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Johnson County War Collection
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Collection Overview
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The collection consists of primary and secondary source material on the Johnson County War of 1892, focusing on and around the town of Buffalo. It includes manuscripts related to the Johnson County invasion, alleged cattle rustling, the death of George Wellman and case against Thomas Hathaway, the 1892 fire at Fort McKinney, and various financial and social issues facing Johnson County in the 1890s. The original material includes correspondence, legal papers, Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency reports, newspaper clippings, and some photographs. The secondary material consists of essays, articles, and ephemera relating to Wyoming history.
The Johnson County War, also known as the Wyoming Range War, centered on Johnson, Natrona, and Converse Counties, Wyoming, in April and May 1892. The dispute was the result of tensions between the interests of big cattlemen and small ranchers, many of whom were accused of being cattle rustlers. Most of the counties’ largest cattle outfits, and most prominent and wealthiest individuals, belonged to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA). Harsh weather conditions and lack of good grazing land led to intensified cattle competition in the late 1880s, and agents of the WSGA, including former Johnson County sheriff Frank M. Canton, attempted to prevent alleged cattle rustling by some small-scale ranchers, occasionally relying on violent means. The 1889 lynching of Ella Watson and Jim Averell, along with the killings of several other supposed rustlers in 1891, divided public opinion. Some small ranchers in Johnson County, including local settler Nate Champion, formed the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers’ Association (NWFSGA) to attempt to compete with the WSGA. Members of the NWFSGA and other small ranchers were "blacklisted" by the WSGA, who ordered them to stop all cattle operations. The NWFSGA refused and instead planned a cattle roundup for spring 1892. Led by former U.S. Marshal Frank Wolcott, the WSGA formed a band of hired gunmen with the intention of threatening or eliminating members of the NWFSGA before their roundup. In addition to Canton and three other WSGA detectives, the group also included a number of prominent Wyoming citizens, including State Senator Bob Tisdale, water commissioner W.J. Clarke, politicians William C. Irvine and Hubert Teshemacher, surgeon Dr. Charles Penrose, and newspaper reporters from the Cheyenne Sun and Chicago Herald. The group assembled at Cheyenne and traveled by train to Casper before riding toward Douglas on horseback, cutting telegraph lines as they went to avoid detection. Although the party’s original destination appears to have been Buffalo, they were sidetracked by a trip to Nate Champion’s KC Ranch, where they arrived on April 8, 1892. The so-called invaders laid siege to Champion’s cabin and eventually killed both Champion and Nick Ray. Local rancher Jack Flagg, avoiding capture by the invaders, rode to Buffalo and alerted sheriff William “Red” Angus and the rest of the town to the events at the KC Ranch. A posse of 200 armed citizens rode for the KC Ranch on April 10, although the invaders had already left and begun riding toward Buffalo. The two groups met at the TA Ranch on Crazy Woman Creek, where the WSGA invaders were besieged by the sheriff’s posse. Three of the invaders were killed but one escaped and cabled the acting Governor of Wyoming, Amos W. Barber, who telegraphed President Harrison asking for assistance for the WSGA on April 12. Under Harrison’s orders, the 6th Cavalry from nearby Fort McKinney was sent to the TA Ranch, where the invaders surrendered on April 13. Most of the WSGA group was taken prisoner to Fort D.A. Russell in Cheyenne, although many Buffalo citizens mistakenly thought they were being held at Fort McKinney. Although Johnson County prosecutors gathered evidence and intended to file a number of indictments against those involved in the invasion, most of the invaders were released on bail and many disappeared to Texas. After a series of legal entanglements, all of the charges against the WSGA members were eventually dropped. Tensions remained high, and the 6th Cavalry was replaced by the 9th Cavalry, one member of which was killed in a shootout with local citizens. Citizens of Wyoming remained divided on the issue, some siding with the large cattlemen who they saw as defending their rights against thefts by rustlers, while others sided with the small ranchers, who they believed to be falsely persecuted and attacked by overzealous vigilantes.
697 items
In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.
Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, please go to following web site.