Johnson County, Wyoming History Is Rich With Corruption
Murder and corruption top the list of the interesting history of the 'Johnson County War'. According to a timeline acquired from Hoofprints of the Past in Kaycee, Wyoming, the legendary war began building in the 1880's with a cattle bust. The war then ramped up in the 1890's when a group of "invaders" left Cheyenne to take care of so called "rustlers", that according to the cattle barons, were being unruly in Johnson County.
It's interesting how the history of Johnson County War invasion sounds a lot like the stories you hear about Billy The Kid, Wyatt Earp, the plot to a John Wayne Movie and other legendary tales from the wild west. They all started with cattle, add in murder & corruption and ended with bloodshed and a story that takes years to be told.
I am quite the lover of history and have been trying to absorb as much Wyoming history as I can, by visiting museums, historical locations and landmarks with historic value all over the state. After visiting Kaycee in June, I knew I'd have to go back to learn more about the "history rich" town and Johnson County. I've been keeping in touch with the group at Hoofprints of the Past Museum and had the chance to be with them for a full day of Johnson County War history.
Even though I'd been to the museum before, I hadn't been there in this capacity. From the moment they began speaking of the history, heroes, invasions, assassinations and corruption, I was HOOKED! As a matter of fact, the plot sounded to me like a real life version of the tv show 'Yellowstone'. Rich cattlemen that are their own law, making sure NO ONE gets in their way! After listening to the stories, seeing the locations that go along with the stories and all the other information, many of the items that I'd previously looked at in the museum made much more sense.
The information for this particular part of the war was from 1890-Spring of 1892 and was delivered by local historian (and distant relative to some of those involved in the Johnson County War) Brock Henson, museum director Laurel Foster and Wyoming Lawyer, historian and Author of "Wyoming Range War, The Infamous Invasion of Johnson County", John W. Davis (Worland).
The majority of the invasion only lasted a few days. It began April 9th with the killing of a Wyoming local hero named Nate Champion and ended April 13 with a battle at the TA Ranch that ended with a surrender by the raiders to the US Army.
One story that sticks out was from Brock Henson...During the invasion of Johnson County there were some key murders. One being Orly "Ranger" Jones, a 23 year old man that was in the process of building a cabin before being married, went to Buffalo to get flooring for the cabin. When he was returning home, he was shot and killed by members of the raiders. After he was killed, his brother returned to the cabin and finished it, in honor of his brother. That cabin still stands and is still used as a hunting cabin by Mr. Henson and his guests. Stories passed down for years, say the bottom of the floorboards still show signs of the young man's blood.
The history of the Johnson County War is surprising, especially coming from members of the families that were involved. If you've lived here for a long time and haven't gone to check out the museum, I encourage you to take the hour drive to Kaycee and check it out. I'll be checking out the next tour with Hoofprints Of The Past in September that will explore The Bozeman Trail and historic event that happened along the Powder River