Bicentennial Gifts: Early Wyoming Imprints

Although not part of the Chabris gift, this map of the territory of Wyoming provides a view of the land in 1876. Territory of Wyoming. New York: Bien, 1876.

In the next couple of months, Past is Present will be highlighting a number of gifts received in honor of the American Antiquarian Society’s bicentennial.  Remember, there is still time to join the group of bicentennial donors.

It continues to surprise me when I talk with people who are laboring under the misconception that AAS focuses exclusively on New England.  Not so!

Don’t get me wrong – New England has always been my home so it has a special place in my heart, and AAS certainly has an amazing collection of printed items from Massachusetts, New England, and the eastern seaboard.  But in my new role as curator of books at AAS, I am particularly interested in expanding our holdings of printed material from Western and Southern states.  Isaiah Thomas founded us 200 years ago as the first national historical institution and we continue to actively seek collectors and dealers to partner with us to document the entire nation through 1876 (and sometimes later for locations where print arrived later).

Thus Daniel Chabris’s recent donation of six Wyoming imprints in honor of the Society’s bicentennial was particularly welcome. In one fell swoop Mr. Chabris’s generous gift significantly expanded our holdings for this late entrant into the United States.  AAS had less than a dozen Wyoming imprints through 1876, and we were able to add three more to that number.  The gift included many early governmental documents for the territory/state, The Constitution of the Proposed State of Wyoming from 1889, and perhaps most significantly, the first book known to have been printed in Laramie, Wyoming:

[Jeffrey, J.K.] The Territory of Wyoming: Its History, Soil, Climate, Resources, Etc. Published by authority of the Board of Immigration. Laramie City: Daily Sentinel Print., December 1874. AAS record

The Territory of Wyoming is an in-depth survey of the territory covering everything from raising stock to homesteading to women’s suffrage. It is also exceptionally rare: the final edition of Howes’ bibliography of U.S.iana marks it as a “d” (“very rare books, obtainable only with great difficulty”) and it has only appeared at auction once in the past thirty years. The copy now at AAS contains a presentation slip from G.W. French, the Secretary of Wyoming Territory, and appears to be signed by its author, J.K. Jeffrey, the Commissioner of Immigration.

Not surprisingly, the boosterism in The Territory of Wyoming is overt and especially focused on the city where it was published.  Laramie City is declared to be “one of the most promising towns in the West, and it is destined to become a populous and prosperous city.”  The text describes Laramie County as “unoccupied, awaiting culture and utilization,” and continues:

The best portion of this country is still closed to the white man, and embraces all that portion north of the North Platte river.  But it is hoped that the obstacles will soon be removed, and this rich grazing, farming, and mineral country will be thrown open to the active farmer, the miner and the mechanic.” (p. 21)

The rhetoric expressed here will be familiar to anyone studying westward expansion and Indian removal: Native Americans were not actively cultivating the land so it should be opened up to settlers and immigrants arriving from the east.

The bulk of the text of The Territory of Wyoming contains descriptions of the resources in various areas of Wyoming, its “inducements for immigration,” and an appendix detailing how homesteading worked in the territory.  However, the last section (p. 49-83) contains more personal and engaging descriptions written by a special correspondent to the London Field, E. A. Curley, who had recently explored the region in 1873 & 1874.  One of the most interesting of Curley’s observations is on “Woman Suffrage in the Far West” – an appropriate subject for this time of year, but one which I thought everyone might appreciate a break from for a few days. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on Wyoming and Women’s Suffrage.

(The image of the map displayed here was not part of the Chabris donation but its AAS record can be found here.)

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Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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