When Keith Yaeger looks east from Laramie into the foothills, he sees the land his family homesteaded almost 150 years ago.
Yeager, 83, is the great-grandson of Harriman Daniel and Elizabeth Tamer Richardson, some of Laramie’s earliest settlers. At one time, they owned more than 20,000 acres stretching from Roger Canyon in the north to Telephone Canyon in the south. Their holdings ran from just east of Laramie to Green Top Mountain, which sits north of the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest.
Their holdings included most of the Pilot Hill parcel, a swath of 5,500 acres currently in private hands that’s in the process of becoming public land soon.
“I remember, as a little boy, our family would go out into the east hills on the ranch — it was ingrained into me that this was our family and this is what they did,” Yaeger said.
Yaeger inherited documents, letters, receipts and photographs dating back to his great-grandparents via his mother and grandmother, each of whom made a habit of saving everything. He found papers dating to 1870 that he used to piece together their history.
“When mother died, I started to go through things,” he said. “She didn’t throw anything out, and I didn’t either.”
The documents, some of which have been donated to the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center, tell the story of pioneers who moved to Wyoming looking for opportunity, and they found it in the hills east of Laramie.
H.D. and Elizabeth Richardson
Harriman Daniel Richardson, also known as H.D., was born in New Hampshire in 1842. He met Elizabeth Tamer Page, a young widow and nurse, in Wisconsin. Soon after they married in 1870, H.D. moved to Laramie. Elizabeth’s cousin was N.K. Boswell, Laramie’s first sheriff.
He built snow fences and worked for the railroad for several years before moving to a homestead on Horse Creek, about 15 miles east of Laramie. By 1877, they had three daughters — Lovisa, Beulah and Lucia Submit, also called Mittie. A fourth daughter, Rosa, died in infancy.
The Richardsons bought more homesteads and Union Pacific land over the coming decades, eventually holding 32 sections on which they ran 3,000 sheep, 250 cattle and 250 horses.
“He owned about every other section,” Yaeger said.
Yaeger described his great-grandfather, tall and stocky, as the kind of person that conquered anything he put his mind to.
“They were hardworking people, real hardworking,” he said.
In 1890, the Richardsons purchased a home in town, living in a two-story brick house near the corner of 30th Street and Grand Avenue. They took in and raised at least nine orphans, and they opened their home to sick people from around the county. Elizabeth used her nursing experience to help mothers in town through childbirth.
“They just had big hearts,” Yaeger said.
H.D. died of a heart attack in 1910 at the age of 68, while Elizabeth lived until 1912 and died at 78. Both were buried at Greenhill Cemetery. According to the Aug. 20, 1910, edition of the Laramie Republican, “Harry Richardson had a whole county full of friends to whom the word of his death will come as a shock. His interests in the county were so large and so ramified that his demise will be felt in several directions….The whole community joins with the family in mourning the passing of a pioneer citizen, a good friend and upright citizen of the community.”
Upon their deaths, the property was divided among their three daughters. Lovisa, the oldest, lived with her parents as an adult because she had been injured as a child in a house fire. While leaving the burning house at the age of 12, she fell down the stairs and sustained a head injury that left her blind and epileptic. According to a niece, Lovisa had many friends and was a talented musician and storyteller.
After her parents died, Lovisa lived with her sister Mittie, then her sister Beulah, and then moved in with a family acquaintance, where she died suddenly in 1927. Mittie sold Lovisa’s share of the ranch along with her own inherited share to Warren Livestock Company in 1917.
After her death, Beulah and Mittie contested Lovisa’s will, which had been changed shortly before she died and gave half her estate to her caretaker. A judge sided with the sisters and arranged a settlement with the caretaker.
Mittie Richardson Pulscher
Meanwhile, sisters Mittie and Beulah had grown up breaking horses, branding cattle, herding sheep, mending fences and cutting hay.
In 1903, two ranch hands who were rivals for Mittie’s affections got into a fight in the bunk house. George Bacus attacked Fred Tucker with a knife and tried to cut his throat. Bleeding from multiple wounds, Tucker rode 15 miles into town to the police. According to the Boomerang, his shoes were so full of blood that he left bloody footprints as he walked.
Bacus hid near the summit and was reportedly later fined $15 for the attempted murder. Mittie maintained a brisk correspondence with both men during the next year.
In October 1904, Mittie gave birth to a daughter who died at 10 months old. The identity of the father was never confirmed. According to family rumor, the father was neither Bacus nor Tucker.
A couple years later, Mittie eloped with another ranch hand, Ward Ash. They were divorced in 1917. She remarried a year later, this time for about 20 years. She continued to live on the homestead east of Laramie into the 1930s before finally moving to town. She worked at the University of Wyoming making salad for the Commons Cafeteria.
Mittie’s health declined after she had a heart attack at the age of 79 while rounding up cattle, and she died in 1957.
Beulah Richardson LaPash Berner
Like her two sisters, middle sister Beulah did not have an easy life. She grew up working the ranch while visiting Laramie on occasion. She probably didn’t attend school after third grade.
When she was 19, she got a job delivering mail by horseback twice a week from Laramie to a ranch east of town known as Summit. The trip took five hours each way. She rode sidesaddle, carrying a Winchester rifle to kill coyotes.
At the age of 21, she married a ranch hand named Elmer LaPash. They had six daughters during the next 11 years, one of whom died as a baby. Elmer and Beulah acquired their own homestead in addition to Beulah’s inherited sections, and they built a five-bedroom house with a school room upstairs. They also owned a house in town so their girls could attend school.
The same day Elmer paid off the mortgage on their ranch, he collapsed from illness that developed into pneumonia, dying a month later at the age of 39. This was in 1914, two years after Beulah’s mother had died and four years after her father had died.
Just more than a year later, Beulah remarried and moved to a new ranch house six miles away. According to family reports, Theodore Berner was neither the hard worker nor the caring father and husband that Elmer was, but Beulah didn’t complain and kept a positive attitude.
Beulah and Theodore divided their time between the ranch and town, where the girls lived during the school year. Theodore also worked for a few years as a police officer.
“It took a lot of grit on her part to pull through that traumatic era of her life,” Yaeger said of his grandmother. “She instilled in her girls to get an education.”
Beulah’s five daughters graduated from Laramie High School. She eventually had 13 grandchildren, including Yaeger, and most were born at her house on Ninth Street. She raised four of them herself after daughter Delice died in childbirth.
Yeager, who himself graduated from LHS in 1954, remembers spending long summer days on the family ranch. They rode horses, played in the creek, took care of the livestock and carried water.
“In the summertime, the east hills out there were our playground,” he said.
He remembers a rock formation called Hawk’s Nest, where they played and climbed. The same rock formation was the location of a bobcat sighting during Beulah’s and Mittie’s childhood while they were herding sheep.
“They sure took off in a hurry,” Yaeger said of the story told him by his grandmother.
The cousins would go down to a creek and fill buckets with water, which they dumped into gopher holes. When the gopher popped out, their grandmother’s dog, Nemo, would chase it.
“It was a fun childhood I had out there,” he said. “All the land was our playground.”
In 1939, Beulah decided to sell the parcels she had inherited from her parents and had purchased with her first husband. Among several buyers, she sold a few sections to Warren Livestock for $12 an acre. The new owners allowed the family total access to the land during the following years, and the grandchildren continued to spend their summers hiking, fishing, exploring and playing.
Beulah’s health began to decline in the 1940s, and she died in 1951.
Yaeger settled in Utah after graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1958, where he taught math for 30 years. Charlotte, the last of his cousins to live in Laramie, died several years ago.
The land is set to change hands again. The roads to and from town will turn to mountain bike trails, and the old homesteads will sink into the ground. The rocks and creeks and open spaces will be a playground once again.
The Richardsons’ story is part of Laramie’s history. Several generations later, their legacy is soon to become part of Laramie’s public trust.
“They were true pioneers of Albany County,” Yeager said.