Stagecoach Museum celebrates 50 years in the Armory


LUSK – The Stagecoach Museum in Lusk moved into the old National Guard armory in 1969. The stagecoach was brought to the museum the next year. The board of directors hoped to celebrate the museum’s 50th year in the armory in 2020, but the COVID pandemic forced a postponement until this year. The celebration was held on Saturday, Sept. 11, in the open area behind the armory building. About 20 people attended to hear three speakers. Rick Kaan spoke about the Texas Trail through Lusk, Terry Sandstrom discussed how Native Americans used various parts of the buffalo, and Leslie Stewart described riding the stage from Cheyenne to Deadwood.

Rick Kaan was raised south of Lusk and now lives in Hot Springs, South Dakota. He has an MBA but also has a long-standing love of history. He said that his business degree trained him to approach historical topics more holistically than a traditional historian might. An historian typically analyzes what happened during an event, but Kaan looks at the social and economic reasons why the event occurred. 

Kaan explained that trailing cattle north from Texas occurred because of the Civil War. During and after the war, the economy of the South was destroyed. Its Confederate currency, its transportation system, and its capacity for food production were all ruined. Many of the surviving Confederate soldiers had warrants as war criminals after the war. Also, the war created many orphans. In comparison, Texas, although part of the Confederacy, was not as devastated. Most importantly, it had great herds of wild cattle and hogs. The northern states needed the food that they had imported from the South before the war. The displaced Confederate soldiers and orphans were more than willing to help herd the cattle north. 

The resulting Texas Trail originally went through Missouri. However, the cattle were not welcomed by homesteaders, so the trail moved further west into Kansas and Nebraska. In those states, the wild longhorns brought ticks that infested domestic cattle, so they were refused entry. In 1885, the trail moved further west into eastern Colorado and Wyoming, coming directly through the Lusk area. From 125,000 to 200,000 cattle came through here each year. The drives ended with the arrival of the railroad, which shipped the cattle to their destinations. 

In addition to having Kaan speak at the celebration, the museum has benefitted by housing his refurbished sheepwagon now displayed in the Quonset. 

Terry Sandstrom became an advocate for the Native American culture after spending time on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He has done significant research regarding the native people who lived in this area. Raised in Chadron, Nebraska, he moved to Wyoming in the 1980s and now resides in Wheatland. He has donated many items to the Stagecoach Museum and helps set up exhibits. One of the items he has donated is called a buffalo box. The box and its contents were constructed and assembled by Larry Belitz in South Dakota, who is an expert at creating replicas of Native American artifacts. 

Native Americans used the buffalo box to carry the various parts of the buffalo that were used in everyday life. Sandstrom showed examples of items that they created or used. If they wanted a pliable and soft hide, they tanned it with buffalo brains and possibly made it waterproof by hanging it over a fire. Otherwise, they left the hide untanned, and it became rawhide, which was stronger. They braided buffalo wool into ropes. They used the tail as a fan to create air movement or discourage mosquitoes. They used the dew claws as a rattle. They used the bladder as a water container or a cover for porcupine quills. To adorn costumes, they used dew claws, teeth, and porcupine quills. They used the hollow horn of the male buffalo as a spoon and other implements. They extracted the sinew taken from the back to use as thread after it was pulled apart, and then they sewed using a rib bone as an awl. They also used rib bones to scrape the fur off the hide and to straighten arrows. They used hooves and knuckle bones for children’s games. 

This buffalo box and its contents are displayed at the Stagecoach Museum. Sandstrom has also provided a media presentation there about the Spanish Diggings. He is currently working on two more projects for the museum – displaying rocks and minerals so they can be enjoyed and made available for purchase and adding to the railroad display in the new building at the museum. 

Leslie Stewart is a volunteer at the museum. Questions from visitors encouraged her to research what it was like to travel the Cheyenne to Deadwood stagecoach. She wrote a historical story, which she read at the celebration, about a young woman traveling to Deadwood in 1878 for a bookkeeping job. The trip from Cheyenne took 258 hours over three days. The coach stopped only to change horses and allow the passengers to eat and stretch their legs. The story describes the larger and smaller coaches, the stations along the route, the changing of the horses, how the passengers tried to make themselves comfortable, and most excitingly a stage robbery north of the Old Woman’s Fork station. This robbery actually occurred and was the reason that this story took place in 1878 and the reason that this woman was the protagonist. Copies of the story are available for free at the museum.  

The talks presented during this celebration provided a glimpse into several episodes important in Lusk history – the Texas Trail, the culture of the Native Americans, and the Cheyenne to Deadwood stage. The Stagecoach Museum will be open until mid-October (weather permitting) for visitors to explore exhibits of these and other episodes in Lusk’s history. 

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