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It was Old-West-style: A clean-up-the-town, fast-draw lawman acting to save his life. Or was it an in-the-trenches undercover drug cop, about to blow the whistle on small-town corruption? One could easily craft narratives using either of these two descriptions, given the events that cascaded through late s Sweetwater County.

Either scenario would share a leading character— Rock Springs , a unique, liberal-leaning multicultural island in mostly white, conservative Wyoming. The drama went public with one. Ed Cantrell, 51, recently hired as the Rock Springs public safety director, leaned over the front passenger seat of a police car, with two detectives seated inside, took swift aim and shot his undercover agent between the eyes.

Michael Angel Rosa was then Cantrell, an Indiana native and state policeman, moved to Wyoming in He ed the Wyoming Highway Patrol in , stationed first in Rock Springs for seven years, and then Cody for four years. I lived there for decades, growing up, and later, writing about its radical, fossil-fuel-driven overnight transformation. Rock Springs was a busted town in the early s when the Union Pacific Coal Company laid off miners en masse after the railroad switched to diesel.

Isolated, the city foundered, littered with leftover mining remains and underground mine tunnels that damaged the houses built above them when the tunnels collapsed. Politically and culturally, it was a Wyoming anomaly, derided by dominant conservative state Republicans as a weird, Democrat place run by unions, rag-tag immigrants and rumors of murky mafias.

Simultaneous development of oil , gas and, near the nearby town of Green River , trona—the prime source of soda ash—brought more people. These events jolted Rock Springs back to riches, and the city assumed a new identity: a quintessential western boomtown. Job-seeking drifters camped outside the city, and waves of incoming children inundated schools. Questionable planning and zoning brought quick-built, shoddy housing and unsightly trailer parks.

The city assumed a feel of plain, bald-faced sleaze. But also among the newcomers were activists who formed a loose coalition with feminists and younger residents. Some founded the innovative Sweetwater County Sexual Assault and Rape Task Force, while others caused a stir with efforts to upgrade the county hospital. Ed Herschler. The Republican-dominated Legislature sparred with Herschler but he eventually was reelected twice. The Anselmi family were longtime residents, and Don and his three brothers operated lucrative boom enterprises: Bill sold mobile homes, and then cars and trucks.

John, a lawyer, was also on a zoning board that granted variances, or exceptions to zoning rules, including one for his brother Paul, a motel owner who developed worker apartments in a commercial-only zone. After Rather left the town, events accelerated. A state judge empaneled a statewide grand jury in November One of its prime investigative targets was Rock Springs.

By early , changes were in the air in Sweetwater County when activist newcomers and local reformers, like legislator and lawyer Ford Bussart of Green River organized to upend old politics. Local officials got intensive public scrutiny, and statewide and regional exposure. Rock Springs officials were understandably feeling the heat as grand jury investigators poked around. Two days later, Cantrell was charged with first-degree murder. Rosa had just been subpoenaed to appear before the state grand jury the following Monday, July 17, , Crofts noted.

One of the detectives in the car during the shooting, James Callas, said he had called Cantrell on July 14 to tell him about the subpoena, and also about expense reports Callas had asked Rosa to correct. It was him or me. Cantrell was taken into a side door for a justice court bond hearing in downtown Rock Springs amid tight security, including some armed officers on rooftops across the street. Cantrell was sent for psychiatric evaluation at the state hospital in Evanston , Wyo. Deemed sane, with bond posted by friends, Cantrell remained free until his Nov.

But a new player in the drama arrived—well-known, and flamboyant—Jackson, Wyo. Spence at this time was early in his career, just beginning to build his later fame with such tactics as western dress and his style of questioning at hearings. On the first day, the hearing was moved to the Rock Springs City Hall to accommodate spectators. After only one day, the hearing was postponed until after the grand jury finished. The hearing finally d months later, Jan.

But it gave Spence time to cajole media with a new narrative, painting Rosa as an unsavory character. When the hearing ended, Justice of the Peace Nena James sent the case to district court for trial. At one point in the trial, Star-Tribune reporter Joan Barron was ased to cover it. Spence had subpoenaed me, which made me a witness. Then, calling Cantrell to testify, Spence defined the proceeding with a single dramatic moment.

He asked Cantrell to demonstrate his quick draw with his evidence-impounded revolver, so fast, Spence implied, that Rosa, intending to shoot, was taken out first. Judge Hamm, who also had connections to the old guard web in Rock Springs, gave the jury only one choice to make: Find Cantrell guilty of first-degree murder, or accept his self-defense argument. Star-Tribune letter-writers expressed mostly outrage at the verdict, as did some Rock Springs residents I interviewed.

Cantrell correctly said that no law enforcement agencies would want him. So he rode off to the range, hired by Wyoming cattlemen to curb rustling. I last saw him at Atlantic City , Wyo. In Sweetwater County, meanwhile, reformers had triumphed in the November elections. The grand jury, meanwhile, issued its report in November , and indicted 25 persons, most from Rock Springs and Casper , on drug-delivery charges, and only two lower-level state officials.

An Anselmi grandson, Jay, recalled the city in a memoir, Heavy. I think the truth is maybe not quite in the middle, but definitely more tinges of shadiness with my grandpa than my family told me about. Cantrell died on June 11, The debate over what came down on July 15, , still continues. But in the legal wrangle at his trial, Cantrell won that fight. The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is planning an exhibit and will partner with the University of Wyoming ; the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition , a new boat trip of artists and scholars down the Green and Colorado rivers; the City of Green River ; the Green River Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to host a series of teacher trainings, a Saturday University, a modern expedition launch and family oriented activities on May , at Expedition Island.

At the museum, a person can pick up a brochure published by the City of Green River for directions to historic buildings and saloons, Union Pacific Railroad facilities, and even haunted houses. The museum includes a large collection of coal mining artifacts and coal-mine-related historic photos. FMI: From I, take the Elk Street exit, No. Take the bridge across the U. Railroad tracks where it turns into A Street. At the end of the bridge, take a left on Broadway.

The museum is on the right at the corner of Broadway and B. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a. The museum includes a bookstore and gift shop and also offers an interesting walking tour. Admission is free but donations are accepted. Depot, which is now refurbished with a restaurant, and an authentic U. Bob Nelson of the museum notes that the Rock Springs Coal has moved several times over the years. Around , as shown here, it was erected at what was then the C street crossing of the UP tracks.

A local citizen formed a group that restored and installed the back at its original location, where it remains. Home Encyclopedia. Paul Krza. Into the maelstrom: investigations and jittery officials After Rather left the town, events accelerated.

The aftermath: rustlers, western myths, and Sweetwater reform Star-Tribune letter-writers expressed mostly outrage at the verdict, as did some Rock Springs residents I interviewed. Arlen, Michael J. Barron, Joan. Bechtold, Carl. Brinkley-Rogers, Paul. Cannon, Lou. April 29, , DuPont, Kate. Field, Eleanore W. Haskett, Mary Ellen. Holt, Don, and Paul Brinkley-Rogers. Ivins, Molly. Casper Star-Tribune , July 25, , 1. Krza, Paul. Unpublished conversation with Ed Cantrell.

Atlantic City, Wyo. Casper Star-Tribune , Dec. McAuley, Phil. McClanahan, E. Casper Star-Tribune , July 24, , Rather, Dan. Aired Oct. Robinson, Steven. Udevitz, Norm. Wyoming State Grand Jury Report.

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Ed Cantrell, Rock Springs and Boom-time Crime