Thursday, August 22, 2013

Road Trip Part 2: "Who Do You Think You Are" / Chugwater, WY

I don't know if any of you watch the TV show on TLC called "Who do You Think You Are?" It is a show where celebrities go on a journey to find out more about their family genealogy. They get to travel across the country and visit significant places that their family was or had an importance to them. It is very interesting if you enjoy history and the study of genealogy.

When I went on my trip to Wyoming I got to experience my own version of "Who do You Think You Are". My journey took me to a small town about 40 minutes north of Cheyenne called Chugwater.

Below are a few pics of the drive to Chugwater.

It may not be the booming tourist hot spot but to me its a place where I have deep roots and wanted to learn about. A woman named Carol had been talking with my aunt and had informed us that she had purchased the land that my family had once lived on and had done extensive research about them and really made quite a connection with the place. So I eventually started contacting her and made plans to visit her and the ranch.

An old areal shot of the house and ranch.

The house. It's had a few additions since they built it but the original house is still there.

The view looking out from the front yard of the House. 

The view from the backyard. 

A little history about the significance of the ranch. In the early 1900's my Great Great Aunt Effie and her husband Fred Brain traveled to Wyoming just east of Chugwater to homestead under the Homestead Act. If you don't know what the Homestead Act is it gave land to people as long as they could prove to the government that they could make the homestead a success. What this meant is that my Great Great Aunt and Uncle traveled all the way from Iowa by train and then wagon to the middle of nowhere Wyoming and had to camp out in the wilderness to build and start a new life completely from scratch. To me I find that absolutely fascinating. I've read so many historical novels where people do that exact same thing but to be able to learn and tie it to someone in my family  is truly amazing.

They lived and farmed that land and in the required amount of time that they had to, to prove up and show the government that they could make the land productive. On September 21st, 1915 they received the official document from the United States of America securing the homestead that contained 320 acres. That must have been one amazing day to have finally known that the land you were living on actually belonged to you and not the government. Carol gave me a copy of this document and it is one of the neatest things I got from her.

A copy of the document stating that the land is theirs. 

For the next 8 years Fred and Effie lived and farmed the land. Some sad news was that they had tried to start a family and ended up losing 4-5 children when they were infants and had no children survive to adulthood. Carol knew that they had buried the children on the homestead but didn't know where until one of her friends with the help of a police cadaver dog came and found 4 positive sites of where the babies were buried. They had buried them just to the left of their house in a near by tree row. To me this story breaks my heart. I would never want to lose one child let alone 4 or even 5 children as babies that must have been the most difficult thing in the world.

The tree row where the babies are buried.

A map Carol made of the positive sites and possible grave sites.

On August 4th, 1923 (Just about a week before we were there) 90-years ago Effie was killed in an automobile accident. She and her husband were coming home from Cheyenne when their car got swept into a flooded crossing. The water was deeper than they expected and swept the car downstream. Fred was able to make it to the bank safely but Effie was swept away with the car. Her body was found the next day far from the scene of the accident. It was reported in 2 different newspapers which I received a copy of both from Carol. Her body was later transported back to Iowa where she was born and I have in fact been to her grave multiple times to put flowers there not knowing the full story until now.

A copy of Effie's Death Certificate

After we visited at the ranch Carol took me out to where she thinks the accident occurred. It was just so crazy to think about what happened on that spot 90 years ago. It just was so amazing that you can't really put it into words.  I can't thank Carol enough for becoming so passionate about researching Fred and Effie. If it wasn't for her I don't think I would have ever known the entire story or would have even gone out to the actual house and homestead. The story itself may have been lost since we didn't have that much information about it. I know now that I want to learn more about not only Effie but more people in my family because I truly believe that I could relate to Effie. She had the urge to travel and move to an unknown land miles from everything and everyone she knew. She probably fell in love with Wyoming just as much as I did and its absolutely beautiful scenery. By going out there I truly was able to connect with a piece of my history and with my relative.

You can see where the old road bed was in this picture. The interstate that is now there is just over that hill. 

Here is where the bridge or crossing was and where they got swept away. Most of the time the land was dry like this but the time they went it was flooded. 


Along with the history and genealogy portion of the trip to Chugwater we also got to visit what other things the town offered which were a museum and Wyoming's oldest still running soda fountain. Both were awesome to go and visit and below are some pictures from both places. 

We got a personal tour from Carol who had a key :) 

This doesn't look big but it was probably 10x10 ft. With all the local brands. I though it was neat. 

This is from an old plat book that was in the museum. It shows where Alfred Brains land was.

A wool bag from the Swan Company a big sheep and cattle company in Chugwater. 

Them Building the Elevator

The Elevator is still there today. 

While I was there I had a blackberry ice cream soda which was amazing!

Some of the old shake mixers from the past years. 

This Elk head they wanted to take out of the store to fix but it wouldn't fit through the new doors.

An old piece still in the fountain. 

Back in the day (not sure the specifics) a group of people got together and formed this company called Chugwater Chili they sell chili powder and other seasonings and so I had to get myself some dip mix.


  1. What a cool story. I really enjoy that show also. How nice of Carol to track down all that info. The ranch I live on has been in my hubbys family since the late 1800's. There were so many abandoned home sites here. You find bits and pieces here and there. Always makes me wonder what happened. What a hard life back then. But rewarding when you got to finally own the land. Great post.