1893 - The Langhoff Gang
“there had been considerable cattle stealing”
|From deputy U.S. marshal to stock
detective and sometime-sheriff was not a big jump. It may have
been that Tom Horn was first hired as a stock detective and
graduated easily to deputy marshal, without leaving the first
When first hired by the Swan Land and Cattle Company, Tom
Horn was based at the Two Bar Ranch. The Swan’s headquarters
were and remain in Chugwater, thirty-five miles north of
Cheyenne. The Two Bar home ranch is another twenty miles
northwest of Chugwater, off and to the north of present?day Wyoming Highway
The Swan’s other ranches, the Mule Shoe, TY, M Bar and 40 Bar, were major
operating centers of one of the largest livestock operations in the history
of the West, controlling over five hundred thousand acres of land and tens
of cattle by 1885. The empire stretched from Sidney, Nebraska, ninety miles
east of Cheyenne, to Rock River, Wyoming, ninety miles to the northwest.
The first documentation of Tom Horn’s work as a stock detective involved
the Langhoffs, a small cattle outfit. He had been specifically directed to
gather evidence that could be used to obtain legal convictions against rustlers
the Langhoffs. At the time, John Clay was manager of the Swan operations.
Ferdinand “Fred” Langhoff
(WY State Archives).
Langhoff (a derivative spelling of the original German “Langholf”)
was born in Wisconsin in 1856. In 1869 he moved to the Dakota
Territory and by 1878 was working as a cowhand in North Park,
CO. His employer at the time was Charley Hutton, a pioneer
Laramie Valley ranchman.
By 1880 he was in Wyoming, living at Dale Creek, fifteen miles south of Ames
Monument to the west of Cheyenne. In 1882, he settled on the main Sybille Creek
forty miles southwest of Wheatland and northwest of Iron Mountain. He was married
to Evalina “Eva” Farrell, a woman from near the Little Laramie River
whom he had married in 1881 at her family’s ranch in the Little Laramie
Eva’s father, a Civil War veteran, had moved to Wyoming shortly after the
war. By 1870 he was one of the largest cattlemen in Albany County.
The Langhoff Ranch (author’s
| Within a short period of time Fred
and Eva had developed a substantial operation on 360 acres they
owned outright. They were in the process of proving up on another
160 acres. They had three children.
Fred’s brother, Henry (Hank), had moved from Wisconsin with their mother
and lived for a short period with Fred and Eva. Hank worked at times with young
Gus Rosentreter for people moving into the Sybille Canyon valley. There was reason
to believe that Hank and Fred did not get along, and Hank and their mother moved
to another cabin nearby. Hank ended his own life in 1892 when he hanged himself
in a shed on his brother’s place. Their mother died shortly thereafter.
The Langhoff spread, along with other homesteads that were springing up in the
area, were located between large ranch operations in the Laramie Valley to the
west and the vast Swan holdings to the east, primarily the Two Bar. Other substantial
cattlemen also were situated near Langhoff’s outfit, including William
L. “Billy” Clay, whose place lay to the southeast on Mule Creek.
Other early settlers on the Sybille included many whose names later turned up
in the Tom Horn/Willie Nickell episode. The included Mike Fitzmorris and many
of German descent: Rudolf and Raymond Henke; the Plaga brothers, Otto and Albion;
and the Berner and Waechter clans, who all homesteaded there in the 1880s. To
the southeast were the families of Jim Miller and Kels Nickell, the former on
Spring Creek and the latter North Chugwater south of Clay.
Fred Langhoff was perhaps a focal point and an example of the larger struggle
between the so-called cattle barons and more recently arriving homesteaders.
The homesteaders who had legally filed on their land felt they had a right to
use of the land and water resources. The big outfits believed otherwise, and
did whatever they could to squeeze the “nesters” out. Their actions,
including the lynching of Cattle Kate and Jim Averill in 1889, the lynching of
Tom Waggoner shortly afterward and the Johnson County Invasion in April 1892
developed a spreading animosity toward them on the part of an increasing middle
Fred developed a reputation as a horse trader, but was arrested for horse theft
in 1892. He had shipped twenty-six horses to Owensboro, KY in June 1892. His
problem was that he did not own them. The owners included John C. Coble, a prominent
cowman and two other major outfits.
The law pursued him to Kentucky, only to learn he had fled after selling the
horses. A deputy sheriff remained in Kentucky to reacquire the horses, while
a sheriff pursued Fred to Wisconsin. Fred was returned to Cheyenne to await prosecution.
Also charged were Eva and two hired hands, Thomas Boucher and Louis Bath. Bath
was the son of a prominent Laramie Valley family whose place was near the spread
of the Farrells.
While Fred was engaging in casual or more serious thievery, and his neighbors,
including Leslie Sommer, knew what was going on. Sommer wrote, “There were
whispers that the Langhoffs’ prosperity far exceeded their visible livelihood”.
Fred’s log house and spread became a gathering place for various purposes.
People from as far as Chicago and farther east arrived to take advantage of the
horse-trading opportunities at the LF Bar, as his place was known. At first Fred’s
business seemed to be legitimate, but as time went on there was talk that Fred
seemed to do far better than one would expect, considering his modest start and
There were other aspects of the Langhoff operation that attracted attention.
It appeared that Eva’s charm and charms diverted customers away from obtaining
a clear title to the horses they acquired. Leslie Sommer continued.
Eva Langhoff (WY State Archives).
|There were rumors of the lure Mrs. Langhoff
had for the strangers that came within their gates with
horses or cattle to sell. Some of these strangers, falling
under her spell, fell so deeply in love with her they figured
they had received value personally, regardless of the profitless
deal they may have made on their business arrangements....
|The 1892 incident with the stolen
horse was the nadir of Fred’s questionable actions as things
turned completely sour. Things had not been going well beforehand.
Hearsay indicated that earlier, a visitor, a Frenchman named
Zu (or Susette), had a number of fancy horses for sale. He evidently
had made some kind of a deal with the Langhoffs, since they had
possession of his horses.
Susette disappeared from familiar haunts, after he had complained to the law
about the rawness of the deal. It was later reported that he’d hanged himself
in the area.
By this time, however, the authorities in Cheyenne had begun an investigation
of the Langhoff operation’s more extensive activities. After a series of
legal proceedings that ended in Eva’s being acquitted, Fred suddenly disappeared.
He left Eva in charge of the ranch.
It was said that she graciously entertained the investigating committee that
was trying to learn of Fred’s whereabouts, but coyly denied knowing where
he might have gone.