Historical Details

Old Mother Featherlegs Shepard, by Russell Thorp

Courtesy of Library Archives, 11/30/-0001

Old Mother Feather Legs is buried in a grave on the north slope of what is known as the Demmon Hill, between the Ord Ranch, formerly known as the May's ranch and Silver Springs at the north slope of the Demmon Hill and on the edge of the plains of the Running Water Divide. There are three graves, located close together, which are right close to the telegraph line and west of the Black Hills stage road.

Old Mother Feather Legs lived in a half-dugout that had a stone fireplace, and afforded a hangout for various outlaws along the Cheyenne-Black Hills trail. The cowboys called her "Old Mother Feather Legs" because she wore red, ruffled pantalettes tied about her ankles, which fluttered in the breeze when she rode horseback, and, according to one of her visitors, "Them drawers looked exactly like a feather-legged chicken in a high wind."

She was a go-between for road agents and other desperadoes, and was suspected of having her her possession stolen jewelry and money from the hold-ups on the Black Hill's stage coaches.

She came to the Raw Hide country in 1876 and opened a place of entertainment for travelers in the dugout. A couple of tin-horn gamblers and rot gut whiskey were part of the outfit. No one knew, at that time, where she came from. About a year later, she opened up her establishment on Demmon Hill, and "Dangerous Dick," who got his name because of his evil look, came to live at this place. He had presumed to be hunting and trapping for a living, but most of the time was loafing in this woman's shack. The two seemed to be well acquainted.

One day in 1879, Mrs. O. J. Demmon, wife of a ranch man who lived at Silver Springs on the stage road, decided to visit the old woman, since she was the only woman living in the neighborhood. But on her arrival at the dugout, Mrs. Demmon was horrified to find that the old woman had been murdered. She had evidently been shot while she was filling a bucket of water at the spring. There were many tracks around the spring, and many of the tracks were made by moccasins worn by Dick Davis. The murderer had fled, taking with him twelve or fifteen hundred dollars that the old woman was know to have had. She is buried near the dugout.

According to Agnes Wright Spring and her story "Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Routes," Old Mother Feather Legs was the mother , or as they called her "Ma"am" of Tom and Bill Shepard, members of a gang of outlaws and cutthroats who lurked in the flimsy fastness of the Tensas Swamps in northern Louisiana after the close of the Civil War. With the return of the confederate soldiers, the doom of this band was sealed, and they were hunted like wild beasts. Both the Shepard boys died with the swift judgement of the lynching mob, and the gang wiped out with the exception of "Ma'am" and a fellow named the "Terrapin." They succeeded in making their escape to appear years afterward on the Raw Hide. After murdering Mother Feather Legs, Davis (the Terrapin), went back to his old haunts in the swamps, where he engaged in murder and robbing. He was lynched at the spot where the Shepard boys met their fate. Before he died he made a full confession and thus cleared the identity of the old woman of the Raw Hides, Mother Feather Legs.

You may be interested to know that a school mate and myself (Russell Thorp, Jr.) spent a vacation in and around Raw Hide and Muskrat Canyon and like fool things that kids sometimes undertake, we decided to dig up the remains of Mother Feather Legs. So we camped nearby and proceeded to do this job at night. It was a beautiful moonlit night. This was, as I recall, about the summer of 1893 --fourteen years after her death. When we removed the lid of this home-made pine coffin, her features were clearly recognizable, with a great mass of red hair. We hastily nailed the lid back down. After all those years the body had more the appearance of being slightly mummified, and the coffin was not rotted. We filled the grave.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Thorp, Russell (07/23/1877 - 10/26/1968) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (08/07/1927 - 10/27/1977) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (10/22/1844 - 09/03/1898) View Record