The open spaces in Platte County, Wyoming, are paid for by agricultural production. Wyoming can thank the introduction of agricultural mainly due to the Swan Land and Cattle Company in the 1880s. This company lasted for 68 years.
The company was founded by Alexander Swan, who may have been the best-known man in the cattle business during the early 1880. He had owned or held interest in at least 20 businesses, mainly cattle ranching.
The Swan Land and Cattle Company Ltd. was registered in Scotland on March 30, 1883. The company bought six ranches near the Chugwater and Richard and Sybille creeks in the first year. At its height, it owned 110,000 head of cattle.
However, by 1886, the price per head of cattle had fallen from its high of $40.67 in 1884 to $26.34. This resulted in now dividends being paid to shareholders. Shareholders also questioned Swan’s recordkeeping, suspecting him of fraud.
Thing also got worse during the winter of 1886 to 1887 when 15% of Wyoming cattle died due to the bad winter. Swan Land and Cattle Company had heavy losses, and Swan’s financial empire began to falter.
In May 1887, Swan was dismissed as manager by the board of directors, and the board sued Swan to try and recover costs due to exaggerated herd counts.
In 1888, John Clay Jr. was named as manager. His first move was to cut costs, including closing the Cheyenne office and moving it to Chugwater. But Clay had his own problems. He didn’t agree to cuts to his own salary, but also didn’t want to pay dividends until the company was in better shape. He was dismissed in 1896.
The troubles for the company didn’t get better. By 1904, cattle markets had significantly declined. The company instead purchased 15,000 head of sheep. Clay actually returned in 1912. But the next 15 years still had trouble with costs, and they also lost access to public lands.
The company continued on for a number of years. World War I inflation helped it make some profit. It even did rather well during the Depression during the 1930s, but Swan Land and Cattle Company Ltd. wanted to sell its assets to raise funds. But that was impossible, and the company eventually dissolved in 1951.
Historical Marker Inscription
Welcome to Platte County Wyoming. Laramie Peak frames the western backdrop of a landscape that includes the Oregon Trail and Register Cliff where thousands of Pioneers left their mark. Today these open spaces are sustained by agricultural production of livestock and crops, providing habitat for diverse wildlife and a foundation for the communities that exist in the county.
Settlement of this land began in the early 1880s with the Swan Land and Cattle Company. This ranch held more acreage than the state of Connecticut. Agriculture paved the way for construction of the area reservoirs providing water storage for irrigation, wildlife habitat, fisheries, and recreation. South of this point lies the Wheatland Irrigation District which delivers irrigation water to 55,000 acres of formerly dry unproductive landscape, making it the largest and only privately held irrigation district in the United States. Many crops including corn, sugar beets, wheat and barley are raised on this land.
Even with Platte County’s relatively small population, agricultural producers raise food for thousands of Americans. Cattle raised in Platte County provide a year’s supply of beef for 850,000 people. Agriculture serves as the backbone of the area’s rural communities and sustains the open vistas you are enjoying today.
Dwyer Junction Rest Area, US-26, Wheatland, WY 82201
Intersection of U.S. 26 and Interstate 26
42° 14.008′ N, 105° 1.232′ W