In the old west, Laramie is a rapidly growing town at the heart of a new frontier. Located in the Wyoming Territory, the town is alive with folks moving westward with dreams of a better life, and those running from the sins of their past. It is the post Civil War era as well.
Twelve miles west of what began as a brawling community sets the Sherman Ranch and Relay Staion, a spread existing in 1870 only because of a franchise agreement with the Great Central and Overland Mail Stageline, and the determination and dream of its owner, Slim Sherman. Joined by brother Andy and foreman Jonesy, Slim fought to keep life in the ranch and upon teaming with gunfighter-turned-ranch hand, Jess Harper, things finally began to gel.
When Andy headed off to school back east and Jonesy traveled with him, the emptiness felt by Slim and Jess were quickly filled when Mike Williams, a young orphan, joined them, and when widow Daisy Cooper arrived just in the nick of time to prevent Mike from being taken away from the two men, the four became a strong family unit, and the ranch thrived.
Not only did the Sherman Ranch and Relay Station become more financially solvent, but the family gained from a nurturing love which each gave to the others, whether it was Jess' appreciation of how Slim helped to change his life, or Mike's pride in his new family.
The formation of Slim, Andy, Jonesy, Jess, Mike and Daisy as a family solidified between 1870 and 1874, and it is this timeframe that is used as a basis for all information on this site. It is assumed that drifter Jess Harper arrived in mid-1870 and that time progressed normally after that. Consequently, the last concrete facts available concerning the family are dated mid-1874. Since the family interacted with several members of the community, what follows is a brief description not only of the regular characters, but also of some significant others who were part of their daily lives, often playing key roles in the events shaping the life of the family.
Matt (1803-1863) and Mary (1815-1868) Sherman's first child, a boy nicknamed Slim, grew up feeling the responsibilities and burdens of making a ranch prosper in a new land. When Matt died during the Civil War while Slim served under General George Barton in the Union Army, Slim returned home to accusations that Matt had sold out to the confederates. Angry, Slim wasn't afraid to fight anyone, but when Mary also died soon after his return, it became Slim's duty to raise his younger brother Andy, then 7 years old. Believing in Matt's dream to "Grow with Wyoming", Slim put all his energies into making a go of the ranch and was often surprised at Andy for not being as industrious towards the ranch as he, but between the brothers, along with Jonesy, the ranch was kept afloat. Slim felt it was good land and in fact stated that their spread and its surrounding were "the best cow country in Wyoming".
Though straight-arrow Slim gained some flexibility after meeting Jess who eventually became his partner, Slim's attitudes toward sticking to the straight and narrow had not changed much as late as 1873 when Gil Harrison noted, "Same old Slim; straight as a rail and no bend on the edges."
A strict believer in the truth, Slim told a direct lie only once, but even that was to save a man from a potential mob uprising. Jess once observed that "when trouble came around [Slim often] stepped right in front of me, took it like it was [his] own." A devoted friend himself, by the middle of 1870, Slim referred to Jess as "the best friend I've ever had."
In 1871, Ed McKeever described the 6'3", blue-eyed Slim as "blond, well-built, about 30". though not to be outdone in romance, Slim, like Jess, was unlucky with the ladies when it came to anything permant, as evidenced in 1873 when the probable love of his life, Abbey O'Neill, died in his arms, and then again in 1874 when steady girl Kitty McAllen opted to head east for a college eduation.
Considered a pillar of the community, Slim was conservative in nature, only occasionally taking a chance, such as when he participated in a risky trail drive in 1870 over the Cherokee Pass to Flint City instead of using the regular route to Calgary. A firm believer in justice, Slim often served as a deputy for the sheriff, even taking his place from time to time.
Even though he never strayed far from the side of the "right", Slim learned from Jess that there is more to life than working from sun-up to sun-down. With their successful partnership, Slim and Jess made a decent living between ranching and working with the stageline, so much so that in 1874, they were able to bid on the Halloran spread. In 1871, always concerned with raising Andy properly, Slim was even able to send his then 12-year old brother to school in St. Louis, wanting Andy to have a good education so he could "make something" of himself.
Calm and tolerant, Slim was apt to talk over disagreements or at least keep it to a fist fight, in contrast to an impulsive Jess who often preferred to shoot it out, but both continued to learn the art of give and take from one another and thus were an active part of each other's lives, and the growth of the Wyoming Territory.
Born in the Texas Panhandle, Jess Harper is one of five children whose parents worked for shares on a large ranch. Though he had many relatives nearby, Jess was closest to his sister Francie, "the only one worth anything", with whom he was reunited in 1874. When his parents were killed during a raid by the Bannisters, 16-year old Jess struck out on his own, originally hunting unsuccessfully for Frank Bannister. From then on, Jess roamed the west, except for a hitch in the Confederate Army. Near the end of the Civil War, Jess' outfit was captured by the 7th Michigan resulting in Jess spending several months in a prison camp run by Paul Halleck.
For five years afterward, Jess drifted, occasionally teaming with a partner such as Dixie Howard or Will Tibbs. Figuring that being too fast with a gun was better than being too slow, Jess also earned a reputation as a gunfighter and as a result often found himself straddling the fine line of justice, but in 1870, while searching for his ex-partner Pete Morgan who had robbed him of over $100 in poker winnings, Jess rode onto the Sherman Ranch and found himself a new home and a famliy. Originally hired as a hand, Jess quickly became Slim's partner and by his fourth year in Laramie was a part owner of the ranch, though during those first years, Jess often struggled between his past as a gunfighter and the responsible rancher he was becoming.
Regarding Jess, vital statistics are as follows: 5'11', 175lbs, brown, wavy hair, and blue eyes. Jonesy once stated to a visitor that "most of the girls in Laramie seem to think he's pretty handsome". Described as strong, yet gentle, as well as hot-headed, Jess enjoyed a good-looking gal, even though he made no bones about the fact that the only two things that scared him were "being left afoot and finding a decent woman".
Aside from his romantic entanglements, the most notable of which was with Japanese entertainer Haru Tajima, Jess was known for his rugged, individualist temperament, more than once resorting to blows to keep Slim from becoming involved in his problems; yet, Jess could always rely on Slim's help, their friendship having evolved into a brotherly affection (Jess told Clay Jackson that "Slim's been like a brother to me"). Where Slim was concerned, nothing was a barrier to Jess. Once, Jess broke an outlaw out of jail, slugging the sheriff in the process because Slim had been shot and left for dead somewhere on the prairie. While he knew his actions were wrong, Jess later told Daisy, "If it meant saving his [Slim's] life, I'd be willing to be wrong all the time."
Though he believed he could never be "domesticated", Jess Harper was a sensitive, caring man willing to work hard for what he believed in. Once settled in Laramie, the former drifter found "a piece of land" worth the fight, and though always searching for what was lost in Texas, Jess did in time find "something to take its place", and became, in Slim's words, "as much a part of [the ranch] as I am". Jess grew emotionally, learning responsibility, duty and commitment from Slim and Andy, while giving the two brothers a truer sense of "heart" while teaching them to simply have some fun along the way!
Andy Sherman was born in Laramie, circa 1858, the son of Matt and Mary Sherman, and younger brother of Slim. Responsible for a number of chores around the ranch, Andy also cared for his horses, a feisty palomino named Cyclone, once stolen by an outlaw in early 1870, but later returned while Andy was home on a school break in 1871, and a colt named Flash, freed prior to a tornado in the Winter of 1871.
A sensitive boy who tried to make sense out of the violent world in which he lived, Andy constantly tried to see the good in others. In fact, it was Andy's concern and sincerity which prompted hired gun Ed Caulder to quit his profession after meeting the boy. Even more so, it was Andy's belief in Jess which prompted the roving cowhand to give ranching a try in the first place. In some ways, Andy's youthful innocence made him wiser than many adults.
An animal lover who often took in strays including a wolf cub in 1871, Andy dreamed of seeing the world, never having been off the ranch except for trips to Laramie. "Everybody's on the move but me", Andy would complain to Jess. Andy's adventurous desire to see new places was strong, yet Jess' arrival squelched the immediacy of the need. In Jess, Andy found a friend and mentor, a hero of sorts, and though envious of the places his new friend had seen, Andy was content to, in Jonesy's words, "trail after" Jess until he was old enough to go out on his own.
After Andy went to school in St. Louis, the atmosphere at the ranch was a bit less spirited, but upon Andy's visits for holidays and the Summer, things often livened up again. When Andy did return, he wanted more of a say in the ranch's operation and eventually (after running away) was given a more equal part in what transpired, having convinced Slim (with a bit of help from Jess), that he was indeed growing up.
Andy Sherman always enjoyed being home and near the two men he was bonded to, one in blood, the other in spirit. When it was time to return to St. Louis, he often balked. Slim, however, remained insistent that it was important for Andy to become smart and after reminding the boy of this once, Andy quipped in reply, "But I don't want to be smart. I want to be just like you and Jess."
Jonesy was an old family friend of the Shermans who worked for Matt Sherman until his death, and then stayed on to help Slim look after Andy. The folksy type, Jonesy was a believer of homemade remedies and was full of wisdom, which he often expressed musically though songs he composed. Always equpped with an appropriate saying for any occasion, Jonesy could always be counted on to help Slim sort through situations and tight spots, such as the time Jonesy was able to convince Slim that Slim owed Jess, prompting the steadfast ranch owner to get off his duff and go help out his friend who was in peril.
Though not a believer in guns, Jonesy never hesitated to pull out the rifle when Slim and Jess needed assistance, including when Jack Slade rode in as the new Superintendent of the stageline and fired Jess, challenging him to a gunfight in the process. When Slim stepped in to back Jess, Jonesy ended the confrontation by aiming his rifle directly at Slade.
Once, feeling responsible for both horses that ran off when he had forgotten to mend the corral gate and for Andy's injuries sustained at a fight in Laramie which he had convinced Slim to take Andy to see, Jonesy briefly left the ranch and headed for War Bonnet, determined to raise the $500 bank note Slim needed in a hurry. Eventually, Jonesy was successful and returned back to the Sherman Ranch, where he was welcomed back by happy faces!
A non-drinker, Jonesy encouraged alcohol only for medicinal purposes, keeping a bottle of whiskey in a canteen in the barn for snakebites.
An admirer of Lily Langford, Jonesy's talents included singing, playing the piano (which was a gift from Jess shortly after his arrival at the ranch), and composing, even though he was unable to read music. One of Jonesy's favorite songs was "Marry Me in Laramie". Cooking was another interest of Jonesy's, with his favorite and most well known dish being Mulligan Stew.
Jonesy, who suffered froma sacroiliac, left the ranch to accompany Andy to St. Louis in order to, as Slim said, "ride herd" over the adventureous lad while he completed his education.
Page Last Updated 06/24/02