Wyoming is arguably the most rural state in the nation, and like ranching, farming is a big part of its rural character. Bryant Casey speaks with lifelong farmer Rodney McNiven about his crops and his challenges. Anniston Morris goes back in time to learn about one of the first towns in Wyoming, why it began and how it grew… or not. She speaks with Hartville, WY resident Marian Offe about this early Wyoming town.
Bryant has lived in Wyoming for most of his life. He likes to help his grandpa on the farm and plays football and basketball. Bryant also enjoys hunting and fishing. Bryant shot his first trophy animal–a mountain lion–this year.
Rodney McNiven is a life long farmer from Burlington, WY. He farmed most of his life with his Dad and two brothers and now farms on his own.
Aniston is 10 years old and lives in Green River with her two brothers, Jaxon and Aiden, and her mom and dad. She enjoys playing soccer and doing dance classes. Her nickname on the soccer field is “Beastie”.
She has a cat named Shiloh and he loves her the most in the house. Aniston is a funny, loving, kind, and considerate girl who enjoys life and learning new things.
I (Marian Offe) was born in 1934 in Hartville, Wyoming — granddaughter of Italian immigrants. I attended school (K-12) in the town of Sunrise, Wyoming. In 1955 I married by husband Darrell and we lived in Salt Lake City until 1975 when we moved back to Guernsey and operated the Bunkhouse Motel for over 20 years. Upon selling the motel, Darrell and I moved to Hartville where my husband served as Mayor for nearly 20 years. We are currently reside in the Hartville Mercantile (Wyoming’s Biggest Little Store) building where, in 1927, my Grandfather Testolin had established a family owned and operated mercantile/grocery business which the Testolin family ran until the mid 1970s. My immigrant roots are deeply planted in the Hartville-Sunrise area. I feel deeply proud and blessed to have been born and raised in the Hartville community all my life.
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BOTH: Why, why, why, why, why?
BRYANT: How early do you usually start your crops?
BOTH: Why, why? Why?
ANISTON: I was wondering when and why did Hartville get settled?
BOTH: Welcome to the Kids Ask WhY podcast where the kids ask the questions.
ANISTON: A production by Wyoming Public Media, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. My name is Aniston Morris. I’m nine. I’m from Green River, Wyoming, and my topic is Hartville.
BRYANT: My name is Bryant and I’m 12 years old. My topic is on farming.
ANISTON: What are some things that you do with your grandfather?
BRYANT: I help him irrigate and cut hay. Today I am interviewing Rodney McNiven. He is a farmer in Burlington, Wyoming. I’m interviewing him to learn more about the annual harvest in Burlington, Wyoming. What’s the hardest part about your job?
RODNEY: There are some things in my occupation as a farmer that require more than one person. And I pretty much farm alone solo. But there are jobs like burning a ditch bank, which we were doing this afternoon that requires three people—one to run the water truck, and one to run the torch, and one to drive the pickup that has the propane in the pickup. Almost all my life, married life, up until 15 years ago, I farmed with two other brothers and my dad. But when I was old enough to retire at the age of 62, I started my own farming business. And I’ve been farming alone since then. There’s some days that that’s hard, because I don’t have enough help do that particular job. But other than that, I, I love what I do.
BRYANT: What things do you like to harvest and don’t like to harvest and why?
RODNEY: I like to harvest anything that will mature and not get froze or hailed. I especially like harvesting alfalfa seed, which is one of my main cash crops. And I actually have my own combine to harvest that. The beans, I have the neighbors harvest them. And if I raise a sort of oats, I have them harvest them. But fall is the best time of life, because that’s the reward if you could get a crop. So, harvest time is a great time.
BRYANT: What are the ups and downs of farming?
RODNEY: We have lots of challenges. I suppose making a profit is the biggest challenge from year to year. But we were so dependent upon the weather. Because in this particular valley, the seasons are almost long enough to raise the crops that we raise. But there are some years they’re marginal like last year. I raised two different varieties of dry beans and the one variety matured and I was able to harvest it. The other one was about five days too late, and it got nipped by the frost. And so, weather is a challenge. It’s a downer. Some years not having enough water can be a real downer. The last big drought that we had was in 2001 and it lasted for three years. And we didn’t grow much those three years. But it looked like we were gonna have a drought this year. But we were very blessed, and it snowed late in the spring and our mountains are still covered with snow. So that’s a that’s a great blessing. Take some of the downers out.
BRYANT: How early do you usually start your crops?
RODNEY: In a way I farm 12 months out of the year, but most of half of that is just mental planning and researching and counseling talking with people. I am the kind of a farmer that doesn’t think he knows it all. And so, I asked a lot of questions to a lot of people. And then I make my own decision. So, I by the 15th of March, I start the actual physical part of farming and we usually don’t get through with some of the harvesting until mid-October. But that’s not the end because I’ve learned through the years that if I prepare the land for the next year, I have a lot better crop. So, I don’t like to quit till maybe Thanksgiving if the weather will permit, because that lets us get the jump on the next spring
BRYANT: Are weeds a big problem in your fields?
RODNEY: They really are. If you want to see a weedy field, you just come down to my house and look into the sun tonight. It is a carpet of weeds. And thank goodness for selective herbicide, which kills the weeds but doesn’t kill the crop. We’ll try to clean it up here in a couple of weeks. But the little, tiny seedlings that are only that big have to get a certain size before we dare put the chemical on them. But that definitely is a is a big challenge—the weeds.
BRYANT: Do you use pesticides for bugs or just weeds?
RODNEY: I use pesticides for bugs because the bugs get into the hay seed, and they can just destroy it if you don’t use the pesticide at a certain time throughout the summer. I also use herbicide for the weeds. So, I use both.
BRYANT: One thing that surprised me was that weeds were a big problem. When I go down to my grandpa’s there’s usually not so many weeds, but it must be the different crops that they thrive in. And I also learned that they thought there was going to be a drought this year, but I never really thought of droughts because whenever I go down my grandpa’s the reservoir that he uses for water is always filled, so that surprised me too.
JEREMY: I am Jeremy Johnston, the Tate Endowed Chair of Western History at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Wyoming’s economy has long been shaped by outside demands for the region’s natural resources. The forces of supply and demand significantly impacted the long history of booms and busts here in Wyoming, beginning with the early first trade on to oil production and mining. Aniston Morris, who is nine years old and from the town of Green River, considers how Wyoming’s boom and bust economy shaped the historical development of the mining community of Hartville.
ANISTON: Today, I’m interviewing Marian Offe. I was wondering when and why did Hartville get settled.
MARIAN: Hartville was settled in the late 1800s. And it was the attraction primarily by the prospectors coming down from South Dakota, that they discovered gold in the Black Hills. And they thought they could find it here. It was also an area where there was a lot of mining. It does seem to be the main industry in this community.
ANISTON: And then also does the town still have any of the same businesses open? Can you tell me about these businesses, please?
MARIAN: Yes, it only has one business that is still open. It opened way back in 1900 (the beginning of 1900) and that is the miners bar. And the building itself was built in about 1910. The post office—we still have a post office and that one was started in about the 1800s. It was called Heartland—that was one of the first post offices in this area. Now when Hartville was incorporated as a community or as a town it was part of Laramie County. And in those days, Laramie County extended from the northern border of Wyoming to the southern border of Wyoming. And that’s when Hartville was declared a community or a town.
ANISTON: Nice. Can you explain something interesting Hartville is known for?
MARIAN: Well, I think it’s noted for its history. The environment that we have, we’re very close to Guernsey State Park. We’re noted for the Hartville uplift in geological terms. Well, it’s almost like a community that got started like Rock Springs, because there were a number of immigrants from Europe that came to live in Wyoming. And the thing that attracted them was the mining, which started out as copper mining in the 1800s and then then became iron ore mining later on, which continued into 1980. I think the thing that attracts people to Hartville is the quietness and the community spirit that they experience when they come here. And many of us, well some of us I should say, today have roots that go way back. My grandfather came to this country in 1912. And so, my roots are very deep.
ANISTON: It’s really cool, actually.
MARIAN: We’re really, today we’re really a bedroom community of Guernsey. The mine, the iron ore mine, which was the main economy of Hartville for many, many years was just one mile up the road. But that was a company mining town. And people could not buy their homes up there. So many of the people that came to work here at the mine bought property that was available. And to the immigrants that came, the idea of buying property was very new to them and they enjoyed it. So today, though, we’re more of a bedroom community of Guernsey. And it doesn’t mean that we’re without work because people here work at the railroad in Guernsey. They work at the state park. They work at the power plant in Wheatland. They work at the camp at Camp Guernsey and with the railroad also. So, it’s not that we’re, what would you say, dead, we’re alive and well. We’re finding many young couples are coming to live in Hartville and want to live in Hartville, because of the quietness and the fact that the children can just enjoy the hills and the freedom that they feel that they wouldn’t have were they living in a larger community or city.
ANISTON: How many people lived there when it first became a town and how many people live there now? Why has it changed?
MARIAN: What’s changed? Today we have a population of 62 as I understand until the census comes up, and they’re younger people. But I was looking at a couple of sources and one of them said that Hartville had at one time a population of 300 to 500 inhabitants. Now, many of the buildings in Hartville have had life before, because people have bought these buildings and renovated them, but they didn’t tear them down. They just renovated them and they’re now using them as homes today. I own a home and Hartville that was built in 1910 where my grandparents were married in. And there are numerous buildings that came, several of them, that came in from the Chicago mine site where the iron ore was first developed here. It’s about 10 miles. And they were brought in from out there. And one of the homes was the superintendent’s home of the Chicago mine. And of course, people are now living in that. Another one was the drying house, where the miners that worked in the mine could take a shower before going home. And let’s see what else? And, the old jail is there, which is built many many years ago. We don’t have any inhabitants now, but it was used many years ago. And then the little Episcopal Church, a beautiful little Episcopal Church—it was built in about 1912. And there are several homes that the company allowed the people to buy, but they had to move them from Chicago mine into Hartville. And that’s where they are now and they’re living in those homes. So, there are numerous histories around the town connected with the mining and the people that lived here.
ANISTON: How has Hartville lasted so long?
MARIAN: Today in Sunrise, which is where the mine is—the iron ore mine—they have great interest now in an archaeological site. And that is drawing people from all over because they’re finding many Native American artifacts up there. Hartville had a very colorful background. You see it was the R and R point for the soldiers in Fort Laramie, for the ranchers, for the prospectors that used to come through. And, of course, prior to that, and but not in our day, the Native Americans that would come through here. So, it was a rather, well maybe, we would say lawless community.
ANISTON: Something that surprised me about Hartville is that the bar is the only original business left from when Hartville settled. I found it interesting that people who came to Hartville came from South Dakota and many different countries.
JEREMY: Mining towns like Hartville abound throughout the state of Wyoming. Some prospered and some became ghost towns. Gold miners built the communities of South Pass City, Atlantic City, and Miners Delight. Other hard rock mining booms left ghost towns such as Bald Mountain City in the Bighorn Mountains, Lee City in Sunlight Valley, Kerwin near Meeteetse, and the small community of Encampment, located in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The abandoned structures of these once thriving communities lured visitors to the region to reflect upon the early Western mining rushes. The town of Hartville, named for Colonel Verling K. Hart, a Fort Laramie officer who held a mining claim in the area, began as a boomtown—one that housed the families of hundreds of copper miners. Today it is home to a smaller population of people who enjoy the quiet of small-town life in a rural region. Ones remember and appreciate how Wyoming’s booms and busts shaped their towns, lively history.
BRYANT and ANISTON: That’s why we ask why.