FORT LARAMIE – No one can say for certain when the famed Fort Laramie “sorehead” population signs first appeared on the outskirts of town – but recent polls indicate residents want the long-missing markers back.
“Area and town residents, including local businesses were asked, ‘Would you like to see the ‘sorehead (signs)’ return to Fort Laramie?’ in person by myself or via a Facebook poll,” resident Jennifer Lanier wrote in a compiled history of the signs. “Flyers were also posted at the post office and town hall encouraging people to register their opinion with the town clerk/treasurer. The Facebook poll was blind in that people could not see how others were voting until they themselves cast a vote. Fifty people voted with 100 (percent) answering ‘Yes.’ Every business said, ‘Yes, bring it back.’ Only two people registered a ‘No’ vote at town hall. And a couple of ‘No’ comments were written on the post office flyer, but because they were not attributed to a particular person(s), they could not be counted. A message to this effect was left on the flyer and encouraged the person(s) to take the poll or visit the town hall.”
Welcome to Fort Laramie
The original sign, with a muted yellow background and brown border and lettering, read, “Welcome to the Town of Fort Laramie; 250 good people and 6 soreheads”.
“Every person had a story to share about the sign and the positive impact it had on the town,” Lanier explained. “People spoke of its unifying effect, the notoriety for the town it created, and that it was simply fun. One business had always wanted to embrace its saying and create a ‘Sorehead soup.’ A couple of individuals expressed their fear it might be a negative message and it specifically spoke of them. Many people offered to donate money to ensure the sign, in some form, returned.”
Following the poll, the town council officially agreed to resurrect the signs, and Vickie’s Saloon owner Vickie Goyen immediately began making and selling t-shirts made to resemble the original marker. Lanier said another resident proudly wears a t-shirt proclaiming, “Number 1 Sorehead”.
While the town is in the process of replacing the original signs – which even received a mention on the Paul Harvey radio show at one point – the details surrounding the disappearance is unclear.
“According to locals, three Sorehead signs were made and erected by (resident) Perry Johns as a way to bring the community together in a light-hearted manner,” Lanier wrote. “He was known for his community spirit and love of the area … a grave with boots sticking out of the ground was also placed in town with a sign saying, ‘The seventh sorehead.’
“These signs were subsequently highlighted on various (occasions) and became a landmark for which people travelled to see,” she continued. “To this day, tourists ask where the sign is located. In true sorehead fashion, a dispute arose and, apparently, Mayor Jack Gregg cut down the signs and destroyed the grave to spite Perry Johns.”
The town formed a committee to reconstruct the sign, chaired by Jason Curtsinger. Because Fort Laramie had recently contracted with Lingle-Fort Laramie School students to build an information board for the Senior Center, it reached out to Guernsey-Sunrise Schools for construction of the sign (the community includes youth who attend both learning centers).
“Most of the citizens wanted it back and thought it was good for tourism,” Curtsinger said of his motivation for the project.
“We are so proud of (the students),” Lanier said. “The kids put a lot of thought into how to work it, how to make it work, and how to make it part of the community without making it stand out like a sore thumb.”
The sign is expected to be set within town limits – before, they were located on private property – and planned to appear within the next month, prior to “Sorehead Day”.
To commemorate the resurrection of the sign, the Fort Laramie Town Council officially passed a resolution last week officially declaring the third Saturday in July as “Sorehead Day”. This year, the event is scheduled for July 20.
The all-day celebration is preceded by Vickie’s Saloon selling the aforementioned t-shirts, as well as commemorative shot glasses. Local resident Becka Barron, with ABC Designs, plans to create “Sorehead” ID cards, available for tourists and residents – to be used for promotions and discounts around town.
Several events and activities are planned on Sorehead Day, including resident Chuck Brooks bringing his stagecoach to town; Pastor Marty Rostad will perform an official tongue-in-cheek funeral service for the seventh sorehead at 5:30 p.m.; the street will close at 5 p.m., with vendors and games to start at 6 p.m.; followed by a street dance with live music. The Fort Laramie Volunteer Fire Department will offer food, and several local businesses will have special Sorehead offerings. Century Lumber, Platte Valley Bank, and Wyrulec are generous Sorehead sponsors. Follow Fort Laramie Connection on Facebook for updates.
A positive celebration
“The whole point of the Sorehead Day is celebrating our community,” Lanier said. “The community was proud of our Sorehead sign – it was a source of pride, so we’re doing an annual celebration, which we hope will grow each year.
“The six soreheads are unnamed, and we (all residents) take turns – there are no specific soreheads,” Lanier added. “We all identify as soreheads – we’re all a sorehead at some point, and we’re going to celebrate it together.”