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With the approach of civil war, the U. S. Army was (mostly) withdrawn from the western territories to consolidate the Union Army in the east, where they could best confront their Confederate foe.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.

Sources:

  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.

Endnotes:

[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 | Leave a 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.

Aftermath

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.

Sources:

  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.

Endnotes:

[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 Ancestry.com, 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.

Sources:

  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.

Endnotes:

[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 | 4 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.

Conclusion

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.

Sources:

  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

Endnotes:

[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.

Source:

  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

Endnotes:

[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.

Posted in California, Civil War, History, Little Dixie | 3 Comments

Mexican California and the Bear Flag Revolt

No one can fully understand the relationship between Mexico and the United States without also understanding the history of Spain, of New Spain, its transition to the Republic of Mexico, and of course the concomitant relationships between the American colonies in rebellion, the emerging United States, and Spain.

Mexico’s war of independence from Spain was not a single, coherent even.  It was a series of evolutionary local and regional struggles that culminated in a revolutionary civil war.  Armed insurgency did develop, but in the beginning, Mexican independence wasn’t inevitable.  Events inside New Spain were ignited by happenings in Europe, including Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain in 1808 and subsequent questions about the legitimacy of crown rule, owing to the fact that Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne.  The issue was further complicated by the establishment of regional juntas ostensibly designed to maintain the authority of the House of Bourbon throughout Spanish America.

Flag of New Spain

Flag of New Spain 1542-1821

The first challenges to Spanish Crown rule in the Americas (New Spain) was over elitist’s disaffection with the Crown’s policy of cancelling encomienda grants following the death of grant holders.  It was thus a matter of self-interest that led Don Martín Cortés y Zúñiga, 2nd Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca (1532–1589), the son of Hernan Cortes, to conspire against the Crown.  Spanish authorities solved this problem by exiling Don Martin and executing his co-conspirators.  In an unrelated event in 1624, elites ousted a reformist viceroy who sought to break up rackets (from which they profited) and curtail clerical power in New Spain.

By these examples, we can see that the Age of Revolution was well underway when Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula and destabilized Spain and its overseas possessions.  It is also important to remember that the American colonies successfully gained their independence in 1783 with the help of both the Spanish Empire and France’s Louis XVI —not because they were necessarily fond of  Anglo colonists, but because of their contentious relationship with the British Empire.

The extent to which the American Revolution may have inspired the French Revolution of 1789, or the Mexican Revolution of 1810 does offer us an interesting discussion, but what we know to be true is that revolutionary tension in New Spain was a consequence of efforts by the Spanish Crown to increase its power, decrease the influence of the Catholic Church, exercise greater control over the royal bureaucracy, and undermine the financial position of American-born Spanish elites through increased taxes.

Mexico wasn’t alone.  Beginning In 1808, Spanish-American colonies, one by one, began a move toward independence from Spain.  Spanish California felt the effects of rebellion even before the movement took firm root.  Spain’s navy, hard-pressed for ships, was unable to resupply California’s missions, presidios, and pueblos north of San Diego.  The resulting increased demand for goods prompted local authorities to ignore Spanish policies by relaxing trade restrictions imposed on non-Spanish merchants.  It was a matter of colonial survival and having thus opened the door to foreign influence in Alta California, Californios (California-born Spaniards)  became accustomed to contact with sailors, merchants, hunters, and trappers from England, France, Russia, and, of course, the United States.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

Fa. Miguel Hidalgo

In any case, after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808, the legitimacy of Viceroy José de Iturrigaray came into question.  Concurrently, the question of autonomy for New Spain arose from among liberal minded American-born Spaniards.  Conservative elements opposed this proposition and when Iturrigaray attempted to mediate a solution between the two factions, Gabriel de Yermo led a coup d’état against the Viceroy.  Iturrigaray was deposed and imprisoned.  In his place, Pedro de Garibay was installed as viceroy.  Of course, since Garibay was not a crown appointee, he in turn was viewed as illegitimate by creoles.  Radical conspiracies such as these led to the armed insurrection of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.  It was the spark that ignited Mexico’s War of Independence, which lasted from 1810 to 1821.

Cross of Burgundy CA Flag

The Cross of Burgundy Flag was California’s first flag, symbolizing Spain’s authority

Word of Mexico’s independence reached Alta California in 1822.  The Republic of Mexico vacated Spanish trade restrictions (which were being ignored anyway) and not only were Californios allowed to trade with foreigners, they were encouraged to do so.  Another important policy shift concerned foreign immigration and settlement.  The Mexican Republic decreed that foreign-born persons could hold title to Mexican land once they had become naturalized citizens of Mexico and converted to Catholicism[1].  In Spanish California, land grants to individuals were few, with title to the land always remaining with the Crown.  Under Mexican law, governors were encouraged to increase land grants for individual ranchos and make them unconditional.  Perhaps most important of all, Mexico’s government was intent upon secularizing the missions, which is to say, remove the control of Franciscan priests over native Americans and mission property.

Secularization began in earnest in California around 1834.  Theoretically, Franciscan priests administered mission lands in trust for native-Americans living there when the missionaries first arrived, but the fact was that very few Indians benefitted from the mission system while it was still going strong; they certainly didn’t benefit from it at its end.  Supposedly, each Indian family who remained loyal to the faith and their mission was guaranteed a small allotment of land, and some did receive it, but the handful of Indians who tried to make these lands productive gave up after a few years and moved back to the wilderness.  California’s natural state is wasteland[2].

Most of the missions’ adobe churches and outbuildings quickly fell into disrepair, even despite the hard work of dedicated priests who struggled to continue their ministries.  Ultimately, most mission lands were disposed of in large grants to white Californios, or to recently arrived, well-connected immigrants from Mexico.  Between 1821-1834, Mexico issued fifty grants for large ranchos (on average measuring 14 square miles).  Between 1834-1846, Mexico encouraged settlement of Alta California by offering well over 600 large grants of land to citizens of Mexico.

Mexico Flag 1823

Mexican Flag of 1823

Thus, after 1834, a new culture sprang up in California: the legendary life of the ranchero and his family in a society where cattle-raising and the marketing of beef and hides became the central focus of economic life.  Along with the end of the missions came the end of any interest in local manufacturing.  California ranchers, their lands generally close to the southern California coast, became more and more dependent on the goods provided by the foreign merchants who went to California in search of hides.

As British, Canadian, and Americans pioneers made their way to the Pacific Northwest (present-day Oregon and Washington) there was an inevitable encroachment of non-Mexicans into northern California.  In increasing numbers, British, Canadian, and American trappers and Mountain Men made their way into northern California and across the Sierras further south.

Before 1824, there were few permanent residents of non-Hispanic birth living in Alta California, but their numbers steadily increased during the early Mexican California period.  The first citizens from the United States to arrive overland in California were trappers led by Jedediah Smith in 1826.  The first organized group of settlers from the United States who crossed the high plains to California was the party led by John Bidwell and John Bartleson in 1841.

Once in California, Bidwell went to work for Johann August Sutter (1803-1880), the most important of the foreign immigrants in Mexican California.  A German-born Swiss businessman, Sutter arrived in San Francisco in 1839 and obtained an enormous grant of 48,000 acres at the junction of the Sacramento and American Rivers, where he established “New Helvetia,” a settlement with a fort, orchards, vineyards, and wheat fields.  Sutter’s Fort soon became a stopover for Anglo settlers who followed the Bidwell party through the Sierras (including survivors of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846).  Added to this population were trappers and hunters who wanted to settle down, and merchant sailors who jumped ship.

California Red Star Flag 1836

California’s Red Star Flag 1836

Mexico had always had trouble managing its distant provinces; true in Texas, and equally true in California.  The last governor sent to California from Mexico City was Joseph Manuel María Joaquín Micheltorena y Llano[3] who served briefly from 1842-1845.  Micheltorena took with him to California a dozen or so soldiers and criminals who he employed as enforcers to carry out his policies.  The Rancheros rebelled and Micheltorena was defeated at the Battle of Providencia.  He afterward left California and was replaced by the locally popular Pío de Jesús Pico who was elected to office on 22 February 1845.  Unofficially, in electing Pico, California had achieved home rule.  Eighteen months later, California would encounter an even greater challenge.

At the beginning of 1846, California was home to a native population of less than 100,000[4] and around 14,000 permanent (Mexican) residents.  Of the total non-native inhabitants, 2,500 were foreign born.  Of those, around 500 individuals arrived from the United States after 1840.

Diplomacy is an art and a science.  It is an art because it involves the function of establishing and maintaining affable relations with individuals representing their own countries, whose history, traditions and cultural values are quite often unique and disparate.  It is a science because of combinations of complicated factors that challenge those relationships.  No one has ever accused the United States of having a tradition of competent diplomats.  Accordingly, diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico have been both warm and contentious.

At the beginning, the question of recognizing Mexico as an independent state politically divided high-ranking officials of the United States (such as Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams).  Hesitation in doing so may have been a genuine desire to heed George Washington’s advice and avoid foreign entanglements, or it may have been the product of anti-Papist sentiments among the United States’ protestant elite.  Nevertheless, the United States did recognize Mexico in 1822, but America’s push for territorial expansion led Mexican officials to question the trustworthiness of the United States government.  These Mexican officials were at least endowed with a keen sense of the obvious.

Recognition of Mexico became official when President James Monroe received José Manuel Zozaya as Mexico’s Minister to the United States and reciprocated by sending Joel Robert Poinsett as its first Envoy to Mexico City on 1 June 1825.

Northern Mexico was a vast, untamed wasteland known, in Spanish, as Tejas.  Few Mexicans resided there.  It was a harsh land mostly populated by vicious hostiles.  Mexico no more “controlled” this area than it did Michigan, so at the time it seemed like a good idea to offer citizenship to Anglos who were willing to risk their lives by settling Tejas.  The history of this relationship is well known to us, but for a review see the series in this blog titled Spanish America, Spanish Texas, and Mexican Texas.

No one could describe the relationship between the United States and Mexico as entirely friendly, or at least do so while maintaining a somber expression.  Cordial on occasion, yes … but never friendly.  Never trusting.  The same can be said about the relationship between citizens of Mexico and the United States.  Cordial?  On the surface, yes.  Respectful?  No.  And this mutual distrust, contempt —or call it what you will, has existed for so long now that I cannot imagine it will ever change.

In 1836, Anglo settlers in Texas declared their independence from Mexico.  The United States recognized the Republic of Texas (as an independent country) on 7 March 1837.  The first President of Mexico, Sam Houston, always believed that the success of Texas would depend on its annexation to the United States, which is what Mexican officials always believed was a long-term goal of the expansionist United States.  On 23 August 1843, Mexico’s foreign minister informed US Envoy to Mexico, Waddy Thompson[5], that US annexation of Texas would be grounds for war with Mexico.

On 1 March 1845, outgoing President John Tyler signed a congressional joint resolution favoring annexation of Texas.  Three days later, newly inaugurated President James Knox Polk noted his approval of “a reunion” of the Texas Republic with the United States.  Mexico promptly severed diplomatic relations with the United States on 28 March 1845.

The border of Texas, as an independent country, was never the subject of agreement between Texians and Mexicans; in fact, Mexico rejected the idea that Texas was an independent country at all.  In their view, Texas was a Mexican state in rebellion and nothing more.  Nevertheless, Texians claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border (Treaty of Velasco), but Mexico argued that the term “Rio Grande” was actually the Nueces River, since in Mexico, the Rio Grande is called Rio Bravo.  Reference to the Rio Grande as a boundary of Texas was omitted from the Congressional resolution in order to help secure its passage in the US Senate.  President Polk, of course, a chum of Sam Houston, claimed the Rio Grande and when Mexico sent forces across it into southern Texas to stake its claim, armed dispute resulted.

TAYLOR Z 001

General Zachary Taylor

In July 1845, President Polk dispatched General Zachary Taylor to Texas; by early October, Taylor commanded 3,500 American troops on the Nueces River.  He was ready to seize the disputed land by force.  While this was going on, Polk assured the US Envoy in Alta California that the United States had no ambitions in California, but at the same time, as a post-script, the president offered to support the independence movements of Californios.

When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Alta California became a territory (as opposed to a full state), it’s capital in Monterey.  Between 1821 and 1848, Mexico experienced 40 changes in government, an average tenure in office of about 8 months … and Alta California, a vast though sparsely settled backwater that paid little to nothing in revenues to the Mexican state, was largely ignored.  Foreign-born settlers in Alta California were always a minority, but their numbers were increasing with more births than deaths.  Nearly all migration to California was by sea, which serves to illustrate California’s relative isolation.

Hostilities with Mexico began after Texas was admitted as the United States’ 28th state on 29 December 1845.  Several armed engagements between Mexican and US forces in Texas led the United States Congress to declare war against Mexico on 13 May 1846.  Californios first learned of this war in June.

In 1846, the only regular armed force available to the United States in California were sailors and Marines serving aboard ships of the Pacific Squadron.  Anticipating that war with Mexico would result from the admission of Texas (or, perhaps, the hope that such events would take place), the US Navy sent additional vessels to the Pacific “to protect American interests.”  Eventually, nearly half of the Navy’s 30 ships of war were operating off the coast of California.

Fremont J C 001

John C. Fremont US Army

The only other military force then in California was a company of thirty US Army topographers, mountain men, guides, explorers, and hunters.  The company commander of this odd group was Captain John C. Fremont[6].  Fremont’s supposed mission on the Pacific Coast was to explore the Great Basin, but Fremont was carrying secret orders and instructions[7] in case of war with Mexico.  Upon his arrival in California at the end of 1845, technically an illegal encroachment, Fremont defied local authorities who questioned him about his purpose for being in California.  Eventually, Fremont agreed to lead his party out of California.

Fremont and  his men were in the process of leaving California (en route to present-day Oregon) when they learned that a state of war existed between the US and Mexico.  He led his men south back into California and began to agitate among a small group of dissident American settlers near Sonoma.

The political situation in California was tense in 1846.  Approximately five-hundred American settlers lived in California (as compared to between 10,000 to 14,000 Mexicans), but these numbers were increasing.  Mexican-Californians were concerned that many of these settlers were less interested in becoming citizens of Mexico than they were in annexing California to the United States.  Again, we can say that these Mexican-Californios were prescient.  For their part, the American settlers distrusted Californio leaders, fearing they would initiate pre-emptive attacks against them.

In early June, emboldened by Fremont, a dozen or so of these Americans seized a large herd of horses from the Mexican army with the intention of curtailing Mexican military activities (although some people might describe their behavior as horse stealing).  On 14 June, another group of men led by William B. Ide and Ezekiel Merritt invaded the largely defenseless Mexican outpost of Sonoma, just north of San Francisco.  Fremont and his soldiers did not participate, though he had given his tacit approval for the attack.  Merritt and his men surrounded the home of retired Mexican general Mariano Vallejo and informed him that he was a prisoner of war.  Vallejo, who was favorable toward America’s annexation, was more puzzled than alarmed.  He invited Merritt into his home to discuss the situation over drinks.  Ide later entered the home and disrupted what had been a pleasant chat by arresting Vallejo and his family.

CA Bear Flag 1846

Flag of the Bear Flag Revolt

Having won a bloodless victory at Sonoma, Ide and Merritt declared California an independent republic.  With a cotton sheet and some paint, they constructed a makeshift flag with a crude drawing of a Grizzly Bear, a lone red star[8], and the words “California Republic” at the bottom.  This short-lived independence movement became known as California’s Bear Flag Revolt.

After the “rebels” won a few minor skirmishes with Mexican military forces, Fremont officially assumed command of the Bear Flaggers and occupied the unguarded Presidio of San Francisco on 1 July.  Six days later, Fremont learned that American forces under Commodore John D. Sloat[9], USN had taken Monterey (without a fight) and officially raised the American flag over California.  On 25 June, Captain Fremont gave his support to the rebellion.  Fremont was “elected” as governor of the Republic of California on 5 July 1946.

Sloat J D 001

Commodore J. D. Sloat, USN

The Bear Flag Republic was short lived.  Four days later, Commodore Sloat occupied San Francisco and Sonoma, claimed California for the United States, and replaced the bear flag with that of the United States Flag.

When, on 10 July Captain Fremont learned that the United States was at war with Mexico, he fully cooperated with Commodore Sloat and his executive officer, Captain Robert F. Stockton, USN.  Stockton, promoted to Commodore and replacing the ailing Sloat, assumed command of all land operations on 23 July.  He promoted Fremont to Major and appointed him to command the California Battalion of Mounted Rifles, which totaled 428 men.  Stockton further incorporated the California Battalion into the US military so that the men would receive regular pay.

Major Fremont selected 160 of his men and traveled by ship to San Diego where, with Stockton’s Marines, captured Los Angeles on 13 August.  He later led an expedition to capture Santa Barbara.

Kearney S W 001

BrigGen Stephen W. Kearney

In December 1846, Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearney arrived in California with orders to establish military control.  The under-manned general mistakenly believed that the war in California had ended and was surprised when former governor Pio Pico attacked him at the Battle of San Pasqual.  Stockton dispatched troops to drive off Pico’s Mexican lancers.  The incident opened a dispute between Kearney and Stockton, the question being which of them had overall command of the military effort in California.  When Kearney ordered Fremont to attach the California Battalion to Kearney’s command, Fremont, believing that he was under the command of Commodore Stockton, refused.

On 16 January 1847, Stockton appointed Fremont military governor of California and then departed from California for other duties.  Why he did so, given the presence of Brigadier General Kearney, is unknown.  Nevertheless, Fremont functioned for a few weeks as governor without controversy until he learned that he had little money available to him to administer his duties.  Previously unknown to either Stockton or Fremont, the Navy Department had dispatched orders for Commodore Sloat (and his successors) to establish military rule over California.  Kearney did not have enough manpower to execute such orders and was therefore forced to rely on Stockton’s Marines and Fremont’s battalion until reinforced with regular Army troops.

On 13 February, the War Department sent specific orders to General Winfield Scott detailing Kearney as military governor of California.  General Kearney failed to inform either Stockton or Fremont of these orders, so that when Kearney again ordered Fremont to enlist his battalion under Kearney’s command, Fremont refused for a second time.  Also, the men of the California Battalion voted to refuse joining the US Army.  Again, this is a bit odd since Fremont’s company of topographers were part of the US Army.

Fremont traveled to Monterey to discuss the situation with Kearney, acknowledged that Kearney was officially the senior military officer in California, and committed to obeying lawful authority.  Subsequently, Kearney sent Colonel Richard B. Mason (Kearney’s heir-apparent) to inspect Fremont’s troops and deliver further orders.  Fremont and Mason had issues, however, and Fremont ended up challenging Mason to a duel.  An arrangement was made to postpone the duel and Kearney ordered Fremont to accompany him back to Fort Leavenworth.

At Fort Leavenworth, Fremont was officially charged with mutiny, disobedience to orders, illegal assumption of powers, and conduct unbecoming an officer.  After his formal arrest, Fremont was ordered to report to the Adjutant-General at the War Department to stand trial.  Ultimately, Fremont was found innocent of mutiny, but the court convicted him of disobedience and conduct unbecoming.  President Polk approved the conviction, but owing to Fremont’s service in war, commuted his dishonorable discharge and reinstated him into the US Army.  Polk’s action was no doubt an effort to placate the powerful Senator Thomas H. Benton, who was also Fremont’s father-in-law.  Fremont subsequently resigned his commission and returned to California.

Special Notes:

  1. Military governors of California from Sloat to Mason promised Mexican-Californios that the United States government would guarantee their land titles under Mexican and Spanish law. This guarantee was reiterated in the Treaty of Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War.  The question, however, was tabled between 1848-1850 owing to the California gold rush.  Anticipating that the issue would ultimately end up in US courts, confidential agents of the United States began to assemble the archives of the California missions, land surveys, and grants.  In the end, this assemblage amounted to 300 books of 800 pages each, all of it in the Spanish language.
  2. In 1851, the US Congress, aware of Mexican land claims in California, created the US Land Commission. It began a long, exasperating process that lasted through the 1880s; nearly every case went from the desk of the land commissioners to a federal district court.
  3. The burden of proof of claim rested with the claimant. It was a situation where claimants had to appear in San Francisco at their expense, present their documents, and hire attorneys to obtain title in US law to what was already theirs.  The process was unfair because it deprived Californios of their land and their wealth.  If people today ever wonder why people of Mexican descent harbor animosity toward “Anglos,” this could be one reason.  Another consequence of the land commissions was that no one with any brains was interested in purchasing land in California when there was always a good chance that a court would take that land away in future years.  The process had an unfortunate impact on land sales for many years into the future.

Sources:

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition
  2. Bancroft, H. History of California, 1846-1848.  History Publishers, 1886.
  3. Castelo, E. Californians Before the Gold Rush.  Independent Publishing, 2015
  4. Hittell, T. H. History of California, Volume II.  University of California, 1885
  5. Rolle, A. and Arthur C. Verge. California: A History.  Wiley & Sons, 2015
  6. Madley, B. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873.  Lamar Publishers, 2017

Endnotes:

[1] This was essentially the same arrangement offered to Anglo settlers in Texas.

[2] Modern ecologists will tell you that were it not for California’s water-piracy scheme, most of southern California would quickly return to its natural state.

[3] Micheltorena (1804-1853) was a brigadier general in the Mexican Army who served as adjutant-general, commandant-general, and inspector of the Department of Alta California.  Micheltorena was born into a prominent Basque family in Oaxaca de Juárez.  He was appointed governor of Alta California by President Antonio López de Santa Anna.

[4] Within 50 years, 80% of California’s native population was destroyed due to European diseases and an official policy of genocide sponsored by the government of California, happily assisted by land or gold hungry new arrivals.

[5] Thompson (1798-1868) was a wealthy attorney and politician from South Carolina best known for introducing a resolution calling for a convention to nullify the so-called Tariff of Abominations.  Thompson served as US Envoy to Mexico (1842-1844).

[6] Fremont was an American explorer, military officer, and politician. He was a complex man who developed, over many years, a high opinion of himself.

[7] Captain Fremont’s instructions were never revealed to anyone outside the White House.

[8] Some people claim that California has been a communist state ever since.

[9] John Drake Sloat (1781-1867) was orphaned and raised by his maternal grandparents.  He graduated from the USNA in 1800 and served as sailing master under Commodore Stephen Decatur during the War of 1812, during which he was meritoriously advanced to lieutenant in recognition of his gallantry in the capture of HMS Macedonian.  He was promoted to command the Pacific Squadron as Commodore in 1844.  Following the capture of Monterey, he served as the first military governor of California.

Posted in Antebellum Period, California, History, Mexican American War, Westward Expansion | 2 Comments

Mysterious Johnny …

Cochise Deputy StarExcept for San Francisco, California, there was not much opulence in the Old West.  In place of lavishness most of the old west towns offered an abundance of saloons, gambling houses, and brothels.  With one saloon or gambling house after another, and brothels lining the entire length of Court Street, Congress Street, Maiden Lane, Sabino Alley, and Pearl Street, Tucson, Arizona stood out as a good example of this.  Tucson was paradise for morally depraved individuals, and it wasn’t bad for those working in the service industries, either.  In 1877, a fifteen­-year-old boy named Michael O’Rourke was in Tucson learning his trade; people called him Johnny Behind the Deuce[1].

Ed Schieffelin was always looking for rocks.  When he wasn’t scouting for the US Army out of Fort Huachuca, he wandered off post into the desert looking at rocks.  People laughed at his odd fascination with rock formations.  The Arizona desert was a dangerous place.  White men with any sense would try to avoid meeting up with Chiricahua Apache Indians, and no one with sense wandered alone in the desert.  Except Ed, of course.  But he was warned about this on several occasions.  One veteran soldier told him, “Ed, the only stone you will find out there is your tombstone.”

Ed did find his stone at a place near Goose Flats.  Ed Schieffelin found silver and he called his mine Tombstone.  Word of Ed’s discovery spread far and wide.  The news acted like a magnet, pulling in a wide range of people: prospectors, miners, cowboys, homesteaders, land speculators, gunmen, and those skilled in the service industries, such as lawyers, gamblers, barmen, and the Calico girls … many of whom made the sixty-two mile trip southeast from Tucson.  In 1878, Michael O’Rourke was one of these new arrivals.  He was sixteen years of age.

Tombstone was an intoxicating town.  In just a few years, the town’s population increased from one to around 4,000 to 5,000 people, all seeking fortune.  Walking down the street, one would encounter finely dressed men in derby hats, high-collared shirts, natty neckties, and fine wool coats; in their company, superbly dressed ladies .  They shared the boardwalks and dusty pathways with smelly cowboys, miners, and prostitutes.

Michael O’Rourke loved Tombstone, where anyone could stay at the Palace Hotel if they could afford the fifty cents per night room fee, which was a reasonably priced accommodation back then.  The hotel had a dining room, private baths to accommodate men and women, and comfortable mattresses that were mostly free from infestation.  But the good news for O’Rourke was that the Palace Hotel was hiring, and he found work there as a porter.  He eventually supplemented his pay from the Palace by working in a local mine where he earned $4.00/day for his labors.  Two jobs helped to fund his gambling addiction.

ORourke M 001When he wasn’t working, Michael frequented Foster and Hand’s Saloon; they served free meals[2] and ran a Faro table[3].  Faro was known for its fast action, easy-to-learn rules, and good odds of winning —when played honestly.  The game uses one deck of cards and is open to any number of players.   During the late 19th century, Faro was the most popular gambling game in the United States (replaced by poker in the early 20th century).  Note: Picture shown at right was discovered at “Find A Grave dot com,” purporting to be the photograph of Michael O’Rourke.  In 1882, O’Rourke was 22-years of age.  This photograph appears to be the likeness of a more mature man.

There was very little human dignity in Tombstone; people of every sort joined in the wild revelry.  “Cat wagons” of prostitutes enticed men to join them in nearby brothels for a few minutes of carnal pleasure.  This too was a gamble because socially transmitted diseases were rampant at the time.  There were drunken fights, of course, but since no one could legally carry firearms inside Tombstone, most of the danger was limited to illegal six shooters, knives, and broken whiskey bottles.  Drunks and rabble-rousers usually ended up in the town jail, paid a fine the next morning, and rejoined in the fun again the next evening.

Sometime in 1880, Michael pulled up stakes and crossed the San Pedro River into Charleston, a wild  boom town where one’s daily routine consisted of gambling, visiting with the painted ladies, fighting, swearing, and drinking rot-gut whiskey.  Eighteen-year-old Michael did come to think highly of himself, but it was not an opinion shared by anyone in Charleston … until the event of 14 January 1881.

On that day, Quinn’s Saloon was crammed with miners, cowboys, and soldiers from Fort Huachuca.  Mining engineer W. P. Schneider decided to cash in his gambling chips.  He’d had enough and had lost a fortune in an all­­-night game of cards.  Getting up from the table, Schneider suggested that the winner of the night was a card cheat.  He directed his comment toward  Michael O’Rourke, who responded in kind.  Both men went for their pistols; Michael was a bit faster on the draw and in an instant, the popular Schneider lay dead on the filthy floor of Quinn’s Saloon.  Quite suddenly, Michael O’Rourke was somebody.  He was, in fact, the lone prisoner of town constable George McKelvey, who promptly arrested him after the shooting.

John Ringo

Gunman Johnny Ringo

Schneider, as it turns out, had made substantial contributions to the growth of Charleston.  More than this, he was well-liked by the miners who worked for Schneider.  The more these men drank that night, the angrier they became over the fact that Michael O’Rourke had shot down “a good man.”  Eventually, the talk turned to justice, and as the night wore on, lynching Johnny Behind the Deuce seemed more and more like a good idea.  The miners were egged on by the gun-slinger Johnny Ringo[4].  In a few hours, miners gathered in the street outside Quinn’s Saloon.  Someone fetched a rope.  Well­-armed men with too much whiskey and too little sense began to suggest that they could overwhelm the town police, which consisted of one man: Constable McKelvey.

While it was true that George McKelvey was only one man, it was also a fact that McKelvey had sand.  There was  no way he would turn over his prisoner to a mob.  McKelvey hitched up a couple of mules to a buckboard wagon, loaded his prisoner into the back of it, and galloped toward Tombstone with the drunken mob of miners in hot pursuit.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Two miles outside of Tombstone, the mounted mob was within rifle range of McKelvey and O’Rourke.  Bullets whizzed around the two men all the way into town and by the time the wagon reached Jack McCann’s “Last Chance Saloon,” the poor animals collapsed from exhaustion.  McKelvey dragged his prisoner through the bar wing doors of the nearby Oriental Saloon, where the lawman Wyatt Earp sat gambling.  McKelvey yelled out that two hundred vigilantes were pursuing him.  Earp told his two brothers, Morgan and James, to take O’Rourke over to Jim Vogan’s bowling alley.  “If they get past me,” he instructed, “give him a gun and turn him loose.”

Vogan’s Bowling Alley had high walls.  Earp, cradling a shotgun, stepped in front of the miners, which stopped them in their tracks.  “Drag him out!” someone shouted.

Wyatt calmly replied, “Don’t make any foolish plays, boys.  The price you’ll pay won’t be worth that tinhorn inside.”

One of the mobsters answered, “Earp can’t stop us all.”  Earp cocked both hammers of the scattergun, the sound carrying into the street.  The shotgun’s two large barrels made an impression to those standing in the front, nearest Earp; two blasts would shred the men, and Earp was wearing sidearms, as well.

While Wyatt Earp confronted the miners, Tombstone Town Marshal Ben Sippy, Virgil Earp, and Johnny Behan loaded O’Rourke into another wagon and raced off toward Benson, where O’Rourke was escorted by train to Tucson.  Charged with murder, O’Rourke was turned over to Tucson Undersheriff Charlie Shibell to await trial.

Michael O’Rourke was not particularly fond of life in jail and made two escape attempts.  The first was unsuccessful, but on 14 April 1881, he made good his escape.  The Tucson jail was adjacent to the Leatherwood Corral, owned and operated by Mr. Jimmy Carroll.  O’Rourke scaled the wall into the corral, crept northeast toward Church Street, passed through the alley next to the IXL Lodging House, and made his way past the Southern Pacific railway tracks toward the Santa Catalinas.  He had a good head start on Sheriff Shibell, who mounted a posse.  Despite using Indian trackers, any indication of where O’Rourke went next disappeared near the Papago settlement some two miles outside town.

Johnny Behind the Deuce disappeared from history.  Disappeared means exactly that, but rumors of his whereabouts continued for quite some time.  Some of these had him living in New Mexico, others claim that he continued living in Cochise County, Arizona until one night, he crept upon the sleeping Johnny Ringo along Turkey Creek and shot him through the head.  There is no substance to any of these rumors, of course; that’s why they remain rumors.  There is also no evidence that Wyatt Earp held off a lynch mob with a shotgun to save O’Rourke from a necktie party.  We do know this incident occurred, however, from a report published by the Tombstone Epitaph the next day:

“In a few minutes, Allen Street (in Tombstone) was jammed with an excited crowd, rapidly augmented by scores [of men] from all directions.  By this time, Marshal Sippy, realizing the situation at once, in light of the repeated murders that have been committed and the ultimate liberty of the offenders[5], had secured a well-armed posse of over a score of men to prevent any attempt on the part of the crowd to lynch the prisoner; but feeling that no guard would be strong enough to resist a justly enraged public long, procured a light wagon in which the prisoner was placed, guarded by himself, Virgil Earp, and Deputy Sheriff Behan, assisted by a strong posse well­-armed with rifles and shotguns.  At this juncture, a well-known individual with more [averdupois][6] than brains, called to the officers to turn loose and fire into the crowd.  But Marshal Sippy’s sound judgment prevented any such outbreak as would have been the certain result, and cool as an iceberg he held the crowd in check.  No one who was a witness of yesterday proceedings can doubt that, but for his presence, blood would have flown freely.  The posse following would not have been considered; but, bowing to the majesty of the law, the crowd subsided, and the wagon proceeded on its way to Benson with the prisoner, who by daylight this morning was lodged in the Tucson Jail.”

All we know for certain is that Johnny Behind the Deuce appeared from nowhere and then, a few years later, he vanished from the face of the earth.

Endnotes:

[1] Michael was a gambler, but not a very good one.  He became known as Johnny Behind the Deuce because he would frequently bet heavily when he was holding no more than a deuce in his hand.

[2] In many respects, modern-day Las Vegas, Nevada parallels old Tombstone.  Las Vegas offers low-cost meals and hotel accommodations.  Of course, the mattresses are uncomfortable because the casino owners prefer that their clients gamble all night rather than getting a good night’s sleep.  Whatever the hotel owners loose in the cost of hotel rooms and fine dining they make back in gambling losses.  The house always wins.

[3] Also called Pharaoh, Pharao, and Farobank.  The game originated in France in the late 17th century, derived from Bassett and Monte Bank family of games.  The wealthiest people played Bassett because only they could afford significant losses.  Monte Bank was a Spanish game that later became the national card game of Mexico.  In this game, the dealer pays on matching cards.  The swindle game three-card monte is a variety of Monte Bank.

[4] See also: The Hoodoo War; Cowboys and Carpetbaggers.

[5] The Epitaph was referring to the recent release of the accused murderer Curly Bill Brocius.

[6] The word used was likely intended to be “avoirdupois,” which means bulk, heftiness, weightiness.

Posted in History | 4 Comments

Murderous Rage

LADY JUSTICEThe Confederacy was already dead by early April 1865.  With Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Sailor’s Creek, fighting in the Eastern Theater came to an end.  Fighting did continue in Alabama with Nathan Bedford Forrest struggling against James Wilson’s cavalry, and in North Carolina, Sherman continued to pursue what remained of Johnson’s army.  Far from Virginia, the Carolinas, or Alabama, two senior Confederate officers were engaged in their own war.

John Austin Wharton (1828-1865) was a native of Tennessee, the only child of Sarah and William H. Wharton.  The Wharton family moved to Brazoria County, Texas when John was still in infancy.  While attending South Carolina College in 1846, Wharton met and later married Eliza Penelope Johnson, whose father was David Johnson, Governor of South Carolina.  Upon graduation in 1850, Wharton returned to Texas to study law.  Then, after admission to the Texas Bar, he began his law practice in Brazoria with an affiliation with Clinton Terry, the brother of Benjamin Franklin Terry (of Terry’s Texas Rangers fame).  Before the Civil War, Wharton was a wealthy plantation owner.

Wharton J AWharton enlisted in the Eighth Texas Cavalry Regiment and was elected to serve as a captain of Company B.  After the death of Colonel Terry and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas S. Lubbock, command of the regiment passed to Wharton, who fought with great distinction at Shiloh, where he was wounded.  Wharton additionally served under Braxton Bragg during the 1862 invasion of eastern Kentucky and was advanced to Brigadier General on 18 November 1862.  Wharton was again wounded at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, distinguished himself further at Chickamauga, and was advanced to Major General.  In February 1864, the Confederacy assigned Wharton to the Trans-Mississippi Department in Louisiana, assigned to command the cavalry under Lieutenant General Richard Taylor during the Red River Campaign.

Colonel George Wythe Baylor (1832-1916) was the son of John Walker Baylor (1813-36)[1], born at Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation.  From these humble beginnings, Baylor was a well-respected Indian Fighter remembered for tracking down a war party of hostile Indians who were responsible for committing atrocities against settlers on Paint Creek in Parker County.  Baylor killed and then scalped nine of the war party.  At the beginning of the Civil War, Baylor is alleged to have raised the first Confederate flag in Austin.

George Baylor was commissioned a first lieutenant in Company H, 2nd Texas Cavalry in the Arizona Brigade[2], Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor, commanding.  George served as regimental adjutant before accepting appointment as a senior aide-de-camp to General Albert Sidney Johnson in September 1861.  After Johnson’s death at Shiloh on 6 April 1862, Baylor returned to Texas to assume command of the Second Battalion of Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s[3] New Mexico Brigade, which later merged with the 2nd Texas Cavalry.  Baylor advanced to command the 2nd Texas during the Red River campaign in 1864 and was commended for gallantry at the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill.

BAYLOR G WGeorge Baylor was a scrapper who loved a good fight.  By 1865, however, dysentery and combat fatigue had reduced him to gaunt stature.  Illness did not quiet his tongue, however.  Baylor and Wharton did not have a close association.  They were as different as night and day.  The one thing they did have in common was an intense dislike for one another.  Baylor, the colonel who had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and Wharton who was born into wealth and social position.  Wharton may have regarded Baylor an uncouth bore; Baylor may have looked upon Wharton as a pompous ass.

Both men served under Major General John B. Magruder.  When Magruder reorganized his department, Baylor’s regiment was placed under the overall command of Major General Wharton.  When Magruder tasked Wharton to provide dismounted troops to form a new infantry division, Wharton passed the requirement along to Baylor.  It was a decision that diminished the effectiveness of Baylor’s regiment as well as his stature as a combat-tested regimental commander.  In Baylor’s mind, there was a principle at stake in this situation.  Baylor believed that Wharton’s decision was intended as an insult, that Wharton rewarded cronies, and had not acted fairly and impartially toward him.  There was some justification for Baylor’s thinking.  Wharton was an aristocrat who often spoke with profanity, treated subordinates disrespectfully, and tended to physically strike those who offended him.

On 6 April, both Wharton and Baylor were in Houston.  Baylor hated the idea of having to serve under Wharton.  He naturally had no recourse, but seethed about having to do so.  Baylor was an unhappy man and perfectly willing to moan about Wharton to anyone who might listen.  On this morning, he found an opportunity to complain to Brigadier General Walter P. Lane.  Baylor hoped that Lane would sympathize and offer help getting Wharton’s order countermanded.  Lane, however, wisely refused to become involved in the dispute.

Later in the day, Colonel Baylor was walking with Captain R. H. E. Sorrelle when he was spotted by Wharton, who was riding in a buggy with Brigadier General James E. Harrison.  Wharton stopped the buggy to berate Baylor about being away from his command.  Baylor replied, “I am needed here to keep my men from deserting rather than to serve in a dismounted capacity.  I have been imposed upon you, General Wharton, and I am determined to see General Magruder about this matter.”

As Baylor continued to vent his feelings, his voice became more strained.  “This thing has been going on for some time, and I don’t think that my right has been awarded to me….The only time that I ever asked a favor of you was when my wife was sick, and I asked an extension of leave….” The implication was unclear … was Baylor asking Wharton to relieve him of the burden of transferring men from his regiment, as a favor, or was he complaining because of Wharton’s lack of courtesy?

General Wharton answered, “Who has done you injustice?”

“You, sir,” Baylor said.  “You have always borne upon me,” and he then proceeded to tick off several instances as evidence.

Both men were now angry.  After hearing Baylor out, Wharton called him a “damned liar,” to which Baylor fired back: “You’re a demagogue! You rank me now, but the day is coming when we will be on equal grounds.”

Wharton snorted dismissively.

Baylor pressed, “You are a liar and a demagogue,” and then stepped forward with raised hand as if to strike Wharton.  Before he could do anything, however, an alarmed Harrison urged the horse forward.

“Stop the buggy, sir!” Wharton ordered.  He then informed Baylor that he was under arrest and ordered him to report to Wharton’s headquarters at Hempstead.  Immediately.

Baylor answered, “General, I will go to see Gen. Magruder before I leave to have justice done me.”

Wharton and Harrison then drove off, ending the immediate confrontation.  Neither Wharton or Baylor was satisfied with how things had ended.

Colonel Baylor and Captain Sorrelle went directly to Magruder’s headquarters on the second floor of Fannin House.  Informed that the general was not there, Baylor told Magruder’s adjutant, Colonel Edward P. Turner, “I have been called a liar and placed under arrest.”  He then stalked out of the room in search of Magruder.

After stewing over the morning’s events, Wharton, still accompanied by Harrison, also proceeded to Fannin House to see Magruder and “settle things.” Upon entering the hotel, Wharton inquired whether Baylor was upstairs. When the answer came back in the affirmative, he proceeded up the stairs. Wharton and Harrison went to Magruder’s private rooms and entered. Magruder was not there, but Baylor was, sitting on the side of the bed.

Wharton, a cigar clenched in his teeth, said to him, “Colonel Baylor, you have insulted me most grossly this morning.”  Brigadier General Harrison tried to place himself between the two angry men, but one or the other kept shoving him out of the way.   At this time thoroughly enraged, Wharton struck Baylor in the face with a clenched fist.  Baylor responded by drawing his Navy revolver and shooting the unarmed Wharton at point-blank range.  Wharton died instantly.

Colonel Baylor promptly surrendered to the provost marshal.

Subsequently, Magruder returned Baylor to duty.  Baylor never attempted to flee or avoid responsibility for shooting —or, as some might say— executing his superior officer.  Wharton’s body was transported to Austin for burial.

The Confederate States Army never filed charges against Colonel Baylor.  The Confederacy already had its hands full without having to deal with the Baylor-Wharton episode.  Justice would have to wait.  After the war, there was also a question about jurisdiction.  Since the Confederate States of America no longer existed, since the Confederate States Army no longer existed, the matter of Wharton’s murder would have to find justice in the civil court system.

The case of State of Texas v. George W. Baylor convened in Houston’s District Court on 16 May 1868.  According to historic researchers, the defense/prosecution teams looked more like a graduating class of the US Military Academy than a roster of court officers.  The prosecutor was “General” Jack Harris, but there is no record of such a general in either the Union or Confederate Army.  “Colonel” Hiram B. Waller assisted Harris, but no one ever heard of a colonel by that name, either.  The courtroom resembled an old soldier’s reunion with men wearing their Confederate uniforms and medals.

Defending George Baylor was a Galveston County justice of the peace named George Mason.  Assisting Mason was George Goldthwaite, an Austin judge, and James Wilson Henderson, who served as an interim governor of Texas in 1853.  What all these men had in common was their politics (they were all Democrats), and they all maintained their loyalty to the Confederacy.

The trial established early on that the two men had demonstrated disdain for one another.  Apparently, Baylor was not alone in harboring ill-feelings toward Wharton.  Isaac Jones testified that he heard another colonel say that he wanted to shoot Wharton, and heard Baylor add to it, “Give me half a chance, and I’ll kill him myself.”  Baylor’s attorney dismissed the remark as merely careless blather, designed to harm no one.

Perhaps … although the remark does carry along with it the aroma of premeditation.

Trial attorneys believed it was important to establish whether Wharton had struck Baylor with his fist, or merely slapped him with an open hand.  To most of the men present in the courtroom, it didn’t matter.  No Southern gentleman would accept being assaulted by another no matter how minor.  The prosecution attempted to show that Baylor was never in any danger of serious injury.  Again, it didn’t matter to most spectators.  Baylor’s attorneys stressed that both men had used intemperate language and that in terms of physical size, Wharton was bigger than Baylor.  Moreover, they argued, it was customary for Confederate officers to wear arms … and any man who struck another should expect to have the insult answered immediately, with arms if available.

During closing arguments, Mr. Waller saw fit to suggest that it would not surprise him if former-Governor Henderson, a defense attorney, had not somehow bribed the jury.  Henderson stood to protest the remark, but Judge Sabine quickly admonished the prosecutor for making such a suggestion.  Baylor’s legal team offered a forcible and convincing argument, citing relevant precedents and offer quotations from case law.  Closing arguments ended at 9:15 p.m.

When the jury retired for deliberations, there was no question that George Baylor was a genuine hero of Texas and the Confederacy; in 1868, such men could be forgiven almost anything.  Beyond this, there was a generally-held belief that Wharton had no business confronting Baylor further having already placed him under arrest.  On the afternoon of 19 May, the jury foreman announced that the jury was unable to reach a decision.  Baylor posted $25,000 bond and remained free.

BAYLOR G W 002The State of Texas retried the case in December 1868 with the same legal teams in place.  A new question emerged, however: had the original trial alleged murder, or manslaughter?  No one could remember.  Judge Sabine decided that the charge had been for murder.  With this instruction, the new jury deliberated for 30 minutes before delivering a “not guilty” verdict.

The trial imposed no indignity on George Baylor who subsequently lived a credible public life, served with distinction as a Texas Ranger, and served in several state-wide offices before passing away in 1916.  General Wharton, on the other hand …

Endnotes:

[1] Slightly wounded during the Battle of San Jacinto, Baylor dismissed the wound as minor, but weeks later he died from complications of the wound that was never treated.

[2] The Arizona Brigade consisted of Texan volunteers with previous service in the southwest.  Its purpose was to retake the southwestern territories for the Confederacy.

[3]  Sibley, who resigned his US Army commission as a major to accept appointment as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army, was incompetent, a coward, and a drunk.  After the Civil War, he fled the United States to serve in the Egyptian Army as a brigadier general.

Posted in Civil War, History, Justice, Texas, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Terry’s Texas Rangers

TERRY B F

Colonel B. F. Terry, CSA

Benjamin Franklin Terry (whom everyone called Frank) was born on 18 February 1821 in Russellville, Kentucky, the son of Joseph and Sarah Smith Terry.  Joseph’s Grandfather was Nathaniel Terry; Sarah’s Grandfather was David Smith … both of whom served as officers during the American Revolutionary War.  David Smith additionally served under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.

While the children were still young, Joseph and Sarah moved to Mississippi, but later separated.  According to census records for Hinds County, Mississippi in 1830, the Terry household included Sarah, five male children[1], and eight Negro slaves.  In 1833-34, Sarah moved to Brazoria County, Texas where she settled with her brother, Major Benjamin Fort Smith.  Major Smith served under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 at New Orleans, and later served as Adjutant to General Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution in 1836.

When Sarah Terry died in 1837, Ben Smith accepted guardianship over the children and as administrator of her estate, which at the time consisted of around 2,000 acres of land along the Brazos River, and eighteen Negro slaves.  When Ben Smith died in 1841, Frank Terry took on the responsibility of managing the plantation.  In October of that year, Frank Terry married Mary Bingham, the daughter of Francis Bingham (one of Stephen Austin’s original 300 settlers).  Together, Frank and Mary sired six children.

We do not know how Frank Terry treated his inherited slaves; we only know that he managed a successful plantation.  On 6 March 1844, two of his slaves attacked Terry with knives and axes.  Terry disabled both men, an incident reported in the Houston Telegraph.

In 1851, Terry formed a partnership with William J. Kyle[2].  Terry and Kyle contracted with the state of Texas to build its first railroad, which they called the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railway.  It extended from Harrisburg (outside Houston) to the Brazos River and onward to Richmond, Texas.  Terry and Kyle employed slave labor to build the railroad at a cost of about $18,000 per mile.  In two years, the rail system extended only 30 miles, but it was enough to establish a brisk trade with Houston.  The City of Houston subsequently petitioned the state legislature for funds to  construct a rail system of its own, called the Houston Tap.  This contract was also awarded to Terry and Kyle.

In 1852, Terry and Kyle purchased the Oakland Plantation at Sugar Land from Nathaniel F. Williams[3].  Funds for this purchase were borrowed, but the loan was paid in full by 1856.  The production and milling of sugar made both Terry and Kyle very wealthy men.  Terry’s wealth, his physical presence, and his affability, were attributes much appreciated by Texans living in Fort Bend County and helpful in propelling Terry into the political arena.  In 1861, voters elected Terry to serve as a delegate at the Texas Secession Convention in Austin.  During the convention, Terry, Thomas Lubbock[4], and John Wharton[5] conceived the idea of organizing mounted  rifles for service to Texas.

In February and March 1861, Frank Terry served as an aid to Colonel John S. (Rip) Ford.  Ford was ordered to disarm federal troops at Brazos Santiago[6].  In June, Terry, Lubbock, and Wharton traveled to Richmond, Virginia and offered their services to the Confederate Army.  Initially, President Davis appointed Terry and Lubbock as colonels of volunteers and attached them as aides to General James Longstreet.  Both Terry and Lubbock served with distinction at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).

Terrys Texas RangersAfter the Confederate war office authorized the formation of Texas cavalry regiments, Terry and Lubbock issued a call for volunteers on 12 August 1861; within a short time, nearly 1,200 men answered the call.  Terry’s Rangers took their oath of enlistment in September, but Ben Terry delayed the final organization of the unit until November when it was officially designated the Eighth Texas Cavalry.  On 17 December, Terry’s regiment participated in the Battle of Rowlett’s Station, near Woodsonville, Kentucky.

Union Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell assumed command of the Army of Ohio in November 1861.  Buell ordered several troop movements to consolidate his control over the area, including General McCook’s march into Kentucky to force Confederates out of Kentucky.  Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnson, meanwhile, established a defensive line along the Green River near Munfordville.

On 10 December, Union Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson (on instructions from McCook) ordered an advance toward the Confederate defensive line.  Confederate Brigadier General Thomas C. Hindman, overall commander of Texas Rangers, Arkansas Infantry, and Mississippi artillery, destroyed the southern pier of the railroad bridge and about 100 feet of track.  Union Colonel August Willich, commanding the 32nd Indiana Infantry[7], sent two companies to protect workers repairing the bridge.  A temporary pontoon bridge was completed on 15 December.  On that same day, Willich reinforced his forward companies with two additional companies and posted them on the north bank.  Stonemasons arrived from Louisville on 16 December.

US-CSA FlagThe primary Confederate force at this location was the 8th Texas Cavalry.  At midday on 17 December, a Union picket continued south on the bridge under repair and advanced into the wood to discover enemy skirmishers just south of Woodsonville.  The Confederates withdrew until joined by Terry’s Rangers, when they launched an assault against the Union troops.  With 500 Union troops facing 1,300 rebels, it wasn’t an even match.  The outmanned Indiana regiment withdrew into defensive lines, supported by Ohio and Kentucky light artillery.  Mississippi artillery launched counter-battery fire, decimating Union defenders.   During the battle, Colonel Terry fell mortally wounded; command of the regiment passed to Lubbock until his death in 1862.  While both sides claimed victory at the Battle of Rowlett’s Station, the outcome was a draw … the Union force retained control over the area and its access routes.

Texas’s mobilization for war was a popular mounted-centric effort involving some 60,000 volunteer horsemen.  Texas cavalry participated in several major battles extending from New Mexico to the Carolina forests.

Texans were simultaneously confronted by the invasion of Union forces and hostile raids by Indians along its western frontier.  These were conditions that led to a two-tier strategy in Texas—one to confront the invading Yankee army, and the other in defense of western homesteaders.  The formation of Texas Cavalry reflected a traditional approach to mounted warfare that evolved from the experiences and struggles with invading Mexicans and hostile Indians.

While deploying 92 regiments in operations of mass, scale, and centralization in the Civil War, Texas also fielded a mounted ranger corps to address marauding Indians and insurgent Unionists.  No other state, Confederate or Union, faced such challenges.  Governor Francis Lubbock (serving from 1861 to 1863), boasted of the success of Texas mounted warriors.  “As for Texas, she needed no foreign bayonet to protect her soil that her sons demonstrated their ability to do, and besides, she had been gallantly represented by regiments composed of her bravest and best on every battlefield from New Mexico to Virginia.”

Of the 90,000 men who mobilized, 58,000 joined as light cavalry, mounted riflemen, or irregular rangers and this reflected the state’s preference for mounted warfare.  In contrast, only 30,000 Texans enlisted as infantry, artillery, or quartermaster units.  But unlike the early days, when Texans rode as irregular but popular militarists, Civil War units returned to the time of General Sam Houston’s Napoleonic formations during the San Jacinto campaign.  The shift reflected the state’s commitment to fighting beyond its borders, which of course favored mounted expeditionary forces and inspired the romantic imaginations among the people, who as it turned out, favored more than any other, the 8th Texas Cavalry.  In any case, during the Civil War twelve Texans were assigned to regular regiments for every one that joined the ranging corps for duty on the western frontier.

Texas cavalry operating in the Eastern Theater, in the Trans-Mississippi Region, and in New Mexico focused on linear operations supporting combined arms brigades, divisions, and corps.  Cavalry helped meet the demand for actionable intelligence, which offered advantages to Confederate forces on the field of battle.  As in previous conflicts, Texas mounted forces performed reconnaissance, raiding, screening, harassing, and retrograde security functions with an occasional mounted shock charge.

The 8th Texas Cavalry offered conventional light cavalry suitable for operations below the brigade level.  Terry’s Texas Rangers served as THE most lethal mounted regiment in the American Civil War, on either side.  The 8th Regiment, more than any other, personified the tactical culmination of Texas military culture while encompassing unique ranger and cavalry qualities into a single fighting formation.  In the Civil War, Terry’s Rangers excelled in confrontations with guerrilla and regular units; they combined frontier audacity, mobility, and firepower to screen, raid, conduct intelligence-gathering operations, and shock assaults.

Terry’s Texas Rangers was formed when more than a thousand men responded to Frank Terry’s advertisement: “I am authorized by the Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America to raise a regiment of mounted rangers for service in Virginia.”  A separate announcement stated that each company would consist of “not less than 64 nor more than 100 privates,” and that “each man must furnish the equipment for his horse and arm himself with a short rifle or double barrel shotgun, and a six-shooter.”  The framework of these ads suggested the distinct frontier character of the regiment.  It’s planned service in Virginia reflected President Davis’s understanding of the capability of Texas frontiersmen armed with Colt revolvers and Sharps carbines[8].  Confederate and state officials intended to capitalize on the strengths of Texans.  This view was echoed in the news sheets of the time: Writing of Terry’s Texas Rangers, The New Orleans Picayune wrote, “If this regiment does not make its mark on the Lincolnites, there is no virtue in strength, courage, patriotism and throughout knowledge of the use of horses and arms.”  Another newspaper echoed the view of Texans when it opined, “The regiment will be the pride of Texas and will feel that they have an ancient and glorious fame to sustain … there is an amount of manliness, chivalry and bravery in the Regiment which cannot be surpassed any regiment of troops in the world.  We feel pride in them, as representatives of the State itself.”

Terry’s Texas Rangers are so remembered to this very day.

Sources:

  1. Blackburn, J. K. P.  Reminiscences of Terry’s Texas Rangers (Reprint, Austin: Ranger Press, 1979)
  2. Muir, A. F. “Railroads Come to Houston, 1857–1861,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 64 (July 1960).
  3. Jennings, N.  Texas Mounted Arms in the Civil War.  Real Clear History Online.
  4. Bailey, A. J.  Texans in the Confederate Cavalry.  McWhitney Press, 1995
  5. Bush, B. S. Terry’s Texas Rangers: History of the Eighth Texas Cavalry.  Turner Publishing, 2002
  6. Murrah, J. D. None But Texans: A History of Terry’s Texas Rangers.  Eakins Press, 2001.

Endnotes:

[1] The oldest son was David Smith Terry, who later in life served as a justice on the California Supreme Court.  Son Clinton was a successful Texas lawyer.

[2]  William Jefferson Kyle (1803-64) was a prominent planter in Brazoria and Fort Bend counties and one of the largest slave owners in Texas.

[3]  Nathaniel Felton Williams (1800-1884) was from Rhode Island.  Through several financial arrangements, Williams established the Oakland Plantation at Oyster Creek, which later became the Imperial Sugar Company.  Williams was one of the more prolific land speculators in Texas before and after the Civil War.

[4] Thomas Saltus Lubbock (1817-1862) was the brother of Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock.  Lubbock was born in Charleston, South Carolina, migrated to Louisiana in 1835, and joined the fight in Texas as a member of William Cooke’s New Orleans Greys.  Lubbock participated in the New Mexico Expedition as a lieutenant.  Captured and imprisoned in Mexico City, Lubbock escaped and returned to Texas.  In 1842, he served and later commanded G. O. Smith’s company of volunteers during the invasion of Adrian Woll, but (wisely) declined to participate in the Mier Expedition.  By 1861, Lubbock was a strong secessionist.  After helping Terry establish the 8th Texas Cavalry, he served as second in command of the regiment until illness took his life in January 1862.

[5] John Austin Wharton (1828-65) was born in Nashville, Tennessee but raised in Texas.  Wharton was well-educated at the Deans School, South Carolina College (where he commanded the student cadet corps), and married Eliza Johnson, daughter of David Johnson, the governor of South Carolina.  After studying the law, Wharton established the law firm of Wharton-Terry with Clinton Terry while operating a substantial plantation in Brazoria County.  After the death of Terry and Lubbock, Wharton succeeded to command Terry’ Texas Rangers.  Eventually promoted to Major General, Wharton was later killed in a duel with fellow Confederate George W. Taylor.

[6]  Brazos Santiago was located on Brazos Island (present-day Cameron County), a port facility on the south end of Padre Island that facilitated the movement of cargo up the Rio Grande.  Brazos Santiago was destroyed during a hurricane in 1867.

[7] Also known as the 1st German Regiment, it was composed of German immigrants and the descendants of German settlers from the midwest.  Willich used Prussian bugle calls to organize and direct these troops.

[8] The military carbine was popular among cavalry units of the north and south and issued in much larger quantities than any other carbine, chambered for the .50-70 caliber cartridge.  Confederate clones of the Sharps carbine were produced in Richmond, but the quality of these weapons, using brass rather than iron fittings, was generally inferior to those produced in the north.

Posted in Antebellum Period, Civil War, History, Texas, Texas Rangers | 2 Comments

The Harpe Brothers

Appalachia 001Before the American Revolution, there were thirteen British colonies.  After the war, there were thirteen American (loosely confederated) states with much work remaining within the states and at the national level.  Much of this work fell upon the shoulders of the new Congress.

Initially, the new states reflected the original colonies, which means that in terms of size, they were much larger than they are today.  Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia extended from the Atlantic seacoast all the way to the Mississippi River.  In the approximate center of these states, adding Pennsylvania and New York, is the Appalachian mountain system that extends from Canada southwestward 1,500 miles with a terminus (then) in western Georgia with a width of from 100 to 350 miles.  It was a rough country.  There are fourteen separate valleys in the chain and three distinct watersheds.  Challenging terrain, deep rivers, dangerous predators, and hostile Indians created a significant barrier to westward movement and settlement.  In the mid-1780s, the American West began at the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains.

We know a lot about the people who settled this region, but not everything.  History only exists where there are written records that chronicle the story of human events.  In the absence of written records, we have only archeological inquiry, myth, and supposition.  There are a few facts that document the activities of Harpe Brothers but most of what we know about them developed from myth and legend.

We know that Micajah Harpe (born as Joshua Harper) lived between 1765-1799 and that Wiley Harpe (born as William Harper) lived between 1769-1804.  They are known to us now as “Big Harpe” and “Little Harpe.”  They were ruthless killers, highwaymen, and river pirates that operated in the areas of present-day Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Mississippi.

Historians believe that the Harpe brothers were born in Orange County, North Carolina of Scottish parents, but they may also have been immigrants from Scotland.  They may have been brothers or cousins, their fathers being brothers John and William Harper, who settled in Orange County between 1761-63.  John and William were Calvinists and loyal to the British Crown.  Before the American Revolution, John and William Harper are likely to have served as Tory militia during the War of the Regulation[1] (1765-71).

According to one story, John and William initially sought to join the patriot forces at the beginning of the American Revolution but were refused owing to their earlier association with and loyalty to British loyalists.  Some historians postulate that when American patriots shunned these men, they transferred their anger to their offspring, and this may explain the criminal behavior of Micajah and Wiley.  Great theory, I suppose … but in my view, more on the order of balderdash.  Some folks are simply no damn good.

In the spring of 1775, the Harpe brothers left North Carolina to work as slaver overseers in Virginia.  The occupation seems contrary to what we know of Calvinists and Scottish immigrants, people who generally held no truck with slavery in any form.  Harpe traveled in the company of two women named Susan and either Betsey or Betty Roberts.  Possibly, these women were sisters, both of whom bore Big Harpe children.  Little Harpe married Sarah (called Sally) Rice, the daughter of a Baptist minister.

We aren’t sure of the location of Big and Little Harpe when war broke out between the colonies and Great Britain, but according to Captain James Wood of the Continental Army, these young men joined up with a Tory rape gang in North Carolina … which is to say that the loyalist criminals took advantage of war time conditions to commit violent crimes against American patriots: murder, rape, theft, arson, and rustling.  Captain Wood’s account tells us that the Harpe gang kidnapped four teenaged girls, one of whom was rescued by Wood’s militia.

Some historians also believe that the Harpe’s were in the employ of the British Army, paid as “military associates” serving out of uniform and responsible for their own weapons.  The British Army (back then) expected these associates to survive by forgery, robbery, and looting the battlefields.

Captain Wood’s son was Frank Wood, a patriot soldier on the western frontier, the older brother of Susan Wood, who was later kidnapped and ended up as the common law wife of Big Harpe.  Frank claimed to have seen the Harpe boys serving as Tory men under Major Patrick Ferguson[2], British Army, at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780.  Frank Wood took aim at Big Harpe and fired but missed.

Beginning in November 1780, the Harpe brothers served under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s[3] British Legion at the Battles of the Blackstocks and Cowpens.  After the British defeat at Yorktown, the Harpe’s left North Carolina and joined with Indian war parties, notably, the renegade Chickamauga Cherokee in the western Appalachian Mountains (near present-day Tennessee).  On 2 April 1781, the Harpe brothers participated in an attack of the settlement at Bluff Station near Fort Nashborough[4].  In August 1782, they joined the British-backed war party into Kentucky where, at the Battle of Blue Licks, a frontier force led by Daniel Boone was defeated.

Tomahawk 001During the brother’s affiliation with rampaging Cherokees, they lived in the village of Nickajack, near present day Chattanooga —for a period of about thirteen years.  It was during this period that they kidnapped Maria Davidson and Susan Wood.  The Harpe fortunately abandoned the village in 1794, before it was attacked and destroyed by American militia.  They moved to a place along Beaver Creek in Powell’s Valley (near present-day Knoxville), from which they began stealing food and supplies from local pioneers.

Sometime in 1797, Big Harpe and his brother initiated a series of crimes though Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois.  In this year, local settlers armed themselves and drove the Harpe’s out of Powell Valley.  They were accused of the murder of a man named Johnson whose body was discovered laying at the bottom of a shallow creek.  Johnson’s chest had been ripped open and filled with rocks[5].  Local settlers also found stolen hogs and horses at their cabin.  Myths soon developed about the ruthlessness of the Harpe brothers, stories even accused them of murdering children.  The brothers fled to Kentucky on the Wilderness Road, where they were said to have robbed and murdered a peddler named Peyton.

Danville KY JailIn December 1797, the Harpe’s murdered two travelers moving west from Maryland and soon after, a man named John Langford who was killed in a local inn.  Local authorities arrested the Harpe’s and confined them in the jail at Danville (replica shown right) pending trial, but they escaped and fled.  One man, who had joined the posse in their pursuit later returned to his home to find his son murdered and his body mutilated.  The Harpe’s were blamed for this depredation as a revenge killing because the boy’s father joined the posse.

In April 1799, Kentucky governor James Garrard placed a $300 reward on each of the brothers for their capture.  The Harpe’s fled north, killing two more men.  Entering southern Illinois near the Saline River, the brothers came upon a camp of three men, murdered them and took their property.  They soon after joined the gang of Sam Mason[6], a river pirate and highwayman who operated along the lower Ohio River and Mississippi.

Along with their wives and children, the Harpe’s remained with Mason’s gang and joined him in attacking cargo-laden barges moving along the river.  The Mason gang were known for ruthlessness, but even they were appalled at the viciousness exhibited by the Harpe’s.  They seemed to exult in their cruelty, acting more like depraved savages than white men.  Ultimately, Mason forced the Harpe’s to leave his outlaw camp.

Moving back to Tennessee, the Harpe’s were accused of murdering a farmer named Bradbury, a traveler named Hardin, and a young boy known as Coffey.  Several more bodies were discovered, including those of William Ballard, James Brassel, John Tulley, and John Graves along with his teenage son.  Most of these men were found with their throats cut and their bodies disemboweled.  The remains of one entire family was discovered in a cold camp along a stream in Logan County; they had been axed to death.

In August 1799, north of Russellville, Kentucky, Big Harpe murdered his own infant daughter because her constant crying annoyed him; it was the only crime to which he confessed and exhibited remorse over.  Later that month, a man named Trowbridge was found disemboweled near Highland Creek.  Offered shelter during a storm in Webster County, the Harpe’s murdered their hosts: Major William Love, his wife, their daughter, and a house guest.

The governor of Kentucky, having issued warrants for the arrest of Micajah and Wiley Harpe, described them as follows:

Big Harpe 001MICAJAH HARP alias ROBERTS is about six feet high-of robust make and is about 30 or 32 years of age. He has an ill-looking, downcast countenance, and his hair is black and short, but comes very much down his forehead. He is built very straight and is FULL FLESHED in the face. When he went away, he had on a striped nankeen coat, dark blue woolen stockings, leggings of drab cloth and trousers of the same as the coat.

Little Harpe 002WILEY HARP alias ROBERTS is very meagre in his face, has short black hair but not quite so curly as his brother’s; he looks older, though really younger, and has likewise a downcast countenance.  He had on a coat of the same stuff as his brother’s, and had a surtout coat over, the close-bodied one. His stockings are dark woolen ones, and his leggings are of drab cloth.

Note that the pictures presented here are an artist’s rendition of the Harpe Brothers based on official physical descriptions of the men issued by the State of Kentucky.

Accused of 37 murders and suspected of a dozen more, the Harpe’s fled with an angry posse hot on their trail.  On 24 August 1799, while preparing to commit yet another murder, a posse organized by John Leiper called for the Harpe’s to surrender.  During the Harpe’s attempt to escape, Leiper shot Micajah in the leg, pulled him from his horse, and whacked him with a tomahawk.  As he lay dying, Big Harpe confessed to 20 murders.  When he was finished with his confession, posse member Moses Stegall, whose wife had been raped and murdered by Big Harpe, along with their infant daughter, calmly and slowly cut off Micajah’s head.  Moses placed the outlaw’s head on a stake and planted it along the road.  The highway is still known as Harpe’s Head Road in Webster County, Kentucky.  Wiley, however, made good his escape and rejoined the Mason Gang at Cave-in-Rock.

Four years later, Spanish authorities arrested the Mason gang, including Wiley Harpe, who was at the time using an alias.  He was not immediately recognized as the man wanted for serial murder.  Spanish officials transported the gang to New Orleans and held them in custody while investigating members of the Mason gang.  Harpe and others denied any involvement with piracy, but their personal effects told a different story.  Mason was in possession of over $7,000 in cash and twenty-two human scalps.  Since the crimes for which they were accused took place in the United States, a Spanish magistrate ordered the gang turned over to American authorities.  While being transferred to US authorities, the men escaped with Mason being mortally wounded.

Wiley Harpe, then calling himself John Sutton, traveling with Peter Alston[7], alias James May, attempted to claim Mason’s bounty by cutting off his head and turning it over to US law enforcement authorities.  However, one of the lawmen recognized Harpe and Alston as wanted outlaws and arrested them.  Harpe and Alston attempted an escape, but they were quickly recaptured, tried, and sentenced to hang.  Both men met this fate in January 1804, and after they were dead, local authorities had them decapitated, placed their heads on stakes along the Natchez Trace, which served as notices of warning to other outlaws.

Freed from forced cohabitation, Sally Rice, Susan Wood, and Maria Davidson-Roberts subsequently led respectable lives, married decent men, and had several children.  Susan Wood’s daughter later migrated to Texas.

Micajah and Wiley Harpe(r) were vicious killers whose depredations closely resembled those committed by hostile Cherokee against white settlers in the western territories.  The extent to which their association with hostile Cherokee shaped this behavior cannot be known but there are some historians (the non-politically correct ones) who have made this connection.  Still, the Harpe Brothers were not the only outlaws operating in the early western territories, and it is believed that such savage behavior was common.  All such killers were dangerous psychopaths; the Harpe Brothers were America’s first serial killers and there can be no doubt that western settlers were far better off, and safer, by the deaths of Micajah (Joshua) and Wiley (William) Harper.  May they burn in hell.

Sources:

  1. Coates, R. M. The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace.
  2. Hall, J. The Harpe’s Head: A Legend of Kentucky.  New York: Key & Biddle, 1833
  3. Musgrave, J. Frontier Serial Killers: The Harpe’s, Two Outlaws in Pioneer Times.  Filson Club History Quarterly, January 1927
  4. Ward, H. M. Between the Lines: Banditti of the American Revolution.  Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2002.

Endnotes:

[1] An uprising in the Carolinas in which citizens took up arms against colonial officials, who they viewed as corrupt.  The rebellion brought no changes to the power structure, but it may have served as one (of several) triggers to the American Revolution.  Other historians argue that the issue was unlikely to have carried over to 1776, even though in the aftermath of the conflict, the government raised taxes on the settlers.

[2] Ferguson was a Scottish officer and an early advocate of light infantry.  He was the designer of the Ferguson Rifle.  He is probably best known (in America) as an aggressive loyalist who treated patriots harshly.  Ferguson was killed in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

[3] Tarleton was a 26-year-old officer with exceptional horsemanship skills who later proved useful to his commander as an intelligence officer and a raider.  On the field of battle, Tarleton was a no-nonsense commander who, contrary to the way in which his character was portrayed in the Mel Gibson film, The Patriot, he committed no atrocities in the Revolutionary War.  His report on the war is a worthy read, titled A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America originally printed in London, c. 1826, reprinted in 2010.

[4] Several additional attacks occurred in July 1788 and April 1793.

[5] This method of disposing of bodies was unique to the Harpe men.

[6] During the Revolutionary War, Mason (1739-1803) served as a militia captain on the side of the patriots.  After the war, he turned to lawlessness and was loosely affiliated with other criminal elements operating near Red Banks, Cave-in-Rock, Stark Island, and within the Natchez Trace.  Mason and members of his gang, including Wiley Harpe, were arrested by Spanish authorities, who intended to turn them over to American authorities.  During this transfer, the gang overpowered their guards.  Mason was killed during the escape attempt.

[7] Peter was the son of the counterfeiter Philip Alston (1740-1799).

Posted in History | 3 Comments