Recalling Clareton

By: 
Rhonda Sedgwick-Stearns

C

lareton, Wyo., slept peacefully in a cow pasture along a quiet hillside in Weston County for decades. Very, very early the morning of July 18, 2021, the village arose like Rip Van Winkle, wiping sleepy eyes. Awestruck residents stared at the large, beautiful building gracing the hillside to the Northwest! Bright-colored parasols blossomed around it, shading laughing, chattering people.  More gathered, alighting from strange automobiles which sped along the dirt road up the steep hill! People emerged, laughing, visiting and carrying things — they were preparing for some social happening, like a picnic?

Clareton is neither child’s story, nor fairytale; although calling it a “village” may be a stretch. Many members of the Townsend family homesteaded that area and some of them established a general store and post office, along with a dance hall. Barbers, tailors and milliners increased the population over time as Clareton became a center for neighbors to bring milk, cream and butter; garden produce, eggs, chickens, beef, or other items for sale or barter. Enterprising men delivered wagonloads of coal, dug from the nearby Rochelle Hills.

As with many western prairie communities, Clareton grew into a social center and meeting place for widely dispersed settlers and homesteaders. News was gathered and gossip shared while men chewed, spat and whittled in the shade of a storefront or tree. Weather was a favorite topic — how wet or dry it was in their neck of the woods, how large the hail, maybe what date the creek froze dry, and how deep the snow laid on their roads through winter.

Perhaps they wondered what the new school marm would look like when she arrived via mail wagon to take up residence in the teacherage. Some clandestine side conversations involved beverages banned by Prohibition, and the prices of beef, pork, mutton, wool, mohair, and livestock feed worried each discussion. Brows furrowed as friends compared their prospective returns against the rising prices of teams, machinery, feed and fuel they’d have
to buy.

Womenfolk fortunate enough to hitch a ride on wagon, buggy, or horse proudly showed off their new babies, or the ones just walking and talking. Maybe they discussed education, religion, or what their community had to offer for each. They met to plan — and hold — seasonal celebrations, weddings and funerals. They exchanged gossip, the conditions of their gardens, the health of their children, and possibly ailments and other concerns. As more women settled in the area they realized their need for space to gather regularly in a common area where their children could sleep or play together while they could laugh or work together and share common concerns and joys.

The people Clareton saw early July 18, 2021, seemed much the same — except for clothing and hairstyles — some even looked familiar!

That was because many cars toiling up the steep hill to Mike and Nancy McFarland’s home early this Independence Day were driven by descendants of those original settlers, people whose grandfolk had socialized near that same slope! Families who took up residence, filed homesteads, made their livings and reared their children amid the sagebrush, thistles and cockleburs. Perhaps they’d been fortunate to dwell among the few cottonwoods and elm that dotted the slopes of distant watersheds which created creeks like Black Thunder, Lodgepole, and Wildcat, eventually to enrich the ancient Cheyenne River.  

Bearing the resilient strength, determination, toughness, honesty, faith, joy, and community spirit of their forbears, they shook hands, laughed, hugged, and bantered in the comfortable tradition of Wyoming’s prairie — which has nurtured generations of them. That unforgiving land has instilled wisdom, integrity, honesty, community spirit, patriotism and deep joy in all their hearts — the enduring qualities which make America great, qualities which don’t erode with time, rather growing deeper and stronger in each generation.

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