Archives On The Air 6: Hell On Wheels

Jun 25, 2018

Wyoming had its share of end-of-track towns during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. These tent cities were known for their criminal element and earned the name “Hell on Wheels.”

Especially notorious was the short-lived town of Bear River City near present-day Evanston.

In November 1868 Bear River City’s Vigilance Committee expelled “roughs” from the town. Most left, but three stayed. They were duly hung by the vigilantes.

Friends of the lynched men attacked the vigilantes and the town erupted into violence.

Town Marshal Thomas Smith stood up to both factions but could not stop rioters from shooting wildly and torching the town. Finally, a U.S. Cavalry troop arrived and imposed martial law.

The riot ended any future for Bear River City and it was soon deserted.

Marshal Thomas Smith moved on, but kept the name “Bear River” Smith due to his stand against the rioters in Bear River City.

You can learn more about the Hell on Wheels towns at UW’s American Heritage Center.