Growing up in Cheyenne in the 1950s

I was hit by a car in Cheyenne, 9th Street 2 blocks West of Central Avenue. I was 8 years old, drug by the car for about a half a block. It wasn’t the fault of the driver. It was my fault, completely. I was a “child dart out” between two parked cars. Talk about “skin in the game,” I lost most of the skin on my left arm. Oh well, it does grow back. I also got a broken femur.

They kept you in the hospital a lot longer in those days. I was very lucky to have had a great Orthopedic Surgeon. Before I went into surgery he manipulated my leg so that the broken bones fit together again. I ended up in bed for about 30 days with my leg in a sling and metal pin through my leg. I think the pin was to keep my injured leg the same length as the other one.

After the sling and the knee pin I was put in a body cast for another 30 days. The months were March and April, 1952. I was missing a lot of the 2nd grade and figured I’d have to repeat the 2nd grade in the next year. I was wrong. My teacher, Mrs. Green, came to the hospital a couple of times week to give me my assignments to complete. I was back in school for all of the month of May after that. Mrs. Green. Wherever she is I hope she knows how much I loved her for all her kindness. I was able to proceed to the third grade the following year.

One of my mother’s friends, I don’t recall her name and my mother is gone now so I can’t ask her. She did something marvelous for me to keep my spirits up while in the hospital. When asked how I was doing I said I really missed my dog, Snooky. Not long after that I began getting letters from Snooky. Snooky even sent me photographs of all the things she was doing. Snooky told me to hang in there, that I’d be home soon and we’d be together again.

Of course, Snooky was a dog. All the letters from Snooky had been written by my mother’s friend.  She was dedicated. I got 2 or 3 “letters from Snooky” each week. I’ll never forget how much those letters meant to me and how they must have helped me heal.

I look back on that and reflect on what a wonderful town I lived in. The people of Cheyenne seemed to me to be the best people in the world. I grew up in a mixed race neighborhood of white, black (“colored” in those days) and hispanic. My mother made friends with everyone. She liked everyone and they liked her. Oh, and me too. I don’t recall any racial bias at all. I don’t think it existed.

Growing up in Cheyenne was special. It shaped me. It showed me that people can be generous and warm hearted.

My mother died just 3 months before she would have been 100. Her funeral was swamped with people. Elizabeth Byrd was black. She was a State Senator in the Wyoming legislature. At my mother’s funeral she wrote in the registration book that my mother was best person she had ever known. Mrs. Byrd’s husband, also black, was the Chief of Police in Cheyenne in the 1960s.

There was a wonderful cafe on LIncolnway called the ”Coffee Cup.” Around 1952 or so the owner sold it to a man from Alabama.  I’m sure he expected to make a good go of it because it has been so successful when under the previous ownership.

It didn’t turn out well for the man from Alabama. He brought too many of his Alabama ways with him. He put a sign on the door that said, “No colored trade.” I din’t know what it meant. When my mother told I was stunned and horrified. I guess a lot other people felt the same way. It seems almost no white person in Cheyenne ever went in there after the sign on the door has been put up. Soon a thriving cafe was closed forever.

What he didn’t know was that after the Civil War an exodus of newly freed slaves, the ones who were ambitious enough, struck out for the Western states. Wyoming ranchers needed cowboys who could shoot, heard, ride fences and do general work that was needed on a ranch. Not as slaves, but as hard working black cowboys earning good money. Some of them were among the best cowboys to be seen in the West.

Those black arrivals who didn’t take to ranching found good jobs on the railroad.

I spent a lot of my adult life as a lawyer in Colorado. Then I reclaimed my Wyoming heritage and and stood for the Wyoming Bar Exam (and passed). This was an achievement because I had taken the Colorado Bar Exam over 30 years before. Passed it too. But Lawyers that take a bar exam 30 years after being fresh out of law school have to study hard to remember all they likely forget after law school.

Colorado has changed so much over the years, having recently become a blue state. I’m so happy to be back in Wyoming.

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