Nestled at the base of the Big Horn Mountains, 26 miles east of Worland on US 16, Ten Sleep long ago staked its claim to a share of Wyoming’s and Washakie County’s colorful history. There are several stories as to how this small town got its name. One story says the name Ten Sleep came from the Indians’ reference to a ford across the creek, on the old Bridger Trail, as being 10 days (sleeps) journey from Fort Laramie in the southeast or Yellowstone to the west. The other story relates to a large Indian camp on the Platte River near the present site of Casper, Wyoming, which was known to the early trappers as the Old Sioux Camp. To the north, near the present site of Bridger, Montana, on Clarks Fork River, was another large and well-known Indian camp. They both were important crossroads of the nation and trails led from them in all directions. Half way between the two was Ten Sleep. The Indians measured distance by the number of sleeps – which was 10 – between the two camps.
The last armed conflict between cattlemen and sheep growers occurred in the Nowood Valley at Spring Creek, 7 miles southeast of Ten Sleep. In the “Spring Creek Raid,” seven masked riders raided Joe Allemand’s sheep camp, killing Allemand, his nephew Joe Lazier and Jules Emge and burning their two sheep wagons. The raid was supposedly motivated by Allemand’s bringing his herd of 5,000 sheep into the Nowood Valley which cattle interests had declared off limits to sheep. (Author’s note: The usual rule is, “Fence sheep in, fence cattle out.”)
In March 1909, Herbert Brink, Tommy Dixon, Milton Alexander, George Henry Saban, and Ed Eaton, local cowboys were brought to trial in Basin for participation in the killings. Two others, Charles Ferris and Albert Keyes turned state’s evidence and were not charged. Brink was convicted of first degree murder. Alexander and Saban were convicted of second degree murder. Dixon and Eaton each plead guilty to arson. Eaton died in state custody. Saban escaped in 1913 and was never recaptured. Dixon was paroled in 1912. Brink and Alexander were paroled in 1914. The public reaction to the raid resulted in the ending of such violence on the open range. An historical monument now marks the site of the raid. The Spring Creek raid was not the only incident of such violence, it was merely the last. “Sheep dead lines,” such as that in the Nowood Valley, were proclaimed by other cattlemen.
Although the Nowood Valley is growing in population, Ten Sleep remains much the way it was a hundred years ago, many ranches are still operated by the families who took them over and developed them as the “foreign capitol owners” cut their losses and left in the late 1800’s. Small independent business people continue to keep the small community prospering.
Travelers approaching the big, friendly Big Horn Mountains from the east have an abundance of campgrounds, picnic areas, lodges, fishing holes, wildlife viewing and recreational opportunities. From the west as you drop into the Nowood Valley, Ten Sleep opens before you, to your right as you enter town are the rodeo grounds. If you’re lucky enough to be there on the 4th of July you will find an old fashioned rodeo reminiscent of the original ranch rodeo it sprung from in 1946.
The Ten Sleep Canyon houses an historic fish hatchery, and is a very popular rock climbing destination.