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Henry, Mike

Mike Henry and buffalo

Mike Henry

“The Mike Henry Family”

Mike Henry
1840 – 1924

Mike Henry was the founder of the “88 Ranch” one of the most ambitious Wyoming ranching operations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mike was a soldier during the Civil War, a pioneer rancher, a bank president, and a promoter of oil and coal development. He was an entrepreneur and a roller and a shaker. He was also a cowboy who spent many hours in the saddle, whether he was on a military expedition or working with his livestock.

Mike Henry was born in Athlone, Ireland to Thomas and Mary Henry. They brought the young Mike to America where they settled in New York. Unfortunately, soon after their arrival both Thomas and Mary died. Mike went to a military school on Governor’s Island New York, and in 1855 at the age of fifteen graduated and joined the Army as a bugle boy. In the fall of 1855 his regiment was sent to Ft. Laramie, Wyoming Territory. He took part in the frontier wars under Generals W.S. Harney, Sumpter and Johnson. He was with General Johnson during the Mormon trouble. After the Mormon trouble was settled Mike was sent to California, where he met and married Catherine Mary Mahar on December 15, 1859.

Mike was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, California at the outbreak of the Civil War and his regiment was ordered to the east coast. The trip was made by way of Cape Horn. His regiment saw a lot of action, including Gettysburg and Vicksburg. When the war ended he remained in the service and was sent west to patrol the immigrant trails. The western movement was gaining momentum and continuous travel over the Bozeman Trail violated the Indian treaties and resulted in the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians declaring war on the wagon trains going north to the gold fields of Montana. The army was dispatched from Fort Laramie to investigate these skirmishes until protective forts could be established along the Bozeman.

In 1874 sergeant Henry moved his family, who had been living in New York City, to Fort Laramie. In 1877 he was discharged from the army at the age of 37, and immediately began to build a log house on land he had purchased and homesteaded on Brown’s Spring Creek. His family remained at Fort Laramie during the construction and in June of 1878 Mary, along with their six children joined Mike at their new home. This was the start of the 88 ranch where they went on to raise horses, cattle and sheep.

The ranch was located along the Bozeman Trail, and the “88” became a place where travelers could stop. Supplies were freighted from Cheyenne in large wooden barrels and crates and the ranch became a prairie oasis for the immigrants. A stage station was established at Brown Springs by the Patrick Brothers. The stage line ran from Rock Springs, Wyoming on the Union Pacific to Custer, Montana on the Northern Pacific Railroad. They secured a contract to carry the mail once a week between these two towns. Relay stations were established at twenty-mile intervals along the route, Brown Springs was one of these stations. Mike provided a blacksmith shop and parts for wagon repairs. Catherine became the cook, nurse and innkeeper for weary travelers. They even built coffins and helped with burials along the trail. One of the best remembered visitors to stop at the 88 was Owen Wister, the author of the book The Virginian. He spent a week at the Henry’s and named several characters in his book after people he met. Mike Henry was the prototype for “Judge” Henry and two bronc busters who worked at the ranch, Chalkeye and Red-Wing were also included.

By this period the Indians had become friendly and came frequently to trade. Mike secured an impressive herd of Indian ponies to add to his already famous horse herd. He purchased Morgan studs to improve his horse program. Mike developed draft horses and saddle horses that were sought after all over the west. During the years between 1910 and 1914 his herd exceeded three thousand and the 88 ranch was supplying horses to France and Belgium to be used by their cavalry. Because of breaking so many horses the 88 ranch was able to provide many bucking horses to be used at rodeos. An iron gray gelding named Bluch and a horse named Skidoo became two of their most famous bucking horses.

Mike Henry on many occasions had driven his bull team over what today are the rich oil fields of Wyoming. At that time there were strong surface indications of oil, as the freight teamsters frequently greased the axles of their heavy wagons at the springs in the Salt Creek and Cheyenne River district near Mike Henry’s ranch. This led Mike to the idea of developing and improving these oil fields. He became president of the Eastern Wyoming Oil Company, Mike Henry Oil Company, and the Madsen Oil Company. In 1905 Mike organized the Popo Agie Coal Company at Hudson and was their president. They furnished large amounts of coal to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. He also organized the Bank of Hudson and was the bank’s president for several years.

In 1906 Mike took his wife Catherine to California because of her failing health. She died a few years later in 1909. Mike made some bad investments about this time and lost much of his fortune. In 1918 his son, Ed, who had been running the ranch was shot and killed by his friend who mistook him for someone else. Age and heart-breaks eventually had negative effects on Mike Henry. Poor business deals and trusting the wrong business partners knocked the bottom out of Mike’s widespread interests. At the end of World War I the price of agricultural goods fell, adversely affecting the 88 ranch.

Mike Henry passed away on January 25, 1924 at the age of 84. Mike was a military man, and a resourceful and hard-working pioneer. He saw many changes take place during his lifetime and played a part in the shaping of the history of Wyoming. He loved the land and living the life of a cowboy.