Casper Photos

From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This Page: Casper 1890's, Louella Polk and John Conway, and Charles W. Eads.

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About This Site

Casper, Bird's Eye View, approx. 1918.

With the arrival of the railroad, Casper also became a prime shipping point for wool. Nevertheless, the town grew but slowly. In 1890, it had a population of 544. Ten years later it had grown to 883. Nevertheless, the little town had a Congregational Church, two newspapers, and an assortment of saloons.

Wool Train, Casper, approx. 1900.

Wool Warehouse, Casper, approx. 1900.

The warehouses were some 170 feet long and 40 feet wide.

Interior Steam Shearing Pens, Casper.

In 1896, Williams, Cooper and Nephew installed steam shearing pens in Casper. Two other hand pens were also in Casper, one on the Platte and the other at Casper Creek. At the time, Casper was the largest shipper of wool in the United State. In 1895, some 4,000,000 pounds of wool were shipped out of Casper. The sheep shearers were paid piece work, eight cents per sheep. Other shearing pens were located further to the west at Wolton, Lost Cabin, and Lander.

On March 14, 1917, the warehouses caught fire just as an eastbound passenger train was pulling in. The train was moved to safety. At the time the west section of the warehouse was used by C. H. Townsend to store hay and bulk salt. The center portion was occupied by Richardson and Cunningham for miscellaneous goods. The final portion was used by the railroad and to store freight for the Midwest Refining Company. In addition to loss of the warehouses and their contents estimated at $25,000 to $35,000 dollars, the poles supporting the Western Union lines burned cutting the city off from communication with Denver. Communication was reestablsihed using Burlington lines through Omaha.

Chicago & Northwestern Warehouse fire, March 14, 1917.

At the time, it was regarded by the Tribune as the largest fire Casper had known since the Sprague Brothers Livery Barn burned in the early morning hours of August 5, 1905. In actuality, the monetary losses from the burning of the wool warehouses were greater. The financial loss from the burning of the livery was less, only an estimated $12,000 to $15,000. The livery fire was, however, more horrific. Some 50 horses and mules were in the livery. Only 22 animals could be rescued before the heat of the flames drove rescuers back. From the rear of the stable the distress and screams of agony from the animals could be seen and heard. Especially pitiful was one calf attempting to beat its way through the wall of its pen. When the stable fire was discovered, one of the propietors, Ernest Sprague, could not get on the telephone through "Central" to the fire department and had to run the five blocks to the fire house and ring the fire bell. Others to alert town firemen fired their guns into the air.

The year following the arrival of the railroad, Natrona County was formed with Casper competing with Bessimer Bend to be the seat. Bessimer Bend is now a ghost town. But like a number of other end-of-the-track towns, Casper tended to be a bit rough. Hence, newly elected sheriff, William W. Jaycox, had his hands full. During the Indian Wars, Jaycox had served as a packer in Gen. George Crook's campaign in northern Wyoming and Dakota Territory. Two popular establishments in the newly-formed city were Louella Polk's dance hall and sporting establishment and "Black Dogue" Lee's saloon. For a while, Dogue acted as Louella's paramour, but her eyes turned to John C. Conway, one of her bartenders in her sporting facility. In a moment of jealous rage, Dogue kidnapped Louella. An impromptude posse of Louella's customers was organized to give chase. As the posse neared, Dogue forced Louella to dismount from the horse and threw her on the ground. If he could not have her, he determined that no one else would want her. Dogue then proceeded to conduct surgery on Louella's nose with a pen knife. Dogue then departed, not to be seen again, leaving Louella to be returned to Casper by the posse. Efforts by a physician to sew the nose back on proved to be unsuccessful. As a form of recompense for her disfigurement, Louella took over operation of Lee's saloon. Conway served as one of the bartenders.

To prevent things from getting completely out-of-hand in the saloon, house rules required the customers to check-in their hardware when they entered. For the protection of the bartenders, however, Louella had a suitable firearm beneath the bar. One night, an F L Cattle Company cowboy named A. J. "Red Jack" Tidwell and the bartender Conway got into a merry little fistfight. Conway, seeking to end the melee, perhaps unfairly, reached for the gun below the bar. When the firing started, all the customers, including Tidwell, rushed for the doorway. Unfortunately in the stampede, Tidwell accidently stumbled, tripped, and fell into the path of one of Conway's bullets from the effects of which Tidwell expired.

With Jack Tidwell lying dead in Louella's new saloon, things began to get a little heated. The cowboys began to organize a festivity featuring a rope in Conway's honor. Sheriff Jaycox was able to spirit Conway away. The Sheriff returned Conway to town only after things cooled down. Nevertheless, Conway was indicted for the first degree murder of Tidwell. He pled not guilty. His lawyer for some unexplained reason suddenly and without notice then vanished. In order to avoid a possible death penalty, Conway's new lawyer was able to convince Conway to plead to second degree murder. When asked whether he agreed to withdraw his not guilty plea, he was loudly sobbing, in tears and wailing. All agreed, however, that he had nodded his head yes. When sentenced to twenty-five years in the State Penitentiary in Laramie City, Conway demurred and indicated that he had not agreed to withdraw his not guilty plea. The recantation of the plea was denied by the judge. On appeal, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that if there is no record, the remembrance of the trial judge must be upheld. Since the nodding of the head was not verbally expressed, there was no record upon which to overturn the sentence. Accordingly, the sentence and prior law relating to the necessity of a court record was sustained. See State ex rel. Conway v. Blake, 5 Wyo. 107, 38 P. 354, (Wyo. 1894). The law in mysterious ways its wonders work. After a slight but decent interval, Conway was pardoned.

While Conway's adventures were pending, Sheriff Jaycox, in the word of the Board of County Commissionrs, "fled" town for Montana* without bidding his friends "goodbye" or, for that matter, even having the courtesy to telegraph back a resignation. In Montana, Jaycox was employed as a foreman for the American Cattle and Loan Company in Valley County, Montana. Casper historian A. J. Mokler indicates that the reason for Jaycox's hasty departure was unspecified "domestic troubles."

[*Writer's note: Mokler does not indicate to where the Sheriff fled. BLM land patents indicate that William W. Jaycox homesteaded land near Glasgow, Montana. See also American Live Stock & Loan [sic] Co. v. Great Northern Ry. Co., 48 Mont. 495, 138 P. 1102 (1914). "Dogue" is usually defined as a type of mastiff.] Additionally, there was at least one shootout in the public streets. One such shootout on Center Street involving the mayor and a cowboy in Center Street resulted in a two bullets entering the Pioneer Drug Store. The mayor was the better shot.]

Casper Fire Department, July 4, 1891. The building with the bell tower is the new Town Hall.

The fire Department's equipment all on display consisted of the hose cart with 150 feet of hose, a nozzle, and a trumpet for the chief. The uniforms conssted of blue shirts with red collars and red belts for the trousers. Casper historian Alfred Mokler, History of Natrona county, Wyoming, 1888-1922, Lakeside Press, Chicago, 1923, p. 159, questioned the use of the hose cart, hose, and nozzle, since at the time there was no force fed water system. The firemen relied upon bucket brigades which received water from four polluted wells on Center Street. Drinking water was brought in from Elkhorn and Garden Creeks. Later, F. E. Seeley sold drinking water from Garden Creek by either the barrel or half barrel lots at thirty-five cents a barrel.

In addition to wool, oil and the railroad, growth of Casper was expected as a result of Charley Eads' mining camp on the top of Casper Mountain to the south of town. Mineral wealth was expected to include gold, silver, lead, and asbestos. Charley platted the town, Eadsville, in 1891 when it had but three cabins. A rush to the town occurred on the rports of rich copper deposits which would warrant the establishment of a smelter financed by Denver capitalists. Several car loads of ore were shipped off to Omaha. Back came the assay and a rush out of town was equally swift. A few intrepid miners held on for about five years seeking the promised silver and gold. Then they too left town. The only mineral which warranted mining was the asbestos until the asbestos mine was also abandoned.

Asbestos Mine, Casper Mountain, 1890's.

As to C. W. Eads, one of co-founders of Casper, on May 13, 1908, the Natrona County Tribune reported:

Charles Eads Goes to Pen.
C. W. Eads, who carries the reputation of a successful horse theif [sic], will do time m the penitentiary for a theft committed in Big Horn county, of which he has just been convicted. For a number of years Eads operated in the neighboring county of Fremont and several attempts to convict him were made in that county. None were successful, so the horse owners along the county line laid for their man and finally caught him In a Big Horn county horse stealing raid. His conviction promptly followed, and during the next few years he will be eliminated from the elements which ranchmen of that section are forced to combat. Eads was a resident of Casper about twelvey ears ago and at onetime owned considerable property on Casper mountain, the mining camp of Eadsville being mamed after him.

Casper Photos continued on next page.