Archives On The Air 31: Billy Owen—Witness To Early Laramie

Jul 30, 2018

Billy Owen and his Penny Farthing bicycle, undated. Box 2, W.O. Owens Papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

William Octavius Owen was a big name for a small person, so he was always just “Billy.” Billy and his family moved to the new tent town Laramie in 1868 when he was nine.

Owens featured in a newspaper article for being the first to ascend the Grand Teton peak, 1924. Oversized Folder, W.O. Owens Papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

Later in life, Billy recalled: “On the 10th of May 1868, the first train arrived in Laramie. In addition to a goodly number of respectable, law-abiding people, there arrived also a large number of the toughest characters that ever drew the breath of life. Bar room bums, thugs, garroters, thieves, and murderers from railway towns to the eastward were passengers on that train.”

Billy also recalled of some of the thugs: “On the 18th of October 1868, a raid was made at night and three of the ring leaders, Asa Moore, Con Wagner, and ‘Big Ned’ were captured. They were strung up and left hanging there for several hours after daybreak so the rest of the cutthroats might take warning.”

Early Laramie, aerial photo of UW, undated. Oversized Folder, W.O. Owens Papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

Government eventually prevailed and Laramie persisted unlike many other tent towns.

Billy Owen’s unpublished autobiography from 1883 can be seen at UW’s American Heritage Center.