Historical Details

Smythe, William H. Personal History

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 02/25/2022


As we jog along down the trail to camp, I am going to spin you a story of a combination of characters, both of men and horses I knew 60 years ago. At that time the west was the melting pot for all kinds of characters, and they were brought together in sharing the hardship of frontier life, which often welded the saint and sinner into a lifetime comradeship.

Cattle and horses have the same traits as people, the same panics, the same distrusts and the same likes. If they have con­fidence in you they look to you in times of trouble. I have seen cattle and horse herds with heads up, wild eyed, a whirlpool of frantic flesh on the verge of a stampede, when the trail boss would ride slowly into the edge of the whirling mass of flesh and talk to them in a cool low voice. You could see the immediate effect on the whirlpool of horns and hoofs as they gradually slowed down. They had confidence in their boss.

I have been a roving cowhand in most of the western states.

I was born in Somers County, West Virginia, Feb. 14, 1886. My family moved to Wythe County, Virginia when I was three months old. My father died when I was 12 years old. Being the oldest boy in a family of five children, it fell my lot to help support the family. I started working in the iron mines as a water boy at the age of 12. I worked during the summer months and attended school during the winter.

I liked farming and stock of all kinds, but I was not interested in mining. Al­ though I was considered a top hand in the mines when I was 16 years of age, I didn't like it, so when my mother remarried, I decided to go west and try my luck. I first came to Harrionsville, Mo., and worked on a farm for a year. There I met a brother of M.W. Jones. He told me of his brother operating a cattle ranch in Wyoming, so in the spring of 1904 or 1905 I landed in Lusk. Demmon was carrying the mail, but not being acquainted with the departure of the mail wagon, I missed the first trip out after I landed.

I liked the west from the beginning. The people were strangers, but sociable. Men would holler across the street and ask me if I wanted a job. The people were even inter­ested in a stray kid. I only weighed about 100 pounds. One big giant of a man said he knew Mert Jones and only lived 12 miles from Mert's ranch. He was going out next day with a freight wagon and said I could ride with him. He told me his name was Pete Sommers.  The next morning early we were rattling north from Lusk and landed at the Hat Creek Store about noon. Andrew Falconer was postmaster of Hat Creek post office. At sundown we pulled in at Pete's ranch at the mouth of Sage Creek on Old Woman Creek. I spent the night with Pete. The next morning, I rode behind Pete across Old Woman Creek, and Pete turned me loose, telling me to follow the old trails until I could look down and see the cotton­wood trees -- there I could see Mert's house for the road went straight to the house. The trails I was following were the old Texas - Montana cow trails. The creek that I first saw was Buck Creek. I probably am the only living man who came up the Texas Trail on foot.

It was the first day of April when I walked into Mert's house. Mert was as fine a man as ever lived - in fact, he was a father to me. I remember Pete Sommer's parting words when he was directing me to Mert's ranch; "Now, kid, you will find him and his family above the damned average." I was interested and he was an excellent teacher. He was one of the boys from the old school. There I met many of those noble characters who made the country safe for the honyokers. If I remember right, I came to Wyoming the spring after the Lightning Creek Battle with the Sioux Indians - The time sheriff Miller was killed. In 1906 I witnessed the Ute Indians round up the antelope in Little Thunder Basin.

I bought my first cattle in June of the same year. I bought 20 yearling heifers from Andrew Falconer. I was working for Mert and carried the mail from Warren to Taylorville, twice a week - made the round in a day on horseback.

In 1909, I worked for Charles Hitshew. He and Charles Bright ran a roundup wagon. That fall, after roundup was over, Sourdough Ike and I trapped. We were living in my cabin on Lance Creek.  In 1910 I worked for J.M. Carey Cattle Co. until after the beef round­ up then looked after my own cattle on Lance Creek until spring. The year 1911 was spent with the Carey Cattle Co. until after beef­ works. That was my last year working out. I was kept busy looking after my own outfit.

The gray wolves were pretty bad and I spent the spring season denning for wolf pups.

When I first came to Mert Jones home his wife, Mrs. Lucy Jones was postmistress of the Warren Post Office. There was another post office about twenty miles north of Hat Creek named North View. Mrs. Solan Clark was postmistress.

Pete Sommers was a real pioneer of the old west. He as in his fifties and a very interesting companion. He said he was about six years old when his family left Missouri in a prairie schooner headed west. He was a  fluent master of profane language, but he had heart of gold.

I cannot call myself a real pioneer but I received my early training  from the real pioneers. Some were Mert Jones, George Lacy, E.H. Lindsy,
Clarence Sheldon. Ed Lindsy was the manager of the old S.G. the first ranch west of the Black Hills at Dewey, South Dakota.

John B. Kendrick and Ed Lindsy wintered in the Rawhide Buttes the year of 1879. In the spring of 1880 they trailed their herd 50 miles north of Lusk and Lance Creek. Kendrick also established the O.W. ranch. Kendrick was only 21 years old when he left Texas. He hewed logs for the ranch house at the Ula ranch. He married Ula Wolfgen. I was told there was a window pane that Mrs. Kendrick had inscribed the letters Ula on, with a diamond, in the ranch house.

Ed Riley was an old trail man who trailed the first cattle north after the civil war. He knew Wild Bill Hitchcock when he was at Dodge City.

One of my best friends was Fred Sullivan. He was a stage driver on the Cheyenne - Dead­wood Trail and had Wild Bill and Calamity Jane as passengers.

Maggie Carroll was a school teacher who helped me out by signing my note for $150. This was an important thing for me because times were hard and money was all but impossible to borrow.

Sour Dough Ike, (James P. Baker), Ray DeGering and I landed in what is Niobrara County at about the same time. When Ike rode up to my cabin he was a welcome guest, as he said he would take over the cooking. He had worked for Bill Pearson and he made sour dough second to none. Sourdough got his nickname because of the sourdough bread he made so well.

Mert Jones said I was built right to be a good wolf den swab. I could wiggle my way into a den and save a lot of digging. I was lucky that spring. I found a den at the mouth of Walker Creek that yielded 11 pups and two old wolves. The state gave a bounty of five dollars per head regardless of age. I was working alone so that was a financial help.

Joe Pettie was a range foreman. We were long time friends. He was a pioneer from the ground up. His father was the first sheriff of Custer County, South Dakota in the gold rush days, and knew Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hitchcock.

John Kendrick.was an example of a self made man. He was 21 years old when he brought the trail herd into Wyoming. They wintered in the Rawhide country. The spring of 1880 they moved over on Lance Creek where he built a log house. The logs were pine. There was nothing but cottonwood timber on Lance Creek.

Kendrick brought the best logs from Alum Creek Hills, east of Old Woman Creek 10 miles east of the Lance Creek building sight. He hewed the logs as they were dragged in. It took 30 days to complete the logs for the ranch house. Men who worked with Kendrick said that he would stay up studying his lessons long into the night after the rest of them were sleeping. I visited Kendrick several times when he was in the Senate. That was many years later.

My homestead was only three-fourths of a mile from the site of his ranch, The ULA. We.shared our experiences of blizzards, droughts, and fighting the gray wolves. Kendrick was a pioneer, a cow man and a statesman that any state would be proud of.

We had a nice winter and plenty of moisture the year of 1915. The range was good and everyone had hay that fall. I bought 15 head of yearling fillies from William Hogg, also a thoroughbred from Jim Hogg. They had the best bred horses in that part of the country. They had been using thoroughbred racers. "Goldie" had held the world's record for one mile and one sixteenth. His mother was one of King Edward's derby winners that had been shipped to this country for exhibit at the St. Louis World Fair. I had in all, 20 or 25 mares with which I intended raising cavalry horses. I and Houston Sowers were all fall gathering and branding these fillies. They were scattered over most of eastern Wyo. and western So. Dak.

The year of 1916 looked like a prosperous one. We again had plenty of moisture. I had to go to Douglas on land business. There was a report flashed around the country that we were on the verge of war with Mexico. The headlines in the Denver Post in large letters was "Pancho Villa and his raiders had dashed across the border at Columbus, a town between New Mexico and Mexico and murdered several Americans."

Wyoming had called out her National Guard and was asking for volunteers. I had no immediate family, so I decided to sign up. I just had to straighten out my affairs. I was in a hurry to get home and sell my cattle.

Chris Ruffing had asked me several times if I ever wanted to sell my cattle he would give me a bid. He thought I had the best bunch of cattle in the area. Chris had always been a good friend. I told him what I wanted for them. I had 120 head with four purebred hereford bulls and 25 mares and one thorough­bred stud. This was the result of my 11 years of hard work, but I felt it was my duty to serve my country in time of trouble. Chris said he hated to see me sell my cattle after I had worked so hard to build up a nice herd. It didn't take long to close the deal. I was now a man without a cow. That's worse than a man without a country. I met Ira Thomas who had been like a big brother to me since I'd come to Wyoming. I could always go to him for good solid advice. He was a top cow man. When I told him what I'd done, he didn't speak to me for a few minutes. Then he said, "I hope you have done the right thing, but I think you have made a hell of a mistake."

Shortly after I was in the 3rd Wyoming infantry. I had turned my ranch over to Ray De Gering. He would care for my mares and run a bunch of cattle for himself. I had all the haying equipment and work stock, it looked like there would be a bumper hay crop.

He was glad to move on my ranch and I figured I couldn't find a better man.

I served in France. While stationed at Camp Green, N.C. my army career came near ending. I was a victim of Spinal Meningitis I was treated by Dr. Hart who made a world's record of not losing a meningitis patient.

I was discharged March 8, 1919. I re­turned to my ranch and started up in the cow business the following year.

In 1928 we moved to Washington, D.C. where I worked in the Zoological Department of livestock and poultry.

In September 1945 I returned to my stomping grounds on Lance Creek where I hope to remain on my homestead. The old timers have gone but I cherish the memory of having once known and worked with them.

Mary Virginia Smyth Abell is known to be the first girl born on Lance Creek in Wyoming. Her dad, William H. Smyth is credited with having killed the last gray wolf in that area.

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Record Type Name
Obituary Smyth, William (02/14/1886 - 09/14/1973) View Record