Commemorating the 'Johnson County War'

Commemorating the 'Johnson County War'

Bronze to be unveiled of epic confrontation


He knew they would get him this time. They had tried before and failed, but this time was different. Shots were coming from every direction. Moments earlier, his partner had been mortally wounded when he stepped out the door. He had managed to pull him back inside, but he knew his friend was dying.

Hour after hour, they poured lead through the windows of the KC ranch cabin where he was holed up, but Nate Champion was not a man to give up easily. He had plenty of ammunition and held the "invaders," who were bent on killing all suspected rustlers, at bay for seven hours. In doing so, he gave the people of the county time to learn of the battle at the KC and take measures to stop the insurrection and any further killings.

When the invaders, in desperation and frustration, finally set fire to the cabin, Champion, with a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other, ran out the back door and headed for the protection of a nearby ravine. Unfortunately, two expert marksmen were standing there just out of sight, and when Champion came into view, they fired. Other invaders followed suit until Champion's body was riddled with bullets-a total of 32 were counted.

It had taken a small army of influential cattle ranchers and their hired guns to take him down, and even they had to admit he was one brave man.

This might sound like something out of an old Western, but it happened. The date was April 9, 1892, on the south outskirts of what is now Kaycee, Wyoming, and that event secured a permanent place in the history of Johnson County.

In observance of the 115th anniversary of this "invasion" of Johnson County, the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum of Buffalo has commissioned noted sculptor D. Michael Thomas to create a larger-than-life size bronze of Nate Champion's last run.

During a commemorative gathering at the historic Occidental Hotel in Buffalo tonight, a desk-size model of the proposed statue will be unveiled. The Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum is hosting the event for Gatchell Museum Association, Inc., members and invited guests as a kick-off to an all-out effort to raise funds for the heroic statue which is to be erected near the front entrance of the museum complex.

Thomas, whose work is found in many museums of Western art and in numerous private collections, will be present along with representatives of the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum and G.M.A.

Thomas has a deep interest in local history, particularly the Johnson County Cattle War. Probably his most noted works in Buffalo are the three-quarter life size sculptures which dramatically portray a confrontation between a cattleman and a rustler during those tension-filled days in the late 1880s and early 1890s. These statues, which stand at the entrance to the First National Bank's parking lot on Main Street, have been viewed, studied and photographed by thousands of visitors. Now, Thomas is so taken with the idea of memorializing Champion, he has offered to donate a large part of his commission to help see the project through to completion.

"I have always been fascinated by the story of Champion's defiance of the Invaders," Thomas said. "It's hard to believe that one man could stand off 50 or more guns for that long! And to think that he had the temerity to keep a written account of the whole ordeal!"

Thomas was talking about Champion's diary which has, no doubt, become the best known of all that was written about the invasion itself. Champion wrote: "Me and Nick was getting breakfast when the attack took place. Two men was with us n Bill Jones and another man. The old man went after water and did not come back. His friend went out to see what was the matter and he did not come back. Nick started out and I told him look out, that I thought that there was someone at the stable and would not let them come back. Nick is shot but not dead yet. He is awful sick. I must go and wait on him. It is now about two hours since the first shot. Nick is still alive. They are still shooting all around the house. Boys, there is bullets coming in like hail. Them fellows is in such shape I can't get at them. They are shooting from the stable and river and back of the house. Nick is dead, he died about 9 o'clock. I see smoke down at the stable. I think they have fired it. I don't think they

intend to let me get away this time.

It is now about noon. There is someone at the stable yet; they are throwing a rope at the door and dragging it back. I guess it is to draw me out. I wish that duck would get out further so I can get a shot at him. Boys, I don't know what they have done with them two fellows that staid here last night. Boys, I feel pretty lonesome just now. I wish there was someone here with me so we could watch all sides at once. They may fool around until I get a good shot before they leave. It's about 3 o'clock now. There was a man in a buckboard and one on horseback just passed. They fired on them as they went by. I don't know if they killed them or not. I seen lots of men come out on horses on the other side of the river and take after them. I shot at the men in the stable just now; don't know if I got any or not. I must look out again. It don't look as if there is much show of getting away. I see twelve or fifteen men. One looks like (name scratched out). I don't know whether it is or

not. I hope they did not catch them fellows that run over the bridge towards Smith's. They are shooting at the house now. If I had a pair of glasses I believe I would know some of those men. They are coming back. I got to look out.

Well, they have just got through shelling the house like hail. I heard them splitting wood. I guess they are going to fire the house to-night. I think I will make a break when night comes, if alive. Shooting again. I think they will fire the house this time. It's not night yet. The house is all fired. Goodbye boys, If I never see you again. Nathan D. Champion

{M3"Champion had to be one of the bravest, gutsiest men of his time," Thomas mused. "I just want to do a sculpture that hopefully will make everyone who sees it feel the same way."

John Gavin, museum director, and Bob Edwards, museum educator, have both been working with Thomas since the idea of the bronze was first conceived several months ago. "We are really excited about this project," Edwards said. "Champion is truly a hero of Johnson County. If it hadn't been for his delaying the invaders, no doubt a lot more people would have been killed. His heroism affected not only southern Johnson County where the KC Ranch was located, but all the small cattle ranchers and homesteaders in the area as well as the citizens of Buffalo."

Gavin said that he and Thomas have garnered the support of the Johnson County Commission for the project.

Gavin explained that a project of this magnitude doesn't come cheap -- which is part of the reason for tonight's event. Only 40 of the desktop bronzes, such as the one being unveiled tonight, will be cast and given to those who donate $1,600, all but $400 which is tax-deductible.

Thomas is also creating five one-third life size versions of the bronze, and these are being offered for donations of $13,000 of which $10,000 is tax deductible.

Smaller tax-deductible donations are welcome.


Nate Champion, who has been hailed as one of the bravest men in Johnson County for his one-man stand against an army of invaders on April 9, 1892, will be remembered at a special gathering of members of the Gatchell Memorial Association, Inc., and invited guests on the 115th anniversary of the event.

The historic Occidental Hotel in downtown Buffalo will be setting for the commemoration at which those attending will be treated to the unveiling of the 9-inch desktop version of the 7-foot bronze statue of Nate Champion which the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum hopes to have erected near the museum's front entrance.

Noted western art sculptor, D. Michael Thomas, has been commissioned to create the bronze which is entitled "Nate Champion's Last Run." Thomas, a resident of Buffalo, whose work has been recognized here and abroad, will be among those attending.


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