‘Think Inside the Box!’ Part 4 - Spirit of Wyoming

St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Cokeville. // By Karla Toomer

Body, Heart, Mind, Spirit. Those words have been described as the four parts of the human body. In this four-part series, they will be applied to our great state of Wyoming. This week, we’re going to talk about the spirit of Wyoming. Spirit is described in many ways, including a force; a principle; or the part that connects us to God. 

First is the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center. Heart Mountain is a World War II Japanese American Confinement Site. It is now, after much effort, a National Historic Landmark site. It is located in Park County, Wyoming. 

During World War II, many American citizens and others prohibited by law from becoming such, were forced to relocate to confinement sites, some known as relocation centers or internment camps, across the United States.  This was supposedly to minimize adverse communications between people located in the United States and those working against the US government. This was a very harmful event that had American citizens leaving homes and places of business, disrupted lives and livelihoods. Heart Mountain embodies the spirit of Wyoming because of the Americans who were treated unfairly by their country. The injustices done to Japanese Americans began to be addressed in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter and in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law admitting government actions were based on race prejudice and war hysteria. In addition to the spirit shown by those in the camp, many people gave incredible amounts of their time and spirit to turn the Heart Mountain site into a learning opportunity. 

Wyoming has the Wind River Indian Reservation. Located in the central-western part of our state, it is the seventh largest Indian Reservation in the United States. Two different tribes share the reservation, the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone. Fort Washakie is home to the Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center. Ethete and St. Stephens is home to the Arapaho culture. Their histories go back before 1890, when Wyoming became a state. The spirit of Wyoming can be found in these separate tribes, who share a reservation today but are very different. Bull Lake, Medicine Wheel, Devils Tower and Dinwoody Canyon are important, sacred locations to native people.

Devils Tower, also known as Bear Lodge, shows the spirit of Wyoming in several forms. First, it is a recognized landmark by multiple groups of people, showing a united spirit. Secondly, a spirited debated goes back and forth on changing the identifying name of, or adding another title to, the impressive rock to United States Board on Geographic Names. Currently, proposed changes to correct or restore more historical names to Devils Tower have met without success.

Gros Ventre Wilderness (French for “big belly”), just east of Jackson, also depicts the spirit of Wyoming. The name represents the many adventurous spirits that have traveled through our land, currently and historically. NPS.gov indicates that somewhere between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago humans first occupied the greater Yellowstone area. It is interesting to read about the different histories and names that belong to different parts of our state. No matter where you live in the state, you can marvel at the spirit of each generation that has lived there before you.

According to a 2014 statistic from worldatlas.com, 26% in the state to not be affiliated religiously, 66% practiced Christianity and 4% belonged to other religions. (The article did not account for the remaining 4%). These folks would most likely agree that part of their Wyoming spirit is partially based on what connects them to God. 

Wyoming Spirit Challenge: 

What makes you think of the Spirit of Wyoming? Is it Devils Tower? How about Jackalope or GTNP or YNP? Is it in Jackson, the West, antelope, cowboys, or the Grand Tetons? How about: Bison, Trails, Native Americans, Snow, Wind, Elk, coal, oil and gas, sheep, railroad? For some the spirit of Wyoming is found in folklore or history. And for some it will come from faith.

The Spirit Challenge is to spend some time contemplating what gives Wyoming its breath or what do you find as a driving force. Share what you learn with others or share with us at KemmererGazette.com.

Thanks for reading this four-part series on Wyoming. 

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