Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Johnson County War connections |

Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Johnson County War connections

In the July 6 edition of the Tri-State Livestock News was an article written by Heather Hamilton about the Reed 77 Ranch. I was quite interested to learn that their ranch was the site where Mike Shonsey killed Dud Champion. On our ranch is a draw named after Shonsey. In the early days, the CY Ranch had a branding corral on the head of Salt Creek and it was there that Shonsey and a man named Jack Flagg had a fist fight. As the story goes, the fight included one combatant hitting the other person with a branding iron and continued until one of the opponents pants fell down. Unfortunately, the exact details of the struggle have been lost. The cowboys commemorated the event by naming the draw after Shonsey. Flagg was later labeled as a rustler and shot at by the Invaders during the Johnson County War near Kaycee, Wyo. He and his son-in-law escaped by unhitching their team, abandoning their wagon, then riding the horses to John Smith’s ranch. According to Jack Gage, Flagg’s association with rustling were said to derive from his two faults, that he loved to gamble and on occasion drank a little too much.

While the Invasion was taking place, my grandfather, Thomas Cooper, was riding to Johnson County to shear sheep for the Brock family. The shearers were mistaken for a second invasion and found themselves surrounded by Johnson county citizens who were still a bit on-edge. A large group of unknown mounted men would naturally cause concern but once it was established who they were things calmed down. This was about the only link that sheep ever had to the Johnson County War. Later, one of the shearers admitted he had been asked by some of the invaders to cut the telegraph line but didn’t do it.

An interesting personal connection to the story is that my grandfather was there at a ranch on the South Fork of Crazy Woman Creek when Dud Champion told everyone present, including a reporter from the Cheyenne Tribune, that he intended to kill Mike Shonsey. I have never looked it up but I bet that the reporter quoted Champion in his newspaper article. Champion certainly meant what he said. Rather ironically, Mike Shonsey outlived nearly everyone involved and died in his 90s. One of Shonsey’s great-grandchildren stills lives in Cheyenne.