a/k/a Ella Watson - Page 2
essence, the law locked out the small ranchers and
competing with the large Stock Growers Association. It also put
their own calves at risk if they were to stray too far from their own
property. When this occurred the association would round them up and
this same time, the big cattle owners of the area began to illegally file
claims to much of the area land. By placing movable cabins on their
claims, they could state that the property had been "improved,” a
requirement of the homestead act.
After the claim was filed, they
would then place logs under the cabins and roll them to another homestead property, repeating the process over and over again.
Jim Averell, as a Justice of the
Peace, began to write letters to the newspaper at Casper,
which infuriated the large cattlemen.
March 23, 1888, Ella
filed her official homestead claim with the Land Office in Cheyenne. Between both
homesteads, James and
Ella now owned more than 320 acres of land. Ella
continued to improve her property by building corrals for the livestock
and fencing much of the property.
Finally, with a new governor, the 1888 Legislature repealed the Maverick
Law under heavy pressure from the small cattle and landowners. In
the fall of that year, Ella
bought 28 head of cattle from a man who was driving them from
the Salt Lake basin.
by the time he had arrived in the area, the cattle were footsore and in
poor condition. On December 3, 1888 she applied for the WT brand through
the Carbon County Brand Committee in Rawlings, but they rejected her
March 16, 1889, she bought a brand from a nearby rancher and since it was
already registered with the Brand Committee, this time her application was
Early in 1889, Ella
unofficially adopted an eleven-year-old boy by the name of Gene Crowder.
Crowder’s father, John M. Crowder, was a widower, a drifter, and a heavy
drinker. Crowder had several children, but was unable to take care
of young Gene, so Ella
took him in. Gene helped her with her growing ranch along with
another fourteen-year-old boy named John L. DeCorey, who Ellen had hired
to work for her. In April, Ralph Coe, Jim's 20-year-old nephew from Wisconsin, joined the ranch.
Another friend who helped them was a neighbor by the name of B. Frank
Buchanan who helped mend fences and assisted Ellen with branding the cattle. By the middle of July 1889,
41 head of cattle, branded with her new LU brand.
Albert John Bothwell, a wealthy cattleman and member of the Stock
Association, lived about a mile from Jim and Ellen. Prior to Ellen
homesteading her piece of land, Bothwell had used the property, as well as other large sections of
open range, as pastureland for his cattle. In fact, Bothwell was in the habit of running his cattle through the entire
Sweetwater Valley, spreading out some twenty miles.
Though he didn’t own all of the land, he acted as though he did.
Bothwell was one of the most dreaded cattleman that lived in the area,
his main focus to get the homesteaders off of "his” land. He was
furious when Jim and Ellen homesteaded the property that he considered his best pastureland. Approaching
Ellen several times, he tried to by her property but she refused him.
Jim Averell had given Bothwell a right of way through his property so that
Bothwell could irrigate his pastureland, but on a few occasions, Jim
had threatened to cut off his water supply, which further infuriated
the cattleman. Bothwell was determined to run Jim and Ellen
off their property.
Jim wrote the letters to the
Casper Newspaper, Bothwell sent his cowhands to harass the couple. The men
would often just watch the couple to make sure they didn’t do anything
out of the ordinary. At other times, the cowhands placed skulls and
cross bones on their doorways. Bothwell also had the men fence in areas of land that did not
belong to him.
On July 20, 1889, a stock detective
named George Henderson rode through Ellen's
pasture in the early morning, finding the cattle with their fresh LU
brands. Henderson, a member of the Stock Association, quickly
suggested that Ellen
might be illegally branding cattle. Though Bothwell, no doubt knew that
had had the cattle for almost a year, he saw this as his long sought
after opportunity to rid himself of Jim
Bothwell sent for other cattlemen in the immediate area to meet
him for an urgent meeting. Who knows what he actually told them,
but by the time the meeting was over the cattlemen were convinced that
Jim and Ellen
had stolen the newly branded cattle. One of the men rode over to
pasture to verify the new brands, returning to tell the others about
it. The men then decided to take matters into their own hands. Several of the cattlemen wanted no part of the vigilante’s plans and
left, but six cattlemen remained. These six ranchers included Bothwell, the ringleader, M. Earnest McLean, Robert "Captain” M.
Galbraith, John Henry Durbin, Robert Conner, and Tom Sun.
After the meeting they all decided to ride
over to Ellen's homestead and see the evidence for themselves. Arriving in
the early afternoon, they found the newly branded cattle and their
suspicions were confirmed. John Durbin lost his temper and began
tearing down the barbed wire fence and driving the cattle out. Gene Crowder, the boy who
had unofficially adopted, watched as McLain and Conners detained Ella
outside, keeping her from returning to her house. Forcing her
into the wagon, they explained to her that they were going to Rawlins.
Then they started toward Jim Averell's place. Crowder tried to go around them, but
Bothwell detained him and he was forced to stay with Durbin.
Cattle Roundup. This image available for photographic prints
Jim, who was starting to Casper,
was just inside the gate when the men approached. Stating they had a
warrant for his arrest, Jim demanded to see the document,
at which time Durbin and
Bothwell drew their guns. Jim was made to unhitch his team
and climb in the wagon along with Ella, and
then the group began to travel north. Crowder was allowed to leave
and made tracks back to Jim's house where he explained to
the others what was going on. Frank Buchanan quickly got on his
horse and began to follow the vigilantes.
Buchanan followed the group for about two miles as they traveled up the
east side of Averell Mountain, then headed southwest across the sagebrush
toward Sweetwater River and Independence Rock. Finally, the
vigilantes stopped at a gulch on the south side of the river. As
Buchanan watched, Bothwell tied a rope to a
tree, wrapping the other end around Jim's neck, while McLain was
attempting to put a rope around Ella's dodging neck. At the sight
of this, Buchanan opened fire on the vigilantes, but when the group
returned fire, he fled for his life.
to the ranch, he told Gene Crowder, John L. DeCorey, and Ralph Coe about
Though an investigation into the hangings began almost immediately, the
bodies were let hang in the July heat for 2 ½ days. A reporter, who
was the first to talk to members of the posse, described it as thus:
"Hanging from the limb of
a stunted pine growing on the summit of a cliff fronting the Sweetwater
River, were the bodies of James Averell
and Ella Watson. Side by side they swing, their arms touching each other, their
tongues protruding and their faces swollen and discolored almost beyond
recognition. Common cowboy lariats had been used, and both had died by
strangulation, neither fallen over two feet. Judging from signs too plain
to be mistaken a desperate struggle had taken place on the cliff, and both
man and woman had fought for their lives until the last.”
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