ORIGIN AND NAMING OF SHERIDAN
Sometime in February, 1882, there was a knock at my door in Miles City, Montana, and on opening it I found a man who introduced himself as John McCormick, and on coming in, stated that he had been engaged in hauling goods from Glendive to Junction City for his brother Paul, who had a store there. He said the driver of one of his teams wanted to quit, and as he had been told that I had been asking for a way to go to the Big Goose country, I could go with him if I would drive one of his teams and it would not cost me anything. He had a ranch on Little Goose and it was to be his last trip, he said.
The year before, I had been at Bozeman and let an old friend have my team of mules, harness and wagon to go back to the Big Goose country and winter, and so I wanted to go and get the outfit. I had bought a lot in Miles City and built a house on it, intending to make my home there, but in a day or two, kissed my wife and two babies good-bye, and started for the Big Goose country as I wanted to get that team.
We crossed the Yellowstone River on the ice and camped out all the way to Junction City where we unloaded most of the goods and recrossed the Yellowstone on the ice and struck the trail for the Goose country. At Fort Custer, we crossed the Big Horn River and slowly wended our way southward. We reached Mr. McCormack's ranch about the middle of March. In a few days I hunted up my old friend J. D. Works, and nothing would do but that I stay a week with him and look over the country, which I did.
We talked over the prospects of the new country and I thought I could see a great future before it, and so I concluded I would stay and try it out. A man by the name of Mandel had come up from Laramie the summer before and built a log cabin where the trail crossed the creek, with an idea of locating a claim there, but he gave it up and Mr. Work's son-in-law, Lloyd Rhodes, who had just arrived from Iowa had taken possession of it and was living there. The land had just been surveyed the summer before and was open for settlement. I talked to Rhodes and told him I thought the country would soon be settled and thought this would be a good location for a town.
I made him a proposition that we would both take up claims and lay out a town one half on each claim with Main Street between, but he could not see it that way, so he bought my outfit, loaded up his family and household goods and moved on. I then bought Mr. Mandel's house and claim for fifty dollars and moved in.
Previous to this, Mandel had established a post office, naming it after himself, of which I took charge and as I had to be sworn in, discovered there was no one within a radius of several miles who could administer the oath. The mail was being carried daily from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Junction City, Montana on a buckboard. So one fine morning I got aboard and started out south to go until I found someone who could administer an oath. After going way up in the Piney district I found a man who had been elected Justice of the Peace. After being sworn in I started for home, stopping on the way at Big Horn where I met Jack Sackett and O. P. Hanna. The three of us talked over the starting of a town but they seemed to think that Big Horn was the proper site for it and Hanna said he would come over in a few days and move my stuff up there. I got aboard for home again but after going about halfway, the horses being very poor and about all in, gave out, so I started out on foot.
When I got to the brow of the hill where the court house now stands overlooking the Big Goose valley, I was tired and hungry so sat down to rest for awhile. It was a beautiful spring evening and the sun was just going down over the Big Horn Mountains. The grass was beginning to show green and over across Little Goose was a herd of buffalo coming down into the valley to water. Up Big Goose a small herd of deer was browsing, and it all appealed to me as an ideal site for our city.
I arose and slowly walked to my lonely cabin, built a fire, cooked my supper, ate it and with the aid of a candle, took a sheet of brown wrapping paper, marked off forty acres, and laid out a town with the streets all named after the few settlers. Over the top of the map I wrote "Sheridan" in big letters. Then I went to bed feeling that a day’s work had been done.
When I awakened the next morning the sun was shining brightly. After breakfast I looked over my plat, and still approved of it, and the next thing to do was to find a surveyor and have it surveyed and platted.
I heard that a man named Jack Dow, a surveyor, had taken a ranch above Big Horn, so I wrote him telling him what I wanted and received an answer that he would come over for ten dollars a day and do the work for me. So I wrote him to come on and on May 9th, a tall lank looking man with a kit of surveyor's tools alighted from the buckboard and said he was ready for business. On the morning of May 10th I hired three men and began work. It took us all day to find and locate the corners and get the descriptions of the forty acres, and in the evening by candle light, we drew a more detailed and correct plat of the town.
The next day we blocked out, numbered and drove the stakes at the corners of each block, and on the third day we staked out the lots. About this time George Lord came up for the mail and asked us what we were doing. I told him we were laying out a town and as he rode away I heard him say, "What fools."
Mr. Dow made out a plat and I sent it with the fee to the United States land office at Cheyenne and in due time I received the certificate that the town site had been reserved and that we could go ahead and occupy it as such. I then wrote the postoffice department at Washington that we had a town laid out and named Sheridan and would like to have the name of the post office changed to it. In due time I received notice that it had been done and I got my new commission as postmaster of Sheridan, Wyoming. My first quarter’s pay was only $13.45, but what did I care? I had my town and post office in good working order. I next went to Buffalo, the county seat, and had the town put on record there.
I also met a merchant by the name of Robert Foote who was just driving in with a stock of goods and I made arrangements with him to furnish me with a small stock, which he sent up in a few days. A man by the name of Wright had just put in a saw mill at the head of Prairie Dog and I got a few boards from him, put up some shelves and a counter and had a store started. I sent to Miles City and had a painter there make a sign on canvas, "Sheridan Postoffice and Store" which I stretched on a frame and put over the doors.
In a few days, General O. O. Howard came by in a government ambulance, looked at the sign and called to the driver to stop. He called me out and wanted to know how that name came to be there. I told him that I had laid out a town and named it after my old general as I had served under him in the Civil War and I thought the name would give it the success it had to the man who bore it. He said, "Young man, you are on the right track. This is an ideal spot for a city some day and the Big Horn Mountains will be one of the summer resorts of the future. I wish you success and bid you goodbye."
Some of my first customers was a band of Crow Indians numbering about one hundred and under the chief Little Crow. They wanted to trade or swap as they called it. They had hides and quite a stock of buffalo robes and their way of trading was peculiar. I had to pay cash for each article and it had to be in silver, as they did not take paper money. They would buy whatever they wanted, paying for each article separately. By so doing they could keep track of their purchases. At that time common buffalo robes were worth between $3 and $5. The best ones brought $7.
I had hung up a wagon sheet to screen my kitchen and bedroom from the store front and the squaws when they came in were quite inquisitive about my housekeeping and wanted to know if I did not have a squaw. I told them my squaw was down at Miles City. They seemed to think I ought to have one here, as I learned afterwards that all traders and government agents had them and they thought I ought to, too. One day they asked me if I did not want a squaw. I told them my squaw would come soon. Next day towards evening four or five of the squaws came milling in and sat down on boxes and nail kegs. When the bucks had all left, one squaw got up and taking a young Indian girl by the hand, led her up to me and said, "Here your squaw. She nice young squaw. She stay here with you until your squaw comes." She was good-looking too, and this might have been a great temptation had I not loved that white squaw of mine so well that I would not think of being unfaithful to her. I sent them back to camp.
Last Updated April 2005
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