Johnson County Stock War: Big Business versus Small Ranchers Essay

Johnson County Stock War: Big Business versus Small Ranchers Essay

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Johnson County Stock War: Big Business versus Small Ranchers

On March 10, 1892 the Billings Gazette reported, “The opening of spring may be more red than green for the horse thieves and cattle thieves of Johnson County” (Brash, 143). The writer of the article could little have known how truthful their premonition would prove to be. The late 1800’s were turbulent times in the West. Large tracts of publicly held range ground would be at the center of Wyoming’s very own civil war. Gil Bollinger, author and western researcher, reports that by the 1870’s and 1880’s fencing of land to enclose both crops and water sources was common (Bollinger, 81). This practice, however, was still illegal according to the federal government. In 1877, the United States Government sued Swan Land and Cattle Company, in an effort to set an example that all fences on open range must come down (Bollinger, 81). The fencing of lands was a major problem, as agricultural producers needed open access to the limited resources, especially water. Johnson County, in northern Wyoming, was an agricultural nucleus for cattle and sheep producers who knew the lush grass and good water supply would greatly benefit their operations. Since fencing was illegal, these resources were available to everyone. Cattle operators, large and small alike, ran their livestock loose and participated in large roundups once a year where all the cattle were branded. Slick calves, called mavericks, were often unrightfully claimed. Lack of fencing made any free ranging livestock available to whoever was devious enough to take them (Smith, 25).

Helena Smith quotes Horace Plunkett, a producer, in a letter he wrote to the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association as saying, “The relations bet...

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Harvey, Mark E., A Civil War in Wyoming: A Centennial Commemoration of the Johnson County War. M.A., American Studies Program, December 1992.

Pfeifer, Michael J. (2004). Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society: 1874-1947. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Retrieved October 30, 2006 from .

Norman, David. (1994) The Johnson County War against Nate Champion and the "Red Sash Gang". Retrieved October 30, 2006 from

Robert, Phil. (2006) Events Leading up to the Johnson County War/Invasion. History of Wyoming class syllabus. Retrieved October 30, 2006 from

Smith, Helena H. (1966). The War on Powder River: The History of an Insurrection. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

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