Community: A Collection Of Human Beings

Community. The term is used as a catch-all phrase for anything to do with a collection of human beings, from the tangible to the far out and abstract. Unfortunately this means that most “communities” are not real communities. For example, the word 'community' is white hot in the advertising/marketing/sales/startup/event space. It alludes to more than just a transactional customer-company relationship that is fueled by personal touches and gift baskets. But most that I come across, in my opinion, are not actual communities. We hear the word being used, when in reality it means a series of monthly events, Facebook pages, brand loyalty membership clubs, yearly conferences, social media followers, Twitter, and the list goes on.

It seems the traditional definition of community is mostly based on shared location: a group of people living in the same place.That’s what community used to mean, historically. But for many of us, our village or neighborhood is no longer the key defining anecdote of identity or fellowship. We have shifted from traditionally being born into a community to now choosing our own communities and expressing our identities through them.

The stories following this Cody community conversation are from Craig Valdez and Susan Durfee. Thank you for tuning in!

Craig Valdez works as a Senior VP, Business Development & Retail Banking at Hilltop Bank, board member at Central Wyoming Hospice & Transitions, and is currently based in Casper, WY. He is also the Foundation President on the board of directors for the Casper College Foundation & Alumni Association.

Susan Durfee moved to Wyoming from San Francisco, like so many others, to be surrounded by the beauty of Western Wyoming and start a life more involved in the arts. Over three decades she has run several non-profit arts organizations in Jackson Hole, taught art classes and is currently the Director of Central Wyoming College Jackson; all while continuing to create her own artwork. It is a merging of several areas, or states if you will, that are absolutely important to her: the arts, education, and community.  

As always leave a review if you enjoyed these stories and follow us on Instagram or visit the webpage of the Wyoming Humanities!

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Emy diGrappa (00:01):

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy diGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history, and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land and the winds of change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns? Listen to folks from across our state, share their connection to Wyoming and home. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities.
Welcome everybody to this episode of Winds of Change. Welcome Chloe, Lucas and especially to our historian, Jeremy Johnson. Thanks for joining us today.

Jeremy Johnston (01:02):

It's pleasure to be here.

Chloe Flagg (01:04):

We're so excited to have you here, Jeremy. Your perspective is going to be awesome today. Thank you.

Jeremy Johnston (01:10):

Don't get too excited until you hear what I have to say, Chloe.

Lucas Fralick (01:14):

It's too late, it's too late.

Jeremy Johnston (01:17):

Like I always said, the historians have a way of ruining a good story. So we'll see.

Lucas Fralick (01:23):

I don't know. Have you ever sat in the same room with a bunch of accountants?

Emy diGrappa (01:28):

Okay. Well that's another perspective.

Lucas Fralick (01:30):

A story completely lightens up the room.

Jeremy Johnston (01:30):

That's true.

Emy diGrappa (01:36):

So today, we are talking about community and it has really caught my attention when I started thinking about because this is one of our themes and it's something I ask our guests a lot when I start talking to people and recording their story and their narrative about how they relate to their Wyoming community or how their Wyoming community relates to them and how they are part of a community.
And so it just really caught my attention that community references are so wide and just a wide array of different ways we say community. So we say gay community, we say black community, we say community of believers. And when I started thinking about that, I remember thinking that when I am talking about community, I'm actually talking about a specific place where people live and what is their community that they live in. And then when I started thinking broader about that term, it was like, wow, it's changed so much. Right? So that's why I wanted to have this conversation about what are your communities and how you think about that word.

Chloe Flagg (02:44):

Hi everyone. This is Chloe. I'm excited to be back this week. Thanks so much. When I think about community, I also tend to think about place, Emy. And I think Wyoming is really unique because I live in Laramie. So the Laramie community is very, very different than the Riverton community that I was born into and where I was raised. Those are two very different communities with different perspectives.
But then when you kind of zoom out a little bit and you think about the Wyoming community, it's its own definition. So there are so many different levels of community and so many different ways to look at it. So yes, I belong to the Wyoming community. More specifically, I belong to the Laramie community. More specifically, professionally, I belong to the nonprofit community. Personally, I belong to a mom community. So lots and lots of different ways to think about it. And they're all right and I think that's something that is always really fun for me in this conversation about community is that there really is no wrong answer for what it means to someone. And I kind of love that, but that's just how I think about it.

Lucas Fralick (04:04):

I would agree. I think that makes a lot of sense to me. I think for sure, finding a definition for community, what we definitely need is a sense of belonging and purpose. This isn't really tiered, so it doesn't matter which one comes first. But they're both essential for thriving in any place. And when I say purpose, that's a pretty open ended definition too. It's not just you have a job or hobbies within your community, it means that you feel that your voice is in all the diverse communities that can be, you feel that your voice is heard and understood. Purpose is pretty broad too. But yeah, community, that's what separates a difference between a home and a community, a place of belonging. That's my idea of community, anyway.

Emy diGrappa (04:52):

That's excellent. Both are really good. I love the purpose and belonging because that to me can be physical and it can just be how you see yourself in the world being part of something, is purpose and belonging. So that's why you hear that a lot, community of believers, or you hear people reference those communities that they belong to. And I kind of think that's such a new thing. I think that before, I want Jeremy to address this, I really do think before it was just a physical place and that's how it started out. And that's why I want him to share his perspective, not just on community, but on the birth of the Cody community and how that became a city and a place.

Jeremy Johnston (05:43):

Yeah. Those are great definitions that Chloe and Lucas offered about what composes a community. And I think one thing that we struggle with here in Wyoming is when we often think of the past, we tend to stress the idea of the rugged pioneer, the lone person who comes in and builds these communities. I was fortunate enough to work with Lynn Houze on the unpublished memoir of George Beck, which really provided an insightful view of the development of the community of Cody, Wyoming. Now, Cody, Wyoming, although I was born in Powell, I have ancestors who resided in the Cody area and were very connected to that area. And I always grew up assuming that the community was founded by one person, and that was Buffalo Bill Cody. George Beck offers some other insight that I think really gets at what Lucas said, this idea of bringing together a diverse group of people that have a similar belonging and purpose.
And actually, in reading Beck's memoir, he was the one that brought Cody into this project to develop a reclamation project that led to the creation of the town of Cody, Wyoming. Beck had a very good sense as to how it takes a group of people to really develop a place, a town, a community. And if you look around Wyoming, you can see there's a lot of communities that did not make it. You can throw a rock from wherever you stand here in the State of Wyoming and hit a ghost town, a town that did not make it. But anyway, George Beck realized that creating a town here in Wyoming was very difficult. It was going to require a lot of people contributing funds, contributing their expertise. And one thing he viewed in Buffalo Bill was a person who could reach out to the world and promote this area, lure in not only future investors, but homesteaders.
And if you think about it, convincing somebody to come out to the Bighorn Basin, this arid high land region that doesn't have enough rainfall to grow crops, and is loaded with sage brush and rattlesnakes. And getting them to envision that this was going to be their new home, this wonderful farmland was going to result from bringing water to the land. That was a difficult sell. But anyway, Buffalo Bill did a great job. And in the process, he brought in a lot of other people, as well as did Beck. So when you go through the list of who built this town, it really was a community of people, not just Buffalo Bill and Beck, but it was Senators Joseph Carey and Francis E. Warren who started the Carey Act that made it possible for these reclamation projects developed in the State of Wyoming.
Beck and Buffalo Bill also benefited from Lebin Hillberry who was the first to explore the area and reported this possibility of a good land that could be irrigated to Buffalo Bill and Beck. Hillberry was also joined by Jerry Ryan who confirmed his reports. Then there's the state engineer, Elwood Mead who basically convinced Beck and Buffalo Bill to cut down on their project so it could be achieved. And then there's the Sheridan banker horse, Alger, who was Beck's first partner who invested money into the Cody canal project that eventually created the community. A surveyor, Charles Hayden who laid out the first town plot for Cody, Wyoming, with George Beck. And then investors from all places, Buffalo, New York, Bronson Rumsey, who was a real estate investor and who was one of the organizers of the Pan-American Exposition there in Buffalo, New York. George Bleistein, who was the publisher who ran the Buffalo courier, who published all of Buffalo Bill's poster, also invested and produced some of the promotional material.
And then, H.M. Gerrans who ran the Iroquois Hotel in Buffalo, New York invested as well. And then Nate Salsbury, Buffalo Bill's vice president. He was also an investor in some of the irrigation projects around the area. And if you go to Cody, Wyoming, you'll see there's a select few that are recognized in the street names. There's Rumsey Avenue, Bleistein avenue, Gerrans Avenue, Alger avenue, Salsbury Avenue, but there's one person that may surprise a lot of people that help create this Wyoming community, and that's Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst. Just so happened that even with Beck's engineering expertise and Buffalo Bill's promotional abilities, they didn't have enough revenue to pull this off. So they went to Mrs. Hearst, who was a friend of George Beck, and convinced her to buy all of the water bonds for the reclamation project, which she did and bailed them all out.
Unfortunately, there is no street or avenue named after Mrs. Hearst. She's the one that really bailed out this project and made this happen. And so it was this community of people who had a purpose in creating community, some of was financially motivated, some people looking to build a new home. But they all came together to make this possible, stayed with it so this fledging town of Cody, Wyoming, which really struggled through the early years was able to succeed as a community.

Chloe Flagg (11:13):

Wow.

Emy diGrappa (11:16):

I know, that's what I was just thinking Chloe. I was thinking, wow, that is some deep history and brings a whole different perspective because, like you said, it's named after Buffalo Bill. So you don't think about what it really took. And of course, me in my modern air brain, I'm thinking, how did they find out about stuff? Because now I just send an email, I make a phone call. But it wasn't like that then. So how did all these people just know and come together?

Jeremy Johnston (11:52):

Yeah, it's networking. These people just happened to run into each other. Beck ran into Buffalo Bill in Sheridan, Wyoming, and convinced him to join the project. And Buffalo Bill was also interested. Buffalo Bill first learned about it through his son-in-law. So it's amazing, it's often said Wyoming is one big town with very long streets. And I think even back then, even though all these communities were very isolated, there was still a lot of networking going on. And not just within the state, outside of the state as well. So I think from our modern perspective, we think networking is fairly new, it's something that came out of Facebook and Zoom meetings like this. That process of collaborating with people, it's been in Wyoming for quite some time. And again, I really think we become so fixated in Wyoming's past, we want to romanticize those, what we consider to be the town founders, people we want to be the pioneers. And we tend to forget that they often worked with many other people in a community.

Chloe Flagg (13:03):

I have a question, Jeremy. And maybe you touched on this and I just got so wrapped up in all of it that I maybe missed it. So why the area of Cody specifically? It wasn't on a railroad, right? It had nothing to do with any of that. Why that area?

Jeremy Johnston (13:22):

Yeah, that's a great question, Chloe. Because if you looked at it back then, this was probably one of the worst places you could imagine building a community.

Lucas Fralick (13:33):

Sounds about right.

Jeremy Johnston (13:36):

There's no rainfall. So you're trying to lure in homesteaders that are going to grow crops, which means you have to provide them water. And building a canal at that point in time was quite an undertaking. It took a lot of financial resources and even luring in workers. That was something Beck struggled with. And again, one thing he did to collaborate with people within the community, he found out very quickly that if he kept the saloon keepers out of the area, the workers found a way to migrate into distant communities to go drink. And so Beck finally came up with an agreement that the saloon keepers wouldn't cheat the workers. That way the workers could get their refreshments, but didn't have to wander away from the community. So, so they became part of this collaboration as well. But then selling this, I mean, not just the landscape and the isolation, but it was located on what was then known as the Stinking Water River.
And I think back, my family, my great grandmother, she walked from Chadron, Nebraska behind her family's wagon to come to Cody, Wyoming, to settle with them. What in the hell were they thinking? Why would you leave an established homestead? And you're going to take your chances on a place that's a high arid desert, hoping that they get water to the land. And on top of that, it's named the Stinking Water. What a great opportunity. This just had to be a tremendous sale. But again, just working together, they pulled it off. But even at that, no one really made a profit off of this. Beck estimated it cost them about $22 an acre to irrigate the land around Cody, Wyoming, which you factor in inflation, that was a considerable chunk of change for every acre that they irrigated, that resulted in the building of the town of Cody, Wyoming.

Chloe Flagg (15:40):

Yeah. Okay. All right. So it really doesn't make sense why Cody is where it is.

Jeremy Johnston (15:46):

No. But I mean, you look at other communities, you think, why didn't they make it? Why did they collapse? Because we tend to focus on the towns that made it but there's a lot of towns out there that are barely hanging on today, some towns that are just simply gone, there's nothing left, but foundations or a few rotted logs. You ask yourself, "Why didn't they make it?" Was it that natural resources, the environment, outside demand for products? A lot of that factors in, but I think also communities and having that collaboration allows you to overcome some of those limitations, some challenges. Cody, Wyoming, it's founders overcame quite a bit.

Chloe Flagg (16:33):

I have another question, I'm full of them. So Jeremy, how did they decide on the name Cody? Obviously, Buffalo Bill is a huge, international persona at that time. But how did they decide, let's hitch our wagon to that name?

Jeremy Johnston (16:52):

Yeah. That's a great question, Chloe, because actually Cody could have been named something else. It could have been named Shoshone. Other names were pitched forward. There's actually two competing communities that began to emerge. Buffalo Bill decided to go out on his own and plot out a town, which would've straddled the river. It was a crazy design. You would've had this town linked together, crossing around this fairly wide river there, with suspension bridges and everything. And it just didn't make any sense. And Beck said, "Well, if Cody can build a town, so can I." So Beck began working and he actually plotted where the current city is now located. And Buffalo Bill got word of it, realized his community wasn't going to make it, but Beck's was the one that was starting to emerge. And he found out through some connections, political connections, they were going to name it something other than Cody and Buffalo Bill pulled some strings and was able to switch the town's name to Cody, in his honor.
And Beck realized we got enough working against us here in recruiting settlers to this area. So Cody's a good name. It has a lot of appeal. Buffalo Bill was the big celebrity in his day and time. He was bigger than Kanye West. Throw that out. So he was bigger than Kanye West in his own time. So having the town named after a celebrity Beck realized was a good way to lure in potential investors and settlers. So he basically decided to let the other names go and Cody became the name of the new community.

Chloe Flagg (18:42):

Fascinating.

Emy diGrappa (18:43):

Yeah. I think it's really fun to think about and bring into perspective the way things start. Because a lot of times we just think they just are. And that's the beauty of history, is just bringing that into perspective and taking us back in time and thinking about where we are now and where things were and having a fun way to converse about it so that we can get that really grand perspective on how things become even just words. Like, when did bad become good? I don't know, but it did.

Chloe Flagg (18:43):

Right.

Emy diGrappa (19:19):

And so those are interesting things to talk about because they happen to us all the time on a daily basis because history's always happening and history was yesterday. So it was really great to hear the history of Cody, Wyoming. And thank you for joining us today, Jeremy, and I'm going to introduce the stories and narratives of the people that are going to be talking about their Wyoming community. So thank you.

Jeremy Johnston (19:49):

Thank you.

Chloe Flagg (19:50):

Thanks Jeremy. This was awesome.

Lucas Fralick (19:52):

Yeah. Thank you.

Jeremy Johnston (19:53):

Thanks. It's good to see everybody. And Chloe, I appreciate you saying you were interested and you didn't hear something, but you were interested in it. So I'm glad you covered up that way. That's a lot better excuse than... I was a former teacher, so I'm glad you weren't sleeping in the back there.

Chloe Flagg (20:12):

I was not sleeping. I was on the edge of my seat. Sorry, Emy, I know we are ready to move on, but I did also just want to say thank you so much, Jeremy, for pointing out yet again, another fantastic role of women in the founding of all communities across Wyoming. But women plays such an important role in our understanding of Wyoming. Cody better get with it. They need to recognize her more. Because that is absolutely fascinating. I never knew that.

Lucas Fralick (20:41):

She clearly saved the whole enterprise. You can't hide that fact, sugarcoat that in any way. That's exactly what she did.

Emy diGrappa (20:51):

I was happy to hear that she was the one holding the money bag.

Lucas Fralick (20:57):

Even more exciting. Yeah.

Emy diGrappa (20:58):

Yeah. That's cool because in those days that didn't happen a lot. A lot of women lost money. The men handled all the money and a lot of times, they never even knew what was going on and they lost their whole estates when their husband died because someone could come in and take their money because their name wasn't on anything.

Jeremy Johnston (21:20):

Yeah.

Emy diGrappa (21:21):

That's really cool Chloe, that you caught that. I didn't catch that until just now.

Chloe Flagg (21:25):

Yeah. That's just awesome. So Jeremy, you absolutely made my day today. This was wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing this incredible history of Cody and just your expertise and your knowledge is just always wonderful to be around. And to hear your fire for history is always exciting. So thank you so much.

Jeremy Johnston (21:50):

Thank you. It's a pleasure to work with all of you.

Emy diGrappa (21:53):

Absolutely. Thank you.

Emy diGrappa (21:56):

The stories following this Cody community conversation are from Craig Valdez, business and banking executive, born and raised in Casper who saw his community changed drastically during the oil boom and bust, and Susan Durfee, artist and educator in Jackson who looks at community through her artistic lens, informing her identity. Thanks for listening.

Craig Valdez (22:24):

I live in Casper, Wyoming, which is actually where I was born. There's been a lot of change. And I think about especially the Amoco Refinery that was once a standard oil refinery, which is actually what brought my family to Casper. My mom's parents both grew up in Montana, but graduated from Montana State with chemistry degrees. And so my grandfather was hired on at the refinery as a chemist. And so they moved to Casper in 1949. And it's interesting, a lot of those homes that were built in that timeframe, pretty close to the refinery, kind of the same size, same feel, but it really was like refinery worker area. I think that really changed this town a lot when the refinery closed and later became Three Crowns Golf course. The refinery was such a big, physically large plant, that took up a lot of the center of town, had influence over the river and those kind of things. When it left, it really changed the town a lot.
My perceptions have shift over time from that real industrial oil and gas to now, more of a outdoor rec, medical and just commerce being central is pretty big for Casper. Entrepreneurs, it's awesome. Casper really supports that effort. It's funny we're talking about the refinery, our business incubator now through the University of Wyoming, or in partnership with them, sits on that property that was once the refinery. It's interesting to watch some of those and a few of them just incredible that you just do not expect to find maybe in Casper, Wyoming that are high tech companies that are really doing well. I'm seeing Casper through their lens and they're saying, "This is so cool, I wish we had something like this," or "Man, I really miss," fill the blank. And that's reinvigorating for me, like, oh yeah. It almost makes you feel good about your choice, and staying here has been been incredible.
It's interesting too, to have had an opportunity, have a job and career and those kind of things. So looking back in the discussions around Casper being oil and gas town, we, in many ways, are going to always have some of that, live here. We'll always have a little bit of an oil and gas feel. It's interesting to think about as we talk about Casper being a hub and providing a lot of services to a lot of people. But at the same time, we just value space. And one of my favorite things about Casper for me is I can be in my car, drive 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and be completely alone in the mountains or at the lake or at a river. You may see another human or you may not. That is the challenge. It's how do you maintain that component, but not lose our young people? It's an interesting thing. I don't actually know what to say.
Community is everything. Well, like I said, I'm the middle of five kids. We have a large family with large extended family, cousins. And so that's an important component to me. A lot of them still are able to live and work in Wyoming. So that's been a nice thing. We literally were fortunate to be able to stay here when the refinery closed. There were lean times. It was a tough, tough road in Wyoming. And we were one of many, many families who were having a hard time with that huge economic driver just folding up and closing. But you watch people take care of each other and give. And every community in Wyoming has this sense of taking care of each other, and this woven in instilled kindness where folks move in here from out state, like, "Oh my God, people are so nice here."
A lot of folks move in for opportunity and move out for opportunity. But I think that's one of the biggest things for me is you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. Usually, you're four people deep like, "Oh yes, I know them and our families did this," or "We grew up doing this sport" and you know people for lifetimes,

Susan Durfee (26:57):

I came to Wyoming from San Francisco. I had visited Jackson a couple times earlier. And although it was very difficult for me initially, to be away from a city, I became involved with the Art Association of Jackson Hole and became the director there. It was wonderful to have that sense of belonging. And working with those who had started the art association a decade or two or three earlier was really gratifying. The people that I met really cared about the community. They had lived here for their whole lives and they had started that organization in order to introduce something to the community, something that didn't exist, organized art classes. It was that same organization that brought art to the schools. And my personal vision had been to be an artist. But as the years have gone by I've realized that my family's emphasis on education and the value of education was quite strong.
And I have really dedicated myself both to promoting creativity in the arts, but also access to education. And it is through those two interests that I have been able to meet wonderful people throughout the State of Wyoming. Working with them, create programs and opportunities that I hope in many cases and made a big difference. I wanted to refer back to a series of paintings that I've been working on recently. And they're woven paintings, woven paintings of where I've taken a painting of a landscape and then a painting in many cases, there's self-portraits. And literally, cut the paintings apart and woven them together. And what I'm considering in this work is how an individual impacts the environment that you live in and how the environment impacts you.
And this is what I feel living in Wyoming does to me and I observe it in others. The land is huge. The weather is strong and impactful, and it makes a difference on us as individuals. And you can see that often in even the programs that are created throughout the state, programs that reach out to other people, to support people, to help them when the winters are rough. So this is, I guess, a perspective of mine is looking at how we as individuals and then we as community members can be respectful of our environment and together work with the situations that we have at hand and work to better the State of Wyoming for the future. When I create my artwork, I reflect a lot on my feelings and my environment, and it really is a process of identity, it's a question of identity. And I find that the Wyoming environment, specifically the Wyoming environment, has a huge impact on me.
And as I was considering that, I realized that it was weaving these two elements together really expressed what it was that I felt. What I am working with most recently is doing the portraits of individuals on a rice paper with ink, so that when I weave, cut them into strips and weave them into a painting of the landscape, the portrait becomes integrated as I literally weave it and then place glue on it. So the rice paper becomes a little translucent and it becomes an abstract, I'm going to say an abstract dance, between the individual and the land. Some of these situations are almost portraits or with landscapes, sort of dreaming of the summer, or feeling very cold and desolate in the winter.
You've asked me how the weaving is reflective of what I see as so powerful in the community. And my response to that is that I feel it's very, very important for an individual or a community to understand who you are and where you come from in order to not only best address what is needed right now, but what it is that you're working towards in the future. And as Wyoming knights, we need to understand and respect the power of the environment and the fragility of the environment in the same way that we have to recognize the power that we have as a people and the impact that we can have thoughtfully or not thoughtfully, as well as how fragile community can be. And it takes that self-reflection and that time to understand who you are and where you are in order to do the best that you can addressing the needs now, as well as addressing the needs in the future.
It's a gift, I feel, to be involved in projects that impact community, and to be able to work with others throughout the state and within the community to collaborate and to make these changes. So that's how I see the creation of these woven paintings to be reflective of how, from my point of view, as community members, we need to look at who we are and what we're capable of. As a community, and as a state, we are at an interesting time, the whole world's at an interesting time right now. And there's so many that have moved to Wyoming to leave the cities that they're in and the other communities they are, as we can hear on the radio, there's the reference to the great migration. And Wyoming certainly has become home to many of those. I see that as a challenge to Wyoming, but maybe we should need to rephrase it as an opportunity.
There's some that have come here recently, within the past year or two, some may not stay. Hopefully those that don't stay will leave with a greater understanding of the State of Wyoming, of the beauty that we have here and I want to say the very strong communities that we have. Those that do stay will have different perspectives, different backgrounds, and expertise and it's an opportunity for us to welcome that and to be open, for those of us that have lived here a long time, to be open to what gifts these individuals can bring to us, to help bring Wyoming into a future that keeps what we value preserved and enables us to take these new talents, points of view and help us weave it into our new future.

Emy diGrappa (35:30):

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer, Emy diGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, our cohosts, and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinkWY.org, subscribe and never miss a show.