Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

SWAN, ALEXANDER (1831-1905)

Alexander Hamilton Swan was born in 1831 in Greene County, Pennsylvania. He moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1873 and soon after, with other family members, established one of the largest cattle companies in the West, the Swan Brothers Cattle Company. Alexander, who managed the business, started with 3,000 head of cattle in 1873 on Chugwater Creek in southeastern Wyoming, where he established the Two Bar Ranch. By 1882 Swan's herd numbered 33,000 head. The next year he formed the Swan Land and Cattle Company and sold the corporation to Scottish investors for $2,550,825. As manager of the corporation, Swan organized four other cattle companies, including the Wyoming Hereford Ranch just east of Cheyenne. Swan was the first rancher to introduce purebred Herefords from England to the United States. Under Swan's management, the Swan Land and Cattle Company holdings expanded to more than one million acres and reportedly carried 110,000 head of cattle. Swan's influence stretched east as well where he was involved in the building of the massive Union Stockyards in Omaha, Nebraska.

Swan was also active in politics. As a Republican he was elected in 1877 to the council in the fifth Wyoming legislative assembly, but he was defeated in 1880 when he ran as a delegate to Congress. His ranching success came to an abrupt end through a combination of overstocking, overgrazing, and the disastrous winter storms of 1886–87, which killed an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 head of cattle in Wyoming. Swan filed for bankruptcy. His detractors accused him of inflating the head count of his herds and poor managerial practices. Swan was sued by his own corporation and replaced by John Clay, a harsh critic of Swan and his business operations. Swan left Cheyenne and died in obscurity in Ogden, Utah, in 1905.

Mark Elliott Laramie County Community College

Burroughs, John R. Guardian of the Grasslands. Cheyenne: Pioneer Printing Stationery Co., 1971.

Clay, John. My Life on the Range. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.

Woods, Lawrence M. Wyoming Biographies. Worland WY: High Plains Publishing Co., 1991.

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