tutor2u | Johnson County War

Study Notes

Johnson County War

Level:
GCSE
Board:
Edexcel

Last updated 24 Oct 2017

The Johnson County War was fought between cattle barons, and homesteaders and small ranchers. It demonstrates the continuation of rivalry between cattle barons and homesteaders and shows that, even in the 1890’s, people were still taking the law into their own hands.

The Johnson County War was fought between cattle barons, and homesteaders and small ranchers. It demonstrates the continuation of rivalry between cattle barons and homesteaders and shows that, even in the 1890’s, people were still taking the law into their own hands.

 

In Wyoming, cattle barons were appointed to key positions in government. They also set up their own association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WGSA), to protect their interests. Many of the cattle barons suffered great losses in Great Die up of 1886-7. In contrast, the small ranchers survived the winter with minimal losses and this upset the cattle barons. Rustling had been a problem in Wyoming for years but, now that the cattle barons were struggling to survive, they wanted to put a stop to it.

 

In 1889, the first killings took place. Small ranch owners, Jim Averill and Ella Watson, were living on land a cattle baron called Albert Bothwell wanted. Averill wrote a letter to the local newspaper accusing Bothwell of being a land-grabber. Bothwell then accused Ella of rustling a small herd of cows. Bothwell’s men caught and hanged Averill and Watson, and took over their land and cattle. No one was prosecuted for these murders.

 

In retaliation, the homestdeaers and small ranchers created their own association and decided to hold their own round-up of cattle before the WSGA’s. This meant they could claim all of the new-born cattle for themselves. The WSGA were furious and planned a full-scale invasion of Johnson County. They created a list of 70 people who they intended to kill. The WSGA also hired and paid gunmen. This was done in full knowledge of Wyoming’s governor.

 

However, the WSGA’s plan failed. Small rancher Nate Champion heroically held them up all day. By the time he had been killed, the alarm had been raised in a nearby town and the local people were ready to fight. The US Calvary arrived and fought off the WSAG. The war had ended. 

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