Wyoming was not even a territory in 1857 when 29-year-old Richard Henry Hamilton came west from Missouri to settle at Fort Bridger, where he worked with his brother-in-law William A. Carter, who was also his first cousin.
That year, Col. Albert Sidney Johnston led an army to the Bridger Valley to quell an “uprising” with Mormons in what has been called the Mormon Rebellion or Mormon War. Hamilton worked with Carter to provide for the troops. The U.S. Army established the military reservation at the location of the trading post started more than a decade earlier by Jim Bridger and his partner, Louis Vasquez.
Carter was the post sutler and postmaster and was responsible for securing supplies for the military troops as well as the emigrants passing through. In addition to work for the military, Carter and Hamilton established a cattle herd by trading with the emigrants, who still traveled the trails to Oregon, California and Utah.
Carter and Hamilton brought additional cattle into the area from Oregon and Texas to supply the army with beef. Before long, hundreds — then thousands — head of cattle, sheep and horses were raised and maintained on the 500-square-mile open range of the military reservation as well as the adjoining land.
In 1869, this area was in Carter County that extended from the southern boundary of the Territory of Wyoming to the northern boundary, including Yellowstone.
Richard Henry Hamilton became the livestock boss and oversaw these herds, branded with a Spanish Cross on the left hip. Hamilton established cow camps and managed the cowboys who rode the vast range.
Richard and his Shoshone Indian wife Wanipe had six children born between 1865 and 1875. They were friendly with Shoshone Chief Washakie, who visited the Fort often. After Wanipe died, Richard married Sophronia Black and they had two children, one of which was Charles Beal Hamilton. Both Richard Henry and Charles Beal Hamilton will be inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame on Sept. 15.
Charles Beal Hamilton spent his early years at Fort Bridger and was often on horseback, tagging along with his father and the army’s butcher at that time. He helped gather cattle for slaughter and spent much time helping prepare beef for use by the army. Charles was only 10 when his father died, and he then helped his mother with the livestock.
He inherited some of his father’s cattle and homesteaded on his own in 1899. This was the beginning of the Hamilton ranch. He married schoolteacher Roda Johnson. She took her pay in sheep and they built and maintained a small flock in addition to their cattle herd. They registered the quarter circle 8 brand and then the UH brand.
In one of their early years when their calf crop all died of black leg, Charles skinned the calves and dried the hides on the fences. He was able to sell the hides for enough money to cover their expenses and keep them going the following year.
Charles raised colts for saddle horses and work horses to hay the land. To increase his cattle herd, he began taking his cattle to the Uinta Mountains for the summer range in 1915-1916. This allowed the grass to grow so he could hay it for winter use, thus increasing the hay crop, which allowed him to increase the cattle herd as well.
Charles and his hired hands, many of them soldiers coming and going from assignments in World War I, herded cattle to and from the summer pasture areas in the Uinta Mountains for years, also trailing cattle from the ranch to the Carter Railroad Station for shipping to market.
As the years passed, he bought more property and had established a good-sized ranch by the 1930s. But the Depression caused further hardships. The government came in and shot 600 head of the Hamilton cattle one year and 200 head in another. Ranchers weren’t allowed to ship them out of the area, but some tried as resentment grew over the government killings.
Charles spent his entire life in Bridger Valley. He saw the first electric power and telephone lines installed. Upon his death, the ranch was divided between his four children. These lands are still owned by and are ranched by direct descendants of C.B. Hamilton. Charles’s son John H. Hamilton operated the ranch until 1972, at which time his son Richard Harold Hamilton bought the ranch, which he still operates.
Both John H. and Richard Harold were 2022 WCHF Inductees. With the induction this year, the Hamilton Family represents a four generation Wyoming Cowboy legacy.