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Wyoming State Museum
Barrett Building
2301 Central Avenue
Cheyenne, Wy 82002
(307) 777-7022

Featured Artifact

Rooster’s Red Cap

Category: Clothing


The February featured artifact was selected in honor of Black History Month. In 2002, the Museum received a donation of a bright red railroad uniform hat. It had been worn by Harvey L. Johnson, when he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. He was considered Red Cap #1 and was also known by his nickname, Rooster. Mr. Johnson was born in Louisiana in 1895 and served in one of the four African-American “buffalo soldier” units during WWI. He moved to Cheyenne in 1920 and worked for the railroad until his retirement in 1958. Harvey married Ima Kelley in 1922 and was the father of four children. He was a member of the Second Baptist Church, The Union Pacific Old Timers, Brotherhood of Railroad Employees, and Carter-Brown Post #83. He died April 16, 1959.

This hat was part of Johnson’s railroad usher or “red cap” uniform. Railroad red caps helped travelers transport luggage and locate seat assignments. Until desegregation in the 1960s, the occupation of ushers and porters was held, almost exclusively, by African American men. Until the late 20th century, the work also included providing a variety of on-board personal services, such as shoe shining.

“Just anybody can’t be a ‘Red Cap.’ ‘Red Caps’ furnish the point of contact of the railroad with the public. Like the ticket seller or the station agent, they have much to do with making public opinion as it affects the railroads. They stand for service and courtesy. An unwilling ‘Red Cap’ can do much toward instilling an unfriendly feeling in the minds of railway patrons. On the other hand, a courteous and willing usher will send the traveler on his way rejoicing.”
W. A. Sunday

by Jennifer Alexander, Supervisor of Collections

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