A Tribute To Wyoming’s African-American Pioneers
You wouldn't expect to find much African-American history in a place like Wyoming. However, persons of color have contributed to our culture since before the Cowboy State was a state.
William Jefferson Hardin was the first black man elected to public office in Wyoming. Harden came west after serving as a Union soldier in the Civil War, arriving in Cheyenne in 1873 and opening a barber shop. Hardin quickly earned a name for his speaking skills and was twice elected to the Wyoming Territorial Legislature in 1879 and 1882.
Tilford Ashford was another prominent black businessman in Cheyenne. Like Hardin, he ran a barbershop and, in 1894, became the first African-American to own a saloon in the state of Wyoming. Ashford often associated with successful merchants and elected officials, many of whom courted his endorsements. His wife Eunice helped organize the Federated Colored Woman's Club of Wyoming and was actively involved with several local charities.
One of Casper's first black residents was Mathew Campfield. Following the Civil War, he found work as an Indian Agent and eventually settled at Fort McKinney, near the town of Buffalo. After an unsucessful run for Wyoming Territorial Legislature, Campfield followed the railroad to Casper in 1888, where he became a well respected businessman and was elected as the first Natrona County Coroner in 1892.
In 1908, African-American homesteaders established the town of Empire, Wyoming, near Torrington. Within a year, the town had built a school and hired Russell Taylor as a teacher. Taylor became an outspoken advocate against racism, lobbying political leaders and writing a series of editorials which were published in newspapers across the state. Sadly, like many other small towns in eastern Wyoming, Empire was hit hard by drought in the 1920s and was abandoned.
James Edwards was another homesteader in eastern Wyoming who helped established an African-American commuity near the town of Lusk. In the early 1900s, Edwards became one of the area's most successful ranchers. His cattle brand, Sixteen Bar One, was named for the ratio of whites to blacks in the region.
Black cowboys were also an important part of Wyoming's early years as a territory and state. According to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, approximately 25 percent of the men who drove cattle from Texas to Wyoming were African-American.