Highland Lives - and a Wyoming Interlude
Bella Macrae was the youngest of eight children, and the lives of her siblings show some marked similarities with Rod Munro's family. There was, for example, the pull of Strathpeffer for employment - just as Rod and Colin found work there, so too did Bella and her older sister Ann (who was on the staff of the Strathpeffer Hotel in the 1880s). Bella's brother Duncan (b. 1859) was a shepherd at Brahan Mains, which lay next to the farm at Easter Moy where Rod's father, Sandy, and brother, Thomas, worked as shepherds off and on through the 1880s, and in 1886 Duncan married a girl named Jemima Cameron who lived at Easter Moy. So it is more than likely that the Munros and Macraes knew each other long before Rod and Bella's wedding. More remarkable, however, is that in marrying Bella, Rod, who had a cousin who was a sheep farmer in Montana (as well as cousins sheep farming in New Zealand), now also acquired a brother-in-law who was a sheep farmer in the state of Wyoming, which bordered Montana.
Kenneth Macrae, the youngest of Bella's four brothers, emigrated to the USA in 1888 and made his way to Wyoming with the apparent intention of becoming a sheep herder on its open ranges. In 1893 he was joined by his brother Duncan - most probably with a view to establishing a joint enterprise near Medicine Bow (in southeast Wyoming, between Casper and Laramie) where Kenneth was then living. However, Duncan did not stay long in Wyoming - he was back in Scotland by 1895. He later took up the lease of a croft at the Crask of Aigas, on the Beauly River just to the south of the county boundary between Ross-shire and Inverness-shire.
Family tradition suggests Duncan turned his back on Wyoming because his wife was ill and was struggling to raise their children back home in Scotland. But as a family man it is also possible that he was concerned about the security of his wife and family should they join him in Wyoming, which was a relatively lawless place, full of tensions over rights to land and water - tensions between ranchers and homesteaders, as well as between cattlemen and sheep herders. The notorious Johnson County War had occurred only a year before Duncan's arrival, in 1892. Wyoming in the 1890s was awash with guns and feuds, and its gun culture brought trouble for Kenneth MacRae.
By 1897, Kenneth had moved north from Medicine Bow and was living on a little settlement called Bessemer to the southwest of the town of Casper. He was running sheep
on the open range up the nearby Poison Spider River. In May 1897, one of Kenneth's hired hands climbed into the wagon that sheep-herders used as a mobile home while
out on the range. It was night-time, it was dark, and Kenneth was sleeping in the wagon. A gun was fired, and the hired hand, named Robert Gordon, was killed. Three days later, Kenneth took the body into Casper and explained that the shooting was an accident - that Gordon, in climbing into the wagon, had inadvertently discharged the gun. However, another employee, who had been sleeping under the wagon, disputed Kenneth's account - and Kenneth went on trial for murder. It took no less than three trials - one involving a hung jury, one involving a judge's ordering a new trial after Kenneth had been found guilty (leading to allegations of corruption being made against the judge), and finally one in which the trial process was handed over to a neighbouring county - before Kenneth was finally acquitted, on 2 June 1898.
Three weeks later a no-doubt relieved Kenneth married his sweetheart. His bride was Wilhemina Clark, aged 25 years, who had been born in Scotland. (She may have been the daughter of William Clark who ran a local stagecoach business in Casper.)
The circumstances around Kenneth's trials are said to have left a legacy of bitter feelings in Casper. Despite that, his later life was less tumuluous. At Bessemer and then in Casper, he and Wilhelmina raised a family of three girls - Grace, Ruth and Margaret (one of their daughters, named Isabella after Kenneth's youngest sister, died from peritonitis in 1905, when she was only four years old). Meanwhile he continued his sheep herding on the surrounding range lands - where he eventually met his desmise. He died in June 1913 from the tick-borne disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.