Ethnic Groups of Wyoming
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
According to the 1900 U.S. census, members of the following tribes were residing in Wyoming: Arapaho, Cheyenne, Cree, Gros Ventre, Menominee, Sioux, Ute, and Ute Southern.
The Wind River Agency was established in 1870 for the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. In 1878 a number of northern Arapaho and a few Cheyenne from the Red Cloud Agency settled on the Wind River Agency. The agency records cover 1873 to 1952 and include letters received and sent, decimal files, school and land records, censuses, and photographs of Indians. These records are available at the National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region in Denver and at the FHL.
Two major school record collections should not be overlooked when researching Native American ancestry in Wyoming. The Fort Shaw School in Cascade County, Montana, and the Chemawa Indian School in Chemawa, Oregon, enrolled students from many states. For more details, see Ethnic Groups of Montana and Ethnic Groups of Oregon.
An important collection for Native American history and genealogy is entitled the “Major James McLaughlin Papers.” This valuable collection has information on Wyoming’s territorial period. For a more detailed discussion of these papers, see Montana—Native American section.
Other Ethnic Groups
In 1976 the Wyoming State Archives conducted a study of six of the major European ethnic groups in the state. This study broke ground in a previously ignored area of Wyoming history. The findings were edited by Gordon Olaf Hendrickson in Peopling the High Plains: Wyoming’s European Heritage (Cheyenne: Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department, 1977). The six groups represented in this volume are the British, Germans, Italians, Basques, Eastern Europeans, and Greeks.
In 1870 immigrants from the British Isles represented one-fifth of the Wyoming territorial population and over one-half of the foreign-born population. British converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled to Salt Lake City through Wyoming. Many of these same converts a few years later colonized the western and north central section of the state. Soon after the Mormon migration through Wyoming, the Irish came as laborers on the Union Pacific Railroad. Others served as soldiers. Between 1865 and 1874, half of the Regular Army consisted of recruits from foreign countries. Twenty percent were Irish.
British Isles immigrants came to Wyoming as miners, saloon keepers, bankers, and missionaries. Many Irish were Roman Catholic, Scots were Presbyterian, and the English were Episcopalians, Methodists, or Congregationalists. In Wyoming, British companies had considerable land holdings and controlled numerous cattle and horse ranches.
Two groups of Germans came to Wyoming—native Germans and Russian-Germans. These two groups began their migrations westward in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They usually settled in other states before arriving in Wyoming. In 1870, thirty-one percent of the foreign-born residents of Wyoming Territory were of German origin. The cattle industry and the railroad provided incentive for many Germans to become permanent residents of the state.
In the years 1915 to 1916, a large number of Russian-German people moved into Worland and Lovell, reflecting the beginnings of the sugar beet industry in that part of Wyoming. The largest settlement of Russian-Germans was in Goshen County, where Volga Germans from the Scottsbluff, Nebraska, region settled.
Among the early German immigrants to Wyoming was a group of German Jews. Enough Jewish people came to Wyoming that by 1888 Temple Emmanuel was founded in Cheyenne. Other German Jews were part of Jewish farming communities such as Huntley, Wyoming, founded in 1906. Most of Huntley’s Jewish community was from Romania. The community was dissolved in the 1920s.
Wyoming had a visible Italian population at one time. Immigrants came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and most worked in Wyoming’s mining industry. The bulk of Italian immigration to Wyoming was between 1890 and 1910. By 1910, 7.7 percent of Wyoming’s foreign-born population was Italian. The Italian immigrants originated from the northern provinces of Lombardy, Tuscany, and Piedmont. By 1920 more than sixty percent of Wyoming’s Italians lived in Laramie, Sweetwater, and Uinta counties.
The Basque in Wyoming were instrumental in the development of the sheep industry in the state. By 1902 Basque had settled in Buffalo, Johnson County. The founding Basque families in Wyoming were influential in Johnson and Sweetwater counties. Here the Catholic Church helped provide unity between the Spanish and French Basque who settled in the state. Both cultures were united by a common faith and were served by a traveling Basque priest.
Eastern European immigrants to Wyoming came primarily from the Balkans, from what is today Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia. Many Eastern Europeans, while still in Europe or upon their arrival in America, learned that jobs were available in Wyoming mines. Many Eastern European Jews first settled in eastern America and then moved to Wyoming. Some who homesteaded near the coal mines in Sheridan County realized considerable profit from their real estate.
The mining communities near Rock Springs, Lander, Riverton, and Sheridan attracted the majority of Eastern Europeans to Wyoming, the largest immigration occurring between 1910 and 1920. Most of the immigrants were either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, and almost every mining community had a Roman Catholic Church, even if it did not have a regular priest. The Orthodox did not always have available churches in the mining communities.
The first permanent Greek residents arrived in Cheyenne near the turn of the twentieth century. Many worked on the railroad as laborers; others moved into business. The Greek Orthodox Church of Saints Constantine and Helen in Cheyenne is the center of the Greek community in the area. Prior to the establishment of this church in 1922, there were two Greek Orthodox Churches in Cheyenne: Holy Trinity, and Saints Constantine and Helen.
Some Greeks came to Wyoming to work in the mines near Hartville-Sunrise and Rock Springs. The Orthodox Church in Rock Springs was founded not only to serve the needs of the Greek community, but also Russian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Slavic, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Dalmatian Orthodox members. Greeks in Casper were ministered to for many years by the priest from the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen in Cheyenne.
From the time of the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, a number of Chinese laborers had resided in Wyoming. They first appeared in Rock Springs in 1875 to work on the railroad or to work for the railroad’s coal contractors. They were disliked and persecuted not only by the white Americans, but by other ethnic groups as well. In 1885 a wave of anti-Chinese violence broke out in Wyoming, which had repercussions throughout the northwestern United States. When white railroad employees went on strike in 1885, the railroad employed a new racially mixed crew of Chinese and white workers. The work force was one-third white and two-thirds Chinese, and the company paid both races the same pay. On 2 September 1885, the coal miners’ union massacred twenty-eight Chinese and wounded fifteen. The mobs destroyed Rock Springs’ Chinatown and drove several hundred from the city. This event lead to more anti-Chinese violence and murder throughout Washington, Oregon, and Montana. The Chinese returned to Rock Springs under federal troop escort, but they gradually left Wyoming. The Rock Springs massacre has been called the most disgraceful event in Wyoming history. The Wyoming State Archives has many collected articles and old newspaper clippings concerning Wyoming’s Chinese community and the 1885 massacre. These should not be overlooked when researching this ethnic group.