Galbraiths of the Old West

by Steven T Galbraith

This story actually begins on the banks of Loch Lomond, for it was there in the town of Luss, Dunbarton, Scotland that my Great-Great Grandparents, Robert Galbraith and Elizabeth Miller were married on August 27, 1808. Although I have not been able to prove it, all my research so far points to Robert Galbraith being the son of George and Christian Inglis Galbraith who have direct ties to William Galbraith of Blackhouse and his wife Agnes Havie of Kippen, the family whose information and crest we found in the Kippen Cemetery.

My Great Grandfather, Robert Edwin Galbraith, was born on July 8, 1820 in Glasgow to Robert and Elizabeth Miller Galbraith. He would grow up working as a Machinist in the shipyards of Glasgow. My Great Grandmother, Helen Donaldson, was born February 3, 1824 in the town of Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland, about 20 miles northwest of Culcreuch Castle in Fintry. Her family moved to Glasgow in 1833. Robert and Helen were married in Glasgow on August 2, 1841 and by the end of the week they had moved to Liverpool, England.

Robert and Helen had four children while living on the western coast of England, Amelia 1842, Robert 1844, Eliza 1846, and William 1849. Many factors came into play in Robert's decision to immigrate to America, the greatest being the economic state of Britain in 1849. In October of 1849, Robert, 29, Helen, 25 and their four children ranging in ages 7 years to 7 months old, boarded the Ship LZ in Liverpool, a four masted wooden schooner, and made the 6 week voyage across the cold North Atlantic, arriving in New York City on December 7, 1849.

The following summer the family is settled in Jacksonville, Illinois where they will live for the next 18 years.  Four more children are born to Robert and Helen during this time, George (my Grandfather) in 1851, Mary 1854, Harry in 1857 and Annie in 1863. During this time my Great Grandfather Robert Edwin Galbraith was working as a Machinist, and his oldest son Robert Miller Galbraith was an apprentice for a railroad company in Illinois, the civil war would have Robert Miller Galbraith develop into an engineer for troop trains in the area. The ground work was set for what would ultimately change the history of the family dramatically.

Union Pacific Railroad

In 1862, Congress passes legislation that ultimately created the Union Pacific Rail Road with the task of connecting railroad lines of the east coast with the Central Pacific Rail Road that was laying track from San Francisco. Due to mismanagement, the first track did not begin to be laid until 1865 from Omaha, Nebraska. In 1866, Robert Miller Galbraith, age 22, leaves home and travels to Omaha to begin work with Union Pacific. It was two years later, in 1868, as the Union Pacific track had reached Laramie City in the Wyoming Territory, that Robert Edwin Galbraith, with his wife Helen, and their children finally packed up their belongings, and moved from Illinois to Laramie. I cannot imagine what Helen Donaldson Galbraith must have thought of Laramie Wyoming in 1868. She often spoke with fond memories in her writings of her beloved Scotland, of green meadows, and beautiful lochs, Laramie must have been quite a shock. In one letter she described it as being "lawless and immoral". At this time, Robert Edwin Galbraith was employed by the Union Pacific as well. Over the course of time, other children would enter into employment with the railroad.

Robert Miller Galbraith

Robert Miller Galbraith quickly rose in prominence in the area. In 1874 he was elected to the Territorial Legislative House of Representatives, and later in 1880 and 1890, he would serve terms as a Senator in the Territorial Legislature. In 1878 there was a total eclipse in the northern United States. The epicenter traveled across southern Wyoming just north of Rawlins. A famous expedition was put together back east by Professor Henry Draper to study the eclipse. One of the members of the expedition was a young Thomas Alva Edison. He and Robert would become good friends and over the years would remain in contact via letters.

By 1882, Robert left employment with Union Pacific and entered into the mercantile business in Rawlins Wyoming, by 1884, he went into business with a partner developing a very lucrative cattle ranch. The next seven years saw a great deal of prosperity for Robert, for by 1889 he owned a substantial livestock ranch in southern Wyoming, was a member of the immensely powerful Wyoming Cattle Growers Association, a member of the Wyoming Territorial Senate, and by some accounts being groomed by the powers that be, to make a bid for the Governor's Office.

In 1889, there were many problems between the cattle barons of Wyoming and homesteaders. In July of 1889, these tensions came to a head when 6 local cattlemen raided the home of James Averill and Ella Watson, called Cattle Kate, homesteaders who were accused of cattle rustling, They were taken from their home, and just a few miles from Independence Rock in central Wyoming, were lynched. The event made the national papers in New York City as this was the first time a woman had been hanged in America. A coroners inquest was conducted and the six suspects were arrested and charged with Murder. Robert Miller Galbraith was one of the defendants. No definitive information exists in the family records regarding Robert's actual involvement in the murder of the couple, no stories, letters, diary entries, or anecdotes exist that even mention Robert Miller Galbraith's involvement in the murder, but court records in Carbon County, Wyoming show that he was indicted along with the other five suspects for murder. All of the defendants were members of the Wyoming Cattle Growers Association, who had influence and power second only to the highest ranking officials in Washington DC. By October of 1889, when the Grand Jury convened, charges would ultimately be dropped against the six defendants because all the witnesses who would have testified against them either disappeared or turned up dead.

The publicity of the murder and hearings must not have done much to defer public opinion against Robert M. Galbraith because in November of 1889, he was elected to the 11th Territorial Legislature as a Senator, inaugurated in January of 1890, and would serve until Wyoming became a state in March of 1890. By 1891, he had sold his cattle ranch, and moved his family to Pine Bluff, Arkansas where he would go on to be an extremely prominent citizen, very wealthy, holding several civic positions there in Pine Bluff and being a President of the local bank. He died at the age of 98, but not before attending the Republican National Convention in 1936 at the age of 86 as a delegate from Arkansas.

Amelia Galbraith Hatcher

Another of Robert and Helen's children, their first born, would also raise to a prominent level of notoriety. Wyoming, in its attempt to achieve Territorial status and ultimately Statehood, would become the first state to give women the right to vote. With this right came other abilities. During the polling of potential jurist for a Grand Jury in Laramie, it was determined that if women had the right to vote they should also have the duties of serving on a Jury. So six women were chosen to serve on a Grand Jury, and Amelia was one of those women. This event made the national news as reporters from newspapers throughout the country converged on Laramie, Wyoming to cover this historic event. It received such wide coverage that at one point during the proceedings, Prince William of Prussia sent a message to President U. S. Grant commenting on the trial.

George H. Galbraith

My Grandfather, was the first child in the family born in America in August of 1851. By the time he was 17, the family moved from Illinois to Wyoming. As a teenager, in 1868, I cannot imagine what went on in his mind. The Union Pacific was laying track at the rate of 1.5 miles a day across Wyoming at this time. The need for supplies and rations was tremendous. There were huge herds of cattle being driven from Texas into Wyoming to supply that need. There were 100s of men working for Union Pacific at the time, and being a government sponsored program with money to spend, there was money to be made. It was during this time that George would leave home and travel to Texas to be a "cowboy". He made the trip at least once maybe more. By the time he was 19 years old it was the middle of the Wild West as the 1870s arrived. During this time Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid along with the Wild Bunch were making life miserable for the Union Pacific Rail Road in southern Wyoming. Although he would spend time in Hebron, Nebraska working with his brother William on a farm, he would end up as a foreman for a huge Cattle Ranch in Rich County Utah, just 20 miles west of Evanston Wyoming in 1886 and would work for them until 1900. The turn of the century would see him operating his own ranch outside of Evanston before finally settling on a farm in Brigham City, Utah.

William D. Galbraith

The child that was only 7 months old when his family crossed the North Atlantic in their journey to America would grow up to be a very influential citizen in Thayer County, Nebraska in the 1800s. He would serve two terms as Sheriff, County Assessor, as well as Mayor of Hebron, Nebraska. Ultimately, he would become an officer of the Thayer County Bank in Hebron, where his father Robert Edwin Galbraith was an officer.

Robert Edwin and Helen Donaldson Galbraith

Robert would ultimately retire from the Union Pacific and he and Helen would move to Hebron, Nebraska where their son William was living in 1886. The arrival of 1890 would see their children scattered all over the west, but in 1891 they would all gather one last time in Hebron when Robert and Helen celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. In fact, eventually there would be 3 additional 50th wedding anniversaries among their children. With the onset of the 20th century, Robert would pass away at the age of 80 years old. Helen would live on another twenty years, passing away in 1920 at the age of 96. When she was buried, her favorite poem and a sprig of heather were included with her in her casket.

You canna see Ben Lomond,
Sae far are you awa'
Nor o' Ben Nevis get a glint
A' wrapt in virgin snaw;
But oh, forget not Scotland
This goodly Christmas-tide
And welcome this bit heather sprig,
Beyond the waters wide.

As the 1900s wore on, historical events and technology took over and began to change the mystique of the Wild West. Fences went up, railroads criss-crossed the nation, towns grew and so did the nation. Generations passed on, new ones took their place in history making their own mark. But for a period of 50 years, the Galbraith family, who had traveled to American during the cold, stormy days of November in 1849, were part of the Wild West, living and working, developing a new country.