Search billions of records on

Tragedies on the Range

Cattlemen's Invasion of Johnson County

CATTLE rustling seemed to be popular the profitable pastime for a great many people in Wyoming in the'8o's and early '90's but to this, like all things else, an end had to come, and many of the men who did not quit when the business lost its popularity paid dearly for their folly. Many a nester started into the cattle business with but little more than a cow pony, a rope, a round-up bed, a running iron, and, of necessity, a lack of conscience. After a few years, if he were cautious, he had a nice little herd of cattle with a brand of his own. To put a brand on a maverick1 in those days was considered not exactly cattle stealing. The man who applied the iron would merely say to himself that if he had not done it, someone else would, and this left his conscience clear, for he knew he was telling himself the truth. But unbranded strays on the open range were not numerous after the first few years the nester commenced to operate, for there were too many people engaged in the branding business. Then, in order to increase their herds there were some who would shoot the mothers and drive the calves away, and there were others who would blotch the brand on a steer and drive it out of its range.
But the nester was not the only one accused of swinging the long rope and operating the branding iron. Some of the big cattle outfits were accused not only of branding mavericks which no doubt did not belong to them, but other dishonest practices were attributed to them. It is said that when the Frewen brothers came from England in the early '8o's and located on the North and Middle forks of Powder river, they negotiated with the 76 outfit on the Sweetwater for 3,500 head of cattle, book count, for which they were to pay $75,000. The Frewens wanted to see the cattle and also to make a rough tally of them, and accordingly, they started up Horse creek with the 76 representatives, where they located cattle all the way to the foot of Rattlesnake canyon. Then they crossed over to the head of Fish creek, which stream they followed for a considerable distance and there were 76 cattle all the way down Fish creek. But the cow punchers had made a short cut from Horse creek to Fish creek, pushing the cattle ahead of them and arriving at Fish creek ahead of the Frewens, who had gone the longer route. The Frewens counted these cattle–the same cattle they had counted on Horse creek, but they did not recognize them–and they found in the neighborhood of 3,500, but there were actually only 2,200. The Frewens were satisfied with the count and the money was paid over to the 76 outfit and the brand and the stock were afterwards owned by the Frewens. A man named Foley was agent for and a member of the 76 outfit and he was responsible for the short cut from Horse creek to Fish creek made by the cow punchers and the cattle. When the Frewens made their fall round-up and found they were short about 1,300 cattle, they were of the opinion that their shortage was caused by cattle rustlers, but some of the cowboys explained the "joke" to them. The Frewens accepted the matter like good sports, but they did not remain long in the cattle business, for they displayed no more business judgment in other things than they did when they thought they were buying 3,500 head of cattle and got but 2,200. Their experience in the cattle business in Wyoming is said to have cost them half a million dollars.
The cattlemen did not seriously object to having a few of their mavericks branded by a man who was ambitious and wanted to get a start. In fact, many of the large cattle outfits applied their brands on calves and sometimes on two-year-olds when they had serious doubts as to whether the stock rightfully belonged to them. But when the practices of blotching the brands on steers and shooting the mothers of calves were started, the cattlemen realized the time had come when the rustling of cattle must come to an end. The courts could not, or would not, stop it. Large rewards were offered for the arrest and conviction of cattle thieves; livestock detectives were brought into the state to gather evidence against the rustler; many arrests were made, and although there appeared to be an abundance of evidence to convict, yet rustler after rustler was turned loose and the courts were considered a joke and a farce.
After all lawful means of protecting their property seemed to have failed, the cattlemen commenced to make laws of their own and to mete out punishment that in their minds seemed adequate to the crimes committed, and a number of men who were said to have been rustlers were shot, but even this did not seem to have the effect of suppressing the business of cattle stealing.
Then the cattlemen formed an organization known as the "Regulators." They imported gunmen from Texas, Idaho, Colorado, and other states. These men were to receive five dollars a day and expenses, and they were to go where they were commanded and do the things they were told. For a number of weeks plans and preparations were made by the Regulators to invade the cattle country and strike a blow that would terrorize the rustlers and cause those who were not killed to flee for their lives.
The KC ranch, in Johnson county, was selected as the first scene of action, and in writing an account of the battle that occurred there, we shall give the unvarnished facts without bias or prejudice. In dealing with the incidents, the cattlemen shall be termed the "regulators" and those whom they sought to punish shall be termed the "settlers."
On the 4th and 5th of April, 1892, definite plans were perfected by the regulators to leave Cheyenne and invade the cattle country and on the evening of the 5th a special train arrived in Cheyenne from Denver bearing the gunmen who had been hired as "detectives." This train was taken to the Cheyenne stockyards where three stock cars had been loaded with wagons, horses, harness, tents, ammunition, and provisions sufficient to carry the party through a ten days' expedition. The stock cars were attached to the special train of three passenger coaches and at 6 o'clock the start was made for Casper.
The train arrived at the stockyards a mile east of Casper at 4:20 in the mornmg, April 6. The paraphernalia was immediately taken from the cars and at about 5:30 three new wagons, with four horses to each wagon, passed through town. Two of these wagons were loaded with provisions and the other contained bedding and ammunition. The men of the party who were not connected with the wagons, crossed the river on horseback about three miles east of town and joined the wagon party on Casper creek, a few miles northwest. All the mounted men were armed with Winchester rifles and Colt's revolvers. Major Wolcott was in command; F. M. Canton was captain of the Wyoming men and Tom Smith was captain of the gunmen who were brought in from the other states. There were fifty-two men in the party. Friends of the regulators in Douglas and Casper had been instructed to give out the information that the men were surveyors on their way to the Bald mountains.
On their way to Johnson county the regulators met a number of men on the road coming toward Casper whom they compelled to turn back and travel with them for hours or forced them to go through with the expedition. About four miles from Casper, on Casper creek, the party overtook Oscar Lehman and Bert Lambert, who were looking after a band of sheep. Lehman, who had been married but a short time, was ordered to fall in the front ranks and Lambert in the rear. Lehman made such a strong plea to be released that his request was granted upon his promising that he would go directly to his wife, who was in a sheep wagon several miles back. Word was passed to the rear that the two men were to be set free. Upon their release, both men headed toward the sheep wagon, but neither knew that his friend was also to be given his liberty. When Lambert, upon looking back, saw a horseman coming toward him he imagined it was one of the regulators who was urging him to go faster. Lehman thought the man ahead of him was one of the regulators who had broken ranks and was going to the sheep wagon to inform his bride that he was being taken away and he naturally gave chase. When the two men were near the wagon, they recognized each other and their fright was turned to joy.
Later in the day the regulators met J. C. (Dad) Renfro and a man named McGhee, whom they forced to accompany the expedition to Tisdale's ranch where they were detained for two days. One night while they pretended they were asleep, they overheard the plans of the leaders and they recognized the names of more than forty men who were "marked" as rustlers and who were to be shot. Eleven of the men mentioned lived in Natrona county, twenty-two in Converse county and the balance were from Johnson county. After the second day Renfro and McGhee were released, and they started immediately for Casper. Upon their arrival here, however, they refused to disclose any news or details of the happenings while they were held by the regulators, as they had been warned to keep silent or suffer death.
Just before reaching the Tisdale ranch the advancing force was met by Mike Shonsy, foreman for the Western Union Beef company. He informed them that there were rustlers at Nolan's KC ranch. Upon receipt of this information, the regulators decided to camp at Tisdale's until their supply wagons had time to catch up with them. Friday, the 8th of April, was spent at the Tisdale ranch. In the afternoon, Shonsy was sent out in charge of a squad to reconnoiter. After dark they resumed their journey and before daylight arrived at the KC ranch. They surrounded the buildings and concealed themselves in the stable, along the creek, and in the brush along the ravine and awaited orders. Shortly after daylight, WilHam W. Walker, a trapper who had spent the night at the ranch, came out of the house with a bucket and walked toward the creek. He was taken prisoner. Ben Jones, another trapper, then came out of the house and walked toward the stable. He too was taken prisoner. Nick Ray was the next to come out of the house and he had walked but a few steps when he was shot in the head and fell in his tracks. Nate Champion then came to the door and fired a number of shots at the besiegers and they returned the fire hotly. He closed the door and from a window watched Ray slowly crawl toward the house. When Ray had almost reached the doorstep. Champion opened the door, sent another volley of shots toward the stable and creek and then stepped out and dragged Ray into the house while a hail of shot was sent toward him.
Champion evidently realized that his chances of escape were hazardous, for he wrote down in a notebook the progress of the battle so that his friends could be informed of the details in case of his death. Ray died at 9 o'clock in the morning. Champion would not give up, but fired at the besiegers occasionally. At 2:30 o'clock in the afternoon "Black Jack" Flagg and his stepson came by and they were shot at by the regulators. Flagg's account of the attack on him was as follows

"The morning of the 9th I started from my ranch, eighteen miles above the river, to go to Douglas. I was on horseback, and my stepson, a boy 17 years of age, started with me to go to the Powder river crossing. He was driving two horses and had only the running gear of a 314 wagon. We got to the KC ranch about 2:30. I was riding about fifty yards behind the wagon. We could not see the stable, behind which the murderers were concealed, until we were within seventy-five yards of it. When the wagon hove in sight the murderers jumped up and commanded the boy to halt, but he urged up his horses and drove for the bridge. When they saw he would not stop, one of them took aim on the corner of the fence and fired at him. The shot missed him and scared his team, which stampeded across the bridge and on up the road.
"There were twenty men behind the stable, and seven came up on horseback, three from one side of the road and four from the other, and closed in behind me. When the men behind the stable saw me, they began to jump for their guns, which were leaning against the fence, and called on me to stop and throw up my hands. I did not comply with their order, but kept straight for the bridge. When I got to the nearest point to them – forty-seven steps – a man whom I recognized as Ford, stepped from the crowd and, taking deliberate aim at me with his Winchester, fired. Then they all commenced firing. I threw myself on the side of my horse and made a run for it. The seven horsemen followed me. When I overtook my wagon, which had my rifle in it, I told my boy to hand it to me, which he did; I then told him to stop and cut one of the horses loose and mount him. The seven horsemen were following me, and when I stopped, were 350 yards behind, but as soon as they saw I had a rifle, they stopped. I only had three cartridges for my rifle, and did not want to fire one of them, unless they came closer, which they did not seem inclined to do."

After Flagg's escape, the regulators brought back the wagon he had left and loading it with hay and some pitch pine, wheeled it against the house and set it on fire. This was about 4 o'clock. The house was soon in flames and Champion was forced out. When he ran from the building, he was in his stocking feet and hatless. He had a rifle in his hands and a six-shooter in his belt. He had gone but about fifty yards when he saw a number of men in front of him. He raised his rifle and fired once, but just then a volley rang out and he fell to the ground, his body riddled with twenty-eight bullet holes.
A notebook was found in Champion's vest pocket soaked with blood, and with a bullet hole through it. Under the printed date of April 9th, the following entry was written in pencil:

"Me and Nick was getting breakfast when the attack took place. Two men here with us–Bill Jones and another man. The old man went after water and did not come back. His friend went out to see what was the matter and he did not come back. Nick started out and I told him to look out, that I thought that there was some one at the stable and would not let them come back. Nick is shot, but not dead yet. He is awful sick. I must go and wait on him. It is now about two hours since the first shot. Nick is still alive. They are still shooting and are all around the house. Boys, there is bullets coming in like hail. Them fellows is in such shape I can't get back at them. They are shooting from the stable and river and back of the house. Nick is dead. He died about 9 o'clock. I see a smoke down at the stable. I think they have fired it. I don't think they intend to let me get away this time.
"It is now about noon. There is some one at the stable yet. They are throwing a rope out at the door and dragging it back. I guess it is to draw me out. Boys, don't know what they have done with them two fellows that stayed here last night. Boys, I feel pretty lonesome just now. I wish there was some one here with me, so we could watch all sides at once. They may fool around until I get a good shot before they leave. It's about 3 o'clock now. There was a man in a buckboard and one on horseback just passed. They fired on them as they went by. I don't know if they killed them or not. I seen lots of men come out on horses on the other side of the river and take after them. I shot at the men in the stable just now; don't know if I got any or not. I must go and look out again. It don't look as if there is much show of my getting away. I see twelve or fifteen men. One looks like |name scratched outj. I don't know whether it is or not. I hope they did not catch them fellows that run oyer the bridge towards Smith's. They are shooting at the house now. If I had a pair of glasses I believe I would know some of these men. They are coming back. I've got to look out.
"Well, they have just got through shelling the house like hail. I hear them splitting wood. I guess they are going to fire the house to-night. I think I will make a break when night comes, if alive. Shooting again. I think they will fire the house this time. It's not night yet. The house is all fired. Good-bye, boys, if I never see you again.

Nathan D. Champion."

Sam T. Clover, special correspondent of the Chicago Herald, who accompanied the regulators, after describing the trip from Cheyenne to the KC ranch, the capture of the two trappers and the shooting of Nick Ray, gave the following account of Nate Champion's tragic death:

"The roof of the cabin was the first to catch fire, spreading rapidly downward until the north wall was a sheet of flames. Volumes of smoke poured in at the open window from the burning wagon, and in a short time through the plastered cracks of the log house puff's of smoke worked outward. Still the doomed man remained doggedly concealed, refusing to reward them by his appearance. The cordon of sharpshooters stood ready to fire upon him the instant he started to run. Fiercer and hotter grew the flames, leaping with mad impetuosity from room to room until every part ot the house was ablaze and only the dugout at the west end remained intact.
"'Reckon the cuss has shot himself,' remarked one of the waiting marksmen. 'No fellow could stay in that hole a minute and be alive.'
"These words were barely spoken when there was a shout, 'There he goes!' and a man clad in his stocking feet, bearing a Winchester in his hands and a revolver in his belt, emerged from a volume of black smoke that issued from the rear door of the house, and started off across the open space surrounding the cabin into a ravine, fifty yards south of the house, but the poor devil jumped square into the arms of two of the best shots in the outfit, who stood with leveled Winchesters around the bend waiting for his appearance. Champion saw them too late, for he overshot his mark just as a bullet struck his rifle arm, causing the gun to fall from his nerveless grasp. Before he could draw his revolver a second shot struck him in the breast and a third and fourth found their way to his heart.
"Nate Champion, the king of cattle thieves, and the bravest man in Johnson county, was dead. Prone upon his back, with his teeth clenched and a look of mingled defiance and determination on his face to the last, the intrepid rustler met his fate without a groan and paid the penalty for his crimes with his life. A card bearing the significant legend, 'Cattle thieves, beware!' was pinned to his bloodsoaked vest, and there in the dawn, with his red sash tied around him and his half-closed eyes raised toward the blue sky, this brave but misguided man was left to lie."

Early in the morning of the attack, Terrence Smith, a ranchman living four miles north, heard the sound of firing and rode over to investigate. When he saw what was takmg place, he rode with all possible haste to Buffalo, arriving there at 7:30 in the evening, and notified Sheriff Angus. The sheriff called upon Captain Meuardi to assemble Company C of the National Guard to assist him in repelling the invasion and arresting the men. Captain Meuardi refused to comply with the sheriff's order and gave as his reason an order received by him from the governor a few days prior, commanding him to obey no call in aid of the civil authorities, except through the commander-in-chief. The sheriff then swore in a posse of six men and started for the KC ranch.
Flagg and his stepson, Alonzo Taylor, after their escape, hurried on to John R. Smith's ranch, arriving there about four o'clock. Flagg was a delegate to the democratic convention at Douglas and had planned to meet the other Johnson county delegates at Smith's ranch and proceed to the convention with them. He told of his experiences at the KC ranch and then rode to Trabing, thirty miles distant, reaching there at 9 o'clock. Three men joined him at this place and they returned to the Nolan ranch. On the way they met twelve more men who had been called out by Terrence Smith while on his way to Buffalo. As this combined force was about to proceed, the regulators were seen approaching. Flagg and the other men prepared to give battle from ambush, but their camp fire and the accidental discharge of one of their guns warned the regulators and they detoured, returning to the Buffalo road.
Flagg and his men then camped for the night and the next morning started for Buffalo and on their way passed the regulators, who were at Dr. Harris's TA ranch on Crazy Woman creek. They were building a fortification at this place, which naturally led to the supposition that they expected the settlers to make an attack upon them in retaliation for the killing of Ray and Champion and the burning of the KC ranch house. When Flagg reached Buffalo Sunday forenoon, the authorities had not yet left for the field of battle. Couriers had been sent out in all directions calling for volunteers to fight the regulators, and Sunday evening at 8:30, forty-nine men armed with rifles and revolvers started to do battle at the TA ranch. A. S. Brown was the leader and when they arrived near the TA ranch at about midnight, pickets were posted around the buildings and both sides waited for daylight before the fight would commence. Just at the break of day, the posse took positions in sheltered places on all sides of the buildings. The regulators, who had gotten their fort in good shape, opened fire on the posse, but no one was hit. However, they kept the members of the posse from getting near enough to do any effective shooting.
Sheriff Angus, who had gone to the KC ranch to see what damage had been done, returned to Buffalo at about 1 o'clock Monday afternoon and after informing the people of the killing of Champion and Ray and the burning of the ranch house, a number of men were sent out to bring in the bodies. The sheriff then started for the TA ranch, accompanied by about forty men. Reinforcements from all sections of Johnson county as well as from Sheridan county had gathered at the seat of trouble until Tuesday afternoon, when there were more than 250 men assembled, acting under orders from Sheriff Angus. In the meantime, the sheriff's posse had captured two of the wagons belonging to the regulators. These wagons contained provisions, bedding, ammunition, kerosene and two cases of dynamite.
At the beginning of the trouble the telegraph line had been cut, but by Tuesday evening it had been repaired and dispatches were sent to the governor in Cheyenne and the president at Washington. Major Martin was ordered by the governor to assume command of C Company of the National Guard and to act under the orders of the mayor of the town of Buffalo to protect life and property in that town.
Colonel Van Horn of the United States cavalry, with three troops, was ordered by the war department from Fort McKinney at 2 o'clock in the morning of the 13th to proceed to the TA ranch and place the regulators under arrest. The troops arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning. Before they arrived, the posse had dismantled the two wagons they had captured and by using the hind axles and wheels had constructed a portable breastworks and were rapidly advancing on the fort. A dozen men who were safely behind the movable breastworks had advanced to within about 200 feet of the fort when the troops arrived. The posse was ordered by Colonel Van Horn to cease firing and the men behind the shield were ordered to the rear. Colonel Van Horn, Major Fechet, Captain Parmelee, of the governor's staff, two orderlies and three color sergeants, then advanced to the fortifications waving a flag of truce. Major Wolcott, who was in command of the regulators, came forth and in reply to a command from Colonel Van Horn to surrender, said, "I will surrender to you, but to that man [turning and pointing to Sheriff Angus], never. I have never seen him before, but I have heard enough of him and rather than give up to him, we will die right here. He has the best of us now, because our plans have miscarried, but it will be different yet."
Had it not been for the timely arrival of the federal troops, the settlers with the bullet-proof portable shield would have advanced to the fort and set it on fire, using the same means to protect themselves as did the regulators when they set fire to the KC ranch house. Had this occurred, there is no doubt but all the men in the fort would have been killed.
An examination of the buildings at the TA ranch showed that the fortifications constructed by the cattlemen were wellnigh impregnable and that the storming of them would have entailed a heavy loss of life upon the besiegers. Breastworks four feet high, made of sawed pine logs, 8x12 inches, were laid up on the north, east, and south sides of the house, which itself was built of the same material. The ice house north of the main building was also loopholed. A fort had been built 200 yards west of the dwelling house, of the same material and in it ten men were concealed. The horses belonging to the party were shut up in the stable which was situated half way between the dwelling and the fort referred to and the walls of the loft of the stables had been strengthened and loopholed.
The government troops took charge of the situation immediately upon the surrender of the regulators and one troop of the cavalry surrounded the buildings; all the regulators were disarmed and, with the exception of one man who was wounded, were marched to Fort McKinney, where they were kept under guard. Among the men arrested were Major Wolcott, W. C. Irvine, J. N. Tisdale, F. M. Canton, W. J. Clarke, F. H. Labertoux, F. G. S. Hesse, Phil Du Fran, D. R. Tisdale, M. Shonsy, L. H. Parker, C. S. Ford, and A. R. Powers, all of whom were either cattle owners or working for large cattle outfits. The remainder of the fifty-two men were the gunmen imported from outside the state.
By this time the news had spread over the country like wild fire. In Buffalo, Casper, Douglas, Sheridan, Cheyenne, and many other towns in the state, all was excitement and unrest. Rumors of all kinds, preposterous, ludicrous, probable, and improbable were in the air. It was the main topic of conversation whenever two or more men were together. There were some, but they were very few, who contended that the invaders were justified in their acts. But there was no question that they were not acting within the confines of the law when they burned the KC ranch house and killed Champion and Ray, even though the place was a rendezvous for rustlers and if it were true that the two men were cattle thieves. The man who sympathized with the regulators was exceedingly unpopular.
In Casper a mass meeting was held at the town hall at which nearly every business man in town was present and after much discussion, the following resolutions were adopted:

"Resolved, That we extend to the people of Johnson county our sympathy in this, the hour of their trial, and congratulate them on their moderation and prudence during the whole affair, and trust that in the future, as in the past, they may be guided by prudence, wisdom and unswerving loyalty to the principles of a free government, namely; the maintenance and execution of the law.
"Resolved, That we do detest and condemn stealing in all forms and do severally and collectively pledge our property, our lives and our sacred honor to the protection of the property and lives of all who may come among us, or become interested in property in our state.
"Resolved, That we especially regret the state of distrust and fear that has been engendered among people not personally cognizant of the true condition of affairs, and that we do assure them that their fears are groundless, and that in investing in Wyoming and helping develop its untold resources, they are perfectly safe and will reap a plentiful reward."

Guns and ammunition sufficient to arm two dozen men were stored in a small building in the business section of Casper and men had been selected who held themselves ready at all times to use them should the occasion arise. Reports were circulated to the effect that another body of the regulators was coming to assist the first detachment and arrangements were made to send a body of men from here to assist the civil authorities of Johnson county should the reports prove true. Men were on guard day and night; the road to Buffalo was watched and everything was in readiness for war should another detachment of regulators make its appearance. Excitement was at a high pitch for a week; and not until the captured regulators were taken to Fort Russell did the people relax and settle down to a feeling of safety.
Two days after the surrender of the regulators, the burial of Champion and Ray took place in Buffalo, and also that of Coroner Watkins, who had died while engaged in holding an inquest over the remains. The funeral services were held in a vacant store building on Main street. The room was full of women; few men could get in. The caskets were profusely decorated with flowers. Rev. W. J. McCullim offered prayer in which he said: "We thank Thee, O God, that there are those who have stood by the law. We pray that the law may be strengthened; that if we cannot get justice here, then in the other world." The funeral procession then moved out to the cemetery. The hearse was followed by carriages, wagons, footmen and last, 150 mounted men, three women and two boys.
Criminal complaints had been sworn out against the fifty-two men, charging them with murder and arson and Sheriff Angus appeared before Colonel Van Horn at Fort McKinney demanding the surrender of the men to the civil authorities of Johnson county, but the demand was denied. Sheriff Angus then made an appeal to Acting Governor Barber requesting that the prisoners be turned over to the civil authorities for trial. Governor Barber replied that such action would not be taken until order had been established in Johnson county and the sheriff was directed to turn over the prisoners he had lodged in the jail previous to the surrender of the cattlemen. After the governor had ordered the men turned over to the military authorities on an order from the secretary of war to that effect, Colonel Van Horn telephoned to Sheriff Angus to know if one troop of cavalry would be sufficient to send over for Allen, the prisoner in the sheriff's charge, or whether he had better send three troops. The sheriff replied, "If you send one or three troops, the chances are that there will be trouble. But if you want your man, detail one soldier." Accordingly, a sergeant and driver were sent in an open wagon. When they arrived at the court house there were 200 armed men in line on either side of the walk leading from the street to the court house door. The sheriff met the sergeant at the sidewalk, the men fell back, leaving a five-foot open way to the door through which the sheriff and detail walked and entering the court house, they went directly to the jail door. The prisoner, Allen, was brought out, the soldier signed a receipt for him, and the three went to the east door. When Allen saw the multitude of armed men he hesitated, but the soldier dragged him through the lines to the wagon. No one interfered, and the prisoner, under the guard of the soldier and the town marshal, was driven to Fort McKinney, three miles away.
Three troops of cavalry under command of Major Fechet left Fort McKinney for Fort Fetterman on April 18 in charge of the captured cattlemen, under orders from the war department. At Fort Fetterman, a detachment of soldiers from Fort D. A. Russell took the prisoners in charge and escorted them by rail to Cheyenne where they were quartered for sixty days at the fort. Major Wolcott, State Senator John N. Tisdale, and several others were released on parole.
Major Wolcott went to Washington in an endeavor to clear himself and his friends from any charges which might be made against them as a result of the expedition into Johnson county and also to seek the establishment of martial law there.
The two trappers, Jones and Walker, who had been captured and held during the attack at the KC ranch, were believed to be the only witnesses, besides the regulators, of the killing of Champion and Ray and the burning of the KC ranch house. The cattlemen employed F. H. Harvey, a lawyer of Douglas, and O. P. Witt, a livery stable keeper of the same place, to get the witnesses out of the country. The two men were told upon their release at the Nolan ranch to go south and to remain silent as to what they had seen and heard if they wished to avoid trouble. When they arrived in Casper several days later, they found that public sentiment was against the regulators and they did not hesitate to tell all about the affair.
Friends of the settlers wanted the men held as witnesses against the regulators and friends of the cattlemen naturally wanted them to leave the country. They wxre made to believe that the cattlemen would kill them and they became very much frightened. There was no jail in Casper and Sheriff O. M. Rice had no place of safety for them to stay and it was agreed that they should accompany Colonel E. H. Kimball, deputy sheriff of Converse county, to Douglas, where they would be allowed to sleep in the sheriff's office in the front part of the jail until such time as Sheriff Angus would come for them and take them to Buffalo. Several nights after they arrived in Douglas, Walker became intoxicated and Jones walked about the streets with him until about midnight in an attempt to get him sober. Walker wanted to leave the country, saying that each of them would be given a horse and saddle and $1,000 in cash to go away and not act as witnesses against the cattlemen. They went over to Morton's place where they met eight or ten men and after considerable parleying, offers of money, and then threats, the two men and a guide mounted horses and headed for the east. The guide left them after riding about twenty miles and the two men rode on to Harrison where they boarded the train for Chadron. At Chadron an attempt was made to stop them, but friends of the cattlemen managed to get them on the train and they went to Omaha. In that city another attempt was made by the civil authorities to have the men returned to Wyoming to testify against the regulators, but the cattlemen were successful again and in due time Jones and Walker were put on a train headed for Saint Louis and that was the last seen or heard of them.
Colonel E. H. Kimball, who was at that time publishing a newspaper at Douglas, because of his denunciation of the cattlemen, was charged with criminal libel by George W. Baxter and others. Mr. Kimball was taken to Cheyenne under warrant and lodged in jail for thirty days, during which time his paper ceased publication. It was necessary for him to furnish a bond signed by a resident bondsman. The editor of the Northwestern Livestock Journal finally came to his rescue and he was released and returned home. The case never came to trial for it was the object of the regulators only to suppress the publication of Mr. Kimball's paper until the excitement died out.
A petition signed by eighteen of the largest cattle outfits that had stock in Johnson county was presented to Governor Barber during the summer following the invasion, requesting that Johnson county be placed under martial law. Among other things the petition stated that the petitioners were citizens of the state of Wyoming and of other states in the Union and as such were entitled to the equal protection of the law, and to the protection of their property against theft and depredations, and that the county of Johnson and the territory adjacent thereto was chiefly composed of unclosed lands, especially adapted to grazing, and the live stock ranging thereon was worth several millions of dollars. That for several years the stealing and misbranding of live stock in the vicinity had been of frequent occurrence, and was rapidly growing more prevalent, and that stock thieves continually rode the range and placed their brands upon the unbranded calves of other owners and changed and altered the brands upon the branded live stock of others, thereby destroying all means of identifying the true ownership thereof. These stock thieves had, during the past year, greatly intimidated and threatened other residents in that vicinity and had suppressed, by threatened violence, almost all opposition to their unlawful calling and occupation. Their influence, by reason of their numbers and by their methods of intimidation had become so great as to reach the jury box and almost effectually prevent the conviction of any person charged with stock stealing. As an evidence of this the records of the district court in Johnson county for the previous five years showed many indictments had been found against different persons charged with the stealing of live stock and that in nearly all cases the defendants were acquitted. The acquittals were so flagrant and so contrary to the evidence that the judges deplored the existing conditions and had declared it almost a useless effort and expense to try any person charged with the stealing of live stock. The thieves had grown so bold and so open in their support and defense of stealing that they had notified persons who differed with them to leave the country and in many instances enforced their threats by acts of violence and they further threatened to assassinate those who had fled if they returned.
In March, 1892, the thieves got together at Buffalo and organized and arranged for round-ups in violation of law, and were endeavoring to execute the same when certain owners of live stock in that vicinity obtained from the United States circuit court for the district of Wyoming an injunction order restraining and enjoining the carrying on of these round-ups. The United States marshal and his deputies who went to the vicinity to serve the order of injunction were grossly mistreated and embarrassed in the service of the process of the court, and found it unsafe to remain there. One of the deputy marshals, George Wellman, was foully assassinated without cause or provocation, on a public highroad in that county while going to Buffalo to receive instructions from the United States marshal relating to the service of his injunction order.
The petitioners and others intending to enter upon and carry on the round-up arranged for by law, sent trusted and honest employees to attend to the same, and these men were threatened with violence by the thieves and were compelled to leave the county to avoid death or other violence to their persons. During the summer the number of stock thieves in that vicinity had been greatly aug- mented by the arrival of other men of the same character from other parts of the country, and there existed in that country an organized plan of driving the stockmen out, so that their property might become common property for the thieves; cattle were being wantonly and openly slaughtered in that section by thieves, some of the slaughtering being done for no other purpose whatever than to gratify malicious motives, and other slaughtering was being done to enable the thieves to market the beef and obtain money therefor. The ranches and homes of owners in that vicinity had many of them been plundered, and the personal effects and furniture there stolen or destroyed, and the occupants of the ranches had been driven from the country by fear. Even women and children at the ranches had received threats of violence, and had been compelled to seek places of safety. Letters in the United States mails had been opened by the thieves, and there existed a general and well-founded belief that letters and information could not be safely confided to the United States mails in that vicinity, and in several instances persons had been warned against sending letters to their friends and had been notified not to go to the postoffice either for the purpose of mailing letters or for the purpose of receiving mail therefrom. It was also claimed that no effort of any kind whatever on behalf of the civil authorities in that vicinity was being made to suppress the stealing, or any of the acts of violence and intimidation, and in many instances the civil authorities, by reason of natural inclination or intimidation, were working with the thieves and under their influence. That the sheriff" of Johnson county openly declared his friendship for those who were known to be thieves, and declared his enmity toward the owners of live stock. With his knowledge, and without any opposition whatever from him, the county was patroled by large numbers of armed thieves who were permitted to go about heavily armed and prepared at any moment to execute their threat against those who were not in accord with them. It was further represented that there existed in the district named an armed combination of men to prevent the administration of law and justice; that neither life nor property was in any respect safe, and did not and would not receive protection at the hands of the civil authorities. That the country was in a feverish state of excitement and under a complete reign of terror, and both persons and property were wholly at the mercy of the outlaws and thieves who infested that section.
In answer to this petition notices were sent out to the effect that "The authorities of Johnson county invite and desire that all owners of cattle ranging in this county who have either personally or by their foremen and representatives participated in the late armed invasion of this county, send able, trustworthy and discreet persons to their ranches to attend to the rounding up and preservation of their property. The undersigned pledge to them the resources of the county in the protection of their interests here. We would suggest that there are a number of idle cowboys here who have not been branded as outlaws or black-balled by the stock association who will gladly work and help round up the cattle during the coming season."
The above was signed by Sheriff Angus, the prosecuting attorney, and the three members of the board of county commissioners of Johnson county.
President Harrison was also importuned to have martial law established in Johnson county for the same reasons as stated in the petition to Governor Barber, and on June 6 six troops of cavalry from Fort Robinson, Nebraska, were ordered to march to Powder River, Wyoming, and six troops of cavalry from Fort Niobrara, Nebraska, were ordered to march into Wyoming and go into camp at a point between old Fort Fetterman and old Fort Caspar. These cavalry forces moved as directed and remained stationed there all summer. On July 30, President Harrison issued and sent forth a proclamation declaring that "By reasons of unlawful obstructions and assemblages of persons it has become impracticable, in my judgment, to enforce by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings the laws of the United States. After repeated efforts, the United States marshal, being unable, by his ordinary deputies, or by any civil posse which he is able to obtain, to execute the process of the United States courts;
"Now, therefore, be it known that I, Benjamin Harrison, president of the United States, do hereby command all persons engaged in such resistance to the laws and the process of the courts of the United States, to cease such opposition and resistance and to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes on or before Wednesday, the 3d day of August next.
"In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
"Done at the City of Washington, this 30th day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two, and of the independence of the United States the one hundred and seventeenth.
Benjamin Harrison."

J. W. Blake, judge of the Second Judicial district, which comprised Johnson and Albany counties, sent a letter to Acting Governor Barber on the 19th of June, requesting that he deliver to the authorities of Johnson county the stockmen then confined at Fort Russell. The judge informed the governor that he had received a certified copy of informations filed against the men, charging them with murder. He stated that he had also received a certified copy of warrants issued by the clerk of the court for the arrest of the parties charged in the information. Judge Blake also made the following requests of the governor:

"First, That you turn over to the sheriff of Johnson county or his deputy, the parties named in his warrants, and give them into his custody at Fort Russell. Second, That before you do this, inform me of the time you will be ready to make the transfer in order that I may give the officer full directions as to the place they shall be held, pending the future proceedings of the court. Pending the time of the trial, I believe it my duty to exercise the utmost diligence and care–first, in placing the prisoners within the custody of the proper officers of the court; second, that they be kept with absolute safety; third, that these things be done in such a way that will entail the smallest possible expense upon Johnson county.
"I do not consider it necessary at this time to have these men taken to Johnson county. I have in view two methods of holding them in custody, both of which will require the assent of the parties accused.
"One is that they be confined at Fort Russell as long as the war department will detain them there; the other that they be confined in the north wing of the penitentiary at Laramie, a portion of the building now unoccupied for any purpose, and where they will not under any circumstances come in contact with any of the convicts confined in another part of the building.
"Should you surrender these men to the judicial department upon this request, my positive order will be given to the officer to whom they are surrendered upon these points in the way I have indicated as to their confinement, and I am satisfied beyond any question that these orders will be obeyed. For this reason I believe that I have a right to make them, and I have never known an officer of Johnson county to disregard any direction I had given him. I must urge upon you, that I insist as soon as the matter can be arranged, wherever these prisoners are detained, they must be kept under the custody of an officer of the court for Johnson county."

On July 5, the prisoners were taken to Laramie where Judge Blake was holding court. Adjutant General Frank Stitzer, of the Wyoming National Guard, accompanied by almost the entire military staff of the governor, accompanied them. They were formally turned over to the deputy sheriff of Johnson county, who took charge of them. An application for a change of venue from Johnson county was made, heard and granted, after a deliberation lasting two weeks, and Cheyenne was selected as the place of trial. The prisoners were then returned to Cheyenne, put in charge of Sheriff A. D. Kelly, and quartered in Keefe's hall, instead of the jail.
On August 7 they were arraigned before Judge Scott, in the district court for Laramie county and three days were consumed in securing a jury. At the close of the third day the sheriff presented a petition to Judge Scott for relief, setting forth that Johnson county was bankrupt; that its officials had not paid the expenses incurred by the detention of the prisoners in Albany county pending the hearing on the motion for a change of venue; that the cost of holding the prisoners, including hall rent, guards and food, was over a hundred dollars a day; that he could not get any money from the Johnson county officials with which to meet these bills; that Johnson county warrants would not take the place of money; that he, as sheriff, would no longer assume responsibility for these current expenses, and prayed for an order of court that would secure him against loss, as he could not longer hold the accused.
When court convened on the morning of August 10, Judge Scott handed down his decision on the above petition which stated that he was unable to issue an order compelling Johnson county to make good the sheriff's disbursements for the maintenance of the prisoners and as he had refused to longer provide for them, the only alternative was to admit them to bail. But as the defense refused to furnish bail, he was forced to release them on their individual recognizances. The prisoners at once signed each his own bail bond for $20,000 in the two separate cases, and they were all set at liberty, but ordered to appear at the next term of court, in January, 1893.
January 21, 1893, when the case was called for trial nearly all of the cattlemen responded, but the hired gunmen failed to appear. Alvin Bennett, prosecuting attorney for Johnson county, offered a motion to enter a nolle prosequi, to which the attorneys for the defense entered an objection. After discussion the court accepted the motion and the prisoners were discharged. A similar motion was made covering the cases of the hired gunmen who had not appeared, and an order of discharge was entered in the court records, also one rescinding the order of forfeiture of bail bonds.
This action of course ended the trial and although the general public severely criticised the courts, it was conceded by many that it was better to discharge the prisoners than to pretend to keep them in custody when they were as a matter of fact freer to go about the streets and to public places than the men engaged in business or those employed in offices, stores or the shops.
At the meeting of the Wyoming Stockgrowers' Association held in Cheyenne on April 4, 1893, John Clay, president of the association, in referring to the unfortunate affair, said: "Not content with the imposition of financial and climatic troubles another burden had to be added to our lot. After a long period of forbearance and patience from range depredations, both petty and wholesale, the trouble culminated a year ago and the so-called invasion of Johnson county took place, which ended unfortunately and gave rise to an almost interminable amount of bad blood, politically and socially. While the invasion is now consigned to history, it developed, during its progress last spring and the long, weary summer months which followed, a spirit of admiration for all classes of the men who had taken part in the expedition. Under the most trying circumstances they stood shoulder to shoulder, scarce a murmur escaping them. Notwithstanding their errors of judgment, we respect them for their manliness, for their supreme courage under the adverse fire of calumny and the usual kicking man gets when he is down. There will be a day of retribution and the traitors in the camp and in the field will be winnowed like wheat from the chaff."
In connection with the killing of Nate Champion, it is well to mention that he was classed as the most daring cattle thief in the state and several attempts had been made before to kill him. About daylight one morning in November, 1891, four men went to his cabin and two of them broke in the door. They leveled their guns at him and Ross Gilbertson who was in bed with him. Champion started to talk and at the same time reached for his six-shooter. The fellows became rattled and one fired with his revolver within two feet of Champion's face, but owing to the dim light or nervousness, he failed to injure him beyond inflicting some powder burns.
In the fall after the regulators were discharged, Dudley Champion, a brother of Nate, was shot and killed by Mike Shonsy about twenty miles northwest of Lusk. The two men met on the range and after a few words Shonsy pulled his gun and fired, killing Champion instantly. Shonsy, accompanied by a lad who saw the shooting, immediately started for Lusk, where he gave himself up to the officers. A preliminary hearing was at once had, the boy swearing that Champion drew his revolver first, and that Shonsy fired in self defense. This relieved Shonsy from blame and he was released. A few hours later he took the train for Cheyenne and from there took the afternoon train south, presumably going to Mexico. Twenty-four hours after Shonsy's release by the court at Lusk, other witnesses arrived and it was claimed that Champion had made no gun play and that the killing was unprovoked, cold-blooded murder on the part of Shonsy, but no action was taken to bring him back and answer forthe crime.
A number of other killings occurred as a result of the invasion, but after thirty years, the bad blood has ceased to exist, for many of the men on both sides have been called to that Judgment where justice is done to all.
The killing of the two men and the burning of property by an organized band of men who acted as judge, jury, and executioner, was a regrettable and deplorable affair. It gave to Wyoming a name for lawlessness that kept many good people from coming here and thus retarded our growth and development, but on the other hand, it had its good effect, for many men who had no vocation and existed by semi-lawlessness with perfect security, soon became solid, law- abiding citizens, whose every act would stand the light. The cattle rustlers could see their finish and many of them filed on homesteads and engaged in ranching and stockraising. Then people from other states came and settled and developed the land, turning patches of sagebrush, cactus and greasewood into beautiful fields of alfalfa. This put the large cattle outfits out of business; the open range "with a thousand cattle on every hill" is a thing of the past; comfortable homes and prosperous ranches have been established where there were thousands upon thousands of acres and miles upon miles of barren land without a fence or house in sight. What a wonderful and welcome change!

1. Samuel Maverick was owner of a large number of cattle in Southern Texas in the early '40's, whose ambition was to be able to travel from San Antonio to El Paso and from El Paso to the mouth of the Rio Grande on his own land. He secured title to more than two million acres of land, but his desire to travel on his own land from the points named was never realized. Maverick had a debt against a stockman which he was unable to collect in money, and he took 400 head of cattle at $3 per head and cancelled the debt. At the end of four years he sold these cattle at $6 per head, including the natural increase, upon which he had never placed his brand, and consequently there were on the range a large number of unbranded cattle, and when the cowboys and stockmen came across a bunch of unbranded cattle they would remark they "belonged to Maverick," or "they were Maverick's." This is how the term maverick originated and was applied to unbranded cattle by the stockmen and cowboys, and is in common use nowadays.
Return To Johnson County War Index.