Tag Archives: Cattle baron

Don’t Fence Me In: A Baxter Sets the Record Straight

To fence in or fence out…that is the question. At least it was one of the major questions early Wyoming lawmakers grappled with when it came to landowners’ rights.

Large cattle operations relied upon open range grazing on government lands to sustain their herds. These savvy businessmen could control much more land than they actually owned by controlling the water and access to it on the semi-arid plains. There was minor bickering among these large outfits, mostly about said water rights, but the major disputes did not erupt until fences began to appear, cutting up the wide open spaces and making it hard for open range cattle to access grazing and water.

The construction of fences eventually contributed to the end of the large scale open range cattle industry. The question became was this fence to keep the cattle in or out? (WSA Sun Neg 9338, B-183_37, Hereford calves, photo by CD Kirkland, 1870s-1880s)

The construction of fences eventually contributed to the end of the large scale open range cattle industry. The question became was this fence to keep the cattle in or out?
(WSA Sun Neg 9338, B-183_37, Hereford calves, photo by CD Kirkland, 1870s-1880s)

Cattlemen argued that their livelihood relied upon the open range and they were entitled to the use of government lands and thus fencing was detrimental, if not criminal. Settlers, farmers and smaller producers argued that fences helped to protect their lands and herds from the damage done by open range herds (and their handlers). Tempers flared, sides were chosen, and lawyers hired (and some gunmen, too) as the situation escalated. Eventually, it was decided that Wyoming would be a “fence out” state, meaning that if you owned property you were expected to construct and maintain fences that kept whatever it was you did not want on your property out, rather than building fences to keep what you wanted in, or on your property.[1] This decision favored the open range cattle industry who continued to use their money and influence to protect this right.

Roundup at Heaton Warm Springs near Douglas, 1887.  (WSA Sub Neg 17589)

Roundup at Heaton Warm Springs near Douglas, 1887.
(WSA Sub Neg 17589)

On November 5, 1886, President Cleveland appointed George W. Baxter as governor of the Territory. This decision was made in deference to the plea that he choose someone from the Territory to fill the position rather than bringing in a politician from back East. They argued that the territory needed a local executive who was familiar with local issues and players. The implication, of course, was that the big cattlemen wanted one of their own to protect their interests. Baxter was in fact a resident and a cattleman, too. He and his brother, John, had run a ranch (later called the LU) near Fort Washakie and he had recently served as president and founding member of the American Cattle Company. Baxter was also a graduate of West Point (class of 1877) and his appointment as 2nd Lieutenant brought him to Fort Washakie. According to his brother, “While there he saw so much of the cattle raising on the public domain, he resigned his commission… and became a cattleman.”[2]

Territorial George W. Baxter  (WSA Sub Neg 1395)

Territorial George W. Baxter
(WSA Sub Neg 1395)

But his time as governor was not long. Baxter’s opponents almost immediately accusing him of illegally fencing government land and he was removed from office December 20th, less than two months later. Secretary of State Elliot S.N. Morgan took over until Thomas Moonlight of Kansas, a vocal opponent of cattlemen in general, was appointed in January 1887. Batxter later served as a delegate from Laramie County to the Wyoming Constitutional Convention in 1889, where he declared his support of women’s suffrage,  and made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1890 against Francis E. Warren.

In 1936, Edith Alger of Lander contacted John A. Baxter requesting information about his time in Wyoming.[3] Alger was employed by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers Program. This program was designed to provide jobs to the unemployed while collecting the history of their area through several projects, including the Stories of Pioneer Life project. Baxter and Alger exchanged several letters that year, one of which included this defense of his brother’s actions.

September 16, 1936
Tulane Hotel
Nashville, TN

When Cleveland was president of the US and Wyoming a territory, and the governors were appointed by the president, the people of Wyoming requested he appoint someone who resided in Wyoming instead of sending some on from some eastern state out to Wyoming to be governor; so Cleveland consented, and he tendered the honor to my brother, who, while a Democrat, was not a strict partisan, but he was classed as a businessman.

Now, some of the active Democratic politicians, no doubt hoping to be the lucky man, began to complain and told Cleveland that Baxter had fenced in unlawfully government land. He was removed as governor and Moonlight of Kansas was named instead. You may know that the United States gave the Union Pacific Railroad as a subsidiary every other square mile for twenty miles both north and south of the survey of said railroad. The railroad held said land for about twenty years after they had finished their road before offering it for sale. My brother sought advice from the best lawyers in the east, and was assured that he would have the right to fence the same.

Now this grant of every other section of one mile square made a checkerboard condition, so I herewith hand you a diagram, showing clearly, that it was impossible to fence his land purchased of the railroad, without fencing thereby the government sections. On this map I enclose you will notice the little black spots at the corners of each section represents the cornerstones that marked and defined each section, and to make it clear to your mind I have used red ink marking a dotted line around four sections, and the same necessarily enclosed the one section of government land (where there is a blot of red ink) and that was the cause of their saying he had unlawfully enclosed government land. Now to remove any impression upon the minds of the public that he had unlawfully fenced government land and to remove the implied stigma, my brother forced the question after his removal up to the US Supreme Court, and they decided in my brother’s favor, and that the same was Not Unlawful as every post hole was on his own land, and the wires from post to post were over the land he had purchased and owned. So you see he was removed for a charge which did not exist.

In spite of their political trickery and a false accusation, my brother’s name is respected by all that knew him as an honorable upright man.

Your truly,
Jno. A. Baxter[4]

Diagram sent by John Baxter showing how his brother's fences were constructed.  (WSA WPA Bio File 45)

Diagram sent by John Baxter showing how his brother’s fences were constructed.
(WSA WPA Bio File 45)


1. To be precise, Wyoming is a “fence out” state for cattle (and domestic buffalo), but a “fence in” state for sheep. For more information, see “You Fence It, They’ll Stay Out” from the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service.

2. “Letters from John A. Baxter, Concerning his brother, Territorial Governor George W. Baxter” September 6, 1936. WPA Bio File 45, Wyoming State Archives.

3. Governor Baxter had died at his home on Long Island, New York, in 1929. He is buried in the family plot in Knoxville, Tennessee.

4.  “Letters from John A. Baxter, Concerning his brother, Territorial Governor George W. Baxter” September 18, 1936. WPA Bio File 45, Wyoming State Archives. Minor formatting and spelling changes, but the emphasis is his own.

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Greetings From… Trail End!

It seems appropriate that we end our Wyoming tour at Trail End. This was Governor John B. Kendrick’s luxurious home on top of the hill in Sheridan, Wyoming, and is now open to the public as a state historic site. P2003-21_35, Kendrick Residence, Sheridan, exterior, color postcard Kendrick’s life reads like a fairy tale  He was born in Texas and orphaned early in life. In 1879, he trailed a cattle herd from there to Wyoming. It was said that he was so keen on saving money that he actually washed and mended his socks rather than just throwing them out like most cowboys of his day. Those pennies kept adding up and in 1883, he used his savings to start the Ula Ranch. Kendrick worked as foreman and manager for several other ranches while building his own empire. He married Eula May Wulfjen of Greeley, Colorado, in 1891, and they raised 2 children, Rosa Maye and Manville.

Governor and later Senator John B. Kendrick on the OW Ranch, 1895 (WSA Sub Neg 22685)

Governor and later Senator John B. Kendrick on the OW Ranch, 1895
(WSA Sub Neg 22685)

In 1910 Kendrick entered politics and was elected Senator of Sheridan County. He was elected Governor in 1914 and served until February 1917 when he resigned to serve as a senator in Congress. He proudly served in this capacity until his death in 1933. Throughout his political career, Kendrick was influential in politics and defending Wyoming’s water rights. Only weeks before his death, he succeeded, almost single-handedly, in gaining final approval for the Casper-Alcova (Kendrick) Irrigation Project.

The Kendrick family on the porch of the LX Bar Ranch house (WSA Trail End Neg 22305)

The Kendrick family on the porch of the LX Bar Ranch house
(WSA Trail End Neg 22305)

The LX Bar Ranch outside of Gillette became the family’s home ranch, though Kendrick’s holding included 7 ranches scattered throughout Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana. Several buildings, including the house and barn, were constructed around 1910 using locally quarried native stone. In 2012, property containing the buildings was gifted to the State of Wyoming and is now administered by the Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources. Trail End itself is an impressive edifice. Built in 1911, the three-story mansion includes 5 entrances, a formal drawing room with French silk covered walls, a hidden cabinet (purportedly used to stash liquor during prohibition), an elevator, a walk-in vault, intricately carved woodwork, and six bedrooms with private baths. Nearly the entire third floor was used as a ballroom, complete with a musicians loft. Visit the Trail End Historic Site website for a virtual tour of the house.

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Wyo Whiskers: Hon. Joseph M. Carey

Today’s Wyo Whiskers installment was called the “Grand Old Man of Wyoming” and used his considerable political influence to draft national legislation promoting irrigation projects in the arid West and to bring investors and settlers to the state.

Joseph Maull Carey, was born in Milton, Delaware, January 19,1845. His parents were well established farmers and able to provide him with an excellent education. After two years of college, Carey went to the University of Pennsylvania and obtained a law degree in 1867. Carey was an active political participant from his youth and enthusiastically worked for U.S. Grant’s campaign for the presidency. President Grant rewarded the ambitious young Carey with the appointment of U.S. District Attorney for Wyoming. He worked hard and soon became the U.S. Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of Wyoming. Carey kept the title of judge for the rest of his life in spite of all the other positions he held throughout his lifetime.

Carey as young man (WSA Sub Neg 15797)

Carey as young man
(WSA Sub Neg 15797)

He tired of public life for a time in 1879 and began a successful ranching and business career with his brother under the name Carey Brothers in central Wyoming. Their cattle were some of the first of the large herds to winter in Wyoming, showing that full time, large scale cattle operations were possible in the state. The post office that served the ranch was called Careyhurst, after one of their ranches, and is now located in Converse County.

 Judge Carey residence 1884, 2119 Ferguson Ave (WSA Sub Neg 8810)

Judge Carey residence in 1884, 2119 Ferguson Avenue. Ferguson Avenue was known as “Millionaires’ Row” because of the impressive mansions, like the Careys’, that lined the street. 
(WSA Sub Neg 8810)

Success in business propelled him back into civic life and he was elected mayor of Cheyenne in 1881, a position he held until 1885. Devoted  bringing civilization and culture to Cheyenne, Carey helped to organize the Cheyenne Opera House and the Laramie County Library Association. He also served as president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association for many years  and served as the first president of the Stock Grower’s National Bank of Cheyenne. As thanks for his service and influence, Ferguson Avenue, on which his palatial mansion stood, was renamed Carey Avenue in his honor.

As the delegate to Congress for the Wyoming Territory, Carey authored the bill to admit Wyoming to statehood and fought valiantly for its passage. Legend has it that Carey and the Wyoming delegation told congress that ‘Wyoming would wait 100 years for statehood rather than join without women’s suffrage.’ The was signed into law on July 10, 1890 and Carey was given the honor of sending the telegram to acting governor John W. Meldrum declaring the victory.

Telegram announcing statehood sent by Senator Carey in Washington DC to Acting Governor John W. Meldrum (WSA Secretary of State record group, Constitutional Convention)

Telegram announcing statehood sent by Senator Carey in Washington DC to Acting Governor John W. Meldrum
(WSA Secretary of State record group, Constitutional Convention)

Judge Carey was rewarded for his efforts by being elected the first U.S. Senator from Wyoming on November 12, 1890. He served as U.S. Senator from 1890 to March 3, 1895. His “Carey Act of 1894,” officially known as the Federal Desert Land Act, created the General Land Office and provided for the return of millions of acres of land to the individual states by the Federal government for reclamation by irrigation projects. Carey had organized the Wyoming Development Company, Wyoming’s first irrigation project and much of the regulation for the WDC was copied for other irrigation projects around the region.

Following his loss to Francis E. Warren, he returned to Wyoming and practiced law until his election as Governor for the 1911-1915 term. The legendary rivalry between Warren and Carey had existed on nearly every front for many years. Their cattle herds fought for forage and their political careers cast them as rivals in influence, if not out right opponents, in many races.  Both men were members of the Republican Party, but Carey switched to the Democratic Party after failing to win the Warren controlled Republican party nomination. Carey was one of seven governors to help form the new Progressive Party to reelect Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 presidential election.

Gov JM Carey and others with horses in front of Capitol (WSA Meyers Neg 278, Photo by Joseph Shimitz)

Gov JM Carey (center holding a small dog) and others with horses in front of the Wyoming State Capitol Building, ca 1914.
(WSA Meyers Neg 278, Photo by Joseph Shimitz)

As governor, Carey stressed settlement of Wyoming’s open spaces through irrigation projects and immigration campaigns to attract new residents and investors. In his 1911 State of the State speech to the Legislature, Carey called for the organization of new counties, which led to the creation of 7 new counties being added to Wyoming’s 14. The disastrous winter of 1911-12 prompted Carey to reevaluate and caution the 1913 legislature that they may have been too exuberant in creating counties and consider carefully the organization of any new counties. Whether it was his influence or not, Wyoming would add only two more counties in 1921, bring the county count to its present 23.

Governor J.M. Carey  (WSA Sub Neg 9659)

Governor J.M. Carey
(WSA Sub Neg 9659)

Joseph M. Carey died February 5, 1924, at his home in Cheyenne at age 79 following a long illness. In honor of the accomplishments of the “grand old man,” the Archie Allison, mayor of Cheyenne, called for local businesses to close from 1-3 pm on the day of his funeral and Governor William Ross closed State government for the entire day.

Judge Carey’s son Robert D. followed in his father’s political footsteps, serving as both Governor (1919-1923) and later US Senator (1931-1937). They are the only father and son to fill these positions.  Robert’s brother Charles D. graduated from Yale before returning to Wyoming and joining his father in running the ranching empire. Charles used the CY Ranch 25 miles north of Cheyenne as his headquarters and was an active member of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He and his third wife were killed in an auto accident just outside of downtown Cheyenne in 1935.

In 1959, Judge Carey was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. F.E. Warren also holds this distinction, as does John B. Kendrick.

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