Laramie has had drug stores since the day the first train reached the tent city that sprang up in 1868. In fact, the first one might have been here even before the railroad.
The first pharmacy in southeast Wyoming was started by an ex-miner and ex-logger named Nathaniel Kimball Boswell. He traded some mining claims in Colorado for the contents of a drug store. With his new stock, he ventured to Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory in 1867. There he acquired a partner and in January 1868 began advertising “Boswell and Taylor, Druggist and Apothecaries on Eddy Street. ”
The May 13, 1868 edition of the Cheyenne paper mentions their store also sold “Arctic Soda for 15 cents per glass,” thus establishing in southeast Wyoming Territory the tradition of mixing carbonated soda with drugs including Coca-Cola, which contained a trace of cocaine then. However, by that time Boswell had deserted Cheyenne, or was about to, for the newer town of Laramie. He brought his new-found knowledge of the drug business with him.
A place to get patched up
Boswell secured a Laramie building for the drug store on Second Street (later he sold it to Edward Ivinson for a general store). Boswell never described himself as a “former druggist”— he probably hired someone who knew a little more about the drug trade than he did, while he saw to ordering stock and involving himself with law and order pursuits. It was a rough town in 1868, with rowdies mixing it up with the townfolk, often resulting in serious injury if not death to the latter.
Boswell recalled later that his drug store was where people brought the wounded to be treated. When Boswell was named Sheriff of Albany County, the drugstore faded away. There was a Taylor Drug in Laramie in the early part of the 20th century, at 303 S. Second St. It is not clear if this is the same “Taylor” as Boswell’s Cheyenne partner.
Druggists vs Physicians
The first apothecaries were in Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago. They dealt in chemicals used for much more than just medicines. Knowledge about poisons and the healing power of certain herbs was maintained even through the Dark Ages of the plague in Europe, where monks created the wine and spirits to blend with their herbal preparations.
Stores that dealt in these healing spirts came to be known as drug and chemist shops. The person behind the counter was a “druggist”— one who knew how to blend certain ingredients together into concoctions to kill rats, polish furniture, or treat an ailment.
Physicians of the early 1800s relied on the druggists to compound drugs the doctor prescribed, often writing the prescription in Latin so the patient wouldn’t try to do it themselves. Caution was needed because many of these nostrums contained drugs which could become addictive. “Laudanum” was one, a potent mixture of alcohol and opiates frequently requested by women, who could ask for it without a prescription. They were constrained by custom from entering bars dispensing the addictive drug favored by most men—alcohol.
Some physicians set up their own apothecaries like Dr. John Finfrock. He had come west as a military doctor stationed at Laramie’s Fort Sanders. He left the military, became a Union Pacific doctor, and in 1870 started private practice in Laramie. In 1875, he founded Eagle drug store with Louis Thobro on South Second Street. The raised “Finfrock & Thobro” inscription on a glass bottle at the Laramie Plains Museum (LPM), is a relic of that business.
Dr. Voerpooten, a seldom-mentioned Laramie pioneer, had a medical practice and drugstore in a little log building about where the “patio” of the Born in a Barn restaurant is now on S. First Street. As reported by Gladys Beery in her 1990 book, “The Front Streets of Laramie,” it burned and was not rebuilt, but she doesn’t give the date. The last of three mentions of his name in Laramie newspapers is Jan. 31, 1894, when he was reported to be “seriously ill with jaundice.”
Otto Gramm was not a doctor, but had worked in a midwestern drug store starting when he was still in elementary school. He began his Laramie drug store in 1870, following his acquaintance Dr. Finfrock, to Laramie. At some point he also purchased Dr. Finfrock’s drug store. Eventually he built a multi-story office building on the north side of South A Street (now Ivinson Avenue) between Third and Second Streets, which housed his drug store. Now it is the site of the First Interstate Bank drive-up.
Druggists vs Pharmacists
Compounding drugs wasn’t something that just anyone could do. But there was no licensing, so it was still possible for someone like Boswell with no apprenticeship or college education at all to sell drugs.
The first school of pharmacy was established in Philadelphia around 1820. There had already been a proliferation of manuals published listing all known beneficial drugs, and explaining how to compound them into medicines. Gradually, the role of the druggist changed into dispensing and advising patients on drugs, rather than actually compounding. Coated pills and gelatin capsules came about in the 1880s, leading to commercial manufacturers taking over the role of compounders.
Education of pharmacists changed too, from a specialized trade school in Philadelphia to becoming part of a bachelor’s degree program. At the University of Wyoming, pharmacy courses were taught in the College of Liberal Arts. One of the early graduates of UW’s program was Andrew H. Cordiner (1875-1956).
In the 1900 Laramie census, Cordiner’s occupation was listed as “druggist,” but he was a pharmacist and did a long apprenticeship at Eggleston’s Drug Store in Laramie at 311 S. Second St. He became part-owner in 1910. In the 1913-14 Laramie City Directory, A.H. Cordiner is listed as store manager, and advertised “all prescriptions filled by registered pharmacists.” Soon after, he became sole owner and changed the name to A.H. Cordiner Drug Co. Bartlett’s 1918 “History of Wyoming, Vol II,” states that he passed the state examination in 1901, indicating some state control over Wyoming pharmacists back then.
The second official “pharmacist” in Laramie was probably Ohio native Leopold John Mills (1875-1941). It’s not clear when he arrived, but by 1905 he was operating the Red Cross Drug Store. He advertised himself as a “graduate of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.”
By 1908, Mills had changed the name of the store to “Mills’ University Drug and Bookstore,“ and he had started selling Rexall drugs, a tradename of Union Manufacturing Co. Some of the early Rexall brand drugs did contain alcohol and opioids, lawful at the time, but they were intended to be standardized, labeled, and guaranteed — in contrast to “patent medicines.” Mills’ store was in the Albany National Bank building, at 219 S. Second St., part of the Corthell and King law office building today.
Laramie Drug Company
What came to be known as the Laramie Drug Company got its start in an old building that is now Jeffrey’s Bistro at 123 Ivinson Ave. State Historic Preservation Records indicate the building was probably constructed around 1873. In 1891 it housed the drug store of Wm. C. Wilson Jr., listed as selling “Drugs and Fine Presentation Goods.” Charles N. Settele was the clerk, and by 1893 it became “Settele’s drug store.” Settele, an avid sportsman, was noted for developing mosquito dope —“the Famous Settele Brand sure fixes ‘em!” says a 1907 ad.
In 1901, Harry Williamson was the “pharmacist” working at Settele’s drug. He also lived on the site, probably in an apartment upstairs. By 1905, the store had become Laramie Drug Company, with Harry Claudius Prahl (1883-1975) as manager. He owned and operated it from 1918 to 1944. However for more than a decade, until at least 1937, city directories list the location of H.C. Prahl Drug Store as 211 Grand Ave., now a cupcake bakery. The drugstore moved back to 123 Ivinson Ave., which is where it was in the early 1940s.
Laramie Drug Co. owner Harry Claudius Prahl had two children, Harry Charles Prahl and Mary Cathern (Prahl) Shawver. Harry Charles took over the Laramie Drug Store from his father in the mid-1940s. Cathern married another Laramie native, J. Earl Shawver, who was a trained pharmacist. At the time of the 1940 Wyoming census, the Shawvers were living in Afton, Wyoming, where Earl was a pharmacist.
Self-Service— new concept
Earl and Cathern Shawver moved back to Laramie around 1944; Earl went to work with his brother-in-law. Cathern wrote the rest of the story in the 1987 book ‘Laramie — Gem City of the Plains.’ “In 1956, the Wahlgreen [sic] salesman, persuaded us to establish the first self-service drug store in the region in a new building that Mr. Grothe was building on the lot where the Holliday building has been located before its complete destruction by fire. . . Earl and I went to Chicago to visit wholesalers . . . It was quite different from our small Laramie drug, but we enjoyed the challenge.“
The self-service idea took hold, and before long the idea of glass cases for all wares and drugs except those under strict control became a thing of the past. In 1944, Harry Charles Prahl closed the Laramie Drug Company and moved to Cheyenne in retirement, according to Prahl family sources.
About that time, chain grocery or variety stores began putting pharmacies in their stores. Over-the-counter drugs and medical equipment could easily be purchased, though pharmacist might still be consulted for advice.
Pharmacy itself changes
There had been some earlier federal laws requiring labeling of drugs, and minor penalties for infractions. But a huge change came in 1914 with the federal Harrison Narcotic Tax Act. For the first time there were real controls over casual distribution of opiates, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine. Addictive medicines could still be sold, but a tax needed to be paid, prescriptions were required, and records had to be kept. Eventually, more state and federal controls were established on other drugs that could be harmful if uncontrolled.
Reacting to a post-war burst of enrollment, around 1946, UW laid the framework for a School of Pharmacy, separating it from the College of Liberal Arts. Merica Hall was renamed the Merica Pharmacy Building. The Pharmacy program moved in 1969 into a new building and Merica got back its former name.
Now professional study leading to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree is offered. Entering students must have at least two years of college. They study four additional years and upon graduation receive a pharmacy intern license and usually complete a paid internship with a licensed pharmacist.
The current (2020) website of the UW School of Pharmacy notes: “There has been a shift in the marketplace for traditional pharmacists over the past several years” with the result that the market “has become saturated in some areas . . .” Consequently, there is a trend toward dual degree programs offering a pharmacy degree and a master’s degree in Health Services Administration. This degree takes five years to complete.
While pharmacists cannot prescribe controlled medications, they can become certified to administer inoculations in Wyoming. Counseling clients on their medications and explaining their uses are still part of the traditional pharmacist’s function, and record-keeping to comply with federal and state regulations is essential. If they have a Health Services Administration degree as well, many other occupations are available. And, they don’t need to be proficient in Latin anymore.