Bet ya didn't know ...

-- that Wyoming inspired the third greatest ad ever created, "Somewhere West of Laramie," as picked by readers of Printer's Ink magazine in 1945.

-- that Glen Campbell's career "hit bottom" when he was fired by a nightclub owner in Cody.

-- that the first criminal case heard by the Wyoming Supreme Court was Territory of Wyoming v. Anderson (1869). Anderson had been indicted for "keeping a disorderly house" and fined $300.

Bet ya also didn't know that these kinds of random acts of factness were how the "Wyoming Almanac" got its start.

The almanac, now in its sixth edition, is the culmination of more than two decades worth of fact collecting by brothers Steven, Phil and David Roberts. The idea sprouted sometime in the mid-1980s when the three Lusk natives were sitting around, possibly in their folks' house in Medicine Bow, trying to one-up each other on Wyoming trivia. One of them, maybe Brother David, suggested they write it all down.

This was before Google, you understand. People who needed to know who was the "Father of the Western Stock Saddle" (E.L. Gallatin) or the name of the first paid woman baseball umpire (Amanda "Mandy" Clement of Hudson) had to go and look it up.

"There isn't anything like a really comprehensive Wyoming Almanac," David said. "We wanted it to be serious, but also with things that are fun to read and trivial as well, because that would be entertaining."

So the brothers started collecting.

Steve, 63, took sports. (He tracked down the history on John Chick, born 1982 in Gillette, who signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts this year.)

Phil, 62, took history, trivia and "a fascinating new section on taxes." (Did you know that during the 1933 Wyoming Legislature a group of ranchers and farmers lobbied to pass a state income tax? Since there were only real estate property taxes then, they thought they were footing the bill and that city folk were getting off too cheaply.)

David, 56, took the cultural subjects: arts, movies, books, television. (Find an entry on Richard Cheney in the "Books" subhead titled "Wyoming Authors Less Known for Writing Than for Other Endeavors." Cheney is the first on the list.)

Steve and David sent what they found to Phil. Phil typed it in.

The first edition came out in 1989, in time for the state's 100th anniversary in 1990. Subsequent editions came about every four years. The brothers added new facts they'd collected, discarded some and updated others.

The first edition had about 400 pages. This one has 612. And it has entries from events as recent as July 2010. Like the whole William Ayers thing at the University of Wyoming.

But you probably knew about that one.

The brothers were born on the family ranch north of Lusk. But they lived all over the state -- in Torrington, Thermopolis, Worland and Cody -- moving with their dad's job of setting up propane plants.

"All the schools we went to, Phil and I were introduced to the school together, while the little brother was on his own," Steve said.

But the moving made them close. And their parents passed on a love of history.

As an adult, Steven lived in Tucson, Ariz., for 15 years and just retired from Denver after 17. But his heart was always in Wyoming, he said. His goal after retirement was to get back here, and he now lives in Cheyenne.

"I think once you live here, you get that special bond with the state," Steven said.

The almanac is a tribute to that bond.

It's also a tribute to the weird ways Wyoming -- a sparsely populated state of independent people -- connects to the rest of the world.

Recently, someone asked Phil a question about Middle Eastern policy. Phil linked his answer back around to Wyoming.

You always seem to be able to do that, to bring your answers back here, the someone responded.

"Why of course!" Phil said. "Wyoming is the center of the universe."

The almanac has no index or table of contents. Entries are divided into categories, organized alphabetically. So Crystal Castle near Buford -- a home built using 35,000 formaldehyde bottles from mortuaries in three states, some of which are still partially filled with the embalming fluid -- is under the heading "Architecture." It comes before the "Bicycles" section and the listing of a high-wheel bicycle ridden from San Francisco to Boston in 1884, which passed through here. Which comes before "Death" and its subhead, "Some Wyoming Poisonings," with the story of James Bruce of Star Valley, murdered by his daughter on March 21, 1907, with a poison-laced plum pie.

So the fun of the book comes from flipping, thumbing through, stopping at a page, any page, and discovering what is there: Take page 288, for example. Under the subhead, "10 Famous Medical Treatments," you can read about how Dr. Marcus Whitman removed an arrow from Jim Bridger's back in the first recorded medical operation by a trained professional on Aug. 12, 1835. Or about how Chief Washakie is said to have removed the heart of Crow Chief Big Robber after besting him in hand-to-hand combat.

Bet ya didn't know that.

The brothers admit this isn't a book for tourists. There are no pretty pictures of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Devils Tower or sweeping Wyoming prairies. It's a book for the people who've just come here, those looking for the flavor of their new -- if somewhat eccentric -- home. And it's for the people who've been here a long time, who relish in its quirks and legends.

The brothers would like to hear that school kids used the almanac, maybe on a report. Or perhaps a newspaper editor opened it, looking for a feature story on his small Wyoming town. Or an interested trivia buff pulled it off the shelf to entertain out-of-state visitors.

But allow the Star-Tribune to suggest one more use: Stumping its authors.

Each brother has an impressive ability to recite all sorts of facts obscure. But surely they can't remember all that's printed in their 612-page homage to the Equality State.


So the Star-Tribune flipped through its copy and stopped, quite randomly, on page 231. The game was afoot.

CST: "Who is Charles Clay?"

Phil: "Yes! Of course. Charles Clay. The fella who gave the books that started the University of Wyoming Library."

CST: "Uh ..."

Phil: "Did I miss that one? Oh, no!"

CST: "... Charles Clay was apparently the first justice of the peace in Douglas, 1886."

Phil: Flipping through his Wyoming Almanac. "OK. Let me see who I got him mixed up with. Page 266, please. Item No. 7."

CST: Flipping to page 266. "Wha -- Wow! You're right. Is that the same Charles Clay? No? Wow!"

Phil: "I got the Charles Clays mixed up."

So, technically, the Star-Tribune never specified which Charles Clay it was after. So technically, one supposes, Phil was correct.


But we bet you didn't know there were two Charles Clays either.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.