Wyoming cattle rustler, Averell was hanged along with
"Cattle Kate" Watson by a cattle baron faction in
1889, just one of the many incidents that led to the Johnson County War.
was born on March 20, 1851 to John and Sarah Ann Averell in Renfrew County, Ontario Canada. The youngest of seven children, his father
died shortly after his birth. At the age of 20,
the military and was initially assigned to Fort Douglas,
and later transferred to Fort Fred Steele,
15 miles east of Rawlins. In 1876 he was discharged but he soon
re-enlisted, this time assigned to Fort McKinley,
In Buffalo he shot and
killed a man by the name of Charlie Johnson, a mean hombre with a
reputation for fighting and creating trouble whenever he was drinking.
that Johnson had threatened him many times with a knife and on this
shot the man in the leg and again in the back when the shot to the leg
swung the huge man around.
James was held
in jail at Rawlins for a time while two grand juries were convened, but he
was never convicted and was eventually released.
James Averell was labeled an "outlaw" in 1899, but historical reviews indicate
that he most likely was not guilty of any crime.This
image available for photographic prints
homestead on Cherry Creek at the north base of Ferris
Mountain and married a young woman by the name of Sophia Jaeger on
February 23, 1882. On August 23, 1882, Sophia gave birth to a
three-month premature baby boy who lived for only a short time. Soon
thereafter, Sophia took sick with what was called "child bed fever” at the
time and she also died. The
homestead carried too many sad memories
Averell so he
sold the property.
In 1886, he
near Independence Rock,
long, he began to raise livestock and established a store and
on his land. Later he became the town's local postmaster and the
approximately 80 residents of Sweetwater elected him Justice
of the Peace. This political position; however, may very well have led
to his death.
Believing that his political "power" gave him the right
to defy the large cattle barons, who were headed by
Albert J. Bothwell, Averell began to complain to
authorities about the encroachments taken on
homestead lands by the
cattlemen. Averell also opposed the Maverick Law,
passed in 1884, which provided that unbranded
calves found on the open range became the exclusive property of the
Stock Growers Association. These complaints obviously put him at
immediate odds with
Albert J. Bothwell.
the meantime, Averell became close friends with
"Kate" Watson, a neighboring
homesteader, who helped him in the
Before long, they became so close that they planned to marry after
was soon also caught up in the bitterness against the large cattle
barons. Finally, with a new governor, the 1888 Legislature repealed
the Maverick Law under heavy pressure from the small cattle and
Legally, Averell began to round up range strays,
branding them as his own. In the meantime, he began to write a series
of letters to several local newspapers, venting his feelings against
the cattle barons, calling them as thieves and killers, especially
after they had accused
Watson of running a "Hog Ranch."
When Averell wrote to the Cheyenne Weekly Mail in April, 1889,
Bothwell, as well as the
Wyoming Stock Growers Association,
by claiming that
were stealing his cattle. Dubbing
Watson with the moniker of "Cattle
Kate," he also continued to accuse her of being a prostitute who sometimes
accepted stolen cattle in payment.
As the dispute continued to rage over the next
Bothwell convinced other area ranchers of
guilt, and on July 20, 1889, he, along with five other men, hanged the
pair at a small canyon by the Sweetwater River.
Though the men were
charged with murder, key witnesses began to mysteriously die or disappear
and all of them were acquitted. Both
Averell and "Cattle
Kate" were "tried" in the press, which was owned or influenced by the
cattle barons, and branded as "outlaws."
Bothwell later acquired both
homesteads of the murdered victims.
Later investigations into the whole affair
have found that most likely neither
James Averell, nor his girlfriend
Kate" Watson, were guilty of any crime.