History in focus: Two Bar helps corral our violent, hard-edged past
History in Focus
It’s impossible to talk about the open range cattle ranching era of Northwest Colorado without discussing Ora Haley and the Two Bar Ranch.
Haley was infamous for his unrelenting determination to dominate the open range and for his tabloid-like feud with “Queen” Ann Bassett of Brown’s Park.
Haley was born in 1845 near Bangor, Maine, left home at age 12 and was a drummer boy during the Civil War. After the war he came out West and showed up in Denver in 1865.
Driven to succeed, he had a sharp eye for a good business opportunity. He opened a successful butcher shop in Laramie, Wyoming, and soon embarked on buying up nearby ranches. By 1886, he owned 36,000 acres in Wyoming, making him a bonafide cattle baron.
In 1880, the Haley Livestock and Trading Company under the Two Bar brand expanded into Routt County along the Little Snake River with a herd of roughly 12,000 to 15,000 cattle. By 1894 — and to the chagrin of small-time ranchers — Haley was eyeing Brown’s Park because of its lush range grass, all the while aware of the park’s reputation for lawlessness and cattle rustling.
Soon enough, Two Bar cattle were being picked off by the area’s rustlers. By May of 1898, Hi Bernard, the exasperated ranch foreman for Haley, was filing legal complaints to prosecute cattle rustlers. However, sentiments in Brown’s Park ran against Haley, and chances of stopping the rustling through legal means were slim to none.
In this highly charged atmosphere, the stage was set for one of the most brutal and savage events in the history of a region already famous for acts of violence. A group of cattle barons, including Ora Haley, formed a loose association and agreed to hire a stock detective by the name of Tom Horn to gather evidence of cattle rustling in Brown’s Park.
Whether or not this group expressly paid Horn to assassinate rustlers is hard to definitively pin down.
Either way, in April of 1900, a suspicious man called Tom “Hicks” arrived in Brown’s Park. He worked first as a horse buyer, then a roundup cook and finally worked for Matt Rash, president of the Brown’s Park Cattlemen’s Association and fiance to Anne Bassett.
On July 8, Rash was murdered in his cabin on Cold Spring Mountain, and his body was discovered a few days later well into decomposition. Early in the morning of Oct. 3, Isom Dart, another member of the tight-knit Bassett clan, was cut down by .30-.30 after leaving a cabin on Summit Spring with several men, including two of the Bassett brothers. Fear and anger reverberated throughout Brown’s Park.
Grief stricken, Ann Bassett confidently proclaimed the assassin was Tom Horn under the pay of the area’s cattle barons. For years, she carried out a one-woman guerilla cattle rustling campaign to make the Two Bar and Ora Haley pay for the murders of her lover Matt Rash and dear friend Isom Dart.
In 1911, this confrontation culminated in the celebrity cattle rustling trial of “Queen” Anne Bassett in Craig. In order to accommodate the large crowds, the locals pitched in to rent the Opera House for the trial (now part of the abandoned Spicy Basil restaurant).
The first trial resulted in a hung jury amid conjecture two jurors held out for conviction (Craig Empire, Aug. 12, 1911). The second trial in August of 1913 was anticlimactic. The jury quickly absolved Queen Ann, and the town celebrated a victory over the reviled Haley, the Goliath of the region’s cattle industry.
The quick retelling of these two famous events only scratches the surface of the complex history of the Two Bar, Ora Haley and Ann Bassett.
These events and others have shaped our hard-edged history, a history of muscular and robust personalities with actions to match. To find out more about this era, head down to the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
James Neton teachers history at Moffat County High School and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sources for this article were “Where The Old West Stayed Young,” John R. Burroughs, 1962, the newspaper archives of the Museum of Northwest Colorado and various other sources.
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