Anthony Wilkinson, 1838-1894
John Wilkinson, 1845–1914
By Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
Two of twelve children born to Anthony and Alice Sayer Wilkinson, owner/operators of a dairy and farmland as well as a public house and butcher shop in the county of Yorkshire, Northern England, these brothers entered the workforce early.
Anthony was a farmworker at 16, then gamekeeper in both England and Scotland, and helped his father farm before immigrating to the United States in 1873. After a few years running meat markets, homesteading and accumulating cattle and sheep in Nebraska, in 1878 Anthony bought a ranch east of Cheyenne near Archer, Wyoming.
John worked for his father raising cattle and sheep until he was 20 then he hired out to other farmers. He married Deborah Ann Pratt in 1871 and six of their nine children were born in England before they shipped to America and a job with Anthony in 1882. In 1887 John bought land near Archer, Wyoming, along with a band of sheep.
Anthony married Lavinna Varney Morris in 1884 at Ainsley, Nebraska, and bought a Wyoming ranch near Pine Bluffs in 1891. A few hundred miles north he bought the Bridle Bit and OS Ranches from the Union Cattle Company in 1892. Incorporating into Wilkinson Livestock Company, the brothers continued to acquire more land, cattle and sheep, soon becoming some of Wyoming’s largest land and livestock owners.
These brothers never sought notoriety as cowboys, but simple geography proves John and Anthony had to spend half their lives horseback taking care of business across the scattered regions their ranching enterprises encompassed. Neither autos nor railroads were available most places. Roads accommodating wheeled vehicles were rare and covered distances unnecessary to horseback men. Obviously, the Wilkinsons rode, and needed plenty of good horseflesh to meet that necessity.
With an entrepreneurial eye on Wyoming’s rich agricultural future the Wilkinsons were careful to retain acreages along rivers, creeks and springs, insuring access to water for their open range livestock. They also hired and groomed capable men, finding niches for family members and fellow Yorkshire men who became productive pioneers and eventually pillars of their various communities.
They registered many horse and cattle brands in their names, their wife’s names, near relatives’ names and the Wilkinson Brothers business name, choosing simple line or circle, one-or-two-iron brands which could be reversed or used on opposite sides.
Wilkinson brands included 96, 98; 98 over a bar; PHd; a lazy long L running either right or left, sometimes above a circle; and a flag with a standing triangle at the left end of a long bar. The necessity of so many brands testifies to the Wilkinson Brothers’ vast livestock ownership and underlines the thousands of horseback miles both rode to insure the wellbeing of those critters and the men they hired to manage them.
The severe mid-1880s drought followed by the drastic blizzards of 1886-87 nearly wiped out their cattle herds, as it did for most big stockmen in Wyoming Territory. Resilient and entrepreneurial, they turned more heavily to sheep. The Wilkinsons became instrumental in many fellow countrymen immigrating to the United States and establishing ranches on the Cheyenne River in what is now northern Niobrara County and Weston County.
Yorkshire men were often picked off the train at Archer, Wyoming and put to work tending Wilkinson sheep. After a few years each was given a band of sheep to trail to the Cheyenne River and run on shares until they had enough for their own band. Charlie Hanson, Tom Rennard, Jimmie Hammell and Edward, Robert, Walter and Joe Rumney all became Wyoming ranchers through Wilkinson assistance. Around 1894 former Texas Ranger Jess Cornielson trailed several bands of sheep from Cheyenne to the Cheyenne River for Anthony Wilkinson, reportedly enduring bad weather, coyotes, bobcats, Indians, and hostile cattlemen to get them there. Cornielson later became a prosperous and respected Weston County rancher.
The Wilkinsons annually sheared 10,000 head of sheep at Upton (formerly Merino) in the 1890s, all with hand clippers. Bands of sheep were herded near the shearing pens to await their turn, and bagged wool filled waiting rail cars for shipment to the east coast.
Anthony died in 1894 after suffering a stroke four years prior. John’s wife Deborah died in 1896 in Cheyenne, and in 1899 John bought a ranch near Pine Bluffs, where he raised sheep. In 1904 he married widow Mary Elizabeth Dolan Gross of Pine Bluffs. John died in 1914.