By Carrie Haderlie
SHERIDAN — Just two years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in a time before Sheridan County was even Sheridan County, a 27-year-old Army scout, buffalo hunter, miner and trapper named Oliver Perry Hanna decided to build himself a permanent home.
O.P. Hanna chose a spot on Little Goose Creek just above the Bighorn and got to work. With little assistance and no team of oxen to haul in the logs, he did much of the work by hand. Before getting discouraged, he found an old trapper named Jim Mason with oxen willing to help, and paid him well to do so.
Soon, four walls and a chimney gave shelter where only a rugged mountain landscape had been before.
The group had no lumber for a door, so they used quaking aspen to fashion frame, nailing a bear skin over it to cover the cabin’s entrance. Later, O.P. Hanna found discarded pickle bottles at one of General Cook’s old camps, and ingeniously fashioned himself a west-facing window with the glass and plaster. Eventually, he used more quaking aspen poles to build a bed in the corner of the cabin.
And though time makes all things hazy, it isn’t hard to picture the cabin, walls of rough-hewn logs and exterior stone chimney with smoke curling into the sky.
This summer, on the 140th anniversary of the establishment of the first cabin in what is today Sheridan County, the Big Horn City Historical Society and the local Daughters of the American Revolution installed signage onsite to commemorate O.P. Hanna.
“If we don’t do these things now, the history will be lost,” said Judy Slack of the Big Horn City Historical Society.
Slack said she considers the O.P. Hanna site the first “legitimate” cabin in Sheridan County for a few reasons.
“Some people say there were other cabins, and, yes, there were other shacks, dugouts and small log shelters in the area,” Slack said. “However, none of these folks stayed here or helped establish local government, nor did they farm their land. We consider O.P. Hanna … a true ‘settler’ in all aspects — the first settler to build a cabin and dedicate his life to the early establishment of what would become Sheridan County.”
Hanna lived in Sheridan County for many years. He filed homestead papers on his property and built the Oriental Hotel in Big Horn City. He served as a original “booster” for the area, bringing other early settlers to the community.
Hanna married and brought his bride, Dora, to Big Horn City in 1885. They had three children, and Hanna is credited with a post office being established in Big Horn City and for the town being platted in 1881.
Three descendants of O.P. Hanna’s sister Malinda, attended the ceremony Aug. 11, including Beth Brockhouse from Rio Vista, California, and Richard Manning and his wife Maggie Kilpatrick of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Slack said Sheridan County resident and researcher Michael Dykhorst found the family members through genealogical research he was doing as a part of an adjacent project to republish Hanna’s autobiography.
“The family of O.P. Hanna never knew it was so gorgeous here,” Slack said. “They want to come back … they were honored to be here, and they will be back.”
Around 50 people attended the cabin site dedication Aug. 11. The site is on private land, and the Big Horn City Historical Society thanked Jean Mills and Scot Curry for allowing the group to install the educational signage. Slack said anyone wanting to visit should contact the Big Horn City Historical Society.
This summer was not the first time the site was honored. In 1935, in floppy hats and ankle-length dresses, the women of the the Big Horn Woman’s Club gathered to dedicate a sundial on site.
The cabin is now gone, and the sundial sits in a field that was used to grow grain, corn, hay and strawberries. The signage placed there this summer flanks the sundial.
In 2014, the Big Horn City Historical Society and the local Daughters of the American Revolution saw that the sundial was falling into disrepair, and joined forces to preserve the site. Slack said she hopes to cover the sundial with a protective dome as a part of the preservation project.
The signage on site was paid for via a memorial fund of Sen. Malcolm Wallop through the Big Horn City Historical Society.