Collections - Cokeville
History of the Town of Cokeville
Compiled by Eva Clark
Because of the large deposits of coking and coal nearby, the area now known as "Cokeville" was originally called "Smith's Fork on the Bear River". The first inhabitants of Cokeville did find coal and put it on the market but no coke was ever marketed in the area. Colonized in the 1875-1880 period, Cokeville did pursue the mining industries of copper, phosphate and coal, but by the turn of the century the chief main industries in the Cokeville area were cattle and sheep.
The first white inhabitant of Cokeville was a squaw man and fur trapper named Tilford Kutz who built a one-room log house on Smith's fork of the Bear River. He had a ferry boat in which he took travelers across the stream and the station was known as Smith's Fork. Shoshone and Bannock Indians from the neighborhood of Fort Hall set up their tepees and there were often several hundred Indians nearby.
In 1874, two men known as "Syl" Collett and Robert Gee brought their families to the place. The next year they were joined by a third family named Boune. Rita Bourne ws the first white child to be born in the area of Cokeville. Evanston, seventy-five miles to the south, was the base of all supplies until the year 1875, when Mr. Collett brought in a small supply of groceries, bacon and whiskey, and began to trade with the Indians.
The year 1878 saw the coming of John W. Stoner, the man who was known as the Father of Cokeville. Mr. Stoner opened a store near the Oregon Trail and carried a stock of general merchandise. After the building of the Oregon Short Line (railroad), his place of business ws moved near the depot and he added farming implements and building materials. He also engaged in cattle raising and was one of the largest ranch holders of the section as well as the owner of the site of the town.
On the 1880 census there were 18 households in Cokeville and the Sublett Area numbered 93 individuals. Population and prosperity growth of the truly "wild and wooly" type came with the construction of the railroad. Money and men poured into the town. Cowboys danced in the street in their rawhide chaps, rode their broncos into the saloons and shot up the town in truly western fashion. It was a fashion more pleasing in reading than in actual experience and yet led to the statement that in the "1920 period, Cokeville was probably the wealthiest town per capita in the world".
With the coming of the Oregon Short Line railroad about 1882, came men like Henry J. Somson who took a contract with the railroad to supply ties. He took a ranch about 10 miles north of Cokeville and became one of it's leading citizens, representing Uinta County in the territorial legislature in 1887.
Along with John Bourne, Syl Collett and Robert Gee, other well-known pioneers were Victor Forgeon; George Gideon Snyder and his son, Oscar; Isaac Groo and his son, Orson H.; Samuel W. Richards, Edward Warren Holland, Victor Forgeon, John W. Tanner, John W. Stoner, Abraham Stoner and three of the Stoner nephews: Aaron, John H. and Frank, all helped in the building of the town we now know as Cokeville.
Before 1900 came many others seeking opportunity in the agricultural profession and the support of it. Julius Jacobsen, a young blacksmith of Norwegian birth, fitted up a shop in the building first put up by Stoner and specialized in the making of sheep wagons. He started with a dollar and a half in his pocket, but by honest workmanship soon built a flourishing business. Fred Roberts took up a ranch near Cokeville, which he devoted to the raising of high-grade sheep. A big horse ranch was started south of town by the firm of Beckwith, Quinn and Company of Evanston. Samuel Berrier and his wife, Amanda, opened up a copper mine at Ferny Gulch and she was probably one of the first and amazingly few women in Wyoming owning a mine.
The ranches in Cokeville, like many others in Wyoming, started as cattle ranches and were gradually stocked with sheep, By the time of the 2nd World War, they were mostly returning to the raising of cattle again.
Around the 1900 period, there was a non-denominational Christian congregation in Cokeville. There was also was a branch of the Mormon Church. By 1920, the Christian denominations divided into the Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian congregations.
The first public school of Cokeville was held in a private house and taught by a Miss Condit. She was succeeded by a man known as Ike McVay, who later had an eventful career as a quack doctor and horse thief. Nevertheless, public schooling was an important goal to the members of the growing town and, after much effort, plans and perseverance, in the year 1923 the town erected a modern schoolhouse costing $65,000. It contained a fine assembly room, swimming pool and up-to-date equipment for the time period.
Looking at Cokeville from the advent of a one-room log house at the base of Rocky Peak inhabited by a fur trader and the teepees of five hundred Bannock and Shoshone Indians from Fort Hall in 1873 to the modern town of Cokeville takes a bit of an imagination. In 1927, the Herman Teichert family were anticipating the move from their ranch in the American Falls area to the budding town of Cokeville when Minerva Teichert, a famous painter who raised her family in Cokeville, wrote a letter to her daughter Laurie, who was in college. She said, "XXXXXXX".
Today we have seen the progress that began with the Bourne Collett, Gee Stoner and Tanner families. Cokeville has become a wonderful community of unusual character. Not only are the youth outstanding in their abilities in sports, winning many state championships, but are examples of commitment to education, learning and service. The adults, in character and example, lead the community in being one of the most wholesome places for community and family life. It has been said that "For a small town, Cokeville has more than its share of very prominent people throughout the world, who did get their start in Cokeville".
The "Wyoming Tales and Trails" website contains further information concerning the history of Cokeville.
Cokeville Cemetery History
Location: From US 89, turn east on Wyoming 232. Travel 0.1 mile. In the fork in the road, travel straight ahead on County Road 206 for 0.5 mile. (GPS: 42.08187 N 110.94096W)