Have you seen this monument?
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — In 1933, on a warm July day near Laramie, Col. Roche Mentzer, who was the commanding officer of the 115th Calvary, Wyoming National Guard, suddenly died.
He collapsed in the middle of a training march with his 700 troops, most likely from a heart attack.
As most soldiers would like it, he died with his boots on.
So the soldiers, in a mournful mood and waiting for orders, built a two-foot-high rock cairn to honor their commanding officer. Ringed with small, rugged chunks of white marble unique to the area, the location of this little slice of Wyoming's military history has since been lost in record purges and changed commands, much less to the march of time.
For years, the Wyoming National Guard Museum has been trying to find the monument. Founded by Beverly and Bob Holmes, the museum is the go-to location for images, artifacts and books on the Guard's history in the area. Bob said they came across Mentzer's death while looking at the 1941 annual for the Wyoming National Guard. A small paragraph mentions the march and his death. It's a single line, but it struck the pair's interest — along with other volunteers.
They began collecting information and printed up fliers, asking if visitors had seen such a monument. The tiny half sheets sit at the museum's entrance, two breathless paragraphs listing everything known about that day.
Over the years, they have gotten a few nibbles, but nothing has ever really panned out.
"We had lots of people tell us they would look for it because they vacationed up there or whatnot," Bob said. "I remember telling my dental hygienist about it and having her being very excited because she went up there often. That was three years ago, and they still haven't found anything."
Mentzer originally enlisted in the Iowa National Guard before joining the Wyoming National Guard and serving in an artillery unit in France during World War I. After the war, he came to Wyoming, eventually becoming the commanding officer of the 115th Calvary Regiment.
Mentzer was a prominent Cheyenne lawyer who lived with his family off of Carey Avenue. He served three years as a county and prosecuting attorney for Laramie County. He also served one term as Laramie County state senator.
His death was front-page news for the Laramie Republican Boomerang, which offered several graphs near the top to document his life. A later article mentions he was buried back in Iowa, though neither article mentions the memorial.
The museum has interviews with those serving under Mentzer at the time of his death. Each account mentions his feeling stomach pain before his death during their march. The papers also document the fact that Mentzer was suffering from high blood pressure at the time.
"He really shouldn't have been up there anyway with that condition," Bob said. "That's the part that really doesn't make sense."
The regiment left from Laramie heading south to Tie Siding with the goal of heading to Mountain Home area further to the west.
It was not unusual for the guardsmen to train at Pole Mountain in those days, but they apparently changed it due to a drought and their horses' need for water.
The newspaper puts his time of death at 2 p.m., just after his troops left the Sand Creek area. That could refer to Sand Creek road which runs parallel to U.S. Route 287 near Tie Siding or an actual creek by that name near Hutton Lake, which is in the same area south of Laramie. Almost all of that land is private property, which would explain why recreational ATV and hikers hadn't seen the cairn.
The paper also notes that his troops continued their march, meaning they could have made the cairn later in the day, away from the actual spot of his death.
The only other hint of a location comes from a tree trunk recovered by the National Forrest Service in the 1960s. The service was clearing trees in the area when one of the workers noticed some carvings in a stump with Mentzer's initials, the cavalry logo of crossed swords and the number 115.
The stump was gifted to the museum and is currently on display there.
"We have a news article that says it was taken from a clump of trees with more carvings just like it," Bev said. "If we could find where that was, the monument was probably located not too far away."
University of Wyoming Archeology Professor George Gill is pictured in the article. He said that to his recollection someone had brought the stump in and he had never actually seen where it was taken from.
It is possible it was within sight of the monument, as a stripped tree can be seen in the background of the monu-ment photos.
Wyoming State Archeologist Mark Miller said a search of their archives didn't turn up anything. He said it was possible that if the site was found in the '60s, it may have been too "new," relatively speaking, to get a site number and be logged even if it was discovered.
Miller also guessed, based on the inscription on the cairn, "Reg./HQ/TR," that the monument may have been a set up as a location guide for the troops before it was considered a monument. Such a thing was not that uncommon for Guard groups who visited the same spots every year and wanted to mark where specific tents like headquarters went quickly and consistently in case of turnover.
It is also possible the cairn was created as a monument for the troop's activity in general, and it took on special meaning after their leader's death.
U.S. National Forrest Service Spokesman Aaron Voos said his department had no record of a monument either.
"From what I can tell, it may actually be on private land somewhere in that Sand Creek area," he said. "Some of the older hands around here also guessed that it may be on Boswell Road which runs north of the Colorado border and was the only real access road in the area at that time into Mountain Home." Bob and Bev believe the monument has been taken down and redistributed over the years. Still, they would love to know where the site was, if only for the sake of historical accuracy.
"The more exposure we get, maybe someone will stumble on to it," Bob said.