150 years ago, Thanksgiving of 1869, there was heavy snow in southern Wyoming and two railroad workers died near Carbon station, hit by a train they didn’t see as they walked on the tracks. Heavy snows into the winter would strand six trains west of Laramie for weeks.
13 months earlier, Laramie’s second vigilante group out-gunned and lynched the first vigilante group to establish a semblance of order. In subsequent months, railroad work had moved west and Laramie had lost two thirds of its population.
The nation’s bloodiest war had ended four years earlier, having killed 700,000 men. Average life expectancy in the United States was 40 years. A few years later, Laramie would open a pest house to quarantine residents with infectious diseases, which came in handy during the Laramie smallpox epidemic of 1894. Life was hard, but the Laramie pioneers celebrated Thanksgiving, a day of grace, and we still celebrate it 150 years later.
We have so much by grace! On Thanksgiving 2019, each of us is thankful for different things. Here is one list:
A universe with galaxies like grains of sand, where we look into the night sky and see starlight that traveled ten billion years to reach us. A planet teeming with life, abundant, unique, and precious.
The fruits of science and engineering, which support a world population six times larger than 1869, with a much higher quality of life. Electricity, clean running water, computers, phones, the Internet, cars and highways, air travel, and a thousand other things we have created in this modern age.
Fossil fuels, which multiplied human energy and made possible a world without slavery, serfdom, or child labor. Coal, oil, and gas—abundant enough and long-lasting enough to provide the energy to build their own replacements.
The doctors who developed vaccines, so our children are not ravaged by diptheria, measles, mumps, polio, smallpox, or whooping cough.
A constitutional republic, challenged and transformed, but not yet broken, still a great hope for human liberty and progress.
Those who died, fought, or served when their country needed defending.
Those who marched, organized, or voted when their country needed changing.
Those genuine entrepreneurs who created new industries, eased our lives, and earned their wealth honestly.
American workers, who built so much of what we see around us and who keep everything going with their daily and diligent efforts.
Families, the essential sustainers of human life in the dependencies of infancy and age, and in our daily challenges.
Friends, who make the journey across decades more enjoyable and less lonely.
Parents and teachers, raising the next generation to study hard, work hard, and go beyond whatever we have done before.
The University of Wyoming, 15,000 student and staff learning, expanding human knowledge, and making Laramie the center of Wyoming’s enlightenment.
Laramie, where the air is clear, the people are friendly, and opportunity abounds.
Wyoming, where we have not forgotten that America is always a New Frontier.
Immigrants, who look at America with a sense of wonder and grace that we sometimes misplace.
The Maker, however understood, whose grace is always welcome.
Martin L. Buchanan is a writer and software developer living in Laramie. Email: MartinLBuchanan@gmail.com.