“Cow Country” Cavalcade recalls: Five men in a livery stable
I once heard it said that the things we belong to are more important than the things that belong to us. The story of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association is actually an important chapter in the whole story of American life and democratic development. It parallels and descends from the pattern of the Pilgrim Fathers,” said J. L. Morrill.
This piece was written by Maurice Frink and published in the “Cow Country” Cavalcade to commemorate 80 years of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
In Wyoming Territory of the early 1860s, when the herds were coming in and the foundation was being laid for what would for many years be the principal industry of the area, there were only five counties, few courts and no fences.
There weren’t very many people – the first census in 1869 had shown 8,014, which was about one person for every 12 square miles – but among these were a surprising number of far-seeing individuals. Perhaps there was something about the Plains too – the far reaches of rolling land with mysterious blue peaks hiding what lay beyond the ranges – that helped stimulate their imagination and broaden their vision.
At any rate, they pioneered in the empire of the mind as well as in that of the grasslands. They made history by being the first territory and state to recognize officially the economic and political equality of women.
Women have voted and held office in Wyoming since 1869. Land in each township was set aside at the very beginning for school purposes. Social and educational legislation came first. Then laws were passed governing land use and stock raising.
So rapidly was the infant cattle industry growing, however, the early legislative process could not keep pace. At the time, it was every man for himself on the open ranges. When a rancher thought it was time to work his cattle, he would invite his neighbors to join him and they would put on a roundup, or cow hunt as it was called in the early days.
This hit-or-miss working over of the herd was hard on the cattle – it kept them “ginned up,” as the cowmen put it – and detrimental to the business as a whole. Cattle drifted great distances, with nothing but natural barriers to overcome, and were identifiable as to ownership only by the brands burned into their hides – and altering of these was in many cases easy.
There were no soundly established methods for dealing with questions of ownership when they arose, as they frequently did. Opportunities for enlarging one’s herd by acquiring another man’s calves were abundant. Unbranded calves became the property of the one who found them first, – “the longest rope gets the maverick,” the cowmen said.
Large investments, which eastern and foreign capital was beginning to make in the grasslands, were subject to many natural risks, such as weather and disease, and the added danger resulting from a lack of system in conducting the business was a threat to orderly progress.
The pioneers in the cattle business, who in most cases were risking everything they had, were quick to realize the economic necessity for improving their methods.
Among these men were many who came from eastern or middle western families of prestige and integrity, with a background of business experience and frequently of good education. Leadership began to assert itself as the need for coordination of their separate but related activities became more and more apparent.
The law of self-preservation as applied to the infant industry of cattle-raising in Wyoming made itself felt in 1871. Laramie County, in which the town of Cheyenne was situated, and Albany County, which included the town of Laramie 50 miles west of Cheyenne, were then the principal cow country centers. In Albany County in 1870 there were five livestock farms with a total of 6,618 cattle valued at $98,390.
The number in Laramie County was probably higher; one estimate has said there were 60,000 head of cattle within a 100-mile radius of Cheyenne in 1871, but a 100-mile radius of Cheyenne would of course take in Albany County as well as Laramie and a good chunk of Colorado and Nebraska.
By 1871, at any rate, the industry was far enough along for organization, and the Laramie Daily Sentinel on April 13 of that year announced a meeting for this purpose would be held at Laramie on the 15th by Albany County Stock Growers.
At the meeting, Luther Fillmore presided and Frank Walcott was secretary. Among other organizers were Judge J. W. Kingman, Ora Haley, George Fox, Hiram Latham, Charles Hutton and Thomas Alsop. The name adopted at the first meeting was the Wyoming Stock and Wool Growers Society, and its declared purpose was:
“To combine and work together for the attainment of certain objects, among which are to purchase in company upon a large scale, thereby buying and driving cheaper than can be done by persons singly. To form an association which will command influence in securing cheap rates of freight, and other advantages of this kind. To work together for the purpose of improving the breed in cattle, horses and sheep, by the importing of blooded stock in company, the benefit of which can be shared by all the members. To organize for the mutual protection of members against depredations upon stock. To disseminate knowledge in regard to the advantages and resources of this section for stock-raising and to thus induce parties to invest capital in this business among us.”
After a short time, the name of the organization was changed to the Wyoming Stock Graziers Association, and as such it functioned throughout 1871. Its first president was the first territorial governor of Wyoming, John A. Campbell. Vice presidents were Thomas Alsop of Albany County, J. W. Iliff of Laramie County, E. Hunt of Carbon County, L. I. Field of Sweetwater County and W. A. Carter of Uinta County. Fillmore was treasurer, Latham secretary.
The Stock Graziers Association, short-lived though it was, obtained passage by the second territorial Legislative Assembly (Nov. 7 to Dec. 16, 1871) of the first law pertaining to the raising of livestock. This law defined the phrase “stock grower” as meaning “every person who shall keep neat cattle, horses, mules, sheep or goats for their growth or increase.” It also provided “protection of stock and punishment for certain offenses concerning the same.”
Means of enforcing the new law, however, were inadequate. Transportation and communication were slow – “the law’s three days’ ride” – and there were but few and widely scattered enforcement officers. Activities of the first and transitory organization were largely directed against depredations of cattle thieves operating out of the Black Hills. The Graziers Association passed out of the picture soon after the law of 1871 was passed, but it had served its purpose. It had shown the way.
Cattlemen of the city of Cheyenne and the nearby ranges began holding private meetings in 1872 to discuss their problems. At one such meeting, five men – Tom and John Durbin, R. S. Van Tassell, Charles Coffee and another whose name no one seems to know – decided to organize a vigilance committee to cope with rustlers who were operating in that area with ever greater daring. This meeting was held in a Cheyenne livery stable; Warren Richardson of Cheyenne, chairman of the Historic Landmarks Commission for Wyoming, said in July 1953 this probably was the Jim Abney stable, which stood in the 70s on the northeast corner of Capital Avenue and 16th Street. This meeting was the first step in formation of the Stock Association of Laramie County, which later became the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
The earliest written record of a meeting of the original Laramie County organization is dated Nov. 29, 1873. It is in the handwriting of the secretary of the first meeting, W. L. Kuykendall.
Born in Missouri in 1835, Kuykendall held public office in that state at the age of 17, the office being that of deputy clerk for the circuit court and “deputy recorder of peace” in Platte County.
In 1854, he moved with his parents to Kansas. After the Civil War, in which he became a major, he came west to Fort Collins, Colo., and 1867 found him taking part in the forming of the provisional government of the city of Cheyenne. Kuykendall was the first judge of probate in Laramie County, and after Wyoming Territory was organized, in 1869, he was a member of the lower House of the second Territorial Legislative Assembly.
The first recorded meeting of the Stock Association of Laramie County, genesis of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, was held in Kuykendall’s quarters in the county clerk’s office at Cheyenne. His report of the meeting, preserved in the association archives now at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, reads as follows:
“This meeting was attended by nearly every cattleman in the county,” Kuykendall wrote later in his autobiography, Frontier Days. Elsewhere the number present is given as 11. Laramie County at the time extended from the southern to the northern border of Wyoming, and included most of the large ranches then in operation in the territory, north of the North Platte River was still Indian country, and only a few ranches were established there until after the opening of the Black Hills.
Kuykendall in his autobiography adds, “two to three” of the cattlemen refused to have anything to do with the formation of an organization for a year or two, “until they saw they might be able to use it to their own political advantage (which they did, claiming all the credit and according none to the real organizers). A permanent organization was effected at that meeting. I was made secretary and retained the position until I went to the Black Hills in the winter of 1875 to aid in wresting the country from the Indians.” He was alo, in 1876, judge of the miners’ court which tried Jack McCall for shooting Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, S.D.
The M. V. Boughton was the first chairman of the association served in that capacity for two years, when he too departed for the Black Hills. At one time, mayor of Cheyenne, Boughton trailed the first cattle to the Custer, S.D. area, where they were stolen by Indians. Agnes Wright Spring in “Cow Country,” issue of June 26, 1943, quoted this from the Chicago Times of May 2, 1876, via the Cheyenne Leader: “The Custer City correspondent writes to the Times: ‘The first herd of beef cattle arrived yesterday, and I had the pleasure of eating steak at 20 cents a pound.’”
Twenty-five men were present at the second regular meeting of the stock men’s association “all intervening meetings being merely informal,” the record shows. It was not held until Feb. 23, 1874. Kuykendall’s minutes of this meeting show “upon examination of the following named stock men’s names appear to the agreement of role”: H. N. Orr; M. V. Boughton; Durbin Brothers; T. A. Kent & Co.; M. Taylor; A. H. Reel; G. A. Searight; John F. Coad; H. W. Devoe; W. L. Kuykendall; D. C. Tracy; M. A. Arnold; A. H. Webb; John Sparks; J. Kelley; and Thomas McGee.
The minutes add the following “appeared and signed the agreement or roll as members”: D. H. Snyder, Maynard & Whitman, C. W. Wulfjen, Sturgis & Goodell, E. F. Boughton, I. H. Phillips, A. W. Haygood, Zachariah Thomasson and J. M. Carey and brother.
“Laws and regulations” were adopted. The first Monday in April, at 7 p.m., was set as the date for the annual meeting and the first Monday evening in each month for regular meetings.
“Admission fee” was fixed at five dollars, dues 50 cents per month.
At an adjourned session next day (Feb. 24, 1874), the association appointed Snyder, Carey, Maynard, Orr and Reel as a committee to draft laws for governing roundups, and instructed the secretary to ascertain the cost of printing 200 copies of the laws and regulations, then adjourned to meet the first Monday in April, in Recreation Hall, use of which has been tendered by “Mr. Arnold, secretary of the Recreation Hall Association.”
This third meeting was on April 6, and 13 members were present, 12 absent. The roundup committee reported a set of laws, which were approved section by section. Five proposed new members, – Mark M. Coad, L. A. Litton, Hiram B. Kelly, John Snodgrass and Hugh Jackson – were approved and “signed the agreement.”
The list of members present and absent is shown thus on the minutes: present – H. N. Orr, M. V. Boughton, John Durbin, A. H. Reel, G. A. Searight, J. F. Coad, Kuykendall, Tracy, Webb, Sparks, Maynard, Goodell and Thomasson. Absent – Kent & Co., Taylor, Devoe, Arnold, J. Kelley, McGee, Snyder, Wulfjen, E. F. Boughton, Phillips, Haygood and Judge Carey.
On Monday, May 4, 1874, the association held its fourth meeting: chief business was postponement of the roundup to June 15. There were no more meetings that year.
The next was a special meeting, on Feb. 13, 1875. Present were Boughton, Searight, Kent, Orr, Tracy and Kuykendall; absent, the “remaining members.” Those present voted to assess members for payment of detectives employed by the association, the assessments to be in proportion to the assessed valuation of the members’ stock, “if such assessment or tax should become necessary in addition to the money in the treasury.”
This is the first reference in the minute books to action by the group on one big problem – cattle stealing – that had brought them together.
The annual meeting of 1875 was held April 5, and the following applied for membership, were voted on and accepted: O. P. Goodwin, Thomas McShane, W. C. Moore, E. W. Whitcomb, T. M. Overfeldt, D. S. Shaw, William Lindenmeier, William Guiterman and N. J. O’Brien. O’Brien was Laramie County sheriff, and a special resolution was passed to make him a member.
The officers were re-elected, and the secretary was voted $60 as a year’s salary. The association decided to offer $200 for “apprehension and conviction of any person found killing or stealing cattle.”
A meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 6, 1875, was not held, because a quorum was lacking. The minutes show no more meetings until March 10, 1876, when “on motion by J. M. Carey a committee of three – Carey, Searight and Swan – was appointed to consult with the county commissioners regarding employment of detectives under the new law and that no one besides said commissioners shall know detectives.”
By this time, Kuykendall has pulled out to go to the South Dakota gold fields; Alexander H. Swan was secretary pro tem of the next recorded meeting, March 13, 1876. The committee on employment of detectives reported the county commissioners had agreed to allow $150 a month for two months for this purpose. Three members – Searight, Kent and Swan – were named to procure a detective.
By the time of the next recorded meeting, April 3, 1876, the association officers were Alexander H. Swan, president; G. A. Searight, vice president; Thomas Sturgis, secretary; and A. H. Reel, treasurer. Roundup plans occupied most of the attention at this meeting.
The annual meeting for 1877, held April 2, approved that year’s roundup plan, appointed a committee to engage a detective and adjourned to April 31, when the committee reported it had decided upon W. C. Lykins as “detective or inspector” with a recommendation to the county commissioners they pay the inspector of $150 a month. A committee of three including the president of the association was given power to discharge the inspector “at any time, at their discretion.”
The record is not clear as to identity of the detectives in 1874-5-6 and their exact time of service, but T. M. Overfelt, Henry Devoe and J. H. Ligget received pay during that time for detective-inspector work.
In 1878, Lykins was given an assistant, and the roundups were organized on a four-district basis.
At the 1879 meeting, numerous steps momentous in the association’s history were taken. It was then that the widening scope of the organization’s influence was recognized and its name, on a resolution introduced by Thomas Sturgis the secretary, was changed to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
Creation of an executive committee took place at the 1879 meeting. The resolution creating it was again the handiwork of Thomas Sturgis. It provided for three members, “all residents of Cheyenne,” to be elected by the association, to serve for one year, and “to have entire control of the inspectors and all business of the association during its adjournment, and represent the association before the legislature.”
By acclamation, Carey, Sturgis and Nagle were elected the first executive committee.
The 1879 meeting made it impossible for a firm to be a member of the association. Membership was in the name of individuals, and if more than one member of a firm wished to participate and vote, each had to become a member.
The association by now had cattle inspectors in Kansas City, Council Bluffs and Cinton, Iowa. It adopted a resolution instructing its executive committee to seek from the territorial legislature “an enactment making it obligatory upon every man who shall hereafter turn out female neat cattle within this territory to place with them at the time when he turned them out not less than five serviceable bulls, of the quality now provided by law, for every 100 head of female cattle two years old and upwards, and further that after the passage of such an act he shall within 12 months supply the same proportion of bulls to all female cattle of the above age, which he may be the owner of.” The legislature did pass such law.
First discussion of the advisability of opening an Exchange Room for stock men in Cheyenne was held at this 1879 meeting. In 1881, it came into being, serving for several years as headquarters for members who did not have offices in Cheyenne, and also for representative of commission firms, and otherwise service cattlemen’s interests during the buying season, June 1 to Nov. 15.
The 1880 meeting was marked by a tripling of the “admission fee” and doubling of the annual dues; they now became $15 and $10.
The association was not alone in its field by this time. At its 1881 meeting, it issued an invitation to stock associations elsewhere to unite with it in “one compact organization.”
The invitation went to “the different associations of Wyoming Territory,” the association of Weld County, Colo., those at Rapid City and Deadwood, S.D. and the ones of Lincoln, Keith, Cheyenne and Sioux counties, Neb.
The Albany County Stock Growers Association, formed at Laramie in 1877, at this time gave up its independent status and threw in with the larger Wyoming Stock Growers Association. In a few more years, the association also included several Nebraska counties, and it was instrumental in furthering organization on a still wider scale in later years.
A change made in the wording of the stated purpose of the association at its annual meeting in 1881 reflects the progress by the organization in its first years in obtaining legislation benefiting stock interests. As stated at the second meeting of the association, Feb. 23, 1874, the object of the association had been:
“To advance the interests of stock growers and dealers in livestock of all kinds within said county and for the protection of the same against frauds and swindles and to prevent the stealing, taking and driving away of horned cattle, sheep, horses and other stock from the rightful owners thereof, and to provide means for protection of such interests.”
By 1881, the association had grown so that “within said county” was changed to “in said territory,” and the phrase “to provide means for the protection of such interests” was made to read “and enforce the stock laws of Wyoming.”
For now, thanks to the association, there were laws to enforce.
The executive committee of three members which had been created at the annual meeting of 1879 grew to five members in 1880, and in 1881 was further enlarged to 11 – five from Laramie County, two from Albany County and two each from Cheyenne and Sioux counties, Nebraska. At this time the Sioux County Stock Association, in Nebraska, had disbanded and was taking steps to become a branch of the Wyoming association.
The executive committee composed in 1881 was: for Laramie County, Carey, Sturgis, Davis, Swan and Searight; for Albany County, George Harper and H. G. Balch; for Sioux County, Nebraska, Edgar Beecher Bronson (he wrote “Reminiscences of a Ranchman”) and G. L. Lawrence; for Cheyenne County, Nebraska, J. M. Adams and D. Sheedy.
The next year it was necessary to enlarge the executive committee again, as Unita, Carbon and Johnson counties were now ready to join the association. The four officers now also were made members of the executive committee, which thus comprised a total of 19 men. Today the executive committee consists of from two to four members from each of the 23 counties in Wyoming, a total of 70 men.
The annual meeting of 1882 was marked by adoption of a resolution “discountenancing” the carrying of firearms “by those engaged in roundup and working of cattle, except in the immediate vicinity of Indian reservations.” Toting guns, said the resolution, was “productive of great evil and frequently results in damage of person and property.”
Among the powers given the executive committee in this period was the right to levy an assessment on the members, at any time but not more often than once a year, of “not over one percent per head for all cattle, horses and mules of which each man may at that time be owner.”
Proceeds of any assessment were to go to the association’s general fund, and non-payment of an assessment was to be penalized by forfeiture of membership.
Further, the association had adopted a ruling by which, “after a fair and impartial hearing,” a member could be expelled if he was found guilty by a majority of members present at a special meeting called for that purpose, or at an annual meeting, of anything that was “subversive of the interests generally of the association,” such as divulging proceedings of a meeting – this was the prerogative of the executive committee, which was regularly reporting to the press whatever it wished to have publicized – or committing “any act which may injure or defeat any proceeding or action of the association or its officers.”
The association by now was an effective force in the principal matters which had brought it into being. It had got some system into the operation of the cattle industry, and it was helping the stock men to protect their herds. It had gone into politics in the first two years of its existence and was on its way to that dominance of legislative matters, which it attained by 1882.
It was logical and inevitable that it should be in politics. The men who were leaders in the cattle industry were likewise leaders in other phases of territorial life. Participation in governmental affairs was the only way by which they could attain the ends they sought for the protection and advancement of their means of making a livelihood.
Many years later – on June, 7 1944 – when the records of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association were turned over to the Archives department of the University of Wyoming (UW) for safekeeping, Dr. J. L. Morrill, then president of UW, pointed out the preceded for organization of the association. He described how the pilgrims, when they found themselves off the New England coast instead of farther south where they had hoped to land and where they would have held title and authority from the Virginia Company, gathered in the cabin of their little ship and drew up the Mayflower Compact.
“In that compact,” said Dr. Morrill, “they agreed to constitute a ‘civil body politic’ to which each man pledged allegiance. This compact, though religious in its intent, became a civil covenant and the ancestor of American constitutions. This use of the religious covenants a ‘squatter’ compact by Englishmen and Scotch Presbyterians in the American wilderness was to be repeated, over and over again through three centuries, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, as groups of pioneer-squatters, finding themselves beyond the reach of established law and government, proceeded to set up their own. It is a familiar pattern of the developing American democracy. The stock growers of the Western Plains repeated this same pattern. They contributed a unique chapter when again in the 1870s Americans and Englishmen and Scotchmen in a new wilderness, facing new problems – economic this time rather than religious or political – proceeded with self reliance, like the Pilgrim Fathers, to come with them themselves.”