. There is no more to be had. If the gas station runs out of (anything and everything), they have to wait for a truck to come from another state. This applies no matter what side of Wyoming you’re on.All of this is worse in the winter, when these supply trucks can’t get to some of the small towns (every town in Wyoming is a “small town”, btw) reliably. So the conservation of resources is still a survival skill here.

So, essentially, the snow my backyard is acting like a dune field. Though I do see sediment buildup on some of the older so, which indicates a windbreak. If you want to know where the wind is consistently the weakest, look for the dirty snow.

To be honest, it’s where I’d want to be in a zombie apocalypse. Because people here still know how to make stuff and save stuff. Watch out, America.

You don’t need to travel far to see wonders. You can find amazing things right at home. Start by looking down at your feet. Or out your front door, apparently.

See the ripples? Living snow dunes!

And if you feel like reading about how famous Wyoming is: The Five Coldest Cities in the World



The Origin of Women’s Rights in the Equality State – My Theory

                Last week, Dana filled you in on her experiences as a liberal woman in the “Equality State.” So, I thought perhaps I might add to her experience by explaining the importance of women’s rights in our state history. If you are a historian in the state of Wyoming, you cannot escape the issue. In fact, it is perhaps the most important distinction between us and the rest of the American West. No, we are not the “Cowboy State,” as some maintain….we are the “Equality State.” So, without further ado, let’s look at the story behind the nickname.


                It’s May 7, 1869, and thirty-three year old John Campbell, a bachelor and former officer in the Union army arrives in Cheyenne to take up his post as governor of the new territory of Wyoming. He’s joined by Edward M. Lee, another bachelor who has been appointed by President Grant to serve as territorial secretary. Since both men are single, there’s no worry about them being preoccupied with concerns about their wives and potential families. They can do the hard, rugged work of bringing civilization to the wild frontier.

                None of them would have thought at the time that their tenures would be marked by one of the greatest advancement in women’s rights in American history.

                At this point, I should point out that the authority on this subject used to be T. A. Larson, who literally wrote the book on Wyoming History. If you read Larson, you might think the same of the other members of the territorial government.

                At the time that the first session of the legislature met in Cheyenne in September 1869, the ratio of men-to-women in Wyoming was somewhere around 6 to 1! And with towns like Laramie, Rawlins, and Rock Springs literally being defined as “hell on wheels” towns, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to expect the legislators to resemble the ruckus nature of their constituents.

                To be fair, the legislature WAS all men, all white, and all Democrat.

                But, beyond that, the legislature did something unexpected during its first session. In early December it passed a bill proposed by William Bright of South Pass City granting women the right to vote and hold office! Governor Campbell signed the bill on December 6, giving Wyoming bragging rights as the first place ANYWHERE in the United States to grant such a privilege, and earning us the nickname “the Equality State.”


               Ever since then, historians have debated exactly WHY it happened.

T. A. Larson believed he had the answer.

1.)  Legislators wanted to bring women to the territory! Families bring civilization, the theory goes, and women are the glue that holds the family together. Ergo, we need women to have an incentive to come to this rugged landscape and make a go at it!

If this was the reason why, it didn’t work out like they wanted. Women did not flock to Wyoming in droves after the passage of the suffrage bill.

2.) Legislators were influenced by famous women’s suffragettes. Anna Dickinson gave a speech in Cheyenne on September 24, and Redelia Bates spoke in the same town on November 5—just a week before Bright introduced the suffrage bill.

Maybe this was partially true. Both women spoke in the hall where the House of Representatives met, and during a time when the legislators might possibly have attended.

                3.) It was all a big joke!

Yep! Larson suggested that it was a farce. The day that Bright introduced the bill, the men in the legislature were proposing ridiculous amendments to suggest that government wastes the people’s time and money. Some believed that the suffrage bill was proposed in this vein, but that it accidentally passed! To be fair, William Bright denied that he meant the bill as a joke. And Governor Campbell, who signed it, certainly didn’t see it that way!


                Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with these proposed theories. Larson had evidence to support each of them. But he left one possible reason out, and I think it’s a glaring omission!

                I think that the women’s suffrage bill was politically motivated.

                When Wyomingites went to the polls in September 1869, they chose an all Democratic legislature. While we want to give the men who helped make this monumental occasion the benefit of the doubt, their political affiliation really cannot be ignored.

                In January 1865, the House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified that December). One year later, it passed the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in July 1868). These acts ended slavery, and then granted citizenship to the four million former slaves. They also made the Republican Party the party of freedom and equality!

                The Democratic Party, in contrast, had become known nationally as the party of traitors! Every Senator and Congressman who had left the congress when the South seceded had been a Democrat, and every time a Democrat ran for national office during Reconstruction he was trounced by Republicans who claimed their party was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of boys in the late war.

                But then the Republicans “fumbled the ball.” In February 1869 Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment, which was meant to give all citizens the federally-protected right to vote. However, the final version of this act only granted the right to men. Women were excluded for any number of reasons. The feeling of betrayal was palpable among female advocates of equality. Until then, they had been united with men who advocated equality, regardless of race or sex. Now, they broke away from their former male colleagues and created a uniquely women’s suffrage movement.

                I believe, then, that Democrats in the Wyoming Territorial Legislature—which was seated, I might add, only months after the betrayal of women in the fifteenth amendment–saw an opportunity! They could get on the “equality” bandwagon by taking up this issue. If enough new territories, which would eventually become states, did likewise, then Democrats would earn the thanks and respect of an entirely new electorate that might get them back into power in Washington.

                After all that trouble, the end of the story might be the most humorous part! Starting the next year, 1870, women began serving on juries and holding public office. Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City became the first woman in all of the United States to hold an elected office—Justice of the Peace. These female jurists, and this female justice, began convicting men in these rough-and-tumble “hell on wheels” towns to the harshest sentences possible under the law. In essence, women were literally civilizing the wild frontier!

                The icing on the cake, though, was the elections in September 1870. Women went to the polls for the first time….and voted Republican!

                For those Democratic men in the legislature, this was too much! When the legislature met again in late 1871, it nearly ended this great experiment in democracy by repealing the women’s suffrage bill.

               And this is where Governor Campbell became the unexpected savior of Women’s Rights. Even though his party (Republican) had essentially betrayed women with the Fifteenth Amendment, he personally chose not to penalize them for voting for his party (as the Democrats were trying to do), and vetoed the Democrat’s repeal bill. The Democrats failed to override Campbell’s veto, and women’s suffrage was here to stay.


                Women’s rights became a central part of Wyoming’s existence in the American Union. We led the way, and other western states followed. In fact, prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919, the only state east of the Rocky Mountains to grant suffrage to women was Kansas! The West had made its mark on American History, and Wyoming had led the way.

                To be fair, the measure did not bring more women to Wyoming, and the rough-and-tumble nature of some parts of Wyoming did not settle down right away (sometime, I’ll relate the story of the Johnson County War and the notorious acts of the vigilante Tom Horn). But women would eventually have a role to play in society.

                It only remains for today’s Wyoming women to assert the freedoms and privileges first given to them over one-hundred-and-fifty years ago.

— m.a.n.

Welcome to a new adventure!

Our first post! I’m personally excited about this collaboration, and I daresay Mark is too. We plan to alternate posts every week. Mark is more interested in politics, I’m more of a globalist. Mark is a US historian, I’m an archaeologist with degrees in geology, historical archaeology, and anthropology, so this site ought to stay hoppin’. 😀

Women of Wyoming

I thought I’d start off with some thoughts about our current “home state” of Wyoming. It’s an interesting place, and I’m sure both Mark and I will write about it often. For example, I recently gave a talk on Women in Wyoming to a slightly conservative-leaning group. I had been invited, but as it wasn’t an academic group, I was a little nervous. It was… interesting, at first, to say the least (nah, it was just plain awkward), as it was clear that the title of my talk “The Anthropology of Wyoming Women” was off-putting: many people who aren’t familiar with academics think that we’re all left-leaning pinko communists (yes, I’ve actually been called that here, seriously).

I, as a Wyoming woman who is raising two small children here, had a few things to say, even if I’m a transplant. I talked about my children, about doing my academic research here, and I showed them some of the things I’ve discovered:

That women have been part of the fabric of Wyoming ever since Europeans set foot in the Wyoming Territory. And that even prior to that, the Shoshone and the Arapaho have strong traditions of female empowerment, even if those past traditions seem oppressive to us today. Sacajawea, Calamity Jane, Estelle Reel, and Nellie Tayloe Ross are just a few of the women who molded Wyoming culture.

That while women might have been granted the right to vote for all the wrong reasons (https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/right-choice-wrong-reasons-wyoming-women-win-right-vote), women came to Wyoming for many of the same reason men did, to find prosperity, for the simple freedom, to flee oppression.

Now, that’s all well and good, but we have some issues. Today, we still have one of the lowest female to male ratios in the nation. Which, I think, is an important consideration when looking at Wyoming culture. In a male-dominate society, women do not get more girly, but quite the opposite: our women are known for their ruggedness and ability to put in work as well as a man. Not always by choice.

A good friend who had just moved to Wyoming from the East said, “And I was considered a tom-boy back home! But these Wyoming girls are ROUGH!” She meant that both physically and mentally, in that it was difficult for her to even relate and make friends, as Wyoming women didn’t seem to want to talk about the same things young women in the East did – small talk seems to be mostly around children, family, and then hunting, jobs, and the economy. Maybe Wyoming history, if the group knows each other well. Heavy stuff for a “women’s group”, and you had best know what you’re talking about, regardless of your political leanings.

Another colleague, born and raised in Wyoming, told me that it was frowned on to “dress up” as a young woman, because it implied you were too girly, and possibly a hooker.


The funny part of that story is that prostitutes had a place in politics and the economy in the early days of Wyoming, as the show “Adam Ruins Everything” explains so succinctly and hilariously:


It’s also important to consider the influence of deprivation and isolation, as Wyoming is not only the least populated state in the nation (there’s fewer people here than in Rhode Island!) but we’re also the least densely populated, beating out Alaska. Someone told me that’s because Wyomingites don’t actually like talking to people, or seeing people, or hearing people….

And I’ve seen that in action. When I first moved here years ago, my boss told me “Don’t feel too bad if you don’t make friends right away. Wyomingites will ignore you for at least three years, and then maybe start inviting you to things in five…” He was pretty much on the money to the month. Though I’m still trying to work out if the timeline has more to do with the density (or lack thereof) of the population as opposed to citizens actually not being “friendly” – when neighbors can be easily miles apart, and shift-work keeps you from going to events at normal hours, it could easily take people years before they ever actually meet, even in a small town. (Population of Wyoming towns is a post for another day.)

A famous archaeologist once said “Wyoming is North America’s answer to Outer Mongolia.” There are a lot of parallels. There are simply things you can’t get in stores in Wyoming, services you can’t access without paying huge sums to have people come in from Denver or Salt Lake. UPS even charges a “Rural Delivery Fee” to deliver packages to most any location in Wyoming, even to towns directly off the Interstate.

*Insert Incredulous Emoji here*

No wonder family still ask me if people ride horses to school here.

In the end, my talk was well-received, and I even got handshakes from old-timers who appreciated the information and how I delivered it. I’m not a fan of tone-policing – I still think that an adult ought to be able to listen to anything regardless of how it’s delivered and still take away information, but I did appreciate the implied compliment.