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W. J. Thom Deals With Johnson County of 50 Years Ago

in Interesting Article Prepared for Historical Society

by W. J. Thom

Reprinted in The Sheridan Press, 24 December 1922

In an article written for the Johnson County Historical society, W. J. Thom, former state senator from that county, and at one time vice-president of the First National Bank of Buffalo, tells interestingly of the early days of that part of Wyoming and deals intimately with the history of many of the pioneers. His article follows:

Not having access to many printed records, I have depended largely on my recollections, necessarily faulty and fragmentary, for facts since '83, and upon hearsay entirely for anything prior to that date.

In casting back to that far distant time, I find the impression strong in my mind that the first active, or rather aggressive business men were the road agents, for it was at about the beginning of things that they hung Jeff Foster on his ranch on Piney where George Geier now lives, in an effort to make him disgorge his hidden wealth.

Finally Dies Here

They were not very good hangers, however, for Foster survived to finally die in Sheridan only a few years ago. So they failed on the hanging, but as to whether they secured the "hidden wealth" I am not informed. However, if they made him give up any considerable amount, it was more than any of us, who knew him later, ever succeeded in doing.

It was at about the beginning of things, too, that the James boys were with us for a season and I believe one of their crowd, Cummings by name, had a shoe shop in Buffalo for a short time.

You know the original reason for Buffalo's being was Fort McKinney. Some way must be provided to help the doughboys get rid of their surplus savings and Buffalo was it.

Consequently, the next most important industry was the saloon. I think there were 19 or 20 when I came here. At one time the entire section from the present site of the Johnson County bank to the First National was almost entirely occupied by saloons, and there was one where Van Dyke's store now is, one on the site of the old picture show building, one where the bakery now is, one where the Buffalo Tent & Awning company is, and even one in exclusive North Buffalo, opposite the red barn.

There were a number of other places in Buffalo where liquor was sold and even the drug stores would not turn you away thirsty. Do you wonder that my recollections of Buffalo are of the saloons as the principal places of business?

First Influx of Whites

As a matter of fact, the first influx of white men aside from soldiers and emigrants over the Bozeman Trail and an occasional party of trappers or prospectors came with the establishment of the Fort McKinney cantonment in 1876 on Powder river, a few miles above the old Fort Reno, where the Douglas road crosses the river.

Teamsters, wood choppers, freighters and mechanics were attracted in considerable numbers and when the construction of Fort McKinney was begun, still more of this class arrived and fluctuated between the two localities as their work demanded, but gradually concentrated more and more near Fort McKinney until its completion and the transfer of the troops to the new post in 1882, by which time Buffalo had become a settled and well established community.

Many of the men who were attracted to the county at the time the cantonment was established or during the period of the construction of Fort McKinney are personally known to most of those present. Such for instance, as Jack Ridley of Crazy Woman, who when the troops arrived in '76 was found trapping on Powder river.

Dave Cummings, our prosperous ranchman, who was engaged in hunting and trapping and drifted in about that time from the Gillette country, I believe, in search of a fresh supply of grub. Coming into the cantonment, as an absolute stranger, with some doubts as to the prospect of being able to persuade someone out of the necessary provisions, he was surprised to meet an old friend in the person of George Stine who made his sway smooth for him in the matter of supplies. Cummings finally settled here in '81. Stine is well known to the older settlers having worked for Conrad at the Suttler's store at Fort McKinney for some time.

John R. Smith, so long a residence at Trabing, came at this period.

J. H. McDonald, for many years a ranchman, and now retired, came first with the troops in '76, and I believe was a wood hauler for the Government for a time before he settled down on his ranch.

Dick Richter who located on Middle Fork of Crazy Woman and whose widow still resides on the ranch did much of the construction work at the cantonment.

Daniel Mitchell, a saloon man, city marshal, undertaker, coal dealer, and everybody's friend, was an ambulance driver at the cantonment.

In Wagon Box Fight

Jack Lewis, the sawmill man, now at the Soldier's Home, can claim even earlier dates, as he was with the wood train at Fort Phil Kearney, at the time of the wagon box fight in '67.

Ed Lawrence, recently deceased, whose ranch on Clear Creek is well known to you, was one of the wood choppers employed in getting out logs with which to build the new post.

Cullen Watt, who afterwards located ranches on Clear Creek, just east of Buffalo and also at the mouth of Piney, and whose widow still resides on the former, also worked in the timber,.

So also did Mosher for whom is named the gulch thru which the Black & Yellow Trail finds an easy grade to the top of the mountain.

Tom Connolly, whose son Johnnie, still lives on the Box Elder Ranch, was here in '76.

Al Williams, who lived so long on Piney, was at the building of the Post [Fort McKinney] also.

To these must be added a swarm of freighters drawn by the joint demands of the Post and settlers who were so rapidly opening up a virgin territory. Some of these early freighters are still in Johnson County, some have left and some have died. There was John McRae, who soon unyoked his cattle and settled down to farming and stockraising, and before his death amassed a fortune.

Tommy Haynes, whose home on Rock Creek, has since his death been converted into a dude ranch by the new generation in the person of Hon. Frank O. Horton our state representative.

Frank Sayles whose ranch on Sayles Creek is now part of the Rothwell Company holdings. John Spearing who is still a resident of Buffalo. Posey Ryan, of whose later career the writer is not informed.

Munkres and Mather, Harvey Allen and John Sonne and Charley Rounds, brother of Jenny Anderson, were a little later in the field. Of these latter, Munkres and Mather alone remain with us.

These and many others were instrumental in opening up our country and from this list you can gain some faint idea of the colossal task of developing a new country so far distant from rail transportation.

Lays Out Buffalo Site

At about the date of the completion of the Post in 1882, Colonel Hart, the commandant, laid out the town site of Buffalo, and quieted the objections of the townspeople by deeding one lot to each citizen who had erected a building along the winding trail that meandered down to the crossing of Clear Creek, and thence to the north, and this explains the peculiar indirectness of our Main street today.

At about this time also, came Edward Burnett, the present owner of the 41 Ranch on Crazy Woman, one of our largest property owners and most public spirited citizens, and one time member of the legislature. Also D. A. Kingsbury, founder of the Kingsbury-Todd Company and a legislator also. W. F. Williams of the Cross H Cattle Company, and father of Wilbur and John Williams of this county.

M. T. Redman, now a resident of Buffalo, but former owner of the Redman Ranch on Clear Creek. Ed Chapline long associated with E. U. Snider, and who married a sister of Edgar Simmons. Johnnie Phelps, at one time prominent horseman of the county, but long since dead. Peter McGinnis who was with the Conrad and Company at the Post.

J. B. Mendardi, civil engineer, and by whom very  many of the earlier ranches and ditches were surveyed.

An Early Editor

St. Clair O'Malley, who located on what is now the Jack Ridley Ranch, and also operated a sawmill on Prairie Dog Creek for a short time. He was also editor of the Bulletin at one time.

J. H. Hopkins, Superintendent of the Stage Line from Rock Creek on the U. P. to Custer Station on the N. P.

Nat Carwile, one of our earliest county clerks.

John Erhart, father of Mrs. Wall, and John, Jr., who worked in the mountains principally, for many years.

John N. Tisdale, and Richard, and Morton Frewen, and Fred Hesse of Powder River Country, and Wm. Haywood, of Crazy Woman, in the cattle business. H. P. Rothwell, was quartermaster clerk at Fort McKinney, and already heavily interested in live stock and land in the Owl Creek Country at this time.

Billy Keays was building the Colorado Ditch. Andy Kennedy was running a store on Powder River Crossing for Robert Foote. Billy Adams was working in Robert Foote's Store and John King was freighting for Munkres and Mather.

It is evident therefore, that in reality, the very earliest businessmen were the freighters who came first with supplies for the Post and later made possible the settling of the town and county by hauling over the long and weary miles from the Union Pacific the food stuffs, supplies and materials necessary for a growing community.

Big Mule Teams

It was an interesting sight in those days to see the eight, ten, and even twelve mule teams, with not less than three canvas covered wagons piled to the bows with groceries, hardware, furniture and supplies. In some cases, oxen were used, and in some horses, but mules seemed to be the favorite.

Munkres and Mathers' sleek mule teams with their handsome harness, fine wagons and skillful drivers were one of the sights of the long trail.

The difficulties encountered on this long trip of over two hundred miles from bad weather, bad roads, breakdowns a hundred miles from a blacksmith shop, lost stock, etc., were almost insurmountable, but the freighter never quit if it was possible to get thru and many of them made fairly regular trips.

As a sample of these difficulties, the writer very distinctly remembers buying furniture in Chicago and St. Louis, which was shipped to Rock Creek (now Rock River) on the U. P. and loaded out on bull teams in late October. The outfit was snowed in somewhere north of the Platte and abandoned on the prairie as it was impossible to work cattle when the grass was buried in snow. There the covered wagons stood till spring and finally reached Buffalo the following April with goods intact. How much furniture do you think would be left today under similar circumstances?

As these goods were probably all bought on thirty to sixty days datings you can imagine that the merchant had some worrying to do with his bills falling due and no goods in sight.

First Store Starts

Probably the first store in Johnson County and in fact the first in all the distance from Cheyenne to Buffalo if we except a small one at old Fort Fetterman near where Douglas now stands, and no doubt a suttlers store at the cantonment, was the suttlers store at Fort McKinney, established about 1879 by E. U. Snider, and afterward sold to John H. Conrad.

A little later August Trabing, seeking the trade of the soldiers, established a store at what is now the Cross H Ranch and shortly afterward removed it to a better location on Clear Creek, and erected the building now occupied in part of Keef's Plumbing Shop.

Trabing shortly sold to John H. Conrad, and he later disposed of the business to Lobban & Hine, who went down in the panic of 1893.

Following Trabing came Robert Foote in '82, and opened a similar general store on ground opposite the head of Fort Street. This property was burned in '94-95 and the business discontinued.

The Occidental Hotel occupied its present site, in a log building which was not much more than a stage station; McGray and Buell were the proprietors.

In those days, Aaron Myers and Charley Rounds had a log blacksmith shop on Main Street where Eschrich's meat market now stands.

Thus began Buffalo, and as the cattlemen and settlers were flocking into the country, so the town dwellers were attracted to the town, so that when my first recollections begins, C. J. Hogerson was established in his shop just north of the present Pioneer Garage. He later became bank president, county commissioner, and one of the most prominent figures in the history of our town.

The postoffice was in a small building just south of where Keef has his plumbing shop. Frank Carwile was the postmaster.

Geo. L. Holt had a drug store on the now vacant corner south of the Johnson County Bank.

Bank's Door "Shot Up"

The First National Bank (then Stebbins, Conrad & Co.) was where Keefe now is, its front door already scarred by the erratic bullet of some joyous soul who knew no other way in which to give vent to the tide of happiness which engulfed him.

John H. Conrad & Co., occupied the balance of the old log building which Trabing had built.

C. P. Organ had a hardware store where Hoshaw's furniture store now is, and H. A. Bennett and H. S. Williston were in charge.

Bennett was the first mayor of Buffalo and built the house in which C.  N. Walters now lives, and to this house the writer brought his bride in 1885 as the guest of Mrs. Bennett. C. P. Organ will be remembered as the donor of the sweet toned bell which still calls the members of the Congregational Church to worship.

At this time, F. D. Metcalf had shown his faith in the town by erecting a two story building south of the present site of the First National Bank, originally Hasbrouck's, but long occupied as a drug store, and now as Mead's Barber Shop. There was also a millinery store adjoining which was washed into the middle of Main Street, millinery and all, by the flood of 1911.

There was a frame livery stable where the brick one now stands which was later burned with no insurance, and replaced with the present one by subscription of the citizens, the bulk of the money being raised in a few hours, I believe.

We had a saddler, R. H. Lynn; a barber, Joe Sharp; and a butcher, Helfchenstein.

R. E. Armstrong had a jewelry store about where Gatchell's drug store now stands, and was later succeeded by Ed. Chappell.

R. E. Holbrook was our dentist and Rokahr and Lothian our shoemakers. Mr. Lothian was the father of Mrs. Wm. Haynes and Mrs. A. Smith, a prominent Odd Fellow and a much respected citizen.

Benjamin Hertzman was the one and only tailor and his sign read "The Bon Ton Merchant Tailoring." He developed a ranch on Crazy Woman now the property of the Hakerts. He now resides in Casper and has prospered exceedingly since the discovery of oil in Natrona County.

Ainslig & Pearson, painters, advertised that all work would be promptly executed. If they lived up to their promise, I hope some of our present painters will read that old advertisement, and resolve to mend their ways.

A Backwoods Artist

But the first painter of all was Dasterac, who perpetrated the picture of Buffalo, which hangs in the Library here. I know nothing more of him. His work speaks for itself.

Our restaurant was run by a Mr. Spang. Ed Curran, Sam Sherrill, Thos. Hutton, Herman Luddecks and Geo. Bartlett and John Newell were our principal contractors and builders.

Of these, Luddecks and Newell are still residents of Johnson County, and Bartlett is at the Soldier's Home.

Harry Holloway, father of Ed Holloway, had a blacksmith shop in north Buffalo, near the Red Barn and John Given had a similar shop near where his family now resides.

Elder Roch and Rev. Sparrow preached at the little log school house.

Jim Canvery was running the livery barn. Sam Lung, the club-footed Chinese laundryman had established himself in the quarters vacated by the outlaw Cummings, and delighted in making presents of lichi nuts, preserved ginger, tea, silk handkerchiefs, shawls, and what not to all and sundry of his friends and patrons.

There was Billy Hunt, the cowboy liveryman and Houghton the photographer. We must not forget Houghton. One might paraphrase the saying "See Naples and die" by "Don't see Houghton's work or you will die." He advertised that his work excelled any other in the county, and no one could dispute his claim, for there was no other.

The courthouse was in a log building, a former dance hall, on the hill about were the present City Hall stands. The Watkins house in south Buffalo was later built from the logs taken from this building.

Fred Meyers operated his restaurant at the same location as at present.

Uncle Steve Farwell had a notion [store] where Anton Tapken now is.

Daley & Smock had brought a few loads of furniture overland from Rawlins and had a little place where the Pioneer Lumber Company office now stands and there began the furniture business now owned by E. D. Hoshaw.

Mrs. S. E. Webber had a dry goods store on the site of the filling station.

Page Mr. Volstead

John Fischer had a brewery just east of the present electric light plant but you will have to ask some one else what his product was like for I don't know. I can clearly remember, however, his cordial invitation to "come over and have a drink of good beer, and not drink those Milwaukee Schlops."

There was a log school house opposite the Filling Station and among the first teachers were Mrs. Horace Mann and Aunt Mollie Watkins.

In this school house in June, 1883 were held the first religious services in Buffalo, conducted by Chaplain Simpson from Fort McKinney, and soon afterward a Sunday School was organized, Chaplain Simpson being the first Superintendent, but he was shortly succeeded by S. A. Sturgis.

Some exceedingly unique specimens administered to our spiritual welfare at the old school house. I remember one who ordered the sacramental bread and wine passed to some buck Indians who had drifted in from curiosity. The Police Gazette got hold of the incident and we came in for quite a lot of free advertising.

Munkres and Mather, the pioneer freighters had both built permanent houses in North Buffalo as had also W. H. Holland, father of Albert Holland, and the latter was busily engaged in ranching, cattle-raising, coal mining and ditching. He planted the tree claims on the Parmelee and Walters ranches, the only ones, I believe in Johnson County.

For lawyers, we had Burritt, Elliott, Hinkle and Judge Andrews, familiarly known as "Old Necessity," because "necessity knows no law."

For Justice of Peace, there was H. R. Mann, later Register of the Land Office, and now of Spokane, Washington; and for the care of our bodily ills, we had Dr. J. C. Watkins, and Dr. Lott, the latter a contract doctor at the Post at that time, and also Doc. Huson, who later built the stone house this side of Clearmont.

For news, we had the Buffalo Echo edited by Hinkle, and later the Big Horn Sentinel was transplanted from Big Horn by its editor, Becker, and renamed Bulletin.

I remember a milk man who was generally accompanied by one or two black-eyed, berry-brown youngsters as happy as larks, regardless of weather. Is it necessary to tell you that his name was John Stevenson, or who the black-eyed youngsters were?

Sells Water From Creek

By no means the least important of our citizens was "Waterman Davis," the huge and powerful man who supplied the housewives of Buffalo with water, dipping it up from the creek, in the center of the town with an immense bucket on a long pole to fill his tank and selling it at 25 cents a barrel. Usually a white flag means surrender, but in these days in Buffalo, it meant "Bring Water" and usually, "Be darned quick about it too."

Another huge individual about town at that time was Arapahoe Brown of unsavory and sinister reputation, the same man who, when he undertook to beat up Stumbo, a much smaller man, for some real or fancied grievance had his thumb bitten off, and of who Stumbo afterwards remarked, "God bless the man who invented the Winchester rifle. It makes all men equal."

Brown, you will remember, was later murdered, and his body burned by some of his companions in crime.

Stumbo was a hunter and used to bring in elk and deer meat by the wagon load and peddle it to the citizens. Later he ran a saloon for a short time, known as the Alagazan.

Among the other saloon men of those days, were Nat James, the first sheriff of Johnson County, Jack Robinson, Dick Kennedy, W. G. Angus, Harrison Cain, Billy Burnett, Bob Nix, Ed Cherpilled, Hill Ruff, N. C. Jensen, Jones and Harrington, John McDermott, Jobe Barzill, O. J. Smyth, and Z. M. French.

Of business men outside town there were among others the two Sturgis brothers, known as 12 oz. and 14 oz. in reference to the suspected shortage in the weight of the butter they sold. Also as "Bible Back" and "Buttermilk." Bible Back, his name implied, was a pillar of the church and superintendent of the Sunday School, while "Buttermilk" would have naught to do with such things.

G. E. A. Moeller who resided on his ranch on French Creek and sold his produce to the post and the town was a "pillar" also and later removing to Buffalo became identified with many of the town's activities and particularly with the telegraph business.

Then there was Proctor, telegraph operator at the Post who later came to Buffalo and after the Burlington was built thru Wyoming, successfully operated a telegraph line on the barbed wire fences.

Buffalo of Early Days

This was Buffalo of the early days, a straggling one street town of cheap frame and log buildings, strung along the winding trail, with wide open saloons and gambling houses at every turn, crowded with hard riding, hard drinking, two fisted men, a typical town of the far frontier, a man's town.

You have of course discovered that I have found it impossible to fix definite dates for the coming of different characters upon this Frontier State, but I have signally failed in my attempt, if I have not succeeded in giving you a more or less vivid picture of, first, the gathering of these rugged frontiersmen at the cantonment on Powder River, following its establishment in 1876 and later, their drifting to Clear Creek following the beginning of work on Fort McKinney, and later still, their gradual settlement in Buffalo, attracted by the trade with the soldiers, and the settlers who were just beginning to come in, so that by the time the post was completed and the troops transferred in 1882, the town was firmly established.

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