“Buttermilk Bill” stalks wealthy cattleman, William J. Wilson, for two decades

Stalking isn’t a contemporary phenomenon, as one wealthy cattleman from Colorado history could attest. Over a century ago, millionaire cattleman William J. Wilson was the object of obsession on the part of a cowpuncher and frontiersman known as Buttermilk Bill. For two decades, Buttermilk Bill, whose real name was Bill Hensley, stalked Wilson and made numerous threats to kill him. On one occasion in 1901 he followed Wilson into the Ernest & Cranmer building, drunk, heavily armed and threatening to kill the latter. Wilson called for help and police arrested Hensley.

Hensley told officers that Wilson had cheated him out of $200 back in the 1880s. At that time, Hensley had been employed at the extensive Wilson ranch on the Republican River in southeastern Colorado. Wilson had reportedly reneged on a land deal for which Hensley was to have been paid the $200. (In 1883, Wilson was the target of a $65,000 lawsuit by the sales agents related to the sale of his Circle Ranch on the Republican River.)

Officers kept Hensley in jail until he sobered up, then let him go. In 1902, Wilson prevailed upon Denver police to tail Hensley, who was again stalking his victim.

Wilson’s luck ran out in late December of 1905. At around five o’clock on a cold Wednesday afternoon, Buttermilk Bill cornered Wilson in the hallway of the Lewiston Hotel at 18th and Stout. As Hensley aimed a .38-caliber revolver at Wilson, the latter ducked into a passageway near a stairwell, but the passageway was a dead end. He was trapped. Hensley calmly swore at his victim and began firing. Five shots later, Wilson lay bleeding in the hallway. Three of the shots had entered his back.

Two police officers ran into the hallway just as Hensley turned the gun on himself. Before they could reach him, he shot himself in the head. He died later at St. Luke’s hospital. Wilson was still alive but fading quickly. The shots had torn into Wilson’s kidneys. His last words were, “Tell my brother Andy—and—call Dr. Grant—this pain is awful.”

Wilson, who had recently become a widower, left an estate worth about $225,000 to his two teenaged sons, Valdo and Howard.

(Sources: Colorado Transcript, Dec 28, 1905; the Federal Reporter, Vols. 111-112.)

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2 thoughts on ““Buttermilk Bill” stalks wealthy cattleman, William J. Wilson, for two decades

  1. William J. Wilson was my great grandfather. Growing up, I remember hearing that he had been shot and killed by a drunken cowboy on 16th Street in 1905, leaving my grandfather and his brother as orphans. Your story is very helpful! Do you have any information on the Circle Ranch? I had understood that their ranch was on Wilson Creek near E. Bijou in Elbert County, I think. Was this a different ranch? I’m putting together the family genealogy and would love to find more information.

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