Laramie Photos

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From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This Page, Bill Nye and the Boomerang, the Wyoming Lottery, James M. Pattee.

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About This Site

Albany County Courthouse, 1909

The Albany County Courthouse, constructed in the early 1870's, boasted a 1936 sq. ft. courtroom with twenty foot high ceilings. In the basement were seven jail cells as well as two rooms for the jaior. The remainder of the county government including the Sheriff was housed in five offices.

One business was started by local businessmen which survives to this day, a business created out of the politics of the day. In 1878, the owners of the Laramie Sentinel converted from a daily publication to a weekly. Thus, local lawyers Lorenzo D. Pease and Charles W. Bramel started the Daily Times, which had decidedly Democratic leanings, much to the consternation of the Republicans in the election of 1880. Accordingly, local Republicans including N. K. Boswell, Stephen Downey, the Trabing Bros., Ora Haley, and others organized the Laramie Daily Boomerang with Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye (1850-1896), as editor and manager. Nye, at the time, was a lawyer, justice of the peace, United States commissioner and newspaper correspondent for several national papers.

Bill Nye

Nye had previous to his arrival in Wyoming worked in a lawyer's office where he swept the floors, ran errands, and in his spare time "read law." In those days, many lawyers, including as an example Abraham Lincoln, never attended a college or law school, but would, instead, study law under the tutelage of an older lawyer until they were ready to be admitted to the bar. In Wisconsin, Nye was never admitted to the bar in Wisconsin, but instead worked as a teacher and sometimes newspaper editor or writer. He later wrote:

* * * I went to Wyoming Territory, thinking that in the crude state of affairs there at the time I might possibly be admitted to the bar under an assumed name. I had of course given bonds in Wisconsin for my regular, annual examination for admission, but I decided to jump my bail and go west, where the bar was less conservative.

On the day the train pulled into Cheyenne it was raining. In order to appear sucessful, Nye had purchased for his travel an expensive-looking trunk covered with a material that looked like leather. Unfortunately, in the rain the "leather" disintegrated revealing that all was sham, that the trunk was covered with glued-on paper.

In many areas it was customary for older lawyers and judges to take young lawyers under their wing. Thus it was in Laramie. There, Jacob Beeson Blair (1821-1901), an Associate Justice of the Wyoming Territorial Supreme Court and a former West Virginia Unionist Congressman, appointed a panel of older lawyers to examine Nye for fitness to practice law. Rather than a formal multi-day bar examination, the process of admission to the bar would be for such a panel to orally examine the candidate for his knowledge of law and procedure and "move" for admission. By this means Nye became a lawyer. In some federal courts, it is still necessary for an applicant for admission find an older lawyer who will move in open court for the admission of the younger lawyer and attest to the applicant's good moral character.

Bill Nye

The practice of law was not, howver, lucrative and Nye supplemented his income as a justice-of-the-peace. Nye later recalled:

It was really pathetic to see the poor little miserable booth where I sat and waited with numb fingers for business. But I did not see the pathos which clung to every cobweb and darkened the rattling casement. Possibly I did not know enough. I forgot to say this office was not a salaried one, but solely dependent upon fees. So while I was called Judge Nye, and frequently mentioned in the papers with consideration, I was out of coal half the time, and once could not mail my letters for three weeks because I did not have the necessary postage.

But again, Judge Blair came to the rescue and introduced Nye to the publisher of the Sentinel, Dr. James H. Hayford. "Doc" Hayford (1828-1902), in addition to being publisher of the Sentinel, was postmaster, and a physician and lawyer. Professor T. A. Larson quoted one of Hayford's competitors as saying: "Doc Hayford can throw more mud with a teaspoon than I can with a scoopshovel." Larson, History of Wyoming, p. 116.

Jacob B. Blair

Nye wrote:

Dr. Hayford was a keen-eyed man with chin-whiskers, who wrote with a hard pencil sharpened from time to time on a flat file. He wrote with such earnestness that one could read his ablest editorials on any of the ten sheets of blank paper under the ones he was writing on. He said said that the paper could not afford to pay me what I was really worth, very likely, but if $50 per month would make it interesting, he would be glad to have me try it for thirty days. fifty dollars per month was so much better than the grazing at that season of the year, that I accepted it; not too hurriedly, but after counting 100 in my mind, and giving the impression that I was not too prompt to avail myself of the offer.

The Boomerang, named after Nye's mule, was located in three rooms on the second floor of the Kidd building over a shoe store. With a money crunch, the paper moved to the upstairs over the livery stable on the corner of Garfield and Third. W. E. Chaplin, a typesetter and later an owner of the rival Laramie Republican, described the move as:

perhaps the worst [mistake] during the time of his [Nye's]management. The fumes from the stable came up through the floors and we all smelled too strong most of the time to go into respectable society." Bill Nye in Laramie, Second Biennial Report, State Historian of Wyoming, 1922, p. 142

Boomerang, Illustration from Bill Nye and Boomerang, W. B. Conkey Co, Chicago, 1896.

Nye, however, put a better spin on the move, indicated that the move to the "parlor floor" of the stable was because the previous quarters were small.

Ultimately, Nye, taking no salary from the paper and always in need of funds, accepted the position of postmaster. In the winter of 1882-83, Nye became seriously ill and was removed by his wife first to Greeley and then to Wisconsin for his health. In the sale of his stock, Nye claimed that he was due more than $3,000. L. D. Pease, one of the founders of the competing paper, was appointed by the Court to determine Nye's compensation. He ruled that Nye should be paid $213.00. competition between rival newspapers was more than vying for the legal ads. It spilled over into acerbic comments. One competitor describing Nye as "cadaverous in appearance." He was like "last year's broomstick enclosed in gunny sacks." Nye continued writing for national papers and used the material in two books, one of which, the 1881 Bill Nye and Boomerang; or The Tale of a meek-Eyed Mule and Some Other Literary Gems, was dedicated to the mule:

To My Mule Boomerang,

Whose bright smile haunts me still, and whose low, mellow notes are ever sounding in my ears to whom I owe all that I am as a great man, and whose presence has inspired me ever and anon thoughout the years that are gone

Having developed a national reputation as a humorist and determined to go on the lecture circuit, he resigned his position as postmaster, writing the President:

Postoffice Divan, Laramie City, W. T.,
October 1, 1883.
To the President of the United States:


I beg leave at this time to officially tender my resignation as postmaster at this place, and in due form to deliver the great seal and the key to the front door of the office. The safe combination is set on the numbers 33, 66 and 99, though I do not remember at this moment which comes first, or how many times you revolve the knob, or which direction you should turn it first in order to make it operate.
There is some mining stock in my private drawer in the safe, which I have not yet removed. This stock you may have, if you desire it. It is a luxury, but you may have it. I have decided to keep a horse instead of this mining stock. The horse may not be so pretty, but it will cost less to keep him.
You will find the postal cards that have not been used under the distributing table, and the coal down in the cellar. If the stove draws too hard, close the damper in the pipe and shut the general delivery window.

* * * *

Acting under the advice of Gen. Hatton, a year ago, I removed the feather bed with which my predecessor, Deacon Hayford, had bolstered up his administration by stuffing the window and substituted glass. Finding nothing in the book of instructions to postmasters which made the feather bed a part of my offical duties, I filed it away in an obscure place and burned it in effigy, also in the gloaming. This act maddened my predecssor to such a degree that he then and there became a candidate for justice of the peace on the Democratic ticket. The Democratic party was able, however with what aid it secured from the Republicans, to plow the old man under to a great degree.

* * * *

You will find the key under the door-mat and you had better turn the cat out at night when you close the office. If she does not go readily, you can make it clearer to her mind by throwing the cancelling stamp at her.
If Deacon Hayford does not pay up his box rent, you might as well put his mail in the general delivery, and when Bob Head gets drunk and insists on a letter from one of his wives every day in the week, you can salute him through the box delivery with an old Queen Anne tomahawk; which you will find near the Etruscan water pail. This will not in any manner surprise either of these parties.

* * * *

Mr. President, as an official of this Government I now retire. My term of office would not expire until 1886. I must, therefore, beg pardon for my eccentricity in resigning. It will be best, perhaps, to keep the heart-breaking news from the ears of European powers until the dangers of a financial panic are fully past. Then hurl it broadcast with a sickening thud.


[Writer's notes: Frank Hatton at the time was First Assistant Postmaster General and a humorist of note. He was later appointed Postmaster General. Bob Head was City Editor of the Boomerang and was fired by Nye for alcoholism. In July, 1890, Head had found a job at the Ogden Democrat. On the way to Ogden for his new job, he was drinking heavily, fell off the train at Salt Wells near Rock Springs and was killed.]

Bill Nye

There were, of course other reasons for establishing newspapers than the politics. There was strong rivalry for both job printing and for legal advertising. The later, however, was dependent upon who was in control at the Courthouse which in the 80's and 90's was hotly contested. The legal advertising issue can be illustrated in a battle fought in the courts between the Laramie Weekly Republican and the Board of County Commissioners. The County Treasurer placed the legal notices relating to the sale of lands for taxes in the Republican. Unfortunately, several weeks before the Board of County Commissioners had designated the Boomerang as the "official paper" of Albany County. After the tax sales notices had run for four weeks as required by law, the Board refused to pay for the ads on the basis that they should have been run in the Boomerang. The courts went through County Attorney charles W. Bramel's arguments like the proverbial wet paper bag, with the Supreme Court noting:

"An official paper of a county is a thing unknown to the common law. Our statutes do not define it, or prescribe what use shall be made of it; and this is legislative, and not a judicial, function. What use, if any, the legislature intended should be made of the official paper of a county, is a profound secret."

Judge Charles W. Bramel

Bramel was well placed with the Democratic Party and was appointed by Governor Osborn as judge advocate. He was later elected as District Judge. While serving as district judge he heard a case involving a William Lepper in which Lepper was sued for foreclosure of his land located near the Johnson Hotel. Lepper had been in the Laramie area for since the 1870's and had been rumored to have been quite wealthy and had moved to California. Unfortunately, he began trading on margin on the Chicago Board of Trade. Trading on margin brought him to financial ruin. In order to finance the margins he mortgaged his property in Laramie. When the morgage holder sued to foreclose, Lepper defended on the basis that trading on margin constituted "gambling. "Therefore, the mortgage and debt given to finance the trades were illegal and unenforceable. Judge Bramel ruled in Lepper's favor. The mortgage holder appealed. While the appeal was pending, Bramel left the bench and was replaced by Judge Carpenter. Lepper lost the appeal and the case when back to the District Court for a determination of how much Lepper owed. there Lepper again lost and lost his property. Bramel advised Lepper that an appeal was not warranted. With different lawyers, Lepper again appealed to the Supreme Court where he again lost. See, Conradt v. Lepper, 13 Wyo. 475, 81 Pac 307, 82 Pac 2 and subsequent appeal 89 Pac. 575.

After the ruling came out, Lepper returned to Laramie from California. On October 24, 1907, Lepper entered Bramel's office upstairs over Kleeman's Candy Store at 214 2nd Street. The office was a typical turn of the century law-office reached by a stairway opening to the street and consisted of three rooms, a sparcely furnished reception, Judge Bremel's office and a sleeping room. In his office, the aging jurist was dozing in his chair. Lepper fired three shots directly into Bramel's face. After attemting to shoot a passerby below attacted by the sound of the gun fire, Lepper went into a vacant office and saved the State the cost of another trial. Lepper's brother and daughter declined to claim the body and Lepper was buried at county expense. Judge Bramel lingered for several days, and then the Boomerang reported:

Although the wounded man has made a most valiant fight against he Grim Reaper, it has proved of no avail for his constitution, impared by age and dissipation, could withstand the shock which is now the beginning of the end of one of the west's most noted and a one time brilliant man. Semi-Weekly Boomerang, Oct 28, 1907.

Laramie Photos continued on next page.