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The economy of Wyoming in the 19th century


Big Muddy
Big Muddy

The decision to build the Union Pacific Railroad in central Wyoming was based in part on the significant coal deposits that had been found in the area. The coal powered the trains, and the railroad could also sell it to other markets. The railroad had uneasy relations with its laborers and usually replaced striking miners with cheaper labor. In 1875 coal miners were advised that their pay would be cut from five cents to four cents a bushel. When the workers protested, they were immediately sent by train to Omaha, Nebraska, and replaced by Chinese workers who were prepared to work for less and did not organize labor unions. For these reasons, the railroad began to employ an increasing number of Chinese workers.s

Tensions between white workers, Chinese workers, and management led to the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885, in which 28 Chinese were killed by whites, mostly European immigrants, who resented the Chinese taking over their jobs. By the early 1900s the extraction of mineral wealth had become an important occupation in Wyoming. Coal mines across southern Wyoming allowed the trains to span the state, and in 1903 about one-tenth of the state’s workers were miners. The oil industry also developed at the turn of the 20th century. Oil had been discovered much earlier, but it was not until 1883 that people began to exploit the natural resource. The first oil well was established at Dallas Dome in Fremont County in 1883.

During the next two decades, oil was discovered throughout northern and eastern Wyoming. The state’s first oil refinery was built in Casper in 1894. Large-scale exploitation began when the oil fields at Salt Creek, Lance Creek, and Big Muddy were opened during the first decades of the 20th century. The towns of Casper, Glenrock, Evanston, Newcastle, Douglas, and Lusk owe much of their 20th-century growth to nearby oil discoveries. As demand for oil increased, large corporations came to the state to tap its mineral wealth. The oil industry in Wyoming was part of a national scandal in the 1920s. The Teapot Dome oil fields, north of Casper, were set aside as a U.S. Navy oil reserve in 1915.

Following the election of Warren Harding to the presidency in 1920, jurisdiction over the fields was transferred to the Interior Department. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall secretly leased the drilling rights of the reserve to oil businessman Harry Sinclair in 1922, without authority or competitive bidding. The next year, Fall received a substantial loan from Sinclair. Constituents of Senator John B. Kendrick of Wyoming brought the matter to his attention in 1923, and the U.S. Senate launched an investigation. Fall resigned from his Cabinet post, was convicted of accepting bribes, and was sentenced to a year in prison. In 1927 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Sinclair’s lease was not valid. The Teapot Dome scandal tarnished the reputation of the brief presidency of Harding, who had died before the matter was resolved. "Wyoming" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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