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Oral Histories – Reliving History with Those That Lived It

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Over the years a number of people and events have played an important role in the history of Wyoming. Many of these people helped mold the Cowboy State into what it is today, by serving as elected officials, as champions in combat, athletics, the court room or as the first woman to accomplish various achievements.

Wyoming has also had a fair share of controversial events that have also affected the state either by direct impact to individuals that call Wyoming home or through public perception nationally and sometimes globally.

It’s one thing to read about the people and events that have had such an impact on Wyoming, but through the Wyoming State Archives’ Oral History program, it is now possible to hear these stories from the actual people involved in the state’s most newsworthy events.

The Wyoming State Archives has approximately 3,000 oral histories collected by State Archives staff. Through the recent purchase of several pieces of specialized equipment, many of these oral histories are digitized and available to the public on-line.

Additionally, the department’s Sue Castaneda and retired historian Mark Junge have interviewed several individuals bringing their participation in historical events to life.

One such incident was the Cokeville Elementary School bombing. Castaneda and Junge traveled to Cokeville in 2010 to interview former students, teachers, law enforcement officials and other first responders, who were impacted by the hostage taking of 154 children, teachers and visitors. During the incident orchestrated by David and Doris Young, one of several bombs placed in the school by the couple was accidentally detonated while officials negotiated with the Youngs, who demanded money and an audience with President Ronald Reagan.

Through these interviews, as well as audio clips from various news agencies, the listener feels as if they are taken back to May 16, 1986, the day of the incident.

Because of her work on this project, Castaneda traveled to Montreal, Canada where she spoke on the Cokeville oral history at a conference titled “Beyond Testimony and Trauma: Oral History in the Aftermath of Mass Violence,” hosted by Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

In a small bit of irony to the completion of the Cokeville project, Castaneda and Junge unknowingly drove a white van to Cokeville similar to the one that David and Doris Young used to transport bombs and weapons to the school.

A controversy, still often discussed today, the University of Wyoming Black 14 incident, is also addressed with several discussions with persons directly involved in the incident.

On Oct. 16, 1969, black members of the University of Wyoming football team approached then Coach Lloyd Eaton and asked if they could wear black armbands during that Saturday’s game with Brigham Young University in silent protest of BYU and the Mormon Church’s racist policies. As a result, the Black 14 members of the UW football team were dismissed from the team.

Included in the Wyoming State Archives Oral History collection are discussions and recollections of the incident by Dr. Willie Black, chancellor of the Black Student Alliance at UW in 1969; Judge James Barrett, Wyoming’s Attorney General at the time; Dr. Michael C. Robinson, a white History graduate student, who supported the Black 14 and their right to protest; and broadcaster Larry Birleffi, who served as the play-by-play announcer for UW athletics in 1969 and for several decades to follow.

One of the more recent incidents that has put Wyoming in the news on a national scale was the murder of gay UW student Matthew Shepard.

Dion Custis, defense attorney for Aaron McKinney, one of the two men convicted for Shepard’s murder, discusses his involvement in and perceptions of the case. In addition to several governors, including Milward Simpson, Cliff Hansen and Stanley Hathaway; other notable Wyoming residents who have provided interviews are Vice President Dick Cheney; war heroes Lee Alley and Capt. William B. Graves; attorney Gerry Spence; and Kenny Sailors, UW basketball star, who invented the jump shot and was recently inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

These interviews, recollections and audio clips are available to the public by clicking here.

Message added by SPCR at: 2:22:59 PM

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