The Rest of the Story

Editor’s Note: Sometimes history surprises us. We think of it as full of things and people long ago that maybe don’t matter much. But then comes a whisper from somewhere unexpected, and history comes right up, stands next to us and we feel its presence, local and close.

Mathew Campfield froze his feet in a Kansas blizzard in 1868. Later they were amputated, and he spent the rest of his life on wooden ones. Casper College Western History Center.

February is Black History Month, and in the recent on-paper Wyoming History News, which goes out monthly to all Historical Society members, we published part of a article about Mat Campfield of Casper, African American Civil War veteran, barber and Natrona County coroner of the 1890s. The piece includes an anecdote about a cowboy named George Mitchell, who stole a bathtub from the back of Campfield’s barber shop and took it out to the Alcova hot springs. After that, Mat made a mark on the wall every time a customer came in wanting a bath. Baths, before Mitchell stole the tub, had cost 50 cents. Mitchell later returned the tub and started a lumber business. By then, Mat had accumulated 70 marks on the wall. He went to the lumberyard and demanded and got $35 worth of lumber in exchange for the business Mitchell had stolen from him by stealing the tub.

Two weeks ago we encountered Doug Cooper, of Casper, at a Natrona County Historical Society meeting, who told us his granddad, rancher Tom Cooper, used to borrow money from Mat, who always seemed to have cash. “12 percent,” said Doug. “That was the going rate--” complicating the picture we had earlier of Campfield as a debtor; documents show he died $1200 in debt and his wife Fannie had to sell most of their household goods to pay the debts off.

Then a few days later we heard from an old friend, Nancy Curtis, longtime editor and publisher of High Plains Press in Glendo, Wyoming, recently retired. She grew up on a ranch in Platte County, and sent along some recollections:

I just read the front page of the Jan-Feb Wyoming History News. I thought you might be interested to know that I knew George Mitchell. I know, seems like a time warp, doesn’t it? 

When I was a little kid living on the North Laramie (near where the Johnson Road exit is now on I-25 north of Wheatland), he was an old man who lived on the next ranch up the river. He must have been old. My parents and his son (also named George Mitchell and called “Boy”) and daughter-in-law were good friends. 

Descendants of George Mitchell still live there, and my cousins still live on the adjoining ranch. My brother and other kids of our age also knew Old George. He often wore a three-piece suit and sat alone in the living room in front of the fireplace. My brother says his companion was a bottle of whiskey which he finished during the day. Our parents would send his great granddaughter and me into the living room to show Old George her dance outfit, etc.

He had been the first mayor of Casper and owned the lumberyard in Casper. Then he owned his ranch on the North Laramie and his brother, Fergie, owned the adjoining ranch which my granddad bought from him.

Read Mathew Campfield: Barber, Coroner and Pioneer Survivor