Presenting Mrs. Wild Bill Hickok




Wild Bill Hickok’s name has been linked to Calamity Jane, but his wife’s name was Agnes Thatcher Lake. 

Agnes was born in France but when her mother died the family moved to the U.S.  At age 16, this impetuous young woman married a circus clown.  She and her husband, Bill Lake, toured with the circus for thirteen years.  Her specialties were tightrope walking, lion taming and trick riding.  In 1869, her husband was shot to death while trying to aprehend a man who was sneaking into the circus.  The gutsy Agnes took over management of the circus and it continued to tour.

In 1871 Agnes met Wild Bill Hickock while Bill was town marshal of Abilene.  They met again when Bill was touring with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.   Both shows were performing in Rochester, New York at the time.  Agnes sold the circus when her daughter eloped with another circus man.  This made her a very wealthy woman.

Although Agnes and Bill Hickock seemed to maintain correspondence they didn’t see one another again until Febrary 1876.  Bill had been living in Cheyenne and was preparing to leave for Deadwood when she stopped in Cheyenne to visit friends.  They were married at the First Methodist Church of Cheyenne.  Next to the record of the marriage the pessimistic minister made the note “Don’t think he meant it.”  Although Bill was 39, he gave his age as 46.  Agnes was 11 years older than Bill.

The couple honeymooned in Cincinnati for two weeks and she stayed on to help her daughter who was about to give birth.  Bill returned to Cheyenne by train and then headed to Deadwood in June.  Two weeks after his last letter to Agnes he was shot to death in a Deadwood saloon.

Agnes went to Deadwood in September, 1877, to have a fence erected around Bill’s grave.  She then stopped in Cheyenne and is said to have married her escort, George Carson.  Records show that this remarkable lady was no longer 42, as listed the previous year, but 38 (we should all be so lucky).  The gentleman in question was 29.  While a certificate was filed, there is no record that the marriage actually took place.  She is said to have retired and lived in Cheyenne but there is no further mention of the young man she was said to have married.

When she was more than 80 years old, Agnes died in her daughter’s home in New Jersey in 1907.  She was buried next to her first husband in Cincinnati.  On the other hand, Calamity Jane was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok.




Since our mansion will be 123 years old this month I thought it would be appropriate to share with you the newspaper coverage of the open house.

Cheyenne Daily Leader

July 27, 1888


Its Hospitable Doors Thrown Wide Open Last Evening, Mr. and Mrs. Nagle’s Reception in Their New House and A Brief Description of the Mansion’s Many Beauties


The recently completed residence of Mr. and Mrs. E. Nagle was ablaze with light and brilliancy last evening.  The occasion was a house warming party with which they signalized their occupancy of the new structure.  No very elaborate exterior decorations were attempted.  Chinese lanterns strung about the lawn alone giving a gala appearance to the surroundings.

For the accommodation of the guests the new residence was thrown open to the roof, whilst in the old residence, which adjoined, the orchestra was stationed which provided music for those who desired to indulge in the pleasure of dancing.

By 9 o’clock visitors began to rapidly arrive and soon the mansion was thronged.  The guests were received by Mr. and Mrs. Nagle and their niece, Miss Hibbard.  Little groups of people found their way all over the house and having feasted their eyes with pleasure on the artistic beauties of the lower floors, the ladies particularly had a chance to go into ecstasies over the arrangement above the stairs.  Every visitor was charmed with what he saw and congratulations were showered on the host and hostess.  Lunch was served by Kabis in very excellent style.

The House Itself

The Nagle mansion, on the northwest corner of Seventeenth and House streets, presents a striking architectural appearance.  Its style is Romanesque, and the white stone used in its construction tends to give it a massive appearance.  The southeast corner of the building stands out from the direct line of the main structure and gives it its most distinctive and characteristic feature.  On the first floor a square bow window, which on the second floor takes a circular form and finally ends above the roof in an octagonal tower.  The front and side of the building are frequently relieved with angularities which adds to the beauty.  Much of the stone work is finely carved, the gargoyles above the Seventeenth street windows being particularly fine.  A portico extends across the main face of the building.

Passing through the double main doors the visitor finds himself in the hallway which divides the house into two equal parts.  To the left are folding doors leading to the drawing room and just beyond the door leading into the dining room.  To the right is the door leading into the sitting room which in turn opens into the library, an apartment which is also reached from the hallway.  Nearly opposite the library door is a stairway leading to the second floor.  On the first landing, in full view of the hall is a stained glass window of artistic design through which the light floods in mellowed streams.  The hallway is very attractively decorated.  The ceiling is laid off in panels of papier mache treated in subdued colors with bronzes and gold leaf.  The side walls are of richly stamped leather and the mirror and hat rack framed in antique oak.  The hallway itself is finished in cherry.  A chandelier of brass in Moorish design depends from the ceiling. 

So far as the decorations go, the drawing room is perhaps the most striking apartment of the house.  It contains three windows of six feet in height, the center one filled with a single sheet of beveled plate glass, all facing Seventeenth Street.  All the woodwork is mahogany but the prevailing tint of the room is a rich cream.  The royal Wilton carpet which covers the floor is unique in pattern.  The paper is of a mild tint and of a lace pattern.  The tinting is exquisite.  The ceiling is painted in oil, and the effect of the whole is one of complete artistic harmony.  An almost severely plain fireplace in bronze, old brass and copper, occupies the western end of the room.  A few artist proof drawings and some brick-a-brac  add charm to the interior of this apartment.

Directly opposite is the sitting room.  The distinctive characteristic of this apartment is it’s the northeast corner filled with a single sheet of semi circular beveled plate glass six by seven feet in  dimension  and flanked by two square plate glass windows of smaller size.  This unique feature of Cheyenne’s r residence architecture produces an admirable effect.  It may be mentioned here that each apartment, so far as its furnishing is concerned, is an artistic study distinct from any other apartment.  The prevailing tint in the sitting room is gray blue.  The carpets, drapery and wall paper partake of this tint.  The woodwork is in antique oak, and the fireplace of plastic work with exquisite panels in bronze.

The adjoining room on the same side of the house is the library, and as benefits its character, the finish is in somewhat somber colors.  The carpets and walls are of terra cotta tone.  It is finished in antique oak.  The fireplace is a very elaborate design and highly ornamental.  Panels of stained glass add richness to the room.

The dining room is of a light and airy finish.  The walls are of figured felt, yellowish in tone with heavy borders of Lincrusta Walton and ceiling painted in oil.  The whole is exquisitely modulated.  It is finished in natural oak, its floors being of polished oak, cherry and maple.  A sideboard of exquisite workmanship occupies one end of the room.  Light is received from two large windows set in frames with copings elaborately carved.  Above each plate glass is a square of colored glass set in squares and circles through which the light floods richly.  One door leads from this into the butler’s pantry and thence into the kitchen, which possesses all the most modern conveniences.

On the second floor are four large apartments and several smaller ones, each of which is a study in artistic decoration.  On the third floor are many other rooms, one of which is formed by the octagonal tower before mentioned, and is intended for a little conservatory.  The ceilings on the first floor are eleven feet high and on the second, ten.

The basement itself is one of the most remarkable features of the house.  The whole building will be heated by a large Smead furnace.  The arrangements for hot and cold air, the big filtering apparatus, the scientific pluming, sewerage, and ventilating system strike one forcibly in contemplating the improved methods in modern architecture.  Mr. Nagle himself supervised the whole work, and to his keen judgment the complete success of many unique features is entirely due.  The building, exclusive of the grounds and stables, cost about $35,000.

As usual, the newspaper didn’t always get the details  right (fireplaces in the parlor and sitting room are cast brass, the entry ceiling is carved leather, etc) but you HAVE to love the flowery Victorian wording.  It appears that it was a gala event of the first order.

The 1880 Elopement of Miss Gracie Morse

       While I was doing research, I ran across the following article from The Democratic Leader, Cheyenne,Wyoming, Tuesday Morning, May 18, 1880.  It tickled me, so I thought I’d share it with you.



       New York, May 17 — Society in Tarrytown was thrown into a flutter of excitement this evening by the announcement that Miss Gracie Morse, the eldest daughter of Rev. J. B. Morse, a niece of the late Commodore Vanderbilt, had eloped with the family coachman, George Winter.  Rev. Mr. Moore is a missionary preacher attached to Blackwells Island penitentiary.  The family has one of the most spacious and elegant residences in Tarrytown.  Miss Morse is now Mrs. Winter and is 22 years old, highly educated and attractive, and has been much courted.

       Winter is 23 years of age.  During the absence of the family today they drove to North Tarrytown and were married, returning to the house intending to keep the matter a secret.  It became nosed about and they fled and are now supposed hiding in the town.  The family are very much angered and humiliated over the matter.

Dentistry in the Old West

          I’ve been blogging less regularly lately because I’ve been occupied with multiple dental visits.  As I pondered a topic for this week I thought it might be interesting to take a look back in time to see what kind of dental care was available in Victorian times.  While a number of treatments are quite ancient, many of the techniques we now use were first developed during the 1800’s.

          Gold leaf fillings were first recommended by Giovanni d-Arcoli in 1848.  Prior to that time fillings were comprised of such things as stone chips (ouch), turpentine resin (yuck), gum (eeewww), and metals.  Amalgams incorporating mercury were developed in the early 1800s.  While we all know these have been debated in recent years, the original reason for use of mercury does make sense.  Those with little mercury in them had to be heated to a high degree in order for the metals to bind (ouch).  Including more mercury in the mix made it possible to bind the metals at room temperature.  False teeth date back as far as 700 B.C. when the Etruscans made them out of ivory and bone.  They were secured in place with a system of gold bridgework. This actually seems like pretty advanced thinking for that time.

          The first electric dental drill was patented in 1875 and the patent for the dental chair followed in 1848.  Novocain, thankfully, came along in 1884.

         There’s historical evidence that about 2700 BC the Chinese used acupuncture to treat tooth pain.  In 1884, Carl Koller introduced the first local anesthetic used in dentistry, cocaine.  It wasn’t until 1905 that Novocain was developed by a German Chemist, Alfred Einkorn.  He was looking for a non-addictive, easy-to-use, safe local anesthetic to be used on soldiers during wartime.  Novocain never became popular for military use but it did become widely used by dentists.  In 1845, Dr. William Morton, initiated the use of anesthesia for tooth extraction.

         In the early days of the old west there were often few professional men in towns.  Dentists were often called upon to perform other duties such as healing the sick and wounded, serving as town coroner and/or undertaker, or treating diseased animals.

         One of the most famous dentists of the old west was John “Doc” Holliday, DDS, who was originally from Georgia and educated in Philadelphia.  Known more for gambling and gun fighting than dentistry, he crammed a lot of living into his 36 years of life.  He began practicing dentistry in Atlanta, but having contracted tuberculosis (or “consumption” as it was called at the time) he moved west and lived in various places in Texas, Las Vegas (New Mexico), Denver, Cheyenne, Deadwood, Dodge City, and Tombstone, Arizona.  The last years of his life were spent in Leadville, Colorado where his health continued to deteriorate as he became increasingly dependent on alcohol and laudanum.  He died in a sanatorium in Glenwood Springs, Colorado and is buried in Linwood Cemetery.  Legend has it that his last words were, “Now that’s funny.”

Cattle Drives in Wyoming: Mooooooove Along!


   Cattle ranching in Wyoming began in the 1850’s but it was not until the end of the Civil War and the coming of the Union Pacific Railroad that cattle drives became big business in Cheyenne.  During the Civil War marketing of range cattle in Texas was slow, creating a large buildup of cattle having little value.  About the same time it was discovered that if a Texas steer was wintered in the north it took on additional flesh/value, making double-wintering desirable.  Cattle valued at $5.00 a head in Texas often brought ten times that amount when delivered north to a railhead.  With Native Americans now confined to reservations and the American bison herds diminished, the vacated country became cattle range and the government needed increasing quantities of beef to feed Indian wards and the army.  In 1865 Philip Danforth Armour opened a meatpacking plant in Chicago and, with the expansion of this industry, profitability of shipping by railroad increased substantially.  This was the impetus for the major cattle drives as well as the heyday of large open range cattle herds owned by international investors and Cheyenne’s cattle barons.

     In 1883, it was estimated that 260,000 head of cattle were driven north.  On average a herd would move about 15 miles per day, since faster would cause the cattle to lose weight. The typical herd consisted of 1,500 to 2,500 head of cattle, requiring a trail boss and about a dozen men to see them through.  Each wrangler had a string of five to ten horses.  Larger herds had 15,000 cattle and required bigger crews…including a cook (usually driving a chuck wagon pulled by oxen) and a wrangler to maintain the spare horses.  Wranglers were usually young cowboys of lower social status but cooks were more accomplished.  In addition to being in charge of food, cooks usually had a practical working knowledge of medicine and maintained a variety of medical supplies.

     Crews had bedrolls but no tents or tarps (these were considered an excess luxury).  A few were lucky enough to possess slickers.  Since there was no way of preserving beef, their food was mostly limited to non-perishables such as kidney beans, dried fruit, sugar, biscuits and coffee. An occasional delicacy on the trail was “slow elk”, a cow from another outfit.  “S.O.B. stew” was made of tallow, tongue, liver, sweet breads, brains, marrow gut and just about anything but hooves, horn and hide.  Wages were about $40 per month and cowboys were paid when the herd sold.  Bonuses were often provided for those who rounded up “slow elk” and managed to brand them and sell them with the herd…rustling. 

     The most famous cattle towns were railheads, where herds were shipped to the Chicago stockyards.  Cattlemen and investors made these towns headquarters for buying and selling cattle.  Cowboys who were paid off following months of monotonous work were turned loose on the towns.  Businesses that thrived were barbershops, places that sold clothing and gear, and of course brothels and gambling establishments.  While violence often had to be quelled by town marshals, the number of killings was small by the standards of eastern cities.

     Overgrazing, drought and finally the exceptionally severe winter of 1886-87 brought an end to most of the open-range cattle business.