Cinnabar’s Hugo J. Hoppe Recruited for Cody’s Wild West Show
By Bob Moore
My wife Darnell’s family has been in Montana since 1863 when her great great-grand-father, Hugo Hoppe, a German immi-grant, had just been discharged from the Second California Cavalry. He had journeyed to the gold fields in 1851 where he learned it was not easy digging, panning and sluicing for gold, and so he took up freighting new supplies from the docks in San Francisco to the American River, where the gold had been found.
Hugo continued to prospect between freight loads, and each time he would hit a little strike he would buy another wagon or some mules or oxen. When the Sutter’s Mill gold strike petered out, in the 1850s, he collected deserted picks, pans, shovels and sluice boxes left by those who had made their fortunes, or not, and given up on prospecting and headed back east.
First Hugo headed for a newly found strike in Utah. Then he and his partner made multiple trips with scavenged equipment to several strikes in Utah and Nevada, and did pretty well. After those strikes were worked, he headed up to Alder Creek, Montana, with more loads of deserted equipment. He continued to shift this equipment around to various strikes until he married a “widow” named Mary Jane James whom he had met in Utah before he joined the Army. She had two children: Maggie Ann (Margaret) and Richard William James Jr. Richard junior died in 1862 while Hugo was at war. When he came back to Utah after his duty and heard Mary Jane’s husband was killed while a member of “Bloody’ Bill Anderson’s Raiders, he asked Mary Jane to marry him. He and Mary Jane added five boys to the family between 1864 and 1872. As they grew, this bunch of boys became his freighting crew.
During the 1870s, Hugo increased his fortune at Benson’s Landing, north of Livingston on the Yellowstone River, where he had a trading post and sold animals and wagons for high prices to arriving miners and trappers, after having bought them at low prices from those leaving the area. Mary Jane and Maggie Ann became good horse traders at the trading post while Hugo, as the civilian Captain in the Fort Pease rescue missions, participated in the Big Gun Expedition into the Black Hills, a stunt put together by the Northern Pacific Railway to break the Indian treaty of 1868 that kept white settlers and railroad tracks out of the Dakotas, the expedition that made the founding of Deadwood possible.
Through land swaps and acquisitions, Hugo amassed about four thousand acres of land in fertile Gallatin County. He grew hay, bred cattle and horses, and continued his freighting business. Because hauling kegs of beer was too hard on his animals, he hauled grain, malt sugar, and molasses, and he taught saloon keepers how to brew their own beer using spruce tips instead of hops.
A fellow named Benjamin Franklin Potts, whom Hugo had met during his time in the Army, was appointed Montana Territorial Governor. Gov. Potts appointed Hugo as the first Sheriff of newly formed Custer County in 1876. After serving out his term, he went back to ranching and freighting. In 1883, due to some insider information from Governor Potts, Hugo bought two thousand acres of land just three miles from (at that time) the only entrance to newly created Yellowstone Park. Northern Pacific, due to a land dispute, could get no closer to the park than this little town site that the railway had named Cinnabar for the iron oxide that stained the cliffs along the Yellowstone River.
Cinnabar was the place where all freight was dropped for the surrounding coal and gold mining towns, (Horr, Aldridge, Cooke City), as well as the place where hoards of visitors touring Yellowstone Park were outfitted for excursions. It was where that troops being stationed at Fort Yellowstone landed and were issued horses for their duty in the park.
In 1877, General O.O. Howard started his chase of Chiefs Joseph and Looking Glass from Cinnabar. Six years later, Hugo built houses, hotels, saloons gift stores, a general store, and a sawmill, and he sold or rented space to various business ventures at Cinnabar. He even built a rodeo ground with a stadium—the West was not very populated then, but Montana, Wyoming and Colorado had their share of skilled cowboys.
In 1887, with Hugo Hoppe’s help, Buffalo Bill Cody arranged auditions of riders, ropers, and the like, for his 1887 tour of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Europe. Cody sent his assistant, Sherman Canfield, to handle the auditions. That the auditions were held at Cinnabar was a disputed piece of oral history for many years. The only piece of evidence was a chapter in a book, written by Hugo’s grand niece, Ida McPherren, and a photograph in my mother-in-law’s collection. My mother-in-law, Jean Hoppe Foster, swore to her dying day that she had loaned it to local historian Doris Whithorn, a good friend of hers, but the photo seemed to have been lost. Though Whithorn chronicled and collected photos and tales of this part of Montana, the story of cowboys auditioning at Cinnabar was pretty much chalked up as a tall tale. Our local Yellowstone Gateway Museum, where I am a trustee, negotiated the purchase of Doris Whithorn’s (and her late husband’s) publications with her daughter and son-in-law. They threw in all of the photographs Mr. Whithorn had taken, as well as the photos they had retained from other sources over the years. After much hard work by the museum director and the devoted Friends of the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, we were lucky enough to get a grant for a museum technician to catalog and index the photos.
Imagine the delight of those interested in local history when the photo of the cowboys who joined Buffalo Bill’s European Wild West Show (lost for forty years) came to light—and with all the cowboys named. And so presented here is the revelation of this historic discovery for all to enjoy.
My research into the identity of the cowboys has only begun. Tude Hereford (third from left, top row, see photo) was killed in a gunfight with one of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch in Utah in 1907.
An unedited excerpt follows from Imprints on Pioneer Trails (1950), by Hoppe’s great niece Ida McPherren, the disputed account of which is now corrob-orated by the recently discovered photo.
Sherman Canfield was born on a ranch in Nebraska, near what is now West Point in eighteen hundred sixty-five [and] was a frequent visitor to Cinnabar. His father, George Canfield and his mother (nee Rhodes) were pioneers of Nebraska and it was while operating a small boarding house close to the stockyards in Omaha that George Canfield met Buffalo Bill.
When Buffalo Bill formed the Wild West Show in eighteen eighty-seven and took it to England he took George Canfield’s son, Sherman with him as his private secretary. Sherman followed the show until eighteen hundred ninety-two when his father was manager of the newly constructed Sheridan inn and Sherman quit the show to assist his father in its management. It was while he was with Buffalo Bill that Sherman got to know the crowned heads of Europe by their first names and often entertained them in the royal box at the show. During the Queen’s Jubilee he was kept busy, in fact his sole duty at the time was to see that native and visiting royalty were properly treated for and Sherman became familiar with all the bad backers and sun-fishers and twisters connected with the world’s greatest show. It was because he knew a rider and a bronc when he saw them that Sherman often went after one or both when Buffalo Bill was in need of one or both and Cinnabar was often selected as the place for the tryouts.
Immediately in Cinnabar Sherman telephoned to Cooke City, Gardiner, Horr, Aldridge, Red Lodge, and sent a cowboy riding to outfits to give notice that there would be a tryout for riders for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show the coming Sunday. The next morning I came home and that night every man in Cinnabar and the cowboys who had arrived for the tryouts got gloriously, hilariously, drunk. Sherman had introduced the silver fizz to kings and emperors in Europe and I guess it was the same silver fizz he introduced to the broncobusters and cowboys at Cinnabar for they whooped it up like fizzed-up Comanches. Let it be said to the credit of both Hugo Hoppe and Sherman Canfield that they were part of the boisterousness but they themselves always maintained a quiet dignity to the time of passing out. Oh there was the time the Sheridan Inn was having a fancy ball and Sherman reached the point of inebriety so some of his friends put him to bed. But the dance went on and in the middle of a lively tune Sherman came into the ballroom—pajama clad. The next day after the Cinnabar stay-awake-all-night Sherman and Hugo John Hoppe were waiting in the sitting room for dinner and I barged into the room and Uncle Hugo told Sherman who I was. Sherman, shaking my hand in mock importance, spoke in the same tone. “So you’re from St. Louis. My, my, from a big noisy St. Louis to a quiet little burg like this. Do you get lonesome?” “You made so much noise last night I couldn’t sleep” I replied. Sherman Canfield blinked; stared tick full of time at me then looked at Uncle Hugo and exclaimed, “Pretty good; pretty good, eh Hugo?” and they filled the room with their laughter. Who would have guessed in that laughter-filled moment that twenty-seven years later, January the sixth, nineteen hundred twenty-one, Sherman Canfield would be godfather for my two children when they were Baptized in the Episcopal Church at Sheridan Wyoming? That night Cinnabar celebrated in a mild form of the previous night’s carousal but the lights were out and everyone between suggans before midnight for the next day was the day of the tryouts for the coveted position of rider in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The bucking contest was held on the arena in front of Cinnabar’s grandstand at noon as the last stage had rolled Parkward. A few tourists laid over for the show and were part of a crowd of approximately five hundred spectators who witnessed what was one of the greatest exhibitions of bronco busting I have ever witnessed through all the years that followed. Sherman was the sole judge.
It was a clean exhibition of horses that had never been ridden trying to get the objectionable weight on their backs off and the weight sticking. Along in mid-afternoon a funny incident occurred. A young man, about twenty-three years of age, came riding up the road leading a wild horse. The man was wearing cowboy boots and spurs, but no chaps, sombrero or the customary vest. He asked to ride in the tryouts.
Stares, sneers and sniggers were openly directed in his direction but Sherman said to let him ride. A cowboy held the wild horse while the stranger uncinched his flimsy old saddle; transferred it to the bronc and climbed aboard. With that the fun was on. With his head to the ground and back arched like an angry cat’s the wild cayuse bucked and pitched sunfished; jumped straight up and came down a twisting and then shook himself in an effort to get rid of the man on his back. But the man on his back stayed on. He fanned the animal and raked him from neck to tail with his spurs. The crowd caught the spirit of the game and yelled, ‘ride ‘im, cowboy. Thata boy.” Then the rider gave the yell of triumph “Ya-hoo-yip-yee-ee-hee” as he waved his left arm.
Unable to unseat his rider the horse broke into a run down the rode and out onto the wide expanse of wild prairie with the pickup men in close pursuit. The horse ran until exhausted and then the stranger turned him, and with the pickup men flanking him, the stranger brought his horse back to the arena and stood in front of the grandstand where Sherman stood waving his hat and cheering one of the finest rides he had ever seen. The cowboy who had practiced every spare moment for a year for the event but who did not have enough money to purchase a cowboy outfit got the job.
Uncle Hugo went as far as Living-ston with Sherman the next day. Hugo Hoppe did not spend all of his time in Cinnabar. He had established Hoppe’s station on the Northern Pacific close to Livingston and he was a member of the Board of County Commissioners of Park County and he spent most of his time in Livingston.