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Laramie City Wyoming Territory ~ First Settlement

About the 20th day of April, A. D. 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad Company commenced the sale of town lots in Laramie, the survey of the town having been made some months previous, and the fact of Laramie City being determined upon by the magnates of the company as the next termini town on this great national highway, generally advertised the same at all points east along the line of the road. Such had been the strife for town lots at Cheyenne (the first town of importance east of here,) in its early settlement, and such large sums of money made there by speculators in town property, that every man in the country having money enough to pay for a lot in Laramie City, had anxiously been waiting for this important event. Such indeed was the anxiety to be first that for nearly a month prior to this time there had been camped on the plains around this new town site from two to three hundred people; some in tents, some under board sheds and in shanties and many others without shelter save their blankets and the blue expanse above them.

With the sale of town lots began the settlement of Laramie, and the rapidity of its settlement and growth may be conjectured from the fact that within one week from the day the first lot was sold by the company, over four hundred lots were sold or contracted for; and in less than two weeks something over five hundred buildings or structures in which to live, or do business, had been erected.

These structures were of that peculiar kind found chiefly in the termini towns along the line of the railroad. Some were constructed of logs, some of cross-ties, stood on end, for the walls, with canvass roof; others were made of cloth, with stakes or posts set in the ground for corners, and others the ordinary canvass tent; and yet another kind were of boards put together in sections in such a manner as to be easily taken down and moved forward to the next available point on the road.

On the 9th day of May the rails were laid to and past the town; and on the 10th day of May the first train came into Laramie City and discharged its freight, and such freight humanity has seldom if ever be held. Iron for the railroad, crossties for the same, ploughs, scrapers, tents, little seven by nine shanties, lumber for building purposes, groceries and provisions, Jew peddlers with their packs, fancy goods and some that were not so fancy, cooking stoves, crockery ware in boxes and baskets, tinware in all shapes, wines and liquors of all kinds and varieties, in barrels and boxes; and on top of this strange mixture, riding on the flat cars on which they had freighted their household goods, came men, women and children, a motley crowd, as terribly mixed even as the inanimate things brought with them.

Much has been said and much written about the peculiarities of a large majority of the people settling these termini towns along the Union Pacific Railroad. The worst that has ever been said of any of them does not, nor cannot approach the real truth, nor depict the heinousness of the offenses committed by many of these people. What has or can be said of any of the towns on the road, can with equal truth be said of Laramie City. In about three months its population aggregated about five thousand souls. Of these there were probably about one thousand strong, earnest, daring men, ready to face any danger, or ready to undertake any perilous task, if they could, in any honorable way, better their fortunes. One thousand more that were ready to adopt any policy, honorable or otherwise, so that they got money, and ran no great risks. The balance, with the exception of a few good and noble women, were made up of gamblers, thieves, highwaymen, robbers, cut-throats, garrotters, prostitutes, and their necessary companions, who made their living by preying upon the poor laborers who, as soon as their month's wages were in their pockets, would rush into town from the road and timber, and sport while there was a penny left.

Government

The settlement of the town had hardly commenced when the more orderly portion of the people felt it necessary to form and establish some kind of government, and on the 8th of May notices were posted calling a mass meeting to consider the question of forming a provisional government. This meeting was holden at what was then a part of the Chrisman buildings, now the Tivoli Hall, and after some discussion it was determined to establish a city government. M. C. Brown was nominated for Mayor, John Gurrelle for Marshal, E. Nagle, J. C. Chrisman, G. P. Drake, and M. Townsley for Trustees, and P. H. Tooley for Clerk. The election was holden on the 12th of May. Over nine hundred votes were polled, and the gentlemen above named were declared elected. An effort was made to organize a strong and efficient government, but the condition of the country and the lack of proper material made it nearly impossible, and at the end of the third week M. C. Brown, by a letter published in the Frontier Index, (the pioneer paper of the city) tendered to the people of the town his resignation as Mayor, and declined to have any further connection with the city government. Some others followed suit, and what was at first, from necessity, a weak government at best, soon degenerated into no government at all. This condition of affairs could not last long. Men settled their difficulties by resorting to the revolver or knife, and in those personal hand to hand encounters the victors were usually the heroes of the hour, their victims were hurried under the ground and no questions asked. Robbery and garroting were daily occurrences, and murder not infrequent. There gradually arose in the minds of the better portion of the people a feeling of uneasiness and fear for their safety. Steps were soon taken to organize a vigilance committee, and the first organization of this character was perfected in August, and numbered at this time only twenty members. There were a few worthy and very resolute men in this organization, but its only substantial fruit was the hanging of a young man called the "Kid," during the last days of August, in the building occupied as a residence, for some years afterwards, by our worthy townsman John Keene. But the hanging of this miserable, insignificant creature created an excitement among the roughs, and they at once organized thoroughly, not only for resistance but for aggressive movement. They boasted of their strength, and threatened all who dared complain of their misdeeds with vengeance dire! Among the leaders of the roughs may be mentioned Con Wager, Asa Moore, Big Ned, Sam Dugan, Tiger Bill, Morris Kohn, and Dave Mullen.

Their organization and daily crimes finally united all the better elements of our society, and in a very short time a new vigilance committee was formed, numbering from three to five hundred men. They were thoroughly organized and officered by resolute, cool-headed men. These men were all thoroughly armed, and on the night of the 18th of October, 1868, a day long to be remembered by the old residents of Laramie City, this committee met at an appointed place on the west side of the railroad track in the city and divided into squads and went to different parts of the town. It was the intention to make a descent at precisely the same moment on all the more prominent gambling halls in the town, and take out, without any great disturbance, some of the most noted murderers and robbers, and quietly hang them before their companions could rally sufficient force to rescue them. But fate had ordered otherwise. The squad of men assigned to the dance house known as the "Belle of the West," had gathered around the doors of the same, a brilliantly lighted hall filled with dancers of both sexes, gaudily dressed women, gamblers, and desperadoes were whirling through the intricate mazes of the dance, their twinkling feet keeping time to sweet music, which floated in ravishing strains upon the air, and ever and anon a burst of merriment would fill the room, in which were mingled the silvery dulcet tones of woman's voice, fair though frail, yet woman still. The saturnalian festival was at its height, when a pistol shot, loud and clear, rang out upon the evening! This shot was the signal for a simultaneous attack at several points in the town, but owing to some undue excitement with this part of the committee, the signal was premature, and the dreadful attach was made at this point only. But at the signal, a shout! a rush! and all was confusion. The scene which followed beggars all description. The deadly sound from more than one hundred revolvers was heard. The roughs being well armed resisted the attack of the committee with desperation; they fought like tigers driven to bay. What a scene was here, where but a moment before all was gaiety. The sweet strains of melody were hushed, and in their stead came harsh discordant sounds, tumultuous, wild, and prophetic of doom to the gambler and desperado. For fifteen minutes the sharp crack from the deadly revolvers made music to the weeping and wailing of the women and the shouts and muttered curses of the men. The smoke from the pistols gathered in a cloud, and hung like a pall over the heads of the doomed, as if to shut out from the sight of the angels the dark scene below. The roughs were overpowered, and the results were three men killed, one of the committee, one a member of the band of music, and one noted desperado, and about fifteen men were wounded, some quite severely; and three of the leading roughs. Con Wager, Asa Moore, and Big Ed were taken from the place and hung at the same place where the "Kid" was hung in August. About sunrise next morning, Big Steve, another noted robber and murderer, was captured and hung to a telegraph pole near where South B Street crosses the railroad track*

For a few days following this event there was great excitement and men at other times reasonably quiet and modest in demeanor, now became violent and unreasonable. The larger portion of the roughs in a very few days left the town, and many others joined the vigilantes and became the most rampant and blatant advocates of order, virtue, and honesty.

The vigilance committee as originally formed had now served its chief purpose in ridding the town of its worst characters, and a majority of the really good men in the committee soon dropped out of the organization. This of course left it to a large degree in the hands of unscrupulous bad men, whose chief object was revenge. They could, under guise of public protectors and avengers of public wrongs, murder their personal enemies and go un-whipped of justice. Those now living in Laramie who were among the residents of the town during the first year of its existence, are unanimous in the declaration of a sincere wish that it may never again be their misfortune to live under such trying and terrible circumstances.

Vigilance Committees

Out of this vigilante organization grew the second provisional city government. L. B. Chase was elected Mayor. This city organization suspended the vigilantes yet carried on to some degree their practices. A few weeks after this a young man by the name of Moritz was arrested by T. D. Sears, Deputy Sheriff of Laramie county, under suspicion of having committed a larceny on Bitter Creek, in Sweet Water County. There appeared no good grounds for the suspicion, yet the young man was taken to the city jail for safe keeping until some reliable information could be obtained. The then city marshal with a few of his "pals" favored the old vigilante organization, and thinking probably that their renown and reputation needed bolstering up, by the sacrifice of a new victim, went to the city jail, took young Moritz out, and the nearest and most convenient place for their purpose being a small log building, then unfinished, in the rear of the Frontier Hotel., rapidly traversed the distance between the jail and this point, passed a rope over the log above the doorway sawed in the end of the building, drew the man's head up to the log and there strangled him in a most inhuman manner. He was found in this position in the morning, his head drawn up against the log above the doorway and his feet reaching the doorsill.

Moritz was the last man hung in Laramie City, and it may be of interest to some to know that this city marshal (Lee Griswold), concerned in the hanging of Moritz, was afterwards arrested in Colorado for murder, and in attempting to escape from the Denver jail in 1873, was shot and killed by the watchman, a just retribution, surely.

In December, 1868, the Legislature of Dakota Territory (of which we were a part at that time) passed a charter for Laramie City, and appointed M. C. Page, Mayor. This government, though legal, did not meet with very much greater success than the former provisional ones had. Under this legal administration, in the month of March, 1869, the members of the city police, in the night, made an attack upon their own jail, for the purpose of taking upon themselves the old vigilante role, and hanging George Hays, who had been imprisoned that day for some trifling misdemeanor.

This attack is said to have been made on account of some personal spite existing between Hays and Douglass, one of the police. The attack was made by Douglass, Rodapouche and others whose names were never known. A man by the name of Irwin, and our present fellow townsman M. H. Murphy, were in the jail as guards. During the attack Irwin was killed and Murphy was severely wounded. Hays escaped.

This affair created such an intense excitement that for some days it was feared the entire town would be burned by men employed in the timber, friends of Hays, who were at this time in town in large numbers. Quiet was, however, restored, by the influence of a few leading citizens of the town, with the assurance that the murderers of Irwin and the would be murderers of others should be brought to justice; but the existence of this city government was virtually ended.

The following month of May, 1869, brought to our new Territory of Wyoming, the newly appointed officers for the same, and in June, 1869, a term of court was held in Albany County for the first time. The court was presided over by Hon. William T. Jones, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Wyoming Territory. This term of court was effectual in bringing peace, order, and good government out of the former discordant elements; and the earnest and faithful services of N. K. Boswell, sheriff of the county, in aiding the court in its objects, soon established in the minds of the people entire security of life and property.

The first Legislative Assembly of Wyoming repealed the old city charter, and left our citizens entirely under the jurisdiction of the Federal courts, and in an incredibly short space of time Laramie City changed from one of the most turbulent and disorderly, to one of the most orderly, quiet, and moral towns in the whole "Great West."

While it is true beyond doubt that the Vigilance Committee in the early days of Laramie City, rid the town of very many bad men, and the world of a few of its worst characters, and established, to some degree, safety and security to life and property; yet, at least, one innocent man was hung and another shot by this power having its inception from that source. And like all other organizations of the kind it was kept up too long. A continued connection with such organizations will necessarily sow foul seeds in the hearts of the best men, which will in time sprout and grow into luxuriant crops of "tares."

We find it impossible to give a description or even a complete list of names of the first business men, mechanics, &c., of our town, as is the custom in a work of this kind. Sulfide it to say that a majority of our merchant princes, business men and leading mechanics, are of the first settlers, several of whom came here with a very small capital and by close attention to their business have accumulated a respectable little fortune.

These men during the wild confusion in the fall of 1868, by lifting the veil of futurity, saw that Laramie City was destined to be more than a great camp and than an ordinary way station on the road; and commenced the erection of more substantial business houses and residences, and are now realizing and enjoying the benefits of such action. All buildings, however, were built of wood (except the round-house and machine shops of the U. P. R. R.) until the Fall of 1869, when the Dawson Bros, erected the first stone building on South A. Street, the same being now owned and occupied by Charles Kuster as a liquor store; cost five thousand dollars. The next was the building on Second Street, now owned by Edward Ivinson and occupied by the Wyoming National Bank, erected by H, J. Rogers & Co., same fall; cost ten thousand dollars. The next was the splendid stone building on Second Street, erected by M. G. Tonn, and occupied by him at the present time as a dry goods store; cost sixteen thousand dollars; built 1870.

The manufacture of brick was considered a failure, until the summer of 1871, when H. H. and Charles Richards successfully made the brick for the construction of our Court House and Henry Wagner's store, since which time Mr. J. Millard Filmore has carried on the manufacture of good brick quite extensively, and very successfully, until nearly all of our principal Streets are adorned with splendid brick business blocks and residences; and our city corporation can now boast of a total valuation of real estate of more than one million dollars.

 

Source: History and Directory of Laramie City, Wyoming Territory, By J. H. Triggs, Laramie City: Daily Sentinel Print, 1875.

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