We’ve all walked Old Main thousands of times, but have you ever stopped to look at the old fountain along the sidewalk on the west side of the street? Find it, look closely, and you’ll find a bronze plaque that reads: “He gave himself to ensure the safety of others.” The fountain stands as a memorial to a student who was lost in a tragic accident.
The water fountain, long defunct, memorializes former University of Wyoming student Lowell O’Bryan. It’s been almost 100 years since he was killed in 1922, on a day that was supposed to be a festive welcome to the University of Wyoming’s new president. The president, D. Arthur G. Crane, was coming very far from Pennsylvania, so the students decided that a warm western welcome was in order. Creative as they were, they thought it would be fun to greet the new president’s vehicle as he drove in from Cheyenne – but they would do it in full cowboy regalia and on horseback. Their plan was to ambush the president, transfer him to a stagecoach, and escort him in surrounded by 15 “cowboys.”
What began with good intentions ended in great sadness when Lowell, one of the best horsemen in the school, a junior, was checking that all of the horses and saddles were safe for beginners among the group of 50. Accounts differ – one report says that he intentionally bucked his horse, who was heading for a fence and some students, then went to dismount, when the saddle slipped and he was thrown underneath the horse. Another report says Lowell was dismounting his horse to help contain another horse that was headed for some students, potentially putting them in danger. All agree that when the accident happened, Lowell was doing something he did regularly, and with the intention of keeping his fellow students safe. When the saddle slipped, he was kicked and dragged 30 yards before anyone could rescue him. He was taken to the doctor, unconscious, but never regained consciousness in spite of the best efforts of many doctors and nurses that fought to save him. He died a week later at the home of his stepfather, who was one of the doctors attending to him.
No doubt the sadness of his death was felt campus- and community-wide in Laramie in 1922 and for the years that followed. His grieving classmates worked together to raise funds for a memorial for him – the fountain we pass when we walk along Old Main. It was built in 1927, but not where it stands today. Instead it was located where the Biological Sciences Building now stands. It was moved when the building was erected. It’s not known when it the water was disconnected, but significant efforts are required to reattach it to a water source and upgrade it to make it a usable water fountain again.
Forgotten and neglected for decades, a recent movement was has been spurred by our University of Wyoming class to restore the monument to honor Lowell. We feel strongly that if it was important to his classmates to honor him, it should be important to current students as well. The monument also commemorates the beginning of Dr. Crane’s 23-year tenure as president of the University. It should not lie there abandoned, but as an important piece of our school’s history, should be restored. If restored, students for decades to come will stop for a drink and read the plaque, helping ensure that Lowell and his good intentions for his fellow students are never forgotten. Restoring the fountain now would be an excellent University of Wyoming improvement project, showing that students can help preserve our campus and play a role in what is remembered by future generations of students.