Pioneer Ranches of the Rocky Mountain Empire

Ancestry US

Resources of Plains and Origin of Intermountain Livestock Industry

By R. H. “Bob” Burns

Early explorers and later emigrants noticed the thick sod of grass covering the western plains west of the 100th meridian and they also noticed the good condition of the large herds of game such as buffalo, antelope, deer, and elk.

It is not surprising that when travel-weary oxen were turned loose to graze on these short grasses they soon recovered their strength and rapidly put on flesh. Many such incidents involving travel-weary oxen have been reported by word of mouth. Stage masters and others with business acumen were not long in picking up these worn-out oxen and feeding them up and selling them in a few months when they had made a marvelous recovery.

Nimmo, in his publication Range and Ranch Cattle Traffic, spoke as follows concerning the origin of the grazing industry:

“Concerning the origin of the northwestern grazing there are different accounts. There has been a common supposition that the fact of thrift of the buffalo in former years, during inclement seasons, suggested the feasibility of pasturing cattle on the wild range. But, whatever might have been inferred from the habits of the buffalo, the first demonstration of the fattening effects of winter feeding in the north seems to have been an accidental discovery. In the winter of 1864-65, just twenty years ago, Mr. E. S. Newman, who was conducting a train of supplies overland to Camp Douglas, was snowed up on the Laramie Plains. Arranging the train in habitable shape, he turned the oxen out to die in the neighboring waste places. However, the fatigued cattle began to improve from the start and in March they were gathered up in better condition than when they were set adrift to starve and feed the wolves. The discovery led to the purchase of stock cattle for fattening in the north, and the trade has steadily grown to its present proportions, accelerated greatly during the past fifteen years by the building of various roads to the North and West.”

NIMMO, Joseph, Range and Ranch Cattle Traffic. House Ex. Doc. 267 48. Cong. 2. Sess, 1885. Pp. 95, 96.

This reference led the writer to believe that the range cattle industry might have started on the Laramie Plains as a sequel to the above-mentioned incident, but until recently he has been unable to trace the cattle ranching operations of Mr. E. S. Newman. The second clue to the operations of Mr. Newman is found in a news item in the Breeders’ Gazette in 1883, an outstanding livestock periodical published in Chicago. Excerpts from this article are as follows:

Mr. Henry L Newman, older brother, who took care of the banking end of the business. Photo taken about 1900, by courtesy Edith Newman Reynolds of Whittier, Calif.
Mr. Henry L. Newman, older brother, who took care of the banking end of the business. Photo taken about 1900, by courtesy Edith Newman Reynolds of Whittier, Calif.

“H. L. Newman, the wealthy St. Louis stock-raiser and banker, who, with his brother E. S. Newman, was the first to discover that cattle would live and flourish year-round in the northern plains is now head of the firm of Newman Brothers and Farr, who own 86,000 head of cattle. The firm’s ranges are now scattered from Montana to Texas. They have two in Wyoming, one of which is on the Powder River and the other on the Tongue River reaching into Montana; one in Nebraska on the Niobrara; one in the Indian Territory extending down into the Texas Panhandle; and one upon the uplands in far western Texas. The Niobrara range covers an area of 30 by 65 miles. The Powder and Tongue ranges will alone support 30,000 head of cattle. In Indian Territory they are leasing 128,000 acres from the Indians, having been the first to agitate the leasing question when Carl Schurz was secretary of the Interior. Their cattle today are worth $2,500,000 while horses, acquired lands, fences, improvements and franchises easily bring the value up to $3,000,000. This season they will market 14,000 beeves, from which they will clear, after the season’s expenses are paid, upwards of $3,000,000. The practical details of this gigantic business are managed by Mr. E. S. Newman, whose headquarters are on the Niobrara range. Mr. H. L. Newman rarely visits the ranges—some of them he has barely seen, but is engaged in managing the books at the St. Louis stockyards. In the course of a recent interview, he confidently expressed the opinion that there would be no break in the price of stocks in the next three or four years. The widespread desire to engage in the business, he said, had of course raised prices to some extent, but an ever-increasing and healthful demand would offset this. Altogether, he saw no reason why the cattle business should not continue to yield as large profits as ever, and present the finest opportunities for the investment of capital.”

ANONYMOUS, How the western cattle ranges were started. Breeder’s Gazette Sept. 6, 1883. Page 297.

This news item showed definitively that Mr. E. S. Newman, mentioned by Nimmo, had followed up his accidental discovery of the value of western grasses for cattle by engaging in the cattle business, and had extensive holdings in several states by 1883.

The writer then tried to locate the ranches mentioned, particularly those located on the Powder and Tongue Rivers in Wyoming and the Niobrara in Nebraska. He also tried to find out if there was any record of the Newman family residing in St. Louis. The ranches in Wyoming could not be located.

Mr. E. S. “Zeke” Newman, a pioneer cattleman of the Rocky Mountain region who had holdings from Texas to Montana with his headquarters at the Niobrara Ranch near the present city of Gordon, Nebraska. A photo taken about 1910, by courtesy of Mrs. C. M. Newman of El Paso, Texas, shows him during that era.
Mr. E. S. “Zeke” Newman, a pioneer cattleman of the Rocky Mountain region who had holdings from Texas to Montana with his headquarters at the Niobrara Ranch near the present city of Gordon, Nebraska. A photo taken about 1910, by courtesy of Mrs. C. M. Newman of El Paso, Texas, shows him during that era.

The fifth edition of the Wyoming Stock Growers’ Brand Book, published in 1887, contains an entry concerning the Niobrara Cattle Company and mentions Mr. E. S. Newman as General Manager, and T. B. Irwin as foreman of the Running Water range with a post office address at Pine Ridge, Dakota, and J. S. Irwin as foreman of the Powder River range with a post office address at Miles City, Montana. The 1880, 1981, and 1982 editions of the Wyoming Stock Growers Brand Book also listed the Niobrara Cattle Company, and in those years the headquarters was given as Pine Ridge, Dakota. Mr. Roy Ross of Gordon, Nebraska, son of Ed Ross of the Newman outfit, informs the writer that the headquarters of the Newman ranch was on the Niobrara (Indian name for Running Water), but mail and telegrams came by Pine Ridge, Dakota. Pine Ridge was the headquarters of the Sioux Indian Reservation.

None of the old-timers in northeastern Wyoming on the Powder and Tongue Rivers had heard of E. S. Newman, and they were inclined to think that the Newman ranches mentioned as the Powder River and Tongue River places were probably in Montana near Miles City. Later information obtained by the writer in the Sandhills region of Nebraska proved they were right. Mr. Sidney Irwin, the younger brother of T. B. and J. S. Irwin is living in Valentine, and the writer visited him in May 1952. He stated that he worked for his brother, J. S. Irwin, and accompanied the Newman cattle from the Niobrara to Montana in 1887 and definitely located the headquarters ranch in Montana as south of Miles City at the junction of the Little Powder and Big Powder rivers, some eight miles from the present city of Broadus, Montana. This information was confirmed by Mr. Lou Grill of Miles City, Montana, who has checked such records as were available and located old brand notices in the early newspapers, as well as talking with old-timers there.

The Missouri Historical Society of St. Louis, through Barbara Kell, furnished the writer with information that the H. L. and E. S. Newman families were listed in the St. Louis City Directory from 1884 to 1888, as interested in the banking and ranching business. In fact, H. L. and E. S. Newman were listed as President and Vice-President of the Niobrara Cattle Company in 1885. In 1889, neither H. L. nor E. S. Newman were listed.

Later, the writer located two surviving members of the E. S. and H. L. Newman families. Mrs. C. A. Newman of El Paso, Texas, is a daughter-in-law of E. S. Newman, who died in El Paso in 1913. Mrs. Edith Newman Reynolds of Whittier, California, is the daughter of H. L. Newman and has furnished the writer with the diary of her father. One entry from this diary is of particular interest:

“In 1883 I bought half interest in a train belonging to D. W. Powers of 21 wagons which were loaded with general merchandise on our own account and sent to Salt Lake City, Utah. My brother E. S. went with the train. The venture proved a good one and the next time we sent a much larger number of wagons also loaded with our own goods—and I continued in freighting until 1867 when I opened a bank in Leavenworth, Kansas, Newman and Havens, which we continued until 1874, when I moved to St. Louis and opened the bank at the National Stock Yards, Illinois.”

REYNOLDS, Edith Newman, Letter to R. H. Burns dated June 15, 1952. Conference with R. H. Burns at Whittier, Calif. June 30, 1952.

Mrs. Reynolds has also furnished the writer with the obituary of her father, taken from an El Paso paper dated February 23, 1911. This clipping traces his life work. He was born near Lexington, Kentucky, lost his parents at 14 years of age and resided with relatives and was educated in local schools. In the early 60s he came to Leavenworth, Kansas, and began his active business career. Lucrative freighting contracts for territory to the west enabled him to start a banking venture. The Civil War caused a serious setback to the banking and freighting business at Leavenworth, but after the four years of turmoil, Mr. Newman promoted another bank, the first one in Salt Lake City. This bank was very successful, but he sold out and transferred to St. Louis where he established the National Stock Yard Bank, which is still in existence. After more success there he moved to Joplin, Mo., in 1887 and established the Joplin National Bank. In 1893 he went to El Paso for his health and there started a banking business named H. L. Newman and Son, which eventually became the American National Bank. His cattle ventures were extensive until 1886 when much was lost in Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana. Then he transferred his holdings to Texas. In 1895 Mr. Newman sold his livestock interests to Reynolds and Son of Kent, Texas.

The information in this obituary checks all of the information from other sources and indicates where H. L. Newman went when he left St. Louis in 1887 and was not listed in the 1889 Directory.

The writer had an interesting conference with Mrs. Edith Newman Reynolds at Whittier, California on June 30, 1952. She mentioned that her father’s (H. L. Newman) first job at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was in the store owned by Mr. Russell, of the firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell who were responsible for arousing his interest in the range cattle business. This ties in nicely with information on the livestock industry of Colorado and Wyoming (BAI 1889-90) which states:

“In 1858, when a United States force under Col. Albert Sidney Johnston was ordered to Salt Lake City with troops to subdue the Mormons, a party of Government freighters, Messrs. Russell, Majors and Waddell, who had many times before crossed the vast, sandy plains west of the Missouri River started with a long train from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas loaded with Government supplies and bound for Fort Douglas, at or near Salt Lake. It was rather late in the season when the journey began, and after many unexpected and unavoidable delays the caravan arrived at a point near where the small town of Bordeaux, Wyoming now stands; and concluded that it would be impossible to reach the fort during the winter, in consequence of the snow, they went into camp. In a brief time they began to run short of feed for their stock, and it was determined to drive the cattle to the Chugwater Creek, a small stream but a few miles away, and leave them to ‘rustle’ for themselves, with little hope of ever seeing them again, as it was feared they would either die from starvation and their bones would be found in the spring or the Indians would slaughter them for beef. The winter was unusually severe but when spring came and the freighters went out on the Chugwater Creek, they were more than glad to find in the immediate vicinity of where they had left them, some three or four of their cattle in splendid condition. They began to search for more and in a few days found nearly every hoof they had turned out early in the winter, and all fat enough for beef.”

B. A. I. (U.S.D.A.) Report for 1889-1890 Page 437.

Sheldon, in writing of Sheridan County Region in Nebraska, states:

“After the final removal of the Sioux Indians to the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations in Dakota in 1877-1878, ranchers could move their cattle into the former Sioux tribal area north of the Sandhills. The first ranches were the Newman and Hunter ranches on the Niobrara. Government contracts to furnish fresh beef to the Indians on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge were obtained by both Newman and Hunter and provided for a time, the chief outlet for the marketing of their cattle.”

SHELDON, A. E., The Sheridan County Region. Origin and early history. Nebraska History Vol. XVI Oct.-Dec. 1935 P, 245.

Dahlman in his recollections of cowboy life in western Nebraska wrote:

“The Newman ranch in 1878 was located at the mouth of Antelope Creek on the Niobrara, twelve miles east of where the town of Gordon now stands. It was one of the large cow ranches handling from 10,000 to 15,000 head.”

Dahlman, James C., Recollections of Cowboy Life in Western Nebraska: An Address Given at the Annual Meeting of the Nebraska State Historical Society, Jan. 10, 1922, published in the Nebraska History Magazine October-December, 1927.

The writer, in May 1952, visited the site of the Newman ranch with Mr. Roy Ross of Gordon, son of Ed Ross, one of the foremen for the E. S. “Zeke” Newman outfit. The description given above was quite correct as one of the original buildings was still standing at the mouth of Antelope Creek, with the old hewn logs now covered with siding which was weathered and broken in places, exposing the old logs. The shape of the building was similar to that shown in the old picture which Mr. Waddill kindly loaned to the writer.

The Newman Ranch on the Niobrara, about 1886.— Photo by courtesy P. H. Waddill of Gordon, Nebraska
The Newman Ranch on the Niobrara, about 1886.— Photo by courtesy P. H. Waddill of Gordon, Nebraska

On this same trip in 1952, the writer talked with Mr. Sidney Irwin, younger brother of J. S. “Billy” Irwin, foreman of the Powder River Range of the Niobrara Cattle Company (E. S. Newman, Gen. Mgr.). He definitely located the Powder River Ranch at the junction of the Little and Big Powder Rivers, some 120 miles south and west of Miles City, Montana. This information was confirmed by Mr. Lou Grill of Miles City, who located the old brand advertisements of the Niobrara Cattle Company, and these list two ranches in Montana for this company, one on the Powder River at Mizpah and the other to the north on the Dry Creek and Sand Creek ranges.

Bob Miller, of Burwell, Nebraska, who came up the Texas trail with cattle as a youngster, wrote the following letter to the writer concerning his connection with the Newman outfit:

R. B. Miller, who drove cattle up from Texas for  the Newmans in 1877.—Photo taken about 1900, by courtesy of R. B. Miller
R. B. Miller, who drove cattle up from Texas for the Newmans in 1877.—Photo taken about 1900, by courtesy of R. B. Miller

“What I knew about Mr. E. S. Newman. I went to work for E. S. Newman in the spring of 1877. Mr. Newman had bought the Hays stock of cattle for $7.75 a head straight through except the spring calves. These we killed each morning because they could not walk, so every morning we would ride up to a calf and put our Winchester or Colts 45 to its head and fire away, then run the mother with the herd and that night rope the mothers and sideline them so they would not go back to where she hid the calf. These cattle were listed for Wind River, Montana, but Mr. Newman changed his mind when we got to Dodge City. Tom Mahan, who was our foreman to Dodge City, turned the herd over to Ellis Chalk, my old schoolmate, and we drove the cattle over to Ellis, Kansas where we held them to fatten them. I went back home to Texas… Done the trail the next year, 1878, with the same foreman, T. J. Mahan, who drove a herd for Major J. S. Smith and Bob Savage, the former from Bates, Illinois and Mr. Savage of Corpus Christi… When I came back from Chicago where I had been with a shipment of beeves, I quit, much to the discomfiture of Mr. Snyder, who said he intended to give me a permanent job, but I decided to go where my old schoolmate was and that was Ellis Chalk, who was working for E. S. Newman and Hunter, the latter also of St. Louis, Mo. Newman and Hunter had the contract of furnishing the Sioux Indians at Pine Ridge and Rosebud agencies with cattle, 250 head every 10 days at each agency, and what we called a dry issue—in December to last them through till we could gather cattle for the spring issue. And the Indians did their own delivery as long as they had any cattle. They generally ran short and we had to supply more. After Newman and Hunter had filled their contract, they, of course, returned to their individual ranches. Mr. Newman was located on the Running Water, south of Gordon at the mouth of Antelope Creek. Mr. Newman, who ran the N Bar Ranch, drove his cattle west when the big ranches were run out of the Sandhills by the settlers—In 1910 I went to El Paso and who should I find but Mr. E. S. Newman and his brother Tom. I talked with Mr. Newman and as he had been all over the world, I asked him if he had ever found any range that would equal the Sandhills of Nebraska and he said no. I left El Paso and I have never seen him since. He was a fine man and all of his boys liked him.”

MILLER, R. B., Letter to R. H. Burns dated Dec. 20, 1951.* Conference with R. H. Burns at Burwell, Nebr. on May 25, 1952.

Lillian Robbins Emende in her history of Sheridan County states that the first ranch in the Gordon locality, according to Ben Robins of Rushville, was the Newman ranch; established in 1878 by E. S. and H. L. Newman. The home ranch of the Newman outfit was located at the mouth of Antelope Creek about 12 miles southeast of Gordon, but Mr. Newman had a small house 60 miles south of there. The range was approximately 20 miles east and west and 70 miles north and south. From 30,000 to 50,000 head of cattle were run on the ranges of the Newman and Hunter ranches, the latter adjoining the former. Mr. Robins, who worked for Newman from 1880 to 1882, remembers some of the men who worked for that outfit, such as James C. Dahlman, Ed Ross, Johnny Burgess, Archie Reardon, George Parker, Harry Rutger, John Green, Bob Miller, Bill Ellis, Harry Landers, Andy Wheat, and Stonewall Irwin.

Remains of the Newman Ranch on the Niobrara—Photo by R. H. Burns in 1952
Remains of the Newman Ranch on the Niobrara—Photo by R. H. Burns in 1952

Mrs. C. M. Newman of El Paso advised the writer that Mr. E. S. Newman died in El Paso on April 22, 1913, and that Tom Newman operated a ranch at Kent, Texas which is now operated by his son Tom, Junior.

So it is definitely established that the Newmans began operations on their Niobrara Cattle Company ranches in 1878 and in Montana in 1887.

See Next: Laramie Plains First Area to Produce Range Cattle


Burns, Robert Homer, Wyoming’s Pioneer Ranches, Laramie, Wyoming : Top-of-the-World Press, 1955.

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