Fort Laramie
Park History, 1834-1977
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7. Ray Ringenbach, Superintendent, 1958-1960

Ray Ringenbach was a staunch Southwestern Monuments man by personal preference. He came to Fort Laramie in mid-1958 from Tumacacori Mission because the Fort Laramie job was a promotion to GS-11. He was transferred laterally to Chiricahua National Monument 2-1/2 years later, after much agitation by himself to return to the Southwest, using the leverage that his family's health was endangered by the Wyoming climate.

Despite the comparative brevity of his term (equalled only by that of the ill-starred Thor Borreson), and his geographical misplacement, Ringenbach worked hard and conscientiously at a job that should have been exciting because of the convergence of several momentous events. These were: (1) increases in funding for restoration work, coupled with the Big Switch in technical control to the Western Office, Design and Construction (WODC); (2) important authorized increases in staffing; (3) a surge in Fort Laramie fortunes with the advent of Mrs. Virginia Hill of Denver, who donated funds to initiate the refurnishing of historic structures; (4) a dramatic upturn in visitor interest, climaxed by the Pony Express Centennial celebration; and (5) new Congressional legislation which doubled the size of the area and converted it from a national monument to a national historic site. [101]

A Scottsbluff Star-Herald feature story in July 1958 unfortunately helped to perpetuate a myth that has always plagued Fort administrators, to the effect that the Park Service intended to "completely restore Old Fort Laramie." In point of fact, at no time has any responsible NPS official ever suggested total restoration, i.e., the resurrection of buildings which were levelled or denuded by lumber salvage operations, 1890-1910. Instead the Great Debate within NPS planning circles has always been whether to utilize the surviving historic structures for utilitarian purposes or to reserve them as historic exhibits only, inside and out, and segregate all new development across the river. After the abortive effort by Washington D.C. Mission 66 planners to revive the former concept, the consolidated Master Plan for cross-river development of all modern facilities became the basis for proposed Congressional legislation, introduced in 1958, to enlarge and develop the area. When it reached this stage of Congressional commitment, that meant the cross-river plan was a sacred trust, and from 1958 on therefore (until 1976, as we shall see) all development planning was to hinge on that broad concept. An auxiliary principle was to continue giving primary emphasis to the preservation of existing historic structures, even though this meant the indefinite postponement of the cross-river development.

A new corollary established by the Mission 66 Plan, which prevailed over the Omaha Regional Office opposition, was the restoration of surviving structures, variably, to their respective Periods of Maximum Importance (PMI). This was the one significant exception to the philosophy prevailing until 1958, championed by Mattes and Hieb, that all surviving structures should be restored to the 1888 period, as they were at the effective termination of the military occupation, to present a chronologically unified Fort picture rather than a random and anachronistic "outdoor museum."

The new era of planning and development under the aegis of WODC (though with all plans subject to concurrence of the Superintendent, Regional Director and the Director) was signalled by the arrival, in July 1958, of Robert Gann, Architect, from San Francisco. Bob was a case-hardened bachelor, so he was able to cope with finding quarters in the little village of Fort Laramie, and devote long extra hours to the accelerated restoration program, of which Old Bedlam would be the center-piece, and would become his masterpiece. Since the new Superintendent and the new Architect arrived almost simultaneously, with clearly defined respective roles, Bob and Ray got along — for the most part — famously. The first thing they agreed upon was that they wanted "the elimination of one-or-two man domination of thought" in restoration matters, referring to the era controlled by Hieb and the Mattes-Roberson advisory team. Review of Gann's plans at all levels would certainly ensure that restoration work from July 1958 onward would reflect the consolidation of many viewpoints (including the continuing input of Mattes and Roberson). However, it must be stated categorically that restoration work undertaken during his assignment bore Gann's personal imprimatur. And it takes nothing away from Hieb's accomplishments, given his unique set of circumstances, to say that Gann's work was fully professional and has also stood the test of time, not to mention the incisive criticism that all experts feel free to direct at the work of their successors or predecessors.

Old Bedlam was Gann's Number 1 concern, but its restoration would not be completed during Ringenbach's tenure. Utilizing the new approved format, Gann first completed "Part I, Historic Structure Report" for Old Bedlam. The historic background and descriptive data was that previously assembled by Hieb, but the assessment of the structure's condition and outline of its proposed treatment was the architect's own. This report elicited considerable technical comment from Sanford Hill, Chief of WODC, about materials and structural problems, but a flap occurred between Omaha and Washington over the matter of the Period of Maximum Importance. In 1881-1882 the original two-story kitchen wing had been removed, and a single-story lime-concrete kitchen lean-to had been built to the rear. The Gann scheme, reflecting the new thinking in Washington, was to restore the building to its 1867 appearance, externally, according to available historic plans. Although this would require drastic treatment, to reconstruct all original structural elements, it would present Old Bedlam at the time of its greatest glory.

In July 1959, despite Washington's new stance on the PMI principle, Regional Historian Mattes made one last effort to invoke the opposite principle of chronological consistency, with all restoration to 1888, and the story of Fort Laramie's architectural evolution from 1849 to that date to be told by museum exhibits. Strong-minded Roy Appleman held the Washington Office in line with his PMI viewpoint. Mattes and Appleman, with Associate Director Dan Beard as referee, met in St. Louis in February 1960 to debate the issue. In the upshot the Director ruled in favor of the Appleman position. Now the Bedlam plan was set, with pre-1881 kitchen wings to abut on neighboring post-1881 lime-concrete officers quarters ruins, creating an anachronistic scene (buildings which never co-existed historically). However, since Bedlam is the only instance where architectural anachronisms occur conspicuously today (1978), the disparity seems not too jarring, and everyone agrees now that Old Bedlam restored to its prime is far more aesthetic than the 1881 deformity. Chronological consistency would have been more seriously violated if the Sutler's Store had been restored to its pre-1883 period (thus destroying two-thirds of the surviving building), or if the 1849-1850 Fort John had been reconstructed at the expense of Officers Quarters A of 1870 (as Appleman himself has strongly advocated). For aesthetic and interpretive reasons the Old Bedlam anachronism seems to have been vindicated. [102]

With the final agonizing approval of Part I, work on Part II (the actual architectural plans) began with serious probing of the Old Bedlam structure in the autumn of 1960. Removal of flooring, wall boards, siding, etc., enabled Gann to get to the "guts" of the structural block, to determine the best method of ensuring a restoration that would stand for another 100 years, at the same time achieving fidelity to the original.

While plans for Bedlam were moving slowly, and with much argumentation, there was a frenzy of actual work on other structures. All funded construction work was now under WODC auspices, with formal plans and approvals, but certain projects that somehow escaped the "authorized construction" category did not enjoy full WODC scrutiny.

Officers Quarters A, which had been Hieb's responsibility, was completed by Gann, but only to the extent of touching up, i.e., painting and varnishing. Also, Hieb had not been able to find an outfit to provide customized shutters. This Gann solved by making a deal with the Washington Planing Mill, Washington, Missouri, so that by July 1959 he was able to provide historically correct shutters, not only for Quarters A, but also for Quarters E and F. Meanwhile, Hieb's completion report on A, written in Omaha, was circulated, eliciting the usual favorable comment. (Now as a Regional official who visited the Fort occasionally, Hieb observed the work of others with keen objective interest. Although he had some critical reservations about the new philosophies and techniques shown, he was too much of a gentleman to make a public issue of them, and wise enough to rest on his own laurels.) [103]

Another exception to WODC control was certain activity in the realm of ruins stabilization. Here Ringenbach conceived that he could administratively, and with maintenance money, handle certain projects himself, and here is where he got into trouble. On his own initiative he decided to attempt stabilization of the New Bakery (lime-concrete ruins near the Commissary Storehouse), sending in a proposal to square up the walls that had survived the 1925 fire. When he heard of no objection to his plan "within ten days" he proceeded with the work. Regional Director Baker admonished him that his ten day rule for review and approval was somewhat arbitrary and should not be invoked again, since historic preservation steps must be approved at all levels, regardless of delays.

Another Ringenbach ploy which annoyed Gann, and required whistle-blowing by the Regional Director, was his private program for "cleaning up the ruins." Specifically, Ringenbach's idea was to remove detritus (i.e., fallen walls and lintels) so that visitors could stroll freely about the ruins without turning an ankle or getting ambushed by a rattler. He used the fallen and crumbling masonry so removed as rip-rapping along the Laramie River. He was pretty far along with this unauthorized program before Gann alerted Roberson and Mattes, the latter finally convincing Baker that it was a mistake to regard "fallen ruins" as debris to be disposed of, rather than a valid part of the sacred remains. Baker got Ringenbach on the phone and instructed him "to cease and desist," but Ray never conceded that a mistake had been made. His clean-up operation applied principally to the Hospital, the Non-Com Quarters, and the Sawmill. Too late to remedy an error of judgment, Ringenbach learned that no decision about the disposition of historic evidence should ever be made unilaterally by anyone, even a Superintendent! [104]

After this unpleasantness (the only serious flaw in Ringenbach's otherwise fine record) Gann assumed responsibility for ruins stabilization. During this period his principal accomplishment in that category was the full-scale stabilization of the Sawmill ruins, as a trial-and-error preliminary to tackling the Hospital. (This project was undertaken in 1960 at a cost of $27,600, which indicates a new factor in the restoration equation — inflation — for this was far more than Hieb had spent on any one of his several major projects.) The results were excellent in terms of stabilization, but the use of concrete bonding beams to solve the erosion of walls topside turned out to be an error, since the smooth horizontal lines of the visible bond beams are incompatible with the "natural" appearance of bona fide ruins. In lieu thereof other methods have been employed since, such as "selective grouting" or concealed tie rods. [105]

Another complaint about Ringenbach's aggressiveness, albeit a minor one, in the matter of historic buildings related to the Commissary Storehouse, which Hieb had restored as completely as research would allow. Ray decided that the Cavalry Barracks could continue to serve as his quarters, but that he should move his administrative function to the more commodious Commissary, which already housed the museum. Accordingly he arranged to move into that central portion of the building which once housed the Quartermaster's offices, making a few alterations to walls, partitions, floors, and ceilings in the process, as he deemed necessary to provide office space, electricity and heating. In 1959 Mattes complained about his "tampering" with the restored Commissary, not objecting to the idea of conversion to offices, but again to the idea of making unilateral decisions with respect to the integrity of a historic structure. But in this case as in the case of the ruins "clean-up", by the time the complaint was registered and "taken under advisement" by the Regional Director, Ringenbach was on his way to Chiricahua. [106]

Plans for restoring the Old Guardhouse (the masonry structure of 1866 near the river) to its pristine condition, before being converted to the purposes of a Magazine in 1876, were prepared by Gann in accordance with the New Dispensation to be guided by the time of maximum importance, which would require the undoing of some details of the Hieb restoration. However, work on the Old Guardhouse would come later. The one important restoration completed by Gann during the Ringenbach interlude was that of the New Guardhouse, built in 1876. This was a ruin, stripped of its lumber like other late-period lime-concrete structures, but it is distinctive because of its location. It is isolated at a corner of the parade ground otherwise made barren by the disappearance of adjoining barracks. It is also distinguished by the fact that it sits square with the cardinal compass directions, and therefore at a 45-degree angle with the parade ground, the only Fort structure so oriented.

Regional Historian Mattes in Omaha, in his continuing capacity as coordinator for Fort Laramie programming, first conceived the idea of reconstructing a roof over the New Guardhouse ruins in the spring of 1958. The idea did not particularly appeal to Hieb or Ringenbach, but Gann embraced it with enthusiasm and it quickly gained acceptance by landscape architects and interpreters. Although roofing is, of course, not an unheard of way to preserve a fragile ruin, there was no thought here at the time of roofing all such ruins at Fort Laramie, only the New Guardhouse. This would be an exception to the rule, justified for the purpose of restoring some visual balance to that corner of the parade ground, and also to aid interpreters as a place to pause on their parade ground tours, or as a simple shelter for visitors. What made the idea feasible from the standpoint of authenticity was the existence of a Signal Corps photograph of 1889 obtained from the National Archives which gave a clear view of the parade ground elevation of the intact structure. It enabled the architect to come up with a reasonable facsimile of the original roof, at least as to external appearance. The interior detail, having to be conjectural anyhow, would permit maximum structural stability. [107]

Plans for the roof reconstruction — "Stabilization and Partial Restoration of the New Guard House" — were approved, and construction was authorized in 1960. In a joint Gann-Ringenbach project to probe the foundations of the late-period Army structure, workmen encountered clear evidence of the fact that the New Guardhouse had been superimposed on the masonry foundation ruins of an earlier frame structure. The existence of small cells in this hidden "ghost" structure, coupled with the evidence of early military ground plans (1851 and 1854), confirmed that this was the 1850 Guardhouse, the Original or First Guardhouse, as distinct from the 1866 and 1876 versions. (A gruesome find it was, to think of how human beings had once been shackled and confined there!) The Regional Office readily endorsed the idea of preserving the First Guardhouse foundation ruins as an in situ exhibit adjoining the exterior foundation wall of the New Guardhouse, and it was so arranged, with appropriate exhibit panels. Meanwhile, after pouring of new footings and buttressing of the foundations, the New Guardhouse walls were stabilized, with cement tie beams and restored window grilles. The framing, shingling, and louvered ventilators of the reconstructed hipped roof offered no technical difficulties, nor did the reconstruction of the open front porch. With painting of wood porch and trim, and grading around the structure, the project was completed before Ringenbach's departure. [108]

A decision was made not to reproduce original interior walls or other partitions. The open space provides shelter for exhibits and display of Army vehicles or other large pieces. The original 1850 guardhouse outline may be seen inside as well as outside the structure through a diagonal void in the New Guardhouse floor. The porch has become a principal focal point for interpretive talks and demonstrations.

Not all 1958-1960 development was limited to historic structures. In July 1959 a delegation from WODC including Engineer Al Heubner and Landscape Architect Sam Serrano visited the Fort to get a bird's-eye view of long range planning requirements and, since there would be no actual development across the river for some years, to advise on current needs. Before they arrived Ringenbach had proceeded with installation of a new water distribution system around the parade ground, and had greatly enlarged the "temporary" parking area next to the Cavalry Barracks. He had also beefed up his fire-fighting capability with a new fire truck and tanker unit. Since there was no optimism about an early move across the river, the WODC delegation staked out a location for a new prefabricated metal Shop-Firehouse building in the "temporary" utility cluster north of the Cavalry Barracks. This additional "temporary" structure, completed in 1960 for $14,200, is now (1978) celebrating its 18th year. [109]

Two aspects of planning were stepped up in late 1959 and 1960. First was some detailed analysis of road alignment, parking facility, and visitor center - utility - residential location requirements across the river. Second was a concern about landscaping the parade ground area, that is, the delineation of utility roads, public walks and pathways, possible decorative fencing, and vegetative cover plan, all in accord with historic evidence. In October 1959 Sam Serrano and Merrill Mattes met at the Fort for an intensive two-week survey of the total landscaping problem, which resulted in a series of "PCPs" or Project Construction Proposals in accordance with a new format devised by Washington and WODC. It would be profitless to go into details, because of planning revisions and re-revisions since that time, but a few key proposals made then for the first time, may be noted:

(1) The future approach road should permit views of the Fort, requiring some vista clearing of river trees.

(2) The future approach road to the Visitor Center will parallel some surviving Oregon Trail remains, which should be preserved and interpreted en route.

(3) The future parking area should be well screened behind plantings or an earth berm.

(4) The future Visitor Center - headquarters should be designed inconspicuously to one side of the parade ground axis, near the mouth of Deer Creek; the pedestrian bridge should come in near the Fort John site; also, it should ramp down and up to keep it as inconspicuous as possible.

(5) Electric carts could be used to transport the handicapped from the Visitor Center to the historic ground; there should be a separate road and auto bridge across the river to the south, for official vehicles only.

(6) The future utility area should be "out of sight."

(7) The residential area, if necessary, should be likewise concealed or camouflaged, but it would be better if there were no residential area, with employees living in town, and a 24-hour guard system employed.

(8) Since it had been decreed that the Period of Maximum Importance should be the criterion throughout, there was no point in restoring parade ground trees of the late Army period. The same would apply to board walks, fencing, vines, and other refinements of the late 1880s. If walkways proved necessary, earth-tone bituminous mat would serve. The only vegetation in the historic area should be native grass which, despite the barrenness of the Fort at PMI, would prevent the dust from becoming too realistic for modern visitors! [110]

About this time a proposal was made by Bradley Patterson of the White House staff to the Director that Fort Laramie be thrown open to public camping because it was such a famous campground in historic times. The proposal was politely rejected, as were frequently recurring proposals that formal picnic facilities be provided. It would be agreeable, however, to allow "informal" minimal-facility picnics or sack lunches in the cottonwood grove between the Commissary Storehouse and the Cavalry Barracks. [111]

The years 1959-1960 are noteworthy because of some real breakthroughs in area staffing, research, curatorial work, refurnishing, legislation, and public relations. Although Ringenbach did not initiate any of these moves, he was the Superintendent of record when it all happened. The initiative had been taken, in each case, by the Regional Office and Superintendent Hieb.

In terms of staffing, Fort Laramie got a great boost when in 1960 Jack McDermott became the permanent Historian, Rex Wilson became the first permanent Curator of collections, and Sally Johnson became the Furnishings Curator. This gifted trio, all of whom later went on to fulfill higher ambitions, together with Bob Gann as Project Architect, were instrumental in raising Fort Laramie to new heights of attainment and public recognition.

McDermott, University of Wisconsin product, who had spent several years as a seasonal at both Custer Battlefield and Fort Laramie, had demonstrated superior talent in both research and interpretive areas, and was hand-picked by the Regional Office for that reason. He reorganized the massive research files at the Fort to make them more useful, worked closely with Gann in unearthing fresh data required for the Historic Structure Reports, initiated several fruitful research projects on his own initiative, expanded the activities of the Fort Laramie Historical Association, arranged for its legal incorporation and, among other things, contributed a regular column, "Fort Laramie Foot Notes," in the Torrington Telegram. Although he was destined for greater things he would be around long enough to put Fort Laramie on a fully professional footing, historically.

Regional Museum Curator Newell F. Joyner recognized that the Fort Laramie artifact collection had grown to alarming proportions. He calculated something like 80,000 pieces which would take years to process or reprocess by approved up-to-date methods of accessioning and cataloguing, not to mention curatorial or preservation work on these items. He also pointed out that storage facilities were woefully inadequate. The storage problem was solved in the usual temporary fashion by obtaining new metal cases to put in the old Cavalry Barracks facility, along with work tables and a sink. The Curatorial problem was solved in the person of Rex Wilson, fresh from Fort Union National Monument in New Mexico, where he had a fine indocrination in historical archeology. He not only plunged with zest into housekeeping chores but also proceeded to do a creative job of classification of the assorted artifacts, such as bottles, buttons, bullets, coins, and whatnot. As an example of his contribution, he came up with nearly 1,000 bottle specimens of which he identified about 600 different types. He corresponded widely to establish their identities and origins, and later published several papers on aspects of the Fort Laramie collection. He also initiated the painstaking process of establishing monetary values for selected items. [112]

Although an archeologist by training, Rex did no archeology per se at the Fort. Two of the three archeology projects that were undertaken during Ringenbach's day were supervised by Ringenbach himself, who as a Southwestern Monument employee had been exposed to archeological procedures. These were, first, the salvage of random artifacts in connection with the 1958 water pipeline. Surprisingly enough, there were no artifacts of unusual interest in this lengthy dig around the perimeter of the parade ground, nor were there any signs of early structures. His second archeological job was the discovery and careful unearthing and stabilization of the 1850 guardhouse foundations in 1959, actually the most gratifying archeological discovery at the Fort up to that date. [113] In 1958, anticipating the restoration of Old Bedlam, the Regional Office had induced the Smithsonian Institution office in Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the little chore of excavating the sites of the two original kitchen wings, which were well defined by rocky depressions. Charles M. McNutt of that office conducted the dig, but reported nothing sensational. [114]

In 1958 the Region and the Superintendent were painfully aware of the lack of furnishings in the restored buildings, and the need to restrain the curious public from entering the nicely finished but empty buildings. In an effort to remedy this, the Region sanctioned a scheme of Ringenbach's to undertake an experimental refurnishing project for Officers Quarters F. In this he had the help of the local Federation of Womens Clubs, to scare up old antiques, furniture, and other items, and he had the technical support of Joyner and Historian Russ Apple, on brief assignment from Mount Rushmore. (The large Fort collection included very few authentic or useable items for this purpose.) These efforts paid off in the form of a refurnished Officers Quarters, which mollified the public to a degree, but which was gravely deficient in authenticity. This was not the way to solve the basic problem, but how could it be solved when the NPS programmers and the Bureau of the Budget in Washington would not hear of Government funding for historic furniture? Wasn't it enough to restore the buildings? [115]

The furnishings dilemma was solved in a most unexpected way. In August 1959 the Regional Director, Howard Baker, received a phone call from a Denver attorney representing Mrs. Virginia Hill of that city, who said she wanted to memorialize her late husband who had evidently made his fortune in Wyoming oil and gas, by donating $50,000 to the National Park Service for some worthy park project in Wyoming. Accordingly, the attorney suggested, Baker should submit a few alternative proposals for his and her consideration. Baker called a staff meeting for ideas. Several staff members suggested the purchase of real estate inholdings in Grand Teton National Park. Merrill Mattes pointed out that this was a heaven-sent opportunity to provide the badly needed historical furnishings for the restored Fort Laramie buildings. Everybody who had a scheme went back to their offices to write up a proposal. Mattes came up with a report entitled, "A Proposal for the Restoration of Interior Furniture and Furnishings in Historic Structures at Fort Laramie" which itemized the anticipated cost for furnishing ten buildings, totalling $100,000. In a conference with Baker he suggested that if Mrs. Hill would donate $50,000 for furnishings acquisitions perhaps the Government could match that with a like amount for the cost of Curatorial salary and travel over a five year period. However, he further suggested that perhaps Mrs. Hill would like to entertain the idea of donating $100,000 to Fort Laramie, instead of just half that amount, so that she could get all the credit, and that would avoid the awkward delay of waiting for the Government budget to catch up. Baker agreed to this approach, and took off for Denver. Although he did dutifully present other suggestions, including Jackson Hole land, it was the Fort Laramie proposition that immediately intrigued Mrs. Hill, and she went for the $100,000 without batting an eyelash, as Mattes predicted she would. [116]

With the first installment of Mrs. Hill's money secured, Mattes then took up the task of locating a highly qualified Furnishings Curator. Although many others were screened, Curator Sally Johnson of the Nebraska State Historical Society, a Nebraska University graduate, turned out to be a "natural," being readily available for new adventures, and single so that extensive travel away from home posed no problem. Accordingly, she was hired and went to work in January, 1960 under the direction of the Regional Historian but with frequent assignments to Fort Laramie. The procedure which she and Mattes evolved, after establishing unit (historic building) priorities, was to research the subject thoroughly, prepare a furnishings report for approval, and then go out around the countryside, antique shops, or collections wherever they might be, round up what was needed and finally, after all acquired items were accessioned, install them in the buildings. [117]

The first year, 1960, was of course devoted almost entirely to research on the history of the Fort and its inhabitants in general, and those of Officers Quarters F in particular, which was selected as the first project to be completed. This decision was made on the basis of the fact that Merrill Mattes had struck up an acquaintance with a onetime boy occupant of that building living in Washington, D.C., retired General Reynolds Burt, and Mattes wrote a book about the adventures of his father and mother, Andrew S. and Elizabeth Burt on the Indian frontier (Indians, Infants and Infantry, Old West Publishing Company, Denver, 1960). In addition to having actual items of furnishings from the period of his family's occupancy of the buildings in 1887-1888, General Burt was able to supply many items from memory. The final clincher for the selection of Officers Quarters F was that, being the restored building of latest vintage, the items should be the easiest to come by, and therefore could be completed fairly early to demonstrate to the public that the Fort Laramie program was entering a whole new exciting dimension. It was in this manner that Officers Quarters F, which for a time had been referred to as the Hunton House, has come to be known as the Burt House for interpretive purposes. [118]

Giving priority to the Burt House to ensure an early date for the completion of "the pilot project" would also impress Mrs. Hill who was passing out her money to the National Park Service in installments, and it was important to keep her interest at high pitch! In an early article for publication in the Dude Rancher, Sally reported learning from Mrs. Hill that her decision to support Fort Laramie furnishings had been influenced by stories told her as a young girl by her grandmother, Mrs. Seymour Ellis, who had crossed the Plains in a covered wagon, in 1859 or 1860, and had stopped then at Fort Laramie. [119]

April 1860 was the time of the beginning of the famous Pony Express mail service between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California, launched by the partners, Russell, Majors and Waddell. The 75th anniversary of this thrilling historical phenomenon had been observed in a modest way by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association at the Old Fort in 1935. It was inevitable that there would be some kind of recognition in 1960, but it probably would not have taken the colorful form of a Transcontinental Re-enactment had it not been for the organizing initiative and energy of Colonel Waddell F. Smith of San Rafael, California, a descendant of one of the partners. In 1958 he toured the western states involved to generate interest, and in Salt take City that year the National Pony Express Centennial Association was born, with the full support of Utah's Governor George Clyde, and the Director of the Wyoming Historical Department, Lola Homsher. In 1959 there was a series of meetings at towns along the old route to help get the idea of a Re-Enactment rolling, including ones in North Platte and Gothenberg attended by Mattes and Ringenbach. Meanwhile Mattes had become a Director-at-large of the Association, researched the Pony Express extensively, and had articles on the subject published in the Omaha World-Herald Sunday Magazine and Nebraska History, "The Pony Express from St. Joseph to Fort Laramie." He also assisted with the organization of local Sheriff's patrols and other equestrian groups to coordinate the Re-enactment. [120]

The 1960 Re-enactment itself, with relays cross-country all the way from both Sacramento and St. Joseph, took over three weeks, given modern conditions, compared to the record ten days set originally. Two relay riders were scheduled to pass each other in South Pass on July 31. Since the riders were carefully scheduled, the date set for the celebration at Fort Laramie was July 25, when the westbound Pony rider would arrive there, and over 2,500 visitors were on hand. The principal speakers were Waddell Smith and Chief U. S. Postal Inspector David Stephens. Both Director Wirth and Regional Director Baker were on hand, as well as Historians Apple and Mattes, and ex-Superintendent Hieb. Because the Sutler's Store was the historic post-office for the Fort (though not a Pony Express relay station) it was the focal point for the celebration, and the sale of Fort Laramie covers. The Pony rider splashed across the Laramie River at 2:47 PM, and took off his mochila (saddle bag) and handed it to his relay rider who then took off westward in a cloud of dust. This poignant bit of pageantry was witnessed by a dense throng. It was a historic moment. [121]

Other celebrations of lesser note during this period included a "Show Me Day" on July 16, 1958, the occasion of the National Monument's 20th anniversary; the arrival of the Oregon Centennial Wagon Train, en route from that state to Missouri in May, 1959; and on July 19, 1959 the dedication of completed Officers Quarters A (minus furnishings) with flag-raising ceremonies by the First Governor's Guard and a group answering to the name of Wyoming 5th Volunteer Cavalry. These events and publicity relating to the restoration projects contributed to the continued swelling of Fort Laramie attendance, to a new high of 45,000 in 1960.

Without question, the most important Fort Laramie event while Ringenbach was Superintendent, a brief period marked by many important developments, was the enactment of major Congressional legislation, expanding boundaries and giving the area a new identity.

The background of the new legislation was long recognition by area and regional personnel that the Fort Laramie park boundaries should be expanded to encompass historic ground along the Laramie River downstream (the Quartermaster area, telegraph station, early emigrant crossings, and the historic bridge site); also, to take in land on the opposite side of the Laramie River to protect old trail approaches and provide for a future headquarters area. While in Omaha in 1959 ex-Superintendent Hieb did most of the work on the required Boundary Status Report which became the basis for the legislation. He also contacted Senator-elect Gale McGee and key Torrington citizens to ensure Wyoming support for the expansion.

On January 4, 1960, Roger Ernst, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, sent nearly identical letters to Wayne N. Aspinall, Chairman, Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and James E. Murray of the corresponding Senate Committee, commenting on H. R. 8567 "to revise the boundaries and change the name of Fort Laramie National Monument." The substance of the bill was to authorize expansion of the original 214 acres by an additional 372 acres of private land, plus 11 acres of public domain, minus 33 acres deleted for exchange purposes, for a net increase of about 350 acres. The Fort Laramie National Historic Site would now have a total of about 563 acres.

Mr. Ernst explained that this legislation was necessary because of the Congressional Act of September 4, 1950 (64 Stat., 849) which, at the same time establishing an enlarged Grand Teton National Park, prohibited the extension of any national parks or the extension or addition of any national monuments in Wyoming except by the authorization of Congress. (This proviso, in effect, amended the Antiquities Act of 1906, making it impossible to expand the National Park system in Wyoming by incorporating Federal lands by means of the traditional Presidential Proclamation route.)

Mr. Ernst further explained that the additional lands were needed to better protect and interpret the historic features, to facilitate historical and archeological research, and to provide space for an improved entrance road and headquarters development. A small triangular tract was needed straddling the North Platte River to protect the old iron bridge, while another small tract in the northwest corner brought the boundaries up to the county road. The excluded lands (to the south) were not historic in nature and were screened from the area by bottomland timber. Several owners would be involved. The estimated cost of land acquisition was $75,000. [122]

The Fort Laramie expansion and re-christening bill passed both houses of Congress without undue incident, and was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 29, 1960 (PL 86-444; 74 Sts. 83). The national monument was now transformed into a National Historic Site.

The name change in itself was no earth-shaking development but, along with the land expansion, it symbolized the birth of a new era of development. But as it turned out, that new era of the Sixties and Seventies would be primarily concerned, not with modern construction on the extended lands, but with the second phase of the Great Era of Fort Laramie Restoration.

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Last Updated: 01-Mar-2003