Historical society hosts oral history

Don Botkin, NLJ Reporter

On March 5, the Weston County Historical Society hosted an oral history presented by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns. The event took place at the Weston County Public Library and was open to the public. Stearns was asked to present her account of growing up in rural Weston County. 

During the hour-and-a-half presentation, Stearns spoke of years past and growing up in the country with her parents, Francis and Violet Sedgwick, on a ranch south of Newcastle. She spoke fondly of the hard work and determination of the older generations that helped to settle and establish Newcastle. Her recollections also included tales of rare trips into town to stock up on groceries and supplies and take care of business. As a young girl growing up in the country, Stearns said, she was fascinated with all the things she would see in town, such as her first encounter with a Nickelodeon machine. Stearns recalled her horror at the bright lights, pings, and noises it emitted as she watched the electric machine come to life.    

Stearns also spoke of family and community through the years and how reliance on neighbors helped many families through some very tough times.  She believes that the neighborly attitude is still alive and well in our area and is, in part, what continues to make Weston County such a close-knit community. 

Her stories included names and locations of long-gone businesses of yesteryear, such as the Red Owl grocery and the Paris drugstore.  She spoke fondly of getting to know all the shop owners and the sense of pride that she had in having friends and acquaintances when her family came to town. 

At age 17, Stearns became the youngest person to be inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1962. Induction is based on different criteria, including horsemanship, cattle breeding, the rodeo industry, ranching and stockmanship. She also spent many years of her youth traveling around the United States with her parents, performing and playing organ at rodeos and events. In later years, she continued to travel the country with her husband, Will Stearns, speaking and performing at Cowboy Poetry events and hiring on at ranches when and wherever needed. 

Stearns is also an accomplished writer with two books to her credit, “Sky Trails, The Life of Clyde W. Ice” and “Prairie Trails of Miz Mac. “ She began writing at age 19 and has been a regular writer and contributor to the Tri State Livestock News and the Wyoming Wrangler. She said that she doesn’t have any immediate plans for another book, but an autobiography covering her amazing life and her Christian testimony is not off the table. 

Stearns said that Miz Mac, the subject of one of her books, was one of the most interesting persons that she has met during her years of travels. She met Mac when both were being inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Her tale was one of overcoming extreme hardships as a widowed ranch wife in New Mexico. After she witnessed her husband being struck and killed by lightning, Mac had to raise her kids and provide for her family single-handedly. Against all odds, she rose to new heights and was the first female in New Mexico to be inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame for agricultural improvements to her land. Details of this amazing woman are covered in Stearns book “Prairie Trails of Miz Mac. “

As a long-time member of the historical society, Stearns feels that keeping our local history alive is very important. From preserving our older buildings and structures throughout town, to archiving historical records, she wants to see the past kept for future generations to discover. Stearns says that the younger generations should also get involved in the historical society and help with setting up much-needed fundraisers and organizing tours of local historical sites in the area. She loves seeing the progress being made in the community but says she knows that understanding the history and sacrifices that our ancestors made is key to keeping the community on the right track.

The Weston County Historical Society is hosting multiple oral history presentations made by local families and individuals. Future speaking events are coming up and are free for the public to attend. More information on the historical society is available at wyshs.org.


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