For 93 years, the entrance of Pioneer Park, later named Kendrick Park after John B. Kendrick, was guarded by two bronze Komainu, or Japanese Lion Dogs. This is how Sheridan happened to be home to these majestic statues.
The Sheridan Enterprise, May 7, 1919: Peter Neiter Makes City a Gift of Costly Figures Which Will Adorn Entrance of City Park. Pair of Bronze Komainu Which Stood at Gate to World’s Exposition at San Francisco Purchased by Sheridan Man for Gift.
The automobile entrance to Pioneer Park at the north end of Badger street will be graced shortly with two bronze cloisonnes, known to the Japanese as the Komainu, which stood at the entrance of the World’s Exposition at San Francisco. These figures, which are the reproduction of half dog and lion, are to be presented to the city by Peter Neiter, 566 West Loucks street, who purchased them for this purpose on his recent visit to the coast.
While the consideration was not made public, it in known that the original cost of these two historical figures was $10,000. (In 1919 that was a lot of money, equivalent to around $160,000 in today’s money.)
The article continues, When mounted on copper bases, which stand two and a half feet from the ground, the figures, which are solid brass, stand nine feet high. Commissioner of Parks and Finances H. Loucks was informed yesterday afternoon of the gift by Mr. Neiter, who stated that the figures are at ready for transit to Sheridan.
Mr. Neiter related a series of trying times he had encountered in securing the figures, in the face or strenuous competition. With this shipment, Mr. Neiter is securing some historical Japanese ornamental lamp posts of bronze which he will install in his yard.
The beauties of Pioneer Park, the popularity of the park for children, and the general pride which Sheridan has maintained in keeping the park clean and attractive inspired Mr. Neiter to make this gift. A brief historical sketch of the Komainu is available.
It is obtained from historical records filed with the San Francisco Exposition. It follows: “A thousand years ago, when the Chinese civilization was much imported into Japan, the Japanese who went to China saw images of a lion placed at the gates of shrines of gods and temples of Buddha, and returning home they attempted to imitate the custom. But in those days no lions existed in Japan, therefore the Japanese did not know what kind of animal those images were patterned after. And on account of the similarity with the Japanese dog, they reproduced a half-breed of dog and lion.
“Now Japan at that time believed there were no foreign countries other than China, Korea, which then consisted of Koma, Kodara and Shiragi, belonging to China.
“Since the Chinese civilization that came to Japan entered mostly by way of Koma, the said animal was named by the Japanese Koma Inu (a dog from Koma), and even today it is called by this name. Now these images are placed at the gates of shrines and temples, sometimes they are stood before gods worshiped by the Japanese doing sentry duty for the gods. At other times they were to protect the gods from attack by the devils, just as a watch dog lies at the entrance of a house to protect it against thieves, and they are stationed at the gate of all god houses.
Moreover, these Komainus are placed on both sides of the temple gate, invariably the one open-mouthed and the other with its mouth shut “It is theorized thus: the Japanese Alphabet begins with a letter that sounds A and ends with a letter that sounds OON. It is so arranged that the beginning and ending of all things being very important the people who worship the gods should worship with a good beginning and a good ending. And to impress this teaching these Komainus are placed at the gates of temples, the one open mouthed and the other with its mouth closed, meaning that there should always be Alpha and Omega to all things.
“There exists a theory on these lions as the gate-keepers to gods or Buddha: Some two thousand years ago when our Empress Jingu invaded Korea, the Korean ruler in order to show complete perpetual submission to the empress, made one that understands human thoughts most and so he made an image of a Komainu dog and sent it to Japan with many other presents. The empress Jingu placed the Komainu at the gate of the imperial palace, and since then a pair of Komainu has invariably been placed at the gates of shrines or temples to give dignity to gods or Buddha.
“There are other theories to this image of the Komajnu, and even to this day a pair of Komtinu is placed at the gate of Shinta temples made in all sizes, of wood or metal. They are now considered by the common people as retinues of the gods or Buddha to dignify them. They are there to welcome fortune, protect from the attack of evil spirits and repulse misfortune. “It is now a custom to decorate the gate or front yard of rich residences with a pair of Komainu.”
It took some time for the lions to arrive, but they did. According to The Sheridan Enterprise, June 11, 1919: The two bronze lions whicb were presented the city by Peter Neiter have been installed at the automobile entrance to Pioneer Park.
It took a while for the lions to arrive in Sheridan, but they did. From the Sheridan Post, on May 22, 1919. Bronze Lions Arrive at Park Peter Neiter of 566 West Loucks Street has received the two beautiful bronze images known as the “lions of cloisonne,” which he purchased during his sojourn in California last winter.
The car carrying the prized statuary arrived in this city last Monday and the Komainu have been removed to the city park in crates until the cement base can be constructed upon which they will placed. While in California Mr. and Mrs. Neiter also purchased numerous other Japanese relics and curios which came in the car with the bronze lions and these will be placed in and about the Neiter home.
The bronze lions were placed at the main entrance of the world’s fair at San Francisco in 1914 and when placed on a base will stand about nine feet from the ground. They will stand at the western entrance of the city park and will add wonderfully in enhancing the beauty of the park. The lions were obtained by Mr. Neiter at considerable expense and the people of Sheridan will undoubtedly fully appreciate his splendid donation to the city.
Which they did as we see in this brief mention in The Sheridan Enterprise July 7, 1919: Peter Neiter is to be the recipient of the engrossed thanks of the city council for his gift of the two Chinese lions given by him to be placed on either side of the entrance to Pioneer Park. Commissioner Loucks moved a vote of thanks at council meeting this morning and it was ordered.
The lions stood for many years at the park entrance, welcoming visitors with their fierce, majestic presence.
However, in November 1957, one of the lions turned up missing from its pedestal. It was found a few days later in a chicken house on an abandoned farm southwest of the city. Seven young men were involved in the stealing of the lion.
According to an article from the Sheridan Press on November 21, 1957, some of the youths were from Laramie, one was from Sheridan, one from Rock Springs. According to the police reports, the location of the lion was reported by one of the boys. This theft must have been difficult, as according to an article by Charlie Popovich in a May, 1995 article in the Sheridan Press, the statues weigh between 600 and 800 pounds.
After standing guard for nearly 100 years at the Park entrance, the lions began to show signs of age, and they began to deteriorate. In 2012, a Fine Arts Conservator from Loveland, Colorado was asked to do a report on the condition of the lions, and it was determined to move the lions inside, out of the weather, to preserve them.
Today, they stand in the foyer at Sheridan College, continuing their guard duties and reminding us of a valuable gift to the city, over 100 years ago.
Thanks to the Wyoming room at the Sheridan Fulmer Library for the extra information on the lions.