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Legends of Kaycee

Legends of Kaycee

The small town of Kaycee Wyoming has a rich history, as it developed during an interesting era in American history. Native Americans and early traders were in the area as far back as the 1830s, and the U.S. government began scouting the area in the late 1850s. Of course, by then, Native Americans had been in the region for a long time. Fort Reno was established east of the current city to help the U.S. military protect travelers along the Bozeman Trail in the middle of the 1860s.

John Nolen was the first homesteader in the area and built his cabin for the KC Ranch along the Powder River on what is now the south part of downtown. (Nolan Avenue, the town’s main street, is named after him, albeit with an incorrect spelling.) The ranch was the site for one of the main incidents of the Johnson County Cattle War in 1892 — the murders of Nick Ray and Nate Champion by hired guns representing the interests of cattle barons.

Around the same time, the Hole in the Wall, located southwest of Kaycee, became a popular hideout for the likes of Butch Cassidy, Tom O’Day, Flat Nose George Curry, and Harvey Logan (aka Kid Curry).

Learn more about some of the historical figures of Kaycee featured in the Legends of Kaycee banner series.

Captain Raynolds

Legends of Kaycee
Image from Lake Survey Center, U.S. Department of Commerce

In 1859, famous trapper and scout Jim Bridger guided Captain Raynolds of the Army Corps of Discovery through the area to make a map and gather information to report to Congress on the disposition of the Indians, wood, wildlife, and the rivers and creeks.

The expedition, supported by a small infantry detachment of 30 and federally funded with $60,000, ultimately was to explore the Yellowstone region of Wyoming and Montana. The group, which also included a photographer and topographer, artist and cartographer, and geologist, left St. Louis by steamboats in May of 1859. Members of the party became the first people of European descent to explore Devils Tower. The group was hampered in its trek through the Wind River Range, however, and did not reach Yellowstone. It did become the first federal expedition to reach Jackson Hole and see the Teton Range.

Raynolds predicted that the wide belt of land east of the Bighorn Mountains would be a suitable route for a wagon road, and the detailed maps produced by the Raynolds Expedition were later used by the U.S. Army in their fight against Native American tribes in the Powder River area.

Raynolds had served in the Mexican-American War and went on to fight in the Civil War. He was brevetted brigadier general in March of 1865 for meritorious service during the Civil War. After the war, Raynolds was assigned to a myriad of positions, including establishing the St. Louis Engineer Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1870 to 1872.

During his career, he surveyed or designed and supervised the construction of lighthouses in the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Coast and Florida.

Jim Bridger

Legends of Kaycee
Image from the public domain.

Bridger was known as one of the great explorers of the American West, roaming the Rocky Mountains from southern Colorado to Canada. While illiterate, he could speak French, Spanish and several indigenous languages, allowing him to serve as a mediator between European-American settlers and Native American tribes.

He had explored Yellowstone and the Great Salt Lake decades before the Raynolds Expedition, making him one of the first European men to see those places. He was later stationed at Fort Phil Kearny north of Buffalo to serve as a scout for Colonel Henry B. Carrington and the U.S. military during Red Cloud’s War.

John Bozeman

Legends of Kaycee
Image from the public domain

In 1863, John Bozeman and John M. Jacobs marked out a shortcut from the Oregon Trail to the Montana gold fields.

The trail, which was the Montana Road before becoming known as the Bozeman Trail, overlaid previous Indian, trader, and exploration routes and passed within four miles east of Kaycee in the mid to late 1860s. The flow of emigrants along the trail through the recently claimed grounds of the Sioux resulted in attacks on the settlers, which led to U.S. military occupation of the area. The U.S. military constructed a series of forts along the trail to protect the settlers, and the clashes and battles became part of the Plains Indian Wars.

Bozeman had failed in his mining claims in Colorado, and he changed strategy to “mine the miners” by establishing an outpost in the Gallatin Valley of Montana to serve those seeking gold in Virginia City. It was there that he laid out the town of Bozeman, Montana, in 1864, after he and Jacobs blazed the Montana Road.

Bozeman did not live much longer to see the fruits of his labor. He was killed in April of 1867 at the age of 32 while traveling along the Yellowstone River to Fort C.F. Smith (the northernmost of the three forts securing the trail). He was en route to secure a flour contract. The circumstances of his death remain an unsolved mystery.

John R. Smith

J.R. Smith in Kaycee, Wyoming
Image from the Johnson County Library.

John R. Smith was born in Ohio in 1844 and at age 17 enlisted with the Indiana Volunteers to fight in the Civil War.

Smith would continue fighting, this time against Native Americans, in his work hauling freight along the Oregon Trail and then the Bozeman Trail. He freighted on the Bozeman Trail at the height of hostilities with the Indians in 1867.

By 1868 he had established a ranch on the Oregon Trail that was attacked by Native Americans. He barely escaped after a long fight.

In 1871, he married an Irish immigrant and by 1878 established a ranch on the Crazy Woman Creek in Johnson County, where he ranched successfully for many years. He was on the homesteaders’ side during the Johnson County War and participated in the standoff at the TA Ranch.

Nate Champion

Legends of Kaycee
Image provided by the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum

Nathan D. Champion is the most famous figure from the Johnson County War. His death in April of 1892 at the KC Ranch, after a standoff in which he held dozens of hired gunmen at bay, turned sentiment against the cattle barons.

Originally from Texas, Champion worked as a cowboy and was well-known as the top cow hand for the EK Ranch. He was also known to be good with a gun.

He eventually acquired 200 cattle of his own and came into conflict with the large outfits by defying the Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s Round-Up laws and riding directly into round-ups and cutting out his own cattle. He was considered a natural leader of the so-called rustler element, and was designated to lead a newly formed competing stock association’s round up in the spring of 1892.

Champion also associated with many other hated small-time ranchers, including the Hat Ranch, believed to be the center of the rustler element in Johnson County.

Champion’s enemies first tried to kill him in the fall of 1891 while he was staying at the Hall Cabin near the Hole in the Wall.

In April of 1892, a group of WSGA-hired gunmen from Texas helped form a group of 50 invaders that traveled from Cheyenne to Casper and then into Johnson County with the intent to eliminate rustlers and the officials in the county government who were sympathetic to them.

Their first target was Champion, believed to be at the KC Ranch in what is now the Town of Kaycee. The invaders shot Nick Ray as he appeared at the doorway of the cabin at the ranch. Champion held out for several hours, as word of the attack reached Buffalo. Champion is credited with killing at least four of the invaders and wounding several others before the invaders set fire to the cabin. That forced Champion to run from the cabin, firing as he came out. He was shot by four men simultaneously and hit by 28 bullets.

The invasion ended days later at the TA Ranch when the hired gunmen were pinned down by a large local posse.

Butch Cassidy

Legends of Kaycee
Image from the public domain

Among the most famous outlaws to spend time in the Kaycee area was Butch Cassidy.

Working up from cattle and horse theft, Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) made a living robbing banks and trains.

Exactly how much time Cassidy spent in Johnson County and his activities here are unknown. He purchased a ranch in western Wyoming in 1890, and he spent time in Buffalo later that year.

Cassidy signed the register of The Occidental Hotel in Buffalo on 11 occasions in late 1890 and early 1891, sometimes with known horse thief Manuel Armenta. They were believed to be in town for horse races in Sheridan or Buffalo, where horses raised by Armenta had quite a bit of success.

The Wild Bunch gang came together after Cassidy’s release from prison in 1896. Their exploits included the famed June 2, 1899, train robbery near Wilcox, Wyoming, that included blowing the safe of the train. All of the gang members escaped from the robbery, traveling back to the Hole in the Wall outside of Kaycee.

Tom O’Day

Legends of Kaycee
Image from Wyoming State Archives

Tom O’Day was the Hole in the Wall Gang’s “outside contact man.”

A big Irishman with a black bushy mustache and blue eyes, O’Day would ride into a town or cow camp and stay for a few days. He was very sociable and entertaining, making it easy for him to find out information about a future target (be it a bank, horses, or cattle) to be robbed without anyone suspecting.

O’Day was a cowboy with various outfits on and off. He was a good horseman, and he worked his way from Pennsylvania to the West through a variety of jobs including bronco buster, cowboy, sheep herder, and cook for the round ups.

At one time he had a half interest in the first saloon in Kaycee.

He was a good shot and fairly well received wherever he went.

O’Day also had a reputation for getting drunk, bragging and fighting. He was supposedly captured after the Belle Fourche Bank Robbery because he was too drunk to get on his horse. He had been sent ahead of the gang to observe the “lay of the land” and pass the word back to his companions. But O’Day started drinking and fell into a drunken sleep in a saloon, propped against the wall and snoring comfortably in his chair. The gang heard nothing from O’Day and assumed the coast to be clear. The gang carried out the robbery and made their escape with guns blazing. The ruckus woke O’Day.

While the others made their escape, O’Day was captured. But he was so terrifying that the witnesses were frightened out of their intention to testify against him.

One story says O’Day’s outlaw days ended when he was tracked down by law enforcement for rustling sheep; another claims he was caught rustling horses from B.B. Brooks, who went on to be governor of Wyoming.

Flat Nose George Curry

Legends of Kaycee
Image from Hoofprints of the Past Museum.

Flat Nose George Curry was probably the locals’ favorite outlaw.

He was well-liked by the Hole in the Wall Gang itself and known for various kindnesses, particularly to the local Brock family. Curry occasionally minded the post office the Brocks operated when they were away. On one such occasion, they returned from their trip later than planned and found him camped outside, cooking food he had hunted rather than from their pantry. When asked about it, he said it would be stealing to take food without their permission.

George Curry lived only 29 years, but was involved in several escapades.

His gang, which included Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan and Tom O’Day, pulled off the Belle Fourche Bank Robbery in June of 1897, taking money from the Butte County Bank. George Curry, Kid Curry, and Walt Putney were captured a month later planning a robbery in Montana. But they escaped from jail in Deadwood, rode into Montana and had a gunfight with a posse. They escaped from that on foot and returned to the Hole in the Wall near Kaycee, robbing two post offices along the way.

George Curry also was involved in the train robbery in Wilcox, Wyoming, in June of 1899.

George Curry was shot and killed by Sheriff Jesse Tyler while Curry was rustling on April 17, 1900, in Utah.

Harvey Logan

Legends of Kaycee
Image from the public domain

Despite the friendship and influence of Flat Nose George Curry in his life, resulting in the moniker of Kid Curry, Harvey Logan had the most violent record among the Hole in the Wall Gang.

He was accused of more murders and robberies than any of his contemporaries.

While his friends considered him a good man who became an outlaw due to circumstance and injustice, Logan was considered by the law to be “an evil, treacherous and cold-blooded murderer.”

Logan reportedly killed at least nine law enforcement officers in five shootings and another two men in other instances.

Logan first killed a man in self-defense in Montana after he had been confronted for being romantically involved with the man’s daughter. Believing he would not get a fair trial, Logan left town and began riding with various gangs.

He was involved in the June 1897 Belle Fourche bank robbery. A month later, he was shot in the wrist and captured, along with fellow gang members George Curry and Walt Putnam. They escaped from a jail in Deadwood, South Dakota, and eventually made their way to the Hole in the Wall.

Logan also was involved in train robberies at Wilcox, Wyoming; Folsom, New Mexico; Tipton, Wyoming; and Wagner, Montana. Logan was involved in several shootouts with law enforcement and avenged the deaths of one of his brothers and George Curry.

After a train robbery near Parachute, Colorado in June of 1904, Logan was tracked down by a posse and, after being wounded, fatally shot himself to avoid capture.

For more information on the Legends of Kaycee and local history, visit the Hoofprints of the Past Museum, 344 Nolan Avenue.