William "Red" Angus
(November 9, 1849 - 1920)
William Angus was born in Zanesville, Ohio and served as a teamster for the military taking supplies to various forts along the Kansas frontier. He briefly joined the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and was with Custer in his assault on Black Kettle's village along the Washita River in Oklahoma. Red Angus returned to driving wagons in the Oklahoma Indian Territory.
In 1880 he was a drover with a herd from Texas arriving at a ranch near present day Sheridan, Wyoming. As he traveled through eastern Wyoming, Angus picked up a few strays. He stayed on as foreman and eventually arrived in Buffalo, WY.
In Buffalo, he purchased a liquor store and in 1888, he was elected Sheriff of Johnson County. His election of sheriff was opposed by the cattle barons because he favored the small ranchers called "rustlers". The Johnson County War in 1892 would place Red Angus in the history books.
The Johnson County War involved a conflict between two factions - the cattle barons and the small ranchers. Malcolm Campbell is his biography stated it was hard to tell the rustlers from the small ranchers. There were small ranchers who picked up mavericks. Additionally, there were rustlers who ranched part-time.
The cattle barons decided to snuff these "rustlers". After hiring some 25 gunmen from Texas, these "invaders" headed to Johnson County. The invaders included such notables as Frank Canton and Buck Garrett. Their first act was to kill Nate Champion and Nick Ray. Word of this vigilante justice reached the town of Buffalo and Red Angus.
Angus acted quickly by assembling a group of 48 men. Eventually this force would be an army of sorts totaling 200. People from as far away as Montana joined this army when they heard the cattle barons were on the attack. Angus and his group cornered the invaders at the TA ranch. For two days the invaders were held captive in the ranch buildings. The Angus army was held at bay by rifle shots. A moving wall from a wagon was constructed hoping this would allow them closer access to the ranch buildings. However the terrain around the ranch prohibited any effective use of this upright barrier.
Low on supplies and ammunition, the invaders were saved by a military column from Fort McKinney. Angus issued arrest warrants for the invaders, but they were denied. It was known if the cattle barons were placed in Red Angus' hands, they would be killed. The conclusion of the Johnson County War is as involved as the war itself. Essentially neither side was sentenced for their actions.
In his re-election for sheriff in 1893, Red Angus lost. He stayed in Buffalo working at the Occidental Hotel, served as a Deputy County Clerk and Johnson County Treasurer.
William "Red" Angus is buried in the Willow Creek Cemetery in Buffalo, WY.
The Johnson County War was depicted in the movie Heaven's Gate which wins my award for one of the worst westerns and certainly the worst sound editing of any movie. You can barely hear the dialog in parts and when you finally do - you laugh. Get the rope!
Information compiled by Steve Grimm
Books About the Johnson County War
The Johnson County War by Jack R. Gage
A unique book that presents both sides of the Johnson County War. One half explaining the cattle barons' view and the other half presenting the 'rustlers' side.
Guardian of the Plains by John Rolfe Burroughs
This book is a history of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the cattle barons. A good history of Wyoming with a chapter on the Johnson County War, Burroughs' books are always wonderful reads and well researched.
Powder River Country, The Papers of J. Elmer Brock edited by Margaret Brock Hanson
A history of the area surrounding Kaycee, WY, this book has many articles about the Johnson County War and Red Angus. A truly valuable book.
Malcolm Campbell, Sheriff by Robert B. David
Although this book is a biography of Malcolm Campbell, about one third of it describes the events of the Johnson County War. One problem with material on the Johnson County War is the steep slant for the cattle barons or the rustlers. As I was reading this account, I thought this IS the way it was. Sadly, this book is scarce. This is a book someone should reprint.