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Wyoming History


Great Depression

Part three of three parts

Part 1

Part 2

Continue to Endnotes

DepressionRock Springs is relatively unique. In Wyoming, it is still the most Democratic County. This is changing; but in the 1930s, Sweetwater County consisted primarily of "Dead Dog Democrats." Made up mainly of foreign-born workers and their children, the town was relatively liberal in outlook. Conversely, in Park County, the area was made of farmers and ranchers. Here too were German-born farmers and their descendants, but the county consisted primarily of native born citizens. Prior to the Depression, the Republican party was the predominant party statewide and many in Cody wanted to continue this tradition. To do this, the New Deal's influence had to be lessened.

Ernest F. Shaw, editor and manager of The Cody Enterprise, was always quick to decry Washington. In a somewhat humorous article, or so the editor thought, he criticized "Regimenting the Spud." The humble spud, according to Shaw, "became the latest target for the bureaucrat." Growers who produced more than five barrels a year would fall under new quotas. Shaw noted: "Opposition arguments, based on the fact that the spud is an eccentric sort of animal, whose productivity is almost impossible to control have had no avail." Noting that President Roosevelt did not back the measure, "it was put through by zealots who feel that nature should be regimented as thoroughly as possible." Shaw concludes his brief editorial by writing: "It is encouraging to report that various groups led by well known men, have announced defiance to such a liberty destroying law - and have challenged its enforcement." At least in Cody Wyoming, "The pioneer spirit, which detests any kind of dictatorship, is not yet dead and demands the right to eat [and grow] spuds without political supervision."

The Cody newspaper, always quick to criticize the New Deal in Wyoming, felt there were too many "chiselers" on the "relief rolls" and "much credit is due to the state officials who are endeavoring in every way to cut out the racketeering of relief monies. . . ." Shaw quickly added: "We might suggest that the state department go one better and drop about half of the employees from the relief office payrolls and let the other half go to work." Along the highways, "fellows holding ERA, WPA, AAA, HOLC, HAM, and dozens of other relief agencies of the government jumping about over the state at the taxpayers expense, drawing regular salaries and accomplishing little if any good." Supposedly speaking for all taxpayers, Shaw states: "Taxpayers resent the pad and pencil way of overcoming the unemployment situation, being decidedly in favor of the pick and shovel way of permitting those out of work to earn a living."

DepressionShaw despised any federal relief. He felt that "if the colossal relief programs of the New Deal were to be discontinued tomorrow, and every man,[and] woman now holding a government job or assignment were to be let out of employment, it would be as the de-mobilization of the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Force) all over again." Shaw goes on to write: "The more we see and read of the various relief agencies in every city, town and hamlet of this great U.S.A., the more we are inclined to believe they were created to give jobs to government employees to build up a vast governmental machine, rather than to render any very great relief service to humanity." Quick to criticize the New Deal, Shaw closes his editorial by proclaiming: "Relief monies come and relief monies go, but the salaries of the personnel of these thousands and thousands of relief officers go on without interruption - and fat salaries they are in many instances."

Republican Senator Robert D. Carey was a well liked politician in Ernest Shaw's paper. He was especially well liked when he attacked portions of the New Deal legislation. Wyoming's senior senator reportedly said the "whole program is based on the theory that the average man is a `damned fool.'" Carey felt that the New Dealers were "opposed to `rugged individualism' believing it is wrong for any man through his own efforts to develop a successful business. They are preaching constantly the doctrine that those who have succeeded in business have been grafters." Carey then branded the AAA and the National Recovery Administration as two millstones between which the American people are being ground to conform to the wishes of the bureaucracy." Carey was not the only Wyomingite to complain about Washington's growing bureaucracy that now extended to the Cowboy State.

Cursing the weather and bureaucrats became a Wyoming pastime, a pastime filled with passion and vigor. Cursing the wind and the "feds" created a touchstone of commonality. Both the wind and federal agencies never seemed to go away. To complain about both seemed to be the right thing to do at informal get together and in newspaper editorials. Shaw, in his report on Carey's speech before the "National Independent Millers Association" at Indianapolis, Indiana in the spring of 1935, noted that few wise men like the Republican Senator from Wyoming, were listened to in the New Deal Administration. Carey said that the "program of experimental economics has held back recovery and will continue to prevent the return to prosperity." At least in Carey's mind, until the size of government expenditures are reduced, there could be no return to prosperity. Summing up his speech, Carey proclaimed, "If we had been given half a chance, we would have been out of the depression long ago." By abandoning "those un-American schemes which are Socialistic and Bolshevistic in principles, we would go ahead, confusion would cease, confidence would be restored, and America would go marching on."

DepressionInitially, the editor of the Cody Enterprise seemed ambivalent towards the actions of Wyoming's other senator, Joseph C. O'Mahoney. In one article he lamented: Senator Joseph O'Mahoney had "deserted the labor interests of Wyoming." Yet Shaw also praised all the Wyoming congressional delegation for garnering the "Public Works Administration" Sunshine Storage Reservoir on the Greybull River. Reservoirs were something Cody residents gladly supported. Shaw announced "forward thinking men" and all of "Park County and the entire Big Horn Basin [were] elated . . . when telegrams were received from the Wyoming Congressional delegation advising that one million, one hundred and eighty thousand dollars had been allocated by the Public Works Administration for the Greybull Irrigation District . . . ." The money would go primarily to constructing the Sunshine Reservoir. Front page news, the dam briefly erased Shaw's distaste for all things related to public works. And briefly, O'Mahoney was worthy of praise. If not praised by name, O'Mahoney was praised for being part of the Wyoming Congressional Delegation that had garnered such a plum.


Ernest F. Shaw's paper served as his pulpit to preach against the New Deal and as the election of 1936 approached, he used his podium to throw words at the far away architect of the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt. On October 7, 1936 he wrote: "It is refreshing to have as the Republican Candidate for president a man who is not romping over the country 'arraigning' his opponent personally or indulging in vituperative attacks." Governor Alfred R. Landon from Kansas, Roosevelt's opponent, could be credited with a "sane attitude toward the problems of the day . . . ." Clear of thought, "wholesome in expression, fair and manly in argument," Landon had "charity for all" and "malice towards none," - except possibly the Democrats. Shaw concluded that as the "only Republican Governor elected in [1932] in the whole great Mississippi Valley, and in 1934 . . . the only Republican Governor re-elected in the United States" he was the best candidate in 1936.

Shaw searched long and low for mud to sling at the New Deal. On October 7th, he ran an article accusing Roosevelt's administration of using New Deal money to buy votes. "Evidence of how far the New Deal is willing to go is its publication of federal loans and grants to Texas." In the period spanning March 4, 1933 to April 1, 1936, Texas received $984,419,700. True or false in his accusations, Shaw used these figures as a rhetorical tool to prove a point. The point was, "the New Deal Campaign Committee of Texas with Representative Sam Rayburn of the Lone Star State as its director, was appealing for presidential campaign funds based on the fact so much money had been given to Texas by the federal government over the past three years. While this accusation might have been true in Shaw's mind and not a valid accusation in reality, he used the accusation to build a more logical attack. On the other side of the picture the government in "Washington gave to Texas ten times the total annual expenditures of the State." There lay the "deepest purposes and motives of New Dealism revealed with complete frankness." All the great "emergency agencies, originally ratified by Congress in the name of relief and recovery, now are exhibited as mere instruments of the New Deal's political lust." In Shaw's report, the underlying fact was, "The New Deal says, vote for Roosevelt because he will give you much in political plunder."                                                                                                                             

DepressionThe editorial columns of The Cody Enterprise spilled forth rivers of ink decrying Roosevelt in late October of 1936. Shaw believed he had gained a sense of what was happening in Wyoming political circles. Rather than stopping his bomb-blast, in light of facts that showed the positive impacts of the New Deal, he hurtled more words. Writing on the 14th of October he asked: "Are you going to vote for the party which is trying to save the country for its citizens [Republicans], or are they going to the polls and vote for the party which they believe will dole out the greatest portion of government funds and ask the least in return?" On the 16th, Shaw leveled the accusation that: "gifted orators of the world have arrayed class against class, have whipped nations into war frenzies, have become the world's dictators while quiet harmonizers have kept men at work, at peace." Thus, the reader is asked, who would "you prefer Roosevelt or Landon?" Shaw's choice was Landon. On the 21st, Shaw proclaimed that people working in the new government programs would naturally vote for Roosevelt. For those not employed by the federal government, "the rank and file, Mr. and Mrs. John Citizen," little had been gained by the New Deal "except a threat of the loss of everything which he had laid away for old age." The "average citizen" was asked would they "vote for higher and still higher taxes?" Would they vote for: "increasing government expenses and a larger payroll for government employers?" And in a direct appeal to the county's agrarian community Shaw asked, will you "vote for the policy of scarcity, the plowing up of crops and the killing of cattle, sheep and pigs?" On the 28th, the editorial column proclaimed next time you hear a New Deal speaker making a patriotic plea for saving the country, "ask him what his salary is. Nine out of ten of these speakers have their nose in the feed trough clear up to the second joint."
On October 26, 1936, Shaw put his money where his feelings were and ran a special edition of The Cody Enterprise. Called the Congressional News, it was mailed to all "boxholders." His lead article was entitled, "The New Deal vs. Wyoming." Shaw was trying to hold back the Democratic flood gates. Not surprisingly, some of his effort to get out the news was funded by the Republican nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives, Frank Barrett. Shaw warned that "a venturesome President and a subservient Congress threatens the United States." Barrett would not be subservient. Barrett could help end "the three long years on the treadmill of New Dealism. . ." By voting Republican on November 3rd not only would the problems of the past melt away but America would once again be headed in the right direction.


Four days after the election, Shaw conceded that "Democrats Win Greatest Political Victory in History." On the front page of The Cody Enterprise, "one of the most sweeping victories ever recorded by any political party in the history of the United States" was reported. Worse, for Shaw, "Wyoming went Democratic in great gobs." Roosevelt carried on his coat tails, Harry H. Schwartz for U.S. Senate, he had defeated the Republican incumbent Carey. Likewise, a Democrat, Paul R. Greever from Shaw's home county went to the United States House of Representatives. For all his open hostility prior to the election, the editor of the Enterprise was gracious in defeat. Shaw wrote in his editorial column: "Another national election, one of the hardest fought in the history of the United States is behind us, and we look forward to bigger if not more important things." Possibly thinking about himself, he added: "Many voters most likely are disappointed, there will be those whose election bets will prove a hardship financially, but the big show is over, the people have spoken their will, and we must now prove good citizens and carry on as good citizens should."

DepressionSweetwater County residents, with its coal mines and railroad laborers, were elated with the Democratic Victory in 1936. The Rocket Miner, Rock Springs local newspaper noted that the statewide Democratic victory dinner should be held in their city because Sweetwater County is "the Banner Democratic county of the state." Unlike the editor of the Enterprise, the editor for the Rocket warmly welcomed each step taken by the Democratic President to improve the economy. Naturally, the publisher of the paper applauded the CCC camp constructed at Green River and the one built in the Eden Valley north of Rock Springs; both camps were in Sweetwater County.

From 1934 until 1936, the Democratic Party was at its apex in Wyoming. Only one time in its history has the State Senate been controlled by the Democrats. That took place in the legislative session spanning 1935 to 1937. It was the only two year period where the Senate, House, Governor's Mansion, U.S. House of Representatives and one of the U.S. Senate Seats belonged to the Democrats. By 1938, the slide from power began. The state senate returned to the Republican majority. In 1939, the State House of Representatives returned to the Republican fold rarely to fall away again. Also, the governor's mansion in 1939 was occupied by a member of the Grand Old Party. In 1938, the U.S House returned to the Party of Lincoln. And in 1942, a fallen Democratic Senator was replaced by a Republican. Then in the 1944 Presidential election, Roosevelt and Truman were voted against. The two party system was dying before it was born. A brief swing to the Democratic Party was reversed when the pendulum swung back to the Republican Party and almost stopped. Only twice after 1944 would Democratic Presidential hopefuls receive Wyoming electoral votes. By 1938, the fortunes of the Democratic Party in Wyoming were waning. Yet, in Sweetwater County, a Democratic bastion, the upcoming disaster was not yet clearly foreseen as the election approached.

D. G. Richardson, the new editor for the Rock Springs Daily Rocket, was the antithesis of Shaw and his Cody Enterprise. On September 15th, Richardson outlined the battlelines for the 1938 Democratic Campaign. The Democratic efforts were to center on the present "state administration's record of economy in office and upon humanitarianism." To be successful in Wyoming, you had to be fiscally conservative. Balanced budgets are called for in the state constitution, and the depression demanded humanitarianism. The Democratic campaign was to be based on past accomplishments. The Republicans based their campaign on attacking the New Deal. The Republicans also wanted to attack the Democrat's record as the lead party in Wyoming. Specifically, they wanted to attack their tax and spend mentality.

Richardson accused the Republicans of using dirty tactics. The state Republican chairman, J. B. Griffith, promised: "We will use every weapon at our command to get votes." Richardson saved his most virulent attacks for the Republican candidate for governor, Nels H. Smith. "I-Promise-You-Smith" as The Rocket labeled him, armed with the principal weapon of "promises" for an improved state economy, was set against the Democratic incumbent Leslie A. Miller. Richardson rightly perceived that the Democrats were caught in a major battle for the governor's mansion and the U.S. House of Representatives. "If you will pay attention," Richardson wrote, "you will find [Smith's] remarks consist wholly of promises - contradictory promises which even a super-man could not keep." Smith promised "to be friendly to labor while he opposes the national labor relations act and the wage-hour law." The Republican candidate promised "liberal expenditures for relief and also condemn[ed] relief expenditures by the state of Wyoming and the Roosevelt administration." Richardson listed an editorial column filled with promises and contradictions. The Democratic editor summed this list of promises up by writing: "A vote for `I-Promise-You' Smith is like taking a leap in the dark - like guessing under which shell is the pea." Voting for Smith would mean voting "for a man who does not know his own mind or knowing it, does not have the courage to stand up to his convictions."
In Richardson's mind, the Republicans were determined to "mislead" Wyoming voters. The Rocket editor wrote that the current, "Republican campaign is a clumsy effort to mislead people into voting against their own interests as set forth in that broad Democratic program known as the New Deal." The 1938 "Democratic campaign is positive," the editorials proclaimed. "The Republican campaign is negative." The designs of the G.O.P. was to take the state backwards. Conversely, the Democratic Party "looks to the future, not the past." Richardson asked the voters to "consider the accomplishments of the Democratic state administration. Wyoming has been well governed." To the needy, "a helping hand had been extended . . . the average man has been befriended: there has been relief for the widow, the orphan, the unemployed. Nothing like that was ever attempted by a Republican state administration." Nothing in Smith's campaign, Richardson noted, "will appeal to those who believe in democracy and that government should be dedicated to the welfare of all the people who live under it."


DepressionThe accusations that the Democrats had increased taxes in Wyoming was extremely painful to the faithful. Richardson felt compelled to respond in his editorials, to the critics of the food sales tax imposed between 1936 and 1938. He wrote, each month the average family pays roughly "80 cents . . . into the sales tax fund." Previously under the states "Republican administrations the state levy on property was in excess of five mills. The Miller administration [had] reduced it to two mills." The change in the tax structure "reduced the taxes on the average home from $12 to $20," the sales tax on the average yearly food bill was $7.60. Thus, the average family saved roughly $6 to $12 per year on their taxes. Moreover, Governor Miller, who Richardson said lived by his promises, told voters he would remove "the sales tax on foodstuffs." Naturally, he could only do this if re-elected.

One of the more intriguing defenses of the state's Democratic Party came in an editorial by Richardson. Sweetwater County had warmly welcomed both the WPA and CCC. With two camps in the county, they had been a great boon to the area. The Rocket repeatedly announced what the "CCC boys" were involved in and pointed to their accomplishments and the new federal grants with pride. Yet on the 22nd of September, sensing Wyoming's voters general view towards the WPA and other New Deal programs, Richardson wrote a defensive column defending the Administration's effort in Wyoming. Richardson titled his editorial "Nothing to Apologize For." Speaking as a Democrat, he wrote, "We do not believe there would be anyone happier to see the last WPA project authorized than President Roosevelt." Naturally, in Wyoming, Richardson believed no one "would be more pleased to announce that the WPA had gone out of existence . . . than Governor Miller." People of Wyoming, however, could rest assured "that neither the president nor the governor will consent to the abandonment of the WPA program as long as there were not jobs in private industry for men who need work, and so long as the people go hungry without government assistance." The Democratic Party, Richardson assured Wyoming voters, only intended to continue federal and state relief programs "as long as there [was] a need for it - and no longer." What the Republican party would do to the relief programs "if it were in power, heaven only knows."

Richardson stood firmly in the Democratic camp. All he knew was "that before Roosevelt and before Miller, Republican national and state administrations refused to put the government into the relief business and they refused to use the taxing power of government to provide jobs for unemployed men and to feed hungry people." Then in 1932, "Mr. Roosevelt was elected president and Mr. Miller was elected governor, the need was great but there was nothing to guide government in the ways and means to plan and finance a great relief program." The national emergency required "something be done quickly, and it was done. Republican administrations had muddled through three years of national depressions without doing anything for relief." In Wyoming, "because of the drought and depression, . . . property owners were unable to pay their taxes and many were in danger of losing their homes through tax sales." At this juncture, Richardson's argument turned the tables on Republican contentions that they had raised taxes. In order to protect people's homes from mounting property taxes, new sources of revenue were sought. The question of how to finance public welfare programs was answered by a sales tax. Homes were safe from property taxes and the state was "able to finance relief activities and its old age assistance program." No one, Richardson added, "likes the sales tax, but the Democratic Party does not apologize for having adopted it." The tax had helped provide "relief for individuals, for schools and local communities." And now Governor Miller, with the state's coffers in better shape than when he arrived, "proposes to reduce the burden by removing the [sales] tax from foodstuffs." Under Miller's leadership, "The state had an emergency . . . to meet and it met it. That is more than any Republican administration has to boast of."


DepressionRichardson, like Shaw two years earlier, was forced to admit defeat. Nels H. Smith defeated Leslie A. Miller. The Republicans also regained the state Senate and their seat in the United States House of Representatives. The Democratic governor even lost in Sweetwater County. Richardson believed Wyoming had been caught in the nationwide surge of Republican power. When the paper went to press on November 9th, "only two of the state's Democratic candidates were leading in the state." The trend would stand. The Democrats had suffered a severe set back. What had happened?

T. A. Larson, the dean of Wyoming historians, provides a partial answer. Three factors came together to contribute to Miller's defeat. First, it is difficult for Wyoming governors to return to office more than twice, Miller sought an unprecedented third term. Second, the Democratic Party leadership often rocked by disagreement stood at loggerheads. The discontent centered around several issues, but essentially several of the elected Democratic officials, according to Larson, simply "could not get along." Third, Miller failed to lower gasoline prices as he had promised, then there was the sales tax issue, and also growing "misgivings about many New Deal measures." The sum total of these factors added up to defeat in 1938. Interestingly, Miller was a conservative who also had misgivings about the New Deal programs. But in Wyoming there are dangerously deep political waters with treacherous under currents that were not easily seen. The reasons for defeat include conservative elements in both parties reacting not only to Miller but to the state Democratic party. The tone of distrust of big government sounded by Shaw was felt statewide. Returning to the familiar waters of conservatism offered a safe place for voters to dock their political boats.

Richardson had correctly assessed where the greatest anti-Democratic sentiment was coming from. The New Deal had greatly aided Wyoming, but it also alienated segments of the state opposed to its diverse programs and the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. The sales tax, although well defended by Richardson, was extremely unpopular. More importantly, former Republicans who initially gave their votes to conservative Democrats like Miller, turned back to their own brand of political conservatism: in Wyoming this was the Republican Party. Interestingly, in 1940 the state would return Democratic senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney to the United States Senate. Why remove Miller and retain O'Mahoney? Why, too, did the State Senate of Wyoming never again have a Democratic majority? The answer lies in the slightly changed political culture that begins to become defined in the late 1930s and also the continuity of Republican politics in Wyoming.

 Politicians and Native Sons

In 1939, O'Mahoney began preparing to once again run for the Senate. Elected in 1934, the Senator felt the political winds stirring in Wyoming and decided to focus his campaign on issues near and dear to his home state. Joseph C. O'Mahoney, the Massachusetts-born journalist and attorney, would serve the state of Wyoming in the U.S. Senate for over a quarter of a century. He was able to stay in office because he continued to support issues of great interest to the Cowboy State. His focus reflects both what Wyomingites felt they wanted from a Senator and the fact the Democrats had suffered a major defeat in 1938. A 1939 "Memorandum" published to provide "Information Concerning Senator O'Mahoney's Work in the Senate" was sent to various newspapers and party organizers to help explain his politics and help him in his re-election efforts.

O'Mahoney, the senator, intended to show he had helped Wyoming by supporting a variety of positive projects for the state's citizens. Among the things he proudly boasted of gaining for Wyoming was the "Extended Air Mail Contracts." The contracts assured towns like Cheyenne and Rock Springs that they would continue to serve as important fueling or relay stations along the transcontinental air mail route. He also, in 1934, convinced the Postmaster General to develop the U.S. Air Mail Service from Cheyenne to Billings, Montana. This line was later extended to Great Falls, Montana, "and additional funds were secured for carrying the mail." Using Cheyenne as a hub for air mail and passenger service, O'Mahoney worked tirelessly to improve services into and through Wyoming. O'Mahoney was quick to point out this aid combined federal funds with the private initiatives of Transcontinental and Western Air Inc. (TWA) and United Air Lines (UAL). Both utilized Wyoming air facilities and O'Mahoney proudly pointed out he had greatly aided the state's fledgling airline industry. Some critics contended airports had been built in remote regions that might never see an airplane.

Near and dear to the heart of Wyomingites were water reclamation projects. Here O'Mahoney could boast of success on numerous fronts. The Riverton, Hart Mountain, Casper-Alcova, Green River Water Shed, Owl Creek, Bear River, and Sunshine Reservoir irrigation and reclamation projects were spread over the state in such a manner that they touched almost all major voting areas. They brought aid to communities concentrations of both Democrats and Republicans. Added to this were O'Mahoney's efforts to garner monies for "small reservoir" construction. These reservoirs would potentially be constructed in all of the states twenty-three counties. For his efforts on behalf of reclamation, most residents were grateful. By gaining funds for reservoirs and for irrigation canal construction, O'Mahoney was cutting across party lines. These federal revenues were good for Wyoming.

The senator from Wyoming had mixed reviews from the cattle industry. In 1940, to be re-elected, O'Mahoney would have to avoid the political land mines planted by the passage of the Taylor-Grazing Act, which distinctively bore his mark. Because he had been so instrumental in the passage of the bill, he had to prove his input had been positive and for the good of the State of Wyoming. O'Mahoney's official stance was: "the Agriculture Department's better thinkers wrote out their own grazing bill." The bill was sent "to the House where it . . . passed with no questions asked." It fell to "the unassuming" senator from Wyoming to rewrite the bill "loosening the [Agriculture Department's] authority over grazing grounds on public lands and giving the grazer greater liberty." O'Mahoney and his political strategists were brilliantly laying the groundwork to deflect any negative accusations hurled at O'Mahoney. The "Memorandum" issued by O'Mahoney goes one step further by noting that his rewritten bill faced grave threats from what he called the "agriculture crowd," presumably in the Department of Agriculture. "The `agriculture crowd' urged the President to veto it. After considerable thought, Mr. Roosevelt disregarded the brain trust and signed Mr. O'Mahoney's bill." In this last statement, the "Memorandum" quotes directly from Paul Mallen, "widely known newspaper columnist." Thus ends the Memorandum's discussion of the Taylor Grazing Act, possibly one of the most important bills in Wyoming's history.


DepressionUltimately, the Act led to the creation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and with the federal government controlling nearly 60 percent of the State's land mass, this Bureau would become a powerful governing entity controlled, not in Cheyenne, but in Washington D.C. Critics, as early as 1934, foresaw a potential loss of local control over a greater part of the state. If O'Mahoney was to win re-election he must deflect the opposition's criticism leveled against his support of this 1934 legislation. By quoting Mallen, and by setting himself up to champion the cause for "greater grazer liberty," the Senator was maneuvering to avoid an explosive political land mine.
The ever insightful T. A. Larson notes that if O'Mahoney wanted to be re-elected he had to gain the approval of the Wyoming stockmen. The Taylor Grazing Act of June 1934 "was vigorously opposed by Wyoming's stockmen." For years the stockmen had tried to obtain the state's "vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved federal lands, including mineral rights." The president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association decried the Act as yet "another example of the bureaucrats in Washington trying to extend their power and their control more and more." The Act received mixed acceptance, but because grazers were "permitted long-term leases and considerable control through participation on advisory boards, the stockmen learned to live with the Taylor Grazing Act." Yet in 1939, past memories of open loosely controlled range were still fresh in the minds of many. Winning re-election in 1940 required O'Mahoney to distance himself from new federal controls of the range and focus attention on how he had given grazers a say in how the lands were managed.

O'Mahoney consistently reminded stock growers that he was their man in Washington. In 1936, he obtained assurances, "and made them public, that nothing would be done in any event" that might impact the cattlemen without public hearings first being held "so that the livestock interests would be given full opportunity to be heard." He consistently pressed for protective tariffs to help limit the importation of canned beef from Argentine. He reportedly fought numerous losing battles to protect the agriculture industry and stimulate production. To win re-election, O'Mahoney continually reminded voters Wyoming was where his heart was. He might live in Washington, but his interests lay in Wyoming. It was important for O'Mahoney, who was not a native son, to point out that he had Wyoming in mind at all times.

DepressionOther issues of concern for O'Mahoney ran the gamut from oil and gas leasing to state's rights. When taking his stands in Washington, he keep his an eye on the pulse of Wyoming politics. Particularly sensitive to the issue of "State's Rights," every since he entered the Senate in January of 1934, O'Mahoney reminded voters, he had "repeatedly called attention to the principal of state rights." This issue became dearer to the hearts of Wyomingites, particularly in the wake of New Deal legislation. Water rights and state's rights came together in 1938, when the Senator appealed to the Senate "on behalf of the Rocky Mountain States and the doctrine of `use' with respect to water." In Washington "he warned his colleagues that if they voted for the conference report, as presented, they would be saying to the arid West, `You are to be reduced from the status of sovereign states to that of satrapies of the federal government.'" Standing up for the rights of the state, while accepting money was viewed differently in the 1930s than in the 1990s. Governor Miller warned in 1933 that "The Federal Aid system . . . has been the greatest means of expanding governmental agencies the nation has ever known." That same year, Wyoming was initially the only state or territory not to ask for or receive federal assistance for its needy.

O'Mahoney, in his re-election bid, had to stand in two worlds. One that supported the New Deal the other that stood for political independence and self-sufficiency. "Professing independence, self-reliance, and dedication to free enterprise," Wyomingites often viewed themselves "as vocal, aggressive custodians of what remained of the frontier spirit." This self-perception did not mix well with New Deal policies. Yet the mythical image was tempered with the economical realities of the Depression. In the late 1930s, O'Mahoney could champion certain causes that would insure he keep in the voters' good graces. One of those causes was the attack on corporate monopolies. Wyomingites have long had a distrust of big government and big business. Two of Wyoming's own, O'Mahoney and Thurman Arnold, could carry the "dedication to free enterprise" onto the safe turf of trust busting. Roosevelt, found in O'Mahoney and Arnold, a former mayor of Laramie, useful allies in attacking corporate monopolies.

Thurman W. Arnold is an interesting example of a native son "gone east" to teach the world Wyoming values. Born in Laramie, Wyoming in 1891, Arnold graduated from Princeton University in 1911 with a Bachelor of Arts and then earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1914. After living in Chicago for five years, he returned to Laramie where he practiced law from 1919 until 1927. During this period he lectured at the University of Wyoming and was the only Democrat elected to the Wyoming State House of Representatives in 1920. From 1923 to 1924 he served as Laramie's mayor. In 1927, he left Laramie to accept the position of Dean of Law at West Virginia University. He remained at West Virginia until 1930 when he moved to Yale University where he lectured in the Law Department until 1938. In 1938, President Roosevelt appointed him Assistant Attorney General. From March of 1938 until March of 1943, Thurman Arnold filed 230 antitrust suits. This was more suits than had been filed in the previous fifty year history of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Arnold was a Wyoming Native. As a son of the Cowboy State, he reflected Wyoming's tendency towards distrusting big business. Tutored and trained in some of the best universities in the east, his opposition to large corporations reflected his roots. Yet, his quotes and actions bespeak knowledge of wider problems and issues. Arnold wrote: "Compromises are necessary in cases where modern industrial techniques require such vast organizations that they are in fact small governments within the government . . . ." He then advises compromises should be made cautiously. Loosely quoting Thomas Jefferson to make his point, Arnold states, "the best government is the one which governs the least" this "is peculiarly applicable today to business governments, small as well as large." In quoting Jefferson and applying the principles to business, he was adding a new twist to an old quote. To preserve free enterprise, Arnold noted, these "business governments" had to be prevented from unnecessary combinations that restrained competition. Combinations, Arnold felt, were helping to perpetuate the Depression. To the Denver Bar Association in 1939, Arnold outlined the impact combinations had on current economic conditions. The current economic situation would "not cure itself if it is let along." The monopolistic forces within the economy were preventing a recovery. These vaguely defined combinations were outside the normal stream of the economic development and powerful monopolistic forces working against the national recovery had to be broken. In many ways, this was a typical a Wyoming view, powerful forces from outside had long affected the state's economic health. Now Arnold had an opportunity to combat the monopolies.


DepressionA cautionary note must be sounded about inferring too much about Wyoming political culture based on Arnold and O'Mahoney's actions. Yet these men reflected the desires and ideas of many Wyomingites and, in the actions of O'Mahoney, the needs of the state took precedence in his efforts in Washington. Future efforts need to focus on the manner in which these men were mirrors of the society in which they were raised or in O'Mahoney's case, the society he adopted.

 By looking at how Yugoslavian emigrants solved the problem of not having enough food and by tracing the activities of Arnold, O'Mahoney, Shaw, Richardson, and Hay a brief glimpse of how people and politicians reacted to the Depression is revealed. In Rock Springs, people took collective action to provide people with homes. There is brief insight into a native son standing up to large and powerful monopolies who he thought threatened free enterprise and thus the frontier spirit. Then there is the banker who did not foreclose on defaulted loans, maybe this was due to self-interest, but still Hay acted on his own perceptions of what was best for Rock Springs. Add to this the self-reliance of women who took it upon themselves to be providers and participants in an economic system that was in a state of crisis and a view of Wyoming's reaction to the difficulties faced in the 1930s emerges.
In contrast to the efforts of the state's inhabitants and individual politicians stand the corporate efforts of the government and Union Pacific. The wisdom of Washington flew in the face of many self-reliant individuals. The actions of Union Pacific both spoke of concern for employees and the corporate welfare of their company. Ultimately, these groups and individuals made up part of the body politic and as part of that body they were altering the dynamics of both the economy and the popular perceptions of future economic and political opportunities in Wyoming.

F. Alan Coombs contends "there is simply no denying" Wyoming's conservative tendencies. The state was "a normally conservative and Republican state in the 1920s and was still a normally conservative and Republican state in the 1940s and the post World War II period." Coombs and Larson both contend the state had more opportunities for Democratic candidates after the Depression. But, as shown on the attached tables, the Republicans persistently dominated the state's political system after 1940. When a Democrat won it was not due to their party affiliation, it was due to their personality and their personality had to reflect conservative tendencies to be elected.
The issue of personalities and politics is a thorny one. As an elected leader, the candidate is ideally representing the voters' desires and the social values of those who elected them to office. Of course, the ideal and the real are not always the same, but the candidate running for office must at least give lip service to what is expected by the people at home or they will not gain or hold office. When T. A. Larson argues "`a candidate's personality has counted as much as party affiliation and his stand on issues' he is stating a truism that would apply with nearly equal force to the first thirty years of the century in Wyoming." Further, Coombs notes that when Larson contends the "the New Deal must be given some of the credit for the change," that allowed Democrats to win statewide elections, one must remember the dynamic nature of Lester Hunt, Gale McGee, and Teno Roncalio's personalities. All served after 1940 and mirrored the personalities of Democrats such as John B. Kendrick and the two Governors Ross who served prior to 1940. The interpretation of what happened before and after the Depression, according to Coombs, is a study in the degrees of change, "but if measured on a relative instead of an absolute scale of conservatism versus liberalism, Republican issues versus Democracy, it is difficult to detect any substantial shift" in Wyoming politics that occurs due to the crisis of the 1930s. Thus the question of "why there was so little realignment is a knotty one."

Wyoming's political ideals persisted. "For one thing," Coombs contends, "basic assumptions and attitudes are remarkably durable and even sharp economic reverses could hardly eliminate the old Jeffersonian feeling that the government was best which governed least." Yet, other states underwent major political shifts, why not Wyoming? Wyoming had suffered from the Depression. Nearly one quarter of the citizens in Albany and Sweetwater County were on relief in 1933. True, they voted Democrat, but except for Sweetwater County, few counties consistently voted for the party of Roosevelt. The Wyoming State Tribune estimated in 1934 that statewide in 1934, 25,000 men were unemployed. In 1935, 10,760 people remained on the relief rolls. Yet, there was no clear permanent departure from the Republican party nor did the party realignment that occurred throughout the nation take place in Wyoming. To examine why Wyomingites never truly realigned their party politics, the career of O'Mahoney needs to be once again reviewed.

Roosevelt's proposal to reorganize the federal judiciary in 1937 created a breach between the President and Senator O'Mahoney. Up to this point, O'Mahoney had been an ardent New Dealer. And up until this point, many Wyoming Republicans had accused the Senator of being one of Roosevelt's "yes men." From the beginning, most Wyomingites reacted vigorously against packing the Supreme Court. This may have been due, in part, to the fact one of the state's native sons, Justice Willis Van Devanter, was one of the "nine old men." Praise poured into O'Mahoney's office for his stand to defend the court. The Democratic newspaper, the Wyoming Eagle, found itself finding fault with Franklin Roosevelt's court bill while Wyoming's leading Republican newspaper praised O'Mahoney. Coombs concludes, "It was all very strange."

Instead of the Supreme Court issue being strange, as Coombs contends, the battle moved O'Mahoney into the center of Wyoming Political Culture. Standing up to Uncle Sam or big corporations like Arnold did, always gained the respect of the majority of Wyomingites. Added to this was the fact that O'Mahoney, by protecting the Supreme Court, was aiding one of Wyoming's own, Judge Van Devanter. It remained true, in 1937, as it does today that virtually everyone of political consequence in Wyoming "knew everyone else, and often the leading families in the state [have] been acquainted for generations." Friendships often, and still today, "extend across party lines." To win statewide elections both Democrats and Republicans must travel across the state and shake hands with friend and foe alike. It is a face-to-face government and if Wyoming roots and friends are forgotten, voters cast their ballots for a more friendly candidate. The face-to-face nature of the society recognized by T. A. Larson and F. Alan Coombs is at the root of the Wyoming political culture. And in this culture, individuals who support friends and family from Wyoming are not forgotten on election day. O'Mahoney would be re-elected partly based on his remembering the fact he lived in a face-to-face political culture.

DepressionThe core of the political culture that emerged and resisted changing parties was grounded in the terms of personal relations. In solving the problems of the Depression on the family level people worked together to milk cows, make sausage, or do whatever it took to make ends meet. On the community level food and money were donated and when the community coffers ran dry, only then did they turn to bankers, companies and the federal government for assistance. However, once the federal government created the Grazing Service to aid in regulating the range, the federal bureaucracy did not leave. Aid was needed, but loans once finalized and tipples once completed meant long-term investment. Bankers, corporations, and the federal government emerged from the Depression in control of large amounts of land, natural resources and newly erected facilities. The control of these resources ultimately rested in the corporate headquarters of big businesses and the control of much of Wyoming's land was decided by people in the meeting and decision rooms of Washington, D.C. The Depression created a threat to the face-to-face politics that existed in Wyoming prior to 1928.

With a population of 225,565 in the 1930s, poverty in Wyoming had a face. For every 112,782 people there was one U.S. Senator. People had almost direct representation in the U.S. Senate and required that the Senators keep in touch with Wyoming. O'Mahoney's copious response to letters from people at home show his awareness to this fact. People in Wyoming made up tight communities. They were aware of whose ranch was failing or who had not worked for some time. True, in other parts of the country, poverty had a face, but in the Wyoming of the 1930s, the limited population meant many local officials personally knew the starving and out of work. Republicans who reacted coldly and with political rhetoric rarely were reelected. Democrats who did not remember they were part of a small community with values and ideals that voters wanted carried to the capitals in Cheyenne or Washington D.C., soon were out of office. In Wyoming, emphasis was placed on a sense of community and personal networks. The political culture that required personal responsibility and interaction with voters was becoming a formalized part of the state's approach to dealing with problems.



By 1938, when the Democrats again lost control of the state senate and surrendered their seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, there were diminished opportunities for employment within traditional Wyoming economic mainstays. Fewer miners were needed to mine a ton of coal. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 virtually ended homesteading in Wyoming. There were fewer opportunities for a young rancher to enter the cattle industry and the potential for him to own his own land had diminished. Purchasing property required more capital than needed to start a ranch under the Homestead Act. Previously, to gain title to the land one simply went out and proved up on a piece of property; this required work and some capital but now this was no longer an option. The Taylor Grazing Act modified forever land use patterns in Wyoming. Many saw the Act as limiting the opportunities to become a rancher. As a result, O'Mahoney took great pains to distance himself from the Taylor Grazing Act and instead focused his 1940 campaign efforts on reminding voters he had brought new jobs to Wyoming. Yet it was obvious that there would be less jobs in the traditional fields of mining and ranching. The CCC was only a stop gap means of providing employment, especially in the minds of men like Governor Miller. Machines were replacing men. The impact of technology led to the loss of traditional forms of employment and the rise of the bureaucrat in Wyoming caused Wyomingites to seriously examine the changes they were willing to accept.

Fathers, who worked in the coal mines in the 1920s were less likely to pass their jobs on to their sons in the 1930s. By the late 1950s, jobs in underground coal mines had all but vanished. The Taylor Grazing Act meant daughters and sons could not set up ranches or farms as mother or fathers had, that is, they could not begin their life on free land given to them by the federal government. In many ways in the 1930s, Wyomingites could only pass on the heritage of a face-to-face government. To retain this heritage, Wyoming voters elected officials who reflected their values. Perhaps O'Mahoney's resistance to the Supreme Court outweighed his voting record on the Taylor Grazing Act because he dared to defy Roosevelt. O'Mahoney's resistance to outside political forces was something Wyomingites seemingly all wanted to do.

Men who worked building the Reliance Tipple knew their efforts would lead to less men loading and unloading coal. The people who installed electric under cutting machines in the D. O. Clark mine in 1937, knew less miners would ultimately be required. Wyomingites, who had been distrustful of Union Pacific Coal Company in the past, while needing work, were suspicious of the motives of the corporate change from men mining coal to machines mining coal.

With all the changes taking place in the 1930s, the people in Wyoming began to recognize new faces from afar had arrived. To protect their society, they slowly returned to the Republicans who promised to protect their particular brand of conservatism. Each new program that brought in new administrators, brought not only money, but new forms of political control. From 1938 to the present, votes were cast to insure the retention of a political system based on requiring politicians to deal with people on an individual basis. In a small way, however, that should not be overstated, voting for the Republican Party represented a vote for the status quo: a vote to preserve a face-to-face political system where individuals still influenced political outcomes. If Democrats wanted to continue to gain offices in Wyoming, they too would have to deal with this fact of Wyoming politics.

DepressionThe conservative policies persisted because they held the most promise for the retention of a face-to-face government. O'Mahoney would ultimately be tainted by his involvement with Japanese detention camps. Nonetheless, he would continue to hold office as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming. Arnold would find his goals to end monopolies thwarted by World War II. John Hay would pass his bank on to his sons. Union Pacific would continue to prosper as a major corporation not only in Wyoming, but ultimately nationwide. The federal government, after 1934, would become the sole controller of 60 percent of the state's land. Ultimately, the political battle was based on lines drawn not along the lines of policies put forth by the New Deal, but along the lines of the conscious, albeit unspoken need to retain the last vestige of political control left to Wyomingites, the retention of their face-to-face government. At the end of the New Deal the party that proposed to do this was the Republican party.
The crucible of the Depression had managed to create battle lines. But the battle lines ultimately blurred into a united front. Democrats or Republicans would, from the Depression to the present have to insure they related to voters on a personal basis. Heirs of the Republican victory's following the demise of the Democratic party were reminded that Wyomingites, while wanting Washington's money desired to minimize federal involvement in internal affairs. The Depression had reminded the residents of the state how fragile a face-to-face government was. The new political realities in Wyoming were forged in the heat of the debate and the realities of the New Deal.



If you have any questions please feel free to contact Dudley Gardner.

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