Indentured Servitude


Warfare is brutish – the longer war rages, the more objectionable it becomes.  One example of this was the Thirty Years’ War.  It was fought primarily in the area of central Europe in the 17th century and remains one of history’s longest and more ruthless conflicts.  Beyond the series of bloody military confrontations, consequential famine, pestilence, and disease cost the lives of over eight million people between 1618-1648 — and contributed to a massive shift in social norms, local traditions, and the distribution of populations.

Events such as the Thirty Years’ War did not occur as isolated events — there were contributing factors and events that led to horror and human tragedy lasting three decades, and substantial effects of those events.  One consequence of the war is that it marked the beginning of the end of European monarchies. Another was the practice of indentured servitude.  Indenture was significant because, as we fast-forward through time, we observe that somewhere around sixty percent of all immigrants to the British colonies traveled to North America as indentured servants.

Some Background

Our story begins in 1483 when Margarethe Lindemann Ludher gave birth to a son, whom she named Martin.  Twenty-four years later, young Martin entered the ordained priesthood.  Ten years after that, Martin became a professor of religious and moral philosophy.  In this capacity, he wondered about the morality (or lack of it) surrounding Pope Leo X’s exploitation of the common people.[1]  In particular, Luther objected to the Vatican’s policy of selling indulgences (charging money for the forgiveness of sins) to help finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was not Father Martin’s intent to call into question any Papal authority — he was merely asking for a debate on the ethics of such policies.  He asked, for example, why the Holy Father, who was, at the time, one of the richest men in the world, should require money from the poor in order to build his Basilica.  For his efforts, the Church excommunicated Martin Ludher and, by edict of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, condemned him as an outlaw of the Church.

Martin Ludher (later, Luther) had unwittingly ignited the Protestant Reformation — a movement that started a series of political, intellectual, religious, and societal conflicts that ended up splintering Catholic Europe.  Following Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII of England openly challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic church’s authority to define and proscribe Christian practices.

In 1531, two of the most powerful Protestant rulers in the Holy Roman Empire formed the so-called Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of militaristic Lutheran princes dedicated to the prospect that they had the right of defending their lands from the dictates of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor – a staunch Catholic/anti-reformer.  In 1555, Charles V and the Schmalkaldic princes signed the Peace of Augsburg, which ended the religious struggle between them and made the division of Christianity permanent within the Holy Roman Empire.  Thereafter, Charles V adopted the policy known as Cuius Regio Eius Religio (meaning, whose realm, their religion); princes could choose for themselves which form of Christianity to pursue as the official confession of their state.

Still, the turmoil over the question of religious preference continued for many years.  When Charles V abdicated (for health reasons) the Habsburg territories were divided between his brother Ferdinand, who ruled over the Austrian lands, and Charles’ fervently Catholic son Philip II, who ruled over Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, and parts of Italy.

When Emperor Ferdinand II ascended to power in 1619, he required every subject to adhere to Roman Catholicism, which was a violation of the Augsburg treaty.  By this time, while the Holy Roman Empire controlled much of Europe, Ferdinand II’s empire was actually little more than a collection of semi-autonomous states controlled by princes whose loyalty was never set in stone.  Ferdinand II’s dictates were met with hostility by the Bohemian states, which (backed by Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) went into open revolt.  Thus began the Thirty Years War.

The Aftermath of War

The war concluded with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 — a series of agreements involving Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and France.  In human costs, forty percent of the population of Central Europe died.  The war also resulted in mass migrations away from the areas affected, in some locations, as many as fifty percent of their populations.  The collapse of local governments resulted in a large spike in landless peasants, many of whom banded together in rebellious, or if one prefers, outlaw groups.  With so many dead bodies lying unburied, rodent populations exploded, wolves moved in, and wild pigs destroyed meager crops.  The political consequences of these realities were substantial because the Peace of Westphalia changed the relationship between subjects and their rulers.

To place these calamities in perspective, the wars, uprisings, and political turmoil produced by the Thirty Years’ War created other disturbances, such as a series of civil wars in France (1648-1653), and the English Civil War (1642-1651).  Uprisings also occurred in Catalonia, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Russia.  The effects were worsened by the so-called Little Ice Age.

When people are troubled, they turn to their core religious beliefs.  In the mid-1650s, pietism developed within Lutheranism, which emphasized a virtuous existence — greatly influenced by English Puritanism.  The Puritans were dissatisfied with the effects of the English Reformation and the Church of England’s ritual similarities with Catholicism.  People dissatisfied with their quality of life at home look outward to other areas where they might discover new beginnings.


Indenture is a legal agreement, contract, or document that binds (someone) as an apprentice or laborer.  Indentured servitude is a source of labor, sometimes voluntarily undertaken (at other times forced), which we today call debt bondage or domestic servitude.  In voluntary indenture, a person borrows money and agrees to work for the lender without a salary or other payment for a specific period of time until the loan is repaid.  Indenture was used to help pay for apprenticeships (working for a master craftsman in exchange for learning his trade).  The period (number of years) of indenture depended on how much money was borrowed, the number of years it would take to learn a trade, and/or the amount of labor agreed upon (in advance) in order to pay it off.  Indenture, as it applied to British colonial immigration, involved all costs associated with transportation from England to a North American seaport.

James VI, King of Scotland (serving on the throne for 36 years) became James I of England in 1603.  In 1607, a group of around 100 adventurers of the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America.  The settlement was named Jamestown, established along the river named in King James’ honor.  What made Jamestown an uphill struggle was famine, disease, and conflicts with local Indians.  What saved the colony was the arrival of a new group of settlers in 1610, many of whom were indentured.  What these early settlers soon realized was that while the new world offered bountiful lands “free for the taking,” they would need sufficient numbers of laborers to make the land productive.

It was an issue of supply and demand.  Tens of thousands of Europeans were migrating away from their homelands; they needed a place to go — they needed something to do once arrived.  It was a financial dilemma: passage to the new world was expensive and few people with families could afford transportation.  There was no money to live on once they arrived.  Few people had any idea what they would do in the British colonies.

What evolved was a system that facilitated both supply and demand.  Sea captains who made frequent voyages to the new world had knowledge of the demands, and they were also in a position to make contracts to meet those demands.  At Jamestown, indenture arrived at the right moment, both for those who were pushed out of Europe and for those in the colonies who desperately needed sources of labor.  The prospects for a new life with greater opportunities offered thoroughly traumatized Europeans a glimmer of hope.

Once begun, indenture was common in the British colonies through the late 18th century.  Of all European immigrants arriving on America’s shores between 1630 and 1774, one-half to two-thirds came as indentured servants — most employed in the region between southern Virginia and northern New Jersey.  In total, the number of Europeans living in the thirteen colonies before 1750 was around 500,000.  Of those, around 55,000 were prisoners sent to the penal colony in Georgia.  Seventy-five percent of all immigrants were under the age of 25 years.  During the colonial period, the age of consent was 24; indenture among those over the age of consent generally lasted for a period of three years.[2]

Shenanigans and Abuses

Indenture did satisfy colonial demands, but systemically it was far from perfect.  Disreputable sea captains kidnapped more than a few people from areas around European seaports and carried them to the new world as indentured servants.  Other immigrants fell prey to deceitful recruiters who told them fairy tales about life in America.  One such recruiter, a fellow named William Thiene, convinced 840 people in one year that the British Colonies were heaven on earth.  Of course, once indentured persons arrived in the colonies, they were trapped there until some future time when they could pay their way back to England or some other European port, or die.

There was also some brutality associated with indenture.  Ships’ masters did not hesitate to flog those who refused to obey ship’s rules, but this was the standard of discipline applied to every male without regard to immigrant status or skin color. 

The owners of the indenture (the masters) also punished misbehavior (insolence, laziness, etc.) by flogging.  Several factors explain this behavior.  First, normal society regarded indentured immigrants as low-class people; few such persons had access to courts.  Second, since indentured persons were quasi-property and subject to the prerogatives of their masters, British courts paid little attention to accusations of abuse.

Flogging indentured servants was bad, but the sexual abuse foisted upon indentured women was far worse.  Sometimes, abused women became pregnant — which entitled their masters to extend their contract by two years.  Polite society assumed that pregnancy was the indentured woman’s fault; low-class women, they believed, had an inclination toward depraved behavior.

It was also common in the British military to force indenture on rebel leaders and ruffians engaged in civil disturbances.  Oliver Cromwell sent thousands into indentured service after the battles of Preston and Worcester.  This practice continued well into the late 18th century.

Between 1830 and 1920, more than 3.7 million Africans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, and Melanesians migrated away from their homelands to perform as laborers under short and long-term indentures.  In 1974, one scholar argued that indentured labor was no more than the re-imposition of slavery.  Part of what makes this a cogent argument is the fact that runaway indentures were almost always returned to their “masters.”[3]

The first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619.  With no slave laws at the time, they were initially treated as indentured servants and afforded the same opportunities for their eventual freedom as white indentures.  When Massachusetts and Virginia enacted slave laws in 1641 and 1661 (respectively) black indentures forfeited their right to eventual freedom.  As the demand for labor increased, so too did the cost of indentured labor.  The cost factor led landowners to prefer African slaves to indentured whites.


After the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, immigration to the United States trickled to almost nothing, and the economic crisis that followed the Revolution made long-term labor contracts undesirable.  According to some historians, the number of indentured servants living in Philadelphia fell from around 17% in 1776 to around 5% in 1783.  This may be true, others argue, but in many cases, indentured immigrants from Central Europe replaced those from the British Isles after 1792.


  1. Ballagh, J. C.  White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia: A Study of Indentured Labor In The American Colonies. 1895.
  2. Galenson, D.  The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in America: An Economic Analysis.  Journal of Economic History, 1984.
  3. Grubb, F.  The Incidence of Servitude in Trans-Atlantic Migration, 1771-1804.  Explorations in Economic History, 1985.
  4. Tomlins, C.  Reconsidering Indentured Servitude: European Migration and the Early American Labor Force.  Labor History, 2001.


[1] Pope Leo X was Giovanni di Lorenzo de ’Medici who led the Church for eight years beginning in 1513 (died at the age of 45 in 1521).  The Medici family rose to prominence in the 13th century through their success in commerce, banking, and political power.  The family produced four popes (Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV, and Leo XI), none of whom had much empathy for the plight of the average person.  Leo X wasn’t necessarily a scurrilous individual for imposing indulgences; he was simply a banker by tradition and training looking for ways to finance the Basilica.  In fairness to him, he probably had no concept of the effects of his decisions. 

[2] The European population of North America is at best an estimate and the numbers often cited by historians vary from around 500,000 to 2.4 million. 

[3] This practice continues even now.  Thousands of people from the Philippine Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Vietnam enter (or are forced) into indentured service to wealthy Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other Middle Eastern states.  Women are especially desirable in these locations for all the wrong reasons.

Posted in American Frontier, British Colonies, Colonial America, Corruption, History, Imperialism, Indenture & Slavery, Pioneers, Society, The Ladies | Leave a comment

The Ride of Paul Revere


We were taught as children about the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  It was a great story for young children — fourth or fifth grade, perhaps.  That dashing silversmith — who, booted and spurred and with a heavy stride, did watch with eager search the belfry tower of the old North Church.  Except, while entertaining and exciting, our teachers taught us fiction, not history.  We were told, for example, that Paul Revere rode through the villages of Massachusetts shouting, “The British are coming!  The British are coming”  If Paul did shout that, it must have caused a laugh.  Everyone in Massachusetts was British.  It would have been akin to “We are coming!  We are coming!”  The other problem, of course, was that someone shouting such a thing in the early morning would have attracted the attention of British sentries.

Aside from the shouts of Paul Revere from atop a galloping horse tearing through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts, Revere’s courageous ride from Lexington to Concord made him a pivotal figure in the American Revolution.  The accounting of this amazing ride, according to some, is “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The poem’s title, however, is simply “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1863).

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alleys and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all!  And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest.  In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

It is a wondrous story — it simply isn’t true.  He didn’t shout about the British coming, and he didn’t ride through the streets of Concord.  He didn’t make it to Concord at all.  Nor was Paul Revere the only rider.  Two other riders included Samuel Prescott and William Dawes.  Of the three, only one of them succeeded in reaching Concord.  After leaving Lexington, British sentries detained and arrested Revere, Prescott, and Dawes.  While in custody, Prescott escaped and made it to Concord, where he warned residents to protect their weapons and ammunition.  Some historians claim that Dawes also escaped custody but never made it to Concord because he became lost in the dark of night.  The British released Revere but retained his borrowed horse, so Revere walked back to Lexington — thus missing the Battle of Lexington Green.

Paul Revere’s mission was not to warn residents of the approach of British military troops; his mission was to warn his cronies, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams, that the British Army intended to arrest them.

A summary of Paul Revere

Sketch by Thomas Logan

Paul Revere’s father was a French Huguenot from Aquitaine who immigrated to the United States as a thirteen-year-old indentured servant.  His name was Apollo Rivoire, and he worked under John Coney, who in the early 1700s was Boston’s premier goldsmith and silversmith.  When Mr. Coney died in 1722, Apollo purchased his freedom for £40.  By then, Apollo was calling himself Paul Rivoire.  Mr. Rivoire was fortunate to catch the attention of Miss Deborah Hitchbourn, a daughter of one of Boston’s wealthiest leading families.  Paul and Deborah had eleven children, the second eldest of which was a son whom they named Paul.  When Paul Sr. died in 1754, most people in Boston pronounced his last name as “Rivear,” which prompted Paul Jr. to change the family’s last name to Revere.

Because of Deborah’s well-placed position in society, nearly everyone who was anyone in Boston knew about the Revere family.  Paul Revere replaced his father as the city’s “go-to” silversmith and printer.  In 1756, Paul joined a local militia unit and participated briefly in the French & Indian War as a lieutenant of artillery.  At the end of one year, he returned home and married Sarah Orne (d. 1773).  Of their eight children, only one survived Paul in 1818.

After Sarah’s death, Paul married Rachel Walker (d. 1813).  They also had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood.  Around this same time, Paul Revere became the ringleader of a group of men who participated in the infamous Boston Tea Party.  I’ve used the word infamous because the people involved in the Boston Tea Party were criminals acting in their own interests as part of a syndicate of smugglers.

The British government indeed imposed a series of taxes on the colonists — to help pay the expenses of the French & Indian War (1754-1763), most of which the Parliament repealed.  The Parliament’s tax on tea was not repealed, which the colonists consumed in copious amounts (around 1.2 million pounds annually).

The tea tax prompted certain individuals to smuggle Dutch Tea.  Smuggled tea was cheaper than regularly imported tea because it wasn’t taxed.  Smuggling became a side business for several Boston tradesmen and merchants, organized and led by such men as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.  This criminal enterprise called itself The Sons of Liberty.  Thus, part of the reason for the Boston Tea Party was to destroy duty-free British tea, which was cheaper than illicit Dutch Tea.  Hancock, Adams, and Revere were losing money and resolved to do something about it — while disguising their activity as a patriotic protest of British taxes.

Thus, in addition to serving as a goldsmith-silversmith and printer, Paul Revere was also a smuggler — and useful to the “patriot cause” as a courier/messenger serving the interests of the so-called committees of correspondence in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Note: the activities of the committees of correspondence were well known in England and frequently reported in London newspapers.  If Paul Revere thought his courier escapades were part of a clandestine operation, he was very much mistaken.

In any case, at the time of the battles of Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere was in Watertown.  When British troops closed the roads into Boston, Revere was forced to find housing in the Watertown area; Rachel and his children eventually joined him there.  In Watertown, Revere petitioned the Continental Army for a military commission, but army officials turned down his request.  Paul Revere was useful to the “patriot cause” in Massachusetts because he was a skilled printer and a reliable courier.  He was also well-known as a loud-mouth, a hot-head, and a scruff.  Simply stated, Paul Revere wasn’t officer material.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow, born on 27 February, was the son of Stephen and Zilpah Wadsworth.  Stephen was a lawyer.  His mother’s father was Peleg Wadsworth, a general officer in the American Revolution and a member of Congress.  Zilpah Wadsworth was descended from Richard Warren (of Mayflower fame).  She named Henry after her brother, Henry Wadsworth, a Navy lieutenant who died three years earlier during the Battle of Tripoli.  Longfellow’s descendants included Mayflower pilgrims, including Richard Warren, William Brewster, and John and Priscilla Alden through their daughter Elizabeth Pabodie, the first child born in the Plymouth Colony.[1]

As a young man, Longfellow studied at Bowdoin College — and later taught there and at Harvard.  He was also multi-lingual, speaking several European languages.  In 1854, Longfellow retired from teaching to devote his time to writing.  He lived the remainder of his life in the Revolutionary War headquarters of George Washington in Cambridge.  It sounds like an idyllic life, but in reality, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had many tragedies in his life.[2]

His first wife, Mary Potter, died in 1835 following a miscarriage.  His second wife, Frances Appleton, died in 1861 from burns when her dress caught fire.  After her death, Longfellow entered a period when he could not write; he spent several years translating foreign literature into English.  Longfellow sired six children, one of whom was seriously wounded during the Civil War.

The Revere Poem

Longfellow loved his country and was deeply concerned that civil war was about to tear the nation apart.  There is not much within Longfellow’s poem that reflects what actually happened during the “midnight ride of Paul Revere.”  But Mr. Longfellow wasn’t attempting to write factual history.  In the poem, Revere was spreading the alarm to save the colonies from tyranny — but in writing it, Longfellow was spreading a warning to the United States about the horror of civil war.


[1] Longfellow’s poems were lyric, mythical, and popular among the American people.  His critics accuse him of imitating European styles and of writing “sentimental” poetry.

[2] Longfellow and I share the Aldens as our earliest American ancestors.

Posted in American Frontier, British Colonies, Civil War, Colonial America, History, Indenture & Slavery, Revolution, The Horsemen (and women) | 5 Comments

The Last Battle


For some unknown reason, most people think that Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse was the end of the American Civil War.  It wasn’t.  Lee’s surrender did take place on 9 April 1865, but he wasn’t the only Confederate general commanding a large army.  Having learned of Lee’s surrender on 14 April, General Joseph E. Johnston sent a message to William T. Sherman asking for a meeting to discuss the surrender of his Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia.[1]  Even after Johnston’s surrender, and despite President Andrew Johnson’s announcement on 9 May that the war was over, the war continued in deep South Texas.

In Texas

There were only a few battles in Texas during the Civil War.  The Union did make several attempts to capture the Trans-Mississippi regions of Texas and Louisiana (1862-65), with eastern ports under Union blockade.  Texas, therefore, became a blockade-running haven.  Under the Union’s Anaconda Plan, the Union Navy blockaded Galveston — Texas’ principal seaport — and the entire Gulf and Southern borders for four years.  Union troops occupied Galveston for three months late in 1862, but General Magruder recaptured it on 1 January 1863, and it remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.

Texans love a challenge — the kind created by Union blockades.  They not only evaded the Union Army, but they also avoided bandits and pro-Union Mexicans to smuggle cotton into Mexico.  Throughout the Civil War, the sale or exchange of cotton was a Confederate money-maker, and President Lincoln wanted it stopped.  In 1863, Union general Nathan Banks led the Rio Grande Expedition to secure ports near Brownsville and pushed 100 miles inland to impede the flow of cotton and deny the rebels freedom of movement.

Brownsville wasn’t the only South Texas city to fall.  So too did Port Lavaca and Indianola.  Federal attempts to seize control of Laredo, Corpus Christi, and the Sabine Pass were failures.  In 1865, El Paso and Brazos Island were the only Texas cities in Union hands.  The Second Battle of Sabine Pass was Texas’ most notable fight, not because of the size of the fight, but because 48 Confederates from the Davis Guards denied General William B. Franklin’s much larger army access to the Sabine Pass and sent them scurrying back to New Orleans.

Later, in 1864, Confederate General Camille de Polignac moved into Northwestern Louisiana to stall General Banks’ Red River Campaign.[2]  Given their failure to stop the flow of cotton into Mexico, Lincoln needed them elsewhere. In July 1864, the Union Army withdrew most of its 6,500 men from the lower Rio Grande Valley, including Fort Brown (Brownsville). No sooner had these forces withdrawn, Confederates moved back in and took possession of Fort Brown.

On 22 January 1865, General Grant ordered Major General Lew Wallace to the Rio Grande to investigate Confederate military operations in South Texas.  Although Wallace was not authorized to offer terms to the Confederates, he did discuss proposals for the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department.  Wallace provided Grant with copies of his proposals and advised him of the “negotiations.”  Before returning to Baltimore, Wallace also met with Mexican military officials to discuss the United States’ unofficial efforts to aid them in expelling Maximillian’s French occupation force.  Following Lincoln’s death on 15 April 1865, Wallace served on the military commission investigating the conspiracy.

In April 1865, sixty-thousand Confederate troops remained in Texas as part of General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department.  The morale of these troops was quite low, and desertion and criminal behavior were problematic.  Texans learned of Lee’s surrender on 20 April; local Confederate leaders argued about what to do next.  Most senior officers vowed to “carry on” with the war, Kirby Smith among them.  Unfortunately for Smith, very few rebel troops were impressed with Smith’s “fight on boys” speeches.

In May, Texas Confederates learned of Johnston’s surrender.  Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas now stood alone to continue the fight.  Troops in Galveston briefly mutinied but were eventually talked into remaining armed.  Magruder and Smith communicated with Major General John Pope regarding surrender terms on 9 May — after which both generals gave up trying to rally their demoralized troops.  General Magruder pleaded for the rapid disbanding of the army to prevent depredations by disgruntled soldiers against the civilian population.  Unfortunately, his efforts had the opposite effect: Soldiers began pillaging Galveston’s military stores on 21 May.  It soon became a contest between rebel soldiers and civilians about who could plunder the most.  By 27 May, only 30,000 Confederate troops remained under arms, and Texas descended into an outlaw hell.  On 2 June, General Kirby Smith, a commander without an army and a general without troops, surrendered to General Pope.

The Last Battle

On 11-12 March 1865, Wallace met with Brigadier General James Slaughter[3] and Colonel John S. “Rip” Ford,[4] both of whom agreed to a cessation of hostilities.  Slaughter’s superior was Major General John G. Walker, commanding the Confederate District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  Walker promptly rejected a ceasefire (officially), but both sides ceased all hostilities.

Colonel Robert B. Jones, U.S. Army, commanded a brigade of some 1,900 troops at the Port of Brazos Santiago (at the mouth of the present-day shipping channel of the Port of Brownsville).  His mission was to provide a blockade preventing Confederate access to overseas trade.  The Brigade consisted of 400 men of the 34th Indiana (an experienced combat brigade that had served at Vicksburg), the 87th and 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments (USCT) (around 1,100 troops).  Shortly after General Walker met with Texas state officials, Colonel Jones resigned his commission and returned home.  Union officials replaced him with Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Morrison, commanding 34th Indiana, and Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, who assumed command of the 62nd and 87th U.S. Colored Troops.

In 1865, Colonel Barrett was 30-year old.  Despite serving since 1862, Barrett had no combat experience and had never commanded a unit in combat.  Some historians posit that Barrett was motivated to initiate an engagement in South Texas because doing so would enhance his chances of promotion.  Others argue that Barrett’s actions were that he needed horses for 300 unmounted cavalrymen.  Another reason often cited for Barrett’s actions was to seize 2,000 bales of cotton stored in Brownsville — which is no doubt true.

Remember that both Union and Confederate forces in Texas knew that Lee had surrendered on 9 April.  It was only a matter of time before the end of all hostilities.  That aside, and despite the previously stated argument among scholars, what we know for a fact is that in South Texas, two things were at stake: honor and money.  Colonel Ford was not inclined to surrender his men, and he was equally disinclined to surrender 2,000 bales of cotton.

Colonel Barrett placed Lieutenant Colonel David Branson in command of 250 men (8 companies) from the 62nd and two companies of the U.S. 2nd Texas.  The U.S. 2nd Texas was mainly composed of Texans of Mexican descent who remained loyal to the Union.  The Branson expedition moved from Brazos Santiago to the mainland on 12 May, initially gaining some success with the capture of three (3) rebels and some supplies.  That afternoon, C.S. Captain William N. Robinson led 100 of his cavalry in a counterattack, which forced Branson to withdraw to White’s Ranch.  Fighting stopped for the night, and both sides sent for reinforcements.  Colonel Ford reinforced Robinson, adding 200 additional men and six French field guns.  Colonel Barrett reinforced Branson with 200 troops of the 34th Indiana, totaling nine understrength infantry companies.

Colonel Barrett (in overall command) advanced westward, passing about a half-mile west of the Palmito Ranch the next morning.  The 34th Indiana deployed skirmishers in advance of the main body.  At 4 p.m., on 13 May, Colonel Ford attacked Barrett’s force by sending two companies into Barrett’s right flank and the remainder of his force in a frontal attack.  Barrett was forced to withdraw to Boca Chica.  Ford’s artillery defeated his attempt to form a rear-guard.  Barrett’s withdrawal lasted until 14 May, when Ford managed to surround and capture 50 troops of the 34th Indiana, 30 stragglers, and 20 dismounted cavalry troops.  Colonel Barrett officially reported 115 casualties: one killed, nine wounded, and 105 men captured by Colonel Ford.  Modern scholars dispute Barrett’s claim.  Thirty union troops died, many of these by drowning in the Rio Grande or having been shot by French border guards in Mexico.  Scholars also agree that Colonel Ford understated his casualties.  Ford suffered six wounded in action and three missing in action/presumed captured. 

The last battle of the American Civil War was fought in Texas, resulting in a victory for the Confederates.  Perhaps.  The claim may depend on how one defines a battle.  When Union forces captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis on 10 May, the Confederate States of America ceased to exist.  Even though men still died, there could be no “official” battle after 10 May.  The last man killed in the Civil War is generally believed to have been Private John J. Williams, 34th Indiana, on 13 May 1865 — but there is no way to validate this claim.  Besides, another scuffle occurred on 19 May 1865 at Hobdy’s Bridge near Eufaula, Alabama, where Corporal John W. Skinner lost his life.

In July 1865, Colonel Barrett preferred charges against LtCol Branson, alleging disobedience, neglect, abandoning his colors, and conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the command.  Branson was dutifully court-martialed.  Appearing at trial on his behalf was Colonel Rip Ford.  Colonel Ford’s testimony absolved Branson of any responsibility for Barrett’s defeat at the Palmito Ranch.


  1. Denton, P.  Johnston’s Surrender.  Ohio State University online.
  2. Frazier, D. S.  Blood, and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest.  Texas A&M Press, 1995.
  3. Hunt, J. W.  The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch.  University of Texas Press, 2000.
  4. Kerby, R. L.  Kirby Smith’s Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South.  University of Alabama Press, 1991.
  5. Marten, J.  Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State.  University of Kentucky Press, 1990.
  6. Wooster, R. A.  Texas and Texans in the Civil War.  Eakin Press, 1996.


[1] Sherman and Johnston began their negotiation on 16 April.  Since Johnston’s army was in a better position and in better shape than Lee’s, Johnston wanted better terms than those offered to Lee.  Sherman offered generous terms because he, as with many Union generals, feared that Johnston’s confederates might resort to fighting a guerrilla war in the inland mountains.

[2] Camille Armand Jules Marie de Polignac was a French nobleman who distinguished himself as a Confederate Brigadier General at the Battle of Mansfield.  He was subsequently promoted to major general.  His rebel troops, unable to pronounce his family name, simply called him “General Polecat.”  When Polignac died in 1913, he was the last surviving Confederate major general.

[3] James Edwin Slaughter (1827-1901) was born in Culpepper, Virginia to a prominent family; his mother was related to President James Madison.  Slaughter was commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1846 and participated in the Mexican-American war as an infantry officer.  After the war, Slaughter transferred into the Artillery and served in the 1st Artillery Regiment from 1848 until the outbreak of the American Civil War.  At this time, he resigned from the U.S. Army and accepted a commission as a first lieutenant, artillery, Confederate States of America.  He was promoted to major in November 1861, and to brigadier general in March 1862.  From that point forward, Slaughter played an important role in the affairs of the Confederacy in Texas.

[4] John S. Ford (1815-1897) was a medical doctor, lawyer, Texian soldier, Texas Ranger, Brigadier General of Texas militia, Colonel, C.S. Army, Indian fighter, journalist, and a member of the Texas Senate.  I have mentioned Ford in several of my Old West Tales. 

Posted in American Military, American Southwest, Civil War, History, Texas | 4 Comments

El Peludo


For thousands of years before the modern era, the land of present-day Arizona was home to several Indian civilizations.  The first European to establish contact with Arizona Indians was Marcos de Niza in 1539.  Several other historically significant Spaniards followed Niza, including Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján and José Romo de Vivar.  Eusebio Francisco Kino (also Father Kino), a Jesuit missionary, was a trained geographer, explorer, cartographer, and astronomer who spent the last 24 years of his life in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and Southern Arizona.  After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, Arizona became part of Nuevo California.  By this time, the primary residents of Arizona were descendants of ethnic Spaniards, mestizos, and Indians.

Following the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), the United States gained land encompassing present-day New Mexico, Utah, Western Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California, and Texas.  In Mexico, it is known as La Venta de La Mesilla.  Americans know it simply as the Gadsden Purchase.  It was a 29,670 square-mile region of present-day Arizona and southwestern New Mexico purchased by the United States from Mexico through the Treaty of Mesilla in 1854.  The purchase price was $10 million, which was in addition to the $15 million the United States paid for the former Mexican territories (identified above).  In 1854, $25 million was a massive amount of money.  Arizona became a United States Territory in 1863.

As they had done (almost from the beginning in the early 17th century), Anglo settlers began moving westward — this time into the Arizona Territory.  They did this at great risk to themselves because the native population of Arizona resisted white encroachment at every opportunity.  Many of these whites were members of the Mormon Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Of course, there was a border separating Mexico from the United States, but the word porous in describing it would be a gross understatement.  People moved back and forth between Mexico and the United States at their leisure.  The predominant language of Arizona remained Spanish for many years (and is still widely spoken) by Americans of Hispanic heritage.

The Chacón Family

To the south of Arizona lies the Sonoran Desert, an area of approximately 100,000 square miles.  Despite its inhospitable climate and weather pattern, Sonora is home to 17 native Indian tribes and various settlements of Mexicans and Americans in Mexico, California, and Arizona.  The two largest cities in the Sonoran Desert are Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.  In 1870, around 100,000 people of Hispanic descent lived in the vast Sonoran region of Mexico.  One of these areas, known as Sierra del Tigre, is a mountain range in northeastern Sonora, Mexico, with several of its ranges extending into Arizona.  La Familia Chacón lived in Sierra del Tigre for several generations, each one struggling to provide bare necessities for a decent life.  Augustine Chacón was born there in 1861.  As a child, he and his older brother Vincente may have dreamt of a better life, knowing that they wouldn’t realize any such aspirations in Mexico.  The boys swore that they would go north to the United States to make their fortunes one day.  Both did go to the United States, but they traveled on different paths.

By the time Augustine was 19-20 years old, he was known for his rugged good looks.  He was taller than most Mexicans, had dark features, and had an abundance of visible head and facial hair.  From this, his friends called him El Peludo.  For a time, he served with the rurales in Sierra del Tigre.  He had an easy-going personality and had won the respect of his superiors and fellow soldiers alike.  It was because of his character that his superiors appointed him to serve as a town peace officer — but his penchant for treating everyone fairly ran afoul of the upper-class citizens, and they began to make his life very difficult.  The class warfare was what finally prompted Chacón to relocate to Arizona.

Joe Olney (Hill)

There are a few stories about a murdering Augustine Chacón in Arizona, but some don’t add up.  In one fairy tale, Chacón began his murder spree by killing a rancher named Ben Ollney over a question of back wages.  The problem with that particular account is the Olney family (brothers George, Sam, Dan, and Joe) arrived in Arizona from Texas in 1879.  In that year, the Olney brothers were known as the brothers Hill — all taking on an assumed name because Joe Greaves Olney was wanted for murder and other charges in Texas.  There was a Ben Olney, the eldest son of Joe (Olney) Hill, born in 1870 and passed away in Los Angeles in 1935.  If Chacón killed anyone in Arizona, it wasn’t Ben Olney.

We cannot allow the Olney/Hill connection to fade away as regards Augustine Chacón, however, because there is an even more interesting connection.  To explore this further, it will be necessary to “back up” a few years.

Joe Greaves was the eldest of the brothers Olney (Hill), born in 1849 in Burleson County, Texas.  He served in the Texas Rangers between 1871 – 1873.  In the following year, Joe became involved in a cattle dispute, the result of which named Joe as the man wanted in connection with theft and assault in Llano County.

In 1874, Joe involved himself in the Texas Hoodoo War (Mason County War) (1874 – 1876).  Some claim that Joe Olney shot and killed Moses Baird in 1875, but that is unlikely since Moses Baird was aligned with Scott Cooley, John Ringo, and Joe Olney in the Hoodoo War.  Joe undoubtedly did a fair bit of shooting in Mason County, Texas, but it was a time when everyone was shooting at everyone else.

However, after his involvement in a shooting with two county deputies in 1876, Joe Olney bolted for New Mexico.  Joe was the only family member named on an arrest warrant, so it is unclear why brothers George, Sam, and Daniel changed their names from Olney to Hill.  Perhaps they were concerned that they could be charged with aiding and abetting the escape of the wanted shootist.  When the brothers learned that New Mexico had joined Texas in seeking the arrest of Joe Olney, they all removed themselves to southeast Arizona, reigning up in Pima County, at a silver mining town, someone named Tombstone.

In Tombstone, Joe (Olney) Hill and his brothers became good friends with an outlaw group calling themselves The Cowboys, including the Clanton’s, Lowrey’s, Billy Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and everyone who hated the Earps.

The so-called Cowboys were an outlaw cartel, heavily involved in stealing horses, rustling cattle, holding up stagecoaches, fixing elections, stealing county tax proceeds, intimidating territorial judges, and murder.  Joe Hill rode with Sheriff Johnny Behan’s posse during the hunt for the Earps after someone dusted Frank Stillwell in Tucson.  Joe (Olney) Hill decided to settle down when Wyatt Earp began his now-famous Vendetta Ride. 

By the time Augustine Chacón arrived in Tombstone (c. 1884), the cattle liberation program was in full swing.  Chacón was looking for work, and he found it as an experienced vaquero.  Legal title to cattle didn’t matter to a cowboy.  He was either stealing cattle from Arizona and moving them into Mexico or stealing cattle and horses from Mexican haciendas and moving it into Arizona.  It was a robust trade arrangement for all concerned.  Eventually, however, all good things come to an end — so when the cattle rustling business became too hot, Chacón relocated to Morenci, Arizona.

Petty Crime to Murder

Morenci, Arizona, started as a prospecting camp simply called Joey’s Camp.  Sitting at an altitude of 1,436 meters, the town itself became a hazard because of the steep incline of streets and foundations.  There were no wheeled vehicles inside the town for many years, so resupplying town merchants required a never-ending stream of pack mules.  The town’s mining interests generated wealth for some, but most had to be content with dreams of wealth.  There was not much opportunity for Mexicans, but they had their hopes along with everyone else.  Working inside the mines was not Chacón’s cup of tea.  Instead, he arranged to provide firewood for the steam engine, placing it in certain places along the train route.  While Chacón saw to the firewood, he and his friends rustled cattle, butchered them, and sold the meat at a premium price to the butchers of Morenci.

Chacón had a growing reputation among the local Mexicans as someone to look up to — and fear.  His friends called him Peludo.  He was still personable, but he’d become dangerous to anyone outside his immediate circle.  Inside Morenci, El Peludo and his friends had taken to rolling drunks for pocket money; and robbed them while they worked in the mines.

Thus far in our investigation, we’ve discovered that Augustine Chacón was an accomplished horseman and vaquero.  We know (or suspect) that he became involved in horse stealing and cattle rustling as part of the Pima/Cochise County Cowboy operation.  We aren’t sure what else he was up to — but whatever it was, it was enough to set the tongues of local citizens (Mexican and Anglo) wagging.  If you believed everything spoken about El Peludo, you thought he was as dangerous (or more so) than any Clanton’s, Johnny Ringo, or Wild Bill Brocius.  Some claim Chacón was directly responsible for multiple murders, rapes, robberies, and horse thieving.  But was it true?  Maybe.

There was even a story about how Chacón outwitted the famed gunfighter/lawman John Slaughter.  According to this story, El Peludo openly bragged that he intended to kill Slaughter on sight.  When Slaughter heard about it, he, and his deputy (Burt Alvord) began looking for Chacón.  It was one of those “I’ll be your huckleberry” stories.  Slaughter and Alvord learned that Chacón was located out in a mining tent.  That night, they surrounded the tent and called Chacón out.

When Chacón heard his name called with instructions to surrender to the law, he rushed out the back of the tent, and just as Slaughter pulled the trigger on his shotgun, Chacón tripped over a tent stake and rolled down an embankment. Slaughter’s shot went over Chacón’s head, and he managed to escape certain death.

It was a good story — and an even better one, if true.

That wasn’t all, though.  Chacón and his gang were often blamed for unexplained events, such as the wanton murder of two hunters along Eagle Creek in 1894.  Missing cattle was almost always laid at Chacón’s feet.  When the body of an old prospector was found concealed in an abandoned mine shaft, Augustine was blamed for that, too.  He may have had a part in these incidents, but there was never any evidence.  Anyone could have done these things.  Oh sure, he was capable of it — and it was always the little things that made folks think of Chacón whenever something mysterious happened.

Another story claimed that he and his boys knocked over a casino in Jerome, killing four gamblers in the process.  According to witnesses, this was a Chacon murder/robbery — but if there were witnesses, it is odd that El Peludo was never charged with the crimes.  Another time, witnesses claimed that the Chacon gang held up a stagecoach just outside Phoenix, and then after that, someone murdered a group of several sheep-shearers at their encampment.

Once more, though — Augustin Chacón was never charged with such heinous crimes.  Then, on 18 December 1895, Chacón (or one of his cohorts, Pilar Luna, or Leonardo Morales) came up with the audacious plan to knock over McCormick’s General Store.  After midnight, the three bandits climbed through the store’s back window and hid until Paul Becker, the storekeeper, returned to the store, where he slept in a side room.  The three robbers grabbed Becker, took him to the safe, and ordered him to open it.  He initially refused, but after receiving a few whacks on the head and a few stab wounds to his torso, Chacón warned him, “Open it, or we’ll kill you.”

Despite his wounds and Chacón’s ominous threats, Becker broke away and stumbled down to Salcido’s Saloon, where town constable and deputy sheriff Alex Davis rushed to his aid.  Wise medically or not, Davis pulled the knife from Becker’s stomach.

Becker was alert enough to tell what happened.  At first light, Davis investigated the robbery scene and noticed a small blood trail leading out the back of the store and up the hill.  The red blotches led to the home of Santiago Contreras.  As Davis and his small posse approached the house, three men ran out the back door.  One of the men, Pilar Luna, took a shot at deputy Davis.  Along with Justice of the Peace Albert Brewer, Davis returned fire, striking Chacón in the arm.  Chacón and his boys kept climbing the steep hill and took refuge behind some large boulders.

Deputy Davis returned to the base of the hill to reload, where he encountered Pablo Salcido, brother to the saloonkeeper.  Pablo owned his own business in town and wanted to help catch the robbers.  He told Davis that he knew Chacón, that he was a friend of Chacón, and, as such, he thought he could talk the men into surrendering.  Davis didn’t like the plan.  He wanted to flank the fugitives and force them into surrendering.  Señor Salcido waved Davis off and started up the hill on his own.  After Salcido told the bandits that he wanted to parley, a shot rang out, hitting Pablo in the forehead.

Davis’ flanking maneuver resulted in the killing of Luna and Morales and Chacón’s eventual surrender.  Nearly 300 rounds had been fired during the gunfight.

Davis and Brewer charged Chacón with the murder of Pablo Salcido and transported him to the jail over in Solomonville before residents could form a lynch mob.  Chacon’s jailbreak was remarkable for its lack of excitement.  He simply walked out of jail one evening and hid in a nearby ditch.  He was only discovered when one of the searchers fell on top of him accidentally.  Graham County Sheriff Birchfield was not a happy man.

Augustine Chacon (standing right)

Señor Chacón’s trial was set to begin in April but was delayed until 26 May.  A jury found Chacón guilty, and he appealed his trial to the Territorial appellate court.  While awaiting the court’s decision, Chacón was transported to Tucson.  It was at the Tucson jail that Chacón’s only picture was taken.  He was shackled to another prisoner.  One will note how tall Chacón was.

He was held in Tucson until the Supreme Court affirmed the guilty decision of the lower court.  Upon Chacon’s return to Solomonville, on the train, the deputy discovered that the leg irons were cut almost completely through. Chacon’s new date for hanging was set for June 18, 1898, and work on the scaffold began.

Augustin Chacon was many things, including enterprising — so, having convinced himself that he did not wish to hang, he escaped from jail on 9 June.  This was no easy feat because the walls of the jail were ten inches thick of adobe material and had a double layer of two-inch pine board fastened with five-inch nails.  It was said that Chacon could never have excavated his way out of that cell without totally deaf guards — so the guards became suspects of complicity in Chacon’s escape.  It was also claimed that a Mexican woman distracted the jailer by seducing him.  Chacon made a beeline for Sonora, Mexico, whatever the truth of the matter.

Enter Burt Mossman

Burt Mossman (1867-1956) was raised on a farm near Aurora, Illinois.  Following the Civil War, in 1873, his family picked up and moved to Missouri, and in 1882, further west to New Mexico.  In 1884, Burt worked as a cowhand for the Hash Knife Outfit in northern Arizona.  By the time he was 20-years-old, Mossman was working as the ranch foreman and as a ranch superintendent by the time he was thirty.

Captain Burt Mossman

Burt Mossman was gutsy in keeping cattle rustlers at bay and sharply focused on learning the cattle business.  Meanwhile, Mossman and a business partner operated a successful stage line. While it was true that Mossman was making good money from his business ventures, he also gave back to the community.  In 1897-98, Mossman and his business associates built a lovely opera house in Winslow, Arizona.  In 1898, the people of Navajo County elected him as their sheriff.  By 1901, outlawry was rampant in Arizona, which prompted the Territorial governor to re-authorize the establishment of the Arizona Rangers.  Mossman was appointed to serve as a captain of the rangers.

Burt Mossman was no stranger to armed violence.  As a ranch foreman and superintendent, and later as a lawman, he was involved in at least five separate shootings — the first occurring in 1896.

Leading up to the first incident, Aztec Land & Cattle Company began experiencing financial problems, which prompted Mossman to drive cattle south to Mazatlán, Mexico, where it could be sold.  While in Mexico, at a cantina, Burt Mossman quarreled with a Mexican army officer.  Insulted, the Mexican challenged him to a duel.  Mossman accepted the challenge, and the two men met on the following morning, loaded their weapons with a single bullet, and stepped away from each other fifteen paces.  The Mexican officer missed his mark; Mossman did not, striking the man in his shoulder.  Mexican authorities promptly arrested Burt and kept him in jail for a month.  Eventually, with the help of a friend, Mossman escaped confinement and returned to the United States.

In 1902, Sheriff Mossman turned his attention toward the apprehension of the dastardly murderer Augustine Chacon. Mossman planned to assume the role of an American outlaw, befriend the train robber Burt Alvord (a friend of Chacon’s), and use him to entice Chacon back to the United States.  Mossman thought that Alvord would be a willing accomplice if (a) he was promised a light sentence in exchange for helping capture Chacón and (b) he was offered the reward money for the capture of El Peludo.

On 22 April, after traveling for several days, Mossman discovered Alvord’s hideout, a small hut located some distance away from San Jose de Pima in Sonora.  As the unarmed Mossman approached the hut, he found Alvord standing alone outside (the rest of the gang were playing cards inside).  After Mossman introduced himself, he reassured Alvord that he was in no danger and then made the outlaw a deal he couldn’t refuse.  The two men agreed to cooperate.  Billy Stiles (Alvord’s partner in crime, who was also known to Chacon as an outlaw) agreed to act as their go-between — necessary because it would take Alvord some time to locate Chacon and convince him to cross over into Arizona.[1]

It took Burt Alvord three months to find Chacon.  Chacon agreed to help Alvord in his escapade but first required Burt to help him dispense with some stolen horses.  Meanwhile, Alvord sent Stiles to tell Mossman to meet them just south of the border, at the Socorro Mountain Springs, in Sonora.

Although Mossman and Stiles failed to meet Alvord and Chacon in the Socorro Mountains, they found the bandits at Alvord’s wife’s home.  After exchanging names, Mossman and the others agreed to a plan to cross the border back into Arizona on the next day — to steal horses from the Greene Ranch.  However, it was too dark to steal horses that night, so they returned to their camp.  Before daybreak, on 4 September, Alvord decided to leave camp.  He gave Mossman a parting word of caution: “I brought Chacon to you.  If you aren’t careful, he’ll kill you.  So long, Amigo.”

When Chacon awoke later that morning, his suspicions were aroused when he found that Alvord was no longer in camp.  After breakfast, Stiles suggested that they steal the horses in daylight, but Chacon was uninterested and said he was going back to Sonora.  Mossman knew his time to act was now.  Chacon and Stiles were sitting on the ground when Mossman stood up and asked Chacon for a cigarette.  As Chacon offered the tobacco, Mossman pulled out his revolver and aimed it at the Mexican outlaw: “Throw up your hands, Chacon, or you’re a dead man.”

The final disposition of Augustine Chacon proved to be anticlimactic.  At Benson, Mossman delivered Chacon to Jim Parks, the new sheriff of Graham County, and from there, he was returned to Solomonville.  Because he had already been sentenced to hang, Chacon’s appearance in the Solomonville courthouse was a mere formality to set a new date for the execution.  The first day chosen was 14 November 1902, but a group of local citizens filed a petition to have Chacon’s sentence reduced to life in prison.  That effort failed, and the court decided to hang Chacon on 21 November.

While awaiting execution, Chacon was held in a specially built steel cage kept under heavy guard.  The scaffold on which Chacon was to hang had also been created specifically for him in 1897, though he had escaped before it could be used.  A large fourteen-foot adobe wall was built around the scaffold so only people with invitations could view the hanging.  When execution day came, Chacon had a good breakfast and was permitted to see two of his friends: Señor Jesus Bustos y Sisto Molino.  He was also allowed to see a priest several times that day, and after lunch, he was given a shave and a new black suit to wear.

Chacon was delivered to the scaffold at 2:00 p.m., where fifty people waited to greet him and wish him well.  The bandit chief, who had for over a decade eluded the law, asked for a cigarette and a cup of coffee before death and then began an unprepared thirty-minute speech to the crowd. Speaking in Spanish with an English interpreter, Chacon maintained his innocence in the death of Salcido (or, for that matter, anyone else), but he did apologize for stealing things.

After a second cigarette and cup of coffee, Chacon requested that he be allowed to live until 3:00 p.m., but his request was denied.  While walking up the steps of the scaffold, Chacon shook the hands of his friends and admirers.  When the rope was in place and the executioner was ready, Chacon’s final words were, “Adios, todos amigos.” Augustine Chacon was hanged in Arizona on 21 November 1902.

On the day after the execution, the Arizona Bulletin reported: “[A] nervier man than Augustine Chacon never walked to the gallows, and his hanging was a melodramatic spectacle that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.”

There are a number of works with titles approximating “The True Story of Arizona’s Worst Desperado …” and each one of them tells a different story about Augustine Chacón.  That Señor Chacón was present and involved in a gunfight with lawmen at the time and place where Pedro Salcido was shot and killed, there can be no doubt.  What remains unproven is that Chacón is the individual who killed Salcido.  One-hundred twenty years later, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because justice has always taken a backseat to retribution in this country. 


[1] Stiles association with the Arizona Rangers led to his service with the Rangers for a few years.  After traveling to the Orient for several years, Stiles returned to the American west and served as a deputy sheriff in Humboldt County, Nevada.  In this capacity, he was killed in the line of duty while attempting to serve a court summons.

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Arizona Territory, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Mexican American War, Mormons, New Mexico, Outlaws, Society, Texas | 2 Comments

Memorial Day

Each year, the people of the United States set aside the last Monday in May to remember our fallen service members.  The observance is a recent addition to the federal calendar, however.  And how America’s various communities choose to observe Memorial Day depends entirely on how devoted those community leaders are to the act of remembrance.

To many, Memorial Day is the official start of summer.  Some communities hold parades, conduct wreath-laying ceremonies, offer speeches, and have picnics.  Such celebrations are usually great fun for children — but when they put away their childish things and become adults, they realize there is something more important than grilling hamburgers and cooking hot dogs.  They may notice that their older relatives and neighbors are visiting cemeteries.  Why?  To remember those who gave all they had to give in service to their country and their respective communities.  Those fallen servicemen and women were their sons and daughters, spouses, and siblings.

Poster, 1917 (Library of Congress)

Until 1971, Americans knew this day as Decoration Day.  In all honesty, I do not recall ever celebrating Decoration Day.  I remember picnics and parades, speeches, and musical performances (local bands, of course) on the Fourth of July — but I cannot now recall a single observance of Decoration Day, not even after I joined the Marines.

Decoration Day was the brainchild of a former Civil War general by the name of John Logan.  Trained as a lawyer, Logan served as prosecuting attorney in Shiloh, Illinois, before turning toward politics in 1860.  He served his home state as a state representative, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a U.S. Senator.  Decoration Day began as a Congressional proclamation in 1868.  Logan selected the last Monday in May, we are told because by then, America’s flowers were in full bloom.

As part of his legacy, there are ten places in the United States named in honor of General Logan from Illinois (his home state), counties in Oklahoma, Colorado, and North Dakota, a college in Carterville, Illinois, high schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, a pub in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Fort Logan Cemetery.  A street named in his honor in Michigan was later changed to become part of the longest street in America, Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard.

The American Civil War was brutal — a conflict that many Americans observed firsthand.  With 650,000 war dead, nearly everyone in the United States was in some way affected.  So, it should be no surprise to learn that in the years following the war, American communities came together to tend to the graves of those who perished in it.  These emotions prompted many Americans, if not most of them, to appreciate General Logan’s efforts.  In the photo (left), a woman can be observed tending to the grave of a loved one in Upstate New York (c. 1868) (Library of Congress Photo). 

Still, Decoration Day was not an official federal day of observance.  Logan offered a Congressional resolution calling for a day to be set aside, but it would be up to America’s communities and state governments to implement Decoration Day programs.  By 30 May 1890, all former-Union (Northern) states adopted that date as their official Decoration Day.

James Garfield offered the first Decoration Day speech on 30 May 1868.  At the time, Mr. Garfield was a congressman from Ohio and a former Union General.  He would later serve as the 20th President of the United States.  Garfield delivered his speech at the entrance to the Arlington National Cemetery, established in 1864 (the former home of Robert E. Lee).  After his speech, 5,000 visitors entered the cemetery to visit and tend the graves of fallen soldiers.

Over subsequent years, people began referring to Decoration Day as Memorial Day.  It became a day to honor all of America’s fallen soldiers, whether they served the North or South — particularly after the brutal slaughters of the First and Second World Wars.  No one spoke of Decoration Day following World War II — it was always referred to as Memorial Day.

In 1968 — amid the Vietnam War, when no one was paying attention — the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.  The Act placed all major U.S. holidays on specific Mondays to give federal employees three-day weekends.  Memorial Day was one of those ‘specially selected’ holidays, along with Washington’s Birthday, Labor Day, and Columbus Day.  The Act also made Memorial Day the official name of that holiday.  The law went into effect in 1971; by then, there were no more Civil War veterans — but millions of veterans from subsequent wars.

1971 was when America began going to the mall to celebrate lower prices on furniture instead of going to the cemetery to tidy up grave markers. The proper observance of Memorial Day is that all Americans pause for a moment of silence at 3:00 p.m. local time to honor the 1.3 million men and women of the Armed Forces who gave up their lives for their country.  Few people today bother — which might help explain what’s wrong with America these days.

Posted in American Military, Civil War, History, Memorial Day | 12 Comments

An Act: To Provide for the Protection of Texas

According to some modern sociologists, Texas culture is among the major influences of American society today.  Even despite waves of immigrants (an amalgamation of Tejano, Anglo, Irish, Cajun, and African cultures) and the many tragedies impacting life in the Lone Star State, Texas retains its unique and highly attractive cultural identity.

It is true that “Texas is a whole ‘nuther country.”  There are reasons for this.

Mostly a one-way trip

On 21 April 1519, eleven Spanish galleons dropped anchor just off the wind-swept beach on the island known today as San Juan de Ulúa.  An extraordinarily brave Spanish conquistador by the name of Hernán Cortés had arrived with 550 hardy soldiers.  When the ships were unloaded, Cortés ordered the ships burned to the waterline.  There would be no “going back.”  These Spanish explorers would either succeed in this new world, or they would perish in it.  He venido a plantar mis raíces aquí.

The story of Hernán Cortés is quite similar to those of other European explorers and settlers.  Europeans, judging their circumstances as hopeless or their opportunities limited, set out on a voyage that they knew would very likely become a one-way trip, that would take them to a place completely foreign to them.  They must have known there would be many challenges.  They had to know that some of those would be insurmountable.  Some trials might even kill them — although it may be true that people back then didn’t dwell on such possibilities.  These attitudes, more than any other factor, may tell us something significant about the living conditions in the old world — that people were willing to risk their lives rather than to remain chained to a bleak existence in the country of their birth.

So, they went to the new world from Spain, Portugal, France, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Holland, Germany, and Italy — and others.  They went to the Americas to change their luck, their circumstances, to become free men and women, to live or die by their own wit and their own labors.  The New World became a great gamble.  Most, like Hernán Cortés, would either succeed or perish.  

This is also the story of Texas — which, with few exceptions, mirrors the story of human migration to the United States.  Texas migration began a few years later, obviously, but the Anglos who made their way to Texas were as hardy as anyone in Señor Cortés’s entourage or aboard the Mayflower.

Why so much interest in Texas?  Land.  In the United States, western expansion prompted the wealthiest Americans to invest in available land — a somewhat subjective term on account of the fact that American Indians already owned it.  By the time these land speculators were done, there was no affordable land in the United States for tens of thousands of poor, recently arrived migrants.  $1.25/acre for land may not seem like much to us today, but when people only earned from between thirty-three cents to fifty-cents per day ($120-$183 annually), $450.00 for a 320-acre tract (the minimum purchase), was more than most people could afford.

In Texas, the land was available for twelve and a half cents per acre.  Moreover, Stephen Austin guaranteed every settler a league of land.  In acreage, 4,428 acres.  It would have cost the newly arrived Texan $553.50, payable in six years.

Not everyone who moved to Texas was a saint, nor were many of them what we might call desperados.  They were simply men and women who were the product of their experiences.  Some people were already “broken” by the time they arrived in Texas — broken in ways that rendered them irreparable.  The difficulties of life in a hard land destroyed more than a few people’s lives; hostile Indians took thousands more.  There were many factors affecting life in Texas: rampant disease, floods, drought, heat, frigid temperatures, bad guys, and hostile Indians.  Consequently, the average lifespan of a Texan in 1859 was 47 years.  Yet still, they came.

Texas was as much of an “idea” in 1821as the American Revolution was in 1776, and Texas — like the new world, drew people in like a magnet.[1]  It still does.  Nearly thirty million people live in Texas today; around half of those are “naturalized” Texans.  One can’t help where they were born, but people do get to choose where they live.

Protecting the Homeland

Texas’ second president, Mirabeau B. Lamar, had no affinity for the American Indian.  We don’t know why, exactly, but his deep loathing for Indians lasted throughout his life.  As president, he vowed to protect the people of Texas from hostile tribes.  More than that, he vowed to see Indians permanently removed from Texas — the method of elimination inconsequential to him.  He send a message to the legislature stating, “It is a cardinal principle in all political associations that protection is commensurate with allegiance, and the poorest citizen, whose sequestered cabin is reared on our remotest frontier, holds as sacred a claim upon the government for safety and security, as  does the man who lives in ease and wealth in the heart of our most populous city.”  Lamar’s act to provide for the protection of Texas created an 840-man regiment of fifteen companies to serve the Republic for three years.  These men were paid $16 per month.

The very next day, on 1 January 1839, the legislature approved two additional acts: one allocating $75,000 to fund eight companies of “mounted volunteers,” and another appropriation for $5,000 for 56 men to serve on the Gonzalez frontier for three months.  Congress approved two companies of equal size for San Patricio, Goliad, and Refugio counties.  There did not appear much synchronization in the legislature; there also did not appear any coordination with the treasurer.

But the Texas Rangers were at least motivated.  Famed Indian fighter John Henry Moore mustered his men and went looking for hostile Comanches.  His force included forty-two Lipan and Tonkawa Indians, whose hatred for the Comanche was only surpassed by that of the Texas Rangers.  But Indians were not the Rangers’ only enemy: there was also no love lost between the Diablo Tejano (Devil Texans) and the Mexican Army.  No military force was more ruthless on the field of battle during the Mexican/American War than the Texas Rangers.

Texas seceded from the Union in late January 1861.  There were not many Civil War battles in Texas between then and 1865, but Texans did make a major contribution to the Confederate States Army.  Notable among these organizations was Terry’s Texas Rangers.

Post-Civil War Period

In 1865, the Governor of Texas appointed Richard Coke, from Waco, to serve as a Texas District Court Judge.  In 1866, Coke was popularly elected to serve as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court.  In 1867, Union Governor-General Philip Sheridan fired Coke and four other justices because, in his view, they impeded the goals of Union Reconstruction.  Had Sheridan not fired Judge Coke (and others), we may never have heard of Richard Coke today, but his dismissal made Coke a celebrity in Texas.  Moreover, Sheridan’s act helped Coke and others form a Democratic Coalition that ruled Texas for a hundred years.

The darkest period in the history of the Texas Rangers was the Reconstruction Period (1865-1873).  Governor Edmund J. Davis, a former Union general, and radical Republican politician re-organized the Texas Rangers into the Texas State Police (TSP).  Davis charged the TSP with enforcing the highly detested Union-imposed carpetbagger laws.  Worse, Davis’ decision to hire black police officers, who enforced those unpopular laws, created deep resentment among Texans.  Following Davis’ administration, Texans would not elect another Republican to the governorship until 1978.

Richard Coke won his election against Davis by a large margin, but Coke’s election wasn’t without challenges.  The (radicalized) Texas Supreme Court ruled Coke’s election “invalid.”  In response, Texas Democrats seized the second floor of the Capitol building (the governor’s office).  Governor Davis called for state troops, who refused to obey Davis’ orders.  Davis then telegraphed a plea for help from President Ulysses S. Grant, who refused to send federal troops.  Ultimately, Coke assumed office on 15 January 1874.

In May 1874, Governor Coke convinced the legislature to appropriate $75,000 to organize six companies of Texas Rangers with 75 men for each company (A through F).  Hostile Indians played havoc with West Texas settlers since the withdrawal of Union troops from the frontier in 1861.  Governor Coke’s point of view was  — enough is enough.  The organization then formed was known as the Frontier Battalion and the legislature gave it two distinct missions: protect the frontier from Indian depredations and enforce the criminal statutes of Texas in conjunction with county sheriff’s departments and the Texas district courts.

Daniel Webster Roberts became one of the hardy boys.  Roberts was born in Winston County, Mississippi in 1841, the son of Alexander (Buck) and Sabra Roberts.  Buck moved his family to Texas in the year of the Texas Revolution (1836), but three years later, out of concern for the safety of the family, Sabra insisted that her husband return her to Mississippi.  Buck and his brother Jeremiah remained behind in Texas.  Both men participated in the Battle of Plumb Creek under Captain Mathew Caldwell (known as “Old Paint”) from Gonzalez, Texas.  Afterward, Buck returned to Mississippi to see if he could talk any sense into Sabra.  The family returned to Texas in 1843.

The Roberts family lived in Blanco County when the Mexican War broke out in 1846.  Sabra informed her husband that if he wanted to remain in the midst of all the bloodshed, he was welcome to do exactly that, but she was taking herself and the kids back to Mississippi — where they remained until 1855.  Sabra passed away later that year in Blanco County.  Eventually, Buck remarried and sired another six children.

In 1855, Dan Roberts was 14 years of age and, like most children then and now, was filled with a sense of adventure.  Back then, kids didn’t play cowboys and Indians, they lived it.  Few places in North America presented a greater threat of Indian hostilities than Texas.  Battling Indians was what most people did when they weren’t working their farms and ranches 12-16 hours a day.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Dan joined Captain W. H. Perry’s company of mounted rifles in the 26th Brigade of Texas Militia.  He served as a scout in a company whose mission was to protect West Texans from Indians.  The Indians, of course, wasted no time taking advantage of the fact that there were no soldiers to keep them at bay.  Later, in 1862, Dan joined Colonel Peter Woods’ 36th Cavalry.[2]  When the regiment was dismounted in 1864, Roberts (and a good many others) quit the army and returned home.

In 1862, the state’s frontier defense was converted to Confederate cavalry and transferred out of Texas.  To replace these men, the legislature created a new militia organization designated as the Texas Frontier Regiment — renamed “Texas State Troops” in 1863.  The 1,000-man organization was remarkably consistent: it was not only ineffective in preventing Indian depredations along the western frontier, but it was also equally inept in preventing or reacting to cross-border raids by Mexican bandits, apprehending military deserters turned outlaw, draft dodgers, and fugitives from other states.

In 1869, back in Blanco County, hostile Indians raided the farm of Thomas Phelps over near Cypress Creek, three miles south of Round Mountain.  Indians killed Thomas and his wife and mutilated their bodies.  By the time neighbors discovered the Phelps’ remains, it was too late for pursuing the hostiles, but the incident was enough for the men of Blanco County to form a volunteer militia and agree that they would no longer tolerate Indian depredations.  The next time the Indians attacked, Blanco County men would pursue them and kill every last one of them.  They didn’t have long to wait.

On 15 August 1872, Comanche Indians were spotted on a hill near Dear Creek.  Ten volunteers rapidly assembled and, in their excitement, charged around the hill straight into an ambush.  Two men were killed outright.  As the detachment went to ground seeking cover, George Roberts, Dan’s brother received a gunshot wound that entered his hand and exited below his elbow.  After removing George from the line of fire, the seven remaining men held their ground.  Dan Roberts maneuvered to catch the Indians in a crossfire but received a wound in the leg before getting into position.  The six remaining men then abandoned their position to carry Dan and George to a nearby farmhouse.  The farmer, a man named Johnson, sent for Cicero Rufus “Rufe” Perry.[3]

Perry immediately responded to Johnson’s call for help.  Mustering volunteers, Perry rode to Deer Creek but found that the Indians had already withdrawn.  When Texas Senator H. C. King learned of the Deer Creek fight, he introduced a  bill to award each man a model 1873 Winchester Rifle.[4] 

In May 1874, Governor Coke appointed Major John B. Jones, a veteran of the Civil War, to command the battalion.[5]  On the recommendation of Jones, Governor Coke appointed Rufe Perry as a Texas Ranger Captain; Jones placed him in command of Company D.

Upon its formation, the Frontier Battalion interested Dan Roberts, but he was contemplating a move to New Mexico and hesitated to apply.  On 10 May 1874, Robert’s friend, and mentor, Rufe Perry, talked him into accepting a commission as a second lieutenant in Company “D”.  Dan Roberts accepted.

Company D’s main encampment was along the banks of the San Saba River, some twenty miles south of Fort McKavett.  One fact of life of Texas was that Texans and Comanches reviled one another.  But if the Comanche detested Texans, they positively loathed Texas Rangers. 

During one early fight, Roberts ran down an Indian brave, who promptly surrendered.  It would not have been unusual for a Ranger to refuse a Comanche’s surrender and kill him outright, but Roberts couldn’t do that; he took the Indian’s surrender and turned him over for trial.  The Indian, named Little Bull, was eventually convicted of murder and mayhem.  He spent the rest of his life, another ten years, in the Huntsville state prison.  He died of tuberculosis.

When Roberts wasn’t fighting hostiles, he assisted county sheriffs and state courts in law enforcement duties.  Texas outlaws posed almost as much a danger to settlers as the Indians.  Despite the prohibition of marriage to serving Texas Rangers, Dan Roberts fell in love with Miss Luvenia Conway.[6]  He wanted to marry her, but couldn’t do that and remain with Company D.  Roberts informed Captain Perry that he was submitting his resignation.  Perry spoke with Jones, who then granted special permission for Roberts to marry while in service with the Texas Rangers.

One of Major Jones’ more perplexing problems was the Mason County War, a feud between Anglo and German residents of that county.[7]  Cattle rustling was rampant throughout the county, and so too was the wanton murder of prisoners awaiting trial for rustling.  Involved in the kerfuffle was former Texas Ranger Scott Cooley and famed gunslinger Johnny Ringo.[8]  On 18 February 1875, Dan Roberts left Ranger camp and proceeded to the town of Mason (in Mason County) to obtain grain.  Arriving in town, Roberts paid a courtesy call on the county sheriff, John Clark.  Clark had five men under lock and key awaiting arraignment for cattle rustling.

Suddenly, a mob of forty or more men appeared with the intention of breaking the prisoners out and lynching them.  Dan Roberts moved to assist Sheriff John Clark and a bystander named James Trainer in preventing the breakout, but over-powered, the three men looked on helplessly as the mob marched their victims down the Mason-Fredericksburg Road.  A half-mile out of town, the mob strung the men up and began shooting them.  Roberts, initially thinking that the mobsters were shooting at he and Clark, returned fire.  Clark and Roberts saved two of the men.  Clark later made several arrests, but despite Roberts’ testimony, the grand jury returned no indictments.

In 1878, Dan Roberts resigned from the Rangers and moved to Houston, but due to troubles along the Mexican border, Major Jones convinced him to return to Company D — then stationed at Laredo.  One of the reasons Roberts found success along the border was his willingness to work with Mexican authorities to fight border banditry.  With this cooperation, Roberts was able to cross over into Mexico to pursue bandits with no fear of repercussions from either Mexican officials or his superiors.

On 25 June 1880, Roberts received a telegram from Judge G. M. Frazer at Fort Stockton requesting Texas Ranger assistance.  Numerous robberies over several months stymied local lawmen and nearby military authorities could not interfere in civil matters.  Roberts dispatched Sergeant E. A. Sieker and eight rangers; Major Jones also dispatched Sergeant L. B. Caruthers of Company E.  The rangers scouted the area surrounding the Davis Mountains looking for the robbers.  It came as no shock to the Rangers on 3 July 1880 that the desperados resisted arrest.  Captain Roberts told the story in his after-action report:

The bandits were about a mile ahead of the Rangers and the boys being eager to get to them struck out a little faster.  The robbers, observing the pursuit, left the road striking for a canyon some distance away.  With the Rangers heading straight for them at full speed, the bandits reached cover, dismounted, and took positions behind large rocks that fringed the area of the gulch.  As horses are not all created equal, only four Rangers managed to get within close range.  Sieker, Russell, Carson, and Bingham made up the quartet.

As the Rangers approached, firing commenced from behind the rocks, two bullets striking Carson’s horse and one through the brim of his hat, and Bingham was shot dead.  Carson, Sieker, and Russell dismounted and as [robber] George Davis showed up from behind a rock to shoot, Sergeant Sieker and Carson fired at him almost simultaneously, Sieker’s bullet striking him in the breast and as he fell, Carson’s bullet went through his head.

Seeing this deadly work of the Rangers, the three surviving robbers broke and ran.  Finally realizing they could not escape; they chose to surrender upon the promise that they would not be harmed.  In the excitement of the gunfight, the Rangers had not realized that Bingham was dead.  When they did find out, they almost killed the surviving robbers.  Sergeant Sieker, in charge of the scout, reported to Captain Roberts, “We charged the party, and took their stronghold.  Then we had the advantage, for the first time, and then they surrendered.  Had I known Bingham was killed at that time, I should have killed them all, but we disarmed them before we knew it.  Then they prayed for mercy.”

One of the robbers was Jesse Evans, formerly a pal of Billy the Kid.  He was tried and found guilty of murder (for the death of Bingham) and sent to Huntsville State Prison.  He managed to escape, however and was never heard of again.

In deference to his wife’s health, Captain Roberts resigned from the Rangers in 1882 and moved to Nogales, New Mexico, a gold mining town.  The Roberts lived in Nogales for thirty years where Roberts worked as a stockman and a miner.  They adopted the children of Daniel’s brother, George, who were named Fred and Lillie Roberts.  Lillie grew up to become the wife of New Mexico’s Governor J. F. Hinkle.  Eventually, Dan and Luvenia returned to Austin, Texas, where they lived out their days.  At Dan’s funeral, the pastor described Roberts as a “diamond in the rough, who though he sleeps, is not dead — because when Captain Dan W. Roberts dies, all Texas will die.” 


  1. Brecher, F. W.  Losing a Continent: France’s North American Policy, 1753-1763.  Greenwood Publishing, 1998.
  2. Holbrook, S.  The French Founders of North America and their Heritage.  Atheneum Press, 1976.
  3. Baenziger, A. P.  “The Texas State Police during Reconstruction: A Reexamination.”  Southwestern Historical Quarterly, April 1969.


[1] “Texas isn’t a state — it’s a state of mind.”  —John Steinbeck

[2] The 36th formed in 1863, serving in the trans-Mississippi Department and engagements at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill.  When the regiment was ordered dis-mounted, the Confederate States Army seized the horses (which were the personal property of the men).  Woods protested the order to move by rail to Beaumont and refused to obey it.  After the regiment marched and counter-marched the Texas coast for several months, 157 of Wood’s troopers quit the army and returned to their homes.

[3] Rufe Perry was a son of Alabama who moved with his parents to Texas in 1833.  He participated in the Texas Revolution with service under such notables as William W. Hill, John H. Moore, Sam Highsmith, Thomas Green, Edward Burleson, Mark Lewis, and John Coffee Hays.  In August 1844, Perry received serious wounds during a fight with Comanche warriors near the Nueces River.  Left for dead, Perry (with three separate wounds) walked 120 miles from Uvalde to San Antonio, unarmed, and without food or water.  Rufe Perry was one tough bird.

[4] Dan Roberts carried his rifle with him everywhere he went for the rest of his life.  Of his memory of the Deer Creek fight, Roberts later recalled, “The oftener I think of the fight, the greater is my wonder that all of us were not killed.  We were outnumbered by more than three to one, had arms that were inferior to the enemy’s and were compelled to fight in the open, at close range, while the Indians had shelter.  I can account for the miracle of our escape only by believing that it was an act of providence.”

[5] Jones (1834-1881) was a son of South Carolina, served in the 8th Texas Cavalry during the Civil War, served as a captain in the Texas Rangers, commanded the Frontier Battalion, and later served as the Adjutant General of Texas. 

[6] Luvenia Roberts later authored a book titled A Woman’s Reminiscences of Six Years in Camp with the Texas Rangers.  First published in 1928 and reprinted in 1987 by the State Press of Austin.

[7] See also: The Hoodoo War.

[8] See also: Mysterious Johnny

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Civil War, History, Justice, Society, Texas, Texas Rangers | 2 Comments

The Devil in John Marshall


There was nothing easy in the process of creating a new country called the United States, but if we endeavor to understand that process, then it becomes more likely that we will better understand how we’ve arrived at our current state of affairs.  The nation didn’t begin as a collection of states, of course.  They were colonies, each one independently established as a business model and sent off to make money for the British Crown.  By the time these colonists realized their general unhappiness with the mother country — and became resolute enough to do something about it, they had become entrenched in their “independent-mindedness” and would require a somewhat lengthy adjustment process to begin to work as a team.

With only an occasional willingness to work as a team, some may argue that the United States has never been “united” about much of anything.  We evolved from small “regional” societies into something more significant (from settlements to territories to states), and we have remained somewhat regionalized ever since. We may share certain similarities, but we have different attitudes toward various things. We may speak the same language, but our speech has a heavy dialect reflecting where we live. 

So, as we begin to look at how we evolved into a nation, we must give some time and spend some effort trying to understand why American colonists developed different attitudes about such things as citizens’ rights and guarantees.  As we set about this task, understand that words — and their purposes, are essential.  For example, most of the founders of the United States believed that natural rights are inherent in all people by virtue of their humanity and that certain of these rights are inalienable — which means that they cannot be surrendered to the government under any circumstances.  Except that we know this isn’t true.  Early American officials denied some people their inalienable rights —  which made a lie out of some of the words used to form that new country — inalienable being one of those words.

The effort to create a new country began with ending the old one.  For that to happen, the colonists had to openly declare their independence, which they accomplished through their Declaration of Independence — an instrument never modified as to the reasons or justification for rebellion.  I should add armed rebellion.

Once these rebels had declared their independence, it was necessary that they compound their treason by setting up an entirely new government.  The Americans achieved this in increments.  The Continental Congress first operated as a body of delegates to “consider” what they should do (if anything) about laws imposed upon them by the British Parliament.  The work of these delegates began as “committees of correspondence.”  Their first meeting involved twelve of the thirteen colonies between 5 September and 26 October 1774.  It was called the First Continental Congress.  The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1775 and remained “in session” until 1 March 1781.  On that date, it became known as the Congress of the Confederation.

Under the Second Continental Congress, most of the work was done to establish a workable new government for the “United States.”  The instrument to achieve this was the Articles of Confederation, which was wholly inadequate for the operation of a centralized authority by the time ratified.  All thirteen states ratified the document by 1781, but it gave very little power to the central government.  The Confederation Congress could make decisions, but each one required the unanimous consent of each state legislature.  As an example of the inadequateness of the Articles of Confederation — the Confederated Congress could print money, but it was worthless.  Possessing only worthless money, how did the government pay its debts?  It didn’t.

On 21 February 1787, the Confederation Congress called a convention of state delegates in Philadelphia to propose revisions to the Articles of Confederation.  It was not the purpose of this convention to propose new laws — only to offer minor alterations to improve the effectiveness of the central government.  What was needed was a delegation to render the federal constitution “adequate” to preserve the Union.  Not good; not great — just adequate.

Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention took place between 25 May and 17 September 1787.  Someone lied about how no one intended to pass new laws.  What the delegation actually did was propose an entirely new constitution.  The lie was necessary; otherwise, many delegates would not have agreed to attend the meeting.  Attendees offered several broad outlines: the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan.  Progress was slow until July when the so-called Connecticut Compromise resolved enough of the bickering to move forward on the proposal.  More modifications and changes followed over the next several weeks.  Thirty-nine of 55 delegates signed the instrument on 17 September.

The transition from the Articles of Confederation to the U.S. Constitution wasn’t easy.  The debates were contentious, and the push for ratification brought on a seemingly endless barrage of documents, articles, and pamphlets that both supported and opposed ratification.  The opposing sides called themselves Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  Federalists supported the Constitution and urged its ratification; Anti-Federalists refused to agree to ratification without incorporating a bill of rights.

The Bill of Rights 

After ratification, the courts held that the Bill of Rights extended only to the federal government’s actions and placed no limitations on the authority of any state or local government.  The people’s protection under the law only applied to federal law.  None of the Bill of Rights applied to American citizens beyond federal law until these protections were “incorporated” into state constitutions and bills of rights.  Each state is sovereign, remember.

After the Civil War, beginning in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment declared the abolition of slavery.  The incorporation of this amendment gave rise to the incorporation of other amendments, too. 

Before the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and the development of the incorporation doctrine, in 1833, the Supreme Court held in Barron v. Baltimore that the Bill of rights applied only to the federal — but not any state government.  Even years after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled that the First and Second Amendments did not apply to state governments.[1]  In the 1920s, a series of supreme court decisions interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to “incorporate” most portions of the Bill of Rights (for the first time) as enforceable against the state governments.[2]

With a reminder about the importance of words, recall that in the American experience, the Declaration of Independence was never once “revised.”  However, the Constitution of the United States has undergone 27 modifications — beginning with the first ten amendments, commonly referred to as the United States Bill of Rights.  The reason for the Constitution was to strengthen the power and authority of the United States government; the Bill of Rights was intended to constrain that power.  In this sense, the purpose of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are uniquely similar to one another.

And just to make sure that everyone was on the same sheet of music, the founding fathers constructed the Tenth Amendment.

The Tenth Amendment

Among some Americans, the Tenth Amendment is their favorite — and if you listen to their argument, it is because they believe the Tenth Amendment saves the United States and its people from a bully of a federal government.  It does NO such thing.

Passed by Congress in 1789 and ratified in 1791, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was the last of the group of amendments known collectively as the Bill of Rights.  The Tenth Amendment is brief and to the point.  Here’s what it says: The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In one short sentence, the foundational law of the United States grants to state governments all powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution.  One would think that such clarity would become the final word.  It wasn’t.

According to the U.S. Library of Congress, congress intended the Tenth Amendment to confirm the understanding of the people (at the time the Constitution was adopted) that powers NOT granted to the United States were reserved to the States or to the people.  It added nothing to the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights as originally ratified.[3]

The Tenth Amendment states a truism: that nothing which was retained by the states was surrendered to the federal government.  There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that the amendment was anything more than a (simple) clarification of the relationship between the central government and several states as that relationship existed before the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights — or that its purpose was other than to “allay fears” that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted to it, or that the states might not be able to fully exercise their reserved powers.[4]

We can attest to the truth of the preceding information — that the Tenth Amendment was never conceived as a yardstick for measuring federal powers because both Houses of Congress refused to insert the word “expressly” before the word “delegated.”[5]  James Madison himself confirmed the matter during the debate while the proposed amendment was pending as Alexander Hamilton proposed the establishment of a national bank.

In the minds of these early founders, if a(n) (enumerated) power was not given to Congress, then Congress could not exercise it.[6]  EXCEPT that members of congress are nearly all lawyers, and they use words for a living, and they are in league with the United States Supreme Court.  One further admonition about words: the Constitution of the United States means what the Supreme Court says that it means.  What you and I think doesn’t matter.

Case Law

Shortly after the inauguration of George Washington as our first president in 1789, his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, proposed a plan to create a national bank.  The idea was controversial from the start.  Thomas Jefferson, at the time serving as Secretary of State, feared that having a central bank to regulate American currency would infringe on states’ rights.  Jefferson noted that the Constitution did not give Congress any power to create corporations — which is how banks are organized.

Congress, however, decided to give Hamilton’s idea a try and created the First Bank of the United States with a 20-year charter.  Subsequently, Congress allowed the charter to lapse in 1811.  A year later, the United States encountered significant economic problems relating to the War of 1812, which prompted Congress to create the Second Bank of the United States in 1816.

Some states went so far as to pass laws to try and undermine the national bank’s operations.  Other states, like Maryland, decided to impose a tax on the federal bank.  In 1818, Maryland’s state legislature passed a $15,000 annual tax on any bank operating within the state that was not charted by the state government.  The only bank that fit that description was The Second Bank of the United States.

Mr. James W. McCulloch, manager of the national bank’s Baltimore office, refused to pay the tax — so the matter went to court.  In court, the state of Maryland argued that because the Constitution was “silent on the subject of banks,” the federal government was not authorized to create one.  But when the federal government appealed the case, the Supreme Court disagreed.

The Argument: Enumerated vs. Implied Powers

In Constitutional Law, experts speak of government power in terms of what is specifically outlined in the Constitution (enumerated) and what isn’t (implied).  As an example of enumerated powers, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution permits the federal government to: 

  • Collect taxes
  • Regulate foreign and domestic commerce
  • Coin money
  • Declare war
  • Support the army and navy
  • Establish lower federal courts

But Congress can do many other things — which are the “implied” powers.  Congress can do this because of the so-called necessary and proper clause.  In other words, there may not be an enumerated power for Congress to do a certain thing, but for Congress to perform its enumerated powers, other acts of Congress may be “necessary and proper.”  Such necessary and proper powers are “implied,” which the Supreme Court has held to be lawful.

This case involved McCulloch v. Maryland (17 U.S. 316 (1819)).  Since McCulloch, Congress has used the “necessary and proper” clause to pass laws in many different areas.  The Supreme Court upheld these implied actions in such areas as:

  • Gun control laws
  • Federal minimum wage
  • Income taxes
  • Military draft
  • Regulation of alcohol and narcotics
  • Protecting disabled individuals
  • Immigration

Some argue this goes against the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which states that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

But, in deciding McCulloch, the Supreme Court had to answer two questions: (1) Did Congress have the power to establish a national bank, and (2) Did Maryland’s law taxing the bank unconstitutionally interfere with Congress’s power?  The court’s decision was unanimous. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Marshall asserted that the Constitution grants Congress the power to make “all laws necessary and proper” for carrying out the capabilities outlined in Article I, Section 8.  

John Marshall was a proponent of strong centralized government power, and he defined the word “necessary” to mean anything appropriate and legitimate.  This ruling gave Congress broad authority to carry out its constitutional duty, so long as its actions were logically tied to one of its enumerated powers.

The Constitution said nothing about the federal government establishing a bank, but because establishing a bank would help the Congress to carry out its other duties, such as collecting taxes and maintaining an armed force, then establishing a bank was “necessary and proper” — and implied.  Chief Justice Marshall went one step further: he concluded that Article VI establishes the Constitution as the “supreme law of the land,” which means that states have no power to interfere with federal law.  Maryland’s tax on the national bank was, therefore, unconstitutional.

The Impact of McCulloch v. Maryland

This case had a profound effect on cases involving state vs. federal power.  The doctrine of implied powers created by the court became a powerful tool for the federal government to become the bully it has become.  In particular, McCulloch established, once and for all, that when state and federal laws are in conflict, the federal law always wins. McCulloch also paved the way for what some call the “administrative state” (also, deep state, swamp, etc.), a form of government that employs an extensive professional class to oversee government, the economy, and society — essentially, the federal regulators who oversee many aspects of American life, including environmental agencies and labor regulators.  Without the McCulloch decision, many federal agencies and their onerous (business-busting) regulations might not exist.  And, without McCulloch, the land of the free and home of the brave might actually still belong to the American people.


[1] U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876).

[2] On 26 June 2008, the Supreme Court issued a decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, holding 5-4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected to service in a militia and protects the right to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense.  In McDonald v. City of Chicago, 2010, the Supreme Court found that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment and is incorporated by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

[3] U.S. v. Sprague, 282 U.S. 716, 733 (1931)

[4] U.S. v. Darby, 312 U.S. 100, 124 (1941)

[5] Annals of Congress, 767 – 68 (1791).  Note that an annal of congress, which forms part of the Debates and Proceedings of Congress covers the 1st Congress through the 18th Congress of the United States (1789 – 1824).

[6] 2 Annals of Congress 1897 (1791).

Posted in Bill of Rights, British Colonies, Colonial America, Corruption, Founding Fathers, History, Justice, The Constitution | 10 Comments

A Black Speck

A black speck appears against the sky, and it is plain that it moves.  … Another instant and man and horse burst past our excited faces and go winging away like the belated fragment of a storm.  —Mark Twain (Roughing it, 1872)

Roughing It was a semi-autobiographical book written by Samuel Clemens as Mark Twain, written between 1870-and 71 and published in 1872.  The book follows a young Samuel Clemens through the Wild West during the period 1861 – 1867, and in it, he offers us a flavor of the excitement of the Pony Express.  The very name calls up thrilling images of horse and rider racing through hostile territories and across treacherous terrain — even though the Pony Express lasted for less than two years (from April 1860 to October 1861).  Plus, the Pony Express was only one of several private express companies carrying mail.

Much of what we think we know about the Pony Express (and the American West) began in the so-called wild-west shows and dime novels in the late 1800s.  Yet, despite their end, America’s Pony Express riders continue dodging highwaymen and hostiles, winging their way across the vast American west — they live on in our imaginations.

In 1860, a relay system of horsemen began carrying mail between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California.  The central route extended 1,966 miles and involved 165 stations roughly separated by ten or twelve miles where the riders exchanged their horses.  The express riders were capable of riding like the wind for as many as 75 to 100 miles in a single day.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was necessary — because the problem was, at the beginning of the American Civil War, the United States was on the verge of losing control over the transfer of mail, cargo, and gold from California.  Pony Express gave the Union control over cargo and mail carried between East and West outside the borders of the Southern states.

Pony Express riders made the 1,966-mile journey in around ten days (in the summer) or between 12 and 16 days (in the winter).  Who do we credit for this idea?  William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell.  Who shall we credit for making it happen?  Men like Nick Wilson.

Some Tales are Taller than other Tales

The old west is full of tall tales — some credible, others not so much.  More than a few of these tales concern the Pony Express.  They rode day and night, rain, or shine, regardless of the known presence of hostile Indians and well-heeled road agents. 

Elijah Nicholas Wilson was born in 1842 — part of a pioneer family living in the American West.  When he was around 12-years old, he left home and went to live with a Shoshone Indian chief named Washakie.  He stayed with the Indians for four years.  When Pony Express solicited riders, 18-year-old Nick Wilson was hired on.  He knew how to break horses, and he had sand.  It was dangerous work.  Nick Wilson said he got used to it after a while.

After driving horses to Antelope Station (Nevada), working under Superintendent Howard Eagan, Wilson stopped at the Spring Valley Station.  He encountered two orphaned boys who the station manager had abandoned.  The two boys were running the station by themselves, and they invited Wilson to stay for supper.  After Nick let his horse out to graze, he noticed the horses going towards a patch of Cedar or pinion pine trees — he suspected that Indians were driving the horses away.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson sprinted towards the horses with Guns blazing, trying his best to reach them before the Indians stole them away.  He fired three times at the men and missed.  One of the raiders shot an arrow at Wilson, the flint-tipped arrow striking him two inches above his left eye.  As the raiders rode off with the horses, the two boys reached Wilson and tried to yank the arrow from his forehead, but it wouldn’t give.  They broke off the shaft, leaving the flint tip buried in Wilson’s forehead.  The boys rolled him under the trees, thinking he was as good as dead.

As Wilson lay unconscious, the boys ran for help at the next station.  They returned the next day with men to help with Wilson’s burial, only to find him still alive.  They carried Nick back to the station and called for a doctor from Ruby Valley, 60 miles away, to treat the wounded and still unconscious express rider.  Although the doctor could dig out the arrowhead, he didn’t think the outlook was good.  He instructed the station boys to apply wet cloths to Wilson’s head, and then he left.

Six days into this treatment, Superintendent Egan happened by the station and saw Wilson unconscious but still alive.  He sent for the doctor to come again from Ruby Valley and give further treatment. Wilson was unconscious for eighteen days.  Once he awoke, he quickly recovered and returned to riding the dangerous express line.

Afterward, Wilson always wore his hat low over his forehead to cover his scar.  The head injury plagued him with headaches for the rest of his life.  The scrape with death didn’t slow him down, though.  He continued to ride for the Pony Express until it shut down in October 1861.  Wilson went on to live a full life as a western pioneer and earned the reputation of a true old west storyteller.  Hollywood producers incorporated Nick Wilson’s storyline into the film Wind River.

Williams Station Massacre

Williams Station wasn’t much — a saloon, general store, and stagecoach station sitting on the Carson River.  On 6 May 1860, a war party led by mixed-race Bannock Indians assaulted the station, killing five Americans and setting fire to the station.  A militia was quickly formed from volunteers in Virginia City, Silver City, Carson City, and Genoa to apprehend the marauders.  The volunteer force consisted of about 105 men, led by Major William Ormsby.  The militia was a gaggle of undisciplined morons with an over-abundance of crap for brains.  None of these men realized how poorly armed they were — because they were all full of whiskey.  There were two pitched battles in the vicinity of Pyramid Lake (present-day Nevada), resulting in the deaths of 79 whites and 25 Indians.  Perspective: of the 105 white militia members, 79 died. 

Remembered as the Pyramid Lake War (and Paiute War), the conflict forced Pony Express to suspend operations between Carson Valley and Salt Lake City through the end of June 1860.  The COC & PP  rebuilt the destroyed stations and posted up to five guards at each one along this portion of the route. The Pony Express recommenced service at the end of June, even though hostilities between the Paiute and settlers didn’t cease until August.

Despite the nearly two-month disruption to service, Pony Express continued between Salt Lake City and St. Joseph.  Unhappily, as the company spent $75,000 to reopen the route to California, the Salt Lake to St. Joseph route produced little income — placing Pony Express near financial collapse.  Indian raids continued throughout the system.

The Pony Express Gunman

He was born Joseph Alfred Slade in 1831 at Carlyle, Illinois, the son of politician Charles Slade.  He served in the U.S. Army occupational force in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the Mexican-American War.  After his father’s death, his mother married Union Major General Elias Dennis.

Jack Slade

After the war, Slade worked along the Overland Trail as a freighter and wagon master.  He married in 1857, afterward earning his living as a stagecoach driver in Texas.  He may have worked for the Butterfield Stage, but by 1859 he worked for Hockaday & Company, who sold out to Jones—Russell & Company, and then for the Central Overland, California & Pike’s Peak (COC & PP) Express Company (parent owners of the Pony Express).  Jones—Russell transferred Slade to the Pony Express company in 1860 and made him one of their superintendents.  Slade’s duty required him to keep order among the riders and schedule cross-country express mail service between St. Joseph, Missouri, and San Francisco, California.

Jack Slade took his work seriously.  He was quiet, somewhat broody, and if you weren’t accustomed to calling him Jack, you called him “sir.”  The point was, Jack Slade was a gunslinger — and everyone knew it.  Well, everyone except a fellow named Andrew McFerrin.  McFerrin was holding up one of Slade’s freight trains.  When Slade told him to get a move on, Andrew decided to broach the subject of wages, taking the hardball approach.  That was when Slade slapped leather and shot McFerrin dead.  This incident did two things for Slade.  First, it made him an effective superintendent, and second, it earned him his reputation as a gunman.

Jack Slade suspected that one of his station masters in Colorado, a man named Jules Beni, was as corrupt as Maxine Waters (although she wasn’t even alive back then).  Slade decided to ride over and discuss it with him.  En route, Jules ambushed Slade, shot him, and left him for dead.  This is what happens when employees fail to demonstrate attention to detail.  Slade wasn’t dead.  In August 1861, Jules Beni ended up with around 40 bullet holes in his body when Slade’s friends caught up with him.

Despite Jack Slade’s reputation as a dedicated company man, he (like so many others out west) developed a drinking problem.  Jones—Russell fired him for drunkenness in 1862.

Slade’s exploits spawned numerous legends, many of them complete bull tacos.  His image, as captured by Mark Twain in Roughing It, as a vicious killer (Twain claiming 26 victims) was greatly exaggerated.  English writer George Orwell criticized Twain, claiming that his writing encouraged old west violence — but that may also be a stretch of the imagination.

Passing the Time

But all good things must come to an end, as did Jack Slade on 20 July 1864.  Virginia City, Montana, was a wild and wooly place in the 1860s — and with a high population of road agents, crooked sheriffs, and things that go bump in the night, the good citizens of Virginia City just weren’t in the mood for shenanigans.  That’s why, when Jack Slade got all fired up with alcohol one night, vigilantes strung him up for “disturbing the peace.”  This we know for sure: Jack Slade never did that again.  His friends planted him over in Salt Lake City.

End of the Pony Express

Once the Civil War broke out, Pony Express was the fastest way to transmit information from the seat of power in Washington to western states and territories.  Meanwhile, efforts to establish a telegraph line to California were well underway.  Still, a telegraph line could not replace mail service, so even though the telegraph system reached San Francisco by August 1861, the demand for mail service steadily increased.  When government subsidies stopped, Pony Express went out of business, and COC & PP came to mean “Clean out of cash and poor pay.”


  1. Driggs, H. R. “A Flint-Headed Arrow.” In The Pony Express Goes Through; an American Saga Told by Its Heroes, 70–78. New York, New York: Lippincott, 1963.
  2. Wilson, E. N., and H. R. Driggs. The White Indian Boy: The Story of Uncle Nick among the Shoshones. Salt Lake City, Utah: Paragon Press, 1991.
  3. Rottenberg, D.  Death of a Gunfighter: The Quest for Jack Slade, the West’s Most Elusive Legend.  Westholme Publishing, 2008
  4. Smithsonian National Postal Museum, online.

Kaplan, J.  Mr. Clemens, and Mark Twain: A Biography.  Simon & Schuster Publishing, 1966

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, California, Civil War, Colorado, Gunfights and such, History, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Pony Express | 1 Comment

Hell’s Fury

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

—William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697)[1]

Between 1960-63, the ABC Television Network hosted an entertaining crime drama called The Naked City.  The star of this show was actor Paul Burke.  The show always ended with this narration: “There are over 4 million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.”  There were at least that many stories in the old west, too, and never any shortages of human tragedy.

In 1830, just outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there lived a young man who was born into a financially comfortable family, whose father was locally influential and known as a man of honor.  These traits were passed along to his son, whose name may have been Henry Vereau — but we cannot be sure.  Henry fell in love with Anna Baldwin (if that was her name), the daughter of a New York clergyman visiting her sister in Baton Rouge.

Anna was not a beautiful woman, per se, but visually attractive and well proportioned.  Henry and Anna met and fell in love, and in time he asked Anna to become his wife.  She accepted his proposal, and they agreed to marry when Henry returned home following a business trip to Kentucky.  He anticipated an absence of about two months.

While absent, Henry dutifully wrote to Anna to keep her informed of the progress of his business affairs and to reaffirm his devotion to her, of course.  But then the letters stopped arriving — a fact that Anna found very disturbing.  He may have been injured, or worse, killed — or possibly had changed his mind about marriage.  There being no letters from her betrothed and carrying his child, Anna experienced much agony and disappointment.  After another month, she began to listen to the propositions of the overseer of a nearby plantation, and with no word at all from Henry Vereau, Anna married this other man.

Sadly, her new husband proved to be a drunkard and abusive.  But Anna’s story gets worse because Henry reappeared no more than two weeks after her marriage to the skunk.  His business trip had been extended, but he continued writing to her with no account for why she did not receive any of his letters.  Henry did not respond well to the news that she had married someone else — and he soon traveled to France.

Their child, whom Anna named Elsa Jane, born under dubious circumstances, is the main character of this story.  It was not unusual for girls to marry at an early age in 1842.  Elsa Jane married at the age of twelve years.  She had two children by the time she was fifteen.  Her husband, Mr. Forest, was a riverboat pilot, murdered in cold blood by one of his crew — a man whose name was Jamison.

Forest had left her penniless. It was an awful tragedy for a young girl, much less a young mother. With little choice in the matter, Elsa left her children with the Sisters of Charity in St. Louis, Missouri, and set off searching for work — and, amazingly enough, her husband’s killer.  Jamison went to trial and was convicted of murder — but was later released on a technicality.  We don’t know what the technicality was, of course, but it isn’t that important for this story.  What is essential is that Elsa reasoned that to earn a good living and provide for her children, she would have to change her circumstances.

Of course, women back then had limited opportunities for employment outside the home, and Elsa’s case was complicated by the fact that this poorly-educated 16-year-old girl was determined to track down her husband’s murderer and give him a slice of justice.  So, rather than taking a position as a domestic servant ironing other people’s linen, Elsa enlisted the assistance of a trusted male friend who agreed to keep her secret, find her clothes suitable for a young man, and teach her how to take on a more masculine persona.

With her hair cut short, Elsa Jane began calling herself “Charlie” and entered the world of men as their equal.  She quickly passed herself off as a young man with a somewhat husky voice. 

Elsa’s first job was as a cabin boy on a steamer along the St. Louis-New Orleans route.  She was paid $35.00 per month ($1,290.08 today).  Elsa visited her children every chance she could — along with the man who befriended her in her time of need. Not once, as she went about her business, did Elsa lose sight of her task: earn money to care for her two children and find the man who murdered her husband.  

After working on the river for four years, in 1854, Charlie took a job as a railroad brakeman for higher wages.  By this time, Charlie dropped all of her feminine traits with one exasperating “but.”  Not long after joining the railroad, her superior, the train conductor, began to suspect her gender.  She quickly packed her bags and boarded a steamer for Detroit.  In her own words —

“I buried my sex in my heart and roughened the surface so I would not be discovered.”

There is but one source for information about Elsa Jane Forest Guerin — Mountain Charley or the Adventures of Mrs. E. J. Guerin, who was thirteen years in male attire: An Autobiography Comprising a Period of Thirteen Years Life in The States, California, and Pike’s Peak, Dubuque Publishing, 1861.  The reader can download Guerin’s book here.

On average, Charlie changed jobs about every six months — more often whenever people began to eye her suspiciously.  Even with that, she enjoyed the freedom she had as a male.  She could come and go as she liked.  In her own words —

“I could go where I chose, do many things which, while innocent in themselves, were debarred by propriety from association with the female sex. The change from cumbersome, unhealthy attire of woman to the more convenient, healthy habiliments of a man was in itself almost sufficient to compensate for its unwomanly character.”

Charlie returned to St. Louis to spend time with her children whenever possible.  But playing the role of a man was Elsa’s cover, not her mission.  Under her quiet demeanor was a hunter, always looking for a murderer.  She was always hoping Jamison would show up at a street corner.  One night, after five years of looking for him, he did.  There was a moment in the initial meeting where Charlie could have quickly assassinated him, but she reasoned that such an act would be cowardly.  Instead, she faced Jamison just outside a gambling hall in St. Louis.  She called him out, he went for his gun, and she went for hers.  His bullet hit her in the leg; she shot him in the arm, and he escaped.

The incident drew attention to herself, and she sought refuge with a sympathetic woman who listened to her story and kept Charlie hidden until she was well enough to travel.  A company of men heading for the goldfields of Sacramento came through town, and Charlie jumped at the chance to leave the area and continue with her journey as a male adventurer, no one being the wiser and Charlie more determined than ever.

When Charlie reached Sacramento, she took on a job in a saloon — and supplemented her work by buying and selling mules.  It was a lucrative venture, earning Charlie $2,500.00.  Later, the young woman earned an additional $30,000 selling furs and leading supply wagons into Colorado.

In Denver, in the spring of 1860, after purchasing The Mountain Boy’s Saloon, Charlie became known as “Mountain Charley.”  While operating the saloon, she also opened a bakery.  Soon after, Charlie was riding horseback a few miles outside Denver when she happened to spot Jamison again.  By this time, Mountain Charley had improved her marksmanship skills.  Elsa Jane wrote —

“I emptied my revolver upon him as he lay and should have done the same with its mate had not two hunters at that moment come upon the ground and prevented any further consummation of my designs….”

This time her aim was true, but once again, Mr. Jamison proved himself a stout-hearted fellow, and although Elsa/Charley filled his sorry ass with hot lead, he did not die.  Charlie learned that she needed a bigger caliber smoke wagon, and Mr. Jamison, who was never-the-less seriously wounded, traveled to New Orleans to recover.  New Orleans was never a healthy place to live — not even now.  Within a year, Yellow Fever killed the murdering rat, Mr. Jamison.

After returning to Denver, Charlie fell in love with her barkeeper, Mr. H. L. Guerin, who had been aware of Charlie’s past from the onset of their business relationship.  Charlie finally revealed her true identity, and she and Mr. Guerin married and opened a boarding house in Denver, and engaged in a mining effort of unspecified interests.


According to the American Civil War forum, Elsa Jane Forest Guerin traveled to Iowa and joined the Union Army, enlisting as Private Charles Hatfield.  She served in the army for two years under Colonel Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the 1st Iowa Regiment.  Charlie served Curtis as a spy, was wounded in an undisclosed engagement, and eventually received a commission to first lieutenant.  Ms. Guerin does not mention any involvement during the Civil War, so the claim that she served as an officer while impersonating Charles Hatfield cannot be substantiated.  What makes this account unlikely is that she relocated her children to a boarding school in Georgia during the Civil War.  Why would she do that if she served the army of Yankee aggression?


[1] William Congreve was a popular and successful English playwright of Restoration theatre, whose plays are still somewhat popular.  Some of his lines are mistaken for Shakespeare, such as, ‘Music has charms to soothe the savage breast,’ ‘tis better to be left than never to have been loved,’ ‘You must not kiss and tell’ and ‘married in haste, we repent at leisure.’

Posted in American Frontier, Civil War, Goldrush, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Missouri, Society, The Ladies | 8 Comments

Mister Montana

Last week —

… we examined the outlaw sheriff operating in and around Virginia City-Bannack, in the Idaho/Montana Territory.  This week, we will look at a man who some would argue was as bad as the outlaw sheriff, only better connected.  His name was Granville Stuart, younger brother of James Stuart, the sons of Robert and Nancy Stuart of Harrison County, Virginia.  Ultimately, history remembers Granville as a pioneer, gold prospector, businessman, civic leader, vigilante, author, cattleman, and diplomat — a man who played a prominent role in the development of Montana.[1]

Granville Stuart was born on 27 August 1834 in Harrison County, Virginia (later, West Virginia).  After a brief stay in Illinois in 1834, the Stuart family moved to Muscatine County, Iowa, where young Granville and his brother James learned to hunt, explore, and develop fieldcraft skills.

In 1849, Granville’s father Robert made his way to the California gold fields — one of the thousands of 49’ers who made the hazardous journey only to find disappointment.  By 1853, Robert had tired of prospecting and returned to Iowa, leaving his two sons behind in California to make their own life.

The boys remained in California prospecting for gold but had no luck.  Still hoping to strike it rich, they moved from Sacramento to Yreka in 1854 and the Klamath River Valley in 1855.  In response to the Klamath Indian uprising in 1856, the Stuart brothers enlisted as scouts in the California Mounted Rifles, briefly participating in the Rogue River wars.  After a career of some 30 days, the boys returned to the goldfields in Yreka.  In 1857, James and Granville decided to return to their family in Iowa.

Heading eastward, the boys traveled with nine others until Granville became ill.  The boys suspended their journey at that time, and James took care of Granville.  By the time he recovered, it was too late in the year to continue their journey over the Rockies.  Unable to winter in southern Idaho or seek shelter in Salt Lake City because of the U.S. and Mormon War, they wintered with a friend named Jake Meek in the Beaverhead Valley (near Dillon, Montana).  During that winter, the brothers met and worked with a French-Canadian fur trader named Richard Grant (an employee of the Hudson Bay Company).  Richard was the father of John Grant, proprietor of the Grant Ranch, and a founder of Deer Lodge, Montana.

Young Granville

For the next three years, James and Granville traded cattle, horses, and other goods between the Big Hole Valley, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge Valley, and Fort Bridger (in southern Wyoming).  In the fall of 1860, the Stuarts moved to Deer Lodge Valley and established a camp on Gold Creek — a productive goldfield with good access to supplies at Fort Benton.

By 1862, prospectors congregating along Gold Creek began calling their community the “American Fork.”[2]  At the other end of the valley, Johnny Grant called his growing community “Cottonwood.”  With the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch in the summer of 1863, most of the valley inhabitants moved south toward Virginia City — including the Stuarts.  But wanting to retain a Stuart presence in the Deer Lodge Valley, James joined with Johnny Grant and organized a townsite survey company on Cottonwood Creek.  The town established there was later named Deer Lodge, Montana.

In 1863, gold strikes at Grasshopper Creek were drawing in hundreds of prospectors.  Trying to take maximum advantage of the boom, James and Granville relocated to Bannack, where Granville opened a butcher shop.[3]  In Bannack, the Stuarts made essential connections among the early pioneers and settlers of territorial Montana, several of whom became important business partners.  It was also in Bannack that Granville got his first exposure to vigilantism.

Granville and his brother James were partners in most things since they were teenagers and were rarely apart until January 1871, when James left Deer Lodge to operate a trading business at the government trading post on the Milk River near Fort Browning.  James left his wife and three sons in the care of Granville and Awbonnie.  In June 1873, the government closed Fort Browning and transferred James to Fort Peck.  By this time, James was seriously ill with liver disease, and he passed away on 26 September 1873.  Granville had his brother buried at Deer Lodge.

Throughout his life, Granville Stuart served in various public offices, including town council president, school district trustee, legislative representative, militia officer, state land agent, head librarian, and founding member of the Society of Montana Pioneers.  He was also a prolific writer, keeping copious notes and journals and copies of correspondence — primary records that make good history.

In 1879, Granville Stuart worked as a bookkeeper at his old friend Samuel T. Hauser’s First National Bank in Helena, Montana.  Stuart and Hauser had known each other since 1862 when they were together in the goldfields.  Stuart, aware of the burgeoning cattle business on the open range, encouraged Hauser to invest.  Hauser put together a deal with Helena banker Andrew J. Davis creating the DHS Cattle Company (DHS for Davis, Hauser, Stuart).  Granville Stuart was a minor partner with an investment of $20,000 (which he borrowed from Hauser).  Hauser and Davis appointed Stuart to serve as general manager.

In the spring and summer of 1879, Stuart bought cattle from Beaverhead Valley in Montana and from Oregon with plans to site them on 800 acres of the Judith Ranger (near Lewiston).  DHS Ranch was located in an area surrounded by an open range near Fort Maginnis (for protection from hostile Indians) and a ready market for Cattle.  The disadvantage of ranching near an army fort was that the army claimed all hay land surrounding the fort, including that of the DHS Ranch.  A legal dispute when on for several years before the military finally relinquished its claim to the hay land.  In any case, by April 1880, Stuart had acquired approximately 9400 head of cattle at the cost of $141,327.


The nature of vigilance committees, which is to say, lacking any system of checks against abusive power, was that their members and activities were secretive.  Consequently, the best defense against abusive vigilante organizations was to publicize the names of their members.  In 1835, when the Vigilance Committee of Nashville, Tennessee, whipped Rev. Amos Dresser for his pro-abolitionist publications (which he denied), the American anti-Slavery Society published the names of all 62 members of the committee.  Some of these men were purported to be elders of the Presbyterian Church.

In Montana, vigilance activities started as small secret groups in Virginia City but given the amount of lawlessness in Montana around 1850, vigilante activities spread quickly.  Since they were secret organizations, there is not a lot of information available to us today, but we do know that several higher-ups in the organizations were prominent Montana citizens — including Granville and James Stuart (founders of the so-called Stuart Stranglers[4]), Wilbur Sanders (1st U.S. Senator from Montana (1890)), Sidney Edgerton (first Governor of Montana Territory (1864)), Cattleman Nelson Story (famous for his 1866 cattle drive from Texas to Bozeman and prominent Bozeman merchant), John Bozeman (founder of Bozeman, Montana (1864) and the Bozeman Trail), Nathaniel P. Langford (first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park), and Thomas Dimsdale, publisher of the Montana Post.

Granville Stuart 1900s

The secret nature of Montana vigilante organizations also makes it difficult to know when execution was carried out by vigilantes or another individual or motivated group.  After the George Ives trial, vigilantes apprehended, tried, and executed several criminals.  Notable among those hanged was Henry Plummer, the sheriff of Bannack, suspected by more than a few citizens of being the ringleader of Virginia City Road Agents.  Montana Vigilantes relied heavily on the testimony of criminal suspects to target and apprehend other criminal suspects.  Montana criminals were never hesitant in giving testimony against other criminals — if they thought doing so would save their hides.[5]

In 1884, horse thieves and cattle rustlers were prevalent on the open range — pushing ranchers to demand the support of stock growers associations.  They turned to influential men who had a stake in the cattle and horse-raising industry.  One of these men, as indicated above, was Granville Stuart.  With the tacit approval of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Vigilante organizations took steps to capture and execute rustlers and thieves.  Some sources claim that Stuart (and others) may have killed up to twenty rustlers; others claim the number of executed men exceeded 75 rustlers and squatters.  There is no evidence to support the claim.  Granville Stuart became president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association in 1885.

The Home Fires

Granville was 27 years old when he married a 12-year-old Shoshone girl named Awbonnie Tookanka (there are various spellings and pronunciations of this person’s name) on 15 April 1862.  Awbonnie and Granville remained married until her death in 1888 — she was 41 years old.  The couple made a good life on the DHS Ranch, but in 1886 – 1887, a financial crisis developed over the issue of grazing on the open range.  Severe drought, over-grazing, and a particularly severe winter were the problem’s root causes.  By early spring of 1887, DHS had lost 60% of their 40,000 head of cattle.  What remained of the herd was in bad health.  DHS never recovered from the predicament.  Granville left the ranch in 1890; when the spread finally sold five years later, Granville still owed Hauser’s bank $3,500.

On 8 January 1890, Granville married twenty-six-year-old Allis Belle Brown, his children’s former school teacher at the DHS ranch.  Belle didn’t mind being paid to teach Stuart’s mixed-race children, but she had no desire to raise them as her own.  Granville gave up his children with Awbonnie to the St. Ignatius Mission School through her urging.[6]  Granville and Allis never had any children of their own.  Allis Belle Stuart died in Hamilton, Montana, in 1947.

Stuart’s long friendship with Samuel Hauser helped open doors for Stuart with the administration of Grover Cleveland.  Shortly after the beginning of Cleveland’s second term in 1893, Hauser helped secure an ambassadorial appointment for Stuart in Uruguay and Paraguay.  Stuart was standing next to Juan Idiarte Borda, the President of Uruguay when he was assassinated in Montevideo.

The later years

When Granville returned to Montana from South America, he found his opportunities somewhat limited.  With a change in the administration in Washington, opportunities for a federal position were impossible.  Despite his years of effort, Granville was far from wealthy and remained indebted to Hauser.  Granville and Belle settled in Butte, Montana.  In 1905, he became head of the public library — a post he retained until 1914.

To make ends meet (financially), Granville and Belle operated a rooming house in Butte. Granville began compiling the writings later published as Forty Years on the Frontier during this period.[7]  Between 1915 – and 1917, the state of Montana participated in the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, California.  The primary benefactor of the Montana exhibit was William Clark, who insisted that “Mr. Montana” head the delegation, which he did for the first year.  In 1917, Granville and Belle moved to Missoula.  In failing health, his last public appearance was in September 1918 during the Montana Pioneers Society meeting.  On 2 October 1918, Granville Stuart suffered heart failure in his home and died.  He was laid to rest beside his brother James in Deer Lodge.


  1. Kennedy, M. S.  Montana Gold.  Magazine of Western History, 1964.
  2. Milner, C. A.  As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart.  Oxford University Press, 2008
  3. Spence, C. C.  Territorial Politics and Government in Montana, 1864-69.  Illinois State University Press, 1975.


[1] Even today, state historians refer to Granville Stuart as “Mr. Montana,” because his journals and writings have provided Montana and western historians unique insights into life in the Northern Rockies after the 1850s.

[2] Not to be confused with American Fork, Utah, settled by Mormons in 1850.

[3] In the goldfields, shopkeepers became wealthier than the miners and prospectors.  A steak dinner in 1863 cost $50.00.  Today, that would be $1,149.89 … an inflation rate of around 25%.

[4] William “Flopp’in Bill” Cantrell captained the strangler’s missions. Throughout their short existence, their membership during chases would fluctuate between 17 and 40 men, depending on the location of the thieves and the day of the week.

[5] For an excellent film about vigilantes and range detectives, see The Missouri Breaks with Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson.

[6] American Indian mission schools provided a basic western education, often run by Christian organizations, and funded by the U.S. government.  Children were routinely stripped of their Indian culture and immersed in the European-American culture.  Children were treated harshly by their “Christian” teachers and administrators. 

[7] Not published until 1925.

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