Historical Details

Spaugh, Addison A: Biography-The Last Frontier, Chapter 16

Courtesy of Niobrara County Historical Society / Stagecoach Museum, 03/01/1940

As told by Frazier Hunt, originally published in The Country Gentleman, December 1939, January, February, and March 1940


The winter of ’82 and ’83 was a long, hard one for the Wyoming country. Ad kept on as many men as he felt he could possibly justify, and the others were welcome to ride his grub line.

The fact that more than half the cowboys in all outfits had to be turned off when the fall roundup and beef shipping were over unquestionably was the primary cause of many otherwise honest boys becoming cattle and horse thieves. For six months cowboys were asked recklessly to gamble their lives in the most dangerous calling in the world –and then when the work was ended they were tossed out with less consideration than a good cow pony was turned out to graze. As a rule they were cleaned of their summer wages within a week after they struck a cow town. Then came five months of forced idleness without money or prospects. The temptation to join up with a bunch of rustlers, and get even with the big foreign-owned outfit that had treated them with so little consideration, was a little too much for many of the boys.

Spring came in a rush, and soon the three wagons were pulling out for their stations in the great roundup. In July calf branding started, and almost before the men knew it the days began to grow shorter and there was an unmistakable nip in the air.

One afternoon toward the end of the calf branding Ad rode up to Dogie Robinson’s wagon at the mouth of Cherry Creek. Dogie was short-handed, and when a man who had been working with George Ray’s outfit of the Rawhide dropped into camp, Ad told Dogie he might as well put him to work the following day. The cowboy explained the fact that he had left Ray’s wagon without leave by admitting that he was afraid the wagon boss would kill him if he stayed on. George Ray and the boy had had an argument, and when George returned to camp from Fort Laramie half drunk and with whiskey bottles wrapped in his slicker, the boy had simply pulled out. It was against the rules for any wagon boss to hire a man who had been fired by another boss, but Ad turned the boy over to Dogie.

The thing he’d been fearing for a year had finally come. He’d have plenty of trouble with George now. Suddenly he recalled the story he had heard in Texas years before: how George had shot and killed a man in drunken anger.
That next day George Ray rode on ahead of his own outfit, jogged up to Hat Creek station, eight miles from the home ranch, and proceeded to take on a load at the bar. Ad was heeling calves from a horse inside the corral, when Ray galloped up and dismounted.

Striding over to the fence George climbed to the top rail and watched the range manager for several minutes for several minutes. Then he slowly drew his six-shooter. Clarence Hand, a soft-spoken, hazel-eyed young man who was wrestling calves, saw the drunken wagon boss reach for his gun, and in a flash he drew his own Colt and leaped for the fence.

“Drop it or I’ll plug you!” Clarence shouted.

George’s eyes looked squarely down the barrel of the cowboy’s forty-five.

Slowly George returned his gun to its holster and crawled down from the corral. Unsteadily he walked to his horse, mounted and rode off.

“Much obliged, Clarence,” Ad remarked casually. “Reckon he’d a’ got me that time if it hadn’t been for you.”

Toward evening a cowboy rode up to the wagon with word that George Ray was over at the Hat Creek stage station with an O W cow pony and a ranch pack horse. He was still drinking and bragging what he’d do if he ever saw either Ad Spaugh or Clarence Hand again.

Ad quietly buckled on his six-shooter, rode to Hat Creek, found the two O W horses at the hitching rack, dumped Ray’s saddle and pack on the ground and headed the ponies toward home. The ex-wagon boss was still skulking in the saloon.

Ad glanced scornfully at the door of the bar, got aboard his horse and trotted off after the ponies. Now and then, he reflected wryly, a ranch foreman sure earned his keep.

Early that fall Ad gathered close to 6000 head of beeves that were ready for shipment. Prices were good and it was certain that the O W would get its first big harvest. Most of the steers had been bought by the company for around $25 a head, and this fall of ‘83 they’d average nearly $50.

Ad decided he would ship from the railhead of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad at Valentine, Nebraska, 300 miles to the eastward, rather than from Pine Bluffs on the Union Pacific. By making up three herds and driving them leisurely at an average of not more than ten miles a day, he could actually deliver the steers to the railhead in better flesh than when they left their home range.

It was October eleventh when the first herd got in. That night Orville Vincent and several of the boys ran into a little trouble in Carpenter’s barroom and dance hall. The local sheriff was a gun fighter who at this time was using the name of Johnny Keyes—and who later came to an untimely end in Texas with a rope around his neck. In a playful mood Orville took a shot at a kerosene lamp, and Keyes pistol-whipped him before the boy knew quite what had struck him. When he came to, his friends were picking him up in the alley back of the dance hall.

The next night, with the last hoof loaded and off for Omaha, Orville figured he’d get a little quiet revenge. Enlisting the gentle but fearless Clarence Hand under his banner, Orville led the way on horseback to the front door of the dance hall. Keyes, sensing trouble, and taken a position inside and to the left of the open door; and when Clarence tried to ride his horse into the hall, the officer stepped out from his hiding place, pushed the pistol squarely against Clarence’s heart and pulled the trigger. The cowboy crumpled up in his saddle and fell to the sidewalk. It was a cold-blooded and unnecessary killing.

Orville ran his horse to the O W wagons on the edge of town. “They just killed Clarence!” he shouted. “Let’s clean up the town.”

Frank de Castro, Bill Vale, Bobby Gamble and a dozen others hurriedly strapped on their Colts, and joined Orville. Ad came up at the moment and took in the situation. He knew that if his crew got loose there’d be a score of men killed this night. Bad blood had been developing for two days between his boys and the local toughs.
Quietly he called to Robinson and Hank Green, two of his wagon bosses who were still around camp. “Keep these men out of that dance hall,” he ordered bluntly. Ad turned to Frank de Castro. He knew that he could depend on the chunky, black-eyed top hand. “Frank, you come along with me.”

On the main street of the little cow town, men were gathered in knots talking over the killing. One of the men who had worked in Dogie Robinson’s outfit was a mean-tempered, gray-eyed young fellow, named George Crooks. He had caused more than a little trouble with his eternal fault-finding, and when the wagon reached Valentine, Crooks drew his pay and announced he was quitting. The night of the killing Crooks immediately sided with the local bad men. He took on a load of cheap whisky and, with his Colt carried loose in the holster, paraded up and down the main stem of the cow town plainly looking for trouble. Ad, with Frank on his left side, had just ordered town or three O W cowboys to return to the wagons, when Crooks stepped directly in front of him and ripped out an oath.

Ad made no move for his gun but coolly looked Crooks in the eye. “So you belong to this gang of cattle thieves and killers, too, huh?”

“Yeah—and you’re next,” Crooks snarled, pulling and cocking his gun in one swift movement.

Frank de Castro threw up his left hand on the desperate chance of spoiling Crooks’ aim. At the same split-second Frank drew his Colt with his right hand. Crooks’ six-shooter roared. The bullet grazed the shoulder of Ad’s coat. Frank’s swift movement had knocked up the barrel of the killer’s gun just enough to save Ad’s life.
With a savage lunge Frank brought the heavy barrel of his Colt alongside Crook’s jaw. The drunken cowpuncher dropped to the board sidewalk, cold as a mackerel.

“Guess we better get out of here pronto, boss,” Frank remarked calmly. “This hombre’s got a town full of friends.”
Ad stepped over the fallen man. Men were pouring out of barrooms and dance halls.

“This way, Ad,” Frank urged, leading the way into a general store where the outfit had bought their provisions. The proprietor had been friendly to the O W boys, and had warned them that the town was being run by a tough gang.
Ad eased his pistol in its holster, and tucked his right thumb over the edge of his cartridge belt. The storekeeper reached under the counter and casually laid out a double-barreled shotgun. Then he walked on to the back of the store. Ad pulled the butt of the gun over toward him.

Out on the sidewalk Crooks was being lifted to his feet by a pair of his friends. They were helping him down the sidewalk to the Silver Dollar Saloon.

“Best thing we can do is to get all our men back to camp,” Ad said slowly, when the immediate danger had passed.

“You stop in here, an’ I’ll pass the word around,” Frank suggested.

“I’ll go along, Ad said stubbornly.

He led the way up to the street. It was quiet now. Down by the corner he caught sight of three or four of his cowboys. There was a Last Chance bar at the edge of town where the trail from the west came in. He’d send the boys out there if they still craved more liquor. Clarence was dead, but life moved on. You couldn’t keep a cowpuncher from having his fun on his night in town.

Images & Attachments

A tintype of Ad Spaugh--his first photograph--taken in Dodge City, Kansas, July 4, 1876
Addison A. Spaugh in 1883, when he was a range detective for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association

Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Spaugh, Addison (03/31/1857 - 12/23/1943) View Record