July 18, 2016By

Why C.J. Box Loves Carbon County

What brought the bestselling author back, and why he’s working to make it better than ever

author cj box joe pickett series photoBefore selling millions of books and traveling the country on tour, C.J. Box was busy tracking down headlines in Carbon County, WY. When he was fresh out of college, the New York Times bestselling novelist—famous for his popular Joe Pickett series—worked for a newspaper in the town of Saratoga, near the North Platte River in Carbon County.

As a reporter, Box became fascinated with the area’s colorful characters, often a product of their surreal scenery. He spent his formative years in Carbon County before moving on and raising a family in Cheyenne. Still, he and his wife, Laurie, always hoped to return one day.

They’re here, and Box is using his influence as a nationally known author to give back to the community that sparked so many of his ideas. For a local museum, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Inspiring places and faces

carbon county museum local history museum wyoming rawlinsFor the past 40 years, a renovated church has housed the Carbon County Museum. Tucked back in a residential neighborhood in the county seat of Rawlins, the beloved museum is a local institution showcasing the region’s extraordinary history. Soon, with the help of passionate residents, visitors just passing through, and C.J. Box, the museum’s 30,000-piece collection will move to a much larger space: the historic Hugus-Ferguson Building in downtown Rawlins. It’s a move Box supports whole-heartedly and is excited about. He notes that writing is a wonderful form of preserving history, but the museum offers a more well-rounded, visual and engaging experience.

When asked about his favorite exhibit in the Carbon County Museum, Box doesn’t even pause to think. “Big Nose George Parrott,” he answers, referring to the infamous outlaw who was lynched in Rawlins in 1881. What happened after his death is so strange, you have to see it to believe it. “Carbon County was a pretty wild and woolly place back then,” says Box.

It’s Carbon County’s past personalities and its present characters who serve as a source of inspiration for the characters in Box’s Joe Pickett series. “There are a lot of quirky personalities here,” he laughs.

Preserving a special place

In addition to Big Nose George, tamer—but no less important—stories of Carbon County residents are told at Carbon County Museum. Visitors reflect on the lives of mountain men, trappers, railroad workers and Plains Indians; learn about famous residents, including the doctors who pioneered plastic surgery and the state of Wyoming’s first democratic governor; and immerse themselves in their own stories from the past. For example, visitors can learn Morse code and hear an actual 1913 phonograph played at the Thomas Edison exhibit

Moving on up

Box calls Carbon County a microcosm. He likens it to the entire state of Wyoming, which he finds fascinating from border to border, boiled down into one county. At 8,000 square miles, there is a lot of territory to cover in Carbon County. That’s why Carbon County Museum—especially when it is able to more than triple its square footage—is such a great place to start for an introduction to the area. In fact, taking a guided tour of the museum and learning about its plans to expand was one of the first things Box did when he moved back to Carbon County.

hugus-ferguson building hugus ferguson rawlins downtown wyoming cedar street historic renovationRelocating to the 30,000-square-foot Hugus-Ferguson Building won’t happen overnight. First, the museum is raising funds to pay for much-needed renovations. For $50, donors can get their names immortalized on the museum’s dedication wall (admission is free). Another way to give and get back is to shop—something C.J. Box is more than willing to help with. He praises the caliber of the museum’s exhibits, calling them modern, realistic and user-friendly, but is most impressed with its community outreach. That’s why he happily agreed to help the museum by providing an exclusive, autographed collection of his books to sell, and the revenue will go toward the renovations. The museum is the only place in the world selling these personally signed ”Box Sets”.

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A richer experience

“Most people have an interest, or at least a grasp, on Western history,” Box begins. “This museum is dedicated to preserving that cultural knowledge.”

There’s no better way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the area’s fascinating local history. Carbon County Museum is a place where travelers can become a part of history when they decide to help fund the museum’s historic move.

And it’s not just adults who can appreciate the legends and folklore of Carbon County’s lawless past. He looks forward to one day taking his grandchildren to the museum’s interactive Discovery Zone.

Box’s affinity for the area and the museum is something he hopes others get to experience. Whether he’s out fishing, overseeing the construction of his new barn or taking a tour of the museum, Box is at home in Carbon County.

Buy yourself or a loved one a special literary treat, and do some good at the same time, as each purchase helps to restore Carbon County Museum’s new home. Pick up your exclusive ”Box Set” of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett Series, which includes 15 individually signed paperbacks, or purchase signed individual titles at the museum. You can also donate directly to the foundation.

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