Historical Details

Costlow Collection Part 1, Frank Lusk, Founder and Namesake

Courtesy of Library Costlow Collection, 05/24/1956

By Ralph Olinger

Early Livestock Man, Railroader

The history of Frank S. Lusk in his association with Wyoming has to do with the livestock and railway industries. He started one of the first cattle ranches in Niobrara County, and, as the lone Wyoming resident stockholder of the Wyoming Central railroad, was the founder of three of Wyoming's prosperous county seat towns.

He was born in Buffalo, New York, April 27, 1857. His parents were Cornelia M. Stillman and James W. Lusk, who were married in Cleveland, Ohio in 1854. James Lusk was then a partner in the Commercial Colleges of Bryant, Lusk, & Stratton, but later disposed of his interest in order to devote his time to the perfection of the Spencerian System of Penmanship. The system, which he developed, resulted from the personal teachings in schools, by Platte R. Spencer, who taught him to write well after his having reached the age of nineteen years. While introducing this system in colleges and public schools, he was connected with the book publishing firm of Ivison and Phinney of New York, in which he owned 5/8ths of the Spencerian System publications. Mr. Lusk died, however, in the year of 1863 before the system was profitably established, as was later the case.

Cornelia Lusk then returned to her old home in Cleveland, Ohio, and lived with her mother, Sarah Stillman and taught in the public schools. In 1876 her son, Frank, came west, and in the early 80s, persuaded his mother to take up residence in Denver where she lived several years. In 1886 he built a home for her and his grandmother Mrs. Stillman in Lusk and there they resided until their deaths.

Mrs. Lusk was active in the affairs of the town was one of the founders of the Congregational Church and at the election held after the formation of Converse County (1889) she was elected County Superintendent of Schools and was probably the third woman elected in the territory of Wyoming to such office. When the Lusk Reading Club established a public library for the Lusk community about the year of 1912, it was named the Stillman Library in honor of Mrs. Lusk's mother. The Lusk home was located on the S.E. corner of Block 14. It became the property of Mrs. Anna Gray in 1917 and of George Earl Peet in 1931, who converted it into a mortuary.

When Frank Lusk came to Colorado in 1876, he entered the cattle business with partners. In writing of his association with Wyoming he told of his livestock and railroad activities, which were published in the Wyoming Annals in 1923:

"In 1877 I was wintering in Denver instead of on the ranch when Henry Stratton son of my father's partner in the business college firm of Bryant, Lusk, & Stratton died near Fort Collins. His mother in New York wired me asking if I would bring his body East. He spent a good deal of time in and about Cheyenne, where he was well known so I wired the Converse & Warren Company as it was then to meet me telling them my mission. One of the pleasantest, most energetic and efficient men I ever met was at the station. He proved to be F.E. Warren, with whom I have maintained a friendship ever since. There were also several others of Henry Stratton's friends and every one was so nice that I was very much impressed with the class of people then in the Territory of Wyoming.

"I was at that time in the cattle business in Colorado east of Greeley. In 1879 we thought we were being crowded and determined to move. My partners were favorable to moving into eastern Colorado near the Nebraska state line but I remembered the people I had met earlier in Wyoming and those I had subsequently met were a fine class of people and I decided we would go to Wyoming.

We moved our headquarters to Wyoming in 1880 at which time there were no residents on Running Water except Eugene and George Willson who put in a sheep camp there that year. John Kendrick had held a bunch of cattle for C.W. Wulfjen (later his father-in-law) on the head of Running Water through the winter of 1879-1880 but moved over into Hat Creek basin in the spring of 1880.

I located at what is known as Node Ranch, named after our brand, about 15 miles east of where Lusk is now located, although cattle we were interested in and acquired wholly at a later date were moved into the Hat Creek basin in 1879. In 1881 I purchased a desert claim about 3 miles out of where Lusk is now located, from George W. Newton. It was "proved up" by Newton and George L. Willson and used by us as a hay ranch. The purchase from Newton included the old stone stage barn and the buildings at the crossing of the Running Water, which was used by Gilmar and Salisbury for the Black Hills stage when they ran from Cheyenne to Deadwood, before the shorter line from Sidney, Nebraska was used by them. Later, I arranged to move my horse ranch to the site of the present town of Lusk." (The writer has been reliably told that the residence standing just west of the American Legion Hall (1956) was the horse ranch cabin that has had an addition added to it. There was a dug well at about the middle of the corner lot occupied by the Texaco station on the corner of Main and 2nd streets.)

Prior to 1880 we had either purchased small bunches of cattle from neighbors (in Colorado) or brought cattle up from Texas. The winter of 1880 was very disastrous to cattlemen and particularly hard on Texan cattle, so we decided to buy western cattle. I spent a good deal of time in the winter of 1880 and 1881 in Nevada and in various western localities.

In 1881, E.W. Madison told me he thought the northwestern country was a good place to buy cattle and went up there. He contracted a good many cattle in southern Montana just west of Yellowstone Park for delivery in 1882. I came up in the Spring of 1882 and received the cattle with him and we attempted to drive the cattle across Yellowstone Park on some old government roads that were said to have existed. We located a ranch the fall before on Gray Bull a man named Billy Keating who was well known in Wyoming, having attended to the matter for us and these cattle were intended to start a herd in that locality. When I went up in the summer of 1882 to look the Gray Bull country over, I did not like it and later purchasers for the 'she' stock and ranch appeared in the persons of Dick Ashworth and Alex Johnson, who lived in the country for quite a long while. The steers we drove to the Hat Creek Basin and after that we confined our operations to the country around the Hat Creek Basin.

The winters of '85-'86 and '86-'87 were most disastrous. A good many people who had never had any experience in cattle thought all they had to do was to buy the cattle and turn them loose and when they got fat, ship them and pull them off a good profit. Generally they had no conception of how many cattle could survive and prosper in any section. In the fall of 1885 I recall that one man, in spite of protests of everyone who were running cattle in that section, turned about 8900 head of big Texas steers on top of us. He only gathered about 1700 head of these steers but it increased the losses of everybody who had cattle on the same range, enormously.

Our neighbors in the Hat Creek Basin were the Emmons & Brewster Company, the Tom Swan Company, the Converse 'O.W.' Company, T.B. Hord, J. Howard Ford, C.A. Gurnsey and further up on the Cheyenne River, the Fiddleback outfit of E. Tillotson and Thomas & Page outfit. Still beyond them were the Sturgis & Lane and Sturgis & Goodell outfits, and over in Dakota, N.R. Davis and the Oelrichs' Brothers ran their cattle.

South of us were Luke Voorhees, Van Tassell, Billy Irvine, Keeline Brothers, Adams, Glover, Pratt & Ferris. A good many of them have 'gone ahead' but they surely were a 'royal crowd' in their day.

Our cattle drifted to the south and east in the winter and our big roundups were down Rawhide to the North Platte River and in the hills north of the Platte.

We hunted the cattle as far down the Platte as the Sidney Bridge and there wasn't a settler in that whole country at the time, and as far up the Platte as the Fetterman Bridge.

We also hunted the south side but seldom found any cattle there and what were found there were easily traced as having crossed over with cattle belonging on that side of the river. Rustling activities were confined almost wholly to getting the 'mavericks' which were calves of the previous year that were unbranded, generally from being overlooked when rounding up.

There were few, almost none in fact, small cattle owners, so the mavericks were supposed to be owned by the outfit on whose range they were found and this arrangement was generally adhered to.

In the late '80s after two disastrous winters, my associates in the cattle business decided we would move our cattle to a locality where the winters were less severe and the 'she' cattle gradually moved to New Mexico, the steers being shipped as the got fat. I did not approve the move and having other interests, I remained in Wyoming."

The Node ranch was sold in 1894 to Tom Bell. This apparently ended the operation of the Western Live Stock Company, this being the name of the outfit operated by Frank S. Lusk and his associates; also the use of the Node brand, as Tom Bell's brand was the car link.

Frank Lusk and The Town of Lusk

Frank S. Lusk was the first postmaster of the Lusk Post Office. In writing for the Wyoming Historical publications, he told that "The nearest post office for Node ranch, the hay ranch and my horse ranch was Rawhide Buttes, and we used to send there for mail. In 1882 (or later) Luke Voorhees, who was then a partner in the Gilmer & Salisbury star mail route business, suggested applying for a post office at the ranch, the establishment of which would ensure the mail being delivered to us instead of our riding 20 miles and back for it. He prepared the necessary application to the Post Office Department, and it was duly signed and completed except for the name of the post office. Mr. Voorhees asked me to name the post office, but I was busy and told him to do whatever he thought would, without a doubt, establish a post office for us. He told me he had suggested that it be called 'Lusk' and in due course of time it was so established."

According to the records of the Post Office Department now in the custody of the National Archives and Records Service at Washington, D.C., a "post office was established at Lusk, Converse County, on February 15, 1884 with J.S. McHenry appointed postmaster. Mr. McHenry declined the appointment, and he was succeeded by F.S. Lusk, who was appointed postmaster on May 14, 1884. We do not have any information about the location of Lusk, or a post office at Silver Cliff, Wyoming."

Mr. Lusk wrote "When I located on the Running Water (North fork of the Niobrara River, called Duck Creek north of Lusk and which has its source on the Charles Heumier ranch) Luke Voorhees had a stage station a few miles east of me, which later became his L Z ranch, and Van Tassell had a log cabin right at the Nebraska line in a meadow, or Vega, where he cut hay for his Jay Em Ranch on Rawhide." He had been in this section of Wyoming, apparently in 1878, and came permanently in 1880. Not long before his first visit, this was Indian territory. History records that the treaty which took away all rights of the Sioux Indian tribes in Wyoming as well as in the Black Hills region, was signed by Red Cloud and many of his fellow chiefs of the Ogallalla Sioux on September 25, 1876 and by Spotted Tail and chiefs of the Brule Sioux on Sept. 23, and later in the year by chiefs of other divisions of the Sioux people. As soon as the treaty with the Indians was signed, live stock interests began to move into the region for the free government grazing lands. Willson Brothers were the first in the region around Lusk. Frank Lusk, with the Western Live Stock Co. for which he was General Manager, apparently came next. The stage line from Cheyenne to the Black Hills was established in 1876, and a station called Running Water was established west of Lusk on the Niobrara river. Many ranches were located before the government survey. According to information given by the Land Office at Cheyenne, the township in which Lusk is located was surveyed as to the four boundaries and the subdivisional lines by Charles W. Brown, Deputy Surveyor, in 1879. The official plat was approved October 29, 1879. The survey of Township 32 N, Range 62 W., in which the Node ranch was located, was made as to boundaries by C. W. Brown, a deputy surveyor, in 1879. However the subdivisional lines were not surveyed until in 1881, and the official plat approved April 14, 1882.

There is no doubt the live stock interests who had located and built improvements on government lands prior to surveys and approval of plats were anxious and alert to protect their investments. The lands were subject to homestead filings on a first come first served basis. There is a legend of a Western Live Stock company man who rode a day and a night to the Cheyenne land office as soon as it was known of the approval of the survey plat to make the important land filing, that would protect the home ranch improvements.

Mr. Lusk wrote for the Wyoming Annals: "In 1886, the Chicago & Northwestern road, which owned the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railway, decided to extend into Wyoming for a coal supply. They had built into Chadron in 1885, headed for the Black Hills. The laws at that time, did not permit a railway ownership or construction by a Corporation not organized in the Territory, so the Wyoming Central Railway was organized, in which I was one of the directors. Lusk was the only post office in Wyoming on the entire (proposed) line and was named as the place of business of the company in its incorporation papers."

E. A. Vic, Secretary for the C&NWRy. Co. wrote to say that the historical records show "Lusk, Converse County, Wyoming, was named for Frank S. Lusk, the owner of the land on which the town site was located by him. He was a renowned ranchman in Wyoming and subsequently railroad contractor."

And - "The line from the Wyoming State line was constructed westerly through Lusk to Douglas in 1886, was extended to Glenrock in 1887, and to Casper in 1888. Our historical record indicates that the Line was constructed by Wyoming Central Railway Company (incorporated 1885 under the General Laws of Territory of Wyoming), was not independently operated, but was leased in 1886 to the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad Company. These two companies were consolidated in 1891 as Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad Company. This line of railroad was leased February 16, 1903 to the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company and was purchased by the North Western on February 28, 1903."

Frank Lusk bought four parcels of land for the original town site of Lusk from which he selected 6-forty acre tracts: three forties north and south, two forties east and west with a twenty acre plot known as outlot "A" attached to the Northwest forty on the north. The railway line went through the site from southeast to west on a curve on the two north forties. Two of the parcels were homesteads; one of these was purchased of Martha J. Parker, a widow of Benton County, Missouri, consisting of 160 acres for $400.00 on May 10, 1886; the other homestead was purchased of Charles Pancostt, and apparently only half (80 acres) was bought by Lusk for $1200, July 2, 1886. The other two parcels were bought from parties who had obtained them under the Act of Congress April 24, 1820 whereby the land could be purchased from the government at a minimum price of $1.25 per acre. One of these was acquired by Lusk from Fred S. Morris, consisting of 160 Acres for $200.00 on September 12, 1884, originally sold to his mother, Cornelia Lusk; the last and highest price parcel consisting of forty acres was bought in 1891 from Nathaniel Baker for $1000. This is the southeast forty.

The first plat of the Town of Lusk was recorded in July, 1886, consisting of Blocks 1 to 13 inclusive; from that date there were six more plats filed for blocks and lots, the final two being in 1918 and 1919 when Lusk was experiencing its greatest boom days, and the Lance Creek oil field was starting to develop. About the year 1910, Frank Lusk sold his interest in the town site of Lusk to Messrs. Tom Bell, L.J. Lohlein and Harry C. Snyder and his investments in eastern Wyoming came to an end. The railroad had had an agreement with Lusk and the others who followed him, on a fifty-fifty ownership, and the town site properties were in the name of the Pioneer Townsite Company. Sales of lots were made by an agent for the Pioneer Townsite Co. on a commission basis. During the big Lusk boom, every lot platted in 57 Blocks was sold, mostly on contract, and many lapsed when the boom subsided. Finally the Townsite Company sold all unsold lots and parts of outlots to the Town of Lusk November 17, 1945 for a few hundred dollars.

When Frank Lusk's partners in the Western Live Stock Co. insisted on moving out of Wyoming, and there is some evidence they moved the "she" stock prior to the hard winter of 1886, he did not go along with them. At that time he was involved with his railway business and town sites from Lusk through Douglas to Casper. And he still retained an interest in the cattle business and the Node ranch. He wrote "I did not approve of the move, and having other interests, I remained in Wyoming."

"However conditions were pretty difficult to combat and through my railway friends, I went into the railway contracting business, going of course, temporarily to whatever place the railway construction was going on. This took me to the East to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and in the West into Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, California, Nevada, South Dakota and Montana. I continued, however, to keep a small interest in cattle and ranches in Wyoming, but after coming to Montana in 1907, to do construction work on the Northern Pacific and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul lines and finding the climate and many other conditions favorable, I decided to remain in Montana permanently and purchased control of the First National Bank in Missoula, Montana, (1912) it being the oldest National Bank in the state, and one of the largest of the banks in the State and was president of it for ten years. I gradually disposed of most of my interests in Wyoming, but still retained the feeling that Wyoming, where I had resided for thirty years, was really my home state."

In one of his written biographies it is stated that he was in partnership with D. D. Streeter in extensive railroad contracting, and in the Wyoming State Tribune of August 13, 1930 at the time of Lusk's death, it stated that some of his contracting was on the old Oriental railroad project to run from Kansas City to Mexico City. In 1902-04 his firm built the mountain sections of the Moffat railroad and afterward?he built the double tunnels for the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee railroads in western Montana.

In 1894, Lusk was united in marriage to Miss Louise B. Findley, a native of San Francisco and the daughter of Thomas Findley, a prominent citizen and former treasurer of the state of California.

Frank Lusk died at Missoula, Montana, August 6, 1930. The Daily Missoulian a news story August 8, 1930: "Funeral services for Frank S. Lusk will be held at the Forkenbrook Chapel at 10 o'clock Saturday morning, when the Christian Science service will be read. The body will lie in state today until the funeral hour Saturday at the chapel.

"Honorary pallbearers will be former Lieutenant Governor, W. W. McDowell, Judge Albert J. Galen, Judge George Bourquin, U.S. Senator T.J. Walsh, Oscar Crutchfield, Newell Gough, Judge Charles N. Pray, E.H. Polleys and John D. McCormick. The body will be sent east on the North Coast Limited train Saturday afternoon to Cleveland, Ohio, for burial in the Lusk family plot.

"At the time of death he was chairman of the Montana Textbook Commission and Missoula Library Board. For years he served as chairman of the high school board here. He was vice chairman of the Montana Commission for the Panama-Pacific exposition.

"Mr. Lusk is survived by his widow and daughter, Mrs. Mahmood Abozeid, who until her recent marriage was Miss Vivian Gorham Lusk."

Mrs. Abozeid was an adopted daughter of the Lusks, and is now living in Egypt with her husband.

Frank Lusk's Railway Activities

In addition to Frank Lusk's activities in procuring the land and laying out the townsite of the town of Lusk, he also had the same relations to a considerable extent in establishing to towns of Douglas and Casper. He tells about this and other historical events when he wrote "My Association with Wyoming" printed in volume 1 of the Quarterly Bulletin published by the Wyoming State Historical Department in 1923.

I was also interested in town sites and after the construction of the Wyoming Central had been definitely determined upon, the locality of the terminus was considered very carefully. The Railway Company had not obtained a right-of-way across the fort Fetterman reservation, so the site of the town was necessarily restricted to the most convenient point to the east of the Fetterman Reservation. A good many people were interested in watching every move that was made and it was necessary to exercise considerable secrecy in connection with the location of the town site.

In January of 1887 I rode horseback from the ranch at Lusk and looked over the lay of the land. It was a ride of about fifty miles and I had to stay up in that country for a day or two. I undertook to ride back from Fort Fetterman, where I was put up for the night, but was so delayed that it was nearly dark by the time I got through at what is now Douglas. I picketed my horse, sat down in a little gulch, under the only Cottonwood tree around there, built me a little fire and camped there all night, riding back to Lusk the next day. There were no ranches at all, or places to stop between Fetterman and Lusk at that time.

After the location of the town site where Douglas is now, had been determined upon, we discovered that certain speculators had put fictitious entries on some of the land that it was proposed to include in the town site. The site was acquired by using Government script. This was easily done, when the people who were responsible for them were cornered and forced to admit that the entries were fictitious. The company told me I might file on the adjoining lands after the site had been selected and filed upon, so when everything was ready, I went into the land office at Cheyenne where E. W. Mann was the officer in charge, and presented filing for the Townsite Company, and immediately after it was received and registered, I filed a desert claim for myself on 560 acres adjoining the town on two sides. The bridge across the North Platte River rests at each end upon the lands upon which I filed. This land was almost immediately contested upon the ground of being coal land and I took Charles A. Guernsey into partnership with me on this land. We spent considerable of money in litigation, taxes, expenses and improvements and I finally was very glad to give my entire interest in this property to the First National Bank of Douglas to get off of notes which I had endorsed to obtain money to make the various improvements on this land I never got a dollar out of it and spent a good many thousands of dollars, in addition to what was borrowed. In another letter to the Historian of the State Of Wyoming he stated "In August of that year (1887) the townsite company sold over $100,000 worth of lots in three days at Douglas, the railway having reached there. The railway could go no farther at that time because the War Department was in charge of the Fetterman Reservation and the Department had not authorized a right-of-way across the reservation. They did this later, but meantime the Company decided to grade the line farther west and did grade to near (the Future) town of Casper, 1887 but did not lay the rails until two years later".

"At that time there were but three bridges across the North Platte River, all the way from Fort Steele on the Union Pacific to North Platte; one at fort Fetterman, one at Fort Laramie, one at Camp Clark, Nebraska. There had been a bridge used by the early emigrants, near where Casper is now located, but nothing remained in the early eighties but piles of rock where abutments and piers had been".

Continuing the narrative published in the Annals:

"As Vice-President of the Shawnee Coal Company (a railroad organization), I made a great many trips to investigate alleged deposits of 'Rock Springs' coal. We spent a good deal of money trying to prove and test various deposits and learned to our cost and sorrow that there is no 'Rock Springs Coal' very far north of the Union Pacific Railroad.

"A little later, after the right-of-way across the Fort Fetterman Reservation had been granted, the Railroad Company decided to complete the line which had been graded from the west side of Fetterman Reservation, quite a distance up the North Platte River, in order to get the large stock shipments. Here, again, the question of a suitable townsite became important. The site which I favored was where Strouds now is, but Mr. Hughitt said that as long as the road was being built to get the cattle business, he thought the terminus should be the north side of the river. He was the official who decided all such matters. An investigation at the land office and on the ground, showed that the only two quarter sections in that country, to which there was a title, were owned by the 'C Y' Cattle Company, or J. M. Carey & Brother. They were a little way from the river, but fairly good, level land; so the Townsite Company purchased these two quarters sections and laid out the townsite of Casper. It was a bleak, place, but good point from which to ship cattle."

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