It’s something of a simplification to say that it was the cattle barons vs. the homesteaders, because many of the homesteaders were merely cattlemen who got there a bit late. And indeed many of these Johnny-come-latelys built up very respectable herds by rustling the bigger outfits’ cattle.
In fact, it was a pretty standard custom to never eat your own beef when you sat down for a meal (one I might add, that continued well into the last few decades of the 20th century among many cattlemen). People like Tom Horn, Butch Cassidy and Isom Dart all were caught up in the situation or related sutuations.
It should be pointed out that the cattle barons (many of whom were absentee landowners still residing “Back East”, or even in the British Isles) had a pretty valid argument about the land not being good small homestead country. Twenty-five years after the war, most of the homesteaders were gone because the land, the weather and the economy combined to beat them.
But land entrapauners were bringing out small farmers from the east and from Europe with the offer of free or very cheap land. These farmers didn’t realize that the land they were settling on was not fit for small farm plots. They were used to more furtile land that wouldn’t be sapped of its nutrients in ten years or less.
I’m sure the big cattlemen didn’t realize it either, but they did know that their way of life was being threatened by the newcomers (many of whom didn’t even speak English - so immediately suspect)and their stock disappearing in very large numbers (thanks to people like Cassidy and Dart). That’s why the cattlemens’ associations hired regulators, enforcers and “stock detectives” (like Horn) to communicate their points of view. These were not subtle men, nor were many of the gunslinger “hands” the cattle barons hired like the Virginian.
The battle scenes in Chamino’s “Heavans Gate” are quite historically accurate.
And because of the numbers involved on the homsteaders side, it was not much later when the newcomers took control of the Wyoming legislature and put through land reform laws to protect themselves, but as I said earlier, the cattlemen had the last laugh in that a good portion of the homesteaders and their small spreads were gone within 20 to 25 years.
Similar land wars took place in Colorado and New Mexico (notable in the latter were John Chisholm and William [Billy the Kid] Bonny).
Sorry about the length - I got carried away.