Founding of Labarge

Cheryl Pierce’s ancestors homesteaded land where Labarge is now located.  Here is their story:

On July 24, 1912, two wagons, 4 fine horses, and 11 members of the Shinsel family left Denver, Colorado on their way to Oregon. Will (45) and Mary (45) Shinsel had five daughters (Laura – 18, Mabel – 15, Oma – 13, Isadore – 10, and Fern – 6) and two sons (Herm – 16, and Sherm – 11). Laura was married to Pat O’Brien (25) and they had a baby Ed (3 months).

After a stop in Walden, Colorado to make a little money haying, the family arrived in Opal, Wyoming in late October. Opal was a small town founded by ranchers in the early 1880 when the Oregon Short Line railroad was built to link eastern Idaho to the trans-continental railroad. Opal served as a major shipping point for cattle and sheep herds for a large portion of the Green River Valley.

While at Opal, a cowboy struck up a conversation with Sherm and ultimately convinced the family that it was too late in the year to continue to Oregon and that they should come with him 40 miles north to the LaBarge Creek area for the winter where there was plenty of available grassland.

At the time there were no towns in the LaBarge Creek area. A few cattle ranches dominated by the large Spur Ranch were the extent of the local economy. When the family arrived they found out the friendly cowboy from Opal had lured them north planning to steal their horses. But one of the horse thieves knew Will from many years earlier when Will worked for the railroad in Nebraska. Will’s old friend informed his companions that nobody was going to touch Will’s horses.

For the first 3 weeks the Shinsel’s stayed with Lew Gorley at the Whelan Ranch on the Green River. The family spent the rest of their first winter in caves dug into the high banks of the river with wagon covers used as roofs. By spring the dugouts were too wet, so the family moved up country to get logs to build cabins.

By the summer of 1913, Will Shinsel and Pat O’Brien had each filed on adjacent 160 acre homesteads on the bench above the Green River where they had spent the previous winter. The old Opal Wagon Road cut across both homesteads. They built a cabin to protect them from the next harsh Wyoming winter, and Will took a trip to Denver to get furniture, a few cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and other supplies for their new home.

More families continued to move into the area and community grew. The O’Brien clan also grew with the birth of Helen (1915), James Patrick (1917), Francis (1917), and Annette (1920). James Patrick died at birth and was buried near the O’Brien cabin where Laura could see his grave from the window.

Making a living in this harsh climate proved to be difficult. Pat and Laura spent several years working on Joe Whalen’s cattle ranch. Kids in the area attended school at the Spur Ranch run by the Simkins. But Mary and Laura eventually started taking the younger kids back to Denver for the winters where they attended school. In 1914 or 1915, Will took charge of the local post office that had previously been at the Spur Ranch.

In 1924, the State Highway Commission built a new road north from Kemmerer that crossed through the middle of the Shinsel and O’Brien homestead following much the same line as the old Opal Wagon Road. The construction provided work and some extra money for many of the locals.

An oil seep west of the Shinsel and O’Brien Homesteads had been known about for many years. Homesteaders and travelers used it to grease their wagon wheels. In 1881, the Government Land Office had sent a team to locate and survey the seep. As early as 1910, unsuccessful attempts had been made to drill the seep. For years there had been oil speculation in the area. By 1920 the Cretaceous Dome a few miles north on Dry Piney Creek was developed and producing oil. In 1923, the first producing well was drilled in the LaBarge field at the old seep.

With the oil activity, the new road, and the Post Office, Jack Marx joked to Will Shinsel that he should build a town. Herm added they should name it ‘Tulsa’ after the oil capitol of the world in Oklahoma. The joked snowballed quickly and by November of 1924, Will had sold his property to Harry Blakeman who developed the town of Tulsa.

Speculators rushed in and attempted to develop other towns in the immediate area including Oil City, Maycee and Wyotah. While those failed quickly, the Town of LaBarge just 2 miles west of Tulsa did develop and had several buildings by 1927. But Tulsa had the north bound road and by 1928, the townsite of LaBarge had failed and most of the buildings had moved to Tulsa. Tulsa was the only town that survived the rush, but the name did not. Shortly after the demise of the LaBarge townsite, Tulsa also took the name LaBarge mainly because too much of their mail was ending up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Many members of the Shinsel and O’Brien families continued to live in and around LaBarge. Will passed away in 1927. Laura divorced Pat O’Brien and eventually married George Payne. In 1927 Shirley Payne was born to add to the clan. In 1929, Mary, Laura, George Payne and the O’Brien children continued the trip to “Oregon” started 17 years earlier and ended up in Fall City, Washington. But through the years members of the family have frequently visits and occasionally lived in LaBarge.

Cheryl, Vince, Mathew and Ruby Pierce are the latest members of the clan to take their hand at making LaBarge their own. Cheryl is the grand-daughter of George and Annette (O’Brien) Profit, great-grand-daughter of Laura and Pat O’Brien, and great-great-grand-daughter of Will and Mary Shinsel.

The Historic Moondance Diner will be located on the northwest corner of 6th street and Main (highway 189). Sixth Street, running east-west, is about 100 feet north of the boundary between the old Shinsel and O’Brien homesteads. The Diner will be located on old Shinsel property. Just across the highway and a block south is the Wyoming Highway Department yard. In the very back of the yard is the protected grave of baby James Patrick O’Brien who died in 1917 and was buried on the O’Brien homestead.


“A Tale of Two Towns – Tulsa and LaBarge”, edited by Dorise Marx Housley, Betty Carpenter Pfaff, and Wanda Sims Vasey. 1977

“Trip from Denver to LaBarge”, as told to Shirley (Payne) Setzler by Nan (Isadore). Family papers.

Government Land Office Record, Bureau of Land Management.

“They Made Wyoming Their Own”, By Eunice Ewer Wallace. 1971

Stories passed down within the family.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.