From Wyoming Tales and TrailsThis page: Upton.
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The slogan "Best Town on Earth" was adopted with the founding of the town by promoters such as Frank E. Burdick, Sr. (1859-1947). Burdick arrived in Upton about 1903. The sign has been mentioned by several author including Jackson, Wyoming, lawyer Gerry Spence and British author A. G. Macdonnell. Those who have written of the sign, seemingly exhibit a degree of condenscendation and perhaps regard the sign as as presumptuous. Spence observed the sign from a railway car without apparently visiting the town and wrote, "'Best Town on Earth', with its dry summer winds blowing the land dead and brown. I didn't believe the sign." Of Murder and Madness, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995. British author A. G. Macdonnell, A Visit to America", MacMillan Company, New York, 1935, was less kind (actually he was downright crude and rude. The least crude thing he wrote of Upton was that it was a "Don Quixotic of a place." Of course, in the 1930's when Macdonnell passed by in the train, the town was less than impressive. The writers for the Works Progress Administration described half of the town as clinging to the prine-clad foothills while the other half of Upton ranges "out on a wind-swept, sage brush flat. Tar-paper shacks, brick stores, log, fam and brick dwellings are intermingled. The main sreet begins at the railroad and climbs the pine-cover knowll into the residential district." Wyoming: A guide to its history, highways, and people. The main street had fourteen buildings, four of which were saloons.
Since the above photo was taken, the sign has been replaced by a more expensive sign with the same message
Welcoming Sign, Upton, Wyoming.
But those who critize the town's motto miss, however, is that the sign is not about the physical characteristics of the town. The sign is about the residents who take pride in their willingness to work for the betterment of the town and each other.
Upton, Wyoming, undated
Upton, 19 miles southeast of Moorcroft, like many Wyoming towns, was settled with the opening of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad extension from Newcastle on August 5, 1890. Before the coming of the railroad there was a small settlement known as "Iron Town." Iron Town, itself took its name from Iron Creek which lies just to the west of present day Upton. Reputedly, the creek was named by C. P. "Dub" Meek, Commodore Perry Meek, as a result of its reddish color from ferrous oxide.
C. P. Meek originally came to the Black Hills with its original settlement in 1876 as a bullwhacker on ox trains taking supplies from Cheyenne to Deadwood. Previously, he ran freight from Cheyenne to Ft. Fetterman. On one occasion in May 1876, between the Inyan Kara Creek and the Cheyenne River, the ox train was attacked by Indians and was saved only by a passing troop of cavalry. Meek then tried his hand at stock growing at Centennial Prairie, Dakota Territory, before coming to the Upton area. Upon Wyoming's attaining of statehood, Meek was elected to the State Senate.
Pine Street, Upton, Wyoming, approx. 1920.
By 1907, the town has a barber shop, pool hall, grocery, livery, a drug store, hotl newspaper, mmethodist church and the Red Onion Saloon. The Red Onion, located on Pine Street, was later owned by Walter K. "Jarbo" Poulson (1880-1964). Poulson served as mayor from 1930 to 1936. The name "Red Onion," however, is not original to Upton. In the late 19th Century, "Red Onion" was a common name for saloons, particularly establishments which catered to railway men. Thus, the term "Red Onion" acquired a secondary meaning as hotel, bar, saloon, or other facility used by railway men. Upton was, of course, a railroad town. The most famous of the Red Onion Saloons were ones in Silver City, New Mexico Territory; Salt Lake City, and Skagway. The latter, in addition to quenching the thirst of miners during the Alaska Gold Rush catered to other needs on the second floor. Many, such as Skagway's and the one in Salt Lake City had dubious reputations.
Upton, Wyoming, approx. 1928.
There may be some question as to why a saloon would be named the Red Onion. The best explanation is that the term "red onion" was used to described any establishment that was painted red. Numerous saloons across the west were painted red giving rise to many saloons named the "Red Front" as well as the "Red Onion." Infamous Caldwell, Kansas, as its height has both a "Red Front" and a "Red Light" saloon. And why were establishments painted red? It may be speculated that they were so painted for the same reason as barns, "Venetian Red" was the cheapest paint available. It came in kegs. When the writer was in high school, he discovered in his grandfather's barn a keg of red powder. It was the venetian red, still sitting in the barn from the 1920's. Other interesting relics were found such as wooden spoked automobile wheels. In his 1913, Paint Making and Color Grinding Charles L. Uebele noted:
It is astonishing what nostrums have been sold under that name in the Far West, especially in red and brown. But we will omit a description of these and leave it to the reader's imagination, what this dope must have been when we state that such goods were sold to jobbing houses at from 30 to 35 cents per gallon in one-gallon tins at a time when linseed oil was 60 to 65 cents per gallon.
Stockyards, Upton, undated.
When the railroad reached Iron Town it became the typical "end of tracks" settlement. With a supply of pine to the north, a tie camp provided railroad ties for the railroad. With open range to the south, the town became a convenient shipping point for livestock. A siding with sheep pens and shearing sheds was esablished. As a result of becoming a major shipping point for sheep, the name of Iron Town was changed to Merino. However, Another town in Colorado bore the same name and thus the town was again renamed after George S. Upton, a surveyor for the railroad.
Next page: Upton Continued.