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Cokeville, Wyoming, Town Square, undated.

To the Northwest of Kemmerer on Smith's Fork of the Bear River lies Cokeville near the site of a trading post and ferry operated by Tilford Kutch. Kutch before coming to the Cokeville area had operated a ferry in the 1860's near present day Blackfoot, Idaho. Kutch was married to the daughter of Tyhee, a chief in the Bannock-Shoshoni Indians. Later Kutch and his family moved to the La Barge area where he homesteaded. The town was originally named after the fork when founded in 1873 with the coming of several Mormon families, but subsequently renamed after the coal nearby. The area, however, was early explored by the early mountain men. Smith's Fork was named after early mountain man Jedediah S. Smith who trapped in the area in 1824 and who travelled down Smith's Fork to its confluence with the Bear River near present day Cokeville in 1826. It has been said that the early mountain men left few permanent signs of their presence in the state. One physical sign is Names Hill north of Kemmerer and South of LaBarge.


Inscription on cliff at Names Hill, photo by Geoff Dobson

The earliest inscriptions are pictographs by American Indians. The oldest European American inscriptions date 1822. In 1825, J. J. Shay inscribed his name. Other names include that of John Danks in 1827, and J. Ames, May 4, 1830. The most famous inscription is that shown above of Jim Bridger. Some question exists as to whether it was personally placed by Bridger in that he normally signed his name with an "X."

Oregon Trail marker, Cokeville.

Names Hill, itself, is a reflection of travel through Wyoming. The dates of names declined with the Civil War and the opening of the Union Pacific. Only after the coming of the railroads to present day Lincoln County in 1882 did the incidence of names resume. Railroads had been proposed as early as 1868 when the Union Pacific did survey work in the area for a possible line to Oregon. In 1871, a bill was introduced into Congress by the Territorial Delegate, William Theophilus Jones (1842-1882) for the chartering of the Fort Bridger and Unita Mountain Railroad Company. The proposed railroad was to run from Church Butte Station to the headwaters of Smith's Fork. Proposed incorporators included William Carter of Fort Bridger, Stephen F. Nuckolls who served as Territorial Delegate from 1869 to 1871, and Gen. G. M. Dodge. The bill lanquished in Congress for several years before it apparently died a natural death.

The coming of the railroad made possible large sheep ranches. Ranches were operated by John D. Noblitt and Frederick Roberts. Noblitt ran a winter flock containing over 10,000 sheep, but was dependent upon use of public lands. Each animal might require over 10 acres of land. The coming of the railroad also made coal mining practicable. The coal at the Mammoth Mine to the northwest of town was regarded as superior to that found at Almy. Additionally, the Cokeville Phosphate Co. operated phosphate mines.

The coming of the railroad also brought a momentary bit of fame to the area in 1894 when United States Marshal Joseph P. Rankin captured a camp of "Coxeyites" who had stolen a train at Montpelier. In the early 1890's Jacob S. Coxey began a movement demanding that the federal government provide jobs for all and dissolve the Pinkerton Agency. Pinkertons were frequently used by large corporations to end labor strife. The culmination of Coxey's movement was to be a march on the capital and the Executive Mansion in Washington. Supported by, among others, the Knights of Labor, an expected 10,000 coming from all over the United States were to converge on the District of Columbia. In Montpelier, Idaho, Coxeyites, disparing of missing the festivities when the Union Pacific refused transportation, stole a train and proceeded eastward into Wyoming towards Green River on the stolen train, ignoring red signals. At Cokeville, the contingent was surprised by Rankin, arrested and transported to Green River where they were confined in empty boxcars. Some attempted escape by setting the cars alight. The fires were, however, extinquished before the Coxeyites could immolate themselves. In the end, however, Coxey arrived in Washington not with an army of 10,000, but with a mere 500 and was arrested for trespass.


Cokeville, approx. 1910.

The 1880 census for Cokeville reflects only seven families living in Cokeville along with a hired hand and a grocer. By the time of the above photo, the town had begun to grow and had five saloons, a Mormon meeting house, a bank, hotel, and restuarant.


Cokeville, 1911.

With the growth of Cokeville, Diamondville and Kemmerer, a debate raged was to whether Uinta County should be divided. The Cokeville Register had been formed for the purpose of opposing the division of Uinta County. C. Walt Brandon, owner of the Kemmerer Camera, bought the paper and changed its editorial policy to supporting a new County. In 1911, Lincoln County was formed with Kemmerer being named as the county seat. In September of 1911, Hugh and Charley Whitney came into town. The brothers had for that year had been cutting a wde swath through Idaho and Wyoming. Earlier that year, the Whitneys robbed a saloon of $200.00 and were arrested, but made good their escape shooting the deputy. Several days later Hugh shot William Reuben "Rube" Scott, his cousin, in the hand. Additionally, Hugh shot and killed a conductor on the Oregon Short Line Railroad. Thus, Hugh had an award of $1,500.00 posted for his capture. The boys proceed to the bank in which Asa D. Noblitt, the cashier, was on duty. Making no effort to conceal their identity, the boys had come to make a withdrawal at the point of a gun. Unfortunately, Noblitt informed the brothers, the vault was on a time lock and could not be opened for another one and a half hours. The boys calmly waiting. As customers entered, they were held at the point of a gun, not without, however, sharing a box of Mr. Noblitt's cigars. A woman customer entered and the two brothers decided that they could not hold her. Thus, scooping up an available $600.00, the boys departed.


Cokeville, undated.

According to an article, "The Outlaw," Time Magazine, June 30, 1952, the boys fled to Texas and later to Minnesota and Montana. Under assumed names the two enlisted in the Army during World War I and served in France. About 1950, Hugh died in British Columbia. In 1952, Charley pleaded guilty to the Bank robbery from 41 years before but was released to return to Montana.


Cokeville, approx. 1939

The three story building in the distance on the right is the hotel. See next photo.


Cokeville Hotel, approx. 1939

Next page: Afton and the Star Valley.