Wyoming Emigration and Immigration
Until 1811, when fur traders first opened a trail through the area, Wyoming was the domain of the American Indians. Between 1825 and 1840, about 200 mountain men bartered with the Indians at rendezvous in the region.
In the 1840s and 1850s, many thousands of emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail to California, Utah, and other western states passed through the North Platte and Sweetwater valleys and South Pass in central Wyoming. In the 1860s, as Indian troubles increased in the north, many emigrants preferred the more southerly Overland Trail through Bridger Pass. Until the railroad came, very few emigrants stayed in Wyoming.
The discovery of gold in 1867 at South Pass brought many immigrants to western Wyoming. A greater stimulus to settlement was the building of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s. Many Irish and Mexican laborers and Civil War veterans helped build the railway. Settlers from the Midwest followed the railroad into Wyoming, and built Cheyenne, Laramie, and other towns along the route. In the 1870s and 1880s, cattlemen from Texas drove herds into northern Wyoming.
Many Idaho Mormons came into Star Valley in the 1870s and 1880s. There were Mormon colonists in the Big Horn Basin by 1895, but the main body of Mormon settlers came there as an organized group from Utah and Idaho in 1900. A helpful source of information on these settlers in the Big Horn Basin is Charles A. Welch, History of the Big Horn Basin (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Press, 1940; Family History Library fiche 6110628).
A sizable number of Finns came to work the mines in Uinta and Sweetwater counties in the late 1880s. In 1895, a group of about 600 settlers came from Iowa and Illinois to homestead reclaimed land at a place now called Emblem, located near the Mormon colonies of the Big Horn Basin.
Today, most Wyoming residents are of northern European descent. There are small numbers of Italians in Rock Springs, Hispanic groups around Rock Springs and Cheyenne, and 2,000-3,000 Blacks, primarily in Cheyenne. Many Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Shoshoni Indians live on the Wind River Reservation of west-central Wyoming (see Indians of Wyoming).
There was no single port of entry common to overseas immigrants to Wyoming. The Family History Library and the National Archives have passenger lists or indexes for east-coast ports from about 1820 to 1940. More detailed information on immigration sources is in the United States Research Outline, and the Tracing Immigrant Origins Research Outline.
The Oregon-California Trails Association is an educational organization that promotes the story of the westward migration to Wyoming, among other places. Their site includes a personal name index to trail diaries, journals, reminiscences, autobiographies, newspaper articles, guidebooks and letters at http://www.paper-trail.org/