#Lookback: Margaret Burke Hennen Dickenson
The life of Maggie Burke Hennen Dickenson parallels the history of the United States. Maggie was born in Dublin Ireland, but at 3 months of age her family immigrated to America and made a home in Illinois. The pull of western expansion and hope for a better life moved the family west to Iowa.
During the Civil War, her younger brother, James enlisted as a Drummer boy in the Union army. He never returned from that conflict. Shortly after the war, Maggie’s mother died and Maggie went to Fort Dodge, Iowa to live with her sister where she learned the skill of dressmaking.
At this time, there was much excitement about opportunities in the west and the building of the transcontinental railroad. Soon, Maggie found herself in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she met Michael Hennen and married him. Hennen was working on the railroad as a grader with his team of horses.
The excitement of a gold discovery at South Pass pulled the young couple to the gold fields. They finally settled at Miner’s Delight. Hennen built a cabin for his family and life was good except the dangers of hostile attacks by Native Americans.
In September of 1872 Mike Hennen hitch his team and made a trip down the Red Grade to buy hay. As Maggie was preparing dinner, men arrived with the body of her husband. He had been killed in a Sioux attack at High Springs. Maggie had two small children on the cabin floor and she was nine months pregnant. She buried Mike Hennen in the Miner’s Delight cemetery. Just a few days later she gave birth to a daughter, Emily. Stricken with grief, she was slow to recover from the birth. The community must have rallied around her, but she was encouraged to take her young family and return to her father’s home. She refused.
She started taking in boarders and cooking for the miners. With the small amount of gold, she and Michel had accumulated she purchased cattle and branded them with the Circle H in honor of her husband. She turned her small herd out on the public range. She became the first woman in Wyoming to run cattle on the public range.
On August 16 1875, she married Peter Paul Dickenson at Camp Stambaugh. Dickenson ran a trading post along with M.N. Baldwin at Camp Stambaugh.
After the Brunot Agreement was signed the southern boundary of the reservation moved from South Pass to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River, and Lander Valley became open for White settlement. P.P. Dickenson was in a partnership with Frank Lowe in the Lander Townsite Company. Eugene Amoretti was soon added to the partnership. When the town was first platted out Amoretti got the 200 Block of Main Street, Frank Lowe got the 300 block of Main Street and P.P. Dickenson got the 400 block of Main street.
The Maggie and P.P. built the Dickenson Hotel, also known as the Cottage House and took in boarders. Maggie also prepared meals for tradesmen, travelers and clerks. P.P. built a livery next to the hotel. A replica of his Livery is in the Museum of the American West village.
Maggie was quite proud of her right to vote and took her civic responsibly seriously. She organized the first public School in Lander and was the first woman to serve on the school board. She also secured gifts of land for the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church and organized the first Sunday school. According to her obituary, she brought the first community Christmas tree to Lander. A tradition we still honor today.
After P.P. died in 1918, Maggie went to live with her daughters. First in California and then in Denver. She died in Denver in 1926. In a very real sense, she was a founding Mother of Lander. Her life’s work reverberates through Lander’s history.
Next up for the Fremont County Museums
January 16th at the Riverton Museum 6:30pm, “Routine Patrol: Memoirs of a Small Town Cop” by Bart Ringer
Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
February 8th at the Riverton Museum 2pm, “Exploring Historic Computers”
Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series
February 14th at the Riverton Museum 5:30-9:30, “Murder Mystery Night at the Museum: Roaring 20’s”
Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.
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