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One wild town: Arland saw murder, mayhem during its brief existence

One wild town: Arland saw murder, mayhem during its brief existence

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MEETEETSE - The tiny town of Arland existed only for about 13 years, but it saw enough bloodshed and mayhem in that time to etch a place of distinction in the annals of the lawless Old West.

From 1884 until 1897, Arland was home to between 50 and 75 residents, serving as a stagecoach stop and supply station for ranchers.

Historian Clay Gibbons hosted a tour last week of the former town site, about eight miles north of present-day Meeteetse.

"Where you are standing right now was probably one of the most wild and woolly spots in the Old West," Gibbons told a group of about 40 people who gathered in a clearing along Meeteetse Creek on a cold, overcast day.

Together with Cody historian Bob Edgar, Gibbons and others have spent years researching the colorful history of Arland.

The town was home, at least for a while, to such characters as Blind Bill Hoolihan, Mexican Joe, the Red River Kid, Broken Nose Jackson and Belle Drewry, a prostitute known as "the Lady in Blue."

Each fall, the Meeteetse Museum sponsors a field trip to the former town site, now a hay field on private property.

Though the famous outlaw Butch Cassidy once lived in Arland, Gibbons relishes telling the tales of more obscure residents, including William Gallagher, described by a local rancher at the time as "a mean, vicious and savage man, but the best with a horse and a rope that I've ever seen."

Founded by Victor Arland and his partner, John Corbett, the town had a saloon, general store, post office and hotel, along with several houses.

As the first town established in the Big Horn Basin, and then a part of Fremont County, Arland was a long way from anything, including the law. The nearest sheriff was at least 150 miles away in the county seat of Lander.

That meant personal feuds were usually settled far from any courtroom, and often with a gun, Gibbons said.

In 1888, Vic Arland shot and killed Broken Nose Jackson at a party celebrating George Washington's birthday. Both men had romantic designs on Rose Williams, who was the proprietor of Arland's bordello.

Fearing a reprisal from Jackson's best friend, Bill Landon, Arland and Williams decided to make the long trip to Red Lodge, Mont., to lie low for a while.

"Well, imagine their surprise when they finally got to Red Lodge and walked into Fat Jack Dunnaven's saloon, only to find Landon sitting there," Gibbons said.

Later that night, Landon fired a gun through an open window, hitting Arland in the heart while he sat at a poker table. That was the end of Vic Arland.

The town saw other revenge killings.

Gallagher, who was a cowboy for the Pitchfork Ranch, brutally beat Drewry, who had been his lover but had taken up with a man named Bill Wheaton.

An outraged Wheaton shot Gallagher between the eyes, killing him, only to draw the wrath of Gallagher's best friend, Hoolihan, who swore revenge.

But Wheaton got wind of Hoolihan's plan, and killed him first.

Gibbons read to the crowd from a letter Hoolihan wrote to his father before riding out after Wheaton.

"Death has no fear for me. How are things there? I know they're dull as hell here. Living and death are all the same to me," Hoolihan wrote on April 5, 1894.

After being shot in the back by Wheaton, Hoolihan made it back to his cabin, and penned a final letter to the undertaker detailing the circumstances of his murder.

"When you read this, I will be no more," he wrote.

Even Drewry, the popular prostitute, did her share of shooting and being shot at.

One night in 1897, Drewry became embroiled in a dispute with a cowboy, whom she shot and killed. His friends returned the next night, killing Drewry and three other women.

Gibbons said the town faltered and faded after Drewry died, partly because she had held the place together, but also because a new bridge had been built along the Greybull River at a site that would later become Meeteetse.

As traffic followed the new bridge, Arland's business dried up, and many of the buildings were dismantled or moved, including some that are still in Meeteetse.

Since the 1940s, nothing was left of the old town site, but the graves of Gallagher, Drewry and Hoolihan were later found by Gibbons and Edgar, and their remains were moved to new graves at Old Trail Town in Cody.

Some Big Horn Basin residents claim Arland settlers as ancestors, including Beverly Hagan, whose great-grandmother was known as Sagebrush Nancy, and presumed to be an employee of Williams, the madam.

"We always suspected she was a prostitute," Hagan said during Gibbons' presentation, flashing a grin that was equal parts embarrassment and delight.

Despite uncovering much of the bloody town's history, Gibbons remains fixated on a few remaining mysteries, like finding a single photograph of Arland.

"There has to be one in an old trunk in Montana or Michigan somewhere, but for some reason, even though it was a popular stage stop, we've never found any pictures of the town," he said.

And then there's the story of Vic Arland's gold.

Notoriously paranoid, Arland was rumored to routinely convert his earnings to gold, and regularly ride out into the countryside to "hunt rabbits," always returning without a single hare, Gibbons said.

Popular legend holds that Arland buried his gold somewhere not far from the town site, maybe half a day's horseback ride away.

"And I really do believe that," Gibbons said. "This town was so wild, there was no one he could trust."

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