Rob Roy McGregor Hamilton
Rob Roy McGregor Hamilton was born August 23rd, 1869 on Smith’s Fork in Uinta County, Wyoming Territory to Virginia-born Richard Henry Hamilton and One-Nive (Wanipe) Wintry, a Shoshone-French girl and great niece of Chief Washakie. His father named him after the Scottish outlaw and folk hero, Rob Roy McGregor.
Abandoned by their white father at the age of 7, Rob and his Shoshone mother, brother and sisters went to live with a tribe of Shoshone Indians in the Big Horn Basin. While in the camp, Rob’s uncle invited him to go on a buffalo hunt. They left the camp early one morning among a party of twelve. They were equipped with handmade bows, and arrows tipped with steel heads. They also carried Henry rifles – a small repeating rifle which was inefficient for hunting large game. They traveled by horseback for 15-20 miles before sighting the herd. Each man picked an animal to kill, and with bow and arrows ready, they attacked the herd. Upon riding abreast a buffalo, the Indians would shoot several arrows into the body of the animal, slackening its speed, and allowing the hunter to finish it off with the rifle. The buffalo were then prepared to take to camp.
Rob’s family stayed in the Indian camp just the one winter, and with the coming of spring they returned to the Bridger Valley. Rob’s mother died, reportedly of starvation, shortly after making the arduous trip back to Fort Bridger with her children. Rob then went to live with William Louis Wheeler and his housekeeper Harriet Curtis, who gave him a home and raised him as a son. (Rob’s strong feelings for Mr. Wheeler and Mrs. Curtis are evident when he later named 4 of his children after them). Mr. Wheeler was foreman for the Carter Cattle Company herd known as the “Uinta Herd”, which ranged on the Black’s, Smith’s and Henry’s Forks of the Green River. The owner/partner of Carter Cattle Company, Judge William Carter, was married to Mary Eliza Hamilton, sister of (Rob’s father) Richard H. Hamilton.
At the age of 8 years, Rob became a full-fledged employee of the Carter “spread”. He was horse wrangler, and man-in-charge of the broodmares. He had to wrangle the saddle horses for the other cowboys, and see that the mares came to no harm. For his work, he was paid no money, just room, board and clothes. He did attend some school and it is believed that his schooling would be equivalent to a fourth grade education.
It was during this time, Rob experienced his first stampede. He was working the night shift watching a herd of 300 head of 3-7 year old steers. His helper, Jim Lamb rode away from the herd and struck a match to see what time it was, but, evidently was not careful enough. The cattle, aroused from their rest by the flickering match, began to run at top speed. The two herders, with all their efforts and knowledge of handling cattle, slowly turned them into a large moving circle. After hours of running over rugged country the cattle became so exhausted that they began to mill and finally settled down. Although the stampede proved harmless, it was a lasting memory for Rob.
At the age of 14, Rob had so matured and become such a good hand that it was deemed advisable to put him on as a paid hand at $40 a month and “found”. (Because $40 a month seems exorbitantly high wages for a cowboy in the 1880’s, the family today wonders if it was because Mary Eliza (Hamilton) Carter, the owner’s wife, was trying to make amends for her brother Richard abandoning his son Rob and the rest of his Shoshone offspring. According to a letter she wrote to family members in Missouri, she indicated she was “furious at Richard for deserting his Shoshone wife and lamenting the fate of their children cast adrift on the world“.)
Rob’s first assignment as a paid cowboy was trailing cattle to the Big Horn Basin. He was accompanied on his trip there by Tom Casto. When he was seventeen, he was sent north with Pete McCulloch (one of the big bosses) and crew with 4,000 head of cattle, on the Company’s third drive north to the Stinking Water (the Shoshone River near Cody). 1886-1887 was a very hard winter; the freezing snow and ice so hard on the horses’ feet that the men had to wrap the hooves in gunny sacks and canvas to protect them. The cattle that survived suffered severely with frozen noses, feet and eyes. Later, Rob was to tell what a pitiful sound it was during the nights when the cold was most severe, to hear the bawling of the poor hungry, unprotected cows. The graze and browse were all covered up with ice and snow, and the men spent every spare moment cutting willow branches for the starving animals to eat. This was the year that many outfits in Wyoming lost entire herds of cattle, with many of them going broke. Carter Cattle Company, suffering heavier losses in the Fort Bridger area than the Stinking Water, eventually went out of business. During these years, young Rob grew into the tall, handsome man he became. He was a natural with horses and became a top hand at early age.
Quoting a newspaper story published after his death in 1961, “Rob was an expert at breaking and taming bucking horses and at training and hand breaking young colts. He was a beautiful rider and tops in handling the rope, according to all who were privileged to see him in action. Although easily superior to many other men in his type of work, he was never overbearing or arrogant about his talent, he was instead always quiet and amiable.”
On September 17, 1890, Rob married Ethel Mae Hewitt at Evanston, WY. They were married by the Justice of the Peace, C. E. (Kit) Castle. Ethel was the niece of Pete McCulloch (foreman of Carter Cattle Co). Ethel’s mother, Agnes McCulloch Harvey Hewitt, was known as the “Mother” of Mountain View. Rob left the Carter Cattle Company in 1893 and homesteaded a section of land fifteen miles south of Fort Bridger. With 150 head of cattle, he and Ethel established their own ranch. They gradually increased their herd of cattle and their ranch acreage. Here, Rob and Ethel raised nine children—Agnes, Harriett, Ethel, Clara, Helen Wheeler, Robert Lewis, William Leslie, George Richard, and Lucille.
In 1927-28, Rob was elected sheriff of Uinta County. In later years, he moved with his wife to a home he bought in Mountain View. After the death of his wife in 1940, he sold his house and divided his time between the home of his daughters in Bridger Valley, and helping his three sons on their ranches in the Fort Washakie/Mill Creek area near Lander.
At the age of 89, Rob still rode every year in local rodeo parades, where he was the focus of attention of all those who could appreciate fine riding. When invited to participate in a parade, he would make sure he was given a good horse to ride, always being very particular that he was on good “horseflesh”.
When Rob passed away on April 19, 1961 at the age of 91, he was Uinta County’s oldest native son. Rob Roy McGregor Hamilton, according to a newspaper story reporting his passing, “was one of the most colorful of a race of men who were known for their almost centaur-like skill as horsemen. He stood out in the estimation of his contemporaries as one of the finest horsemen and ropers in Wyoming during the many years of the prime of his life”.