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.

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.

The Cheyenne Club

   The Cheyenne Club was a men’s social club organized in 1880 by a group of insanely wealthy stockmen. Originally called the Cactus Club, its members were originally all cattle barons … many of whom wintered in Europe and spent summers in Cheyenne.  It had a worldwide reputation and its amenities rivaled those of the best “Gentlemen’s Clubs” in the British Empire.  For those of you who have visited us, it was located on the northwest corner of Seventeenth Street and Warren Avenue (directly across the street from Quizno’s parking lot).

     The club was an impressive two story brick building with a large veranda, two grand staircases, central heating, tennis courts, an elevator and a large decorative cupola. It sported wine vaults, a smoking room (supplied with fine Havana cheroots), billiard room, card room, lounge and a reading room offering The Drovers Journal and newspapers from New York and Boston.  The oak paneled dining room enjoyed a splendid reputation and served many nationally known dignitaries (such as Andrew Carnegie and Teddy Roosevelt).  The chef was imported, having been trained in Europe, and the wine vault was filled with the finest vintages.  Six elegantly appointed private apartments were located on the second floor for members and their guests (women were not allowed but it is rumored that some high stakes gambling took place in the private rooms).   The entire club was decorated with the most sumptuous furnishings and décor available at the time

     Member ship was limited to 200, and over time it grew to include the city’s most elite businessmen, state and local legislators, and high-ranking professionals.  While it was designated a social club, much informal wheeling and dealing took place there. There was to be “no profanity, no drunkenness, no blows struck, no cheating at cards, no smoking of pipes, no tipping, no betting and no games on Sunday.”  There were nineteen hitching posts along the street and local boys received five-dollar tips for tying horses to the posts.

     Rules were strictly enforced and several violations of decorum are recorded.  John Coble, who provided funds for Tom Horn’s defense, was suspended (and then resigned) after he discharged his .45 into a painting hanging in the Club.  Harry Oelrichs, noted for arriving to the Club in his $4,000 coach, kicked a steward and was himself booted from the Club.

     The cattle business was effectively ruined after a disastrous blizzard the winter of 1886-1887 and many of the barons lost their money and left Cheyenne.  In 1909 the Club’s name was changed to the Industrial Club and in 1927 it was taken over by the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.  The building was demolished in 1936.

Note:  In 1970 there was a film entitled The Cheyenne Social Club that was directed and produced by Gene Kelly.  It starred Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Shirley Jones.  James Lee Barrett’s script earned a Writers Guild of America nomination for “Best Comedy Directly Written for the Screen”, however he lost out to Neil Simon for The Out-of-Towners.  While the names are similar, the movie’s Cheyenne Social Club was a brothel and did not depict the elite and utterly decorous Cheyenne Club.

Powder River War or Red Cloud’s War


Red Cloud


     Some tales are complicated and one can’t do justice to them unless one takes time.  This is just such a tale and it will appear in three parts. 

     This story encompasses the years 1866-1868 and describes the armed conflict for control of the Powder River Country, in what is now north central Wyoming.  This key hunting ground and territory of the Cheyenne and Lakota tribes, was being encroached upon by miners (heading to the Montana gold fields) as well as emigrant settlers and others heading west.  Red Cloud was a prominent Oglala Lakota (Sioux) chief whose band formed an alliance with Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho bands to oppose the U.S. military presence in the area.

     In 1866, the U.S. government convened a council with the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne at Fort Laramie.  The government’s purpose in calling the council was to discuss a treaty to establish a right-of-way (the Bozeman Trail) through the area and to build military posts for protection of the emigrants.

     In an unfortunate case of getting the cart before the horse, Col. Henry Carrington arrived while the conference was in session with approximately 1,300 men and construction supplies.  He had been ordered to establish and garrison the proposed series of forts.  While the so-called “peace commission” had offered annuities to help alleviate near-starvation, they had NOT disclosed their intention to build the forts. (oops)

     Red Cloud was incensed by the arrival of troops before the agreement to build the road had been signed. (oops, again)  He not only left without signing the agreement, he promised resistance to any whites using the trail or occupying the territory.

     Carrington continued to follow his orders and restored old Fort Reno.  Proceeding north, he established Fort Phil Kearny on Piney Creek.  He then established a third post, Fort C.F. Smith, 91 miles to the northwest of that on the Big Horn River.

     Under the leadership of Red Cloud, allied bands attacked troops at Forts Phil Kearney and C.F. Smith, effectively closing travel on the Bozeman Trail.  Carrington’s men were largely untrained and only sufficient in number to protect his posts and supply trains, not to escort emigrants or engage in aggressive action.

     Carrington was an engineer and political appointee with little or no combat experience.  He’d arrived in mid-July and set his manpower and resources to work at building fortifications rather than fighting.  Considering the severe Wyoming winters, this was a reasonable thing to do however junior officers, eager for battle, interpreted this as an unwillingness to fight. Carrington also recognized his limitations, the capability of the enemy, their knowledge of the terrain and their vastly superior numbers.

     Captain William J. Fetterman arrived at Fort Kearny in 1866.  Although Fetterman had seen action during the Civil War, he had no previous experience fighting American Indians.  He criticized Carrington’s strategy as “passive,”   and boasted that he could do battle and defeat the Indians if he were in command.  This created additional unrest among the troops and only a match was needed to set fire to the situation.

     In early December, Lt. Horace Bingham was killed while driving off a band of Indians that had attacked the wood train.  Attackers led him and his troops over nearby Lodge Trail Ridge where they were overwhelmed by Indian forces and defeated.  Carrington recognized the strategy and cautioned his troops about being lead into such decoy activities again. Fetterman ‘s reaction was pure outrage.

     Late in the month, the wood train was again attacked.  Carrington ordered Capt. James Powell to command a relief party of 49 infantrymen and 27 mounted troops.  (Capt. James Powell had, just two days earlier, declined to pursue Indians over a ridge.)  Fetterman, however, claimed seniority, received and took command of the relief party and Capt. Powell was left behind.  Carrington ordered Fetterman not to cross Lodge Trail Ridge, where relief from the fort would be difficult.  Fetterman, however, instead of going to the relief of the wood train, headed quickly toward Lodge Trail Ridge. (While I’ve never been schooled in military tactics, even I know this meant trouble.)

Stay tuned for our next thrilling installment……….

Land of the Earthborn Spirit — Vedauwoo


     Vedauwoo (pronounced vee-da-voo)  is one of my favorite quick getaways.  It’s located west of Cheyenne and is part of the Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest’s more than two million acres of public lands.  It was originally known to the Arapaho Indians as  bito’o’wo , meaning earthborn.  Vedauwoo is the anglicized name for it.

     This spot is near the Sherman summit where erosion has worn away softer layers of rock and sediment that surrounded granite.  This has left interesting formations of rocky hoodoos and outcroppings made up of 1.4 billion year old Sherman Granite.  The granite is composed of erosion-resistant quartz crystals, orthoclase, plagioclase and mica.  Just east of Vedauwoo are some sensational sandstone cliffs that were formed when ancient sand dunes of a broad desert met with the salty water of a shallow, epicontinental sea.  It resulted in lovely layers of cross-stratification containing fossils of sea urchins, snails and sea lillies.

   Vedauwoo is chock full of wildlife.  It is home to mountain lions, coyotes, pronghorn, moose, mule deer and elk.  Some of the smaller residents are Wyoming ground squirrels, wild turkeys, badgers, prairie dogs and yellow-bellied marmots.  A multitude of songbirds and raptors inhabit the area as well.  Gliding the thermals above Vedauwoo are bald eagles, Golden eagles, turkey vultures, crows and ravens.  Beavers have built lodges and dams in the ponds and creeks creating habitats for frogs and fish.

    This is a marvelous place for a day trip out of Cheyenne or Laramie for what I call a ” quick nature fix.”  There are picnic and camping facilities and it is a popular spot for hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking.  Since the nights are so dark it is also used for star-gazing parties.

     That being said, I am now off to locate a nefarious character that I can accuse of being a yellow-bellied marmot.  Sounds to me like that would make a great insult!

Here Comes the Cavalry!


  Fort D.A. Russell was established in 1867 and named for David Allen Russell, who was a Civil War general killed at the Battle of Opequon.  It was established at a site known as Crow Creek Crossing, to protect workers involved in the construction the of the first transcontinental railroad.  Soldiers also served as guards for telegraph lines, stages, repair crews and surveying parties.

     The fort was always open to the plains, not stockaded, as forts are usually portrayed in old western movies.  The first structures were log cabins for enlisted men.  Tents housed officers through the first winter.

     The earliest buildings were of board and batten construction, insulated with adobe walls.  Rooms were lined with tarpaper and wallpapered.  Since the buildings were shaky, plaster couldn’t be used as it would constantly fall down.  Each barrack had a separate kitchen constructed of logs. There was no plumbing.  Bunks had mattresses filled with hay and two men shared each bunk.  Due to shrinkage of the lumber, the area around the eaves of the buildings was open.

     Desertion was quite common in the early days.  In fact, on one expedition out of the fort, some 65 men deserted by the time the troop reached Lodge Pole Creek, taking government horses and weapons with them. Although some deserters were caught, it was easy to change one’s name, and obtain employment on the railroad or elsewhere for substantially more pay.

     In 1884, the fort was made a permanent installation. The following year a program of building brick structures began. In 1886, the 9th Cavalry of “Buffalo Soldiers” was assigned to the post. At one time the fort was the largest cavalry post in the country. Cavalry remained at the fort until 1927.   

     Officers and the military band were deeply involved with Cheyenne society.  Reciprocal dances, socials, balls, and public gatherings were held.  Many young bachelor officers married young ladies from Cheyenne. 

     Cheyenne also offered a full range of the less savory entertainments such as gambling, drinking and soiled doves.  At times soldiers were restricted to base in efforts to discourage such behavior during Cheyenne’s wild and wooly days.

     In 1930, President Hoover changed the name of Fort D. A. Russell to Fort F. E. Warren, after Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and former Governor and Senator F. E. Warren. Warren received the Medal of Honor for his distinguished action in an assault upon Port Hudson, Louisiana, on May 27, 1863.

     During World War II, the fort served as a training facility for the US Army Quartermaster Corps and a prisoner of war camp was also constructed on the site. In 1958, it became part of the Strategic air Command.

     Fortunately, today the base has been designated a historic area and most of the structures in the historic district have been maintained. It has many large gorgeous brick homes and buildings (a number of which are reported to be “haunted”).   The base is also a protected haven for our native pronghorn antelope.