Quotes about Gillette, Wyoming
I seek to discover and understand the essence of Gillette. One facet of that answer is first-hand accounts of the time. These quotes allow us to peek through the views of others. If we listen they will tell us important history and dire warnings.
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Short bursts radically changed Gillette and the lengths of the sections can reflect that. During rapid growth and a little after when there was time for reflection the quotes are plentiful. While times of stability may have much less.
Some of the quotes are wrong and you will see me correct them when possible. Am I wrong as well? That is what we call an exercise left to the reader. So join me in looking at one facet of what Gillette was, is, and will be.Mr. Satterly
Updated July 27, 2022
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
End of the line
Gillette is surely to make one of the best towns in Wyoming. It will be a division station on the B. & M., and will probably have shops, etc., in addition to the round house. It is very pleasantly located, and is surrounded by a splendid grazing country, and there will be considerable agriculture on the side. It will be a trading point for many of the largest stock ranches in Wyoming and Montana. It is in the heart of vasts tracts of coal land, much of which will probably prove valuable. Being midway between Newcastle and Buffalo, it will command the trade of a very large territory. †
Not only is this one of the earliest mentions of Gillette it is an upbeat and accurate prediction that is relevant even today. Some things have shifted in priority such as less focus on ranching and much more on coal.
Donkeytown, the new terminus of the B. & M. railroad has been re-christened Gillette. It is a rip-roaring town and has a newspaper. †
The Saratoga Sun
Many people love repeating this piece of trivia. It captures the imagination to think of saying Donkeytown, Wyoming, instead of Gillette.
If the name would have stuck the Campbell County High School mascot would have been a donkey instead of a camel. There may have been donkeys at every county fair and donkeys being lead through Donkey Street downtown during major events. Instead of hearing the same old tired questions about Gillette razor blades we would get to listen to the no longer funny jokes about donkeys. You just can’t win.
An official census has been taken of Gillette, the new terminus of the Burlington in the north, and, according to the returns, it has a population of 320. This does not include a large number of whom it was thought would only be resident there temporary. This is a good showing for a town only six weeks old. †
Cheyenne Weekly Sun
The first census of Gillette after it was incorporated in 1892 was taken in 1900 and the population was 151.
Gillette is permanently a good town. It is not a tent town. It is not a shanty town. Most of the business men are here to stay. There is enough between Newcastle and Buffalo to make one good town, and Gillette is that town. †
The Gillette News
In the early days the Gillette News took up every chance it could get to defend Gillette’s interests and reputation. There are several instances of them calling out other papers and government officials for mischaracterizing Gillette or ignoring their duties to the area. It wasn’t just an attempt to correct minor errors. I believe they felt they had a duty and took that personally.
It seems there must have been a problem with the perception of Gillette still being a tent city or as they described a shanty town. I haven’t seen enough records to say what the misconceptions of the day were, but clearly an injustice was done and The Gillette News was damned sure they were going to try to fix it.
The editor of the Journal spent several days in Gillette this week. That young city is very lively, and new buildings are springing up so fast that it requires a cool head to keep count of them. The town already has eight saloons, seven general stocks, six of them carrying groceries, one hardware store, three hotels, two livery stables, two blacksmith shops, two meat markets, a bakery, a lumber yard, a bank and a newspaper. One hundred car loads of cattle–five trains–were shipped from there last Saturday. †
The Newcastle Journal
Perhaps the liveliest town in the state just now is Gillette, the new terminus of the Burlington. A newspaper has been started. †
The Cheyenne Daily Sun
Gillette and Moorcroft are very insignificant places and one has to even beg a glass of water. †
County Treasurer Whitney is in receipt of a letter from A. J. Spencer, formerly of Billings who is now a general merchant at Gillette, Wyo. Mr. Spencer says that business is fair in his town which is in Crook County. There are six general stores in the town, which is expected to be the end of a freight division on the Burlington road. Mr. Spencer says they have just commenced work on the grade west of Gillette, Kilpatrick Bros. & Collins have started their first camp. The town is 60 miles from Buffalo and 95 from Sheridan, and surrounded by coal fields. †
Red Lodge Picket
Gillette didn’t spend long as the end of the rail line. It quickly moved on to Buffalo. Since the beginning of the town everyone knew there was an abundance of coal, though major mining didn’t happen until decades later.
W. G. Drape, is down from the wild and woolly town of Gillette, Wyo., and is enjoying the hospitalities afforded at the Hot Springs House [, Hot Springs, Dakota Territory]. †
The Hot Springs Star
There has always been debate and controversy about Gillette being a wild place. Outsiders would say it was then a local newspaper would say it wasn’t. The same thing happened all over again in the 1970s during a coal boom.
Pioneer Johnnie Humphrey returned Monday from Gillette, Wyoming, and reports that he found a typical rustling frontier town, full of men with pluck and energy, determined to build up their little town. Their resources are many and varied, and only need good sturdy hands and heads to make it one of the foremost towns in this state. Of course the town is now in its crude state, the barking of the revolver is heard oftener than the toll of the church bell, but one year hence will see a marked change in all this. †
The Sundance Gazette
Mr. Minnich, proprietor of the Merchants Hotel, at Newcastle, was renewing old acquaintances at Gillette yesterday. Mr. Minnich expressed himself as being surprised at the flourishing condition of Gillette. †
The Gillette News
The married ladies of Gillette are complaining of the manner in which the lewd women of that town deport themselves on the streets. The attention of the county attorney has been called to the condition of things, and he has notified the managers of some the places of resort that things must be toned down somewhat. †
The Sundance Gazette
In this context deport means carry. Another article says the places of resort were dance halls. The married women were looking through the windows of those places, but we can only imagine what they thought.
Perhaps, city-bred proper Victorian ladies in all black were aghast at the sight of dresses above the ankle titillating their men. Or maybe down-to-earth tough plain ranch women were looking to protect their families in a rough and tumble town full of what they saw as vice.
Our plan also included a trip to the Devil’s Tower on the Belle Fourche River. Moorcroft was the nearest point to the tower on the railroad; but as no outfit for the trip was to be had there, we were compelled to go to Gillette, twenty-eight miles farther, a declining town of the character usually found at the end of a railroad section during construction. †
The trip by artist Thomas Moran included photographer William Henry Jackson. Unlike the shiny advertisements by the visitor center telling us it is an hour to the tower the adventure by the duo with their hired team out of Gillette was several days long.
Along the way they and the horses were pelted with hail leaving them with welts and bruises everywhere. After that they faced danger trying to cross water and exhaustion getting themselves and the horses through the sticky mud when the hail turned to rain. A day and a half of hunger also spoiled the mood as ranches that were expected to supply them were found deserted. Decisions at forks in the road came down to guessing which trail looked more well traveled than the other. Our existence traveling to and from Gillette is a golden paradise filled with every luxury by comparison.
Gillette is striving hard to maintain her justly earned reputation for toughness. The latest authentic information from that point is to the effect that on Tuesday evening last Druggist Higley was shot twice by some ruffians and then robbed of his money and valuables. The following morning another man was shot in a quarrel at the same town. †
The Sheridan Enterprise
Fire almost wiped out the town of Gillette, on the Burlington in Crook County, Sunday night. … The loss is in the neighborhood of $100,000 [$3,119,720.88 in 2021] and no insurance. Gillette was built during the railway boom days, and all the buildings were of frame. ¶ This town has been the scene of a number of exciting happenings. In a year it has had no less than a dozen killings, shooting scrapes and robberies without number, and on one occasion two cowboys held up the occupants of four saloons. At evening they escaped into the prairie. Gillette is now but a memory. †
The Daily Boomerang
This is the only mention I have seen of Gillette’s demise outside of energy industry predictions. Obviously that never happened and the town was rebuilt.
The people of Gillette shouldn’t have been surprised. Not too long before this were fires that threatened the entire small town. Citizens had to rush and put out fires that consumed entire buildings before it took the rest of the town with it.
The Lively Town of Gillette Visited by a Destructive Fire. ¶ The town of Gillette on the Burlington extension in northern Wyoming was almost entirely wiped out by fire last week. †
The Cheyenne Daily Sun-Leader
Fire strikes yet again. You might imagine they would have learned from the other fires especially from the one just prior to this that was also said to have destroyed most of the town.
We visited Gillette last Sunday and found that town in a flourishing condition. †
The Newcastle Democrat
When they swap horses in Gillette all the boot that is required is drinks for the house. †
The Newcastle Democrat
This appeared as what seems to be news items reprinted from the Gillette News. The quote sounds interesting and it certainly would be if I knew what it meant. If you know what this means please let me know.
We have deer and antelope in this section, but no bear. †
W. P. R.
The deer and pronghorn still regularly make their way into the city, but thankfully I too can report there are no bears.
Mr. Rogers believes the Gillette country has a great future. It is by nature one of the best stock regions in the west and the country is already populated by prosperous cattle and sheep owners. †
Crook County Monitor
Rev. D. L. Schultz writing from the new railroad town of Gillette, Wyoming, where a Baptist church was recently organized, says “Our town has at present 200 inhabitants, there are four saloons and gambling places, and other dens of vice. … The Town Council gave us the use of the town hall in which to hold services, but we are hindered because we are compelled to give up at any time for the people who dance. This is one of the prevailing evils of this place.” †
Baptist Home Monthly
D. L. Schultz
In the early days religious services were hard to come by and few seemed to care what the practicing Christians thought about anything.
Senator Rogers reports a very encouraging revival of business in the wester part of the county. Gillette, the metropolis of that section, shows unmistakable signs of a renewal of its former activity. The shipping season is near at hand, and this always means an increase of business in all branches of industry. The range was never better than at present, and this is a significant statement, as the Gillette country has ever been the stockman’s paradise. †
The Crook County Monitor
Gillette, Wyoming was surveyed and platted as a town in 1891 and organized and incorporated as a city in 1892. It is located in the southwestern portion of Crook county on the Lincoln-Billings line of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railway and is the seat of one of the largest and richest ranging and stock shipping districts of the state. There are vast beds of coal underlying the town and the country tributary. The city has a complete (soft water) system of waterworks, church and an extra good graded school system. Gillette has no bonded or outstanding city indebtedness and virtually no city tax, the levy for 1905 being but three mills and is on the eve of wonderful development. Her citizens are energetic, prosperous, public spirited and proverbially hospitable, which coupled with her natural advantages insures its present continued substantial growth and an unusual opportunity for the investment of capital in various channels. Letters of inquiry gladly answered by the News or any business firm in Gillette. †
The Gillette News
Gillette, Wyoming, is a very rough country in more ways than one, and it was up to us to fly at ten o’clock, wind or no wind, as per advertisement. †
E. L. Mathewson
Trivia books will tell you that flight in Gillette was the first in Wyoming and it happened on July 4, 1911. In a testimonial about a motor Mathewson reveals more about the flight in this letter. He believed pilot George Thompson would have surely crashed if not for the new motor. This unknowingly foreshadowed Thompson’s death in a plane crash just a year later.
Some four or five years ago I sent a missionary to the little village of Gillette, Wyoming, to spy out the land. He reported that there were not only no Church people there, but none who cared for Christian services of any kind. Cowboys and saloonkeepers ran the town. †
Anson Roger Graves
Reverend Graves later found out people in Gillette did want religious services. He also described the planning for what ended up being the first Catholic church in Gillette. It’s rare, but not unheard of to see Gillette being called a village in the early days.
I have traveled far and wide and have lived among people called savages (uncivilized), but never did I meet such a low degree of intelligence as I witnessed at Gillette, Wyo. †
This was coming from a man who literally got on a soap box and started preaching about the wonders of unions in 1911. It seems that kind of stance on unions proved to be controversial for that time and place. He said the people wouldn’t listen and threw eggs at him for fun.
If the idea of unions sounds laughable, outdated, or foreign to the area know that in the early 1970s all the mines around Gillette were unionized. They even went on strike at one point and a union buster was called in to help.
This has been some cold day. I drove into Gillette today, only froze my face on both sides a little. That don’t hurt a fellow out here after one gets used to it. … We like this country fine for a new country, and it isn’t much like a new country either. There are seven families in half to one and a half miles of us, school house in one-quarter of a mile, country store two and one-half miles, and get the mail twice a week in half a mile. Any one looking for a good country and thinks Iowa isn’t good enough, come to Gillette, Wyoming, Campbell County, and we will find a suitable place for them, deeded land or relinquish. †
F. E. Osborn
There is a great scarcity of buildings in Gillette both business and residence. †
Campbell County Record
Nearly half the pupils who attend the Gillette schools are from the rural districts of the county … †
Gillette is a beautiful place, growing fast and people by the cream of the land and the world should have an opportunity to hear from them through our county papers. †
a Gillette citizen
Although taken a little out of context the point of Gillette is the important part. The rest of the missing text is a complaint about a newspaper.
It is a pretty poor commentary on Gillette’s appreciation of its country customers to know that there is no place provided where a tired woman can sit and rest unless she sit on a counter or barrel or box in some store. Easy chairs and couches in a quite pleasant rest-room will meet this need, and express this appreciation in a highly sat-satisfactory way. †
Eighteen birds in Gillette City voted against the bond issue. Whom they were will never be known, but since there are always a few in every community who are against progress in every form no further comment is necessary. †
The bonds were for constructing Campbell County High School at the end of Gillette Avenue. That school is now Twin Spruce Junior High School. Nothing has changed since this vote. Rural citizens in the county still vote against spending and are overruled by votes in Gillette, but as they note even a few in Gillette will always say no.
The vote at that time was about the high school, but the same issue comes up in other ways. In the 1970s new social services were rejected until people saw the benefits. This same story repeats itself every generation. Today, that might have been a recent vote to create a college district.
The county citizens will tell us they are conservative politically and financially and that they don’t want to pay for services they don’t use. So they see no reason why they should bear any the city’s tax burden as county residents. This is a common attitude both among rural and urban citizens alike.
… there is every indication that Gillette as a city and Campbell as a county are just entering upon the greatest era of prosperity ever known, recovering as it were from war conditions, one from poor crop and the loss of live stock through lack of feed, no shelter, and a hard winter (1919 1920,) with plenty of feed on hand, pleasant weather and good soil conditions for planting, excellent prospects for a new line of railroad through the county and a development of our oil and gas resources in the very near future. †
The Gab Man
Gab by Mack was a regular opinion section published in the Homesteader newspaper. It never mentions his name, but he liked to use the third person Gab Man. The owner and editor of the Homesteader was Thomas W. McDonough. So he was probably the Gab Man.
The history of Gillette is riddled with references to coal and oil. It still took much longer to really develop, but it went far beyond any of their expectations. At this time you can see the focus is still on agricultural development.
Oil scouts and geologists become numerous in Gillette and Campbell counties. †
We cannot go back to ten years ago and do the things for Gillette that we should have done then. If each property owner had planted a profusion of trees and shrubbery, and roses, various kinds of plant life, ten years ago, Gillette would have been a bower of beauty now. But the majority did not, and we are not enjoying the delights of a beauty spot of nature. †
It took some more time, but eventually people did plant trees everywhere across the city. This can be seen by going into the older part of Gillette anywhere near the downtown area. The people at the time and even today assume planting is a good thing, but is it? The natural landscape in the area does not have trees except a few along mostly dry creeks or above the tree line.
Then there are other questions about attempting to bring nature into a city. It can end up with oddities like little patches of ornamental grass surrounding new houses so close you could reach over and touch the next one. Maybe we shouldn’t have a perversion of the little cabin in the woods or in this case the little cottage on the high plains in the middle of the city.
Gillette is in the county seat of Campbell County, in the northeastern part of Wyoming; the county is traversed by the Burlington Railroad and by good highways. The elevation is round 4300 feet [1,310 meters] in the vicinity of Gillette. At this elevation and in this latitude, of course, the growing season is rather short, with killing frosts up to the middle of May and starting again about the middle of September. The rainfall averages from 15 to 18 inches [38 to 45 cm] a year but it is ample for dry-farming. Up to a few years ago stock raising was practically the sole industry, but during 1918 and 1919 a great deal of land was broken and cultivated by dry-farming methods. Land prices range from $10 to $30 [$177.43 to $532.30 in June 2022] an acre. †
Sunset Magazine Service Bureau
A man asked about homesteading around Gillette and this was part of the answer. The other parts included mostly information on what it took to deal with the problems homesteading. I think most assume homesteaders always succeeded. But like anything in life, many of them failed for all sorts of reasons.
Q. How thick is the biggest vein of coal yet found?
A. One hundred feet at Gillette, Wyo. †
The Seattle Star
The vein of coal was most likely at Wyodak Mine.
Gillette, Wyoming, is one of the last old-time cowtowns on the last frontier. Just a few short years ago we boasted of three general merchandise stores and six saloons, and although now we see new cars parked where we used to see cow ponies tied to the hitch-racks, it is still more or less a cowtown. †
Harry K. Hays
Already seeing nostalgia for the good old days. Today, I believe many of us would have still considered Gillette a cowtown for many more years after this.
Gillette has 169 businesses and professional firms, classified as follows: 14 service and filling stations, 13 grocery stores, 11 cafes and lunchrooms, 7 hotels, 6 garages, 6 general merchandise stores, 4 tourist camps, 4 barber shops, 4 retail liquor stores, 4 meat markets, 5 beauty shops, 4 dairies, 4 plumbing and heating shops, 4 electrical shops, 3 abstract, insurance and real estate firms, 3 farm implement firms, 3 transfer companies, 3 grain elevators, 3 billiard parlors, 3 lawyers, 3 doctors, 2 chiropractors, 2 dentists, 2 drug stores, 2 newspapers, 2 dry cleaning shops, 2 wrecking yards, 2 hardware stores, 2 building contractors, 2 fancy work shops, 2 lumber yards, 2 hospitals, variety store, gift and music store, men’s clothing store, ladies’ ready-to-wear, theatre, bank, creamery, greenhouse, coal and manufacturing company, confectionery, bakery, refinery, undertaker, photographer, optometrist, ice company, veterinarian, sawmill. †
Gillette Lions Club
If I remember correctly the Gillette News Record reported Gillette had over 1,100 businesses in 2021.
GILLETTE, 87.7 m. (4,544 alt., 1,340 pop.), seat of Campbell County, has a flour mill and oil refinery. In the region around it are more than 30 burning coal mines, apparently ignited by lightning, by campers’ fires, or by spontaneous combustion. †
T. A. Larson
Greetings from Gillette, Wyoming
Way out west where there are
more rivers and less water
more cows and less milk
you can see farther …
and see less
than anywhere else in the world! †
A. D. Gaddis
Greetings from Gillette, Wyoming
In Northeast Wyoming where there are
many creeks that run dry
many cattle but no dairy cows
no trees …
to block your view
of the desolate high plains!
We spent the night of October 4th in Gillette, Wyoming. Before reaching this town, we saw a great many jackrabbits, skunks, deer and antelope. The antelope season was then open, and we were told that 90 had been killed around Gillette that day and placed in coolers. ¶ Leaving Gillette early on the morning of Oct. 5, we saw a great deal of game along the way, including ringneck pheasants. †
W. T. Swindall
At the time pronghorn were extremely plentiful and hunters came from across the country to hunt them. Gillette advertised itself with the name of the annual event Home of the Antelope Roundup.
Around Gillette are more than 30 burning coal mines, apparently ignited by lightning, by camper’s fires, or by spontaneous combustion. Some of the larger coal deposits glow distinctly at night. Wide crevices open above the burning coal; †
1954 Senior English Class
Your misfortune of experiencing this mock-arrest is our way of greeting you. ¶ Gillette, Wyo., and its citizens welcome you to our town and community. We wish you a pleasant stay while visiting amongst us and that you have an enjoyable trip and vacation in wonderful Wyoming. ¶ Yours for fun and happiness, †
D. J. Dalbey
George P. Marsh
Mock arrest was just what it sounds like. The police would stop tourists and bring them in as if they were being arrested. There they would meet D. J. Dalbey and George P. Marsh who told them it was a promotional gimmick to advertise Gillette.
If the name Dalbey sounds familiar it’s because he was the Mayor of Gillette at the time. When he died the Dalbey Memorial Park was named after him. Marsh was President of the Campbell County Chamber of Commerce.
As compensation the people who experienced this fake arrest were given coupons and gift certificates for local businesses. This is one of those things that could only happen in the distant past. Instead of taking it in stride or as amusement it would be the first step to lawsuits and seen as government waste and abuse of power in our cynical present and maybe rightfully so.
Situated on U.S. Highways 14 and 16 and Interstate 90, Gillette lies on a direct route between the beautiful Black Hills and famed Yellowstone National Park. Located on a high plateau east of the Big Horn Mountains, the community boasts a healthful altitude of 4500 feet above sea level. … The Campbell County High School and the Gillette [Grade] school, both Class 1 accredited schools, are [currently] among the most modern and best equipped in Wyoming. More than adequate lodging accommodations include 193 motel units, 64 hotel rooms, and a number of excellent dining establishments. 13 churches serve the religious needs of the area. Additionally, residents and visitors benefit from the services of four medical doctors, two dentists, and the 42-bed Campbell County Memorial Hospital. †
With such a dry and promotional tone this was most likely this was written by the Chamber of Commerce and put into a tri-fold postcard pamphlet. Material like this doesn’t always say who made it, when it was made, or who published it. Best we can do is look at the years mentioned and the postmarked date and guess somewhere in between.
As we go up the main street of Gillette toward the high school and see all the fine stores, and later see the fine homes, we try to imagine how different it must have looked many years ago when the Texas long horn cattle were driven into this neighborhood, after weeks on the trail. †
Jack R. Gage
Back then they tried to imagine cattle drives. Now we would try to imagine a time when Twin Spruce Junior High was Campbell County High School and there were still houses instead of large banks. Maybe the future downtown will be empty shops that make up the backdrop of news reports or maybe high-rise buildings will take over. We will have to wait and see.
Gillette, Wyoming, “The Home of the Antelope,” boasts well over 6,000 population. The natural resources of coal and oil and many large cattle and sheep ranches keep this little town bustling. Gillette is famous for its antelope and deer hunting, along with that, the fisherman will find a delight. Many fine restaurants and motels, city park, swimming pool and campground accommodate guests. †
D & G Enterprise (publisher)
Before Gillette was known as the Energy Capital of the Nation it was The Home of the Antelope Roundup.
I cannot say enough for the help the Machinists have given us in this election. Not only with the computer system, but with your fine assistance in Gillette, Wyoming which, in my opinion, is the “Hell hole of Wyoming.” †
John D. Holaday
As a result of an oil boom in 1967–1970, Gillette doubled its population. The city officials are now preparing for a new boom which is sure to follow the new coal development in the area. Gillette now has a population of about 7,500 with the projected population growth of another 7,500 residents within the next two or three years, and it is predicted that it will have a population of 20,000 by 1980. †
Wyoming Blue Book
The population of Gillette in 1980 turned out to be 12,134. The prediction was off by about 8,000. It probably seemed a reasonable number given it was said during a boom time.
Upon the arrival of the railroad in 1891, towns sprang up, with Gillette (formerly Rockpile Draw) among the first. It was named for Edward S. Gillette, chief surveyor for the railroad. When Campbell County was created, Gillette, its only incorporated town, became the county seat. With the recent oil boom, the town is expanding rapidly. †
Wyoming Blue Book
Gillette was also known as Donkey Town before that back when it was still a tent city for railroad workers. The railroad was Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad and they named the place after Edward Gillette instead of giving him a raise. At first I think Gillette thought he was cheated, but years later he seemed almost proud of the town that had his name. It looks like he got the better deal after all.
Gillette is a boom town of maybe 13,000 people. … How does one tell a boom town from any other kind of town? One pays $200 [$1,065.87 in June 2022] a month for a bed to sleep in and $1.85 [$9.86] for cottage cheese and a canned pear at the Sands Cafe. A “kiss” at the last carnival cost $40 [$213.17] and comes with a case of the clap. The waitress at the Stockmen’s Cafe refills your coffee cup before you have taken the first sip. The executives from Denver jump out of their charter flights and are on the job site at 9 a.m. sharp. The streets are a mass of cowgirls and miners and greasers and a smattering of ladies who have disengaged themselves from their Porsches and Audis. †
A vivid quote for sure. Looking at the numbers adjusted for inflation it doesn’t paint that terrible of a picture. I’m not sure who orders cottage cheese and a canned pear, but any sort of appetizer today is going to run around the same price just for a few bites of reheated bread.
In Wyoming, Gillette is growing primarily because of coal development. †
Major coal mines had opened just a few years before this was said.
The city of Gillette drilled for water but struck oil, and that’s the way it has been for the past 18 years. ¶ In those 18 years, Gillette, a small town in northeastern Wyoming, has changed from a group of houses and a railroad depot servicing a ranching and farming community to a mining boomtown, growing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year. †
United States Department of Commerce
Even though the article is using a stock phrase about oil it was true in some ways. There was an oil boom a bit over a decade before this was said.
The city of Gillette was in a period of transformation from a small western conservative town, where a “less government, the better,” attitude prevailed, to a major energy-producing city. In other words, Gillette was stepping out of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. †
United States Department of Commerce
Here the report was referring to new social services being implemented by people sent over from the University of Wyoming. Those people helped the community create the YES House which is still around and helped start a few others that didn’t survive to today. People in Gillette at the time were reluctant to accept the changes, but when they saw the positive results they changed their minds.
With boom comes trouble. Gillette, according to a Southern Baptist leader, is a “pretty rough town. Bars are everywhere. There’s a lot of drinking, divorce, mental health problems. It all boils down to a spiritual problem, so we’re just trying to win souls to the Lord.” †
unknown Southern Baptist leader
Gillette has become a modern “boom town” because of the expanded operations at the Wyodak coal mine, one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. †
John S. Gallagher
Alan H. Patera
There were more mines than just Wyodak even in 1980. Wyodak got a large amount of attention for its thick coal seams and for how long it has been continuously mined.
The problems we see here are not any different from anywhere else. They are quite similar. The difference is that because of the notoriety and because there are more people that happen to be experiencing that kind of phenomenon happen to be located in Gillette. †
William “Bill” Heineke
Psychologist Dr. Heineke was referring to the Gillette Syndrome. Notoriety can mean the intense analysis of Gillette and all of the media attention it drew. This quote comes from a 1985 book, but Heineke said the interview took place in 1980.
Gillette is different. Here is a prairie town situated on the yellow plains of Wyoming, where horses and cattle graze on lots next to mobile homes. The main street–Gillette Avenue–features western-style facades and neon signs side-by-side, and the noise of coal trains drowns out the car radios of cruising teenagers. †
The President’s Commission on Coal
Mobile homes are everywhere in Gillette: in established residential areas, next to businesses in town, and in new subdivisions outside town. People generally rent mobile home lots, which go for about $100 [$380.86 in June 2022] per month. Most mobile home parks have available space and mobile home sales offices stretch down the main highway. There is no shortage of this kind of housing in Gillette. †
The President’s Commission on Coal
I have read several people dispute the descriptions of Gillette from the boomtown days. Even about trailers. You may even get confused about what really happened.
If you have any doubts just go look around town. Many of the old trailer parks are gone now, but even the remnants stand in contrast to the later decades of housing construction. It should be obvious just how common those trailers were.
Every day, Gillette, Wyo., is cut in two by “unit” trains carrying coal from Wyoming and Montana. … The situation in Gillette is not unusual in the West. All towns on the railway line share the same fate, except where unit trains can be diverted to other routes. †
The President’s Commission on Coal
During the Gillette, Wyoming, boom of the 1970s, stress was reported by the residents to be related to changes in living conditions, work, financial status, deficits in community services, and the demands of adjusting to life in a new community. †
Robert L. McKeown
I suppose if somebody wants to dwell upon the faults of our little community, they’d find we have our share, but no more than our share. Gillette has experienced rapid change, it’s true, but I’ve lived here long enough to know that the so-called good old days weren’t perfect, either. †
Everyone experienced the boom differently. This quote would have us believe it wasn’t so bad after all and that they certainly didn’t deserve all that media attention. Listening to police of that time would lead you to think all hell had broke loose in Gillette.
I think few want to return to the past. What they seem to want is a return of the best things we lost along the way. No one is asking to bring back the problems of the past.
Then I told him I had been broke for a week in a dirty, ugly, cold, treeless little oil-and-coal boom town called Gillette, and I’d liked it. †
Vetter followed in the same footsteps as Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. A good description of Gonzo journalism is being the most truthful with the least amount of facts. Essentially, getting to the heart of the story while making up things along the way. The factual basis of his article for Playboy was disputed by the News-Record and Gillette citizens at the time. I think Vetter’s article is a must-read.
Nobody ever went to Gillette, Wyoming for the hell of it. It was born in 1892 as a railhead village from which the ranchers of the Powder River basin could ship their cattle and pick up their necessaries. †
One of the main reasons to go to Gillette at that time was for work or to visit family. The city was never a tourist town and probably never will be. In the past there has always been a push for tourism while today large events have made Gillette a destination worth going to for some people.
This is not a barren and desolate place: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The residents of Gillette are the true pioneers of this age. We are not smothered by the bureaucracy and the business that so petrify urban areas. We are not ensnared in a complicated stairway to success. Our dreams are not those of any board of directors. True, we don’t have prestigious cathedrals and landmarks. But we have energy, tangible and intangible. The energy of our youth and of our region will make a better tomorrow. †
Kathleen A. Millette
This was written in response to Craig Vetter’s Playboy article. They certainly had youth and energy and they did in fact create a better tomorrow. Unfortunately that tomorrow was yesterday and the youth has faded as the people and the city slow down.
Gillette has become the archetypal boom town. Its transition from peaceful market town of 5,000 to bustling coal mining city of 20,000 has been microscopically examined, studied and discussed by scientists and journalists. †
Microscopically examined refers to lengthy discussions in psychology journals over the term Gillette Syndrome. Several papers and hundreds of pages of psychologists debating if the term is real, if it is scientific, and every other detail. Also, the population number is wrong. Gillette didn’t reach 20,000 people until about 20 years later.
From Gillette’s point of view, the people there now can say, yes, you can get through it, you can survive and have a nice place to live. But that’s the survivors speaking, not the people who bit the dust during the boom. †
Biting the dust meant moving back home and many people did just that. In some ways little has changed about that fact. To this day we hear stories by people who moved to Gillette years ago and how it grew on them. We hear how they enjoy the safe community and good schools. We rarely if ever hear the stories by those who hated Gillette and escaped their nightmare because they didn’t stick around to tell them.
There was no doubt about its being thinly populated as we drove toward Gillette on U.S. 16 through a region of dry creekbeds, few cattle, nary a tree. The most prominent feature was the pumps over the oil wells, dark iron birds rocking their beaks up and down to suck out insides of the earth. For this land of cowboys and cattle ranching, the greatest potential wealth lies in oil and gas and coal reserves. †
Richard B. McAdoo
Gillette, the county seat, was first surveyed and [platted] in 1891 during the railroad construction and its development is mostly resulted from being the end of the Burlington Railroad. Named after Edward S. Gillette, chief surveyor for the railroad, Gillette has continued to grow as a shopping center for cattle, sheep, grain, and coal. The increasing population required more churches, schools, and services. †
A fair, but dry description. Notice the complete lack of mentions about the coal boom and still an emphasis on ranching and shipping. This was written by a student in Moorcroft who likely missed the boom and perhaps was a ranch kid.
The setting, mountainous Gillette, Wyoming, is one fit for auto manufacturers who want to show via television commercials the fun things their four-wheel-drive vehicles can do. †
Frank White III
People commonly confuse Campbell County with Gillette. Obviously an article about oil exploration is discussing the county. The line between the two is thin and blurry especially in the past. There are no mountains in Gillette or Campbell County, but I suppose, with enough imagination that the hills might seem that way to a creative magazine writer.
As an energy boom town, my home, Gillette, Wyoming, is a city of change, and change in any form creates excitement and newness, emotion and challenge. This change, the impact of the energy development, and the pace at which it moves have traditionally made Gillette and boom towns like it interesting subjects.†
Casper is the queen city of the state, but Gillette is changing, and I guess when we say Gillette, we are talking about Campbell County, too. It continues to emerge and become more powerful. How far into the future? It looks like we’re going to go up, up, up, peak, and then slide. There are some questions about what happens when the coal is gone, because we’re talking about 40 year contracts. Forty years isn’t forever. So what happens after 40 years? Will we have all our money set aside and have begun industry, or will, as our former city planner Joe Racine said so well, will we end up taking all the trailer houses and starting a beer can factory? †
I have run into very little anti-type situations in Gillette. There are a few people that I know who would probably like to see Gillette remain as it was in 1935. Obviously that is not going to happen. But most of them at least accept the fact that it has happened and they are looking forward to getting on about their business. †
We have come to this conclusion: that everybody in Gillette works hard and plays hard. And they really don’t have the time to have dinner together, or play cards, or socialize as much as in other communities. It’s a work hard, play hard area. †
Play hard generally means drinking and lots of it. Gillette has been described as a drinking town with a working problem.
At different times as Gillette grows, there are some real attitude problems. I have some theories on those, too. When you get a large construction work force or a large temporary work force, and temporary work force, in my opinion, is anybody who figures they can come in and can pull out at any time and go somewhere else, you get a real change in attitudes. My theory is that those people do not want to see anything good in a community in the time that they are there, because if there are some things that they like and they are forced to leave, they have to leave a part of it behind, and that’s painful. †
I have said the same thing for years although Enzi puts it a little nicer. Transient people don’t care about the places they go to. As regular people become more mobile the same effect happens. Combine a large transient workforce with highly mobile people and a place that looks like anywhere else and you get a city few care about.
When I grew up in Gillette, it was a quiet, honest town, where everybody knew everybody and there wasn’t this crime that you see running on now. There weren’t family fights. … There weren’t cars getting broken into, and things stolen. … And we’ve lost a lot of the quality of life. We’ve lost the honesty that used to be associated with friends and neighbors. … I kind of liked the peaceful life, the slow-paced life. It was a lot nicer than the way it is now. †
With every time period shift we see winners and losers. The sleepy cowtown culture was destroyed and replaced with the transient fast money culture of the boomtown era. Oldtimers and ranchers were especially aware of this.
Now ask what cultural differences are we seeing as we move from a blue-collar city to one in decline. Protests, bitter political fights, more general anger, and for some a sense of doom or denial of coal declining, the corona virus, or take your pick. I think the COVID-19 pandemic lit the match.
That’s one of the common complaints that I hear about Gillette is that there’s nothing to do–go out to the bar or sit home and watch TV. It seems like to me that if they’re going to go out and fight the cold to start their car and run down to the bar in the winter, you know, they could go up to the rec. center. … Surely there’s something that’s bound to gain their interest, something they could get involved with. †
I understand the thinking, but those places don’t have alcohol. Unless you have a special interest or want to do charity work then a bar was a much easier choice to fill social needs. Today, some of what the bars had to offer has been replaced with social media, internet porn, and video games, but they remain as busy as ever.
There’s a lot of drug problems in Gillette, but I don’t think that we are any worse off than any other community, but we do have the presence of drugs and there’s a certain amount of money here with the young people who are employed with a lot of good jobs like at the mines, who can afford the narcotics and so we do have a considerable amount of traffic through our community. †
D. B. “Spike” Hladky
You know we don’t have welfare people in Gillette, Wyoming. That is kind of an interesting phenomenon. †
The average resident’s age in the city was extremely low. It was a young city full of transplants who came for work. One common belief is that for people who are able to work the best welfare program is a job. Assuming that is true it could possibly explain why this was said.
In the 1970s employers used to walk into jails bailing out anyone who would work. Jobs paying great wages only needing a pulse were raining down like manna from heaven. It must have been nearly impossible not to find work. By the 1980s things were beginning to slow down and there were actual requirements for jobs.
Gillette has gone from a rural community to kind of a city now. While I was growing up, we saw Campbell County coming from the homestead to where we are now. We have come a long way. Some of the communities around have old money. Gillette has never had this. For us, it is all raw. Gillette has never had that to stand on. †
Fortunately, in Gillette we do not have a vandalism problem, but something that the school has tried to hide is we do have an escalated drug and alcohol abuse in our school. †
In one of my talks, I used an example, and it’s not a good one, but I said that the only place that Gillette showed preparedness for growth was in its cemetery (laughs). †
J. O. Reed
A lot of the news media from out of Wyoming, mainly the eastern media, have shown Gillette as a very sorry place to live and I think they’ve slanted that quite a bit. Certainly we have some people who are living in mobile homes here, but on the whole, people in this community have prospered. They’ve built new homes. Land values have gone up. Home values have gone up. Business opportunities are probably netter there than anyplace in the United States. †
Notice the shift here from boomtown to a blue-collar city. See how there are still remnants of a previous time, but how Gillette was moving to the next time period.
When I got here [five years ago], I was single, just after a divorce, and it was very difficult, because we were in a situation where there were thirty men for every woman in town. †
This was probably a bit before 1980. Most likely the interview took place a few years before this book was printed.
An Indian lady who had been in Gillette for some time, she’s no longer around I don’t believe, had married a young white fellow who was kind of a religious fanatic. Anyway, they got married and for their wedding night they went down to one of the local bars and for their honeymoon beat each other silly after getting drunk. That’s pretty much the Gillette wedding story.†
There are reports that say Gillette’s crime problems were not special. They were comparable to other rapidly growing cities across the country. No one can seem to point to a specific reason why Gillette was singled out. I believe the reason is the accidental coining of the catchy term Gillette Syndrome which made Gillette a lightning rod for media attention.
Without this boom, Gillette would still be a sleepy little town of about 3,000 people comprised of about 10 square blocks stuck out on the edge of the Interstate Highway in eastern Wyoming. It would still have its three or four ma and pa cafes and that would be about the end of it. †
For instance, in the bookstore, I have to stock a whole different variety of books than the other communities. I stock Sci-Fi much heavier than I would in another area. The section on parenting is very popular, too. There are so many young couples here. There’s very little interest in fiction that revolves around the East Coast. You can’t sell Jewish literature or that sort of stuff here. Nobody shows any interest in those. War books are big. †
I would like to see people in Gillette and Campbell County a little more aware of their environment as a whole. They see Gillette. They go to the Bighorns and go skiing or go fishing or they drive out to Keyhole (Reservoir), but they don’t see this place as the western edge of the Great Plains or the eastern edge of the Sagebrush grasslands or the Mountain West. They don’t often see the beauty of this country. Everybody remarks on the ugliness of this place. †
No matter how interesting the geography is treeless rolling hills filled with short woody shrubs and no water is not considered an idyllic scene for most people.
Some of us who still live in the past are trying to turn back the clock, if we could. What I tend to remember about Gillette and Campbell County in the old days, and I guess it’s a sign of middle age, is I remember when you could visit with your neighbors and your neighbors were ranching families and not absentee corporate landlords. †
I think that right now, I had better point out that the experience of living in a town like Gillette is not closely related or connected to my ranching world, so to speak. †
Many times Gillette and Campbell County are conflated, but in reality they are two different places. Part of the reason this happens is because Gillette is the only city in the county. Many parts of the county have a Gillette address as well. But we must always remember rural living is not the same as city living even if Gillette is an isolated city surrounded by ranches and coal mines.
We were filming a documentary about energy out in Gillette, Wyoming, and all through the ten days that we worked at the isolated but exquisite location, we kept hearing about a restaurant that “you folks oughta try, since you write cookbooks.” However the restaurant they were recommending was a 140-mile round trip from Gillette. Nothing is ever close to anything else out there in the West. †
Everyone from the area has heard the saying Wyoming is a town with long streets. It isn’t uncommon to travel 2 hours to do just about any kind of shopping or day trip or see a doctor. The restaurant mentioned was in Buffalo, Wyoming.
Gillette is one of the state’s fastest growing communities in the state in the 1980s because of the enormous mineral wealth that has been discovered in this region. It is known as the “Energy Capital of the Nation.” It is also a major shipping point for livestock, grain and coal. †
D. Ray Wilson
That mineral was sub-bituminous coal. The phrasing makes it sound as if it was recently discovered. People knew there was coal here since the town was created.
There are, however, two Gillettes: the old town on the north side, along the railroad tracks, and the new town along Interstate 90, southward. … Old Gillette is a compact, rather snug city. … New Gillette, the obvious result of the late boom, is a horrific phantasmagoria of modern synthetic culture–every syndicated fast food joint in the United States, from McDonald’s to Pizza Hut; big, bare shopping malls; massive, luxurious, impersonal motels, and packed traffic going south toward Interstate 90. †
McDonald’s promised America we could get the same hamburger anywhere there was those golden arches. Over the decades other corporations have been given permission to do the same in Gillette. We only saw dollar signs as we sold whatever soul and culture Gillette had. A time period of community was replaced with a city that has no identity except a national corporate one.
The only culture that exists now is money. Come to the city to make money in coal, oil, and gas and spend it at a national chain somewhere. When that runs out just move on to the next town. And how exciting that will be when they have all the same stores your old town did and more.
(Make Gillette a more desirable place to shop) by being more strict on businesses that sell pornography. †
a Gillette citizen
Long gone are the magazine racks with the black covers or adult sections in video rental stores. We just don’t see that kind of porn anymore. Internet has long obsoleted those porn magazines and tapes. The only places with any substantial pornographic material in Gillette now are novelty shops selling mostly gag items.
What will Gillette become? A city similar to Bridgeport, Connecticut and have to declare bankruptcy simply because the basic industries have left? †
a Gillette citizen
Yet another dire warning. These things are everywhere. From regular people to economic reports are all saying the same thing. If Gillette ever collapses and I see people being interviewed for TV news saying they didn’t see this coming decades ago I am going to rush out like a mad man with printouts of these quotes rambling incoherently from sheer frustration.
Gillette is looking much better; we have been here for 24 yrs and we can sure tell the difference on the streets, trees planted, sidewalks for walking, parks are pretty nice. †
a Gillette citizen
Change too often means stereotype. Try Gillette, Wyoming, not too long ago a sleepy cowtown on the verge of becoming a real place, now a coal boom town that will never be a place. †
This may have been said years before because the quote pops up occasionally in some other books later. I think he meant a real place would have been grown slowly with a community. One that isn’t made up of highways full of corporate franchises, strip malls, and a transient population with no cohesive culture.
[Sweet Briar College Class of] 1980 Vivien Guttridge Olsen writes from Gillette, Wyoming, and reports it is cold, snowy, and beautiful in an isolated austere kind of way. †
Nancy Godwin Baldwin (editor)
Vivien Guttridge Olsen
When fresh snow covers the city like a white blanket and the snow blinds us with the reflection of the sun maybe then we too can see Gillette’s beauty if we squint hard enough.
Gillette isn’t known as a tourist destination; its neighborhoods and shopping malls are indistinguishable from those of a thousand other homogenized American cities. †
If you asked “what shopping malls?” then you forgot Gillette had one strip mall after another. The trend has continued. Not only are the old strip malls still around, but several new ones were built since then. Outsiders tend to notice things like that.
Many houses in Gillette at the time were fine places to live, but were no different than any other place. You have to ask what was unique or special about our houses and businesses to someone looking in?
Gillette is a coal mining town of about 17,000 people, defiant in its isolation on the barren, rolling prairie where antelope roam free. ¶ It depends on ranching and rich, low-sulfur coal deposits. Vast trains driven by multiple locomotives export the product of immense open-pit mines such as Eagle Butte … Gillette has seen steady growth along with Wyoming’s coal industry over the past 25 years, drawing blue-collar residents of eastern states whose coal industries have lagged. †
Gillette lies in the shadow of the Black Hills in parched, treeless northeastern Wyoming. †
Gillette is the high plains of the Powder River Basin with the Black Hills to the east and the Big Horn Mountains to the west. Naturally occurring trees are found along the creeks. After many years of planting there are over 10,000 trees in the city.
The town of Gillette never had more than 30 Jews in its entire existence. †
Penny Diane Wolin
Few religions have made themselves visible in Gillette outside of Christianity. There are no Jewish shops nor a synagogue in the city. Judaism like many religions does not play a public role in Gillette.
Over a decade after this was written an Islamic mosque was founded. Several New Age shops opened along with the creation of some New Age events.
I reached Buffalo a little after four in the afternoon. The town has a museum dedicated to the Johnson County War, which I was hoping to see, but I discovered when I got there that it is only open from June to September. I drove around the business district, toying with the idea of stopping for the night, but it was such a dumpy little town that I decided to press on to Gillette, seventy miles down the road. Gillette was even worse. I drove around it for a few minutes, but I couldn’t face the prospect of spending a Saturday night there, so I decided to press on once again. †
In the 1970s when working men brought their wives to Gillette it was so bad the wives refused to get out of the car. For those who stayed the situation was so miserable the term Gillette Syndrome was coined. This quote of course was from a little later. But the way these people describe this place makes you wonder if living in Gillette causes some sort of psychological damage much less what would happen if you grew up here.
Gillette is showing signs of culture! The art scattered throughout town is wonderful and makes driving and walking more enjoyable. I’m hoping this program will continue. †
Two years earlier in 2003 the Mayor’s Art Council was created. The council runs a program to display sculptures around the city. Some are on permanent display while others are for sale as part of the Avenues of Art. In exchange the city is able is to enjoy the artwork and a cut of the sales goes back into the program to pay for expenses.
Some of the artists have been noteworthy and some were local amateurs. Just as the artists were a diverse group so too is the subject matter and quality. In a way the art fits the city. It’s a mishmash of the mediocre mixed with junk dumped in a nonsensical fashion with no coherent theme or thought about context.
Very little in Gillette for attractions, it is mostly industrial in the coal mining and natural gas business. Devil’s Tower is just to the east, and the Big Horn Mountains are to the west. †
Changes in the city of Gillette include a large increase in the number of housing units and businesses. There were 2,228 housing units in the city of Gillette in 1970. In 2007, this had increased to a little over 10,000. For many years, Gillette had one bank. In 2007, Gillette had over eight banks. There are numerous shopping areas in Gillette. Before the mineral development, downtown Gillette was the only major shopping area. The number of theaters has increased form one to eight. The newspaper has gone from weekly to daily publication. … Gillette now has about 36 churches; in the early 1900s there were four. In the early 1900s, there were four hotel in Gillette. There are now more than eighteen hotels and motels. †
The editor made several mistakes with the stock footage throughout the entire video. In this short clip I especially dislike the use of Devils Tower. It reinforces again an old stereotype that Devils Tower is in, near, or just outside Gillette. It’s not.
In the next time period we see that the price of those free tours is now $5 each. Probably more by the time you read this if they aren’t gone entirely.
Gillette being haunted is nonsense. The stories have gone from a creeky old building downtown to a marketing gimmick. Next thing you know there will be some nobody ghost hunters looking for a few views.
I really think a lot of the “ugly” and “dirty” comments about Gillette are about 40 years out of date. I first interviewed for a job in Gillette 38 years ago – November 1970. … Many of the streets in town were still gravel, and others had recently been paved. It wasn’t a pretty sight. But five years later it was much better … The town has really blossomed since then and boasts dozens of parks and hundreds of miles of nice paved walking paths. There are no mountains at the edge of town and no rivers, but I think it’s a very nice town. Most buildings are fairly new and modern, including homes and businesses; established areas have plenty of trees; schools, including a new college campus, are modern and well-kept; the hospital is what you’d expect in a city 2-3 times the size of Gillette, and recreation opportunities abound. †
Seven Gillette pricks in a 2000 Tahoe. They make fifty thou a year, but they’re two hundred grand in debt. Get your candy asses right back to Gillette. You triple C.Ser. Campbell County Cocksucker. †
Complaints about Gillette are endless, but it’s rare anyone hates Gillette so much they make a whole song about it. When he says $50,000 a year and $200,000 in debt he is referring to the coal miners. This has been noticed many times and it has to do with a smaller version of new money.
Generally, new money refers to the newly rich. Those people win the lotto, inherit a fortune, get lucky with a business idea, or any other number of ways of becoming rich. Afterwards they would go on massive spending spree buying things they think rich people own. These new rich are a caricature of wealth because they don’t understand the culture and social norms of the rich or to put it another way money can’t buy class.
Some blue-collar workers find their way to Gillette and into coal mining jobs. Suddenly they are making more money than ever before. So what would they do with this new found boon? Buy an over-sized ugly box built to the same quality and beauty standards found in larger McMansions. And such a home would never be complete without their diesel truck parked on the grass next to the boat in the driveway right in front of the 4-wheeler. It would be in the garage, but that is full of all the junk they keep buying. A grotesque caricature of the middle class.
Stereotypes have some truth mixed with exaggerations and outright lies to make a cheap joke. Since ancient times the best jokes have always been at the expense of your neighboring tribe, state, or in this case neighboring city. This is how many people view Gillette’s coal miners.
I’ve been here since 1973 and seen a lot, but Gillette has changed in a negative way. People obeyed speed limits, stopped at cross walks for folks and smiled. Now it’s like a drag race no matter here you go. I’ve seen a couple of close calls at cross walks. I’m looking forward to the day I can leave Gillette again, it’s a shame I was looking forward to coming back for 16 years while I was in the service and now I can’t wait to leave again. †
a Gillette citizen
Again we see a massive shift once the coal boom happened and the thousands of outsiders came in. What I have seen is a mix of good and bad. Let’s just say on occasion as a pedestrian I understand that the laws of man say pedestrians have the right of way at an intersection, but I don’t want to test the laws of physics.
Honestly I can’t say I have received ‘great’ customer service anywhere in Gillette. This would be one of my biggest complaints in this town. You can get alright service at some places but it’s never consistent. †
a Gillette citizen
I have some wild stories about service I have received in Gillette. Quotes like this make it extremely hard to not turn this page into my own personal soapbox.
Gillette is a dusty, bustling coal-mining center in north-eastern Wyoming, bisected by a railroad operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., which delivers coal to such cities as Chicago and Centralia, Wash. †
Anne Marie Chaker
I believe most of us wouldn’t think of the railroad splitting the city anymore, but instead would think of Interstate 90 being the divider. The zip codes are split the same way with 82716 north of I-90 and 82718 south of I-90.
Gillette has tried to attract several experimental programs or in some cases businesses only to lose to other communities. †
a Gillette citizen
I love Gillette. †
a Gillette citizen
As I approached Gillette, Wyoming, on a cold and grungy March day in 2011, I expected to find the stereotypical Western extraction-reliant town, stuck in the boom-bust cycle, a place where transient workers lived in trailer parks and man camps, the schools were overflowing, and the social fabric and infrastructure were stretched to the breaking point. ¶ So I was rather surprised to roll into a town that felt more suburban Denver than high-plains boomtown. Instead of rowdy bars, there were strip malls and chain restaurants and a spanking-new recreation center. Instead of man camps, I found a residential neighborhood with well-tended homes, boats and RVs in the driveways, and, as the census data would later tell me, a median household income of $101,000 [$116,460.85 in June 2022]. †
… a 33,000-population city reached after driving miles through flat, brown, empty plains with relatively few signs of human presence. That is, until you start closing in on Gillette. Then you see a train that never ends, or almost doesn’t, a mile-long, coal-carrying, sleek-looking, 135-car colossus. †
Gillette, Wyo. might take visitors off the Old West theme for a bit, but it’s worth the time to see the town that supplies coal to create the electricity used by one out of every five homes and businesses in the United States. Mine tours are available from June until August, twice a day. Getting back on the horse is easy in Gillette, though. There are rodeos and equestrian events year-round. †
Thea Miller Ryan
That’s an odd thing to say because all of Wyoming tries to promote itself as still having a bit of the Old West left in it. Even Gillette hints at it with advertisements that show rodeos and ranching. To be clear, while Gillette was wild in the early days it was never part of the Old West. It is simply too new.
Wouldn’t want to have my home burglarized especially with me in it; I do find some of Gillette’s citizens, more than usual, scary and capable of any criminal act. †
a Gillette citizen
A recurring theme reported by people in the Citizen Survey Reports is the city is generally safe, but right underneath the surface is a dangerous criminal element. According to them the thefts and burglaries were part of the rampant illegal drug problems in Gillette spanning many years.
An old college instructor was keeping an eye out for jobs for her. He asked her if she had ever heard of Gillette, Wyo. ¶ “Is that where they make the razors?” Walker replied. ¶ But she drove across the country, moved to Wyoming … “I’ve always been greeted with open arms,” she said. “I fell in love with people here, and I got connected here. I wanted to establish my roots here.” †
Laura Hancock (author)
Gillette was named after railroad surveyor Edward Gillette. The razor company is named after King Camp Gillette. There are several other cities called Gillette or Gillett. I wonder if they have the same problem.
I lived in Gillette for a couple years, and here’s what I can tell you: ¶ Pros: Good employment opportunities and relatively stable economy, basic shopping availability, good school system. ¶ Cons: Intense winter, always windy, full of rednecks and roughnecks, limited outdoor recreation (comparative to most of the state) and the disapproving looks you will get whenever you tell someone another (non Campbell County) Wyomingite where you live. †
I assume you noticed something by now. Many of the negative comments about Gillette come from former residents. Those who stuck around are the ones who typically praise Gillette. Those who hate it find some way to escape. With internet we can find evidence they leave behind of their experience.
I’ve gotten angry at shows because the crowd was into the music before me, and then, when I went up, people vacated. I feel like people don’t give me the chance because I’m a white rapper in Gillette. It’s a bad feeling when your hometown ignores your talent, †
Sometimes we get insights into media preferences such as what books were popular at a specific time and here about live music. I find it ironic because the radio stations and booming car stereos were full of rap.
I wonder why he couldn’t get support. I know there are more than enough people here listening to rap to support live shows and his career. While some get support others don’t. We see this schism in sports with locals rounding out rodeo teams at the college. Then the college will give out basketball scholarships to people across the world ignoring the sports-obsessed high schools.
You might say lack of college-level basketball talent and a rap community is obviously because Gillette is in Wyoming and all those related reasons. I’m not so sure. Many, if not a majority of the people living in Gillette are not from Wyoming. Maybe the talent leaves the city when they graduate. Maybe the people going to live shows aren’t the ones with the rap blasting out of their booming car stereos. I just don’t know.
Growth came so rapidly that it was not until 2000 that frame homes outnumbered trailer homes in Gillette, †
She was speaking of the boom times of the 1970s.
By one estimate, there are as many full-time craft artists in the United States as there are people in the town of Gillette, Wyoming. Never heard of Gillette? Well, no wonder; like the universe of craft artists, it has a relatively small population. †
There are only a few thousand craft artists in the United States according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The population of Gillette was several times as much.
I had heard that hell was hot, but it surely couldn’t be hotter than this place. It was early July in the oil fields near Gillette, Wyo. †
If you spend half the year with winter then the quick change to a hot summer can be brutal even though the numbers show it isn’t as hot as many other places. To me, it’s easier to deal with cold instead of the heat.
I follow the interstate west over the gradual rise of the Black Hills and enter Wyoming. Passing through the gas and coal mining city of Gillette, where a boom in natural gas production has caused a Grapes-of-Wrath style migration of workers from small towns in the Midwest and beyond. Streets are crowded with families who drive new trucks and SUVs but live in shared trailer homes–temporary homes for people who are flush with money from the energy fields but have to wait for construction to catch up with the influx of immigrants. Outside of town, new roads branch out to gas wells in all directions, harshly scraped by bulldozers, looking like varicose veins on the sagebrush steppe. †
It seems that old stereotypes die hard. Cities change and Gillette is a city of change. But what the author is describing was decades ago. Even a few seconds searching online could have told them that, but then it wouldn’t make for good writing without the conflict of expectations and reality.
Note: That Gillette is the most frequently searched company in Wyoming could be due to the fact that the state’s fourth-most populous town is also named “Gillette.” †
Some people say there’s nothing to do here. Others say there’s a lot to do here. It depends on what you expect. If you’re into sports and fitness, Gillette isn’t too shabby. If you’re into hackerspaces and amateur radio, well, maybe we can get that going together. There’s a hobby/game shop in town, so if you’re a gamer, it might not be too bad. There’s D&D clubs and anime clubs, and an enormous entertainment/convention complex that always seems to have something interesting going on, from gun shows to concerts to rodeos to (dirt track) racing. If you’re into night-clubbing or mall shopping, Gillette probably isn’t for you, unless driving a long way to get there is part of your MO. †
This captures my feeling on the subject as well. It seems there are some things to do, just not for everyone. I still think you have to make your own fun unless you plan to drink it or smoke it.
Gillette, where dreams go to die. †
I have lived all over the west. Gillette has the rudest and most disrespectful people I have met. Service anywhere is appalling, shopping is terrible. †
a Gillette citizen
Everyone has opinions about terrible customer service in Gillette. I highlighted their pain because this must be a recent issue people have. I haven’t seen anything about these problems from before the 1970s.
It’s hard, too, if you live in Gillette, which in recent decades has invested much of the coal wealth into some of Wyoming’s nicest public schools, community centers and other amenities. “If you’re in Gillette now, you’re seeing so many houses on the market – people leaving if they can, people wondering where they can go,” Godby added. †
At this time there were hundreds of mine workers laid off, one coal mine temporarily closed, and several companies filed bankruptcy. All the while there was a glut of housing on the market and not a moving truck available anywhere as many hundreds of people left the city.
But it wasn’t just coal that was failing. The transient oil workers found themselves unemployed as well, only without the community support the coal workers did. Secondary industries made up of companies that do work for the mines were hit just as hard.
I’d say that Gillette is a great place to raise a family. It has a small town feel. However, like other places, there are some dark and malevolent places that give our community a bad rap. †
a Gillette citizen
According to citizens those dark places were the Flying J parking lot, Stanley Avenue, Church Street, and run-down trailers next to nicer areas.
Gillette doesn’t change. Like, ever. … The decades may come and go, but the core problems of the town still remain. Alcohol, drugs, dependency on energy booms, lack of employment and career opportunities not having to do with energy or government, subpar educational opportunities, shitty social scene, and lack of entertainment are all key factors. Plus, it’s just not very pretty, and even the outdoors opportunities suck when compared to a place like Laramie or even Casper. ¶ Having said all that, it’s not the worst place I’ve lived. … Just boring, not a great place to do anything with your life, and a good place to get into trouble. †
“Natural gas is in competition for power generation,” Hladky said. “The downturn in coal was less to do with regulation by the federal government and more to do with the price of natural gas.” ¶ That is a difficult thing to say out loud in Gillette, where coal is part of the way of life. This is a city that is proud of what it does. Many people feel that coal has been demonized, while the reality for the people here is that coal feeds families. †
They aren’t kidding when they wrote it is difficult to say out loud. In the movie The Patriot starring Mel Gibson there is a scene where Gibson, an American patriot is showing where the loyalty of the people lies. He walks into a pub and says long live King George and shuts the door as several knives hit the wood behind him.
Walking into bars in Gillette full of coal miners telling them about the problems with coal is painting a target on your back. How dare you insult king coal. Don’t you know that coal mining has been around since 1972 when they started working at the company. Must be clueless not to see how it provides energy for the country and puts food on the table. Let me tell you how there are 300 years left of coal in the basin. Get lost.
Forgive my straw man above, but look at their point of view. No one wants to be told the industry that has provided for them, their family, the city, and the country is going to go away.
I have said before the federal government is responsible as the agent of change for each time period Gillette has gone through. Understanding the entire history of how coal got to the area and why helps understand why things are changing and that it shouldn’t surprise anyone. They complain the government changed something, but they never thank them for over 50 years of prosperity.
Many will paint a dreary picture of Gillette. But for being one of the larger cities in Wyoming, it has an updated and robust infrastructure for activities and athletics, largely through the Rec district and the schools. To find anything more diverse or catering, you’d probably have to live in Cheyenne or Casper. †
Gillette is kind of a dumpy town. It’s an old oil boom town and not very picturesque. I suggest pushing on just an hour and shoot for Buffalo, WY. Neat little town with a true Western feel. †
user Eric P Ichiban
I agree that Buffalo feels more western. Gillette is younger and was never part of the Old West. Some of the buildings that would have given it an older feel were lost to fires or torn down because of their cheaper construction.
The town actually got much less people of Walmart trashy after the layoffs. The “oil field trash” that “roll coal” all over town followed the jobs elsewhere. I know that sounds horrible but that is what they call themselves with huge vinyl stickers in the back window of their jacked up dually trucks with artificial smoke stacks and no muffler. ¶ It is a different world. I actually thought maybe they handed out coupons for chest plate tattoos at the county line, so many women in town have them. I worked with people with purple or green hair, tattoos on their faces or entire tat sleeves, and multiple facial piercings. And this was in a professional capacity in a school full of impressionable kids. †
Like her parents, Moriah had usually blamed Gillette’s high rates of gun violence not on firearms but on the character of the town itself. The coal and oil boomtown had sprung up amid the dust and antelope of northeast Wyoming, nearly doubling in size since the 1990s to about 32,000 people, many of whom worked to extract the natural resources below ground. The town suffered from high rates of transiency and wild economic swings, which contributed to one of the country’s highest suicide rates. “Gillette syndrome” was the term popularized by one psychologist, and it had become the favorite local explanation for all kinds of economic and emotional instability. †
ElDean Kohrs, the man who coined the term Gillette Syndrome said it was taken out of context and hated how the media used it. The term is rarely mentioned by the local newspaper and almost never brought up by people.
The way this paragraph was written the author makes you think the term was either recent or perhaps from the 1990s and that the towns problems stem from that time. The term was coined in the early 1970s around the same time the boomtown problems happened. The town didn’t just spring up in the 1990s. Booms had been occurring long before that.
Another issue here is the national media’s usage of the term gun violence. I believe based on what I have seen written by others that many people conflate gun violence with murder. Our brains want to make the leap. In the media the term gun violence includes murders and suicides. The article itself also flips back and forth between talking about suicide and gun violence. I wish they would be more specific in the future.
Moriah sat by the kitchen window and looked out at a nothingness that stretched as far as she could see. Gillette had no river, no lakes, no mountains and hardly any trees. Sometimes, out this window, she could watch the same jet trace across the sky for five minutes, reduced to slow motion by the vastness of the landscape, until Wyoming itself began to feel inescapable. †
Gillette, a place of economic instability, has one of the country’s highest suicide rates. †
Before the 1970s there was little in the way of social services or mental healthcare in Gillette. Back then the oldtimers believed in simply being tough enough to handle whatever problems they had.
Untreated mental illness is the same as any untreated disease. Besides making life harder than it need be it often leads people on a path to self-destruction. Many times that path drags those around them down with them.
Gillette narrowly avoided a school shooting not too long after this. A boy brought a gun to Sage Valley Junior High School. He had a kill list that included at least one teacher and when his plans were found out he threatened to murder the other student. Before he could enact his school shooting he was quietly disarmed. The reports about him described fetal alcohol syndrome, a troubled childhood, and how his biological father had recently died.
If coal were to decline rapidly or suddenly, Gillette would be a ghost town. †
Michael Von Flatern
That is an extremely serious statement by then Wyoming Senator Von Flatern. He is saying what many people already know or believe will happen.
Imagine the population disappearing and Gillette becoming the next Cambria or Jeffrey City. Gillette citizens have been warning about the end of coal since the early 1980s. Every decade we hear the same cries to diversify the economy, yet nothing about the economy has fundamentally changed since the major mines opened in the early 1970s.
I lived 43 years in Gillette WY where we had 9 months of winter and 3 months of crappy weather. If you were out of town on the 4th of July you missed summer… †
Phyllis Von Fleckinger
It seems every city has it’s complaints about weather. Gillette has long hard winters, short growing seasons, hail, tornadoes, and blizzards. Some places have 100-year floods. I would say Gillette has 100-year blizzards. The last one in 1949 required a military operation to dig out the area.
Though Gillette is not one of the state’s tourist centers, it is along a major interstate and close to Devil’s Tower National Monument and the scenic Black Hills of South Dakota. It also has a budding convention center, said city communications manager Geno Palazzari, and is working on developing sports tourism. ¶ “It’s certainly not something we’re hanging our hat on but it’s something to take advantage of,” Palazzari said. †
I suspect quotes like this are foreshadowing one possible time period – tourism. Could turning the town towards tourism work or would the coal money backing the tourist facilities dry up ruining that plan?
The mayor talks of luring firearm-makers or other industries to use Gillette’s railway, roads, airport, energy, skilled labor and water. She notes how trade shows, tourism and conferences are growing. “We know need to diversify, but it takes time,” she says. And time is short. †
The city had over 50 years to diversify the economy. It has been over 40 years since warnings to diversify were said. How much longer does the city and county need?
Coal has built the city as you see it. †
Gillette has seen about 20% of its mining jobs disappear since 2013. Like its dominant industry, coal, the town itself faces a pessimistic forecast. †
The good thing is the engineers that laid Gillette out were very uncommonly competent as far as engineers go. Gillette is easily the best laid out city in Wy. and there are alot of outlying roads to bypass the main drag. †
People on the margins have always been invisible because Gillette is such a wealthy town. †
In explaining coal to the rest of the nation, we also need to put faces and names to the conversation. America needs to see Gillette not as a source of coal, but a community of schools, playgrounds, hospitals and small businesses. We need to remind America that these are the people and neighborhoods that bailed out the nation following the environmental legislation of the Nixon administration. †
What he is referring to is the Clean Air Amendments of 1970. Tougher regulations were made to cut pollution. Those changes made the lower sulfur coal in the Powder River Basin a valuable resource. It has been called clean coal and it is when compared to coal from the eastern part of the United States.
No one should be surprised by the fact new federal regulations are destroying the energy industry in Gillette when it was those same regulations that created the industry in the first place. Or what the federal government giveth it taketh away.
Gillette didn’t care when some random town in West Virginia collapsed after their industry died. Few will care if Gillette suffers the same fate. The country is so divided politically it is likely half of them would cheer the city’s demise if they even knew it existed.
Yes, the federal government’s regulations destroyed a way of life in Gillette. It replaced a quiet ranching town with a boomtown which gave way to a blue-collar city. Rebranding Gillette as a victim city isn’t going to change anything. We better save ourselves because no one else is going to.
I’ve lived here several times – adding up to around 37 of my 45 years – and I can’t wait to leave. As soon as my youngest graduates from high school I am out of here. The schools are good, the Recreation Center is really nice, and most of the people are friendly. And although Gillette is mostly an industrial eyesore, it is only an hour to the beautiful Black Hills or the Bighorn Mountains. The winters are long, cold, and windy. It’s almost always windy. Most of the people are conservative to a fault, and not open to listening to differing ideas. Meth is a big problem. Housing and rentals are expensive. It’s been a decent place to raise a family, but there are much nicer towns to live in. †
I think this is a fairly accurate view of Gillette, but looking at the voting the in the comments section it is completely split almost down the middle. In person and in other quotes I hear the same disagreements. Whether you agree or disagree it seems living in Gillette is a polarizing experience.
With the proliferation of the internet and online stories, it’s hard to track just how many times Gillette has been the focus of the national media. But in the days before even dial-up internet was an option, Gillette was frequently the source of national attention, especially after the energy boom of the 1960s and 1970s. †
I spent some time looking into all mentions of Gillette in the media. I can say it isn’t just hard, but nearly impossible. Sometimes, by accident, I ended up creating more media mentions by searching. When I took photos of the area for my research those ended up being used in magazines and news articles.
For every 100 people spotted around town in Gillette, the number wearing masks can be counted on one hand. Among a group of six people on a smoke break downtown, all said they had too many concerns about the vaccine to mess with it. Down the street, a black shirt displayed in a storefront warned, “ATTENTION SNOWFLAKES: THIS IS NOT A SAFE [SPACE].” †
The article used the term vaccine hesitancy. That presumes the people of Gillette want a vaccine at all. It would be better to call it vaccine refusal. Along with vaccines it seems masks too have become a object of controversy. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been protests in Gillette against any mandates or restrictions of any kind.
I genuinely think, not just Gillette, but Wyoming, as a whole, is probably one of the most dangerous places to be transgender, let alone any sort of minority. I don’t know of any place more closed-minded than this. †
This comment was in response to a protest and threats against a transgender performer who was going to put on a magic show at the Campbell County Public Library. On certain issues Gillette has become extremely divided. More so since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The situation has deteriorated so much that I worry if I can even post these kinds of quotes without people claiming I am for or against something by highlighting them. Then again, that would just prove my point about Gillette being divided and the importance of self reflection as a city.
While Gillette may not be as lush and mountainous as Wyoming postcards often depict, it has a larger population than the small mountain towns, and it has good schools, community amenities and solid internet connection … †
Gillette is just a big, small town. Most people are from somewhere else, and they remember what it was like when they first moved here so they do whatever they can to make you feel welcome. I love the way this community supports and honors our active military and veterans. The support for law enforcement and first responders is outstanding. †
Gillette and Campbell County are best known as the epicenter of American coal, supplying about 40% of the nation’s coal for electrical generation. ¶ But it’s also a destination for visitors from across the country and around the world. †
Another shift is being described here. A 1980s article said nobody came to Gillette for the hell of it. Now we see major events that bring in thousands of people regularly.
Obviously there has been some limited success in turning Gillette into a destination. I believe that comes with a catch. Tourists and other visitors are coming to Gillette because of an event and not because it is a place worth visiting by itself. Many of those events and the places they are held at are backed by taxes paid for by the energy industry. Once that money dries up it is possible and likely the events will lessen and disappear completely along with any chance of Gillette becoming a tourist town.
Here’s an inconvenient truth: Towns like Gillette tend to fail. … Timber towns, auto towns, military town, mining towns – the logical progression is toward “ghost town” status if the town isn’t big enough, or industries aren’t diverse enough. †
John D. Sutter
Sometimes boomtowns progress into company towns. It seems Gillette avoided that fate and became a blue-collar mining town. Will it avoid becoming a ghost town? Currently there is no other major industry besides the energy industry.
The author seemed surprised people acknowledged this future yet many other clips and articles feature coal miners who reject this view. How can we reach any agreements if half the people think there is a serious problem and the other half disagrees? Gillette is truly a house divided on this topic.
Whenever I get the opportunity to speak to people about Gillette, I always tell them that I live in the greatest city in Wyoming. Our parks system is one of the many reasons that statement is true. Gillette has close to 40 parks and we can thank one man for having the vision to make this happen – Senator Mike Enzi. †
Mike Enzi was mayor of Gillette in the 1970s. He didn’t just help pass ordinances for parks. He got citizens involved directly in developing them. By having them create and maintain a park it made them care about it. People protect and nurture things they care about.
You’d best bring your woman with you to Gillette, otherwise you’re going to have a rough time. †
I arrived in Gillette in June expecting to find the protracted bust dominating everyday life and conversation. I did not. ¶ I drove past bright LED billboards advertising full-time mine production jobs. I found thriving local businesses and full restaurants. I found a booming housing market due to a suspected “Zoom boom” of people choosing to live in Gillette while working remotely for companies elsewhere. I found that the high school girls softball team had just been crowned state champions, winning their title at the newly expanded multimillion-dollar Energy Capital Sports Complex. †
Jessica M. Smith
I’ve lived in Gillette my whole life. Gillette’s unique in a lot of different ways. You know, we’re the energy capital of the nation. This is a boom town. I mean, a lot of people come here specifically for work, but there’s substantially more men that live here than there are women. It’s a testosterone driven town. You know, alcohol and men. That’s what happens. †
There are only a few more men than women in Gillette. Even across younger ages the numbers are almost dead even yet everyone repeats the same lines about Gillette. Why is this? Part of me wants to say boomtown stereotypes refuse to die while another part would blame the transient nature of the town and lackluster social scene.
Gillette is growing. We’re looking at alternate ways to have income for our county and city tourism. … It’s a place where blue-collar workers can make white-collar incomes. †
Gillette can be a little bit of a wild town, people letting off steam. But you’re gonna see stuff like, like a DUI or a drunk in public or you know, maybe a battery because somebody had to sock a guy at the bar. †
Gillette has been battling the idea it is a rough town since it was founded. I like most people would take this at face value as being true and we would be wrong yet again. The crime statistics don’t support this conclusion. Looking at assaults, Gillette is one of the safer cities not only in Wyoming, but in the country for it’s size.
Some [home] buyers from out-of-state sought Wyoming, including Gillette, for its conservative politics, lax COVID-19 restrictions, low taxes and relatively affordable cost of living. †
Lax might be a weak word. Citizens were protesting restrictions almost immediately after being put in place by the governor of Wyoming. When forced to wear masks at work many of them pulled it below their nose, wore it on their chin, or outright refused.
We always hear how conservative Gillette and Campbell County are. While low, about 30% of people vote Democrat. Beyond that there are divisions inside the Republican party. There are the Trump supporters, neo-conservatives, libertarians, moderate democrats, and so on.
Much of the conservative streak attributed to the city is out past the city limits far in the county. It comes from the nature of their work and the way they live. It is probably a self-selection process where those who are conservative prefer to live in rural areas. It’s not often you come across a liberal rancher.
Multiple owners and managers of storage businesses throughout Gillette have noticed a recurring phenomenon over the last few years: All of the storage spaces are full. †
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Antelope Hunt. Ritter, Ray (photographer). 1946~. Postcard. https://web.archive.org/web/20190729013820/https://www.ebay.com/itm/RPPC-ANTELOPE-HUNT-GILLETTE-WYOMING-Ritter-Photo-Postcard-to-Crayne-Longview-WA/392358753376
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