Historical Details

Legend of Rawhide

Courtesy of Library Archives, 11/30/-0001

Niobrara County Carnegie Library
Lusk, Wyoming

Dickson, Arthur Jerome: "Covered wagon days, a journey across the plains in the sixties, and Pioneer days in the northwest: from the private journals of Albert Jerome Dickson", Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark Co. 1929.

'About midway between Columbus and Grand Island we camped for the night on a small stream called the Rawhide. The story was then current that during the California gold rush, an emigrant party once camped there. Among them was a young fellow, thirsting for glory, who has vowed that he was going to shoot the first Indian he saw. Against the protests of the others he got his Indian - a defenseless squaw. When her people heard of the death they surrounded the camp in great numbers and demanded the guilty one, threatening to annihilate the whole party unless he was produced. He was promptly delivered into their hands. Then, before the eyes of the horror-struck white men, the Indians skinned their victim alive. This stream was ever since been known as Rawhide Creek.'

Laut, Agnes C.: "The overland trail, the epic path of the pioneers to Oregon", New York, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1929 p. 50

'Five miles out on Elkhorn River, between the site of General Dodge's first cabin and the modern city of Omaha, you will find the name on rail maps commerating an almost unknown episode. In 1854 the flood tide of Westward Ho was at its height to Utah and California. A brutal blacksmith on his way to California had sworn he world shoot the first Indian he saw just to have the nick on his gun. He did. His victim was a Shawnee boy. Now when the Mormons began moving across from Kanesville (Council Bluffs) to Omaha (Florence) they had made a treaty with Big Elk for a lease of land during five years till they could move the people gradually westward and both parties respected and observed that treaty: but there was a frightful crime unprovoked against the Pawnees. The Mormons did not want to stain their hands by becoming hangmen. Neither did any of the other pioneers, though crimes later along the Trail compelled them to overcome that reluctance. They handed the white murderer over to the Pawnees for punishment. The Pawnees tied him to a wagon wheel and shinned him alive. For years this gruesome spot was know as Rawhide.'

Spring, Agnes Wright: "The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes", Glendale, California the Arthur H. Clarke Company, 1949 p. 118

'As to the Origin of the name Rawhide Buttes, Hi Kelly said "A young man from Pike County, Missouri, had boasted that he would shoot the first Indian he saw on the plains. The young fellow had forgotten about it for the first month from the Missouri River. Upon his attention being called to his boast one day, about the first of June 1849, near the mouth of Rawhide Creek, he saw a camp of a few Indians on the Platte River and the fool shot one of them. That caused a lot of trouble as the Indians demanded the young man be turned over to them at once; else they would attack the train consisting of some thirty wagons of California gold hunters.

The man, who surrendered to the Indians, who, in broad daylight, tied and skinned him alive. It seems that the poor fellow fainted a number of times but lived till they had him nearly skinned. That was what originated the name Rawhide.'

Trenholm, Virginia Cole, and Carley, Maurine: "Wyoming Pageant, Casper, Wyoming", Prairie Publishing Co., 1946, p. 126

'On the soft, chalkstone bluff, now known as Register Cliff, may still be found the names of about five hundred of the emigrants who followed the trail. Many and varied are the stories back of these names. Let us take for instance, the name John Phillips. This was not John (Portugee) Phillips, who made a sensational ride from Fort Kearney in northern Wyoming to Fort Laramie in 1866.

This Phillips was a member of the ill-fated emigrant train that witnessed the incident giving rise to the name Rawhide Buttes. According to the story left in his diaries, a reckless young man vowed that he would shoot the first Indian he saw. It happened to be a squaw. The Indians furiously demanded that the young man be turned over to them. Fearing an attack upon the entire train the emigrants were forced to comply. The Indians proceeded to skin him alive. His mother, a horrified witness, died several days later along the trail.'

From our vertical files in the historical department:

"Rawhide Buttes - The Sioux for these buttes is 'Tahalo Paha'. 'Tahalo' means rawhide, and 'Paha' is the Sioux word for 'buttes' or 'hills'. The Indians had at one time killed a great number of buffalo, skinned them, and left a great pile of rawhides at the foot of one of the buttes, and when they returned the rawhides were gone, evidently stolen by white trappers."

'The historical Rawhide Buttes' by Betty Harness

"In the wooded range of hills southeast of Lance Creek and south of Lusk, Wyoming, are the beautiful Rawhide Buttes. Most prominent are the two wooded, granite peaks that tower above the smaller hills.

Through this section winds the old Mormon Trail. Here, in the 1830's, the Hudson Bay Fur Co. established a trading post. Indians brought their buffalo and beaver hides to trade for dry goods, beads, tobacco and whiskey. By 1840 the fashion for beaver hats waned and fur caravans no longer moved west.

To their place the lurching wagons of the emigrants streamed by the hundreds. It was here that a wagon train headed for the California gold rush, via Ft. Laramie, stopped to camp. Here a white man was skinned alive by the Indians because he killed an Indian woman in cold blood. Is was from this incident the name Rawhide originated.

When the Cheyenne-Black Hills stage line was established in 1876, the Rawhide Stage Station was situated near Rawhide Creek.

When land was opened for homesteading more wagon caravans came. Among them, in 1884, were grandparents of W. J. Wolfe of the Ohio's pipe line department. It was they who homesteaded the Rawhide Buttes. Mr. Wolfe's father homesteaded adjoining land and Wes, land that adjoined his fathers.

Mrs. Wolfe relates of a time before she and 'Wes' were married when they rode horseback to the foot of the Buttes and climbed to the top. 'Wes' pointing to the surrounding territory, said, "This is the Wolfe Den".

After Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe were married they made their home in the Rawhides. In 1936 our pipe line department laid the trunk line to Ft. Laramie, under the supervision of Earl Mardis, now Bridgeport division superintendent. The pipe line follows along the old Mormon Trail. After completion of the lines, Wes took the job of line patrolman. He covered the 39 miles by walking from his home in the Buttes to Ft. Laramie one day, back the next, then to Lusk, next day, returning home the following day.

Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe have two children. Betty, who attends the university in Laramie, and Edward, who is in the Government service in China Lake, California. They own their home and live in Lusk where Wes is delivery gauger.

Relics of Indian and pioneer history of the Rawhide still remain. Wes has in his possession a bill of sale, dated 1892, where a former owner of some land, later bought by Mr. Wolfe's father, purchased a log stable for $40 from the Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota Stage Company. He has an old filing cabinet, made of native lumber from the Buttes that came out of the old stage station.

Ambitious searchers may still find arrowheads and Indian relics by climbing the jagged rocks and digging and sifting the dirt. These were the natural strongholds wherein white man and Indian barricaded during battle.

The story of how the Rawhide got its name has been annually narrated and produced into a pageant since 1946. It is a nonprofit enterprise presented at county fairs and rodeos, with proceeds used for community improvements.

"The Legend of the Rawhide" has gained wide acclaim. Its authentic covered wagons, trained ox teams, cast of 100 people, realistic make-up and enactment of the attack upon the wagon train, burning of a wagon in mock death, and the sensational gruesome climax, when the "Indians" skin the white man alive, make this spectacle on Wyoming's outstanding and entertaining shows.

"Ohio Oil Co."
The Beacon, Dec. 1949
p. 19-20

Lusk Herald
August 17, 1961
"Legend of Rawhide" Pageant Born in 1946

Doc Reckling walked through the browning prairie grass, snapping his galluses. His eyes, look-araing above his half-moon specs followed the humped form of a pine-darkened hill. The germ of an idea sprouted in his head. That was in 1941. For twenty years the Pageant of the Rawhide Buttes has grown in length, polish and importance. This year the 16th and 17th presentations will be given as the main feature of Niobrara County Fair, and the celebration of Lusk's 75th anniversary.

To go back twenty years: The start is not easy. Doc Reckling wanted a civic celebration for his community, unlike one ever staged before. He also wanted to help raise the price of a much-needed community building in Lusk. He started talking and using his medical influence. Many were the versions of how the Rawhide Buttes got their name. All roads into Wyoming lead upward. Travelers and freighters uncurled their long rawhide whips and tickled the backs of the oxen to hurry them on the westward climb. They called this "rawhiding it."

But there was another, more dramatic version - that of an Indian hater who shot an Indian squaw. When the enraged Indians swooped down on the wagon train and demanded the killer, this many finally gave himself up to save his sweetheart and fellow-travelers. He was skinned alive - rawhided - by the Indians. This version had been known to George Earl Peet all his life.

But the war came and all was laid aside until after VJ Day in 1945. T. A. Godfrey, president of the Fair Board, wanted a good program to start off the first fair in this new age. He remembered the pageant idea.

Eva Lou Bonsell (now Mrs. Paris) needed a historical plot around which she could weave a play as part of her master's degree thesis. She was a talented graduate of Lusk High School and Colorado Woman's College, and was working toward her master's degree in drama at Denver University, and "The Legend of Rawhide" was just what she was looking for. Mr. Peet told her all he knew and she did many hours of research to augment the story.

Once written, the pageant had to be brought to life over the doubts of many. Committees were named and meetings held night after night. Carl Bruch made a Conestoga wagon and a yoke for oxen. Ralph Larson spent many days training long-horned steers to pull the wagon. Forrest Van Tassell was chosen for the Indian-hating murderer. Doc Reckling made a plaster cast of Van Tassell's body, and painted it red. Elizabeth and Pauline Bruch sewed on the skin that was to be ripped off on the fatal night.

Ranchers with teams fashioned seventeen more covered wagons; their wives sewed old-fashioned dressed and sun bonnets. Bill Watt was the narrator; Bill Magoon was the boss of the wagon train that came winding down over the hill at sundown. Eleanor Witzenburger was the heroine, the girl Clyde Pickett (Forrest Van Tassell) loved. E. R. Whitman was the Indian scout. Jasper Seaman was an Indian brave; George Earl Peet, the Indian chief. (See History article Peet Indian Head Dress). Mrs. Bunny Chard was the Indian maiden that got shot.

Many were the practices directed by Miss Bonsell, aided by Homer Paris, her fiancé and technical adviser.

Meanwhile, Doc Reckling was busy writing a souvenir booklet and a program of the pageant. It contained the histories and pictures of ranchers and farmers willing to contribute to the project; 2,000 copies of this booklet, printed by The Lusk Herald, were sold. Proceeds were given for the erection of the auditorium on the Fair Grounds, the booklet making his much-needed building possible.

Came the fair and the night for the first showing. Grandstand and bleachers were filled with spectators. Even the weather had its inning. Lightning flashed over the blue-black hills to the south. Rain poured on the encamped wagon train. But the Indian maiden was shot. Naked Indians riding bareback attacked and burned a wagon. The guilty man surrendered and was skinned alive. The wagons escaped.

In 1947 another scene was added to the pageant; an Indian village with squaws and children busy setting up tipis and tanning hides. Hazel Seaman was the Indian girl shot while wandering through the pine trees that grew overnight on the Lusk Fair Grounds. Mr. and Mrs. William Watt were directors. Mr. Watt was again narrator. The entire cast with all horses, wagons and equipment moved to Douglas and camped under the cottonwood trees along the Platte River. The pageant was enacted one evening on the State Fair Grounds before a record crowd. Red Fenwick called it "hair raising realism" in his column in the Denver Post. That fall the Carl Bruch and Ralph Larson families took their covered wagon and oxen to Billings, Montana, to appear in a parade.

In August, 1948, the pageant was again shown at Lusk. In July, 1949, it was put on for the State American Legion convention in Lusk. Other showings were in Lusk in 1950, and in Crawford, Neb., in 1951. Merritt Wallace of Harrison, Nebraska, was president of the Pageant Corporation at this time. George Clarke of Harrison narrated; Mrs. Ford Porter directed.

In 1952 George Clark again narrated at a Lusk showing. Bill Magoon played the part of Jim Farley; Donna Paisley was Kate, the sweetheart of Clyde Pickett, played by Charles Blagg. Shirley Seaman was the Indian maiden. C. E. (Blondie) Marvin narrated for the 1953 Pageant presentation.

Enthusiasm died down. It was hard to get men and boys to ride bareback as Indians. Teams to pull the covered wagons also became scarce. Rural people were busy with harvest at Pageant time. It was not presented in 1954.

Then George Gibson, with his community spirit and enthusiasm, aided by Dr. Richard Collins and many other Lusk people, decided to revive the Pageant and add color to its presentation. Doc Reckling was still an enthusiastic booster, but too busy with his medical practice to give the needed time.

The Seventh Cavalry was added. George Gibson made a purchase of blue trousers. The yellow stripes were sewed on in Lusk. After the mounted troopers became popular, more trousers were needed. So George made another buy; dyed the second batch of trousers to match the first; and more yellow stripes were sewed on.

With much work, Oscar Bostrom and many helpers constructed the water falls and stream near the grandstand. Indian and white children in turn fished in the flowing water. Indian squaws skinned an antelope and dried the meat. Coyotes roamed on the hill. When the wagon train camped for the night, mothers put their children to bed with prayer; lovers strolled by the falling water; and angry wives dampened their husbands' love of chance. Tape-recorded, these scenes were played from the narrator's booth, while the action took place below. Ralph Olinger was director. William Watt again narrated in his Western drawl as sixteen wagons rolled down the hill. Velma Linford, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and an historical author, was an out-of-town guest among the 3,000 spectators at the 1955 presentation.

Rex Yocum directed the Pageant in 1956. A yoke of spotted steers was donated by the U. S. government and received at Fort Niobrara, Valentine, Nebraska. Vern Torrance trained the steers and drove them in the Frontier Days parade at Cheyenne to attract spectators to the Pageant showing. The Seventh Cavalry also appeared at Frontier Days. At the showing in Lusk, Father DeSmet, play by Coye Jennewein, appeared for the first time in a scene with the trappers, Don C. Taylor and Thomas J. Fagan. Mrs. Pete Briscoe was in charge of the Indian village scene. Willadell Story play the part of the Indian maiden who was shot by Clyde Pickett, and Jim Thompson was the Indian hater who got skinned alive. Dick Pfister was captain of the Cavalry. Pete Briscoe rode on the hill as Indian scout. A check showed that cars from 20 States, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada, were parked at the Fair Grounds. Large delegations came from Goshen, Platte and Converse counties.

Wooden nickels were used for advertising the Pageant in 1957. Godfrey Broken Rope, an Indian artist, with Indians from Pine Ridge Reservation, gave nightly dances on the street preceding the Pageant. Salt and Pepper, the oxen, were trained by Aaron Eisenbarth. Jan Thompson was Kate, sweetheart of her father, Jim Thompson, Clyde Pickett. Governor and Mrs. Milward Simpson, William "Scotty" Jack and Mrs. Jack, Miss Lola Homsher and Miss Retaa W. Ridings from the Wyoming Historical Society were among the viewers.

In 1958 the Pageant of the Rawhide gained national recognition. Governor Simpson, an enthusiastic booster, hired William Bragg, Jr., to write national publicity advertising it. Carl Iwasaki, a photographer, and Bayard Hooper, a writer, from Life Magazine, were present for the afternoon presentation on July 20th. The story of the Pageant and a picture of Jim Thompson being shinned alive appeared in the April 13, 1959, issue of Life Magazine. Look Magazine also featured the Pageant in an article "How the West Was Won." The Pageant was also given a second time in 1958 on a Sunday evening.

George Gibson pulled his famous "rifle hoax" for publicity purposes in 1959. The cache of old army rifles was "discovered" by George on a tip from Chief Broken Rope, buried in rotting wooden boxes. In reality George bought the old 11 mm Mauser rifles in California, and faked the well-planned discovery of them. They were wrapped in army blankets that George had dyed blue and soaked in acid, so they would appear well rotted. Claude Redding played the part of Indian Chief. Dale Fulerton was captain of the Seventh Cavalry. Jack Magoon was director. Governor J. J. Hickey and Velma Linford were present.

The 1960 Pageant was dedicated to George Gibson and narrated by Dr. Richard Collins.

Lusk Herald
January 13, 1988
Rawhide sanctioned as 1990 centennial event

To be considered for Top 20

"I am totally impressed," said one member of the Wyoming Centennial Commission just prior to sanctioning the 1990 production of "Legend of Rawhide" as an official activity of Wyoming's centennial observance.

Wyoming Centennial Commission members voted unanimously Friday to sanction the Niobrara County show after listening to a presentation by local representatives. The commission was meeting in Gillette for their regular monthly meeting which preceded a Wyoming Centennial workshop held there Saturday.

"I live in Casper and I didn't even know this thing (Rawhide) existed in Lusk," said Dr. Jacob E. Dailey, the commission's at large member. "I know I'm going to see it."

Dick Hartman of Cheyenne, chairman of the commission, recommended that the "Legend of Rawhide" be sanctioned as an official activity of the state's 1990 centennial observance. "It appears to be a really special event and has a lot to do with what we're trying to do with the Wyoming Centennial," he said.

Rawhide committee chairman Dave Redfield urged the commission to consider the Niobrara County production as one of the state's Top 20 activities for 1990. The commission is scheduled to name a Top 20 list of centennial events which will be advertised nationwide along with the Top 20 events of five other Great Northwest states in a Six-State Centennial compact.

Billed as the 1989 and 1990 Northwest Centennial, the pact includes the states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, South Dakota and North Dakota. Each of the states are celebrating their centennial in either 1989 or 1990.

"If this was listed in the six-state brochure you would have more people there than you would know what to do with," one commissioner said of the Rawhide production. Commission members questioned if seating and housing requirements could be met in Lusk.

Redfield and others assured commissioners that the community would do whatever is necessary to meet any needs that arise. He explained that the Rawhide Committee's goal is to use proceeds of the show to build a new, larger grandstand on the fairgrounds.

Mary Ellen Tamasy, centennial director, asked if the show committee would consider holding three or more productions during 1990 if interest demanded it. Redfield assured her and the commission that they would, explaining that the production is scheduled for two shows the same weekend in order to lessen the burden on cast members and others who travel to Lusk.

Tamasy said the commission would consider the "Legend of Rawhide" for its Top 20 events at the community's request.

Centennial commissioners were given a folder detailing the history and story of Rawhide, standards the show meets in terms of being a sanctioned centennial event and a copy of the show's 1988 budget. A copy of the Rawhide committee's minutes from an October 1987 meeting during which the committee voted to work towards being one of the main attractions for Wyoming's centennial was also presented.

Commission members were also shown a slide presentation about Niobrara County and the "Legend of Rawhide."

Representing Rawhide at the commission meeting in Gillette were Redfield, Lusk mayor Don Whiteaker, town councilmen Gene Kupke and Chuck Bruch, Bob and Pat Eikenberry, Sharon Fosher, Phyllis Hahn, Edmund Cook and Keith Cerny.

A commission member expressed interest in possibly holding one of their monthly meetings in Lusk. Tentative plans were made to issue the commission an official invitation to meet in Lusk in July, capping their meeting by attending a 1988 presentation of Rawhide.

Pat Eikenberry told the commission that the community would later submit and application to sanction a week-long observance of Wyoming's Centennial in Niobrara County.

Chairman Hartman complimented the Rawhide representatives for approaching the commission early concerning sanctioning and inclusion among the Top 20 events, noting that there is plenty of time to work out any problems that might come up.

The Lusk Herald - Legend of the Rawhide insert
June 1996
Legend of Rawhide to celebrate 50th anniversary

This year marks the 50th year since the Legend of Rawhide began and organizers will be celebrating the anniversary July 12 and 13.

The Legend of Rawhide, a story of gold hunting pioneers crossing the plains was launched in 1946 by the late Dr. Walter E. Reckling as a plan to draw the county of Niobrara together after World War II.

It was an old legend of the area that Niobrarans had heard all their lives. Reckling asked EvaLou Bonsell, soon to be Paris, to write it and direct it while he took care of promoting the event.

He enlisted about 200 locals to play the story in the middle of a rodeo area. About 150 of them became covered wagon pioneers and the rest became Sioux Indians.

The performance played to an audience of 10,0000 according to newspaper accounts of the occasion and it drew the interest of a Hollywood filming company.

They filmed a full-length version of the show which sported actual pioneers of Wyoming.

Helicopters were used in the filming of the Legend of the Rawhide

In the following years it was played again and again, capturing the attention of Life Magazine in 1949 featuring Jim Thompson, a state representative for Wyoming, being skinned alive.

The Denver Post Empire Magazine devoted three large pages to it in 1950 entititled "Skinned Alive Every Year."

In 1962, it was invited to the Seattle World's Fair and a country singer, Bozo Darnell, set the story to music.

Look Magazine captioned it "How the West was Won" in 1963. In 1990, it became one of the 20 top exhibitions for the Wyoming Centennial.

The story has played to governors and executives, foreigners and locals since 1946 with a brief hiatus.

A new grandstand will grace the arena overlooking the slow trek of oxen as they move toward the gold field carrying their anxious settlers to the destiny.

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