Nate Champion – Killed in the Johnson County War

Nate Champion

Nate Champion

Nate Champion was a cowboy, rancher, and key figure in the Johnson County War of Wyoming.

Born on September 29, 1857, near Round Rock, Texas, Nate grew up to be a top cowboy. Somewhere along the line, he moved to Wyoming, where he ran a small ranch in Johnson County. Though known for his honesty and forthrightness, Nate made the “list” of those the cattle barons wanted to get rid of, most likely because of his “alleged” support of a rival stock association called the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers Association. On the other hand, the cattle barons ran the more powerful Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which implemented several rules to make it difficult for small ranchers.

According to Dale Champion, Nate’s great great great nephew, in his research, he found that Nate was not actively promoting the competing association.  In fact, Champion tells us that the Association had appointed Nate as their leader during a meeting he didn’t even attend. When Nate found out, he declined the nomination, but word had gotten out about the meeting. Dale Champion says, “By them choosing Nate, they signed his death warrant.”

The wealthy ranchers soon labeled him a cattle rustler, and when they brought in 50 henchmen and gunfighters, Nate’s KC Ranch was the first to be targeted in what became known as the Johnson County War. The men arrived on April 9, 1892, when four men, including Champion, were at the ranch cabin. Two of the men, trappers who had just been passing by, were captured by the cattle baron group, and a cowboy named Rueben “Nick” Ray was shot and killed. Nate was besieged in his cabin as a hail of bullets came in his direction. He held out for several hours, killing at least four gunmen and wounding several others. However, when they set his cabin on fire, he was forced to emerge and was shot down. Dale Champion says, “At the time of Nate’s death, he had eight pack horses, all just paid for, and nearly 200 head of cattle of his own.  He was getting ready to take a ranch and homestead it. He had a good reputation as an honest businessman.”

Regulators surrendering at the TA Ranch

Wolcott’s Regulators surrendering at the TA Ranch in Wyoming

One of the men who participated in the siege was famous gunman Frank M. Canton, who reportedly regretted the incident so much that he left the cattlemen’s association shortly after that and moved to Oklahoma, where he became a U.S. Deputy Marshal.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated October 2022.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West

Johnson County War

Old West Feuds & Range Wars

Wyoming – The Cowboy State