Hat Creek Dateline: 1879/07/15
Cattle trails bring in road agents
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Thousands of cattle have been trailed through the Hat Creek basin this spring and summer. Many of them are coming all of the way from Texas, some herds are also coming from the big ranches around Cheyenne. Many of the owners of the ranches that are being established in this area live in Cheyenne, where several of them have built homes of "elegance."
The Fiddleback Ranch has been built this summer, it is located on the Cheyenne River about 40 miles west and north from the confluence of Lance Creek and the river. It has a substantial log house, the other log buildings include a bunk house, barn and a blacksmith shop. Colonel E.F. Tollotson, who has been stationed at Fort Fetterman, is the owner of this ranch. It's range is on the Cheyenne River and tributaries. "Grey" Jack, their cook, drives four little mules on his chuck wagon.
The cattle being trailed from Texas face many hazards on the route. River crossings take their toll on cattle, especially in the spring when they are flooding.
The lack of water can also be a problem along the trail. Stampedes can be caused by anything that startles the cattle, they are especially dangerous to both the cowboys and cattle. The cowboys are with the herds 24 hours a day, they manage to get a few hours of sleep, but they take their turn on the night watch.
Even with all the vast open range the cattle business in this country is very risky. Predators and the weather take their toll of cattle. Getting into the cattle business is also expensive, bankers charge from 1 percent to 3 percent per month for loans on open range cattle operations, that can add up to 36 percent interest per year. Now that the "Monitor," the treasure coach, is being sent over the Sidney route, sometimes carrying as much as $350,000 worth of gold, the surviving road agents have moved to that area. There is one less surviving road agent since "Lame Johnny" Bradley was hung this spring by vigilantes near Buffalo Gap. Bradley had participated in some of the holdups on the Cheyenne to Black Hills trail. He was being taken to Rapid City in the custody of "Whispering" Smith when vigilantes stopped the coach, removed him and hung him from a tree.
However to the distress of the ranchers, the old haunts of the road agents on Old Woman's fork and Lightning Creek have become the headquarters of horse and cattle thieves.
(Information source: 'Pioneering on the Cheyenne River," by the Robbers' Roost Historical Society; "The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes," by Agnes Wright Spring, Documents of Wyoming by Pat Hall.)