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Alex Swan and the Swan Companies

by Lawrence M. Woods, Arthur H. Clark Co., Norman,Okla.,2006,$34.95.

Alex Swan isn’t as recognized as much as John Chisum, Conrad Kohrs or other historical cattle barons and Western landowners, yet he was a major player in Wyoming. Once considered the richest man in Wyoming, Swan helped shape the territory in the 1870s and into the 1880s, before his financial debacle after the disastrous winter of 1886-87, and the Swan Land and Cattle Company, Ltd., became one of the West’s largest cattle operations. Under the direction of Swan, and later John Clay, the cattle company saw success, change and controversy, including the Johnson County War.

After his fall from grace, and subsequent firing by the Scottish-controlled board of directors, Swan lived quietly until his death in 1905, but his namesake company recovered. The Swan Company, in fact, remained in business until 1952. Woods’ book isn’t so much a biography of Swan (1831-1905) and his successors as a focused look at the often complex business of Western ranching in the late 1800s, a time of absentee owners.


Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here