ISOLATED GRAVE OF JIMMY WOOTEN
Preface written by Robert W. Paris: The following story of the history and death of Jimmy Wooten was written by Elmer Carlson of Cody, Wyoming. A copy of this story is at the Cody, Wyoming historical society and other places. This grave is located in Hot Springs County, Wyoming, near the county line of Hot Springs and Washakie Counties. The following instructions will guide you to the grave, as long as it lasts, as it is completely unprotected, on BLM (Federally owned) land. It is on the open range used by both domestic livestock and various wild animals.
The Jim Wooten grave site is located near Wy Hwy 431 between Worland and Meeteetse. When you reach the sign for Murphy Draw Road, proceed to the cattle guard located on the north side of the highway, across from the John Rankine house, which is on top of a hill on the south side of the highway. The grave is .55 miles from the cattle guard bearing about 277 deg. The coordinates are N 44 00.596 W 108 30.725 The stone says: “died 1910 Jim Wooten Stage Driver Meeteetse-Ilo-Thermopolis.” The concrete pad on which the gravestone rests says: “W. A. Boyce Burial Party Grant Murphy, W. C. Morton, Fran Morton, Mikety Mike, John Baird, Eric Carlson.” The back side of the concrete pad states: “3/14/72 Elmer Carlson R. G. White
There is a "geocaching" site here, and a geocaching "travel bug" which can be tracked on line: see www.geocaching.com for particulars.
1905 to 1909
"As far as I know Jim came to Meeteetse for the first time the summer of 1905 driving a six horse team hauling store supplies and mining equipment from Billings, Montana to Meeteetse. He continued to freight, sometimes from Red Lodge and other times from Bridger, Montana--but always wound up in Meeteetse. And while there, he could have a high old time mainly at one of the seven saloons: Huetts, McGuires, Mortons, Peoples, Rivers, Dad Sloan’s and the one over across the river next to the sporting house".
"Some of the saloons were tents, but most of them were made of logs. There were two banks, two hardware stores, two grocery stores and a Chinese laundry. Hank Moss had the first livery barn and the late Mrs. Frank Blackburn ran a millinery store. John Mitchie and Bill Duff were two of the earliest blacksmiths and horse shoers. Dr. Bennett had an office and practice at his home. There was the Weller Hotel and several tent hotels where you could use their bed on the ground or yours for 50 cents."
"The beds in the hotel had no springs--just a tick full of hay or straw. In the wintertime everyone who could would drag a bed close to the stove. According to custom, women and children were closest to the stove. Some never returned for a second sleep at that hotel".
"When there was an overflowing crowd, the hotel owner would conscript the breakfast cooks and helpers. The tables were of rough boards as well as the benches. Thick pants would help from getting any slivers. Now that was the fact when they were first built. The slivers were finally worn down with usage."
"The ranchers and sheep outfits hauled merchandise out as fast as it could be stocked up again. The miners at Kerwin also needed food, coal and equipment, so the roads were worn down by hoof, tire, wind and water."
"In addition to a round trip stage to Cody there was a Meeteetse stage line to Thermopolis with stops at Ilo on Grass Creek. It was run by Ed Guinn who kept the change of horse teams as well as food for the passengers. This line was just a heavy spring wagon with a top to keep out the sun and rain. It sure didn’t keep out the cold winds or dust though."
"One young eastern fellow rode the stage from Cody to Meeteetse and when asked if he would ride it back replied it would be a whole lot more comfortable to walk back. Andy Wilson said he wouldn’t pay a dollar to ride from Meeteetse to Thermopolis, couldn’t earn a dollar easier than to just light out and walk it . Well, not all were like the easterner and Andy. They rode both ways."
"John Faust bought Hank Moss’ livery barn and established stage lines out of Meeteetse to Cody and Thermopolis. He was a good judge of horseflesh and acquired the knack and reputation of horse trader. He liked to trade for some mean, spoiled cow ponies he could use in his business no matter how ornery. This kind of horse would have the stamina no other horse could match--that is if you could find a man who could handle them."
"That leads us to the subject of Jimmy Wooten. No known horse had every bluffed him. Faust traded horses with Henry Doores and got a roan gelding that was a regular man-eater. He got another from George Hurlbut. Both of these horses were hot bloods and were to be the downfall of one Jimmy Wooten"
"Jimmy had driven the Thermopolis run for a year or so and enjoyed many a merry ride when there was a downgrade ahead of him. He believed in letting them go so he could get into town and the life of luxury all the sooner."
"Jimmy’s rout on the old Meeteetse road followed Mail Carrier’s draw to the top of Three Mile Hill, then down to a shallow valley, up over Blue Hill, then down grade to Buffalo Creek, across Gooseberry and over to Grass Creek. After a stage stop at Ilo, a new team and dinner, he would travel over to Cottonwood, down to Schuyler Harris Spring on Sand Draw, then over to Owl Creek, through the Red Pass and into Thermopolis. These horses were well fed, but tired when they got to their destination."
"The next day, Jimmy would take a fresh team and start back to Ilo and Meeteetse. This run was almost all up hill so he got an early start and a late arrival or “getting’ in.” All in a hurry, Jimmy would pass up a ranch wagon or freight outfit like it was going the other way. No matter who was on the road with a vehicle, he would pass it. It was a matter of pride to Jimmy."
"The winter of 1909-1910 started getting cold and snow in October. By December the thermometer seldom got up to zero. There’d be a few good days, then more snow. There hadn’t been enough hay raised in the country to do any amount of feeding. One just relied on corn and cottonseed cake to keep the stock from starving. So there was a lot of freight hauled into the Meeteetse country".
"That made for a lot of good company for Jimmy. He would drive stage or freight all day and spend all night long in front of one of those bars. The next morning early, his head would ache and that worked on his disposition. Already in a sour mood, he would go up to the barn to harness those two ornery broncs."
"This particular morning of December 18, 1909, by the light of a kerosene lantern they kicked him and tromped him until he was really sore, both in mind and body. They had kicked him a few days earlier too when he had tried to hitch them to this rig."
"Disgusted, he went over to Josh’s for breakfast and enlisted four men to help get the team attached to the stage. He grabbed the lines and jumped onto the stage and rode the team past the post office where they threw a mail sack. When he came around again, they threw on another and so on until he was loaded. Then up the hill past the Masonic Hall and up Mail Carrier’s Draw. Silent Charlie was riding up the road on a horse and Jimmy liked to have run right over him. Anyway, in that falling snow and bitter cold, Charlie was the last man to see Jimmy Wooten alive."
"Now we have to suppose what happened and we thought it must have happened this way:"
"Jimmy was going to make this team pay for their rough antics. They went up over Three Mile Hill, then loped across the valley and up the Blue Hill. From the top of Blue Hill it was all down grade to Buffalo Creek. So Jimmy as he was accustomed must have let them run and for some reason they must have quit the road. One mail sack was found there the next spring after the snow went off. Some farther they found Jimmy’s horse blanket."
"On December 19th, the Thermopolis post office called Meeteetse to say that no stage had come in the day before. A party was sent out of Thermopolis and one from Meeteetse to try to find Jimmy. The party from Meeteetse found one horse still wearing the collar and bridle. Next they tracked the roan horse to up among the cedars. He was skinned up and very lame. They continued on to find the back seat and two mail sacks, then the hind wheels and axles and finally the front wheels and part of the tongue. All of these things were found in a length of five miles. The search continued for three days."
"Each of those cold days would add some more new snow. They became certain that Jimmy had perished. The post office department sent two inspectors and again they combed the area for a few more days. They brought Alex Ketchum in with his hounds from the LU Ranch. The inspectors went back to Denver with the report that the weather was intolerable and they would have to wait for favorable weather. As the weather moderated, Faust made a few more searches in the area."
"During March and April of 1910, the sun warmed the area and the snowmelt rushed down the muddy streams. You haven’t seen muddy water until you have seen the rapid flow of Buffalo Creek--too thick to drink, too thin to plow. Any article, animal or whatever could and does float down stream in the water at its highest tide."
"Mikety Mike was herding yearlings for the LU and let them come into Gooseberry Creek to drink. He always went up or down the creek bank to see if any of his sheep had fallen in the water or gotten stuck in the mud. On one of these rounds, he found a badly decomposed body of a man lying on some driftwood above the water. Mikety Mike came excitedly up to the Moon Hillberry schoolhouse to tell the news. Mrs. Moon let all the kids go with him to see our first dead man."
"I can still remember the stench of the body. It was fully clothed, but every bit of the body was covered with mud. You can be sure that every kid hurried home to tell his folks. My sister and I rode that seven miles home on a high lope. We passed the three Murphy girls who were on foot. Their names were Olive, Alma, and Dulcie. There were six other students in that school: Lee and Lucille Moon, Harry and George Hillberry and Elsa and Elmer Carlson."
"George Hillberry rode into Meeteetse to notify authorities about finding Jimmy Wooten’s body. Identification was found in the coat pocket. The post office got into the act to try to find any relatives but none were ever found. So, a group of men in the immediate vicinity did the last rites. Eric Carlson furnished the pine boards and Grant Murphy, Sr. furnished the nails for the coffin."
"Willard Boyce, John L. Baird, Mickety Mike, W.C. and Evan Morton laid Jimmy Wooten to rest on a lonely rise near the present Gooseberry Road. W. A. Boyce herded sheep in that area so kept a wooden marker at the gravesite."
"Through the passing of time, these markers were rubbed down by livestock. In my last conversation with Boyce, he asked me if I would fix some sort of marker, so one April day Ralph G. White, Rose and Marrietta Carlson and I, after chiseling on a granite stone for weeks, placed a stone at the gravesite with these words:"
Meetseetse, Ilo, Thermopolis
Buried 1910, Died 1909
Written by Elmer Carlson