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The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Outlaws & Crime

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Encyclopedia | In April 1892, a private army of 52 cattle barons, their employees and hired Texas guns invaded Johnson County in northern Wyoming, intending to kill as many as 70 men they suspected of being rustlers or rustler sympathizers. The invaders managed to kill two men before word got out, and they were surrounded by an angry posse. Troops from nearby Fort McKinney intervened. The invaders were escorted back to Cheyenne, where they were charged but never brought to trial. The event ended in ambiguity and political division in the new state of Wyoming.
Encyclopedia | On September 2, 1885, long-simmering tensions between white and Chinese coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyo. boiled over into a massacre in which whites murdered 28 Chinese, wounded 15 more, and looted and burned all 79 shacks and houses in Rock Springs’ Chinatown. Though the remaining Chinese miners wanted desperately to leave Wyoming, the Union Pacific Railroad, which owned the mines, refused to grant them railroad passes or the back pay owed them. The Chinese finally had no choice but to return to work, which kept wages low and the coal flowing from the mines.
Encyclopedia | University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was openly gay, was brutally beaten in October 1998 by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Shepard died several days later. The incident received international media coverage and continues to spark controversy about hate crimes. Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis, established a foundation in Matthew’s name, which continues its pro-LGBT educational work today.
Encyclopedia | Notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch frequently crossed and hid out in Wyoming when on the run from the law. Cassidy’s 18-month incarceration at the Wyoming State Prison in Laramie, 1894-1896, is a definite fact. Other than that, stories place him and his gang all over the map, from Sundance to Brown’s Hole, and Powder Wash near Baggs to Hole in the Wall near Kaycee. Stories persist as well that Cassidy returned to Wyoming decades after his reported death in Bolivia in 1908, but no hard evidence has yet turned up.
Encyclopedia | On May 16, 1986, David and Doris Young took 154 people hostage at the Cokeville Elementary School in tiny Cokeville, Wyo. and detonated a bomb inside. The Youngs both died that day. Everyone else survived, and many who did recalled the tragedy with memories of the presence of angels.
Encyclopedia | Created in 1911 and named for President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln County is perhaps best known for its extraordinary geological history, showcased at Fossil Butte National Monument. The county seat, Kemmerer, Wyo., is the site of the first store opened by James Cash Penney, founder of J. C. Penney & Co., a business that still operates nationally today. Agriculture, mining and oil and gas industries continue to spur the county’s economy.
Encyclopedia | Wyoming’s first state prison was located in Rawlins, Wyo., and housed inmates for 80 years, beginning in 1901. In 1988, a joint powers board turned the abandoned building into a museum and renamed it the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Visitors today can tour the cells and see the grounds where 13,500 prisoners, including 11 women, served time.
Encyclopedia | What’s now Crook County, Wyo., was crossed by Custer in 1874 on his expedition to the Black Hills, the spark that led to the final struggles of the Indian wars on the northern plains. Ranchers a few years later brought in cattle and later, sheep, and the county was organized in 1885, with its county seat at Sundance. Harry Longabaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid, spent 18 months in jail there. Coal deposits were exploited in the 1890s and shipped by rail to gold smelters in nearby Lead and Deadwood, So. Dak. Devils Tower National Monument, established in 1906 as the first national monument in the United States and still a sacred place for the Sioux, is located in Crook County. Agriculture, mining and timbering still play significant roles in its economy.

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