Richard King

Desdemona

Desdemona

In the early days of Texas, almost everyone came from somewhere else.  Richard King, for example, was born in New York City on 10 July 1824.  His family was, as they say, dirt poor … and Irish.  At the age of 9 years, Richard’s parents apprenticed him to a Manhattan jeweler.  Apparently, Richard hated the work because in the next year he escaped indenture by stowing away aboard the cargo ship Desdemona, bound for Mobile, Alabama.  When the crew discovered young Richard, they took him to Captain Hugh Monroe and First Officer Joe Holland, who after some deliberation, agreed to adopt the boy and teach him seamanship.  Between 1835-41 (except for eight months of formal schooling with Holland’s family in Connecticut), Richard learned about steam boating on Alabama rivers.  By the age of 16, Richard was a qualified steamboat pilot.

In 1842, Richard enlisted under Captain Henry Penny for service in the Seminole Wars in Florida.  During his service there, he met Mifflin Kenedy, who became his life-long friend and business partner.  Kenedy was a few years older than King, born on 8 June 1818 in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.  Kenedy came from a Quaker family, educated in the common schools of Chester County.  During the winter of 1834, Kenedy taught school, but in the spring, he signed on as a cabin boy aboard the Star of Philadelphia, which traded with Calcutta, India.

After serving at sea, Kenedy returned home where he taught school for a short time in 1836.  Between 1836-42, he clerked aboard river boats plying the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers.  Between 1842-46, Kenedy sailed as a clerk and substitute captain on the Champion between Apalachicola and Chattahoochee rivers in Florida.  This is when Kenedy first met Richard King.  While Champion was undergoing repairs in Pittsburgh, Kenedy met Major John Saunders of the U. S. Army, an engineer who was securing boats for use by the Army on the Rio Grande during the Mexican American War.  Major Saunders employed Kenedy as an assistant and later as master of the Corvette, where he served for the duration of the war.  Richard King joined Kenedy on the Rio Grande, serving as master of the Colonel Cross.  Together, King and Kenedy transported troops and supplies to US forces serving in South Texas and Northern Mexico.

After the war, Kenedy formed a partnership with Samuel A. Belden and James Walworth engaging in trade with Mexico.  When the partnership dissolved, Kenedy shepherded a pack train of goods to Monterrey where he sold them for a good profit.  King also remained on the border —as a steamboat captain.  In 1850, King joined the steamboat firm of M. Kenedy & Company (1850-66).  From 1866-74, the two men formed Kenedy & Company.  For over two decades, King and Kenedy dominated the Rio Grande river trade.  Both men were experienced seamen, and both men were risk takers.

The supremely confident King believed he could take a river boat almost anywhere.  He was also an innovator, capable of designing specialized boats for narrow bends and fast currents on the Rio Grande.  But what motivated King most was profit, which explains his dabbling in multiple undertakings with various associates.  Of course, the money-maker in South Texas was land.  Beginning in the 1850s, King speculated in Cameron County, Texas and buying lots in the emerging town of Brownsville.  As his cash flow increased through successes on the river, he invested his profits in Nueces County land.  After learning the hard way about fraudulent land schemes, he subsequently employed such men as Stephen Powers, James B. Wells, and Robert Kleberg[1] as attorneys in making land acquisitions.

Running W Brand 001

The Running W Brand

Richard King first purchased land in the Nueces Strip in 1853, acquiring the 15,500-acre Rincón de Santa Gertrudis grant from the heirs of Juan Mendiola, which originated under an 1808 grant from the King of Spain.  In the next year, King purchased the 53,000-acre Santa Gertrudis de la Garza Ranch.  These two irregularly shaped properties became the nucleus of the now-famous King Ranch[2].

With partners Mifflin Kenedy and James Walworth, Richard King established an interest in cattle ranching.  Initially, Kenedy was interested in raising sheep from Pennsylvania with an initial herd of 10,000 sheep which he installed near El Sal del Rey in Hidalgo County in 1854.  In 1860, Kenedy bought into Santa Gertrudis ranch and became a full partner with King.  When King and Kenedy dissolved their partnership in 1868, it took them 13-months to round up, count, and divide their stock in cattle, sheep, goats, and mules … animals spread from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande.  With Kenedy’s share of the profits, he purchased the Laureles Ranch, twenty-two miles west of Corpus Christi, Texas[3].

In 1854, Richard King married Henrietta Maria Morse Chamberlin (1832-1925).  Henrietta was born in Boonville, Missouri.  Her mother Maria (Morse) passed away in 1835, and the absence of her father Hiram Chamberlin, due to his work as a Presbyterian Missionary, left her alone in her formative years.  Her early years help to explain her strongly self-reliant and somewhat stoic personality.  Henrietta attended the Female Institute of Holly Springs, Mississippi for two years beginning at the age of fourteen.  In 1849, she joined her father in Brownsville, Texas.  In 1854, she taught at the Rio Grande Female Institute.  Henrietta accepted Richard King’s marriage proposal and the couple married on 10 December of that year.  Richard and Henrietta raised five children, including Alice King Kleberg (namesake of Alice, Texas).  One of Henrietta’s self-imposed tasks was the supervision of  the housing and education needs of the families of Mexican ranch hands.

After Richard’s death in 1885, Henrietta assumed full ownership and control over the King Ranch, which by then included 500,000 acres of land between Corpus Christi and Brownsville —and around $500,000 of Richard’s debt.

In 1860, Texas cattle had little value beyond their hides and tallow.  River trade was far more profitable.  At the start of the American Civil War, Kenedy-King owned 26 boats.  During the war, Kenedy-King were successful in shipping cotton along the Rio Grande to European buyers, horses and cattle, munitions, medical supplies, and clothing to Confederate field armies, and they were able to do this by registering their steamboat interests with the government of Mexico and moving their company offices to Matamoros.  With every intention of disrupting south Texas trade, the Union Army captured Brownsville in 1863 and raided the King Ranch.  When Colonel John S. (Rip) Ford retook South Texas in 1864, Kenedy and King resumed their business activities.

Richard King 001At the conclusion of the war, King went to Mexico where he remained until after President Andrew Johnson granted him a pardon in 1865.  Afterwards, flush with profits from the war, King returned to Santa Gertrudis.  In 1868, he and Kenedy dissolved their partnership and began operating as friendly competitors.  The result of this was two of the most famous ranches in the American west.  Each, in their own way, revolutionized the economy of Texas.  Kenedy was the first to introduce fencing property, but both initiated overland cattle drives to northern markets, engaged in large-scale sheep, mule, and horse raising, and both approached cattle-breeding scientifically.  Between 1869-84, King and Kenedy did more than anyone else to establish the American Ranching Industry.  In these years, King alone sent more than 100,000 head of cattle to northern markets.

In the post-Civil War period, South Texas was in an economic transition period.  For centuries, the economic foundation of the region of South Texas was the hacienda system[4].  Richard King saw no reason to change that, as in doing so, it would disrupt the culture of South Texas and Richard King realized that no one reacts well to change.  King adopted the Hispanic legacy of the patron system, which provided social consistency, reliable labor, and at a reasonable cost.

Within the Spanish/Mexican system, a “patron” was the owner of the hacienda.  He may or may not have lived on the hacienda but there was never any question that he was the lord and master of his vast holdings.  In the sense that most estates were cash-poor, the arrangement was feudal in the sense that it incorporated a system of bartering of goods and services within the estate.  As payment for their labor, hacienda residents received homes, schools, chapels, and they retained a percentage of goods grown or raised on the land.  With these goods, they bartered for other goods and materials with people at other locations both on and off the hacienda.

On site management of the estate was a function of a paid administrator.  On the King Ranch, management positions went to non-Hispanic lieutenants.  It has always been the nature of peons to accept at face value their place in life, true under the Spanish and Mexican states, and equally accurate on South Texas ranches, as well.

King’s unfettered access to capital fueled his never-ending expansion of land and livestock and allowed him to displace competing ranchers and landowners.  Both King and Kenedy despised the notion of the “open range,” and particularly loathed squatters whom he drove off his land at gunpoint.  As a guarantee of available transportation, King invested heavily in railroads, notably the Corpus Christi-San Diego-Rio Grande narrow gauge railroads.  He established packing houses, ice plants, and invested in harbor improvements at Corpus Christi.  King’s fortune was the result of his anticipation of demands for beef, his implementation of volume production, and his effort to control transportation and markets.

All was not a bed of roses, however.  The post-Civil War period in Texas was a dangerous time to be alive.  Banditry existed on both sides of the Rio Grande.  American outlaws routinely raided Mexican haciendas, murdering vaqueros and their families, stealing their horses and cattle.  For men disenfranchised after the war, Mexican ranches were “easy pickings.”  But white settlers in south Texas were targets for Mexican bandits, as well.  In the minds of these bandits, white interlopers wrongfully seized previously Mexican owned lands in Texas and other border states.  Men who perpetrated these crimes, from either side of the border, were of the worst sort.  They were killers, rapists, and thieves.  The King Ranch became a frequent target of such men, white or brown.  Unlike many of the ranchers in South Texas, Richard King refused to put up with it.

Putting the King Ranch back together after the Civil War was no easy task.  The Yankee Reconstruction Administration disbanded the Texas Rangers and all but ceded the Nueces Strip to Mexican bandits, who were happy to renew their raids on the hated gringos —and did so with brutal intensity.  The next ten years were filled with two extremes: economic opportunity and danger.  One of the great booms of American history was just beginning —the cattle drives.  But Bandit raids from Mexico drove many of King’s neighbors out of business, and his whole empire was threatened.  King forfeited tens of thousands of cattle during these so-called cattle wars.  Among those living in South Texas, it seemed as if the Mexicans were about to seize back the land south of the Nueces that had been lost in the Mexican American War.

The prominent Mexican bandit was a man named Juan Nepomuceno Cortina Goseacochea (May 16, 1824 – October 30, 1894).  Folks called him Cheno.  He was an upper-class border character who had fought the Americans in the Mexican War and then lost his family’s land in and around Brownsville.  Cortina had red hair and green eyes.  He was charismatic and cruel.  He was an opportunist who kept the border area in upheaval for two decades.  No one hated gringos more than Cortina, and the focus of Cheno’s outrage was Richard King.  Cortina often boasted that the gringo King was raising cattle for him and the Cortinista raids became King’s greatest outlaw challenge.  The raids were frequent and so bad that King himself became a conspicuous target of the Cortinistas.  Once, en route to meet with the American commission investigating cross border raids from Mexico, Cortinista thugs ambushed King and his party; a young German riding with King was killed in the resulting gun fight.  In his desperation, King went so far as to join the Republican party in the vain hope that he could get help from the Reconstruction Administration, which for their part, seemed quite happy to see former Confederates suffer.

Finally, in 1875, at the end of Reconstruction, the Texas Rangers were reassembled.  In one encounter a group of Rangers fought a pitched battle with a dozen cattle raiders who were driving a large herd of cattle belonging to the King Ranch.  The Rangers killed every raider and dumped their bodies in the square at Brownsville as a sign that times had changed, and it set the tone for the bitter role the Rangers played during the so-called border wars … but it worked.  Raids from Mexico slacked off, and when Porfirio Díaz seized power in Mexico in 1876 (with Richard King’s help) he made sure that such raids ended.  King’s empire was saved.

Richard King was nothing if not a shrewd and ruthless businessman.  To manage costs, King devised a scheme to make his trail bosses owners of the herds they drove to market.  In addition to their salaries as employees of the King Ranch, trail bosses would sign a note for the cattle before driving them north, usually around February of each year.  The drive would take roughly three months.  Upon the sale of the herd to northern buyers, trail bosses would pay off their loans and still earn a profit greater than their ordinary wages.  The system gave these men a stake in making sure that most of the cattle reached their destination at northern railheads.

Richard King was a hard-working man; his thirst for land insatiable, but by the early 1880’s his health deteriorated considerably.  In 1885, feeling poorly, King traveled to San Antonio to see his doctor.  He died at the Menger Hotel from stomach cancer on 14 April.  At the time of his death, Richard King owned 614,000 acres (1,541 square miles).

The growth of the King Ranch created a demand for railroad service connecting the Rio Grande Valley to the rest of Texas, and of course, to serve the interests of the King Ranch.  In the early 1900s, Henrietta King deeded a portion of the ranch to entice the construction of a town and bring the railroad to the edge of the King Ranch.  In 1903, Robert J. Kleberg, Jr., who was then the manager of the King Ranch, formed the Kleberg Town and Improvement Company.  The mission of the company was to plan and then build the town, eventually named Kingsville, three miles from the King Ranch headquarters.  In that same year, the St. Louis-Brownsville-Mexico Railway reached Kingsville, the first train passing through on 4 July 1904.  In 1913, Kingsville became the county seat of Kleberg County.  The city’s first population boom occurred in 1920 with the discovery of oil and natural gas near Kingsville.

Henrietta Maria Morse Chamberlain King died on 31 March 1925, aged 92.  At that time, the estimated worth of the King Ranch was $5.4 million.  By this time, the King Ranch consisted of 997,445 acres of land (2,515 square miles), which did not include the estate’s Santa Gertrudis headquarters or the Kleberg’s Stillman and Lasater tracks.  The estate was so expansive that it took another four years to pay the taxes, estimated at over $859,000.  At the time of the stock market crash of 1929, the King Ranch was indebted to the sum of $3 million.  In 1933, Bob Kleberg, Jr., leased a portion of land to the Humble Oil Company of Houston and this in effect put the King Ranch back on solid footing.

Sources:

  1. Lea, T. Captain King of Texas: The man who made the King ranch.  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1957.
  2. Sanford, W. R., and Carl R. Green. Richard King: Texas Cattle Rancher.  Enslow Press, 1997.
  3. The Handbook of Texas Online: Mifflin Kenedy.

Endnotes:

[1] Powers, Wells, and Kleberg played a key role in merging civil and common law in the establishment of land titles between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers.  Powers served in numerous influential positions in South Texas, including the chief justice of Cameron County, mayor of Brownsville, and the state Democratic party machine.

[2] By the time of King’s death in 1885, he owned land exceeding that of the state of Rhode Island.  Today, the King Ranch encompasses 825,000-acres, covering 1,300 miles, situated on six South Texas counties: Brooks, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, and Willacy.

[3] This 131,000-acre ranch eventually passed into the hands of Henrietta King, Richard King’s widow, in 1906.

[4] The hacienda system was unique to Spanish colonies, although somewhat like the Roman latifundium.  Some haciendas were plantations, mines, or factories, and some of them incorporated all these activities.  In Mexico and South Texas, a hacienda was a landed estate of significant size; smaller holdings were estancias or rancheros.

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Brushy Bill

Brushy Bill Roberts 001

Brushy Bill Roberts

Some people called him William Henry Roberts, but he was also known as Ollie Partridge William Roberts, Ollie N. Roberts, Ollie L. Roberts, and Brushy Bill Roberts.  It seems as if some of the western old timers changed their names as often as they did their socks.  Bill Roberts said that he was born in 1859.  He attracted attention in 1950 when he admitted that his real name was William H. Bonney (whom we all remember as the outlaw Billy the Kid).

This story begins with an attorney and probate investigator named William V. Morrison[1].  In 1948, Joe Hines laid claim to a property titled to his deceased brother.  It was Morrison’s task to investigate the claim.  During his inquiry, Joe Hines informed Morrison that he had participated in the Lincoln County (New Mexico) War.  Hines’ story was entirely plausible, of course, but Morrison’s real shock came when Hines stated that William H. Bonney was still alive and living under an assumed name.  According to Hines, Sheriff Pat Garrett did not kill Bonney.  Rather, Garrett killed another fellow by the name of Billy Barlow and claimed that Barlow was Billy the Kid to enhance his reputation as a lawman.

Once more, this contention was plausible because contrary to myth and Hollywood productions, Pat Garrett was not entirely an up-standing lawman[2].  Nevertheless, when Morrison pressed Hines for additional information, Joe refused to reveal Bonney’s assumed name or his location.  A few months later, Morrison located a man who called himself Frank J. Dalton in Lawton, Oklahoma.  Dalton too was a bit odd.  Dalton told Morrison that his real identity was Jesse James, but confirmed that William Bonney was still alive in Hamilton, Texas, where he was known as O. L. Roberts.

Reinvigorated, Morrison initiated correspondence with Mr. Roberts, who, after some time, acknowledged that he was William H. Bonney.  As proof to his real identity, Roberts related many of his exploits during the Lincoln County War, his various associations, and his exploits as an outlaw.  Morrison concluded if that Roberts’ stories were true, it would be interesting to chronicle the life and times of one of America’s more famous outlaws.  To convince Morrison of his veracity, Brushy Bill Roberts demonstrated how to slip out of handcuffs.  Moreover, Brushy Bill reiterated the “fact” that Garrett shot and killed Billy Barlow and passed off Barlow’s body as that of William Bonney.  In any case, Roberts told Morrison that in exchange for a full pardon by the governor of New Mexico[3], Roberts would swear to tell the truth about the Lincoln County War and about the life and times of Billy the Kid.

Understandably, Brushy Bill’s revelation had a profound impact on Pat Garrett’s descendants and when news agencies reported these disclosures, it caused a minor sensation in the United States.  There were no small number of doubters, of course, because some people regarded Brushy Bill as bordering on senile.  How does one believe a man with so many aliases?  In 1987, Mrs. Geneva Pittmon identified herself as Brushy Bill’s niece.  Geneva claimed in a letter that Brushy Bill was Oliver P. Roberts, who, according to a family Bible, was born on 26 August 1879.  Geneva argued that there was no way that Uncle Ollie could be William H. Bonney.  In arguing that Brushy Bill’s birth name was William Henry Roberts (not Oliver P. Roberts)[4], Bill’s supporters defeated their own contention.

The only way Brushy Bill could substantiate his claim was by providing verifiable first-hand information that only Billy the Kid would know, but after Governor Thomas J. Mabry[5] of New Mexico denied the Brushy Bill’s application for a pardon, old Bill died of a heart attack on 27 December 1950.  If he was Billy the Kid, he would have been 90 years old.  If he was really William or Oliver Roberts, he would have been 71 years old.

According to Morrison, a post-mortem examination of Brushy Bill’s body revealed 26 bullet wounds and several scars from a knife-like weapon.  This physical evidence led Morrison to two conclusions: first, that Brushy Bill had led a violent life; second, that his “battle scars” gave some weight to the possibility of Robert’s claim.  Morrison continued his investigation by contacting former members of the Jesse Evans Gang[6], Jim McDaniels, Severo Gallegos, Martle Able, and José Montoya.  All these men signed affidavits stating that they had known William H. Bonney and that they believed Brushy Bill Roberts was the same man.  Additional gang members Sam and Bill Jones (wisely) refused to sign affidavits because there is no statute of limitations on first degree murder.  Bill Jones grandson later argued that Brushy Bill could not be Billy the Kid because Brushy Bill was illiterate, while William H. Bonney was literate in both English and Spanish.

Most of what we know about Billy the Kid came from an 1882 book attributed to Pat Garrett, ghost-written by Roswell, New Mexico’s post-master … a man by the name of Ash Upson.  Upson’s product was little more than fabrication with a few facts tossed in to make the myth of Billy the Kid plausible.  Since publication of Morrison’s book, co-authored by noted western historian C. L. Sonnichsen, titled Alias Billy the Kid, several other noted personalities have chimed in, including President Harry S. Truman and former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly.  While somewhat lacking in their convictions, both Truman and O’Reilly claimed that evidence that Brushy Bill was William H. Bonney carries greater weight than the generally accepted (Hollywood) version of history.

Billy the Kid 002

William H. Bonney, Age 20

Two separate photographic studies comparing Brushy Bill with Billy the Kid contradict one another.  The first, in 1989, claimed a low probability that Brushy Bill and Billy the Kid were the same person; another in 1990 (employing the same technology used by the FBI and CIA) suggested a significant level of statistical validity (93%) that Brushy Bill was William H. Bonney.  Attempts to evaluate the DNA of the remains of William Bonney and his mother with those of Brushy Bill Roberts were shelved in 2004 because Billy the Kid’s remains could not be located.

At the time of his death, Brushy Bill lived in Hico, Texas.  He was interred in Hamilton, Texas (twenty miles south).  Whether Brushy Bill was Billy the Kid, the Hico Chamber of Commerce nevertheless established a money-making museum that makes such a claim.

This is the stuff that makes history interesting and fun.  The truth of this matter remains unresolved, but I hope Brushy Bill/William H. Bonney rests in peace because with 26 bullet wounds, the lucky fellow deserves a good rest.

Sources:

  1. Walker, D.L.  Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West.  Doherty Associates, 1998.
  2. Jameson, W. C.  Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave.  Taylor Publications, 2005.
  3. Sonnichsen, C. L. and William V. Morrison.  Alias: Billy the Kid.  University of New Mexico Press, 1955.

Endnotes:

[1] Morrison passed away in 1977.

[2] Pat Garrett was a con man wearing a badge, even to the extent of convincing Theodore Roosevelt that he was competent enough to serve as a customs officer in El Paso.  Roosevelt later fired Garrett, and after moving back to New Mexico, Garrett found himself in financial difficulty.  His property was seized and auctioned for back taxes.  Garrett was shot and killed near Las Cruces, New Mexico on 29 February 1908 but the individual responsible for his murder was never identified.  In the matter of the death of William H. Bonney, it was only the testimony of Garrett that could confirm the dead man’s identity, since neither of his two deputies had ever seen Bonney.  The dead person was quickly buried in an unmarked grave and so the only evidence available pointing to the demise of Billy the Kid was Garrett’s statement that the man he killed was Bonney.

[3] Governor Lew Wallace granted Bonney a pardon in 1879, but subsequently withdrew it.  Roberts wanted the pardon and asked Morrison to help him obtain it.

[4] William H. Bonney was born under the name Henry McCarty in either September or November 1859 in New York City.  His aliases included Henry Antrim and Kid Antrim and he was raised in Indiana, Kansas, and New Mexico Territory.

[5] Mabry (1884-1962) was a New Mexico politician, judge, Chief Justice, and 14th governor (1947-51).

[6] Jesse Evans (from Missouri), having been acquitted of murder, subsequently formed a gang of murders and cattle rustlers around 1877.  The gang participated in the Lincoln County War as assassins hired by the Murphy-Dolan faction and according to some historians, Jesse Evans was more feared than his nemesis, Billy the Kid.  Jesse was responsible for the murder of John Tunstall, which ignited the county conflict.  Evans disappeared in 1882 and was never seen again.  He probably changed his name.

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Six Gun Kate

When Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, the area of present-day Arizona became part of the Mexican territory of Nueva California, also Alta California.  During the Mexican-American War (1847-48), the US Army occupied the area of present-day Arizona.  On 28 February of that year, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Arizona Organic Act, which created the Arizona Territory from the Territory of New Mexico, which had been created on 9 September 1850.  Fort Whipple, near present-day Prescott, became the first Territorial Capital.

Arizona SealIn 1864, Henry Wickenburg discovered gold in the Bradshaw Mountains and established a lucrative mining venture south of Prescott.  Word of this discovery acted as a magnet to gold-seekers, who began pouring into Arizona.  They were followed by ranchers, farmers, store and saloon keepers.  In 1865, Camp McDowell (later called Fort McDowell) was established to protect settlers and prospectors from the Tonto Apache.

The route to Fort Whipple from Camp McDowell was a circuitous one.  Initially, the US Cavalry route headed toward present-day Phoenix, made a loop northward to Wickenburg, and then on to Fort Whipple.  In October 1870, Colonel George Stoneman was made aware of a shortcut route to the capital, which took advantage of an Indian trail that offered water, two natural springs, and an abundance of tall grass for forage.  This short cut and area of water and forage became the town of Cave Creek, Arizona.

The first individual to settle in Cave Creek was a Missouri-born Confederate deserter by the name of Edward Cave.  He was called “Old Rackensack” by later settlers.  Cave mined the area of Cave Creek for thirty years and founded some of the best producing mines in that area.  Cave Creek was not named for Old Rackensack, however.  It was called Cave Creek because of the cave that existed there, and the creek that ran along just below it.  Edward Cave is believed to have died around 1912, but his body was never found.

Fifteen years after Edward Cave’s demise, a 40-year old woman named Catherine waived goodbye to her grown and newly married daughter in Iowa, stepped into her Buick touring car, and headed for Arizona.  She finally settled in Cave Creek and ended up marrying a fellow named Elliott.  Together, they had a daughter whom they named Vera.  Elliott and Catherine homesteaded 160 acres and named their ranch Cahava, which we are told is an Apache word for “always water.”  Elliott decided that ranching wasn’t for him, so he left Catherine and headed for California —and this is the last we’ll hear of Elliott.  Catherine remained on the ranch and ran it by herself.  To this, she added another 640 acres that ran adjacent to the spread of Theodore “Ted” Jones.

Jones migrated to Arizona from Rochester, New York in 1904.  At that time, he was 34-years old and headed out west to find his fortunes.  When he first appeared in Cave Creek, there were only three families living there.  Phoenix, the nearest city, only had two main streets.  Folks referred to Ted as Mysterious Jones owing to the fact that he kept to himself and didn’t share his personal business with others.  Around the beginning of World War I, Ted Jones left the area to parts unknown.  He returned years later to establish a cattle ranch, which was called the TBJ spread.

Catherine was ten years younger than Ted, but they came to an accommodation and were married. They ranched two sections of land north of Cave Creek.  From all accounts, Catherine was the perfect pioneer woman, but more than this she became an expert ranch hand.  Catherine, barely five feet tall, always wore clothes that were appropriate for ranch work.  A Stetson hat, kerchief around her neck, cotton shirt, three button jacket and breeches.  She also never went anywhere without a .38 pistol holstered around her waist.  She not only wore the pistol she also knew how to use it.

Some folks started referring to Catherine as Cattle Kate, others called her six-gun Katie.  The latter moniker came to her because she was powerfully protective of her ranch and would not brook interlopers.  Back then, cattle rustling, horse stealing, and squatting on other people’s land was a real problem and more often than not, a deadly one.

Between 1920-1933, a constitutional amendment prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.  Referred to as the Prohibition Era, all this ban did was create a demand for booze from one coast to the other and made law-breaking a profitable business.  Arizona bootleggers discovered the plentiful water at Cave Creek and set about to establish stills in this area.  All things being equal, this might have been okay had they not tried to use Catherine’s ranch as a location for their illegal stills.  In the first incident, Kate confronted a man who was setting up a still and ordered him off her property.  When he observed the tiny older woman, he concluded that he could intimidate her.  After she shot off a nice chunk of his ear, he left Cave Creek and was never seen around there again.

A second encounter involved two tough hombres who decided to set up a still near one of the natural springs.  Katie confronted these men across a small arroyo and told them to clear off her land.  They refused and demanded to know what she intended to do about it.  At about that time, a ground squirrel ran across in front of these men.  Katie snapped out her .38 pistol and shot the squirrel’s head clean off.  “That’s what I intend to do about it,” she told them.  They too left Cahava, and somewhat quickly, too.

Catherine Jones 001Kate also didn’t put up with poachers.  It was her land, and all the wildlife on that land were hers as well.  She shot a finger off one poacher, shot another fellow in the foot, and sent a third fellow packing without his horse.  Kate was tough, but then too, so was Ted.  Both Ted and Kate received appointments as game wardens in Maricopa County, and Kate later became the first female deputy sheriff in the United States.

By this time Kate began wearing two .45 caliber pistols and she was equally proficient in firing them with either hand.  And, if anything, Kate was a stickler for the law.  When her fellow deputy killed a deer out of season, she arrested him.  This fellow was a big man, standing over six feet tall and as wide as he was tall.  Standing next to this fellow, Kate was a dwarf.  The deputy considered resisting arrest until he noticed the look of determination in Kate’s eyes and realized that resisting arrest would be a very big mistake.  He wisely submitted to her authority.

Ted Jones passed away in 1961, but Catherine Jones continued to run the ranch until she reached the age of 85-years.  At that time, she gave up the ranch and moved to California to live out her days with her daughter Vera.  She passed away in 1970.

 

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The Dakotas

n-dakota-landscape

French explorations of North America, beginning in 1534, was a result of the efforts of Jacques Cartier along the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  Cartier called in Nouvelle-France.  At its peak in 1712, New France consisted of five colonies, each with its own administration.  The most developed colony was Canada, with districts in QuébecTrois-Rivières, and Montréal, Hudson’s Bay, Newfoundland, Acadia, and La Louisiane.  The territory of New France was massive, extending from Newfoundland to the Canadian prairie, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, and it included all five of the Great Lakes.

Louisiana,  was named in honor of King Louis XIV by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle.  It originally covered most of the Mississippi River drainage, stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the western Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.  Louisiana was divided into two sections: Upper Louisiana (la Haute-Louisiane) began north of the Arkansas River, Lower Louisiana (la Basse-Louisiane) included everything south of the Arkansas River.  Present-day Louisiana is an infinitesimal section of the original French colony.

The French experienced the same difficulties in New France as did the Spanish in their administration of New Spain.  France claimed sovereignty over this vast territory, but the scarcity of human settlements left the territory undeveloped.  Without human settlement, without some number of people to administer, France could not claim that it controlled much of anything in this vast territory.

Young George Washington

LtCol George Washington

On 28 May 1754, a 22-year-old British militia lieutenant colonel by the name of George Washington ambushed a small force of French mercenaries at Jumonville Glen near present-day Uniontown, Pennsylvania[1].  This rather obscure incident was the catalyst for hostilities between Great Britain and France that eventually culminated in the Seven Years’ War.  One might argue that the Seven Years’ War was actually the first world war because it involved all five of the great European powers, several of the middle powers, and extended to confrontations in the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippine Islands.  Moreover, the Seven Years’ War split Europe into two coalitions, one led by Great Britain, allied with Prussia, Portugal, Brunswick-Luneburg/Hanover and France, who allied with Austria-Holy Roman Empire, Saxony, Russia, Spain, and Sweden[2].

The Seven Years’ War ended in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, which involved a complex series of exchanges of land.  France ceded to Spain its Louisiana colony and to Great Britain[3] the rest of New France (Canada, Newfoundland, Hudson Bay, and Acadia) (less the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon).  The French were motivated by the prospect of either giving up territory that produced little to nothing, or its Caribbean colonies that produced money-generating sugar and molasses.  Spain lost control of Florida but gained French holdings west of the Mississippi River[4].  The exchange benefitted Great Britain because it gave the British control of all North America east of the Mississippi.  More than this, however, with the French navy crippled, the Seven Year’s War ended all French influence in India, and this in turn opened the door to British hegemony and in time, control of the subcontinent.  It was only after an ambitious and expensive rebuilding campaign that France and Spain would again be positioned to challenge Britain’s command of the sea.

The favorite object of speculation in North America before the era of big business was public land.  Investors could buy public lands cheaply and in large quantities until rising prices brought substantial profits.  Memories of high land values in the Old World and of the social prestige enjoyed by landowners produced an almost insatiable lust for land.  Land speculation began in Colonial America, not only because of its potential for profit, but also because it suited government’s purposes to increase human populations in areas that it wished to control.

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the United States inherited Great Britain’s North American territories east of the Mississippi River and north of the city of New Orleans.  The key to westward migration was unrestricted access to the Mississippi River; nothing short of that would serve the interests of landowners, the government, or the settlers (who were also potential land buyers) who, of course, would need the Mississippi River to move goods to downriver market towns or to New Orleans.  We cannot know whether this notion was intentionally placed into the heads of westward moving settlers, but most of these people did believe that the United States would one day acquire Spanish Louisiana and gain unrestricted access to the Mississippi River.

Anglo settlers moving into Spanish territory found themselves in conflict with hostile Indians, who the Spanish often incited against them.  For years, Spanish officials attempted to influence frontiersmen against the policies of the Washington administration, and with some success.  See also: James Wilkinson: Image of Respectability[5].  Realizing that the power and influence of Spain was weakening after 1790, the United States sought concessions on questions relating to border disputes, navigation rights, and Anglo settlement in Spanish Louisiana.  In 1794, President Washington sent Thomas Pinckney to Spain to open negotiations with the Spanish government.  The Pinckney Treaty (also, Treaty of San Lorenzo) (1795) ended the dispute between the United States and Spain over these issues.  Subsequently, American merchants were granted the “right of deposit,” or the use of Spanish ports and storage areas in New Orleans.  Spain revoked the Pinckney Accord in 1798, but it was later reinstated by a new colonial administrator.

The power and influence of France returned after the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, who secretly induced a reluctant King Charles IV of Spain to cede Louisiana back to France.  In this negotiation, Spain insisted that France agree never to alienate the territory to a third power[6].  The Treaty of San Ildefonso (1801) gave France the commercially significant port of New Orleans and control of the mouth of the Mississippi River.  When existence of the treaty became known, it sparked unreasonable fear and distrust of France generally, and of Napoleon Bonaparte in particular.  Some Americans even feared a French invasion, or that Napoleon would free Negro slaves and/or incite a slave revolt.  It did not help matters that President Thomas Jefferson favored France in all things.  It created quite a stir in the United States.

Louisiana Purchase 1803

Louisiana Purchase, 1803

After discovering France’s re-acquisition of Louisiana, Jefferson sent Robert Livingston to Paris and gave him the rather extraordinary power to purchase Louisiana from Napoleon.  Opening the negotiations was all Livingston was able to accomplish in 1802.  In the next year, Jefferson sent James Monroe to France with two sets of instructions: first, settle the matter of Louisiana with France, and second, should the talks fail, proceed to the United Kingdom and open an Anglo-American alliance.  Today, there are good reasons to believe that the likelihood of a renewed war with Great Britain (and its financial burden), may have prompted Napoleon to sell the entire Louisiana Territory.  The negotiation that followed with Franƈois, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, then serving as minister of the French treasury, proceeded quickly.

The United States agreed to pay $11.3 million outright for the territory, assume responsibility for claims of its citizens in the amount of $3.7 million, and make interest payments incidental to the final settlement —in total, $27.2 million.  Precisely what the United States had purchased was unclear, even to Congress.  The wording of the treaty was vague, and it did not firmly establish any territorial boundaries.  The treaty also did not provide assurances that western Florida was included as part of the Louisiana Purchase, and it did not delineate the southwest boundary.  American negotiators were fully aware of these deficiencies, apparently deciding that ambiguity best served America’s interests.

President Jefferson sought to resolve the issue of boundaries by commissioning the Meriwether Lewis and William Rodgers Clark Expedition[7], which lasted from 1804-06.  Its impact was substantial in matters of geography, science, and relations with native populations.  It opened new territory for the fur and lumber trade, made recommendations concerning the best locations for future settlements, areas most suitable for farming, and set into motion an increase in the number of states within the United States.

The Dakota Territory consisted of the northernmost part of the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the southernmost part of Rupert’s Land, which was acquired in 1818[8].  The name Dakota comes from the Dakota branch of the native American Sioux tribes that occupied the area at the time of its acquisition.  The Dakota Territory was formerly part of Minnesota and Nebraska territories.

Minnesota became a state in 1858.  The land between the Missouri river and Minnesota’s western boundary remained unorganized.  The Yankton Treaty ceded much of what had been Sioux Indian land to the United States later that year.  Three years later, President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s cousin by marriage, J. B. S. Todd, vigorously lobbied for territory status.  When granted, the Dakota Territory included much of present-day Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and a small portion of present-day Nebraska.

Rumors of gold deposits in the Dakotas persisted for many years.  Some of these rumors were connected to Spanish expeditions of much earlier times.  Then, in the 1860s, a Catholic priest named Pierre-Jean De Smet, a man dedicated to taking the word of God to native American populations, reported seeing Sioux Indians carrying gold, and when he questioned them about it, the Indians told him that it came from the Black Hills.

Lakota Sioux 002

Lakota Sioux

In 1868, the United States opened negotiations with the Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brule bands of the Lakota Sioux, Yanktonai Dakota Sioux, and the Arapaho Nation.  It was a re-negotiation of the failed treaty of 1851.  The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 established the Great Sioux Reservation, including ownership of the Black Hills, and set aside additional lands as “un-ceded Indian Territory” in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska.  According to this treaty, the United States government would retain the authority to punish whites who committed crimes against Indian tribes and tribal members who committed crimes against the whites were to be handed over to the United States government.  The US government agreed to abandon forts along the Bozeman Trail, but retained some presence as a law enforcement arm to keep white settlers out of the area.  As with most government treaties with native Americans, this treaty was seriously flawed.  For example, in making its agreement with the Lakota Sioux[9], the US broke an existing treaty with the Ponca people.

In August 1873, an Army column of 1,300 men under Colonel Davis S. Stanley marched into the Dakota Territory to protect a railroad survey party from Lakota war parties.  The Lakota Sioux ferociously protected their lands from foreign encroachment —it did not matter whether it involved white settlers or other Indian bands.  Stanley’s command included the 7th US Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.

Stanley camped near the mouth of Sunday Creek, a tributary to the Yellowstone River.  Early in the morning on 4 August, the column moved to the northwest side of Yellowstone Hill along the south fork of Sunday Creek.  Captain George W. Yates led a troop of cavalry to accompany surveyors along the southeast side of the hill along the Yellowstone River.

Custer G A 001

LtCol George A. Custer, USA

Custer, with two companies (88 men, five officers, and a few Indian scouts), scouted to the west, ahead of Stanley’s main column.  Custer led his men along the top of Yellowstone Hill and then descended a steep buffalo trail on to a broad grass covered flood plain.  Custer spotted a wooded area two miles to the west that he believed suitable for Stanley’s main camp.  While resting his men, Sioux scouts from Sitting Bull’s village spotted Custer and sent word back asking for reinforcements.  Within a few hours, 300 Indians hid in a second wood west of Custer’s position.

Custer’s lookouts spotted a small band of Indians approaching the cavalry’s grazing horses and sounded an alarm.  Custer ordered his men to saddle up and led and advance element in pursuit of Indian horsemen.  Custer was not smart enough to realize that the Sioux were leading him into a trap.  He soon found himself galloping away from the wooded area with around 300 Indians in pursuit of him and his meager force.

Reinforced, Custer established a perimeter defense in the woods of his earlier rest; the Sioux laid siege with little effect.  About an hour later, fifty Indians attempted to flank the cavalry’s defense.  Spotted, the Indians drew fire and withdrew.  Then the Indians set fire to the grass hoping to use the smoke as a screen to approach the cavalry’s position, but Custer used the smoke to move closer to the Indian force; the tactic did not favor either side.  The siege continued for another three hours in temperatures approaching 110 degrees.

Known to history as the Battle of Honsinger Bluff (near present-day Miles City, Montana), each side lost one man killed in action.  White true the Lakota made the first move, there can be no doubt that the Army’s actions provoked it.

In the summer of 1874, Custer led a large expedition of about 1,000 troops, scientists, and reporters into the Black Hills.  Ostensibly, he was there to explore the region and establish a military post from which he could control the Indians who refused to sign the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.  His real purpose, however, is revealed by the number of geologists in his party.  It was to discover areas of the Black Hills that were suitable for mining gold.

When geologists finally discovered gold on French Creek, Custer made sure journalists reported the find in their respective newspapers.  In effect, French Creek produced only a smidgeon of gold but that didn’t matter to Custer.  The word was already out: gold in the black hills.  The search for gold continued northward.  Mining camps and towns sprung up along the way: Hill City, Sheridan, Pactola.  A bonanza of gold eluded the men until they quite accidentally stumbled across Deadwood Gulch and Whitewood Creek.

Deadwood 003There is no question that the settlement at Deadwood Gulch was an illegal encroachment on Sioux lands.  The gold-seekers were squatters, but this did not discourage them from fighting among themselves for land that didn’t belong to them.  The mining town established at Deadwood Gulch, later named Deadwood, South Dakota, quickly reached a population of around 5,000; in two years, 25,000 people resided there, and they weren’t all miners.  Some were, of course, but most were businessmen —and they were the only class of resident who made any money in the long term.  Included in the term businessmen were dry goods stores, mining supply stores, flop houses, steak houses, and saloons.  Gathering in the saloons were gamblers, prostitutes, and gunfighters.  The demand for women was such that enterprising madams opened brothels, Dora Dufran[10] and Mollie Johnson among them.

Deadwood became an old west version of Sodom and Gomorrah; it was a den of iniquity where murders occurred every day and justice only an illusion.  During the evening of 1 August 1878, a fellow known locally as “Broken Nose” Jack McCall stumbled into a saloon owned by Nuttal & Mann[11] and began to observe a poker game in progress at a nearby table.  “Stumble” is the right word because Jack was one of many town drunks.  Drinking and gambling is what Jack did for a living.

When a seat opened at the table, Jack plopped himself down and joined the game.  Jack’s problems were three: he was drunk, out of money, and a lousy gambler.  After a few hands, Jack McCall lost all his money.  One of the gamblers at the table took pity on Jack.  He offered McCall some money for breakfast and along with that, some good advice.  He suggested that Jack give up gambling until he was able to cover his losses.  To everyone at the table, this seemed like good advice —but a pearl of wisdom that McCall might have figured out for himself.  The good Samaritan was a professional gambler, sometimes lawman, and a gun fighter by the name of James Butler Hickok, who everyone simply called “Wild Bill.”  Jack McCall accepted Hickok’s money, but according to those present, men who later became witnesses, Jack was embarrassed and felt as if he’d been insulted.

During the afternoon of 2 August 1878, Hickok was again sitting at the table gambling, his back to the door (which was odd because Hickok always situated himself where he could see the doorway).  Still drunk, Jack McCall entered the saloon, walked up behind Hickok and shot him in the back of the head with a single action .45 revolver.  It might have been ruled an accidental shooting had Jack not said, loud enough for other to hear, “Damn you!  Take that!”  McCall then stumbled out of the saloon and attempted to steal a horse tethered nearby.  Jack was so drunk that he couldn’t mount the animal and nearby townspeople quickly apprehended him.

On 3 August, a quickly assembled jury of miners and lock shopkeepers took two hours to listen to the testimony of witnesses.  One might think that the trial might end with a slam-dunk guilty verdict, but a jury of his peers declared McCall “not guilty.”  Wild Bill Hickok was not very popular with some folks in Deadwood, South Dakota.  Ordinarily, a not guilty verdict would have been enough to send young Jack McCall on his way, but there were some folks in town who thought the verdict was a miscarriage of justice.  McCall murdered Hickok, plain and simple.

There was a problem with the trial.  Deadwood, South Dakota didn’t officially exist.  The town was not chartered within the federal jurisdiction of the Dakota Territory, its courts were illegal, and any decision rendered by a Deadwood court was ipso facto null and void.

Jack McCall was many things, but bright wasn’t one of them.  In Yankton, the federal capital of the Dakota Territory, Jack bragged about killing Hickok and getting away with it.  Federal marshals re-arrested Jack and the federal attorney secured a grand jury indictment for murder in the first degree.  There was no double-jeopardy because the Deadwood court didn’t officially exist.  Jack went to trail in a federal court.  It wasn’t a long trial, but it did end in a conviction for murder, as charged.  Jack McCall met his end on 1 March 1877, aged 24.  At the hour of his demise, Jack McCall was stone-cold sober[12].

Following the Battle of the Little Big Horn (late June 1876), where George A. Custer received his comeuppance, Major General George Crook relied upon the shopkeepers of Deadwood as his primary source of re-supply while pursuing the Sioux Indians responsible for Custer’s defeat.  Crook’s expedition against the Sioux became known as the Horse meat March, because his troops were forced to eat their horses and mules.  In August, a smallpox epidemic swept through Deadwood, infecting 60% of the town, with half of those dying from the disease.  The epidemic may also explain why General Crook kept elements of his command away from the diseased town and why his expedition was so poorly provisioned.

In October 1877, the Homestake Mine began extracting gold and continued to do so until its closure in 2002.  Today the mine serves as a popular tourist attraction.  Two years later, in 1879, a fire destroyed more than 300 of Deadwood’s buildings.  Combined with the smallpox epidemic, the massive fire was too much for many folks and large numbers of people started moving away in search of a new beginning.  Those who remembered the fire of 1879 lived through another one in 1959.  This fire destroyed 4,500 acres and prompted a mandatory evacuation of the entire city.  Three years later, for whatever reason, Deadwood, South Dakota was designated a National Historic Landmark.  I cannot imagine why anyone should want to remember the history of such a tawdry town or a people.

Americans tend to think about history as something that happened a hundred or so years ago.  It makes me laugh.  There is a cathedral in Worcester, England (my wife’s hometown) that began construction in 630 A.D.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with this article beyond illustrating real history from a comparatively recent event.  I laugh too whenever I see a welcome sign to some small town in the Western United States: Welcome of Chester, Montana.  Established 1920.

Endnotes:

[1] Washington was no rabble-rouser.  Beginning in 1688, the French had been urging native-Americans to attack British settlements and trappers along the western edge of the British colonies.  In the colonies, these confrontations were known as Beaver Wars and the French and Indian Wars.  Washington’s mission was aimed at locating and chastising French troublemakers.

[2] In case you missed it, the man who would become the United States’ first president started the world’s first “world war.”

[3] In the Treaty of Paris, Louisiana was divided at the Mississippi River; the eastern half ceded to Great Britain and the western half (and New Orleans) nominally retained by France.  Spain never contested Britain’s control of eastern Louisiana as the Spanish already knew that they would control western Louisiana.

[4] Ceded to Spain in a secret accord known as the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762.  French colonists, however, did not readily accept this transition and in a rebellion in 1768, expelled the Spanish governor.  The rebellion was suppressed, and the Spanish flag was raised for the first time in 1769.

[5] Wilkinson was on the Spanish payroll —a spy— to keep the Spanish governor in New Orleans informed Washington policies and likely courses of action given one or another set of circumstances.  In 1784, Wilkinson initiated a clandestine effort to separate the Kentucky territory from Virginia and arranged with the Spanish governor to grant Kentucky a trade monopoly on the Mississippi.  All of these things he did to benefit himself, of course.

[6] Spain was fully aware that the United States had eyes on the western territories, including Texas.

[7] Lewis (1774-1809) and Clark (1770-1838), also known as the Corps of Discovery, explored the Louisiana Purchase territory, established trade with native Americans, and claimed the Pacific Northwest and Oregon country.  They also collected scientific data and recorded useful information about native peoples.  For an excellent historical novel of the Clark family and the westward exploration of the Louisiana territory, I recommend From Sea to Shining Sea: A Novel by James Alexander Thom.

[8] Rupert’s Land (also, Prince Rupert’s Land) was a territory in British North America comprising the Hudson Bay drainage basin, operated by the Hudson Bay Company from 1670-1870.  Prince Rupert was a nephew of Charles I and the first governor of the Hudson Bay Company.  A small portion of this land included the Dakota Territory.

[9] In US v. Sioux Nation of Indians (448 US 371) (1980) the Supreme Court held that the enactment by Congress of a law allowing the Sioux Nation to pursue a claim against the United States that had been previous adjudicated did not violate the doctrine of separation of powers and that the taking of property that was set aside for the use of the tribe required just compensation, including interest.  The Sioux Indians never accepted the legitimacy of forced deprivation of the Black Hills Reservation.  The court awarded the Sioux Indians $1 billion in compensation, which they have refused to accept.  Instead, they want their land returned to them.

[10] Dufran was born Amy Helen Dorothy Bolshaw (1868-1934) was a leading and one of the most successful madams of the Old West.  She was born in Liverpool, England and moved with her parents to Bloomfield, NJ around 1869.  She moved to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1876.  An extremely good- looking young woman, she became a prostitute at the age of 13.  When prospectors discovered gold in the Black Hills, Dora moved there, promoted herself to madam, and opened her first brothel.  She was 15 years old.

[11] The original saloon burned to the ground in 1879.  A clothing store was constructed at the site in 1898, later replaced by a beer hall, an inn, and a casino.  Today the establishment is known as “Wild Bill’s Trading Post.”

[12] The murder of Hickok and the capture of McCall is re-enacted every summer evening in Deadwood.  I’m not sure why.

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The Pleasant Valley War

In 1881, the citizens of Arizona formed a third county from Maricopa and Pinal counties and named it Gila County.  Gila comes from a Spanish contraction of the Yuma Indian word Hah-quah-sa-eel   which means “salty running water.”  It is a large county that includes portions of two Indian reservations: Fort Apache and San Carlos.  The county seat is in Globe, Arizona (previously, Globe City).  The county’s irregular shape consists of around 4,800 square miles with a present-day population of just over 54,000 people.

Pleasant Valley AZ 001

Map Legend, Pleasant Valley War

About the only exciting event that ever occurred in Gila County was the Pleasant Valley War, which lasted from around 1880 to 1892.  It is one of the longest feuds in US history and the largest number of casualties.  The principal actors in this war were the Tewkesbury family and the Graham family.

Edwin (Ed) Tewkesbury (born in 1858) originated from San Francisco, California, the second son of a miner named James Tewkesbury.  Ed relocated to Arizona and with his Indian wife, sired four sons and a daughter.  He established a ranch  in present-day Gila County, over time acquiring a large herd of horses and cattle.

Samuel Graham immigrated from Northern Ireland to Ohio around 1851.  He and his wife Jane had five children whom they named Allen, Margaret, Mary, John, and Thomas.  Jane passed away in 1861 and Sam remarried a woman named Mary Goetzman, with whom he sired seven additional children.  Accepting Ed Tewkesbury’s invitation to settle in Arizona, John and Thomas Graham staked a claim in Gila County around 1881.  Initially, Tom Graham and John Tewkesbury formed a warm friendship and engaged in cooperative business interests, profiting both families.

Now enters James Andrew Stinson, a late comer to Gila County, who brought with him a lot of cash and a large herd of cattle.  Stinson’s stock began grazing throughout the valley on the open lands.  Eventually the Stinson Ranch dominated the Tewkesbury and Graham ranches.  Stinson accused both families of rustling his cattle and in time, warrants were issued.

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Edwin Tewkesbury

To serve the warrants, Stinson sent his stock boss, a man named John Gilliland, to serve arrest warrants against the Tewkesbury’s.  As it happened, members of both Tewkesbury and Graham families were present at the Tewkesbury ranch house when Gilliland appeared with his brother and a few ranch hands to arrest Ed.  Of course, these were the day before metrosexuals so Ed Tewkesbury faced Gilliland and informed him that he would not submit to arrest that day, or for that matter, any day, by anyone.  John Gilliland drew his pistol, Ed Tewkesbury drew his, and both fired their weapons.  John and Elisha Gilliland both received wounds.

At this point in time, there were two matters before the court: the shooting at the Tewkesbury Ranch and allegations that Ed Tewkesbury rustled cattle belonging to Jim Stinson.  At the courthouse, John Graham testified that Gilliland went for his gun first and that Elisha was simply an innocent bystander, whom the Tewkesbury’s and Graham’s tried to save after the gun play.  Apparently, the court absolved Ed Tewkesbury of any criminal activity in the shooting, but the event kindled discord among the ranchers in Pleasant Valley and the matter of cattle rustling remained unresolved.

In 1884, Jim Stinson made an offer to the Grahams they couldn’t refuse.  First, Stinson offered to pay the Graham’s $50.00 a head for cattle.  Second, he offered a “stay of jail card.”  Of course, the offer depended on whether the Graham’s agreed to turn state’s evidence against Ed Tewkesbury in the matter of cattle rustling.  The Graham family accepted the offer.  To cement the deal, Graham filed a complaint with County District Attorney Charles B. Rush accusing Tewkesbury or rebranding over sixty of Stinson’s cattle.

Ultimately a request for change in venue landed the matter in a Prescott, Arizona court[1].  When the presiding judge learned of the deal between Stinson and Graham, he promptly dismissed the complaint citing a lack of credible evidence.  As the Tewkesbury’s returned home, Frank Tewkesbury contracted pneumonia and died.  For whatever reasons, the Tewkesbury’s blamed Jim Stinson for Frank’s death.

On 23 July 1884, John Tewkesbury, William Richards, George Blaine, and Ed Rose visited the Stinson ranch house to help plan an upcoming rodeo event.  Met at the gate by Stinson foreman Marion McCann and five ranch hands.  McCann asked everyone to leave the Stinson property, except for Ed Rose … who had no dog in the fight between the Stinson’s and Tewkesbury’s.  Unhappy with the situation, the Tewkesbury’s became argumentative and the two groups began hurling insults at each other.  George Blaine called for McCann to “come out” and face him.  McCann demurred, so Blaine pulled his revolver and shot at him.  The shot went high.  McCann responded by drawing his pistol and shooting Blaine in the throat.  John Tewkesbury also shot at McCann, missed, and was himself wounded.  John departed with the others of his group.  Blaine survived his wound and both groups settled the matter in court.

Toward the end of 1884, Stinson sold off his herd and left Arizona.  This left the Graham’s in a tight spot with the Tewkesbury’s and their friends, particularly after local cowmen discovered that the Graham’s were driving cattle that did not belong to them.

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Tewkesbury Ranch House

Up until 1885, Ed Tewkesbury was a popular cattleman in Gila County, which waned somewhat after Tewkesbury decided to import sheep leased from the Daggs brothers in northern Arizona.  This decision, which found its way into the local newspaper, the Arizona Silver Belt led cattlemen to criticize Ed Tewkesbury because grazing, sheep crop the grassland much closer to the topsoil than do cattle.  The effect of this is that it takes pastureland grazed by sheep longer to recover, and much longer in places lacking adequate water.  Tewkesbury’s widely publicized decision not only exacerbated his already existing problem with the Grahams, it also created dissention among cattlemen throughout Gila County.

Ed Tewkesbury hired a Basque sheep herder to transport Daggs’ animals to Pleasant Valley.  A member of the Graham faction by the name of Andy Cooper (also known as Andy Blevins) accosted the herder en route to Pleasant Valley and murdered him.  The extent to which anyone in Gila Country recognized the murder as an escalation of the Tewkesbury-Graham conflict is unknown to us today.

The Hash Knife Outfit

One of the primary factions of the Pleasant Valley War was the Aztec Land and Cattle Company of Texas, with interests in Arizona and Colorado.  Aztec bought out the Hash Knife Outfit in Arizona, which included some 33,000 head of cattle, and 2,000 horses.  Many of the cowhands employed by Hash Knife continued working under Hash Knife management within the Aztec Land and Cattle Company organization.  These cowboys were notoriously rowdy and belligerent but since the residents of Holbrook benefitted financially from the efforts of these cowmen, their unseemly behaviors largely ignored —for a time.  It soon registered to these townspeople, however, that they were living amid thieves, thugs, and gunslingers.  Soon, gunfights in the streets of Holbrook were common occurrences.  Hash Knife cowboys fought and died protecting the company’s cattle, but they also targeted and harassed local ranchers and farmers who competed with Hash Knife.  They sided with cattlemen against the sheepherders, often targeting the sheepherders for serious injury or death and destroying sheep by the thousands.  In 1886, there were twenty-six shooting deaths in Holbrook alone, of a town population of no more than 250.

The Daggs Brothers

Five brothers of the Daggs family became prominent businessmen in Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tempe, Arizona.  The Daggs were originally from Missouri.  Their names were Peru Paxton (called P.P.) William (called W.A.), John (called J.F.), Robert (or R.E.) and Jackson (A.J.).  They first arrived in Arizona around 1875, bringing with them 1,500 sheep from California.  Within a few years, the Daggs Brothers became the largest sheep ranching company in northern Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.  At one time, they had 50,000 sheep grazing in northern Arizona.  Additionally, both individually and as partners, they had business interests in ranching, real estate, land development, mining, meat processing, ice plants, railroads, and banking.  J. F. Daggs owned the Flagstaff Brewery.  R. E. and A. J. Daggs were attorneys.  They used their political influence and connections with lawmen, other attorneys, and judges in Yavapai and Apache counties to render assistance to their employees whenever arrested during the Pleasant Valley War.

The Fred Wells Outfit

Fred Wells was a local cattleman who borrowed large sums of money to build up his cattle ranch and hire the cowboys necessary to run a large operation.  The Wells family had no stake in the Pleasant Valley War, but Fred’s creditors did.  They instructed Wells to either join the fight against the Tewkesbury’s or forfeit ownership of his ranch and stock.  Fred called his family together, along with a young ranch hand by the name of Frederick Russel Burnham[2].  Burnham was drawn into the Pleasant Valley War only because of his relationship with Fred Wells.

Fred Wells trained Burnham in shooting skills and considered him part of his extended family.  Wells began driving his cattle into the mountains.  On his heels were deputies aligned with the Grahams and other powerful interests.  The deputies had no problem overtaking the Wells clan and forced Fred Wells’ wife and daughters to halt.  The loud command set off the dogs to barking.  Burnham and John Wells, Fred’s son, rushed back and just as they arrived, one of Wells’ dogs bit a deputy, who then shot the dog.  Burnham and John Wells and two of the sisters drew their weapons.  Before anyone could fire, the deputy fell dead at their feet—shot from long distance by Fred Wells.  The remaining deputy surrendered.

The Wells family continued into the mountains with a deputy as their prisoner.  They released the deputy after securing their herd of cattle, but not before convincing him that no one knew who fired the shot that killed his fellow lawman.  Moreover, Wells permitted the deputy to take with him some of his cattle, assuring him that the Wells’ family would support the cattlemen when called upon.  The deputy returned to Globe City and reported the incident.

As partisan hostilities began, Burnham became involved while defending Fred and John Wells; his loyalty to the Wells clan targeted him for assassination by the Tewkesbury men, who referred to Burnham as “an unknown gunman.”  With Wells’ urging, Burnham went into hiding for many days until he could make good his escape from Pleasant Valley.  Partisans raised their own posse’s (gangs of killers) for raiding the opposition.  Killings and retribution killings became a weekly event.  The Wells clan viewed the feud as a waste of human life.

Frederick Burnham knew that he was standing on dangerous ground.  At the age of 19 years, he faced a grim future as a gunman whose only crime was standing in defense of his friends, the Wells’ family.  Burnham decided to travel to Globe City and confer with an older friend and mentor, Judge Aaron H. Hackney, who was also editor of the Arizona Silver Belt.  On his way to Globe City, a bounty hunter named George Dixon accosted him.  Unknown to either Burnham or Dixon, a White Mountain Apache by the name of Coyotero had tracked Dixon to the cave where Burnham was hiding.  When Dixon emerged from the cave with his captive, Coyotero killed him.

Once in Globe City, Burnham went into hiding until he could safely leave Gila County.  He eventually made his way to Tombstone.

The Blevins Clan

Andy Blevins (also known as Andy Cooper) was already known as a desperado in Texas; rumor had it that he moved to Arizona to avoid having to do business with the Texas Ranger.  Cooper was quick to recognize the lucrative nature of stealing cattle in Arizona and encouraged his father, Mart Blevins, to bring the family to Pleasant Valley.

Mart (Old Man) Blevins arrived with his family in 1886.  “Old Man” Blevins was only 47-years of age.  Through Andy Cooper-Blevins, Mart and his sons John, Charlie, Hamp, and Sam soon affiliated with the Graham faction and a few of the Hash Knife boys who introduced them to the ease of stealing cattle from the Aztec Land and Cattle Company.

Not long after their arrival, the Blevins clan forced a Mormon family off their land and set up ranching operations near Canyon Creek.  Mart Blevins was fond of collecting quality horseflesh without having to pay for it.  Within a short period of time, the Blevins’ were driving stolen horses from Utah and Colorado to their newly acquired ranch, 75 miles south of Holbrook.  Yet, despite all the perks of outlaw living, it turned out to be a very bad decision by the Blevins clan.

In February 1887, a Navajo herder in Tewkesbury’s employ was tending sheep along the Mogollon Rim … an area previously accepted by everyone as the line across which sheep must never go.  Tom Graham ambushed this Indian, murdered him, decapitated him, buried him, and then set about destroying the sheep.

In early August 1887, Mart Blevins went in search of missing horses that he’d stolen from someone else, suspecting the Tewkesbury’s had taken them.  He never returned to his ranch.  A search party recovered Mart’s horse and rifle not far from the Tewkesbury ranch.  While searching for Mart, his son Hamp and three Hash Knife cowboys (John Paine, Tom Tucker, Bob Carrington, and Bob Glaspie) met up with Will Barnes at Dry Lake, 30 miles south of Holbrook.  Hamp mentioned that he and his friends were on the way to Pleasant Valley to start a war.

On 9 August, Hamp and his boys arrived at the Newton (old Middleton) Ranch located on Wilson Creek at the eastern end of Pleasant Valley.  Middleton Ranch had been the scene of a battle with hostile Apaches a few years early.  After the fight, the Middleton’s abandoned the ranch and Arizona altogether.  George Wilson owned it in 1887.  Inside, Jim Roberts, Joe Boyer, Jim and Ed Tewkesbury were just sitting down to supper when Hamp Blevins approached the ranch house.  As the spokesmen, Hamp asked to join them for a meal.  Jim Tewkesbury answered, “We’re not running a boarding house.”

Now, John Paine was known as a bad ass who loved to fight and shoot.  Paine was a strong-arm boy, hired to beat up on small ranchers and from every indication, he was a man who enjoyed his work.  Tom Tucker was simply looking for adventure.  Glaspie was operating on one cylinder, and not much is known or remembered about Bob Carrington.  Hamp drew his pistol and started shooting, drawing a fusillade of fire from inside the ranch house.  Jim Roberts dropped Paine with a head shot.  Another shot tore off the top of Hamp Blevins’ head.  Tucker went down with a bullet in his chest.  Glaspie took a hit in the leg, and Carrington managed to escape unscathed.  No harm came to any of the Tewkesbury’s.

Tom Tucker may have been the luckiest desperado in the history of Arizona.  Although badly wounded, he managed to escape the shooting scene.  Weak from loss of blood, he fell from his saddle near a mother bear and her two cubs.  The mother bear attacked Tom and he was further injured.  The lucky part was that by the time Tucker arrived at a ranch, maggots covered his wounds.  These filthy creatures saved Tucker’s life; they only eat dead flesh and prevented him from developing gangrene.

Hamp Blevins intended to start a war and he got one.  When members of the Graham faction returned to Wilson Creek to bury their dead, the also burned down George Wilson’s cabin.

On 17 August, someone shot William Graham in the gut while he was rounding up horses.  By the time William returned to the ranch, his intestines were hanging out of his stomach.  Before collapsing, he identified Ed Tewkesbury as his killer.  “No so!” claimed Apache County Deputy Sheriff James D. Houck.  Houck was an ally of the Tewkesbury’s and claimed that he’d shot Graham by accident, mistaking him for John Graham.  People supporting Tewkesbury may have believed the story, but almost no one on the Graham side did.  In any case, Ed Tewkesbury didn’t wait around for an arrest warrant.  By the time law officers showed up to serve a warrant, Ed was long-gone.

In early September 1887, the Graham faction rode to the Tewkesbury ranch house and in the early morning hours hid themselves in the foliage.  When John Tewkesbury, Jr., and William Jacobs walked into the ambush, the Grahams killed both men.  The Graham faction then turned their attention to the ranch house.  They fired into the cabin for hours, with an equal number of shots returned.  As the fight raged, hogs began devouring the bodies of John Jr., and Bill Jacobs.  Outraged, Eva Tewkesbury, John’s wife, came out of the cabin with a shovel and began to dig graves for her husband and Jacobs.  Firing stopped until she buried the men and returned to the cabin.  When the door closed, firing recommenced.  No one else died that day.  The shooting stopped when law officers approached the Tewkesbury ranch and the Graham faction rode off.

Commodore P. Owens 001

Sheriff C. P. Owens

A few days afterwards, Andy Cooper (Blevins) was in the general store in Holbrook bragging about how he had shot and killed John Tewkesbury and William Jacobs.  Commodore P. Owens[3] was the newly elected sheriff of Apache County, a former cowboy with known skills as a shootist, accurate and deadly as a two-gun shooter.  The Blevins, on the other hand, were known as back-shooters.  As soon as Owens learned of Andy Cooper’s whereabouts, he rode alone to the Blevins house in Holbrook to serve a warrant.  He took with him a Winchester rifle.

When Owens arrived at the Blevins house, twelve members of the family were present.  Owens stated that he had an outstanding warrant for Andy Blevins and asked him to come out of the house.  Blevins refused.  John came out of the house through the front door and fired a shot at Owens, who promptly returned fire, wounding John and killing Andy.  A friend of the family named Mose Roberts, at the time inside the house in a back room, jumped through a window to escape.  Owens, hearing the noise, ran to the side of the house and killed Roberts.  There is some question whether Roberts was armed but there is no question that he was soon dead.  At that moment, 15-year old Sam Houston Blevins ran outside armed with a pistol and fired on Owens.  Owens shot Sam, who soon died in his mother’s arms.  In less than a full minute, three men died and one man was seriously wounded.  Owens went unscathed.  An inquest ruled Owens fired in self-defense, but he ultimately lost his job as county sheriff.

After the murder of Henry Middleton, a member of the Graham faction, Sheriff Billy Mulvernon received instructions from Arizona governor Conrad Zulick to form a posse and put an end to the violence in Pleasant Valley.  On 10 September 1887, Mulvernon led his posse from Prescott stopping at the Haigler Ranch on the northern side of the valley a few days later.  There, six additional men reinforced Mulvernon, including J. D. Houck.  Mulvernon finally located a Graham faction, consisting of John Graham and Charles Blevins, at Perkins’ Store in Young, Arizona.  The posse went into an ambush behind a wall and waited.  When Graham and Blevins appeared, the posse ordered them to raise their hands.

According to grand jury testimony, rather than raising their hands Graham and Blevins went for their guns and there was no choice for the lawmen other than shooting them.  Blevins died quickly; Houck ran up to the mortally wounded Graham and shot him dead.  Not everyone in the posse agreed with Mulvernon’s testimony, however.  Conflicting evidence indicated that Mulvernon fired on Graham and Blevins before they could surrender.  A grand jury indicted Mulvernon for murder, but at a trial, a jury found him not guilty.

Six weeks later, eight unidentified gunmen wearing long coats and masked murdered another member of the Graham faction named Al Rose.  It was during this period that both sides began to rely on outside assassins to aid them.  One of these was a hired killed named Tom Horn[4].  According to Horn’s own autobiography, he became a “mediator” in the conflict, even serving as a deputy under three Arizona sheriffs: William (Buckey) O’Neill[5], Commodore Owens, and Glenn Reynolds.  This may be entirely correct, but history also tells us that he worked for Robert Bowen and was one of the primary suspects in the disappearance of Mart Blevins.  Moreover, Horn participated in the lynching of three suspected rustlers of the Graham faction in 1888.

Between 1888-1892, Pleasant Valley experienced lynching’s, disappearances, and unsolved murders.  While the elder John Tewkesbury died from natural causes, other Tewkesbury associates died violent deaths.  George Newton, a Tewkesbury ally, mysteriously drowned—but historians do not know this for a fact because no one ever found his remains.

With nearly all his clan and allies lost, Tom Graham finally gave up the fight and relocated to the Salt River Valley.  In time, he married Annie Melton, a minister’s daughter.  Their plan was to sell his stock and re-start his business outside of Tempe.  On 2 August 1892, Tom Graham was driving a wagon loan of wheat when someone shouted out his name.  As he looked over his shoulder to see who called, two bullets struck him in the back.  Before he died, he named Ed Tewkesbury and John Rhodes as his killers.

Deathbed testimony carries significant weight in US courts.  Based on Tom Graham’s accusations, lawmen arrested Ed Tewkesbury and stood trial.  The first trial ended in a mistrial due to a legal technicality.  During the second trial, Tom Graham’s wife Annie tried to murder Ed Tewkesbury inside the courtroom.  The jury of the second trial dead-locked seven to five for acquittal.  The jury concluded that Ed Tewkesbury was not present at the time and place of the murder.

Ed died from natural causes in Globe, Arizona in 1904, the last survivor among those involved in the Pleasant Valley War.  Historians estimate that as many as fifty men died in the Pleasant Valley feud: local ranchers and vigilantes, cowboys, and lawmen all participated in some fashion or another.  The Pleasant Valley War, the earlier Tombstone dustup, range wars, and Apache Wars all contrived to delay Arizona statehood because in the view of Congress, it was an uncivilized territory unfit for statehood.

Sources:

  1. Burnham, F. R.  Scouting on Two Continents.  New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926.
  2. Forrest, E. R.  Arizona’s Dark and Bloody Ground: An Authentic Account of the Pleasant Valley Vendetta.  Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers Ltd., 1936.
  3. Hanchett, L. J. Jr.  Arizona’s Graham-Tewkesbury Feud.  Phoenix, Arizona: Pine Rim Press, 1994.
  4. Lowe, S.  Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Arizona History.  Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 2012.

Endnotes:

[1] Prescott is the seat of adjacent Yavapai County, Arizona.

[2] Frederick R. Burnham, DSO (1861-1947) was an American army scout, and adventurist, and founder of the Boy Scout movement.  He received his British award in recognition of his service to British South Africa.

[3] His father was Oliver H. Perry Owens, named after the hero of the War of 1812.  His mother named him Commodore.  As a youth, Commodore ran a gang of rustlers and whiskey runners within the Indian Territory.

[4] One of the hired killers was Tom Horn, although no one is quite sure which side he worked for.  Horn was an army scout, cowhand, range detective, and Pinkerton agent before working as a hired killer.  Born in Missouri in 1860 the fifth of twelve children, Horn ran away from home when he was only fourteen years of age.  After scouting for the army during the Geronimo campaign, Horn remained in Arizona as a miner and it was that when he became a shooter in the Pleasant Valley War.

[5] O’Neill was a sheriff, newspaper editor, miner, politician, gambler, and lawyer.  His nickname evolved from his tendency to buck the odds in gambling.  O’Neill later served as a captain in the U. S. Volunteer Army with service under Theodore Roosevelt.  He died in the Spanish American War.

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Marshal Nix

US Marshal 001Evette Dumas Nix, known throughout his life as E. D. Nix, came from a family of lawmen.  Nix was born in mid-September 1861 in Kentucky.  At that time, at the beginning of the American Civil War, Kentucky had a population of over one million people; a quarter of those were Negro slaves concentrated in the Bluegrass region, Louisville, and Lexington.  Kentucky was a thriving state with well-established trade in both the east and west, commerce aided by wide rivers and an emerging railroad industry.  During the war, most Kentuckians remained loyal to the Union; those unable to support the Union moved southward into Tennessee or west to Missouri.

D. Nix’s uncle was a county sheriff and his father a deputy. Approaching adulthood in the 1880s, E. D. worked as a grocer and a clerk in a hardware store —occupations somewhat disassociated from law enforcement— but in the decades following the Civil War, it was the kind of employment that kept food on the table, and allowed E. D. to marry his childhood sweetheart, Ellen Felts.  The Oklahoma Land Run of 1891 motivated Nix to move west.

Between 1819-28, Oklahoma Territory was part of the Arkansas Territory.  In time, federal authorities viewed Oklahoma as an area suitable for the resettlement of native Americans who found themselves in the way of westward-bound Anglo settlers.  The Choctaw Indians[1] were the first forcibly resettled in Oklahoma.  To achieve the resettlement of Indians, the federal government closed a large area of the territory to all white settlement designating it as “Indian Territory.”

The Oklahoma Land Run occurred after the federal government made the decision to open the Indian territory to white settlement.  The land run itself took the appearance of a horse and buggy race involving around 20,000 men and women who wanted a share of more than 6,000 plots of former Indian reservation lands.  There were three such runs; the first to settle Iowa, Sac, Fox, Potawatomi, and Shawnee Indian lands.  A second run targeted Tecumseh (later renamed), and a final run on 28 September 1891 focusing on Chandler, re-designated Lincoln County.

E. D. Nix 001E. D. and Ellen Nix settled in Guthrie, Oklahoma where E. D. pursued business interests. To strengthen business prospects, E. D. developed good relations with other businessmen and influential citizens. One of these was a cattleman by the name of Oscar Halsell, who in his younger days played key a role in the barely remembered Hunnewell Gunfight[2].  In 1893, Nix accepted a commission as United States Marshal for Oklahoma.  At the time, aged only 32-years, Nix was the youngest man to hold such an important position.  Up until that time, despite every effort of the federal government, dangerous outlaws continued to infest, terrorize, and disrupt commerce within the Oklahoma Territory.

Nix’ appointment came in the twilight days of Judge Isaac Parker‘s tenure on the federal judiciary.  Federal appointments are almost always political, which brings forth the question why such a young and inexperienced man should receive such an appointment.  Of course, should E. D. Nix fail to “clean up” the territory, it would be easy to blame his youth and naïveté as a law officer while providing cover to higher ranking politicians.

Bill Doolin 1895

Bill Doolin, 1895

Among those terrorizing the region of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas was the Bill Doolin Gang[3].  The Doolin Gang committed armed robbery and murder one after another.  So thorough was their dominion in Oklahoma they even established an outlaw haven in Ingalls, Oklahoma.  US Marshal E. D. Nix wasted no time following his appointment in confronting the Doolin Gang on their own turf.  He organized a posse of fourteen deputies headed by Deputy US Marshall John Hixon.  During the Battle of Ingalls on 1 September 1893, Nix lost three deputy marshals to gang gunfire: Deputy US Marshals Thomas Hueston, Richard Speed, and Lafayette Shadley.  In this engagement, outlaws Bittercreek George Newcomb, Blackface Charley Pierce, and Dynamite Dan Clifton received wounds, but managed to escape arrest.  Arkansas Tom Jones, stunned by a stick of dynamite tossed into his hiding place by deputy Jim Masterson, ended up in federal custody.

Nix had underplayed his hand against the Doolin gang; it was a mistake he resolved not to make again.  Marshal Nix organized an elite force of men that included a hundred deputies … men such as Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman, and Chris Madsen (See also: The Guardsmen).  Nix formed an attachment to his men and was highly defensive of them and their actions in bringing law and order to Oklahoma.  With Marshal Nix’ support, his deputies used whatever means necessary in subduing criminal activities —including lethal force.

Nix wasn’t a shootist; he was an administrator.  He kept meticulous records of events validated by corroborating statements from participants and witnesses.  Two years after the Battle of Ingalls, a saloon owner by the name of Murray sued for damages rendered to his property and person, alleging that Nix’s deputies had engaged in indiscriminate fire, which destroyed his saloon and wounded him.  Nix addressed these allegations to the Attorney General, stating, “Murray and other citizens catered to the outlaw trade, carried them news of the movements of lawmen, furnished them with ammunition, cared for their horses, fed them, and gave them a place to sleep.  This man named Murray came to the front of his saloon, either just before the outlaws left the building or just after … However, when he first appeared in the doorway, he had his Winchester in his shoulder and firing it.”

E. D. Nix may have been too supportive of his no-nonsense deputies. Three years after accepting his appointment, federal authorities dismissed Nix from the Marshal’s Service, alleging misuse of government funds. Nix did not misuse funds; his failure to properly account for office expenditures was a result of inadequate government accounting procedures.  Government auditors cleared Nix of any wrongdoing, but by then he had already moved forward with his life; he returned to his business interests in Guthrie.

In 1929, E. D. Nix co-authored a book with Gordon Hines titled Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder Ones which detailed the demise of the Doolin-Dalton and Jennings gangs.  Nix passed away on 6 February 1946, aged 84 years.  Nix’ family laid him to rest in his home state of Kentucky.

Sources:

  1. Drago, H. S. Outlaws on Horseback: The History of the Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers Who Terrorized the Prairie Towns of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma for Half a Century.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
  2. Wellman, P. I. A Dynasty of Western Outlaws.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986

Endnotes:

[1] Choctaw (also, Chahta) originally occupied the areas of present-day Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  They share their language group with Muskogee, Hopewell, and Mississippi cultures.  By the 17th century, the Choctaw coalesced as a distinctive tribal group.  In the 19th century, European American settlers regarded them as one of the five civilized tribes because they readily adapted to the cultural practices of white settlements.  Nevertheless, they were the first group of Indians forcibly removed under the Indian Removal Act.

[2] The Hunnewell, Kansas (population today, 83) gunfight occurred on 21 August 1884 in a somewhat obscure cow town.  Though small, the town was prosperous as a shipping point for Texas cattle.  In 1884, Hunnewell had one hotel, two general stores, one barber shop, two dance halls, and eight saloons.  With a town filled with railroad men and cowboys, violence in Hunnewell was common.  No one wanted to wear a lawman’s badge, so local ranchers and townspeople dealt with crime in their own way.  On 21 August, two cowboys named Oscar Halsell and Clem Barfoot entered Hanley’s Saloon, became drunk, and started causing problems.   Two in-transient Kansas lawmen entered the saloon and attempted to quell the disturbance.  Following a short (but loud) argument, men began pulling their guns.  Clem Barfoot may have started the shooting, but several more shots rang out and Barfoot soon lay dead.  Deputy Ed Scotten was also mortally wounded.  Halsell survived the shootout and as an Oklahoma rancher, later hired on such men as Bill Doolan and George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb.

[3] Bill Doolin was a member of the Dalton Gang in Kansas who, for whatever reason, was not present during the infamous Coffeyville shootout on 4 July 1891.  In 1892, Doolin formed his own gang, variously called the Doolin Gang and the Wild Bunch.  For a time, the Wild Bunch was the most powerful (and feared) outlaw gang in the Old West.

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Gunfight at Tres Jacales

cropped-texas-star.jpgIt does not take much digging into the history of Mexico and Texas to discover how sorry their relationship has been since around 1800.  Life was never “good” in Mexico for anyone below the level of very wealthy landowners.  Mexico’s War of Independence (from Spain) lasted from 1810 to 1821.  If this upheaval wasn’t trying enough to the Mexican population, Comanche and Apache Indians made life on frontier haciendas stressful and traumatic.  Indian depredation was one of the reasons the Mexican government opened the door to white settlement in the province of Tejas.  Doing so wasn’t a matter of kindness; it was a decision taken out of self-interest.  Since New Spain and Mexico were never able to discourage Indian hostilities, perhaps the Anglo settlers could solve the problem.

By 1830, Mexico was involved in an internal conflict between republicans and centralists.  The conflict necessarily involved Texians, who were at the time citizens of Mexico and who aligned themselves with the republican cause opposing the totalitarian regime of centralist president Antonio López de Santa Anna.  The Texas Revolution erupted in 1836 resulting in a victory for the Texians, but hostilities between Mexico and Texas remained through 1842.  One could argue that these hostilities remain even today.  Between 1836 and late December 1845, Texas was an Independent republic.  It was in 1845 that Mexico realized its worst fear: statehood for Texas.  The result of Texas’ admission as the United States’ 28th state prompted the Mexican-American War (1846-48).  In the end, Mexico ceded the additional territories of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

Between 1857-61, political factions in Mexico successfully overthrew the government of Antonio López de Santa Anna and entered a new period of civil conflict involving conservatives, moderates, and liberals.  Over time, the so-called War of Reform grew increasingly bloody.  Liberal Benito Juárez became president in 1861.   Within a year, France, in seeking to collect debts incurred by Juárez, invaded Mexico.  With the support of Mexican conservatives and the Catholic Church, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian[1] (a Hapsburg) became Emperor Maximillian I of Mexico, which re-established the Empire of Mexico.

Life was never a bed of roses for Anglo settlers in Texas.  Cheap land on favorable terms drew Anglo settlers to Texas as shards of metal to a magnet.  The first 300 families arrived between 1823-24.  The came with little more than bare necessities.  To survive in this wilderness, they had to work the land, defend against Indian hostilities, deal with water-borne diseases, and learn how to feed themselves.  Added to these hardships were increasingly frequent conflicts with Mexican authorities who sought to impose upon them a totalitarian form of government.  In addition to Indian depredations, Texians fought and died two major conflicts with Mexico.  They learned how to live and prosper in a land that was rapidly moving to Civil War.

It is hard to imagine living in Texas during its early settlement period.  The early settlers had to be self-sufficient, of course, but most of them were already that when they arrived in Texas.  These were strong people, willful, capable, with a wide range of skills.  If they needed furniture for their austere cabin, they made it themselves and the Texians had long engaged in subsistence farming.  Such conditions were business as usual, but the American Civil War made life even more difficult.  The war brought along with its unimaginable violence diminished markets, which handed everyone living in Texas even greater challenges.  No one had cash for purchases —the Texas economy had devolved into a barter system.  Conditions in Texas were bad in the early days, worse during the Civil War, but worse still during the post-war reconstruction period.  Yankee occupation of Texas had two effects: it made everyone in Texas angry, and it made nearly everyone in Texas a racialist.

When defeated Texan veterans returned home, they found economic ruin, starving or dead family members, and unemployment.  One focus of their anger were the freedmen, former slaves who now competed with them for jobs, but this was second to the hate they felt for the “blue belly” union soldier who governed them with a heavy hand.  In the main, it took Texas fifteen years to sort it all out.  Some will argue that this resentment continues to exist in some sectors of Texas, and I believe this is true.  Despite these unhappy circumstances, Texas officials encouraged migration to the Lone Star State by touting opportunities no longer available in the southeastern states; people flocked to Texas in droves.  The migration was significant, and it only made matters worse.

Some of these migrants relocated to Texas for the right reasons, others came to escape the law back home.  Tejano communities in South Texas did not welcome these migrants; life was tough enough without more Americans, who were frequently impolite, greedy, and dangerous.  Resentment takes many forms and among people used to moving back and forth between Texas and Mexico, it was easy for these disenchanted people to take up arms against those who they believed were the source of their frustrations.

To suggest that every Tejano living in south Texas was a bandit or a cattle rustler would be a ludicrous assertion and one devoid of fact, but it is fair to say that Tejanos aided and abetted border bandits, either through offering them aid and comfort, their fear of them, and/or by never knowing anything about them.  No hablo inglese, SeñorNo se nada, Señor.

The border bandits were ruthless in their dealings with anyone who stood up to them, white or brown.  For many Tejanos, it was a matter of survival.  It was easy for whites living in the Rio Grande Valley to abhor these bandits, and anyone who looked like them.  The white outlaws in south Texas were no better.  Over time, Mexican bandits and South Texans developed a palpable contempt for one another.

Texas was a seriously dangerous place in the late 19th Century.  Hostile Indians remained a serious problem through the late1880s.  In the post-Civil War period, former Union and Confederate soldiers turned outlaw literally infested the region of the Rio Grande Valley from Brownsville to El Paso.  Mexican bandits were a third source of terror to the inhabitants of south and west Texas.  To deal with these problems, the state commissioned Texas Rangers —and deal with them, they did.

Outside El Paso, in the Rio Grande, lay a large island consisting of around 15,000-acres nearest the present-day town of Fabens.  The island formed as a result of a shift in the river’s course.  By the Treaty of Hidalgo, half of this island belongs to the United States, the other half belongs to Mexico.  Its location presented difficulty policing criminal activity, which was precisely why outlaw elements from both countries utilized it.  Whether Mexican or an American, it was a simple matter to flee across the dry riverbed into Mexico, which made Mexico a sanctuary for murderers, thugs, rapists, arsonists, and thieves.

Pirate Island was the location of a gallery forest[2].  One band of outlaws living on Pirate Island called themselves the Bosque Gang.  The gang’s leader was a fellow named Jesus[3] Maria Olguin, who along with his three sons, developed a particularly nasty reputation after Texas Rangers killed one of Olguin’s relatives during the San Elizario Salt War.  By 1893, the Bosque Gang was doing whatever it wanted and to whomever got in their way.  Mostly what they wanted was stealing cattle and horses and moving them into Mexico.  Influential ranchers and county lawmen in south Texas began to demand help from the state capital, prompting the governor to send Texas Rangers to El Paso under the command of Captain Frank Jones.  After assessing the situation, and owing to the size of the Bosque Gang, Jones telegraphed the governor requesting additional men but Texas was always a miserly state and owing to the cost of additional lawmen, the governor refused Captain Jones’ request and ordered him to move against Olguin with the men at his disposal.  Jones had six men, besides himself.  According to Texas Ranger Sergeant John R. Hughes in 1893, “… the gang grew stronger and stronger —they laughed the Gringos[4] to scorn.”

In June 1893, El Paso County officials issued a warrant for the arrest of Jesus Maria and his son Severio for stealing horse and cattle, and with assault with intent to commit murder.  To serve these warrants, Captain Jones formed a detachment consisting of himself, El Paso Deputies Robert Edwards, and Ed Bryant, and four other Texas Rangers: Corporal Carl Kirchner, Privates T. F. Tucker, J. W. “Wood” Saunders, and Edwin Dunlap Aten.  A young Mexican rancher named Lujan accompanied Jones to help search for some of his stolen livestock.

On the morning of 30 June, Jones and his detachment departed from El Paso and headed southwest along the Rio Grande toward Pirate Island.  The Rangers had searched several houses in the area and were returning to El Paso when they spotted two Mexican men on horseback coming down the road toward them.  As soon as the Mexicans became aware of the posse, they turned their horses around and began galloping back toward the small village named Tres Jacales.  The Jones posse gave chase.  When Corporal Kirchner called out demanding surrender, the Mexicans answered with a volley of fire that came from within a small jacal along the road, and from several positions in surround brush.  On the first volley, a bullet ripped into Captain Jones’ thigh, knocking him off his horse.  Another bullet struck the magazine in Kirchner’s Winchester.  The Americans immediately dismounted and returned fire, forcing the Mexicans to seek better protection from inside the jacal.  According to the later testimony of the Rangers, there were at least five Mexican attackers; some were gang members, others were the residents of the town.

Mexicans and Texas Rangers exchanged shots for the better part of an hour.  During this time, Private Tucker made several attempts to rescue Captain Jones, but Jones told him to save himself.  Just then, another Mexican bullet struck Jones in the chest, killing him.  Lujan made his way to Kirchner’s position and informed him that the Rangers had unknowingly crossed into Mexican territory.  It would be better to leave, he advised, before locals informed the Mexican Army of the presence of gringos.

Kirchner, unwilling to leave his dead captain, continued the fight for another hour.  It was then that Kirchner realized that the Mexicans were working to flank the Americans; if that happened, it was likely that they would all die.  Kirchner ordered a fighting withdrawal, back across the Rio Grande to the town of Clint.  From Clint, Kirchner sent a message outlining his situation to El Paso Sheriff Frank B. Simmons.

Captain Jones was the only American casualty.  Jesus Maria and Severio were both wounded in the fight.  Initially, Mexican authorities refused to return Captain Jones’ body to American authorities, but they eventually did return his body for a proper burial.  In a rare cooperative move, Mexican Army officials joined with Sheriff Simmons in capturing a few of the outlaws at Pirate Island.

Co D Texas Rangers 1894At first, Mexican authorities held the Olguin’s in the jail at Ciudad Juarez, but in a move designed to spite American lawmen, Mexican President Porfirio Diaz ordered the Olguin’s released and there was very likely much celebration at Tres Jacales.

In the aftermath of the gunfight at Tres Jacales, some folks living in south Texas observed that Texas Ranger Sergeant John R. Hughes was ‘spitting mad’ about the way President Diaz protected the Olguin’s.  Of course, there was never any evidence that Hughes or any other ranger embarked on a vengeance campaign into Mexico —it was only that over the next several weeks every one of the Olguin’s died under mysterious circumstances that prompted the citizens of El Paso into believing that the bandits perished due to an acute case of ranger-itis.  Note: Above photograph taken in 1894 of the members of Company D, Texas Ranger Frontier Battalion, Captain John R. Hughes, Commanding.  Kirchner and Hughes are seated on the far right.

End Notes:

[1] Unknown to conservatives and Catholic leaders when they installed him as Emperor, Maximillian was by his nature a liberal.  He favored the establishment of a limited monarchy that would share power with democratically elected legislators.  This was too much for Mexico’s conservatives, and liberals refused to accept a monarch and insisted on the reinstallation of Juárez as president.  In fact, throughout the French Intervention, Juárez remained head of the shadow Republican government and directed rebellious forces against the French armies through 1867.

[2] A forest that forms a corridor along a river or wetland area and projects into landscapes that are otherwise only sparsely trees, such as savannahs, grasslands, or deserts.

[3] Pronounced “Hay-soos” in Mexican.

[4] Spanish and Portuguese speakers use the word Gringo to denote a stranger or foreigner.  In Mexico, the term generally applies to Americans, a form of derision or mockery.

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Poker Alice

Life in the old west was hard on everyone, but it was especially difficult for the ladies.  In the post-Civil War period, it was common for proper young ladies to accompany their new husbands into the western territories.  It was a dangerous and difficult journey, but young couples are always optimistic about their future together.  They had their entire lives ahead of them and they enthusiastically embraced their destiny.

Literally thousands of young couples accepted the challenge of westward migration because land was more affordable and they viewed the undertaking as an opportunity to set down their roots and raise their families.  In time, if luck remained with them, they could sell their land for a profit and move further west.

Quite often, however, luck turned its back on them and the woman’s husband was taken.  He may have been murdered by Indians or outlaws, or perhaps he fell out of his wagon and broke his neck.  Whatever the circumstances, his young bride was left alone in the world.  She was far from home with no one to turn to.   If life had been difficult for her up to that point, her travails were just getting started.  It was frequently the beginning of a sad and lonely life.

Alice Ivers 001But people strive to survive.  I suspect that very few people today wonder why there were so many prostitutes in the old west.  Now you know.  Some of these women dressed as men and tried to fit into masculine society as drovers, shootists, and ranchers but not many took on this particular lifestyle.  Some women found work as cargo haulers, stagecoach drivers, and livery stable operators.  No one found work in the local five and dime because there wasn’t one.  So, bless them, they either became dancehall girls or something else.  Some ladies even became gamblers —and darn good ones— which brings us finally to Poker Alice.

Alice Ivers was born in Sudbury, England in 1851 and moved to the United States with her family in 1865.  Settling in Virginia, her family sent her to a boarding school for young ladies, which tells us that her’s was a family of means, that she was educated and very likely refined.  Alice later accompanied her parents to Leadville in the Colorado Territory, and this is where she met her beau, Frank Duffield.  Alice was still young when she married Frank, but that’s how things were back then.

Frank worked in a silver mine.  His job was setting explosive charges.  Unhappily, Frank wasn’t very good at setting explosive charges and Alice found herself single once more.  Alice was perceptive enough to know that mining silver was hard work and an iffy proposition at best.  Gambling, on the other hand, would definitely bring in some cash.  Some say that Alice learned how to gamble from her father.  Whether or not true, Alice did make a lot of money gambling.  She spent a lot of money, too.  Whenever she would win big, she would travel to New York City and spend her money on the finest clothes.  She always wore her fashionable gowns to the gambling halls.  It was a ploy, some said, to distract her gambling opponents.

If it was a ploy, it apparently worked for her because in her lifetime, Alice won over $250,000 from gambling.  In today’s money, that would be around $6.5 million.  Somewhere along the way, the lady who could count cards picked up a fondness for cigar smoking and quality Kentucky Bourbon.  Inside the saloon/gambling hall, folks could hear her British accented voice tell her fellow gamblers, “Praise the Lord and place your bets, and I’ll take your money with no regrets.”  Make no mistake, though —Alice was a proper lady gambler.  She never gambled on the Lord’s day.

In 1890, Alice remarried —a fellow named Warren Tubbs— and retired to a life of childbearing and farming.  Warren and Alice had four sons and three daughters.  They purchased a farm.  Warren earned extra money as a house painter.  In time, Warren fell ill with consumption (tuberculosis) and in 1910, he passed away from complications of pneumonia.  Alice and Warren had a good life together, but with the kids grown and moved away, Alice went back to the card tables.  After pawning her wedding ring to pay for Warren’s funeral, she went straight to the gambling hall and made enough money in a single afternoon to buy her wedding ring back.  By this time, of course, Alice was quite a bit older … but she had lost none of her gambling skills.

Alice’s third husband was George Huckert, whom she employed on her farm.  Huckert wanted to marry Alice, but Alice wasn’t ready to re-tie the knot … until she realized that she owed George over $1,000 in back pay; she married him in 1912 because it was cheaper than paying back wages.  George died in 1913.

By this time, everyone knew Alice as “Poker Alice.”  On some nights, Alice would take home $6,000 … at the time, an incredibly large sum of money.  The reason she was unconcerned about such things as being robbed because no matter how nicely she was dressed, her hand was never too far from a .38 revolver.  No one doubted that she knew how to use it.

Alice Ivers 002As one might expect, Alice’s life was controversial.  Before she passed away in 1930, authorities arrested Alice for running a brothel, shooting a soldier who was harassing her, and for openly defying prohibition laws.  Governor William J. Bulow of South Dakota eventually pardoned Alice, who was then 75 years old.  There was no clear evidence that Alice ever ran a brothel, but she did invest money in one —a distinction between management and venture capitalism.  It is true that Alice shot a soldier, but from all accounts, he was asking for it.  As for prohibition laws —everyone defied those and back then the government pursued “selective prosecution.”  A cigar-smoking woman gambler stood a greater chance of judicial scrutiny than, say, an elected mayor of a city who frequently hosted late hour cocktail parties.

Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert died at the age of 79 following a gallbladder operation.  The citizens of Sturgis, South Dakota buried her in the St. Aloysius Cemetery.  Poker Alice was one of our country’s colorful Old West characters.

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Land and Conflict

Grand Union Flag 001

The Grand Union Flag was the first flag flown by the United States, hoisted aboard USS Alfred on 3 December 1775.

The entire purpose of European exploration and settlement/colonization was to discover new lands and harvest their resources toward the accumulation of wealth, power, and prestige.  The world’s colonial empires were humongous, and like the vast expanse of the Roman Empire two-thousand years ago, they became much too large to govern from a central location.  To solve this problem, Great Britain, France, and Spain appointed governors to control these lands.  Even so, after hundreds of years, the colonists sent to populate these vast regions developed new identities.  British colonists in North America became Americans, the British and French in the extreme northern part of North America became Canadians, and the Spanish in Mexico became Mexicans.  Colonial revolutions, when they came, had less to do with pursuing liberty than it did shifting wealth and power from old to new political bodies.

In the wake of the American Revolution, the US Congress passed the Ordinance of 1785, a protocol for the development of the western territories, all of which “belonged” either to native Americans or were claimed by European competitors.  The fight had been going on for some time before the Revolutionary period.  In the newly created United States, western territories were to be settled and incorporated as townships.  The protocol specified that townships were to be accorded 640 acres of land.  The expectation was that no one farmer would be able to afford all 640 acres and that groups of farmers from the same region would join together to form new political entities and then everyone would live happily ever after.

The problem was, however, that not everyone supported the underlying philosophy about how this should work.  In the 1790s, the federalist party favored selling large tracts of land to wealthy speculators, who bought up parcels of land, paying in cash, with the expectation that the rising value of land would bring them massive profits.  For the most part, it did.  The law back then established the minimum purchase of land would involve 640 acres at a minimum price of $2.00 per acre.  This is how the early governments filled their treasuries.

Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson didn’t agree.  He reversed the law in 1800 to provide the minimum purchase of land at 320 acres; slashed again to 160 acres in 1804, 80 acres in 1820, and 40 acres in 1832.  By then, the cost of an acre of land was one dollar.  This also explains the interest people developed in relocating to Texas, where an acre of land only cost around sixty-five cents, payable in six years.  Despite the efforts of American politicians, land speculation remained an influential aspect of westward expansion.  Between 1815 and 1819, greed caused an explosion of speculative activity, not all of it aboveboard.  The sale of public land increased 1,000 times over what it had been between 1811 and 1814.

There were other problems beside land fraud and the outright theft of land, such as was stolen from the Cherokee nation in Georgia and the Carolinas.  One problem had to do with squatters —people who just settled on land without ever purchasing it, and then, after several years, assuming that they were entitled to it.  Squatters even formed associations to prevent speculators from bidding up the price of land and petitioned Congress to grant them the right to purchase land they already occupied —at a minimum price, of course.  The Preemption Act of 1841[1] addressed the issue of squatters but settlers continued to suffer high prices and high interest on credit at the hands of speculators.  This in turn pushed farmers into commodity farming and, some argue, helped to establish the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.  Kansas and Nebraska territories were largely settled through pre-emption claims.

All of this was pure politics, of course.  The government needed revenue, and land was how they intended to obtain it.  Land acquisition is what motivated Jefferson to make the Louisiana Purchase.  It is impossible for a country, like the United States, to claim territory that its people do not occupy.  Land acquisition not only put money into the federal treasury, it was also the catalyst for westward migration, which placed Americans in conflict with French/Spanish colonies, native Indians, British interests in the American northwest, and finally, fighting among themselves.

Conflict over land was a common occurrence in the Old West, but it was particularly prevalent in the late 19th century when large tracts of land were squatted upon by wealthy cattle barons who sought to deny access to these public lands by migrating families —despite the fact that the government encouraged western expansion through homestead acts and the so-called land rushes.  In the early days of its settlement, Wyoming was a US territory; its land was in the public domain.  Ostensibly, it was a vast range open to common use for livestock and subsistence farming.

The people who acted as though the range belonged to them, and who controlled it for many years, were members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), a cattlemen’s association.  Through mutual agreement, cattlemen would loosen their vast herds (horses and cattle) for grazing on the open range.  In the spring, the cattlemen would round up their cattle, organize them according to ownership (determined by unique brands) and lead them off to stockyards for profit.  To be clear, these cattlemen didn’t own title to the land, and they never paid a dime in taxes for the use of it.  They were squatters who controlled the land, and access to water, by force of arms.

Wyoming State Flag

Wyoming State Flag

To put this into perspective, Wyoming is the 10th largest state in land area and the least populated.  After Wyoming gained statehood in 1890, the number of homesteaders (also called grangers) increased.  Competition for access to the range (and its water resources) evolved into open conflict when cattle barons organized against homesteaders (farmers and small ranchers).  The fear of an encroachment by outsiders was so great that the cattle barons even prohibited their employees from owning cattle.

Over a short period of time, three competing interests evolved in Wyoming: large ranchers, small ranchers, and grangers.  The situation grew worse in 1886-87 when a series of winter blizzards and sub-zero temperatures were followed by an extremely hot and dry summer.  Thousands of cattle perished, and large ranches began appropriating land and water resources for their exclusive use.  The cattlemen’s associations did this by resorting to such harsh tactics setting fire to homesteader’s houses and barns, trampling their crops, threatening their lives, and denying the range to small ranchers.  They justified these activities by claiming that small ranchers and farmers were rustling cattle and stealing horses.

Unfortunately, the state legislature and courts were firmly aligned with the cattle barons, evidenced by the Wyoming Maverick Act.  The act stated that all unbranded cattle discovered on the open range automatically belonged to the cattlemen’s association.  Thus, any small rancher found with an unbranded calf was regarded as a cow thief.  Even worse, the stock grower’s associations excluded small ranchers from association membership, thus achieving power over the “have nots.”

Generally, small ranchers were not cattle rustlers, but such men and organizations did exist in both Wyoming and Montana[2].  On an open range, people were able to help themselves to unattended cattle and well-armed outfits of horse and cattle rustlers roamed across portions of Wyoming and Montana.  Outlaws taking refuge in the Hole-in-the-Wall also participated in rustling activities.

Vigilantes, range detectives, and professional gunslingers were hired by cattlemen’s associations to protect their stock against rustlers beginning in the early 1880s.  It was convenient to the associations to classify small ranchers and homesteaders as rustlers as a means of clearing the range of all such persons.  One of the men who played a prominent role in this campaign was Johnson County Sheriff (and county judge) Frank Canton[3].  Frank Canton was one of the old west’s more dangerous gunman that few people have ever heard about —a man who played fast and loose on both sides of the law over many years and one of a very few of such men that actually died from old age.

Jim Averell 001

Jim Averell

On 20 July 1889, a range detective named George Henderson accused Ellen Watson, one of the small ranchers, of stealing cattle from Albert J. Bothwell.  Bothwell was a wealthy neighbor who owned no land beyond where his home was situated but had pestered Ellen about selling her spread.  In any case, the cattlemen’s association sent gunmen to seize Watson before capturing her husband, Jim Averell.  Both Ellen and Jim were found hanging from a tree (it was one of the few times in the old west when a woman was lynched).  Local residents were appalled by the hanging, which served as a catalyst for future violence.  US Marshal Frank Hadsell arrested six men for the lynching, including Bothwell, and a trial date was set.  Before the trial convened, however, witnesses started received threats.  One of these witnesses, a man named Gene Crowder, mysteriously disappeared.  Jim Averell’s nephew, Frank Buchanan, who served as Averell’s ranch foreman, also disappeared.  Another Averell nephew, Ralph Cole, died on the day of trial from poisoning.

The cattlemen’s association soon learned that violence was a two-edge sword because local (small) ranchers began fighting back.  Ranch detective George Henderson was murdered near Sweetwater Creek in October 1890.  Among the cattle barons, this was a sign that they needed to tighten their grip on these interlopers.  Tom Waggoner, a horse trader from Newcastle, was lynched in June 1891.  Waggoner’s friend, a fellow everyone knew as Jimmy the Butcher, was found murdered.  When range detective Tom Smith killed a suspected cattle rustler, local authorities charged him with murder, but the Cattlemen arranged to have the charges dropped.

For a time, violence subsided and the cattlemen’s prominence on the Wyoming range continued undisputed.  Then, small ranchers created the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Grower’s Association (NWFSGA) under a cowboy named Nate Champion[4].  Upon learning of this, the WSGA focused their attention on Champion as a threat to its state-wide hold on stock interests.  The WSGA declared every member of the NWFSGA blacklisted and excluded its members from WSGA sponsored roundups.

Rather than disbanding, the NWFSGA announced its plan to hold their own roundup in the spring of 1892.  Shortly after, the WSGA sent gunmen to kill Nate Champion.  The assassins found Champion and Ross Gilbertson asleep in a cabin at the Middle Fork of the Powder River.  Two or three of these men quietly entered the cabin with revolvers in hand.  Champion awoke, grabbed his six-shooter from under his pillow, and a firefight erupted.  Champion shot two of these men, one of them, a fellow named Billy Lykins, mortally wounded.  The other gunmen, however many there were, fled from the scene.  Champion and Gilbertson escaped injury, but a week later, two local ranchers and members of the NWFSGA named John A. Tisdale and Orley “Ranger” Jones were ambushed and killed by persons unknown.

Wolcott-Frank 001

Frank Wolcott

The head of the WSGA was a North Platte rancher named Frank Wolcott[5].  Early in 1892, Wolcott sent agents to Texas and Idaho to recruit gunmen[6].  Wolcott and the WSGA did not intend to intimidate the grangers of Johnson County; Wolcott intended to eliminate them —and the NWFSGA.  Prominent Wyoming men began taking sides.  Governor Amos Barber, in supporting the WSGA, blamed the small ranchers and farmers for the increase in rustling and assassinations.  Barber was joined by his friends and fellow Republicans State Senator Bob Tisdale, Water Commissioner W. J. Clarke, and William C. Irvine and Herbert Teshemacher, both of whom had been instrumental in organizing statehood for Wyoming in 1890.  These men were joined by surgeon Charles B. Penrose and Ed Towse (a reporter for the Cheyenne Sun), and a reporter for the Chicago Herald named Sam T. Clover.  Clover’s account of the Johnson County War later appeared in eastern newspapers.  In total, the WSGA paid fifty mercenaries with Frank Canton appointed to lead them.

The Canton expedition targeted 70 of Johnson County’s “lesser” residents for murder, whether lynched or shot didn’t matter.  Meanwhile, in Cheyenne, Wolcott organized a second group of assassins that he brought in from Idaho.  They proceeded by train to Casper, Wyoming and then by horse to Johnson County.  En route, they cut telegraph lines to isolate Johnson County from the rest of the state.

On the side of local deplorables was Johnson County Sheriff William G. “Red” Angus[7].  Angus supported homesteaders because he was convinced that the WSGA was engaged in a campaign to steal their land.

Because Wolcott’s assassins had failed to kill Nate Champion in WSGA’s first attempt, Wolcott marked Champion as the first mark in his murderous campaign.  Champion was located at the K C (Kaycee) Ranch.  The Wolcott’s gunmen arrived at the ranch late on Friday, 8 April 1892.  They quietly surrounded the buildings and grounds and waited for daylight.  As it happened, three other men were at the Kaycee Ranch besides Nate Champion.  Two of these men were travelers, who had stopped over for the night.  When they emerged from their cabin to collect water the next morning, WSGA gunmen captured them.  The third man was Nick Ray, who gunmen shot and mortally wounded while he was standing just inside the doorway of the cabin.  Champion dragged him back inside the building and closed the door.  Nick Ray died a few hours later.

The gunfight at Kaycee Ranch lasted for several hours.  Four WSGA gunmen lay dead and three others were seriously wounded. Homesteader Jack Flagg and his stepson heard the shooting and went over to Kaycee Ranch on his buckboard to investigate.  When the gunmen spotted Flagg, several men were sent after him.  Flagg made a hasty withdrawal through a hail of gunfire, returning fire with his rifle and beating back his attackers.  Flagg and his son made a beeline for Buffalo[8].

Nate Champion

Nate Champion (date unknown)

Nate kept a journal throughout the siege of Kaycee Ranch, noting that the killers were getting ready to fire the house.  When Champion made his break from the back door of the house, a rifleman shot him dead.  When his body was discovered later, a note had been pinned to his vest stating simply “Cattle Thieves Beware.”  Champion was still holding his six-shooter in one hand, and a hunting knife in the other.

Arriving in Buffalo, Jack Flagg reported Champion’s situation to Sheriff Angus.  Over the next 24-hours, Angus raised a posse of two-hundred men.  He led them to the Kaycee Ranch on Sunday night, 10 April.

The WSGA planned to take over the town of Buffalo on Monday, 11 April but warned of the approaching posse, Wolcott’s gunmen rode instead to the TA Ranch near Crazy Woman Creek.  In the excitement of setting up a defensive perimeter, Jim Dudley’s horse bucked, causing him to drop his rifle.  When the weapon hit the ground, it discharged a bullet into Dudley’s knee.  Dudley was transported to Fort McKinney for treatment, but he died several days later from gangrene poisoning.

After discovering Champion’s body, the Angus posse pursued Wolcott’s gunmen to the TC Ranch.  Angus directed his deputies to surround the ranch.  He ordered the Wolcott gang’s corralled horses shot to prevent their escape.  The siege lasted three days.  According to an article that appeared in the New York Times, the Sheriff’s posse prevented an escape attempt by twenty gunmen, seven being killed in the effort.  As Texas gunman Alex Lowther attempted to belly-crawl out of the line of fire, his own weapon accidentally discharged, shooting him in the groin.  His death, within a few hours, wasn’t an easy one.

Barn at TA Ranch 001

Barn at TA Ranch

While the siege was underway, one of the deputies rode to Fort McKinney and asked to borrow one of their field cannons.  The army turned him down.  The request must have alerted the soldiers that something was going on, but there was no immediate reaction by the Army to intervene.  With their request rebuffed, local blacksmith Rap Brown attempted to build his own cannon.  His first test fire ended Brown’s interest in any second attempt.  His next brainstorm involved the construction of a siege engine —a large bullet resistant wagon that he believed would help the posse get close enough to the barn to throw sticks of dynamite.  Judging from the picture (at right) of the barn at the TA Ranch, which remained after the siege, Brown’s dynamite plan must not have worked out very well, either.

Mike Shonsey 001

Mike Shonsey

Gunman Mike Shonsey managed to slip away.  He contacted Governor Barber[9], who pulled out all stops to save the WSGA.  Late on the night of 12 April, Barber telegraphed President Benjamin Harrison with a plea for federal intervention.  Harrison granted Barber’s request and ordered the Secretary of War, Stephen B. Elkins, to employ the army.  Elkins in turn ordered the Sixth Cavalry from Fort McKinney to take the WSGA into custody.

Fort McKinney’s commander, Colonel J. J. Van Horn, led elements of the 6th Cavalry to the TA Ranch, arriving at 0645 on the morning of 13 April.  After negotiating with Sheriff Angus, the siege was lifted with the understanding that the gunmen would be turned over to civil authority.  Van Horn then arrested Wolcott and 45 other men, confiscated their weapons and 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and escorted them back to Fort McKinney.  Eventually, Wolcott and his men were transferred under guard to Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne because the Laramie County jail was of insufficient size to hold all the accused.

The Army’s treatment of these men became a source of irritation to the Johnson County authorities.  Wolcott and his gunmen were granted on-post liberty so long as they promised to return to the stockade at night before Taps.  One concern for the Army Commander at Fort Russell was the number of partisans who began forming in Cheyenne and gathering outside Fort Russell’s gates.

As Johnson County officials began the task of investigating the incident, details of the WSGA assassination plan emerged in the press.  Frank Canton’s valise contained a list of seventy citizens who were targeted for murder, a list of ranch houses that Walcott’s gunmen had burned, and the contract that offered to pay the gunmen their wages.  Twenty prominent stockmen in Cheyenne, the State Capitol, were implicated in the conspiracy along with men from Omaha, Nebraska.

One might assume that these men were in serious legal jeopardy, but it also emerged that these accused persons had highly placed friends and sympathizers in Wyoming’s state government.  Charges against the most prominent cattlemen were never filed, the Texans and Idaho men were offered bail on condition that they promised to return for trail.  None of those fellows were ever seen in Wyoming again.  When Johnson County officials refused to pay the costs of prosecution, state attorneys dropped all charges against the WSGA.

Tensions remained high in Johnson County, however.  While en route to Buffalo with two companions, US Marshal George Wellman was ambushed and killed by unknown assailants on 9 May 1892.  Wellman’s death received national press coverage because it was an assault on the federal judiciary.  Wellman, however, was later identified as one of Wolcott’s mercenaries.  The violence prompted the Army to assign elements of the 6th Cavalry to Buffalo to maintain the peace.  What made this a bad decision was the fact that local residents suspected the Army of being in cahoots with the WSGA.  Soldiers on patrol were frequently shot at by unknown persons.  At Fort McKinney, someone set fire to the post exchange and planted a bomb in the enlisted men’s barracks.  An officer was seriously injured when the bomb went off.

Realizing that the 6th Cavalry had failed in its mission, the Army ordered in elements of the 9th Cavalry, which only made matters worse owing to the fact that the town harbored racial biases toward black soldiers.  In one incident, a gunfight erupted between the Buffalo Soldiers and townspeople. Only after the Army sent in an additional two detachments did the violence subside.  Still, it wasn’t over.

Nate-Dudley Champion

Dudley Champion with brother Nate (date of photograph is unknown)

In late September 1892, two alleged horse thieves were shot and killed by range detectives east of the Big Horn River.  The detectives managed to evade the law with the help of Otto Frank, a rancher affiliated with the WSGA.  Then, on 24 May 1893, Dudley Champion, Nate’s brother, went to Wyoming looking for work.  He was murdered by Mike Shonsey, who in claiming self-defense, was exonerated by a coroner’s inquest.  There was never any evidence that Dudley Champion went to Wyoming looking for revenge.  In any case, he was the last man killed in the Johnson County War.

Hatred is a difficult thing to cure —and so it was in Wyoming.  Emotions ran high for many years after the Johnson County War and there appeared to be only two groups: those who believed that the WSGA were heroes, and those who suffered the result of the WSGA’s campaign of murder, arson, and mayhem —who knew it wasn’t so.

Several myths arose from the Johnson County War that had the effect of defending both sides of the conflict.  The WSGA attempted to paint Ellen Watson as a prostitute (which is something men do whenever the find themselves confronted by a female adversary), and Jim Averell, her husband, as her pimp.  They were no such thing.  It is true that men frequented the Watson home, but the reason was that Ellen earned extra money as a seamstress mending the torn or tattered clothing of local stockmen.  Another myth was that because Nate Champion wore a red sash, he was likely associated with outlaws.  Champion did wear a red sash, but this was common in the late 1800s and he had no affiliation with criminal gangs.

There were also allegations that the WSGA and its members were Democrats who sought to diminish the homesteaders in the way that Democrats have always denigrated racial or economic minorities.  Others claimed that the WSGA were a group of out-of-control Republicans and pointed to President Harrison’s involvement as proof.  The hatred among these groups could not have been more palpable.  In Wyoming, as with other states, political dominance is a regional phenomenon.  Overall, however, Wyoming has been predominantly Republican since 1890.  Johnson County, on the other hand, as remained an enclave for Democrats for many years.

Civil War reconstruction ended in 1877 but even in the early 1880s, cattle prices remained low, there being less demand for beef than for pork.  The 1880s was also a time when “range management” was beginning to emerge as a solution to over-grazing.  Large ranches did suffer the effects of “mavericking” and rustling.  The WSGA did, of course, get out of hand in the 1890s, but the organization did have a legitimate concern about lost revenues through horse and cattle theft.  Likewise, small ranchers had good reason to fear or resent the political and economic power of the cattle barons.

The events associated with the Johnson County War resulted from (by then) the age-old debate between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.  The situation pitted the wealthy against the modest, the settled and self-important against the migrant, the influential against the obscure, and the powerful against the powerless.  The cattle barons didn’t own the land, but they controlled it and did not accept the notion of they might have to share the “open range” with inferior Johnny-come-latelies.

The short-term economic result of the land rights dispute in Wyoming as the end of the open range and the emergence of large cattle corporations (which continue to exist today), now joined by corporate farming, both of which control the price of food sold in local supermarkets.

There is no shortage of examples of class warfare in American history, including recent examples.  Differences in race, gender, education, wealth, sexual orientation, religion, and geographical or regional attitudes continue to divide Americans.  Our politicians, low creatures that they are, never fail to seize the advantage of these differences for themselves.  One day, the American people will come to terms with this reality and refuse to play into the hands of unscrupulous politicians.  At least, that is my hope.

Sources:

  1. Davis, J. W. Wyoming Range War: The Infamous Invasion of Johnson County. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010
  2. Sandoz, M. The Cattlemen.  New York: Hastings House, 1956
  3. Smith, H. H. The War on Powder River.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967
  4. O’Neil, B. The Johnson County War.  Austin: Eakin Press, 2004 

Endnotes:

[1] The Preemption Act of 1841 provided for the appropriation of proceeds from the sales of public lands and granted pre-emption rights to individuals who were living on federal lands as squatters.  A pre-emption right (also, first option to buy) is a contractual right to acquire certain property newly coming into existence before it can be offered to any other person or entity.  This act was repealed by Congress and replaced by the Land Revision Act (1891), reversing previous policy initiatives in which land fraud was readily accessible on the behalf of wealthy individuals and corporations.

[2] One popular film depicting these conditions was the 1976 production of The Missouri Breaks, which took place in the north central region of Montana where the Missouri River cut breaks into the land.  These isolated and hard to reach areas were used by rustlers to hide their stolen goods.  Starring in the film were Marlon Brando (a range detective) and Jack Nicholson (a rustler).

[3] Frank Canton (1849-1927) (born as Josiah Horner) was an old west outlaw.  As a young man, he worked as a cowboy in Texas.  In 1871 he began a career in robbery and cattle rustling.  According to historians, Canton/Horner was a merciless cold-blooded killer believed to have killed ten men.  Canton had served as a deputy United States Marshal under an alias.  In the 1880s, he worked as a stock detective for the WSGA and was easily elected as the chief law officer of Johnson County.  Sheriff Canton and his associates were accused of operating an assassination campaign against small rangers, which eventually elicited a public outcry.  Canton directed Frank Wolcott’s imported gunmen in their planned vigilante campaign, which became known as the Johnson County War.

[4] Nate Champion (1837-92) was born in Leander, Texas, one of 18 children, who grew up in Round Rock.  His father John Champion served as the Sheriff of Williamson County, but the family prospered in the cattle industry.

[5] Major Frank Wolcott was an officer in the union army during the American Civil War.  After his discharge in 1866, Wolcott worked for the US Land Office in Kentucky until he received an appointment as a United States Marshal.  Wolcott passed away in 1910.

[6] According to the testimony of cowboy John J. Baker, Texans ambushed and killed nine trappers, whom they mistook for rustler in Big Dry Creek, Wyoming.  They were paid a $450 bonus for the killing.  Wolcott ended up hiring 23 shooters from Paris, Texas and four “cattle detectives” from the WSGA.  The Texas shooters were paid $5.00 a day plus a bonus of $50.00 for every “rustler” they killed.

[7] A native of Ohio, Angus worked as a teamster in Kansas and briefly served as a volunteer in the Kansas State Cavalry.  After serving with Custer in his Black Kettle Campaign, he returned to driving supply wagons through Indian Territory (Oklahoma).  In 1880, he joined a cattle drive from Texas to Wyoming and decided to put down his roots there.  In Wyoming, he owned a liquor store in Buffalo.  He won the election for sheriff in 1888 and with the outbreak of hostilities in the Johnson County War, aligned himself with the small ranchers/farmers.  After losing his bid for reelection, Angus remained in Buffalo until his death in 1922.

[8] Buffalo, Wyoming is the seat of Johnson County.

[9] We aren’t sure how Shonsey contacted the governor given that Wolcott’s men cut the telegraph lines.

Posted in History | 3 Comments

Another Fast Gun

cropped-texas-star.jpg“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.’”

Young people develop romantic notions, limited only by their imagination and circumstances.  It is the primary reason why kids run away from home: they’re looking for some form of adventure, as they define it.  In the 1850s, stories propagated by word of mouth or in the dime novels, of mountain men, frontiersmen, Indian fighters, lawmen, soldiers, explorers, and gutsy outlaws likely inspired some of the thousands of youngsters who ran away from home, but who can really say?

Dallas Stoudenmire may have been one of these imaginative youngsters.  He was born on 11 December 1845 in Aberfoil, Alabama, one of nine children of Lewis and Elizabeth.  Shortly after the beginning of the American Civil War, 15-year-old Dallas enlisted in the Confederate Army.  He was already six-feet tall but height is not confused with maturity and Dallas’ officers suspected that he was underage.  When his age was proved, the army discharged him and sent him home.  But Dallas wanted to participate in the war (which really does speak to the level of his immaturity), so he enlisted two more times.  He served as a private in the 17th Alabama Infantry, was discovered as underage and discharged, and again as Private in the 6th Alabama Cavalry.  Eventually, he was allowed to remain with the 45th Alabama Infantry Regiment.  By this time, Dallas had grown to stand well over 6’3″, taller than most men at the time.  Before the war ended, Dallas had received several war wounds.  He carried two Yankee bullets in his body for the balance of his life.

The Civil War was traumatic for almost everyone —long before anyone realized what the word even meant.  Afterward, life was tough in both the north and south.  Jobs were scarce.  Freed slaves flooded the labor market, most unsuccessfully, and many of these poor souls were forced back into servitude as tenant farmers and sharecroppers.  White ex-soldiers, north or south, were marginally better off.  There simply were no jobs, no way to find a good woman and settle down —all because there was no way to provide for that good woman and, in time, a family.  So ex-soldiers drifted, looking for opportunities.  Some found their way to America’s largest cities and employment as store clerks.  Others moved west to work on ranches, as cowhands on trail drives, or as cargo drivers/handlers.  Some men became bankers, specializing in armed withdrawals.  Some became lawmen.

We aren’t sure what Dallas did immediately after the war.  Some historians suggest that he worked as a sheep farmer, a wheelwright, and a dry goods clerk.  We do know that he was in Texas in 1867, and we believe he may have been a shootist responsible for several killings.  Between 1867-68 and 1874, Dallas served as a second sergeant in J. R. Waller’s company of Texas Rangers.

Stoudenmire 001Young Dallas Stoudenmire was a handsome fellow, a sharp dresser, and a gentleman when in contact with the ladies. But he also had a mean streak when intoxicated.  He not only had a quick temper, he also had a very quick and very accurate gun hand.  Contrary to Hollywood westerns, not many old west shootists carried two-gun pistol rigs, but Dallas was one that did and he was equally fast and deadly with either hand.

We aren’t sure what Dallas was doing between 1874-78.  He may have been living in Mexico because in later years, he was quite fluent in the Mexican (not to be confused with Spanish) language.  In 1878, Stoudenmire served as the town marshal in Socorro, New Mexico.  While in New Mexico, his brother-in-law, Stanley “Doc” Cummings convinced him to apply for a job in El Paso, Texas as town marshal.  In the late 1870s, El Paso was a seriously dangerous town.  Rowdy gunmen do nothing to enhance commerce, so the town council started looking for a lawman who could “clean house” … a lawman with a tough reputation.  Stoudenmire traveled to El Paso by stagecoach and was almost immediately hired.  Dallas Stoudenmire was the beginning of the end of El Paso’s violent nature.

Stoudenmire began his new job on 11 April 1881.  At the time he was hired, he was the sixth town marshal in eight months.   At the time, deputy marshal Bill Johnson had the keys to the town jail.  Johnson was a drunk and worthless as a law officer.  Stoudenmire’s first assignment was retrieving the keys to the town jail from Johnson.

According to witnesses, Stoudenmire approached an intoxicated Johnson, identified himself,  and then asked him for the keys to the jail.  Johnson mumbled that he’d have to go home and figure out which keys were which.  Stoudenmire informed Johnson that this was not acceptable.  He then picked Johnson up from a chair, turned him upside down, and shook him until the keys fell out of his pocket.  Once Johnson had sobered up, he realized how publicly humiliated he was by Stoudenmire’s treatment.

Three days later, Stoudenmire became involved in one of the more famous gunfights in Old West history.  It was the “Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight.”  News of the fight reached all the major newspapers in the United States and, in time, was no doubt incorporated into the so-called dime novels of the time.

This story actually began in Mexico.  A wealthy Mexican rancher was missing thirty head of cattle, and two cow hands.  He hired a dozen or so vaqueros to go to Texas to recover his herd and, if possible, discover the location of his stockmen, whose names Sanchez and Jauregui.  The arrival of 75 armed vaqueros in El Paso caused quite a stir among El Paso citizens.

Arriving in El Paso, the vaqueros approached town constable Gus Krempkau.  He was asked to lead these Mexican cowboys to a suspected location of the cattle, which Gus agreed to do.  Thirteen miles northwest of El Paso, near the ranch of John Hale, Gus and the vaqueros discovered the remains of the two stockmen.  Hale was known as a cattle rustler.  The bodies of Sanchez and Jauregui were taken back to town and from every indication, these two murdered stockmen had been searching for the patron’s missing cattle, having tracked them up from Mexico.  Two local rustlers by the names of Peveler and Stevenson were duly charged with the murder when witnesses came forward saying that they heard these two men bragging about killing two Mexican cowboys when they were discovered tracking the herd to Hale’s ranch.

The murder trial attracted a large crowd, including John Hale and his friend, former town marshal George Campbell.  Among the outraged citizens of El Paso were Mexicans demanding justice, all of whom were heavily armed, and people who hated Mexicans for no other reason than they were Mexican, a few who hated Mexicans for legitimate reasons, and then a large number of folks who just enjoyed good entertainment.

Constable Gus, who was fluent in Mexican, was required to interpret for the judge at the inquest. After scheduling a date for trial, court adjourned. The vaqueros took the two dead stockmen back to Mexico, and the crowd dispersed.

Afterward, on 14 April 1881, an altercation erupted in a saloon between George Campbell and Constable Gus about comments Campbell made about Gus being a Mexican-lover.  A heavily intoxicated but unarmed John Hale, who was also upset with Gus over his role in the investigation, pulled one of Campbell’s pistols and shot Constable Krempkau.

At this moment, Stoudenmire was eating his dinner at a restaurant across the street.  Hearing the gunfire, he ran across the street with pistol in hand.  He first killed an innocent Mexican bystander, then shot and killed Hale.  When Campbell saw Hale drop to the ground, he made an effort to stop the fight, but Gus, believing that Campbell had shot him, fired twice at Campbell before losing consciousness.  One of Krempkau’s bullets struck Campbell’s gun and broke Campbell’s wrist.  The second bullet went into Campbell’s foot.  Campbell screamed in pain, but he nevertheless managed to scoop his gun up from the floor of the saloon.  With notice of Campbell’s actions, Stoudenmire whirled and fired, killing Campbell.  It all happened within five seconds from the instant when Stoudenmire shot the innocent bystander.

Within those five seconds, Dallas Stoudenmire became an old west legend, but as one might expect, the gunfight had deadly consequences.  What Dallas gained was an old west reputation as a fast-draw gunfighter.  But the fact is that Dallas Stoudenmire had few friends in El Paso.  Hale and Campbell, on the other hand, were very popular fellows.  Eventually, Stoudenmire would stand alone in defense of his actions.  In Texas, as well as at other places in the old west, shootings were often ruled as justified —but that meant very little when it came to vendettas.

James Manning and his brothers were good friends of Hale and Campbell.  On 17 April, Manning convinced Deputy Marshal Bill Johnson that he ought to assassinate Stoudenmire.  Johnson, owing to his previous humiliation, was easily convinced.  That night, a heavily intoxicated Johnson squatted behind a large pillar of bricks with a double barrel shotgun and waited for Stoudenmire to make his rounds.  When he heard the voices of Stoudenmire and Doc Cummings, he started to wobble, and he fell backward, accidentally firing both shotgun barrels into the air.  Stoudenmire instantly drew his pistols and fired at the assailant eight (8) times.  One or more of those bullets severed Johnson’s testicles; Johnson bled to death within a few minutes.

This incident began the feud between Stoudenmire and the Manning brothers.  Within six days of accepting the job as town marshal, Dallas had killed four men.  Between mid-April and the following February, Stoudenmire killed another six men in shootouts connected with lawful arrests.  As a result, the town’s crime rate dropped significantly, and  Dallas’ reputation as a gunfighter grew even more.

On 14 February, James Manning shot and killed Doc Cummings, allegedly while acting in self-defense after an argument.  Manning testified that Cummings had pulled his pistol and verbally threatened to kill him.  Just as this was happening, an uninvolved citizen passed by and Cummings whirled and demanded to know if this person was a friend of Manning.  The pedestrian said that he didn’t know Manning.  Cummings escorted the citizen a little way down the street, and Manning went back inside the saloon.

Realizing that Manning was no longer present, Cummings returned to the saloon and once more threatened Manning.  By this time, Manning had had enough of Doc Cummings’ bullying.  Manning left the saloon but soon returned armed with a brace of pistols.  Manning growled, “We will settle this for now and forever.”  In an instant, gunfire erupted from both sides.  Struck by Manning’s bullets, Cummings staggered out into the street and fell dead.

James Manning went to trial but was acquitted on the basis of self-defense.  The acquittal enraged Marshal Stoudenmire. Unfortunately for El Paso, Doc Cummings was the only fellow who could quiet Stoudenmire’s violent temper.  Systematically, Stoudenmire confronted those responsible for Manning’s acquittal (the members of the jury), and this caused many to avoid coming into town or visiting saloons.  Everyone knew that Stoudenmire was no one to fool around with.

Despite his effectiveness as a lawman, Dallas was an outsider.  He was well-respected by the Texas Rangers and US Marshals, but the locals both feared and loathed him.  Insofar as the citizens were concerned, Stoudenmire didn’t belong in El Paso.  He had no family there, and he had no stake in the town’s overall success.  He was just a mean-spirited and dangerous, hooligan wearing a badge.

On 27 May 1882, the town council fired Stoudenmire.  An intoxicated Stoudenmire walked into the town council’s chambers and dared them to try to take his guns, or his badge.  No one dared, of course, and everyone on the town council was constipation-free for months afterwards.  When Stoudenmire sobered up, he quietly resigned his post and found work in the Globe Restaurant, which had previously belonged to Doc Cummings.  Shortly afterward, US Marshal Herrington Lee Gosling hired Stoudenmire as a Deputy United States Marshal.

Notwithstanding his new position, the Manning feud was far from over.  The brothers Manning included James, Frank, and “Doc.”  They were careful never to confront Stoudenmire alone; they wisely feared his proficiency as a gunman and refused to push back whenever Stoudenmire called them out, which was at every opportunity.

On 18 September 1882, the Manning’s met with Stoudenmire to settle the matter —a peace treaty, of sorts, was agreed to.  Upon conclusion of their deliberations, James Manning left the saloon.  Dallas turned to Doc Manning and began moaning about “some people” telling lies about him.  Manning told him that he had not kept his word about the peace, and Stoudenmire called Doc a liar.  Doc Manning and Stoudenmire drew their pistols and fired.  Doc received a wound in the arm, Stoudenmire was also hit in the arm and it propelled him to the ground.  From the floor, Stoudenmire drew his second revolver and shot Doc again in the arm.  At that moment, James returned to the saloon, noticed what was happening, and shot Stoudenmire in the head, killing him.

James and Doc Manning stood trial for murder, but they were acquitted by a jury of their friends.  Stoudenmire’s legacy, while short lived, remains intact today. He was one of the west’s fastest and more accurate shootists, who also wore a badge, and who also died a violent death.

Sources:

  1. Egloff, F. R. El Paso Lawman: G. W. Campbell.  College Station: Texas Creative Publishing, 1982.
  2. Metz, L. C. Dallas Stoudenmire, El Paso Marshal.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979
  3. Sonnichsen, C. L. Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande (2 Vols).  El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968

 

 

 

 

 

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