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February 19, 2009 3:20 am

Park County: 100 years later

Written by Tribune Staff

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Stand Bearpaw of Cody shares tales of Native American goods with passersby during the Park County Centennial Celebration at the Cody Auditorium on Sunday afternoon. Tribune photo by Kara Bacon For more photos click here

For a county that once was “not much prized by anyone,” Park County had plenty of supporters this weekend.

On Sunday, exhibitors, merchants, entertainers and hundreds of county residents gathered at the Cody Auditorium to celebrate Park County's 100th birthday.

The county was one of the last places to be settled in the West, and speakers credited homesteader perseverance for the area's success.

Cody educator Pete Simpson recited the words of a U.S. surveyor, who visited in the 1860s. In his report, the surveyor wrote that the place was “repelling in all of its characteristics.”

With Park County containing little water and plenty of rough weather, “its pioneers had to be heartier than others,” Simpson said. “This county has always tested its inhabitants, and while it's tested them, it's also molded them.”

That mold has made residents strong in character and resilience, he said.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal said to this day, it takes a conscious choice to live in Wyoming.

“People in Wyoming and Park County self-select to be here,” he said. “You either love this state or you move out.”

“(The early settlers) chose to live here because they thought they could overcome the land and the obstacles and, more than that, build a community,” Freudenthal said.

The county's communities were on display at the event, which was hosted by the Friends of Park County History. Folks presented information about Meeteetse's historic ranches, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Buffalo Bill Cody, John Wesley Powell and many other fixtures of local history.

The county's last century of existence betrays a tumultuous past.

At various points in history, the county's land has belonged to Native Americans, three foreign countries, seven U.S. territories and six different Wyoming counties, said Cody historian Jeannie Cook.

That Park County was allowed to form took a bit of misfortune.

The Wyoming Legislature created the county on Feb. 15, 1909, subtracting the area from Big Horn County.

“Big Horn County was not exactly happy that Park County was going to be split,” Cook said.

However, in April 1909, Big Horn County was busy prosecuting a group of cattlemen who had murdered three sheepherders for trespassing on “their” land.

The trials for the “Spring Creek Massacre” were expensive.

“They couldn't even pay the church ladies who brought in food for the jury,” Cook said.

Big Horn County was flat broke and couldn't afford to sue the state over the formation of Park County. The split would prove permanent.

Cook noted that the future of the county will depend on how it balances development and preservation.

“Planning and zoning was a very important part of what we do here,” she said. “We need to be mindful of the plans we make today.”

Freudenthal said the state's rugged past will prove helpful in weathering today's rough economy.

Dave Reetz, president of the Friends of Park County History, echoed the governor's thoughts.

“The beauty of Park County is its people,” Reetz said. “That's what's going to get us through these tough times.”