Colorful Characters of Sheridan

A Harper’s Weekly correspondent wrote vividly of the colorful characters inhabiting Sheridan. One was named “Ascension Stephen,” due to his following of the Millerite Christian sect that had set 1844 as the year that Christ would return. Stephen would climb the Twin Buttes on occasion to wait expectantly, carrying a saloon tablecloth.. According to the reporter, …”on one occasion he frightened the wits out of some drunken Irishmen by rushing down the hill toward them as they were returning from a wild debauch. So well did the tablecloth do duty on this occasion that, for the first time in months, the Irishmen reached their homes sober. A more effective temperance banner never fluttered in the breeze.”


Another was a teamster named William Hobbs. The reporter described him thusly; “This man had not been cut out for a hero. His becoming one was in direct violation of nature’s laws. He was fat, short of wind, red-faced and timid as a hare. As the frontiersmen expressed it, having never lost any Indians he could not be induced by any consideration to find one.” Yet, he decided that his name was California Bill (though he had never been there); he wore buckskins ordered from Saint Louis and would meet the train to offer himself as a guide. The reporter dead-panned “I have known this dead shot to miss, four times in succession, a bison at fifty yards; and one occasion, having mistaken a Mexican herder for an Indian, he fled so fast and far that he lost hat and pistol and ruined his horse!”


Life was cheap in Sheridan, especially among the scoundrel class. There were two notorious bullies of Sheridan, known locally as Gunshot Frank and Sour Bill. Some trivial disagreement brought about the arrangement to meet at the cemetery, each dig a grave and then have a shoot-out to settle the matter. Off they went to the cemetery, each toting a spade and pistol. Before the digging was done, “Gunshot” made one remark too many and Bill gunned him down. The crowd that had gathered to witness the spectacle fell upon “Sour” and killed him with the spade. That night, two more graves were filled on the lonesome ridge. 


Passing on I-40, one would never know that such drama occurred in what is now an ordinary pasture!

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