Mickey Thoman is a cowgirl, mentor and matriarch of the W&M Thoman Ranch in Sweetwater County. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

Lindsay Linton Buk, a Wyoming native whose roots in the state stretch back five generations, grew up in Powell before leaving to chase a passion for photography. That passion took her to Los Angeles and New York City, where she assisted the renowned portrait photographer Peter Hurley.  

Buk returned to her home state in 2013 and began the work of launching her own photo studio. In that transition, she found herself itching for a creative challenge, but also filled with a new curiosity about the state. 

Lindsay Linton Buk interviews Shoshone linguist, cultural preservationist and education consultant Lynette St. Clair on the Wind River Reservation. (Courtesy Lindsay Linton Buk)

“I was having to completely reinvent myself and redefine what success meant and also questioning that idea of Wyoming as limiting,” Buk said. “I also think seeing is believing. It’s really powerful to see your peers out in the world doing amazing things, and I just had no idea what my peers were doing in Wyoming, because we’re such a vast state, we’re so isolated from each other physically. I was really curious, you know, how are other women making it? And not just getting by, but are they fulfilling themselves?”

Those seed questions grew into a years-long project that would send Buk thousands of miles across the state, gathering stories and portraits of some of Wyoming’s most remarkable women.

Abstract expressionist painter, artist and author Neltje. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

The project, “Women in Wyoming: Portraits and Interviews of Women Who Shape the West,” shines a spotlight on Wyoming women whose lives embody courage, strength, big-thinking, resilience and pioneering achievements.

Women like ranching matriarch Mickey Thoman, the state’s first female Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kite and Affie Ellis, the first Native American person to ever serve in the Wyoming State Senate. Like Clarene Law, a self-made business mogul, Jessie Allen, an outfitter, NOLS instructor, ranch manager and former Miss Wyoming and Nimi McConigley, a Casper journalist who became the first Indian-born person in the entire U.S. to serve in state government.

Jessie Allen is a yogi, outfitting guide, NOLS instructor, former Miss Wyoming and manager of Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

The project encompasses a website filled with arresting portraits, podcasts and written stories, along with a multimedia exhibit that will be on display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West until August 2020. 

It tells the stories of painters and pilots, linguists and priests, doctors and climbers, nonprofit workers and fly-fishing mavens. Some of Buk’s subjects are high-profile women. Others operate under the radar. She presents her audience with women of all stripes whose stories offer lessons in endurance, kindness and passion.

Nina McConigley, left, author of “Cowboys and East Indians,” with her mother, Nimi McConigley, the first woman of color in the United States to run a television news station and the first Indian-born person in the United States to be elected to a state government. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

It’s ambitious, broad-reaching and ongoing, and there’s a reason for that. Buk said once she began searching for notable women in Wyoming, she quickly discovered far more than she could ever fit into one project. 

Still, she followed leads, dug into news reports and took word-of-mouth recommendations from all directions. Over the course of three years, she drove more than 15,000 miles — from Cheyenne to Rock Springs to the Wind River Indian Reservation and Sheridan — to sit down with her subjects, photograph them and record their stories.

Lindsay Linton Buk interviews Wyoming’s first female Supreme Court Justice, Marilyn Kite. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

Along the way, she says, she developed more than 600 roles of film and taped some 3,000 minutes of audio interviews. 

She also found herself in unforgettable situations. Buk caught a ride in a helicopter piloted by the only female US Army “DUSTOFF” Medevac pilot to reside in Wyoming, Lauren Gurney, who also runs a cake-making business. She sat down to tea with the venerable arts champion Ann Simpson, visited the art residency homebase of abstract painter Neltje and helped out at W&M Thoman Ranch’s sheep camp in the Wind River Mountains.

Lauren Gurney, a Medevac pilot, cake maker and owner of Jackson Hole Cake Company. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

So, how did the journey answer her questions? Well, let’s just say Buk was nearly bowled over with the answer: Wyoming is overflowing with inspiring stories. Buk hopes viewers glean that from her project, too.

A young girl looks at a portrait of State Sen. Affie Ellis at the exhibit opening in Cody. (Lindsay Linton Buk/Women in Wyoming)

“I hope it just sheds some light on what’s possible, and expands your imagination and sense for what that can be,” she said. “Hopefully there’s this empowerment piece, where it is uplifting but also kind of kicks you in the pants.”

When she thinks back to her former qualms about Wyoming, she can’t help but chuckle. 

“It kind of makes me laugh because I went from thinking I would never have a future here to being really creatively stretched and challenged,” Buk said. “I think if you can look at Wyoming as a place of opportunity, there is a lot of space for your voice to be heard and to make a direct impact because we are so small-scale. But you have to be more creative about how you are going to go about that. That is where a lot of that Wyoming grit or resilience comes into play.” 

After all, despite traveling all those miles, Buk said, “I still feel like it’s the tip of the iceberg.” 

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Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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