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Johnson Country War: TA Ranch and Invaders Surrender

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Nate Champions Last Run by D. Michael Thomas, Jim Gatchell Museum, Buffalo, Wyoming

In parts one and two of this story we looked at the causes and some of the violence in the Johnson County War. This week’s story ends the saga with the Siege of the TA Ranch and the calling out of the federal troops from Fort McKinney.

This is from a much longer article about the war from the Northwestern Livestock Journal, Cheyenne, October 1892. It takes up the war from when Nate Champion was killed, which caused the small cattlemen to declare ‘enough’ and gather together to stop the killings.

(George) Dunning’s Confession. The traitorous invasion of the state laid bare in all its revolting details by member of the invading host—republican rottenness fully exposed. The Journal presents to its readers this week the following full confession of one of the late Invaders. We give it without comment—it speaks for itself:

The man that was killed in the gulch south of the KC house the leaders identified as Nate Champion. They said they were mistaken about the first man that was shot in the morning. They said that when they captured the teamsters, Jones and Walker, that Walker told them that there were only two men at the house, Ray and Champion. The mob said the first man shot in the morning must have been Nick Ray. Tom Smith, of the mob, went through Champion’s pockets and found memorandum book with sketches of the fight at different times luring the day.

Display at Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum

One of the mob took Champion’s six-shooter and belt. After Champion’s pockets had been rifled, Sam T. Clover, at the request of some of the mob, Tom Smith, Joe Elliot and others, wrote upon piece of paper, “Beware, Cattle Thieves,” and buttoned the piece of paper upon Champion’s vest.

We then left the road and turned to the left and cut wire fence and went through a large field, and came into the road again and followed the road to the 28 Ranch, where we got some coffee and bread and took two hours’ rest in the loft of the stable.

We then started for Buffalo on the morning of the 10th of April, and came a short distance toward Buffalo from the TA ranch, (we heard) there were over 200 settlers in Buffalo up in arms against the mob, and that the settlers were deputized as sheriff’s posse for the purpose of arresting the mob. This horseman informed us that the sheriff was in the Powder River Country with posse looking for the mob. The mob then turned back and went to the TA ranch and fortified it.

The leaders claimed the reason they were fortifying at the TA ranch was on account of their plans miscarrying in regard to the killing of the sheriff on the night of the 9th of April. The mob intended to kill the sheriff and his deputies, if they first made a raid on Buffalo…. The leaders claimed that we were safely fortified at the TA ranch than anywhere.

Ranch House at TA Ranch

The TA Ranch was established in 1882 by Dr. William Harris of Laramie. He bought the TA Brand and a herd of cattle from Tom Alsop, also of Laramie. Harris continued his medical practice in Laramie, and installed Charles Ford as a ranch manager. Harris was politically aligned with the cattle barons.

Some years later, in the Peoples Voice, a Buffalo Newspaper, which billed itself as: ‘Equal Rights To All; Special Privileges To None,” In August of 1897, says this about the TA Ranch.

The TA Ranch, situated on the North Fork of Crazy Woman, is one of the best and most beautiful ranches in Northern Wyoming. It is 12 miles from Buffalo on the Buffalo-Casper road. It is owned by Dr. Wm. Harris of Laramie City, an old time frontiersman. The work of the ranch is ably managed by Wm. Long in the absence of Dr. Harris.

He expects to be able in a few years to pasture and feed in the neighborhood of 1,000 head of cattle without running the usual risk of losing a large per cent during the severe winters. There are in the vicinity of 1,000 acres in the ranch.

The TA is one of the best stocked ranches in the county. It is always open to visitors who are treated with the greatest of hospitality.

Old Barn at TA Ranch

The last paragraph could be said of the TA Ranch today, as it a working ranch as well as is a guest ranch, offering clean, quiet rooms and fine dining. It is the only still intact site associated with the range war, with many of the original buildings. Trenches used by both sides are still visible and there are bullet scars and gun-ports that had been cut in the wall of the hayloft of the TA Barn.

Kaitlin Gilles, third generation owner of the TA Ranch, said, “We are considered a living history museum here, there are several original buildings, the barn, the house and the root cellar.”

She talks about the Siege of the TA Ranch “In April of 1892, the assassins, or the Invaders, hired gunmen from Texas to kill the ‘rustlers’, or regulators. They cut the telegraph lines from Douglas to Buffalo. After the assassins killed Nate Champion, a group of the small cattlemen, led by Sheriff “Red” Angus, and left Buffalo to attack the Invaders. The Invaders hid out in the barn here at the TA Ranch. Harris was sympathetic to the cattle barons, but the posse of around 200 cowboys surrounded the barn.

“The Invaders managed to send a rider to Buffalo and who sent word to the President. The President sent out the troops from Fort McKinney to rescue the trapped men. They arrived just in time. The cowboys were getting ready to set a wagon afire and run it into the barn to burn them out.” She pointed to some bullet holes in the wall. “These were made by a Sharps rifle, the only rifle that could to shoot this far.”

Bullet holes and gunports in the TA Ranch Barn Hayloft

The posse arrived at the TA Ranch and surrounded the Invaders who were secure in the barn. The Invaders were in a position of strength, the posse could not rush the barn without exposing themselves to withering rifle fire. The siege continued for three days. The newspaper account continues.

…The firing then commenced and was kept up most of the time. During the fight at the TA Ranch the mob seemed to feel perfectly secure from danger, they claimed that they were so strongly fortified that the sheriff’s posse would not charge the works and that it would be impossible for the sheriff’s posse to get their rifle pits close enough to harass the mob before Governor Barber, Senators Carey and Warren would send the troops at McKinney to the rescue the mob.

Then they claimed that if the rustlers and troops did not get into right that it would be necessary to surrender to the military authorities and be taken to Fort Russell at Cheyenne, where the leaders claimed they would be turned loose in short time and they would come back to Johnson Country stronger than ever and would kill every man that packed gun against them at the TA ranch. –George Dunning

Later, in October of 1892, an article in Bill Barlow’s Budget, out of Douglas, questions Dunning’s confession, referring to the newspaper it appeared in as the “Northwestern Dead Stock Journal,” and saying that Dunning wove in a series of slurs and innuendos tending to show that “…..Senators Carey and Warren, Governor Barber, Attorney General Potter, Judge Blake, U. S. Marshal Rankin and other prominent republicans were fully advised of the raid long before it left Cheyenne, and endorsed it. On the other hand, we have the statements of Barber, Potter, Judge Wake and Marshal Rankin that they knew nothing of the invasion until the news was telegraphed from Casper two days after the expedition had left there.

The Buffalo Bulletin, April 14, 1892, tells the tale from the regulator’s viewpoint. On Sunday morning, April 10, a party of ranch men led by O. H Flagg arrived at the city, reporting that the cattle barons were at the Dr. Harris’ ranch on Crazy Woman, commonly called the T A Ranch. Couriers were sent out in different directions calling on men to come to town, and on Sunday evening at 8:30 a party of 40 men road quietly out of Buffalo toward the south this party elected A. S. Brown their leader and arrived at the T A ranch about midnight.

Pickets were at once posted around the buildings at a safe distance, and the party then awaited daylight. Just before daylight the whole posse took position in sheltered places on all sides of the ranch. As soon as the posse hove in sight of the buildings shots were fired by the besieged cattlemen and the battle was then on.

Sheriff Angus returned to Buffalo at 1 o’clock Monday morning, bringing the report of the killing of Champion and Kay and the burning of the K C ranch. At the head of about 40 men he then proceeded in person to the T A ranch and assumed command of the posse.

Reinforcements from Buffalo and Sheridan County continued to come in hourly and proceed to the scene of trouble until on Tuesday afternoon about 250 men were assembled under the sheriff. Monday morning about 9 o’clock the sheriff’s posse captured three wagons belonging to the invaders. These wagons were loaded with forage, provisions, bedding, personal effects, ammunition, and two cans of giant powder or dynamite, also coal oil.

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Fort McKinney

The telegraph line, which during the whole trouble had been tampered with, was repaired Tuesday evening and the wires were hot with dispatches both ways. Major Martin of the national guards received orders to assume command of Co C and place them under the mayor’s orders for the protection of life and properly, and Co. C at once mustered and put on duty in the city four commissioned officers and 38 enlisted men responded to the call. The commanding officer at Fort McKinney received orders at 11 p. m. Tuesday night to assist the civil authorities in making arrests, and Col. Van Horn at the head of H Troop of U. S. cavalry left Fort McKinney at 2 a.m. Wednesday the 13th. He was accompanied by Sheriff Angus and Captain Parmelee A.D.C.

They arrived at the TA ranch about 6 o’clock a.m. All day Tuesday a portion of the sheriff’s posse had dismantled one of the wagons captured on the previous day and by using both hind axles without the wheels had constructed a movable breastwork 6 feet high, made of heavy logs, behind which it was intended 40 men should advance on the fortifications and take them by storm.

Major Wolcott, commanding the cattle barons, refused to surrender to Sheriff Angus, but surrendered to Col. Van Horn. The invaders were marched to Fort McKinney, where they were kept under guard, thus ending the Johnson County War.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Ira roadifer

    April 30, 2022 at 11:32 am

    Very good piece of history. If you wish, I can take you for a tour of the Powder River of Sheridan County. Just let me know. Sonny and I went down Tuesday to check out the time line of the tour. Took 3 hours down and had lunch at Moorhead campground before going on down to the Battle site.

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