Monday, April 6, 2009

Cattle Wars of Wyoming

I do not know much about my Uncle Charles, as a man. I know he followed in my grandfather's footsteps and became a brilliant doctor, he wrote books, did a lot of government medical research especially in fertility, married the daughter of a Austrian banker, had five children of which only two lived past infancy, his best friend was his older brother Boies, who saved his life after a bear attack. He also had a tiff with my father that he regretted and it had nothing to do with not allowing my mother into his house. And I know that he was on trial for murder for the Johnson County Invasion, also called the Cattle Wars Of Wyoming.

In 1890, Charles Bingham Penrose developed tuberculosis, he left his medical practice in Phil., PA and traveled to Florida, Colorado Springs and Wyoming. The Acting Governor of Wyoming, Dr. A.W. Barber, was a friend of his and he suggested that my Uncle stay in Cheyenne for his health. The Governor secured rooms for him at the Cheyenne Club.

Wyoming at this time was in a pickle, beef prices had gone down and a new law had gone into effect, it was called the maverick law. Before the new law, a person could take a stray and make it his own. A LOT of people started cattle ranches this way but when the new law went into effect it put a damper on things. Most of the people were against the new law and they ignored it, if a person was arrested the jury said they did no wrong and they walked free. The Cattle Association was in an uproar, they needed a solution. Montana had the same problem, they handled their problem in one night. Montana hired a group of men, they were given names of cattle rustlers with locations and in one night they went to every cattle rustler (ranches and campsites) and murdered every man. There were some in the gangs who escaped (their names were not on the list),they left the state for good. Montana never had a problem again. Owen Wister (a friend of the Penrose family) wrote an article about it.

This is what the Cattle Association wanted Wyoming to do, 19 men were on the list (only 2 were killed). The hired men were 24 cattlemen, 24 Texans, 2 reporters, teamsters for 3 wagons and my Uncle Charles as surgeon.

They took a train with horses to a destination, from there it would be horseback. The first problem was two men wanted to be the leader, Major Frank Wolcott who was a cattleman, Civil War hero and U.S. marshal and Frank M. Canton who was a cattleman. Wolcott took a step back and let Canton take control until the crap hit the fan, that's when Wolcott had to step in and take command.

The next problem was after getting the horses off the train everyone was to meet 6 miles away. A lot of men got off the horses when they reached the meeting place, something spooked the horses and they stampeded, after 6 hours only 4 horses were left unfound, my uncle's was one of them. On his horse was a lot of his medical supplies but not all of them. The 4 men without horses rode in the wagons till the party ran across Senator Carey's property and found 3 horses. This left only my Uncle riding in the wagon.

The next problem was it snowed the fourth day out and kept snowing with blizzard conditions, they ran across a weak white horse which they took and gave to my Uncle to ride, it didn't last very long. The first destination was to be the Tisdale ranch, the Tisdales were in the party and their place was for everyone to regroup, once again the lack of harmony was in the air. From this ranch they were to go to the final destination, the K C ranch. This is where all 19 men on the list was suppose to be.

At 1 in the morning, they left for the K C ranch leaving behind my uncle and cattleman H.W. Davis. Needless to say, it was a cluster. Only 2 rustlers were at the ranch, Nick Ray and Nate Champion, they were the ones who were killed. The cattlemen had confronted a couple of rustlers on the way but they had escaped unharmed. The cattlemen returned to the Tisdales ranch, before anymore could happen the sheriff and the U.S. Army arrived. Every man surrendered to the Army.

My Uncle had left before the cattlemen returned, he was traveling by buckboard. He threw away all identification, letters from the governor etc. He was trying to get to Cheyenne then take a train back to PA. In Brown Springs he stopped, a road ranch was all that was there, it's also where the mail was delivered, a rancher that my Uncle knew stopped for his mail and totally ignored my Uncle. My Uncle learned that all the cattlemen had been arrested and the surgeon that was with them. My Uncle relaxed, there was also a rumor that poison tablets had been found (a rustler had found my Uncles horse) and that the cattlemen were going to poison the water and food of the settlers and rustlers. This story was carried in the newspapers there.

The pills were bi chloride tablets. The story untrue, my Uncle WAS NOT going to poison anyone. These people were very stupid. So, anyway my Uncle stops at another town, at this town he was arrested. People were wanted all of these guys hung including my Uncle, who had nothing to do with any of it. To make a long story short, my Uncle went to trial, was found not guilty (duh). But, the brother of Nate Champion swore vengeance on my family. Idiots are born every minute. When my Uncle got back to PA after this, he got married. I don't think he ever went back to Wyoming.

But, what he did do was write down what had happened to him, A.W. Barber also wrote down his memories of what happened and they sent it to the Cattlemen's Association in 1914. This was never suppose to be printed, so the Association put it in a file and in 1949 it was made into a book called "The Rustler Business" by Charles Bingham Penrose (my Uncle died in 1925). I have a copy of it and you have to read and re-read parts because they don't keep telling you what is my Uncle's words and what is Barber's words. If you just read it and think it's my Uncle, you think he was there when these people were killed. I had to back up to find where it said it was Barber's words (which most of the book is Barber's words)

So, I'm not to happy about this book because my Uncle had very little to do with the cluster that happened and makes him look like he had more to do with it then he really did but I guess that's a lesson to be learned, if you write down something don't include other peoples writing with it, make it two separate things.


Kay Dennison said...

Remember history is written by survivors and is always slanted -- mostly because the person writing it is not impartial. We all bring our own history and all it's baggage when we write.

Looking to the Stars said...

Kay, So true, so true :)

Beth Niquette said...

What an absolutely fascinating story! I read every word. Amazing amazing. There's a story in our family, that my great great great uncle Rose hung my great great great grandfather Gibson for horse thieving...

Times were surely different back then! Goodness!

Looking to the Stars said...

Beth, what a trip that your gggUncle hung your ggggrandfather. I think that would be a hard thing to do and have to live with. Yes, times were different back then and people thought differently also. I think we have it better then they did. :)