Cowboys and Carpetbaggers

US-CSA Flags 001Pima County, Arizona was a wild and dangerous place in the 1870s —and remained so for the next twenty years.  The reasons for this are several: discovery of silver, availability of whiskey, political corruption, and a dramatic increase in the criminal population.  Of course, some of this “criminal” problem had to do with the war between the states; it was a brutal war that transformed young Americans into brutish men.  Many of these men were former soldiers who had no homes to return to.  Those that did, particularly in the southern states, returned to a cruel government policy called reconstruction.  It was a policy of retribution that officially lasted for ten years, but as a practical matter, it lasted through the mid-1960s.  Without a means to earn an honest living, many former civil war soldiers turned to earning a dishonest living (see also: The Sons of Little Dixie).

In Pima County, Arizona (and later, Cochise County) the criminal element took the form of a loosely organized gang of thugs who called themselves The Cowboys.  They were dangerous men, bullies, thieves, and to use a more modern word, terrorists.  They operated almost with impunity in Pima and Cochise counties.  They frequently raided Mexican haciendas, murdering and raping the innocent and stealing their cattle and horses.  They then drove these animals into southeastern Arizona and sold them to dishonest butchers and meat merchants.  For a while, the Mexican haciendas were “easy pickings,” but in time the Mexican government increased its presence along the border, and this drove The Cowboys to rustle cattle and horses from American ranches.  The Cowboys also exhibited no hesitation in the murder of innocent men, for little or no reason, or in robbing stagecoaches that ran between Tombstone and westward cities in Arizona.

As part of civil war reconstruction, hundreds of northerners traveled to southern states to take advantage of a destroyed economy, to secure federal appointments, purchase large tracts of land at rock-bottom prices, or avail themselves of opportunities associated with forced emancipation.  They were called “carpetbaggers.”  Many of these men were well-educated members of the northern middle class.  They were lawyers, politicians, businessmen, teachers, merchants, and journalists.  Several were prominent senior union army officers seeking to enrich themselves from the spoils of war.  They were also former slaves who were appointed to positions far above their qualification; they secured appointments as county officials and judges.  No white man stood much of a chance in a court room that was presided over by a former Negro slave who was unable to write his own name —true even if the white man was as guilty as hell.  The best phrase to describe this situation was systemic corruption.

Whether these northerners served as state governors or county sheriffs, southerners looked upon them as opportunist scum.  What transpired wasn’t a political problem; it was a human frailty issue.  Some southern Democrats saw advantages by joining the Republican Party and then, having done so, joined up with northern carpetbaggers to rape what remained of the southern states.  These Democrats were called “scalawags.”

The Arizona Territory was one of America’s last western frontiers and Tombstone, Arizona one of the last old west towns.  By 1877 the American southwest had become an area of rapid population growth.  The population of Tombstone in 1877 consisted of about 100 miners.  They lived in raggedy tents and ramshackle A-frame structures.  Eighteen months later, the population of Tombstone included 4,000 citizens, 600 buildings, and two churches.  In four more years, the population of Tombstone numbered 7,000 people.

The discovery of silver on Goose Flats (renamed Tombstone) acted as a magnet for all kinds of people: merchants, bankers, politicians, lawmen, prostitutes, and men running from the law in incorporated states.  In time, law-abiding citizens felt the pressure of this population explosion.  It was as if civilization had miraculously landed in the middle of Tombstone one Sunday afternoon and wasn’t noticed by anyone until early Monday morning.

Taxpayer funded services quite suddenly made its demand on townspeople and farmers/ranchers; there was a sudden requirement for increased law enforcement officers, courts, and jails.  Local criminals weren’t too happy with these circumstances, either.  Still, when compared to other areas of the American south, the southwest experienced the least amount of social and economic upheaval during Reconstruction Era, but with every passing day, citizens demanded a better place to raise their families.  With each passing day, the criminal element became more determined to hold on to their empires.

Cowboys 001The most memorable members of the Cowboys (who distinguished themselves by wearing a bright red sash around their waist) were the Clanton family.  Shown right is a photograph of Michael Biehn in the role of gunslinger Johnny Ringo in the 1993 film Tombstone —a somewhat historically accurate depiction.  The Clanton’s were a mob family in the same sense as the Capones of a later era.

The Clanton family consisted of Newman Clanton, the patriarch.  He was also referred to as “Old Man Clanton.”  His sons were John Wesley, Phineas, Joseph Isaac (also known as Ike) and William (whom everyone called Billy).  Additional members of note included brothers Tom and Frank McLaury, William “Curly Bill” Brocius, “Buckskin” Frank Leslie, Johnny Ringo, Pete Spence, Alex Arnett, John Barnes, Jim Crane, Harry Ernshaw, Bill Harrison, “Dixie” Gray, Charlie Green, Milt Hicks, Joe Hill, Billy Lang, “Indian Charlie” Cruz, and a fellow folks called “Rattlesnake Bill.”  Standing in the wings to enable this murdering bunch of scum were Cochise County Democrats Sheriff Johnny Behan and Sheriff’s Deputy Billy Breckenridge.

It has come to pass in this county that life and personal property are unsafe; even in the town of Tombstone it seems as if one of the leading industries is to be destroyed.  There is not a teamster to-day who is not in fear and dread of the cowboys, or so-styled “rustlers” depriving him of his hard earnings…  How must such men feel to be robbed by a band of thieves and cutthroats, who take pride in announcing to the public that they are “rustlers?”  Where is the teamster’s protection?  Can you find any [law] officers who will follow, arrest and recover your property?  If you can, I would like to see him…  These chaps seem to have no difficulty in evading the law, while others, not inclined to work, daily join the band and they are increasing fast in numbers.  Our town is filled with spies watching every move of the officers and imparting their information to their comrades…  Men who come to examine different mines outside of town, when they learn how the cowboys stand fellows up, do not wish to run such risks; they quietly take the road they came and get into civilization as soon as possible.

Tombstone Epitaph, 16 September 1881

According to the language of the day, many of the Cowboys were saddlers —meaning that they lived in the saddle.  They raided haciendas in Sonora, sold their stolen cattle to dishonest merchants; they robbed and murdered innocent citizens with impunity.  Hefty bribes were paid to officials such as Johnny Behan in exchange for looking the other way.  Local businessmen, living in fear of the gang, refused to back up honest lawmen.  What must ultimately happen under such circumstances did happen.

Newman was born some time in 1816 in Davidson County, Tennessee.  His wife was Mariah Sexton Kelso from Callaway County, Missouri.  They were married in 1840.  In addition to the sons named above, they had two daughters.  One of Clanton’s sons named Peter did not survive to adulthood.

Old Man ClantonBefore moving to Missouri, Clanton was a Tennessee planter and a slave holder.  For twenty years, Newman Clanton moved his family across the west and southwest.  He pursued mining in California and ranching outside Dallas, Texas.  When the Civil War broke out, he and eldest son John Wesley enlisted in the Confederate Home Guard.  Toward the end of the war, Clanton moved his family to the Arizona Territory where he settled for a time near Fort Bowie (Wilcox).  A year later the family moved to San Buenaventura, California where, after sixteen years of marriage, Mariah passed away in 1871.  Clanton then moved his family to Port Hueneme, California.

Two years later, Old Man Clanton returned to Arizona where he purchased (or squatted on) a large tract of land in the Gila River Valley near Camp Thomas.  When his vision of creating a town failed to materialize, he turned to cattle ranching/rustling.  Most of his children followed him to Arizona.

Newman Clanton was constantly in trouble with the law throughout most of his adult life.  He and John were charged, stood trial, and were convicted for desertion during the Civil War.  The Clanton’s were known thieves and ruffians —and this reputation followed them into Arizona in 1873.

In 1877, Clanton sold his ranch near Camp Thomas to a man named Melvin Jones.  Billy Clanton often returned to the old homestead because he had formed a friendship with Melvin’s eldest son.  Billy Clanton first met Frank and Tom McLaury at the Jones’ Ranch.  The brothers McLaury owned a spread at nearby Sulfur Springs Valley [1].

Clanton Ranch 001

Remains of the Clanton Ranch

After leaving Camp Thomas, Clanton bought land on the San Pedro River where he constructed a large adobe house.  His home became the headquarters of the Clanton Ranch and several criminal activities.  In 1877, Ed Schieffelin discovered silver in the hill region east of the San Pedro River known as Goose Flats.  The discovery was less than 15 miles from the Clanton ranch and well-situated to meet the demands for beef in the emerging boomtown —a place everyone called Tombstone, named after Schieffelin’s mining enterprise.  From its founding in 1879, the population of Tombstone grew to around 15,000 in ten years.

Newman Clanton’s ranch grew into a successful enterprise: he supplied beef to Bisbee and other nearby towns.  It would be impossible to estimate how much Mexican beef was consumed by Arizonians.  Despite territorial and county laws and regulations, the Clanton Ranch never registered a cattle brand, which made it easy to incorporate stolen cattle into his herds.  It was at this time that Frank and Tom McLaury began participating in Clanton’s Cowboy rustling operations.  Fin Clanton, who worked as a teamster, may have helped line up corrupt butchers to accept stolen cattle.  Aiding the Clanton enterprise was the Mexican government’s decision to impose high tariffs on goods moved across the US/Mexican border; it made rustling and smuggling a very profitable endeavor.  Other area ranchers raised beef but struggled to keep cattle from disappearing in the middle of the night.  The problem for rancher Henry Hooker [2], for example, was that he didn’t have enough stockmen to safeguard his stock.

When the Mexican government constructed border area forts and implemented border area military patrols, Clanton and the Cowboys [3] turned to other pursuits; robbing stagecoaches, murdering teamsters and hijacking their goods, murdering citizens and stagecoach passengers in cold blood.  Fin Clanton was arrested on several occasions, charged with cattle rustling and robbery, but with Democrats firmly in charge of the county, he was never convicted.

John Ringo

Gunman Johnny Ringo

In July 1879, several cowboys attacked a hacienda in northern Sonora, killing several innocent Mexican citizens.  Incensed, Comandante Francisco Neri ordered Capitan Alfredo Carrillo across the border into Arizona to arrest and return the Cowboys for trial.  Unfortunately for Carrillo, the Cowboys ambushed this expedition.  Johnny Ringo (shown right) later admitted to having participated in the murder of the Mexican cavalry detachment.  Also involved in these murders was Old Man Clanton, Billy Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, Indian Charlie Cruz, Rattlesnake Bill, Frank and Tom McLaury, Jim Hughes, Joe Hill, Charlie Snow, Jake Gage, and Charlie Thomas.  We remember this incident today as the Skeleton Canyon Massacre.  Afterwards, Clanton turned the operation of his San Pedro ranch over to his sons and relocated to a new spread in the Animas Valley, one mile north of the US/Mexican border.  This new property was the perfect staging ground for cross-border raids into Sonora.

In July 1881, Curly Bill learned that Mexican smugglers were moving silver through Skeleton Canyon.  Brocius, Newman, Ike, Billy, Johnny Ringo, the McLaury brothers, and a few others hid in the rocks above the trail.  When the smugglers entered the canyon, the Cowboys opened fire killing six men in the opening volley.  In all, thirteen Mexicans were killed as they attempted to withdraw.  This event is known as the Second Skelton Canyon Massacre.

In the following month, Old Man Clanton and six others were encamped near the Mexican border in the Guadalupe Canyon with a large herd of stolen cattle.  At sunrise on August 12, 1881, Mexican federal troops assaulted the Clanton gang; Newman was shot through the head and collapsed into the campfire.  Four other Cowboys soon joined him in hell, but Harry Earnshaw and Billy Byers survived the assault.  Their testimony is the only reason we know of this incident.  Initially, Old Man Clanton was buried near where he fell, but his body was later exhumed and re-interred at the Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone.

The activities of the Clanton family and The Cowboys disgusted the Earp brothers in Tombstone, as did the corruption of Sheriff Johnny Behan, who aided and abetted the criminal activities of the Cowboys.

Next week:  The Cowboy War


  1. Alexander, B.Bad Company and Burnt Powder: Justice and Injustice in the Old Southwest.  University of North Texas Press, 2014
  2. Marks, P. M. And Die in the West: The Story of the O. K. Corral Gunfight.  Norman, OK.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996
  3. An Interview With Virgil W. Earp, annotated by Robert F. Palmquist, 1882.
  4. The Clanton Gang, also known as The Cowboys. Bill O’Neal, ed.  Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters.  Norman, OK.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.
  5. Dodge, F. L. and Carolyn Lake. Under Cover for Wells Fargo: The Unvarnished Recollections of Fred Dodge.  Norman, OK.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1999


[1] The McLaury Ranch might have been property owned by Frank Patterson.  Title to this land remains sketchy even today.

[2] Henry Clay Hooker (1828-1907) was a prominent rancher in Arizona who formed the first and (what became) the largest ranch in Arizona.  Before William Bonney became known as Billy the Kid, he worked on Hooker’s Sierra Bonita Ranch.  Henry Hooker (and others) supported the efforts of the Earp brothers to clean up the criminal corruption in Cochise and Pima Counties.  Hooker aided Wyatt Earp during his famed vendetta ride.

[3] Several Cowboys worked the Clanton ranch, including Pony Diehl, Curly Bill Brocius, Frank and Tom McLaury, and a gunslinger named John Ringo.  Ringo participated in the Mason County War in Texas; he was no stranger to murder and mayhem.

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“Your own tombstone”

Brunckow Cabin 001

Brunckow’s Cabin

Frederick Brunckow was a German-born, college educated mining engineer who migrated to the United States sometime in 1850.  His movement to the western United States came as a result of joining up with the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company.  In 1859, Brunckow left that company to develop his own mining company, which he named the San Pedro Silver Mine.  His stake was located about eight miles southwest of what would eventually become the city of Tombstone, Arizona near the San Pedro River.  Joining him in this endeavor was a chemist named John Moss (possibly Morse), a German-born cook named David Brontrager, and two miners named James and William Williams.  Brunckow hired Mexican laborers to build a supply hut and an adobe cabin for sleeping quarters.

On 23 July 1860, William went to Fort Buchanan [1] to purchase flour.  When he returned on the night of 26th July, Williams found the store ransacked and his cousin James laying on the floor—apparently murdered.  He returned to Fort Buchanan to notify the soldiers.  When soldiers arrived the next morning, they discovered two more bodies.  Moss was lying dead in an area just outside the camp, his body ravaged by animals, and the remains of Brunckow was found near the entrance to the mine shaft.  He had been killed with a rock drill.  Brontrager and the Mexican workers were missing, along with all the company’s livestock.  Altogether, around $3,000.00 worth of goods had been taken.  Later that night, Brontrager arrived at Camp Jecker and told the miners there that he had been taken hostage by the Mexicans.  He told the story that the Mexicans had turned on the miners a few hours after Williams had departed for Fort Buchanan.  They let him go, he said, because he was a good Catholic.  The soldiers buried the men, but their killers were never apprehended.

The first US Marshal appointed to the Arizona Territory was a man named Milton B. Duffield, a post he held from March 1863 to November 1865.  Duffield was a man of some reputation: iron nerve, gruff in the extreme, and deadly aim.  He was not a well-liked man, particularly if one happened to be wanted by the federal government, but he was regarded as fearless.  It was said of him that he never went anywhere without eleven concealed firearms and a knife.

In 1873, Duffield acquired ownership of the Brunckow mining claim and property—but another fellow named James T. Holmes claimed the property, as well.  On 5 June 1874, Duffield showed up at the Brunckow cabin to evict Holmes.  Typical of Duffield, he approached the cabin hollering and waving his arms, obviously spoiling for a fight.  Holmes, aware of Duffield’s reputation, walked out the front door with a double-barreled shotgun and shot the old lawman dead.  It wasn’t until after he shot Duffield that Holmes realized that he’d just killed an unarmed man.  Duffield was buried near the cabin and Holmes went to trial.  He was sentenced to three years in prison but escaped before being transferred to the territorial prison and was never seen in Arizona again.  Authorities made no effort to locate him.

Now enters Mr. Edward L. Schieffelin.  Ed was born in the coal-mining region of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, the off-spring of prominent Pennsylvanians in 1847.  His great-grandfather, whose name was Jacob Schieffelin, III., was born in Montreal owing to the fact that his father, Jacob Schieffelin II was a loyalist during the Revolutionary War, imprisoned by rebels for a time.  Jacob II escaped confinement and made his way to Canada, where he remained until 1794.  Over a period of many years, the Schieffelin family established a pharmaceutical business, that continues to exist today as Schieffelin & Somerset, importers of wines and liquor.

Jacob IV was Edward’s grandfather (1793-1880).  His son, Clinton Emanuel Del Pela Schieffelin, was Edward’s father.  Clinton migrated to Oregon in the 1850s to raise cattle and speculate in mining.  Mining was an activity that interested Edward, who at age 17, set out on his own as a prospector and miner.

Ed Schieffelin 001

Edward Lawrence Schieffelin

Edward’s search for gold and silver began around 1865, which took him through Oregon to Idaho, into Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.  By every account, Edward kindly but somewhat unkept.  He stood above six feet tall, had long black hair, and a beard that was a mass of unkept knots and mats.  His clothing was a patchwork of cloth and animal skins.  Essentially, no one would invite Edward to a proper dinner party.

Edward’s prospecting efforts were largely unsuccessful by his 30th year.  He learned that a group of Hualapai Indians had enlisted as scouts for the U. S. Army, which at the time was establishing a fort to counter against the rampaging Chiricahua Apache.  The new encampment was designated Fort Huachuca at the foot of the mountains of the same name, located in Pima County, Arizona Territory.

Schieffelin became a scout for the army and accompanied the Indian scouts on expeditions into the back country to prospect for silver.  He was aware that some silver had been discovered in the northern Arizona regions, but with the Apache being a real and present danger in the south, not many people were interested in prospecting for minerals in the border area with Mexico.

Nevertheless, the efforts of Frederick Brunckow intrigued him, and he began prospecting the rocky outcrop northeast of the Brunckow cabin.  In 1876, Schieffelin and his party were attacked by Apaches and one man was killed.  In all, some 22 men had been killed in this region.  It was enough to give a superstitious man pause, but apparently, Ed had no such forebodings.  A friend and fellow scout named Al Sieber warned Schieffelin, “The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.”

Unfazed, Schieffelin began using Brunckow’s cabin as a base of operations in 1877.  After many months, while working in the hills east of the San Pedro River, Ed discovered pieces of silver in a dry wash at a place called Goose Flats.  It took him several more months to find the source, which measured some fifty feet long and around 12 inches wide.  The find, and the source of his claim, was situated near Lenox’s grave.  Thus, when Schieffelin filed his claim, he named it Tombstone.

Goose Flats-Tombstone

Aerial view of Goose Flats/Tombstone

It was not long before there were numerous ramshackle dwellings, supporting a human population of about 100 miners.  The mines were named “Lucky Cuss” and “Good Enough.”  Former governor Anson Safford offered financial backing for a share of the silver.  Schieffelin and his partners (brother Al and Richard Gird) formed the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company.  In March 1879, Goose Flats became Tombstone, Arizona —an unincorporated community of Pima County— because it was large enough to accommodate a growing town.  Lots were sold on Allen Street for $5.00 each and the population literally exploded.

When Cochise County was formed from the eastern section of Pima County, Tombstone became the county seat.  It was a prosperous town.  The Tough Nut Mine produced silver valued from $170/ton to $22,000/ton.  But the real money-makers were of two sources: the stores, saloons, and houses of ill-repute that sprang up from no-where, and the thieving of a growing criminal element who were known as The Cowboys.  Escalating murder rates was simply a by-product of too much whiskey, and too much meanness.

Next week: Cowboys and Carpetbaggers.


  1. Burns, W. N.  Tombstone: An Iliad of the Southwest.  University of New Mexico Press, 1999
  2. Thrapp, D. L.Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Vol I.  University of Nebraska Press, 1991
  3. Moore, R. E.The Silver King: Ed Schieffelin, Prospector.  Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 1986.


[1] Fort Buchanan, Arizona Territory, was established in 1856.  The fort was situated approximately three miles southwest or present-day Sonoita in Santa Cruz County on the east slope of Hog Canyon.  The area of Fort Buchanan was a hotbed of hostile activity by the Chiricahua Apache.  The fort was officially abandoned in 1861, although the California column occasionally manned the fort during the Civil War.  In February 1865, Apache hostiles attacked and burned the fort, causing the US Army to abandon the fort permanently.

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The Sons of Little Dixie

Walker-Colt 1847

Walter-Colt Revolver (1847)

The term Little Dixie refers to a 17 county region of mid-to-upper Missouri along the river of that name.  It was first settled by migrants from Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.  Accordingly, antebellum settlement in this area was indistinguishable from that of the upper south, which means that these settlers took with them to Missouri their cultural, social, political, and economic practices —including slavery.  On average, Missouri’s slave population was only about ten percent of the total, but in the Boonslick region, slave populations ranged from between twenty and fifty percent.  The determining factor of slave populations was always dependent upon the kind of farming that took place along the Missouri River —some of which were large plantations that focused on growing cotton.

In 1830, Mr. Henry W. Younger moved from his parent’s home in Harrisonville, Missouri to settle in Westport, 37 miles to the west near present-day Kansas City [1].  There he met and married Miss Busheba Leighton Fristoe, the daughter of a prominent area farmer.  The couple settled on a farm where over time, Henry became successful enough to acquire additional land and engage in business ventures outside of farming.  He and Busheba raised fourteen children, their first arriving in January 1832.  All the children were well-educated.  Life for Henry took a downturn during the so-called Kansas-Missouri Border War (1855-1861).  Most of the people living in the Territory of Kansas supported the abolition of slavery. Missourians, on the other hand, were mostly slaving-owning families.  Henry was himself the owner of a few slaves, but he supported the Union and the abolitionist cause.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (10 Stat. 277) created the territories Kansas and Nebraska.  It was the Congres’s intent to open new lands to development and facilitate the construction of a transcontinental railroad.  Intent aside, the act is most notable for repealing the Missouri Compromise (1820) [2], increasing tension over the issue of slavery, and for contributing to violence in Missouri and Kansas.  Subsequently, Missourians began to bicker with one another over the issue of slavery and possible secession from the Union.  There were two camps: Unionists and Secessionists.  Worse, there evolved a series of political and ideological conflicts over the issue of slavery in the Kansas Territory (formed in 1854), characterized by years of electoral fraud, militant raids, regional feuds, and retaliatory murders throughout both Kansas and Missouri.  The pro-slavery Missourians were referred to as “border ruffians [3],” while the abolitionists in Kansas were called “jayhawkers [4].”  The question was whether Kansas should be admitted as a free state, or a slave state.  Bushwhackers hoped to intimidate Kansans into supporting slavery; Jayhawkers responded by terrorizing pro-slavery elements in Kansas and Missouri.

At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Missourians opted to remain in the Union —but that was as far into the war as most people were willing to go.  Most people had no interest in taking a stand in one direction or another, particularly if in doing so, one might get shot or forfeit their property.  So, officially, Missouri remained neutral.  Unofficially, people living in Missouri could not separate themselves from the debate and clearly there were two camps: slavers/secessionists and abolitionists/unionists.  By the end of 1861, guerrilla warfare erupted between pro-Confederate bushwhackers and the more organized Union militia.  Missouri’s governor (along with the state guard) were forced into exile as the Union Army took control of the state.  In early 1862, the Union’s provisional government in Missouri reformed and mobilized the State Militia to fight pro-rebel Missourians [5].  Outrageous carnage occurred on both sides.  Union troops executed or tortured suspected guerillas and those suspected of aiding them.  Sometimes a suspected guerilla was executed out-of-hand.  Bushwhackers returned the favor by conducting house to house raids and executing Unionist farmers.

Cole Younger

Cole Younger

In Missouri, Henry Younger’s land and property became the focus of Jayhawker [6] raids.  One effect of these raids was that they pushed 18-year-old Thomas Coleman (Cole) Younger into the pro-Confederate camp.  Cole Younger joined William Quantrill’s [7] unsanctioned Confederate Partisan Raiders.  When Cole’s younger brother James joined Quantrill in 1864, Cole moved on and joined the regular Confederate Army.  When the war ended, Cole Younger was serving in California.  James Younger, having been wounded, was captured and served out the balance of the war as a Union prisoner.

Frank-Jesse James

The James Brothers

Not far away in the Little Dixie section of Missouri, another family was equally affected by the events of Bleeding Kansas.  Zerelda Samuels was the mother of Frank and Jesse James and an outspoken partisan of the American South.  Frank James also joined Quantrill’s Raiders and he and Cole Younger became good friends.  Jesse James joined Quantrill in 1864 at the age of 16.  In this setting, Jesse James and James Younger were exposed to Archie Clement and “Bloody Bill” Anderson —two of the most feared partisan raiders operating in Kansas and Missouri.

At the end of the Civil War, the Younger and James boys continued to associate with other members of their war time guerrilla band, including the Dalton brothers [8] and Archie Clement.  The anger and bitterness they developed toward the Union and anyone living in Kansas remained profound.  The Missouri Reconstruction Era [9] only made their hostility worse.  Some historians contend that it was likely Clement who turned his guerrilla band into outlaws.  Clement may have influenced the James-Younger gang, but they were all old enough to make decisions for themselves and it does seem clear that their outlaw behavior was influenced by a profound hatred of Yankees and Reconstruction Era carpetbaggers.

Bob Dalton

Bob Dalton

The James, Younger, and Dalton families were related to Martin and Mary Peters Ringo, from Washington, Indiana.  Mary Ringo’s sister was Augusta Peters Inskeep Younger (1823-1910), who married Coleman Purcell Younger (the uncle of Cole Younger) (also the uncle of the Dalton boys).  Mary Ringo’s brother, Benjamin Peters, married Zerelda Elizabeth Cole James, the mother of Frank and Jesse James.  Martin and Mary had four children, the eldest being John Peters Ringo, who was born on 3 May 1850.  At age 6, John accompanied his family to Kearney, Missouri.  The Ringo’s later moved to Gallatin, Missouri where they rented a property from Henry Sheets, the father of Captain John W. Sheets, whom Jesse James shot to death [10] while robbing the Davies County Savings & Loan Association in 1869.

Conastoga Wagon

In 1864, the Ringo family was en route to California and encountered several events that may have had lingering effects on John.  In the first, the family’s Conestoga Wagon rolled over the top of John’s foot, inflicting significant injury.  If John’s foot wasn’t broken, it ought to have been.  Next, there were several acts of violence, including shootings and Indian attacks.  Finally, John’s father accidently killed himself with a shotgun [11].  The family buried Martin Ringo along the trail.

Johnny Ringo

Johnny Ringo 1875

Mary Ringo took her children on to San Jose, California and while there is not much verifiable information about John between 1864 and 1871, family members reported that teenaged John Ringo was frequently in trouble due to his violent temper and over-indulgence in whiskey.  He ran afoul of the law in California for the indiscriminate discharge of firearms inside the city limits.  A sister reported that John Ringo, who was employed as a farmworker, left San Jose in 1871 as part of a harvesting team (an early form of migrant farm labor).  There is no verifiable record of Johnny Ringo’s activities between 1871 and 1875.  We do know that in 1875, Johnny Ringo was living in Mason County, Texas; it was here that Ringo befriended a former Texas Ranger by the name of Scott Cooley [12].

By the mid 1870s Johnny Ringo was well-established as a short-tempered gunman.  The first record of Johnny Ringo in Tombstone (Cochise County), Arizona was in 1879, riding with Joseph Graves Olney (a.k.a. Joe Hill), a friend from Mason County, Texas.  In December 1881, Louis Hancock was drinking in a Safford salon when Ringo offered to buy him a shot of whiskey.  Hancock refused saying he preferred beer, which caused Ringo to shoot Hancock, wounding him.  And, since his gun was out anyway, he then robbed a poker table of $500 in cash.  Pima County Sheriff Charles Shibbel took Ringo into custody [13] and delivered him to the Tombstone jail pending arraignment.  Ringo is believed to have skipped bail after his failure to appear in court to answer the charges.

Doc Holliday Prescott AZ

“Doc” Holliday

Of greater concern to Ringo, however, was a rumor floating around that he had robbed a stagecoach.  Ringo blamed Wyatt Earp and John “Doc” Holliday for having started this rumor and it wasn’t long before Ringo confronted them in the street.  On January 17, 1882 Ringo and Holliday traded threats and seemed to be heading for a gunfight, but before anyone could “slap leather,” Tombstone Chief of Police James Flynn [14] arrested both men for carrying firearms inside the city limits.  Judge William H. Stilwell [15] fined the men for violating city code and then had Ringo rearrested and charged him for a robbery that occurred in Galeyville.

At the time, John Ringo was affiliated with the Clanton gang (and the loosely organized Cochise/Pima County Cowboys [16]), and this made him part of the feud between the Earps and Clanton’s —a feud that worsened over time.  Over many months in Tombstone, Johnny Ringo was reported to have had several clashes with the famed John Henry “Doc” Holliday, often recreated in popular media [17].  Holliday was a friend of the Earp family; together, they suspected Ringo of having some involvement in the murder of Morgan Earp on 18 March 1882.

There are several instances in the old west where rival lawmen warred with one another.  The story of the Earp’s in Tombstone is one such story.  Virgil Earp was the Tombstone City Marshal, but he also held a commission as a deputy US marshal within the Arizona territory.  Johnny Behan was the elected Cochise County Sheriff.  As sheriff, Behan was the senior-most lawman in the county, so one would assume that all lesser lawmen would obey his orders.  This was not the case with the Earp family who were employed as town marshals —and particularly true after the Cowboys targeted the Earp’s for murder.

Having been appointed as deputy US marshal (replacing the seriously wounded Virgil Earp), Wyatt organized a federal posse to track down and arrest the gunman and back-shooter Frank Stillwell, another suspect in the murder of Morgan Earp.  The posse found Stillwell in Tucson.  According to George Hand, who was called upon to identify Stillwell’s body, “Stillwell was the worst shot up man I ever saw.”

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Behan, who always sided with the cowboys, obtained warrants from a Tucson judge for the arrest of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  Behan appointed Johnny Ringo and nineteen additional men (all of them cowboys) as sheriff’s deputies [18] —but Behan’s posse never located the Earp’s.  Meanwhile, Wyatt Earp had embarked upon his now-famous vendetta ride.  By this time in the game, Earp had no intention of arresting the men responsible for the shooting of his two brothers.  He intended to track them down and kill them —which is what he did.

On 14 July 1882, a property owner discovered Johnny Ringo’s body lying up against a tree near Chiricahua Peak.  The man gave testimony that he heard a single shot late in the evening the day before.  Ringo’s feet were wrapped in pieces of his undershirt, possibly to protect his feet from insects or scorpions; his revolver had one round expended and was found hanging by one finger from his hand.  Two weeks later, Ringo’s horse was discovered on the range with Ringo’s boots tied to the saddle.  Some claim that this was a method commonly used to keep scorpions out of boots in the middle of the night, but I do not know many horsemen who would leave their animals saddled throughout the night unless they were on the run.

Ringo’s death was officially ruled a suicide.  If true, then Ringo may have succumbed to a depression that was exacerbated by too much rot-gut whiskey.  On the other hand, the coroner’s report claimed a single bullet entered at an angle into his right temple, exiting the left side of the back of his head—suggesting that Ringo’s death may not have been a suicide after all.  There are several theories surrounding Johnny Ringo’s death:

  • Wyatt Earp’s wife Josephine (1861-1944) claimed that Wyatt and Holliday returned to Arizona for the express purpose of killing Johnny Ringo, and that it was Doc Holliday who killed Ringo. This could be true if Wyatt had pulled the trigger but on 14 July, Doc Holliday was in a Colorado courtroom and Wyatt Earp was not known as a fast gun.
  • Wells Fargo detective Fred Dodge postulates that Ringo’s murderer was a gambler named Michael O’Rourke who was seeking retribution for Ringo’s having attempted to talk others into lynching O’Rourke. There were not many gunfighters that were willing to go up against Johnny Ringo, however.
  • One final theory involves a friend of both Wyatt and Doc. Buckskin Frank Leslie [19] murdered Ringo after he found him passed out under a tree —this, at least, was the death bed assertion of the gunman Billy Claiborne.  The man who shot Claiborne was Frank Leslie, so his testimony is automatically suspect.

The Little Dixie section of Missouri remained a volatile area long after the end of the Civil War.  Its progeny was no less ferocious and their contribution to lawlessness extended far beyond Missouri’s borders and lasted nearly three decades after the war.  Most of these vicious men got their just deserts.  They died as violently as they lived.


  1. Burrows, J. John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was.  University of Arizona Press, 1996
  2. Coy, R. E. Little Dixie and the Mystic Land of Poosey.  Joseph, Mo., 1993
  3. Guinn, J. The Last Gunfight: the Real Story of the Shootout at O. K. Corral and How it Changed the American West.  Simon & Schuster, 2011
  4. Hadeler, G. The Mason County Texas Hoo Doo Wars.  Handbook of Texas Online.
  5. Holliday, K. T. Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait.  Norman, OK., University of Oklahoma Press, 2001
  6. Latta, F. Dalton Gang Days: California to Coffeeville.  Bear State Books, 1976
  7. Marshall, H. W. Folk Architecture in Little Dixie: A Regional Culture in Missouri.  Columbia, MO.  University of Missouri Press, 1981
  8. Roberts, G. L. Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend.  Wiley & Sons Publishing, 2006
  9. Stiles, T. J. Jesse James: The Last Rebel of the Civil War.  Vintage Books, New York, 2003
  10. Traywick, B. T. Wyatt Earp’s Thirteen Dead Men.  The Tombstone News.


[1] Kansas City is a 14-county metropolitan area that straddles the border of Missouri and Kansas.

[2] Provided for the admission of Maine to the United States as a free state, along with Missouri as a slave state, thus maintaining a balance between northern and southern members of the United States Senate.  Without the repeal, slavery would have been banned north of the 36°30’ latitude.  Kansas-Nebraska Act essentially set into motion the idea that states could decide for themselves whether to allow slavery based on popular sovereignty.

[3] A term applied to pro-slavery activists and militants from Missouri who engaged in cross-border raids designed to intimidate Kansans into accepting slavery within the state of Kansas.  Border ruffians interfered in territorial elections and attacked free-state settlements.  This activity was the genesis of the phrase “Bleeding Kansas.”  Another term for pro-slavery guerillas was “bushwhacker.”

[4] The word may have originated as early as the Revolutionary War, used to describe individuals who associated themselves with the patriot John Jay.  By 1858, the term Jayhawker was associated with the free-state cause.  Considered at first as a militant anti-slavery group, they eventually turned into bands of thieves and murderers —men who frequently attacked, massacred, or drove pro-slavery families from their land.

[5] The fighting continued until after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant.

[6] The word may have originated as early as the Revolutionary War, used to describe individuals who associated themselves with the patriot John Jay.  By 1858, the term Jayhawker was associated with the free-state cause.  Considered at first as a militant anti-slavery group, they eventually turned into bands of thieves and murderers —men who frequently attacked, massacred, or drove pro-slavery families from their land.

[7] As a boy, William Quantrill (born in 1837) was known as a particularly cruel individual whose tendencies grew worse as he grew into manhood.  After teaching school in Ohio, Quantrill fled to Kansas in1857 to escape a criminal complaint involving the theft of horses.  Despite growing up in a pro-union household, Quantrill developed an affinity for southern/pro-slavery culture.  During the Kansas-Missouri War, Quantrill earned the reputation as a ruthless bushwhacker and he later took these skills with him into the Confederate Army in 1861.

[8] The Dalton brothers (also known as the Dalton Gang) included Bob, Emmett, Gratton (Grat), and Bill Dalton.

[9] It is difficult to argue with the proposition that Missouri Reconstruction was far worse than the actual Civil War.  Few people living in Missouri in 1861 could have imagined the hardships they would endure during the war and in its aftermath.  Following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Union domination of all southern states and territories continued its cruel treatment of anyone living in the defeated states.  During the war, Union soldiers invaded and stole the personal belongings of Missourians; they dug up graves looking for valuables, they raped wives and sisters, murdered old men and young boys, and they poured oil over fields to keep them from producing crops for many years.  Union soldiers stole every item of food to be found, burned down homes, leaving the people desolate and penniless.  Roving bands of Federal vigilantes visited the homes of former Confederates in the middle of the night and shot them down in cold blood.  The anger of the Youngers was understandable, and in the view of some, justified.

[10] There is reason to believe that Jesse James mistook Sheets for Samuel P. Cox, the man who was responsible for killing James’ friend, “Bloody Bill” Anderson in 1864.

[11] The Ringo’s were traveling in a wagon train.  A few days before, they departed Fort Laramie, Wyoming with full knowledge that incidents involving Indian war parties were on the rise.  It was just such an incident that caused the wagon train to hold up and form a protective barrier.  All the men stood guard the entire night.  It was at around dawn the next morning when the tired Martin Ringo, while standing guard duty, accidently discharged his shotgun, the load of which pierced his eye and exited the top of his head.

[12] See also:  The Hoodoo War.

[13] The Arizona Daily Star, December 14, 1879

[14] Flynn replaced the wounded Virgil Earp as chief of police.

[15] No relation to the gunman Frank Stillwell.

[16] In these days, the term “cowboy” was a euphemism for cattle rustler.  People who worked on ranches were called cow hands.

[17] One of the more entertaining portrayals is in the film Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Val Kilmer in the role of Doc Holliday, and Michael Biehn as Johnny Ringo.

[18] Behan’s posse included Johnny Behan, Pete Spence, Ike Clanton, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo, Frederick Bode, Pony Diehl, John Barnes, Frank Patterson, Milt Hicks, Bill Hicks, Bill Johnson, Ed Lyle, and Johnny Lyle.

[19] Frank Leslie (1842-1927) may have been a friend of Earp and Holliday, but he did not participate as a member of Earp’s federal posse seeking the murderers of Morgan Earp and shootists of Virgil Earp.  The Earp posse consisted of Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp, James Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, Jack “Turkey Creek” Johnson, Charlie Smith, Dan Tipton, and Texas Jack Vermillion.  Vermillion always claimed that people called him Texas Jack because he was from Virginia.

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Captain Sam Walker

Sam Walker

Sam H. Walker

Samuel Hamilton Walker was the son of Nathan and Elizabeth Walker, the fifth of seven children.  He was born on 24 February 1817 at Toaping Castle, Maryland.  What we know about him is mostly third hand, but this doesn’t detract from what must have been a very colorful life.  At the age of 19-years in 1836, Walker enlisted in the Washington City, Alabama Volunteers during the Creek Indian Campaign.  In the next year, he accepted his discharge and worked as a scout in Florida until 1841.  He migrated to Galveston, Texas in 1842, around 25 years of age, and served under Captain Jesse Billingsley in the defense of San Antonio when General Adrian Woll invaded Texas from Mexico.

On 5 March 1842, General Rafael Vásquez (who was then serving at the pleasure of Adrian Woll), led seven-hundred Mexican soldiers into San Antonio.  Their unexpected arrival threw the residents of this frontier town into a panic.  Vásquez’ withdrew his force after a short time, but the invasion stirred up a Texian hornet’s nest.  In the minds of these Texans, Mexico’s invasion of their homeland was an insult that could not be ignored … although it might have been better had President Mirabeau B. Lamar not sent his invasion force to Santa Fe in 1841.

President Sam Houston, recently reelected, knew that Texas could not afford another major conflict with Mexico and tried his best to calm the masses.  Then, on 11 September, a larger force under the direct command of General Woll repeated Vásquez’ feat.  Although Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna signed treaties ceding Texas from Mexican Control in 1836, Mexican forces continued to invade the Republic of Texas in hopes of regaining control of this large territory.  On 17 September 1842, Texans clashed with Mexican troops at Salado Creek, east of San Antonio.  After a couple of successful engagements earlier in the day, an undermanned company of Texas Rangers under the command of Nicholas M. Dawson [1] began to advance on the rear echelon of Woll’s force.  Woll responded to this threat by sending 500 mounted infantry to engage them.  Initially, the 53 Texas Rangers held off the cavalry, but Mexican artillery exacted a terrible toll on the rangers.  The battle ended with 36 dead rangers; fifteen rangers were captured.  History remembers this incident as the Dawson massacre.

Subsequently, Sam Houston could see no alternative but to authorize a retaliatory action.  In November 1842, Houston authorized Brigadier General Alexander Somervell [2] to organize a raid into Mexico.  In order undertake this mission, Somervell was forced to rely on men who were rowdy, somewhat full of themselves, and obnoxious in their deportment toward all Mexicans.  Complicating Somervell’s expedition, his force was inadequately provisioned for any expeditionary action, much less a punitive invasion of Mexico.  To address this scarcity of supplies, the rowdies sacked the nearby town of Laredo.  An appalled General Somervell arrested the men responsible and ordered all misbegotten materials returned to their rightful owners.  Most of Somervell’s men understood his decision, but about 200 of the least disciplined refused to accept it.  They voted to quit the army and return to their homes.

Despite this setback, General Somervell continued his expedition.  In time, however, even he became dubious about his chances for martial success.  The supply situation had not improved, and Somervell found it impossible to take food away from border Mexicans in order to feed his men when they too were starving.

Somervell finally ordered a retreat into Texas —a decision that outraged several key members of the Texian army, among these a young man by the name of Sam Walker.  Of Somervell’s eight captains, five organized a vote among their subordinates to determine whether they should continue the expedition.  Three-hundred of General Somervell’s men voted to continue into Mexico —General Somervell be damned.

It is likely that the bulk of these men were more focused on plunder than achieving satisfaction over General Woll’s “insult.”  These “hardcore” men elected Colonel William S. Fisher [3] as their new leader.  Fisher’s men may not have known at the time that he had visions of creating his own country out of the swath of northern Mexico’s territory.  In any case, Fisher led his men deep into Mexico —among them, Sam Walker.

On 24 December, Fisher seized the town of Mier and, taking the Alcalde as a hostage, ordered the townspeople to bring him stores for 1,200 men.  He had less than a third of that number, but to Fisher, it didn’t matter.  Rather than bringing him stores, however, the people sent a messenger to Mexican authorities, informing them that Mier was under attack by hombres del Norte.  General Pedro de Ampudia responded immediately.  In terms of human life and casualties, the battle that followed was far costlier to the Mexicans than it was the Texians, but the fact was that Fisher had led his men too far into Mexico.  He was in an inhospitable climate, had no allies among the population, and was outnumbered by Ampudia’s forces.  Despite inflicting death and injury to more than 850 Mexicans, Fisher eventually surrendered his 243 men to General Ampudia, who force-marched them to Mexico City via Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Monterrey, and Nuevo Leon.  It was a brutal march and the Mexicans did not treat the Texians very kindly.

General Ampudia was a no-nonsense commander.  Had he known that Fisher was leading an unauthorized army, he no doubt would have had them executed on the spot.  As it was, he thought Fisher was part of an organized, lawful army, and he treated them according to the articles of war.  Unhappily for Fisher and his men, authorities in Mexico City realized that the Mier Expedition was not “authorized” by lawful authority and ordered these men marched to the capital city for trial.  They were no longer considered prisoners of war; they were pirates and bandits.  They would be treated as such.

On 10 February 209 Texians arrived under guard at Hacienda del Salado.  The spirited Texians began planning their escape almost immediately, but their Mexican captors (most of whom could speak English) learned of the plan and quickly separated Fisher and his senior staff from the rest of the prisoners.  Fisher and his officers were marched to Mexico City.  The next morning, the remaining Texians effected a surprise prison break and immediately headed back toward the Rio Grande.  What ultimately defeated them was the heat of the desert.  What saved these men from madness and wasting away in the desert was a well-mounted Mexican army.  The escapees were chained and marched to Saltillo and placed under the command of General Francisco Mejia.  Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered these men executed, but General Mejia refused to take part in a mass murder.

In Mexico City, British and American diplomats protested Santa Anna’s order and he was eventually persuaded to execute one man in ten (decimation), their fate to be decided by the so-called Black Bean lottery.  Back in Salado, Colonel Domingo Huerta prepared a jar filled with 159 white beans, and 17 black beans.  Huerta ordered the officers to choose first; he had placed all the black beans at the top of the jar.  Whoever selected a black bean would be shot the next morning.  Captain William Eastland, the fourth man in line, was the first to choose a black bean.  Sam Walker picked a white bean.

In time, the surviving members of the so-called Mier Expedition were returned to Texas.  Subsequently, Sam Walker joined the Texas Rangers, serving under John Coffee Hays[4] and was eventually commissioned as a Captain of the Texas Rangers.  During the Mexican American War, Walker led his Texas Rangers in support of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott.  On 9 October 1847, Sam Walker led his troops in the Battle of Huamantla in Tiaxcala.  Walker was instantly killed when he was struck by a shotgun round fired from a balcony.  Initially buried not far from where he fell, Walker’s remains were moved to San Antonio in 1856.

Walker-Colt 1847

Walter-Colt Revolver (1847)

Despite his many military successes (and a few setbacks) Sam Walker is best known as the co-inventor of the now-famous Walker Colt Revolver.  Walker traveled to New York to meet with Samuel Colt and proposed to him the concept of a sidearm based on the Patterson revolver [5] adding several enhancements which included the addition of a sixth chamber and round powerful enough to kill either man or horse with a single shot, and a quicker reload capacity.  At the time, Sam Colt was no longer in the firearm business, but the promise of a large order for firearms encouraged Colt to establish a new company.  He hired Eli Whitney, Jr. [6], who was already in the firearms business, to produce these new weapons.  The first prototype was produced in 1847, which almost immediately found favor with Texans and resulted in the demand for 1,000 Colt-Walker Revolvers and propelled Sam Colt into an entirely new firearms business.  In 1855, Sam Colt’s business became the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut [7].

Isn’t history just great?  By the way, in French word for revolver is “le Colt.”  God created men, and Sam Colt made them equal.  Texas forever.


[1] Nicholas Dawson migrated to Texas in 1834, settling in Fayette County.  He was a relative of William M. Eastland.  Dawson enlisted in the Revolutionary Army in 1836 and within a week was elected to the rank of second lieutenant of Company B, Texas Volunteers.  In this capacity, he participated in the Battle of San Jacinto.  By 1840, he served as a captain of volunteers under John H. Moore and participated in the Indian campaign in Mitchell County.  At the time General Woll invaded Texas, he resided in Fayette County.  He organized a small company of fifteen men from that county, soon enlarged to 53 men from Fayette, Gonzalez, and DeWitt counties.

[2] Somervell (1796-1854) was an entrepreneur and military volunteer whose migration to Texas in 1833 landed him in Stephen F. Austin’s second colony.  He joined the march from Gonzalez to Béxar in 1836, his men electing him as a major in the volunteer force.  After participating in the siege of Béxar, Somervell enlisted in the Texas Army on 12 March 1836.  He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the first regiment on 8 April.  He participated in the Battle of San Jacinto, served briefly as the Texas Secretary of War, served in the Texas Congress.  By 1839, Somervell was commissioned a brigadier general in Fort Bend County.

[3] Fisher was tall, well-built, and intelligent.  After serving as Secretary of War for one year, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of frontier cavalry.  There is no question that Fisher was fearless; he may have also been foolhardy.  He was present at the Council House Fight that prompted a protracted war with Comanche war chief Buffalo Hump.

[4] Hays served as a Captain of Texas Rangers serving in several conflicts between 1836-1848, including forays against the Comanche Indian and service in the Mexican American War.  His war record was almost without peer.  Jack Hays was among the first to use the Navy Colt Paterson five-shot revolver in any conflict.  It was he that dispatched Sam Walker to meet with Sam Colt in 1845.

[5] The Colt Patterson navy revolver, first introduced in 1837, was a quirky weapon because interchangeability of parts was a relatively new concept.  Both the U. S. Marine Corps and Army reported quality problems with the weapon and production of the weapon ended in 1842.

Sam Colt 001

Sam Colt

[6] Eli Whitney, Jr., (1820-) assumed control of the family armory in 1841.  The Whitney Arms Company manufactured muskets for the government through the American Civil War.  Whitney Arms Company was headquartered at Whitneyville, Connecticut.  His first opportunity to become involved in the manufacture of sidearms occurred in 1847 when Sam Colt received a contract for 1,000 revolvers during the Mexican American War.  Whitney’s venture not only helped Sam Colt get back into the firearms business, it also helped Whitney to begin manufacturing his first unique handguns in 1850.  Colt retained the patent on his revolving mechanism until 1857, after which Whitney began to produce revolvers with the same reliable mechanism.  Source: The Whitney

[7] The key to Sam Colt’s success in firearms manufacturing was the recruitment and employment of German workers.

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The Story of Phantly Bean

Kentuckian by birth in 1825, Phantly Roy Bean, Jr. was the youngest of five children born to Phantly Roy Bean, Sr., and the former Anna Henderson Gore.  Poverty combined with little hope for useful employment near the homestead sent young Roy to New Orleans where he hoped to find a source of income.  What he found in New Orleans was trouble, which prompted him to flee to San Antonio to avoid prosecution.  In San Antonio, Roy joined his brother Samuel Gore Bean (1819-1903). Sam had earlier migrated to Texas through Independence, Missouri where he worked as a teamster and bullwhacker [1].  Sam hauled freight out of Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico.  After the Mexican-American War, Sam freighted from San Antonio –and this is where Roy joined him.

In 1848, the two brothers opened a trading post in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  It wasn’t long after that when Roy Bean shot and killed a Mexican desperado who, in a state of drunkenness, threatened to kill a gringo.  Roy Bean seemed to be handy for this purpose and Roy ended up shooting the desperado in self-defense.  This isn’t how Mexican authorities saw it, however, so to escape a murder charge, Sam and Roy fled westward to Sonora.  By the spring of 1849, Roy was living in San Diego, California with his older brother, Joshua.  San Diego town had existed as a political entity since July 1770.  Between 1770 and 1838, San Diego operated as a presidio under the command of Mexican military officers.  After San Diego became a pueblo [2] on 1 January 1835, the senior most official was the Alcalde (Spanish for mayor).  Eventually, the population of San Diego waned and it lost its status as a pueblo and fell under the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles and was governed by a Juez de Paz [3]. The first mayor of San Diego, California under the laws of the United States was Joshua Bean.

While in San Diego, a randy Roy Bean competed for the attentions of local women, and by all accounts, he was quite successful in this endeavor.  However, a Scotsman by the name of Collins challenged Bean to a marksmanship demonstration with pistols, on horseback.  Collins assigned Bean the responsibility for choosing the targets.  Bean decided they should shoot at one another.  The horseback duel took place on 24 February 1852.  It ended with Collins receiving a gunshot wound to his right arm, and both men being placed under arrest.  San Diego ladies concluded that Roy was very gallant and while awaiting trial, many of these women sent him bouquets of flowers, good wine, and cigars. His final gift was a set knives cleverly encased in tamales, which Roy used to dig through a wall and escape pretrial confinement. After his escape on 17 April 1852, Bean went to San Gabriel where he became a barkeep in his brother’s saloon. After Joshua’s murder [4], Roy inherited the saloon.

Mission Valero 001

Mission San Antonio de Valero, 1854

In 1854, Roy Bean was courting a young woman whose parents did not approve of her fascination with him.  Unknown persons kidnapped the woman and forced her to marry a Mexican military officer.  Outraged, Bean challenged the officer to a duel and killed him without giving much thought to the fact that the Mexican may have friends.  Six of these friends assailed Bean, sat him upon a horse with a noose around his neck and left him to hang.

Fortunately for Bean, the horse was not skittish and did not walk away from the tree; the young widow freed Bean from his predicament, but he did not survive unblemished; the rope left a permanent scar around his neck, and he thereafter complained of chronic stiff neck.  Bean’s near-death experience convinced him to leave California and he returned to New Mexico to live with his brother Sam.  While Roy was in California, Sam became the first sheriff of Doña Ana County, in the territory of New Mexico.  In 1861, Sam and Roy operated a dry goods store and saloon on Main Street in present-day Grant County, New Mexico.  The saloon advertised good liquor and a fine billiards table.  Outside the store sat a field cannon belonging to Roy.  It came in handy when a band of Apache Indians attacked the good citizens of Pinos Altos.

During the American Civil War, the Confederate Army successfully invaded New Mexico, but ended up losing their supply train, forcing them to retreat to San Antonio.  After taking money from Sam’s safe, Bean joined the retreating army and for the remainder of the war, Roy Bean bullwhacked cotton from San Antonio to British ships off the coast of Matamoros, Mexico and then returning with much needed supplies.

Bean made San Antonio his home for twenty years, working variously as a teamster, lumberjack, dairy hand, and the butcher of stolen cattle. On 28 October 1866, Bean married an 18-year-old woman named Virginia Chavez, with whom he had four children. The family lived in a poverty-stricken Mexican barrio everyone called “Beanville” [5] located just west of the San Antonio River.

By the late 1870s, Bean was operating a saloon in Beanville.  He learned that several railroad companies were extending their track westward and that  there were several construction camps opening along the route.  Taking advantage of this opportunity, Bean decided to sell his saloon and capitalize on the demand for whiskey in the middle of nowhere.  A store owner/neighbor was anxious enough to have Bean move away that she bought all of Bean’s possessions for $900.00.  By this time, Virginia Bean had left her husband, so Bean deposited his children with his friends and headed out west.

Jersey Lilly 001

Artist’s rendition of Judge Bean’s courtroom and saloon.

Thus far in this story, there appears very little to recommend Mr. Bean as a role model. Nevertheless, Bean purchased a tent, wholesale supplies, and ten barrels of whiskey.  By the spring of 1882, Bean established a small saloon near a tent city he named Vinegaroon, adjacent to the Pecos River.  More than 8,000 railway men were working a short distance away.25

At this remote location, the nearest court was 200 miles away at Fort Stockton and there were few resources to deal with lawlessness.  On 2 August 1882, Roy Bean received an appointment as Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6, Pecos County [6]. The date of his appointment notwithstanding, Bean heard his first case, Texas v. Joe Bell, on 25 July 1882.  To help him through the arduous task of meting out justice to the good folk in Pecos County, Bean relied exclusively on the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas.  It was the only law book he ever used because he judged all newer editions as superfluous.  He used the newer revisions as kindling.

Roy Bean preferred to simplify Texas law.  He did this by disallowing hung juries and appeals.  Bean selected his jurors from among his best saloon customers.  Whenever he ordered a recess, he expected all customers to buy a drink.  In one case, a railway worker named Patrick O’Rourke allegedly shot and killed a Chinese laborer.  A mob of 200 angry Irishmen surrounded the courtroom/saloon; they told Bean rather directly that if he did not release O’Rourke, they intended to lynch “Judge” Bean. After consulting his law library (which consisted of one book), Bean concluded, “… homicide is the killing of a human being.  I can find no law against killing a Chinaman.  Case dismissed.”

In December 1882, railway construction had progressed further west; bean moved his courtroom and saloon 70 miles further west to Strawbridge.  A whiskey merchant already well-established there destroyed Bean’s whiskey supply by adding kerosene.  Thus unable to attract customers, Bean moved to Eagle’s Nest, 20 miles west of the Pecos River. Bean named this new place Langtry.

The original owner of the land, who also ran a saloon, sold 640 acres to the railroad, adding this one caveat: the railroad could not sell or lease any part of that land to Roy Bean.  Patrick O’Rourke, whose case Bean previously dismissed, advised Bean to use the railroad right of way —land not covered by that provision.  Bean thus squatted on land that he had no legal right to use.  He named this establishment The Jersey Lilly in honor of a British Actress whose stage name was Lillie Langtry (born Emile Charlotte Le Breton).  Infatuation is always a bit strange, but in this case, Bean’s subsequent fascination with Lillie Langtry was a bit daft.  He never met the woman, but after  Bean’s death, Miss Langtry visited the Jersey Lilly.

Roy Bean 001

Justice of the Peace Roy Bean, Jr.

As Langtry did not have a jail, Bean imposed fines —sharing nary a one of them with the State of Texas.  In most cases, Bean imposed fines that equated to the exact amount of money found on the accused’s person.  Despite the depictions of him in Hollywood films, Judge Bean only sentenced two men to hang and one of those managed to escape.  The Bean Court always released horse thieves when the accused agreed to return the horses to their rightful owners.  Roy Bean also granted divorces —but had he seriously consulted the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas he might have noted that this power was reserved to Texas district courts.  Judge Bean pocketed $10 for each divorce hearing, charged $5 for weddings, and always ended marriage ceremonies by saying, “… and my God have mercy on your souls.”

Roy Bean won reelection as Justice of the Peace in 1884 but lost in 1886.  In 1887, the commissioner’s court created a new precinct in the county and appointed Bean to serve as that jurisdiction’s justice of the peace.  He continued to win elections until 1896.  After his defeat in that year, Bean refused to surrender his seal and law book and continued to try all cases “north of the tracks.”

In 1890, Bean received word that railroad developer and land speculator Jay Gould was planning to pass through Langtry on a special train.  Bean flagged the train down with a danger signal; thinking the bridge was out, the engineer stopped the train and Bean invited Gould and his daughter to visit the saloon as his guest.  He entertained them for two hours.  Gould’s sudden and mysterious disappearance caused a panic on the New York Stock Exchange.

My opinion is that the one actor who came closest to accurately portraying Roy Bean was Walter Brennan in the 1940 film, The Westerner.  Bean’s biography seems to suggest that there is a very thin line between a bona fide scoundrel and an officer entrusted with the law.  Bean’s story is nothing if not interesting.

In his later years, Bean spent his time and his money helping the poor in his area; he always made sure that the schoolhouse had firewood in the winter.  On 16 March 1903, after a bout of heavy drinking in San Antonio, Roy Bean passed away in his sleep.  He and his son Sam are interred in Del Rio, Texas.


  1. Davis, J. T. Legendary Texians, Volume II, Austin: Eakin Press, 1985
  2. Sonnichsen, C. L. Roy Bean: The Law West of Pecos.  Mockingbird Books, 1943
  3. Skiles, J. Judge Roy Bean Country.  Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1996
  4. Roy Bean Biographical Summary, Texas State Historical Society


[1] A bullwhacker was one who drove teams of oxen pulling heaving wagons.

[2] A pueblo is a nucleated Spanish village; one of the primary settlement patterns associated with Spanish townships.

[3] Justice of the Peace

[4] While serving as Mayor of San Diego, Joshua Bean illegally sold City Hall and pueblo lands to himself and a drinking companion by the name of Cave Couts.  Citizens later reclaimed City Hall through judicial action.  In 1851, Joshua relocated to Los Angeles County were he established a saloon and a store in the city of San Gabriel.  On the night of 7 November 1852, unknown assailants ambushed and killed Joshua on account of his over-familiarity with a local woman.

[5] The use of the word was intended as an ethnic slur directed against people of Mexican or Spanish ancestry.

[6] There are eight levels of judicial courts in Texas; Justice of the Peace Courts are the lowest of these.  The number of JP Courts within a given county depends on the county’s population.  Each county will have at least one JP Court, which under current law is limited to Class C misdemeanor cases, civil matters of less than $10,000 in value, evictions, liens, and foreclosures.

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The Sergeant Major

It is difficult to determine which of these positions has the greatest prestige: a sergeant major of Spanish Marines [1], or a Governor of Texas.  Martín de Alarcón served in both capacities.  He also served as a Knight of the Order of Santiago and was the founder of present-day San Antonio, Texas.

Before arriving in the Indies, Alarcón served Spain in North Africa as a member of the Armada Española.  In 1691, Alarcón was appointed sargento mayor of a company of naval infantry in Guadalajara, which he commanded for some time.  He was later appointed Alcalde (mayor) and capitán guerra (magistrate empowered to supervise military affairs) of Jacona and Zamora, in the province of Michoacán in New Spain.

Alarcon 001

Martin de Alarcon

In 1696, Viceroy Juan de Ortega y Montañez appointed Alarcón as capitán guerra and protector of Indians in the locale of Mazapil.  Subsequent viceroys continued to employ his services as an agent of pacification on the northern frontier of New Spain, especially in the environs of Saltillo (present-day northern Mexico).

Alarcón was appointed to two terms as governor of the Spanish provinces of Coahuila and Texas, the first being in 1705 when there were no Spanish settlements in Texas.  The last of the original Catholic missions in East Texas were abandoned in 1699 and the French had been busy establishing settlements west of the Mississippi River.  Spanish authorities were rightly concerned that the French intended to expand into Texas and in 1707 the Viceroy of New Spain ordered all provincial governors to prevent the entry of foreigners and their goods.

Alarcón proposed to reestablish one of the missions along the Rio Grande, relocating Misión San Bernardo into Texas and placing it along the Frio River.  Nothing came of his recommendation, however. Later that year, he authorized an expedition into Texas to dissuade the Indians from becoming friendly with the encroaching French.  Spanish troops reached only as far as the Colorado River, but spent some time exploring the area around the San Antonio River.

Early in 1716, the Spanish government expressed a greater interest in the territory of Texas and by way of exercising its authority, authorized a second expedition in order to convert the Hasinai people of East Texas to Christianity.  Four missions and a presidio were established and several of the soldiers assigned to the presidio brought their families; it was the first time Spanish women entered Texas.

On December 9, 1716, Viceroy Marqués de Valero reappointed Alarcón in Mexico City as commander of Presidio San Francisco de Coahuila and as governor of the province of Texas.  As chief executive, Alarcón was to resupply Spaniards who had gone to Texas earlier in 1716 under the command of Domingo Ramón.  He was soon informed that the missions were in dire straits, as there was a paucity of provisions needed to sustain them.  The supplies needed would have to come from the nearest Spanish settlement, which was located some 400 miles away at San Juan Bautista.  Alarcón looked first to the headwaters of the San Antonio River, as it was an area the Spanish had mapped in 1707 —and it was already home to a large community of Coahuiltecans.

Alarcon expedition

Artist’s rendition of the Alarcon expedition

Alarcón journeyed to San Juan Bautista, which was to be the shipping point for any attempt to resupply the missions.  Along the way he received a letter from a Padre by the name of Olivares informing him that a Frenchman named Louis Juchereau de St. Denis had established an illegal trade network along the Rio Grande.

Alarcón arrived at Saltillo de Coahuilain June 1717 where he decided to delay several months while evaluating the activities of St. Denis.  Naturally, during the period of Alarcón’s inquiries, St. Denis was imprisoned.  At the conclusion of Alarcón’s inquiries, he was unable to prove conclusively that St. Denis was guilty of anything beyond being French, nor was there any evidence of collusion or negligence by the soldiers of the presidio. Accordingly, Alarcón released St. Denis, who wasted no time returning to Louisiana.  See also: Spanish Texas —Part II; Spanish America.

By the time Governor Alarcón had completed his inquiries of St. Denis, winter made it impractical for him to proceed into Texas.  However, in April 1718 Alarcón crossed the Rio Grande with ten families consisting of 72 Spanish citizens.  His entourage also included 548 horses, 6 barren of mules, and other livestock.  In the next month he assisted Padre Antonio San Buenaventura y Olivares in the founding of Misión San Antonio de Valero, which everyone today should recognize as the Alamo.  One mile further on, Alarcón founded Presidio San Antonio de Béxar [2].  Adjacent to the presidio Alarcón chartered a new municipality, which he named Béxar from which the City of San Antonio emerged.  San Antonio became important to Texas because at that time, it was the only villa in Texas and the colonists that settled there relied on the cohesion it provided to survive the wilderness of early Texas.

With this new settlement established, Alarcón continued further on to re-provision and inspect the East Texas missions.  Not only was he involved in replenishing much needed supplies, he was also tasked to resettle the Indians —which from everything I have ever read about Native Americans, was analogous to herding cats.

During his travels, Alarcón continued to investigate the activities of the French.  On 28 May 1718, Alarcón wrote to Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe and advised him to withdraw all French trading posts from Spanish territory at once.  In response to this correspondence, de la Harpe invited Alarcón to try to remove the French from their “Texas” territory.  A robust series of letters ensued, but Alarcón took no military action to forcibly remove the French —essentially because the governor did not have sufficient forces to press the issue.

Meanwhile, the missionaries were becoming increasingly desperate as they waited the arrival of Alarcón and much-needed supplies.  The padres appointed two members of their order to carry a message to Spanish authorities in Mexico City and not only did they detail their deprivations and the perceived slowness of Alarcón’s response, they also mentioned their fear that France would soon extend their settlements into Texas.

Zuniga 001

Baltasar de Zúñiga

In May 1719, the Alarcón party began its return trip to the Mexican interior.  Between the Brazos River and Colorado River they encountered what he called the Rancheria Grande.  It was an area peopled by several Native groups.  It was Alarcón’s intention to establish a trade relationship with these people, whose leader was named El Cuilón.  Governor Alarcón preferred to refer to him as Juan Rodriguez. Alarcón appointed Rodriguez Chief of the Rancheria and offered him a baton, the symbol of overall commander.  El Cuilón was no doubt suitably impressed.

As Alarcón made his way back to Coahuila, a group of French soldiers took control of the mission San Miguel de los Adeas from its single Spanish defender.  The French soldiers told this unhappy fellow that hundreds more French soldiers were en route. Alarmed about this invasion, area colonists, missionaries, and soldiers fled to San Antonio.  Upon their arrival, the missionaries sent a scathing letter to Baltasar de Zúñiga, 1st Duke of Ariónthe, Viceroy of New Spain, blaming Alarcón for their difficulties and for the French usurpation of Spanish territory.  Alarcón was relieved of his office on December 19, 1719.  We do not know what happened to him afterwards.


  1. Chipman, D. E. Spanish Texas 1519-1821.  Austin: University of Texas Press,1992
  2. Cox, I. J. The Louisiana-Texas Frontier. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas State Historical Association, P. 10, July1906
  3. Weddie, R. S. San Juan Bautista, Mother of Texas Missions, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas State Historical Association, P. 71, July 1967
  4. Weber, D. J. The Spanish Frontier in North America.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992


[1] The Spanish Marine Corps (Infanteria de Marina) is responsible to the Spanish armada for conducting amphibious warfare.  This organization was formed in 1537 by Charles I of Spain (also, Charles V Holy Roman Emperor), which makes it the oldest Marine Corps in existence.  Its model was the Companions of the Sea of Naples (Companias Viejas de Mar de Napoles).

[2] The word Béxar (also, Bejar) (universally mispronounced by Texans as Bear —and I think intentionally so) is the name of a town in the Spanish province of Salamanca, which was founded in pre-Roman times.  Bejar became a Moorish fort during the Eleventh Century, and the name was carried to New Philippines and the Province of Tejas in New Spain and now commonly used to refer to the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, Misión San Antonio de Valero, the Villa de Béxar and after the arrival of the Canary Islanders, the Villa of San Fernando de Béxar.  These were a group of settlements on the San Antonio River often referred to as San Antonio de Béxar the county of Béxar.


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Old Ben

In Texas history, scholars refer to this man as Old Ben Milam.  He wasn’t old at all when he met his fate —just 47 years of age.  Benjamin Rush Milam was born in present-day Frankfort, Kentucky on 20 October 1788.  He was the second youngest child of six born to Moses Milam and Elizabeth Pattie Boyd. Ben had little formal schooling, which was normal in those days.  He was able to achieve early success and self-confidence through his military service affiliation.  At the outset of the War of 1812, he enlisted as a private soldier in the 8thKentucky Regiment, eventually earning a commission as an infantry lieutenant.

Following the war, which ended in 1815, Milam realized that there were trading opportunities among native Americans living along the upper Red River in the Province of Tejas, Mexico.  In 1818, he entered into an arrangement with David G. Burnet [1] to barter goods with the Comanche.  Burnet was then living among the Comanche while recovering from consumption (Tuberculosis).  In New Orleans, around 1819, Milam met Jose Felix Trespalacios [2] and James Long [3], who intended to lead a filibuster [4] to aid Mexico in its war of independence from Spain.  Milam joined the movement and took part in the Long Expedition (alongside Jean Lafitte and James Bowie).  The expedition initially enjoyed some success, such as with the capture of Nacogdoches in the summer of that year, and did help to establish a small independent republic that called itself the Republic of Texas (also known as the Long Republic).  However, the expedition crumbled when Spanish troops vigorously attacked and drove the Americans out of Mexico.  Long reorganized an expeditionary force near Galveston in the following year.  In 1821, Milam withdrew from the expedition to accompany Trespalacios to Veracruz and Mexico City; James Long marched his force to Presidio La Bahia near Goliad.  Both parties encountered a hostile reception and were promptly imprisoned.

James Long was murdered while in prison. Milam, suspecting Trespalacios of arranging the murder, conspired with others to kill Trespalacios.  When friends of Trespalacios discovered the plot, Mexican authorities again imprisoned Milam (and his co-conspirators) in Mexico City where they were held until the fall of 1822.  Joel Poinsett [5], who was then serving the United States as a diplomatic observer in Mexico, arranged for the release of these accused persons.  Except for Milam, all of these men were returned to the United States aboard the warship USS John Adams.

Ben R. Milam

Colonel Benjamin Rush Milam

Milam returned to Mexico in early 1824. Mexico was in the throes of adopting a new republican form of government.  After reconciling with Trespalacios, Milam was granted Mexican citizenship and commissioned as a colonel in the Mexican Army.

In the next year, Colonel Milam and Major General Arthur G. Wavell [6] formed a partnership in a silver mine operation in Nuevo Leon.  Both men obtained empresario grants in Texas.  In 1829, Milam attempted to organize a new mining company in partnership with David G. Burnet, but lacking funds, the enterprise collapsed.  Milam and Wavell’s attempt to establish colonies in Texas also failed; their contracts were cancelled by the Mexican government after they failed to attract new citizens for their colonies [7].

In 1835, Milam traveled to Monclova (the capital of Coahuila y Tejas) to urge the newly seated governor, to send a land commissioner to Texas to provide settlers there with land titles.  Before Milam could leave the city, however, word arrived that President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had suspended the congress and established a centralist dictatorship. It was an alarming bit of news, prompting federalist Governor Agustin Viesca [8] to flee the city with Milam.  In short order, however, centralist forces captured the men and they were imprisoned at Monterrey.  Then, thanks to sympathetic jailers, who provided him with a horse, Milam escaped.  En route back to Texas, Milam encountered a company of Texian soldiers under the command of George Collinsworth [9], from whom Milam learned of the movement in Texas for independence.  Milam joined Collinsworth’s company in the capture of Goliad on 10 October 1835.

Ed Burleson

MajGen Ed Burleson

With Goliad in the hands of the Texians, Milam joined the Texan Army and participated in efforts to expel all Mexican forces from Texas. The primary focus of these efforts was the capture of San Antonio de Béxar, which involved a siege of the headquarters of General Cos at the Alamo.  On 4 December 1835, having completed a scouting mission, Milam learned that most of the army were considering going into winter quarters rather than attacking San Antonio.  General Edward Burleson [10] and his council of officers were reluctant to assault the city, fearing an entanglement that they could not easily undo. When Milam petitioned Burleson for the right to call volunteers to storm the city, Burleson granted the petition, possibly believing that he had little choice in doing so.  Milam’s concern was that by delaying the assault, Texian volunteers would lose interest in continuing the revolution.  Milam sent out his call in his now famous plea, “Who will go with Old Ben Milam into San Antonio?”  Three hundred men stepped up and the assault began almost immediately.

Milam’s plan called for a two-prong attack with forces assembling at a nearby mill at 0300.  General Burleson would hold the balance of the assembled Texian army in reserve.  Captain James C. Neil would initiate artillery fire directed at the Alamo to distract the Mexican soldiers.  Early in the morning of 5 December 1835, Colonel Milam and Colonel Frank W. Johnson led their separate columns into the heavily fortified city.  After heaving fighting, the Texians obtained a foothold inside the city and began an entrenchment their positions.

The attack continued on the morning of 7thDecember with the Texians achieving additional gains.  Milam was standing with Johnson and Henry Karnes near the Veramendi House; Milam was attempting to observe the San Fernando Church tower through a telescope when he was shot by a Mexican sniper, killing him instantly, and causing him to fall into the arms of Samuel Maverick [11].  Johnson named Major Robert Morris to assume command of Milam’s division.

During this assault, the Mexican Army lost more than 400 men, killed, wounded, or deserted.  Texian losses were twenty to thirty killed.  The Siege of Béxar ended on 9 December when General Cos capitulated. As a matter of chivalry, before the Mexicans withdrew from Béxar Burleson provided them with as many supplies as he could spare.  Mexican wounded were permitted to remain in Béxar for medical treatment.  This was not a courtesy returned to the Texians in early March 1836 when General Santa Anna surrounded the Alamo, or when General Urrea talked Colonel Fannin into surrendering his force at Goliad.

Today, Texans remember Old Ben through several structures named in his honor.  Milam’s grave and a statue of him exists at Milam Park in San Antonio; another statue can be found outside the Milam County courthouse in Cameron, Texas.  It is also possible to stay at the Milam Hotel, travel on Milam Street in Houston, and there is also a Milam Building in San Antonio.


  1. Miller, E. L. New Orleans and the Texas Revolution. Texas A&M Press, 2004
  2. Haythornthwaite, P. and Paul Hannon. The Alamo and the War of Texan Independence, 1835-36.  Oxford Press, England, 1986


[1] David Gouverneur Burnet (1788-1870) served as interim president of Texas (1836, 1841), second vice president of the Republic of Texas (1839-1841), and Secretary of State for the State of Texas (1846).

[2] A member of the militia in Chihuahua-turned-revolutionary.  Arrested and charged with treason, he was sentenced to death in 1814, but his sentence was reduced to ten years in prison. Having escaped from prison on two separate occasions, he made his way to New Orleans where he helped recruit Americans to fight for Mexico.

[3] James Long was a former US Army surgeon who served in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.  He afterward settled in Natchez, Mississippi practicing medicine near Port Gibson.  In 1817, he purchased a plantation in Vicksburg. Between 1819-1821, Long was involved in creating and employing an expedition to Mexico to help secure Mexican independence from Spain.  The expedition of mercenaries was unsuccessful.

[4] Also “freebooter” is someone who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country to foment or support a political revolution.

[5] Poinsett was a widely traveled physician and a diplomat, the first American Agent in South America, the first US Minister to Mexico (1825-1829), and Secretary of War under President James Monroe.  He was also a member of the South Carolina legislature, a member of the US House of Representatives, a unionist leader in South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis, and a co-founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts (the predecessor of the Smithsonian Institute).

[6] Arthur Goodall Wavell (1785-1860) was a Scottish-born and well-educated soldier of fortune who began his career with service to the Bengal Lancers in 1805. Ill-health forced him to return home, however, but he later joined the Spanish Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1811.  Between 1811 and 1817, the participated on the side of Spain in the Napoleonic Wars at Cadiz, Barrosa, Tarragona, and Ateca.  In recognition for his distinguished service, he was promoted to full colonel along with the Cross of Distinction, the Military Cross of San Fernando, and the Order of Charles III.  Wavell resigned his commission in 1817, joining with revolutionaries in Chile, where he was promoted to Major General.  While living in Mexico, he met and befriended Stephen F. Austin—later claiming that were it not for his help, Anglo settlers would never have been permitted in Texas.

[7] The real reason these contracts were cancelled involved the Law of 1830, created out of concern by the Mexican government that Texas was in danger of being annexed by the United States and because the Anglo-American population in Texas had exploded over a short period of time.

[8] Viesca (1790-1845) served as governor during a period of some controversy relating to the location of the capital city of Coahuila y Tejas—the question being whether the capital should be located at Saltillo or Monclova.  Viesca ran afoul of General Martin Perfecto de Cos (brother-in-law of Santa Anna), who felt the capital should be located at Saltillo. The state legislature, however, determined that Viesca could move the capital to any location the governor chose, prompting Viesca to select Béxar.  Arriving there, Viesca began to urge Texians to revolt against the Centralist movement.

[9] Collinsworth (1810-1866) was a Mississippi-born farmer, soldier, and politician who, while living in Brazoria, Texas in 1832, participated in the Battle of Velasco. He recruited a company of infantry for service in the Texian Army.

[10] Appointed to command the volunteer army, replacing Stephen F. Austin as major general.

[11] Placed under house arrest by General Cos as a suspected interloper, Maverick kept a journal of events inside the city of San Antonio.  After his release on 1 December, Maverick made his way to Burleson’s camp, urging him to make an immediate attack.  Maverick guided Milam’s division into the city.

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Deadwood Dick

I enjoy researching and writing about the Old West because there is no history quite as colorful or as interesting as that of America’s westward expansion.  Unhappily, very few of our present-day colleges or universities offer courses in American history —the story of how we Americans, as individuals and communities, developed into our present state.  Ignoring our history, or revising it, is no accident, for if it is possible to ignore or reinvent America’s history, then it is also possible to destroy or redefine our national identity and culture.  The reasons for doing this should be self-evident.  History is the story of our past.  It is not good or bad, it just is.  To me, the story is fascinating.

Academic revisionists would have us all believe that white people showed up in America one day from Europe and, because they were freakishly religious, naturally bad, or greedy, intentionally set out to destroy American Indian culture, but the fact is that European settlers tried (quite unsuccessfully) to deal with Indian tribes for nearly four-hundred years.  Eventually, the destruction of Indian culture did become a focus of Spanish and American governments: when these governments realized that the hostiles could not be pacified, and eradication was the only remaining option.  If we modern Americans lament anything at all, it should be that none of these people, Indian or European, were able to discover a pathway to peaceful coexistence. Yet, with that said, we should note that the Neanderthals are no longer with us, either.  In truth, there is no one alive today who participated in the intentional removal or extermination of the Indians, excluding of course the amazingly large percentage of the remaining Indian population that regularly drink themselves to death.

Standing Bear 001

Standing Bear, a Ponca Chieftain

The Ponca Indians are a western tribe of the Sioux language group.  There are two remaining tribes: the Nebraska Ponca, and the Oklahoma Ponca.  They were not always from the plains.  Before the arrival of whites, the Ponca lived in the area just east of the Mississippi River.  Over time, the Iroquois pushed the Ponca westward and to avoid witless banter, we must acknowledge that the Ponca were not themselves benign citizens.  The translation of the word Ponca is “cutthroat.” The term suggests something far beyond being good businessmen.

In 1868, Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brûlé bands of the Lakota Sioux, Yanktonai Dakota, and Arapaho Indians sat down with representatives of the United States government and signed a treaty.  Why any Indian would sign a treaty with the United States after 1624 is baffling, but that is what they did.  The Treaty of Fort Laramie guaranteed to the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, and in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, vast reservations for hunting.  To these Sioux Indians, the land was sacred.  For a time, at least, the treaty closed the Powder River country to all white settlements.  The treaty included all the Ponca lands in the so-called Great Sioux Reservation.  Ah, but the Cutthroat Indians did not get along well with the Sioux and a lawsuit forced the United States to round up all Ponca bands and remove them to Nebraska or Oklahoma, where they are today living happily ever after.

Within four years, however, whites began trickling into the Black Hills in direct violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty.  The US government did next to nothing to stop this migration.  This particular story did not end well for white settlers whenever the Sioux found them in near proximity to the Black Hills.  Within eight years of the treaty, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer announced the discovery of gold along French Creek in the Black Hills (near present day Custer, South Dakota).  Ultimately, this story did not end well for Custer, either —but his announcement did have an intended effect: thousands of white people began moving toward the Black Hills.  The discovery of gold has an uncanny effect on people.  Within two years of Custer’s announcement, twelve hundred people were living adjacent to a gulch full of dead trees; they called their small community Deadwood.  The population soon climbed to around 5,000 souls and Deadwood, South Dakota very quickly became one of America’s deadliest cities —somewhat like sections of modern Chicago, only not quite as dangerous.

Dora DuFran 001

Dora DuFran made a good living as a madam in Deadwood, Dakota Territory

Astute businessmen moved into Deadwood.  People looking for gold became consumers of much-needed merchandise: a fortune was made in dry goods, whiskey, and women. Gambling and gunfire followed along behind.  If a prospector wasn’t cut down by an ornery shootist, then he was probably taken by a sexually transmitted disease.  The ladies in Deadwood were right popular —we today remember the names of the madams: Dora DuFran and Mollie Johnson.  Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon was right popular, too —it was where Crooked Nose Jack McCall [1] murdered James Butler (Wild Bill) Hickok by shooting him in the back of the head.  Colorado Charlie Utter had Hickok buried in the Mount Moriah Cemetery.  When Hickok’s paramour Calamity Jane died in 1903, the citizens of Deadwood laid her to rest next to him.

Of course, the citizens of Deadwood were outraged when Jack murdered Hickok, so they held a trial.  The impromptu court was called to order with the prosecution, defense, and a jury made up of local miners and businessmen.  The court was called to order on 3 August in McDaniel’s Theater. McCall claimed that he shot Hickok in retribution for the murder of his brother in Abilene, Kansas.  After two hours of deliberation, McCall was found not guilty and released.  Fearing for his safety, McCall soon departed for the Wyoming Territory.  Lawmen there refused to recognize the Deadwood trial because the town itself was illegal (in violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie) and without any jurisdiction.  Accordingly, the federal court in Yankton declared that double jeopardy did not apply in this case and McCall was re-arrested and held for trial.  Three months after finding him guilty of the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, McCall joined him in the afterlife.  McCall was about 24-years of age.

1876 was an important year for two additional reasons. In that year, smallpox ravaged the town, causing the death of hundreds of citizens.  It was also the year in which justice came to visit Colonel Custer. But, over time, Deadwood’s economy settled down and the search for gold moved from panning in local streams to deep mining; the city eventually lost its rowdy character and became prosperous.

Deadwood Dick-Beadle & Adams

Beadles Half-Dime Library and Deadwood Dick

For twenty years after 1877, Edward Lytton Wheeler wrote dime novels about a fictional character he called Deadwood Dick.  Deadwood Dick was a fearless frontiersman whose exploits excited the imaginations of young boys.  Was Deadwood Dick a figment of Wheeler’s imagination —or did he pattern his character after a real person?  The fact is that the name became so widely known in its time that it was adopted by several men who resided in that town.  They have an interesting story, as well.

Richard Clarke was born in Yorkshire, England on 15 December 1845.  He migrated to the United States when he was 16 years of age and, motivated by the stories of the discovery of gold, made his way to Illinois where he joined a band of prospectors.  At the very height of the excitement over the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, Clarke made his way to the Dakota territories and was one of the first settlers in the town of Deadwood.  Widely considered a genuine hero of the Old West, folks back then saw him as a fearless frontiersman, prospector, Indian fighter, Pony Express rider, and wilderness guide.  Whether he ever claimed the name Deadwood Dick, or others did it for him, Clarke was said to have been a survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  My guess is, “Good luck with that stretch.”

One citizen of Deadwood described Richard Clarke as “short in stature, longhaired, and long-winded.”  Mr. Clarke seemed to be a man who was looking to promote himself.  Among his many exploits, he sold rusty guns with fabricated histories, sold homemade horsehair Indian scalps, and it was also possible to purchase an autographed picture of Clark —if the price was right.  Richard Clarke died in 1930.

If Richard Clarke was the real Deadwood Dick, others made that claim as well:

  • Gunman/gambler Frank Palmer [2]
  • Negro cowboy Nat Love
  • Actor Dick Brown
  • Stage Driver Dick Bullock
  • Gunman Richard Palmer
Nat Love 001

Artist’s rendition of Nat Love, a black cowboy of the late 1800s.

I have a few reservations about the claims of Nat Love. There are two sources for this information, the first written by Nat Love himself [3].  The second source is ascribed to Henry Louis Gates in his work, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African-American Experience.  I question veracity of Gates’ claim because I question his academic and personal integrity. This same Dr. Gates made outlandish claims against a white police officer investigating a burglary in progressin Gates’ own neighborhood. When Gates refused to identify himself, Officer James Crowley properly took him into custody.  The incident gave Barack Obama his first opportunity to claim rampant racism within America’s law enforcement organizations.

People who write books about themselves tend to make exaggerated claims to heighten their fame.  In the case of Nat Love, it is a small matter.  It is of no historical consequence whether Mr. Love ever referred to himself as Deadwood Dick.  It does matter, however, when educators perpetuate such claims on the strength a 1907 autobiography, which also included a memory of Nat’s own birth.  If Mr. Love could recount his own birth, then he had a phenomenal memory, indeed.  The problem is not Nat Love, whom we may forgive.  The problem is dishonest Harvard professors who perpetuate embellishments to satisfy their own political agenda.


  1. Murdoch, The American West: The Invention of a Myth, 2003
  2. Matheson, The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok, 1996


[1] McCall is believed to have originated in Kentucky, born in the early 1850s.  He eventually drifted west and, for a time, worked as a Buffalo hunter.  By 1876, McCall was living in a gold mining camp outside Deadwood under the name Bill Sutherland.  McCall was drunk at the bar at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon on 1 August 1876.  When one of the gamblers dropped out of the game, McCall took his place.  A few hands later, McCall was out of money.  Hickok offered him some money for breakfast and advised him not to play poker again until he could cover his losses.  McCall accepted the money but felt insulted by Hickok’s offer.  Early in the morning of 2 August, McCall walked up behind Hickok and shot him with a .45 caliber revolver.

[2] According to Palmer’s obituary on 30 May 1906, he was Deadwood Dick.  Palmer supposedly migrated to Deadwood at around the age of 17 years and made his living as a gun hand and a gambler.  His fellow gamblers gave him the name Deadwood Dick.  Irwin P. Beadle (New York) popularized Palmer in his half-dime novels.  Source: Pueblo Chieftain.

[3] Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick,” by Himself; a True History of Slavery Days, Life on the Great Cattle Ranges and on the Plains of the “Wild and Woolly” West, Based on Facts, and Personal Experiences of the Author. Los Angeles, Cal.: s.n., 1907.

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The Overland Stage

Stagecoach 001

The Overland Stage under attack

Despite Hollywood depictions of the old west stagecoach, the reality of this venture —the overland stage, was considerably different.  The journey was tough, extremely dangerous, and very short lived.

Stagecoach service existed in England in 1300’s, but the first recorded service occurred in the early 1600’s.  A plethora of such services evolved in England, along with several coaching inns established between Liverpool and London.  By the end of the 17thCentury, stage lines ran up and down the three main roads in England, all of them originating in London. The Royal Mail Service was behind many innovations to stage service in England.  Thus, the concept of overland stage lines was transferred to the English colonies in the Americas.

In 1744, crude wagons were used to transport passengers and cargo between New England towns and villages.  This service was later expanded to include service between New York and Philadelphia. By 1766, improved coaches significantly shortened travel times for passengers and mail.  Demand for travel and shipping services inspired the construction of turnpikes and highways throughout the northeastern United States. In 1827, two men in Concord, New Hampshire developed an improved coach—one that incorporated the use of leather straps for suspension, which gave their vehicles a swaying (rather than rocking) motion.

By 1829, Boston, Massachusetts was the hub of stagecoach services—77 in all, expanding to 102 express companies by 1832.  Despite improvement to the design and construction of stagecoaches, travel remained uncomfortable and dangerous.

John Warren Butterfield [1] was born in Berne, New York in 1801.  By 1820, Butterfield was an experienced stage driver, conveying passengers and freight between Albany and Utica, New York. Within a few years, he began to expand stage routes throughout New York State and branched out to include packet and steamboats operating on Lake Ontario, a street railroad in Utica, and local plank-rail systems, such as the Black River Railroad.

Businessmen and government agencies came to recognize in the 1840’s that demand for travel and shipping would expand into the western territories. There were several proposals —foremost among them being the construction of a railroad system across the continent. Everyone realized that a railroad would take many years, America’s terrain would pose difficult challenges, and this meant that a railroad would be very expensive.  In the meantime, American entrepreneurs would have to rely on a proven method for shipping and transportation.  Overland stage transportation already existed; all that was needed was to expand these services into the western territories.

Urgency for western shipping surged after the discovery of gold in California in 1849.  Gold mania not only affected individuals hoping to strike it rich in the California gold fields, it also created a flurry of activity among capitalists seeking to take advantage of the sudden increase in demand for cross-continental shipping.

Henry Wells founded Wells & Company; William G. Fargo was a partner in the Livingston, Fargo & Company.  Both companies operated express services.  John Butterworth appeared as a rival in 1849.  Wells and Fargo realized that their competition with Butterfield was destructive, wasteful, and unnecessary.  In 1850, Wells, Fargo, and Butterfield joined forces to form the American Express Company.  Soon afterwards, American Express decided to expand its interests in California.  Their most powerful competitor at the time was the Adams Express Company, who operated a monopoly of express services in the western states and territories.  While operating the American Express Company, Wells and Fargo launched their name-sake business on 18 March 1852 —organized as a joint-stock company with around $300,000 in assets.  The board of directors of Wells-Fargo Company included nine-prominent businessmen; three of whom also served as officers of the American Express Company: Wells, Fargo, and financier Edwin B. Morgan, who served as Wells-Fargo’s first President.

In the mid-1850s, the US Congress authorized the Postmaster General of the United States to contract mail services from Missouri to California. Members of congress were convinced that an overland stage would help to facilitate the development of the western territories by increasing the population of American citizens.  Accordingly, the Postmaster General solicited bids for an overland mail service on 20 April 1857.  Bidders were asked to propose routes from the Mississippi River westward.

John W. Butterfield, William B. Dinsmore, William G. Fargo, James V. Gardner, Marcus L. Kinyon, Alexander Holland, and Hamilton Spencer (collectively known as Butterfield & Associates) proposed a southern route from St. Louis, Missouri to California.  Altogether, the United States Postal Department received nine bids. Postmaster General Aaron V. Brown, a gentleman from Tennessee, favored the southern (Butterfield) route.  It was called the Oxbow, which extended westward from Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri converged at Little Rock, Arkansas, and proceeded to Preston, Texas (or the best point of crossing the Rio Grande above El Paso, Texas nearest Fort Fillmore) and thence along a new route to Fort Yuma, California, through the best passes and along the best valleys for safe and expeditious staging, to San Francisco.

Although the Oxbow Route was 600 miles longer than central and northern routes through Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah … the southern route was, for the most part, free of snow and ice.  Butterfield & Associates received the contract for a semi-weekly mail service.  The contract intended to pay Butterfield $600,000 annually.

Concord Stage 001The Butterfield Overland Stage began its operations in September 1858. The route was divided into eastern and western sectors.  El Paso, Texas was the mid-point between these two expansions, each further divided into shorter legs: five in the east, and four in the west.  The distance between each leg, and the allotted time for completing it, depended on geography and weather conditions.  As an example, the first eastbound leg extended from San Francisco to Los Angeles (462 miles); stagecoach drivers were allowed 80 hours to make this trip.  The second leg allowed 73 hours to complete the journey between Los Angeles and Fort Yuma (272 miles).

The Post Office granted Butterfield & Associates a 6-year contract to operate a twice-weekly mail service.  Butterfield expanded stage operations to include passenger and freight services from St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee, both routes converging at Fort Smith, Arkansas, into and across Texas to Fort Yuma, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  The distance was 2,795 miles—perhaps the longest route of any system using horse-drawn conveyances.

Stagecoach 002Each Monday and Thursday morning, a stagecoach would leave Tipton and San Francisco on their cross-continent voyage carrying passengers, freight, and up to 12,000 letters.  Butterfield charged passengers a one-way fare of $200 from Memphis/St. Louis to San Francisco.  On shorter routes, passengers paid fifteen cents per mile.  Most stages arrived at their destinations within 22 days, averaging between 5-9 miles per hour.  To complete his task, Butterfield employed 800 people involving 139 relay stations, 2,000 horses, and 250 Concord stagecoaches (pictured above when owned by Wells Fargo). Butterfield’s drivers were tough frontiersmen; no one of less ability could handle such hardships.  Drivers and assistants had to be excellent riflemen. Each team drove a 120-mile round trip route.  Contrary to popular belief, gold and silver were never shipped via the Overland Stage Company.

With limited routes across the United States, stage routes had to be kept open for settlers, miners, and businessmen. Responsibility for guarding the route fell upon the US Army, which mostly involved infantry units in 1857; the US Cavalry never fully developed until the Civil War.  As the war loomed, a demand for faster communications resulted in the creation of the Pony Express Company across the central and northern routes.  In anticipating the Civil War, and owing to its southern route, the US government revoked its contract with Butterfield in March 1860.  Butterfield had incurred significant debt in setting up the Overland Stage; without a government contract, he was unable to pay his creditors.  This is when the Well-Fargo Company stepped in and took control of the Overland Stage Company.  Butterfield’s assets (along with those of the Pony Express) ended up with Wells-Fargo.  The last Butterfield/Oxbow run began on 21 March 1861.

On 2 March 1861, a central route went into effect from St. Joseph, Missouri to Placerville, California [2].  They called this new route the Central Overland California Route.  Within the framework of the Confederate States of America, George Henry Giddings continued to operate an overland stage through the Oxbow, albeit with limited success through early 1862.  Of interest, there were at least four distinct civil war battles at or near Butterfield mail posts: Stanwix Station, Picacho Pass, Mesilla, and Pea Ridge.  There were also three clashes involving Apache Indian, Confederate, and Union forces: two at Dragoon Springs, and Apache Pass.  Both sides of the war intended these conflicts to disrupt supply routes.

By 1866 Wells Fargo had gained a monopoly over long distance overland stagecoach routes and mail service, using both the original Butterfield Overland Trail and others.  It was a short-lived monopoly, however.  In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was completed. Faster and more efficient, railroads supplanted the need for an overland stage route.  Stagecoaches did continue to operate into the 1900s, but these were mostly local routes between western towns and cities.  In Arizona, over 129 stagecoach robberies took place between 1875 and 1903.  The worst of these occurred between Tombstone and Benson, and Phoenix and Prescott.  More than 200 desperados engaged in highway robberies, half of which were never solved. Very few robberies occurred by horsemen chasing down a stagecoach and robbing it.  Most robbers approached the stagecoach on foot at locations where the stagecoach had to slow down across difficult terrain.  Seventy-nine men and one woman were identified as stage robbers. The woman was Pearl Hart [3], who in 1898 pulled one of the last stagecoach robberies of the old west.


  1. Underwood, Butterfield Overland Stage Route, Frontier Trails of the Old West
  2. N. Richardson, Butterfield Overland Mail, The Handbook of Texas
  3. E. Swensen, The Overland Mail and Passenger Service,1911


[1] John Butterfield’s son was Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, United States Army (1831-1901) who after being wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill, wrote the Bugle Call Taps.  Butterfield’s bugle call was modeled on the Scot Tattoo.  Prior to the Civil War, Dan Butterfield worked for his father in the American Express Company.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at Gaines Mill.  He later served as the Assistant Treasurer of the United States in the Grant Administration.  He later returned to American Express as an executive.

[2] Originally a mining community, Placerville, California was first known as “Hang Town.”

[3] Pearl Hart was born Pearl Taylor in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada in 1871.  Her parents were religious and affluent, but this wild child eloped with a man twice her 16-years.  His abusive behavior caused Hart to return to her home.  Over several years, Hart reconciled with her husband, eventually giving him two children. While living in Chicago, Pearl developed a fascination with the “western outlaw.”  Hart left her husband again and traveled to Trinidad, Colorado. Eventually she drifted to Phoenix, Arizona.  On 30 May 1899 near Cane Springs Canyon, Hart and an accomplice robbed a stagecoach and its passengers of $431.  Pearl Hart served time in the Yuma Territorial Prison until 1902.  She passed away in 1955.

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James Butler Bonham

A country gentleman

In the old American south, in the years before the Civil War, southern gentlemen wielded every facet of economic and political power.  They also created their own standard of gentility and honor; they not only defined southern white manhood but created the standard for southern womanhood as well.  In so doing, they shaped what we know today as southern culture.  To defend what they had created over three-hundred years, it was necessary to defend the system of slavery that sustained it.  Economic survival in the non-industrialized South depended on slavery, for without the wealth created by field slaves, southern aristocrats could not maintain their genteel lifestyles.

Of course, not every wealthy southern gentleman was a slave owner.  Plantation owners were, of course, but there were also bankers, exporter brokers, lawyers, doctors, tradesmen, and shipbuilders.  If these people owned slaves, they were likely employed as domestic servants and generally well-cared-for.  Nevertheless, one could make the argument that these wealthy city men also benefitted from the labors of enslaved people.

Despite the prevalence of southern plantations, most whites living in the south were themselves poor and not much better off than the slaves that worked the plantation fields.  In fact, one might make the argument that the slaves were better off than most poor whites, for at least the slaves knew where their next meal would come from.  Poor whites didn’t own slaves, but psychologically, even on the edge of genteel society, they did identify with southern cultural traditions —including the ideal of southern manhood— and this was why poor whites flocked to join the Confederacy. They were not seeking to preserve slavery; they wanted to defend their homes and preserve southern culture.

James Butler Bonham, Jr., was one of the affluent southern city boys —and in this context, typical among lads of his own socio-economic class.  He was short-tempered, stubborn, a bit arrogant —and not at all disposed to bend his knee to any man.  Bonham was expelled from South Carolina College [1] for leading a protest of the senior class. He was upset about having to attend class in bad weather, and he didn’t like the food served in the cafeteria. The young lads weren’t the only folks to have an arrogant streak: South Carolina College not only expelled Bonham, they also expelled the entire senior class.  No matter, it was a matter of principal —from both perspectives.  In any case, Bonham took up reading the law and became a practicing attorney in Pendleton, South Carolina in 1830 —the third Texas adventurist with connections to Pendleton, also including Thomas J. Rusk and Samuel A. Maverick.

Bonham JB 1835-001

James Butler Bonham, Jr.

Bonham’s parents were James and Sophia Butler Bonham.  He was born at Red Banks (now Saluda) South Carolina on 20 February 1807, a second cousin of Lieutenant Colonel William Barrett Travis [2], who commanded the Texian garrison at the Alamo on 6 March 1836.

Not long after beginning his law career, an enraged Jim Bonham caned a fellow attorney for having made insulting remarks toward Bonham’s female client.  The magistrate, in deciding that he could not allow such behavior among local jurists, ordered Bonham to apologize.  Not only did Jim Bonham refuse to apologize, he threatened to tweak the judge’s nose.  Bonham spent the next 90 days in jail for “contempt of court.”  Apparently, Bonham’s learning curve resembled the letter “S”.

In 1832, family influence helped Bonham obtain a position as aide to South Carolina governor James Hamilton.  The position brought with it a lieutenant colonel commission in the state militia. Bonham concurrently served as a captain of militia artillery in Charleston.  His service to Hamilton coincided with the nullification crisis, which took place between 1832-1833 during the presidency of Andrew Jackson.  The issue was right of sovereign states to repudiate federal law.  Out of concern for its own economy [3], the South Carolina legislature declared the federal tariff acts of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional, and therefore, null and void within South Carolina.  Nullification was a contentious issue in those days.

In 1833, Bonham moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he established a law practice.  Word of the unfolding events in Texas reached the American southwest in 1835, communicated in a manner best framed to elicit the sympathies of men who were most disposed to volunteer their aid.  Bonham was one of these sympathetic men, although unlike most, he was well to do and circulated among society’s elite.  He led a rally in support of Texas at the Shakespeare Theater in Mobile, Alabama.  Three days later, citizens of Mobile elected him to carry their resolution of support to General Sam Houston [4].  Within weeks, Bonham organized a volunteer company for service in Texas.  They called themselves The Mobile Grays.

By the end of that year, Bonham was in Texas familiarizing himself with its political and military affairs. On 1 December 1835, Bonham wrote a letter to Sam Houston volunteering his service for Texas and, coincidently, declining all pay, lands, or rations in return.  Bonham did receive a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Texas Cavalry, but was never assigned to a specific unit.  While waiting for a military posting, Bonham established a law practice [5] in Brazoria, a business he advertised in the Telegraph and Texas Register in early January 1836.

Bonham and Sam Houston developed a mutually respectful relationship.  On 11 January 1836, in a letter to Texas provisional governor James W. Robinson [6], Houston recommended Bonham for promotion to the rank of major, stating that “His influence in the army is great —more so than some who would be generals.”

Traveling with James Bowie and a detachment of thirty men, Bonham arrived in Béxar on 19 January 1836. It was an intense period for Texians. Colonel James C. Neill, then commanding 78-man garrison at the Alamo, was furious over the fact that his men lacked munitions, clothing, and adequate pay [7].  He spoke of leaving the Alamo.  Meanwhile, with their ear to the ground, Mexican families were evacuating San Antonio de Béxarin droves.

On 26 January, Colonel Neill recruited Bonham to help outline political resolutions on behalf of his garrison in support of Provisional Governor Henry Smith [8].  When the time came to elect delegates to the Texas Constitutional Convention, representing the men at Béxar, Bonham, a candidate for election, was overwhelmingly defeated.

Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis, who at the time served as Colonel Neill’s deputy commander, assumed command of the Alamo garrison after Neill’s departure to attend to his seriously ill family.  Travis dispatched Bonham to Washington-on-the-Brazos to plea for aid and reinforcement of the garrison.  En route, Bonham rode to Goliad where he learned that Colonel James Fannin was in no position to send any help.  Bonham returned to the Alamo on 3 March.  By then, Santa Anna’s army had surrounded the Alamo with 1,800 regular army troops.  Upon reaching the outskirts of San Antonio, Bonham courageously and cleverly avoided Mexican cavalry pickets.  Arriving at the Alamo, Bonham presented a dispatch from Robert M. Williamson assuring Travis that help was on the way, and encouraging him to hold out at the Alamo.

According to T.R. Fehrenback [9], “At the end [his mission at Washington-on-the-Brazos], the weary Bonham, a lawyer, a Carolinian of exulted family and a friend of Travis, turned his mount around and rode back toward San Antonio. He was told it was useless to throw his life away [by riding back to the Alamo].  He answered back that Buck Travis deserved to know the answer to his appeals, spat upon the ground, and galloped west toward his own immortality.”

James Butler Bonham died at the Alamo on 6 March 1836 [10].    He was a 29-year-old southern gentleman.  Historians believe that he died while manning one of the cannons in the interior of the Alamo chapel.  He did his duty to the end.


  1. Fahrenback, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, Boston: Da Capo Press, 1968
  2. Bonham, M. L. James Butler Bonham: A Consistent Rebel, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 35 (October 1931)
  3. Chariton, W. O. 100 Days in Texas: The Alamo Letters, Plano Texas: Wordware, 1990
  4. Lindley, T. R. James Butler Bonham, Alamo Journal, August 1988
  5. Lord, W. A Time to Stand(New York: Harper, 1968)


[1] Now, the University of South Carolina.

[2] Born in South Carolina, later moved to Alabama at the age of 9 years.

[3] The United States suffered an economic downturn in the 1820s, and South Carolina was particularly affected.  South Carolina politicians argued that the economic decline was a result of federal tariff policy that developed after the War of 1812.  The so-called Tariff of Abominations was actually enacted during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, but the issue quickly shifted to the question whether a state had the right to nullify a federal law.  President Jackson ignored the state’s concerns; Washington politicians were split on this issue, and Vice President Calhoun, a native of South Carolina, became a leader of the Nullification movement.  Eventually, President Jackson threatened South Carolina with military intervention if it refused to comply with federal laws. Nullification, first proposed by Thomas Jefferson, would lead the United States to civil war.

[4] Formerly, the sixth governor of Tennessee, a member of the US House of Representatives from Tennessee’s 7th congressional district, and a US Army first lieutenant with service in the War of 1812.

[5] At this early date, there appeared to be more lawyers in Texas than deer ticks in Minnesota.

[6] Robinson was an Indiana attorney, a partner in law with William Henry Harrison, who after deserting his family in 1828, relocated to Texas in 1833 with a new wife and son, eventually settling in the area of present-day San Jacinto County.  Robinson was elected lieutenant governor at the Consultation of 1835.  When Henry Smith was deposed as governor, the provisional government named Robinson to replace him.  Smith refused to relinquish his office, however, which gave the provisional government two men, each claiming the governorship.  In 1840, Robinson was wounded during the Council House Fight and in 1842, he was taken prisoner by General Adrian Woll.  In 1850, Robinson moved to San Diego, California where he served as district attorney, school commissioner, and a promoter of railroad service in southern California.  He passed away in 1857, but his estate was never settled until 1903.

[7] After the surrender of General Cos at the Alamo, Colonel Frank Johnson and James Grant stripped the garrison of provisions to supply the Matamoros Expedition, leaving Colonel Neill to hold the town with but a hand full of men.  Neill wrote bitter letters to the council condemning these arbitrary measures and called for reinforcement and supply.  Neill departed the Alamo mid-February to attend to his family, leaving William B. Travis in command.

[8] Henry Smith (1788-1851) was the first American governor of Texas.  Smith moved to Texas in 1827, settling in Brazoria where he operated a farm, taught school, and became active in politics.  He was wounded in the Battle of Velasco.  In 1835, he was elected mayor (alcalde) of Brazoria and appointed by the governor of Coahuila y Tejas to serve as the political head of the Tejas Department of the Brazos.  Smith urged independence for Texas.  In November 1835, the General Council of the Texas Consultation elected Smith to serve as provisional governor of Texas.  Smith was no diplomat and his unwillingness to compromise on the issue of Texas Independence worked against him.  In January 1836, the council impeached Smith who, for a time, refused to relinquish his post.

[9] Theodore Reed Fehrenbach, Jr., was a historian, columnist, and former chair of the Texas Historical Commission (1987-1991).

[10] No defender of the Alamo has been more romanticized than James Butler Bonham.  It is often claimed that he was a co-commander at the Alamo, which isn’t true: the only commander at the Alamo was Travis, who agreed to share his command with Bowie for no other reason than to placate Bowie’s men, who in having no confidence in Travis, were threatening to leave the Alamo. Neither was Bonham a colonel in any Texian militia.  His rank was second lieutenant of cavalry, recommended (but not approved) for a commission as a major by Sam Houston.  Travis does refer to Bonham as “Colonel,” but historians suggest that this was only a title of respect owing to his position in the South Carolina militia.  Neither did Bonham bring word from Colonel Fannin that he was not coming to the aid of the Alamo.

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