From the History of Custer County, Nebraska



On the morning of the 1st of April, 1887, the construction train on the B&M railroad pulled out of Linscott eastward bound. Billy and Hugh, who, not being able to wait until they reached Anselmo to commence their fun, are having a lively time in the caboose firing off their revolvers, terrorizing the train crew and passengers and cutting up cowboy antics generally. One of the passengers was L H Jewett, now postmaster at Broken Bow, who thought he had gotten into a pretty tough crowd. When Anselmo was reached the two cowboys left the train and lost no time in preparing to give that then lively frontier town a touch of high life a la Wild Bill and Cactus Pete.

One Van Allen, a bootlegger of bad whiskey, had warned the citizens of Anselmo that a visit from the cowboys was imminent and thus the people were in a manner prepared for their expected guests. Billy Frischauf, a saloon keeper, came to C D Pelham and asked him what he should do.

Mr Pelham advised him to close his saloon, and be it said to the credit of Frischauf, he followed the good counsel of his advisor, and not a drop of whiskey was sold in his place during the whole of that fatal day. John Anderson, another saloon keeper, also promised to shut up his place during the stay of the cowboys. Anderson did close his saloon in the morning, but having some business out of town, he turned the keys over to his brother, Frank, who unlocked the door and ran the place wide open all day. Things soon began to assume a lively aspect in the little village, and A F McKnight, the man who pumped water for the railroad company, using horse power, brought his team over to the livery stable, saying that he had wired the company that their locomotives could get no water at Anselmo, as cowboys were painting the town and he did not propose to run the risk of getting shot. The boys were using the pump house as a target.

A noticeable feature of the occasion was that one of the cowboys appeared to be a gentlemanly sort of fellow, and took no active part in the shooting, but apparently tried to keep his companion within bounds. The other, however, crazy with bad whiskey, determined to have all the fun he could get out of the spree. One of his antics was to place old tin cans on the tops of hitching posts in the street and then shoot them full of holes, regardless of the danger to passersby, who had to seek safety by getting behind the buildings. When they got tired of this diversion he shot a hole through the stove pipe inside a furniture store, the bullet almost grazing the head of Mr. McDowell, who was managing the business.

In the meantime some of the citizens had a conference to discuss the advisability of sending for the sheriff, but they decided to wait a little while, hoping that the rowdies would cool off and behave themselves. The boys went to Anderson's saloon, where Degan, the tougher of the pair, was having a fine time marching around in drunken gyrations and shooting holes in the floor and ceiling, when a bullet from accidentally penetrated the toe of a young man by the name of Murray. The report immediately flew about town that the cowboys had shot a man, and the following telegram was immediately dispatched to Broken Bow:

Anselmo, Neb., April 1, 1887
Sheriff Custer County, Broken Bow, Neb.:

    Cowboys are terrorizing the citizens of Anselmo, and one man has been shot through the foot. We ask for your protection.

Walter Scott
C D Pelham

Charlie Huntington let them have an old dray horse, and another was procured at a livery stable kept by one Bassey. Mounted on these steeds the two rode into Pelham's store, helped themselves to cigars, rode out and across the street to the store of Weander Bros., where they got something else. By this time it was getting along in the afternoon, and the citizens were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the sheriff, who was expected every moment. After visiting all the stores in town, Fitzpatrick and Degan returned to the saloon, were they attempted the novel feat of playing a game of pool on horseback, Degan firing off his gun occasionally to emphasize his points. It was in the midst of this diversion that Sheriff Penn and his deputy arrived, pulling up at Pelham's barn. Tom Kines and Charlie Murray rode out of the barn and Penn, mistaking them for the cowboys, brought his Winchester to his shoulder and commanded them to throw up their hands. Pelham appraised Penn of his mistake, much to the relief of the frightened young men. At this juncture another report from Degan's revolver rang out and Penn inquired: "What shooting is that?" "Cowboys in the saloon, " was the reply.

The cowboys were soon given a tip that the sheriff was in town, when they immediately rode out of the saloon into the street, where they got a glimpse of the officer, surrounded by a crowd of citizens, in front of the livery barn. They fired a parting salute from their six shooters and rode out of town to the northwest. Penn and his men followed them to a house situated on a triangular piece of ground on the outside of the village. From this house a road went directly north and another ran parallel with the railroad track in a northwesterly direction. The latter road was taken by the cowboys, who proceeded as far as the hand car house and then came to a standstill. Penn and his men halted at the dwelling house above referred to, where they waited to see what the boys were going to do. After about fifteen minutes, Fitzpatrick and Degan turned the heads of their horses around and slowly approached the sheriff's party. Penn placed his deputy, Jones, and Humphrey Smith, who had volunteered to assist him, at the northeast corner of the house, guarding the road from the north, which passed on the east side of the building He gave them strict orders that in case the cowboys came their way to first demand of them to halt; then, if they did not stop, to shoot their horses; and finally, if they still refused to surrender, to shoot them.

Penn took his station near the southeast corner, that being the point to which the boys were apparently approaching. When within a short distance from the house they turned and rode directly east, striking the road running north and south, and were rapidly nearing the deputies. One of the men shouted out: "Here they come!" and Penn rushed over from his corner and demanded:"Throw up your hands; I am the sheriff of Custer County!" The boys paid no attention to the command. Eye witnesses say that the horses were shot first. Fitzpatrick's animal becoming frantic, he held the bridle rein with his left hand and was reaching behind to grasp the saddle to keep from falling off, when Smith, thinking he was reaching for his revolver, fired and shot him through the heart. It was afterwards learned that Fitzpatrick was unarmed, thinking that in case he was arrested it would go easier with him if it was found that he did not carry a weapon. Degan's horse was also shot, and refusing to surrender, the rider then and there met the same fate at the hands of Penn. An inquest was held and a verdict returned to the affect that the two cowboys had been killed while resisting arrest at the hands of officers of the law.

The victims of this lamentable tragedy had no one to blame but themselves for their undoing. They were not at heart vicious boys, but the wild life they led on the range had made them reckless and foolhardy, and in accordance with the cowboy ethics of that period they considered the holding up of a town a species of innocent pastime. Anselmo had been quite a favorite resort for these rowdies from the range, whose periodical visits always resulted in trouble. The citizens, therefore, who furnished them with liquor, were partly to blame for the consequences of an injudicious mixture of bad whiskey and rowdyism.

NOTE: By author. Space will not allow us to enter more fully into this matter, and the above facts were obtained from affidavits and citizens who were on the grounds at the time.

Title of book is not known, but Library Index number is given (see top).
Typed from old notes supplied to Judy Laros <>
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