Top 10 True Western Towns of 2008


Thank goodness Casper has had better luck than its namesake.

In July 1865, Lt. Caspar Collins led a detachment assigned to protect a supply wagon train. His troops collided with a huge force of Indians, led by Red Cloud. When the dust settled, the young officer had 24 arrows in his body. The Army decided to honor his sacrifice, renaming the nearby post Fort Caspar.

The fort closed less than two years later.

When a nearby town developed in 1888, citizens decided to keep the name—but somebody misspelled it “Casper.”

Some guys get no respect.

But Casper is no Rodney Dangerfield. Its heritage and preservation make it a Top 10 True Western Town. After all, thousands of pioneers using the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails all trekked through the area. So did the Pony Express. To explain and commemorate the pioneers’ overland experiences, the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center opened to the public in 2002. The project is a partnership between local and federal governments and a nonprofit organization. The facility provides numerous interactive exhibits that tell the story of Westward expansion. Visitors can experience what it felt like to cross the North Platte in a covered wagon and how tough one had to be to walk hundreds of miles with Mormon handcart emigrants.

Then there’s the Fort Caspar Museum, a recreation (built 70 years ago) of the old military post, with buildings including the barracks, blacksmith shop, sutler’s store, telegraph office and commissary. The museum even has a ferry identical to the one set up by the Mormons in 1847. A recent addition is some 6,000 square feet of exhibit, classroom and preservation storage space. The price tag? $1.5 million, which was paid for by private contributions and public funds.

Downtown Casper is no slouch. The city, Chamber of Commerce and development authority all recognize that historic preservation is key to a vital and viable downtown. A number of buildings dating back to the 1920s still dot these streets, finding new uses in our modern society. The South Wolcott Street Historic District dates back even further, to the early years of the 20th century, and features the homes of many prominent citizens of the period.

All in all, if Lt. Caspar Collins is looking down on the town that sort-of bears his name, he’s probably pretty pleased. The town sure has seen more successes than he did.

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