WyoHistory.org

The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Outlaws & Crime

The Murder of Matthew Shepard

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.

Butch Cassidy in Wyoming

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.

Crook County, Wyoming

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.

The Teapot Dome Scandal

Although the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s was named for a Wyoming rock formation resembling a teapot, the wrongdoers were not from the state. During the administration of President Warren G. Harding, oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to gain access to the naval petroleum reserves located at Teapot Dome in the Salt Creek field north of Casper in northern Natrona County. Fall was the first Cabinet official to be imprisoned for crimes committed during his time in office. Sinclair also served a jail sentence.

Carbon, Wyoming

Founded in 1868, the short-lived town of Carbon provided crucial coal supplies for the Union Pacific Railroad. Its rough reputation was boosted in 1881, when a mob of miners pulled Dutch Charley Burris, accused of the murder of a popular lawman, from a train and hanged him from a telegraph pole. Many Finnish men worked in the coal mines until 1902, when the mines closed. Today, there are only a few ruins to mark the site, but the Carbon Cemetery has been recently refurbished and is still being used.

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Oral Histories | Carol Petersen was teaching second grade at Cokeville Elementary School in Cokeville, Wyo. on May 16, 1986, when David and Doris Young took her and 153 other people hostage at the school, and detonated a bomb inside. The Youngs both died that day. Everyone else survived.
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, Wyoming Territory, 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 | In January 1958, teenagers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate went on a 10-victim killing spree that began in Nebraska and ended near Douglas, Wyo., after a high-speed chase through the middle of town. Starkweather was later executed in Nebraska, and Fugate was paroled after 18 years.
Encyclopedia | On April 2, 1909, seven cowmen attacked a sheep camp near Spring Creek in the southern Big Horn Basin. The raiders killed three men, kidnapped two others, killed sheep dogs and dozens of sheep and destroyed thousands of dollars of personal property. It was the deadliest sheep raid in Wyoming history. Unlike many previous incidents after which raiders went unpunished, however, prosecutors this time were successful and five raiders were jailed, marking the end of 15 years or more of violence between cattle- and sheepmen.
Encyclopedia | Tom Horn, stock detective and hired killer, was hanged in Cheyenne in 1903 for a crime he probably did not commit. He remains controversial because of lingering questions about his guilt and the nature of the trial. Horn’s death remains important as it shows the power of Wyoming’s cattle barons, once substantial, beginning at last to wane.
Encyclopedia | Matthew Shepard Foundation Executive Director Jason Marsden was working as a Casper Star-Tribune reporter in October 1998 when his friend Matt Shepard was murdered. In this essay, Marsden examines the effects of the worldwide media attention that the crime brought to the state of Wyoming at that time and since.
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.

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