History & News

American Heritage Center article:  Green River was not the original county seat of Sweetwater County

A black and white photo of a valley full of buildings, the once vibrant community of South Pass City in the 1860s.A black and white photo of a brick multi-story building with Green River's 'Castle Rock' in the background. Men in suits can be seen on the balcony an scattered before the building. The building is the historic Green River Courthouse, which was replaced in the 1960s with the modern building.A map of Wyoming showing 5 vertical stripes representing the 5 original counties of Wyoming, the third from the left was Sweetwater County.

Photo #1 - South Pass City, the original Sweetwater County seat, in the late 1860s


Photo #2 - The new Sweetwater County Courthouse in Green River, 1876


Photo #3 - Wyoming’s original five counties:   Uinta, Sweetwater, Carbon, Albany, and Laramie. Sweetwater County once extended all the way from the Utah/Colorado line to the Montana boundary.


(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - November 26, 2022)     The back-and-forth story of Sweetwater County, Wyoming’s two county seats - South Pass City and Green River - is the subject of a new article on the website of the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River said today.

Gold was discovered in the area of what would soon become South Pass City in 1866. Prospectors and others rushed in, and within a year, the little boom town’s population had swelled to 2,000. In 1867, Carter County, Dakota Territory, (named for Judge William Carter of Fort Bridger), was established, and South Pass City was designated its county seat. In 1868, Wyoming Territory was carved out of Dakota Territory. In 1869, Carter County became Sweetwater County, and South Pass City continued to be the county seat. (In those days, Sweetwater County was immense, stretching all the way from the Utah/Colorado line in the south to the Montana border in the north.)

The Heritage Center’s “The ‘Peculiar Vibrations’ of the Sweetwater County Seat” picks up the tale of the political wrangling that followed. By 1873, South Pass City’s gold was swiftly playing out, and “the county commissioners started to discuss moving the county seat seventy miles south to Green River, which was a major town on the primary transportation route through both Wyoming and the nation: the Union Pacific Main Line or the Transcontinental Railroad. In the years leading up to the move, suffice to say some drama ensued.”

In 1874, Sweetwater County’s commissioners made the county seat’s move to Green River official, (at least for the time being,) but the die-hard residents of South Pass City weren’t going to give in without a fight. Over the next two years, county records moved back and forth between the two towns no fewer than five times. By 1876 the dust had settled and Green River’s new adobe-brick courthouse (and seat of county government) was completed. Finally, the transition was finished.

“The ‘Peculiar Vibrations’ of the Sweetwater County Seat” can be found at  https://ahcwyo.org/2022/11/14/the-peculiar-vibrations-of-the-sweetwater-county-seat/ .

Located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. There is no charge for admission.

County Museum sponsoring special World War II exhibit

Denny Pace a, WWII reenactor, stands in front of a large pile of items in uniform. 


(Sweetwater County, WY – November 4, 2022)  The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is sponsoring a special one-day exhibit on Saturday, November 12, in commemoration of Veteran's Day. 

Denny Pace of Green River has been a World War II reenactor for over 15 years. He has compiled an extensive collection of gear, clothing, and weapons used by American paratroopers of the Second World War era, particularly the 82nd Airborne Division, all of which will be on display at the museum. 

WW II paratroopers jumped with an incredible amount of gear and weapons, including an M-1 rifle or an M-1 carbine, a Model 1911A1 .45-caliber pistol, ammunition, fragmentation grenades, knives and a bayonet, a canteen, a shovel, a flashlight, maps, a compass, a three-day supply of K-rations, an emergency ration packet, a gas mask, a helmet, a first aid kit, a main parachute, a reserve parachute, and an anti-tank mine. 

The public is invited to stop by and check out this remarkable exhibit. The museum is located at 3 Flaming Gorge Way in Green River. Hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday to Saturday, except for major holidays, and admission is free. 

The museum will be closed on Friday, November 11, in observance of Veteran's Day.

County Museum observes Native American Heritage Month

Several glass cases, wall poster labels, and miniature dioramas help tell the story of the early Native American history at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.Four adults in traditional outfits sit and stand with two small children, one who is on a cradleboard. One woman wears a traditional elk teeth dress covered in elk tusks. Kate Enos sits in an elk teeth dress for her portrait.

Photo No. 1 - Among its many displays, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum features exhibits about Native Americans, marking November as Native American Heritage Month


Photo No. 2 - The late 19th-century photograph that set in motion a special research project:    Shoshone woman Kate Enos - upper left - and her sisters.


Photo No. 3 - The arresting solo portrait of Kate Enos in her dress adorned with elk tusks. Both this photo and the group portrait were taken by Charles S. Baker and Eli Johnston, who operated a photo studio in Evanston, circa 1880s. They were known particularly for their images of Shoshone, Arapaho, and Apache people.



(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - October 29, 2022)     November is Native American Heritage Month, and the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River is marking it with its Native American exhibits and an article on WyoHistory.org about early 20th century events on the Wind River Reservation in Fremont County.

Recently a visitor to the museum inquired about an exhibit photograph of four Shoshone women and two children, a studio portrait probably taken in the late 1880s. Were the identities of the women and little ones known? That prompted museum staff to launch a research project, one that revealed their names:  Kate Enos and her sisters, Louisa Enos Wesaw, Mary Enos Rabbittail, and Emma Enos Lewis. There is a baby in a cradle board, believed to be Antoine Weed, and a little girl standing, Sousanna Weed, both of whom were Mary Enos Rabbittail’s children.

As the museum’s research progressed, it began to focus on Kate Enos, as also in the archives was a striking solo portrait of her in a dress studded with elk tusks, the mark of a prosperous Plains Indian family. Her story turned out to be a complex tale of mystery and murder, all grounded in the sordid history of misappropriation of Native American lands on the Wind River Reservation.

Kate’s life and the chain of events that led to the 1907 murder of her husband, Shoshone tribal council member George Terry in Fort Washakie, are the subject of a new article written by museum staff member Dick Blust, Jr.:  “Three Photos, a Murder, and a Murky Outcome: Troubled Times on Wind River,” which can be found online at WyoHistory.org, the online platform of the Wyoming State Historical Society at

https://wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/three-photos-murder-and-murky-outcome-troubled-times-wind-river .

For more information about Native American Heritage Month, go to the U.S. Department of the Interior website at


Located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and there is no charge for admission.

Descendant of Green River pioneer visits county museum

An older gentlmen with a beard in a three piece suit sits on a doorstep with a younger women in a top and long skirt.A woman stands holding a firearm with David Mead the Museum Director in front of a museum display.John Wayne in costume holding a firearm left and Chuck Connors in costume holding a firearm right.Several people of different ages in suits and dresses stand in front of a saloon, Judge Payne the owner is in seated in the center in a chair.

Photo 1 - Judge Joseph Payne and his daughter Jessie on the stoop of his Justice of the Peace Office in Green River, circa 1915


Photo 2 - Leilani Aubry Niswander and County Museum Executive Director Dave Mead with Judge Joseph Payne’s Model 1892 Winchester carbine


Photo 3 - John Wayne in True Grit (1969) and Chuck Connors in a publicity still from The Rifleman (1958-1963), two of many film and television productions featuring 1892 Winchesters

Photo 4 - In the late 1880s, Judge Payne owned a saloon and restaurant on Railroad Avenue in Green River. He is the man seated at the center of the photograph.


(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - October 28, 2022)      The Sweetwater County Historical Museum had a special visitor recently. Leilani Aubry Niswander of Selma, California, is the direct descendant of Judge Joseph Payne, Sr., a distinguished Green River pioneer.

Born in Kentucky in 1838, Judge Payne came to Wyoming after his Civil War service with the 3rd Regiment, Colorado Cavalry. He became Green River’s Town Marshal, a post he held from 1896 to 1898 and again from 1900 to 1901. He went on to serve for many years as Town Judge and Justice of the Peace and died in Green River at the age of 80 in 1918.

A highly-prized item in the museum’s collection is Judge Payne’s rifle, a lever-action Model 1892 Winchester carbine in .44/40 (.44 Winchester Center Fire), manufactured in the year the rifle was introduced, 1892.

The Model 1892 was chambered for pistol cartridges, including  the 32-20, .38-40, .44-40, and .25-20 Winchester. (Late in its production, is was also made in .218 Bee, though in very limited numbers.)  The original Winchester company made well over a million of the very popular rifles from 1892 to 1945; the Royal Navy even bought about 21,000 of them in .44/40 during World War I.

Though a fine firearm in its own right, the Model 1892 has a unique distinction. In hundreds of western films and television programs from the 1930s onward, it was prominently featured in the hands of cowboys, lawmen, outlaws, ranchers, Native Americans, settlers, and soldiers of the 1870s and 1880s, well before it was actually available. The large-loop Winchesters so often carried in movies by John Wayne, (including 1969's True Grit), and the centerpiece of the popular television series The Rifleman, which ran from 1958 to 1963, were Model 1892s. 

The museum offers a Vintage Firearms Research Program. Those with a firearm (or firearms) who would like to learn more about them are encouraged to contact the museum at (307) 872-6435 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . There is no charge for the research service.