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
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 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 mile 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.