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Wyoming man traces roots to frontier figure

Oct 18, 2013 - The Associated Press

CASPER -- They called him "Bony."

The ancestor of a Casper man who guarded 300 miles of telegraph lines along the Oregon Trail from American Indian saboteurs obtained the moniker because of scratches he got from a bear attack and his literary fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte.

Keith Franck recently traced his ancestry to Preston B. "Bony" Plumb with handwritten diary entries and historical records, which detail the origin of Plumb's nickname as well as his time in Wyoming during the 1860s.

"Every time I looked into it, it got bigger and more fun," Franck said.

He started researching his family history after retiring from the city of Casper garage about four years ago.

His mother already had letters and documents from past relatives because the matriarchs of the family kept journals.

Franck spent eight to 10 hours a week investigating Plumb, and sought information from the Fort Caspar Museum and the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. The museums gave Franck books about his ancestor, and he shared the family's handwritten documents.

Plumb lived from Oct. 12, 1837, to Dec. 20, 1891. Franck believes Plumb was his great-great-grandfather's cousin.

Rick Young, manager of the Fort Caspar Museum, said he periodically works with descendants of people who were stationed at Fort Caspar or who operated the Mormon Ferry across the North Platte River. Because the museum has various amounts of information on individuals, Young is always pleased when relatives can add biographical information to the record.

"We can use it potentially in an exhibit," he said. "We share it with other people coming through doing research. It just reinforces and builds up the knowledge we have of the place."

The main responsibility of soldiers and officers at the fort, such as Lt. Col. Preston Plumb, was to protect the telegraph lines. Young said the first military men arrived to Fort Caspar in 1862 during the Civil War and maintained the lines so the Union could communicate with the West Coast.

Plumb, originally from Ohio, entered the service with the 11th Kansas Cavalry in September 1862. He fought in Arkansas before being promoted to lieutenant colonel, according to the Dictionary of American Biography. His regiment was assigned to 300 miles of the Oregon Trail in early 1865 and returned to Kansas later that year.

It was an uncharacteristically active summer because of the previous year's massacre at Sand Creek, in southeastern Colorado Territory, where soldiers attacked and murdered Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members. Tribes responded by attacking stations along the overland trails, cutting telegraph lines and raiding horses.

"The summer of 1865 there was a lot of problems with the tribes because the tribes were up trying to get revenge for the Sand Creek massacre," Young said.

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