Wyoming Oysters

When we have turkey for a holiday meal we always have Grandma’s Oyster Dressing. We assume it was her mother’s recipe.

This tradition gets me laughing every Thanksgiving. How in the world, I wonder, did a family of Wyoming ranchers end up making oysters a key ingredient of our holidays? Was great grandpa Luce so rich he could have them shipped from San Francisco specially (as he did his brand)? And how would that even work back then?

Did the Luces from Maine bring the tradition to Utah with them in the 1840s? No way that could work. Spend weeks carting oysters in wagons across the plains? I don’t think so.

So I was pleased when this article ended up in one of my feeds:

Oysters were a thing in the West: “Across the map, nineteenth-century America was mad for oysters.” Who’d have guessed?

“One of the earliest mentions of oysters in the West dates to 1846 when venturers on the Santa Fe Trail were greeted with champagne and oysters upon arriving in Santa Fe.”

The author even satisfies my particular curiosity about oysters in Wyoming: “Cheyenne, Wyoming, established as a node of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1867, boomed from a few dozen people to six thousand in a couple of months. The town’s first newspaper, The Cheyenne Leader, was already advertising 75-cent cans of Baltimore oysters by October of that year.”

So, I’m done making fun of family tradition. (This one, anyway.) I’ve been defeated and forced to admit it is totally and absolutely plausible Grandma Essie made oyster dressing for holidays.

Fun with Land Acknowledgments

Land acknowledgments play a serious role in modern American and Canadian society, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with them. While people are chuckling they can also be opening to new and perhaps uncomfortable ideas.

None better than Walking Eagle News. I follow them on Twitter so I don’t miss the good stuff.

Today I’m sharing two of my favorites:

I won’t spoil the fun. Go read them yourself.

Disclaimer: I’m just a White Ex-Mo Settler Boy™ doing a bit to hear indigenous voices.

Salt Lake City Land Acknowledgment

Coming down off the fun of celebrating Utah’s Pioneer Day #PieAndBeerDay #BiAndQueerDay #CincoDeMomo in a city that sees Mormons as strange and exotic. #SexCultCommunists

I went looking for Salt Lake City’s land acknowledgment. My question was whether it would be just the Shoshone, or whether it would include the Utes, Paiutes, and Goshutes.

Surprise (or not): Salt Lake City doesn’t seem to have a land acknowledgment. In fairness, maybe it takes too much time and energy just putting together the Pioneer Day parades and parties.

But, University of Utah has one: “We acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. . . .” (Office of the President, “Indigenous Land Acknowledgment Statement“, University of Utah, website, retrieved July 26, 2021).

And Salt Lake Community College has one: “Salt Lake Community College is located on the Native American shared territory of the Goshute, Navajo, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute People. . . .” (Heather Graham, “SLCC unveils land acknowledgement plaques“, The Globe, website, retrieved July 26, 2021).

So: we have a lavish annual celebration of our ancestors’ entrance to the Salt Lake Valley #MormonEntrada but only a meager acknowledgment of context. Ironic that this is the year of Deseret Nationalism #DezNat but not land acknowledgments.

Boundaries of Texas

The last week or so I’ve been playing with the historic geography of my mother’s family. I’m not sure it counts as either history or genealogy but it’s fun in the way it personalizes history for me.

My mother was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming, which lies in what used to be Mexican Territory. And she grew up 50 miles north, in Farson, which lies in what used to be Oregon Territory. The dividing line turns out to be somewhere south of Eden. I never knew that. Seems like there should be a state historical marker and pull-off on Highway 191. If there is, I’ve never seen it.

I was born in Laramie, which should be much easier to figure out. I always see on maps that east of the Continental Divide was the Louisiana Purchase, and west of the divide was Mexican Territory. So, I was born and currently live in what was the Louisiana Purchase, but I grew up entirely in what was Mexican Territory.

The only time any of this ever really comes up for me is when we’re on a trip, say down to Santa Fe, and we cross the Arkansas River. Even if we don’t stop, I like to remember the Arkansas was the old boundary between Louisiana and Mexico (1819 Treaty Line). And if we have time to stop, maybe even read the marker, even better.

Texas Claim

Looking into these boundary lines, there’s still one I haven’t explored. That’s a Texas claim that went up and into Colorado and Wyoming. Now, as a Colorado boy, I’m certainly not going to credit Texas’ claim to anything. But in 1850 they did manage to con the Feds into paying off $10 million of their war debt in exchange for giving up some territorial claims they’d never been able to enforce anyway.

I thought as long as I’m looking around at boundaries, I might as well see if I can figure out whether Laramie (where I was born) was really in territory claimed by Texas. Some maps seem to show it was; others make it look like it wasn’t.

First, though, I asked my Mom. She’s a font of information about Western History. But no, she didn’t know. She had an idea the claim went up through the Colorado mountains, so it might have been a bit too far west to include Laramie.

Source: Pinterest @kansas4good

I looked through some Internet maps, but they are all too high-level, and in some cases they clearly disagree. How can that be?

Here’s one where Texas’ claims would clearly include Laramie, and south along the Front Range in Colorado, perhaps even including Denver. (There is a thing about Denver and the 105th Meridian. The meridian runs right through Union Station, where I worked for a couple of years, just as the 40th Parallel runs along Baseline Road in Boulder. Easy to fix our general location in this neck of the woods.)

What seems to be wrong here is the eastern boundary of the spur is too far east. I was sure I remembered the border with Mexico ran along the Arkansas River to its headwaters. The line would go north from there. I wasn’t sure where the headwaters are, but they’d have to be up in the mountains. Turns out they’re up by Leadville. No surprise there.

I looked at USGS Bulletin 1212, Boundaries of the United States and the Several States (1966). It has a lot of detailed information. It gave me a piece I hadn’t thought about–when they drew the treaty line they didn’t know where the headwaters of the Arkansas were going to be. They believed the headwaters of the Arkansas would be somewhere around the 42nd Parallel. The treaty makes alternative provisions depending on whether it turned out to be north or south of the parallel:

But if the source of the Arkansas River shall be found to fall north or south of latitude 42, then the line shall run from the said source due south or north, as the case may be, till it meets the said parallel of latitude 42, and thence, along the said parallel, to the South Sea” (Adams–Onís Treaty, Art. 3 (1819)).

Here, Wikipedia comes to my aid. It tells me the headwaters of the Arkansas are at 39° 15′ 30″ North 106° 20′ 38″ West (Adams–Onís Treaty). Has to be approximate. Even so, that makes this part of my project much easier.

Source: USGS Bulletin 1212 (1966)

The eastern boundary of the spur I’m looking at runs north along this line. Laramie is at 105° 35′ 27.96″ West. East of the line. So, not in the area claimed by Texas. (And neither is Denver. As I noted above, Denver straddles the 105th Meridian.)

Western Boundary

What will the western boundary be? This part was harder for me to figure out because I didn’t really have a clear idea what I was looking for. The maps make it look like the starting point is the Rio Grande River. So, north from its headwaters?

I thought I’d find the answer by looking at the lands Texas ceded to the U.S. But, no. As part of the Compromise of 1850 Texas ceded all land west of 102° longitude and north of the Red River to the United States. That didn’t really help me. They were giving up everything that would no longer be Texas but not detailing the claims they were giving up.

The problem was harder (for me, anyway) because the United States had previously acquired title to these lands by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which ended the war with Mexico (plus a few bits from the 1803 Louisiana Purchase). That was the point of the dispute–the U.S. and Texas had conflicting claims to this area. What I needed to find was the source of Texas’ claims. (It took me a bizarrely long time to see that.)

The missing piece was the Treaty of Velasco (1836), the treaty that gave Texas its independence from Mexico. Not a detailed document, though. It says, “The mexican [sic] troops will evacuate the Territory of Texas, passing to the other side of the Rio Grande del Norte.

I found a description of the boundaries on the Daughters of the Republic of Texas website (“Boundaries of the Republic of Texas“), but the description is vague at exactly the points that interest me. Surprise: the Daughters are more interested in Texas than in Colorado and Wyoming.

Back to USGS Bulletin 1212. It describes the Republic of Texas at the time of its admission to the Union (1845) as “Beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River and running west along the Gulf of Mexico three leagues from land to the mouth of the Rio Grande, thence up the principal stream of said river to its source, thence due north to the fortysecond degree of north latitude, thence along the boundary line as defined in the [1819] treaty between Spain and the United States to the beginning.

The bulletin further explains, “The claim by Texas to land north to the 42d parallel and west and south to the Rio Grande was based in part on a secret treaty between President Santa Anna of Mexico and officers of the Texas army at the end of the war between Mexico and Texas in 1836.” That would be the Treaty of Velasco.

I see why there was a dispute about the boundary. Anyway, this is a lot of searching to find that the western boundary of the spur was defined by the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

Having a better idea what I was searching for, eventually I found a Google map that shows Texas’ claims. It places the headwaters of the Rio Grande at approximately 107° 33′ 2.16″ (converted), “about 10 miles east of present day Silverton, Colorado”. Bearing due north to the 42nd parallel puts the northwest corner of the spur about 27 miles northwest of Rawlins. Say, maybe 100 miles east of Farson.

And there we go. Laramie and Denver weren’t claimed by Texas, and neither were Farson and Rock Springs. Armed with the details I can now enjoy the chatty version developed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas: “The Republic of Texas boundaries would thus have included many well known present day areas. Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Taos, New Mexico would be near the boundaries of the west side of the old Republic of Texas. Santa Fe, New Mexico and Alamosa, Colorado would have also been in the Republic of Texas. Rawlings [sic], Wyoming is included as part of the northern border. Kremmling, Vail, and Salida, Colorado would be near the eastern part of the border as would parts of Cañon City and Pueblo, Colorado. Also, La Junta and Lamar, Colorado are found near the boundary line along with the towns of Garden City and Dodge City, Kansas. In addition, there is the “panhandle” strip of Oklahoma that was included in the old Republic of Texas.

A fun foray into local history, but I’ve spent far more time on this than I ever intended or would have budgeted.

Land Acknowledgment

Here I am writing about the territorial claims of colonizers. That isn’t the whole story. Behind these claims are the claims of the Native people whose land was taken for Euro-American settlement.

A while back I read a piece that asked whether you could name the tribal lands where your mother and grandmothers were born. That seems worth thinking about, particularly in connection with projects like this one.

Mom was easy. Rock Springs. Shoshone lands. I’ve known that from childhood. Grandma Swanstrom was also easy. Big Piney, Wyoming. Also Shoshone lands. Grandma Miller? Neligh, Nebraska. I didn’t know. It would be one of the Plains tribes, maybe Lakota, really maybe several of them. I’ve tried several times to look it up. I’m still not sure. Looks like Pawnee, which would make sense. Grandma said she didn’t know but always assumed her Indian ancestors were Pawnee.

Tri-Territory Marker

A few days ago I wrote about the Red Desert, where my mother’s family is from. There’s a monument there near Farson to mark the place where the Louisiana Purchase, Oregon Territory, and Mexican Territory came together.

When I was in my teens I calculated the old Swanstrom place was on the edge of the Louisiana Purchase. And I was born in Laramie, which is also in the Louisiana Purchase. So it was all nice and simple. Louisiana Purchase in the east, Mexican Cession in the west.

But when I reading about the Red Desert and the Tri-Territory Marker, I changed my mind. From the description I was reading, my grandparents’ ranch must have been in Mexican Territory. I’m looking for the place where the Continental Divide crosses the 42nd parallel North Latitude. The website I was reading described the location of the marker as “State Highway 28 about 13 miles northeast of Farson; east on gravel road for 31 miles.” A quick calculation for me. My grandparents’ place was on Highway 28, almost exactly 5 miles northeast of Farson, and I know it’s west of the Continental Divide (because: South Pass), so…

So… I was wrong. I had my weekly video call with Mom this morning. She was interested, so we did some poking around. We found a better site for the marker: the Historical Marker Database. It describes the location as being in the Farson post office area “on BLM Road 4102 near County Route 83”. And there’s a link to a map. Yay! The old place is in Oregon Territory, not Mexican Territory, not Louisiana Purchase.

We quickly confirmed. The marker is at 42° 0′ North, 108° 55.02′ West. Farson is at 42° 10′ 11.40″ North, 109° 25′ 7.19″ West. In other words, Farson is north and west of the marker–Oregon. South would have been Mexico. North and east would have been Louisiana.

Rock Springs was Mexico. It seems a little odd that it was different than Farson, which is just 50 miles north. And of course Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Grand Junction were Mexico, but I learned those in school so no surprise.

We didn’t have these easy GPS tools when I was a teenager. No doubt if I asked sister Laura she would be able to come up with the GPS coordinates of the ranch, but Mom and I didn’t need them for this calculation. I can drive there with no doubt or hesitation, and I can find it on Google maps with just a little difficulty, but that’s where my competency ends. Laura and I will be working together on Tuesday. If we’re not too busy I might ask her.

A Story About Farson

In the course poking around here, I confirmed with Mom that the ranch was 5 miles northeast of Farson. “Almost exactly 5 miles”, she said. Once when she was a kid her dad had the car and her mom wanted a loaf of bread. Her Mom sent the kids on a horse to the Farson store (the Farson Merc) to get the bread. It took them almost an hour to get there and back. Grandma was mad it took them so long. Did they dawdle? Did Grandma not realize how far it was? Mom didn’t say.

Another story. Mom said she remembers the Utah Pioneer Centennial (1946). A caravan of cars drove by the house in Farson, along the old Mormon Trail. They had cut-outs of wooden oxen attached to the fronts of their cars. At first I thought she was talking about the time they did this when we lived in Mantua, Utah. No, this was same thing, another time.

Red Desert

I have a life-long fascination with the Red Desert. Wikipedia describes it as “a high altitude desert and sagebrush steppe located in south central Wyoming”. I think of it as being about the same as the Great Divide Basin, a river basin that doesn’t have an outlet to any of the oceans. (Don’t confuse the Great Divide Basin with the Great Basin.) And, of course, it’s “the place where God ran out of mountains.”

This is the place of my earliest memories and many childhood memories. We lived in Farson until I was, say 3, maybe 4. My great grand father Will Luce, Jr. gave my grandparents a ranch there about 1934. My grandmother sold the ranch, I think when I was maybe 12, in 1967 or thereabouts.

“Farson-Eden are sister communities in the middle of the Red Desert, primarily resided by farmers and ranchers. Here and all around you will find diverse wildlife, notable mountain ranges, lakes and an extensive amount of history.”

Our house was on Highway 28, which follows the old Oregon Trail. Farson is at the intersection of U.S. 191 and Wyoming Highway 28 (the South Pass Highway). When I was a kid Highway 28 dead-ended at U.S. 191. You could see still the ruts of the Oregon Trail continuing on. In the old days the Big Sandy Station of the Pony Express was there.

My connection with the area goes back beyond my grandparents. The U.S. government recognized the Red Desert as Shoshone territory in 1863. My dad claimed to be part Shoshone. I don’t know of any evidence for that, but on my mother’s side we can get back to Oregon Trail days. The Mormon Trail follows the Oregon Trail here, so this is the route my Mormon ancestors traveled on their way to Zion. Twenty years later my 2nd great grandfather, Will Luce, Sr., a child when his parents brought him to Utah, was in the gold rush at South Park and Atlantic City (say 1868 or 69). My ancestors and relatives have been in and out of the area ever since.

Sometime when I go up to visit my grandparents’ graves at Eden Valley Cemetery, I want to take a week or two to just poke around the area. First on my list, the Tri-Territory Marker. It marks the where Oregon Territory, Mexican Territory, and the Louisiana Purchase met. If I understand where it is, our ranch was in the part that was originally Mexican Territory. That would be interesting. When I was in my teens I calculated–somehow, I don’t remember–it was on the edge of the Louisiana Purchase. I’d like to just stand there for a few minutes and feel all that history in the different directions.

Rev. July 11, 2021.


In Sweden they have lingonberries, a wild berry that’s harvested in the Fall and used to make jams, jellies, syrup, and preserves. Nowadays most Americans have heard of them because of IKEA, but when I was growing up it was something only Swedish-Americans knew about. It was a great treat when we’d find the finished products in specialty shops.

When our Swedish ancestors came to America, they didn’t find lingonberries. But here in the West they found chokecherries, and that became the new thing. Another wild berry harvested in the Fall and used to make jams, jellies, syrup, and preserves. All-American, not just Swedish. When I was growing up we used to drive up to the mountains, to pick chokecherries in our customary spots. I think every family had it’s own preferred, not quite secret, spot.

In my family the special treat was chokecherry syrup on pancakes. Even after I left home, I was assured a steady supply of chokecherry syrup from Mom, and later from Lawrence, my step-father. I wish I had thought to take a jar of it to Cousin Jonas when he was here a few years ago.

Now sister Laura tells me lingonberries really do grow in North America, just not in our region of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. And, the American cousin of the lingonberry is the cranberry, not the chokecherry. The news comes too late to change the I see it. For me, chokecherries will always be our special native berry as well as the American substitute for our ancestral lingonberries.

Legend of Earl Durand

I wonder what I can say about Earl Durand that won’t throw me back into the family storm. Again.

Supposably, Earl Durand was my grandfather. But I don’t believe it. On good days I think of him as a sort of ancestral godfather. On my bad days I think of him as just a PR piece for my dad’s very romantic life.

I found a letter a few days ago from my dad. He wanted me to change my name back to Durand. I don’t think I’m going to do that, but it looks like I’m going to have some angsty guilt for awhile.


Mental Maps

Mental Maps, not mind maps. Mind maps are something different.

Peter Moskowitz, author of How to Kill a City, says, “A mental map is just your own personal geography of the city and all of its personal and emotional attachments.”

In other words, we carry a picture of the city in our heads. It’s our own map, one we create as we live in it. It includes, not just places and their relationships to one another, but also memories and stories attached to those places. My mental map will be similar to the mental maps of other people, but none of us has exactly the same map.

I see occasional human-interest pieces about mental maps, but not very often and nothing very extensive. This is the stuff of oral history. Has to be. Shouldn’t we be seeing it all around?

I think about the places I’ve lived: Farson, Logan, Mantua, Las Vegas, on and on. There’s a whole list. I have zillions of memories and hundreds, maybe thousands, of little stories. I love to reminisce. I remember “things”. When I’m dead, most of those stories will die with me.

How cool would it be if there was a regular structure to exploration. Not so much documenting history, although as an historian, I’m all in favor. More like personal growth.

I predict someone in the New Age community or Self Help Community, maybe someone on YouTube, will come up with a program for personal and spiritual growth by exploring personal journeys through local places, past, present, and future. Maybe it will be something like creating a vision board. And it will go viral.

So obvious, it’s gotta happen.

Settler Colonialism Among the Mormons

I count on High Country News for compelling stories about my Western homeland but I don’t always get to the articles right away. I had this one marked to come back later but somehow it’s been over a year — Nick Bowlin, “How Mormon history helps explain today’s public-land fights” (Apr. 13, 2020).

It’s got Mormon history, which would usually put it at the top of my reading list, but it’s also got the Bundy’s, and that would put it near the bottom. There’s only so many times I can read about a bunch of wackos.

The article is an interview with Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God & Public Lands in the West (2020).

By way of background, Quammen explains, “But it starts with the fact that the early church history begins with Mormon settlement. There’s no acknowledgment of history beyond when the first Mormon settler arrived. Settlers drank out of a Paiute river; all of a sudden it became a Mormon river. Ownership was established when they settled there. And along with this came the fact that they were persecuted by the federal government, and they came West, and this was a place that had been overlooked by other white settlers. . . . Their acts of settlement and development were forms of sacralizing the landscape.”

Now I’m hooked. I’m ordering the book.