Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NW Kansas History of Note

It was Spring of 1902 and Cheyenne County farmers Daniel Berry and his family were having a tough go of things. They were in a spat with their neighbors to the East - Rawlins County rancher Chauncey Dewey and his family on the sprawling Oak Ranch.  There were claims of fencing each others' land, vandalizing wells, cutting fences, rustling cattle and allowing cattle to feed on crops.  Finally, Daniel Berry and his nephew were arrested and jailed on charges of assaulting Dewey workers.  Also, the Oak Ranch filed a suit against Daniel Berry over a property rights issue - and won.

On May 14, 1903 a notice of a public auction appeared in the paper to settle monetary claims against Daniel Berry - the auction to be held at his son's farm.  Up for auction were a 12-foot Goodhue windmill and a 15 barrel wooden stock tank.  As things would have it, Chauncey Dewey's men ended up buying the stock tank, for $5.00, and indicated that they would be by the next day to load it up.  The Dewey men were cussed out by the Berry's and Chauncey Dewey was called a "blue-bellied coward" as they left the farm auction.  

The next day Chauncey Dewey and 10 of his men set out to collect the water tank.  When they arrived, only Daniel Berry was on the place with his son's wife and children, but the Berry boys were not far and came in quickly when they saw the activity.  Tying up their horses and adjusting their gunbelts, they were crossing the yard when the shooting started.  No one knows who fired the first shot, but when it ended, 3 Berry's lay dead, and one seriously wounded.  The only Dewey casualty was one of their horses.  Of course, each claimed the other fired first, and this fact is disputed to this day.  The trial ended in an aquittal for Chauncey Dewey and two of his men, but years later (late 1920's) Chauncey lost a wrongful death suit and paid the Berry's $15,000.  Chauncey Dewey died in 1959 as an 81 year old, and Roy Berry, the wounded survivor died in the 1950's as well.

Some of the history books call this a "water rights" dispute, but it really wasn't. The only water-related elements were the early allegations of damaging stock wells and the fact that a windmill and a stock tank were the final fuses to this long-standing family feud.  Anyway, now you know.  

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