By Marit Gookin

Staff Writer

The Riverton Museum’s latest exhibit focuses on a topic that has been important to Wyomingites for generations: oil. 

“It took a few months,” explained Site Manager Nathaniel Griffee. “I think it really does a good job of covering the early history, but it covers the whole history of oil and gas mining in Fremont County.” 

The exhibit consists of both research conducted by Griffee and items and documents the museum already had in the archives; of particular note is a functioning model of an oil rig, which was built by former miner John Sullivan in the 1980s. Sullivan worked at the Maverick Springs Oil Field when he was in high school. The model is powered by an engine from a knife-sharpener; Griffee explained that Sullivan built the model with parts he already had. 

Sullivan and other oil field workers are also represented via recorded interviews, which members of the public can scroll through and listen to on an iPad. Some of these interviews were conducted many years ago by former museum employees, including Bob Peck, who spoke to people who worked in the mines and oil fields of Fremont County in the 1920s and ‘30s. More recent interviews, conducted by Griffee, include an interview with someone who worked on what was the deepest well in Wyoming at the time.

Other highlights of the exhibit include a book of meeting minutes from Riverton’s first refinery, a small oil company founded in the 1910s. The company went under fairly quickly, explained Griffee, in part because it turned out that some of the people involved were lining their own pockets. “A lot of people still really wanted it to succeed, even though it turned out to be kind of fraudulent,” Griffee commented, saying that local newspaper articles at the time talked a lot about how the company could still potentially succeed even as it was struggling. 

Griffee also included information about an incident that took place in Pinedale, when Pinedale residents pushed back when nuclear fracking was proposed. Nuclear fracking, which involves setting off a nuclear bomb underground in order to reach pockets of oil and gas, was experimented with in other places such as Colorado and New Mexico. However, the tests were less than successful, and the citizens of Pinedale fought against the effort. There was never a nuclear bomb set off in, or under, Pinedale; while other sites must grapple with concerns over radioactivity below the ground, in one place, at least, the issue was prevented altogether. 

The oil history exhibit isn’t the only big thing coming up for the Riverton Museum. “Next week’s kind of like geology week, which honestly I’m really excited about,” said Griffee. “Working on this exhibit got me really interested in geology.” On July 19, the president of the Riverton Mineral and Gem Society, Stan Grove, will give a free presentation about rockhounding in the Fremont County area starting at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the museum will be off to Lander to hike in Sinks Canyon and learn about its geology and natural history with Sinks Canyon State Park employees. The Sinks Canyon trek costs $20 per person; transportation will be provided for attendees from Riverton, who should meet at the museum at 9 a.m. Attendees from Lander can meet up with the group at the Sinks Canyon Visitors Center.