Photo Trip Through Part of Johnson and Natrona Counties History

Nate Champion makes a courageous dash from a burning cabin at the KC ranch and is shot down by gunslingers. Cattlemen from the Wyoming Stock Growers are surrounded in a barn at the TA ranch by 200 members of a posse from Buffalo, Wyoming. The Gunslingers and Stock Growers are ready to break out of the TA barn but are rescued by the army. There is spectacular Fall beauty in Crazy Woman Canyon. An eighty-four year old abandoned power plant with amazing architectural windows is still standing. This and more history was revealed to me and others on a recent Casper College trip.

OLLI, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of Casper College, sponsored a fun two day class in which I was lucky enough to secure a place. It consisted of a two-day excursion that offered discussions involving history, literature, and natural features in Johnson and Natrona Counties of Wyoming.

We began our journey by viewing the Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee, Wyoming. This is a fun museum to visit. I even managed to get some pictures of a couple of outdoor exhibits. Museums can be a great place to practice your skills as a photographer. I often use their displays for pictures with their permission, of course.

Outdoor wall of and exhibit at the Hoofprints of Past Museum

Outdoor wall of and exhibit at the Hoofprints of Past Museum

Looking into a window of the Hoofprints of the Past Museum

Looking into a window of the Hoofprints of the Past Museum

Much of our trip dealt with the Johnson County Cattle War. This was a conflict between the large ranchers of Wyoming (Wyoming Stock Growers Association) and the small ranchers who especially lived in Johnson County. Basically, the hostilities of 1892 began when the large ranchers hired approximately 50 Texas gunslingers to go into Johnson County to clean up the rustling problem. The definition of rustling, of course, differed whether a person was one of the large ranchers or small ranchers. The Wyoming Stock Growers had managed to persuade the Wyoming legislature to pass a law which basically said that no one but the larger ranchers (Wyoming Stock Growers) would be able to brand mavericks. Mavericks are unbranded, motherless, calves. The small ranchers mostly ignored this law and branded any mavericks or any other unbranded calves they found. Of course, the big ranchers were doing this, too, but that was “ok” by them. Only the little ranchers were considered “rustlers” according to the Wyoming Stock Growers.

The 50 Texans came by train to Casper where they were joined by a few members of the Wyoming Stock Growers. This group was basically called Invaders by the homesteaders of Johnson County. Traveling from Casper by horse, they planned to invade Johnson County and take care of the “rustlers”. That pretty much meant they were to kill as many “rustlers” as they could find. They had a list of about 60 men that included the sheriff, mayor of Buffalo, and several other notables of Johnson County. All were marked for death.

The invaders first stopped at the KC ranch near present day Kaycee, Wyoming. Nate Champion and Nick Ray were surrounded in a cabin and eventually killed by the invaders. Unfortunately for the invaders, word got out to Buffalo, and Sheriff Red Angus put a posse together of about 200 men and headed out to stop the Invaders. The Invaders decided to hold up at the TA Ranch where they ended up being surrounded in the TA barn by the posse. A shootout occurred. Just before the Invaders were going to make a break for it and probably be gunned down by the posse, the army arrived and arrested the Invaders, basically protecting them. They were taken to Cheyenne for trial, but one never occurred. To this day, no one was ever been held accountable for the murders of Nate Champion or Nick Ray.

I’m not sure if there is any longer any evidence of the shootout at the KC ranch, but the TA ranch is still there. Bullet holes still mark the buildings where that shootout occurred. I have always wanted to go to the TA and finally managed to realize that dream because of the OLLI Class. I was enthralled by the barn and other buildings.

Barn at the TA Ranch where the Invaders were surrounded by the posse

Barn at the TA Ranch where the Invaders were surrounded by the posse

Bullet holes put in the TA Ranch by the posse over 100 years ago in 1892

Bullet holes put in the TA Ranch by the posse over 100 years ago in 1892

After a delicious chili lunch at the TA, the class boarded the vans and headed up Crazy Woman Creek. What a beautiful Fall drive. Crazy Woman flows out of a large canyon and a narrow, one lane dirt road twists and turns up the canyon following the creek. The class would stop from time to time and look at the scenes and listen to the instructors as they taught about the geology of the area . As I listened to the geology instructors, I felt I had to put my camera to use. It was mainly a cloudy day, but from time to time the sun would break through. I tried to use those opportunities for photography, but didn’t limit myself to just those times the sun was shining. My advice for others is to look for, see, and photograph what they view as a good photo. Remember, if you have a digital camera, there is no cost in taking as many pictures as you like.

Crazy Woman Creek

Crazy Woman Creek

Crazy Woman Canyon

Crazy Woman Canyon

An Example of no direct sunlight but this picture of Quaking Aspen turned out anyway.

An Example of no direct sunlight but this picture of Quaking Aspen turned out anyway.

Crazy Woman!! What a strange name!! How did the area get this name? According to the Casper College catalog, there are two legends which give rise to the name Crazy Woman Creek. Both are based upon tragic events. In one, a young woman is left alone after an attack on her village. She lived in a squalid wickup and on moonlit nights could be seen leaping from rock to rock in the creek. For some reason, the Crow Indians felt she brought good luck, so they left her alone. The second legend told of a trader who unwisely sold whiskey or “firewater” to gain favor with the Indians. When it was gone, the Indians demanded more, which he could not supply. After he was killed, his young wife made her escape, only to wander up and down the creek, demented. Because of the loss of her sanity, she was safe from further harm by the Indians. It is said that Jeremiah Johnson cared for her afterwards.

As we left Crazy Woman, we headed to Buffalo for dinner at the Virginian Restaurant in the historic Occidental Hotel. This is a beautifully restored 19th century style business in downtown Buffalo. The food and hospitality was superb.

Friday on our way south to Casper, our next stop was an old power plant in the Salt Creek Oil field of Natrona County, Wyoming. It was built and used in the 1920’s and provided electricity to the large Salt Creek Oil field and the town of Midwest. At one time, it generated enough power to light the football field at Midwest, giving them the honor of having the first night football game in the world lighted by electricity.

Salt Creek Power Plant as it looks today.

Salt Creek Power Plant as it looks today.

The plant is in disrepair, and because it has been abandoned for years, it has suffered years of deterioration and neglect. I was not only struck by the broken windows, but also their architectural beauty. The domed windows were amazing. I ended up taking several pictures, trying to capture the beauty that is still there.

Picture taken from inside looking out.

Picture taken from inside looking out.

Inside looking west.

Inside looking west.

Outside looking in.

Outside looking in.

Actually seeing the place where Nat Champion and Nick Ray were gunned down, being there, looking at the bullet holes at the TA ranch, traveling up Crazy Woman Creek, and actually walking in the power plant that generated the power for the first night football game was a dream come true. This was something I’d wanted to do for years. Wyoming, its history, scenery and people is a photographer’s paradise.

See these photos and others framed and matted at http://SamSherman.imagekind.com/. Change the frames and mats to your satisfaction.

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1 Response to Photo Trip Through Part of Johnson and Natrona Counties History

  1. Wow, that sounds like a wonderful class. Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures and for the ‘Crazy Lady’ explanation. So interesting.

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