June 13, 1914, was a sad day for the family of Undersheriff William H. Veach and the Sheridan community. Undersheriff Veach, 42 years old and an outstanding citizen, was shot through the heart and killed in the line of duty while helping with the arrest of a despicable desperado and ex-convict named Earl Foree.
It happened at 10:40 a.m. on Broadway Street just south of the Little Goose Bridge when a three-cornered pistol battle took place. The battle was between Undersheriff Veach, Deputy Sheriff Frank Rue of Basin County and Earl Foree.
Foree had previously worked in the Parkman area, as did his brother. Foree came to Sheridan with revenge in his heart for two reasons. First, his brother was accused of stealing cattle from Parkman ranchers E. L. Dana and E. C. Woodley. He was convicted and sent to prison.
Second, two or three years later, Foree himself was accused of setting a fire to a haystack and machinery owned by E. C. Woodley on Pass Creek. Foree was found guilty and incarcerated in the state penitentiary at Rawlins. (He had previously served a term in a Colorado prison for horse stealing.) When he was released five years later he swore revenge for he and his brother and headed for Sheridan to kill those involved: Dana and Woodley and attorneys E. E. Lonabaugh, J. H. Burgess and Dave Towne who had assisted in prosecuting either Foree or his brother.
On his way to the Sheridan area, Foree stole a horse in Basin, which coincidentally belonged to Deputy Sheriff Rue. Rue, who was in Billings at the time, heard of the theft and headed to Sheridan where Foree was known to be headed on his mission of revenge.
In Sheridan, Veach and Rue met up and with information gathered from a series of informants located Foree. The encounter was fatal. When Foree resisted arrest, all three men drew their pistols, Foree first, and commenced firing. It was a loud, wild, smoke and lead filled melee. Bullets flew in all directions. When the smoke cleared, all three men were down.
Veach was shot straight through the heart and the back. He lived less than 15 minutes after the shooting. Foree had a bullet wound in his abdomen, his right leg was shattered between the hip and knee and he received a scalp wound. Rue was crippled with a bad wound in a leg, but kept his presence of mind and held Foree prisoner until police arrived.
Foree was taken to the county jail which was surrounded by deputies because of the fear of lynching by an outraged populace. He was attended by a doctor but his condition was so bad he was later transferred to the hospital for more adequate treatment.
Undersheriff Veach’s funeral was held at his home on 464 Gladstone St., June 16th. He was mourned by his wife and two young children, his parents who lived in Sheridan and various other family members. After the funeral, his wife and two children accompanied his body to Hillsboro, Ore., where Veach’s brother lived, for interment.
Surprisingly, Foree’s condition began to improve and it appeared he would live to stand trial. At that point, the coroner believed he would need more positive ballistics evidence and so traveled to Oregon where Veach’s body was exhumed and an autopsy performed.
The result was startling. The bullet that actually killed Veach came from Deputy Sheriff Rue’s gun!
Although Veach was shot by Foree, that wound was not mortal.
At about the time the autopsy was being performed, Foree’s health took a turn for the worse and he suddenly died. His body was sent to Miles City, Mont.
Deputy Rue was devastated when he learned that he had killed Undersheriff Veach. Veach’s family, however, was forgiving and recognized that the act was purely accidental.
Undersheriff Veach was not forgotten. Two years later, in May 1916, the Sheridan Board of County Commissioners directed that a suitable drinking fountain with a memorial plaque be procured and installed in the rotunda of the Court House and dedicated to the memory of W. H. Veach.
Ninety-seven years later the fountain still stands in tribute to Undersheriff Veach who lost his life in the honorable discharge of his duty.
Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force officer and has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.