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Devil's Gate | Bone Wars

Devil's Gate Book Cover

Devil's Gate: Owning the Land, Owning the Story  

Devil's Gate--the very name conjures difficult passage and portends a doubtful outcome. In this eloquent and captivating narrative, Tom Rea traces the history of the Sweetwater River valley in central Wyoming--a remote place that includes Devil's Gate, Independence Rock, and other sites along a storied stretch of the Oregon Trail--to show how legal ownership of a place can translate into owning its story.

An iconic landmark, Devil's Gate is still a lonely place. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is the center of a landscape that threatens to shrink any inhabitants to insignificance except for one thing: ownership of the land and the stories they choose to tell about it.

The area was once heavily traveled. John C. Frémont passed through here, as did American Indians hunting for their own survival, half a million emigrants, the photographer W. H. Jackson, and an ambitious surveyor named Billy Owen. Occasional clusters of buildings, the modern highway, and a few historical markers are all that seem to distinguish the area now from what they encountered 150 years ago. But this static serenity masks a history of conflict.

Tom Sun, an early hunter, prospector, scout, and rancher, played a role in the lynching of Ella "Cattle Kate" Watson, the only woman ever hanged in Wyoming. The lynching was dismissed as swift frontier justice in response to cattle theft, but Rea finds far more complicated motives behind this story of "rightful" control of the land and its water. The Sun name has been linked with the land for generations until, most recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come to own a part of it to tell a different tale--the once tragic and now heroic story of the Mormon handcart emigrants who froze to death in the valley while struggling overland to Salt Lake City in 1856. In the 1990s, the Mormon Church purchased a piece of the old Sun Ranch to establish a memorial at Martin's Cove.

When standing in the treeless, arid country around Devil's Gate, the land seems too immense for ownership. But stories run with the land. People who own the land can own the stories, at least for a time.

Bone Wars Book Cover

Bone Wars: The Excavation and Celebrity of Andrew Carnegie's Dinosaur  

Winner of the 2002 Spur Award for Best Western Nonfiction - Contemporary Finalist for the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association Regional Book Award: Nonfiction

Less than one hundred years ago, Diplodocus carnegii--named after industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie-was the most famous dinosaur on the planet. The most complete fossil skeleton unearthed to date, and one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered, Diplodocus was displayed in a dozen museums around the world and viewed by millions of people. Bone Wars explains how a fossil unearthed in the badlands of Wyoming in 1899 helped give birth to the public's fascination with prehistoric beasts. Rea also traces the evolution of scientific thought regarding dinosaurs, and reveals the double-crosses and behind-the-scenes deals that marked the early years of bone hunting. With the help of letters found in scattered archives, Tom Rea recreates a remarkable story of hubris, hope, and turn-of-the-century science. He focuses on the roles of five men: Wyoming fossil hunter Bill Reed; paleontologists Jacob Wortman--in charge of the expedition that discovered Mr. Carnegie's dinosaur--and John Bell Hatcher; William Holland, imperious director of the recently founded Carnegie Museum; and Carnegie himself, smitten with the colossal animals after reading a newspaper story in the New York Journal and Advertiser. What emerges is the picture of an era reminiscent of today: technology advancing by leaps and bounds; the press happy to sensationalize anything that turned up; huge amounts of capital ending up in the hands of a small number of people; and some devoted individuals placing honest research above personal gain.