Part 2 of 3

In December 1892, after 15 years of helping her family build hearth, home and herd with tenacity, good will and true grit, 37-year old Elizabeth Bassett of Brown's Park rose from her sick bed to give chase to a runaway milk cow and died by early morning – some speculate from a burst appendix, others say a miscarriage.

In the remote 19th century Western frontier that spread from northeastern Utah into parts of Colorado and south-central Wyoming, Elizabeth was known as a "natural pioneer," a southern belle prepared, if need be, to rustle cattle for her family's welfare.

Esteemed by longtime friends and enemies – cattle barons she believed in murderous pursuit to dominate the range — Elizabeth bequeathed a legacy of pride and ambition to her five children, especially daughters Josie and Ann.

Like her mother, Josie was excellent with a rifle. She also could ride, rope, butcher and bespeak individualism with the best of the cowboys. At the time of her mother's death, Josie was attending St. Mary-of the-Wasatch in the foothills of Salt Lake City. She was also pregnant by Jim McKnight. In the mid-1880s, the six-foot tall Scotsman hired on at the Bassett ranch. Joining cattlemen Matt Rash and Isom Dart, they formed a cooperative relationship with Elizabeth. They were known as the "Bassett Gang."

Shortly after Elizabeth's death, Josie and Jim married and had two fine sons. Devoted to the family, Dart worked with the McKnights. Rash, president of Brown's Park Cattle Association, managed Bassett Ranch.

Herb Bassett was stunned with grief by the loss of Elizabeth. Retreating into his scholarly books, he resurrected his evangelical Christian roots. With little say in managing his business affairs or his children — having relinquished the reins to his wife — he dreamed of leaving Brown's Park.

Eventually, the McKnight marriage collapsed into a volatile, word-sparring, bullet-spraying divorce. Subsequently, Josie married and divorced four more times. Strychnine residue discovered in the cup of one husband prompted a court hearing and acquittal for the grieving widow. Faring better at animal husbandry than husband selection, Josie homesteaded in Cub Creek, collected mail in Jensen, helped others, and lived alone.

Ann was beautiful and mercurial. Instilled with Bassett pride, she struggled with her own conflicts of nature. Striving to best her older sister, disrupting family life with temper tantrums, and "expelled" by the nuns at St. Mary-of-the-Wasatch, she was sent to boarding schools in the East.

Ann found her stride, outclassed everyone and took on her mother's fight against the encroaching cattle barons with a vengeance.

By early 1900, these powerful cattlemen hired gunmen, including stock detective Tom Horn who worked for the Two-Bar ranch, to rid the area of "rustlers." Postings on cabin doors warned any cattle rustler to leave the Park, "or else." A politically motivated scheme, it was not taken seriously. In July, Matt Rash was fatally shot in his back and chest. The following October, Isom Dart was assassinated outside his cabin.

Intending to marry Matt, Ann declared war on the Two-Bar, drove hundreds of cattle into the Green River and earned her sobriquet, "Queen Ann of the Rustlers."

Historian Eileen Hallet Stone is the author of "Hidden History of Utah," a compilation of her Living History columns in the Salt Lake Tribune. She may be reached at ehswriter@aol.com.

Courtesy | Uintah County Regional History Center Queen Ann of the Rustlers at home in Brown's Park.
Courtesy | Uintah County Regional History Center Queen Ann of the Rustlers at home in Brown's Park.