Historical Details

Alter, John, A Biography

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 10/27/2020


by Mrs. James Hodgson

He arrived in Lusk on a box car in the early spring of 1902, tried, hungry and full of soot.   John Alter was 21 when he and his friend, Bennie Reinhart, left Iowa and "beat" their way and "rode the rails" to Wyoming.  Seventy years later John is still a resident of this community and ac­tive in many of its affairs. He came to join his brother, Boynton Alter, who had come to this country in 1901.  Boynton is still a resident here also and the brothers agree it has been an interesting and rewarding life.

John Francis Alter was born on a farm near the small town of Wayland, Iowa on Dec. 23, 1881. His father, James C. Alter was a native of Iowa and a veteran of the Civil War, and his mother, Amanda Comfort, a quarter Naragansett Indian from Rhode Island, migrated with her family to Zanesville, Ohio.  While she was still a young girl, they moved to Iowa driving a mule and a cow hitched to a wagon. She and her husband raised a family of eight children.

John was the youngest child and at the time of his birth, the family of ten was living in a two-room frame house.    He grew to manhood in this farming community and then in March of the year 1902, he set his sights to the west.

The trip to Wyoming was long and hard but one of the highlights John likes to remember is the stopover in Lincoln, Nebr. where he enjoyed seeing and hearing the famous Carrie Nation giving a real lecture to the boys in the saloon.

After arriving in Lusk, he chopped wood for eight days for his room and board at the old Northwestern Hotel, owned at that time 
by Harry J. Herring. He then decided to try his hand at herding sheep and worked for H.L. Reed on Boggy Creek, the Rochelle Ranch, Jakie Mill, the Johnson brothers and Ed Barber.  John recalls many experiences  he had during these years and enjoys telling about them.

"I have seen so many changes since the days when I was a hired man for the late Mrs. Lusk. I had to eat in the kitchen with the hired girl.  I slept in the barn and Mrs. Lusk could call me by pulling a wire that ran from the house to a bell in the barn."

There were no cement sidewalks or paved streets--only boardwalks in front of the business houses. The late Lee Miller put in the first sidewalk in front of the house where the Lafe Culvers live now. It was only two feet wide."

"Russell Bradley told me that the late George Wilson killed the last buffalo just south of the George Lathrop monument at a buffalo wallow. It was a two-year-old bull."

"While I was herding for Barber, a grey she-wolf and her pups got in the herd and killed 73 head of sheep in one night during an electrical storm. Another time I was herding for the late Johnson Brothers just north of Dogie Butte, the late Jack Dillon stayed all night with me as we were to move the camp the next morning. I had many Denver Post papers so I said to Jack that I was going to put these papers in this gulch, Happy Hooligan and all. Jack then said that we should call it "Hooligan Gulch" and after some 60 years it is still called Hooligan Gulch.”

"In August of 1902 I helped work on a big irrigation ditch around Whalen Canyon with horses and slips.  That is the irriga­tion ditch that goes by Lingle and Torrington.  I was working with. my brother, "Bunt" and a fellow named Myron Hastead and the three of us took a notion to ride horseback to North Dakota and work in the harvest fields.  We left Lusk on the first of Sep­tember in 1902. Our first stop was at the Hat Creek store where we met hundreds of Indians on their way to Shoshoni.  When these Indians came back to Dakota in  February of 1903 that is when the last Indian fight took place on Big Lightning Creek. In haste to get away, one Indian's spring wagon hind wheel broke down. Later on, I got the other hind wheel or parts of it and took it to the Pioneer Museum at Douglas. It can be seen there. The Indians had killed Sheriff Miller in that fight.

"It took us three boys eight days to ride to Edgley, N.D. which is near Fargo. My horse got sore feet near Newcastle so we stayed all night at a ranch. Then I traded my horse for an old XIT pony that no doubt had come up the Texas Trail in the 80s.  I am sure he was 15 years or more old.   He was one of the best horses that I ever had as he really knew his stuff. Later we sold our horses in Edgley and came back to Lusk some­ time in 1903.

"In the winter and spring of 1902 and 1903, I trapped grey wolves and sold the pelts to George Hitschew. Also in 1903 I made a trip to Spokane, Wash. On the way I worked as a "Cookie" at a Railroad camp along the Missoula River in the Flathead Indian Reservation. I couldn't find much work in Spokane so came back to Wyoming in the fall. On my way back I stopped at the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana and helped brand 5000 head of cattle.  From Montana I rode back in a box car full of beer kegs with ice in  there too. I got off in Crawford, Nebr. and got in a hay stack to sleep.  A woman came out with a club so I sure got out of there. "I was a cowboy for the late Bill Magoon Sr. I was a bartender at the Inter­ocean Hotel in Cheyenne for John Bower and saw Teddy Roosevelt when he stayed there one night.

"I went to see the Frontier Days rodeo in Cheyenne in 1903. It was only the fifth one they had put on. They had a stage coach holdup.

"I worked for the late John Fernau putting in water mains in Lusk. I was paid $1.50 for 10 hours of work.  I did jobs for him off and on for 10 or 15 years.

"I sheared sheep many springs with Jim Masheks's crew. He was captain of the crew and some of the fellows were Ray Baughn, Clint Dern, Ray Whipple, George Quinn, Solon Clark, Harvey Boner, Al Rider, Carl Baughn and Carl Runguist. I was captain of the crew at one time. We sheared for the Rochelle ranch, Jakie Mill, old John Pfister, Chris Joss and Fred Bruegger.   We used the old-time hand blade sheep shears.

"I bought my first car in 1917.  It was a 1914 Model T Ford."

John married Louise Lipke in Chadron, Nebr. on March 15, 1914. She had come to Lusk from Juneau, Wisc. to visit her sister, the late Mrs. William (Auntie Bill) Magoon and stayed to marry, raise a family and live in this community until her death in 1945. At the time of their marriage, she was working for John Slater in the Lusk Free Lance and John had a half interest in the pool hall. The following year they moved to a homestead two miles northwest of Lusk where they lived for 25 years. They raised a family of three children: Mrs. Wyome Keys Bourret and Delmar L. Alter of Lusk and Mrs. Avanell Hodgson of Boulder, Colo.

On the ranch, the family engaged in raising sheep and Brown Swiss dairy cattle and sold milk, cream and butter to the Bradley Dairy and Kilmer Creamery and other stores in Lusk.   Mrs. Alter was specially noted for her good butter.    They did some farming and always grew big gardens of which the produce was canned and stored for winter. Like most ranchers, they made their own cheese and smoked their meat in a smoke­ house.

There were 285 acres and a school section on the ranch and in the 1930's John decided to expand and bought 3020 more acres 15 miles north of Lusk that had been owned by George Quinn, Henry Deetjen and the Ellis boys.    Here he ran large bands of sheep and at times would change to running cattle. In 1933 he brought up 2 car loads of cattle from Las Cruces, N.M.

The family moved to town in 1940 where they bought rental houses on the corner of 4th and Elm. The houses have since been torn down and the lots purchased by Safeway where their store now stands.

John became interested in the study and collecting of rocks and has made this his main business and hobby for the past 25  years.   In 1955 he purchased the John Slater house on Main street where he operated a rock shop for years. He still lives there but closed his shop five years ago as he says, "It interfered with my traveling and rock hunting".  At 90, John still drives his car and spends many hours roaming the hills hunting for rocks and attending rock shows. He is probably the most avid "rock hound" you'll ever hope to meet.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Alter, John (12/23/1881 - 02/22/1983) View Record
Obituary Alter, Louise (03/24/1884 - 12/07/1945) View Record
Obituary Alter, Delmar (02/04/1917 - 06/20/1991) View Record
Obituary Bourret, Wyome (12/17/1914 - 08/12/2000) View Record
Obituary Hodgson, Avanell (04/06/1921 - 01/29/2005) View Record
Cemetery Record ALTER, JOHN F. View Record
Cemetery Record ALTER, LOUISE ADINA (LIPKE) View Record