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A tale of two Crook Counties

Wyomings Crook County shares the same namesake as our Crook County, but differs in other ways


Earlier this year, while returning from a vacation, Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley was driving down Interstate 90 when a road sign caught his eye.

It turned out he was driving into Crook County . . . Wyoming.

Having a few minutes to spare, he and his wife decided to pay a visit to the other Crook County Sheriff, Steve Stahla.

"I thought, 'Why not?' I wanted to stop in and at least say 'hi.'" Hensley recalls. "I went in and gave him my card. I said, 'This may sound funny, but I'm the sheriff of Crook County, Ore."

Stahla remembers the occasion as a short visit, one he wished he had more time for.

"It was a surprise," he said. "I was focused on my desk and all of the paperwork I had."

Over the course of the brief conversation, Hensley learned that Crook County, Wyo. enjoys a low crime rate, which has resulted in few inmates occupying their jail. At the time of the visit, they only had two.

Hensley found himself in shock. After all, at that time, about 90 inmates were still waiting to serve time back home.

"My jaw hit the floor,"

In the end, the two exchanged mementos from each other's offices. Hensley offered a challenge coin given to incoming deputies, and Stahla reciprocated with a Crook County, Wyo. Sheriff's Office patch.

Crook County, Ore. and Crook County, Wyo. not only share the same name, they share the same namesake, Gen. George Crook.

"He was involved in a lot of Indian skirmishes in Central Oregon with the Paiutes and various others that were raiding in the area," said Steve Lent, a historian with Bowman Museum. "For Crook County, Wyo., he was involved with the Sioux wars there. In fact, he was involved at the same time Custer got killed at Little Big Horn."

The similarities don't end there. Both are rural counties with a cowboy heritage. Crook County, Wyo., situated in the northeast corner of Wyoming, on the west side of the Black Hills, and is located 50 miles from famous gold mining community of Deadwood, S.D.

"There were over 100 gold mines in this area," said Rocky Courchaine, director of the Crook County Museum, in Sundance, Wyo.

Unlike the South Dakota side of the Black Hills, the gold mines in Crook County yielded little to no gold and mining ended around 1909.

The cowboy heritage is highlighted by its association with the notorious Wild West villain, the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh), whose name came from the county seat of Sundance.

Like its Oregon counterpart, Crook County, Wyo. has relied on ranching and agriculture as primary industries.

"A lot of families who homesteaded here are still here," said Jim Hadley, the commission chair of the county.

Other characteristics set the two counties apart. Although Crook County, Wyo. is 2,871 square miles in size, just 116 square miles smaller than its Oregon twin, about 7,000 people live in the Wyoming county, compared to nearly 21,000 in Crook County, Ore.

Three incorporated cities lie within the Crook County, Wyo. border, as opposed to Prineville, the lone municipality in the local county. No community in the Wyomings Crook County exceeds 1,300 residents, whereas Prineville is home for nearly 10,000.

Unlike Crook County, Ore., where jail space is one of the primary law enforcement challenges, the wide open spaces create struggles for Stahla and his six deputies.

"As you can imagine, if we get a call up in the north country and our deputy is on the southeast edge, it can take a while to get there," he said.

Both Crook counties have faced their share of economic woes because of the recession

However, Crook County, Ore. is operating the county with an approximately $51 million budget, while the budget for its Wyoming counterpart only comes to $13 million.

"We are a fairly poor county for Wyoming," Hadley said.

As each county recovers, they are relying on different resources to boost their economy. While the local community is earning a reputation for its Facebook and Apple data centers, Hadley said that Crook County, Wyo., is supported by tourism and another kind of mining operation.

"We have a uranium mine that's in the final process of permitting," he said. They broke ground last month.

Hensley is not the only local resident to pay the other Crook County a visit. Lent took a trip to Sundance and took pictures of buildings - a surreal experience.

"When you see the Crook County stuff all over the buildings - their Crook County Courthouse doesn't look anything like ours," he said.

However, when it comes to scenery, visitors might notice a few similarities. The county is situated alongside a mountain range, but as Hensley observed, much of the landscape resembles the sagebrush covered lands of Eastern Oregon. Like Crook County, Ore., there is a national forest (Black Hills) and national grassland (Thunder Basin).

However, the Wyoming Crook County is also home to a national monument. The Devil's Tower National Monument rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding landscape. The extinct volcano was the first designated national monument in United States history, with President Theodore Roosevelt establishing it in 1906.

When Hensley and Stahla parted ways, each sheriff later reflected on the visit and both hope to meet again under less time-restricted circumstances. Hensley plans to write Stahla a letter, and Stahla hopes to arrange a casual lunch or dinner some day.

"I wish I would have had more time," the Wyoming-area sheriff said of his surprise visit. "I guess I let an opportunity go by without realizing it until it was over."




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