Today, the Wyoming State Quarter Coin remembers the fighting among the cattle barons and the small ranchers back in 1892.
In particular, the cattlemen planned to destroy the small ranchers, but by April 22, the military collected the invading men and took them to Fort Douglas.
In the Everybody’s Magazine of August 1910, G. W. Ogden described in his article, the Toll of the Sheep, the cattlemen’s ways of attempting to prevent anyone settling Wyoming.
“What-a you think you‘re doin’ here, podner?” would be the insolent inquiry.
“Well, I was aimin’ to make a home here for my family.”
“You can’t settle here, podner. This here‘s our range; you’ll have to hitch up and git out.”
Of course he went. These methods of the cattle barons had kept settlers out of Wyoming for twenty years, and this accounts for the undeveloped condition of that exceedingly rich state to-day.
But the old bluff didn’t go with the cowboys who set up in business as grazers with one cow. They stopped where they liked, they grazed where they pleased, and, more than that, they turned to good account the lessons of roguery learned at the cattle-barons’ knees.
Not all of them, of course. Some of them were honest fellows, and these found no difficulty in securing backing. They were men of experience, they picked the choice sections in defiance of the big outfits, and they prospered.
In the East the roar for dividends and accountings became insistent, portentous. “We can show no profit,” answered the managers, “because the cowboys have stolen the increase of our herds.”
And this statement, which cruelly libeled many an honest man, found credence East and West, and a feud was declared between the “rustlers” and the barons.
The barons made no discrimination between the small rancher and the real rustler. Any man in the livestock-growing business who was not a member of the Wyoming Cattle Growers’ Association, with headquarters in Cheyenne, was a “rustler.”
Hired raiders sent out by the big cattlemen murdered many an independent grazer, burned his ranch houses, scattered his herds. It was a stealthy, treacherous vendetta, a fight such as is being carried on now by the cattlemen against the sheep growers.
But there was this difference: the lone “rustler’ always fought back, and it is doubtful whether one of them ever went out of the world without sending at least one enemy on ahead to herald his coming.
Presently the cattle barons began to find it difficult to hire “detectives” to ride around with lists of rustlers and gallantly pick them off with long-range rifles while busy over the evening campfire.
Whether it was because the price per head for men slain, from $500 up, was not sufficient, or because the business had become too hazardous for any self respecting detective to follow, is not known; but, at any rate, it suffered a decided wane.
It was then that the cattle barons conceived a scheme for settling their troubles and ending competition on the range at a blow. That scheme was nothing less than to invade the rustlers’ country with a large force of men, march from ranch to ranch, and exterminate their enemies, root and branch.
Agents were sent into Texas and Missouri to hire assassins. Twenty desperate men were engaged for the enterprise at a compensation of six dollars a day and fifty dollars bonus to each man of the band for every rustler slain.
These desperadoes were assembled at Denver and taken thence on a special train to Fort Russell, about two miles west of Cheyenne, where the expedition was secretly fitted out.
Before all was settled, it cost the Wyoming cattlemen over $200,000.
Each hired raider carried a repeating rifle and two revolvers.
At Fort Russell the expedition was joined by twenty leading citizens of Wyoming, all big cattlemen or their representatives, and shortly after April 1, 1892, the train pulled out.
Between Douglas and Casper was the K. C. Ranch, owned by Nick Ray, against whom the cattlemen held a special grudge.
During the night the train was run to a point near Ray’s ranch, where the entire force disentrained and thence marched to the ranch house and surrounded it.
At daybreak, Ray, answering a hail, was shot down in his doorway. In the cabin with him was Nate Champion, a newspaper correspondent, who was roughing it in the West.
Champion drew the body of his host into the house, barricaded the door, and fought off the forty assassins, driving them, by his unexpected shots through the chinks of the log cabin, to hiding places behind the sage and grease wood clumps.
He wounded two or three of them as they crouched there, waiting for nightfall so they might complete their job in safety.
Toward evening Jack Flagg, a rancher, and his fourteen-year-old son drove up to the K. C. Ranch on a load of hay.
Flagg’s name was also on the assassins’ list, and he was no sooner recognized by the cattlemen than they ordered their men to fire.
Flagg and the boy slid down to the wagon tongue, unhitched the horses, mounted them, and galloped away, keeping the load of hay between them and the raiders until out of range.
The raiders, not having their horses handy, did not follow, but turned their attention once more to Champion.
The load of hay was pushed against the cabin on the windward side and fired. Soon the flames spread to the roof, and the rafters began to fall.
Champion threw the door open and made a dash for a dry gully which ran back of the house. Long before he could reach it, he fell, cut to pieces by the bullets of the leading citizens of Cheyenne and their imported assistants.
Meantime Jack Flagg had galloped far, like another Paul Revere, carrying the news of the invasion to the ranches.
Scores of riders were out before nightfall, rousing the country. It was rightly believed that the raiders’ objective point was Buffalo, in Johnson County, about a hundred miles north of the railroad.
In the jail at Buffalo were two of the cattlemen’s “detectives,” awaiting trial for the murder of ranchers. The cattle men, fearing these men might talk too much in an effort to gain clemency, intended to take them from jail and deal with them in the quickest and best manner of silencing testimony.
The so-called rustlers gathered at Buffalo to the number of three hundred, marched southward, and met the invaders at the T. A. Ranch, thirteen miles from Fort McKinney.
The invaders had thrown up earthworks around the ranch house and were prepared for a siege. Rifle pits were dug at night by the besiegers, and the line of assault was carried so near the ranch house that things began to get mighty uncomfortable for the barons and their hired retainers.
A battle was fought on April 12, in which three of the invaders were killed.
That night one of the eminent men in the invading force escaped and made his way to the railroad in friendly territory. He sent messages to the Wyoming representatives in Congress, with the result that President Harrison was roused in the middle of the night and told that an army of cattle thieves had risen in Johnson County, Wyoming, and was even then besieging with murderous intent several of the most prominent citizens of that state.
It was neither asked nor explained how the prominent citizens got into such a pickle; but the president ordered the commanding officer of Fort McKinney to send troops to the T. A. Ranch and protect the invaders.
The troops arrested the invaders. If they had been a day later, there would have been nobody to arrest.
For the rustlers had pushed their rifle pits close to the entrenchments, and intended to make an assault that night.
The invaders were lodged for a time at Fort McKinney, and later taken in wagons, under a strong guard of cavalry, through many perils and close escapes, to the railroad at Douglas and thence to Fort Russell.
There was great indignation at Cheyenne because the plans of the invaders had been interfered with.
What was Wyoming coming to, anyway, if a party of gentlemen could not go out and shoot a few inconsequential people that stood in their way!
The prisoners were fêted and coddled by the ladies of Cheyenne, but the people of Johnson County sternly demanded of the governor that he surrender them to the sheriff of that county for trial on the charge of murder.
Guarded by soldiers, the prisoners were returned to Buffalo for trial. Then the difficulty of obtaining a jury arose.
The vote of Johnson County at that time numbered 800, and 250 of the electors were women.
Women were not desired as jurors by either side. Counting them out, with the 300 men engaged in repelling the invaders, which act disqualified them, and granting to the defendants the 500-odd peremptory challenges allowed by law, the venire of Johnson County was exhausted.
The prosecution could not take a change of venue, and the defendants, under these circumstances, did not want it.
So, there being no chance of obtaining a jury until the population of Johnson County should materially increase, the prisoners were admitted to bail. They have not been tried to this day.
This close rub for the cattle barons did not serve to make them any better, although the experience sharpened their caution.
Instead of themselves venturing forth again, they went back to the old method of hiring “detectives.”
The last and most notorious of this murderous gang was hanged in Cheyenne about ten years ago.
The cattlemen’s feud ended shortly after, but only when settlers began to claim their rights upon the public domain and to demand protection from the Government.
That put an end to the cattle barons’ sway.
Even now it is no unusual sight to see the Government forces tearing down the fences of cattlemen on the plains of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
The Wyoming State Quarter Coin shows with cattlemen images from 1892.