The Old Trail Town Cemetery


The Old Trail Town Cemetery might be one of the smallest cemeteries you’ll ever see, but its inhabitants all carved their niche in Wyoming History. Here are the stories behind them.

Belle Drewry
1867-1897

Belle Drewry was born in 1867, just two years after the Civil War. Her birth place and family are unknown. It is known that she left home at an early age and changed her name. Belle was a rather attractive young woman; about five foot six inches tall, medium to heavy boned with auburn hair. No one knows how or why Belle showed up in Wyoming Territory in the 1880’s. However, it is suspected that she drifted west from mining towns in the Black Hills. She seemed to be drawn to the dark side of life and felt comfortable with the lawless element. A news item in the “Sundance Gazette’’ stated that in 1888, Belle Drewry was arraigned in court, for theft, with a piano player who was known to be an outlaw with an unsavory reputation. She was 21 years old.

By 1890 Belle had arrived (probably by stage coach) at the frontier town of Arland, Wyoming. Arland was located about twenty-five miles south of present Cody, Wyoming and was the first settlement in northwest Wyoming. It was a lawless town with a reputation for unrestrained violence and murder. Belle Drewry worked in the saloon and dance hall. Here she got to know W.A. Gallagher, Blind Bill Hoolihan, Robert Parker (Butch Cassidy), Jack Bliss and other suspected members of a gang known as the “Woodriver Horse Thieves”.

Belle soon developed a close relationship with W.A. Gallagher a well known cowboy and horse thief. In 1891 Gallagher was lodged in the Fremont County Jail where he was held on charges of stealing a bay mare from the L U Ranch on Gooseberry Creek. Belle Drewry and Ed Lanigan put up $200.00 in bond money to get Gallagher out of jail.

Gallagher had the reputation of being a quarrelsome and vicious man. By the spring of 1894 Belle’s relationship with Gallagher was deteriorating and she had developed a friendship with Bill Wheaton, another cowboy in the area. This resulted in a dispute in which Gallagher was shot and killed by Wheaton. Blind Bill, Gallagher’s friend, attempted a show down with Wheaton to avenge Gallagher’s death. However, Blind Bill was shot in the back and died in his cabin in Arland after writing a farewell letter to the undertaker. Belle Drewry and Bill Wheaton were charged with premeditated murder in the death of Gallagher, apprehended, and taken to the County Jail in Lander, Wyoming. However, the charges against Belle were dismissed at the preliminary hearing. Bill Wheaton’s charge was later reduced to second degree manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years in the Wyoming Penitentiary at Laramie.

Belle continued her activities in the Arland-Meeteetse country and was well known. Early in 1897 Belle Drewry and three of her followers gave a party, one night. Everyone was drinking and the cowboys proceeded to shoot up the place. In the uproar that followed Belle pulled a six-shooter from a hiding place and shot the leader of the cowboy gang. A few days later, an unknown assassin came into the house and killed Belle Drewry, apparently in revenge, for their comrade’s death.

Belle was given a respectable burial on the hill overlooking Arland. Thirty year old Belle Drewry was laid to rest in a red wood coffin, wearing a cobalt blue silk dress with a black sash. When Belle was disinterred for reburial at Old Trail Town, fired 45-70 and 45-60 cartridge cases were found in the ground around the coffin. It appears that a parting salute was fired, and the cartridge cases were dropped into the open grave.

One might imagine the boom of the rifles, the rolling echo across the hills and the black powder smoke drifting away with the wind like departing ghosts. Perhaps, a fitting farewell from a wild land.

Jack Stilwell
Frontiersman • 1850-1903

Simpson E. Stilwell, better known as “Comanche Jack”, was born in Kansas in 1850 and served on the frontier during his youth as a scout and hunter. He is best known for his heroic deeds at the Battle of Beechers Island in September of 1868.

August 1868 were trying times in Kansas Territory as bands of marauding Sioux and Cheyenne were killing many settlers in what is now western Kansas and eastern Colorado.

It was well known that the regular troops had little effect against the hit-and-run tactics of the Indians.

On August 24, 1868 General Sheridan ordered Colonel G.A. Forsyth to enlist “50 first class hardy frontiersmen” and arm them with the new “Spencer Carbine”, a repeating cartridge rifle that could fire nine shots without reloading. These guns were far superior to the single shot muzzle loading guns that had been in use for many years.

The ranks were soon filled, and among the volunteers was 18 year old Jack Stilwell, described as “a youth of six feet three or more, short of years but long on frontier lore.”

Forsyth’s contingent left Fort Hayes on August 29, 1868, and headed north-westward into the Indian country. On the morning of September 16, the scouts crossed the trail of a large band of Indians. That evening Forsyth’s party camped along the north bank of the Arikaree Fork of the Republican River. Before dawn some young warriors tried to steal some of the scouts horses. Then, shortly after dawn, the entire horizon seemed filled with mounted and unmounted Indians. It is said that Jack Stilwell pointed to a small island in the river and the officers and scouts made a mad dash for it. Almost immediately, approximately six hundred Cheyenne and Sioux warriors began their charge down the slope toward the island. The scouts killed their horses for breastworks and dug into the sand behind them. Then, like a cyclone, the massive screaming force hit the island. When the first warriors were within twenty-five yards of the scouts, they opened fire with the new repeating guns. Horses and men fell in the first volley, many of which rolled over the defenders of the island. Colonel Forsyth’s leg was shattered by a bullet, Lt. Beecher and Surgeon Moore were fatally wounded while others received lesser wounds.

The warriors, surprised by the rapid fire of the new guns, changed their tactics. They began riding in and swerving off as they fired, while others sniped at the defenders from hidden positions. After the first day of fighting Forsyth realized that without food and medical supplies their situation was hopeless. That night Jack Stilwell and Pierre Trudeau volunteered to try to sneak through the Indians and bring help from Fort Wallace, 125 miles away. Everyone feared that they would not make it. But after several close calls and a great deal of hardship, they did make it. On the 25th Jack Stilwell arrived with the 10th Cavalry and saved the survivors on the island.

After the Beecher Island battle, Stilwell remained a scout for the army for a length of time. Later in life he became a deputy United States Marshal in Oklahoma Territory, where he killed and captured several outlaws. Later he became the Police Judge at El Reno, Oklahoma and in the mid 1890s became a government cattle inspector for the Comanche Agency at Anadarko, Oklahoma. After that, Sttlwell became a United States Commissioner and the Master of the Masonic Lodge at Erwin Springs, Oklahoma.

Through the influence of his friend Buffalo Bill Cody, he came to Cody, Wyoming in 1897 where he took care of Cody’s interests while he was away with the Wild West Show. Jack Stilwell had a small ranch on the South Fork of the Shoshone River, near Cody, Wyoming and died, from a sudden illness, in Cody in 1903.

John Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnston
1824-1900
Reburied at Old Trail Town June 8, 1974

John Johnston was born of Scotch-English descent in New Jersey in 1824. Johnston, described as a 6’6”, 250 pound giant, came west in the early 1840’s as a trapper. He began his career in the Medicine Bow mountains of Wyoming, gradually working his way northward through the Wind River, Owl Creek, and Absaroka Mountains, then into the Yellowstone Region and Montana.

About 1850 Johnston had acquired a Flathead Indian wife, of whom he was very fond, and had built a cabin on the Little Snake River in Wyoming. One day, on returning from trapping, he found his wife and unborn child dead and mutilated on the cabin floor. They had been killed by Crow Indians.

This started a personal revenge war against the Crows, which lasted nearly twelve years. According to legend, Johnston would on occasion remove the liver from a dead enemy and take a bite of it, or pretend to, in order to make a fierce impression on his savage foes. Consequently, he received the name “Liver Eating” Johnston.

Johnston went to Colorado in 1862 and enlisted in the Second Colorado Cavalry to fight in the Civil War. He was wounded in Missouri at the Battle of Newtonia, but remained in the service until his Honorable Discharge on September 23, 1865.

The winter after the war was spent in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where he was hired to help supply buffalo and elk meat for the Army post. Johnston worked his way north to the Missouri River in Montana where he started a wood yard, supplying firewood for the steamboats that were traveling the river in those days.

In 1868, at the mouth of the Musselshell River, Johnston and some companions defeated a Sioux war party that intended to wipe out the group of trappers and wood cutters.

In 1877 Johnston became Chief of Scouts for General Nelson A. Miles. Johnston and ten scouts were credited with saving Miles command in a battle with the Cheyennes on Muddy Creek in 1877.

Johnston became the first Marshall at Coulson (Billings) Montana in 1882, and later in 1888, the first Sheriff of Red Lodge, Montana.

In old age he developed rheumatism, and in the late 1890’s would treat his ailment at the DeMaris Hot Springs, near the river just below the site of Old Trail Town. His camping spot was just beneath the cliffs that can be seen from the grave site.

In the winter of 1899 Johnston’s health failed him and he was sent to the old soldiers home in Santa Monica, California, where he died January 21, 1900.
“Liver Eating” Johnston, also known as Jeremiah Johnston from the Warner Bros. movie based on his life, was reburied near the mountains he loved on June 8, 1974.

The reburial was made possible through the efforts of Tri Robinson, and his seventh grade class of Lancaster, California.

The bronze statue of Johnston was sculpted by Peter Fillerup of Cody, Wyoming and donated by Larry Clark of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jim White
Buffalo Hunter • 1828-1880
Reburied May 6, 1979

Jim White was born in Missouri in 1828. He found his way into the southwest as a young man, where he was a freighter with ox-drawn wagons.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Jim White served the Confederate Army as a grain buyer and wagon boss. At the end of the Civil War, Jim White married and returned to the southwest.

In 1868 he drifted down into Mexico, where a rich Spaniard won his wife away. White killed him and wounded several others in the fracas that followed.

There was a large reward offered for him, dead or alive. This was when he dropped his original name and adopted the name Jim White, for which he is known. His original name is unknown.

White walked 700 miles back into Texas where he got into the buffalo hunting profession. White kept several skinners busy as he preyed on the wandering herds.

One day a group of ciboleros rode over a hill and scared away a small herd of buffalo that White was firing on. In a fit of temper, he shot the horses out from under four of the party.

Jim White was hunting in the Texas Panhandle during the mid 1870s. He was in the region at the time of the Battle of Adobe Walls and other lesser battles with the Kiowas and Commanches.

White had the reputation in Texas for being a tough character. He operated best alone or with his own men.

By 1878 the buffalo on the Southern Plains were gone. Many hunters started looking toward the unspoiled Northern Plains of Wyoming and Montana.

Jim White was among the first hunters to reach the northern buffalo range. By late summer,1878, he had reached the Big Horn Mountains with two big span of mules. two wagons, 700 pounds of lead, five kegs of gun-powder, three 16 pound Sharp’s rifles, varied equipment, and an old buffalo skinner named Watson

White soon met Oliver Hanna, who had been a scout with General Crook in 1876. and they became hunting partners.

During the winter of 1878-79 the two men had a contract to furnish 5,000 pounds of game meat to the Army at Fort McKinney, near present Buffalo, Wyoming.

The following winter of 1879-80, White and Hanna had a buffalo hunting camp north of the Yellowstone River near Miles City. The two hunters kept six buffalo skinners busy. By spring, they had collected 4,600 buffalo hides which were freighted to the Yellowstone River by ox teams and then hauled down the river by steam boats.

In the following fall of 1880, White and Hanna came into the Big Horn Basin and set up a hunting camp on Shell Creek, near the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. They were hunting and trapping in the area. In late October, Hanna made a quick trip over the Big Horns. When he returned he found Jim White dead. He had been shot in the head by thieves who had stolen their horses, mules. wagons, guns, hides, furs, etc.

Hanna buried Jim White on the upper bank, on the north side of Shell Creek, presently on the ranch of Irvy Davis near Shell, Wyoming.

Hanna later stated that Jim White was the greatest buffalo hunter the world has ever known. Hanna stated that White had a ledger book that contained records of hide sales for over 16,000 buffalo.

Jim White, who had lived by the gun, now, also died by the gun.

Recent examination of his remains revealed that he was killed by a 50 caliber bullet; probably from a Sharp’s buffalo rifle. Possibly from the same gun that killed his own victims.

The bronze statue of White was sculpted and donated by Tom Hillis of Stanton Michigan.

W. A. Gallagher and Blind Bill—Murdered 1894
Reburied December 17, 1978

William Gallagher and his friend, Blind Bill, were killed on Meeteetse Creek below the old town of Arland in mid-March of 1894. Both men, about thirty, were born during the Civil War period.

Gallagher, who was somewhat of an outlaw, was tall, lean and wore a drooping dark mustache. He wore a gun most of the time, had a severe temper, and was a hard case in general.

Blind Bill was short, muscular, and wore a patch over his left eye, which was blind. Blind Bill was a good friend of Gallagher’s. Both men were working as cowboys in the Greybull River Country, and had probably found their way into the region on one of the early trail drives.

Gallagher was once described by A. A. Anderson, for whom he had once worked, as being one of the best horse-men and ropers he had ever known. However, his reputation was not as good as his figure. Gallagher told Anderson, one time after getting out of jail in Thermopolis, that; “I captured the town and was about to trade it off to the Indians when they threw me in jail.” On another occasion, Gallagher was accused of horse stealing and tried at the district court in Lander, Wyoming in 1891. Later in that year he was tried for forgery. He escaped being jailed each time, due to technicalities.

In 1893, Gallagher had become involved with 27 year old Belle Drewery, one of the single women that hung out around the town of Arland. Early in 1894 Belle began seeing Bill Wheaton. When Gallagher became aware of the friendship, he went into a jealous rage. On March 15th Gallagher took Belle over to the ranch house where Wheaton was. An argument developed and Gallagher pulled his six-shooter and held Wheaton and Belle at gun-point for two hours, while he threatened them and kept cocking his six-shooter. Finally, Gallagher passed the incident off as kind of a joke and holstered his gun.

Belle informed Wheaton as to where a gun was hidden in the house. A little later she went out of the house and started walking toward Meeteetse.

When she didn’t return, Gallagher went out to see where she went. Wheaton then got the gun that was in the house. Gallagher was walking across the yard when Wheaton rested the gun against the side of the door frame and shot him from behind. Wheaton then got on his horse and left.

When Blind Bill learned of Gallagher’s death, he was very upset and swore he would kill Wheaton in revenge for the death of his friend.

Wheaton was soon informed that Blind Bill intended to kill him. Gallagher’s loyal friend never fulfilled his vow, for he was found a few days later, shot in the back by an unknown assassin. Although it was believed that Wheaton killed Blind Bill, it was never proven.

Both Gallagher and his friend, Blind Bill, were buried on a sage brush hill near Meeteetse Creek.

Wheaton was tried in the death of W. A. Gallagher and sentenced to eight years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. He was released in 1898 after serving four years. Belle Drewery had been killed the year before in a gun-fight at a saloon in Arland.

Phillip H. Vetter
1855-1892
Reburied June 10, 1978

Phillip Henry Vetter was born February 7, 1855 near Woodstock, Shenandoah County, Virginia. He was killed by a grizzly bear on the Greybull River in Wyoming in 1892.

A few years after the Civil War, Phillip’s fam-ily came West by wagon train and settled in the Wind River Country near Lander, Wyoming Territory.

Through the 1880’s, Phillip Vetter pursued the occupation of market hunter and trapper. About 1890 he moved over to the Greybull River above Meeteetse, Wyoming. Here he built a log cabin and continued his hunting and trapping.

On September 1, 1892, Vetter left a note at his cabin which said, “Jake, if you come to get your horses, I’m going down to the river after some bear.”

A week or so later John Corbett, an old buffalo hunter, was riding over to John Gleavers on Wood River. When he was near Vetter’s cabin, black clouds threatened a heavy rain. Corbett decided to wait out the storm in shelter with Vetter.

He rode up to the cabin. The door stood open. Inside, Corhett found Vetter’s body on the floor. Dishes from Vetter’s last meal stood un-washed on the dusty table. The storm was forgotten. Corbett jumped on his horse and raced to the Gleaver ranch.

The two men returned and sought to piece the story together. They found Vetter’s neatly written note to Jake. In contrast, scribbled on the edge of a newspaper in Vetter’s handwriting, in what they believed was his own blood, were several terse messages. The first said something about a battle with a grizzly hear. A later notation said, “Should go to Franc’s but too weak.” Vetter’s handwriting grew shakier. “It’s getting dark. I’m smothering.” The final message read, “I’m dying.”

One of Vetter’s arms had been badly mangled and his chest was crushed. He had tried unsuccessfully to stop the flow of blood.

The men walked down to the river to look for more clues. Near the stream the men found a water bucket and Vetter’s hat, and not far away was his rifle. A shell had jammed in the chamber. On the ground lay two empty casings.

The wounded bear had mauled him severely before leaving him for dead. Vetter was able to drag himself back to his cabin where he wrote his death message in his own blood. Thirty-seven year old Phillip Vetter died alone, far from help.

Corbett and Gleaver built a casket of rough boards with timbers hewn from logs for a lid. Vetter was buried on upper river bank, near his cabin. A slab of sandstone with the inscription “P. H. Vetter — 1892” was placed at the grave.

Copyright © 2011 New Times Media Corporation - All Rights Reserved