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 whom 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. The cattle barons, on the other hand, ran the more powerful Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which was implementing a number of rules to make it difficult for the 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, by then 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 there were four men at the ranch cabin, including Champion. 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 to his direction. He was able to hold out for several hours, killing at least four of the 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.”
One of the men who participated in the siege was famous gunman Frank M. Canton, who reportedly regretted the incident so much so, that he left the cattlemen’s’ association shortly thereafter and moved to Oklahoma where he became a U.S. Deputy Marshal.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.