War on land, water and sheep


“Whereas, we the pioneers of this Sun River Valley, having established ourselves here at an early day and prior to all others…” Thus began the preamble of an 1879 resolution to preserve the Montana range exclusively for cattlemen.  Though no individual rancher signed the inflammatory document, it expressed their deepest conviction; getting there first gave them inalienable rights to the land.

Legally, the argument was claptrap. The range was, and for most part, public property. But the reasoning went unchallenged for decades, as long as un-grazed valleys remained to be claimed. Inevitably, however, choice land became increasingly scarce until, by the 1880s, newcomers to the West had no alternative but to challenge the old-timers; prerogatives.

Friction over access to the range led to extreme solutions. Cattlemen’s associations unilaterally declared sections of land fully stocked with beef and therefore closed. By the early 1880s barbed-wire fences snaked across the range, only to be cute by irate neighbors or removed by a court edict. Fury erupted over “appropriated” water holes, grazing rights and transit across the plains.

Cattlemen fought among themselves and with farmers, who fenced in the open range and plowed the ground under. But the most protracted violence raged between cattlemen and sheep men, whose swelling herds of sheep could ruin a crowded range. The result was a generation of conflicts where night-raiding cattlemen would hold half asleep sheepherders at gunpoint as the accomplices destroyed the defenseless sheep. In Colorado and Wyoming such slaughter sometimes annihilated entire flocks.


Raid on sheep camps seldom made news, but when respected sheep men were murdered near Tensleep, Wyoming, in 1909 the Thermopolis Record put the story on page one. The resulting outcry helped end the states shipman’s-cattleman wars.  


Wyoming. Saturday, April 19, 1909



One of the bloodiest Affairs in Many Years in the Range History of Wyoming.



Armed mob leaves awful trail of desolation and death.


Another tragedy of the range has been enacted, and more blood marks the trail of “civilization.”

Last Friday night a band of fifteen or twenty armed men attacked the sheep camp of Joe Allemand and Joe Emge on Spring Creek, a small creek that empties into Nowood above Tensleep. Allemand, Emge and a herder named Lazair were sleeping in a wagon on a high point on the side of the creek and two of the herders were in a wagon on the other side. The latter two were taken captive first and were marched a few hundred yards away, where they were held under guard until the tragedy was over and then ordered to move on and not look back. The wires had been cut so that no word was at Basin until next day.

After taking the two herders captive the mob opened fire on the wagon in which the other men were sleeping. Allemand got out but was found a short distance away with a bullet hole in his left side and one in his back. The wagon was riddled with holes and Emge and Lazair were probably killed at the first volley. When the mob were satisfied that the men were dead, they approached the wagon and set it on fire, first saturating it with coal oil. The other wagon was also burned as well as a supply wagon and a buckboard, and several sheep dogs and about twenty five head of sheep were killed.

Sheriff Alston and a deputy and county attorney Mets went to the scene of the assassination immediately on receipt of the news. The sight that greeted them was almost too horrible for belief. The bodies lay where they fell, those of Emge and Lazair in the charred ruins of the wagon, burned almost beyond recognition. An automatic revolver and rifle lay under Emge's body and a rifle on top of the body of Lazair. Near the creek was a stone on which was a bunch of bloody black hair and little pools of blood were near at hand, which leads to the belief that at least one of the raiders was wounded, and this may lead to their discovery.

There was a sensational report yesterday morning that the sheriff and a deputy had been killed by the raiders, but this was wholly unfounded. The officers are not making public what they find in the way of incriminating evidence. $2,500 reward has been offered for the conviction of the assassins, and it is thought the state will add considerable more.

Allemand and Emge were both old timers in the basin and both were highly respected. Allemand had been in the sheep business for many years while Emge had recently sold his castle and bought sheep. Lazair was a citizen of France, and this may put an international aspect on the affair and cause the United States to take a hand in bringing the perpetrators of the outrage to justice.

A large delegation of Masons from Basin, where Allemand held membership in the order, went up to Spring Creek and held ritualistic services over his remains.




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