Early pioneers to Wyoming loved to fish. And right away, by 1868, resident anglers were voicing concerns about local fish and game populations — concerned that their favorite fishing spots might run out of stock.
Early Laramie newspapers frequently recounted the exploits of local fisherman. It was reported that Edward Ivinson was the first person in the county to put up a “no fishing” sign on his property west of town. He did this ostensibly to protect the river from becoming over-fished. Brook trout up to two pounds were reported caught in Spring Creek and in City Springs — Ivinson introduced them.
At the first session of the legislative assembly in 1869, territorial legislators took measures to protect fish stocks. Anyone caught trying to catch more than one fish at a time was to be fined $50 — a substantial sum given that a teacher earned about $75 per month. The legislators’ act outlawed netting and using multiple hooks or explosives to take fish.
Ten years later, those laws were strengthened, and a fish commissioner was empowered to enforce them. The territory also authorized the construction of a “hatching house” to increase the number and types of fish for avid anglers.
Little was done at the time to move forward to build the hatching house. But in 1884, $500 was allotted to commence building. At the same time, Laramie resident and businessman Otto Gramm was appointed Wyoming Fish Commissioner. Salary for personnel and for fish eggs was set at $1,000 per year.
The location of the hatchery, like other territorial institutions, was a contentious matter. Laramie County interests pushed to have it located in Granite Canyon, just east of the Albany County line. Gramm acted first, however, and immediately recommended that it be located at Soldier Spring, about six miles southeast of Laramie.
The spring was the headwaters of Soldier Creek and an excellent source of pure water, but there was a problem. Even though Fort Sanders had been disestablished two years earlier, the War Department still controlled the land where Soldier Spring was located. Gramm petitioned the War Department for permission to build the hatchery there and authorization was given in late August.
Building the hatchery
Gramm announced that construction would commence Sept. 1, 1884. However, an expert in such matters was needed before anything could begin. Gramm told the Boomerang Aug. 21 that he had reached out to the fish commissioner of Iowa for a recommendation.
Soon after, G.F. Slocum was hired to oversee the project. The Boomerang noted that Slocum was adept at carpentry and would be able to handle all the work at the new hatchery. However, not enough money was available for completion of the first stage of the project. Otto Gramm expended an additional $650 of his own money to get the project up and running. Later, he was reimbursed by Albany County.
After all facilities were in place, Slocum procured eggs from a variety of sources. Rainbow trout came from California, lake trout and brook trout came from Iowa, and 200,000 whitefish eggs came from the U.S. Fish Commission. Frequent news reports kept residents informed of hatchery operations and hatchling releases.
Slocum also displayed eggs and hatchlings in various stages of development with exhibits in Wilson’s drug store in Laramie. Altogether, 600,000 eggs had been purchased in the first year.
The hatchery was an easy six-mile buggy or wagon drive from town, and it became a popular destination with picnics and parties there frequently mentioned in the newspaper. The paper also said that stocking streams and lakes from the Laramie Hatchery was taking place all across southern Wyoming Territory.
Slocum increased the flow of Soldier Spring by removing rocks at the source. He proposed the construction of small dams downstream from the hatchery house to be used later for brood stock to produce fish eggs locally.
Eventually a small residence and barn were constructed at the site.
Who owns land and water rights?
Although the territory had been granted permission by the War Department to use the land where the hatchery spring was located, a question remained about who actually owned it. The Wyoming Central Land and Improvement Company might have had a claim because it had purchased all of the Union Pacific Railroad’s land in Albany County.
The War Department might also have had a claim as the land was at one time within the Fort Sanders military reservation. In May 1888, the issue was settled when Congress granted 640 acres surrounding the spring to Wyoming Territory.
But what about the water? Without control over the water, there would not be a hatchery. Fort Sanders had used the flow from Soldier Spring from its founding in 1866 until it was closed in 1882. Four months after the May order abandoning the fort, Laramie attorney Stephen Wheeler Downey secured the water rights for Laramie. So, the territory (and later the state) owned the land and the city controlled the water rights.
Laramie wants water
Operations at the hatchery continued to supply fish to Wyoming waters as the only such facility in the state until 1895 when a second hatchery was opened near Dayton in north central Wyoming. But the Soldier Spring location was still in operation. As late as April 1922, 300,000 brook trout fry were released in Albany County.
Continued growth of the city’s population increased the need for water. The water right on Soldier Spring was an obvious solution. A bill was introduced into the state legislature in February 1911 to move the hatchery from Soldier Spring to “some other place in Albany County.”
That bill failed, however, due to a “clerical error.” In 1915, the city constructed a 14-inch pipeline from the spring to the city, with the city drawing the water just downhill from the hatchery. The city got its water and the hatchery still had plenty.
However, in early 1922 it was found that the hatchery operation was responsible for polluting city water taken from its downstream inlet. On Aug. 17, 1922, the city appealed to Governor Carey to move the hatchery several hundred yards below the city’s water intake. That plan languished and in the run up to the election later that fall, both candidates for Laramie mayor made it part of their platforms to require the relocation.
The solution was abandoned, but in 1923 a different solution was found when the state moved its hatchery operation to a location about 12 miles south of town. The city contracted with the Rich and Isenberg Company to tear down the old hatchery buildings in 1928. All that remains are the small ponds and stonework at the original spring outflow. Now, the city takes enough water that the spring no longer produces the former “Soldier Creek” seen on the map.
The state continued operations at the new location until 1957 when the facility was transferred to UW and became the Red Buttes Environmental Biology Laboratory. Currently, there is no government fish hatchery in Albany County. The closest one is the national hatchery located just north of Saratoga, Wyoming.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series commemorating Laramie’s Sesquicentennial. Kim Viner is a sixth-generation Laramie native and a retired U.S. Navy commander. He is a volunteer docent and researcher at the Laramie Plains Museum. Research assistance provided by Greg Kilmer, City of Laramie Utility Department. Email him at email@example.com.