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Angier and the Founding of Cheyenne Frontier Days

By Mike Kassel

In doing research regarding past Cheyenne Frontier Days, it is always remarkable what turns up in the course of the investigations.  More often than not, cherished “truths” about Cheyenne Frontier Days may turn out to have twists and turns that people may forget about when recounting the past today.  A case in point is the ongoing low-key debate as to who was the originator of the concept of Cheyenne Frontier Days.  Accounts vary.  In his book about CFD, Robert Hanesworth recounts a tale where Colonel E.A. Slack was riding back from Greeley’s “Potato Day” when he deliberated openly with Warren Richardson whether or not Cheyenne could put together a celebration.  Richardson mused that it wasn’t very likely as “Cheyenne didn’t raise much of anything except ‘Hell.’”  According to Hanesworth, Slack then devised the concept of Cheyenne Frontier Days, and the rest is history.  To his credit, Hanesworth mentions the other tale where Union Pacific Railroad Agent Frederick W. Angier saw a group of cowboys struggling to get a wild horse into a stock car.  Watching the colorful display of methods to subdue the animal, Angier thought this was the greatest thing he had ever seen.  He then contacted Colonel Slack to pitch the idea, and again, the rest is history.

Hanesworth, to be given his due credit as a scholar of our event, mentions that both stories were debated as early as a newspaper article in the Cheyenne Sun Leader on August 16, 1911.  Angier wrote the paper and gave a brief outline of what happened.  Slack wrote an editorial a week later stating that Angier understated his contribution and gave Angier full credit for the idea and a good portion of its early success.

Apparently, there is more to the story.

On May 21, 1917 CFD Secretary T. Joe Cahill sent an invitation to Frederick Angier to attend the 21st Cheyenne Frontier Day which just happened to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the City of Cheyenne.  Angier, who by this time was living in San Jose, California accepted the invitation to return to see how his event had grown in the twenty years since its founding.  What follows are two articles, with only minor edits for spelling, recounting Angier’s recollections of that fateful endeavor to create a unique western celebration.

Sunday State Leader no. 153 July 15, 1917, page 33-34

“Angier Tells of First Frontier Day. F.W. Angier when once asked how he thought of Frontier Days for Cheyenne replied, ‘Most everybody does something with an object in view.’  And he went on to explain that his object was to create business for the company he represented, and help the cities and towns that it served.  For some years before that he had been doing much in that way in Colorado, he said, and had helped Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Boulder by inaugurating the trip ‘Around the Horn’ which was arranged to make stops of sufficient length at each point to permit the excursionists to see and learn something of those places; that in orienting the ‘Potato Day’ for Greeley, and ‘Corn Roast’ for Loveland those cities had both been benefited by the publicity and by the favorable attention they had secured and he said he had regretted not being able to do something for his favorite city, Cheyenne, for he had noted that Colorado people liked to visit the Wyoming capital city, as various excursions from Colorado had been well patronized, although run for no special purpose but to go to Cheyenne.  He said he had thought and studied over what he could do to create more business and benefit his Cheyenne friends, and had about given up all hope when one day he happened to see some horses being loaded into a car, and one became unruly and in its endeavor to get away created much excitement, and very soon drew a good crowd of interested spectators. That incident was Angier’s cue – Cheyenne was the place to show what the animals could do and had done for years to interest and amuse the early settlers of the country.  To show the life of the cowboy and cowgirl of the Wyoming plains, should be Cheyenne’s day of celebration, and upon his reaching Denver Angier wrote Mr. C.W. Sweet, at the time (1897) U.P. agent at Cheyenne, asking him to call upon the editors of papers and get their views of a celebration of that nature, making it a “Pioneer Day” or “Frontier Day,” to revive the memories of those times. Mr. Sweet did not wait to write but telegraphed Mr. George Ady, Union Pacific general agent at Denver, that Cheyenne was dead and it would be impossible to get up anything there at that time. –Mr. Angier, knowing the people of Cheyenne, was not satisfied with that report and returned to Cheyenne at once (August 26), calling upon Col. E. A. Slack, owner and editor of the Leader, outlining to him the conception or plan for a celebration.  Col. Slack was greatly taken with it, and so much pleased that he dropped his own work and went out with Mr. Angier to see others, calling first on Mayor Schnitger, who approved the idea.  Angier and Slack then called on Warren Richardson, J.A. Martin, J.L. Murray, Harry P. Hynds, E.W. Stone and others, all of whom were pleased, they declaring it was just what Cheyenne needed to interest and awaken the people and they all promised to give it their support. The matter was then taken up with Mr. E.L. Lomax, general passenger agent of the Union Pacific at Omaha, and Mr. B.L. Winchell who at that time was general passenger agent of the Colorado & Southern at Denver, both of whom gave their support and promise of low rates and special train service. On August 29 Col. Slack received advice from Mr. Angier of what the railroads would do and that he had seen a number of Denver people relative to the Frontier Day proposition and they all had said “Cheyenne can get up a day that will take with the people.” They declared that the attractions which cowboys alone could furnish would be something that few people in Denver had ever seen, and if arrangements were made for handling horses and cattle, and to give exhibitions of rough riding, bronco busting, throwing rope and driving feats common to the cowboy and things of that nature it would make the Cheyenne festival a winner with many novel and exciting features.  Angier further reported that those he had talked with though such an entertainment would prove to be the banner day of the year. Mayor Schnitger then called a meeting at Cheyenne and a committee was selected consisting of Warren Richardson, Jr. (chairman); John A. Martin (secretary); E.W. Stone, J.H. Arp, G.R. Palmer, J.D. Freeborn and D.H. Holliday.  Under direction of that committee, Thursday, September 23, 1897, witnessed in Cheyenne the wildest, crudest, most exciting and best thoroughly frontier style celebration ever seen anywhere, the show being pulled off at the old fair grounds, now known as Pioneer park.  It was only by a special dispensation of Providence that a score or more men, women and children were not injured or killed by the action of the wild animals running through the crowds of spectators who overran the grounds. On August 26th a celebration of Frontier Day had been suggested to the citizens of Cheyenne, and on September 23rd the Union Pacific was bringing loaded trains from the east, south and west, and the Colorado and Southern from the north, to witness the first great Frontier Day celebration at Cheyenne and the first festival of its kind in the world, which clearly showed how very much alive the reputed dead city of Cheyenne was twenty years ago.

The following letter shows how the first effort to give a Frontier Days celebration in Cheyenne was looked upon:

Cheyenne, Sept. 25, 1897.

Mr. E. L. Lomax,

Gen. Pass. Agent. Union Pacific, 

Omaha, Nebr.

Dear Sir:  The committee of arrangements for the first celebrations of Wyoming’s Frontier Day, held in this city September 23 1897, desire to extend to you and the Union Pacific management our most sincere thanks for the liberal rates given by the road on that occasion, and for the hearty cooperation of yourself and associate officials in advertising and otherwise promoting the success of the program of the day.  We desire especially to commend Superintendent Malloy and his assistants here for valuable aid rendered to us, and Mr. Angier, your traveling passenger agent, for his untiring exertions and enthusiastic efforts in the whole affair from beginning to end, not only in this city, but in Denver and adjoining towns.  These efforts are most gratefully appreciated.

We are now assured of “Frontier Day” as Wyoming’s great annual holiday in the future.  Please accept for yourself personally our expressions of cordial regards. 

Yours truly, 

Warren Richardson, Chairman

John. A. Martin, Secretary

The third year of the show Mr. Gerrit Fort, then assistant general passenger agent of the Union Pacific, secured the Union Pacific world’s championship saddle for bucking and pitching, and that company has put up every year since a like prize to be contested for at Frontier Days.  Mr. F.G. Bonfils of the Denver Post followed with a fine silver cup, one of which is contested for every year by the girl riders.  About that same time the merchants of Denver became interested and in honor of the great celebration made some of the most attractive window decorations of frontier life that have ever been shown in that city. 

 From the very start Col. E. A. Slack, editor of the Leader, put in his best energy, and it is to his early exertions and the enthusiasm that he seemed to put into those around him that the Frontier Days festival got the start and that has carried it from the little celebration of twenty years ago into the greatest an best known celebration in the country, and one that has carried the name of Cheyenne into every section of the globe.

 For years Mr. Angier was looked upon as a non-resident citizen of Cheyenne.  His interest in the city did not appear to be simply in thinking of something that Cheyenne could do that would make it known to the world, but he took as much delight in and worked as hard for the success of Frontier Days year after year, and in promoting the welfare of Cheyenne generally as any resident citizen, and through that interest and labor Angier helped to accomplish something that has given this city publicity that could not otherwise have secured for it.

 W.F. Angier will be the guest of the Frontier Days committee and of the city during the big celebration this year, and the people, after a lapse of twenty years, will have an opportunity to help the “father of Frontier” whoop it up for all they are worth in observance of Cheyenne’s fiftieth birthday [and in] celebrating the twenty-first annual Frontier Days festival at the capital city of Wyoming.”

At the conclusion of Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Cheyenne Daily Leader caught up with Angier again, just before his departure and asked him what he thought of the event.

Cheyenne State Leader July 29, 1917 p.8

… “F.W. Angier, father of the Frontier who came here from San Jose, to be the honor guest of the occasion had difficulty in finding fitting words with which to express his delight of the 1917 performance.  He said:

“You people who have seen the Frontier grow from year to year have no idea of the wonderful change which is apparent to one who knew the show in its infancy but who had not seen it recently.  I have been simply astonished at the marvelous way in which Cheyenne has worked out the original idea.  You have done this on a magnificent scale, you could not have done better.

“There is also a bit of personal satisfaction for me in seeing the wonderful Frontier show of today.  It calls to mind the prophecy of my Denver friends of some twenty years ago who said the Frontier would die a natural death in three or four years.  There has been quite a bit of pleasure in meeting those of them who are still in Denver and reminding them of their guess.”…