Explore | Cheyenne, Wyoming
Explore Cheyenne and the surrounding areas by scrolling through the interactive maps and descriptions below.
We chose Cheyenne (Laramie County, Wyoming) because it typifies the “Western” city: its growth was fueled by the railroad and military, and the city is bordered by ranches and energy companies, indicative of the industries that make up much of Wyoming’s economy. In addition, Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming, a state with one of the highest percentages of white people and the lowest total populations (just over half a million people). It is also a conservative and libertarian stronghold - nearly 70% of votes cast in the 2016 general election were for conservative or libertarian candidates. Finally, Cheyenne is a mid-sized city, with a population of nearly 63,000, a size that we ultimately found to be desirable for our study design. Below, we discuss in greater depth the demographics, socioeconomics, and politics of Cheyenne and its surroundings.
In 2016, the total population of Cheyenne was 62,879, up from 59,466 in 2010 (a 5.7% increase). In 2016, the total population of Laramie County, of which Cheyenne is a part, was 96,459, with most of that population clustered in and around Cheyenne, the largest city in Wyoming. Wyoming is the least populated state in the United States. Driving across the wind swept plains surrounding Cheyenne, we began to get a better feel for just how vast and lonely Wyoming can feel.
Cheyenne’s population is majority white (77.2%), though it has a sizeable Hispanic population (14.7%) and relatively small black (3.4%), Asian (1.4%) and American Indian (0.9%) populations. A little over 2% identifies as mixed race. Compared to the rest of Wyoming, Cheyenne is racially diverse. Compared to the United States as a whole, however, Cheyenne is 24.5% more white, 15% less Hispanic, 72.4% less black, and 73.1% less Asian. Cheyenne’s foreign-born make up just 2.8% of its total population, compared to 13.2% of the United States. Despite having a small black population, Cheyenne’s mayor appointed the first black chief of police in Wyoming history in 1966. In the late 19th century, Fort Russell (now Frances E. Warren Air Force Base) was home to multiple black regiments, including the “Buffalo Soldiers.” To this day, the air force base continues to make Cheyenne a more racially diverse place than it otherwise would be. Still, on the whole, Cheyenne is a very white city. Even by census block group, there is only one block group where whites are not the most populous race. This tract happens to contain the Frontier Refinery and smaller houses, making it one of the least expensive parts of the city in which to live.
Median household income in Cheyenne was estimated to be $58,895 in 2016, compared with $55,322 in the United States. 2010 census data shows income disparity by race, with whites having the highest income, followed by Hispanics (77% of avg. median household income), Blacks (62% of avg. median household income), Asians (48% of avg. median household income) and American Indians (34% of avg. median household income). The poverty rate was estimated to be 11.1% in 2016, compared with 12.7% in the United States. As a general rule, the further north in Cheyenne you go, the higher are both the percentage of white residents (see map above) and median household income (see map below).
Compared with national levels of educational attainment, a higher proportion of Cheyenne’s population over 25 has either attended some college (no degree) or earned an associate’s degree. Cheyenne has fewer less educated people (9th to 12th grade and below) and approximately the same percentage of higher educated people (bachelor’s degree and above) as the United States. The city has three high schools, including the recently completed South High School. While South High School is more socioeconomically and racially diverse than Central or East High Schools, it also ranks significantly lower in testing. Cheyenne is home to one higher education institution, Laramie County Community College, though the University of Wyoming in Laramie and Colorado State University in Fort Collins are each an hour’s drive away.
Because Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming, it attracts a highly educated population who work in government. The largest and fifth largest employers in Cheyenne, respectively, are the state and federal governments. The military also plays a big part in Cheyenne’s economy: the second largest employer is F.E. Warren Air Force base, and the national guard is the seventh largest employer. As a historic center of the railroad on the Western Front, Cheyenne is still home to a sizeable population of Union Pacific Railroad employees. The railroad also bisects the city, dividing it into two socioeconomically distinct halves, a north and south side of town. Indicative of more recent economic development in Cheyenne, the Walmart distribution center, NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputer Center, and a yet unfinished Microsoft data center are situated among the plains to the west of the city, not far from a wind turbine farm.
Wyoming is considered by many, including the local residents with whom we spoke, to be a stronghold of conservativism. Cheyenne, despite its diversity relative to the rest of Wyoming, more or less follows this trend: in the 2016 general election, Trump received over twice the number of votes as Clinton in Laramie County, with nearly 10% of the vote going to libertarian candidates. Clinton, in fact, only won a single county in all of Wyoming: Teton County, where Yellowstone National Park and Jackson, WY have attracted a sizeable portion of residents from more liberal states. Due to its sparse population, Wyoming has only one congressional district, represented by Republican Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Of the sixty seats in the Wyoming House of Representatives, ten are held by Laramie County alone. Of those ten seats, only one belongs to a Democrat: James Byrd, who is also the son of Wyoming’s first black police chief (James Byrd) and first black representative (Liz Byrd). It speaks to the accessibility of Wyoming politicians that we happened to run into James Byrd in downtown Cheyenne, where we became engaged in a candid conversation about the tenor of Wyoming politics. Regardless of political party, many residents spoke to us about the importance of independence and self-sustainability, emotions that seem to run through Wyoming politics as a whole; Wyoming’s official code of ethics, after all, is directly inspired by the cowboy ethos of self-reliance.