Historical Details

McFarlane, A.E., Pioneer

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 12/15/2020


by Susie Mills Walker, Historian

A. E. McFarlane came to Wyoming Territory in 1886 from Texas, where he was em­ployed. Hugh McFarlane, an uncle of A. E. McFarlane, sent him to this state to look after his uncle's interests at the Silver Cliff mine, known as the Great Western Min­ing and Milling Company, which his uncle had been operating for about six months, and had gone to great expense to have con­siderable machinery installed. The reports from the mine were very unsatisfactory, and he sent A. E. to make an investigation, with instructions to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut and to communicate with his uncle at least once a month.

The superintendent of the mine was a man named McPherson and during the time Mc­ Farlane worked, there was considerable silver mined. But as the quartz-like for­mation was freed, milling ore and had to be crushed and pulverized to dust form to be handled successfully, and the machinery was not adopted to such work. Although silver was taken out, the venture proved unprofitable. Hugh McFarlane ordered the machinery dismantled and shipped to Missouri where he had other mining interests. The machinery had cost over $30,000. One silver brick shipped east from the mine was valued at $500.

A 285-foot shaft had been sunk in the top of the hill in an attempt to explore the property thoroughly before Mr. McFarlane came to Silver Cliff, and another attempt was made while he was working at the mine to explore a different area. A 1200-foot tunnel was extended into the north side of the hill, a shaft was then sunk from this tunnel, but as water was soon encountered, the operations of the mine were permanently closed.

Later Mr. McFarlane engaged in ranching for a time and then established a dairy. While engaged in the dairy business, Mr. McFarlane delivered milk and cream to the residents of Lusk, at four cents a quart, butter at 15 cents a pound and eggs at three cents a dozen. His deliveries were made with a one horse outfit.  A. E. calls the venture his one-horse dairy and describes it thus.

"Lusk was a small town and there was no dairy. I had a bunch of cows and decided to start a dairy. I built a two-wheel cart and put a board back of the dash and on this strapped my 10-gallon milk can. On the side of the cart was a cupboard in which I hauled my measuring cups and butter and eggs.    I sold milk by the quart, measured at the door. I ran this dairy several years.  I also had an ice business after I quit the dairy. I sold cows with calves by their side for $12.50."

Mr. McFarlane was engaged in raising Hereford cattle for about 15 years, and ac­ cording to the State stock inspector, his herd of white faces was one of the best in the State. This was accomplished by giving careful attention to the selection of his breeding stock. After he sold his dairy cows, he bought 10 extra good Herefords and built up a herd of fine cows and calves.

When he sold his Herefords, he had 50 head of cows and calves in that section. After selling his Herefords, Mr. McFarlane engaged in the dairy business a second time and on a larger scale and continued the business, which was called the Silver Cliff Dairy un­til 1927, when he sold the dairy to Russell Bradley and son.

In making the sale, Mr. McFarlane sold everything excepting a favorite rocker and bedroom suite. An old clock that had been in use in the office of the mine at Silver Cliff, bought back in 1884 was left at the dairy -- sold with the other household furniture.  This clock is 53 years old and is still keeping good time. The clock has kept time all the years except once when it hung on a wall that was not plumb, this was remedied and the clock ran again perfectly.

People in early days lived primitive lives. The first pioneers worked as cowboys or freighters and as the country settled up, these men, mostly bachelors, filed on land and built log cabins or dug-outs and lived off the wildlife of the country.  Mr. Mc­ Farlane says he has eaten many a meal of rabbit and bread and coffee, with some cow­ punchers who lived on his claim during the time there was no work for him, riding the range, and they lived as best they could when not working.  (Mr. McFarlane was never a cow-puncher).

During Mr. McFarlane's early residency at Lusk, he worked at anything that would swell his income, hauling wood was one of his methods of making money. One winter he hauled 30 - two-horse loads of wood logs and limbs and sold them for $2.50 per load. He sold one load of big solid logs, 14-feet long and stacked four feet high to the tops of his wood rack, for $3.50. The same loads of wood now (1937) would sell for $15 and $20 in Lusk.

After Bill McCoy shot and killed Charley Gunn, there was great excitement in the town and about 15 men went from Lusk to Cheyenne as witnesses. Mr. McFarlane was one.  He made one trip by stage and one in a wagon and another on horseback.    He rode a small pony, and on the return trip, two of the men, Jack Evans and Rollie Sanders, who were mounted on the never-tiring range saddle horses, bade goodbye to the other men at Eagles Nest, saying "We will eat breakfast at home in Lusk."      They arrived at Lusk at 8 o'clock the next morning by traveling all night.  The trained cow ponies could cover miles where the ordinary horse could not make a fifth of the time. The other men who had ridden on into Laramie, left early in the morning and arrived home the following evening in time for supper.

Bill McCoy tried to escape after he had killed Charley Gunn, but was captured and taken to Cheyenne -- then the county seat  of Wyoming Territory -- and placed in jail. The cells in the jail were the ordinary kind and the sheriff placed a "safety" in the jail to watch McCoy. Soon the "safety" notified the sheriff that McCoy planned to escape at a certain time. McCoy's friends had slipped him a saw and he had sawed the cell bars and would have escaped.  The Sheriff sent his deputy in to see if McCoy was leaving and as the deputy stayed so long, the sheriff dashed into the jail to ascertain the cause of the delay of the deputy. When the sheriff entered, McCoy knew his attempt to escape had been frustrated.  The sheriff then handcuffed McCoy and the next day he had an iron bar welded between the handcuffs so the prisoner could not get his hands together.      New cells were ordered and placed on top of the old cells with stairway to them. The new cells were supposed to be made of iron or steel and could not be sawed or cut with acid. All the doors of the new cells could be closed and locked from the outside corridor.  Mc­Coy was placed in one of the new cells, but during the day he was allowed out in the corridor.

One day, McCoy was cutting another prisoners hair, he reached up with his scissors and marked a square hole in the top of the cell and said, "Here is where we will go out". In just 14 days McCoy made a hole in the top of his cell, climbed out of the sky light in the roof of the jail, crossed the roof and slid down on an electric light pole to the ground, landing in the sheriff's backyard, and escaped.

It was rumored, several years later, that he got his neck broken in Texas, where he went to escape the Wyoming law. McCoy had killed two men in Texas before coming to Wyoming. (Mr. McFarlane roomed in Cheyenne with the deputy sheriff sent up from Texas to get McCoy and from him learned McCoy's past history.)

After the sale of his Hereford herd, Mr. McFarlane located in Lusk and owned and operated a carpenter shop with a blacksmith shop in connection. He made a specialty of building a superior grade sheep wagon. He took great pride in the production of a sheep wagon that he guaranteed to be water proof. The wagon was fitted with a bed, a cooking outfit and with inlaid linoleum.

These wagons were built with few nails, and were put together with bolts, screws and tacks and even the floor was put together with screws.  These first-class wagons sold complete for $285.00 and the sheepmen who owned one could boast of the finest wagon in this country. The wagons were used for a period of 30 years without being repaired.

Mr. McFarlane tells some very amusing incidents of the  early day cowboys when they were in town for recreation. He says:

"Early Lusk sidewalks were of plank and it was the delight of cowboys to ride their ponies on the sidewalks to hear the clatter of their horses' hoofs.  They were notified by the marshall to not ride on the side-walks. One day, I was walking along in the business section and heard the clatter of a horse coming along the sidewalk. Just as the rider came up to me, he pulled his gun, leaned over, shoved it in my face and said, 'Have you any objection to me riding on the sidewalk?' and I answered him, "I don't care how much you ride on the sidewalk'.

The cowboy holstered his gun and went on along the walk looking everywhere but where his horse was going. At the end of the sidewalk there were steps and the horse stumbled down them and fell, throwing the cowboy sprawling in the street."

Another of Mr. McFarlane's cowboy stories follows:

"A drunk man is angry if he thinks people are laughing at him and resents it even at the point of a gun sometimes. In early days in Lusk, there was a saloon which bore the name of the Blue Front and as usual, there was a hitching rack in front for the convenience of the patrons of the place to tie their ponies. One day one of the cowboys from the north range had imbibed too freely and had come out and was hanging over the hitching rack and was disgorging the liquor he had drunk. Just at this juncture, Bill Bonsell and I came along and it so happened that just at this time a man named Hobbs, who clerked in Baron's store, stepped out onto the sidewalk. Upon seeing the sick cowboy, who was his friend, Hobbs began to laugh.   When Hobbs laughed, he would throw his head back and his mouth opened like a cave and his laughter was loud and long, and he presented a laughable spectacle.

Bonsell and I laughed at Hobbs and the sick, drunken cowboy thought we were laughing at him and he flew into a rage, pulled his gun and said to me, 'I've a no­tion to kill you', and I realized he might shoot me.  I said, 'Now, Bill, you couldn't kill me, I am a good friend of yours', and just then he became so sick he had to drape himself over the hitching rack again and Bonsell and I made haste to go before he could recover from his sick spell. We entered the first door we came to and made for the back alley without seeming hasty, as we knew if Bill should think we were running from him, he would likely shoot us. Of, course, when Bill was sober he would never think of shooting any one for laugh­ing".

A. E. McFarlane was born in Chicago, Feb. 2, 1861 and received his education and lived in that city until he was 20 years of age, when he went to Texas and later came to Wyoming to work in his uncle's silver mine. He married Miss Mary Jane Hancock, daughter of the Reverend Joseph Hancock, Congregational minister of Lusk.  They were the parents of four children: Archie, the oldest, deceased in 1935, Albert, who lives at Lance Creek, Wyo., Helen McFarlane Willson of Lusk, Wyo., Ralph, Lusk, Wyo.  Mrs. Mary Jane McFarlane died at Lusk in 1903.

Mr. McFarlane was married a second time to Miss Zona Bradley of Lusk and they had two children: Kathleen McFarlane and Claude McFarlane.

A. E. McFarlane is living at Lusk, he is one of the few surviving early pioneers of Niobrara County.

(Mr. McFarlane died at the Spencer Hospital in Lusk in 1948 and is buried in the Lusk Cemetery).

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary McFarlane, Albert (02/02/1861 - 02/08/1948) View Record
Obituary McFarlane, Mary (03/22/1868 - 08/07/1903) View Record
Obituary McFarlane, Zona (08/03/1882 - 05/27/1979) View Record
Historical The Silver Cliff Ranch View Record