04-23-21 mandel cabin lightsweb.jpg

The Mandel Cabin and Post Office, originally constructed in 1880 and now a museum owned by the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Wyoming, has new indoor lighting to show off its interior display.

"In the early spring of 1878, I went over to Big Goose at the forks of Little Goose and built a log cabin. This was the first cabin in what is now Sheridan.”

— Peter Henry Van Dover (‘Dutch Henry’)

Five years earlier, In 1873, a 40-year old trapper came into the Little Goose valley near present-day Big Horn. It was well into the latter days of the trapping business in the West when after trapping, trading and guiding for 60 years, in 1868, Jim Bridger retired to Missouri; The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 abandoned the forts along the Bozeman Trail and closed the trail to emigrant traffic and Wyoming Territory was carved out of Dakota Territory. The nation, following the devastation from the effects of Civil War, was suffering the onset of the financial panic of 1873. When Dutch Henry built his cabin, what is today Sheridan County was part of Johnson County and Wyoming would not become a state for another 12 years, in 1890. The settlement era was beckoning.

Dutch Henry had been born in Pennsylvania in 1838 and had lost both parents by the age of 6. When he was 17, he joined a group of trappers and would follow the trade through Colorado, Nebraska, the Black Hills and the Wind River country before ending up near present-day Big Horn where he trapped, mostly for beaver, for five years.

In 1878 he and a partner, identified by early Big Horn settler O.P. Hanna as Jack Mason, moved over to the Big Goose/Little Goose confluence and built a cabin. Hanna claims that he helped them. They each had a Shoshone woman. They built the cabin in the spring and did not add the sod roof until fall. The building was located near where the Rock Creek Stage Line, probably the longest in the nation, with contract held by the Patrick Brothers, crossed the creeks and traveled on to Montana. General Crook had camped in the area only two years earlier before the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. By 1878 the area was mostly inhabited by friendly camps of the Crow Indians as well as a few early settlers.

Dutch Henry would abandon his cabin only a year later, his Shoshone woman would return to her people and he would move over to the headwaters of Beaver Creek to trap. He stayed about a year and then moved up Big Goose Creek, across from George Beck’s flour mill. For five years, he worked for George Beck, probably helping to build the mill. He then left permanently for Oregon and California. However, while in Oregon, he ran into Sheridan’s founder, John Loucks, who asked him to write his history in a letter to him, which he did. This letter, available today in the Wyoming Room at the Sheridan library came into the hands of author Ida McPherren years later and is published in the second edition of her book “Empire Builders” to correct errors originally published in her first edition. It has been invaluable to us today in correcting understandable errors and misunderstandings, which had come down through the years.

Dutch Henry was gone, but his cabin remained and had a fascinating second life of its own, crucial to our early history of the Mandel Cabin, built nearby by George Mandel in 1880-81. George Mandel lived in the Dutch Henry cabin while he built the Mandel Cabin and post office. But he too left, and first Jim Works, and then Works’ son-in-law, Dr. Lloyd Rhodes took over each for a very short time.

In 1882, John Loucks came to the area and would buy the property from Dr. Rhodes for $50, move his family into the Mandel Cabin, and set up a small store along with the post office. He became postmaster and would sketch out plans for a 40-acre town to be named Sheridan, in honor of the man who had been his commander in the Civil War, General Phil Sheridan, and renamed the post office the Sheridan Post Office. Loucks hired Jack Dow of Big Horn to survey it. Others, along with some other early inhabitants, including Ken Burkitt, George Brundage and Dudley Thurmond helped stake out the town and Loucks’ cabins were not included in the original 40 acres of the town.

In need of space for a kitchen, Loucks moved the old Dutch Henry cabin up alongside of the Mandel Cabin with a breezeway between and used it only briefly for a kitchen. However, there was need for a school, and thus in the fall of 1882 the Dutch Henry cabin became Sheridan’s first school with 19 students and Clara Works as teacher. The Dutch Henry Cabin was also used for our first election, Christmas gathering, church services and other community events.

In the spring of 1883, John Loucks would tear down the Mandel Cabin only and move the logs and other materials over to the new town. He would rebuild it in expanded form and with an upstairs. The Dutch Henry cabin, again abandoned, according to Loucks’ son Homer, was used as an ice house for years before disintegrating. As many know, the Mandel Cabin has had a dramatic and significant history of its own since its logs first arrived on Sheridan’s new Main Street. In 1976, 93 years later, it fell into the hands of the local group of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Wyoming, and through their efforts has been rebuilt close to original size with original logs and materials.

Finally, today, it sits proudly and well cared for by its owners in Whitney Commons Park in the ‘Dorothy King Reflective Gardens,’ courtesy of Whitney Benefits Foundation, near where it was originally built.

Mary Ellen McWilliams is an initial founder of the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association and serves as an advisor today.

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