Historic Items from Well-known Ranching Family

More historic items from one of the best known pioneer ranching families in the 5-state region have arrived at the High Plains Western Heritage Center – and they’re marvelous additions to our turn-of-the-20th-century era collection of furniture, clothing, and art.

Original painting of a girl looking over a railing created by Laura Driskill in 1902.

This original painting by Laura Driskill was created in 1902. Driskill who was living in Austin at the time, was active in the Texas arts community and was the first Secretary of the Texas Fine Arts Association.

Jeanette Moore of Marshall, Minnesota has donated a classic library table, along with a pair of stuffed chairs, and a mint-condition living room mirror that dates back to the late 1800’s. There’s also a beautifully-framed 1902 painting of a young lady that was created in 1902, all from descendants of the Driskell brothers who were prominent in the Texas cattle drives to Wyoming in the late 1800s.

“We think it was Colonel J. L. Driskill’s youngest daughter, Laura Jeanette, who created the painting,” says Jeanette Moore, who is the namesake of the artist. Laura Jeanette Driskill was born in Austin, Texas. She never married and was deeply involved in the Austin arts community. She died there in 1945.

The Driskill name has been prominent in these parts for well over a century.

Colonel Jesse Lincoln Driskill was born in Tennessee but made his way to Texas, where he and his father-in-Law, Jesse Day, entered the cattle business before the outbreak of the Civil War. Day was considered by some Driskill descendants as the real pioneers in the cattle business, which the Driskill’s continued. When the war began, Day and Driskill began supplying beef to Confederate troops. Stories persist that they also did business with Union forces, too.

Colonel Driskill’s youngest son, William Walter “Tobe” Driskill was among the cowboys trailing a herd of Driskill cattle to Wyoming in 1868. The massive grasslands of the northern plains provided ideal grazing ground for millions of cattle from the Lone Star state. On a subsequent journey in 1878, it’s reported that Tobe made the trek in a Confederate ambulance wagon pulled by mules.

There two Victorian-era chairs that were received by the HPWHC from a Driskill family member were believed to have made their way to Spearfish via covered wagon during one of the great American cattle drives of the late 1800’s.

The following year, Tobe and his brother Bud trailed 3,000 Texas longhorns into northeast Wyoming and apparently liked the area. It wasn’t long before several Driskill families were populating the region, including nearby Spearfish, which was becoming a favored community for many ranching families.

The town provided a variety of shops, a doctor, school, and by 1883 a state normal college. Electricity came to Spearfish by 1893. These were accommodations that families – especially wives – found desirable, including the Driskills. The Tobe Driskill family occupied a beautiful two-story home on Canyon Street near the south edge of town, while Bud and family moved in to a Folk Victorian Style home on Nash Street. Both still stand and are featured in a “Historic Home of Spearfish” booklet.

Their father, Colonel J. L. Driskill, had remained in Austin tending to business and in 1886 he built the famous Driskill Hotel at a cost of $400,000 – reputed to be the finest hotel west of the Mississippi. Tough times would follow. The Driskill cattle operation, like so many others, was devastated by the blizzard of 1886-87 across the high plains, one of the harshest storms on record. Driskill sold the hotel and died a few years later, in 1890. But the Driskill family rebounded and has subsequently thrived in both Texas and the Black Hills region of Wyoming and nearby South Dakota.

Today, Driskill descendant Ogden Driskill, a Wyoming state senator, owns the 10,000 acre Campstool Ranch which abuts two sides of Devil’s Tower and has been a working ranch since 1882. Eight generations of Driskills have been involved in its 137 years of operation.

Of course, the many Driskill generations are now spread far and wide. But it’s a delight to witness their appreciation of history, and the steps they’ve taken to help preserve so many of the diverse artifacts used by their family in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Jeanette Moore and her sister Kathleen Vaughn pulled a trailer from Marshall, Minnesota to Spearfish to deliver these precious bits of Driskill history to the High Plains Western Heritage Center.

“I’ve had this table and chairs and the other items since 1997,” Jeanette says, “and before that they were in my mother’s Rapid City home for many years.”

Another Driskill descendant, long-time Spearfish resident Callie Heinbaugh, who also has donated several items to the museum, remembers when this furniture – and other pieces she has donated – adorned her great-grandparents home (Tobe and Louise Driskill) at 335 Canyon Street in Spearfish.

The desk and chairs have seen lots of miles over the years. In coming weeks, museum staff will be working to establish more information about all the donated Driskill artifacts as we attempt to determine their place and time of origin, how and where they were used – and perhaps confirm the Driskill family belief that the furniture pieces made their way from Texas simultaneous with one of the Driskell trail drives!

The rich history of the Driskill family and their involvement with the development of ranching across this region and in communities both in Wyoming and South Dakota is an important part of our heritage.

The High Plains Western Heritage Center is honored to have received these historic pieces of late 1800’s furniture and an original oil painting from the descendants of the Driskill family.

We are blessed to have Driskill family members as donors to the High Plains Western Heritage Center, and we thank them for their generosity and support. We invite you to come by and take a peek at yet a few more precious pieces from the past that continue to brighten our path to the road ahead!