Buffalo Bones: A Tale of Two Ministers


(To those unfamiliar with “Buffalo Bones” in past years we have provided a series of historical articles written by members of the Wyoming State Archives staff and other such as UW’s Phil Roberts. These periodical articles are generally interesting historical tidbits about Wyoming people, places and events.)  

            Throughout Wyoming history, ministers have been usually portrayed as upstanding community figures. As spiritual leaders of their respective congregations, they were held to a higher principle. Some have distinguished themselves not only in leading their respective congregations but also in service to their communities. Of course, in reality, not all were so stellar and remarkable. And then, somewhere in between these two extremes, were two Baptists ministers, Charleton Harris and Arthur Tipton, of Gillette.

Harris was an avid crusader against vice. He once claimed that he could count the number of boys and girls ruined by the evils there. Some residents found his accusations exaggerated and tiresome, but in time, the targeted rougher element had had enough of his unwanted attention.

One night several masked men broke into Harris’ residence, assaulted him, and threatened him with harm if he didn’t immediately leave the city. Despite the warning, Harris remained determined to stay and carry on his crusade. However, he now realized that some measure of personal protection was necessary. To that end, he obtained a firearm permit and procured a gun.

Carrying the sidearm around town brought him some peace of mind. However, instead of meeting his nocturnal antagonists, he encountered trouble from an unlikely source.

On March 7, 1913, W.E. Luton, the city marshal, arrested Harris for carrying a concealed weapon. Harris was quickly brought before the local justice of the peace, found guilty, and was fined $25.. Believing he had been unfairly treated, Harris appealed his case before the district court.

Elwood Anderson, the county and prosecuting attorney, investigated Harris’ case.  Anderson found several witnesses who claimed that Harris’ weapon was not concealed. Even more damaging was the revelation that Luton did not like Harris. Luton even claimed that anyone who assaulted Harris would not be arrested.

Based on his investigation, Anderson concluded that the charge against Harris was without merit, and should be dismissed, which it was on October 27, 1913.

Harris’ counterpart in Gillette was Arthur Tipton. Tipton was a Baptist colporteur from Indiana. After his arrival in September 1910, he initially conducted revival services in northeast Wyoming but later settled down to serve a congregation south of Gillette.

Like Harris, Tipton also ran afoul of the law but under different circumstances.  He was arrested on April 3, 1913 for check fraud in the amount of $5.45. According to The Gillette News, Tipton had received the check in confidence from another party, but chose to use the money for his personal use. The paper readily questioned Tipton’s reverent status and assailed him as a religious hypocrite. Apparently, these accusations were not unusual as a mutual feeling of animosity existed between Tipton and the News.  Moreover, the News felt justified, more than ever, in its crusade to “find an image to break or a religious hypocrite to expose.”

But justice was not hard on Tipton. The paper was incensed to learn that Tipton was allowed to post bond and be set free. If a drunken cowboy or sheepherder had committed the same crime, the paper railed, they “would have been in jail instead of being permitted to run about the country to defame the name of people better than he.”

Once again, Elwood Anderson was called upon to investigate the facts and once again, he found no credible facts to indict Tipton. J.W. Parchman, the previous county and prosecuting attorney, believed Tipton was not guilty. Parchman also recalled that he was inebriated at the time he signed and filed the complaint, making the charge against Tipton even more doubtful. Apparently the check itself was not reviewed. Given what he knew, Anderson refused to press charges, and the case was summarily dismissed on August 4, 1913.

The Gillette News criticized Anderson for letting Harris and Tipton get off so easy when the evidence said otherwise. No doubt, Anderson was now under the paper’s watchful eye.

As for the two ministers, they continued their spiritual service. Harris soon left Gillette to serve congregations in Manderson and later Worland. In April 1915, he left Wyoming and moved to Freeport, Illinois.

Tipton continued to serve his south Gillette congregation for many years. Over time, he and The Gillette News made amends. In 1919, he and his family left Wyoming for Hardin, Montana.

Harris and Tipton made history by serving fledgling congregations and establishing a religious foundation in their community. But they also made history in another way. They have the ignominious distinction of being the first and second criminal cases respectfully to be heard in newly formed Campbell County District Court.



(Carl V. Hallberg is a reference historian at the Wyoming State Archives. The historical information provided in the Buffalo Bones articles is provided by the Wyoming State Archives.)



Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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