Late in 1876 most of the Indian tribes had been placed on reservations. The following spring the roads in this region, including the former Bozeman Trail and those leading northward, were re-opened for travel. In the winter of 1878 and 79, a Government man named Smith was authorized to complete a road from the head of LaPrele Creek, west of Laramie Peak, to Fort Fetterman. This opened the way for the movement of livestock, freighters, and mail service from Rock Creek on the U. P. Railroad northward to the head of navigation on the Yellowstone River at Custer Junction.
Rile Veach, father of the late Ralph Veach, and a neighbor, old man Downey, contracted the construction of the LaPrele cutoff. This affected a saving of some sixty miles over the route by the way of Fort Laramie. It was the beginning of settlement of this region.
The first home in the Dayton vicinity was built by Julius Winters in 1877. It was the nucleus of the Quarter Circle Bell Ranch, later established by William N. Robinson and Atley Smith. This is now part of the Padlock Ranch.
The next settler was David Smith, who took up land adjoining Dayton on the north and west. Approximately five acres of this land was later given to the community by Mr. Smith for a cemetery. It was later suspected that his holdings exceeded the amount that his title showed. An enterprising young fellow took up a claim within this tract. Some wag put a notice on the gate post stating that David Smith's reservation was open to settlement.
The next settler was J. Frank Owen, who established the F O Ranch on Smith Creek in 1879, after having looked the country over the year previously. Following this the settlement was so rapid that it is hard to record at this time. Familiar names are the Amsdens, Joe and Charles Thorn, Huntington, Clark, William N. Robinson, C. H. Ketcham and his two sons, C. H. Jr. (Neal) and Ben, Henry Baker, Mary L. Shipp, the Robert Mock family, and others who arrived in this vicinity between 1879 and 1882.
The following early water rights are being listed to bring out many of those who pioneered in irrigated ranching hereabouts: Owen Ditch No. 1 from Smith Creek by J. Frank Owen in October 1882. Ross Ditch No. 1 From Smith Creek by John Ross, May 1882. Amsden Ditch by B. Amsden, et al, from Amsden Creek in the spring of 1882. Pine Tree Ditch from Amsden Creek by A. Fredrickson, May 15, 1882. Thorn and Amsden Ditch from Amsden Creek by Thorn Bros., March 1, 1883. B. Amsden, Jr. acquired a water right from Amsden Creek July 10, 1884. Dinwiddie Bros. ditch from Little Tongue by E. R. Dinwiddie, April 5, 1881. Also a second ditch by Dinwiddie from Little Tongue River in July 1881. Tongue River Ditch no. 1 from Tongue River by Henry Baker, David A. Smith and William N. Robinson in the spring of 1882.
In the spring of 1882 Henry Baker, who came up from southern Wyoming, started a general store on land now occupied by the Mountain Inn Bar to serve the growing community. Mary L. Shipp, who came from Fort McKinney with Henry Baker, bought a livery stable near the present Dayton Cafe, which she remodeled into a restaurant. Later she put in a stock of liquor in a log building on the present location of the Corner Grocery. When she suspected that her bartender was drinking up the profits she rationed the liquor to him by the jugfull.
In the late fall of 1882 after the work was over a group of the settlers gathered in Henry Baker's store to make application for a post office. The mail at that time was brought up from Bingham, a stage station midway between the present Ranchester and Dayton.
Many names for the new post office were proposed and rejected. Finally to break the deadlock Mrs. Baker turned to Joe Thorn and asked what his middle name was. Mr. Thorn replied that his full name was Joseph Dayton Thorn. Mrs. Baker then suggested Dayton as the name for the post office. This suggestion was accepted by the group and the name Dayton was placed on the application for the new post office. Early in 1883 the Dayton Post Office was chartered. In February 1885, Mr. Baker had the townsite surveyed and on March 23, 1885 he filed the town plat covering the north 40 of the claim he had acquired from his nephew, John W. Broadwell. Sometime earlier Broadwell had acquired this forty and the adjacent one to the south from the United Sates Government by paying $1.25 per acre for it.
The town got quite a boost from the mining operation at Bald Mountain in the late 1880s and very early 1890s. Tom Davis, a well-known freighter, hauled the heavy equipment up the old Red Grade road and on to Bald Mountain City with bulls. Growth was further accelerated by the tie operation which started on Sheep Creek in late 1892 as a result of the arrival of the B & M Railroad in Sheridan.
This operation was taken over a couple years later by Donnely and McShane. Mr. Donnely of Omaha handled the financial and while the two McShane brothers, F. J. and J. H., handled the timber operation. Ownership of the business changed hands a couple times in ensuing years and the cutting of timber continued through the winter of 1910 and 11. These were prosperous times for Dayton, particularly from 1905 through 1911. The town at that time boasted a church with resident minister, grade school, a hardware store, meat market, two hotels, livery stable, two blacksmith shops, two grocery stores, a men's clothing and jewelry store, pool hall, a millinery and dress shop, a lunch counter, bank, flour mill and four saloons.
Among the early day happenings in Dayton was the big fire of 1903 which consumed all of the block across the street east of the present Mountain Inn Bar, except Ronnie's saloon where the Stockmen's Bar is now located. This included the Diamond Saloon, a harness shop, restaurant, barber shop, and what had been a livery stable and living quarters. That same summer Jim Hanley shot and killed Henry Schroeder in Schroeder's Saloon. This was the culmination of an all night gambling session followed by a target shooting match in the back yard of the saloon. Hanley went from the saloon to the livery stable across main street from the present Kershaw apartment house and forced Al Gaines to saddle his best horse, which was a big buckskin. He then ran the gauntlet south on Main Street with some six or eight good shots pumping lead at him. No hits were scored. A posse was organized and he was captured in the divide country between Little Tongue and Wolf Creek, after having been shot through the leg.
Somewhat earlier Shorty Jennings staged a three day celebration in the streets of Dayton. The events were bucking contests, races and many of the thrills and spills seen in present day rodeos. It has been said that T. Joe Cahill came up from Cheyenne to watch the performances and used the idea to start Cheyenne's Frontier Days celebration.
The first church services to be held in Dayton were conducted by Bishop Talbot of the Episcopal Diocese in Billy Bartlett's saloon. Billy camouflaged the back bar by draping it with canvas, cleaned the floor and arranged seating.
In the summer of 1895 the Dayton Community Church was dedicated free of debt. The church was paid for by people in all walks of life. Joe Wilson, who was a government employee at Crow Agency at that time, solicited his area and sent a goodly contribution.
In 1910 and 1911 wagon travel into the mountains was diverted from the old Red Grade road to a roadway south of Tongue River Canyon. This narrow crooked road, consisting of many switch backs, pioneered our present modern Hiway 14 over the Bighorns. The cost of this road from Dayton to the Turkey Creek saddle was $16,000 and was constructed by contractor Swede Johnson on a location selected by civil engineer Arnold Tschirgi. The costs were met by the timber company, the people of the Dayton community and Sheridan county.
Late in 1906 the town got growing pains and incorporated by county commission action. A minimum population of 150 was necessary to incorporate. Within the corporate limits were some ten or fifteen more residents than that number.
C. H. (Neal) Ketcham was the first mayor. He served until 1911 when Mrs. Susan Wissler took over. Mrs. Wissler, then operator of a millinery and dress shop, was the first woman mayor in Wyoming. We were under the impression at that time that she was the first woman mayor in the United States. Attempts have been made to disprove this. We still contend she was the first woman mayor to serve two consecutive terms.
A typhoid fever epidemic had pointed up the need for safe drinking water. This, along with proposed legislation limiting saloons to incorporated towns, were prime reasons for incorporating the town. A water system from Tongue River near the head of the South Side Ditch was completed some three years after the town government was set up, which was about as soon as practicable after preliminary work, such as surveys, rights of way, bonding, etc., could be straightened out.
After the timber operation folded, the town settled down into just another community center. The heyday was over. Nearby dude ranches and ever-increasing tourist traffic have taken up the slack in good measure. Our growth has been slow but consistent and in about the same proportion as the rest of Sheridan County. Our homes now are much better and more comfortable than they were during the heyday. Our town is gradually becoming a mecca for retired people. This may be good or it may not. At any rate, we oldsters like it here.
Last Updated April 2005
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