A missionary who arrived in Cheyenne six months after its founding to organize an Episcopalian church reportedly wrote that “the wickedness” here was “unimaginable and appalling.”
Describing Cheyenne during its “Hell on Wheels” heyday, Rev. Joseph W. Cook said, “This is the great centre for gamblers of all shades, and roughs, and troops of lewd women, all bull-whackers.”
“Almost every other house is a drinking saloon, gambling house, restaurant, dance hall or bawdy,” he continued.
“In the east, as a general thing, vice is obliged in some measure to keep somewhat in the dark. … But here all is open and above board, and the eyes and ears are assailed at every turn.”
Several of the most well-known Wild West characters of the late 1800s passed through town during Cheyenne’s rough-and-tumble days – some just briefly kicking up their boots here; others staying a short while.
Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876)
Hickok became a fixture in Cheyenne in 1874, according to Bill O’Neal, author of “Cheyenne: A Biography of the ‘Magic City’ of the Plains, 1867-1903.” By that time, he was already well-known as a lawman, gunfighter and gambler.
O’Neal wrote that Hickok was 37 when he arrived in Cheyenne in July 1874 to serve as a scout for a hunting party. By that time, he’d served as a county sheriff, city marshal and deputy U.S. marshal, as well as serving in the Civil War and engaging in gunfights across the West.
Hickok returned to Cheyenne that September and stayed for several months, renting a room above Dan Miller’s jewelry store, O’Neal stated.
“Hickok occupied himself as a gambler, relying upon his reputation to attract play. He held forth at the Gold Room, a saloon-theater-dance hall that also boasted gaming tables,” O’Neal wrote.
Jim Bowker wrote in the book “History of Cheyenne, Wyoming Vol. 2” that Jim Allen built the Gold Room at 310 W. 16th St. in 1867. He said it was one of the first two saloons in Cheyenne.
He added that a warrant for Hickok’s arrest on charges of vagrancy was issued on June 17, 1875, in Cheyenne, and a $200 bond was ordered, but Hickok was never arrested and left town by November.
He returned to Cheyenne in early 1876, however, and reacquainted himself with Agnes Thatcher Lake, a circus manager and performer who was several years his senior.
An article written by Phil Roberts, a University of Wyoming professor of history, and published in the Feb. 25, 2007, edition of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle states that Hickok met Lake in 1873 in Rochester, New York.
An announcement published in the Cheyenne Daily Leader on March 7, 1876, stated, “Married: By the Rev. W.F. Warren, March 5, 1876, at the residence of S.L. Moyer, Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, Mrs. Agnes Thatcher Lake of Cincinnati, Ohio, to James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill, of this city.”
Roberts wrote, “The minister was not convinced that the marriage would go well. He wrote in the Marriage Record of the First Methodist Church of Cheyenne (a microfilmed copy of which is in the collection of the Wyoming State Archives): ‘Don’t think he meant it.’”
That question remains unanswered, as Hickok was shot and killed by James McCall on Aug. 2 in Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota.
“Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917)
William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was a friend of Hickok’s. He invited Hickok to join his Wild West Show in 1873, though the partnership didn’t last long.
Cody visited Cheyenne on many occasions, but one of the most notable was in 1898, when he brought his Wild West Show to the second Cheyenne Frontier Days.
According to O’Neal, CFD took place Sept. 5-6 that year. “On a chilly Monday, Sept. 5, Buffalo Bill led his superbly mounted troupe in its customary parade, supplemented by 200 members of the Cheyenne Fire Department. The parade through Cheyenne ended spectacularly, with the stagecoach racing up Ferguson Street and Cody’s warriors galloping in pursuit,” he wrote.
Ferguson Street was the former name of Carey Avenue.
O’Neal wrote that Cody held his show in an open prairie north of the state Capitol.
An ad reprinted in “Cheyenne: A Biography of the ‘Magic City’ of the Plains” shows that Cody brought his Wild West Show back to Cheyenne on Saturday, Aug. 9, 1902, as part of a nationwide tour before heading to Europe.
Hickok wasn’t the only famous name Cody hosted in his show. Infamous roughneck Calamity Jane was a good friend of Cody’s and sometimes performed in his Wild West Show.
Calamity Jane (1852-1903)
Calamity Jane was born Martha Jane Cannary on May 2, 1852. Though she sometimes worked as a prostitute, she preferred to live like a man. She dressed in buckskins, and took up chewing tobacco and drinking with the best of them.
“Women weren’t typically even allowed in the bar, except for at particular moments, like you could come at 4 in the afternoon for tea at the Tivoli or different things like that,” said Visit Cheyenne Director of Operations Jill Pope. “But (Calamity Jane) dressed like a man, and she’d come in and shoot off her gun, and everybody loved it, so she was kind of accepted as one of the guys.”
Pope said, “It’s a little hard sometimes to know what’s fact and what’s fiction about Calamity because she told a lot of tall tales – she just made stuff up.”
Calamity Jane came to Cheyenne in the 1870s. O’Neal wrote that she was charged with grand larceny in Cheyenne in 1876, but a jury declared her not guilty in June of that year.
O’Neal stated that, while celebrating the verdict a few days later, Calamity Jane rented a horse and buggy from James Abney with the intention of driving to Fort D.A. Russell, now known as F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
An article published in the June 20, 1876, edition of the Cheyenne Daily Leader said, “By the time she had reached the fort, however, indulgence in frequent and liberal potations completely befogged her not very clear brain, and she drove right by that place.”
The article reported that she continued drinking throughout the night and awoke the following morning, June 11, and believed Fort Russell had been moved. It further stated that she then drove to Fort Laramie in a continued search for Fort Russell.
O’Neal wrote that Calamity Jane returned to Cheyenne in July and tried to hire a rig at Terry and Hunter’s Livery Stable, but was turned down, likely because she hadn’t returned Abney’s buggy.
Calamity Jane reportedly then visited the office of the Cheyenne Daily Leader to protest the article written about her.
According to O’Neal, “The city editor looked up to see a scowling woman, ‘clad in a cavalry uniform, with a bull-whip in her hand, a leer in her eye and gin in her breath.’”
He states that she cracked her whip on the ceiling and asked to see “the fighting editor.” O’Neal wrote that the city editor denied being the editor and left to find “the fighting editor.”
According to O’Neal, that was the last time Calamity Jane caused trouble in Cheyenne.
Bat Masterson (1853-1921)
Not long after Wild Bill left Cheyenne, Bartholemew William Barclay “Bat” Masterson, another famous gambler-gunfighter, rolled into Cheyenne by train in 1876 or 1877.
At just 22 years old, Masterson already had a reputation for being a fighting man, O’Neal wrote.
Masterson reportedly took more of a liking to the gambling tables in Cheyenne than he did panning for gold in Deadwood. He is said to have only spent about five weeks here before his winning streak ended, sending him back to Dodge City, Kansas, where he was elected sheriff.
Doc Holliday (1851-1887)
John Henry “Doc” Holliday, another famous figure from the Old West, lived in Cheyenne briefly during the Gold Rush period, and probably around 1876 or 1877 as well.
A dentist by trade, Holliday developed an affinity for gambling and spent several months in Cheyenne working as a house dealer at a local theater before moving on to other places, such as Deadwood and Denver.
O’Neal wrote that Holliday, a Georgia native, contracted tuberculosis about the time he completed dental training. He is said to have headed west in 1873 in search of a dry climate that might lengthen his life.
“Holliday had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and under the influence of liquor was a most dangerous man,” Masterson reportedly said, according to O’Neal. “He was hot-headed and impetuous, and very much given to both drinking and quarrelling, and among men who did not fear him, he was very much disliked.”
O’Neal wrote that Holliday did not yet have a dangerous reputation like Masterson and Hickok during his stay in Cheyenne.
Like Masterson, Holliday is said to have been close friends with legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. According to the website www.biography.com, Holliday and Earp were two of the most famous people involved in the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral in the then-Arizona Territory, which is regarded as the most legendary battle of the American Wild West. That shootout solidified Holliday’s legendary status.