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Wyoming in the 1970s: Guns a Normal Part of a School Kid’s Life

By: Randy Tucker

You have to be at least upper middle-aged to remember a time when the world didn’t consist of metal detectors, crisis response teams, and overzealous media eager to ignite any situation into a national referendum.

The parking lot at Wind River High School near Kinnear, Wyoming in the 1970s comes to mind when I think of “the good old days.” For someone unfamiliar with high schools in Wyoming, there are only 77 of them in the entire state, and 55 of those have fewer than 200 students in grades nine to 12. Yes, we are the epitome of small schools.

Wind River was the K-12 Morton School prior to consolidation in 1970 and sat just 50 yards north of US Highway 20-26, the main artery from the eastern United States to Yellowstone and Teton National Parks.

The school was set in a depression among stark hills of wind-sculpted sandstone buttes and was prone to occasional flashfloods when a downpour doused the hills and found that depression.

If an anti-gun proponent were to go back in time to 1975, a cardiac arrest would surely ensue.

I drove a 1962 Chevy Nova wagon I had restored after work during the summer between my junior and senior years. In the back seat of the Nova, I always carried a bolt action .22 cal I’d purchased at the Coast to Coast store 25 miles away in the local metropolis of Riverton (7,000 population at the time).

I paid $40 for the .22, and they threw in a free box of shorts. In those days, shorts were the ammunition of choice for target shooting; at 37 cents for a box of 50 you could afford to shoot for a long time. Longs were a little more, but if we were rabbit hunting, chasing coyotes or prairie dogs, we went all-in and paid top dollar: 60 cents for long rifle cartridges.

I wasn’t a wanton criminal hiding a gun on school property. I was just one of the boys (and a few girls had rifles as well) who carried a rifle or shotgun with them to school every day.

During football and track season, the days were a little longer, and after practice, we often went shooting, and if it was late fall or early spring, the coyotes were still in full winter coats. A coyote could bring as much as $150 for a perfect pelt in those days, and that was big money for boys earning $25 to $30 a day stacking a thousand 85-pound bales of hay by hand.

We carried shotguns as well in August when dove season opened, and through the winter months if there was enough light after basketball practice to jump shoot a few ducks.

My shotgun was a single-shot Iver-Johnson 12 gauge that my dad often joked “Killed on both ends.” The steel butt plate didn’t absorb much, and it did kick hard, but the 32-inch barrel and tight choke made it a perfect long-range gun for geese.
It only chambered 2 ¾ inch shells, but that was more than enough with lead two shot or BBs in a high brass shell. I still use it occasionally on goose hunts.

The menagerie of weaponry hanging in the gun racks of unlocked pickup trucks in the student parking lot would astound people today. The guys from west of Kinnear towards Crowheart had bolt action Remington rifles in .308, .270, and 30-06 caliber. There were elk and moose west of the school, and many times a kid on the way home would tag an animal after practice.

We made fun of the few kids who carried lever action Marlin 30-30’s, not because they were bad guns, but because a couple of them thought they were John Wayne or Roy Rogers because they had a lever action.

In all those years, not a single incident occurred on campus with a weapon. It was indeed a very different time. One day, a friend brought a nice Remington into the building and carried it right up the hall to our football coach’s classroom. He was the biology teacher as well and was looking for a new rifle. He bought the gun from my friend, leaned it against a corner of the classroom, and took it home that night.

Interestingly enough, there was never any gun play or shooting at school, but with a student body of only 144 kids, there was a fist fight almost every day at lunch.

Somebody looked at somebody else’s girlfriend, short-changed them in some way, or two guys just wanted to fight. We all ate lunch quickly, went around the back of the gym and watched the fight. Often the two guys would be seen later headed into town together with no animosity after the fight.

In all those mini-brawls, no one ever threatened to kill the other guy, pulled a knife, or ran to get a gun. The fight was the fight and life went on.
If only we could return to those times.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.