When the earliest settlers came to Wyoming, they weren't able to bring much with them. They came to start a new life and the practical necessities for starting that new life took precedence. The difficulty of travel to a distant and foreign place limited the items they could take. Size, weight, fragility, and the little space for goods would often determine if any particular item made the trip. Yet in spite of these difficulties they frequently brought their musical instruments. Those instruments, then as now, were often made of easily bent metals and fragile woods but the music they provided was important enough to compensate for the space and extra care these instruments required.
The first instruments brought to Wyoming were generally small and portable harmonicas, homemade flutes, guitars, and fiddles. All of these instruments were easy to carried and readily accessible. When it was not possible to bring instruments newcomers sang songs of home and tried to break up the weary routine of endless travel with a few songs or a few danced steps.
The need for music and scarcity of instruments caused those with the skills to make instruments of their own. One early settler of Natrona County hand carved a complete violin that was discovered in 1923 in an abandoned cabin.
Music was an integral part of the Native American culture. They made whistles, flutes, and drums that they used in their songs and dances.* Music was important to their rituals, their family structure, and their celebration of life.
One provider of music in Wyoming was the military. It was a rare and small post that didn't have some type of band or chorus. Many soldiers learned to play the Army's ceremonial bugles and drums and soon the post had a Drum and Bugle Corps. As the post became more established musically inclined people often used the same bugles and drums that were part of military ceremonies to form bands that played simple but stirring military rythmns with style and flair. A far different use of these instruments than communication on the battle field.
Military bands served as part of post social life on the early frontier and became a focal point for community music. Townspeople would come for concerts and dances and as the towns grew they also would join in and add to the size and complexity of the band. Thus inspired they would create community music based in the local church, a marching band from the Fire Fighting company, or just folks who liked to play and others who liked to listen. It was also common to borrow some of their members from the military bands that started it all.
This community music was played because many people felt a very deep need for it, a need which grew as the population became larger and more sophisticated. As transportation became a easier people brought more and bigger instruments. Eventually there were groups, choirs, small and large bands, symphonies and orchestras all over Wyoming. These musical organizations were seldom larger than ten or twenty people but they played regularly enough and with enough enthusiasm for a much larger group.
Wyoming's love of music continues and grows in our present day. There are symphonies, choirs, festivals, watering holes, and places and people of all sorts who provide a diverse and rich musical life that covers all interests and all areas of Wyoming. Those carefully carried musical reminders of home have grown and multiplied into creators of a rich heritage of music which has a welcome place in the fabric of Wyoming life.*There are examples of these instruments of both Native American and Immigrant available for study in the collections of the Wyoming State Museum. The pictures are of actual artifacts from those collections and are used with permission of the museum.