Collections - Towns and Communities - La Barge

Town of La Barge History

Branches and Twigs by Wanda Sims Vasey and Dorise Marx Housley

A Tale of Two Towns - Tulsa and La Barge by Dorise Marx Housley, Betty Carpenter Pfaff and Wanda Sims Vasey

The Naming of La Barge Creek.

How did this beautiful, meandering tributary to the Green River come to be called La Barge Creek?  History is full of mystery; here are the short versions of four conflicting stories:

A band of trappers, under the leadership of William H. Ashley, were trapping beaver along the Green River.  The expedition had left St. Louis, Missouri, in the fall of 1824 and by April, 1825 had arrived at what Ashley called "Shetskedee", the Green River.

James Clyman, with six men, and Zacharias Ham, with seven men, were to trap the headwaters of the Green River, north to west.  Thomas Fitzpatrick, with six men, was to go southward toward the Uinta Mountains.  Ashley and seven men took the river trip in buffalo hide boats (16x17 feet) through the Uintas (now Dinosaur National Monument) and Flaming Gorge to see if the Green River was a branch of the Colorado River.  As a result of this exploration, two of the leaders, Ham and Clyman, had streams named for them, Ham's Fork and Clyman's Fork.  Clyman's Fork was later changed to Fontenelle Creek.  All the men were to meet on or before July 10.  Exact location is not known, but was at or near the junction of Henry's Fork and the Green River (near what is now the Wyoming - Utah border.

Version 1.  James Clyman tells this story:  After the parties separated, my party was doing well trapping beaver, when one day seventeen Indians  came to us and stayed for three or four days.  At last, one night the Indians crept up and killed La Barge, the man on guard, with a ax, and charged on us with two guns.  We all sprang up.  The Indians flew into the brush, we crawled out into the open ground and made a little breastwork, or fort of stone, and just about daylight they tried to get us from behind but didn't succeed.  We fired at them and I think I killed one.  We were very much discouraged, being only five (5) men in a country full of Indians, and concluded to take Fitzpatrick's trail and join him.

Version 2.  James P. Beckwourth, the black mountain man, recalls:  After having finished our work on Horse Creek, we returned to the main river, and proceeded on, meeting with very good success, until we encountered another branch, which we subsequently named Le Brache Creek, from our comrade who was murdered by the Indians. (Note: most mountain men were semi literate and spelled phonetically)

Version 3.  Although historians tend to confuse the two Joseph La Barges (father and son), we (the authors) can be quite certain it was the elder La Barge for whom La Barge Creek, in southwestern Wyoming, was named.  Both James Clyman and James Beckwourth, mountain-men who were with the Ashley party in 1825, say: "The creek was named for La Barge who was killed here by the Indians".  And James Clyman's biographer, Charles L. Camp says: "The creek was surely named for La Barge and presumably he is meant in the casualty list of persons killed belonging to the parties of William Ashley during the years 1823-1829, Clyman being the leader of the party, one of whom had been killed, name not recollected".

Version 4.  The town is named for Joseph Marie La Barge, a French-Canadian voyageur turned fur trapper, mountain man and steamboat operator.  He was born in L'Assomption, Quebec, on 4 July 187 and came to the United States in 1808 canoeing to St. Louis, Missouri, where he met and married a woman of Spanish and French descent, Eulalie Becquette Alvarez-Hortiz.  His trapping days began at Cabanne's Trading Post in Nebraska Territory and continued throughout the West during the 1830s and 1840s after his children were born.

La Barge was granted U. S. Citizenship for this service during the War of 1812.  He lived a long life until January 1860 when he slipped on some ice and died from his injuries a few days later (Wikipedia).

A few miles downstream from the present day town of La Barge on the Green River, General Ashley and his band of men planned the first rendezvous of the trappers. Until 1825 the fur trappers in the Rocky Mountains depended on trading with the Indians or packing their furs to St Louis, Missouri for sale.  Ashley's plan was for a rendezvous or meeting place, where supplies were to brought out from St. Louis to the trapper, and the furs taken back on the return trip - thus permitting the trapper to remain year around in the mountains.  Between the years 1825-1840 seventeen rendezvous' were held in various locations in Wyoming but the idea was born on the banks of the Green River. 

In July 1838, the Reverend Asa Bowen Smith and his wife Sara, missionaries on their way to Oregon became stranded on the cutoff east of the Green River.  The Reverend Smith had given up hope of ever reaching water and had lain down in the dry, desolate sagebrush to await his death.  Then, from the Popo Agie area, came Joe Meek, a trapper in the Rocky Mountains for ten years, who was  pursuing is Nez Perce wife who was heading back to her father's tribe after a little disagreement. Together, Meek and the Smiths reached the camp of the Hudson Bay Company camped near where La Barge Creek empties into the Green River.

The first Catholic missionary missionary in the Rockies was Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, a Jesuit priest.  He traveled the Sublette Cutoff and camped on the Green River in 1841.

Carved on the cliffs at Names Hill, six miles below the town of La Barge, is the name of T. D. Bonney and the date is July 25, 1845.  Truman Bonney was a country doctor from Fulton County, Illinois.  He and his brother Jarvis, a carpenter and their families were headed for Oregon.

In 1847, Brigham Young led his faithful followers across the plains by wagons and hand carts into Salt Lake Valley to establish the home of the LDS (Mormon) Church.  One such hand cart company traveled the cutoff in 1859.

Near the site where Ashley's band of trappers planned the first rendezvous, a ranch was established.  It was called the Spur Ranch.  Alexander Hector Reel, came to Wyoming in 1849 with two covered wagon loads of beer for California prospectors.  At Names Hill they were attacked by Indians.  Hector was sent back for help and when he returned he found the wagons burned and all of the people massacred.  He had come from Kentucky and was nineteen years old.

Hector went four miles north and settled in an old one room trading shack which had belonged to a French trapper.  He took up land and went into the cattle business.  This land (eventually) became the Spur Ranch.  Attached to it was the Annex (which was land leased from the government) and the Rocking Chair Ranch where horses were kept.

In 1872, another "squaw man", John Smith had settled near the mouth of Fontenelle Creek and raised sheep there.  The following year the Pomeroys came to Fontenelle, followed by the Holdens in 1877 and the Rathbuns in 1879.  And to the north were the outfits of Budd & McKay (1879) on North Piney Creek and Swan & Leifer on Middle Piney (1878).  Within a few years before Wyoming became a state, John McNeish (1884) and William J. McGinnis (1886) were to bring their families and make their home on La Barge.  Jacob Herschler settled on Fontenelle in 1888, Fran A Fear on South Piney in 1889 and Frank D. Ball made the first ranch on Cottonwood in the mid-1880s.

Ranching in this period did not necessitate fencing and the production of hay.  Most of the settlers raised a little grain and a garden which was fenced to keep the stock out.  A log building with sod roof and mud daubing between the logs housed the "ramrod" of the outfit, and there was a similar building with bunks built around the walls where a "waddy" could sleep on the occasions when he came in off the range.  Other structures common to the ranches included a storehouse and cellar for the supplies that were brought in by freight wagons from the railroad centers at Green River City, Evanston - and late, Opal - once a year.  And there was a blacksmith shop with bellow, forge and anvil and a barn with a room for the cowboys to store their gear.  During the wet season the roofs often leaked, and the mud ran down the wall and spattered over the contents.

The winters were mild, grass was plentiful, and the cattle flourished.  They grazed the foothills and mountains west of Green River during the summers and wintered east of the river on the Little Colorado Desert. 

In 1885, Francis E. Warren, then mayor of Cheyenne, was appointed Territorial Governor of Wyoming by President Chester A. Arthur, and his interests in the Spur ranch were signed to a man named Rosendale, who represented a livestock commission company and Alexander H. Reel, A Cheyenne businessman.

It was back in 1882 the M. E. Post and Francis E. Warren brought fifteen thousand cattle from the eastern part of the Wyoming Territory and established headquarters where La Barge Creek empties into the Green River.  The cattle were marked with a Spur brand and it followed that the center from which their drovers worked was to be known as the Spur Ranch.  They claimed some six thousand acres north, south and west of the mouth of the Creek and the Spur was to become noted as the biggest cattle herd in the Rocky Mountains.

About 1877, Neils S. Miller had bought his wife, Hedevig, to live on the claim he had made on La Barge Creek in 1873.  Natives of Denmark, they were the first white settlers on La Barge Creek.    Some few white men had taken Indian wives and had made homes along the stream - "Dutch George" Harnes, Charles Butman and Tilford Kutch.

The winter of 1889 started out as mild as the previous seven winters had been.  But in March a week-long blizzard set in.  The hapless cattle, weakened by five months of frozen forage, herded by the relentless wind and snow, died from exhaustion and the cold.  Of the twenty thousand cattle wearing the Spur brand the previous fall, there were less than eight hundred alive after the storm subsided.  And the rest of the ranchers fared comparatively or were wiped out totally.

Wyoming achieved Statehood in 1890 , with Francis E. Warren elected its first Governor and there followed a rush to have claims patented.  It was required that the land be fenced before a patent could be issued, and each individual was limited to 640 acres.

With cattle numbers so depleted by the winter of '89, more sheep came in.  Some of the cattlemen, "wiped out" that winter, stocked with sheep until they could get meadows to produce hay.  Some combined sheep and cattle raising as they restocked.

The financial crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression had their effect on the La Barge Community.  But, for the ranchers, another disaster of weather was to be more damaging; the Great Drought of the '30s.  There followed seven years of "lean pickings" for man and beast alike.  Neighbors fought over water and forage, and, now for the first time, serious trouble threatened between the cattle and sheep interests in the valley with arguments flaring frequently.    However, real animosity was prevented when it became necessary for the local stockmen of both factions to join forces against "outsiders."  Short of graze in their own states, sheep herds out of Utah and Idaho began trailing through the area, taking range needed by local sheepmen and cattlemen alike.

In 1924, U.S. Highway 189 was built and cut through the middle of the Spur Ranch, and during the '30s it was widened and surfaced.

A Town Is Born

After November 1924, this article appeared in the Kemmerer Gazette indicating that J.C. Shepard Company of Salt Lake City become the owner of the townsite of Tulsa, located in the La Barge oil field.  The main street of Tulsa consisted of three hundred business lots and is in the center of the proven oil territory.  The number of lots is 1750 and were already on the market in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. 

Speculators were buying plots of land and establishing townsites throughout the area.  Some of the townsites that never became a reality were Oil City, Maycee and Wyota.  At one time Wyota did have a post office for a short time.

After oil was discovered, the president of the Wyoming Oil Reserve Company, promoted the La Barge townsite and had an opening sale for lots on May 17, 1927.  He was called the Father of La Barge. 

The La Barge townsite was located about two miles west of Tulsa.  In August of 1927, eight bungalows were built and eight more were contracted for.  A two-storied hotel was built there which was later turned into a saloon.  Another hotel appeared and served meals and groceries.  The townsite had a post office for a few short months but because it was off the main highway it was given to Tulsa.  By 1928 most of the building were empty and moved to Tulsa. 

The La Barge townsite probably has the reputation for being one of the most highly advertised townsites - with the most fantastic opportunity of free land to build your building on - and having the shortest lifetime.  It was only a flash in the pan, actually booming less than a year.

Early Oil Field History

The year was 1833 and the area was Indian Territory later to be called Wyoming.  An early trapper, looking for new beaver dams, happened onto a tar spring oozing out of the edge of the Popo Agie River near the Wind River Mountains.  Experimenting with this tar, he found that when applied to a sore on his horse's leg the injury healed quickly.  Word of this wondrous find traveled to Captain Bonneville's Expedition.  Directions to the spring weren't the best, so Bonnveille had some difficulty but eventually did locate it and his group recorded the first oil discovery in the West.

In 1892, the foreman of the Reel & Friend outfit noticed that his horse's hoofs were glistening from some fluid.  On close investigation he discovered it to be oil.  When asked he found these horses, he replied, "up in the Birch Creek country".

In 1906, a U.S. Geological Survey of part of Lincoln County was made in search of coal.  The geologist found so many signs of oil that he requested money to make a report on it.

In 1917, using a Keystone rig and Standard derrick, the Cretaceous Well No. 1 was brought in. 

A new company called the Lincoln-Idaho Company drilled two wells south of the Cretaceous Well No. 1.  The second well, known as The Lackey Well, was a gusher shooting 100 feet over the casing.

In 1919, W. (Bill) D. Newlon, a former United States Marshal from Oklahoma rode into the basin.  Having experience in the Panhandle, Texas and Louisiana oil fields, he saw promise in the La Barge area.  He later became known as the father of the La Barge field.  In September 1923, he was the first to drill and produce a well located near what is known as Gobblers Knob.  Subsequent wells, drilled up to a depth of 630 feet produced oil suitable for the production of high-grade lubricating oil.

In 1926, the California Petroleum Corporation purchased all of the Beneficial Oil Company and practically all of the leases of the Newlon interests for a reported sum of $2,750,000 and a thoroughly modern camp called Calpet was built. 

Early in 1927 a small refinery was built to process some of the crudes found in the La Barge field. They marketed most of the gasoline in Tulsa, Big Piney and other points north (gasoline retailed for 28 cents a gallon).  This refinery was discontinued in 1956 because it was economically not capable of competing with larger units.

A market was established with the Utah Oil and Refining Company of Salt Lake City. The first oil from the field was scheduled to be shipped November 26, 1925 by the Mack Transportation Company who had a fleet of Mack trucks.  They had a contract for the delivery of 300 barrels per day to the railroad at Susie where storage for 1000 barrels and unloading equipment was established.  The truckers had many problems to deal with - bad roads and mud along with winter blizzards and huge drifts.  The oil was hauled by truck until 1928 at which time the Midwest Pipeline Company built a pipeline with a terminal at Opal.  The pipeline was started in the spring of 1928 and started another small boom for Tulsa that lasted about six or eight months employing about eighty men as all work was done by hand.  Laying a four inch line thirty-eight miles long in approximately four months was some kind of a record.

Heater stations and a booster station were established at various points to keep the oil moving.  The new pipeline had to be patrolled and inspected for leaks daily on foot.  This was a mean job because of the cold and deep snow.  The second winter a contract was let for the line to be patrolled on horseback.

The early work in the field was done by teams and wagons.  It was quite a sight to see how they moved huge boilers and other equipment.  Sometimes it would involve as many as twenty teams to move one boiler.

By today's standards, the drilling was also a slow process with cable tools doing ninety percent of the drilling.  The earlier rigs were steam powered, using coal to produce the steam.  Later, as production was encountered, some were fired with gas and crude oil, whichever was available.  At most well sites, a derrick would have to be built and for a number of years it was quite a sight to see the derricks that dotted the area. 

As could be expected, with so much of the work done by hand, there was a big variety of workers most of them so-called Boomers. There were teamsters, muleskinners, tankies, rig builders, jar heads (or cable tool workers), swivelnecks (or rotary hands) and pipeliners.  One could imagine the conglomeration of people congregating at night in the town of Tulsa, but the town was up to the task of entertaining them with its twenty plus bars, etc.

As the field was developed, central power (units) were established.  This is quite a unique way of pumping many wells from one source of power.  As many as twenty-five or thirty wells could be pumped by one engine with horsepower which varied from twenty to forty horsepower.  This method was done by the engine being established near the center of the field with pipes going to each well like a huge spider web.  This was an efficient method but maintenance costs were high and eventually gave way to individual jacks at each well with their own electric motor.

The Coal Mines

The Hogsback Mountain stretches out like a sleeping dinosaur with its head bent down near Dry Piney Saddle and its tail pointed toward La Barge Creek.  One could say that the coal veins on the eastern side were located in its belly creases.  Two of these folds held the Twitchell Mine and the Old La Barge Mine, better known as the Sayles or Salli Mine.  These were the only commercially worked veins in the local area.  Some coal was taken out of two of the smaller wrinkles, strictly for the miner's own and friends use.


A number of attempts to discover gold were attempted but to no avail.  In one case a forty foot tunnel was dug on Horse Creek but samples showed no gold.  One summer two Chinamen worked sluice boxes and reportedly took out $15,000 in gold.  In 1934, the Kemmerer Gazette reported that the Hanson boys of Big Piney had washed out $70.00 worth of gold using a unique recovery process.

Tulsa Townsite

In 1926 the town of Tulsa became a reality.  The lots were selling from $3.00 to $75.00 each.  Buildings were going up so fast there was no way to keep up with the growth.   There were few buildings constructed with any permanency in mind.  Lumber was brought into Opal by train then hauled to Tulsa for construction purposes.  The first winter in Tulsa there were few water wells.  Water was hauled from your good neighbor who had a well for from the Green River where holes were chopped through the ice the size of a water pail.  This was no easy task as the forty below weather froze the hole over securely every night.  A number of artesian wells were drilled but with each new drilling the others lost their volume of flow.  One peculiar thing about this water was that each well had an entirely different taste!

Bootlegging or moonshining, whatever name you desire to attach to it was the "in" thing in the early boom days of Tulsa.  No one wanted the name but they all played the game.  Little Tulsa had its share of moonshiners and bootleggers.  Many of them did it for adventure, but there was quick money to be made along with the great challenge.  Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment forbidding the manufacturing, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquor in 1920,  In 1933, when Roosevelt became president, Congress and the states repealed the amendment and it was no longer forbidden, thus losing its status as a great adventure.

Many times in the fifty years Tulsa-La Barge has been a town, movements to have it incorporated came to no avail.  Finally, in 1973, the need for a sewer and water system became apparent with new government rules and regulations.  Incorporation was was then accomplished.


The town of Tulsa had no doctor of its own.  However, Doctors Looney, Shrader and Hook would make "house calls' coming down from Big Piney whenever needed.  Doctors from Kemmerer would also come to the ranches, oil fields or town.  In one instance an individual split open his hand playing baseball.  He sewed it up himself, using an ordinary sewing needle and black thread.

Power and Lights

In 1927, a local garage owner, started up and strung some wires to have the first electrical power for his service station.  When May came along the Tulsa Electric Light and Power Company had been given a franchise with 50,000 shares for sale at $1.00 a share.  An old German was hired to set up the diesel plant.  He ran it and lived in it too.  At first, power was provided twenty-four hours a day and the cost was a flat rate - like $3.00 for a home and $15.00 for a business.

First Happenings

The first post office named La Barge was established in Uinta county, July 24, 1886.  The postmaster was Mrs. Mary Alford.

The first record of missionary attempts in this little valley was recorded in 1892 when a traveling minister crossed the Green River near the Spur ranch.  He stayed at the ranch a week or so but finding little receptiveness for his missionary work, decided too move on.  About January he continued his journey despite warnings from the foreman that he might get caught in a snowstorm before he reached Cokeville.  The next April his body was found on a ridge about three miles from Slate Creek on the Graham ranch.

When the Marx family moved to the area it was decided to put a schoolhouse in the lower field of the Upper Spur ranch near the main highway.  It was big, painted white, with a big book room, cloak room and a room across the back where hot lunches were attempted. A teacherage was built for the the teachers and has been since moved to La Barge.  Besides the school there was a stable with corral for those who rode their ponies or drove their teams to school.  Then there was a boys and girls restroom, each with their separate sheltered entries.  All of these buildings except the teacherage were painted white with green roofs.  This was a very elegant school compared to the (old) tiny, one-room log building built for four or five pupils.  A stile was built over the barbed wire fence for those who had to walk to school or were dropped off by their parents.  this stile was something that everyone remembered as they were rare then and a thing of the past now.

Viola-La Barge Cemetery
The site currently occupied by the cemetery was originally a part of the homestead established by Earl M. Jones

How Obtained:
Donated by Earl M. Jones.

From La Barge, travel south on U.S. Hwy 89 1.4 miles to the intersection of U.S. Hwy 189 and Lincoln County Road 343 (La Barge Creek Road). Turn right (west) and travel 11.7 miles. The Viola - La Barge cemetery is then located on the right (north) approximately 0.5 miles. (GPS: 42.26590N 110.36772W)