I’ve been down the rabbit hole for weeks.
This year I set a goal to begin digitizing my mother’s photo albums and creating family history books for my grandchildren. More than just a family tree with names and dates, I want my grandchildren to really KNOW their ancestors — how they lived, what they accomplished, where they failed, what they valued, and why they mattered. Hence the rabbit hole. I’ve been living in the 1800s, exploring the sparsely documented history of one of Wyoming’s earliest settlers — my great grandfather, Wesley Bloom.
My quest continues, but I’m fascinated with the man I’ve found thus far. For my family, for those who love Wyoming history, and for those who simply love a good story, I offer it here.
George Wesley Bloom was born in Monroe County, Wisconsin Sept. 26, 1859 and came to Wyoming around 1879 over the Oregon Trail riding a “rough string.”[i] The 1880 federal census shows him living in Oneida County, Idaho, working as a teamster, but Johnson County records indicate he settled in the Big Goose area near Sheridan that same year.[ii] Over the next 30 years, he worked as a rancher, guide, hunter and trapper with homesteads in the areas around Sheridan, Cody and Pinedale.
Johnson County records mention him as a hide hunter in 1881.[iii] His first homestead was 160 acres on Beaver Creek, near the town of Big Horn, and he registered his cattle brand in 1884. The next year, he married 15-year-old Susan Matilda (Tillie) Thompson, the daughter of local residents Samuel S. and Annie Thompson. Susan’s parents were early residents of Johnson County, but later moved to Marquette, near present-day Cody.
Wesley and Susan had three children. The first two were born in Sheridan: John Wesley on Feb 23, 1886, and Susan Lena on Aug. 27, 1887.
Ranching may not have been Wesley’s primary occupation at this time. He and his neighbor, William Menor, were partners in hunting expeditions in Northwestern Wyoming.[iv] The March 10, 1888 edition of the Sheridan Enterprise reported: “W.D. Menor and Wesley Bloom came in by sleigh from their ranches on Beaver Creek on their way to lower Tongue River.”
The newspaper reported another hunting expedition on Sept. 1, 1888: “O’Dell brothers, of Sundance, were registered at the Windsor on Thursday, in company of Wesley Bloom of Beaver Creek.”
On June 9, 1888, the Sheridan Enterprise reported that Wesley had sold his Beaver Creek ranch to F. E. Wunderlick for $1,100. “This is one of the finest ranches in that locality, and was sold at what is considered a very low figure. Wesley contemplates moving to Montana in the fall.”
Instead, the Blooms moved to the area around present-day Cody sometime in 1889.[vii]
Wesley’s hunting partner, Bill Menor, also moved on from Johnson County. He established a homestead in the Tetons near present-day Moose, WY in 1892, and two years later he built a ferry that crossed the Snake River, known as Menor’s Ferry. Until 1911, his was the only homestead west of the river. [viii]
As a hunting guide and trapper, Wesley had spent a significant amount of time in Northwestern Wyoming and knew the area and its few inhabitants well. For his homestead, he chose land at the mouth of Trout Creek, just beyond the western tip of where the Buffalo Bill Reservoir lies today. He filed for water rights for this property in 1889, but did not live there until around 1893. The delay may have been due to the timing of the federal land survey. Applications for land under the Homestead Act could not be filed until a federal survey had been completed. Water rights, however, were allocated by the state (or territory) and these surveys were often completed before the federal surveys.[ix]
For whatever reason, the family’s first location in the Cody area was on Trail Creek. While he may have been working at the Trail Creek Ranch, he was likely still engaged as a hunting guide and trapper at this time.
We can speculate about what drew him to Trail Creek. He received his mail at the Corbett, WY post office, established in 1884, about 6 miles from Trail Creek Ranch. Corbett was one of the earliest communities in the area, a little island of “civilization” in the midst of an untamed wilderness area. John Corbett built the Corbett Indian Trading Post there in 1883, where he traded with Indians and fur traders. Undoubtedly, Wesley and John Corbett knew each other from their fur trading ventures. The town of Corbett was also a stage stop along the Meeteetse Trail, a 100-mile route between Red Lodge, Montana and Meeteetse, Wyoming, developed by the Army in the 1880s for the transport of mail and supplies.[x]
Around this time, Paul Bretesche, a French trapper, took over the 160-acre Trail Creek homestead when his two countrymen unexpectedly returned to France. Again, Wesley would have known Paul Bretesche from his fur trading ventures. Bretesche had the ranch until 1893 when A.C. Newton from Marquette bought it. This change of ownership coincides with the timing of Wesley moving to his own homestead on Trout Creek.[xi]
An article published in Scribner’s Magazine by William Hornaday, Director of the New York Zoological Park, provides some interesting detail about life in Corbett. Hornaday was on a hunting trip in the lower North Fork valley in November 1889 with several members of the U.S. Cavalry and two Crow Indian scouts. Hornaday writes,
“In a blinding snowstorm we plunged down the steep bluff road to Green’s Ranch and stage station, which is called Corbett, and camped in the willows on the river bottom just below it. Mrs. Green, the ranchman’s wife, told us that she had not seen a white woman in two-and-one-half years.” [xii]
Perhaps Susan Bloom’s arrival at about that time provided Mrs. Green with at least occasional female companionship, but without doubt, life in these remote areas was dreadfully lonely for women.
Hornaday was impressed with the beauty of the area, but he was dismayed at the name of the river. The Indians called it “Stinking Water” because of the sulphur springs in the area. He objected that such “an unsullied mountain stream” should endure such a “libelous handicap,” and he determined to use whatever influence he may have in Washington to get the name changed to the Shoshone River. Whether because of his action or not, the name change eventually succeeded. [xiii]
On July 10, 1890, Wyoming became the 44th state admitted to the Union. Population in the southern part of the territory had been on the rise since the completion of the railroad, but population in northwestern Wyoming was still pretty sparse. The 1890 census for Fremont County, which covered an extensive area that includes six current counties, reported only 2,463 residents, including Native Americans. It would be another 11 years before the town of Cody was incorporated.
Wesley and Susan’s third child, a son named either Albert or Edward, was born while they lived at Trail Creek. The Sheridan Enterprise newspaper, in a section on news from Corbett, reported that the baby was born at home on March 1, 1892 and weighed 11 pounds.[xiv] Susan was just 22 years old, and this was her third child. Childbirth at this time was fraught with peril under the best of circumstances, and delivering an 11-pound child at home with no medical assistance must have been terrifying.
In early 1893, shortly after the above picture was taken, Wesley moved his family to their homestead on Trout Creek. Within months, a tragic accident took the life of Susan Bloom and the baby. The details of what happened vary, but the following excerpt from several area newspapers recites the account as it was immediately reported from someone in the area in a letter to Mrs. O.P. Hanna in Big Horn, WY.
“Wesley Bloom with his wife and three children left their home on the evening of June 27th for a visit to Mrs. Bloom’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. S.S. Thompson, who reside near Marquette. When crossing the north fork of the Stinkingwater [the Shoshone River], the horses refused to take to the water, the leaders turning back on the wheel team and throwing them down. The current, which was very strong, caught the wagon and partly turned it over. Mr. Bloom left the wagon, which was washing down stream. Mrs. Bloom saw the wagon with her child going down stream, and she started after the boy with her babe in her arms, but the wagon had got into the current by this time and she could only manage to get a hold of the wagon. She got on to the wheel, but the current kept the wagon rolling so she could not hold on with her babe in her arms, and she was washed off and drowned. The little boy was still in the wagon box. The wagon struck a big rock, which separated the running gear from the box, the child staying with the box, and he was finally rescued by his father two miles from where the accident occurred.”[xv]
Days later, they recovered the body of the baby several miles downstream, but they never found Mrs. Bloom’s body. Wesley was still looking for her body in August, to no avail, when he placed the following ad in the Red Lodge Picket:
“I will pay a $50 reward to any one finding the body of my wife, who drowned in the North Fork of the Stinking Water on June 27, 1893.”
The Billings Gazette noted, “The accident will cast a general sadness over the community where the unfortunate woman was known and where big, honest, warm-hearted Wes has so many friends.”[xvi]
In her book A History of the North Fork, Esther Johansson Murray cites this as the first recorded death on the North Fork. She provides this additional context:
“At this time there were no bridges across either fork of the Shoshone River, so travel from Trout Creek on the north side of the North Fork required fording the river to reach the Marquette Store and Post Office. Continued travel around Cedar Mountain required fording the South Fork, too. The depth of the rivers during June and July varied from week to week, depending on the temperature and melting rate of snow high in the mountains, so these months were the times of the highest flow rates.”[xvii]
We have very little information about the four years following this tragic event. One of Wesley’s friends, William A. Richards (Wyoming’s fourth governor), recalled that “he was very poor and kept house for himself and his two children, and actually made at night the clothes which they wore.”[xviii]
Frances Bloom Kolman, daughter of John Bloom, wrote the following memory in 1985:
“Grief-stricken, Grandfather returned to his home with his two surviving children, my dad and Aunt Lena. He took on the responsibility of teaching them everything from caring for the stock to cooking, cleaning and all the duties required for living on a ranch. They rode horseback with him every place, my Aunt Lena on a side-saddle with long skirts. She often told me how proper Grandfather wanted her to be.”[xix]
A New Chapter
On April 19, 1897, Wesley married 16-year-old Melissa Lovina Slack in Red Lodge, MT. Melissa was the 8thof 10 children born to George Henry and Katherine Slack. The Slack family came to Wyoming from Wisconsin by covered wagon in 1890 and lived on property adjoining Trout Creek ranch. In a list of Cody “firsts,” the local newspaper reports the first dance in Cody was held Nov. 11, 1896 to honor Governor Richard’s visit. Wesley and Melissa are both listed as guests at this dance. Who knows – perhaps that dance sparked the romance! [xx]
Another guest at that dance was Col. W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Within the next few days, Governor Richards, Bill Cody and a number of friends left for a hunting trip. The Red Lodge Picket reported, “The whole party has gone up the north fork on a hunt, with Wesley Bloom as guide.” [xxi]
Wesley and Melissa’s first child, a daughter named Florence (Flossie) Edna, was born on Feb 16, 1898. Three months later, Wesley boarded a train in Cheyenne to serve his country in the Spanish American War. One of 338 soldiers in Company C of the 1st Wyoming Infantry, he trained in San Francisco for 6 weeks before shipping out to Manila, Philippines. His duty ended in July, 1899, but it was September before the troop rolled back into Cheyenne. Like all pioneer women, young Melissa faced the challenge of parenting alone for an extended period. It would not be the last time.
An Unexpected Detour
Lawlessness was rampant in these early frontier days, and people generally had a high tolerance for misdeeds. But they drew the line at cattle rustling. It was relatively easy for outlaw gangs and greedy individuals to help themselves to someone else’s horses or cattle in the days of the open range. Because rustling was such a serious threat to struggling ranchers, justice was swift and harsh whenever a thief was caught.
Cody area ranchers formed the Stockman’s Protective Association, with C.A. Marsten as President and Wesley as Secretary in 1897. [xxii] Nevertheless, in 1900, Wesley found himself on the wrong side of the law when he was tried and convicted of receiving stolen cattle. At his trial in Basin City on July 30th, Judge Stotts sentenced him to five years in prison. He was admitted to the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Laramie on Aug 11, 1900.
Once again, Melissa was left to care for the ranch and three children alone. The prospect of five years alone, with no income, must have been soul-crushing. John and Lena, ages 14 and 12 respectively, went to live with their grandparents in Marquette, and we can only assume the local residents or her family in Meeteetse rallied around Melissa to help her maintain the ranch while caring for her toddler daughter. [xxiii]
What happened next illustrates the pioneer spirit, as well as the character and reputation of Wesley Bloom. In March 1901, William A. Richards, former governor, submitted a petition to Governor De Forest Richards, requesting a pardon for Wesley Bloom. The petition bears the signatures of more than 170 residents from surrounding communities, including Irma, Marquette, Ishawood, Cody, Valley, Clark, and Meeteetse. These signatures, obtained at great effort, represent a veritable “who’s who” list of Cody pioneers.
Mr. Richards wrote a lengthy cover letter with the petition, in which he made his own personal case for pardoning Wesley. It included this testimony:
“I have known Mr. Bloom for fifteen years and he has always been considered an honest, industrious, law-abiding citizen until he became involved with this matter which resulted in his conviction. After the charge upon which he was convicted was made against him, but before the trial, I was in that part of the State and made many inquiries respecting the matter and became satisfied that he had not knowingly committed an offense against the law. He bought some cattle from a man in whom he had the greatest confidence, and it was subsequently shown that the cattle were stolen. The one from whom he bought the cattle was never tried.”
A separate letter of support came from Buffalo Bill Cody. He writes:
“I know Mr. Bloom very well and have known him for a number of years. I have always found him to be an honest, hard-working and trustworthy man, and can hardly believe he is guilty of all that he has been charged with. As a citizen of the community in which he will take up his residence when released, I desire to recommend his pardon. I believe the people of that portion of Big Horn County in which we reside will approve his pardon.”
On Aug. 22, 1901, Wesley Bloom was pardoned and released. In a letter dated Sept 12, 1901 from Irma, Wyoming, Wesley and Melissa Bloom expressed their deep gratitude to Gov. Richards for granting the pardon and restoring their family.
Wesley’s granddaughter, Frances Bloom Kolman, has a treasured keepsake from this dark chapter. She writes,
“Grandfather hadn’t set idle in prison. He had braided horse halters and quirts of leather – two of which are on display at the Pinedale museum. His cell-mate, Andy Cunningham, was an excellent wood carver and when Grandfather was pardoned, Andy gave him a beautiful jewelry box he had made. Later, my father gave it to me, and I still treasure it. [xxiv]
No doubt, the family suffered a financial setback due to Wesley’s incarceration. Whether for financial or other reasons, the Blooms decided to leave Cody and start anew in Pinedale.
Wesley sold the Trout Creek Ranch to John and Smith Murray in February, 1902. The Wyoming Dispatch reported:
“The Murray brothers have purchased the Wesley Bloom ranch, situated on the north fork of the Shoshone River; consideration $9,000 cash. The ranch contains about 260 acres and the sale included over 200 head of cattle and a quantity of hay. J.T. Murray will occupy the newly acquired ranch. The Murray brothers are enterprising cattle growers and have a substantial foundation laid for becoming the cattle kings of this section.” [xxv]
With another baby on the way, Melissa stayed with her family in Meeteetse while Wesley made trips to the Pinedale area to purchase property. In four separate transactions in 1902, he purchased 980 acres from the Sill family, located about 5 miles south of present-day Pinedale on the New Fork River. In 1904, he added another 160 acres, adjoining. And thus began the Pinedale chapter, where the Blooms would enjoy seven years of prosperity, free from tragedy.
Wesley and Melissa’s second daughter, Jennie Lovina, was born in Meeteetse on July 20, 1902. In a handwritten letter late in her life, Florence, who was age 4½ at the time, recalls,
“We were with mother’s folks when my sister Jennie was born near Meeteetse. And I think Dad took us directly to the ranch at Pinedale two weeks later. I recall enough to know we traveled in a spring wagon and just the four of us (Dad, mother, Jennie and I.)”
The couple had two more children in Pinedale: Otto Henry was born Oct. 20, 1905 and Marjorie Ethel (my grandmother) was born May 24, 1908. Wesley’s oldest daughter, Lena, married Albert Edmundson in 1904. His son, John, married Minnie Bayer, the daughter of one of the earliest Pinedale residents, in 1906. John and Minnie moved to the Bloom ranch after their wedding, where John continued as his father’s right-hand man.
Innovative Rancher and Civic Leader
Within a short time, Wesley had established himself as a highly successful rancher. He was one of the first ranchers in the area to bring cattle up from Texas, and he introduced the first Beaver Slide Hay Stacker to the area.
In addition to ranching, he served as a judge, county commissioner, and school trustee. He also hauled freight and served as a trustee of the Boulder Mercantile, established in 1906.
He still found time to lead occasional hunting expeditions. In fact, he named his son Otto after Otto Gramm, a man he had guided on various hunting trips and greatly respected. Mr. Gramm was a prominent Wyoming businessman from Laramie, who also served as a judge, state treasurer, and trustee of the University of Wyoming.
Details of Wesley’s early years in Wyoming are scarce because they pre-date the establishment of towns and newspapers. That all changed by the Pinedale chapter. Thankfully, Pinedale had a robust newspaper almost from the moment the town was founded in 1904, and residents apparently craved details of their neighbors’ activity. As a result, we have a week-by-week account of the community, including many insights about Wesley’s activities and reputation. The following excerpts provide a sampling.
Pinedale Roundup, June 7, 1905
“Judge Wesley Bloom left Pinedale on Thursday evening last at 11 o’clock to make the ride of 110 miles to Rock Springs to catch the train to Denver at 3 o’clock the next afternoon. It is seldom in these days that such a long hard ride is made necessary, but our judge is just the man who can do it, as he has some of the best horse flesh in the country. The average ride would be about 8 miles an hour, and the trip was made on one horse.
Mr. Bloom had been figuring on purchasing 300 head of Texas 2-year-old steers and putting them on the range here to mature for the market, as an experiment, and the ride was made necessary through the receipt of a telegram, to the effect that his representatives in Denver had the cattle in sight.”
Pinedale Roundup, August 16, 1905
“The editor enjoyed a pleasant trip to the Bloom ranch last Sunday, and was surprised at the immense acreage now under cultivation. The oats, rye, wheat, etc. is an excellent crop. Mr. Bloom has one of the best ranches in north western Wyoming.”
Pinedale Roundup, December 13, 1905
“Wesley Bloom has secured every hoof of his Texas cattle, which were on the range, and is well pleased with the results of this first season’s experiment with the Texas steer. Mr. Bloom made no shipment this fall, but together with Mr. Luman, will take a bunch to the road in early spring, and if necessary will ship to the Omaha market.”
Big Horn County News (Meeteetse), July 4, 1906
“Judge Wesley Bloom, accompanied by his wife and children, will leave in the morning for a trip overland to Meeteetse, Mrs. Bloom’s old home. They will go via Lander and across the Owl Creek mountains. They will camp along the way and expect to occupy six days going, and will return about July 20. Ranching work and stock interests have occupied the judge incessantly, and he is entitled to a rest.” (Interesting perspective that a 12-day round-trip camping excursion with three small children was considered a rest!)
Pinedale Roundup, August 21, 1907
“Judge Wesley Bloom, with a crew of seven men, is making a record for handling hay that will beat anything before in this section. Between 600 and 700 ton of hay will be cut and put in the stack when completed. Four mowers were put to work and all the hay cut before stacking was commenced, five days being required, and haying on the Bloom ranch will be finished by Friday night, just 12 days being required to put up this immense amount of hay. In the neighborhood of 90 ton a day is being put into the stack. On Monday, they put up a monster stack – 106 feet long and squaring 22 feet. The record for one hour of work that day was 15 tons in the stack.”
Pinedale Roundup, June 13, 1906
“Wesley Bloom and George Smith returned from Denver on Thursday with two fine bunches of Texas steers. The animals were brought through without any loss although the trip from Rock Springs was slow, owing to the rain, and eight days were required to make the trip.”
Omaha Stock Journal, November 20, 1907
“Wesley Bloom, who is extensively interested in the ranching business around Pinedale, Wyoming, marketed ten cars of stock this morning. Mr. Bloom stated that the range country was in very prosperous conditions.”
The End of a Good Run
Life was good for the Bloom family. And then tragedy struck again on April 23, 1909, when Wesley was killed in an accident while preparing to take a load of hay to a neighbor. The Pinedale Roundup reported the news on April 29:
“On last Friday afternoon the telephone brought the news to Pinedale that Judge Wesley Bloom had been badly hurt at his ranch below town. Dr. Alexander started at once, but before he could reach the ranch, the news was received that Mr. Bloom was dead.
It seems that he, in company with his son John, was placing the binding pole on a load of hay, Mr. Bloom being on top of the load. While drawing down the pole, the rope broke and Mr. Bloom, losing his balance, pitched head first to the ground, striking his head on a rock and breaking his neck. He lived a short time, though never regaining consciousness.
Wesley Bloom was one of the pioneers of Wyoming, and came into this country from the Big Horn Basin seven years ago, taking up a ranch on Pine Creek five miles below where Pinedale now stands. His place is one of the best improved in the country, cutting large crops of hay and being well stocked with improved horses and cattle. He was one of the most enterprising and progressive citizens of this section, being one of the original stockholders of the Boulder Mercantile Co, and in every way identified with the upbuilding of the country.”
Though he died shortly before his 50th birthday, Wesley Bloom left an indelible mark of achievement in the Wyoming country he loved so much.
Unfortunately, Wesley’s death set in motion a series of heartaches for the family. A year after his death, the ranch was sold at auction. Melissa Bloom’s mental health was tenuous, and she and her four children had moved to Cheyenne in early 1910. W.C. Mentzer, a Cheyenne attorney, had charge of the Bloom’s financial affairs, and the court appointed G.W. Gill as guardian for the children. In 1911, the guardian placed the two oldest girls, Flossie and Jennie, in the Cathedral Home for Children in Laramie.
Eventually, Melissa’s health broke completely. The youngest two children, Otto and Marjorie, joined their sisters at the children’s home, and on Jan. 23, 1914, Melissa was admitted to the Wyoming State Training School (then called the “Wyoming School for Defectives”) in Lander, Wyoming. She lived there for 17 years and did not see her children again until she was released in 1931. At various times thereafter, she lived with two of her daughters, but spent most of her life institutionalized until she died in 1964.
[i] Printed document of unknown origin included in family research compiled by Norma Bartosh
[ii] Letter from Nancy Jennings at Johnson County Library to Ida Johnston, dated Oct. 5, 2001.
[iii] Letter from Nancy Jennings at Johnson County Library to Ida Johnston, dated Oct. 5, 2001.
[iv] Printed document of unknown origin included in family research compiled by Norma Bartosh
[v] Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menor%27s_Ferry
[vii] Printed document of unknown origin included in family research compiled by Norma Bartosh
[ix] Ann Chambers Noble, Wyoming historian
[x] Sanzenbacher, Dorothea A., Trail Creek Ranch, with addendum by David J. Wasden
[xi] Murray, Ester Johnson, A History of the North Fork, 172.
[xii] Hornaday, William T., “Diversions in Picturesque Game-Lands, Golden Days in the Shoshone Mountains.” Scribner’s Magazine, Vol. XLIV No. 5, November 1908, p. 576
[xiii] Murray, Ester Johnson, A History of the North Fork, 18.
[xiv] Sheridan Enterprise, March 19, 1892, in section reporting news from Corbett, WY
[xv] Sheridan Enterprise, July 8, 1893.
[xvi] Billings Gazette, July 6, 1893.
[xvii] Murray, Ester Johnson, A History of the North Fork, 172.
[xviii] Letter from W.A. Richards to De Forest Richards, dated March 25, 1901.
[xix] Kolman, Frances Bloom, “My Blooming Family”, Seeds-Ke-Dee Reflections, 32.
[xx] Park County Enterprise, December 13, 1911
[xxi] Red Lodge Picket, Nov. 28, 1896
[xxii] Red Lodge Picket, Jan. 16, 1897
[xxiii] Kolman, Frances Bloom, “My Blooming Family”, Seeds-Ke-Dee Reflections, 33.
[xxix] Kolman, Frances Bloom, “My Blooming Family”, Seeds-Ke-Dee Reflections,33.
[xxv] Wyoming Dispatch, Feb. 28, 1902