Trails West ... by Northwest

The West did all right by Thomas Lovewell, even if it never yielded the bonanza the old frontiersman always hoped for.  By the time he started drawing a meager Civil War pension calculated with cheeseparing precision to keep aged Civil War veterans from starving, Thomas was doing just fine.  He was a prosperous farmer and stockman living at the perimeter of a mushrooming trade center which bore his name, a village where he owned several lots, some of which had sprouted tidy cottages.  Yet, despite being well-to-do, at the age of 75 he would begin making the long trek to Wyoming over eight consecutive summers to work a number of mining claims, banking on a long-shot, the way some modern retirees squander their spare change on scratchers tickets.

As we learned only recently, the 76-year-old family patriarch led a wagon train of relatives from north-central Kansas to southeast Wyoming in 1903 (see “Thomas Lovewell’s Wild West").  Joining the caravan were Thomas’s daughter Josephine, his sons Stephen, Simpson Grant, and William Frank, most of his children’s spouses and offspring, as well as a few assorted hangers-on from Jewell County.  Thus, most of Thomas Lovewell’s family was introduced to the wilds of Wyoming soon after the turn of the century.

There was soon a well-worn path between the village of Lovewell in Jewell County, Kansas, and the rugged terrain of Wyoming.  The 44th state evidently cast a spell over visitors yearning for empty, wide-open spaces.  The tenth-largest state by area, Wyoming still ranks dead-last in population, its 98,000 square miles peopled by a smaller number of residents than the 68 square miles of the District of Columbia.  

Kansas, a state with about two-thirds the area of Wyoming, has five times as many people.  This disparity would have seemed even more striking to visitors arriving from the village of Lovewell at the dawn of the 20th century.  Back when William Frank Lovewell first moved to the Bighorn Basin in 1906 to work for the railroad, Wyoming contained only a fourth of the modest number of residents who call it home today, while Frank’s former neighborhood in Jewell County, Kansas, was six times more populous then than it is now.  Wyoming earned the motto “Equal Rights” by enfranchising women in 1869.  While a seemingly enlightened move, it was also one the territory needed in order to scare up enough voters to quality for statehood.


Late in the 19th century, Wyoming made a name for itself in the annals of Western lore with the Johnson County War, a savage conflict between new settlers and established cattle barons bent on discouraging competition.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, outlaws who specialized in robbing banks and trains, had vacated their hideout in the Bighorn Mountains, high-tailing it to New York City only a few months before Thomas Lovewell made his first expedition to scout mining claims in Wyoming in the summer of 1901.  The state must have seemed like a vast museum diorama where the West could still be wild.

Much of the Lovewell family caught Wyoming fever for a time, even those relatives who weren’t interested in joining a quest for the mother lode.  Forced to return to Jewell County in 1907 while he recuperated from fractures suffered when a train collided with his railway-inspection tricycle, William Frank Lovewell spent several years on a farm near North Platte, Nebraska, before returning to his old job in the Bighorn Basin in 1922.   Even though he took his wife and children with him this time, Frank sometimes had to bunk near his workplace in Manderson, commuting 20 miles up the tracks to see Lulu and the kids at Greybull on weekends.

If she had accompanied her parents Stephen and Villa on the family’s 1903 adventure, Orel Elizabeth Lovewell would have been only four years old.  According to a Wyoming newspaper, in 1923 the budding young family historian paid an extended call on her Uncle Frank and Aunt Lulu at Greybull.  Frank's sister Diantha also occasionally dropped in.  

By the early 1920’s Diantha and her husband James Manning may have settled in southern Montana, where their marriage finished unraveling.  It was an inevitable process which seemed to get underway shortly after their nuptials in 1899 (see “Hits and Missus").  Pairing up with Olaf Hendrickson by 1923, Diantha continued to reside in northern Wyoming or southern Montana for the rest of her long life, passing away at Sheridan in 1972 at the age of 88.  Diantha’s former husband also remarried, moving only as far away as Casper where he died in 1939, the same year William Frank Lovewell succumbed to pneumonia at the veterans hospital in Cheyenne.

Judging from a photograph in Rhoda Lovewell’s updated tome, “The Lovewell Family Revisited,” Thomas Lovewell’s widow Orel Jane may have boarded a train to visit her youngest daughter Diantha in the early 1920’s.  The photo of four generations assembled on a front porch in northern Wyoming or southern Montana is a study of changing times.  Standing at Orel Jane’s right shoulder is her granddaughter Irene, a jazz-age flapper dressed in a casual ankle-length shift and sporting the era’s classic pageboy bob.  The picture may contain the only likeness ever made of Orel Jane wearing a white Victorian blouse, while providing the only surviving glimpse of the lady with her head uncovered.  The chief reason for concluding that the photograph was taken on Diantha’s porch is that Orel Jane seems to be the only subject dressed for travel.  Everyone else in the picture appears to be a relaxed homebody.

It was not Orel Jane’s first visit to the Cowboy State.  Her appearance at the office of a Greybull notary public in January of 1903 is established by her signature on a document transferring ownership of forty acres near the village of Lovewell.  Since her husband's signature was not witnessed in Greybull that day, it’s possible that Orel Jane traveled to Wyoming alone.  We have to wonder whether there was some connection between the conveyance and the death of the Lovewells' daughter Adaline that same month.  What could have summoned a middle-aged lady from Kansas to northern Wyoming in January?  

The emergency may have had something to do with another daughter’s troubles.  Diantha’s whereabouts in 1903 is not known for certain, but she and her husband James Manning had been on the lam in Colorado as recently as 1900, while marriage records reveal that the couple's daughter Irene was born in Wyoming in 1901.*  

Wyoming was believed to harbor hidden mineral wealth and a vanishing way of life; it might still be home to a few family secrets.

*The idea that 1901 was the year of Irene’s birth came from a marriage record.  The 1910 Pennsylvania census has her born in 1903, the same year Orel Jane Lovewell made a furtive trip to Wyoming with what may have been a large and belated Christmas present.

© Dale Switzer 2023