“The invaders,” hired by cattle barons to murder Johnson County settlers in 1892, were rescued by the cavalry, arrested and lined up for a group photograph at Fort D. A. Russell, now F. E. Warren Air Force Base. (Johnson County Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum)

On this date in 1892 the cavalry came to the rescue in Johnson County, ending the Johnson County Cattle War.

The 6th Cavalry arrived from Ft. McKinney and arrested “invaders” whom free-range cattle barons had hired to murder settlers in the Buffalo area. The military intervention likely saved the would-be killers’ lives. Before their rescue, townsfolk had surrounded their holdout and, armed with dynamite, were approaching behind the protection of a wagon on which they’d fashioned a log redoubt.

The hired gunmen, 42 pictured in this group portrait taken at Fort D. A. Russell (now F. E. Warren Air Force Base,) were ultimately freed without repercussions.

Numerous authors have visited the topic, most recently Wilson resident Christopher Knowlton. In 2017 he published “Cattle Kingdom: The hidden history of the Cowboy West,” which includes an account of the invasion.

The most collectable book on the matter would be “The Banditti of the Plains or the Cattlemen’s invasion of Wyoming in 1892 (The crowning Infamy of the Ages)” by Asa Mercer. Published in 1894 by the editor of the Northwestern Livestock Grower of Cheyenne, the book was was suppressed and is now quite rare. Early editions can cost $6,000. Mercer’s descendents ranch in the Bighorn Basin today.

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John W. Davis in 2010 published “Wyoming Range War; The infamous Invasion of Johnson County,” and earlier authored “The Trial of Tom Horn.” Another Jackson Hole author, George Huffsmith, wrote “The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate,” in 1993. Helen Huntington Smith in 1967 published “The War on Powder River,” and in 2001, Western historian Bill O’Neal wrote “The Johnson County War.”

Famous fiction titles have also explored the friction between settlers and cattle barons and the myth of the lone, noble cowboy including Owen Wister’s “The Virginian” and Jack Schaefer’s “Shane.”

The photograph, taken on May 4, 1892, at Fort Russell, depicts, from left, Tom Smith, A. B. Clarke, J. N. Leslie, Ed Whitcomb, D. Brooke, W. B. Wallace, Charles Ford, A. R. Powers, A. D. Adamson, C. A. Campbell, Frank Laberteaux, Phil Dufran, Major Wolcott, W. E. Guthrie,  W. C. Irvine, Bob Tisdale, Joe Elliott, John Tisdale, Scott Davis, Fred Debillier, Ben Morrison, W. J. Clark, L. H. Parker, Teschmacher, B. C. Shulze, W. H. Tabor, J. A. Garrett, W. A. Wilson, J. Barlings, M.C. McNally, Mike Shonsey, Dick Allen, Fred Hesse, Frank Canton, William Little, Jeff Mynett, Bob Barlings, S. Sutherland, Buck Garrett, G. R. Tucker, J. M. Benford and Will Armstrong.

Administrators at the Johnson County Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo provided the photograph and caption information.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. W.C. Irvine was head of the Wyoming Cattlemen’s Association in Cheyenne. He was not a hired gun, but the one who hired the Texans hired to join the Invasion. Not all of those in this photograph were hired guns. Tisdale is a rancher and there are several others.