Texas Archival Resources Online

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Descriptive Summary and Abstract

Historical Note

Scope and Content Note

Organization of the Papers

Restrictions

Online Catalog Terms

Administrative Information

Description of Series

Item 1. Foreman's Bill of Sale, July 3, 1884.

Item 2. Promissory note, July 16, 1888.

Item 3. Letter from A.S. Mercer to Thomas B. Adams, February 25, 1890.

Item 4. Glenrock Resolution, May 3, 1892.

Item 5. State of Wyoming v. Alexander Adamson, et al. Murder in the First Degree, June 6, 1892.

Item 6. Criminal Libel, State of Wyoming vs. Emerson H. Kimball, November 11, 1892.

Item 7. Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 19, 1892.

Item 8. Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 30, 1982.

Item 9. Motion to Dismiss, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Filed January 21, 1893.

Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A & M University

Inventory of the Johnson County War Collection:

1884-1893 (bulk 1892)



Descriptive Summary and Abstract

Title Inventory of the Johnson County War Collection:
Dates 1884-1893 (bulk 1892).
Abstract The Johnson County War, also known as the War on Powder Creek, was a range war between large cattle ranchers and small ranchers in northern Wyoming in April 1892. The Johnson County War Collection (1884-1893) contains financial and legal documents related to the cattle industry and the range war in Johnson County, Wyoming. The financial documents include a bill of sale written in compliance with the Maverick Law of 1884 and a promissory note. The legal documents were produced in connection with the criminal proceedings against the participants of the range war.
Identification Dykes ARCH 00155
Extent (3 boxes) linear feet.
Language English.
Repository Cushing Memorial Library College Station, TX 77843-5000

Historical Note

The Johnson County War, also known as the War on Powder Creek, was a range war between large cattle ranchers and small ranchers in northern Wyoming in April 1892. Johnson County is located at the confluence of the three forks of the Powder Creek. The county was ideal for raising cattle, and by 1880, the cattle rush in Wyoming had begun. But an overstocked range, low beef prices, and the disastrous winter of 1886-1887 forced many cowboys to become homesteaders and to maintain small herds. The increasing number of small ranchers alarmed the big cattlemen of the region and they used their influence to gain passage of the Maverick Law of 1884. The law made it illegal to brand a maverick (cattle, regardless of age, found roaming the open range without a mother and without a brand) except under orders of the foreman of each roundup district. Another provision of the law required high bonds for bidding on mavericks. This made it difficult for small ranchers to start or enlarge their own herds. To the disappointment of big cattlemen, the Maverick Law did not stop the illegal branding of mavericks.

Prior to the 1892, cattlemen punished individuals they suspected of being rustlers and cattle thieves. But in 1891, several large ranchers, many of whom were influential members of the Wyoming Stock Growers (WSGA) Association, decided to rid themselves once and for all of these individuals they believed threatened the prosperity of the cattle industry. The plan was to use armed force and kill or drive the rustlers from the state. All of the participants in the group were to take the train from Cheyenne to Casper, Wyoming. From there, the invaders would march to Buffalo, take control of the courthouse and the weapons stored there, and then mete out "severe treatment" to those they deemed deserving of it. They had a "death" list of these individuals, which varied in number from nineteen to seventy according to different accounts. The cattlemen, supported by powerful political leaders, were convinced that they would face no opposition to their cause and that the good citizens of Johnson County would rise up and join them in ridding society of these troublemakers. They sent representatives to recruit gunfighters from Paris, Lamar County, Texas and Idaho. Their efforts resulted in twenty-two Texans and George Dunning from Idaho joining the invasion party as it was later called. The hired guns were told that they would be serving warrants to known rustlers and other dangerous outlaws.

The invasion began on April 5, 1892. A large party of cattlemen, including the owners, superintendents, and foremen of six large Johnson County cattle outfits, five stock detectives including Frank M. Canton, 23 gunfighters and their commander Major Frank Wolcott, and surgeon Dr. Charles Penrose set out from Cheyenne on the afternoon train. Sam T. Clover of the Chicago Herald and Ed Towse of the Cheyenne Sun also joined the group. The cattlemen and their hired guns arrived in Casper the next morning, loaded their wagons, and began the march to Buffalo. They stopped at the Tisdale ranch where two more men were added to the party. It was at this ranch that the invaders received news that fourteen rustlers were at the K.C. ranch approximately eighteen miles north of the Tisdale ranch. The cattlemen decided to deviate from their plan and rode to the K.C. ranch. The delay would prove costly.

When the invaders arrived at the K.C., they discovered that only four men occupied the small cabin on the ranch: Nate Champion, Rueben "Nick" Ray, and two innocent trappers. One trapper left the cabin headed for the barn for some water. The invaders promptly captured him. After some time, the second trapper exited the cabin looking for his partner and was also captured. Champion and Ray surmised that something was amiss. Champion warned Ray before he set out in search of the missing trappers. Before Ray could walk into the yard, the invaders opened fire. Champion was able to pull his body back into the cabin but Ray died from the injuries he sustained an hour later. The cattlemen laid siege to the cabin, and eventually forced Champion out by setting fire to it. During the siege, Jack Flagg, a suspected rustler, and his stepson Alonzo Taylor unwittingly crossed the firing zone. They were able to escape after the gunfighters gave them chase. Their escape was significant because Flagg and Taylor were able to warn the people of Buffalo of the group of armed men hunting rustlers and small ranchers.

After the encounter at the K.C. ranch, the invaders pointed their horses toward Buffalo. The party was less than ten miles from the town when their friend and fellow cattleman James Craig urged them not to go to Buffalo. Because of Jack Flagg's tales of his run-in with the invaders, the townspeople knew of the cattlemen's impending arrival and believed that the armed group was after innocent ranchers, not dishonest rustlers. Despite the invaders' belief that their actions were just and would meet with general approbation, the people did not rally behind their cause. The invaders decided to retreat to the T.A. ranch, thirteen miles from Buffalo. Within a day, Sheriff Angus of Buffalo and several small ranchers surrounded the ranch. More men joined their ranks as they laid siege to the ranch. The standoff lasted for two days. Early on the morning of April 13th the standoff came an end when Troops H, C, and D of the 6th Cavalry under Major Fechet, with Colonel Van Horn in command accepted the surrender of the cattlemen. After the machinations of powerful friends of the invaders including both Wyoming senators and the acting governor, President Benjamin Harrison ordered the troops to intervene. Charges were brought against many of those who participated in the invasion. However, in the end, none of the invaders of Johnson County War were convicted.

Bibliography

Penrose, Charles B. The Rustler Business. Douglas, Wyoming: Douglas Budget, 1959.

Smith, Helena Huntington. The War on Powder River: The History of an Insurrection. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

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Scope and Content Note

The Johnson County War Collection (1884-1893) contains financial and legal documents related to the cattle industry and the range war in Johnson County, Wyoming, in April 1892. The financial documents include a bill of sale written in compliance with the Maverick Law of 1884 and a promissory note. The legal documents were produced in connection with the criminal proceedings against the participants of the range war.

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Organization of the Papers

This collection is organized into 9 items:
Item 1. Foreman's Bill of Sale, July 3, 1884.
Item 2. Promissory note, July 16, 1888
Item 3. Letter from A.S. Mercer to Thomas B. Adams, February 25, 1890.
Item 4. Glenrock Resolution, May 3, 1892.
Item 5. State of Wyoming vs. Alexander Adamson, et al. Murder in the First Degree, June 6, 1892.
Item 6. Criminal Libel, State of Wyoming vs. Emerson H. Kimball, November 11, 1892.
Item 7. Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 19, 1892.
Item 8. Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 30, 1882.
Item 9. Motion to Dismiss, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Filed January 21, 1893.

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Restrictions

Access

No restrictions.

Usage Restrictions

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Online Catalog Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the online catalog of Cushing Memorial Library. Researchers wishing to find related materials should search the catalog under these index terms.
Names
Mercer, A.S. (Asa Shinn), 1839-1917
Organizations
Wyoming Stock Growers Association History
Subjects
Johnson County War, 1892
Cattle trade--Wyoming History
Johnson County (Wyoming) History

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Administrative Information

Processing Information

Processed by Stephanie Oriabure in January 2004

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Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Item 1. Foreman's Bill of Sale, July 3, 1884.

box-folder
1/Item 1 Foreman's Bill of Sale, July 3, 1884.
(1 leaf) This bill of sale was signed by Lee Moore, and is the first recorded use of the requirements of the Maverick Law of 1884. Lee Moore would go on to be known as the "king of the rustlers" and was marked for execution by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association during the Johnson County War.

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Item 2. Promissory note, July 16, 1888.

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1/Item 2 Promissory note, July 16, 1988.
(1 leaf) This note, signed by A.S. Mercer in favor of the St. Louis Type Foundry, was one of six notes in the amount of $274.35. In October 1892, Mercer's paper, the Northwestern Live Stock Journal, published George Dunning's "Confession." In response, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association used the charge of non-payment of the four-year-old disputed notes to shut down operations and confiscate copies of the paper. Mercer had already paid two of the notes before the dispute took place.

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Item 3. Letter from A.S. Mercer to Thomas B. Adams, February 25, 1890.

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2/Item 1 Letter from A.S. Mercer to Thomas B. Adams, February 25, 1890.
(1 leaf) Written on the letterhead of his paper, the Northwestern Live Stock Journal, Mercer questions the date chosen for the spring meeting of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He points out that the date called for in the Maverick Law differs from the date stated by Adams and Glover.

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Item 4. Glenrock Resolution, May 3, 1892.

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2/ Item 2 Glenrock Resolution, May 3, 1892.
(3 leaves)This handwritten resolution of the citizens of Glenrock County, Wyoming, expresses their outrage over the events of the Johnson County War. The resolution also criticizes acting governor Amos W. Barber for his failure to stop the invasion and calls for the free use of the open range. Over sixty Glenrock county residents attended the mass meeting, which produced this resolution. A.J. Seymour and George Devoe, chairman and secretary of the meeting respectively, signed the resolution.

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Item 5. State of Wyoming v. Alexander Adamson, et al. Murder in the First Degree, June 6, 1892.

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2/Item 3 State of Wyoming v. Alexander Adamson, et al. Murder in the First Degree, June 6, 1892.
(4 leaves) This Information was filed in Johnson County, charging four men, Alexander Adamson (manager of the Ferguson Land and Cattle Company), William E. Guthrie (partner in the Guthrie and Oskamp Cattle Company), and William Armstrong and J.A. Garrett (both Texas gunfighters) with the murder of Rueben "Nick" Ray during the invasion of Johnson County. Ray was Nate Champion's partner at the siege of the K.C. ranch. Similar Informations were filed in the name of Champion. This document was filed in Johnson County before the cattlemen were remanded to Laramie County, which was thought to be more sympathetic to their cause.

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Item 6. Criminal Libel, State of Wyoming vs. Emerson H. Kimball, November 11, 1892.

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3/Item 1 Criminal Libel, State of Wyoming vs. Emerson H. Kimball, November 11, 1892.
(3 leaves) Arthur B. Clarke, one of the invaders of the Johnson County, filed this Charge of Criminal Libel against Douglas Graphic editor Emerson Kimball. The two-page information charges that Kimball alleged Clarke was one of the murderers who lynched Thomas Waggoner, a killing that preceded the beginning of the Johnson County War.

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Item 7. Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 19, 1892.

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3/Item 2 Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 19, 1892.
(1 leaf) This subpoena relates to the calling of witnesses for the defense of Canton and 53 others against the charges of murder and arson stemming from the Johnson County War. The sheriff of Laramie County signed the subpoena.

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Item 8. Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 30, 1982.

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3/Item 3 Subpoena, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Issued December 30, 1982.
(2 leaves) This subpoena is for the calling of witnesses for the state in the case against Canton and 53 others for murder and arson stemming from the Johnson County War. The sheriff of Laramie County signed the subpoena.

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Item 9. Motion to Dismiss, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Filed January 21, 1893.

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3/Item 4 Motion to Dismiss, State of Wyoming vs. Frank M. Canton, et al., Filed January 21, 1893.
(2 leaves) The trial was eventually set for January 1893 in Cheyenne, but it proved extremely difficult to find enough men to serve on the jury. Eventually, the disappearance of the two trappers who had witnessed the killing of Champion and Ray and the high financial cost of the trial to Johnson County led for the filing for dismissal of the case.

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