Historical Details

A.E. McFarlane, One of Few Living Lusk Pioneers, Sent to Silver Cliff Mine by His Uncle 50 Years Ago

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 05/28/1936

A.E. McFarlane was working in Texas when he received word from his uncle, Hugh McFarlane, that he desired him to go to Wyoming, and look after some mining interests he had on Running Water, in what is now Niobrara county. Mr. McFarlane, who is better known in Lusk today as Al, arrived at Running Water February 28, 1886, and went to work in the Silver Cliff mines. His uncle had been operating the Great Wyoming Mining and Milling Co., for about six months, and had installed considerable machinery, and reports from his holdings were not satisfactory, so he decided to make an investigation.

Al’s instructions were to”keep his eyes open and his mouth shut, and to write once every month, oftener if necessary.”

The mine was being operated by Supt. McPherson, and during the first few months McFarlane was at the mines, considerable silver was taken from the holdings. One silver brick was shipped east, after being mined and retorted, which was valued at $500. Due to the quartz-like formation, the venture was not profitable, as it was free milling ore, and had to be crushed and pulverized into dust form. Before the mine was closed over $30,000 had been invested. After Hugh McFarlane ordered the machinery dismantled and shipped to Missouri. Several attempts were made to thoroughly explore the holdings. A 285-foot shaft was sunk from the top of the hill several months before Mr. McFarlane came to Silver Cliff, but another attempt was made while he was working at the mine to explore a different area of the property. A tunnel, 1220 feet long was extended into the north side of the hill. A shaft was sunk in this tunnel, but water was soon encountered, which suspended operations on this undertaking.

Mr. McFarlane recalled an incident which happened at the mine one cold morning, early in the spring. It was necessary to build a fire to thaw out the giant powder before taking it into the tunnels. The miners were sitting around the blaze, swapping yarns, when one stick of the powder was accidentally kicked into the fire. Fred Sullivan was working at the property at the time, and he instantly grabbed the stick of powder out of the fire, rubbed it in loose dirt and then stuck it in the top of his boot.

“If the powder had exploded there is no telling where Fred would be today,” Mr. McFarlane said. “Bet he wouldn’t be having the good time he is today.”

Recalling some of the early-day happenings in Lusk, Mr. McFarlane told the writer about the shooting of Charles Gunn, Constable of Lusk, by Bill McCoy. The shooting happened on a Saturday morning in the old Water’s saloon. Mr. McFarlane was an eye-witness to the affray. His version of the crime follows:

“It appeared from the testimony taken before Squire Kingman that some difficulty had arisen between McCoy and Mr. Waters at the dance hall the night before, and that Gunn had told Waters that he would stand by him.

“In the morning McCoy entered Water’s saloon, and was standing at the bar when Gunn happened to walk in. McCoy stepped toward Gunn, saying ‘Charley, are you heeled?’ and immediately fired, the bullet passing through the body of Gunn just below the ear. Gunn fell forward on his hands and knees, his six-shooter dropping from its holster to the floor. Gunn picked it up and commenced to slowly rise from the floor, when McCoy placed the muzzle of his six-shooter and fired the second shot. The bullet passed entirely thru his head, killed him instantly. McCoy then went out, ran to the rear of Hogle & McCoy’s saloon, jumped on a horse and started northeast, waving his six-hooter above his head.

“Deputy Sheriff Johnny Owens was sick, but immediately jumped up, and he and two others opened fire on the murderer. Out near the jail, McCoy’s horse fell and he was unable to catch him when he got to his feet again. Owens immediately covered him with his gun and commanded him to “stick ‘em up,’ which he did very promptly. He was taken before Squire Kingman, examined and committed. Several witnesses were also bound over on $200 bail to appear at the next term of district court. The Lusk jail at time was unfinished, so there was nothing left to do but to guard the prisoner. Mr. Owens stayed up until midnight, when he retired, having been sick ever since his return from Cheyenne a few days before the shooting. He left six men to guard the prisoner, and had him handcuffed and shackles riveted to his ankles. Owens returned again at 1:15 and found the prisoner asleep. He examined everything in the room to find out whether a file was hidden in the room, but finding nothing suspicious, he retired again, after seeing that the shackles were secure. He was awakened at 3:30 and on going to the room where the prisoner had been held, found the window-which had been securely nailed down- and McCoy gone. Between the two visits it had snowed and blowed very hard and no track was left to tell which way the prisoner had gone. The horse he had first started with was gone.

“About five days later, Sheriff Sharpless of Cheyenne arrived, accompanied by Deputies Brown, Fisher, Julian and Stahle, and coroner Chaffin and Prosecuting Attorney Stoll reached Lusk the following day by stage.

“Two of the guards, Mr. Jester and Mr. Phenix, were arrested on a charge of aiding and abetting the prisoner’s escape and were bound over to the District Court under $500.00 bond each. Frank S. Lusk went on Jester’s bond and Peter Sweeney on Mr. Phenix’s bond.

The inquest was held and a verdict brought in to the effect that the deceased came to his death from a pistol at the hands of Bill McCoy.

“Gunn was 32 years old and a fearless officer. He had been deputy sheriff in Lusk for several months, up to about a week before the shooting, and was constable of Lusk at the time of his murder. He was elected constable by a vote of 274 to 47, which attested his popularity. He owned a ranch about three miles up the creek and was in partnership with Mr. Johnson.

“Acting Territorial Governor E. S. N. Morgan offered a reward of $500 for the capture of McCoy, but he was never captured.”

After the Silver Cliff mine had been permanently closed, Mr. McFarlane ranched for some time and then went into the dairy business. When operating the dairy he had a one-horse outfit, and delivered milk, cream and butter to the residents of Lusk for four cents a quart, eggs brought three cents a dozen and butter sold for fifteen cents a pound.

Mr. McFarlane sold milk cows for $12.50 apiece, with a calf at their sides.

For about 15 years Mr. McFarlane was engaged in raising White Face cattle, and when he disposed of them he had the best herd in this section of Wyoming. He made a practice of breeding his herd with the best bulls in the country, and the state stock inspector often remarked that he developed one, if not the first, best herds of White Face in Eastern Wyoming.

Mr. McFarlane located in Lusk and for several years devoted his time to building sheep wagons, which were the pride of the sheepmen. These were the first well-built wagons in this section of the country and Mr. McFarlane prided himself in their construction. They were guaranteed to be water-proof, and contained a bed, cooking outfit, and the floor was inlaid with linoleum. The complete wagon sold for $285. The wagon contained but very few nails, Mr. McFarlane constructed the wagon with screws, bolts, and tacks. The floor boards were not nailed but screwed together. Practically all the wagons were in service at least 30 years, without having to be repaired.

Mr. McFarlane was the founder of the Silver Cliff dairy, which he operated for 12 years, but due to failing eyesight, he sold the dairy to Bradley and Son, who still operate it under the same name.

An old silver clock which was taken from the Silver Cliff mine office fifty years ago, was taken to the dairy residence, and Mr. Bradley is now the present owner of the timepiece, which is still keeping good time.

Mr. McFarlane stated that the old clock had been bought in 1884, and since then it has been in constant use, with the exception of one year.

Mr. McFarlane was born February 2, 1861 in Chicago. He was united in marriage to Mary Jane Hancock, whose father was a minister in Lusk. To this union were born four children: Archie, who passed away on Jan. 9, 1935; Albert, living at Lance Creek; Mrs. Helen Willson, of Lusk; and Ralph, who is an electrician at the Lusk light and power house.

Mr. McFarlane’s second marriage in 1907 was to Miss Zona Bradley. Two children were born to this union: Miss Kathleen McFarlane, who is a teacher in the Douglas schools, and Claude McFarlane, who is an electrician at the J.M. Huber plant at Lance Creek.

This pioneer of Niobrara county is a daily visitor among the citizens of Lusk, and can be seen on the street, slowly walking and feeling his way along the thoroughfare. Although he has practically lost his eyesight, he refuses to use a cane. It is remarkable how he can find his way from one store to another, recognize his early-day friends, who are always willing to stop and talk about the bygone days of Niobrara county. It is a pleasure to have a chat with “Al” as he is better known among his friends, and listen to him tell of incidents when Lusk was merely an infant settlement and struggling to get a foothold in the frontier.

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