The Cattleman

When I recently received the family photograph album, I was thrilled to see pictures from my father's mother's side, the Orrs, Daniels, and Hales, in a spectacular collection of Daguerrotypes and other mostly formal portraits. 

This week I present my great-great-grandfather Hugh Nelson Orr.

The facts on Hugh are scattered and circumstantial... noted events in his life were:
• He appeared on the census in 1851 in St. Patrick Parish, Charlotte County, N.B. as a 16-year-old New-Brunswick-born son of Samuel and Jane Orr
• He appeared on the census in 1870 in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, as a 34-year-old, wealthy retired farmer with a wife and 3 children.
• He appeared on the census in 1880 in Laramie, Wyoming, as a 46-year-old, with the same wife, 4 daughters, and 1 son. His occupation was listed as stock grower [i.e., rancher] and he listedhis parents as born in Scotland  [they had been in Ireland for at least a couple of generations].


The obituary of a “Grandma” Annie Vallery Wright (b. 1846), of Fruitdale, South Dakota, reads in part: “a friend wrote her [in Plattsmouth, Nebraska] from Deadwood [Wyoming territory, now South Dakota] and urged her to “come west.” Within 24 hours after she received the letter she had a chance to ride to the Black Hills with Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Orr in their covered wagon. When the Orr train reached Fort Laramie it was stopped by soldiers. When the waiting group of travelers numbered 100, they were allowed to proceed. The Orr wagon reached its destination in 1876.”
Railroad building on the great plains / drawn by A.R. Waud 

A note from the Web reads:
“Gilbert A. Searight came from the area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to Burnet County, Texas, about 1859 and acquired through the courts land left by an uncle, Peter Kerr, to the county for the building of a school. Searight operated a ranch there before and after the Civil War. In 1876 he began his first cattle business, Searight and Orr, with Hugh N. Orr, in Laramie County, Wyoming Territory.”

Another reads:
The November 1, 1878, issue of the Cheyenne Daily Leader newspaper noted doctor Elisha Graham's arrival: "Dr. E. B. Graham, late of Albany, New York, arrived yesterday and will at once enter into the practice of his profession. ...Two of Elisha's new patients were Cheyenne Mayor Hugh N. Orr and former trader John (nicknamed "Portugee") Phillips,10 who owned ranches in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. They advised Elisha to invest in cattle and locate them on a bend in the Niobrara River in northwestern Nebraska, where the grass was lush and water abundant... In the spring of 1879, John Phillips and Hugh Orr guided Graham to the site of Agate Springs on the Niobrara River. That summer, Graham followed Orr and Phillips's advice. On August 1, he purchased from Orr 500 head of cattle driven north from Texas on the Western and Jones and Plummer trails to the shipping station at Ogallala, Nebraska. All were marked with the "04" brand, recorded at Sidney, Nebraska.

Around 1863, Hugh had married Emma Erway, who was born in 1846 in Michigan.

Thanks to Howard Emery, an Orr descendant, for much of this textual material. For glimpses of more antiquity, please visit Sepia Saturday!

Below is Hugh's obituary from the Cheyenne Daily Leader. From it I can now guess that the medallion he's wearing in the top photo must be a Templar (Masonic) cross.
Here is an 1874 article listing Hugh as a candidate for county commissioner.

Two years after his death, his family sold his ranch on Chugwater Creek (tributary of the Laramie River), including 320 acres and 220 head of "meat cattle," 65 horses, 440 tons of hay, 8 miles of wire fencing, and various equipment. The copy is hard to read but the price looks like $30, 556.00.


  1. What a shame Hugh died so young. At least we think of age 46 as being way too young these days to pass away. I hope he left his wife and children well taken care of.

  2. Your great great grandfather's crossed-leg stance is unusual for a photo for this era.Could his watch fob be a fraternal emblem?

    I note that among his neighbors in Laramie are three quartz miners, a laundress, a cook, an attorney, a minister, a musician, an actor, an actress, a gambler, and a prostitute.

  3. I wish someone in my family had kept a family photo album.

  4. What wonderful photos - and some great little finds to piece a story together about their lives

  5. Nice to "meet" Hugh. He looks like someone you would like if you met him. :)

  6. How wonderful to have so many details about an ancestor that far back, and how excoting to think of them on the wagon train. My views are probably coloured by the 1960s TV show called Wagon Train.

  7. A wonderful family history in places I associate with cowboys, TV and the wild west.

  8. Hugh and Emma look lovely. Those covered wagons probably look more romantic than the reality of covering the miles and miles of rough ground and camping every night.

    1. Yes, I wish there were a written record of that trip!