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.


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.


  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


[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.


[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 …


[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


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.


  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.


[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.


  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.


[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).

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Richard King



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

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

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

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

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

Running W Brand 001

The Running W Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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Brushy Bill

Brushy Bill Roberts 001

Brushy Bill Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy the Kid 002

William H. Bonney, Age 20

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

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

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


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


[1] Morrison passed away in 1977.

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

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

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

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

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

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Six Gun Kate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Dakotas


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

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

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

Young George Washington

LtCol George Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louisiana Purchase 1803

Louisiana Purchase, 1803

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakota Sioux 002

Lakota Sioux

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

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

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

Custer G A 001

LtCol George A. Custer, USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Pleasant Valley War

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

Pleasant Valley AZ 001

Map Legend, Pleasant Valley War

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

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

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

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

Tewkesbury Edwin 001

Edwin Tewkesbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tewkesbury Ranch House 001

Tewkesbury Ranch House

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

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

The Hash Knife Outfit

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

The Daggs Brothers

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

The Fred Wells Outfit

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blevins Clan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commodore P. Owens 001

Sheriff C. P. Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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