“Peter McCulloch, riding point on the herd of 2000 Oregon cattle, topped the cedar ridge and looked westward into the upper reaches of the Big Horn Basin. He had seen a lot of Wyoming Territory since leaving Fort Bridger but this was the most spectacular and beautiful of all. They were bringing cattle to the bending, swaying, uneaten and untrampled grass. The year was 1879 and the herd was the first to be brought to the Big Horn Basin.”
Born in Wigtown, Scotland on July 12, 1839, Peter boarded the ship “Great Western” in Liverpool, England bound for the United States in 1853. Following stays in Boston and St. Louis, on May 11, 1861, just a month after the Civil War began, he became one of the first men to volunteer with the Union Army, with the Missouri Mounted Volunteers often carrying dispatches throughout Missouri and Arkansas. Later becoming Wagon Boss, and many adventures later, he survived the Civil War and worked with a survey party staking out the transcontinental railroad for the Union Pacific Railroad.
Developing a strong liking for the west, in 1864 Peter returned to Fort Bridger, which was then the northernmost part of the Utah Territory, and began working for Judge William A. Carter. Peter “cowboyed” as range foreman for Judge Carter, and later the Carter Cattle Company from 1864 until 1889, and later worked for other large cattle outfits. In 1872 Peter and Margaret Sinclair, whose family was also emigrants from Scotland were married, and began homesteading on Willow Creek, south of Fort Bridger.
On April 19, 1877, Peter wrote to Richard Hamilton, first sheriff of Uinta County and overseer for Carter’s cattle business.....”Lannigan starts this morning with all the turnips he came here yesterday with the intention of going back to the upper herd...I will show the man you sent here all I can. This man will need cooking articles .......we are nearly out of grub the herders being here a week nearly cleaned us out of coffee & sugar and we need lard & matches & soap and you ought to send a few nails to fix the sluice boxes.”
These were not easy times. In 1878 the southern area of the Territory was in a serious drought. Chief Washakie, a personal friend of Carter, suggested he move his cattle north to the South Fork of the Stinking Water, as it was called by the Indians, (now the Southfork of the Shoshone River) where grass was excellent. Respecting Washakie’s judgment, Carter cut his herd to 2000, and entrusted Peter McCulloch and his able crew to begin moving his cattle.
The first drive concluded in October of 1879, and it is estimated that in total 3800 head of Oregon cattle were taken up to the western edge of Big Horn Basin where these cattle were the first cattle ever to be located in that part of Wyoming.
This crew established headquarters on Carter Creek which, with Carter Mountain, was named by Peter, for his boss. In a meeting in the spring of 1881 at the Pitchfork Ranch, a group of stockmen met to name various landmarks for the sake of uniformity. McCulloch Peaks (erroneously spelled “McCullough” on the Department of Interior U.S. Geological Maps) was named for Peter at that time.
Reporting to Judge Carter regularly, a letter dated December 14, 1881, was quite specific:
Dear Judge: Thinking it might interest you to hear how matters are here and feeling some anxiety myself to hear from the outside world, have concluded to start a man to Washakie tomorrow morning for mail and a few little articles we need......the country is clear of snow and the stock is looking very well. I mentioned in my last letter about some calves dying with black leg, was in hopes at that time it had stoped (sic) but it still lingers in the herd yet but not to an alarming extent have seen six died since the last time I wrote. I am very sorry to see any of them dying but cannot prefent (sic) it. The number of cattle belonging to you that I have counted this season on the range from one year upward including the bulls delivered here in October is 2568 and the number of calves branded this season 925 making the total number 3493. I keep working away all my spare time making improvements since the last time I wrote you. I have built a good stable 20x40 ft and a horse corrall (sic) and hay yard and now I am building a wagon shed and making posts to fence the hay meadow. I intended to move the corrall (sic) I first built and make a much larger corrall (sic) and have the meadow fence for a wing making it convenience (sic) to corrall (sic) wild cattle. Perhaps you will ask why I did not remain at the old place and add the improvements I am making to what was already there will answer by saying where the old place stands there is not enough room to make much improvements no hay land convenient and poor water in the spring. No place near by (sic) to picket a horse up here at the new place it is different good meadow about 400 yards from the house good water at all times. Good place to picket horses in all directions from the house a good body of land convenient to the house it is just the place where most any person looking for a good place to locate in this basin would have picked on. I keep one team hauling timber from the mountains every day have not been able to haul much hay yet on account of the rivers they are partly frozen over which makes them bad to cross as soon as they close over solid I intend to pitch in and haul it all and have done with it. I think I have enough provisions on hand with the exception of a few small articles to run the ranch until the first of next June the man I had working here two months in the fall had some grub he wanted to sell when he left here 280 pounds of flour some coffee and sugar and a number of other small articles in the grub line so I bought all he had so that helps out a good deal. I want to run the ranch and the herd as economical as I possibly can. I have run it this season with less men and horses according to the number of cattle than any other herd in this country and I think I have done the work as thoroughly and will try and do so as long as I remain here in charge I hope you will try and get more cattle in here as early as possible next spring. ... In 1882 the Union Pacific Railroad reached Huntley, Montana. Peter trailed herds from Wyoming to Huntley and was the first to have cattle loaded out of the new stockyards. The second Carter herd was driven north to the Stinking Water in 1883 and Peter trailed the third and last Carter herd, numbering 4000, there in 1884.
While he made many cattle drives, one was particularly trying. The roundup of 1887 was complete, Carter cattle were cut out and headed north to Huntley, Montana, as had been done the previous five years. After trailing two days a rider met them with a telegram from the boss, Judge Carters son, Willie, with orders to trail instead, south to Rock River, northwest of Laramie and ship on the Union Pacific. This change and backtracking disgruntled some of the crew who refused to turn the herd. Peter had a hard time getting a skeleton crew, promising extra pay. He and his nephew, Will Harvey, did all the night riding. They made about ten miles per day through rain and arrived in November of 1887 with 1000 heard of large steer which were shipped to a Carter feedlot in Nebraska.
The Carter Ranch was later sold to Captain Henry Belknap and became known as the TE Ranch, and eventually purchased by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
It is believed that a few years following the death of Judge Carter, Peter worked for S.A. Wilson on the Y.U Ranch, down the Greybull River from Meeteetse. Peter wrote to his nephew, that he intended to gather the remainder of the Wilson cattle and drive them to the Little Missouri. No records show if this trip was completed.
In a letter dated October 29, 1891, Peter wrote from Arland, Wyoming, to his nephew, Will Harvey: “....Have you any idea of how many horses there is in my bunch exclusive of the share that belongs to you boys, and about how many cattle in case I could buy some steers there.
Next spring I would drive what cattle I have with them. I think there is too many sheep in the Bridger country ever to be a Beef Country again. If the People there does not set too high figures on their steers I can get money enough to buy all the young steers in that country. Write soon and give me the prices....
Peter registered his brand on December 10, 1895 for cattle and horses. The brand remains registered to descendants of the McCulloch family today.
Some years later Peter moved to Montana with his widowed daughter, Mary Ellen Horton. Together with her family, they homesteaded on the Huntley Project, where he continued his ranch-hand duties. He died of influenza at the age of 84 on April 17, 1925.
Peter never lost his Gaelic accent nor his love of Scottish music. His Scottish dedication to work brought to the cattleman’s empire of grass, a rare business ability, thrift, foresight and sound judgment.