The Murder of Fred U. Powell
"That’s the man that killed Daddy."
|William Lewis was
not the last name tied to killings allegedly carried out by Tom
The second homesteader to be killed was Fred U. Powell. Old timers
have argued whom deserved killing more, Lewis or Powell, and
Powell is usually the choice. There was a reason for it, simply
that he got into more trouble with more people. It seemed that
during his entire tenure in Wyoming he went out of his way to
find trouble, and perhaps trouble found a way to find him.
Powell was born in Virginia and became well known in the area
virtually from the time of his arrival in the mid-to-late 1870s,
simply because he seemed to want to become a sort of pariah in
southeast Wyoming. He had married Mary Keene in December 1882,
the daughter of John and Mary Keene, well?known pioneers who
had come to Laramie from Colorado in 1868.
Fred and Mary had a son, William E. “Billy,” who
was five years old when he supposedly witnessed his father’s
murder on September 10, 1895. Fred was only thirty-seven at the
time of his death.
T. Blake Kennedy, who became a key player on Tom Horn’s
legal defense team and later a U.S. District Judge, mentioned
in his memoirs, “It had been reported that at a coroner’s
[Powell’s] inquest the small son of the murdered man, who
was perhaps five years old, made the remark in identifying Horn, ‘That’s
the man that killed Daddy.’”
Fred had lost an arm in an accident working for the Union Pacific, and was given
a job as a night watchman with the railroad before being fired for robbing a
traveler (probably a drifter), who was working his way across the country, of
He then took up ranching on the west side of the Laramie Range in Albany County,
upstream on Horse Creek about seven miles southwest of the spot where William
Lewis had been shot. He became proficient with a rope and horse in spite of his
handicap, and was generally considered a rustler. Supposedly he was the only
person in the area who was friendly with Lewis. Fred, however, was in most ways
an anathema to the ranching community and even the populace in general because
of his continuing propensity to steal, trespass and destroy property. He thought
it was fun to taunt his neighbors - in a manner he felt was more humorous than
did they - with invitations to have their own beef for dinner at his place.
The charges leveled against him read like a sad litany to his seemingly endless
pursuit of breaking the law. From pre-statehood days before 1890, they read like
a self-defeating chant:
Territory of Wyoming v Fredrick U. Powell, Stealing and Killing Neat Cattle,
State of Wyoming…Grand Larceny, Cheyenne Justice of the Peace
State of Wyoming… Stealing Live Stock, Albany County
State of Wyoming… Malicious Trespass and Destruction of Property, Albany
State of Wyoming… Incendiarism and Malicious Trespass, Albany County
State of Wyoming… Criminal Trespass, Albany County
First he stole four horses in Albany County in July 1889. He was arrested and
jailed in September, and after the grand jury held its proceedings, the charges
were dropped and he was never brought to trial.
In August 1890 he was charged with grand larceny in Cheyenne. The justice of
the peace sustained a motion by Powell’s lawyer that there was not enough
evidence to show any crime had been committed, and Fred was released.
In January 1892 Mary Powell filed for divorce on grounds that for seven years
he had not supported her or their son, who was then seven. The divorce was granted
the next month. Mary however continued to live with Fred for years after that,
although perhaps on an intermittent basis.
(WY State Archives)
The summer after
the divorce he was charged with stealing a horse in Albany
County. Fred pleaded not guilty, and after four days of legal
arguments he was bound over for trial. At the trail in September
the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty.
In July the next year Fred was charged with malicious trespass
and destroying fences belonging to Etherton P. Baker. First he
was convicted but filed an appeal, and in September the jury
found him not guilty.
That was not the last Fred U. Powell had heard from Etherton
P. Baker, however.
The next spring, in April 1894, he set fire to personal property
belonging to Baker and another neighbor, Joseph Trugillo, who
was apparently living with Baker. Powell was hauled into court
but this was not to be his figurative best day in court. He appealed
the light sentence that was meted out and was released on a hundred-dollar
In July Powell stole a horse, was arrested and tried. The judge
found him guilty and fined him forty-five dollars. Again he appealed
and was released on bond. When the next trial for incendiarism
came up in September, he was convicted and sentenced to four
months in jail. The charges were dropped in the horse-stealing
When Powell was released in early 1895 he started to receive
letters. The letters bore the now-familiar theme to stop stealing,
leave the country or be killed. For a while he seemed to disregard
them, at least until William Lewis was murdered.
There were reports that the Lewis murder threw a fright into
him, and he started selling his stock.
Powell met the same fate as Lewis the morning of September 6,
Fred Powell’s homestead