On January 21, 2010 · 3 Comments

There’s no telling what might register on my mind when I examine a map closely. Anything out-of-the-ordinary will jump to the forefront. It may be an odd shape like the perfect circle of Corona, a stranded bit of land like Carter Lake or a strange town name like Yeehaw Junction. It doesn’t matter. If it meets my warped sense of "unusual" it draws my attention and curiosity.

Imagine how I felt as I examined geographic features in southeastern Wyoming and came across a flyspeck of a town call CHUGWATER. What an odd name, I thought. All sorts of scenarios rolled through my mind. I simply had to find out more about this place.

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Chugwater is a small place by just about any definition. The population hits maybe 250 residents on a good day. However, it’s also situated right along Interstate Highway 25 only half an hour north of Cheyenne and a couple hours north of Denver, so I’m not sure I’d call it "remote." Sure, it’s rural though. Any settlement that places cattle guards on the ramps leading to the Interstate has to be considered rural.

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Nonetheless, anyone with a car can get here pretty easily from some fairly populous cities without too much time or effort.

I do love the sound of the name — Chugwater — and it certainly invokes a specific image. I was a bit disappointed with its derivation though, or rather theories of its derivation because it can’t be proven. It’s definitely named after Chugwater Creek. Some believe it traces back to the local Native Americans, supposedly the sound of bison smacking ("chug") a creek ("water") after hunters stampeded them off the nearby siltstone cliffs.

Nobody really knows if there’s a grain of truth behind the legend or if some early settler maybe misinterpreted it or simply made it up. These stories are a dime-a-dozen out West. Either way Chugwater Creek has been carrying its name for a long time. It was marked as such on some of the earliest American maps from this territory in the 1840’s. A lot more information can be found on Wyoming Tales and Trails for those who may be interested in all the details of Chugwater’s history along with numerous vintage photos.

Let’s bring this back into the 21st century. There are plenty of interesting things about Chugwater today.

(1) The Chugwater Museum

It’s free but open only by special request. You need to stop by the soda fountain to pick up the key. I’m not sure why I found that so funny.

(2) Modern Day Homesteading

Chugwater made the national news a few years ago when it offered building lots for $100 to prospective residents as long as the homesteaders built houses within a year and remained for two years. I have no idea if that succeeded.

(3) Chili

The town is home to the Chugwater Chili Corp. As I think about it, wouldn’t that have been a much better explanation for the town name? The Chili is so hot you have to Chugwater. Oh, never mind.

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Not too surprisingly, there is also an annual Chugwater Chili Cookoff. What you may not know, and here’s the basis for a great trivia question: this event also serves as the official Wyoming state chili cook-off championship.

(4) Music

I’m convinced that a town doesn’t officially have an odd name until a country/western and/or bluegrass band is named in its honor. Chugwater is no exception, and the Chugwater Band has played extensively throughout the United States and even in Europe, with songs such as Tic Tac Two Step and The Cowboy Way.

Chugwater has a lot going on in a small package. Who, other than the couple hundred residents of Chugwater, knew that? Well, now you do.

On January 21, 2010 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Chugwater”

  1. Chaser says:

    Hey! I’ve been to Chugwater! It’s on the route I took when I moved from Milwaukee, WI to Vancouver, BC! I stopped there, got gas, but nobody around could find the key to the museum, so I just had a picture taken outside the big sign painted on the side the Chugwater Waterin’ Hole so’s I had proof of visit.

    Love the blog, been following since I moved up here and kind of pumped to finally read about somewhere I’ve actually been!

  2. Bill Cary says:

    I’ve been to Chugwater, Wyoming. In April 1968 my parents, my sister and I spent the night there in a very inexpensive motel. We awoke to snow the next morning and ate in a mom and pop restaurant downtown and I remember most how the townspeople stared at the strangers from back east and due south. We stood out like sore thumbs amid all the western gear and cowboy hats.

    I also remember the drive up I-25 from Denver, how dark everything was once we crossed the Wyoming state line. We made it to Chugwater and dad said we were stopping for the night as the next town was too far away. The television only had one channel from Cheyenne. You watched what was one or nothing else.

    The next day after breakfast the desolate and barren hills lead the way back to the mountains as we continued up I-25 and out of the Chugwater metro area. I had been studying the population explosion in grade school and couldn’t figure out where all the people in Wyoming were. It all looked empty and untouched.

    My recollection of Chugwater is that it wasn’t bad. I always wanted to get back there one day and see it again as an adult. I’ll bet they’d still stare over breakfast at the once southern but now Yankee from Ohio. I’d be the one still not wearing a cowboy hat.

    • Bill, what a wonderful description of your journey to Chugwater. I felt like I was riding along with you across the emptiness of the Wyoming countryside of I-25 of 1968. My family owned a Chevrolet Caprice Station Wagon back in those days, and I picture myself in the way-back of that beast in a time before childhood restraints existed.

      I’d love to go there myself someday and they’d be staring at me too, because I don’t own a cowboy hat either.

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