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YODER, WYOMING

By David Luthey

Reproduced by permission of the Yoder Newsletter

Goshen County is located in the southeast corner of Wyoming and has within it towns named "Lagrange" and "Yoder." To an Amish or Mennonite person this would appear very interesting, for "Goshen" is a town in Indiana and the hub of a large Mennonite settlement, "LaGrange" is the name of an adjoining Indiana county which contains the third largest concentration of Amish in America, and "Yoder" is the second most common Amish surname. Surely this Wyoming county would seem to have real Amish or Mennonite roots.

The origin of the name "Goshen County" does not, however, trace back to Goshen, IN. It is thought to have derived from an early trapper named "Goshe." By 1846 the name "Goshe's Hole" was applied to a rich irrigated farming area. By 1888 it appeared on the map as Goshen Hole. Since "Goshen" is a biblical name, it would appear that someone changed "Goshe" to "Goshen". 1 

The town name "LaGrange" also does not originate from Indiana. It was named after an early homesteader, Caleb LaGrange. 2  

Last but not least is the town named "Yoder." It does, indeed, have an Amish connection. It is about a mile west of US Highway 85 and 12 miles west of the Nebraska state line. Its beginning is closely linked with the Philip J. Yoder family.

Philip Yoder was born in 1836 at Shanesville, Ohio. He was the son of Jacob D. and Barbara (Miller) Yoder, who are listed as "Amish" in both the Christian Fisher genealogy (No.6651) and the Barbara Hochstedler genealogy (No.4881). In 1861 Philip married Cinderella Hattery at Shanesville. The Barbara Hochstedler genealogy lists them as "Mennonite" which they may have been when married, but they did not remain so until death. Their first child, Benjamin, was born at Shanesville in 1863. Shortly thereafter they moved to Iowa where their second child, Amanda, was born in 1865 at Swedesburg in Henry County. Five more children were born in Iowa: Jesse (1869), Oscar (?), Clara (1873), Ida May (1876), and Sadie (1882).

In the fall of 1881, Philip and his oldest son, Benjamin F. or "Frank" as he was called, went to Wyoming. Frank spent the winter there, while Philip returned to Iowa. The following spring, Philip brought his family to Wyoming: three sons and four daughters with a fifth daughter, Nina, being born there three years later. 3 

The Philip Yoder family settled in Goshen Co. on a ranch along Bear Creek. Philip prospered in raising cattle and horses. His Amish and Mennonite heritage was discarded. In late 1905, after an absence of 42 years, Philip and his wife traveled back to their native Ohio to visit. Mrs. Yoder suddenly took ill and died in the community where she had been born. Her obituary appeared in the Amish-Mennonite newspaper, "The Budget", published at Sugarcreek, Ohio in the Jan. 11, 1906 issue. Her remains were returned to Cheyenne, WY. for internment. Four years later, Philip J. Yoder died on July 28, 1910.

During Philip Yoder's lifetime, no town named "Yoder" had existed. In 1921 the Union Pacific railroad laid track from Gering, Nebraska to South Torrington, Wyoming, the county seat of Goshen, Co. The tracks passed several miles east of the Yoder ranch. Jesse Yoder, Philip's son, organised a Goshen Townsite Development Company to build a new town beside the railroad. The buildings from two tiny crossroad settlements, Springer and Lacy Corners, were moved to the new townsite. The name "Yoder" was chosen in honor of the Yoder family which had lived in the area since 1881 and for Jesse Yoder who had headed the townsite company. 4 

Real estate offices, measuring a mere 4 by 6 feet, sprang up almost overnight at Yoder. Grocery, hardware, and dry goods stores were soon constructed; also a bakery and a cream station. In 1922 a brick schoolhouse was built and a weekly newspaper was started. That same year, electricity came to town, including even electric street lamps. A rodeo was held that summer to celebrate the founding of the town.

In four years' time, Yoder, Wyoming grew from nothing to a town of between 500 and 600 people There were three drugstores, two barber shops, three hardware stores, two cream stations, a hotel, a bank, several churches, a bakery, a doctor's office, a community hall, three lumber yards, a telephone office, a rooming house, and a livery stable -- not to mention the many residences. 5 

Yoder, Wyoming thrived for about ten years. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s. One after another of the business places closed and people moved away. The population fell so that by 1970 the citizens numbered 101. Today it is just a sleepy country town with a grade school and a modern post office using ZIP Code 83244.

The Yoder ranch was still owned in 1973 by a Yoder -- Philip's grandson, Oscar T. Yoder who had purchased it in 1931. His name is familiar to Goshen County residents for he served ten years in the Wyoming legislature (1955-1965), six in the house and four in the senate.  

FOOTNOTES  

1.   Urbanek, Mae, Wyoming Place Names.

2.   A letter from Oscar T. Yoder, Lagrange, Wyo., dated Apr. 2, 1973 to the author. 

3.   Yoder, Oscar T., a mimeographed, undated writing entitled "History of the Town of Yoder, Wyoming," pg 3. 

4.   Allen, Florence A. "Yoder in the 1920s," Annals of Wyoming, Vol. 39, No. 2, 0ct. 1967, pg. 25. 

5.   Ibid.  

UPDATE NOTE

We are grateful to the Hon. Oscar T. Yoder of LaGrange, Wyoming for the following updates to this article written August 7, 1983: 

"My current information is that the population of Yoder has stabilized and has gained some after a modest decline. A new water tower has been constructed and a sewer system was installed some two years ago. The town sign indicates a population of 110, elevation 4245." 

"My father was Frank Yoder (B.F.) He passed away in 1943 at the age of 80. He led a very active life, ranching in an extensive way in the Bear Creek, LaGrange, and Goshen Hole areas. I live near Bear Creek west of LaGrange in the home that my Grandfather built." 

ADDITIONAL UPDATE

Additional information on Yoder was made available by Elizabeth Gray on November 19, 2003:

"Having been born in Goshen County, and raised in Yoder I found your article interesting. I was hoping that you could change a few of your "facts" as they are not accurate. First, the zip code for Yoder is 82244 not 83244. It is a little known piece of useless information that Yoder is the last US zip code in the zip code book. Also, Yoder is home to more than a grade school. The school has grades K-12. The school is called Southeast and was once named Goshen Hole."

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