Riots break out in small settlement of Bear River City Wyoming, southwest of Evanston, after the lynching of a murder suspect November 19, 1868. The two factions, the vigilantes that hung the suspect and the local friends and family of the hanged man start brawling and gun fighting in the streets and the hastily strewn together building that dotted the town. The ensuing violence claimed the life of 16 people and torched most of the town quenching whatever hope of future prosperity for the young community, until the courageous act of one man, Town Marshal Tom Smith held off the fighting parties unarmed until forces could arrive from Fort Bridger enacting marshal law effectively quelling the violence.
Little is known about Smith before the Riots that made the ghost town of Bear River City Famous except that he was from New York where he served as a New York City police officer until the accidental shooting of a 14 year old boy caused him to resign. After his resignation from the New York Police it is reported that smith signed on with various railroads bringing him to Wyoming and his run in with fate creating the legend of Bear River Tom. One thing about Smith is known as fact, he was known as fearless in the face of danger throughout his career. Described in one occasion in Abilene Kansas Smith, again unarmed, overpowered two armed men known for their bad temperaments, Big Hank Hawkins and his Partner Wyoming Frank. Smith drove both of the men from town and furthermore implemented a no gun policy in Abilene, driving the local cowboys in the area to attempt assassinating Smith on more than one incident. After a few months of work making solid arrests and treating local citizens fairly, Smith developed a phenomenal relationship with the people of Abilene as far to say they admired the man.
Being Abilene Kansas is a slight bit out of the territory of this blog I will end the story here, Smith continued to be the local Marshal even earning a promotion to US marshal before his death in the line of duty November 2, 1870. Smith is Buried in Abilene with a large monument erected at his grave site. As far as The Great Divide region is concerned I think the story of Tom Smith says a lot of the fortitude of the men and women that founded the towns and cities that we now live and work in. The places we know now were once upon a time a real life “Hell On Wheels”.