Sally Scull: Mean as a snake

One axiom of the old west was that good-hearted cowboys were as mythical as unicorns.  The saying probably does some injustice to stockmen, cowhands, ranchers, and trail drivers.  The truth is that the term cowboy had, at one time, the connotation of an outlaw rather than someone who worked livestock, but it does seem unfair to single out stockmen for lacking kindness at a time when almost everyone out west was “hard-boiled.” Living on the western frontier was a challenge to everyone who made that daring (and often unsuccessful) journey.  All men were tough hombres, some a bit harsher than others, but it was in the nature of the frontier environment that made men dangerous and worrisome.  It was a time when a smooth-faced teenager was as threatening and troublesome as any cantankerous old cuss.

Old Wet ladies (few of whom were lady-like) were as tough as the men; they had to be.  No one, male or female, survived long in the old west if they could not stand up to the frontier environment’s severity.  Women worked as hard as the men, and maybe even harder.  Most women could handle a firearm —not because they necessarily liked shooting, but because firearms proficiency was one (of many) needed survival tools.

Old west women had few options about their place in society.  They could (and often did) marry at a young age (some as young as thirteen years) and usually to someone considerably older.  The young bucks may have smelled better, but owing to their youth and inexperience, they were generally less capable of taking care of a wife (and children) than the older fellows —who had more ponies on his string.  Some women pursued a different path, such as Belle Starr, Jane Mosey, Pearl Hart, or Lillian Smith.  Some women began their lives in traditional ways but took another course owing to tragic circumstances beyond their control.  Many of the so-called dance hall girls were widows.

William Rabb’s father trained him to work as a miller in western Pennsylvania.  As a young man, William traveled by keelboat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to sell processed flour and rye whiskey in western settlements and New Orleans markets.  From what we know of the riverboat trade, it was a harsh and dangerous line of work.  If the rivers didn’t kill you, river pirates might.

With this background, Rabb eventually moved his family further west —first into Ohio, and later to Illinois.  The journey started in 1801.  Twenty years later, Rabb, his grown children, and grandchildren found their way into Spanish territory —a place called Tejas, in the company of folks calling themselves the Austin Colony.

In 1805, William Rabb consented to marry his eldest daughter, Rachel, to Joseph Newman from North Carolina.  Five years later, the extended Rabb clan relocated to Illinois, where William opened a mill, a general store, and served as a judge in the court of common pleas.

During the War of 1812, Joseph Newman joined a dragoon unit that waged a bloody campaign against native Americans.  Two years after the negotiated peace between the United States and Great Britain, the Newman’s welcomed into their family the fifth of their ten children and christened her Sarah Jane.  Everyone called her Sally.

Born in 1817, Sally moved with her grandfather, parents, and siblings into the Austin colony in Texas sometime in 1823.  They were one of the original 300 of Austin’s Texas settlers[1].  As with the other early settlers, Indians frequently visited the Rabb/Newman allotments to steal their horses or harass the women-folk if the men were away.  The Newman cabin was typical of the early settlements; the door did not touch the floor.  When one enterprising Indian tried to force entry by thrusting his feet under the door to raise the door from its hinges, Rachel Newman took an ax and removed his toes.  On another occasion, Indians tried to enter the cabin through the chimney.  Rachel smoked them out by adding feathers from a pillow to the fire.

Seven-year-old Sally once observed two Indians creeping toward the house while trying to conceal their movements in the surrounding shrub.  Salley ran to the house, obtained a pistol, and shot one of them.  But one young girl and her mother could not hold off so many marauding Indians.  Deciding that the family could no longer sustain the loss of horses and corn to thieving Indians, William Rabb moved everyone from their original parcel on the extreme northern edge of the Austin Colony down the Colorado River to a place called Mercer’s Crossing (near present-day Wharton) in 1824.  It there that Sally grew into womanhood without the benefit of formal schooling.

Throughout her journey to adulthood, Sally demonstrated an unusual degree of independence.  For instance, twelve-year-old Sally registered her own cattle brand, swallow fork, and under slope[2].  The registration occurred in 1829 but remained publicly unreported in the Records of Marks and Brands until 1833.

Joseph Newman died in 1831, an event that may have forced Sally into an early marriage in 1833 to a man named Jesse Robinson[3].  Robinson was twice Sally’s age.  He was born on 11 February 1800 in Kentucky, the son of Charles Michael Robinson, a Revolutionary War veteran.  Jesse first went to Texas in 1822, taking employment as one of Stephen Austin’s rangers detailed to protect the Austin colonists from Indians.  In 1824, he was with a ranger company that rescued the Rabb and Newman families from Waco and Tawakoni Indians, who were terrorizing them.  Austin accepted Jesse as a member of the colony in 1827.  In 1831, he received title to a quarter sitio of land (about 1,112 acres) on the San Marcos River (near the Gonzales-Caldwell county lines).

After their marriage, Jesse took Sally home to his property, some twelve miles north of Gonzalez, Texas.  Jesse was a no-nonsense frontiersman and Indian-fighter.  During the Texas Revolution in 1836, Jesse mobilized with other able-bodied men to confront the Mexican Army under Antonio López de Santa Anna.  After the fall of the Alamo, Sally and her two-year-old daughter (Nancy) participated in the so-called Runaway Scrape.  Jesse, meanwhile, participated in the Battle of San Jacinto and numerous additional confrontations in its aftermath.

After the Texas Revolution, Jesse and Sally began having marital problems.  We do not know why; we only know that after Sally inherited her father’s land in Colorado County, she moved there with Nancy and their son Alfred.  Jesse divorced her in 1843 —it was a nasty divorce.

Note: Purported to be an image of Sally Scull. I was unable to verify that claim.

Eleven days following the divorce judgment, Sally married George H. Scull.  Scull was a gunsmith by trade.  On that very day, she sold the last 400 acres of the land inherited from her father together with a yoke of steers, four cows, twenty hogs, a mule and a bay colt, and Scull’s full set of gun maker’s tools and farming implements.  One may suppose that the Scull’s wanted to start their lives together “afresh.”

The relationship didn’t last long, however.  Five years later, Sally reported that George had died.  The circumstance of George’s death is unknown to us, but some claim that Sally “probably” killed him.  A sudden end was common in those days, and no one gave much thought to death unless caused by hostile Indians.  By this time, Sally was well-known for her explosive nature, and people were likely to believe anything about her.  Mr. Scull may not have died, however.  There is a legal document dated 1853 with George’s X … as if that is proof of anything.  In any event, speaking again of Sally’s violent nature, famed Texas Ranger John S. “Rip” Ford recorded in his journal an incident when Sally shot and killed a man in Corpus Christi.

In the mid-1850s, Sally lived on a 150-acre spread in Banquete, Texas (Nueces, County) —twenty-five miles west of Corpus Christi.  By this time, Sally’s reputation was that of an amazon desperado who lived in the wild country, a woman equally skilled with pistol and bowie knife, with little hesitation in using either.

Sally was a cattle and horse dealer, someone who bought and sold cattle and horses.  She purchased the livestock (or stole them —sometimes, or so the story goes, from Mexican rancheros), or captured wild horses, and moved them to her land.  When the herds reached a specific size, she either sold them from her property to those seeking to increase their livestock or moved them to markets.

If one envisions an amazon as being an unusually large or muscular female, Sally did not qualify.  She was a small woman, had a hawk-like nose and a sunburned face.  But whatever she lacked in size, she made up for in fierce determination.  In the saddle, Sally rode as men did.  She dressed in men’s clothing when working the ranch with her vaqueros, which generally involved a wide-brimmed hat, buckskin shirts, trousers, and Mexican-made boots.  Sally never went anywhere unarmed.  She carried two cap and ball pistols around her waist, a bowie knife on her hip, and a saddle gun whenever mounted.  Even when wearing ladies’ clothing, Sally carried two French pistols beneath her dress.

Sally’s steel-blue eyes were communicative —always wary, and if her profanity wasn’t enough warning, people claimed that just looking into her eyes was enough to send chills down a tough man’s spine.  People knew Sally Newman Robinson Scull as a man-killer, and no reasonable man wanted to provoke her.  She was a skilled rancher, excellent horse-woman (only the best horses would do), and she could rope as well as any vaquero.  She was also proficient with the blacksnake whip, able to pick flowers with it or leave a scar on the face of a cheeky man.  Salley could even dance the fandango as well as any Mexican senorita, or gamble as well as any cardsharp.

By the 1850s, Sally was in full operation as a horse trader and overland trader.  Her ranch in Banquete was an essential water source along the dusty, rutted Texas highway, the old Camino Real running northward from Matamoros to Goliad.  If one believes any of the tax records in early Nueces County, her success as a livestock trader is questionable.  On the other hand, most self-employed Texans saw no benefit from claiming their actual earnings to the tax collector.  In 1852, tax records reflect that Sally sold four horses and four head of cattle.  In the next year, tax records combined Sally’s income with John Doyle, whom Sally married in October.  In 1854, Sally’s assets included 33 horses, fourteen head of cattle, four yokes of oxen, and a wagon.  In 1855, Sally purchased an additional 150 acres of land in Banquete.  By this time, Sarah Doyle was in business with her cousin John Rabb[4] and his friend, Mr. W. W. Wright.

Sally Scull (as she was popularly known long after George disappeared) was not a poor woman.  She was known as a gambler, even risking as much as $500.00 on the outcome of a horse race.  When she was on the road buying, selling, or trading horses, she carried a nosebag on her saddle horn reputed to contain gold coin; this may be true.  What is also true is that other Texas ranchers resented her success, and there was no shortage of rumors about her method of acquiring horses.

Some of her competitors, for example, strongly hinted that Sally didn’t buy all her animals.  One accusation was that after she visited the ranches in a neighborhood, raiding Lipan and Comanche Indians drove off the best horses, which later turned up in her herds.  The suggestion of a business relationship with Indians defies credulity.  But there was also tongue-wagging among jealous wives accusing Sally of making eyes at their husbands while Sally’s vaqueros raided their pastures.

Sally had five husbands, which is a somewhat loose term.  She did marry a couple of these men but likely lived (in the common law) with others.  Two of these men, George Scull and John Doyle, simply disappeared.  Disappearing husbands encourage conjecture, and the longer rumors continue, the more interesting (creative) they become.  If Sally did “do away” with these men, she had plenty of acreages in which to plant them.  Husband number four was Isaiah Wadkins, age 22 —she was 44.  The marriage lasted two years.

I can not say whether this is Sally Scull, only that the fragment of the newspaper photo seems to make that claim.

Sally was well-positioned to take advantage of the Civil War and didn’t hesitate to do so.  The Union blockade of southern ports put an end to ocean trade between the American South and Europe.  However, English mills demanded cotton, and the Confederacy’s survival depended on materials from Europe.  Since international law prohibited interference with trade with Mexico, Texas cotton moved freely across the border into Mexico, and from there to Europe.  The Camino Real became the Cotton Road, and the Cotton Road became the lifeline of the Confederacy.

Cargo wagons piled high with cotton usually demanded ten oxen or six mules, but South Texas terrain often required more animals depending on the goods’ weight.  No one knew the back roads in southeast/south-central Texas better than Sally Scull.  She gave up horse-trading for hauling cotton, and because the pay was far more profitable, Sally added several wagons and teams to form mule trains.  Her vaqueros became teamsters and security for these goods’ movement, and Sally always accompanied her wagons.

Sally and her vaqueros were seemingly inseparable.  Her Spanish fluency and willingness to pay the vaqueros a fair wage guaranteed their desire to do whatever she demanded of them.  Nevertheless, Sally ruled over them with an iron hand; their obedience to her orders was always immediate and unquestioned.  Before the Civil War, Sally had no problem obtaining vast herds of horses, which led some to speculate that she got them illegally from unsuspecting Mexican rancheros.  She and her men drove most of these to Louisiana.  During the Civil War, Sally employed her vaqueros with equal efficiency.

When the war ended, the story of Sally Scull comes to an end, as well.  Sort of. America’s courthouses are repositories of history —including intriguing events and the people who participated in them.  When these courthouses go up in smoke, as several in Texas have, then whatever information they contained is gone forever.  From court records in Goliad County, we know that a county grand jury indicted Sally Scull on a perjury charge in 1866.  We also know that a jury found her innocent of the allegations.  In 1867, the court of San Patricio County reflects that a lawsuit filed by Jose Maria Garcia against Sarah Wadkins and her husband Isaiah (reasons unknown) in 1859 went through a series of continuances with one final notation, which reads “death of defendant suggested.”

Did Sally Scull die shortly after the war, or —owing to Yankee Reconstruction in Texas —did she simply disappear to avoid federal prosecution?  Was she murdered by Isiah Wadkins, as some suggest, or did she go to live with relatives in El Paso?  There is no shortage of conjecture about Sally’s ultimate demise.  We simply do not know … because, in the absence of written records, there is no history.


  1. Bradford, T. V. Sallie Scull on the Texas Frontier: Phantoms on Rio Turbio.  San Antonio: Naylor Publishing, 1952.
  2. Kilgore, D. Two Six-Shooters and a Sunbonnet: The story of Sally Scull.  Texas Folklore Society, Legendary Ladies of Texas, 1994.
  3. Kilgore, D. Scull, Sarah Jane Newman [Sally] (1817—Unknown).  Texas State Historical Society, Biographical entry, online.
  4. Nolan, O. W. Gun-Toting Woman Horse Trader.  Cattleman Magazine, July 1943.
  5. Thomas, S. C. The Notorious Sally Skull: Blazing a trail through Colorado County.  The Colorado County Citizen, 24 September 2019.


[1] Actually, 297 families and some partnerships of unmarried men purchased 307 parcels of land from Stephen F. Austin and established a colony of American settlers that encompassed an area that extended from the Gulf of Mexico to present-day Brazoria, Washington, Grimes, and Fayette counties.  Each household head received a minimum of 177 acres up to 4,428 acres depending on whether they intended to farm or raise livestock.  Settlers would forfeit grants not cultivated within two years.

[2] A method of marking the ear of cattle to prove ownership.  A swallow fork is a cut from the upper part of a cow’s ear, while the under slope is a similar cut mark on the underside of the animal’s ear.

[3] In colonial Texas, it was common for people to sign a marriage bond—a promise of formal marriage whenever a minister was available to perform the ceremony.  Jesse and Sally were “formally” married in 1838.

[4] Rabb was prolific in the acquisition of grazing land.  He ran great herds of cattle under the Bow and Arrow brand.  How great were Rabb’s herds?  When he died in 1872, his wife became known as the Cattle Queen of Texas.  The Rabb’s are long gone now, but the Bow and Arrow brand continues to exist with Mr. Wright’s descendants in Nueces County.

Posted in Civil War, Pioneers, Society, Texas | 2 Comments

U.S. Marshal C. P. Dake

All we know about this man’s family is that (a) they were Canadian, (b) they moved to New York when their son was still a child, and (c) they demonstrated one heck of an imagination when they named their son Crawley.

As a young man, Crawley P. Dake (15 September 1836-9 April 1890) operated a retail store in Michigan while also serving his community in various minor public offices.  He married Catherine E. Smith and the couple had one son, born in 1860, whom they named Charles Allison Dake.  At the beginning of the American Civil War, Crawley Dake was 25-years of age.  His prominence within his community enabled him to raise a company for service with the 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry Regiment[1].  Until 1863, the regiment remained in Michigan “protecting the capital.”  Apparently, someone well-placed in the Michigan political hierarchy was concerned about another invasion from Canada, but when that didn’t happen (as it only rarely ever has), the regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac.

Dake and the regiment participated in the Battle of Hanover, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Battle of Williamsport (Maryland).  At the Battle of Mine Run, Major Dake received a serious wound to the leg and was subsequently separated from service due to medical incapacitation.

Once recovered from his wound, Dake served briefly as Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal in Detroit, and for the Internal Revenue Service[2].  On 12 June 1878, Dake was appointed United States Marshal for the Arizona Territory.  Territorial Governor John P. Hoyt objected to the appointment.  On this very same day, Gov. Hoyt learned that President Rutherford B. Hayes had replaced him with John C. Frémont.  Why he objected to Dake’s appointment is unknown, but Michigan’s congressional delegation prevailed in the argument and Dake assumed his office.

Dake took with him to Arizona two men who were skilled administrators.  With their assistance, Dake established an efficient office, created a bonds program, and appointed eight deputies.  One of his first challenges was to find ways to run his office with limited funds allocated by the government for that purpose.  The process of obtaining operating funds was also perplexing.  Before he could pursue outlaws, he first had to ask for special funds.  The delay incurred while waiting for funding authorization frequently meant that desperadoes had ample opportunity to flee into Mexico.  In this regard, Dake had difficulty addressing the problem of stagecoach robbery in Arizona.  Stage robbery was a serious problem because it underscored the amount of lawlessness in the territory, because it had a negative impact on commerce.  When mail robbery became a federal crime, it became the duty of U.S. Marshals to sort it out.

Crawley Dake, as a man of action, refused to wait for permission of higher authority to pursue suspects.  Attempting creativity in law enforcement, Dake posted a $500 reward.  Though successful, Washington bureaucrats refused additional funds.  By the fall, Dake was working closely with Mexican officials to fight outlaw activities along the border.  Without first seeking permission, Dake sent deputies into Mexico in pursuit of bandits who had stolen five-hundred pounds of silver bullion.  As I’ve said, a man of action.

In September 1878, Territorial Judge Charles Silent[3] asked Dake to deputize John Adams and Cornelius Finley.  Less than two weeks later, deputies Adams and Finley were accosted by five Mexican bandits who killed them.  One of the suspects in the killing was a man identified in the Arizona Weekly Star as Florentino Saiz.  During the coroner’s inquest into the death of Morgan Earp, Pete Spence’s wife Marietta Duarte, implicated her husband and four other men, including Florentino Cruz, in Morgan’s murder.

Some historians have speculated that Saiz and Cruz were the same person.  Two men wanted as suspects in the murder of Adams and Finley were known living in Mexico.  Typically, Mexican authorities refused to extradite them; justice for Adams and Finley would not be served until Wyatt Earp killed Florentino Cruz during his vendetta ride —if in fact Saiz and Cruz were the same man.

While Dake was struggling with ever-increasing crime, Washington bureaucrats sat on their duffs refusing to acknowledge that the western territories were “out of control.”  Despite several hundred federal troops stationed in Arizona, the U.S. Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act (1878), which limited the power of the federal government in the use of federal military personnel to enforce domestic policy.

Note: The Posse Comitatus Act originally applied to the U.S. Army only but was later expanded to include the Air Force.  The Act excluded the Navy and Marine Corps, but Navy Regulations later incorporated those prohibitions to both services.  Note further that exceptions were applied to the Marine Corp in 1921 and 1926 when units of the Marine Corps participated in measures to protect the U.S. mail service.  Marines could not pursue outlaws, but they were allowed to shoot them dead during robbery attempts.  See also, General Order No. 1.  The Act also does not apply to the U.S. Coast Guard, owing to their law enforcement mission, or to the U.S. Space Command for similar reasons.

In 1879, Congress denied any appropriations to the U.S. Marshal’s Service, which forced Dake to use his remaining funds to prosecute those already in federal custody.  In late November 1879, Dake deputized Virgil Earp to help resolve on-going problems in Eastern Pima County (later, Cochise County) with the so-called Cowboys, who focused their unlawful activities on stage robbery, cattle rustling, horse stealing, and murder.

When Dake was unable to resolve a long-simmering feud between the Earps and Cowboys, prominent Territorial Democrats soundly criticized him.  Following the shootout at O.K. Corral, Dake was forced out of office and replaced by Zara T. Tidball.  For additional information about this period in Arizona history, see The Cowboy War, Who Were the Earps, and Wyatt Earp.

Three years after he resigned from the Marshal’s Service, Dake was charged for misappropriating funds, which of course he did —but only in the interests of doing his job.  In any case, Dake was later cleared of any wrongful activity.  Dake died in 1890 after suffering an illness for two years —he was 53 years old.


  1. Ball, L. D. The United States Marshals of New Mexico and Arizona Territories: 1846-1912.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.
  2. Goff, J. S. Arizona Territorial Officials, Volume IV: Secretaries, U.S. Attorneys, Marshals, Surveyors General, Superintendents of Indian Affairs, 1863-1912.  Cave Creek: Black Mountain Press, 1988.
  3. Roberts, G. L. Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend.  New York, 2007.


[1] Part of the Michigan Brigade which was, for a time, commanded by Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer.

[2] The IRS was created by the Revenue Act 1862, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, which also imposed the first income tax on the American people.  Between 1862-1864, the IRS increased taxes from 3% of everything over $800 to 5% on earned  income between $600-$5,000 and 7.5% on income between $5,000-$10,000, and 10% on income above $10,000.  IRS has been increasing taxes ever since because government has never seen a tax it didn’t like.

[3] Silent (1842-1918) was a German-born jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Arizona Territorial Court, and later became one of California’s leading private defense attorneys.

Posted in Arizona Territory, History, U.S. Marshals | 4 Comments

Old West vs. Hollywood West

What most of us learned about the Old West, as kids, was what we saw at the cinema and on early black and white television.  It was great fun.  In my day, we all looked forward to the Saturday matinees and serials.  Matinee admission, 35-cents.  Popcorn, 15-cents.  Candy bars … I think also around 10-cents, but back then 60-cents was a lot of money.

Most of the films we saw on Saturdays were re-runs from previous decades.  Cowboy films weren’t the only matinee or serial fare, but given the choice between Tarzan the Ape Man, Dick Tracy, and John Wayne films, Wayne was always my first choice.  Gene Autry was okay, but he wasn’t John Wayne.  I don’t recall The Duke ever singing anyone into jail.

The fact is that the movies were —well— movies.  No one was ever really shot, no one ever died, no one went to jail.  It was make-believe.  In order to sell a pretend world, it was necessary to exaggerate plot lines with unrealistic suppositions.  Hollywood was not the real old west, and movie stars were nothing like actual old west lawmen and outlaws.  In the real old west, there was a very thin line between lawman and outlaw; they quite often changed sides —maybe even more than twice, and no one could tell who the good guys were by the color of their hats.

In terms of gunfights, there were nowhere near the number suggested by Hollywood films and few gunfights were manly confrontations in the middle of the street at high noon.  Hardly any of them were pre-arranged challenges —and no one discharged a revolver at someone else more than 25 yards distant with the expectation of hitting anything other than an unsuspecting bystander.  Now the reason for this is that in the real old west, few people ever “slapped leather.”  Some men carried their six-shooters in holsters (mostly worn on the left front of their bodies for a cross-body draw), but most gunmen carried their guns stuffed into their waistband or in the pockets of their outer garments.  A man putting his hand inside his pocket during an argument made everyone nervous.

Gunfights did erupt (although not often) and when they did, the shooters were frequently standing close together.  Then, when the guns started blazing, it was common to see both shooters scurrying out of the way.  That scene in the film Tombstone, where Doc Holiday ran with his head down toward the building shooting at Ike Clanton was probably an accurate representation.  No one wanted to get shot, much less getting shot in the face.

Often, though, old west shooters were little more than assassins and dry gulchers.  They shot at other men from behind cargo wagons or from a second-story window looking into the street.  It wasn’t only a single shot, or even two (tap, tap); in most cases, the damn fools emptied their revolvers, their aim offset by rot-gut whiskey. The winner of the contest was the last man standing, but occasionally no one remained standing.  Then, with a room full of gunsmoke, no one was sure who shot first, or even, who shot whom.  The reality of old west gunfights wasn’t very manly, or romantic, or something a ten or eleven-year-old would want to see at a Saturday afternoon matinee.

Exempli Gratia

Dodge City in 1875

In the late 1870s, two railroad companies competed for dominance in Colorado.  Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad challenged the Denver and Rio Grande Company for the right to lay track through Raton Pass.  Both companies had lines into Trinidad, Colorado and the pass was the only possible access to New Mexico.  Both companies took the matter to the courts, but as that battle was unfolding, the companies also threatened each other with violence—railroad gang against railroad gang.

To gain an edge, Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe hired gunslingers from Dodge City to intimidate the Denver and Rio Grande workers.  Faced with this threat, and running out of money, Denver and Rio Grande were forced to cede the pass and the matter was resolved without bloodshed.  In 1879, however, a silver strike in Leadville, Colorado brought the struggle back to life.

In 1879, the railroad war focused on the placement of track along the narrow Royal Gorge.  By then, the Denver and Rio Grande had hired its own gunslingers.  Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe upped the ante by bringing in Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Ben Thompson, Dave Rudabaugh, and Mysterious Dave Mather —and around 70 additional gunmen.  In June, the courts ruled in favor of the Denver and Rio Grande.  With the backing of the courts, Denver and Rio Grande gained the additional assistance of the sheriffs of the counties through which the railroad track passed and then mounted an attack on its rival’s forces.  Masterson’s forces were quickly overwhelmed, and the war ended with Denver and Rio Grande in control of the Royal Gorge.

Saloon in Las Vegas, NM 1880s

With Kansas now an unfriendly place for Masterson and his cronies, many migrated to Las Vegas, New Mexico, a small town established on the edge of the eastern plains, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1835.  If anyone thinks that Dodge City, Kansas was bad news, or Tombstone, Arizona —Las Vegas, New Mexico was far worse.

Because of its location on the Santa Fe Trail, some 600-miles from Kansas (a long way in an ox-pulled wagon), the townspeople prospered.  By the time folks arrived in Las Vegas, whiskey and women were in high demand so the enterprising folks in Las Vegas provided such comforts.

By 1860, Las Vegas had grown to around 1,000 people and from then on, the population exploded.  By the time the railroad made its way to Las Vegas in 1879, it had become the largest city between Independence, Missouri, and San Francisco, California.  To maintain its control of development rights, the railroad established a train depot one mile outside of town, the effect of which created a rival town —East Las Vegas (east of the Gallinas River) and West Las Vegas.

With six trains stopping at the Las Vegas depot every day, the railroad was a steady conduit for businessmen, investors, respectable residents, and an assortment of toughs from Dodge City, Kansas.  The toughs included rough-shod people who were wanted for murder, robbery, and thievery; they were gamblers, prostitutes, swindlers, vagrants, railroad tramps, and Gunslingers.  Notable among these were Doc Holliday and his woman (known as Big Nose Kate), Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Dave Mather, Dave Rudabaugh, J. J. Webb, Hoodoo Brown, and a fellow known as Handsome Harry.  Others went through Las Vegas, too, at one time or another … Black Jack Ketchum, the Youngers, Doc Middleton, and Bob Ford.  Bad fellows.

Shortly after arriving in Las Vegas, John “Doc” Holliday put out his dentist’s shingle, but the effort was short-lived.  No one wanted a “lunger” breathing into their face, so Doc put his shingle away for the last time and went into a partnership with John Joshua Webb in the purchase of a saloon.

On 19 July 1879, Doc and Webb were sitting at one of the gambling tables in their saloon when a local tough by the name of Mike Gordon suddenly erupted with rage at one of Doc’s dancehall girls (a euphemism for prostitute).  Gordon wanted the woman to go away with him and she wasn’t inclined to do so.  The furious Gordon began cussing and kicking chairs out of his way as he made his exit from the saloon.

Doc calmly got up from where he was sitting and followed Gordon into the street.  Just as Holliday reached the doorway, a shot from Gordon’s pistol whizzed past him.  Calmly pulling his revolver, Holliday shot Gordon.  One-shot was good enough and Gordon fell into the dusty street.  Gordon died the next day.  When Doc learned that he would likely be held for trial, he fled to Dodge City.

It may have been this incident that led to the creation of the so-called Dodge City Gang, a loose association of Kansas gunmen formed around Hyman G. Neill, who was also known as Hoodoo Brown.  Not long after he arrived in Las Vegas, Neill ran successfully for Justice of the Peace.  As Justice of the Peace, he was also the de facto East Las Vegas mayor, responsible for hiring town lawmen.  Also serving as coroner, Neill decided if or when to convene a coroner’s inquest to a shooting.  Most of his friends were appointed as members of the coroner’s court.

With his friends hired as town marshals/deputies (J. J. Webb served as town marshal, appointing Dave Mather, Joe Carson, Dutch Schunderberger, and “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh as deputies), Neill was well placed to protect his friends and profit from his control over ELV gambling establishments.  Note: the picture shown (above) is of the Dodge City, Kansas “Peace Commission,” which included some of the members of the Dodge City Gang operating in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  “Neil Brown” (a.k.a. Hyman G. Neill/Hoodoo Brown) is seated on the far right.

A few of the gang members supplemented their incomes by committing crimes, such as robbing local stagecoaches.  In this endeavor, men were murdered.  By the summer of 1880, townsfolk had grown tired of the lawlessness and formed vigilance committees.  Hyman Neill might have hanged but forewarned he quickly departed from New Mexico and headed for Houston, Texas.

No one knows for certain what happened to Hoodoo Brown.  Some contend he was killed in Coahuila, Mexico, others say he found his way to Leadville, Colorado where he lived out his days with the widow of one of his former Las Vegas deputies.

Marshal Webb was arrested for shooting and was sentenced to hang (in fairness, the shooting was likely a case of self-defense).  Deputy Rudabaugh also found himself in jail.  Eventually, Webb and Rudabaugh escaped from prison.  In time, Rudabaugh was shot to death in Mexico and Webb perished from a smallpox infection.

More than leading the Dodge City Gang, Hyman G. Neill was up to his armpits in thievery, murder, and who knows what else.  One thing we know for sure is that Hoodoo Brown was a cowardly back shooter —the kind of man we would likely encounter in the REAL old west —and he looked nothing like film star Randolph Scott.

Posted in American Southwest, Gunfights and such, History, Kansas, New Mexico, Westward Expansion | 1 Comment

The U.S./Mexican Border

As U.S. law enforcement continues its struggle against Mexican smugglers and murderers, (popularly referred to as the drug cartels), it may be useful to note that this struggle has been going on since around the mid-1800s.  If practice makes perfect, then American lawmen should rank highly among the world’s premier interdiction forces. Who knows, perhaps in relation to other law enforcement agencies, they do … but I suspect this is not a reality.

Historically, U.S. Army units stationed along our southern border have not fared much better.  The American army has been deployed along the US/ Mexico border off-and-on since the 1850s tasked with a myriad of missions —from outright war to security patrols along the border, chasing bandits, and guarding American lives and property.  While each of these missions was gallantly undertaken, the results leave much desired.  In defense of their record, army historians will argue that their missions were performed under exceedingly difficult circumstances, not the least of which were insufficient forces, and detailing foot soldiers when cavalry or dragoons were better suited to their task.  These arguments do have merit, of course, but in too many cases, army patrol leaders weren’t always sure where the U.S./Mexico border was.  One cannot protect a border when one doesn’t know where it is.

As for the “enemy,” there was never any shortage of things for Mexicans to smuggle.  They smuggled textiles and stolen automobiles[1] from the United States into Mexico and illegal whiskey, drugs, people, and stolen merchandise into the United States.  The smuggling of narcotics, illegal whiskey and people has long been part of the bottom line of Mexican Crime International, LLC., and the only cost to Americans has been a few hundred or a thousand lost lives here and there.  Well, that is, besides the annual $70-billion in ancillary costs since 2001.

Palpable animosity between Mexicans and Texians began immediately after El Presidenté Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s surrender to Sam Houston after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and it has only gotten worse since them.  Despite a signed instrument of surrender, the government of Mexico refused to accept it and thereafter implemented a series of punishing expeditions into Texas from Mexico.  Smuggling wasn’t an issue back then; only murderous raids by Mexican malcontents.  Transferring their hatred of Texians to Anglo-Americans was relatively an easy thing to do after the U.S. annexed Texas as its 28th state.  War with Mexico was the result of this annexation, ending in 1848.

Beginning with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 (the end of the Mexican/American War), the Rio Grande became the official boundary between the two countries, as well as the location of most smuggling activities.  Part of understanding cross-border smuggling activities is realizing that the Treaty essentially divided Mexican families who were long resident within the border region.  Tio Juan went to bed in Mexico one night and awakened in Estado Unidos the next morning.  With family members living on both sides of the border, it was a simple matter for people to walk across the border at will, taking with them materials that were profitable on both sides of the Rio Grande.

Generally, Southwestern U.S./Northern Mexican communities accepted smuggling as a fact of life.  The state of Texas, for example, never sanctioned smuggling until after the American Civil War —because smuggling suited the Confederate cause.  Smuggling was also quite easy —for a couple of reasons.  First, U.S. regulations governing customs and immigration were so burdensome, confusing, and overwhelming that law enforcement officers were unable to enforce those laws; in time, many officers didn’t even try.  Second, except for recognized ports of entry, border checkpoints were nearly nonexistent.  Third, most of the area in between checkpoints is untamed, inaccessible, harsh wilderness.  Fourth, profit from smuggled items was tax-free.  The entire border protection mechanism was dishonest and corrupt.  The brains behind smuggling operations engaged in it because it yielded great profit; those who did the smuggling had two reasons for doing so —make some money and screw the gringo.  Some of the more prolific smugglers became heroes of Mexico in their own lifetimes.

In the 1880s, trafficking became very profitable for Mexicans because much of what went across the U.S. border was illegal and, therefore, in high demand.  Human trafficking is not a new event in Mexico; Mexican smugglers trafficked in illegal Chinese immigrants for years and those involved did not appear overly concerned about the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  The main benefit of this exclusion was that it increased revenues associated with moving Chinese immigrants through Mexico into the United States.  When American officials finally became aware of this activity and increased border area patrols, many of these transiting Chinese ultimately ended up settling in such places as Sinaloa, Sonora, and in Arizona (then a U.S. territory).  It was these Chinese that first introduced opium into regions of the American southwest.  Mexicans had made marijuana into a cash crop since around the 1870s, so incorporating cocaine posed no difficulties.

And then, of course, there was whiskey smuggling, which reminds one of that old Mexican saying, “No dejes ninguna piedra sin remover”—leave no stone unturned.  What made smuggling whiskey and tequila more profitable than ever —well worth the danger involved— was at first a state, and then later, federal prohibition.  It was left to lawmen in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to enforce these laws, often with insufficient manpower or a lack of interest in doing so.

Modern historians criticize the Texas Rangers of the early 1900s for being particularly prone to violence against Mexicans along the border.  None of these people seem to appreciate the extremely dangerous environment in which Texas lawmen were stationed or considered who the Texas Rangers were working for at the time[2].  Few historians ever found themselves on the receiving end of lethal, well-directed Mexican rifle fire, ambushes, or overwhelming assaults by Mexican gangs.  They only point to the fact that Texas Rangers, for example, were “quick on the trigger.”  Indeed, they were, and they needed to be because if a lawman wasn’t quick on the trigger, he was very soon a dead lawman.

The Arizona legislature passed prohibition laws in 1915.  The main effect of state prohibition was an increase in demand for alcohol.  Higher demand meant higher prices; it was a perfect business environment for Mexican smugglers.  Cochise County, Arizona (in southeast Arizona) is bordered by Mexico and New Mexico.  At the time, both Mexico and New Mexico were “wet,” which made Cochise County a perfect conduit for alcohol smugglers.

Sheriff Harry Wheeler of Cochise County, Arizona was a former captain of the Arizona Rangers.  Having witnessed too many murders caused by excessive alcohol consumption, Wheeler favored and actively enforced Arizona’s prohibition laws.  Cochise County deputies arrested dozens of smugglers and knowing that his county was a pipeline for illegal whiskey, Wheeler and his deputies regularly patrolled the border area.

1915 Oldsmobile Touring Car, Model 42

During the night of 5 March 1917, Sheriff Wheeler and Deputy Lafe Gibson were returning to Gibson’s home in Gleeson, Arizona.  The two men were riding in an Oldsmobile Touring Car after a day of patrolling the Chiricahua Mountains looking for evidence of smuggling operations.  The early night was pitch black and they were traveling over old wagon trails with a limited vision of what lay ahead of the automobile.  This was dangerous in and of itself —driving off into an arroyo would not be a fun event— but added to this, Wheeler and Gibson were physically exhausted.  Sheriff Wheeler decided to stop for the night and make camp.  Their location was about two miles east of Gleeson in an area adjacent to Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.

Unknown to Wheeler or his deputy, Gibson had stopped the car within 200 yards of a Mexican outlaw/bandit group concealed behind several large boulders.  Soon after the two men unrolled their bedrolls, bandits began firing at them; the initial shots smashed into the front of the Oldsmobile.  Wheeler grabbed a box of ammunition and his rifle and began returning fire; Gibson had only his revolver and the ammo on his gun belt.  After some time, Wheeler and Gibson crawled to the top of the railroad berm for a better view.  The lawmen could hear the Mexicans shouting insults at them in Spanish.  Between the insults and flashes of rifle fire, Wheeler and Gibson estimated the location of the bandits.  Wheeler guessed that four attackers were confronting them.

Sheriff Wheeler and the Mexicans exchanged ineffective gunfire for over an hour before Wheeler realized he was wasting his ammunition unnecessarily.  When a bright moon illuminated the area, the lawmen lay prone atop the berm until the moon dipped below the horizon.  At some point, the bandits began advancing by fire and maneuver toward the Oldsmobile.  One of the bandit’s poorly aimed shots nearly hit Wheeler.  Sheriff Wheeler, an expert shot, decided he’d had enough.  He fired six rapid shots at the location of the bandit’s muzzle flash and heard the agonized groans of a wounded man.

Wheeler’s shot, having apparently hit one of the bandits, stopped the outlaw advance and sent them back into the rocks for cover.  Once the moon disappeared below the horizon, Wheeler and Gibson charged the Mexican position but found it already abandoned.  At that location, Wheeler found ten cases of whiskey loaded on four donkeys.  The following morning, Wheeler and Gibson discovered horse tracks that led toward the Chiricahua Mountains and a pool of blood and tracks indicating that a wounded man had tried to escape, but the absence of a body suggested that the wounded bandit was still alive.

The touring car was so damaged that Wheeler and Gibson decided not to pursue the outlaws right away.  More than a month passed before Wheeler and several deputies captured two of the suspected shooters.  The two suspects were transiting through Apache Pass toward Mexico at the time of their detention.  Sheriff Wheeler identified the leader as Santiago Garcia, who admitted to the shooting but claimed that it was a case of mistaken identity.  Garcia thought Wheeler and Gibson were members of a rival smuggling operation who had come to steal their whiskey.

The conclusion of the Wheeler event was somewhat underwhelming, but in fairness to the Sheriff’s Department, Wheeler was at the same time investigating two murders at two separate locations; Cochise County is a large area.  This event in the U.S. southwest illustrates the presence of constant danger to lawmen; Wheeler and Gibson could have been killed for ten cases of whiskey.  It also serves to demonstrate the inability of modern historians to form logical conclusions.  There was no intentional campaign among lawmen to cause violence and suffering among the Mexican poor living along the border.

Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, 1916

The U.S./Mexican border extends roughly 1,600 miles from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California.  This entire span was troubled by murder, mayhem, and turmoil; in the minds of American lawmen, the issue was one of survival in an area where Mexican smugglers had no objection to killing them.

To reiterate an earlier point, U.S./state law contributed to border violence.  The effect of such legislative actions as the 1909 Opium Exclusion Act and the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Law, ostensibly designed to disrupt the import of marijuana and opium, instead served to increase demand for and the export of drugs from Mexico[3] , and Mexican smugglers continued their regular assault upon American lawmen all along the border region.  Certainly, ethnocentrism was part of the ill-feeling between lawmen and border bandits, but this was certainly no one-way street.  Gunfights, murderous assaults, and the subsequent mutilation of the bodies of dead American lawmen failed to create any warm feelings along the southern border.

Mexican outlaws and U.S./state laws determined the activities of Texas Rangers and other lawmen on the Mexican border, along with the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), and the First World War.  Between 1911-1915, Mexico had nine presidents (one of whom served for only 28-minutes).  Most of these men sought to solidify their political position through anti-American rhetoric, which by every account worked to their advantage in several ways —not the least of which was that men assaulting American sovereignty and U.S. lawmen would not be able to challenge their presidencies.

During the war years, German agents were scattered throughout Mexico as spies, instigators, and military advisors to Mexican generals.  Anti-American sentiments were prevalent in Mexico, and outlawry was one way to “even the score” with the Norte Americanos.  The violence that occurred with regularity inside Mexico spilled over into U.S. border states and with unbridled rage, American lawmen responded in kind; hundreds of innocent Mexicans died at the hands of local sheriff’s posses, police officers, and rangers.  But considering Mexico’s cross-border raids that resulted in the wanton murder of innocent American citizens and the theft of personal property, U.S. lawmen found plenty of justification for their no-nonsense approach to problem-solving.  The icing on the rage cake among American police was the fact that Germany supplied Mexican outlaws with weapons and ammunition, Japanese civilians[4] taught the above-average Mexicans how to make bombs, and Germany helped Mexicans craft a plan to retake the American southwest by force.  Of these enemies and their cohorts, U.S. law officers gave no quarter—and asked for none.  Innocent civilians are harmed in every war —the border war with Mexico was no different.

On October 18, 1915, a band of Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande and proceeded to the railway tracks north of Brownsville.  They pulled up the rail spikes and removed fish-plates (rail joints); as a train approached traveling about 30 miles-per-hour, the bandits pulled up the track from the cross-ties with a chain thus causing the speeding train to derail.  When the train skidded to a full stop, bandits began firing indiscriminately into the train cars.  Witnesses testified hearing shouts of “Viva Carranza” as bullets whizzed through the cars.  Everyone took cover in between the wooden seats, but the bandits entered the listing train cars and began killing passengers not already dead or injured.

There was always smuggling along the U.S./Mexican border, but at no earlier time was this activity more profitable than it was during the Prohibition Years.  The costs associated with U.S./Mexico border troubles were high.  In terms of murder or violent death, 550 Americans and 367 Mexican civilians died; 123 soldiers on both sides of the bordered gave up their lives.  In terms of property damage, a congressional committee estimate places that figure at around $500-million.

If there has been any change in the past 100 years, the situation of Mexican smuggling and violence along the border has only gotten worse.


  1. Febre, M. Tequileros, and Moonshiners: Prohibition in Texas.  Unpublished paper.
  2. Greenfield, V. A., and Blas Nunez-Neto ( Human Smuggling and Associated Revenues. Homeland Security Analysis Center, 2019.
  3. Katz, F. The Secret War in Mexico, Europe, and the United States.  Chicago, 1981.
  4. Leffler, J. J. Germany, Mexico, and the United States, 1911-1917.  Portland: Portland State University, 1982.
  5. Matthews, M. M. The U.S. Army on the Mexican Border: A Historical Perspective.  Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2007
  6. Spector, J. S. Extraditing Mexican Nationals in the Fight Against International Narcotics Crimes.  Lansing: University of Michigan Law School Press, 1998.
  7. Von der Goltz, H. My Adventures as a German Secret Service Agent.  London, 1918.


[1] There are no reliable statistics concerning the number of automobiles stolen from the United States (usually from within 500 miles of U.S. border towns), but there are estimates generated by the Uniform Crime Report.  Its estimate, based on the value of stolen vehicles, which is an astounding $1.96 billion, suggests 301,300 unrecovered vehicle thefts in 2009.  The estimate underscores only one of many unsolved problems with Mexico.

[2] James E. “Pa” Ferguson was a Democrat who served in office from 1915-1917.  He was indicted and impeached during his second term, forced to resign, and barred from holding further office in Texas.  Ferguson’s wife Miriam “Ma” was twice elected as governor in non-consecutive terms (1925-1927, 1933-1935).  “Ma” continued her husband’s corrupt practices.

[3] It wasn’t until 1927 that Mexico finally outlawed the export of marijuana and opium, which as we have seen, has had no effect on the smuggling of drugs into the United States.

[4] Such was the assertion of Walter Prescott Webb in 1935, which was, in subsequent years, widely discredited by revisionist historians.  Rumors of the day linking Mexico and Japan were not unfounded or simply the product of German propaganda.  The Japanese had demonstrated a keen interest in Mexico for some time; they knew, as well as the Americans, that the American southwest was the vulnerable underbelly of the United States.  Moreover, Japan deliberately cultivated its relationship with Mexico, and it would not have been beyond the pale to imagine that the Japanese would willingly participate, even if only peripherally, in the bandit assault of the United States.  In April 1911, Grand Admiral Yashiro made a speech in which he stressed Mexico and Japan’s common cause in opposing the “Yankees” while his Mexican audience shouted “Viva Japan—Abajo los gringos.”  Today, China has replaced Japan with an interest in America’s soft underbelly.

Posted in American Southwest, Gunfights and such, Mexican American War, Mexican Border War, Texas Rangers | 3 Comments

The Hyde Park Gunfight

Historian Eduardo Obregón Pagán’s book Valley of the Guns: The Pleasant Valley War and the Trauma of Violence emphasizes the post-traumatic stress among survivors of old west gunfights, hostile Indian attacks, and lawmen who were quick on the trigger.  I do not doubt that what he says is true; I only quibble about the frequency of such violence, which is a key part of his argument.  He is right to say that people were traumatized by Indian war parties and confrontations between outlaws and lawmen —for how could murder, rape, kidnappings, scalping, and heinous post-mortem mutilation not have an impact on the survivors of such events?  But at the same time, Pagán’s suggestion that these occurrences were prevalent in old west society is misleading.  Violence wasn’t a common occurrence; it did happen, of course, but not often.

One of the greatest gunfights in US history, in terms of its scope and the number of men killed or wounded, occurred in Newton, Kansas on 20 August 1871.  We remember it as the Hyde Park Gunfight.  For those who never heard of Newton, Kansas, the town began when Newton became the new terminus of the Chisholm Trail.  As with the other cow towns of the era, it wasn’t long before cowmen, gunslingers, gamblers, snake oil salesmen, and prostitutes filled the halls of saloons, gambling halls, and “dancing establishments.”

No surprise, the brouhaha began a few days earlier when Bill Bailey and Mike McCluskie started arguing about politics while imbibing in the Red Front Saloon.  Drinking rot-gut whiskey while arguing politics produces a nasty cocktail.  McCluskie was a rough-cut Irishman employed by the Santa Fe Railroad as a night watchman.  Shortly after arriving in Newton, McCluskie made friends with 18-year old James Riley, who was dying of consumption (tuberculosis).  Bill Bailey was a Texas cowman recently arrived in Kansas with a trail drive.  At the end of a cattle drive, it was common for trail hands to look for employment at the terminus cow town.  Both Bailey and McCluskie were hired as special police officers to help keep order in the city during August elections, which were emotionally charged.  The good folk of Newton were trying to form a new county and there was no shortage of opinions, sober or otherwise.

As it happens, Bailey and McCluskie were constantly bickering at one another; a casual observer might have guessed that they were brothers.  On 11 August, while tossing down a few too many, the Bailey-McCluskie argument turned into a fistfight, and Bailey was knocked on his keester and found himself in the middle of the street.  McCluskie followed him outside, drew his pistol, and fired two shots, hitting Bailey in the chest.  It was a tight group, too, but Bailey was able to hang on to life until the next day.

When Bailey died, McCluskie reasonably concluded that the shooting would not look good on his professional resumé and fled town.  A few days later, after McCluskie learned that the shooting would likely be ruled “in self-defense,” he returned to town.  McCluskie then claimed that he shot Bailey on account that he feared for his life —a stretch of the imagination given that on 11 August, Bill Baily wasn’t heeled.  It sounded good, though, because Bailey was known as a minor gunslinger who allegedly participated in three gunfights, two of which ended up with the other guy being suddenly dead.

Meanwhile, Bailey’s cowboy friends from Texas heard about the shooting and vowed to “even the score” with the “Mick” shooter.  Late on 19 August, Mike McCluskie and a Texas friend named Jim Martin sashayed into Tuttle’s dance hall saloon in a section of town called Hyde Park.  McCluskie and Martin seated themselves as a card table; young Jim Riley was already in the saloon.

Origin of visual unknown.

Shortly after midnight, Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes, and Jim Wilkerson, friends of Bailey, strolled into the dance hall.  Since all three men were Texans, they were all armed.  Garrett was a known gunman.  The three men watched the card game in progress.  Some time later, another cowman entered Tuttle’s … a fellow named Hugh Anderson, the son of a wealthy Bell County, Texas cattleman.  Anderson wasn’t one for mincing words, so he walked straight up to McCluskie and said, “You are a cowardly son-of-a-bitch and I intend to blow the top of your head off.”  At this point, McCluskie probably had little doubt about Anderson’s intentions.

Jim Martin jumped up from the table and tried to reason with Hugh, but the intently focused Anderson ignored Martin, drew his revolver, and shot McCluskie in the neck.  McCluskie had already drawn his pistol, but the damn thing misfired, and Mike fell to the floor.  Anderson finished him off by shooting him several more times.

Garrett, Kearnes, and Wilkerson drew their weapons, too, and fired off a few shots —perhaps as a warning to bystanders to keep back.  Jim Riley, McCluskie’s young friend drew out two Colt revolvers and opened fire on the three gunslingers.  There was so much gun smoke inside Tuttle’s at this time that it is doubtful that Riley could have seen across the room, but that didn’t stop him from emptying his guns and, remarkably, he hit seven men —one of whom was McCluskie’s other friend, Jim Martin.  Martin made it out of the saloon before he fell dead in the street.  Garrett too was hit and died a few hours later.  Kearnes was also mortally wounded, but he clung to life for a week.

Innocent bystanders were also hit.  Patrick Lee, a railroad brakeman, was shot in the stomach and died within a few days.  Another railroad man named Hickey was wounded, but slightly.  Wilkerson and Anderson received wounds; Wilkerson lost the end of his nose and Anderson received two wounds in his legs.  The shooter, James Riley, calmly walked out of the saloon as was never heard from again.

Later that day, Sunday, a coroner’s inquest was convened to consider charges.  The panel met at 8:00 a.m., and before noon issued an arrest warrant for Hugh Anderson on account it was he that fired the first shot.  Two things happened almost immediately.  First, Texas cowboys informed members of the inquest that if they did not leave town immediately, their bodies would be discovered on Monday morning decorating the tops of telegraph poles.  Second, Hugh Anderson’s father smuggled him out of town on a train bound for Topeka.  Ultimately, Hugh made his way back to Texas.  He was never hauled into court for McCluskie’s murder.

By Sunday night, the Texans had taken over the town and openly discussed the possibility of burning Newton to the ground.  They warned the prostitutes and gamblers to leave town while they still could —which had the effect of creating a mad exodus from Newton, Kansas.  Before 8:00 a.m. on Monday, Newton, Kansas was empty of gamblers, prostitutes, and other criminals —including the entire city council, town marshals, judges, and all members of the coroner’s panel.

But the Hyde Park affair was not quite over because Mike McCluskie had a brother named Arthur.  Arthur, also being a rough-cut Irishman, wanted an eye-for-an-eye.  For more than two years, Arthur and his friends were on the lookout for Hugh Anderson, who until 1873, kept a low profile in Bell County, Texas.  In that year, however, Hugh made the rather poor decision to return to Kansas, where Arthur tracked him down at Medicine Lodge.  Hugh was working as a barkeep at Harding’s Trading Post.  Arthur sent him a challenge to a duel —guns or knives, Hugh’s choice.  Hugh selected pistols and soon after emerged from the trading post well heeled.  Both men were highly agitated.  After they emptied their guns into one another, they pulled their knives and went back to work.  In the end, both men lay dead in a pool of blood.

As far as old west gunfights go, the Hyde Park fight was far more significant than the gunfight at O.K. Corral, yet hardly anyone today knows about it.  Well, the truth is that most people never knew of the O.K. Corral until the 1920s, and Wyatt Earp was unknown to history until his publicist made him into a legend.  In contrast, no one involved in the Hyde Park fight ever achieved legendary status —this is probably because most of the men involved in the fight died, and apparently, the traumatized Jim Wilkerson had very little interest in posing for the cover of a dime novel.

Posted in Gunfights and such, History, Kansas, Texas | Leave a comment

Cherokee Blood Bath

Some Background

On 28 May 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law.  The Act authorized the President of the United States to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders.  A few tribes peacefully complied, but many resisted their removal and were forcibly relocated to the new “Indian Territory.”  One of the first tribes “forcibly relocated” was the Cherokee.

“Indian Territory” generally describes an area of land set aside by the U. S. government.  In the early 1800s, Indian removal from their traditional homelands was considered necessary to reduce the likelihood of conflict between various tribes and settlers who were moving west to settle untamed lands.  The idea of Indian reservations and their creation within the United States followed a British policy before the American Revolution when the British government set aside land for indigenous tribes between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River.  In the 1840s, “the Indian Territory” referred to unorganized regions west of the Mississippi River, the word territory meaning federally controlled areas not yet organized as states.  As the western territories became organized, it then became necessary to redefine the Indian Territory, the result of which was that Indian territories were successively reduced to accommodate westward migrating whites[1].

Before the American Civil War, the United States Army was assigned to protect settlers on the western frontier from hostile Indians —from Texas to the Canadian border; a secondary mission was relocating Indians to reservations in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).  The Army, however, was not very effective in completing either mission because, before the Civil War, the Army did not have a cavalry force.  What the Army had was horse-mounted riflemen, called dragoons —but they were not cavalry and the horse was viewed simply as a conveyance used to transport infantry to where they were needed.  Once these dragoons arrived at the point of contact with hostile forces, they dismounted and fought as regular infantry.  Challenging mounted Indians (the best horsemen in the world) with companies of infantrymen had little effect keeping Indians from attacking settlements at will.  Assigning infantry troops to western forts was equally ludicrous.

With the approach of civil war, the U. S. Army was (mostly) withdrawn from the western territories to consolidate the Union Army in the east, where they could best confront their Confederate foe.  It did not take the Indians long to realize that except for Texas[2], they had a free reign over the then-defenseless white settlements.

Now the story becomes a bit more difficult because after April 1861, most of the Cherokee Indians living in the Indian Territory threw their support behind the Confederate cause.  Why they should do this is anyone’s guess, but that’s what happened.

The American Civil War was a tragedy for most Americans of the time —and no less so for the Cherokee Indians living in the Oklahoma/Indian Territory.  Nothing was forgotten or forgiven after the Civil War; the raw emotion of wartime service remained part of American life for another 100 years.  The Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) was a tough time to live in the American south; but it was even more difficult for Indian tribes, such as the Cherokee, because tribal support of the Confederate States of America resulted in the US Congress cancelling previously signed treaties.

Before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871, the Indian Territory was an exceedingly large area in the central United States whose boundaries were established by treaties between the U. S. government and various native tribes.  These lands encompassed areas within several U. S. territories.  During the Civil War, Congress gave the President of the United States authority to invalidate treaties with any tribe hostile to the government of the United States.

Since most Cherokee sided with the Confederacy, treaty invalidation had a significant impact on Cherokee-US relations  Note: Brigadier General Stand Watie, a Cherokee from the Indian Territory, was the last Confederate general to surrender in the American Civil War.  In any case, the post-war Southern Treaty Commission redefined Cherokee Indian territory by shrinking it even further.

After 1871, the federal government dealt with the Indian tribes through statute.  The Act stipulated that “…hereafter, no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty … [The United States] has the right and authority, instead of controlling them by treaties, to govern them by acts of Congress, they being within the geographical limit of the United States.”— and— “The Indians owe no allegiance to a state within which their reservation may be established, and the state gives them no protection.”

In 1872, most of the present-day Oklahoma was still functioning as Indian territory.  Each tribe had its separate jurisdiction, its own legislature, set of laws (insofar as they were consistent with the U. S. Constitution and U. S. Case Law), and their own courts.  Federal supervision of Indian territories, reservations, and tribes, was maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which today falls within the purview of the Department of the Interior.

In 1872, the United States Marshal’s Service acted as the primary federal authority in the Indian Territory, but their authority was limited.  Federal marshals could not interfere in matters relating to how the Indians governed themselves.  For the most part, there were only a few conflicts between Indian tribes and US Marshals.

The Goingsnake Fight

“Zeke” Proctor

Ezekiel “Zeke” Proctor was a Cherokee Indian, but he had a white father[3].  He was originally from Georgia, but we do not know the sequence of events that brought him to the Indian Territory.  Zeke was a member of the Keetoowah Nighthawk community, a group of Cherokee striving to maintain their tribal values and customs.  The Keetoowah deeply resented whites for forcibly removing them from their traditional land, and they detested even more the recent onslaught of white settlers moving into the Indian Territory.

Given Zeke’s affiliation with the Keetoowah, it was a bit odd that when the Civil War broke out, Zeke joined the Union Army.  This was probably enough to cause other Keetoowah people to shake their heads in wonder, but it was a decision that made Zeke a minority within the Indian Territory[4].

Mary “Polly” Beck

The Beck family were also Cherokee living in the Indian Territory.  One of these was Mary “Polly” Beck (who also had a white father).  The Beck Clan were “non-traditionalists.”  When the Civil War broke out, the Becks cast their lot with the Confederacy.  Of course, wartime loyalties remain long after the end of the conflict, so war’s end did nothing to assuage raw feelings between opposing sides.  This Union vs. Confederate animosity, by the way, lasted through the mid-1970s.

Polly Beck lived at the Hildebrand Mill, which was in an area known as Goingsnake.  The mill was constructed in the 1840s by Jeremiah Towers and later purchased by Stephen Hildebrand, whom Polly had consented to marry.  When Stephen died in 1867, Polly Beck Hildebrand hired a man named James Chesterson to work the mill.  Polly ended up marrying James in 1871.

So far, the story appears unremarkable.  Widows frequently remarried back in the days when females had no right to property, and it would be a few more years before most women in the United States gained economic freedom.  Zeke Proctor didn’t mind when Polly hired Jim Chesterson[5] as an employee, but he was quite upset when the couple was married.  Whether this was about Jim’s whiteness or Zeke’s fascination for Polly, we don’t know.  Both could be true.

On 13 February 1872, an argument developed between Zeke Proctor and Jim Chesterson at the Hildebrand Mill.  We have no idea today what the argument was about, but the two men must have exchanged a few strong words because Zeke went for his gun[6].  Polly Beck Hildebrand Chesterson, who was standing just off to the side of the two men, threw herself between them hoping to stop the fight.  Unhappily, Polly’s timing was a bit off and Proctor’s bullet entered her chest and she was instantly killed.  Chesterson (who may have been unarmed) ran for his life.   Proctor shot at Chesterson several more times.  One account claimed that Chesterson was wounded while in flight, another version said that all Zeke was able to hit was Chesterson’s coat tail.  Either way, shooting at someone constitutes deadly assault.

When the Indian Reservation Police showed up to investigate Polly’s death, Zeke seemed remorseful and claimed that Polly’s death was accidental.  Zeke’s claim seems entirely plausible, but the Beck Clan wasn’t buying it.  Being Cherokee, traditionalist or not, the Becks were more interested in vengeance than justice.  Proctor was taken into custody, as he should have been, and then came the legal wrangling about a proper venue for a trial.  Cherokee Nation judge Blackhawk Sixkiller[7] was assigned to preside.  Sixkiller determined that Proctor would stand trial at the Cherokee Schoolhouse in Whitmore, Oklahoma[8] (present-day Adair County).  By moving the trial out of Goingsnake, the Beck family became convinced that there would be no justice for Polly Beck.

There was also a jurisdictional dispute.  Because the event occurred within the Indian Territory, the Cherokee Nation claimed jurisdiction.  Chesterson’s attorney, however, believing that Proctor would not be convicted in a Cherokee court petitioned the US District Court for the Western District of Arkansas for an arrest warrant so that Proctor could be tried in Fort Smith.

Acknowledging its limited jurisdiction, the federal court assigned two Deputy US Marshals (and an eight-man posse) to attend the trial.  Deputy US Marshal J. G. Peavy was instructed that if Proctor was acquitted by the Cherokee Court, Peavy would arrest him and charge him with violation of federal law in the assault of Chesterson.  Cherokee citizens in the Indian Territory resented non-tribal law officers’ involvement.

On the day of the trial, a makeshift courthouse (actually, a schoolhouse appropriated for use as a courtroom) was packed with people interested in the outcome of the trial.  Zeke Proctor’s supporters sat on the defense side of the courtroom, and the Becks situated themselves on the other side of the courtroom.  A large crowd gathered outside, including both Proctor and Beck sympathizers.  Everyone came to the trial well-armed.  Marshal Peavy’s posse arrived shortly after the court went into session.  By that time, the posse included two deputy marshals, six sworn posse members, and five of the orneriest, meanest men of the Beck family.

Surry Beck, whom some believed started the shooting with a double barrel shotgun

Peavy and his men began pushing aside onlookers to make their way into the makeshift courthouse.  Whether provoked by deputies shoving people out of their way, or in response to words spoken, we don’t know, but suddenly, everyone started shooting.  When the gun smoke had cleared, Deputy Marshal J. G. Owen lay dead; joining him were seven men associated with the posse, including three Beck men.  Also, several innocent bystanders were killed, including Proctor’s attorney, Moses Alberty, Zeke’s brother, Johnson Proctor.  Deputy US Marshal Peavy, posse deputies Paul Jones, George McLaughlin, and White Sut Beck were wounded, along with Zeke Proctor, Judge Sixkiller, and seven others were wounded.

Ultimately, Cherokee judicial authorities moved the trial to a new location, and Zeke was acquitted of all charges.  A second federal posse was dispatched from Fort Smith under Deputy US Marshal Charlie Robinson.  Robinson arrested twenty Cherokee men for their involvement in the shooting, including the previous jury foreman Archie Scaper, but all these men were later released due to lack of evidence or witnesses willing to testify.

After his acquittal, Zeke Proctor fled Goingsnake —which was probably a wise move.  He eventually returned, however.  In 1877, Zeke was elected to serve as a Cherokee Nation senator and by 1880, he operated a small ranch in Goingsnake.  From 1891-94, Zeke served as a Deputy US Marshal under Judge Isaac Parker, and in 1894 he was elected to serve as Sheriff of the Flint District of the Cherokee Nation.  He passed away on 23 February 1907.


  1. Ernst, R. Deadly Affrays: The Violent Deaths of US Marshals.  Indiana: Scarlet Mask Publishers, 2006.
  2. Blood Bath at Goingsnake: The Cherokee Courtroom Shootout. net.


[1] The area to which Indians were resettled encompassed the area of present-day Oklahoma.  Oklahoma statehood was made possible by combining the Territory of Oklahoma with the Indian Territory, which ended the existence of an unorganized, unincorporated independent Indian territory.

[2] Rangers were employed to protect frontier settlements in Texas throughout the Civil War period.

[3] One story paints Zeke’s father as a murderer, but there is no specific information to prove the allegation.

[4] Zeke’s ostracism from mainstream Cherokee society may explain his alleged alcoholism, or his alcoholism may explain his ostracism.

[5] May also have been Kesterson.

[6] The argument may have had nothing to do with Polly, because one story is that Jim Chesterson was previously married to Zeke Proctor’s sister, Susan and that he had left her to marry Polly.  It is an unconfirmed assertion, however.

[7] According to Cherokee legend, the name Sixkiller memorializes a fight between the Creek and Cherokee tribes during the Creek Indian Wars, alleging that one of Sixkiller’s ancestors killed six men before being killed himself.

[8] There is no longer a Whitmore, Oklahoma.  It may have been a community in or near Stillwell, where Whitmore Farms is presently located, but I am unable to ascertain this.

Posted in American Indians, Cherokee Nation, History, Indian Territory | 1 Comment

The Acadians

Les Acadiens

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-1528) was a Florentine explorer of North America who, at the time, was in the service of the King of France (one that hardly anyone has ever heard about: Francis I[1]).  Verrazzano’s sixteenth-century map of North America designates the entire region of the eastern seaboard (above Virginia) as Arcadia.  Verrazzano named this region after an ancient Greek place which means “refuge” or “Idyllic place.”  In 1603, King Henry IV of France granted a colonial charter south of the St. Lawrence River, which he designated La Cadie.  Since no one today knows what Cadie means, Samuel de Champlain added an r and the word became Arcadia, which is what Verrazzano intended.  At some point, however, the French removed the r and the word reverted to L’Acadie, which in English is said as Acadia.

Acadia was a French colony of New France located in northeastern North America, which included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), and Maine.  The people referred to as Acadians today are the descendants of French settlers in Acadia, a migration that began in 1604 from the southwestern region of France: Poitou and Aquitaine[2].  Mixing over time with indigenous people, the Acadians developed a unique ethnicity within the French-Canadian colonies and the result of this anomaly was the creation of a distinct cultural history.  It wasn’t long before the Acadians prospered as farmers and fishermen.

Between 1604-1704, ownership of Acadia changed hands several times, with Great Britain officially gaining control in 1710, but it was a conflict that began earlier, in 1688 with the War of the Grand Alliance.  As with many confrontations that took place in North America, this conflict involved several powerful European nations: France, the Holy Roman Empire, Dutch Republic, England, Spain, Savoy, and Portugal.  It was fought in Europe, North America, and India.  It encompassed King William’s War (in America), the Williamite War (in Ireland), and the Jacobite Risings (in Scotland) (where William III and James II struggled for control of England and Ireland), and expanded into a quest for the control of North America by England and France.

Louis XIV of France emerged from the Franco-Dutch War in 1678 as Europe’s most powerful monarch, whose armies had won numerous victories.  By employing combinations of military aggression, territorial annexation, and other inventive strategies, Louis sought to capitalize on his gains by extending his power into French frontiers.  What Louis accomplished, however, was to set off alarm bells among the protestant nations and caused them to look for ways and opportunities to check French power.  Where better to do this than in North America?  King William’s War was the first of six inter-colonial conflicts[3] that involved France, England, and their native American allies.

Setting the stage

Given the interests of Spain and France in the new world, King James II (1685-1688) sought to assert his authority over colonial affairs.  James, of course, was deposed by William and Mary (1689-1694), but they quickly reinstated most of King James’ colonial policies.  They incorporated the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, and the Province of Maine into the Province of Massachusetts Bay; New York and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were reorganized as Royal colonies with governors appointed by the Crown.  Maryland too became a Royal colony, and colonies that retained their proprietorships were forced to acknowledge the prerogatives of the British monarchy.

Through immigration, the importation of slaves, and natural population growth, British America experienced tremendous growth.  In 1750, 1.5 million people lived in the thirteen colonies.  Most lived as farmers, but the cities were beginning to expand, and with the defeat of the Dutch and the imposition of the Navigation Acts[4], North America became part of the global British trade network.  Prior to the American Revolution, the economic output of the British colonies made up around 40% of the empire’s gross domestic product.

Before 1650, nearly all immigrants to the British colonies went freely but paid for their passage by becoming indentured servants.  With improved economic conditions and relaxation of religious restrictions in Europe, the willingness of people to take on such an adventure declined.  To make up for a shortage of labor, the British increased its importation of slaves (forced migration), and of course, slave populations increased naturally over time.

The colonies, and their inhabitants, represented a substantial British investment and the British realized that it was an investment they had to protect and, given its overall productivity, expand upon.  There was certainly no better way to challenge French settlements in North America than by pushing its own settlements further west and establishing good relations with native populations.

The Acadian Issue

Under the Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell (1653-1658), Major General Robert Sedgwick led an English expedition into French Canada and seized the forts at Saint John, Port Royal, and the settlement of Penobscot.  The effect of this expedition was the establishment of British authority over Acadia.  The French governor was taken prisoner and sent to England where he remained until he accepted allegiance to the British and paid a substantial fine.  Acadia was returned to France in 1667 (Treaty of Breda) … the result of, according to some historians, war-weariness in England.

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession and gave the British possession of French territories in Newfoundland and Acadia, the latter of which the British renamed Nova Scotia.  Beginning in 1713 and lasting for the next 45 years, French Acadians steadfastly resisted British occupation.  Acadians refused to acknowledge British suzerainty, steadily rebuffed British demands that they sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British Crown, and they made no secret of providing “aid and comfort” to what remained of French authorities in Canada.

During these 45 years, Acadians participated in various military guerrilla styled operations against British interests, such as raids on Dartmouth, Nova Scotia[5].  The Acadians also operated a clandestine supply network to help sustain a French presence in Canada.  For their part, the British actively sought to neutralize Acadian guerrillas and disrupt their re-supply efforts.  In 1755, the British decided that they had had enough of Acadian insurrection.  To solve the problem, the British decided to round up all Acadians and deport them.  Colonel Robert Monckton directed five separate campaigns.

Chignecto Campaign

After the fall of Fort Beauséjour in 1755 (renamed Fort Cumberland), Lieutenant Colonel John Winslow arrested a third of the regional population of male Acadians.  An additional number of men found themselves in custody at Fort Lawrence.  British officers informed the families of these men that they would be permitted to join their husbands at a future time.  True to his word, Colonel Winslow loaded 3,000 Acadians (men, women, children) aboard transport ships and sent them to the Carolinas.  To discourage Acadians from ever returning, Colonel Monckton ordered all villages and towns burned to the ground.

Cobequid Campaign

Captain Thomas Lewis commanding 250 regular British forces destroyed two villages in Cobequid, both of which had strategic significance to Acadian guerrilla operations.

Grand Pré Campaign

Colonel Winslow proceeded to Grand Pré and arrested every Acadian man (and boy above the age of ten).  Because of their treasonous behavior, he informed them, they must forfeit all worldly goods to the Crown.  He eventually loaded all Acadian families aboard ship for deportation.

Piziquid Campaign

Captain Alexander Murray conducted a similar operation but did not destroy the surrounding village in this region; these villages and towns were subsequently awarded to New England planters.  The British intended to replace the Acadians with settlers from the New England colonies.

Annapolis Royal Campaign

Major John Handifield commanded a detachment responsible for expelling Acadians at Annapolis Royal.  He was slow to take the Acadians into custody but finally loaded 2,000 Acadians on seven ships earmarked for the Carolinas.  En route, Acadian prisoners seized control of the Pembroke and sailed her to the St. John’s River (flowing from Maine into Canada).  After proceeding as far as possible upriver, the Acadians burned the ship.  They were met by Maliseet Indians who guided them to the location of an expanding Acadian community of escapees.

By the end of December 1755, the British had deported more than 7,000 Acadians to the lower Atlantic colonies, but the action sparked a guerrilla war that would last for four years.  The British didn’t arrest every Acadian; some escaped and went to live among their Indian allies.  With Acadians being fully aware of the deportation scheme, people living further north in the Annapolis Valley fled into the forests of the North Mountain in Nova Scotia.  The following winter was particularly harsh and many of these people died.  Local Indians helped the survivors escape across the Bay of Fundy into New Brunswick.  In the Cape Sable region of southwestern Nova Scotia, Acadians formed new guerrilla groups and initiated raids against the British village of Lunenburg.

In April 1757, Acadian and Mi’kmaq guerrillas assaulted Fort Edward, killing thirteen British soldiers, stealing what supplies they could carry, and setting fire to a warehouse.  The same group assaulted Fort Cumberland a few days later.  These activities prompted the British to initiate a second expulsion campaign in 1758.


What happened to Acadians deported away from their Canadian homeland?  Over time, some returned to Canada; their ancestors continue to live in Novia Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward’s Island.  Some remained in the lower colonies, reestablishing their lives among English, Scottish, Irish communities.  Others found their way to the southern portions of Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns, a derivative of the French Les Acadiens.

Lower Louisiana has been settled by French colonists since the late 17th century, many of whom evolved into what we call today Louisiana Creoles[6].  Over the years, the Louisiana French Creole mixed with other races to such extent that today, other ethnic groups refer to themselves as creole as well, including native Americans, Africans, and Spaniards.  Acadians were a later-arriving group of French-speaking people who share certain aspects of French culture, including the Catholic religion.  But in terms of language, Cajun French in no way resembles the French language before the Acadians arrived.  It is a variety (dialect, perhaps) of French spoken in Louisiana.  There is also what some people call Cajun English, influenced by a French dialect, and spoken only by Cajuns.  Outsiders, whether speaking French or English, will not be able to understand most Cajun French or English.

There is one aspect of Acadian/Cajun culture everyone understands … their great food: Jambalaya, Gumbo, Étouffée, Boudin (sausage) (especially with red beans and rice) Blackening (spicey preparation of steak and fish), and Pain Perdu (French Toast).  My conclusion to this piece is that were it not for British high-handedness in 1713, we would not have great Acadian food in Louisiana today.


  1. Anderson, F.The War That Made America. New York: Viking Press, 2005.
  2. Bailyn, B.The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America—Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675.  New York: Knopf Publishing, 2012.
  3. Griffiths, N. E. S.From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People, 1604-1755.  Queen’s University Press, 2005.
  4. Moody, B.The Acadians.  Toronto: Grolier Publishing, 1981.
  5. Reid, J. G., and others.The Conquest of Acadia, 1710: Imperial, Colonial, and Aboriginal Constructions.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.


[1] A shame, really, because King Francis I is the gentleman to whom we attribute the beginning of the French Renaissance.  He did this by attracting many Italian artists to work for him, including Leonardo da Vinci, who sold him the Mona Lisa.  He was also responsible for the beginning of the French exploration of the New World.

[2] The ethnic origins of Aquitaine can be traced back to pre-Roman Basque who themselves evolved from the Vascones and Aquitainians (present-day Navarre, western Aragon, and La Rioja of Peninsular Iberia.  The modern word Basque comes from ancient Vascone.

[3] Four French and Indian Wars, Father Rale’s War, and Father Le Loutre’s War.  The French and Indian Wars (1754-1763) pertain exclusively to the conflict between England and France in North America coincidental to the Seven Years’ War, while the others pertain to battles of economic warfare in the St. Lawrence River valley in Canada and the lower Great Lakes region that pitted the Iroquois against French Algonquin alliance.  Father Rale’s War was a series of battles between New England settlers and the French allied Wabanaki Confederacy (1722-1725).  Father Le Loutre’s War (1749-1755) again pitted New England settlers against the Micmac Indians led by Fa. Jean-Louis Le Loutre in a guerrilla-style engagement.

[4] A series of laws designed to bolster British state power and economic interests by imposing restrictions on colonial trade.

[5] Despite the British conquest of Acadia, Nova Scotia remained primarily occupied by Catholic Acadians and Mi’kmaq natives.  The Dartmouth Massacre of 1751 occurred when Joseph Broussard led Indians into Dartmouth, destroying it and killing twenty villagers to prevent the town from becoming a protestant settlement.

[6] Creole is a term used by French and Spanish speaking people to distinguish persons born in a place away from the mother country.  French Creole simply means a person of French extraction not born in France.  While Acadians would certainly qualify as creoles, their unique ancestry makes the term Cajun more appropriate, especially since that is what Louisiana Acadians prefer to be called.

Posted in Colonial America, History | 6 Comments

An Oklahoma Rose

Among the reasons I enjoy history is that it provides an interesting insight into the lives of people who have gone before, provides us with examples of morality (or a lack of it), and it gives some perspectives about our society today.  For example, all youngsters, no matter their gender, ethnicity, religious training, or national origin, develop romantic attachments.  It is part of the human process of maturation.

In my day, young boys were drawn to stories of high adventure, grave danger, and acts of courage —especially in the face of overwhelming odds.  During my grade school years, I constantly read books and magazine articles about America’s pioneers, starting with the early colonists, the men who blazed new trails through the old west, the scouts, the hunters, the Indian fighters, soldiers, and brave lawmen who stood alone confronting evil.  As I grew older, I realized that some of these accounts were exaggerated, probably to sell books and magazine articles, and I learned that some of my childhood heroes had a dark side.  Years later, I learned that everyone has a dark side.  There is good, and not-so-good in all of us.  Despite these realizations, I have never lost my fascination for, or interest in tales of great undertakings —even those that ended in failure.

As a youngster, I read about the women pioneers, too … but these accounts were mostly about women whose stories were fictionalized.  Women such as Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane who seemed to master the skills and crafts of the men of the day.  No one with any sense would want to place themselves on the receiving end of Annie Oakley’s or Calamity Jane’s .45 revolver.  I didn’t hear about Stagecoach Mary until I started making inquiries about who America’s pioneer or old west women were.  I wondered about other women whose lives have been hidden away because of their uncommon lifestyle.  I have found a few of these women, but with few exceptions, there does not appear to be much detail about their lives.

Armed woman in the American West

At some point in their formative years, all youngsters become infatuated and it may be fair to say that this aspect of growing up can be quite painful.  Because young people’s brains aren’t fully formed until they’re around 25-years of age, they tend to make poor decisions, many of which have long-term and unhappy consequences.  It is why teenagers have a greater need of good parenting than they did when they were still very small.

One such story concerns a woman named Rose Elizabeth Dunn.  It is a confusing story, and a bit convoluted.  The reason for this is that the historical record is incomplete, her story is inundated with rumor and, or innuendo, and we just aren’t sure about the chronological sequence of her life’s events.  We know she was born on 5 September 1878.  According to, her parents were William and Sarah Dunn, both of whom were born in Indiana.  According to the 1880 Census for Walnut Township, Cowley County, Kansas, Rose (and her siblings) were born in Kansas[1].  Her father is listed as a farmer; her mother as a housewife (in those days a common census entry for women).

[Note:  There are photographs available on the Internet claiming to be the likeness of Rose Elizabeth Dunn, but none of these are verifiable and are therefore not included.  I also have no interest in re-publishing photographs of dead men whose bodies are riddled with bullets.  Two photographs included have nothing to do with Rose Dunn; they are included only as a possible representation of how a woman living in the west might have dressed. ]

William and Sarah had eight children, in order of seniority: Ephram, Lucinda, Charles D., William E., John E., George E., Mary B., and Rose.  We cannot (and should not) comment about their skill as parents because we don’t know anything about that.  We should realize that life in the United States in the post-Civil War period was difficult, farming was hard work with few rewards, and it may be entirely correct to say that William never found the time to bounce his children on his knee.  Similarly, raising children on an isolated farm in Kansas may not have been the most rewarding experience for Sarah, either.

I believe it is likely that William Dunn moved his family to Oklahoma sometime between the 1880 and 1890.  He may have passed away within a few years.  We can find references to the “Dunn Ranch,” outside Ingalls, Oklahoma, but we also know that Sarah married the highly respected Dr. W. R. Call, who had a medical practice in Ingalls.

Some historians claim Rose attended school at a convent in Wichita, which might suggest an early Catholic influence.  If it is true, then it contradicts the claim that the Dunn’s were dirt-poor farmers.  In any case, by the time Rose was 12 years old, two of her older brothers were already known in Oklahoma as outlaws[2].  By then, Rose was already proficient in managing livestock.  She was an excellent horsewoman, could rope, tie, wrangle, and shoot.  These are skills more suitable to life on a ranch than on a farm.

A 14 or 15-year-old Rose was introduced to the outlaw George Newcomb by her brothers, who were more on the order of desperado wannabe’s than they were hardened criminals.  George’s moniker was “Bitter Creek” Newcomb[3].  Newcomb had an eye for pretty girls, and Rose was an attractive lass.  He apparently caught her eye as well.

At this point, it is time to pause and reflect on these facts.  There are two versions of the events of the Battle of Ingalls, Oklahoma.  There is the official version of the story, reconstructed by the lawmen who participated in the battle, and the fictionalized version of the event propagated years later by lawmen who weren’t present in Ingalls on the day of the incident.

The official report, written by lawmen who participated, was written several days later, after the fact.  What this means is that the lawmen wrote their account based on what they could remember, no doubt tempered by how they wanted their superiors to judge their behavior while under fire.  It is possible that the official account contains some embellishment.

Other accounts of the event were written by retired lawmen many years later.  These were men who wanted to enrich themselves by publishing stories and making films about their law careers.  Significantly, of the three lawmen who engaged in these self-fulfilling stories, none were present in Ingalls on the day of the shootout.  The men I’m writing about were Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and E. D. Nix[4].  Two years later, responding to a lawsuit filed by Murray, alleging wrongful injury by US marshals, E. D. Nix wrote a summary of the event that was based entirely on the official statements written by the lawmen who did participate in the shooting.

Years later, as a result of the fictional stories, Rose Dunn was often referred to as George Newcomb’s mistress, but we do not know enough about their relationship to make such a claim.  Was there an attraction between 29-year-old George Newcomb and a 14 or 15-year old girl?  It is possible, of course, but if Rose Dunn was attracted to George Newcomb, it was likely more on the order of a teenage girl’s infatuation.  There is no evidence to suggest that Rose Dunn and George Newcomb ever had a relationship; there are only the slanderous suppositions in books and films produced 22-years after the event.  All we know about Rose Dunn is that she was a pretty young lady who, according to researchers, had a calm demeanor and a kind nature.

Tilghman and others claimed that Rose Dunn aided and abetted the Doolin Gang by providing them with various supplies from stores inside Ingalls, Oklahoma; that she provided the gang with useful information about the presence of lawmen, that she gave this information to George Newcomb while he and the gang were hiding out at the Dunn Ranch, just outside town.  The claim is either untrue, or only partially true.  The Doolin Gang may have periodically visited the Dunn Ranch, but the ranch was not their regular “hideout.”

George Ransom owned a saloon inside Ingalls, Oklahoma.  When the Doolin Gang was in Ingalls, they used Ransom’s saloon as their headquarters/hangout.  The bartender in the Ransom Saloon was an ally of the gang —a man known as Murray.  Murray may have been somewhat typical of the citizens of Ingalls, Oklahoma, who it appears catered to the Doolin Gang by selling them ammunition, feeding them, giving them a place to sleep, caring for their horses, and providing gang members with news of the activities of lawmen operating in the area.

What motivated the townspeople to provide succor to the Doolin Gang is anyone’s guess.  It might have been that citizens were paid for these services, or it could be that they were living in fear of their lives.  Much later, Marshal Nix opined that it would have been impossible to get anyone in Ingalls to testify in court about what they knew of the Doolin Gang.  Based on these circumstances, it is unlikely that Rose Dunn participated any more or less than any other citizen giving comfort to the outlaws.

If William Dunn was dead by this time, his five sons likely continued working the Oklahoma ranch (in addition to their interests in bounty-hunting).  William’s death would also help to explain Sarah Dunn’s marriage to Dr. Call and Sarah moving into Call’s home in Ingalls, with her youngest daughter, Rose.  It is a fact that 15-year old Rose Dunn was living in the Call residence on 1 September 1893.

On 1 September, thirteen lawmen under the supervision of Deputy U. S. Marshal John Hixon rode into Ingalls, Oklahoma with the intent of arresting or putting an end to the Doolin Gang, believed responsible for numerous train and bank robberies over the previous two or so years.  The town of Ingalls and its surrounding area had become a haven for the Doolin Gang and Territorial U. S. Marshal E. D. Nix had resolved to end their crime spree.

According to Territorial U. S. Marshal Evett Dumas Nix:

“On the 1st day of September 1893, a party of deputy marshals who had been sent after these outlaws, by me, arrived in the vicinity of Ingalls, and the outlaws mentioned herein were at the time in the town and in the saloon of Ransom, where this man Murray worked.  As usual, the outlaws had received notice of the proximity of the deputies and they sent a messenger to the deputies inviting them to come into the town if they thought they, the deputies, could take them.

“The deputies accepted the invitation and after posting their forces, sent a message to the outlaws with a request to surrender and were answered with Winchester shots.  “Bitter Creek” ran out of the saloon in question and fired one shot toward the north, where some of the deputies were stationed, and turning, received the fire of the deputies which burst the magazine of his Winchester and wounded him in the thigh.

“In the meantime, a heavy fire was directed at the deputies by the balance of the outlaws from the saloon building, and the fire was returned by the deputies which literally riddled the saloon.  A horse was killed by the deputies which was tied in front of the saloon … the fire of the deputies becoming too hot for the outlaws, they escaped out of a side door and took refuge in a large stable mentioned.

“… Eight or ten horses were killed, and nine persons killed and wounded.  One deputy was killed outright at the first fire and two more died the next day.  Three outlaws were wounded and one captured.  The one captured was afterwards sentenced to fifty years in the penitentiary and is now serving time.”

—E. D. Nix, U. S. Marshal

The often-told story is that after George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb initiated gunfire, and was wounded by return fire, he fell into the street.  Rose Dunn ran out from the Pierce O. K. Hotel carrying ammunition and a rifle.  Rushing to Newcomb’s aid, she fired the rifle numerous times at the lawmen while Newcomb reloaded his revolvers, and that she helped him to escape death or capture.  The story is pure fiction.

Newcomb, having only fired two shots, did not need to reload his six-shooter.  Instead, the wounded “Bitter Creek” made his way inside Ransom’s Saloon.  This event was widely publicized in the press, which in those days, was highly sensationalized.  There is no evidence in the press, or in any of the lawmen’s official reports, that Rose Dunn rushed through a hail of gunfire to aid “Bitter Creek” Newcomb.  A rifle was later produced by Nix, which included an inscription, suggesting that this was the Winchester Rose Dunn fired at deputies.  If there was a rifle, it was the rifle Newcomb carried with him into the street from the saloon and used to kill a deputy.

This representation seems to agree with other photographs of the 1890s; women wore their holsters forward of their hip, almost centered on their lower abdomen.

The results of the gunfight were that George Newcomb, Charley Pierce, Dan “Dynamite Dick” Clifton, and “Murray” were wounded by gunfire.  Murray was captured and taken into custody.  Arkansas Tom Jones, responsible for the killing of Deputy Tom Hueston, was also taken into custody after Deputy Jim Masterson threw a stick of dynamite into the saloon, the explosion of which stunned Jones.

Gang members included Bill Doolin, Bill Dalton, Tulsa Jack Blake, Dan Clifton, Roy Daugherty (a.k.a. Arkansas Tom Jones), George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb (also known as Slaughter’s Kid), Charley Pierce, “Little Bill” Raidler, George “Red Buck” Waightman, and Richard “Little Dick” West.  Most of these men escaped the law that day, but only temporarily.

Deputy U. S. Marshals Tom Hueston, Richard Speed, and Lafayette Shadley lost their lives.

There is also a story that claims Rose Dunn escaped with the gang and dutifully tended to the wounds of George Newcomb and Charlie Pierce.  This is likely a fabrication because 15-year-old Rose Dunn continued to live with her mother and stepfather for several more years.

After the Battle of Ingalls, Oklahoma, federal authorities placed bounties of $5,000 (each) on the heads of the members of the Doolan-Dalton Gang.  US Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas killed Bill Doolin on 24 August 1896; Bill Dalton was killed by deputies on 8 June 1894; Tulsa Jack Blake met his fate on 4 April 1895; US Deputy Marshal Chris Madsen killed “Red Buck” Waightman on 2 October 1895 and Dan Clifton in 1896; despite being shot three times by Bill Tilghman, Little Bill Raidler survived his wounds and went to prison. Raidler died of natural causes in 1904.

On 2 May 1895, “Bitter Creek” Newcomb and Charley Pierce rode to the Dunn Ranch.  Why they rode out there is unknown.  Some have suggested that Newcomb went there to visit with Rose Dunn.  As previously noted, however, Rose wasn’t living at the ranch.  Also as previously mentioned, in addition to their ranching interests, the Dunn Brothers earned money as bounty hunters.  As Newcomb and Pierce dismounted their horses, Bill and George Dunn stepped out of the ranch house and shot Newcomb and Pierce to death.  It was a profitable day for the Dunn brothers.

Rose Dunn was later accused of turning George Newcomb in for the reward.  Her brothers claimed that no such thing happened, and contrary to all the stories told about her, Rose Dunn was never prosecuted for any illegal activities in association with the Doolin-Dalton Gang.  In 1898, twenty-year-old Rose Dunn married Charles Albert Noble, a local politician.  Around 1901, the Nobles moved away from Ingalls, Oklahoma.  Charles Noble passed away in 1930.  Rose Dunn Noble remarried Richard Fleming in 1946.  Seventy-six-year-old Rose Elizabeth Dunn Noble Fleming passed away in Salkum, Washington on 11 June 1955,  a possibly much-maligned woman whose only real mistake was an immature fascination with a noted gunman.


  1. Lackmann, R. W. Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction, and Film.  McFarland, 1997.
  2. Rutter, M. Bedside Book of Bad Girls: Outlaw women of the old west.  Helena: Far Country Press, 2008.
  3. United States Marshals Service. History: Deputies versus The Wild Bunch.


[1] Several sites record her birth in Oklahoma.

[2] There is some evidence that the five Dunn brothers became bounty-hunters in the 1890s.  We know their given names, but we aren’t sure about their familiar names.  According to some accounts, the bounty-hunters were William (Bill), George, Bee, Cal, and Dal.  “Bee” might have also referred to William.

[3] The sobriquet “Bitter Creek” comes from a cowboy song George frequently sang with the refrain, “I’m a wild wolf from Bitter Creek and it’s my right to howl.”  Newcomb was also known in some circles as “Slaughter’s Kid.”  George Newcomb may have kept a team of psychologists busy for years trying to figure him out.  He was reputed to be handsome, devil-may-care, and “too wild” even for the worst old west outlaws.

[4] Tilghman, Madsen, and Nix formed the Eagle Film Company in 1915 and began making movies that fictionalized or embellished their own careers; in order to do that, it was necessary to exaggerate or fictionalize the actions of the “bad guys.”  Nix also writes an account of this (and other) events in a book called Oklahombres. Again, neither Tilghman, Madsen, or Nix was present in Ingalls, Oklahoma on 1 September 1893.

Posted in American Frontier, Society | 5 Comments

The American Frontier

Some background

Plymouth Rock 001Human migration could be the most important factor in understanding the development of North America.  While it is true that the story of humankind is one of migration, our American story began when people decided to risk their lives on a journey that took them away from their homeland (particularly at a time when most people in the world never traveled more than twenty-five miles from their place of birth), and landed them in an inhospitable environment thousands of miles distant from everyone and everything they ever knew.  And when the English settlements became overpopulated, they continued a western migration into other unsettled lands.

Beyond what we know from the written record, we cannot know what the pioneers were thinking.  Did they, for example, realize that western migration was necessary for maintaining their culture?  Or, was western migration simply a means to an end, that being the acquisition of land for their own benefit?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter, since the result was the same.  The American nation was founded through the westward orientation of its early pioneers and, in many ways, human movement has become a distinctive feature of the American people.

What we know by examining census records from the earliest days is that well over half the people at one location moved there from another location within the British colonies.  It is a remarkable statistic.  In the year 1800, only around ten percent of all Americans lived west of the Appalachian Mountains, principally in Tennessee, Kentucky, and the area of present-day West Virginia.  By 1824, thirty percent of all Americans resided between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.  Forty-five thousand people lived in Ohio in 1800; nearly a million lived in Ohio by 1830.

As I said, remarkable.  But there was nothing orderly about the physical process of westward migration.  Not everyone packed up their prairie wagon at the same time, and not everyone selected the same destination.  They migrated and settled (even if only temporarily) where they believed they could maintain their social norms and traditions —and this helps to explain a migrating trend with others of their kind— religious groups, for example.  Migration was a selective process.  It was a personal decision that depended on a variety of factors, not the least of which was the age of the travelers, their economic status, and their own sense of the benefits of re-settlement.

Some percentage of migrating pioneers may have believed that they had no other choice because, upon their arrival in America, subsequent waves of immigrants discovered that select land along the eastern seaboard had already been taken.  Unless the immigrant was already wealthy, they found the price of land too expensive.  Remember that many of the early immigrants were pushed out of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland for political or economic reasons.

We seldom think about this today, but a decision to migrant away from one’s homeland was (and continues to be) traumatic, even when “push factors” were significant.  Of course, push factors varied by location and individual affected, but they generally involved a lack of economic success or prospect, enclosure, mechanization, industrialization, over-population, harsh political or religious environments, and perhaps a rejection of urbanization.

Among the poorest immigrants, America was their only hope.  They wanted economic success, of course, which to many suggested land acquisitions —the strongest of “pull factors.”  Yes, they wanted to live free, in their own way, without government or religious interference, but if we are honest, then we must acknowledge that the entire story of America is woven around land speculation.

To obtain land, to be able to call it their own, to one day be able to profit from it, settlers were prepared to endure hardship.  Whether their dream ever became reality depended on the settlers themselves, where they settled, and, of course, luck.  Good fortune because in every pioneer, there was a thread the gambler.

The American pioneer was a special breed of human being.  There was no risk and only a few rewards in remaining behind in Tidewater, Virginia, where it was safe, settled, and civilized —so it is not at all surprising to learn that, in the case of dirt-poor immigrants, they arrived in America and kept ongoing.

The Kerfuffle

The process of western migration and settlement began almost immediately.  Not everyone wanted to live along the seacoast and pursue their living from the ocean’s bounty.  The farmers moved inland … toward the west, a trend that developed in the first 100 years of the establishment of the English colonies.  By the early-to-mid 1700s, settlements approached the foothills of the first major obstacle: the Appalachian Mountains.  It impeded because, on the other side of those mountains one would discover the settlements of a traditional enemy —the French.

Western migration, therefore, became a clash among European empires, each of whom had their own plan for the untamed, mostly unexplored North American continent.  Spain made its start with the explorations of Christopher Columbus in 1492, joined by Ponce de  Leon in 1493.  The French began their explorations, establishing sparse settlements beginning in 1534.  The British were late arrivals in 1585.  By the early 1700s, all three of these European empires laid claim to a portion of the new world —vast territories far too large for any of them to possess or control.  True to form, the competing empires carried their squabbles with them to the New World and they used their explorers and settlers, and native populations, as pawns in the “great game” of territorial domination.

When I mention a clash of European empires, I refer to the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), King George’s War (1744-1748), the War of Jenkin’s Ear (1739-1748), the First Carnatic War (India)(1746-1748), and the Silesian Wars (1740-1741) (1744-1745).  In each of these conflicts, the warring nations confronted one another in the Americas.  The governors of New France employed native Americans to block British westward expansion into their claimed territories; British colonial governors challenged the French by encouraging western migration into the disputed territories.

To help facilitate this western movement, Thomas Lee[1] formed a land company with Lawrence[2] and Augustine Washington[3] in 1748 (The Ohio Land Company) —initially involving around 500,000 acres of land granted by Royal decree.  The charter had one caveat: the company had to settle 100 families on this land within seven years.  The effort was interrupted by conflict with France (1754-1763).

French-Indian War 001After the French and Indian Wars, western settlements began receiving mixed messages from their colonial governors.  The Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian Wars, did grant to Great Britain thousands of square miles of territory, called the Ohio Valley, but it also gave rise to many problems.  Lacking the resources needed to administer these “won” territories, British governors discouraged westward migration.  Moreover, while the French may have ceded the Ohio Valley to Great Britain, this did not mean that its French inhabitants would leave quietly in the night.  Well-established trade relationships and routes were an important source of income to French settlers in the Ohio valley.  Last, but not least, the resident Indian population did not appear willing to ceding additional land to the British.

The Pioneer Struggle

From around 1750, British migrants arrived in the new land possessing few resources.  They could not afford land in the already-settled regions, and the British colonies officially prohibited them from moving beyond the Appalachian range.  With few options, immigrants from the English border-region, and the Scots-Irish, simply ignored colonial prohibitions and went west anyway.  Any decision taken about where to settle depended on the traveler’s understanding of conditions at the new location.  They must have had an idea about what to expect, but they may not have known the difficulties that lay ahead.  In any case, these recent immigrants had few options.

Westward migration was never an easy proposition because the lives of the frontiersmen were beset with life-altering struggles.  Settler’s challenges began with an arduous journey involving hundreds of miles, often on foot, which took them over rough terrain, swampy bogs, and swollen rivers.  They passed over rock-strewn mountains, descended into wide valleys, and suffered the effects of seasonal climates and violent storms.  They encountered hostile Indians and stood up to dangerous animals.  Circumstances forced the pioneers to deal with virulent sickness, loss of personal possessions and farming stock, and broken wagons.  They buried their wives, husbands, and children along a very weary trail.

The only way to describe this westward journey is that it was a never-ending sequence of challenges that tested the endurance and fortitude of the migrants.  In the beginning, westward-bound settlers only knew what they were told about what they should expect.  They may never have had to cross a torrential river, for example.  Without practical experience, they were forced to learn while doing, and the learning curve was often sharp and unforgiving.  It was a rough existence for everyone in the family, but the women faced enormous responsibilities and hardships. 

What they did

Prairie Schooner

The Conestoga Wagon

Pioneer women selected, packed, and loaded the belongings needed for a long journey.  This was a difficult task that demanded creativity in deciding what to take (and what to discard), in what quantities, and how to pack it —there was so little room.  With wagons packed from stem to stern, the family walked alongside the wagon.  The number of miles between the western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and Independence, Missouri is around 1,100 miles.  The number of miles between Independence, Missouri, and Sutter’s Fort in California is close to 1,800 miles.  Few people today could make such a journey in 8-10 months.

Pioneer families divided responsibility along the trail, but they were never clear or rigid divisions.  A husband looked after the mechanical aspects of the movement —wagon, wheels, axle, bow struts, canvass bonnet, brake box, tongue, and leather accouterments.  The husband would mend or make shoes.  He (and his sons, if they were old enough) provided security, hunted for fresh meat, and wrangled the livestock.  His wife (and daughters) foraged for berries, cooked and cleaned cookware, sewed worn clothing, managed food stores and freshwater, and made the campfire using wood or other substances.  The pioneer ladies attended to sick family members using whatever medicines she had remembered to bring.

The pioneer trail was beset with tragedies, but one migrant party was particularly catastrophic: The Donner-Reed Party.  The 1840s experienced dramatic increases in westward migration.  Many of these pioneer families decided on California or the Oregon Territory as their destination.  They had two options for getting there: they could travel by sea or take the overland route.  The Oregon Trail was noteworthy for its popularity, its starting point at Independence, Missouri.  The pioneers traveled on average between 11 to 15 miles per day; it took most pioneers five to seven months to complete their journey.  For those heading into California, the most difficult leg of the journey was the last 150 miles, which took the pioneer families over the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.  This range offers five-hundred mountain peaks and an elevation of 12,000 feet.  It’s location, elevation, and proximity to the Pacific Ocean subjects the Sierra Nevada to deep snowfall.

In total, the Donner-Reed included 87 people.  Typically, wagon train populations increased and decreased along the route as families joined or departed from the train’s main body.  The Donner-Reed train departed Independence on 12 May.  At the time, George Donner was 60 years old; his wife aged 44 years.  They had three daughters of their own, and George had two daughters from a previous marriage.  The party included George’s younger brother, Jacob, aged 56, and his wife, aged 45 years and seven children.  The base party also included six teamsters, men whose task it was to drive the ox-pulled wagons.

Weather delays plagued the Donner-Reed party almost from the beginning of their journey.  This was important because the window for crossing the Sierra Nevada range closed around the first of November.  By 11 July, Donner was 12 days behind schedule.  In August, they found the terrain far more difficult than they were told it would be, and progress slowed even more.  They entered the Great Salt Lake short of forage for their animals or water for either stock or themselves.  The temperature was unbearable.  The train began to fall apart as families started bickering among themselves.

By the time Donner-Reed entered the Sierra Nevada range, they were already out of time, out of food, out of water, and their animals barely able to stand much less pull heavy wagons.  They decided to push ahead.  They still had time—or so they thought.  Wagons broke down, causing some members to abandon their worthless wagons and proceed with whatever they could carry on their backs.

Snowfall arrived early that year —on 20 October— and within a short time, snowdrifts were five to ten feet deep.  Every effort to move ahead failed.  The only hope Donner-Reed had at that point was to go into winter camp.  That is what they did … without food.  The animals were dropping like flies; they were consumed as soon as they fell and within a short time, there were no more animals.

Donner Party 001The situation was far worse than malnourishment and illness.  Many within Donner-Reed began to exhibit signs of mental instability.  Out of necessity, they began to consume their own dead.  Some members may have even expedited the death of their loved ones to have something to eat.  Of the 87 members of Donner-Reed, 48 died.  Understandably, no one who cannibalized their traveling companions exhibited normal behavior in later years.  The immediate effect of this disaster, when publicized, was a sharp decline in westward migrations.  It took the California Gold Rush to re-ignite interest in westward migration.

Most of the pioneers reached their destinations, but few accomplished this feat intact.  Not many of the pioneer travelers survived attacks by hostile Indians, particularly on the plains where the Comanche, Sioux, Kiowa, Apache, and Cheyenne had the advantage of mounted, lightning-quick strikes.  Men and boys were killed outright; occasionally, young boys were spared and taken as hostages.  Some women were killed, but they were more often taken as slaves, particularly the young girls.  Once taken, even if they escaped or traded back to white settlements, or rescued, pioneer women survivors were shunned by white society —they lived the remainder of their days in isolation.

Once pioneer families reached their destinations, they encountered new challenges.  Building a home was no simple task.  They were crude structures, assembled from available materials, and not every pioneer man was an accomplished carpenter.  They did their best, but not every idea was a good one.  Sod roofs leaked during periods of intense rain and thatched roofs became homes for biting insects.  Strong winds could topple a shoddily made structure as easily as a bear could break down the doorway.  Given the size of some families, their new home was often inadequate in size.  Cabins had dirt floors, were uncomfortable and cramped.  No one had any privacy.  Cooking was usually performed out of doors.  Freshwater had to be carried up from a nearby stream or river, which explains the proximity of cabins to sources of water.  The water could easily become an enemy as streams and rivers flooded seasonally.  Worse, the water was polluted by human and animal feces, the ingestion of which became a deadly killer: Cholera.  Toilets were pits dug into the ground some distance from the cabin, but often too close to creeks, streams, and riverbanks.

Our women

In terms of westward migration, women had no real choice in the matter.  Married women were obliged to accompany their husbands.  Unmarried women remained under the supervision of their fathers until married.  So, what happened to women who suddenly found themselves without their husband or their father?  Their choices were limited.  They either took the place of their men, remarried, found their way to a western brothel, or they perished.  In the mid-1800s, women could not own property, or if permitted to own it, they always fell under the supervisory authority of court-appointed men.  In 1850, California and Wisconsin granted property rights for married women; Oregon permitted unmarried women to own land, but they could not control it.  It wasn’t until 1872 that women in California were “granted” the right of a separate economy.


America’s pioneer spirit isn’t confined to one gender, one race, or any one age group.  It certainly didn’t cease to exist once the west was fully settled.  Our pioneer citizens found their way into medical science and research, they pushed open doors to access the legal field, and they demanded and received an acknowledgment of their civil rights.  We saw them again as migrants during the devastating depression years of the 1930s, as world-class aeronauts, and we find them still as pioneers in space.  Americans of every race are  full partners in a grand endeavor  —as God always intended.

It’s something to think about.


  1. Gray, D. Women in the West.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998
  2. Holmes, K. L. Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from Western Trails, 1840-49.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
  3. Noy, G. Distant Horizon: Documents from the 19th Century American West.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  4. Sigerman, H. Land of Many Hands: Women in the American West.  London: Oxford University Press, 1997
  5. Woodworth-Ney, L. E.  Women in the American West.  ABC-Clio, 2008


[1] Colonel Thomas Lee (1690-1750) was a leading political figure who established a dynasty that included notable Americans into the twentieth century, including Light Horse Harry Lee and his son, Robert E. Lee.  Thomas Lee served as governor of Virginia 1749-1750.

[2] Lawrence Washington (1718-1752) was a soldier, planter, politician, landowner, and founder of Alexandria, Virginia.  He was also the older-half-brother of George Washington.

[3] Augustine Washington (1720-1762) was a soldier, planter, politician, and the second youngest son of Augustine Washington and Jane Butler, and George Washington’s half-brother.

Posted in American Frontier, Colonial America, History, New France, New Spain, Pioneers, Society, Westward Expansion | 5 Comments

The Ambushers

An ambush (also, ambuscade) is a long-established military tactic in which combatants take advantage of concealment and the element of surprise to attack unsuspecting enemies from concealed positions, i.e., from dense underbrush, from wooded areas, or from behind hilltops.  Another term for ambush is “bushwhacking.”  Someone who engages in this kind of attack is referred to as a bushwhacker.

Bushwhacking is quite common is armed conflict and has been throughout history.  American patriots used it against the British during the Revolutionary War and both Union and Confederate troops used it during the Civil War.  As a tactic, ambuscade favors the underdog because it maximizes the efficiency of numerically inferior forces, particularly within areas too large for occupation.  Prevalent in rural areas, the aim of ambuscade is attrition and demoralization.

While both sides of the Civil War used the tactic, the term “Bushwhacker” was particularly significant because it was the term adopted to describe an irregular military force of pro-Confederate Missourians.  As a guerrilla tactic, the effect of bushwhacking terrorized “enemy” sympathizers, who were pro-Union officials, civilians, and people who were simply “suspected” of harboring pro-Union sympathies.  Bushwhacking civilians was part of a campaign designed either to punish people who opposed the Confederacy, or exact retribution.  No matter which side of the conflict perpetrated these atrocities, the other side regarded such behavior as acts as heinous barbarism.

Little Dixie - Missouri

Little Dixie (Missouri)

Irregular (guerrilla) military forces often dressed in civilian attire, masking who they were and what they stood for —until mere seconds before an attack, so there was always a question about whether the ambushers were part of a legitimate military campaign or simply toughs, outlaws, or terrorists.

What made the state of Missouri unique was the fact that nineteen of its 144 counties remained in the hands of Confederate sympathizers, and this adds weight to the claims of some historians that what happened there was a civil war within a larger civil war.  Missouri counties in rebellion were referred to as “Little Dixie.”  The people who lived in these pro-Confederate counties originated from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia —people who, culturally, rarely quit a fight until they can no longer raise a finger in defiance.  They are people who believe there is no such thing as enough retribution; people capable of keeping feuds going for decades.

These violent behaviors were not unique or confined to Missourians.  Cross-border attacks by people operating as guerrillas from Kansas were equally vicious.  Pro-Union ambushers from Kansas were referred to as “Jayhawkers,” violent men whose armed expeditions took them into the Appalachian regions of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia (including West Virginia) and northern Georgia.

Mosby J S 001Leaders from both sides of the issue placed their own “spin” on guerrilla activities by referring to these groups as “Partisan Rangers.”  One of these rangers was Colonel John S. Mosby[1], CSA (pictured left) who carried out raids against Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, northern Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.  Mosby’s raids were little different from the campaigns in Missouri or Kansas, but what distinguished Mosby from Missouri Bushwhacker William Quantrill[2] was that Mosby operated within the Confederate chain of command, while Quantrill followed orders only when it suited him.  No one, not even Quantrill’s superiors, knew what he was going to do next, or where he intended to do it.  For the most part, Missouri Bushwhackers were low-level, self-organized groups of young men (and boys) from slave-holding states and territories abutting the Missouri and Mississippi river systems.

There was never a shortage of atrocities in Kansas and Missouri.  Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers alike kidnapped, murdered, raped, rustled, lynched, and burned family homes to the ground.  Some people escaped the attention of these guerrilla bands by heeding their advice early in the war to “get out” of Kansas or Missouri.  The parents and grandparents of President Harry S. Truman wisely took this advice in 1862.

Regular Confederate/Union army units also participated in the chaos of guerrilla operations.  Union (and affiliated) troops often tortured and summarily executed suspected rebel sympathizers and prisoners of war without trial.  Two examples of barbarism stand out: the sacking of Osceola, Missouri in 1861, and the Lawrence Massacre in 1863.  Since history is written by the victor, we today hear more about the Lawrence Raid than we do Osceola.

George MaddoxIn Osceola, 1,200 Jayhawkers under the command of Brigadier General James H. Lane[3] raided the town of around 2,000 people, freed 200 slaves, tried and executed nine citizens, and then burned the town to the ground.   Seeking retribution, Quantrill planned and executed the Lawrence Raid.  On 21 August 1863, Lawrence headquartered Lane’s Jayhawk Brigade.  Captain Quantrill was meticulous in his planning of the raid, sending several columns of guerrillas into Kansas from different routes and converging on Lawrence with remarkable precision.  Quantrill’s raid involved around 450 Missouri Bushwhackers, who during their assault murdered 150 (generally unarmed) Kansas men and boys and burned the town to the ground.  George Maddox (shown right), participated in the Lawrence Raid.  He was later tried for murder but was acquitted.

Instances of vicious retribution soured the good citizens of Kansas and Missouri, particularly after Union General Thomas Ewing[4] ordered the removal of Missourians from four border counties in his infamous General Order No. 11.  The general’s order of removal propelled 25,000 citizens into homelessness, and to ensure these people didn’t straggle back to their homes, General Order No. 11 further ordered their homes and properties destroyed.

The anger and resentment these events created lasted far beyond the end of the war and it helps us to understand the post-war formation of criminal gangs from Little Dixie.  The outlaw gangs of Frank and Jesse James, and Cole Younger, mostly comprised of former Missouri Bushwhackers, including Frank and Jesse James, Cole, Jim, John, and Bob Younger, John Jarrett, Arthur McCoy, George and Oliver Shepherd, Bill and Tom McDaniel, Clell[5] and Edward Miller, Charlie Pitts (a.k.a. Sam Wells), and Bill Chadwell (a.k.a. Bill Stiles).  After the war, these men continued to plunder and murder, justifying their activities as righteous retribution for the horrible treatment Missourians received from Yankee aggressors.  Yet, since none of the citizens of Missouri benefitted from these robberies and murders, we should probably assume that the James-Younger Gang was more intent on enriching themselves.

Archie ClementsIn any event, the survivors of Bloody Bill Anderson’s guerrilla band remained together under the leadership of Archie Cléments[6], Anderson’s top lieutenant (Pictured right).  In February 1866, Cléments led his men through a series of armed robberies.  It was after a few of the older men were killed (including Cléments in December 1866) that these thugs became known as the James-Younger Gang.

Three years later Jesse James emerged as the most famous of this group when he was named as the prime suspect in the robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association in Gallatin, Missouri and the murder of bank teller John W. Sheets.  Actually, Sheet’s murder was a case of mistaken identity.  Samuel P. Cox, the man responsible for the death of Bill Anderson while serving with the Union militia, was a resident of Gallatin.  James simply mistook Sheets for Cox.  Jesse James was one of those Missourians who wouldn’t let bygones be bygones.  He frequently wrote to newspapers portraying himself as a proud Missouri Bushwhacker and trying to recruit the support of former Confederates harmed by federal blue bellies during the war and Reconstruction.

A similar group of men operated in central and southern California as the Mason Henry Gang.  The gang was organized by a Confederate sympathizer from Tennessee, a former judge by the name George Gordon Belt.  Judge Belt was a former alcalde of Stockton, California who used his ranch on the Merced River as headquarters for a company of Partisan Rangers.  Belt selected John Mason and Tom McCauley[7] (who used the alias Jim Henry) to lead the rangers.  Both Mason and McCauley were known criminals, but since Belt intended that they pillage, murder, intimidate pro-Union Californians, their criminal backgrounds may not have mattered to him.  Eventually, gang membership reached around fifteen gunmen.

In the spring of 1864, the gang rode over to Santa Clara County, which was a bastion of Copperhead[8] sympathizers to recruit more members for their outfit.  It was not a good recruitment year.  Drought, a depressed economy, and a surge of Union war victories disheartened Confederate sympathizers.  By October, with presidential elections approaching, Mason-Henry stepped up their anti-Union rhetoric.  Mason publicized his promise to kill any “black Republican” he encountered.

Of course, Mr. Lincoln won reelection, and this prompted Mason-Henry to go on a crime spree.  Three Union men were targeted for execution and duly murdered in cold blood.  The gang crossed Pacheco Pass into Santa Clara County and found refuge among fellow-Confederates in and around Corralitos and Watsonville.  Not long afterwards, the gang held up a stagecoach on the Watsonville road, killing three additional men.  To Mason-Henry, there was no such thing as murdering too many Republicans[9].  Masquerading as Confederate partisans, the gang terrorized Monterey and surrounding counties for several months.

In January 1865, Company B, 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry, California Volunteers (lancers) arrived from San Francisco and went into camp near San Juan Bautista.  Major Michael O’Brien of the 6th California Infantry arrived shortly afterward and began to organize a search from the gang members.  With information about their hideout, O’Brien dispatched a section of Company B under First Lieutenant John Lafferty to flush them out, but he was unsuccessful.

The next month, Captain Herman Noble sent a detachment from Company E, 2nd California Cavalry under Sergeant Rowley in a long pursuit of men believed to be the Mason-Henry Gang.  The chase took Rowley and his men across the deserts of southern California into Sonora, Mexico.  This effort also failed due to lack of forage for their horses.

In April 1865, the Mason-Henry Gang attacked the Firebaugh Ferry.  Lieutenant Lafferty led a detachment of five men to intercept the gang, and while they did intercept the outlaws, and were believed to have wound Mason, all they ended up with was Mason’s horse, whom the lieutenant promptly arrested.

By the end of April, although the Civil War was over, the Mason-Henry gang remained under intense pressure in central California, so they moved into southern California and split up.  In July, Mason and his sidekick Hawkins demonstrated their appreciation to rancher Philo Jewett for feeding them by pulling their guns and demanding more.  Jewett ran and escaped, but Mason or Hawkins stabbed and shot Jewett’s cook, John Johnson.  Hawkins was caught and hung.  Mason managed to elude the authorities.

Jim Henry and his boys migrated to the San Sevaine Flats in the eastern San Gabriel Mountains.  They continued rustling, robbing, and committing murder.  In September, while camped south of San Bernardino, Henry sent John Rogers into town to obtain provisions.  While there, Rogers had too much to drink and started boasting about his outlaw connections.  Locals alerted San Bernardino County Sheriff Ben Matthews, who formed a posse and arrested Rogers.  Rogers led Matthews twenty-five miles to Henry’s camp in San Jacinto Canyon.  At sunrise on 14 September, Matthew’s posse approached the camp.  Henry detected movement, drew out his revolver and fired three shots, hitting one deputy in the foot.  The rest of the posse emptied their weapons (57 rounds) into Jim Henry’s waiting and long-overdue body.  Rogers went to jail for five years.

John Mason, meanwhile, continued to pursue his chosen career path in Los Angeles County (present-day Kern County) with a $500.00 reward posted for his capture, dead or alive.  He was eventually killed by miner Ben Mayfield, whom Mason had kidnapped and held against his will.  Mayfield, for all his inconvenience, was not rewarded for Mason’s death.  He was instead accused of murder by Mason’s fiends, stood trial in Los Angeles County, was found guilty, and was sentenced to hang.  Eventually, Mayfield was exonerated but he never did receive his reward.

As for bushwhacking, I do not believe it is possible to conduct such affairs without a genuine hatred for the people being whacked.  This is, and has always been, the way of war.


  1. U. S. Army Field Manual 90-8, Counter-guerrilla Operations.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Army, 1986
  2. Schultz, D. Quantrill’s war: The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill, 1837-1865. St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
  3. Castel, A. and Tom Goodrich. Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla.  Stackpole Books, 1998
  4. Goodrich, T.  Bloody Dawn: The Story of the Lawrence Massacre.  Kent: Kent State University Press, 1991.
  5. Mosby, J. S., and Charles Wells Russell.  The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1917


[1] John Singleton Mosby (1833-1916) commanded a Confederate cavalry battalion, known as Mosby’s Rangers, well known for lightening raids and attacks and his ability to elude the Union cavalry.  In later life, Mosby became a Republican attorney who supported Ulysses S. Grant and served as a United States envoy to Hong Kong.

[2] William Clarke Quantrill (1837-1865) was a disturbed and restless youth whose poverty and laziness led him into outlawry and gambling.  What Quantrill knew of guerrilla warfare he learned from Marcus Gill and Joel B. Mayes, a principle chief of the Cherokee Nation who harbored Confederate sentiments.  Quantrill initially participated in the war under Confederate General Sterling Price, but he eventually deserted to form his own group, which became known as Quantrill’s Raiders.  Notable members of Quantrill’s band were Cole Younger, Bloody Bill Anderson, and Frank and Jesse James.

[3] James Henry Lane (1814-1866) was a partisan leader during the “Bleeding Kansas” period before the Civil War, a US Senator and Union general.  Often referred to as the Commander of the Free State Army (also, Red Legs or Jayhawkers), he was instrumental in getting Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state.  Lane’s raid into Osceola was sanctioned by Union Major General John C. Fremont, which also included Lane’s raid on Morristown, Missouri.  Lane’s ruthless foray into Missouri prompted the Lawrence Massacre in retribution.

[4] What made Ewing’s order even more amazing is the fact that before the war, Ewing served as Chief Justice of Kansas.  There was nothing judicious or militarily sound about this decision.

[5] Cleland Miller affiliated with Bloody Bill Anderson as a guerrilla fighter when he was 14-years of age.

[6] “Little Archie” Clement stood five-feet tall and had a youthful appearance, but he may have been worse than Bloody Bill Anderson in his viciousness during and after the Civil War.  An example of Clément’s capacity for ruthless violence was the Centralia Massacre where 24 unarmed Union soldiers were captured while riding as passengers on the North Missouri Railroad and summarily executed.  Following Anderson’s death, Clement took charge of the guerrilla band and continued to lead them after the surrender of Robert E. Lee.

[7] Wanted for capital crimes against Gold Rush miners in the late 1840s and early 1850s

[8] Copperhead is the term Republicans used to describe Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted the Union to make a peaceful settlement with the Confederacy.  They were also called Peace Democrats, who accepted the label and touted it.  Democrats have been singing Kumbaya ever since, except when getting the United States involved in two world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

[9] Apparently, history repeats.  Modern democrats regularly call for the death of Republicans.

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