clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

CATTLEWOMAN STOOD UP TO WEALTHY BARON -- AND WON

Everyone loves the courageous soul who, against all odds, stands up to an overwhelming opponent. And legends are made when the underdog wins.

Maybe that's why everyone in Brown's Park still loves Ann Bassett, a fiery young woman who spearheaded the turn-of-the-century resistance against Ora Haley, a wealthy and politically powerful cattle baron who used ruthless means to snuff out smaller cattle operations in northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado.In the stuff of television Westerns, Bassett fought back. And won, earning herself the name "Queen of the Cattle Rustlers" in the process. She also carved herself a niche in Utah and Colorado history as one of the most colorful characters of the Wild West.

Born in 1874 (the first white child born in Brown's Park, Daggett County), Bassett was a willful character, a lifelong resident of the grassy paradise nestled in northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado.

Brown's Park was home to Bassett, and she defended it with a passion bordering on obsessive. As American cattle operations reached monolithic proportions in the 1890s and early 1900s, smaller ranchers from Montana to Texas were intimidated into selling out.

But Bassett and other ranchers in Brown's Park refused to sell. And when Two-Bar Ranch cattle owned by cattle baron and millionaire Ora Haley pushed at the borders of Brown's Park, the more Bassett's herd and other local herds grew and prospered (albeit, some say, with altered brands).

To residents of Brown's Park, the appropriation of Ora Haley's livestock was not only a matter of survival, it was justified under the code of the Old West. Haley's cows were trespassing, leaving nothing but grass stubble in their wake.

Haley coveted the lush winter ranges in Brown's Park, and he apparently was willing to employ any and all measures to acquire them.

A push and shove relationship developed over the years, with the Two-Bar Ranch doing most of the pushing and shoving. An attempt to counter the threats of the Two-Bar Ranch resulted in the creation of the Brown's Park Cattlemen's Association.

Retaliatory actions by the Two-Bar Ranch in 1900 claimed the lives of two Brown's Park ranchers - some believe the victims of hired gun Tom Horn.

The violence disintegrated the Brown's Park Cattlemen's Association, and ranchers made no attempt to stop the encroachment of Two-Bar cattle. But spurred more by vengeance than common sense, Bassett single-handedly rode the boundary line between the Two-Bar operation and the Brown's Park ranches.

She had a reputation for chasing trespassing cattle until they died of exhaustion, or herding them into the Green River where they would drown. Sometimes she just shot them outright.

Gunmen hired by the Two-Bar Ranch tried to kill her but failed. It was a classic case of the little guy fighting the big guy.

The feud continued year after year with charges and counter charges. In August 1913, Bassett went on trial in Craig, Colo., for rustling Two-Bar beef. As Diana Allen Kouris describes in her book "The Romantic and Notorious History of Brown's Park".

"The town of Craig was overflowing with spectators. Most of them supported the lovely cowgirl who had taken on the rich and powerful Ora Haley. The courtroom was packed with onlookers when Ann's lawyer smoothly turned things against Ora Haley. On the stand he duped Haley into admitting that he had almost double the amount of cattle on the range than were registered with The county assessor. After eight hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Whoops, cheers and applause roared from within the courtroom. `Hurray for victory' flashed across the Craig movie screen. Guns were fired into the air, and a brass band paraded down the street. The large crowd lit several bonfires and danced on Main Street with Ann all night."

A Denver newspaper reporter dubbed Bassett the "Queen of the Cattle Rustlers," a colorful and appropriate title by Brown's Park standards. From the moment of her acquittal, she was known as "Queen Ann."

Soon after the trial, Ora Haley ceased his cattle operations in Brown's Park. Bassett and her father even lived awhile at a Two-Bar Ranch headquarters on the Green River.

When new rumors arose that Bassett had taken up cattle rusTling, nobody in the area really cared. She had single-handedly taken on the cattle barons and won - and that warranted loyalty.

Ann Bassett suffered a heart attack in Leeds, Washington County, in 1953. She never recovered.