The Wyoming Historian Who Unraveled The Mysteries Of 115-Year-Old Spring Creek Raid

Finding the exact locations of the Spring Creek Raid near Ten Sleep and filling out the rest of the story took a lifetime of detective work by Wyoming historian Clay Gibbons, as well as a little bit of what he believes was divine intervention.

Renée Jean

June 23, 202415 min read

Clay Gibbons talks to a tour group he's taking to the Hole in the Wall.
Clay Gibbons talks to a tour group he's taking to the Hole in the Wall. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Listening to Clay Gibbons tell Wyoming history, it’s easy to imagine the events as they unfold.

He paints a vivid picture, one that’s based on painstaking research that trails through dry court transcripts, yellowed letters and faded documents, as well as oral histories told by those who were either witness to Cowboy State history or descendants who have grown up with the stories told by those witnesses.

Gibbons comes by his love of Wyoming cowboy history honestly — his dad loved it, too.

“Growing up, I went everywhere with my dad,” Gibbons said. “So, one day, we were driving south of Ten Sleep, and we were crossing Spring Creek. We didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows were down.”

Gibbons, 9 at the time, was looking down at the creek as they passed it by. He’d heard about the Spring Creek Raid before, but no one had ever told him exactly where it was. So, he asked his dad.

“He kind of waved out to the side,” Gibbons recalled. “Somewhere over there.”

That answer didn’t quite suit a young Gibbons’ curiosity. He wanted to know exactly where the famous raid that had ended the Wyoming range wars happened.

He wanted to see the particular hills, so he could imagine the sheep wagons sitting on it, and he wanted to know just where the masked raiders were before their murderous rampage.

A rampage that so enraged the public, it finally put an end to the range conflicts between sheepmen and cattlemen.

Those kinds of questions put Gibbons’ feet onto a lifetime of historical research that would eventually uncover lost details of several important Wyoming historical events, including the Spring Creek Raid.

The story is one he tells often in the Ten Sleep area, where the raid took place, and it’s recounted at his podcast, The Sweet Smell of Sagebrush.

Recently, he retold the story for Cowboy State Daily.

A Full Moon Bears Witness

The date was April 2, 1909 — Good Friday.

A full moon shone in the sky as Joe Allemand, a French sheepman or sheep herder and Joe Emge, a cattleman turned sheepman, camped along Spring Creek. Allemand’s cousin, Jules Lazier, was also there, as were a few other sheepmen.

“Just picture (Allemand’s) wagon sitting on top of the hill, with the moonlight shining down on it,” Gibbons said.

The camp was about four miles shy of Allemand’s home. They had 5,000 sheep they were trailing, but to get there, they had crossed the deadline. That was an unofficial line that the Big Horn Basin’s cattlemen had drawn where no sheep were to be allowed.

“Cattlemen believed that when sheep came into an area, they had these short little teeth and they would graze the grass very, very short, right down to the ground,” Gibbons said. “They said that would kill the grass, that the grass wouldn’t regrow, so they thought sheep were really bad, and that they would ruin the range.”

Cattlemen also claimed the stench of sheep was so bad, cattle wouldn’t go into a reservoir if the sheep so much as drank water there.

So the cattlemen had set up a huge, unofficial no-sheep zone, though they had no real legal authority to do so.

The Western boundary was the Big Horn River, which runs by Gibbons’ present-day ranch.

“Everything from there east, all the way up on the mountain,” Gibbons said. “And, on the south, the No Water Crick, which comes in just below the hill here, and goes out into the Badlands. And then the north boundary was the No Wood River.”

This expansive territory was one Emge himself had helped set up, when he was still a cattleman, and the fact that it was Emge crossing that boundary was not lost on the Big Horn Basin’s cattlemen.

“He’s a traitor,” Gibbons said of Emge. “He’d helped establish that deadline and now he’s bringing sheep in here. So, the cattlemen are saying we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is.”

The Spring Creek Raid marker put up by Clay Gibbons looks out on the exact location of the early 1900s raid that ended the range wars between cattlemen and sheepmen.
The Spring Creek Raid marker put up by Clay Gibbons looks out on the exact location of the early 1900s raid that ended the range wars between cattlemen and sheepmen. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

A Seven And Two Split

At Ten Sleep, Allemand had called his wife on a newfangled device called the telephone. He wanted to let her know where they were, and how things were progressing.

But he wasn’t the only one listening in.

“When those new phone lines ran, they were all party lines,” Gibbons said. “And one thing you could be assured was that you weren’t the only one listening to the line. So, everybody up and down the creek heard him talking.”

Including some folks who didn’t like where Allemand and Emge were trailing their sheep.

Initially, Allemand had told his wife they’d make it home that night, but the sheepherders didn’t make it as far as they’d planned. Instead, they made camp about 4 miles from home.

Emge took all their horses over to the Greet Ranch, to pasture overnight, and he invited the Greets, the ranch’s owners, to come over to their sheep wagons for supper.

“Well, we’ve never seen the inside of a sheep wagon,” Gibbons said the two told Emge. “Sure, we’d be glad to do that.”

While the Greets were enjoying supper with Allemand, Emge, Lazier and the other members of the sheep camp, which included two sheepherders named Bounce Helmer and Pete Cafferal, seven raiders were creeping up on the camp, congregating at Otter Crick.

“They had scouted it that afternoon, and they’d seen where the camp was settled in,” Gibbons said.

It had been agreed, or so most of the raiders thought, that there would be no killing.

“Scare the hell out of some sheep herders and kill some sheep, OK,” Gibbons said. “We’re fine with that because we don’t want them in this country either. But we don’t want to have any part in killing anyone.”

But Herbert Brink and George Saban, the leaders of the raiding party, had their own ideas.

“Now when you split seven, it’s going to be three and four or four and three, right?” Gibbons said. “But they split five and two.”

Gibbons believes that was a deliberate decision by Brinks and Saban, so the others couldn’t interfere with their plans.

Saban and Brink would take the north wagon where Allemand, Emge, and Lazier were sleeping. The other five members of the raiding party would surround the south wagons where Helmer and Cafferal were.

“Don’t do anything until you hear our signal shot,” Gibbons said Brink told the men.

To most, a signal shot would imply only one shot, Gibbons added.

But that’s not what was about to happen.

Strike A Light!

The seven raiders waited until the Greets had left the sheep camp, and the sheepherders had all settled in for the night, then put flour sacks with holes cut out for their eyes on their heads to hide their faces.

They also cut the telephone wires, so no one could call for help.

“They got within 40 feet of the wagon,” Gibbons said. “And Herbert Brink knelt down on one knee and hollered out, ‘Strike a light!’”

That was an order the sheepmen would have understood to mean light their kerosene lamp and show themselves.

“Nothing happened,” Gibbons said “So (Brink) counted 1, 2, 3! And then rapid gunfire — not a single signal shot like he had told the other raiders. This was rapid gunfire.”

The sheepmen in the wagon attempted to get up and defend themselves, Gibbons said, but Emge and Lazier perished inside without firing a shot.

Allemande, badly wounded, stumbled away or passed out.

“After they got that done, the five men brought the other sheepmen over and made them lay in the road,” Gibbons said. “One raider stayed with them, and the others were shooting — they shot some dogs and some sheep.”

Then they pulled up some sagebrush to set the Allemand wagon on fire.

About then, Allemand appeared at the tongue of the burning wagon.

“Brink hollered out, ‘Halt, throw your hands up!’”

When Allemand did so, Brink said, “Now’s a hell of a time of night to come out with your hands up,” and then shot Allemand, according to court transcripts of the time.

The bullet went into Allemand’s eighth rib, traveled through his 10th rib into his elbow, which shattered.

“Joe Allemand fell over dead,” Gibbons said. “George Saban came up and looked at him and he said, ‘It’s Allemand. That’s enough boys.”

As the raiders were pulling up sagebrush to burn the other wagon, a flour sack mask fell off of one man’s face and he was recognized by one of the still living sheepmen.

There was a serious conversation then about what to do with the remaining sheepmen. Some wanted to kill them.

“But Saban came up and he said, ‘We’ve had enough killing, let them go,’” Gibbons said. “So (the raiders) looked at the sheepmen and said, ‘You boys better damn sure not tell a soul about what happened here.’”

The "road" that takes people to the Hole in the Wall is at times little more than a dry creek bed, eventually dwindling down to a two track that has tufts of grass standing nearly as tall as the truck's hood.
The "road" that takes people to the Hole in the Wall is at times little more than a dry creek bed, eventually dwindling down to a two track that has tufts of grass standing nearly as tall as the truck's hood. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

The Sheriff Who Always Got His Man

The Greet boys, who had just eaten dinner with the sheepmen, had seen the fires from their ranch and tried to lend aid, but some of the raiders shot bullets over their heads, chasing them back inside.

The next day, at first light, they went over to the sheep camp.

The scene was unimaginable. Where there had been a jovial supper with good conversation, good food and new friends a night earlier, now there was death and destruction.

Burned bodies and wagons, dead sheep, and severed limbs. Joe Emge’s burned head sat by the sheep wagon stove.

“In court transcripts, Emge’s head was up and turned and twisted, and his skull was cracked open,” Gibbons said. “And his brains were baked inside.”

Emge’s face was unrecognizable, but there were two little piles of melted gold — Emge’s teeth. That helped identify his body.

The only living soul left at the site was a border collie pup the raiders had spared. He was lying on top of Allemand’s chest, trying to keep warm, since it had snowed overnight.

As soon as the telephone wires were fixed, they called for Big Horn Sheriff Felix Alston.

“He was a good detective,” Gibbons said.

And he had the reputation of always getting his man. He understood people. Especially criminals.

So, he decided to put the bodies at the Greets’ ranch, where people could then come and pay their respects.

That would also let him easily observe all the mourners.

“It was muddy by the south sheep wagon because of the snow,” Gibbons said. “And one of the boot prints had a turned-in boot heel.”

It was also muddy at the Greet Ranch, and Alston knew that everyone in the area would come to view the bodies. Including the killers. Failing to make an appearance would draw suspicion.

“So Felix sat outside the house watching people walk through the mud,” Gibbons said. “And he was friends with Brink, the leader of the raiding party. At one point, Brink had been a deputy sheriff for Felix Alston.”

When Alston saw the turned-in boot heel that Brink made walking into and out of the house, the sheriff knew he had his man, friend or not.

From there, Alston was able to unravel the rest of the story and arrest all the members of the murderous raid.

The cattlemen thought they would get away with their crimes. Others had in the past. But this time things were different. The public was tired of all the violence and killings.

Two of the seven, Charlie Ferris and Bill Keyes, struck a deal for immunity in exchange for their testimony against Brink, who was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang.

The remaining cattlemen stumbled over each other to make plea deals then, hoping to be spared a death sentence.

Brink’s sentence was eventually commuted, and all but the two who’d been given immunity, were given lengthy prison sentences.

The outcome was a signal. One of the prosecutors in the case named Will Metz said that things had changed. It was the “beginning of a new era,” where lawlessness would no longer be tolerated.

Investigating History

Finding the exact locations of the Spring Creek Raid and filling out the rest of the story took a lifetime of great detective work by Gibbons, as well as a little bit of what he believes was divine intervention.

In 1988, he happened across the trial transcripts. Reading that, he realized he might actually be able to finally find the exact location of the Spring Creek Raid.

“At the trial, they had the sheriff on the stand, and they told him to point out on the plat where this happened,” Gibbons said. “They had him point out on the plat where he found the shells, where the dogs were killed and where the bodies were.”

The plat, Gibbons realized, was a map of the crime scene. A map that the county surveyor would have prepared.

“I realized that if I could just find his field notebook, I would find out exactly where this had happened,” Gibbons said.

That field notebook had once been sent to the Wyoming State Archives, but they had sent it back to Big Horn County Clerk Mary Whipps.

At first, no one could find the notebook when Gibbons asked for it.

“I was so close,” Gibbons said. “I could just smell it at that point. I knew it had to be there somewhere, but I didn’t know where. So, I’m just stalling when all of a sudden (Whipps) snaps her fingers and she jumps up and says, ‘Wait a minute.’”

Minutes later she was back with a thin book about 10-inches high and 5-inches wide.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” she asked.

Not only was it the right field surveyor’s notebook, it happened to fall open to the exact page where the surveyor had mapped the Spring Creek Raid, something Gibbons believes to this day was a bit of divine assistance.

The surveyor had not only marked the exact location of the sheep wagons on an official map, but how far apart they were, the angle they were sitting at, and how far away the Greet house was.

But Gibbons wasn’t satisfied with just having the information. He wanted everyone to know where the location was.

So, he put up a historical marker for the Spring Creek Raid, the first of several different historical markers he has been involved with putting up. The Spring Creek Raid marker is located on State Highway 434, at milepost 6, near Ten Sleep in Washakie County.

The marker includes photographs of sheep wagons, as well as a bit of history.

Clay Gibbons driving to the Hole in the Wall talks to a tour group in the vehicle to his left about what's ahead on the rugged roads.
Clay Gibbons driving to the Hole in the Wall talks to a tour group in the vehicle to his left about what's ahead on the rugged roads. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Wish Upon A Shooting Star

A huge ceremony in 2009 to dedicate the Spring Creek Raid historical marker drew about 1,000 people despite significantly bad weather, but Gibbons wasn’t done with the Spring Creek Raid just yet.

There was just one more little thing to do. He was going to mark the 100th anniversary of the raid in 2009, by staging something at the site.

So, he took a sheep wagon to the site and set up a camp with his 10-year-old daughter Bailey and her border collie pup, Ace.

Bailey had been involved with her father’s search for the lost location and history of the Spring Creek raid. She insisted on being there.

“We put on a little re-creation actually,” Gibbons said. “We had seven masked riders come up, and we had some of the Allemand family there, and I put my sheep wagon on the north side, in the exact spot where the killings were 100 years ago to that day.”

Then, at the exact time of night when the raid occurred, Gibbons went outside and hollered out,’ Strike a light!’ just as Brink had done. He fired off three ceremonial shots over the top of the sheep wagon and into the night.

After he returned to the sheep wagon, he and Bailey were staring out the window of the wagon, looking up at the night sky.

“There in the sky came this shooting star, a slow shooting star,” Gibbons said. “It was emerald green. It was this big, round, green light streaking across the sky, and then, ‘poof,’ it just exploded.”

That left both of them speechless.

“Daddy, did you see that?”

Gibbons had.

“I think it was the sheep herders thanking us for not forgetting about them,” she said.

That, Gibbons believes to this day, is exactly what the green shooting star meant.

And it has underscored his historical pursuits, inspiring him to erect five historical markers so far, and chase the full history of events that shaped Wyoming.

In doing so, Gibbons knows he is striking a light for all the curious 9-year-old boys of the world so they will know where things happened.

It’s not somewhere over there. It’s right here, at this very spot, where, if you look out over the hills, you can picture sheep wagons of old sitting on a quiet hill with moonlight shining down, as someone calls out in a loud and threatening voice, “Strike a light!

Renée Jean can be reached at

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter