Historical Details

Last Killing of Johnson County War Here in '92

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 08/17/1961

The last killing attributed to the Johnson County War took place in Niobrara County, then Converse County, in the fall of 1892. Charlie Hitshew claims to have witnessed this killing.

He was cleaning up meadow land on the Horseshoe Ranch eight miles north of Keeline, when he heard a shot. He looked up and saw a saddled horse running in circles on a nearby hill. He and Joe Grant went to catch the horse, and found a young man shot dead.

Meanwhile, the killer, Mike Shonsey with a witness went to Lum Barber, the sheriff in Lusk and told him of the shooting. Shonsey and his witness both swore that Dudley Champion had pulled his gun first, and that Shonsey shot in self defense. Shonsey, being the better man, had beat him to the draw. Released by the sheriff and the hastily called court, Shonsey lost no time in getting to Cheyenne. There he settled with George W. Baxter, his employer, and fled to Mexico. George W. Baxter was an ex-governor of Wyoming and at that time general manager of the Western Union Beef Company. The company had a herd in Johnson County with Mike Shonsey as range foreman.

When settlers and homesteaders came to Wyoming, invading and breaking up the free ranges of the cattlemen, conflict resulted. The large cattle companies also fought the encroaching sheepmen. Open war and murder flared in Johnson County. Nate Champion and Nick Ray who led and symbolized the fight of the small stockmen and homesteader, were surrounded in their cabin in Johnson County and murdered by a group of hired killers sent out from Cheyenne by the large stock interests. These large ranchers claimed Nate Champion and other like him were nesters and thieves. In order to scare homesteaders and sheep herders from the cattle ranges, many were ambushed and murdered.

After Nate Champion and Nick Ray were besieged and murdered in their cabin, Mike Shonsey naturally feared Dudley Champion, a brother of Nate, even though he was more of a boy than a man. So Shonsey located his supposed enemy, waylaid and shot him. Old issues of The Lusk Herald in the fall of 1892 gave no account of the shooting or the inquest. The strife that led to the Johnson County War was a subject not to be openly discussed.

Mike Shonsey later returned to Nebraska and is supposed to have been the last living man who took an active part in the Johnson County War.

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