Killer of Bay City Cowboy Lawman George Wellman Unmasked by Old News Story
Ill-Fated Deputy U.S. Marshal is Honored by Listing on National Monument
A mustachioed, mounted, revolver-armed George Wellman poses for history prior to the Johnson County cattle war in Wyoming.
Out of the mists of Bay City's violent past comes a news flash.
A musty news article has solved a mystery about the 1892 slaying of one of our most famous lawmen -- George A. Wellman.
The Wellman story was illuminated more than a decade ago through detective work of Tim Younkman, Bay City Times reporter.
Younkman revealed one of the most poignant and heart-wrenching stories of local history.
It is a tale of a young ranch foreman who was the first to alert the governor of Wyoming that rustlers had invaded peaceful cattle country.
The young cowpoke left Wyoming to meet a previous obligation to marry a Bay City lass.
Back home enjoying the early days of married life, he got a telegram appointing him a deputy federal marshal back in Wyoming to help quell the range war.
The heroic Wellman bade farewell to his tearful bride, returned to fulfill his duty and was promptly killed by a shot in the back.
The story ends with Wellman's body being returned to Bay City on ice in a pine box and with his burial in Pine Ridge Cemetery.
The tale of the star-crossed Bay City bridegroom and the dirty deed by Wyoming rustlers has become a staple of the popular cemetery toursby the Bay County Historical Society.
The slaying was part of the Johnson County Cattle War, a storied Western battle recounted recently in a PBS-TV mini-series. Wellman reportedly was the man who contacted Wyoming's governor about the invasion by rustlers in April, 1892.
Wellman was foreman of the HOE Ranch along the Powder River southeast of Buffalo, Wyoming. A native of Canada, Wellman had grown up in Bay City and at age 19 left for more exciting times in the West.
At the onset of the invasion, Wellman surprised a party of rustlers and rescued the city editor of the Cheyenne Sun who had been captured. He telegraphed Wyoming Gov. Amos Barber who contacted President Benjamin Harrison. In less than six hours troops were on their way to the scene.
Wellman had to excuse himself from the fracas: he had a date with a girl in Bay City to be wed. The bride, Lucy Clark, was one of the lumbering McDonell clan and the pair were wed in a home on James Street on the West Side.
Marshal Wellman's grave at Pine Ridge Cemetery has become something of a shrine, decorated with American flags in honor of the only local lawman to be memorialized at the National Law Enforcement Monument in Wyoming.
Anecdotesare repeated about the return of Wellman's body on ice from Wyoming only through the efforts of a friendly newsman who knew the family, certainly the rescued city editor. The murdered hero was buried with full Masonic rites and a Masonic symbol is engraved on his unique-shaped headstone not far from Ridge Road in the historic Pine Ridge burial grounds.
Volunteer museum researchers Jim Petrimoulx, Alan Flood and Fred Welch have doggedly pursued details of the Wellman story to provide additionalelucidation for tourgoers.
But even their probing and Younkman's sleuthing had not answered the pertinent question: Who killed Deputy Marshal George A. Wellman?
However, in a chance review of the microfilm files of the Bay City Tribune at the Bay City Main Branch Library, a small headline screamed for attention. It read: "RUN DOWN AND CAUGHT; Alleged Murderers of Geo. Wellman in Jail; Another Chapter in the Mysterious Wyoming Assassination; Word from the Far West."
The Tribune on March 16, 1893, nearly a year after the slaying, headlined a report from C.A. McDonell, brother-in-law of George Wellman, containing the report of the arrest of Wellman's killers in the Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sun newspaper.
Desperadoes Henry Smith and Clayton Cruse were identified as the duo arrested in March, 1893, for the murder. Cruse had turned himself in and was lodged in the Johnson County Jail while Smith was nabbed in Oklahoma under warrant from the U.S. court at Cheyenne and was in the Laramie County Jail. No details have surfaced as to the disposition of the charges against them.
"Wellman, who was a fine young fellow and brave as a lion, was married in Bay City but 10 days when he was murdered," noted The Tribune balefully.
A 1993 article in the Buffalo (WY) Bulletin noted: "When the train carrying the murdered deputy's body went through Chicago, the HOE ranch owner who had employed Wellman prior to his being appointed as a special deputy marshal had arranged to receive Wellman's remains and hold them subject to the wishes of his widow and other family members."
Although first reports from Wyoming were that five bullets had pierced Wellman, the Chicago investigation revealed only one gunshot wound: in the middle of the back between the shoulders.
The vindictive rustlers obviously had taken retribution for the courageous Wellman's alert to the governor that brought the troops into the fray.
Is it Bay City's best story? Our museum research friends say the Wellman tale ranks up with the best we have to offer curious tourists as well as local folks.
You can hear more details, and view Wellman's grave for yourself, and hear other Bay City legends by jumping on a tour bus leaving from Third and Water every Saturday at 2 p.m. Besides the Cemetery Tour, other tours include Historic Mansions and Hell's Half Mile; West Bay City: the 1800s; South Bay City: Triumph and Tragedy; Ghosts, Legends and Bay City Lore and Architecture by Clark and Munger. Contact the Bay County Historical Museum at 893-5733, www.buchsmuseum.org, for information and reservations. Arrangements for group tours are available.###
History Article 849
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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