Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Johnson County War Collection
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (108.37 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Johnson County War Collection
    Dates: 1890-1977
    Collection Number: mssJohnsonCountyWar
    Creator: Carey, Jena, collector
    Extent: 697 items
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Manuscripts Department
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: The collection consists of primary and secondary source material on the Johnson County War of 1892, focusing on and around the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. 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.
    Language of Material: The records are in English.


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Administrative Information

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Johnson County War collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Acquisition Information

    The collection was a gift of James E. McCormick III on December 31, 2012.


    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.

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists of primary and secondary source material on the Johnson County War of 1892, focusing on and around the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. It includes manuscripts related to the Johnson County invasion, alleged cattle rustling, the death of George Wellman and the 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.
    Charles H. Burritt Correspondence

    Box 1 contains the correspondence of Charles H. Burritt, including 47 letters to Fred G.S. Hesse dated January 1892 to February 1893; 6 letters to attorneys John Lacey and Willis Van Devanter dated June 1892; 11 letters to Van Devanter dated July 1892; 2 letters to W.R. Stoll (1892); and a 79-page typescript of letters to various correspondents including C.N. Potter, H.R. Mann, M.C. Brown, J.W. Blake, S.M. Allen, and Henry B. Blair (1892). The letters focus on the Johnson County invasion and subsequent trial; the fire and alleged theft of weapons by rustlers at Fort McKinney; the death of George Wellman and the investigation of Thomas Hathaway; the financial situation in Buffalo; the elections of 1892; and various criminal trials, including those for cattle theft. Some of the letters are facsimiles (see the container list for more information).
    Some notable items include:
    • A letter to Hesse mentioning the illness of Frank M. Canton’s wife and the death of his daughter (1892, Jan.26).
    • Photocopies of letters to Hesse describing the boycott of Burritt’s businesses and his fear of assassination (1892, May).
    • A letter describing the upcoming trial of Frank Canton and other Johnson County defendants, including an “attempt made to avoid the provisions of the constitution of the State of Wyoming” in illegally calling in debts and a certificate of indebtedness for $12,000.00 that was to be transferred to Robert Foote “as security for expenses incurred in the case” as soon as “it shall be decided what Co. the case of the State against Canton and the others is to be tried in” (1892, July 18)
    • A letter describing the trial of Robert C. Dalton and Moise Ganyon, who were accused of killing a T.A. Ranch steer. Burritt writes that “I never wanted to go into the trial of a case so badly in my life,” but as an election was approached he was advised to “stay in the background and instruct the officers…as to what they should do…In the circle of parties where the knowledge as to the real author of the case will do the most good, the facts are sufficiently known.” He writes that the “plan worked better than I anticipated” because of the “bungling” of the prosecution and the defense, and that “it made [Sheriff William “Red”] Angus so mad to see the poor work that [Johnson County attorney Alvin] Bennett was doing” that he vowed to work against him in the next election. “I have had hard work to keep Angus in line,” concludes Burritt, “and I believe that the money I have expended in this case has been well spent” (1892, Nov.2).
    • A letter to Hesse in which Burritt laments his circumstances, wondering “what I shall do to be saved.” He writes that he can no longer live in Buffalo “unless there is a change,” and that the “blasted jury are now going in the opposite extreme – are convicting everyone whether there is evidence or not.” The recent elections had caused Burritt to be appointed as a criminal defense attorney, which he said he would not do except in the case of “a soldier for shooting a nigger Barney” and Ira E. Walker for killing the desperado Hank Lovett (1892, Nov.17).
    • A letter to Hesse in which Burritt records that he has almost “gone broke,” and that “it is enough to break a man’s heart to see the places of so many good men filled by the ‘scum of the Earth’ and pure ‘dead-beats’ after the election. “We must have a ‘snich’ when we go down after a man for stealing cattle,” Burritt writes, “a case where the jury are obliged to convict even against their will” (1892, Dec.22).
    • A letter to Hesse in which he describes discussions with John Nolan, who wished to bring charges against the “stock men” for the “destruction” of the T.A. Ranch during the Johnson County invasion. Burritt refused to take the case and hoped that with Hesse “some steps might be taken to prevent the bringing of this suit.” He warned Hesse to “head Nolan off” as soon as possible since some in Johnson County were willing to support the suit “for the purpose of keeping alive the recent troubles in this vicinity” (1893, Feb.25).
    • A letter to John Lacey and Willis Van Devanter noting that a mass meeting did not materialize and that any resolutions supposedly coming from Johnson County citizens were “Bogus” (1892, June 24).
    • A letter to Lacey and Van Devanter noting that indictments had been brought against Dr. Charles Penrose for first degree murder and against Frederick W. Coats for burglary with intent to commit a felony, although “there are no informations against any of the stockmen for arson” (1892, June 27).
    • A letter to W.R. Stoll reporting that Burritt had been receiving death threats (1892, Sep.14).
    • A series of letters to Willis Van Devanter describing the fire and alleged weapon theft at Fort McKinney, beginning with Burritt sending Lieutenant Gray to Fort Russell to report the fire at Fort McKinney (1892, July 22). Burritt writes of getting a confession from Private Andrew Keiser, a blacksmith in Troop H, 6th Cavalry, “which implicates a large number of soldiers and also a large number of citizens” in the alleged theft of weapons from the Fort (1892, July 23). After visiting Fort McKinney, Burritt writes “it looks now as if we had unearthed the most diabolical plot that was ever conceived by mortals,” and that he hoped to convict Robert Foote and Henry Smith for supposedly engineering a plot to “blow up a building at Fort McKinney,” and “in that way make away with all the stockmen at once.” Burritt claims Smith paid Keiser $500 to blow up the Fort’s bath house with dynamite (1892, July 24). Further investigations into the incident yielded “disclosures" that “bring out some irregularities also in the Q.M. Department and place the A.A.G.M. in a rather critical light and incidentally involves some of our best friends. There is nothing so far actually criminal but they are very unpleasant irregularities and I am mich afraid that these things are helping to shield Robert Foote so that we can not make a case against the old scamp” (1892, July 26).
    • A 79-page typescript of letters to W.R. Stoll and others include frequent references to Burritt’s desire to “start an undercurrent of opposition to cattle thieves and so far as possible…divert public opinion from the recent invasion” (1892, May 8).
    General Correspondence

    Box 2 contains general correspondence related to the Johnson County invasion, the death of George Wellman, the financial situation in Buffalo, and various political and social events. There are also several threatening notes allegedly sent by cattle rustlers, as well as 20th century correspondence regarding Wyoming history. Correspondents include Frank Canton, Joseph M. Carey, Fred G.S. Hesse, Frank A. Kemp, G.W. Munkres, and O.P. Witt.
    Some notable items include:
    • 8 letters from Senator Joseph M. Carey to Louis Kirk dated 1892, and which include questions on the origins of the Johnson County invasion (“Nobody understands the purpose and object of the Cattlemen…Why did they go to Buffalo or start there?....What were they trying to do?...How could the people of Johnson County feel otherwise than they did?...Everybody got crazy. Such conditions always suit men like Angus and Kimball. They prefer anarchy to law and order”); the potential implementation of martial law (“I had made it as plain as I possibly could in my previous letters. The government of the United States has nothing to do with martial law in the State…”); and his annoyance that his suggestions were not being carried out in Wyoming and that he was being blamed for the lack of action (“I understand…that I receive lots of abuse from [the cattlemen] confined at Ft. Russell, as if it were in my power to do anything except upon an actual statement of facts”).
    • A letter from W.H. Haynes to Fred G.S. Hesse in which in write of Buffalo: “I tell you…that this country is in a hell of a fix. A man is not safe to spit” (May 20, 1892).
    • 7 letters from Fred W. Hesse (son of Fred G.S. Hesse) to Jena Carey (widow of Joseph M. Carey) dated 1965-1967, in which Hesse criticizes the books on Johnson County written by Marie Sandoz and Helen Huntington Smith, which he describes as “disgusting to me because I put in so much time trying to get a little sense into her ignorant idea of what this country was like” (June 1, 1966).
    • 7 letters from Frank A. Kemp to Fred G.S. Hesse dated 1892. Kemp laments the lack of action in Buffalo (“I don’t see how the hell we can do anything, as…the opinion is so strong against violent measures…I don’t see the…use in declaring martial law, or calling out the troops, without they are willing to do what the late expedition failed in doing…exterminate the rusters” (May 24, 1892) and the handling of the cattle situation (“we have been fooled by a lot of politicians…I have been furious at the way in which this cattle trouble has been handled. The childishness and duplicity displayed by our great men makes me so mad that I hate to speak, think, or write about it…” (June 30, 1892).
    • Notes from alleged cattle rustlers, including those to William Irvine (“We will give you 30 days to leave this country and if you don’t we will get you”) and the “hired girl at Whitcomb’s place” (“You are warned and will not be notified again…warn them at your peril!”).
    • A letter from Frank M. Canton from his father-in-law W.H. Wilkerson, in which he writes of “the indignities the people that have taken no part in this affair have been subjected to [for being related to the invaders]. Women have been insulted [and] men have been slapped in the face…” (Apr.17, 1892).
    • A letter from an unknown correspondent to Frank Canton informing him of the death of George Wellman and the story of Tom Hathaway (May 10, 1892).
    Legal Statements and Documents

    Box 3 consists of witness statements, legal documents, and other papers related to events in Johnson County in 1892. Notable items include statements made by Henry E. Johnson and Andrew Keiser at Fort McKinney regarding their participation in the alleged dynamite plot (1892); various statements made by invasion participants Ben Jones and William Walker, including affidavits taken after their arrival in Rhode Island (1892); statements in the death of George Wellman made by Mary Linville, William Linville, Austin B. Read, Ed Morse, and W.P. Ricketts, as well as maps and testimony by Thomas Hathaway; and various witness lists for the prosecution in the dynamite plot, Wellman murder trial, and cases vs. Robert Foote, John Hill, and Frank Smith.
    Pinkerton Reports

    Box 4 contains reports from Pinkerton National Detective Agency field agents sent to W.R. Stoll between June and November of 1892. All of the reports are signed by William A. Pinkerton.
    The reports include:
    • 38 reports from agent M.E. Cox, who posed as a physician in Buffalo while gathering information on the cattle invasion. Cox noted that “my bearing served as a guarantee of friendship to rustlers,” while his position as a physician made him privy to a variety of personal information on the private lives of Buffalo’s citizens. He reports on public opinion (including a great deal of information gleaned from local prostitutes), summarizes newspaper reports, reports on a recent railroad survey, and writes of the uneasiness in Buffalo caused by the presence of U.S. Marshals. Cox also reports from Portland, Custer, and Sheridan, Wyoming.
    • 5 reports from agent J.C. Frazer, who gathered information on various individuals and proceedings regarding Johnson County in Denver, Las Vegas, and Clayton, New Mexico.
    • 51 reports from agent T.H. Hale, a deputy U.S. Marshal working in Buffalo and Suggs, Wyoming. Hale reports on getting acquainted with alleged rustlers at roundups, staking out John A. Tisdale’s ranch for “armed men,” and tracking outlaws Frank Smith, Charles Taylor, and Ed Starr (who were suspects in the murder of Marshal George Wellman), including a near shootout with Long and Starr and the capture of their accomplice Jack Long, who escaped from jail a few days later (July 23, 1892). Hale writes that despite such setbacks the Marshals would “devise some means of getting at the men we want,” and to “try and not get murdered” in the process.
    Notes, Essays, and Miscellaneous Manuscripts

    Box 5 contains miscellaneous notes and essays on Fred G.S. Hesse, John A. Tisdale, the Fetterman Massacre, Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Hole-in-the-Wall, and general Wyoming history; a bound copy of Asa Mercer’s “The Banditti of the Plains” (1894); a resolution in the Wyoming Derrick Extra (May 3, 1892) by the people of Natrona County condemning the invasion of Johnson County and calling Governor Amos W. Barber’s apparent knowledge of the act “treasonous;” a photograph of Fred W. Hesse at a rodeo in Buffalo (1913) and a reproduction of a photograph of the T.A. Ranch; and various research notes, ephemera, and photographs of “Uncle Jim” and Johnson County in a binder belonging to Jena Carey, among other items.
    Publications and Printed Ephemera

    Box 6 contains copies of various Western history and news magazines (c.1960s-1970s), 14 copies of The Westerners Brand Book (1948-1952), pamphlets by Herbert O. Brayer and Charles B. Penrose, and various other pamphlets related to Wyoming travel and history.
    Newspapers and Newspaper Clippings

    Box 7 contains newspapers and newspaper clippings on Johnson County history, and primarily date from the 1940s-1960s. Included is a 1960s series of articles on 1890s Buffalo from the Buffalo Bulletin.
    Photocopies of Articles

    Box 8 contains photocopies of essays and articles on Johnson County and Wyoming history by Herbert O. Brayer, J. Elmer Brock, Frank Canton, Arthur Chapman, Jack Flagg, and others. Subjects include the death of George Wellman, the Johnson County war, and cattleman Moreton Frewen.
    Tape Recordings

    Box 9 contains cassette and reel to reel tapes recordings of interviews with Garvin Taylor, Fred Hesse, Bill Brock, Kay Hibdon, and J.L. Night. These items may be inaccessible. Please contact the appropriate curator.

    The collection includes one oversize roll containing photostats of the Cheyenne Weekly Sun from 1892.


    The collection consists of nine boxes and one set of rolled photostats.
    The collection is organized in the following series:
    • Correspondence
    • Statements and Legal Papers
    • Pinkerton Reports
    • Miscellaneous Manuscripts
    • Publications and Printed Ephemera
    • Newspapers
    • Articles
    • Tape Recordings
    • Oversize
    The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author, and then chronologically. Other manuscripts are arranged alphabetically or chronologically as appropriate.

    Indexing Terms

    Personal Names

    Canton, Frank, 1849-1927.
    Carey, Joseph M. (Joseph Maull), 1845-1924.
    Hesse, Fred George S., 1853-1929.
    Mercer, Asa S. (Asa Shinn), 1839-1917.
    Van Devanter, Willis, 1859-1941.

    Corporate Names

    Pinkerton's National Detective Agency--History


    Cattle stealing.
    Johnson County War, 1892.
    Manners and customs--Wyoming.
    Law enforcement--Wyoming.
    Prostitution--Wyoming--History--19th century.

    Geograhic Areas

    Buffalo (Wyo.)--History--19th century.
    Fort McKinney (Wyo.)--History--19th century.
    Johnson County (Wyo.)--History--19th century.
    West (U.S.)--History--1890-1945.


    Articles--West (U.S.)--20th century.
    Ephemera--Wyoming--20th century.
    Letters (correspondence)--Wyoming--19th century.
    Letters (correspondence)--Wyoming--20th century.
    Newspapers--Wyoming--19th century.
    Newspapers--Wyoming--20th century.
    Official reports--Wyoming--19th century.