War often creates bonds for life. In the case of John Loucks and Gen. Philip Sheridan, the connection has lasted far after both of their lives ended.
As a member of the Union Army during the Civil War, Sheridan safely commanded thousands of soldiers in battle. Loucks was one of those servicemen.
About 15 years after the war ended, Loucks traveled south from present day Miles City, Montana, to what was then called the Wyoming Territory. Loucks saw the beautiful landscape and fell in love with the rivers, valleys and ranch land, all surrounded by mountains. Shortly after, he decided to construct a town and name it after his Civil War commander.
Hence, in 1882, the town of Sheridan was born.
“Loucks had a great affection for him and a great respect for him, and so he simply named Sheridan after the general in the Civil War that he fought under,” said local historian Mary Ellen McWilliams, who serves as an adviser and volunteer for the Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum and the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association.
More than 135 years later, the community has grown to a population approaching 20,000, sixth-largest in the state. At an altitude of 3,740 feet, Sheridan sits at the lowest elevation of any incorporated town in Wyoming.
In her book, “In the Shadow of the Bighorns: A History of Early Sheridan and the Goose Creek Valley of Northern Wyoming,” Cynde Georgen writes that Sheridan was fond of the area soon to bear his name. After viewing the land for the first time in 1881, Sheridan reported to his supervising general that the Goose Creek Valley was an ideal area to raise livestock.
Loucks concurred and was one of many settlers who had an affinity for the region.
According to Michael Dykhorst’s book, “134 years of Mayors of Sheridan, Wyoming: 1884-2018,” the Wyoming territory was growing around the time Loucks arrived. The population had increased from about 9,000 in 1870 to more than 20,000 in 1880. New communities and settlements were popping up more frequently, and Sheridan joined the party in 1882.
Loucks hired Jack Dow of Big Horn to survey the land, then sold the first 40 acres in modern-day downtown Sheridan. The landowners who claimed lots on the first 40 acres still have streets named after them more than 13 decades later: Grinnell, Brundage, Loucks, Works, Burkitt, Brooks, Gould and Scott.
The town became incorporated in 1884 — six years before Wyoming became a state — and Loucks served as its first mayor, hosting nearly all political and community events at his home.
While Loucks was working to solidify the burgeoning town, Sheridan stayed busy in the military. In 1883, he was appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army. Five years later, he was promoted to the rank of general of the Army during President Grover Cleveland’s term.
Sheridan has always been the county seat. Georgen said the town easily won the vote between Sheridan, Big Horn and Dayton after separating from Johnson County in 1888. That was the same year of Sheridan’s death via multiple heart attacks at age 57.
But as his physical form expired, Sheridan’s lasting legacy was just beginning. A plethora of places around the country bear Sheridan’s honorific, largely because of the admiration from his brothers in arms.
“He was a popular guy with his troops,” said Georgen, also the superintendent at the Trail End State Historic Site.
In addition to Wyoming, four other states have a Sheridan County: Nebraska, North Dakota, Kansas and Montana. Towns of Sheridan exist in Colorado, Montana, Arkansas, Oregon, Indiana and Illinois as well, though none of them have nearly as large a population as Sheridan, Wyoming.
Sheridan isn’t just present in name. Physical homages to him exist in different forms, as well. The only equestrian Civil War statue in Ohio, located in the town of Somerset, recognizes Sheridan. There is even a Sheridan Glacier, located 15 miles outside of Cordova, Alaska, named in his honor.
As a young man facing life or death scenarios, Loucks shared a special affection for Sheridan, his military commander who steered him through numerous life-threatening experiences. More than a century later, the bond remains in northern Wyoming.