General Philip Henry Sheridan’s famed
Civil War career – most notably his “hell for leather” charge at
Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864 – eventually led to his post-bellum
appointment as Commanding General U.S. Army on November 1, 1883 –
succeeding William Tecumseh Sherman. He remained in that post until
his death on August 5, 1888.
Like many towns in the West that were named for U.S. Army officers,
Sheridan, Wyoming in north-central Wyoming just east of the Bighorn
Mountains, was named in honor of Phil Sheridan in 1882 by John D.
Loucks who served under Sheridan in the Civil War.
But this was not the first
patronymic honor that Sheridan earned in Wyoming. In 1877 a type of
specimen of a beautiful but tiny green butterfly (under 1” wingspan)
collected in north-central Wyoming was named “Sheridan’s Hairstreak”
(Callophrys sheridanii sheridanii) by W.H. Edwards – the
leading amateur American lepidopterist of the 19th century. It is
one of three races of this species – given the modified common name
of “White-lined Sheridan’s Hairstreak”.
In July 2006, acting upon signed
legislature earlier that year, Sheridan’s Hairstreak officially
became the State Butterfly of Wyoming.
Sheridan’s Hairstreak is one the
true harbingers of Spring in Wyoming – being the first butterfly to
emerge from chrysalis – flying from March to early June. It is found
up to high elevations of 8000 ft. near melting snowbanks. Buckwheats
are the primary larval food plant.
There are over seventy Hairstreak
species in North America, including a rare California species named
for John Muir. Most are colored in beautiful shades of browns and
grays, but a few species are strikingly green in color, including
Juniper Hairstreak which I’ve found in Adams County in extreme
south-central Ohio. Malachite (Siproeta stelenes), a large
tropical gem that can be seen in southern Florida, is often a star
of indoor butterfly gardens. Green butterflies have a stunningly
unique appeal whenever they are encountered.
While no Civil War battles were
fought in present-day Wyoming, on my next trip to the Bighorns, a
foray in search of Sheridan’s namesake butterfly will be high on my
to-do list. As will a return trip just an hour’s drive north up
I-90, to where one of Sheridan’s stellar subordinate commanders in
the 1864 Valley Campaign came to grief along the banks of the Little
Bighorn River in 1876.