Midsummer 2021 in Dubois: Good, Bad, and Scary

Of vanishing produce, disappearing pastries, locusts, picket pins, blue coyotes, and more.

I remember the day when Dubois was a sleepy little hamlet, hidden away in a peaceful mountain valley … like, last April.

Feels like that time has gone for good, along with dial telephones.

Stopping for lunch at the Lone Burrito on Thursday, I couldn’t see a single parking spot anywhere. This is extraordinary.

I found a spot by driving behind the official tourist parking area in Lamb Park and around to the gravel lot at the back of Ace Hardware. I felt very glad to be a local who knows a workaround.

This situation is not unique to Dubois this summer, as many people will tell you. All of the gateway towns near National Parks here out West are overrun. Some visitors from Alpine told me it’s just the same on the other side of Teton Pass, where different tourists are heading to flee the crowds in Jackson Hole.

I went into Superfoods on Wednesday to buy some berries and radishes. The produce shelves were nearly empty. It reminded my of my travels inside the Eastern bloc decades ago, when the Berlin Wall was still intact.

“I know what you’re planning to do with that!” laughed my friend Tammy from the cash register, when she saw me snap this photo.

“Darn right!” I said.

Tammy said the staff were completely at a loss to explain this. They received the usual shipment on Monday, and they have been ordering extra for the season. It’s as if locusts had descended.

The annual Museum Day last weekend was a roaring success. I helped out for a while serving the Indian tacos made with fry bread, which seemed just as popular as the authentic chuckwagon stew of prior years. But I soon left, because it was clear there were plenty of volunteers.

Reportedly there were also a record number of visitors. The guest count was about 500, and revenues were high.

But spooky things were going on.

The buzz around town is about the theft. Someone bought a pie at the bake sale, and asked to have it held for later. The buyer’s name was duly attached using a piece of tape, as usual, and it was stored on a table in the kitchen inside the Dennison Lodge. When he or she returned for the pie, it had disappeared.

“I was very disappointed,” said Mary Lou, who ran the bake sale. “People in Dubois don’t do things like that.” (I ran that bake sale for several years, and I can agree.)

Maybe Dubois people don’t, but there are other suspects. Mary Lou told me that she kept having to shoo the same fat and persistent “picket pin” (AKA ground squirrel, genus Citellus) out of the bake sale prep area inside the Dennison. Finally she gave up, closed the door, and put up a sign that said something like “Please come in. Picket pins not welcome.”

Perhaps the picket pin brought some buddies and dragged the pie away after hours. I wouldn’t put it past them. (Like the tourists, they seem to be around in record numbers this year.)

An unsubstantiated rumor (we specialize in these in Dubois) regards a different bake-sale purchase, a plate of pastries. Reportedly someone substituted a different kind of bar for the brownies, leaving the rest of the plate intact. I can’t imagine blaming the picket pins for that.

In other news:

The Perch is closed this weekend. They’re not saying why, but my guess is Sheila and family are taking a well-deserved break. This proved a good opportunity to try out one of the two new options that have shown up to relieve the shock to our caffeine-addicted system.

The face in the top image belongs to Monica Furman, who serves it up with a smile at the Dubois branch of Pinedale-based Pine Coffee Supply. The truck is parked beside the new fly fishing shop across from the Black Bear Inn, which is owned by her in-laws.

Monica, a wedding planner by profession, grew up in Arizona. She and her husband didn’t expect to find full-time work in Dubois, but he landed a job as the manager at Nana’s Bowling and Bakery (soon to open). She found the coffee job, and now they’re here to stay.

The lower image shows the new tiny-house version of the former coffee shop called Coyote Blue, which closed at the start of the pandemic. That’s its familiar logo to the right of the window.

Ali’s trailer is parked in front of Never Sweat Lodge, just west of the Super 8. She’s serving her signature breakfast sandwiches again, just as she did at her previous location. (You can’t see her here because I snapped this picture late in the day, when the truck was closed.)

Another Dubois rumor holds that Joe Brandl has sold his shop. This I can confirm.

I caught that wonderful guy in town yesterday, spraying weed killer outside the shop. We haven’t seen much of Joe since he moved over to Crowheart, and his talk turned quickly to haying — not antiques and animal hides.

There will be a closeout sale in the fall, Joe told me, and probably a tag sale out back afterwards, for what hasn’t sold up front. (Clean out your storage sheds, Dubois! This is your chance.)

He also confirmed that the buyer is his son. Joe has no idea what is planned for the space.

So why is that big For Sale sign still out there? “I haven’t gotten around to taking it down,” he said with one of his smiles–and then he offered to sell it to me.

Which of this news is good, or bad, and which is scary? It’s a matter of opinion — and there are plenty of those in Dubois, any time of year.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021. Thanks for reading!

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Status Report, Dubois June 2021: Joint Jumpin’

Of bad news, good news, exciting events and turning points …

These are the days when I recall with a sense of enchantment what drew us here in the first place. The skies are endless and clear. While everywhere else in the nation seems to be sweltering, here it is blessedly cool.

The sun comes up early, hangs about all day, and doesn’t seem to want to let go of the day and set down.

Neither do we.

Town is overrun with visitors. We read that over there next door, Yellowstone Park has half again as many visitors as before the pandemic, and we can believe it. They began arriving in mid-May, somewhat to the consternation of local businesses that are accustomed to using that month for sprucing up.

It’s also bustling with new residents. I seem to meet someone new every week. Reportedly housing is in very short supply, if it’s available at all. We will soon see how many newcomers intend to remain year-round — and of those who do, how many will decide after all that they just can’t tolerate the dust, the wind, or the realities of small-town life.

It’s that time of year when cars with out-of-state plates stop unpredictably at the main intersection, and you may have to honk (a sound we never hear here, otherwise) to tell them to move along. It can be tough to find a parking spot at SuperFoods, and drivers are always pulling out onto the highway from the entrance.

People wander up and down the sidewalk looking lost, hoping to find a place for dinner where the wait isn’t so long. Last year, we wanted to patronize the restaurants to keep them going. These days, it’s probably kinder not to eat out. It seems that every business in town is advertising for employees, and those already at work are run off their feet.

The former steakhouse next to the Rustic Pine Tavern has reopened as the Honey House, where the Millers of Crowheart have installed beeswax products of all kinds as well as a real-live beehive complete with informational signs about the species. Our son, who visited a few weeks ago (and dropped a bundle there, Christmas shopping in June) informs me that the price of beeswax candles is considerably lower than back in New York City.

The bad news: Although that terrace on the left is still open and equipped with tables and chairs, because the Honey House is not a restaurant you can’t enjoy al fresco refreshment out there any more. The Rustic Pine Tavern (out of the picture to the right) won’t allow you to carry your drinks to the patio. This has something to do with state laws about carrying glasses outdoors.

But the good news, as you can see in the picture, is that the Rustic (under new ownership) is now serving brisket and pulled pork as well as barbecue. So there’s one more option for those hungry tourists.

The square dance was outdoors last night, with the street beside the Opportunity Shop closed off for the occasion. It was the first weekly Tuesday on the Town event, to be followed in coming weeks by a flea market, a children’s evening with face painting and balloons, an artists’ show, and a car show.

Clearly, the new officers at the Chamber of Commerce are full of energy and good ideas.

The most exciting event I have seen so far this summer was opening day at the new Ace Hardware. It felt like a party. The cashiers were all smiles, greeting customers by name. Manager Chris Sabatka was beaming, shaking hand after hand, as people congratulated him for returning to work in town. He has been traveling to Jackson for years, to run a different store there, when we urgently needed his business talents here. With him at the helm, we can be confident that Ace Hardware is here to stay.

One friend knew her husband would be so overjoyed at the opening that she made it a birthday occasion for him. She asked him to wear a blindfold, and then took him on a drive with many diversions before turning into the parking lot. Then she walked him through the door, positioned him at one end of an aisle, and took it off so he could see all the temptations.

Another reason for good cheer: The incoming kindergarten class next month will number all of 22. Small-town dwellers know that the size of the school population is a robust indicator of economic health, and this is surely a boost.

This news flash came from Jason Kintzler, a Wyoming native and entrepeneur whose family has finally achieved their longtime dream of moving to Dubois. Giving the keynote address at the annual fund-raising event for the Boys & Girls Club, he shared that exciting statistic, followed by his assertion that Dubois is reaching a turning point. No doubt the Kintzlers are helping to propel it there.

The founder of LifeKey, a “smart” wristband that provides access to health data and emergency contacts, Jason and his family tried living in bustling Jackson for two years. (He referred to it as a “sentence” he had to live out.) Last winter, they relocated eastward across the Pass, adding four new students to the Dubois school roster. His wife Jasmine has now opened Dubois Provisions on the main street, adding another trendy business to the strip of shops across from the Rustic.

I will certainly buy Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap there from now on, rather than ordering it online. I may be able to get anything I need from Amazon Prime via UPS. But I’d so much rather stop in for a chat with Jasmine than bang away at this keyboard.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

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Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

They went to see Yellowstone in September 2020, and soon began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Why Dubois Is the #YOLO Option for Some

On the daredevil spirits who make a “crazy” choice

moving truck in front of a mountain and cliff

“What is he smoking?” I asked myself. “He’s in Wyoming!”

Out West to retrieve our daughter after a wilderness program, during an idle period in what could easily be the last of many visits to Dubois, my husband had been looking around with a realtor. He called me back in Brooklyn to say, half jokingly (or so he says now), that he’d found our dream house.

The idea of upping stakes and moving to Wyoming seemed utterly loony at the time. For one thing, I liked my job. How would I ever be able to work there?

Wyoming is fabulous, I thought, but it’s for vacations — not for real life.

Gradually, as remote work became a possibility, I had a re-think. It took about 15 years for us to relocate completely.

Perhaps the turning point for the permanent exodus was when we found ourselves trapped yet again in noisy Manhattan traffic and my husband, a lifelong New Yorker, called out, “I hate this city!” These days, pulling to the top of the driveway, he sometimes murmurs “I’ll just slip into traffic,” although no cars are visible in either direction.

empty highway in Wyoming

For biomedical engineer Bill Sincavage and his wife Lori, who lived in the Boston area, that decision also arrived fairly slowly.

Like us, they had discovered Dubois on vacation, returned several times, and eventually began to dream of living here full-time. Like me, Bill could work remotely, and Lori was ready to retire. (Soon after moving here, she returned to teaching, in our elementary school.)

Bill told me it took four or five years for them to come around to the decision to relocate to the West. Today he has a second calling: He also earns income online as a wildlife photographer.

In these almost post-pandemic days, that same impulse seems to be striking a younger generation with the same force but much more rapidly, if you can credit the words of New York Times reporter Kevin Roose. “[F]or a growing number of people with financial cushions and in-demand skills,” he wrote on April 22, “the dread and anxiety of the past year are giving way to a new kind of professional fearlessness.”

For them it’s taking place long before retirement is in the picture. He mentions a 33-year-old lawyer in Florida, a 29-year-old reporter in Brooklyn, a 29-year-old buyer for a major clothing retailer, and an unnamed executive at an unnamed “major tech company.” For all of them, Roose writes, the pandemic has spurred a YOLO (you-only-live-once) kind of decision to step off the corporate ladder and opt out of the urban rat race.

View of a fence and distant mountains in Wyoming

Due to pre-vaccine self-isolation, I haven’t yet laid eyes on my new friend Klaus Goodwin, an executive with a Boston-based pharmaceutical firm, although he moved to Dubois last October from Richmond VA. For Klaus and his husband Eriks, that relocation took only a year.

After visiting Yellowstone in September 2020, they began scouting all over Wyoming to find a new hometown. After visiting many other locations in the state, they chose Dubois.

“We fell in love with the Wind River Valley area,” he told me, “and decided to settle in Dubois since we found our dream house here on the top of a mountain with gorgeous views.” The mildness of the winters and the small-town feel also drew them to Dubois, as well as the fact that in Dubois they “experienced an openness for ‘otherness’ as a married, gay couple.”

Having discovered for themselves the general tolerance and cultural diversity for which Dubois is esteemed among those in the know, yet another urban couple has made the unconventional choice of moving to our tiny village at the edge of Western wilderness.

wagon train on mountain trail

A ”daredevil spirit” seems to be infecting even the “cautious over-achievers,” Roose writes in his article, “… a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.”

That’s actually nothing new at all. People have been taking “crazy” risks to come this way for generations. Just now, it all seems to be happening much faster.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading!

You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

Want To Advance Your Teamwork? Retreat to Dubois

Cancer survivors, veterans, artists, photographers — why not coders and other techies?

The idea is so obvious I’m annoyed that I didn’t think of it myself.

How can we reach remote workers who would be grateful to know about Dubois, our charming Wyoming village surrounded by wilderness, with world-class Internet service?

How, indeed? Invite remote-work employers to hold their team retreats here.

Duhhhhhh …….

Dubois has all the facilities for these retreats–many different options–and unmatched opportunities for activities to inspire innovative ideas and team-building after the day’s work is done.

The suggestion came from Highest Peak Consulting, a marketing firm that doesn’t actually exist. It was invented as part of a senior-year project by a team of marketing students at the University of Wyoming, whose professor kindly offered me the opportunity to present our challenge to her class.

Four young people put their heads together and came up with a very bright idea.

What’s most irritating is that I already knew what they didn’t: Dubois has been a retreat center for generations. Some groups come back every year, drawn by our very remoteness, our spectacular and varied landscape, and our charming facilities.

Most of these events are sponsored by nonprofits, not businesses. The participants are cancer survivors, veterans with PTSD, songwriters, photographers, dancers, and people in search of spiritual renewal.

Why not also remote-work teams? It is becoming a best business practice to hold remote-team retreats at least once a year, to improve communication and instill collaboration among coworkers who meet most often via email, Slack, and Zoom.

Probably the first “retreat” sponsor in the Dubois area was Charles Moore. The son of a local trader, he returned to Wyoming after graduating law school in Michigan and founded the Ramshorn Ranch and Yellowstone Camp in 1912. Meant to inspire citified boys with the wonders of the West, the ranch sat in a stream-side grove of trees that happens to be visible from my dining room.

Years later, when that burned down, he founded the CM Ranch, a few miles to the east, which has hosted generations of families every summer for welcome escapes from the madness of city life. These aren’t actually retreats; they’re vacations. But the impulse and the outcome are similar.

One of the longest-running retreats in the area is the artists’ workshop run by the Susan K. Black Foundation, held every year in September at the Headwaters Center. After their first workshop in Colorado, they’ve been coming here for 20 years.

The Foundation’s board had planned to travel to a different location every year. But after coming to Dubois, “we enjoyed it so much we never left,” said director of education Wanda Mumm.

What keeps drawing them back? The diversity of the landscape, she said, all the history of the region, the fact that every year she wants to find a different kind of landscape to paint and “it never fails me.”

There’s also the reality that “we need a reasonably priced area for artists who don’t have a lot of money. Dubois allows us to do that.”

Many organizations retreat to guest ranches in the back country. Others, like the Susan K. Black artists, meet at the Headwaters Center and stay at one of the many motels in town. Their annual workshop usually draws about 125 participants, Mumm told me, about 75-80% of whom are repeat attendees.

“They’re always so enthusiastic about coming to the area,” she added. “It’s interesting how even after 20 years, the artists keep looking forward to it.”

For many of them, she said, “It’s kind of like a family reunion.”

Of course, software engineers and IT consultants need to regroup and renew their inspiration and creativity every bit as much as writers, painters, sculptors. The magic in these mountains can work for anyone.

© Lois Wingerson, 2021

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com. Who’s writing? Check out About Me.

How One (P)lucky Dubois Woman Found Freedom in Remote Work

With a simple set of tools, she built herself a new future …

“You should really talk to Micki about this remote work thing,” said a mutual friend. “She wants to get into that.”

Well, he is a good friend, but at that point Micki Herbert was merely my acquaintance. All I knew about her was that she also came from Michigan, that she had asked me for advice when buying a new laptop, that she made her living as a cleaning person, and that she was concerned about catching COVID when cleaning motel rooms.

I called her right away, and asked what she wanted to know about remote work. Answer: Everything. It had been her dream for years to work from her home—not in other peoples’ homes, and not in motels.

“What kind of job are you looking for?” I asked. “What experience do you have?”

Customer service, she replied, and then elaborated about her history in Michigan before coming to Wyoming. Slam dunk, I said to myself–if she has the grit to do what’s required.

So I gave her a data dump. Showed her how to create a profile on LinkedIn. Sent her some articles I had saved from remote-work influencers online. I emailed her a glossary of remote-work buzzwords from GrowRemote, so she would have the required vocabulary.

Then I left her alone, and didn’t raise the topic again. Now she’s in paid training for a remote job with a global company.

This story is not to boast about myself, because what I did was simple. It’s to cheer for Micki, who obviously has bucketloads of grit. I gave her a simple set of tools, and she built herself a new future–in a remarkably short time.

You’re going to be a poster child, I told her recently. This is what other people could do to keep living here, if they want to overcome the seasonal work problem.

When her marriage fell apart, Micki had been selling cars at a dealership in Traverse City, Michigan. She was “really good at it,” she told me, because she liked to talk to people and hear their stories. She knows how to draw people out, and that can build relationships that lead to productive followup, to sales, and to satisfying customer service. But although she kept at the job for 10 years, she hated it.

“Why don’t you take your own advice,” asked her adult son, “and do what makes you happy?”

So Micki came to Wyoming and took a menial job at a guest ranch, where she could get outdoors and (with any luck) ride horses. One day, squeezed into a day ride with some guests, she found herself at the top of a mountain looking down at a guest ranch that overlooks a placid lake ringed by pearl-white cliffs.

“What’s that place?” she asked.

The first time I saw that view, I felt I was looking into heaven.

Micki finished out the season where she was working, then went to culinary school and got a job at that lodge beside Brooks Lake. Soon after starting there, she drove down-mountain to Dubois to look around, and she saw a woman playing alpenhorn on Ramshorn Street in front of Welty’s Store.

“That made me realize what an eclectic and wonderful place it was, and I wanted to learn more about it,” Micki told me. “After that, I just couldn’t get enough of it. I always returned to Dubois.”

The strategy of working at guest ranches lost its appeal after 5 years. She grew tired of having to move all her belongings every few months, and especially of the communal living that was required for guest-ranch staff, which wore thin for a mature woman.

After a particularly horrible season at a guest ranch in Washington State, she began to dream of finding a way to work from home, on her own terms. Being around Dubois had given her a taste for what she wanted, and what she wanted was more of it.

“I’ve been on snowmobiles on the top of mountains where you can see the curvature of the earth,” she told me. “I never thought I would do that. I’ve cooked on pack trips when I rode 30 miles into the wilderness and stayed for a week. Anything I wanted to do here, I’ve been able to do.”

A dogsled trek is still on her bucket list. But here, that’s eminently possible.

To stay in Dubois, Micki took a job cleaning at a local motel and supplemented it by cleaning private houses. But she continued to dream of finding a way to work from home. What she wanted was to be independent, and to ride horses whenever she felt like it.

A sudden need for surgery forced her to quit working for a while, and the down-time of recuperation gave Micki the swift kick she needed to get serious about it. “The universe was saying: Mick, open your eyes and pay attention,” she told me. “You have all this time to work toward your goal. “

Micki opened the emails I sent her. She got to work creating a LinkedIn profile and applying for jobs—but only, she said, those she thought she would be good at “right off the bat.”

“LinkedIn was amazing,” she said. “I could not believe how many jobs hit my email every day.”

After only a few weeks, she was contacted by a global services firm that provides customer service for Fortune 500 companies. That’s the job she has begun now, providing a modest but steady income as well as another laptop, free paid training (which she is now completing), in addition to health insurance.

The training was “frustrating a first, because I have purposely stayed away from technology,” she told me recently. “But that’s also a good thing, because they don’t have to un-teach me. I’m learning it the way they want it to be done.”

Micki will continue cleaning houses to supplement her income, but now she has a steady base for a year-round living in our tourist-based economy, as well as achieving her primary goal: The ability to do what she wants when she wants to.

At some point down the road, she wants the option to travel and work at the same time, and this job will provide her with the credentials to strive toward becoming a digital nomad.

I do hope she will return to Dubois now and again, because Micki has become a friend and I would miss her.

“I want to be free,” she told me. “That’s what this remote work thing is about: freedom.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.



The Cost of Suffrage in Wyoming

It’s not about strong women after all. That should have been obvious.

One hundred fifty years ago today, on September 6, 1870, in Laramie, Wyoming, 70-year-old grandmother Louisa Swain was first woman to vote after passage of the Wyoming Suffrage Act of 1869.

A celebration and re-enactment is underway in Laramie as I write this.

When I learned that Wyoming was the first state to give women the vote, I was quietly pleased. Who knew? It was one more reason to be proud of my new home state.

I credited this to the independence of the strong and determined women who preceded me here more than a century ago. Living very comfortably in my well-chinked log house with electric heat and indoor plumbing, I am fascinated by their accounts of trying to sweep a dirt floor clean, of cooking over a wood fire in old tin cans, of chasing a bear out of the kitchen with a broom.

Why shouldn’t these great women be enfranchised?

In her book Absaraka: Home of the Crows, first published the year before suffrage was enacted here, Margaret Carrington describes her journey to Wyoming territory as a young military bride, the outcomes of many skirmishes with the local native tribes, and the privations of winter life in the wilderness. Traveling north with her husband’s troops to build Fort Phil Kearney just south of the Bighorn Mountains, she writes of “the snapping of a tent-pole at midnight under three feet of snow” which can also creep in and “sprinkle” your bed and your clothes, the risk of the tent catching fire, and the challenge of “frozen-up” kettles and pots in the morning.

I ordered Carrington’s book after I discovered her in another wonderful book that somehow recently fell into my hands. In “Gentle Tamers,” Dee Brown chose an interesting title, because most of the women he describes are far from gentle.

How old is this book, I asked myself during the first chapter, because some of the words he chose would not pass muster in today’s self-conscious culture. (The book was published in 1958.) But it is a great read.

Brown takes a comprehensive, unflinching, and unsentimental look at the lives of the early female migrants to the West, from homesteaders and schoolteachers to prostitutes. She devotes an entire chapter to Esther Hobart Morris, a resident of the mining camp at South Pass City near Lander, who was the nation’s first female justice of the peace.

Morris is often credited with successfully negotiating for women’s suffrage in Wyoming. Indeed she was a proponent of women’s rights, and it was her neighbor, William H. Bright of South Pass City, who introduced the suffrage bill into the Wyoming legislature.

Why was Bright motivated to do so? Little is known about him, but a 1973 article in American Heritage suggests a possibility: The Fifteenth Amendment giving black men the right to vote had been introduced into the US Congress earlier that year.

“Bright was appalled,” says the author, Lynne Cheney. “A native Virginian, he thought the black man was not up to the franchise.” (If a Negro could vote, why not his wife?)

This introduction of racism into the matter was not the first shadow cast across my enthusiasm for the suffrage act. Dee Brown devotes a whole chapter to “The Great Female Shortage,” and his account of Morris and the Wyoming Suffrage Act comes next. If the juxtaposition was inadvertent, it’s ironic nonetheless. But I didn’t catch it either.

The penny didn’t drop until last month, when I heard a report on public radio, aired on the centennial of the 19th Amendment that gave all women in the US the right to vote. The story about Wyoming is not one about strong women after all, and the reality should have been obvious.

The golden spike had been driven at Ogden, Utah, exactly 7 months before passage of the Wyoming Suffrage Act. Miners were prospecting for gold, homesteaders were beginning to plow the soil, ranchers were grazing cattle, and forts were being built to protect all those settlers.

“Territories like Wyoming wanted more white settlers, so they figured they could bring more white women out by allowing them to vote,” said the report on Wyoming Public Media (Why Did Western Women Gain Voting Rights Earlier Than the Rest of the Nation?).

To the men who governed Wyoming 150 years ago, the Wyoming Suffrage Act of 1869 (at least to those who didn’t take it all as a big joke) was a step toward settlement and statehood. The granting of voting rights to women settlers in the West derives directly from the need to deprive the rights of natives who came here first.

Though the mining region where Esther Hobart Morris lived was subject to repeated attacks by local natives, there is no evidence that she herself linked the fight for suffrage with the demand to increase the white population. It seems that her chief motivation really was to assert women’s rights, although exactly what she did to achieve that in Wyoming is not clear.

Her contemporary Margaret Carrington, whose husband was commander of a fort being built to create a safe route north from Cheyenne to Montana gold mines–and who witnessed numerous raids and attacks intended to prevent that from happening–had a different perspective. Although her husband was relieved of command at Fort Phil Kearney after the disastrous Fetterman massacre, and the entire outfit including Margaret and other women had to leave it in a grueling midwinter journey, she evinced understanding and some concern about the interests of the original inhabitants of the land her people had invaded.

“[T]here comes the inevitable sentiment of pity, and even of sympathy with the bold warrior in his great struggle,” she wrote, “and in a dash over the plains, or breathing the pure air of the mountains, the sense of freedom and independence brings such contrast with the machinery and formalities of much that is called civilized life, that it seems but natural that the red man in his pride and strength should bear aloft the spear point…”

Another phrase in Carrington’s book caught me like a slap in the face this morning. Writing about people in the East who had never been to Wyoming and yet held strong opinions about the massacre, she scorned the “great delight of their own complacent souls” and the “wonderful wisdom of absolute ignorance.”

I still take delight in the strength and courage of the women who settled this land. But my ignorance is no longer so absolute.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

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Building Youth for the Future in Dubois

Even in uncertain times, Dubois digs deep when it matters.

Madison Harper gave a theatrical gasp and wiggled her hands as if pounding a silent drum roll. “And the total is — ” (wait for it) “– sixty-six thousand dollars!”

People attending fundraiser for Dubois WY Boys & Girls Club

This was $6,000 more than the goal for the morning’s event.

The 75 people spread out around folding banquet tables erupted into applause. Who would guess that we could raise that much while meeting outdoors for breakfast in the desert chill of a very early August morning, in the midst of a national political crisis and a pandemic?

When I heard the size of the “ask” I was dubious that we could reach the $60,000 goal that morning. I envisioned Madison and her team hitting the phones as soon as they had cleared the tables, working to meet the shortfall.

“Well, that’s typical of Dubois,” remarked a friend afterwards. “We may not be on speaking terms with some of our neighbors, but we will still come together to support a local need.

The need in question that chilly morning was to fill a budget gap for the Boys & Girls Club of Dubois, which provides after-school and summer activities for the youth of this small remote town. Madison Harper, she of the bright smile and seemingly boundless enthusiasm, is the Director.

The Club reopened in June when pandemic restrictions were eased, and set about finding ways, as Madison put it, to help its young members “release their emotions in a safe place and learn how to process everything in a healthier way.”

Around Dubois, that involves going fly-fishing, driving up Whiskey Basin to look at petroglyphs, riding horses near a lodge up-mountain, gardening behind a church and tending bees at an apiary, floating on the river, and playing at the golf course. The options for healthy activities here are considerable.

“I am so thankful that the Club is open,” said a 9-year-old at the fund-raiser. “It has really helped me socializing with other kids, because COVID-19 has been driving me crazy.”

Having no young children, we’ve had little to do with the Club directly, but of course I’ve noticed the children around town. They remind me of my own early childhood in small towns in the Midwest, where I was free to roam — so different from the city life my own children experienced.

That’s why we came to Dubois on vacation in the first place, actually, and kept coming back. It was somewhere the children could run free for a while.

Kids playing in a back yard in Dubois WY

But I have no illusions about the hazards that small-town life can present to kids who have nothing to do.

The organization was born 12 years ago as Dubois Youth Activities, shortly after my husband and I moved here, to give kids in this frontier village some healthful ways to spend their spare time. It has grown and thrived since, serving more than 600 children over the years. It currently serves 126.

The pretext for the fund-raising event was to present an award to Budd Betts, who runs a local guest ranch that serves worthy groups such as cancer survivors and veterans with PTSD. “Most certainly give, give all you can,” he urged as he accepted the award. “Pick a cause, whether it’s the Boys & Girls Club or anything else that’s close to your heart.”

Fortunately, there are still some deep pockets in Dubois, and typically the hands that reach into them are discreet. We were asked to fill out donation cards, and these were collected in baskets.

It was so unlike the school fund-raisers I remember from New York, where parents at auctions would vie loudly to outbid each other with outrageous amounts for weekends on someone’s yacht. You always knew who had the big bucks, and they knew you knew it.

I learned only after the event that Madison Harper began her career by working for several years at Betts’ ranch. The only words on her “About” page on LinkedIn are a quote from Charles Dickens: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

In her own remarks that morning, Madison cited a different quote, from FDR: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” In these sobering times, that is a heart-warming goal to have.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

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Dubois, Distant and Divided

Reflections on an Independence Day that was painfully different.

It has been quite warm outdoors, but there’s a stiff wind that carries a distinct chill.

That’s like Dubois these days. Warm beneath, but a chill blowing through.

A gust caught the far end of our flag and trapped it ridiculously upside down. A day with strong gusts is not the best time to climb a tall ladder, so it still hangs like that.

I hope people don’t think this is some strange expression of anarchy. You never know how people are going to take things these days.

Probably we won’t hear about it. Like cowboys, folks in Dubois are given to expressions of opinion that are strong, but silent.

A realtor at the main intersection has posted banners reading “Red State Real Estate.” One horse in the Independence Day parade had the word “Trump” painted on its rear flank.

Our Black Lives Matter protests, two of them, took place quietly and without confrontation. A few high school students stood silently on a corner with signs. Marchers processed around a pond in a park, not on the street.

We have noted with regret that on July 4, shootings in our former hometown of New York City were up 160% over last year. At our July 4 parade, the only threat of violence was the usual risk of dousing from the fire hose, but even that child’s play seemed rather somber.

Nobody tossed a small firecracker our way. We heard no music at all, and no announcer with a sound system because the organizers wanted to avoid crowding. The announcements live-streamed on a phone were never going to be as good as last year. We didn’t bother with it.

Tourists had lined the main street, as always, but my husband and I took care to isolate ourselves this year along an extended parade route that wound through the side streets in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. We were far from alone back there, but everyone else was just as careful to stay six feet apart.

By contrasting our Independence Day with New York’s, I don’t mean to suggest that we have no differences in Dubois. We certainly do.

But the only shots fired here since George Floyd died have sailed across the letters page of the weekly newspaper. Some writers have accused others of being too divisive.

With hardly any resident who doesn’t descend from white Europeans, our differences about civil rights tend to focus on the wearing of masks, not on law enforcement officers.

Meanwhile, we are no longer left to ourselves, and this complicates the matter of estrangement and distancing. Our local economy relies on our tourist visitors, but in these days of pandemic the strangers seem stranger than usual.

Expedia recently designated Dubois as the best place in Wyoming for an escape, and that message seems to have reached people who have been trapped at home for months. The town is as packed with outsiders as any other year. The RV parks are quite full. Thank heaven. (Or not?)

It has always been our instinct to to give any of these strangers a warm smile and a welcoming greeting. This showed up in our surveys of tourists passing through. Friendly, nice, and people were among the words they used most often in describing Dubois.

These days, our smiles disappear behind the masks we wear to protect ourselves and our neighbors from the danger they represent to us.

These tourists passing through come from who knows where, I said in a letter to the newspaper, and they don’t care much about us. As I predicted, very few of them wear masks. Which of them, feeling fine today, is about to notice the first symptoms as they head over the Pass toward Yellowstone, having left some of that virus behind with us? Therefore I am inclined to mistrust them.

That said, I have had a few friendly encounters while walking the dog in the Town Park with my mask off, standing well apart. During the past week, twice within two days, I heard almost exactly the same remark from two different women who had arrived here in an RV: “I just love America. Everywhere we go, people are so kind and friendly.”

“That’s the real America,” they said. “So what is going on with this divisiveness? Why aren’t the true voices being heard?”

They know the answers. So do I. What we don’t know is what can be done about it.

I do defy social distance when it comes to other creatures.

For some reason, a small bird has taken a a shine to me. Sometimes he perches on the clothesline when I am sitting on the side porch. I speak with him and he chirps back. He allows me to approach much closer than six feet, and will chat with me like this for a few minutes, turning his head back and forth to look at me. Then he decides “We’re done,” and swoops away.

Also twice recently I have been rushed by large, extravagantly beautiful butterflies that sailed past so quickly I had to duck to avoid being hit. This has never happened to me before.

Twice from strangers the remark that most of us are not like the voices that darken our view of the present. Twice the butterflies.

This brown and gray beauty clung to the garage door for several hours, deterring me from whatever chore had sent me in that direction. I left it alone, and eventually it left me alone as well.

Butterflies are said to be a symbol of rebirth and renewal. I’m not inclined to pay attention to such “signs,” but this time I would like to believe. What other option is there?

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

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A New Love Late in My Life

A true story about small miracles

Let’s talk about something else. I’m so weary of that topic, aren’t you?

Here’s a nice true story.

Once upon a time before all this, I was walking the dog with a good friend. She asked me whether I knew someone who could provide a good home for a piano.

I cast my eyes heavenward and replied, “Ye-AH-ah!”

It would take too long to explain why, but our decision to move to Wyoming forced me to sell my beloved piano in Brooklyn (the one in the picture). This made me very sad, because playing it had brought me great joy for all of my married life.

I am an amateur musician (both my parents were professionals), and I did have piano lessons as a child. I’m not a skilled pianist now, but I still love practicing to create the sounds that the composers intended to be beautiful.

Like my friend the software designer who relaxes by writing code when he’s feeling stressed, I relax by reading music using the keyboard. I also play the flute, the violin, and the mandolin, but none of these can provide the full harmonic richness of piano music.

I had chalked up the sacrifice of my piano as one of the few downsides of living in wonderful Wyoming. What were the odds of finding a good piano for sale in a tiny town in the wilderness? And was it worth transporting one here from somewhere else, just for a hobby?

Now my friend needed to find a home for her late mother’s piano, which was a century old. It had spent the past 20 years in the home of a man in town whose mother had just passed away. He wanted it moved out so he could have his own mother’s piano instead. My friend had no room for it in her house, and said she wouldn’t play it herself anyway.

I was thrilled at her question–provisionally. Of course I wanted to see and play the piano before committing. After all, it could easily be like the ones you see in the taverns in old Westerns, with a tone more like a xylophone than a Steinway.

We drove over to check it out. It was love at first touch.

It did look a bit like a honky-tonk, scratched here and there and the keys all discolored. But it was a deep pecan color with a lovely grain, and despite its Victorian-era provenance, a no-frills design.

What mattered far more was how it sounded: Rich and deep, and barely out of tune despite heaven knows how long since its last tuning. I shook the man’s hand, we agreed to share the cost of moving it to my house, and a few days later there it was.

The dirty keys cleaned up beautifully with a damp sponge and paper towel, and scratch remover took care of the scars.

My online search to learn how much to pay my friend for this wonderful windfall revealed how lucky I had been. The piano tuner confirmed this once he heard it and saw behind the music rack. He couldn’t stop interrupting his work to tell us what he had found.

The instrument was manufactured in Toronto by a company renowned in its day for striving to make top-quality pianos. It was advertised then as an “upright grand,” and that term is still used by many sellers online.

The piano tuner pointed out some features he had never seen before in an upright, but only in grand pianos. What he said explained why it caused four burly men to groan and sweat while moving it, and why it stays so well in tune: It has a huge cast-iron frame, just like a grand, and instead of being held in place by pins the strings are run through channels cast right into the frame. The wooden keys are shaped to make them weightier at the back end, so that they hit the hammers more firmly and create a richer sound.

I am indeed in love with my new piano. I almost can’t pass it without stopping to play.

How we made space for it is another charming who-would-have-guessed Dubois story. We wanted it in a side room on the main floor, where I could close the door and play in seclusion if that was desirable. But what to do with the huge old pump organ that dominated the room?

It had come to us along with the furnishings in the house, but was no particular fun to play. You have to pump with your feet to keep the sound going, and it has quite a reedy voice. Most of the time, I rested my electronic keyboard right in front of it.

An antique-dealer friend had no interest. “They’re impossible to get rid of,” he said bluntly.

My husband suggested donating it to a church. But what church would want a heavy, cumbersome white elephant that you had to pump to play? Like me, they’d rather use a Casio keyboard.

“Put an ax to it,” I said. My husband was horrified, and suggested at least advertising it somewhere.

As a first resort, I sent an email to the Roundup, our local shopping sheet, to post among the giveaways. Then I totally forgot about it. On the morning after the posting appeared, I got a call from a newcomer to town who asked if it was still available.

An amateur musician like myself, he enjoys playing antique instruments. By profession, he is a leather-crafter. When he came to pick up the pump organ, he told me he plays the bagpipes. He had always wanted a pump organ.

We found each other in tiny Dubois, in the middle of the wilderness and hours from any Interstate. Can you believe it? Truth is stranger than fiction.

When my new love was settled in place, I sent my son a joyful text with the astonishing news. “You should have a piano,” he replied. “We always had one.”

Since then, I sometimes send him a small recording late in the evening, as he goes to sleep sheltering in place in his Manhattan apartment. (Oops, sorry. We weren’t going to go there this time.)

He thinks that his beloved Grammy (that’s her in the picture, playing my Baldwin long ago) is responsible for all this. During a break in rehearsals for the heavenly choir, she overheard my friend’s mother in conversation with the man’s mother. 

Of course they’re all together in the heavenly choir. By definition, all three were music lovers, after all. (My mother was a professional mezzo soprano, and any choir would be lucky to have her. I heard the angels cheering when she arrived.)

“Your daughter needs to find a home for her piano?” she said to my friend’s mother. “My daughter lives in Dubois, and she dreams of having a piano again. I think we can arrange a miracle.”

Hearing that, in my version of the story, the man’s mother (who was a newcomer to the group) just smiled.

© Lois Wingerson, 2020

Thanks for reading! You can see every new entry of Living Dubois by email if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Who’s writing? Check out About Me.