Bridging Past and Future: Celebrating Jeremy Johnston’s Legacy

Discover the story of Jeremy Johnston, Wyoming historian and teacher, and the impact he had on the state’s history and culture. His unique upbringing and deep connection to Wyoming shaped his passion for preserving the past and understanding the complexities of the state’s heritage.

My special guest is Jeremy Johnston

Jeremy Johnston, a highly regarded historian from Park County, Wyoming, established himself as a leading figure in the preservation and dissemination of Wyoming’s rich history. Born and raised in Powell, Wyoming, Jeremy’s formative years were shaped by the proximity and influence of his grandparents and great-grandparents, fostering a deep-rooted connection to the state’s heritage. As a professional historian, Jeremy has actively contributed to the community through lectures and discussions, highlighting the significance of Wyoming’s past. His comprehensive understanding of the state’s diverse historical experiences positioned him as an advocate for comprehending the past to navigate the future.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  •  Explore the life of Jeremy Johnston and his perspective of Wyoming history.

  •  Discover the impact of natural resources on shaping Wyoming’s identity and economy.

  •  Learn about the cultural heritage of Park County, Wyoming, and its influence on the state’s identity.

  •  Learn how Wyoming communities have adapted to change throughout history, and the resilience that defines them. The impact of external demand on Wyoming’s natural resources is a central theme in Jeremy Johnston’s discussion, highlighting the significant role these resources play in shaping the state’s economy and industries. From coal mining to the transition towards renewable energy, the management of natural resources has been a key driver of change and evolution in Wyoming. Jeremy’s insights shed light on the complexities and challenges associated with balancing economic demands with environmental concerns.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  •  Visit the website ThinkWy.org to learn more about Wyoming humanities and explore the people, places, and history of Wyoming.

  •  Subscribe to the Winds of Change podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Google, or your favorite podcasting platform to never miss a show.

 

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00:00:01
             

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities. Join us as we explore the people, places, and history of Wyoming. Please go to our website to learn more at Thinkwy.org.         

00:00:16
             

That’s t h I n k for think –  w y for wyoming.org. You can find us on YouTube, Spotify, Google, all your favorite places you listen to podcasting today we are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our friend and esteemed board member, Jeremy Johnston. On June 15 in Salt Lake City. He passed away surrounded by his loving family.         

 

00:00:44
             

This episode of our podcast is a special tribute to Jeremy, who is not only a key advisor, but also brought his heart and dedication to the creation of the winds of change podcast in his memory. We dedicate this episode to him celebrating his profound love and passion for history and his cherished memories of growing up in Wyoming. Stay with us as we honor Jeremy’s legacy and the memorable mark he left on our lives and work. Thanks for listening. I am Jeremy Johnston, Wyoming history from Park County, Wyoming.         

 

00:01:27
             

Welcome, Jeremy. I want to ask you first off your Wyoming story. Were you born here? Did you move here, and where is your family?         

 

00:01:41
             

I was born in Powell, Wyoming, and I was very fortunate to grow up next door to all my grandparents. So my maternal and paternal grandparents, there were two great grandmothers who resided in Cody that I was close to. So growing up in Wyoming, I was exposed to not only the history of the state, but my own heritage over and over again, which for me developed a very strong sense of place to this state as well as kind of driving home the relevancy of the past. I was able to experience my own upbringing not just through my experiences, but learning about the experiences of my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents when they were my age as well. What did your parents do for a living?         

 

00:02:42
             

So my dad taught welding at Northwest College. He was a graduate of the University of Wyoming. He spent some time teaching at the Arapaho school on the Wind river reservation before coming back to Powell and worked at Northwest College for 20 some years. My mother was a volunteer at Southside School in Powell and I felt very fortunate that she started that position after I moved from Southside School to the middle school so I didn’t have to work well, study alongside my mother in the class, and then she became librarian of the school. Oh, okay.         

 

00:03:29
             

What are you when you think of Wyoming and growing up in this state? How do you describe your Wyoming identity? Well, I always identified myself as a Wyoming native and that was something I’ve always been proud of, is being deeply connected to this state. Again, with the exposure to my grandparents and my great grandparents, it really, really developed a strong connection to the past. And just listening about their experiences really drove home to me how this play shapes individuals, how it shapes families, and how it shapes cultures in society.         

 

00:04:21
             

And so I was naturally drawn to the field of history just because I’ve grown up with all these stories and decided to become a professional historian, which gave me a very different perspective of the past. I not only was able to bring into the classroom my own experiences, my family own experiences, but also I learned about other experiences and realized how diverse the state really is and some of the complexities of the past, and came to the realization that in a lot of cases, what benefited my family came at the expense of other cultures, especially the indigenous people that live here.         

 

00:05:11
             

How do you relate to your community? What is special about your community and how communities work together where you live? I consider my role as historian to be very important to the community. I’m always presenting lectures related to Wyoming’s past. I encouraged a lot of speakers to come to various community events to share their experiences, their research, their views of the past.         

 

00:05:46
             

But I just considered it very important to demonstrate to the community the relevancy of the past and how complex studying history truly is, just to get them thinking about what shapes who we are today. Because if we don’t understand how we got to the present day and those forces that are shaping our culture, our society, we’ll never be able to plan for the future. We’ll never be able to accept all the changes that we are going to endure now and into the near future. And so, specifically, when we talk about change in Wyoming, good or bad.         

 

00:06:33
             

How. Do we, as Wyomingites, what is our ability to manage change? Are people accepting change? Are they struggling with? As a historian, you kind of have 1ft in the past and 1ft in the future.         

 

00:06:51
             

And how do you bridge those two things to help people move forward into what is our Wyoming future? Well, I think first and foremost, we need to accept that we have been riding a wave of change that has been going on for hundreds of years. And that wave is really driven by the outside demand for Wyoming’s natural resources. And, you know, you go back to the Plains Indian cultures who, when they were reintroduced to the horse and found out that they could make their life better by coming out to places like Wyoming to hunt bison on horseback and trade with other communities, that was a great boom for them. And then you get the fur traders coming in that all of a sudden decide this little rodent like creature called the beaver is valuable.         

 

00:07:53
             

You know, people start coming out to trade, to trap, and they enjoy a boom there for a while that then outside demand lessons. There’s no longer a need for those beaver pelts and we have a collapse. And that goes on and on again. And we see it today with the coal industry. And you look at a town like Gillette, Wyoming.         

 

00:08:16
             

You know, when I was a young boy, I remember witnessing the boom there, visiting my aunt and uncle who lived there. And this was a community that started out with just a little over 1000 people and boomed up to 15,000 people because of outside demand for Wyoming coal. Now we have a very different response going on with the switching over to wind power, other ways to generate electricity. It’s going to really put a lot of stress, a lot of change on these communities. Again, we got to keep in mind this is something that hasn’t just developed recently.         

 

00:08:57
             

This is something that’s been going on for hundreds of hundreds of years. And one thing we can say about Wyoming people, from indigenous people to coal miners, is they’ve been enduring a lot of change. A lot of change. Sometimes it’s easy to accept and other times it’s not. But change is just a factor that’s always impacted this state.         

 

00:09:25
             

What is the one thing you can say about Park county or the communities of Park county historical that puts you on the map in a way that is different from every other county in Wyoming? Oh, that’s a good question.         

 

00:09:49
             

I think with Park County, of course, our connection to Yellowstone has greatly shaped the development of the communities here. The reliance on irrigation on water for farming and ranching has also shaped park county in ways that it hasn’t in other places in the American west. But again, I think Park County is a good reflection of how people have, have adapted to these landscapes. You go from the highest mountains of Park County to the lowest valleys there. There’s quite an elevation change.         

 

00:10:26
             

There’s quite a striking change between the various ecosystems here in Park county. And it’s at times a challenging place to live, but it’s also a very scenic place and that brings in all sorts of people. Starting out with my family, they were lured out here by tells of great potential farmland by a project developed with buffalo Bill Cody and George Beck. This idea of diverting water from what was then called the stinking water river to create farmland. And imagine that leaving the fields of Iowa to come out to a place watered by the stinking water river.         

 

00:11:14
             

And anyway, they adapted. They set up their farms, their homesteads. And now we’re seeing people come in here that are lured more by the natural beauty of the place. And I look at the old family homestead, and when my family came out, they were thinking, okay, we have a short growing season. We have to get water to the land.         

 

00:11:34
             

This is a lot of work. These elk and predators are problem because they’re eating our grass and taking our livestock. And. And now that homestead is basically home to somebody who wants it back in its natural state. They want to see the elk, the deer, the grizzly bears.         

 

00:11:52
             

And the mountain view has become priceless. So the community is changing and all these different groups coming in. It’s always a challenge to see how they interact with one another. Sometimes they find agreement, and sometimes they don’t. All right, well, thank you.         

 

00:12:15
             

Did that work? Yeah, that was great.         

 

00:12:25
             

Thank you for listening. I’m executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of change is brought to you by Wyoming humanities, our co-hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinkwhy.org subscribe and never miss a show.