Wyoming Stock Growers Association
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) is a historic American cattle organization created in 1873. The Association was started among Wyoming cattle ranchers to standardize and organize the cattle industry, but quickly grew into a political force that has been called "the de facto territorial government" of Wyoming's organization into early statehood, and wielded great influence throughout the Western United States.
The WSGA is still active to this day, but it is best known for its rich history and is perhaps most famous for its role in Wyoming's Johnson County War.
Early into Wyoming's Territorial formation in 1868 cattle men began to lobby the powerful territorial government, and befriended John A. Campbell, the first territorial governor of Wyoming who served from 1869 to 1875.
During May 1871, Campbell sponsored the first organization of cattlemen in the territory and became the president of this Wyoming Stock Grazier's Association. When the second legislature assembled at Cheyenne in November 1871, the Governor called a simultaneous meeting of the stock growers, and a joint session was held in the hall of the house of representatives.
The Governor's cattle organization soon disbanded, but on November 29, 1873, a new group called the Laramie County Stock Association was formed by some of former members and became the nucleus of the Wyoming Stock Growers' Association.
The WSGA historically organized roundups, scheduled cattle shipments, and tracked cattle brands, but was also active, especially before 1900, in eliminating cattle rustling. The WSGA hired a number of professional detectives whose job it was to prevent and punish cattle thieves.They were also responsible for falsely accusing Nate Champion of being a so-called rustler. Nate was a leader of men, fast with a gun, and had the reputation of not backing down, all of the characteristics that threatened the cattle barons as they sat back in their chairs and smoked there European cigars. Like any self-respecting businessman, Nate saw that working for wages would not cut it and set out to create his own herd, the barons, who largely consisted of WSGA members, went about monopolizing the territory, in efforts to drive out smaller ranchers. One of the things they did was to get the Maverick Law passed which made it impossible for small ranchers to create a herd the same way that the members of the WSGA created their herds. With the Maverick Law in place, their next move was to rid the territory of any other legitimate potential competition. As long as a Cowboy was called a rustler, he was subject to the abuse of the WSGA. This all culminated on April 5, 1892 when these so-called stock detectives, 50 of them, heading to the town of Buffalo, with their hit list in hand, detoured by a tipster, probably Mike Shonsey, and surrounded Nate Champion`s cabin at the KC ranch, and proceeded to pump lead into his cabin first killing Nick Rae and keeping Nate pinned down. Nate held them off all day and they feared that if night falls they may not get Nate this time. (this makes the second attempt on Nate`s life) So they chopped wood and caught a wagon on fire and rolled it upon Nate as he scrambled to save himself. As the cabin began to burn Nate wrote in his diary and after having spelled out his last words, he was forced from the burning cabin to face 50 anxious hired gunmen,(who on earth writes in a diary while in a burning cabin, Nate Champion does) with a Remington rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other, Nate came out shooting (his bronze "Champion`s Last Run" is displayed in Buffalo WY)he was finally knocked to the ground after receiving 26 bullets and advancing some 45 ft. As Nate laid there, no man from the invasion crew would approach the body, Nate was respected as lightning speed with a gun and all these men where scared, even with their numbers, they waited 45 minutes to approach, even while dead these men still feared him. I think this gives true light to the professional detectives that did the dirty work of the WSGA. It was later discovered that Nate had purchased and owned 200 head of cattle with legitimate paper works.
In the late 19th century, while Wyoming was transitioning from a territory into statehood, the WSGA was one of the few large scale organizations that wielded any type of authority in the region. WSGA members also formed the core of the famous Cheyenne Club, located at 17th Street and Warren Avenue in Wyoming’s capital city. It was founded primarily by young men from prominent east coast, British, and European families and became one of the wealthiest and most exclusive establishments on the frontier. The membership not only lavishly entertained socialites, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries at the club, but also was highly instrumental in molding the state’s early political, economic, and social infrastructures.
The WSGA held a quasi-governmental status during those years and was very influential in shaping Wyoming's state government and statutes. In that respect, there were four members of the WSGA in the U.S. Congress, as well as several governors and the majority of state legislators that were members in the association. Many of the WSGA's rules and regulations became state laws.
While often accused of secrecy and heavy-handedness, the WSGA nonetheless kept extremely detailed records, paperwork, minutes of meetings, and preserved nearly all correspondence to and from the association. The number of letters preserved between the 1870s and the 1930s alone is estimated to be in excess of 50,000, while dozens of boxes exist containing paperwork and other records. The overwhelming majority of records are said to pertain solely to cattle industry organization tasks (such as brand registration, the tracking of cattle shipments, etc.) and underscore the day-to-day importance of the industry association in addition to the political role it also played. The records are currently held at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.
Johnson County War
Prior to the Johnson County War, Joe Horner (better known as Frank Canton) left his Johnson County sheriff position to become WSGA's chief of detectives. He later led an army of Texas killers hired by the WSGA that killed two Johnson County settlers in what has become known as the Johnson County War. He was charged for this act but was released. This event, if examined objectively and factually, gives light to the outright dishonesty and criminal activities of the WSGA. It was later discovered that Frank Canton was wanted for murder in Texas.
According to the WSGA, the three main roles of today's association are:
- Advocating on issues affecting the cattle industry, Wyoming agriculture and rural community living
- Providing members with timely information regarding events in the cattle industry and the activities of the association
- Promoting the role of the Wyoming cattle industry in resource stewardship, animal care and the production of high-quality safe and nutritious beef
- Robert Mills Grant, former state representative from Platte County active in the forumlation of "branding" law in Wyoming
- Clifford Hansen, president of the association from 1953 to 1955; later Wyoming governor and U.S. senator
- Mary Mead, Jackson rancher and the 1990 Republican gubernatorial nominee
- Jackson, W. Turrentine. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 33, No. 4. (March 1947), pp. 571.
- Homsher, Lola M. Archives of the Wyoming Stock Growers' Association The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 33, No. 2. (September 1946), pp. 285.
- Jackson, W. Turrentine. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 33, No. 4. (March 1947), pp. 573.
- Griske, Michael (2005). The Diaries of John Hunton. Heritage Books. pp. 37, 38. ISBN 0-7884-3804-2.
- Homsher, Lola M. Archives of the Wyoming Stock Growers' Association The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 33, No. 2. (September , 1946), pp. 280-284.
- War on Powder River
- DeArment, R. K. (August 1, 2005). "JOE HORNER, ALIAS FRANK CANTON". Wild West (Cowles Enthusiast Media).
- Wyoming Stock Growers Association Website. Accessed July 10th, 2007
- "Robert Mills Grant". trib.com, March 5, 2012. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
- "Mary Mead". barbcranch.com. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
- "Wyoming". Compton's by Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.). December 1, 2005.
- Moulton, Candy (August 1, 2005). "Texas author Bill O'Neal provides a fresh look at the Wyoming range war that broke out in Johnson County". Wild West (Cowles Enthusiast Media).