Boot Hill

Tombstone Boot Hill

Boot Hill Cemetery, Tombstone, Arizona

A boot hill is defined as a burial ground, especially for men killed in gunfights, owing to the fact that they died with their boots on.  The definition belies the truth; not everyone who died with their boots on was a gunfighter, or in any case, a very good one.  Nonetheless, we’ve all seen the Hollywood westerns with the “boot hill” depicted.  They almost universally appear as crude, hurriedly erected wooden crosses set upon a freshly covered grave.  They are unlovely to look at.  The word “they” is correct.  In the United States, there are forty cemeteries named or referred to as boot hill.  Perhaps the one cemetery we most associate with boot hill is located in Tombstone, Arizona —at least, it is for me.

I’ve been to Tombstone, Arizona.  It is an interesting place.  Assuredly, the cemetery is unattractive; it matches the town perfectly.  Its residents mostly died with their boots on, but not all of them from nefarious behavior.  Not all of them were men.  William Alexander, George Atkins, and Jonathan Barton died while mining.  Albert Bennett was slaughtered by Indians.  Mrs. R. L. Brown died from natural causes.  Old Man Clanton is buried there —a thoroughly nasty fellow whose internment at Tombstone is a step up from what he deserved.  Simon Constantine, a miner, blew himself up when he used a fuze much shorter than needed for his task; he took two of his friends with him.  Louis Hancock lies cold in the grave, shot by Johnny Ringo for an untoward remark uttered by Hancock about a lady.  Billy Hickson, just a boy, died when he fell while using stilts, breaking his neck.  A few of the tenants were legally hanged.  Mike Killeen was shot and killed by Buckskin Frank Leslie[1] … something to do with Killeen’s wife, whom Leslie later married.  There are two John King’s buried there.  One was shot to death, the other was a suicide.  Six Shooter Jim is buried in Tombstone.  No one knows his full name.  Burt Alvord shot him dead.  What Jim needed was a seven-shooter.

As mentioned, there are other “Boot Hills.”  One will find them in Alma, New Mexico; Anamosa, Iowa; Bonanza, Idaho; Cripple Creek, Colorado; Deadwood, South Dakota; El Paso, Texas; Silver Leaf, Utah; Skagway, Alaska; Virginia City, Nevada; Dodge City, Kansas.

There are a few graves of gunslingers, of course —along with a few young men who thought they were gunslingers and then found out quite suddenly that they weren’t, especially when they faced someone like Johnny Ringo, Doc Holliday, James Butler Hickok, Bill Longley, Luke Short, or Kid Curry.

Most of the fellows in boot hill were probably young cowpokes who had armed themselves for the purpose of killing rattlesnakes, and then went into town and filled themselves to the brim with rot gut whiskey —which never produced enhanced decision-making.  There were also a few soldiers, buffalo hunters, teamsters, and barmen who died while working in someone else’s saloon.  They all died young —too young — and few ever had a chance to see their own children grow into adulthood.

My guess is that few children “back in the day” were actually raised by their parents.  Most, I think, just “came up” and left home as soon as they could to find their own way in the world.  This tells us that bad parenting has been somewhat of a norm in America’s short history.  Some of these youngsters were twelve and thirteen years old.  They found work on ranches or in towns performing unskilled labor.  They likely fell under the influence of others, a bit older than themselves, who did them no favors as models of upstanding behavior.  Life back then, more than now, was tough on young people (boys and girls).  The margin for error was small.  A stupid decision rendered in a mere instant had life-changing, often dire consequences.

Not every youngster who left home fulfilled their dreams.  Many of these young people died along the trail from Missouri to Oregon, buried without a marker to record their names.  Some were killed by Indians, their bodies mutilated and left to rot in the sun or as forage for coyotes.

Old west towns were dens of iniquity with plenty of opportunity for sorrow.  Drinking and gambling was a dangerous pastime —along with giving sass to a bully and a cutthroat.  What killed these youngsters was a well-aimed bullet or a lucky shot, aided and abetted by their immaturity, possibly exacerbated by the effects of strong liquor, and a firearm that they didn’t know how to use, or when.  When the smoke cleared, the town undertaker dropped their young bodies into a deep sandy hole in the ground, and then collected a few bucks from the town mayor as recompense for his trouble.  The graveside service did have the appearance of a Christian burial but at that moment it no longer mattered what their names were, or where they came from, whether they had sweethearts back home, or even if they had families that still remembered them in prayer at the dinner table.

Statistics indicate that most people who responded to the various gold rushes ended up with very little to show for their efforts.  Claim jumpers were indiscriminate killers, vigilante groups spent no time examining case law, and some folks were shot and killed for whatever they had in their pockets —which wasn’t much.  Most gold seekers never struck it rich.  No, the only people who made a lot of money during the gold rush times were those who sold or rented goods to miners.  Gamblers fared well, as did the prostitutes[2].  A steak dinner cost about $50.00.  Shoveling crap in the local livery stables wasn’t glorious work, but it paid well, and it was safer than tending bar.

Tombstone Funeral

One final coach ride

Life requires some risk.  People set out either with specific goals for themselves, or a few vague ideas about what they want to accomplish in their life and one of two things result: success, or failure.  Life offers only one guarantee: death.  It may be more likely that a youngster with a good plan will achieve success but there is no guarantee of that.  It is also true that a young person could achieve some success through pure good luck — and then lose everything through pure bad luck.  When luck really ran against these folks, they died and all that we know of them today is that they were an “Unknown Cowboy.”

The Old West may conger up romantic notions for some, and I’ll admit some fascination with tales of the frontier.  Despite the enjoyment I obtain from the reading of history, life was a crapshoot.  America’s youngsters buried on boot hill are part of that story.


[1] Leslie was a rowdy, a gunfighter, Indian scout, prospector, who lived his life untampered by Christian charity.  His birth name was Nashville Franklyn Leslie and we remember him most as the fellow who killed Billy Claiborne.  He was called “Buckskin” because he always wore a buckskin jacket.  Leslie was not a big man; he stood around 5’7” and weighed around 135 pounds.  He was a two-gun shootist and good at it.  The one thing that stands out about Frank Leslie is the absence of a sense of humor.  Some claim that Johnny Ringo was killed by Frank Leslie … but the allegation was never proved.

[2] Truth be told, prostitutes probably killed more cowpokes than gunslingers.  Syphilis and gonorrhea were epidemic in the old west.

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The Texas Highsmith Family

Lone Star 001Even under the best of circumstances, whether by land or sea, the passage into Texas was an arduous undertaking in the early times.  Families making the overland trip knew that they would face a plethora of challenges, so they prepared themselves as best they could to address them.  They, first of all, selected a wagon to hold their goods, the most common of which was the Conestoga design.  The wagon originated in Pennsylvania during the early 18th century.  It was constructed with an upward curve flooring to help prevent the shifting of cargo.  It measured 18 feet long, 11 feet high, and 4 feet wide.  The wagon could carry up to 12,000 pounds, its overall weight would dictate the number of draft animals needed to pull it.  In most cases, four oxen were needed to pull the wagon over rough terrain and through wet or soggy soil.

Generally, several wagons (representing one wagon for each family) would travel together for security and mutual assistance.  The pioneers packed the basics, just items that they would need and could not purchase or make for themselves along the way.  Such items might include tools, blankets, jerky and bacon, salted pork, sugar, flour, ammunition, firearms, durable clothing, sewing essentials, cookware, leather needed for the care of the wagon or its animals, and some quantity of animal feed in case forage was unavailable.

Conastoga WagonThe family groups would also take their livestock, cows, horses, hogs, and caged chickens.  To help manage the control of accompanying animals, and to help provide additional security, and muscle (needed for such things as changing or repairing a wagon wheel), additional men would be invited to accompany them.  Mostly traveling as single men, perhaps in advance of deciding to relocate their own families, these additional hands would help the pioneers control their in-transit livestock and in addition to providing extra rifles for security, they hunted game to help feed the group.

This was the situation that confronted the family of Zadock Woods in 1822.  Zadock Woods had relocated his family from Vermont to the Missouri Territory in 1801, one of the first white (non-Hispanic) families to move into what was then called Upper Louisiana.  He quickly established Wood’s Fort near present-day Troy, Missouri, which was famous for its inn, tavern, and stagecoach layover.  During the War of 1812, Woods’ Fort was a principle line of defense, at one point commanded by Lieutenant Zachary Taylor.  During that war, Zadock Woods fought under Andrew Jackson in Alabama and at New Orleans.

Woods lost a great deal of money in a failed business venture with his long-time friend, Moses Austin.  Austin had relocated to Spanish Missouri in 1798 to expand his interest in mining near modern-day Potosi, where he established the first Anglo-American settlement west of the Mississippi River.  An aggressive investor, willing to take risks, Austin gained control of all smelting operations in Missouri and in the process, established important relationships with such men as William Henry Harrison, who after the Louisiana Purchase, appointed Austin as a justice of the common court in Saint Genevieve.  The shenanigans of James Wilkinson and Aaron Burr, the War of 1812, and America’s subsequent economic depression, Austin sought to diversify his financial portfolio by creating the Bank of Saint Louis.  The bank failed in 1819, which financially ruined Austin and left him deep in debt.

After the Adams-Onis Treaty clarified Spanish title to Texas, Austin traveled to San Antonio in 1820 seeking Spain’s permission to relocate Americans into Texas to help settle the area.  There were several circumstances that made Austin’s idea plausible.  Economic conditions in the United States were horrible.  A lack of money made banks and other lending houses hesitant to offer loans.  Second, land acquisition in the United States was a “cash in hand” transaction.  Most people didn’t have the ready cash to purchase land.  Third, when compared to Texas, land in the United States was expensive.  In 1815, the cost of an acre of land was $1.25.  Twelve-hundred dollars for a 1,000-acre allotment was a high price to pay in those days.  Austin believed that he could sell land in Texas at much more reasonable prices —around sixty-cents an acre, payable in six years.  For less than $3,000, a migrating family could purchase 4,500 acres.

AUSTIN MMoses Austin didn’t live to realize his dream; he passed away in 1821 in the middle of negotiations with the new government of Mexico; his efforts fell to his son and heir, Stephen, who successfully gained permission from the Mexican government to settle East Texas with Anglo-American families.  Zadock Woods[1] and his family became one of the first 300 settlers to relocate to Texas, arriving there in 1823.  Accompanying the Woods party (traveling with several families) was Ahijah Highsmith, who was traveling without his wife and children (whom he left in Missouri for a future journey), and his much-younger brother Samuel, aged 19-years.

Ahijah Highsmith (1776-1845) was born in North Carolina but relocated to Spanish Missouri in 1798-99 where he met, courted, and married Deborah Turner, the daughter of Winslow Turner of Massachusetts.  Together, they raised six children:  Elizabeth (b. 1817), Benjamin Franklin (b. 1817), Jesse (b. 1819), Winslow Turner (b. 1821), Mary (b. 1825), and William (b. 1826).  Samuel Highsmith was born in Boone County, Kentucky in 1804.  During the War of 1812, Samuel moved with his parents and siblings to Missouri, where they settled on the lower Cuivre River in present-day Lincoln County.

The Highsmith brothers liked what they saw in Texas, possibly imagining all the possibilities associated with becoming landowners and getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.  Since only families could migrate to Texas in the earliest days, the Highsmith’s were ineligible for a land grant.  They returned to Missouri, where Samuel married Teresa Williams Turner, Deborah’s half-sister, and then together, in short order, the two families returned to Texas.  For a time, the Highsmith brothers and their families lived with friends (likely, the Woods family) along the extreme western edge of the Austin colony.  Indian violence, however, soon forced these settlers back to Rabb’s Mill, and then further south to the vicinity of Columbus and Old Caney, Texas.  There, the Highsmith’s found refuge at the homestead of Aylett C. Buckner[2].

When Indian depredations subsided, Ahijah returned with his family to the Austin Colony; Samuel and his wife relocated to the Green De Witt colony and received a labor of land in Gonzalez, now in Guadalupe County, in 1829.

In 1830, 15-year-old Benjamin Highsmith traveled to San Antonio de Béxar in the company of William B. Travis, James Bowie, Benjamin McCulloch, his Uncle Sam, George C. Kimball, and his grandfather Winslow Turner.  Ben joined the militia company of Strap Buckner and fought in the Battle of Velasco[3] on 26 June 1832.

In late 1832, Ahijah Highsmith and his family resettled in Bastrop.  Ben Highsmith continued living in Bastrop for the next fifty years.  Samuel fought in the Battle of Gonzalez in October 1835, and at the Siege of San Antonio de Béxar in December.  Then 19-year old Ben served as one of Colonel William B. Travis’ messengers from the Alamo.  When the Alamo fell to Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana on 6 March 1836, Samuel joined up with Sam Houston’s army at Gonzalez but left the ranks to protect his family[4] during the so-called Runaway Scrape.  During this retreat, Ahijah and Sam’s father-in-law passed away.  There is no record to explain the circumstances of Winslow Turner’s death, but it was a very stressful time in Texas and a heart attack would be plausible.

Some historians place Samuel Highsmith at the Battle of San Jacinto as one of the sixteen soldiers sent to capture Santa Anna.  Family records indicate that Samuel captured Santa Anna’s saddle from which spoons were made from the silver and El Presidente’s uniform coat.  Having turned the uniform apparel over to the Texas government, Santa Anna’s coat was lost in the Capitol fire of 1881.

Following Texas Independence, Samuel Highsmith and his family lived in Texana before receiving a land grant in present-day Jackson County.  He and his brother-in-law Abram Clare went into the hog raising business.  Unfortunately, the Army of the Republic of Texas was camped nearby and consumed all of Highsmith’s stock.  He is also said to have provided horses and mules under contract for the Texan Santa Fe Expedition[5].

Samuel Highsmith again served as a volunteer during the so-called Córdova Rebellion[6] in 1838 and was chosen as one of three arbitrators to distribute the spoils captured from Córdova’s property.  Samuel also served as a volunteer under Texas Ranger Captain Edward Burleson in the Battle of Brushy Creek[7].

Samuel moved his family to Bastrop in 1840.  He owned six town lots, one slave, two horses, and fifteen head of cattle.  He also owned 2,214 acres of land in Gonzales County and 630 acres in Travis County.

In August 1840, Samuel took part in the Battle of Plum Creek[8] and served under Captain John Coffee Hays when Mexican General Rafael Vásquez seized San Antonio in 1842.  Hays dispatched Samuel to Seguin and the Guadalupe River settlements to warn them of the invasion and to gather volunteers.  Highsmith then returned to the Texas Army gathering outside San Antonio, where he served as a private in Captain James Gillespie’s company until Vásquez returned to Mexico.

Between 1843 and 1844, Samuel served as sergeant at arms for the Texas House of Representatives at Washington-on-the-Brazos, and in August 1845 he was deputized to carry “special and extra mail” between Bastrop and La Grange.  He moved to Austin in the winter of 1845–46 and was soon thereafter commissioned a captain in the Texas Rangers.

Texas RangersDuring the Mexican American War, Samuel commanded Company K of Colonel William C. Young’s Third Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers.  During the war, among the Mexican enemy, the Texas Rangers were known as Los Diablos Tejanos.ˆ At the end of the company’s service, Sam recruited and then commanded Company D of Colonel John Coffee Hays’ First Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers in 1847.  Hays’ Regiment won a notable battle over Waco Indians on the Llano River in August 1847, and then in 1848, Samuel was elected to serve as captain of a company in Colonel Peter H. Bell’s regiment, which was assigned to frontier defense.  In April, Highsmith won a victory over Waco Indians on the Pedernales River in present-day Blanco County.  Samuel killed Chief Big Water in hand-to-hand combat.

After the Mexican-American War Captain Highsmith was posted in San Antonio in command of one of the two ranger companies detailed to garrison the town.  In August 1848 Samuel was selected to command the guard company detailed to protect Texas commissioners in the opening of a road from San Antonio to El Paso.  Then, again serving under Hays’s command, he and thirty-five men of his company marched from San Antonio for the Rio Grande. “We encountered an exceedingly rugged and dry country,” he reported to Colonel Bell, “which caused great inconvenience to my men and great injury to their horses.”

By 18 October 1848, as Highsmith’s rangers approached Presidio del Norte, the company was near starvation.  He reported, “Our only food consisting of mustangs and our pack mules.”  The party started for home on November 25 and arrived in San Antonio after an equally arduous journey.

With the completion of this mission, Highsmith submitted his resignation from ranger service, intending to return to private life.  The trip had greatly weakened him, however, and he died of influenza on January 10, 1849.  His funeral was held at the Presbyterian Church near the corner of Commerce and Presa streets in San Antonio, and in accordance with his wishes, he was buried in an unmarked grave thought to be near that of Colonel Benjamin R. Milam in Market Plaza.

Samuel and Teresa Highsmith parented seven children, including Henry Albert and Malcijah Benjamin Highsmith.


  1. Edwards, C., The Highsmith Men, Texas Rangers, 2012
  2. Jenkins, J. H., Recollections of Early Texas, 1958, 1973
  3. Nance, J. M.  After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836-1841.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963


[1] Woods’ land grant was located in Matagorda County, but the family settled further up the Colorado River in Fayette County near present-day West Point.  He called his reinforced homestead Woods’ Fort, which was used by early colonists as a refuge from Indian attacks between 1828-1842.  The Woods family were fighters.  In 1832, Woods’ son Leander was killed in the Battle of Velasco.  Zadock mustered under Captain Michael Goheen and Colonel John H. Moore in the Battle of Gonzales, the Battle of Concepcion, and the Grass Fight in 1835.  In the next spring, Woods housed Tennessee volunteers under Daniel Cloud, who in February made their way to fight at the Alamo. Zadock’s wife Minerva died on 28 March 1839 and was buried on the Woods property.  In 1842, Zadock and his sons Norman and Henry enlisted for service under Captain Nicholas M. Dawson to confront the forces of Mexican General Adrian Woll at Salado Creek, outside San Antonio.  Zadock was killed in the Dawson massacre, Norman was taken as a prisoner of war, and Henry escaped.  Zadock Woods was originally buried in the mass grave at Salado Creek but was later reinterred at Monument Hill.  At the time of his death, Zadock was 69 years old.

[2] Buckner was known as “Old Strap” owing to his size and strength.  He was a red-headed Irishman who first traveled to Texas in 1812 as a member of the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition with additional trips in 1816 and 1819.  In 1823, Strap was around 29 years of age.  As part of the original 300, Buckner received one sitio of land, equaling around 4,338 acres, and two labors of land, equaling 177-acres each, which suggested that he engaged in ranching and agricultural production.

[3] The Battle of Velasco was the first lethal battle leading to the Texas Revolution.  Henry Smith and John Austin commanded Texians who had gone to Brazoria to secure a cannon for use against the Mexican forces at Anahuac, then commanded by the accomplished Mexican General Domingo de Ugartechea.  The opposing forces were evenly matched with from 100-150 Texians facing from 100-200 Mexican regulars.  Seven Texians were killed (including Leander Woods), three died later of wounds of a total of sixteen wounded in action.

[4] Samuel’s wife and son were part of the withdrawal known as the runaway scrape.  Malcijah Benjamin Highsmith (1827-1893), Samuel’s son, served as a sergeant in his father’s Company K, 3rd Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers during the Mexican-American War.  In 1850, Malcijah was commissioned a second lieutenant in Captain John S. Ford’s company of Texas Rangers, distinguishing himself in a fight with Comanches near San Antonio de Viejo.  Returning to his farm in 1850, Malcijah served as a captain in the Civil War commanding the Bishop Cavalry Company under Colonel William H. Parson’s 12th Texas Cavalry.  After the war, he returned to Bastrop, where he died on 4 May 1893.

[5] The purpose of the expedition was to secure the Republic of Texas’ claims to parts of northern New Mexico for Texas in 1841.

[6] The Córdova Rebellion was an uprising instigated near Nacogdoches, Texas by Alcalde Vincente Córdova and others.  Córdova supported the Texas Revolution when it supported a return to the Constitution of 1824, but after independence, Córdova opposed the new republic with help from Cherokee Indians.

[7] Texas Rangers and militia opposed Comanche raiders; this was a running battle between present-day Cottonwood and Boggy Creek, culminating north of Brushy Creek.

[8] The Battle of Plum Creek came as a Comanche reaction to the so-called Council House Fight in 1840.  Two hundred Texas Rangers, militia, and allied Tonkawa Indians opposed 1,000 Comanche under Chief Buffalo Hump.

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So Long, Everybody …

Who knows what gets into people?  You would think that good parenting would always produce off-spring who turn out to be good neighbors and someone their parents could be proud of —and this is probably mostly true.  It isn’t always true, however —and it may be true that the concept of good parenting is a subjective concept.  Some parents, flawed themselves, raise flawed children.  What we know is that by the time some young people reveal who they’ve become, it’s already too late to correct any of their human deficiencies.  This was the way of things for William Preston Longley (1851-1878), who by every account, had attentive, hardworking parents.  It was a Texas family, though, at a time when most folks raised their children with a peculiar bias against Negroes.

Haymaker 001Campbell Longley and his wife Sarah raised a family of ten children.  William Preston Longley was born on Mill Creek in Austin, Texas, the sixth to come along.  Campbell and Sarah moved to Old Evergreen, Texas (present-day Lincoln) when Bill was still a toddler.  As with most kids, Bill worked on the farm and attended schooling.  As with most boys in his time, Bill learned other skills, such as fishing, shooting, and hunting.  Bill was 14 years old when the Civil War ended, but of course, the civil war didn’t really end in Texas for many more years.

For nine years following the Civil War, Texans lived in an atmosphere of social turmoil.  It was the post-war reconstruction period when the United States government seized all public and political institutions and placed the Union Army in charge of enforcing federal laws.  Reconstruction was no more than federal bullying, however, and in our final analysis, the heavy hand of the US Army made matters worse for everyone, white or black.  Of course, in 1867, the Yankee blue bellies were already hated in Texas because they represented a rather sudden end to southern culture, even among those who never owned any slaves.  Times were tough in Texas, but then, life in Texas was always a struggle.

Under reconstruction, Texans experienced (1) increased unemployment due to military demobilization, (2) widespread discontent with federally appointed governors and legislators, (3) changes to the ways people earned a living or put food on their tables, (4) forced acceptance of freedmen through federal agencies, (5) a destroyed economy with serious implications to trade, land use, and the availability of food, (6) increased land tenancy and sharecropping among whites and blacks, and (7) federal appointment of illiterate blacks to judicial, law enforcement, and taxing bureaucracies.  Texans believed that they were being harshly punished by federal authorities —and indeed, they were.

Texas was always volatile and federal reconstruction made it more so.  Officially, reconstruction ended in 1877, but its effects lasted well into the 1970s.  Lawlessness in Texas increased.  White people accused of breaking the law were not going to allow black lawmen to take them into custody, nor did they cotton to the idea of standing before a black magistrate who could not even write his name.  Young Texans, like Bill Longley, had few economic prospects.  Some of these men became mean and dangerous gunmen.

When Bill Longley reached adulthood, he stood six feet tall, had a slender but muscled build, liked to fight, and never hesitated to use his sidearms to resolve a dispute.  Some would say he was a handsome fellow.  In 1867, the Longley farm was one mile from the Camino Real, the old Spanish highway between San Antonio and Nacogdoches.  In mid-December 1868, three former slaves by the names Green Evans, Pryer Evans, and Ned rode horseback through Evergreen intending to visit friends or family further south.  Bill Longley, accompanied by a few of his friends, detained these travelers and forced them toward a dry creek bed.  Fearing for his safety, Green Evans spurred his horse into a gallop in an attempt to escape his assailants.  Longley and his friends shot Green out of his saddle, killing him.  While Longley rummaged through Green’s pockets, Preyer and Ned hightailed it.  Longley was never held to account for his part in Green Evans’ murder.

William Preston LongleyFor the next few years, Longley drifted in Texas, patronizing saloons and gambling houses.  Some claim that he became friends with the noted gambler Phil Coe, who ended his life by getting into a gunfight with Wild Bill Hickok.  In 1869, Longley and his brother-in-law John Wilson went on a crime spree in south Texas.  Their activities involved robbery, stealing horses, and the murder of Paul Brice in Bastrop, a freed slave.  In 1870, the US Army offered a $1,000 reward for the capture of Longley and Wilson.  We aren’t sure what happened to Wilson, but we know that Longley avoided arrest by going to the Dakota territory and joining up with a group of prospectors.

Longley and his gold-hunting party entered the Black Hills illegally.  A treaty with the Sioux that prohibited white encroachment into the Black Hills was enforced by the US Army.  Not long after entering the restricted territory, a cavalry patrol intercepted the Longley party and escorted them out of the Black Hills.  Shortly after this, on 22 June 1870, Bill Longley enlisted in the army to serve with Company B, 2nd US Cavalry for five years at Camp Stambaugh.  Within two weeks, Longley decided that army life was too restrictive and deserted his post.  Within a few months, the army apprehended Longley, court-martialed him for desertion and sentenced him to two-years confinement at hard labor.  For whatever reason, Longley’s commander vacated his sentence and released him back to Company B to finish out his enlistment.  Longley deserted again in May 1872.

Longley’s activities for the rest of that year is a mystery to us.  We next hear about Bill Longley in February 1873 when he was accused of murdering another freedman in Bastrop County, Texas.  While living with his parents in Bell County, Mason County sheriff J. J. Finney arrested Longley and escorted him to Austin where Finney hoped to collect his federal reward.  When federal authorities failed to pay, Finney accepted a bribe from Bill’s Uncle Alex and then released him.

By 1875, Bill Longley had earned a reputation as a shootist.  He was fast with his guns (he wore a two-gun rig), and deadly accurate.  He also favored a shotgun, which he used in the murder of his childhood friend, Wilson Anderson.  By every account, Anderson’s demise was an act of retribution for the shooting of one of Bill’s cousins.  This may be the reason Uncle Alex bribed Sheriff Finney: so that Bill Longley could even the score in a long-standing dispute.  The shooting done, Bill fled north with his brother James.  James Longley was later charged in the death of Wilson Anderson but was acquitted.

Longley, aware that he was being pursued by lawmen, avoided arrest by moving around more frequently and taking on different aliases.  By 1875, a trend had developed: wherever Longley went, someone ended up being shot.  In that year, Longley added George Thomas to his growing list.  In Uvalde County, he shot a fellow outlaw named Lou Shroyer.  Shroyer was one of the few men who ever returned fire at Longley, but Longley was a better shot, and this is always an important factor in gunfights.

Once more on the run, Longley traveled to East Texas and became a sharecropper for a preacher named William R. Lay.  When Longley became a rival with Lay’s nephew for the attentions of a young woman, Longley beat the nephew up.  It must have been a heck of a beating because local authorities arrested Longley and placed him in jail awaiting trial.  At this time, few things in Texas were more porous than their county jails, so Bill Longley escaped, rode out to William Lay’s farm, and shotgunned him to death.  Rev. Lay was the last person known to have been killed by “Wild Bill” Longley.

In June 1877, Longley was living under the name Bill Jackson in De Soto Parish, Louisiana.  Nacogdoches Sheriff Milt Mast and his posse arrested Longley and returned him to Lee County, Texas to stand trial in the murder of Wilson Anderson.  Having been found guilty as charged, the judge imposed capital punishment.  William Preston Longley would hang.  His appeal was denied in March 1878 and on 11 October in Giddings, Texas —a few miles from where he grew up— Bill Longley met his fate.

Longley artBill Longley was the subject of several myths and legends, most of which cannot be verified through independent means.  Many of these were inventions of Longley himself —motivated, perhaps, by his desire to rival John Wesley Hardin’s reputation as a killer.  Before his death, Longley fussed and fumed about the unfairness of his death sentence when Hardin had escaped with only 25 years in prison.

On the date of his execution, Longley mounted the gallows in front of 4,000 on-lookers, led there by Lee County Sheriff James M. Brown.  When asked if he had any last words, Longley held up his hand get the attention of the crowd before him and said, “I deserve this fate.  It is a debt I have owed for a reckless life.  So long, everybody.”

Longley’s transition to the next world wasn’t quick or pleasant.  Apparently, his hangman allowed too much rope, so when Longley fell through the trap, his feet actually touched the ground underneath the gallows.  The sheriff and two deputies rushed to the area under the gallows, and while the deputies lifted Longley’s feet off the ground, the sheriff pulled Bill Longley downward so that he could be properly strangled.  It took Bill Longley more than eleven minutes to die, which is more time than he allowed any of his victims.


  1. Bartholomew, E. E. Wild Bill Longley: A Texas Hard-Case.  Houston: Frontier Press, 1953
  2. Miller, R. and David Johnson. Bloody Bill Longley: Mythology of a Gunfighter.  Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2011.
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The Best Indian Fighter

The United States Army developed a number of very fine officers between 1840-65.  Men who gained valuable experience in the Mexican American War and took that expertise into the American Civil War.  Many (if not most) of these men came from prominent families (as was the tradition in the nineteenth century).  But we should make this distinction: while they may not have been compassionate men, they were exceptional battlefield commanders.  They were able to make the hard decisions.  They never lost sight of their primary objective: win battles.  As but one example, much has been written about William T. Sherman —none of it very flattering because of his scorched earth policy in Georgia— but Sherman was not out to win friends or the undying devotion of the citizens of Georgia.  He was out to convince southerners that they could not win the Civil War; if they were unable to come to that conclusion by themselves, Sherman was willing to move them to a point where such a realization became self-evident.


Ranald S. Mackenzie

After the Civil War in the Southwest, another fine officer made his presence known.  His name was Ranald S. Mackenzie.  The Indians called him “Bad Hand,” owing to the fact that a war wound caused him to lose the first two fingers of his right hand.  President Grant regarded him as the most promising young officer in the U. S. Army.  Historians regard him as America’s best Indian fighter, for reasons I will explain in some detail.

Mackenzie was born in Westchester County, New York on 27 July 1840.  His parents were Commodore Alexander Mackenzie and Catherine Alexander Robinson.  He was a nephew of the diplomat John Slidell, the eldest brother of Rear Admiral Morris Robinson Slidell Mackenzie and Lieutenant Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie.  He was the grandson of John Slidell, a bank president and New York political boss.

He initially attended Williams College, but later transferred to the United States Military Academy, where he graduated at the head of his class in 1862.  Upon graduation and commission as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, Ranald joined Union forces in the Civil War.  He fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg.  He also participated in the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg in 1864.  He received wounds at Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and at the Jerusalem Plank Road (where he lost his fingers).  By June 1864, Ranald had risen from second lieutenant to brevet lieutenant colonel in the regular army[1].

In July 1864, Mackenzie was appointed to command the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery with the rank of colonel.  He was wounded again at the Battle of Opequon[2] and was subsequently appointed to command the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, VI Corps.  He received his sixth combat wound at the Battle of Cedar Creek, and upon recovery he received President Lincoln’s appointment as brigadier general of volunteers[3], effective from October 1864.  In the closing days of the war, Mackenzie commanded a US Army Corps, but as General Grant acknowledged, the fact that this young man, in only three years from his graduation from the United States Military Academy, rose through the ranks with seven brevet promotions to command an organization demanding the skill and experience of a lieutenant general, spoke well of Mackenzie.  Grant also noted, “This he did upon his own merit and without influence.”

At the end of the war, the U. S. Army went into a period of demobilization.  On 13 January 1866, President Johnson appointed Ranald Mackenzie to brevet major general, a promotion backdated to 31 March 1865, in recognition of his service during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.  Two days later, however, Mackenzie was mustered out of volunteer service.  His promotion to brevet major general was confirmed by the United States Senate on 12 March 1866.

Known as a strict disciplinarian, General Mackenzie was not popular among his men[4] —but he was respected among his peers and appreciated by his superiors in the chain of command.  After the war, Mackenzie remained in the regular army and reverted to his permanent rank of captain in the Army Corps of Engineers.  In 1867, he was appointed to command the 41st US Infantry Regiment (later redesignated 24th US Infantry), which was one of the Buffalo regiments[5].  From this assignment onward, Mackenzie would spend the balance of his career on the American frontier confronting hostile Indians.

Comancheria 001

The Comancheria, 1850-1875

From around 1861 to 1875[6], the Southwest frontier was an area of unparalleled violence and bloodshed as the Plains Indians initiated what seemed an unending series of hostile acts against frontier settlers.  Texans were outraged by the United States government’s inability or unwillingness to deal with hostile Indians —and it was the federal government that reserved unto itself the responsibility with dealing with native tribes.  From around 1865, the worst depredations in all Texas history began occurring along the Mexican border from Mescalero, Lipan, and Kickapoo Indians.

Quite frequently, these Indians were allied with Mexican communities who received and disposed of the loot stolen from the homes of murdered Texans; the Rio Grande provided sanctuary to the Indians in the same way that the Oklahoma territory provided a safe haven for Comanche-Kiowa war parties.  In the area between Eagle Pass and Laredo, Texas was being depopulated, either through the murder of white settlers, or settlers moving back east.

It was no different in Central Texas where counties that had been laid out twenty years earlier were more unsafe than they were during the administration of Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of Texas.  In August 1870, the Daily State Journal reported: “The counties of Llano, Mason, and Gillespie swarm with savages. The farmers are shot down in their fields, and their stock is stolen before their eyes.  Not for twenty years back have the Indians been so bold, so well-armed and as numerous as now.  At Llano, the frontier is breaking up….”

Lampasas TXIn the same month, Lampasas County reported, “… During the last moon our entire county, and as far as reports can be credited, other surrounding counties, have been infested by large bodies of hostile Indians.  The truth is, if something is not done soon for the relief of the frontier it will have to be abandoned.”

These were farming communities, far to the East behind the Army’s protective line.  Also, in August 1870, at San Saba, the Galveston Weekly Civilian reported the situation as “relatively peaceful”.  Its statement was intended as factual, not meant as sarcastic: “The Indians are no worse than usual.  Only one man killed, two children taken, and about seventy-five head of horses driven away during the past ‘light moon’ in this vicinity.”

Adding to these reports were dozens of additional accounts of unwary travelers who were killed and scalped, of farmhouses broken into during the night, of women raped and slaughtered, and of children carried away.  From a purely Texan point of view, there were also happier reports, such as the one involving a woman in Mason County who shotgunned two Indians nosing around her home in the middle of the night.

Despite all of these accounts, the Secretary of the Interior[7] took no action.  He obviously believed that reports coming in from Texas were exaggerated.  There can be no doubt that some of these accounts were embellished —such is the nature of excited men— and there is no question that the people of Texas detested the “red fiends of hell” with unbridled passion.  Among the real Texans there were two realities: first, there would be no surrender to the Indians, and second, there would be no taking of prisoners.  If there was to be any rehabilitation at all for the Plains Indians, it would have to take place in the afterlife.

Many of the women and children taken as captives by the Indians were eventually ransomed in Oklahoma.  One consistent tale conveyed by women released back into white society was that they were continually raped by their captives.  The Indians treated captured Texans as no better than prairie rats, and according to some Indian testimony they delighted in receiving fine things from the Americans for giving back what the Indians had unlawfully taken.

Such attitudes were not entirely the fault of the Indians.  Since the so-called peace process had begun, with Quakers serving at Indian agents, the Indians themselves marveled at the game of exchanging captives for valuable goods.  It was great fun —for the Indians, but seldom was there any genuine compassion for the women released back into white society —women, both old and young, who were afterward shunned by their own kind for what they were forced to endure while in Indian captivity.

The inane Indian policies of President Grant outraged Texans.  On one occasion, the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives demanded to know why Great Britain was prepared to go to war over six of its citizens being held captive, while the United States refused to raise one voice in protest over the murder of hundreds.  Well, of course, the US Congress did begin an investigation of conditions along the Mexican border in 1872, but it was never completed due to a lack of funds[8].

After 1873, Army commanders were able to act with a freer hand toward Indians based in Mexico than they could with those living in United States territories.  Colonel Ranald Mackenzie was one of those with little patience in dealing with hostile Indians.  In February 1871, after assuming command of the Fourth US Cavalry at Fort Richardson, Texas, Mackenzie confronted hostiles at Blanco Canyon and at North Fork[9].  From Fort Clark, he led a punitive expedition against Kickapoo Indians hiding in Mexico.  Mackenzie’s behavior as a field commander was entirely admirable.

Insistence from Texas Congressmen in 1873 managed to persuade the federal government to pressure Mexico into allowing the US Army to take Kickapoo Indians into custody at Santa Rosa, Mexico and remove them to the Oklahoma territory.  The measure did not make a substantial difference in the chaos that existed along the Mexico border, and claims of property losses totaling $48 million received no attention from Washington.  In the minds of Texans, the federal government was willing to accept Indian depredations if it meant avoiding an all-out Indian war; the lives of Texans weren’t worth a plug nickel.

But it was the hated bluecoats from the Civil War who did the most to relieve the suffering of Texans at the hand of hostile Indians —men like General Phil Sherman and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, who in time became Texas heroes— fine officers who would force a solution to the Indian problem, even if the federal government preferred otherwise.

Kiowa BandIn the 1870s, Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe still prevented white encroachment in almost half the state of Texas.  Ecological conditions prevented any productive farms in West Texas.  Beyond the farm line, west of the 100th meridian for up to 150 miles, no more than one white man lived within a square mile.  Like the Wichita Indians before him, no white man dared to enter the domain of the Plains Indians.  By this time in history, all other tribes in Texas had disappeared due to a combination of Eurocentric diseases, war, and forced removal.  The few Tonkawa Indians that remained became targets of extermination by the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache.  The explanation most often given by these Indians for the extermination of the Tonkawa was that they were cannibals; the actual reason was more likely due to the fact that the Tonkawa had befriended Texans.

West of the 100th meridian, a line of cavalry forts delineated the frontier territory: Fort Richardson, Fort Griffin, Fort Concho, Fort McKavett, and Fort Clark.  West of the forts was a vast plains and plateaus with only a handful of Stone Age savages who roamed Texas at will.  These handful of savages, however, were enough to keep the white man out of the Comancheria.

For the Indians, Texas was the last stand in the struggle for North America.  There were eleven Plains tribes that ranged from the Rio Grande to Canada.  They had remained the strongest because of their warrior spirit and their contempt for lesser Indians and white farmers.  Neither Comanche nor Kiowa ever allowed white men to live among them.  White women and children were a different matter.  The Plains Indians had no intention of “going quietly into that good night.”

To destroy the Plains Indian, it was necessary for Anglo society to pull out all stops.  The white man needed superior weapons, and he developed them.  He needed a sophisticated strategy, so he formulated several.  It was necessary to destroy the Indian habitat, and their primary food source: the American Bison.  By 1870, hunting Buffalo for their hides had become widespread.  Not only were the buffalo robe coats popular in the East, so too were leather products from those hides.

Fort Worth, Texas evolved into a flourishing trading post on the edge of the “final” frontier, a place from which buffalo hunters spread out into the plains.  The hunters were a rough breed, dirty, smelly, violent men who worked in groups of a dozen or so.  They congregated near the cavalry forts, especially at Fort Griffin, where they awaited the annual migrations of the bison onto the southern range.  The hunters arrived with their sturdy wagons, tons of ammunition, and .52 caliber Sharps rifles, model 1852.  In time, the hunters turned the area just outside Fort Griffin into a hellhole where dance hall girls, prostitutes, gunmen, and professional gamblers came to prey on the men who preyed on the American bison.  They called this area “the Flat.”  Whenever we think of the “lawless west,” Fort Griffin comes to mind since there was no civil law and the Army had no interest in what social residue did to one another.

American BisonIn 1870, American Bison numbered in the millions.  An efficient hunter could kill between 25-40 head per day.  For a team of twelve men, not all of whom were shooters, they might take down as many as 160 bison in a single day.  In 1870, there were around 2,000 buffalo hunters operating on the plains.  Once the kills were made, the hunters moved on and behind them came the hide wagons and the lowly skinners.  The carcasses were left to rot, and it was possible to view miles of rotting bodies with swarms of circling vultures in the air.  The buffalo were being exterminated; everyone knew it, and in the long and short of it, the entire operation was quite sophisticated.  There was money to be made.  Indians would be starved into submission.  It was a win-win situation.  Once the Plains Indian was on the reservation —on the government’s dole, the US government could control him.

One may recall that the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 promised the Indians that there would be no bison hunting south of the Arkansas River. This would have preserved to the Indians the richest land in all North America, ranging from the Cimarron in Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle.  Unhappily, there were two factors that made such promises absurd.  First, the federal government had no authority to order the citizens of Texas off legally recognized Texas soil.  Second, the US Army changed its mind about some of those protective provisions.

General Phil Sheridan

Major General Phil Sheridan USA

General Phil Sheridan, commanding the Military Department of the Southwest, and General William T. Sherman, commanding the Army of Missouri both agreed that there could be no solution to the Indian problem so long as the Plains tribes could support themselves outside of the reservations.  Sheridan referred to this as the “vexed Indian question,” which would be satisfactorily resolved, over time, through the work of buffalo hunters.  Sheridan and Sherman were both combat-tested commanders; they knew how to win wars.  Buffalo hunters were merely a weapon that was useful to their purpose.

Of course, there were few things more dangerous than entering the Comanche-Kiowa range, but buffalo hunters were as tough as they were greedy —not to mention heavily armed.  Normally, the hunters entered the southern plains in winter when climate and the shortage of grass kept the Indians in their lodges.  It was only when the Comanche and Kiowa became panicked by the widespread skeletal remains of bison, and realized that their game was disappearing, that they reacted so strongly against the Buffalo Hunters.  By then, it was too late.

The United States Cavalry was sent to the west to protect frontier settlers, restrictions imposed upon them by Grant’s peace and reservation policies, the Army wasn’t doing any such thing.   And, no matter what army officers may have thought of the peace and reservation policies, in the beginning, they turned against them almost to the man.  Army posts were situated within the ring of death.  Soldiers were frequently detailed to bury the remains of massacred settlers.  The Army paid ransoms for demented captives.  Time after time, cavalry squadrons pursued Indian marauders to the Oklahoma line, the point at which Grant’s Indian policy demanded that they turn back.  Soldiers began to vilify the Indians almost as much as the Texans did.

Nor did the Indians make any secret about their comings and goings, or for what purposes.  On 24 January 1871, a Kiowa war party murdered Britt Johnson and three Negro partners near Salt Creek[10]. Soldiers from Fort Richardson buried the Johnson party and pursued the Indians, only to be driven back with one trooper wounded.  Another man was tortured and killed on Salt Creek in mid-April.  A few days later, fourteen people were slain on the western edge of Young County.  The citizens of Jackboro were in near panic with fear, and beside themselves with rage.

In May 1871, Kiowa braves under Satanta, Big Tree, and Satank left the reservation to fight Tonkawa’s, who were known to be camping near Fort Griffin.  On 18th May, the Kiowa came across a large wagon train on Salt Creek, between Fort Griffin and Jackboro, on the edge of Young County, Texas.  They attacked the train, killed the wagon master and five teamsters.  The sixth man was taken alive.  The Kiowa chained him to a wagon tongue and roasted him to death.  Five freighters escaped; one of these was a man called Brazeal who although seriously wounded, dragged himself to Jackboro and raised the alarm.  These incidents were typical of Indian raids in West Texas in the early 1870s.

It also just happened that on the day of this particular massacre, General William T. Sherman and Major General Randolph Marcy (US Army Inspector General) were in San Antonio.  Both of these officers had remained skeptical about the credibility of Texas war party stories.  Sherman and Marcy rode forward to investigate for themselves.  All along the frontier, General Sherman left the impression that he thought the Indians were hardly so bad as they were being painted.  Sherman was at Fort Richardson when Thomas Brazeal was carried in from Jackboro for medical treatment and General Sherman questioned him about what had happened.

Upon hearing the man’s account, General Sherman was “shocked,” and ordered Colonel Ranald Mackenzie to take to the field with four companies from the 4th US Cavalry[11].  Mackenzie’s orders were to investigate and pursue the hostiles, and to meet with Sherman weeks later at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  As Mackenzie led his troops out of Fort Richardson, Sherman was still not convinced that the Indian problem was as bad as reports; General Marcy was unable to persuade him otherwise.  But the evidence discovered by Mackenzie was overwhelming.  He reported the horribly mutilated bodies of teamsters and what remained of Sam Elliott, who was found hung upside down over a burnt-out fire pit, his tongue cut out, and his body looking like pork belly.

At Fort Sill, Army investigators interrogated the Kiowa braves and presented them with the evidence collected.  The Kiowa admitted their depredations and even boasted about them.  The boastfulness of the Indians changed Sherman’s mind and disturbed him greatly.  Hereafter, the Army would make use of a different tactic when confronting hostile Indians.

Colonel Mackenzie, along with several other well-known army officers, participated in a series of confrontations that became known as the Red River War.  It was more on the order of a campaign instigated by the Army in 1874 to displace the Plains Indians and force them onto reservations in the Indian (Oklahoma) territory.  The campaign, lasting only a few months, had several army columns crisscrossing the Texas panhandle to locate, harass, and capture highly mobile Indian bands.

The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was part of the Red River campaign.  Late in the summer of 1874, Quahada Comanche, Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa warriors led by Lone Wolf left their assigned reservations and sought refuge in Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.  At this location, the Indians stockpiled their food and supplies for the winter.  Colonel Mackenzie and his 4th US Cavalry departed Fort Clark on 15 August traveling to Fort Concho, arriving there on 21 August.  Two days later, they were at the mouth of Blanco Canyon with eight companies of cavalry and four infantry companies from the 10th and 11th Infantry regiments.  Mackenzie’s orders indicated that he was at liberty to pursue the Indians wherever they may go —even onto the reservation agencies.

In early September, Black Seminole Scouts moving in advance of the 4th Cavalry were ambushed by Comanche near the Staked Plains but escaped with their lives.  The scouts relayed the Comanche’s position and put Colonel Mackenzie on the alert.

Colonel Mackenzie formed three columns, one led by Mackenzie, one by Lieutenant Colonel George P. Buell, and one under Lieutenant Colonel John W. Davidson.  Mackenzie led his troops northward along the edge of the Staked Plains; Buell moved to contact up the Red River, and the third column advanced from Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  By 25 September, Indians began to gather around Mackenzie and attacked him through the night of 26-27 September near Tule and Boehm’s canyons.  In this engagement, fifteen warriors were killed, including the Kiowa chief Woman’s Heart.

Early on the morning of 28 September, two of Mackenzie’s Tonkawa scouts found a fresh trail, prompting Mackenzie to resume his march.  At dawn, Mackenzie was in a position to observe the Indian lodges.  Mackenzie ordered his cavalry to dismount and with his chief scout in the lead, ordered them to “start a fight” with the Indians.  One group of troops were ordered to drive off the Indian ponies, numbering around 1,600 head.  A footpath led the troopers down into the canyon over a zig-zag path.

Colonel Mackenzie first attacked Lone Wolf’s Kiowa camp and routed it.  The Indian’s reacted to Mackenzie’s assault as he thought they would: the warriors screened their escaping women and children, and then followed them to safety.  Mackenzie did not follow them but instead destroyed all their lodges, all their food, and such other equipment as found in the camp —which in this case included a large cache of rifles.  Mackenzie ordered the ponies moved out of the canyon and held under guard.  By 29 September, Mackenzie and his men were back in camp in Tule Canyon.

Now the Indians were on foot in the Great Plains.  They had a few, but not many ponies, no food, and no shelter.  Mackenzie ordered the 1,600 captured ponies destroyed.  A Plains Indian without a horse was a defeated Indian.  These Kiowa were not only defeated, but they also faced winter without the supplies necessary to sustain them.  Many of these Indians began the long trek back to Fort Sill and the reservations.  While confrontation with the Kiowa continued into 1875, Palo Duro Canyon marked one of the final engagements of the Red River campaign and the Texas-Indian Wars.  In 1876, Colonel Mackenzie defeated the Cheyenne in the Dull Knife Fight, and this led to the end of the Black Hills War.

In 1881, Mackenzie assumed command of the Military District of New Mexico and in the following year was advanced to brigadier general.  A year later, he assumed command of the Department of Texas.

At this time, with more than twenty years of active military service, Mackenzie was thinking about life after military retirement.  He purchased a ranch in Texas and was engaged to marry.  Earlier, however, Mackenzie was injured at Fort Sill, Oklahoma when he fell from a wagon and injured his head.  At the time, it was thought that Ranald suffered a mild concussion, but over time, he began to demonstrate signs of mental instability.  Today we might regard this as traumatic brain injury (TBI), but in his day, the diagnosis was “general paresis of the insane.”  General Mackenzie was medically retired from the Army in March 1884.  He passed away at his sister’s home in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York on 19 January 1889.  He was laid to rest at the West Point National Cemetery.


  1. Pierce, M. D. The Most Promising Young Officer: A Life of Ranald Slidell Mackenzie.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.
  2. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
  3. Robinson, C. M.
  4. Carter, R. G. On the Border with Mackenzie.  Washington: Enyon Printing, 1935.
  5. Bourke, J. G. Mackenzie’s Last Fight with the Cheyenne’s.  New York: Arno Press, Inc., 1890.


[1] Brevet promotions were temporary advancements in recognition of distinguished service under fire.

[2] Near Winchester, Virginia.

[3] The US Army has employed numerous schemes to temporarily advance officers of exceptional quality during times of war.  Mackenzie’s promotion to brigadier general of volunteers was one such scheme.  His permanent rank in the regular army was captain; a commission within the volunteer’s framework assured the War Department that it had the battlefield commanders it needed to prosecute the war but would not at the same time exceed the army’s congressionally mandated force structure.

[4] American soldiers during this time were ill-disciplined, surly, often rowdy.  They required a consistently strong hand and a general who would back up his officers and NCOs.  Mackenzie was such a man.

[5] These were regiments mostly composed of Negro soldiers, commanded by white officers and senior NCOs.  The term “Buffalo Soldier” is how these black soldiers were referred to by native Americans, owing to the fact of their curly, kinky hair, the origin of which, according to the Commanding Officer of the 10thCavalry, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, were the Comanche Indians during his campaign in 1871.  Buffalo soldiers were assigned to the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry, and 25th Infantry regiments.

[6] The last major engagements with the Plains Indians took place in 1875, but there were additional conflicts with Indians through 1924.  These included confrontations at Leech Lake, Minnesota in October 1898 in the Battle of Sugar Point, the Four Corners Fight in 1907, the Crazy Snake Rebellion in 1909 in Oklahoma, the Chaco Canyon uprising in 1911 in New Mexico, the Washoe County Massacre in January 1911 (involving the murder of four ranchers by Indians), the Bluff War in Utah between March 1914 and March 1915, the Battle of Bear Valley in Santa Cruz County, Arizona in January 1918, and the Posey War in March 1923 in Utah targeting Mormon settlers.  The so-called Apache Wars ended in 1924.

[7] See also: Ulysses S. Grant and the Quaker Peace Policy

[8] There was never a lack of funds; only a lack of priority in allocating them.

[9] Mackenzie received his seventh combat wound from an arrow, which was lodged in his leg.

[10] See also: The Elm Creek Raid.

[11] Before 1880, US cavalry regiments were divided into companies.  After the Army’s reorganization, company-sized cavalry units were called squadrons.

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The Dalton’s

Altogether, Lewis Dalton from Jackson County, Missouri, had eight sons.  Lewis was a saloon keeper in Kansas City when he married Adeline Younger, an aunt of Cole and Jim Younger.  Lewis and Adeline named their sons Charles Benjamin (1853-1936), Henry Coleman (1853-1920), Littleton Lee (1857-1942), Franklin (1859-87), Gratton Hanley (1861-92), William Marion (1863-94), Robert Rennick (1869-92), Emmet (1871-1937), and Simon Noel (1878-1928).  One of these boys, Frank, would become a respected lawman; four would earn their reputations as dangerous outlaws: Bob, Emmett, Grat, and Bill.

This is their story.


Deputy US Marshal Frank Dalton

Frank Dalton was appointed a Deputy United States Marshal under Judge Isaac Parker at Fort Smith, Arkansas for the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Territory.  By every account, Frank was the family’s success story.

Most of the present-day Oklahoma was set aside by the Federal government as Indian territory before the American Civil War.  It was opened for general settlement in 1890, initially populated by farmers and ranchers.   Oklahoma was often called the twin territories because a portion of the territory had been set aside for American Indian (Amerind) reservations —another for white settlement.  Its vast unpopulated northwestern section became a refuge for outlaws.  As Judge Parker had legal jurisdiction over the Oklahoma Territory, his deputies frequently combed Oklahoma for murderers, rustlers, and thieves.  When apprehended, deputies would transport them back to Fort Smith to answer for their crimes.

As one of Parker’s deputies, Frank Dalton was involved in a number of high-risk encounters with outlaws; that was his job.  He served as a deputy for over three years.  On 27 November 1887, he and deputy J. R. Cole were seeking members of the Smith-Dixon gang.  Smith-Dixon cohorts were horse thieves and whiskey peddlers operating within the Indian Territory.  Its members included Dave Smith, a former member of the Belle Starr gang, his brother-in-law Leander (Lee) Dixon, and William (Billy) Towerly.

Dalton and Cole tracked them to a wood camp in the Arkansas River bottoms near present-day Sequoyah County.  At the camp was Dixon’s wife.  Approaching the camp, the deputies announced their presence, adding they were only after Smith and that the others should not interfere.  Smith immediately fired off a shot, hitting Dalton in the chest and he fell to the ground.  Cole returned fire, killing Dave Smith.  At that moment, Lee Dixon and Billy Towerly began firing at Cole, who wounded, took cover behind a tree.  Towerly then ran toward Dalton, who was still conscious and pointed his gun in Dalton’s face.  Dalton said, “Don’t shoot.  I’m already dying.”  Towerly then shot Dalton in the face and once again in the head for good measure.

From his position behind the tree, Cole continued firing.  Dixon’s wife was killed, Dixon was wounded, and Towerly fled the camp.  Cole gathered his horse and returned to Fort Smith, where he reported what happened.  The US Marshal sent a posse to retrieve the bodies of Smith, Dalton, and Mrs. Dixon.  Lee Dixon’s wound was near his left collar bone.  He was taken to the Fort Smith hospital but later died of his wounds.

Towerly was now a man wanted for the murder of a deputy US marshal; the reward was $1,000.  In early December, deputies Bill Moody and Ed Stokely caught up with Towerly near Atoka, Oklahoma, his parent’s home.  The deputies approached the home and demanded that Towerly surrender.  Billy opted for curtain number two, which was to draw down on two deputy marshals.  As Billy went for his gun, the two deputies drew their weapons and fired.  Towerly was hit in the leg and shoulder.

Stokely approached the wounded man to disarm him but Towerly was still interested in the least happy outcome.  Switching his revolver to his other hand, Towerly shot Stokely in the chest, killing him.  Moody fired again and killed Towerly.

Frank Dalton was laid to rest at Coffeyville, Kansas —the town where two of his brothers were later killed during an attempted bank robbery.


California Congressman William M. Dalton

Bill Dalton seemed initially destined to follow Frank’s example.  For a time, he served in the California legislature, but it may have occurred to him that if he was going to be a crook, he may as well get top dollar for it.  In 1890, Bill and his brothers robbed a train just outside of Los Angeles.  No one ever suggested that Bill Dalton (or any of his brothers, for that matter) were particularly good at crookery, and nowhere was this better demonstrated of this than by the fact that Bill and Grat were soon captured after their train robbery.  Both men escaped capture.  After Bill learned that Bob and Grat had been killed in Coffeyville in 1892 and that Emmett had been wounded and captured, Bill headed for the Oklahoma Territory. This is where he met Bill Doolin.  They soon formed their own gang, which had several monikers: they were the Doolin-Dalton Gang, the Oklahombres, and the “Wild Bunch.”

Some academics claim that Dalton was obsessed with becoming more famous than his brothers, and that he and Doolin went to great efforts to see that happen. For three years they committed a series of bank robberies, stagecoach holdups, and train robberies.  They pulled these jobs at several locations: Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas.   Deputy US marshals under Evett Dumas (“E. D.”) Nix tracked them to Ingalls, Oklahoma.  The supervisory officer was Deputy US Marshal John Hixon.  Hixon’s posse first engaged “Bitter Creek” Newcomb, which led to a shootout that left Newcomb badly wounded.  A large number of outlaws then opened fire from inside a saloon, and the deputies returned fire, killing one horse and forcing the outlaws to flee to a nearby stable.  While the outlaws were making their way out of the saloon, its owner engaged the marshals from the doorway of his saloon, and he was soon wounded and placed under arrest[1].

From a good position, “Arkansas Tom” Jones opened fire on the marshals with a rifle and was able to push them back to find cover.  While this was going on, the outlaws prepared to make their escape on horseback.  It was in this engagement that Deputy Marshal Tom Hueston was mortally wounded[2].  Two innocent bystanders were hit in the exchange; one killed, one wounded.  Bill Doolin shot and killed Deputy Marshal Richard Speed.  Deputy Lafayette Shadley fired at Dalton, hitting his horse in the leg, which toppled Dalton from his horse.  Dalton returned fire, mortally wounding Shadley.  Outlaw Dan “Dynamite Dick” Clifton was hit and wounded, but still able to ride.  Deputy Jim Masterson[3] tossed a stick of dynamite into where Arkansas Tom was hiding.  The explosion stunned Jones and he was taken into custody.

The Ingalls fight ended with the arrest of Murray and Jones.  Clifton and Newcomb were wounded, and Charley Pierce may have been wounded, but along with the other gang members these men managed to escape the law.  Shortly after the Ingalls encounter, Bill Dalton resigned from the Doolin gang to form his own.  On 23 May 1894, the Dalton gang robbed the First National Bank of Longview, Texas —it was the gang’s one and only robbery.  In June, a posse of six men under US Marshal Buck Garret of Ardmore, Oklahoma tracked Dalton to his home in Pooleville, Oklahoma.  Bill Dalton resisted arrest and more than 100 rounds were exchanged between the lawmen and the outlaw.  Eventually, gunfire subsided from the cabin and Bill Dalton was found dead with a gunshot to the head.  His body was shipped to California for burial.

DALTON Gratton

Gratton Dalton

Grat Dalton idolized his older brother Frank, who was said to be the strongest of siblings and able to keep his younger brothers “in line.”  When Frank lost his life, Grat and Bob went to Fort Smith and applied for jobs as Deputy US Marshals.  Bob soon hired younger brother Emmett as a guard for prisoners and it was after this that Bob killed a man claiming self-defense.  But then Bob began drinking heavily and became what scholars call “restless.”  Bob took on the job of organized a police force in the Osage Nation, and he took along Emmett as his deputy.  Grat remained in Fort Smith.  Bob and Emmett maintained a good reputation at lawmen until around 1890 when they were implicated in stealing horses.  When stockmen organized a group to capture Bob and Emmett, the men fled to the Canadian River area southwest of Kingfisher, Oklahoma.  From there, they sent word to Grat that they needed his help.  He responded by arranging to provide them with horses, food, and ammunition.  Unhappily, Grat was discovered “aiding and abetting criminals” and was thrown in jail at Fort Smith.  He was the deputy who became a cellmate with a number of men who he’d arrested.  Grat was released a short time later, marshals believing that he would lead them to Bob and Emmett, however the two wanted men escaped by train to California.

Grat himself returned to California where he met up with Bill, Bob, and Emmett in January 1891 in San Luis Obispo.  It was after this that the Dalton gang formed, with Bob making plans to rob a train.  Cole, Littleton, and Bill attempted to dissuade them, but to no avail.  On the night of 6 February 1891, two masked men held up a Southern Pacific Railroad passenger train near Alila (present-day Earlimart), California.  No money was taken, but in the gunfire, one of the expressmen accidentally shot and killed the train fireman.  Since the holdup men were masked, no positive identity was ever established, but years later, Littleton affirmed that the robbers were Bob and Emmett.  Grat, who had taken to heavy drinking and gambling in Tulare, California, did not participate in the robbery.

Nevertheless, on 17 March 1891, the Tulare County Grand Jury indicted Bob, Emmett, Grat, and Bill Dalton for the Alila train robbery.  Bill and Grat were later arrested and placed in the county lockup and a bounty of $3,000 was placed on Bob and Emmett —both of whom were on the way back to the family home in Kingfisher, Oklahoma.  Bill made bail and promptly hired an attorney, who as it turned out, was as corrupt as Judas.  Despite testimony that Grat could not have participated in the robbery, owing to the fact that he was somewhere else, the power and might of the Southern Pacific Railroad won the day.  Neither Grat’s defense attorney or the prosecution mentioned the fact that the train fireman was accidentally killed by the expressman. Grat was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

During the night of 20 September, Grat and two other men escaped from the Tulare County Jail.  They left Bill behind, who in October had his day in court and was acquitted of the Alila train robbery.  Meanwhile, a joint posse under Tulare County Sheriff Gene Kay and John M. Hensley of Fresno County moved against the suspected location (later known as Dalton Mountain) of Grat Dalton and his accomplice Riley Dean near Sanger, California.  The posse ambushed Dalton and Dean as they were returning to their camp from a boar hunt.  Dean was captured, but Grat escaped while firing at the lawmen with his rifle.  After stealing a horse from a nearby ranch, Grat went to Livingston, California where he remained for several weeks.  With the assistance of Cole, he returned to Oklahoma and joined Bob and Emmett in their effort to assemble a new gang.


Survivor Emmett Dalton

Emmett Dalton was the eleventh child of the Dalton clan who lived near the town of Coffeyville, Kansas until around 1883 when the family moved to Indian (Oklahoma) territory.  As a youth, he worked as a stockman at the Bar-X-Bar Ranch and nearby Turkey Track Ranch.  Surrounded by fun-loving brothers and co-workers, Emmett seemed to “drift along” with everyone else, no matter what it was they wanted to do —no matter how reckless it was.  In time, Emmett joined his brothers as a deputy lawman and, by every account, he was conscientious in his duty.  In 1890, Emmett was arrested with his brother Bob for selling liquor to Osage Indians.  Eventually, charges against Emmett were dropped at a pre-trial hearing where it was established that the young man had not actually participated in the sale of the alcohol.  Bob was released on bail, but he never returned for trial.

By the summer of 1890, Emmett, Bob, and Grat were involved in stealing horses and selling them.  When word reached them that their horse-stealing was “well known” by almost everyone in the area, Bob and Emmett left for California.  Grat remained behind and was soon arrested but was later released owing to a lack of evidence.

It seemed that everyone in America was talking about the Dalton clan after 1889.  Newspaper stories about their “alleged” antics found their way into such faraway places as Pennsylvania.  The Dalton family may have been used as scapegoats for other bandits of the time, and whether the Dalton’s were involved or not, most people were prepared to believe, or preferred to believe, that the Dalton’s were responsible for train robberies in Wharton (8 May 1891), Lelieatte (15 September 1891), Red Rock (2 June 1892), and Adair (14 July 1892).  In later testimony, Emmett denied ever taking part in these robberies, and he might have been telling the truth (if one believes in fairies) —but, aside from the Wharton robbery, Emmett never denied that his brothers committed the other crimes.  He did say that Bob, “Blackface” Charlie Bryant[4], and “Bitter Creek” George Newcomb pulled the Wharton job.  According to writer Frank Latta, “Those Dalton boys must travel on the fastest trains to be able to bury their treasure in Indian Territory one week and rob a train here [in California] the next.  If a company of trappers were to be robbed at Hudson Bay tomorrow, the Dalton’s would get the credit.  While officers are chasing the Daltons, other highwaymen are committing robberies and stepping aside to watch the officers hunt the Daltons.”

Dalton Bob

Robert “Bob” Dalton

Bob Dalton was the sixth oldest of the Dalton family, born in 1863, the younger brother of Frank, whom he admired.  After Frank’s death, Bob and Grat were hired as deputy US Marshals at Fort Smith, Arkansas; Bob soon hired Emmett as a deputy/prison guard.  After Bob killed Charley Montgomery, who resisted arrest and fired first at Bob Dalton, Dalton began drinking heavily, became unhappy with his work, and looked forward to moving on in life.  He eventually resigned as a Deputy US marshal to accept a position as Chief of Police in the Osage Nation lands in Indian (Oklahoma) territory. Emmett went with Bob to the Osage Nation.  Both men were well-regarded by local citizens until the word got out that Bob and Emmett were involved in horse stealing in 1890.  Before they could be arrested, Bob and Emmett went into hiding in the bluffs of the Canadian River, seventy or so miles from their home in Kingfisher.  Bob and Emmett sent word to Grat they needed his help.  When Grat attempted to help them with food and horses, he was arrested and thrown into jail with the same men he’d arrested in the Oklahoma Territory. Authorities released Grat with the hope that he would lead them to Bob and Emmett, but Bob and Emmett proceeded to California without his assistance.

Grat eventually joined his brothers in California, and as already stated, was arrested and convicted for robbing a Southern Pacific train near Alila, California.  Although Bob, Emmett, Grat, and Bill Dalton were all named in the same Grand Jury indictment, neither Bill nor Grat participated in the Alila heist.  Bob and Emmett high-tailed it out of California.  Bill was arrested but later acquitted, and Grat made his escape from the county jail.  Years later, Littleton Dalton claimed that Bob and Emmet had told him on several occasions that they were the actual train robbers in Alila.  An innocent man was killed in the train robbery, shot accidentally by an expressman, and no money was stolen.  At this point, a good argument can be offered that the Dalton’s weren’t suited for a life of crime.

Dalton Gang Ends Abruptly

On the morning of 5 October 1892, Bob, Grat, and Emmett Dalton, Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers, calmly rode into the town of Coffeyville, Kansas.  The gang members had decided to rob not one, but two of the town’s banks, which were situated across the street from one another.  After tethering their horses in an alleyway more or less equidistant from the First National Bank and Condon Bank, the (not so cleverly) disguised gang members headed off to pull the job that would top anything the James gang ever did.  There was one small snag in the plan, however.  Coffeyville was the old hometown of the Dalton family and almost everyone in town knew the Dalton boys.  Moreover, everyone in town knew that the Dalton Gang were notorious outlaws.  Despite their disguises, townspeople recognized the Dalton’s and quickly passed the word: the Dalton’s were getting ready to rob the bank!

Bob and Emmett walked over to the First National Bank, while Grat, Dick, and Bill went to the Condon Bank.  As Bob and Emmett were busy stuffing grain sacks with cash, the townspeople were grabbing their guns and setting up an ambush.  When Bob and Emmett exited through the front door, they were met by a hail of bullets.  They rushed back inside and headed for the back door, but citizens were waiting for them there, as well.  Bob[5] was shot and killed, and although receiving twenty-three bullet wounds, Emmett survived and was taken into custody.

Coffeyville Bank

Condon Bank

In the Condon Bank, a cashier managed to delay Grat, Broadwell, and Powers with the concocted story that the vault was on a time lock and could not be opened.  This charade worked until a bullet came through the window of the bank and struck Broadwell in the arm.  Quickly scooping up around $1,500 in loose cash, the three men bolted out of the bank and fled down an alley.  A livery owner and local barber shot them to death.

Four local citizens also lost their lives in the gunfight at Coffeyville.  Emmett recovered from his wounds and was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.  After serving 14 years, the governor of Kansas granted him a pardon and Emmett went to live in California, where he became a Hollywood writer.  He passed away in 1937 at the age of 66 years.

At the time of their deaths, Bob Dalton was 23 years old; Bill Dalton was 27 years old; Grat Dalton was 31 years old.  The boys might have been audacious, but they weren’t very bright.

Frank Dalton, the lawman, lost his life in the performance of duty at the age of 29.


  1. Browning, J. A.  Violence Was No Stranger.  Barbed Wire Press, 1993
  2. Latta, F.  Dalton Gang Days: From California to Coffeeville.  Bear State Books, 1976


[1] The saloon owner, a man named Murray, later sued the federal government for damages to his property and person, but he lost the case due to Marshal Nix’s detailed testimony about what happened that day.

[2] On 29 November 1892, Marshal Hueston and Ford County, Kansas Sheriff Chalkey Beeson shot and killed Doolin-Dalton gang member Oliver Yantis.  We do not know if Arkansas Tom Jones specifically targeted Hueston during the Ingalls fight.

[3] Bat Masterson’s brother.

[4] So-called because of a gunpowder burn on the side of his face.

[5] Famed lawman Heck Thomas remembered Bob Dalton as the most accurate pistol shot he had ever seen, which proves that accurate fire is not always the final arbiter of lethal confrontations.

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Ulysses S. Grant and the Quaker Peace Policy

A backdrop

US-CSA Flags 001It is impossible to explain the substantial effects of the American Civil War in a few words in this or any other blog, but it may be sufficient to say that it was the power of the federal government that defeated the Confederacy.  Moreover, it was the growth of the federal government (and its military) that produced lasting consequences in the settlement of the American West.  The war’s end permitted the US Army to reoccupy previously abandoned forts and, with this presence, finally come to terms with the “Indian problem.”  In 1865, especially among frontier settlers, dealing with hostiles was long overdue.

The Plains Indians had been hunters for hundreds of years, and while these hunting societies were always sparsely populated, they nevertheless occupied the vast territories needed to sustain them.  Whenever Indian populations grew to unmanageable levels[1], new bands were formed and relocated, while maintaining their affiliations with the central tribe.  In the case of the plains Indians, experts claim that in the mid-1850s, the numbers of Comanche and Kiowa Indians may have exceeded 46,000 people.  Plains Indians deeply resented the loss of their territories to frontier settlers (Mexican or Anglo), but they defended them equally against other Indian encroachments, as well.

In the emerging western areas, state and federal authorities struggled with the Indian problem for at least two decades before the Civil War and nothing they attempted seemed to work.  Just prior to the Civil War, the US Army withdrew from most of their western fortifications and when these Indians realized that there would be no danger to themselves in raiding settlements, the number of war parties increased.  Sioux war parties escalated in 1862; in that year alone, more than 1,000 settlers were murdered or taken into slavery in the Minnesota frontier.  Clashes with Apache, Navajo, Cherokee, Shoshone also significantly increased.


From the beginning of European colonies in America, natives were often removed from lands that the Europeans wanted for themselves.  The means of doing this varied from one colonial region to another, but included signed treaties, forceful ejection, and in some cases, instances where the Indians moved voluntarily—and when they did, it was almost always to locations further west.  Over time, these westward migrations would place Indian tribes in conflict with others.

The first Indian reservation in the American colonies was established in southern New Jersey in 1758.  It was known as the Brotherton Reservation (also Edgepillock), a set-aside of around 3,300 acres.  Today, this reservation is known as Indian Mills near Shamong Township.

Indian reservations began with the 1763 proclamation where Great Britain set aside an enormous swath of land for the Indians.  Having thus set aside this land, government officials reasoned that having done so, the government had the right to require Indians to live on these lands.

In 1764, a colonial board of trade announced its “Plan for the Future Management of Indian Affairs.”  The plan was never adopted formally, but it did communicate the British government’s expectation that land would henceforth be purchased by the government (not individuals) and that lands could only be purchased at public meetings.  The plan also stipulated that Indians would always be consulted before increasing the size of British colonies.  Private contracts involving the sale of Indian land were replaced by treaties between sovereigns, an acknowledgment by the British that Indians tribes were regarded as autonomous nations.  After the American Revolution, the United States government adopted this same protocol.  In 1824, without any congressional approval Secretary of War John C. Calhoun created the Office of Indian Affairs within the War Department.  The OIA remained with the War Department until the Congress moved it to the Department of the Interior as the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1832.  The purpose of the OIA was to resolve land problems with the Indians.  Over time, the US government had 38 separate treaties with American Indian tribes.

A document titled Indian Treaties and Laws and Regulations Relating to Indian Affairs was published in 1825; it was signed by President Andrew Jackson, who proclaimed, “… we have placed the land reserves in a better state for the benefit of society.”  The president was either misinformed or lying, of course.  As a benefit to society, President Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  The Trade and Non-Intercourse Act of 1834 reallocated portions of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes from the southeastern United States, which of course meant that the United States government defined the boundaries of Indian Country.  Among these Indians, however, it was never a matter of “setting aside lands for them.”  It was forced removal from their traditional homelands and driving them as cattle to wherever the government wanted to send them.

In 1837, President Van Buren signed a treaty with the Saginaw Tribe to build a lighthouse —the point being that the American executive was involved in Indian treaties from an early period in US history.  In 1838, Secretary of State John Forsyth signed a treaty on behalf of the President which dictated to the Indians that they must live in terms of a reservation system.

Texas has always been unique in the story of America.  Once a Spanish province, and then a department within a province, and then a state in rebellion to an independent sovereign nation, and finally to becoming the 28th state to join the union (discounting the civil war, of course), Texas has always been the master and shaper of its own destiny.  Texas, therefore, had its own Indian policy.  Before 1845, Texas created a reservation system.  It wasn’t a very large reservation, and it didn’t last very long.  This was because, in the hearts of most Texans of the time, it was most preferred that the Indians be exterminated rather than cared for.

Policies of President Grant

President Grant 001

Ulysses Simpson Grant

Ulysses Simpson Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant) (1822-1885) was born to a modest family.  His father was a tanner and store clerk.  Raised in Ohio, Grant developed into an exceptional horseman.  He was a graduate of the US Military Academy in 1843 and distinguished himself in battle during the Mexican American War.  He left military service in 1854 to live a normal life with his family in Ohio, but for the next seven years, the Grant’s lived in poverty.  Nothing Grant attempted worked out for him.  He rejoined the Army in 1861 and became Abraham Lincoln’s only hope for success in the American Civil War.

In the north, Grant was largely regarded as a war hero by citizens and Republican members of Congress.  In 1868, he became a reluctant politician, but one who won the presidency in 1868.  He took office in March 1869 and began to focus his attention on stabilizing the post-war economy.  He also established the Department of Justice, prosecuted the Klu Klux Klan, and appointed African-Americans and Jewish-Americans to prominent federal offices.  In 1871, he created the first Civil Service Commission.  Despite his reputation as a war leader, Grant was a somewhat naïve humanitarian —and this led him to consider a review of US Indian policies.

As previously stated, by the mid-1860s, native Americans had been at war with competing tribes since forever.  The treatment of white settlers by plains Indians was no different from the depredations they foisted upon westward migrating tribes: males were killed out of hand, and women and children became the property (slaves) of the victors —“slaves” being the right word for the status of Indian prisoners of war.

Nor were Indians ever suitable for life on reservations.  The Plains Indians were hunters, not farmers.  They had their own religious beliefs.  They could not comprehend Christianity and saw in it peculiar, unsettling hypocrisy.  The Indians saw no benefit from attending schools or learning to read and write.  They did not want to assimilate white culture —they had a culture of their own, and they wanted to keep it intact.  In truth, the Indians were who they were.  Living peacefully with their neighbors was not who they were.

Emanuel DubbsThe failure of US Indian policy was self-evident by the 1850s but largely ignored.  The American frontier was aflame with the horror of Indian violence.   Frontier families, particularly those living in Texas, loathed the Indian with unbridled passion and there was no ambiguity among them.  In the words of one of Wheeler County’s earliest settlers, Mr. Emanuel Dubbs[2]:

“… The government’s strong-arm would subdue the Indian, capture him, and always being careful not to hurt any more than they could possibly help.  Again the Indian would promise to be good, and go like a lamb back to his reservation, and the government would make them a great many presents, plenty of good warm blankets and herds of good beef, in fact, everything he can eat, and just as soon as this became monotonous, out Mr. Indian would go and do the same thing over again. This has been the history of the Plains Indians.  Those poor Indians!’   And for four years after this every season when I shipped buffalo meat to the eastern market, men would come to me and say: “What makes you kill the poor Indian’s cattle?” (Calling Buffalo cattle!). ‘The poor Indian!’

I can tell the reader in all honesty and with a good conscience, such talk always made me want to fight, using a western phrase ‘knock their block off.’  Of all depraved, utterly heartless and deceitful, dirty and treacherous to the last degree, the plains Indian never had his equal —poor Indian indeed.  All the danger and hardships suffered by the scouts and soldiers in that milk and water system had no permanent effect in settling the Indian question and a permanent peace.  Not until the bravest of all pioneers, the buffalo hunters, disposed of the buffalo forever, preventing the Indians obtaining sustenance when they cut loose from their reservations, was the Indian question settled and their depredations stopped.  Not only that, but a grand fertile country was opened up for settlement. The first to see and to take advantage of these great opportunities was the cattlemen.”

Eventually forced to reevaluate official US policy, military and political leaders concluded that there were only two possible solutions to the Indian problem.  Either they had to be removed to government-controlled reservations, or they had to be exterminated —it would be up to the Indians themselves to decide which of these the United States Army pursued.

President Grant equivocated, however.  Following his assumption of the Presidency in 1869, Ulysses S.  Grant declared, “The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land deserves careful study.”  Chief among several of his Indian policies was his reliance upon religious organizations to manage Indian reservations, apparently with the hope that native Americans might respond to their benevolent and ethical administrators by living peacefully and assimilating western culture.  The first of these to gain admission to the Indian reservations was the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers.  It was a generally held belief among these Christian reservation managers that setting aside land for Indians was insufficient to the purpose of civilizing them.  What was needed, in addition to reservations, was a congressionally funded program to assimilate them.  Such a program would evolve in time, but during the Grant administration, the Indians proved to be their own worst enemy.

In Washington, as American settlers suffered mightily at the hands of hostile Indians, bureaucrats squabbled among themselves about which department was best suited for managing Indian affairs.  The U. S. Army wanted the Department of War to resume this responsibility, but its advocates were in the minority.  Most wanted the Bureau of Indian Affairs to remain within the Interior Department.  Out west, frontier settlers didn’t have much good to say about the Indian, but they didn’t have much good to say about the United States government, either.  President Grant, for all of his best intentions, didn’t handle the Indian problem very well.

In the Montana territory, Indians of the Niisitapi Confederacy (involving Blackfeet Indians and members of the Blood and Piegan bands) were in a constant state of war with white settlers.  It was “the same old story,” where the Indians complained about the settlers but didn’t mind borrowing (on a more or less permanent basis) their horses or cattle.  It wasn’t an all-encompassing conflict—more localized, but the relations between whites and Indians —from both sides— was more on the order of taking advantage of targets of opportunity: see a white man, scalp a white man.  Now enters Mr. Malcolm Clarke, who was a rancher and a fur trader.  Prior to moving west, Clarke attended the U. S. Military but was expelled for fighting[3].  In any case, Clarke became good friends with a fellow student by the name of William Sherman.  Clarke found success in trading with the Blackfeet Indians and even married one and had four children with her.  On 17 August, Malcolm Clarke was murdered by a member of the Blackfoot confederacy, an individual named Owl Child, of the Piegan clan, who shot Clarke in the chest and then split open his skull with an ax.

The Clarke murder caused unrest and outrage among the settlers and they, in turn, demanded that the US government protect them from Blackfeet.  The Army turned to the confederacy, demanding that they hold Owl Child accountable for the crime of murder.  Army officials demanded that the Blackfoot confederacy produce Owl Child’s body within a fortnight.  Owl Child, however, decided the time was right fleeing northward, and he joined the Piegan band of Mountain Chief.  The Piegan, although known for their hostility toward the pale faces, had not conducted any raids on white settlements.

When two weeks had passed and Owl Child had not surrendered, General Phil Sheridan directed his Inspector-General, Colonel James A. Hardie to evaluate the situation and offer his advice.  Hardie issued his report on 13 January, prompting General Sheridan to issue his instructions for a military action to arrest Owl Child.  Sheridan wrote, “If the lives and property of the citizens of Montana can best be protected by striking the Piegan band, I want them struck.  Tell [Major] Baker to strike them hard.”

Major E M BAKERMajor Eugene M. Baker (shown standing to the reader’s right) led a squadron of Cavalry from Fort Ellis.  Seeking revenge for their father’s murder, Nathan and Horace Clarke were granted permission to join Baker’s expedition.  Baker stopped at Fort Shaw for two additional squadrons of troops, including scouts Joe Kipp and Joseph Cobell, both of whom were familiar with the Piegan band.  The scouts were critical to the operation because they were able to help distinguish between friendly and unfriendly Piegan Indians.  Departing Fort Shaw, Baker’s command included four companies of the US 2nd Cavalry and 55 dragoons of the 13th US Infantry.  They searched the area of the Marias River country.

On 22 January, Baker intercepted a small encampment of Piegan Indians, which he placed under arrest.  The Indians informed Baker that Owl Child could be found at either of two camps: the Big Horn and Red Horn, a few miles further downstream.  Baker ordered a forced march that night and maneuvered his command through rough country.  The night brought heavy snow and frigid temperatures, but Baker found 32 lodges in the low ground along the Marias River.  Joe Kipp recognized the camp as belonging to Chief Heavy Runner, who was known as relatively peaceful.  Kipp opined that since these were “peaceful hostiles,” Baker ought not to attack them.  Baker reasoned that if they were Indians, they ought to be attacked.  Kipp tried to warn the Indians of approaching danger, which caused Baker to place him in custody, which we might assume included placing a gag over his mouth.

Hearing the shout from Kipp, Chief Heavy Runner ran toward the soldiers waiving a “safe conduct” order from the Indian Bureau, but he was quickly shot and killed by Joseph Cobell.  Scout Joseph Cobell was married to the sister of Mountain Chief and knew full well that Owl Child was not part of Heavy Runner’s band.  It was Cobell’s intent to divert attention away from Mountain Chief’s camp, which was ten miles further downstream.  In any case, Cobell’s shot prompted the rest of the men in Baker’s expedition to open fire.  Since most of the village’s braves were away on a hunting expedition, the soldiers killed old people, women, and children.  Some of these were infected with Smallpox[4].  Learning of the attack, Mountain Chief led his people into Canada.  A rough count by Baker’s men indicated more than 170 dead, 54 of which were “non-combatant” women and children.  An additional 140 women and children were taken captive.  Army losses were one dead and one injured.

The conflict between white settlers and Blackfeet Indians declined after the Baker[5] expedition.  Weakened by smallpox, the Blackfoot nation could not muster enough men to engage in war with the white soldiers.  Although criticized, General Sheridan expressed confidence in Major Baker’s judgment; a formal investigation of allegations that Baker murdered unarmed Indians were never conducted.

As one of those believing that military personnel was in a better position to control native populations, Phil Sheridan tried to replace Indian agents with serving soldiers.  He told members of congress that he could save the government $3.5 million in annual transportation costs by taking on the responsibility of supervising Indian reservations.  The Congress may have given Sheridan that opportunity had it not been for his involvement in the Marias River incident.

Ely Parker 001

Brigadier General Ely S. Parker

In fact, it was the Marias River incident that prompted President Grant to adopt his “peace policy.” Shortly after the massacre, Grant convened an advisory board of Indian Commissioners, their task being to offer suggestions for reforms to Indian policies, including federal benefits, for which he vigorously lobbied the US Congress.  Grant appointed Brigadier General Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, to serve as its chief commissioner.  Serving from 1869 to 1871, Parker was the primary architect of Grant’s Indian Peace Policy.  It was he who came up with the idea of turning reservation management over to religious organizations.

Parker’s idea received a boost from Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux and Spotted Tail, of the Brulé Sioux who met with Secretary of the Interior Cox and Commissioner Parker and convinced them that under the then-current arrangements, most Indian agents were thieves and swindlers.  Their testimony allowed President Grant to secure congressional appropriations for the upkeep of reservation lands.  Grant also sought to ease tensions by ordering his western generals to keep white settlers from invading Indian reservation land —they were authorized “the use of force, if necessary.”

In 1871, President Grant signed into law a second Appropriations Act.  Importantly, this law ended the government’s policy of treating tribes as independent sovereign nations.  Henceforth, Indians would be treated as individuals or wards of the state; Moreover, Indian policy would be decided by Congress.

Also, in 1871, a band of Apache Indians slipped away from their reservation to attack white settlers.  In one such raid, settlers and mail runners were murdered in cold blood near Tucson.  Townspeople tracked the raiders back to the reservation at Camp Grant where 500 Apache residents lived near the town of Dudleyville.  In retribution, the townsfolk hired mercenaries, who attacked and murdered 144 Apaches.  In May, Brigadier General Stoneman attempted to apprehend the Apache leader Cochise.  During this effort, 13 Apache were killed.  As a demonstration of where President Grant was at on the issue of protecting Indians, he promptly fired Stoneman.

In May 1871, a US Army surgeon examined the bodies of seven settlers killed by Kiowa Indians who had attacked their wagon train in North Texas.  The doctor detailed his gruesome findings in writing: their bodies were riddled with bullets, covered with gashes, and their skulls were crushed.  One victim had been tied to a wagon wheel, his body mutilated and then set ablaze.  The horrific attack brought consternation to the religious masters of Indian reservations, who suddenly realized that the mantra of “peace and kindness” would not have the desired effect of curtailing Indian hostility, which left only coercion.

One Quaker standing at the center of Grant’s policies began to lobby for greater Army involvement in curtailing Indian war parties.  His name was Lawrie Tatum, appointed by Grant to serve as the Indian Agent of Kiowa and Comanche tribes at Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory.  Tatum began his duties in 1869 (serving until 1873).  In this capacity, Tatum acted as governor, legislator, judge, sheriff, and chief financial officer at Fort Sill.  While serving, he obtained the release of scores of white and Mexican captives, including the family of Gottfried Koozer, whose wife and five children were taken by the Kiowa[6].  Tatum did receive the gratitude of Texas settlers and US Army field generals, but no kind words from the Society of Friends, who viewed his support for coercive actions as in direct contravention to what Quakers believed about “peace in our time.”  Tatum’s evidence was strong, however, that “force” was all that the Indians understood, particularly after Kiowa braves admitted to, and boasted about their foul deeds.

Captain Jack 001

Kintpuash (a.k.a. Capt Jack)

Two weeks following Grant’s reelection to the presidency, the Modoc Indian leader Kintpuash (also known as Captain Jack), led 200 of his people off the Klamath Reservation back to their homelands in the area of Lake Tule near the Oregon-California border) and took up defensive positions.  The Modoc resisted the US Army for months.  In 1873, at a peace commission meeting, Captain Jack and others murdered General Edward Canby and Rev. Eleazer Thomas —apparently thinking that the incident would compel the army to leave them alone.  It didn’t work.  Captain Jack and three of his men were tracked down, arrested, and executed.  The remaining Modoc people were sent to the Indian Territory (pre-statehood Oklahoma) where they were held as prisoners of war until 1909.

Between 1874-75, the Comanche war chief Quanah Parker led 700 braves against buffalo hunters encamped at Adobe Walls, Texas.  General Phil Sheridan launched an aggressive campaign and, with only a few casualties on either side, forced the Indians back to their reservation.  Sheridan did this by destroying their horses and winter food supplies.  Grant eventually approved the incarceration of 74 Indian insurgents in Florida.

The Great Sioux War of 1876-77 came as the result of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territories.  During this war, Grant came into personal disagreement with Colonel George C. Custer after Colonel Custer testified in 1876 about War Department corruption under Secretary of War William W. Belknap[7].  Grant was so incensed that he ordered Custer’s arrest for breach of military protocol and barred him from participating in the upcoming campaign against the Sioux.  Eventually, Grant relented and allowed Custer to participate in the war under Brigadier General Alfred Terry.  Of course, this was the engagement that resulted in the death of Custer and the 7th US Cavalry Regiment.  After Custer’s defeat, Grant castigated him in the press, but the army took over the administration of the Indian agencies.

Colonel Nelson A. Miles’ expedition in 1874 was typical of all those conducted during President Grant’s administration.  Significant numbers of soldiers marched against hostile Indians, but their effects were minimal.  Some Indians were killed, most were forced back onto corrupt reservations, and in exchange for free food and land allocations, the Indians promised to behave themselves.  Of course, Indian promises were as tenuous as government treaties and it wasn’t long before contrite braves slipped away to conduct more attacks on western settlements.  In time, another colonel would be sent out to corral the hostiles back to their designated reservations.  It was a turnstile.

Officials in the Grant administration finally concluded that in order to destroy the hostile intent of the Plains Indian, it would be necessary to pull out all stops[8].  Pulling out all stops included the near-total destruction of the American Bison, the Plains Indian’s primary source of meat.  By doing this, and thereafter keeping the American Indians dependent upon the US government for their survival, the white man could finally control the native American populations.  Beginning in 1872, some two-thousand buffalo hunters began eradicating the buffalo between Arkansas and Kansas.  Millions of these bison perished, their hides used for boots for European armies, machine belts used to operate steam engines, and buffalo coats for folks living back east.  The meat was left to rot on the Great Plains.  The Indians would either have to adjust to reservation life, become farmers, or perish.

In the 1870s, the white man needed superior weapons, so he developed them.  He needed a sophisticated strategy in dealing with hostile Indians, so he formulated several.  What the white man learned from Indian behavior was that they could no more change who and what they were than any white settler could give up his dream for a better future for his progeny.  It was a clash of cultures where there was never a middle ground.  The strategy finally adopted toward resolving Indian hostility was total subjugation.

American Indians Today

Today, Native Americans account for a little more than one percent of the total population of the United States.  About another 5% are of mixed race. If government projections are correct, then the American Indian population will reach around five million by 2070.  There are currently 566 federally recognized tribes, none of whom recognize Elizabeth Warren as one of their numbers.  Thirty-one percent of modern Indian populations are non-family households.  Unemployment among some Indian societies is high, ranging around 70%.  The median income of employed Indians is half of that of the general population, and this includes income among Indians employed by other Indians in the gaming industry.  As it was 150 years ago, there does not appear to be much compassion among Indians for other Indians.

In matters of health, roughly 12% of native Americans are in poor health.  The proximate cause of poor health relates to unsanitary living conditions, poor education, and addiction to alcohol and drugs.  Many native Americans have never internalized the value of education and choose not to participate in it.  Those who availed themselves of educational opportunities, who have become successful in various professions, prefer not to have uneducated Indians working for them.  A feeling of isolation from mainstream American society is prevalent among the uneducated, unskilled, alcohol/drug dependent Indians.


  1. Armstrong, W. H. Warrior in Two Camps: Ely S. Parker, Union General and Seneca Chief.  Syracuse: University of New York Press, 1990
  2. Belko, W. S. John C. Calhoun and the Creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: an essay on Political Rivalry, Ideology, and Policymaking in the Early Republic.  South Carolina Historical Magazine, 105, 2004
  3. Brands, H. W. The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace.  New York: Doubleday, 2012.
  4. Calhoun, C. W. Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.  Topeka: University of Kansas Press, 2017
  5. Chernow, R. Grant.  New York: Penguin Press, 2017
  6. Harmon, G. D. The United States Indian Policy in Texas, 1845-2860.  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1930.
  7. Keller, R. H. American Protestantism and United States Indian Policy, 1869-82.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983
  8. Castle, G. P. and Robert L. Bee. State and Reservation: New Perspectives on Federal Indian Policy.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992


[1] Unmanageable means simply more people in lodging than could be sustained by hunting for a limited supply of game.

[2] Emanuel Dubbs (1843-1932) was a soldier, pioneer, Indian-fighter, buffalo hunter, dairy farmer, minister, and a Texas county judge.  His story appears in the book entitled “Pioneer Days in the Southwest” by Michael King.

[3] I’ve never quite understood why the USMA expelled students for fighting; isn’t that what they were learning how to do?

[4] Smallpox is caused by the variola virus (last occurring in 1977), which caused vomiting, high fever, sores emanating from the mouth, and a skin rash that over a period of the day turned into pustules which leave scars.  Smallpox was spread through human contact or coming into contact with contaminated objects.  There were occasions when Indian agents intentionally provided Indians with blankets infected by the variola virus.  The disease killed thousands of native Americans.

[5] Died from drunkenness, aged 47, while serving as a purchasing officer at Fort Walla Walla, Washington.

[6] Tatum later became the guardian of future present Herbert Hoover and his siblings after the death of their mother.

[7] William Worth Belknap (1829-1890) served as the 30th Secretary of War.  With previous service during the Civil War, he attained the rank of brevet Major General.  In the early 1870s, Belknap came under congressional scrutiny for selling arms to France during the Franco-Prussian War.  Belknap led the War Department during the post-war reconstruction effort and worked to protect freedmen from increasing violence from Democrats and Klu Klux Klan hooligans throughout the south.  It was this prosecution that caused Belknap to incur the wrath of Congressional Democrats, who alleged that Belknap had accepted kickbacks from trade arrangements at the Fort Sill Indian Reservation.  Threatened with impeachment proceedings, Belknap resigned as Secretary of War.

[8] Army records reveal that between 1866-91, there were 1,040 military engagements between US troops and the Plains Indians.  In the conflict, 69 officers died, 68 more were wounded, 879 enlisted men died, and 990 more were wounded.  Indian losses were 4,371 dead, 1,279 wounded, and 10,318 taken captive.

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The Dumb Gray Fox

Whenever watching western films, particularly those produced between 1950-70, a standard line of dialogue in a hold up might begin with, “Hands up!”  The man actually responsible for this phrase was a real-life bandit by the name of George Anderson —also, Ezra Allen Miner, popularly known as Bill Miner.  Bill was born near Onondaga, Michigan on 27 December 1847 but raised near Bowling Green, Kentucky[1].


Ezra Allen (Bill) Miner

As with many of these old timers, we do not know much about Bill Miner’s formative years; what we do know is that he began his life of crime early in his life.  He was first arrested when he was 19 years of age, in 1866 and served time in three California counties: San Joaquin, Placer, and Calaveras.  Whether these jail periods represent three separate convictions, we do not know, but by 1880, Bill Miner was a veteran outlaw —one who learned no important lessons from his past mistakes.

Not long after he was released from prison in 1880, Bill formed a partnership with a fellow outlaw named Bill Leroy (also known as W. A. Morgan) to rob stagecoaches.  Their association would be a short one.  While it can be said that Bill Miner was an energetic outlaw, he wasn’t very bright.  On their first stagecoach robbery, Leroy/Morgan was apprehended by vigilantes who dispatched him to the promised land.  Miner escaped the lynching but was later arrested for another robbery in Tuolumne County.

After his release from San Quentin Prison in 1901, Bill Miner relocated to British Columbia.  He may have been looking for a fresh start in life —or perhaps he was simply looking for a place where no one knew him.  In any case, Bill changed his name to George Edwards.  In September 1904, someone robbed a stagecoach near Silverdale, some 30 miles east of Vancouver.  We do not know the identity of the robber, and it may have been a mere coincidence that Miner/Edwards was living in the area at the time, but there were folks in the neighborhood who later claimed that had it not been for Bill Miner, no one in Canada would have ever experienced a genuine stagecoach robbery.

A few months later, unknown persons attempted to rob a train near Kamloops, Canada.  The incident stands out in history as an example of what NOT to do during a train robbery.  Initially, lawmen weren’t sure who pulled the job.  What they did know was that three armed men boarded the train, robbed the wrong train car, and ended up with around $15.00 and a small bottle of kidney pills.

An extensive manhunt conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police netted three suspicious characters near Douglas Lake: George Edwards, Tom “Shorty” Dunn, and Louis Colquhoun.  The boys were enjoying a meal over a campfire when the law moved in and made their capture.  George, the brightest of the three, stepped up as their official spokesman.  He told the Mounties that they were prospectors.  The lead investigator, noting the absence of prospecting equipment, promptly arrested them.  Shorty Dunn, the least bright of the trio, avoided trial by drawing his six-shooter and firing at the RCMP.  Bill Miner was convicted on the strength of a bottle of kidney pills found on his person.  Ignoring the fact that kidney pills could be purchased at any number of apothecaries in Canada, a jury nevertheless decided that the bottle was sufficient evidence to convict Edwards for the train robbery.  Miner was transferred to the penitentiary at New Westminster.

But Bill Miner had become a cause célèbre in Canada; literally hundreds of people lined the railway tracks to give him encouragement as he made his way back to prison.  Apparently, Canadian prisons weren’t as comfortable as those in the United States, prompting Miner to escape from confinement and return to the United States in 1907.

In 1909, Miner continued his career by robbing a train near Gainesville, California.  He was again arrested and sent to jail but managed to escape two more times.  Bill’s end came while still a prisoner on 2 September 1913.  By this time, he was around 66 years old.  History recalls Bill Miner as the Grey Fox, a well-mannered old fellow who never harmed a fly.  A 1982 Canadian American film production of Bill Miner’s story starred Richard Farnsworth in the title role.  It was certainly true that Bill Miner was gray, but the man was no fox.  Polite or not, Bill Miner may have been the least successful outlaw in the history of the old west, although Shorty Dunn gave him a run for that title.


Dugan, M. and John Boessenecker.  The True Story of Bill Miner, Last of the Old Time Bandits.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.


[1] The first Anglo settlers in this area arrived around 1775.  It was first known as McFadden’s Station, which was situated on the north bank of the Barren River.  Present-day Bowling Green was erected from homesteads constructed by Robert and George Moore and General Elijah Covington.  The Moore brothers arrived from Virginia around 1794, two years after the formation of Warren County.  The Commonwealth of Kentucky incorporated Bowling Green on 6 March 1798.  By 1810, 154 people lived in Bowling Green.  The area developed around river commerce.  The first railway was in place by 1832.  Most people made their living in agriculture, the likely vocation of Bill Miner’s father.  If true, then we can probably assume that Bill Miner’s formative years involved back-breaking labor on his father’s homestead.

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Mountain Men

Hawken WoodsmanA mountain man was a frontier explorer.  Many of these men travelled alone across the vast forested wilderness of what became the northwestern United States; a few travelled in small groups of two or three, but all these men survived by their fieldcraft, skill as a hunter/sharpshooter, and their ability to live alongside native Americans —or defeat them.  (Shown left is a 50-caliber Hawken Rifle, the preferred weapon of the mountain men).

The heaviest concentration of mountain men existed in the Rocky Mountains from around 1810 to the mid-1880s —a peak population of about 3,000 occurred between 1840-1850.  Some of these men were “free trappers,” but most were affiliated with fur companies.  Significantly, the trail-blazing of mountain men helped to facilitate migration into the western territory.  Without trails, there would have been no wagon train roads/routes.  The likely inspiration for this lifestyle was the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-1806).  It was an exciting, adventurous time, but it only lasted a few decades.  Ultimately, it was the success of the mountain men that led to their demise.  When they realized that they had over-trapped beaver, or that eastern markets no longer demanded their furs, they took jobs as army scouts, wagon train guides, opened trading posts along the migrant path, or they settled to farm or ranch the lands that they helped to develop.

Jim Bridger 001James Bridger (1804-81) was one of the best-known of the mountain men.  Born in Richmond, Virginia, his father was an innkeeper who eventually migrated to St. Louis, Missouri.  Jim Bridger was orphaned at the age of 13.  At such a young age, being illiterate with limited prospects, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith.  He left the apprenticeship on his 18th birthday to join the fur trapping expedition of William H. Ashley along the upper Missouri River. Ashley’s party also included Jedediah Smith and Hugh Glass, who in their own time were as famous as Jim Bridger[1].

Jedediah Smith (1799-1831) was born in Jericho (present-day Bainbridge) New York.  His parents were Jedediah Smith and Sally Strong, both descendants of English puritans who arrived in the colonies between 1620-40.  Jedediah was not an illiterate man, having received an adequate education from his mother.  He could speak Latin, had a legible hand, and could talk about some of the literature classics of the day.  Around 1810, Jedediah Senior, who owned a general store, was caught up in a legal issue involving counterfeit currency.  He afterward moved his family to Erie, Pennsylvania to get a new start.

Jedediah was working as a clerk on a Lake Erie freighter, where he learned business practices and likely came into contact with hunters/trappers/traders returning from Montreal.  This was the life Smith wanted most because his love of nature and adventure was nearly unparalleled at the time.  Smith was also well aware of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Legend tells us that Smith carried the Lewis and Clark journal with him on his travels.  In 1817, the Smith family moved to Green Township, Ohio.  As with most young men of the day who were raised in modest households, Jedediah struck out on his own at an early age.  In 1822, he was living in St. Louis.  It was in this year that he responded to a recruiting advertisement in the Missouri Gazette: General William H. Ashley was looking for “One-hundred enterprising young men” to explore and trap in the Rocky Mountains.  At age 23, Jedediah was six feet tall, had clear blue eyes, and exuded a commanding presence.  Ashley hired him immediately.  Jedediah Smith disappeared while scouting for fresh water near the lower Spring of the Cimarron river.  Owing to the fact that a Comanchero was found with Smith’s personal belongings, it is generally believed that Smith was killed by a band of Comanche.  The version of this story where Smith fought to the death against tremendous odds could be true, but since Smith “disappeared,” there are no witnesses to what actually happened to him.

Hugh Glass 001Hugh Glass (1783-1833) is best known for his story of survival (and his retribution) after being attacked by a Grizzly Bear and being left for dead by his companions[2].  Glass, born in Pennsylvania, was raised in an Irish household.  He too joined the Ashley Expedition, serving as an explorer and hunter within the watershed of the Upper Missouri River (present day Montana, the Dakotas, and the Platt River area of present-day Nebraska.  After being mauled by a Grizzly, Glass was left for dead.  Without any supplies or adequate clothing, he managed to crawl or stumble two-hundred miles to General Ashley’s headquarters at Fort Kiowa, South Dakota[3].  Hugh Glass died with two companions in the spring of 1833 near the Yellowstone River when his hunting party was overwhelmed by Arikara Indians.

John Jeremiah Johnson (1824-1900) originated in New Jersey near Union Township, born as John J. Garrison.  During the Mexican American War, Johnson lied about his age to join the US Navy.  While serving on a fighting ship, Johnson struck an officer while at sea, a serious offense (then and now), so at the first opportunity, he deserted and traveled west to try his hand at prospecting.  For his own safety, he changed his name to Johnson.  As with most prospecting, things didn’t quite work out to Johnson’s benefit.  To feed himself, he worked as a wood hawk, which was someone who supplied cord wood to steamboats.

In 1847, Johnson married a woman of the Flathead tribe.  When the woman was murdered by a Crow Indian a few years later, Johnson embarked on a vendetta against the Crow tribe.  Scholars contend that he killed and scalped more than 300 braves and, to avenge his wife, ate their livers.  This behavior terrified the Crow Indian because they believed that the liver was vital to achieving the afterlife.  According to a diarist of the time, Johnson became known as “Liver Eating Johnson.”  The vendetta lasted for 25 years, and the story of Jeremiah Johnson was well known among competing Indian tribes.  To them, Johnson was known as the Crow Killer.  Eventually, Johnson made his peace with the Crow Indian tribe.  He passed away at the age of 75 years in Santa Monica, California.  In 1974, his remains were moved to Cody, Wyoming.

Two films have been made of Johnson’s life, including Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford (1972) and Crow Killer: the Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson, starring Raymond Thorp and Robert Baker (1958).

The American frontier in the early 1800s offered adventurous times —whether a man wanted them or not.  Tough times produced tough people —both men and women.  The choice was simple: the only alternative to survival was certain death.  This wasn’t a time when metrosexuals went off on weekends to play paint-ball games or sexually confused men demanded access to the lady’s room.  It was a time when hostile Indians, desperados, carnivores, and bucking broncos were efficient in killing those weaker than themselves.  Age or gender had nothing to do with it.  In the time of the mountain men, thousands of adventurous Americans never lived to see their 25th birthday.

Tobin T 001Another of these tough hombres was a man named Thomas Tate Tobin.  Tobin was born in 1823 in St. Louis, Missouri.  St. Louis in the early 1800s looked nothing like it does today.  It was a rough and filthy little town that had but one purpose: it was a point of resupply and departure for western territories.

Thomas’ father was an Irishman named Bartholomew Tobin.  He married a widow named Sarah Autobees, a lady of mixed white/Indian blood.  Sarah had a son from a previous marriage whom she named Charles, who was known by his mother’s surname.  Thomas’ had a sister named Catherine, but beyond this, we have no information about her life.

Charles Autobee was sixteen years old when he left home in 1826 to work beaver traps.  The next time anyone saw Charles was when he returned to St. Louis with his colleague Ceran de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain in 1837.  St. Vrain was a noted mountain man/fur trader near Taos, in the New Mexico Territory.  It was at that time that Thomas fell under the influence of his older half-brother.

When Charles returned to the wild, Thomas went with him.  Charles taught him field craft and survival skills, hunting, trapping, and scouting/tracking.  Thomas also learned how to run a business by clerking at a trading post, how to mill grain, and how to distill whiskey.  Thomas became Charles’ constant companion, even accompanying him on overland resupply missions to Rendezvous, where whiskey and other goods were traded for furs and pelts.  Through Charles, Thomas became acquainted with such men as Kit Carson, Dick Wooten, John C. Fremont, Wild Bill Hickok, and William F. Cody.  Loaded down with furs and pelts[4], Charles and Thomas transported them to St. Louis, where they were traded for more supplies.  The brothers made regular stops in such places as Fort Jackson, Fort Lupton, Bent’s Fort, and El Pueblo.

In 1846, 23-year old Thomas married a woman named Pascuala Bernal.  They lived in Arroyo Hondo near Taos.  He continued working for Simeon Turley while delivering dispatches to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for General Stephen Kearny.  After the Mexican American War, all western territories previously under the Mexican or Spanish flag became territories of the United States, including the territory of New Mexico.  In August 1848, the US Army directed General Stephen Watts Kearny[5] to lead a force to New Mexico.  His orders were simple: either accept the surrender of Mexico’s governor Manuel Amijo[6] or seize the territory by force.  Governor Amijo surrendered peacefully.  Afterward, Kearny departed for California leaving Colonel Sterling Price[7] to command American forces in New Mexico and serve as temporary military governor.  Charles Bent received an appointment as the civilian territorial governor of New Mexico in September 1846.

Governor Amijo’s willingness to surrender, along with General Kearny’s willingness to seize the New Mexico territory, alienated many of territory’s Mexican citizens.  To add to this problem, Sterling Price may not have been the most enlightened territorial administrator in his treatment of local citizens.  Governor Bent appealed to Price’s superior officer, Colonel Alexander Doniphan, “As other occupation troops have done at other times and places, they undertook to act like conquerors.  I implore you to interpose your authority to compel these soldiers to respect the rights of our inhabitants.  These outrages are becoming so frequent that I apprehend that serious consequences must result sooner or later if measures are not taken to prevent them.”

The issue affecting citizens of New Mexico involved far more than the surly behavior of soldiers; many landowners feared that the United States government would refuse to recognize their Mexican land titles.  Early on 19 January 1847 insurrectionists revolted in Don Fernando de Taos(present-day Taos, New Mexico).  The leaders of this insurrection included Pablo Montoya, Tomas Romero, and a Pueblo Indian whom everyone called Tomasito (Little Thomas).

Romero led an Indian force to the home of Governor Bent.  They broke down his door, shot him with arrows[8], and scalped him in front of his family.  Bent was not killed, however, and with the help of the wives of Kit Carson and Thomas Boggs, the Bent family escaped by digging through adobe walls and dragging the wounded Bent along with them.  When the insurgents discovered that the party had attempted escape, they killed Bent, but left the women and children unharmed.

Bent wasn’t the only official murdered that day: Stephen Lee, Acting County Sheriff, Cornelio Vigil, Prefect and Probate Judge, and J. W. Leal, a circuit attorney joined Bent in the afterlife.  Colonel Price later reported, “It appeared to be the object of the insurrectionists to put to death every man who had accepted office under the American government.”

The following day, 500 Hispanics and Pueblo Indians attacked and laid siege to Simeon Turley’s mill in Arroyo Hondo.  Charles Autobees saw the group coming and leaving eight to ten mountain men to defend the mill, rode to Santa Fe for help from the Army’s occupation force.  After a day-long battle, only two mountain men survived: John Albert, and Thomas Tobin.  Both men escaped on foot during the night.  On that same day, Hispanic insurgents killed seven white traders who were transiting through Mora.  At most, fifteen people lost their lives.

Colonel Price moved quickly to quell the revolt, deploying three-hundred US regulars from Santa Fe to Taos.  An additional force of sixty-five volunteer militia augmented Price’s men, which included a few Hispanics organized by St. Vrain, who was then a business partner of William and Charles Bent.  En route to Taos, the US force beat back 1,500 Hispanic and Pueblo Indian insurgents at Santa Cruz de la Cañada and Embudo Pass.  The insurgents retreated to Taos Pueblo and took refuge in the thick-walled adobe church.  One-hundred-fifty of these rebels died when the Army broke through the door of the church with canon fire; two hundred more received serious wounds.  Hand-to-hand fighting resulted in the capture of 400 insurgents.  Only seven of Price’s troops died in the battle.

A separate force of US troops under Captain Israel Hendley and Captain Jesse Morin assaulted the rebels at Mora.  The first attempt was a defeat for the Americans, but a subsequent attack ended resistance there.

Tobin, having made good his escape, joined up with Charles and both served as scouts for a company led by Captain St. Vrain.  Their mission was to search for, locate, and capture insurrectionists.  Insurrectionists who were not killed in actual battle ended up hanging from a rope.  Private John FitzGerald, an American dragoon, assassinated Romero while he was confined awaiting trial.

After the revolt, Tobin turned to farming in an area bordering the San Carlos River, southeast of El Pueblo.  He sold his crops to Lieutenant Colonel William Gilpin (later serving as Colorado’s first territorial governor), who camped with his troops near Bent’s Fort.  In the next year, Gilpin asked Tobin to scout for him during a planned spring campaign against Indians.  Tobin also served as a courier carrying dispatches from the Canadian River valley of Oklahoma to Brent’s Fort.

Prior to the Civil War, Major B. L. Beall hired Tobin as a scout and guide in search of land suitable for a railroad route to California.  Beall described Tobin as a man equal to Kit Carson for bravery, dexterity, and mountain skill.

Espinosa F 001America’s first serial killer was a man named Felipe Espinosa.  In 1860, Espinosa sent a letter to Governor John Evans informing him that he intended to kill 600 gringos (thus establishing him as a bona fide leftist).  Then, aided by his brother Vivian, Espinosa began his killing spree in the thinly populated area of present-day Fremont County, Colorado.  In 1863, trappers came across the body of the Espinosa brother’s first victim.  The corpse had been horribly mutilated, suggesting the possibility of torture before death; the man’s heart had been cut out of his chest.  Later that summer, the Espinosa’s killed an additional 25 people in a similar manner.

Sometime later, Felipe dispatched a second letter to Governor Evans demanding full pardons for himself, his followers, and a grant of 5,000 acres of land in Conejos County.  He also demanded an appointment in the Colorado volunteer militia.  He warned the governor of more killings should Evans ignore his demands, including the governor himself.

Evans dispatched Conejos County Sheriff Emmett Harding and Colonel Sam Tappan (Commanding Fort Garland) in search of Espinosa, but they failed to locate him.  A posse out of Park County, Colorado did manage to track the brothers southwest of Canon City where Vivian Espinosa died in a gunfight, but Felipe managed to escape and went into hiding for the rest of that summer.  After recruiting his fourteen-year old nephew, named José, Felipe’s killing spree continued.

Running out of options, Governor Evans turned to Thomas Tobin in the fall of 1863 to join in the search for Espinoza.  Evans offered Tobin $2,500 for the successful capture of Espinosa and a militia to help him achieve it.  Tobin accepted the monetary offer but declined the militia.  He and three hand-picked men accepted the task of finding Espinosa.

Using the location of Espinosa’s last murder as his starting point, Tobin tracked the killers for three days.  The trail led to the Sangre de CristoMountains.  Tobin and his party ambushed Espinosa and his nephew in that area and then decapitated them.  Tobin delivered a gunnysack containing two heads to Evans as proof that he’d earned his reward.  Tobin never received the $2,500.00 but he did receive a fine Henry Rifle and a dinner party in his honor.

In 1868, Thomas Tobin was appointed to serve as Chief Indian Scout during the western region Indian campaigns.  Serving alongside Tobin at the time was his half-brother Charles Autobees and a fellow named James Butler Hickok, who some folks called Wild Bill.

In 1878, Tobin’s daughter Pascualita married William (known as Billy) Carson.  Billy was the son of famed frontiersman Christopher Houston Carson (who was also known as Kit Carson).  Some years later, when Tobin learned that Billy had mistreated his daughter, Tobin told him, “I will see you dead Billy,” and then attempted to stab Carson.  Billy, acting in self-defense, clobbered Tobin on the side of his head with a sledgehammer, and then shot him in the side.  Over time, Tobin and his son-in-law reconciled their differences, but while his headaches finally went away, Tobin never fully recovered from the shooting.  As it turned out Tobin’s prophesy came true when Billy Carson died in 1889.  Tobin, who died in 1904 at the age of 81 years, outlived Billy Carson by 15 years.  During his lifetime, Tobin was a prosperous farmer, rancher, and Army Scout and even though he was illiterate (as were most of the mountain men), Tobin at one time served as the president of the local school board.


  1. Baird, J. D. Hawken Rifles: The Mountain Man’s Choice.  Buckskin Press, 1968.
  2. Cecil, A. J. James Bridger: Trapper, Frontiersman, Scout, and Guide: A Historical Narrative.  College Books, Inc., 1951.
  3. Hewett, E. L. Campfire and Trail.  Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
  4. LeCompte, J. Charles Autobees.  University of Nebraska Press, 1972.
  5. Morgan, D. L. Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the American West.  London: Bison Books, 1964
  6. Nash, J. R. Encyclopedia of Western Lawmen & Outlaws.  Da Capo Press, 1994.
  7. Perkins, J. E. Tom Tobin: Frontiersman.  Herodotus Press, 1999.
  8. Sides, H. Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West.  New York: Random House, 2006.
  9. Twitchell, R. E. The History of the Military Occupation of the Territory of New Mexico, 1846-51.  Denver: Smith Books, 1973 (reprint)


[1] In 1850, while guiding the Stanley Expedition out of Utah, Bridger discovered an alternative route which shortened the Oregon Trail by 62 miles; it became known as Bridger Pass and is now located in south-central Wyoming.  The Bridger Pass would later become the chosen route across the Continental Divide for both the Union Pacific Railroad and US Interstate 80.

[2] There has been some speculation that Jim Bridger was one of the men who left Hugh Glass for dead after the Grizzly attack.  There is no evidence to support this theory, however.

[3] Hugh Glass’ life story was adapted into two feature-length films: Man in the Wilderness (1971) and The Revenant (2015).  The details of his ordeal have been questioned owing to the fact that Hugh Glass never told his story to anyone, other than an accounting delivered personally to General Ashley at Fort Kiowa.  The popular (often repeated) story originated with James Hall, who wrote his version of the saga in 1825 while working for his brother’s news sheet, The Port Folio.

[4] There is a distinction between furs and pelts.  Pelts are the skin of a beast with its hair, a raw or undressed hide.  A fur is a hairy coat of various animal species.  Some of the products traded to Autobees and Tobin were dressed, which I imagine brought a higher value in trade in St. Louis.

[5]  Major General Kearny (1794-1948) served as the military governor of New Mexico (August-September 1846) and the fourth military governor of California (February-May 1847).

[6] The same Manuel Armijo (1793-1853) who put down the Revolt of 1837 and captured the Texan Santa Fe Expedition.  He served as governor of New Mexico on three separate occasions.

[7] Promoted to Brigadier General by President Polk in 1847; advanced to Major General of the Missouri State Guard in 1861 and appointed to serve as a Major General in the Confederate States Army.

[8] So much for enlightened attitudes in the western territories.

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The Masterson’s

Sheriff ShieldThe old west produced a number of legends, some of whom became famous in their own lifetime, others only after they were dead, and some of these fellows were only legends in their own minds.  As children, we were most fascinated with the Hollywood version of frontier or old west characters, people such as Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson.

And then there were characters who were entirely fictional, such as Lash La Rue, Hop-Along Cassidy, and the Lone Ranger.  I didn’t hear about Butch Cassidy or John Wesley Hardin until many years later.  Some of the men I mentioned were hardened criminals and dangerous to peace-loving communities.  Thinking back to my childhood, when we were role playing some of these characters, Billy the Kid never seemed to get through a session without being shot with a cap-pistol.  It finally got to the point where none of the boys wanted to be Billy the Kid anymore.  Maybe we learned a subtle lesson in our role-play.

The old west produced a few lawmen who commanded respect, too.  They were as tough as nails, unafraid of standing up to evil-doers, and some of these became models of the western hero.  I’ve written about a few of these characters, but I suspect most people living to day never heard of them:  John Hughes, Cap Arrington, Ira Aten, and Lee McNelly, to name a few.  I only excluded Wyatt Earp because everyone today knows who he was and what he did in the old southwest.  I suspect that none of the men I mentioned above saw themselves as heroes (few heroes do); they were just men who had a job to do —and did it.  These men never apologized for putting a bullet into someone who deserved it.  If one happened to be a desperado, these lawmen were very, very dangerous people.  No one went to a gun fight with a lavender colored water pistol in the days of the old west.  In a real gunfight, some people didn’t walk away.

The Masterson brothers were the real deal.  None of them were born in the United States.  They came from Henryville, Quebec, Canada.  Their father was Thomas, also born in Canada, of Irish ancestry, and Catherine McGurk Masterson, who was born in Ireland.  Thomas was a farmer, so his children (seven in total) were raised on farms in Canada, New York, Illinois, Missouri, and Wichita, Kansas.

While still in their teens, Edward, Bartholomew, and James left the family farm to hunt for buffalo on the Great Plains.  They then worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad under a man named Ray Ritter.  Their task was to grade a five-mile section of track.  Ritter eventually quit his position—and that would normally be okay.  In Ritter’s case, though, when he left, he took with him the Masterson Brother’s wages earned over several months of back-breaking work.  It took a year for the Masterson’s to track him down, but they did manage to corner him and collect their wages —at gunpoint, of course.

For a time, the brothers split up and went their separate ways.  We know far more about Bartholomew (Bat) than we do about either Edward (Ed) or James (Jim).  For a time, Bat Masterson went back to hunting buffalo.  While quartered at Adobe Walls, Texas, Bat became a non-volunteer participant in one of the west’s more celebrated Indian fights.

True West Mag 001Adobe Walls was the remains of an old trading post and the place of a previous confrontation with hostile Indians.  Buffalo hunters routinely quartered themselves there.  Hovel or not, it was better than sleeping out on the range.  On 27 June 1874, several hundred Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne hostiles, led by Quanah Parker, surrounded Adobe Walls.  The Indians were agitated, quite understandably, by the buffalo hunters who were, in consonance with the official policy of the United States government, systematically eradicating a critical source of food for the plains Indians.  (Note: Visual from True West Magazine).

The assault turned into a five day siege.  Masterson and the other twenty-seven hunters defended themselves [1].  At the conclusion of the confrontation, there were four dead hunters and between thirty and sixty dead Indians.  Realizing that he was facing a standoff of undetermined length, the Indian leader Quanah Parker and his band withdrew and the hunters were allowed to leave with their scalps intact.

Jim Masterson, the youngest, had returned to Kansas where he formed a partnership with Ben Springer in a Dodge City, Kansas saloon, which they called Lady Gay Dance Hall and Saloon.  This was before the word “gay” meant something smutty.  It was a successful enterprise due in large measure to the short-term rental arrangements saloon customers could make with the local ladies.  

After Adobe Walls, Bat signed on as a scout with the US Army, serving under Colonel Nelson Miles.  Miles commanded a force from Fort Dodge in pursuit of Comanche and Apache war parties across the Cherokee Strip (in Oklahoma) and into Texas.  Miles was also looking for the “four sisters,” young girls who had been kidnapped by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers [2] just outside Ellis, Kansas on 11 September 1874.  The girls, aged 9 to 15 years, were all that remained of the family.  After six months of searching, Colonel Miles managed to recover the girls alive.

Bat Masterson’s first shootout occurred in 1876 in Sweetwater, Texas.  Masterson was courting a young woman named Mollie Brennan, who was also the love interest of Corporal Melvin A. King, US Army.  Early in the evening of 24 January 1876, King engaged Masterson with his pistol and Masterson returned fire.  Masterson was hit in the pelvis, King was shot in the head, and one of King’s several rounds also found Mollie, who soon died —which enabled Melvin and Mollie to spend eternity together.  Bat eventually recovered from his wound and remained single.

Bat and Ed found their way to Dodge City, Kansas in 1877.  The brothers did not get off to an auspicious start, however.  On 6 June, Bat attempted to prevent the arrest of his friend Robert (Bobby Gill) Gilmore.  The arresting officer was Marshal Larry Deger, who was said to weigh around 315 pounds.  Bat was able to get his arms around Deger and hold him off while Gilmore escaped.  Masterson’s reward for this act of loyalty was a pistol whipping by Deger and his deputies.    In addition to serious bruises to his face and head, Bat was fined $25 for interfering with a law officer in the performance of his duties.  Gilmore, who surrendered, received a fine of $5.00.

In July, Sheriff Charlie Basset of Ford County hired Bat as an undersheriff.  The State constitution prohibited Basset from seeking a third term in office, so Bat decided to enter the race for county sheriff.  Masterson’s opponent in the contest was Larry Deger.  On election day, Bat Masterson was elected.  A month later, Ed Masterson replaced Deger as the town marshal of Dodge City.

On 1 February 1878, Sheriff Masterson captured the notorious outlaws Dirty Dave Rudabaugh and Ed West.  Both men were wanted in connection with an attempted train robbery.  Two additional suspects in the robbery were captured by Bat and Ed on 15 March. 

Ed Masterson 001As town marshal, Ed Masterson was responsible for enforcing city ordinances.  The violence existent in Dodge City at the time persuaded city fathers to impose a ban on vagrancy, street violence, and carrying firearms inside the city limits.  On 9 April, at about 2230 in the evening, Ed Masterson attempted to disarm a drunken cowman by the name of Jack Wagner.  Wagner shot Ed in his right side.  When Wagner fired his weapon, he was standing close enough to Ed that the discharged weapon set his clothing on fire.  At this point, the story becomes somewhat muddled and there are two accounts.  (Shown right: Edward Masterson)

In the first account, Sheriff Masterson was standing directly across the street from the Masterson/Wagner confrontation at the moment it occurred.  Ed, shot, staggered down the street and into Hoover’s saloon.  Bat ran across the street and shot both Wagner and his trail boss, Alf Walker, who was holding an unholstered six-shooter.  Ed Masterson passed away an hour later.  Wagner, who was hit in the abdomen, died the next day.  Walker, although shot in the lung and twice in his arm, survived.  This testimony came from the people who witnessed the event.

The second account is that Ed Masterson shot his attackers, and if not both of them, then certainly Wagner.  Meanwhile, there was some concern in Dodge City that the Texas cowhands might avenge the shooting of Wagner and Walker, and according to some academics, this would explain why the local news account was ambiguous in their reporting —to shield Bat. 

Jim Masterson 001Dodge City Mayor James H. Kelley named Charlie Bassett as Ed Masterson’s replacement.  Bassett in turn hired Wyatt Earp, James Earp, and Jim Masterson (shown left) as his deputies.

In the summer of 1878, a cowhand by the name of George Hoy discharged his pistol from inside the Comique Variety Hall.  At that moment, Wyatt Earp and Jim Masterson were standing just outside the hall.  Apparently, Hoy rushed from the hall, mounted his horse and was making his escape when Earp and Masterson fired and Hoy fell from his horse.  Although only wounded in his arm, Hoy died a month later.  Earp claimed to have fired the shot that killed Hoy, but there is no way to validate that claim, since Masterson could have also fired the shot that hit Hoy.  Earp may have been quick to claim credit for the shot because he and Hoy were involved in an altercation earlier in the day.  What we know for a fact is that Wyatt Earp was a deadly accurate shooter.

More violence erupted on 4 October when James (Spike) Kenedy, the 23-year old son of a wealthy Texas cattleman named Miflin Kennedy [3], shot and killed the actress Dora Hand (stage name Fannie Keenan).  Hand was a beautiful and talented 34-year old woman who, like Doc Holliday, suffered from consumption.  Dora migrated to Dodge City on the advice of a friend, who knew Mayor Kelley, who was also the owner of the Alhambra Saloon and Gambling House.  Through Kelley, Hand was hired as a performer at the Lady Gay Dance Hall and Saloon, which was jointly owned by Ben Springer and Jim Masterson.

Mayor Kelley was attracted to Dora and was known to escort her around the town.  By this time, Hand was earning good money at both the Lady Gay and Alhambra.  Spike Kenedy joined a long list of cowboys who became smitten with Dora Hand and he was exceedingly jealous of Mayor Kelley.  It was believed that this jealousy prompted Kenedy to fire a rifle into the town house of Mayor Kelley.  Kelley was out of town at the time, and Dora Hand was occupying the residence.  Spike fired two rounds of .44 caliber ammunition.  The first round lodged in a door, the second hit Dora in her side while she was sleeping, killing her instantly. 

Sheriff Masterson’s posse included Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, William Duffy, and Bill Tilghman [4].  Kenedy was apprehended the next day after Masterson wounded him in the arm with a .50 caliber rifle shot; Earp shot Spike’s horse out from under him.  Kenedy was returned to Dodge City and placed in jail pending trial.  Predictably, Miflin Kenedy soon arrived with a satchel full of money.  When Miflin left town with his son, he was poorer; the county judge was richer, and Dora Hand had the finest funeral ever held in Dodge City, Kansas.

In the late 1870s, gold prospectors discovered large deposits of silver in the Rocky Mountains not far from Leadville.  One way to reach these riches was to travel up the Arkansas River canyon.  The railroads had a better idea: construct track and service the extraction and transportation by rail.  Two companies had the same idea: the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company, and the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe.  The challenge, of course, was the 1,000 foot increase in elevation and a narrow access that would allow only one set of tracks.

By 1878, the DR&G line ran almost to Canon City, Colorado, a small supply town about 100 miles southeast of Leadville, at the mouth of the Great Canyon Gorge.  DR&G was a bit slow getting started, however, and AT&SF construction engineers began grading a rail bed westward into the canyon.  This began the so-called Royal Gorge War, and Bat Masterson was in the thick of it.

The issue went to court, which ruled in favor of AT&SF, so the DR&G erected a few stone-walled forts along the river’s mountain path and sabotaged the Santa Fe crews by rolling boulders down on top of the grading effort; at night, they sent men out to locate the workman’s tools and throw them into the river.  The court battle went on and DR&G won the right to build through the gorge.  Santa Fe threatened to build parallel tracks.  It was good old fashioned American competition and thuggery.  DR&G began to fear that the costs of all this would eventually ruin them, and so they offered to lease their tracks to Santa Fe for thirty years.  The offer resulted in a temporary truce, but as DR&G finances worsened, the company went back to court and tried to break the lease agreement.  Soon after this, pistols and rifles replaced pick-axes and shovels.

To head up their band of ruffians, Santa Fe hired Bat Masterson.  Masterson quickly brought in John “Doc” Holliday as his primary recruiter.  Of course, a Kansas sheriff had no jurisdiction or authority in Colorado, so he was never acting in an official capacity in this endeavor.  Soon lining up behind Masterson and Holliday were noted gunmen, such as Ben Thompson [5], Dave Mather, and J. J. Webb [6].  In total, around sixty men took up positions at the Santa Fe roundhouse in Pueblo, 35-miles east of Canon City.   

Bat Masterson 001Determined to drive Masterson and his gang out of the roundhouse, engineers and lawmen of the DR&G rode to Pueblo to commandeer a cannon from the state armory, but Masterson had beat them to it.  The incident ended peacefully enough when DR&G met with Masterson and convinced him that it would be the right thing to do to surrender the roundhouse.  An alternative, and equally plausible explanation was that Masterson ended up with a fist full of cash to send him back to Kansas.  Back home in Kansas, voters were not thrilled with Masterson’s moonlighting in Colorado and he was voted out of office in 1879.  (Shown right, Bat Masterson in 1879).

In that same year, Jim Masterson was appointed town marshal after Charlie Bassett resigned.  During his tenure as a deputy marshal and later, town marshal, Jim made several hundred arrests, mostly involving drunken cowhands who transited through Dodge City on annual cattle drives.  In 1881, Jim lost his job when the city government changed hands, the citizens electing people who felt that the Marshal’s office was too restrictive with fun-loving cowboys.  Jim then concentrated his energies on the saloon business with partner A. J. Peacock.

In 1880, Bat received a telegram from Ben Thompson asking for his help.  Thompson’s brother, Billy, had gotten himself in some trouble over in Ogallala, Nebraska.  Billy had managed to shoot the thumb off of a man named Tucker, who despite the missing digit, returned fire and wounded Billy.  Masterson went to Ogallala and spirited him out of town on a midnight train.  Aiding Masterson was William F. Cody, who gave Masterson and Thompson sanctuary until they could return to Dodge City.

Instead, Bat Masterson relocated to Tombstone in February 1881.  In Tombstone, Masterson met the gunman Luke Short and they became friends.  Bat, Luke, and Wyatt Earp worked as faro dealers at the Oriental Saloon.  Masterson had only been in Tombstone for a few months when he received a telegram that compelled his return to Dodge City.  Jim had a falling out with Peacock and threats of death were made.  The issue, in terms of the total history of the old west, was minor.  Peacock had hired his brother-in-law as a bartender over Masterson’s objections.  Jim apparently believed that Al Updegraph was dishonest; Peacock stood in defense of Al and suggested that Jim might lose his life if he pursued the matter further.

Bat arrived back in Dodge City on 16 April 1881.  Exiting the train depot, Masterson spotted Peacock and Updegraph waiting just outside.  Firing erupted between Peacock and Updegraph and the Masterson brothers, but no one is sure who among them initiated the gunplay.  Bullets ripped through the Long Branch Saloon, and people scurried for cover.  Other gunmen soon chimed in and bullets were flying everywhere.  Updegraph, the only casualty, was shot in the lung but later recovered.  Mayor A. B. Webster arrested Bat, but since the actual shooter of Updegraph could not be identified, Bat was assessed an $8.00 fine for discharging his weapon inside the city limits and released.  He and Jim left Dodge City soon after.

Bat Masterson’s reputation as a gunfighter developed as a result of a practical joke played on a gullible news reporter in August 1881.  Seeking a story in Gunnison, Colorado, the reporter asked Dr. W. S. Cockrell about “man killers.”  Cockrell pointed to a young man nearby and identified him as Bat Masterson, saying that Masterson had killed 26 men.  Cockrell followed up by telling him a few made up stories about Masterson’s exploits.  The reporter made notes and published his story in the New York Sun.  It was a well-written story, picked up by several other newspapers, and this is how Bat Masterson became known as a gunfighter.  Masterson wasn’t even in Colorado at the time.

In April 1882, Bat Masterson accepted an appointment as the city marshal of Trinidad, Colorado; Jim Masterson became one of his deputies.  Masterson was hardly a week into his new job when Wyatt Earp requested his assistance in preventing the extradition of Doc Holliday from Colorado to Arizona.  Masterson met with Colorado Governor Frederick W. Pitkin, who after listening to Masterson’s appeal, denied Arizona’s request for extradition.  In any case, Masterson continued dealing faro while employed as city marshal, which voters overwhelmingly objected to, and in 1883 Marshal Bat Masterson was no longer employed in that capacity.

As a member of the Trinidad Police Department, Jim Masterson arrested John Allen for the shooting and death of Frank Loving, in what is remembered as the Trinidad gunfight [7].  On 15 April 1882, John Allen and Frank Loving were playing cards when an argument ensued.  Both men left the saloon and stepped into the street, threats were exchanged, and both men went for their guns.  Mutual friends intervened, however, and each man went his own way.  The next morning, Loving entered the Imperial Saloon, where Allen worked, with a pistol in his hand.  Allen drew his weapon and shot at Loving —but missed.  Loving returned fire —and he missed.  Saloon patrons scrambled for cover, and in this melee, Loving’s gun was knocked from his hand.  Allen, using another man as his shield, discharged several wild shots at Loving —all of them missing their mark.  Loving recovered his pistol and shot at Allen several times —and these shots went astray as well.  Allen escaped and went into hiding in Hammond’s Hardware Store.  When Loving entered Hammond’s to purchase more ammunition, not knowing that Allen was inside, Allen stepped out and shot Loving in the back.  Ultimately, as was often the case back then, Allen was acquitted of murder on account that he shot Loving in the back in self-defense.  Allen later moved to Dodge City, where he became a preacher.

In 1883, Bat Masterson responded to a request from Luke Short to aid him in a matter in Dodge City.  Short, who had become part-owner of the Long Branch Saloon felt that it was inappropriate for Mayor Larry Deger to close down his saloon and order him out of town.  Deger was Bat’s long-time enemy, so it didn’t take him very long to respond on the side of Luke Short.  Within weeks, Masterson recruited a group of gunfighters, including Wyatt Earp, intending to resolve what had become known as the Dodge City War.  Masterson dubbed his group the Dodge City Peace Commission. 

Dodge Peace 1883Deger’s decision to close down the Long Branch coincided with the cattle season; closing down saloons would financially ruin a number of saloon owners.  The issue was serious enough to involve Kansas Governor George W. Glick, as well as the Santa Fe Railroad.  Eventually, the saloons and gambling halls were reopened, including the Long Branch.  No blood was spilled, but the event did result in one of the more famous old west photographs posed for by eight renowned gunmen: Bill Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, Charlie Basset, Bill Petilion, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLean, and Neil Brown.

Late in 1884, Bat Masterson started a small newspaper he named Vox Populi.  The paper operated for about a week before folding.  He would have to come back to journalism later in life.

In 1884, Bat was living the good life in Denver, Colorado.  On 18 September, he attended a Denver theater where comedian Lou Spencer was performing on stage.  During his performance, Spencer looked down into the audience and spotted his wife Nellie sitting on Masterson’s knee.  Spencer cut short his act and confronted Masterson, perhaps using his loud voice, and Masterson clubbed him across the face with his pistol.  A struggle then ensued while Nellie watched in amusement from the wings.  Masterson and Spencer were arrested, fined, and released.  Nellie filed for divorce within the week and, if the local paper is believable, Nellie and Bat “eloped.”  There was never any record of a marriage between the two, and Nellie soon disappeared from Bat’s life.  At the time, Bat Masterson was known as a “ladies man.” 

Soapy Smith 001Several years later, Bat Masterson and crime boss Soapy Smith (shown left) became good friends.  There was some talk of Smith and Masterson being involved in fraudulent voting.  Soapy got his moniker from a swindle scheme he had of selling bars of soap with prize money hidden inside the packaging —a scheme to increase the sale of bars of soap.  It was a swindle because through sleight of hand, Smith would ensure that only members of his gang purchased the bar with the prize money inside.  His real name was Jefferson Randolph Smith II (1860-98).  Smith was shot and killed by members of a vigilance committee who had some objections to his “three card monte” scheme and stealing $2,700 from miner John Douglas Stewart.

Jim Masterson, meanwhile, had become an undersheriff in Colfax County, New Mexico.  In 1889, he returned to Kansas and took an active role in the so-called Gray County War.  Cimarron and the nearby town of Ingalls were locked in a contest to decide which town would become the new county seat, an important factor in the financial stability of the town.  The election ended with claims of fraud from both sides and so the matter was referred to the Kansas Supreme Court. 

Bill TilghmanIn the meantime, Mr. Newt Watson, the new county clerk, demanded that Cimarron turn over all county records so that they could be transported to Ingalls.  The Cimarron men refused, so the folks from Ingalls organized a resistance mob, which included Bill Tilghman (shown left), Jim Masterson, Ben Daniels, Neal Brown, and Fred Singer—all of whom were former Dodge City lawmen.  Added to these, a few “cowtown mercenaries.”  To give these men “semi-official” standing, Tilghman deputized them.  He was empowered to do this through his appointment as temporary county sheriff after the elected sheriff, Joe Reynolds, was incapacitated by a bullet wound to the stomach.

Tilghman and his men arrived in Cimarron on 12 January 1889.  They pulled the wagon up in front of the courthouse and Watson, Masterson, Singer, and Billy Allensworth entered the building to begin loading the county records; the rest of the men waited outside.  While this was going on, Cimarron men were moving into position to attack.

Suddenly, the Cimarron men opened fire on the men standing nearest the wagon.  Tilghman was hit in the leg, Brooks was gut shot, and the wagon’s teamster was also hit, but they all managed to get into the wagon and drive it out of town.  Inside, Masterson and his crew took up firing positions on the second floor, where they were able to defeat attempts by the Cimarron men to storm the building.  The Cimarron men rushed the building several times, but each effort was thwarted.  The battle lasted for around six hours, ending only after the Cimarron men received a telegram from Bat Masterson warning them that unless his brother were allowed to leave town, he would hire a train and bring enough men to blow Cimarron off the face of Kansas.  Masterson and his boys put down their weapons and were briefly taken prisoner.

In total, there were ten casualties: seven wounded, three killed.  Tilghman and his men were later prosecuted, but acquitted on account of the fact that no one could tell who shot whom.  Although there was no further violence, the dispute over the county seat lasted until 1893 when Cimarron became the new county seat.

Bat Masterson was a sportsman with a keen interest in prizefighting.  He knew John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett, and Jack Dempsey.  In 1892, Bat moved to Creede, Colorado where he managed the Denver Exchange Gambling Club until the town was destroyed by fire.  Masterson then joined Luke Short and Charlie Bassett in attendance at the Sullivan-Corbett fight in New Orleans.  All three men made a lot of money from gambling, but they also spent a lot of money in maintaining their upper-class lifestyle.

After the Gray County War, Jim Masterson moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma and was later appointed a deputy sheriff in Logan County.  On 1 September 1893, while serving as a Special Deputy US Marshal, Jim participated in the Battle of Ingalls, Oklahoma against the famed Doolan-Dalton gang.  Jim was responsible for the capture of Arkansas Tom Jones.  Even then, Jim was not well.  He passed away in Guthrie from tuberculosis on 31 March 1895.  He was 39 years old.

After serving briefly as a bodyguard for the millionaire George Gould, Bat decided that he wanted to settle down in New York City.  For a few years, he traveled between Denver and New York City.  Rumors that he had taken to heavy drink persisted in Denver.  Whether or not true, he became a resident of New York City in 1902—but not without some scandal.  He was accused of running a bunko operation against George H. Snow, a Mormon elder, but all charges were dropped in this case.  He was also arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.  At about this time, Alfred H. Lewis hired Masterson as a journalist for the New York Morning Telegraph.  Bat Masterson became a sports writer with a focus on boxing and wrote a weekly column from 1905 until his death in 1921. 

Bat Masterson 002While employed by the newspaper, Lewis encouraged Masterson to write a series of sketches about his adventures, which were later published in Human Life magazine.  He also wrote stories about Ben Thompson, Wyatt Earp, Luke Short, Doc Holliday, William F. Cody, and Bill Tilghman.  He also provided his readers with some insight to the best properties of a gunfighter. (Shown left, Bat Masterson in his 60s).

In 1905, Bat Masterson received a Presidential appointment as Deputy US Marshal for the Southern District of New York.  During his appointment, Theodore Roosevelt prohibited Masterson from gambling or other disquieting behavior that might reflect unfavorably on his administration.  Masterson, earning $2,000 per year, served in this capacity until 1909, when Roosevelt left the White House.  Newly elected William Howard Taft did not share Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for Masterson and the famous Bat Masterson was “let go.”

Bat Masterson died from a heart attack on 25 October 1921.  He had lived an exciting 67 years.  


  1. Silva, L. A.  Wyatt Earp: A Biography of the Legend, Volume I: The Cowtown Years. Santa Ana, CA: Graphic Publishers, 2002
  2. DeArment, R. K.  Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979
  3. DeArment, R. K.  Gunfighter in Gotham: Bat Masterson’s New York City Years.  Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2013


  1. One of the hunters died from an accidental discharge of his rifle.  See also: The Red River War. 
  2. “Dog Soldiers” were from six Cheyenne military societies from around the 1830s that played a dominant role in Cheyenne resistance to the westward movement of Anglo-Americans.  They operated mostly from Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming.  Most of these hostiles were killed by the US Army at the Battle of Summit Springs.  Remnants of the Dog Soldiers became more secretive in their lodgings and activities.
  3. Miflin Kenedy was a stern former ship’s captain and a Pennsylvania Quaker who earned his fortune as a cattleman.  For a while, Kenedy partnered with Richard King (of King Ranch fame), which ended in 1868.Kenedy purchased the Laureles Ranch, a 172,000 acre spread 23 miles west of Corpus Christi.  Both King and Kenedy contributed much wealth to Dodge City, Kansas.  Spike was the mixed blood son of Miflin and Petra Vela de Vidal Kenedy, the daughter of a former Spanish provincial governor.  Petra was 26-years old and the widow of Colonel Luis Vidal when she married Miflin in 1852.  Spike was nothing like his parents.  He loved his whiskey, and he loved whoring.  Arrogant by his father’s wealth, Spike did not think that the law applied to him.  
  4. For more information on Bill Tilghman, see The Guardsmen.
  5. For an account of Ben Thompson’s assassination, see: A Dangerous Dandy. 
  6. Webb was a respected lawman turned bad in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Michael Keliher, a tough who refused to relinquish his weapon to Marshal Webb.  Keliher went for his gun, but Webb was much faster and shot him dead —three times, which the jury in the case believed was a  clear demonstration of excessive zeal.
  7. Loving was known as “Cockeyed Frank.”  He was involved in two well-publicized shootouts, the other being in Dodge City after a squabble with Levi Richardson, a man with a sour disposition and a highly misplaced reputation as a gunfighter.
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The Elm Creek Raid

There are those who lament and deplore the atrocities foisted upon American Indians as Anglo-settlers moved westward through the present-day United States.  Looking at these events through the rose-colored lenses of the twenty-first century, one might argue that (a) white people started this problem by moving into lands “belonging” to the Amerind, (b) whites were unnecessarily cruel to the native population, and/or (c) the whites embarked on a program of genocide, which caused the Indian populations to defend themselves and their families.  Such arguments do have some merit, but they do not tell the complete story.  There were atrocities committed by Anglo pioneers —but such acts, as much as we may deplore them today, were both provoked and, in the context of the times, warranted.  

Comanche 003As a reminder, one of the reasons Spanish-Mexico invited Anglo settlers to the Southwest in the first place was because, for 350 years, the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache made the settlement of present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kansas untenable for Spanish/Mexican colonists.  After the War of Mexican Independence, Mexico realized that it could not claim to control lands that were mostly unpopulated.  Besides, the Americans weren’t the only people with an eye on Texas, and so early Mexican leaders decided that it would be far better to allow Anglo-settlements, where Mexico would be in a position to control their size and locations than to run the risk of an effort by the United States to annex Texas or to have to contend with a profusion of French colonies.

Populating Texas was a priority, but so too was populating it with people who might be able to contend (deal) with hostile Indians.  The number of Indians living between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains in 1830 has been estimated at around 110,000.  The Comanche alone is said to have numbered around 45,000 people, although since many the Kiowa bands merged with the Comanche, this number could be larger.

The story of the southwestern United States between 1850-1912 is one of perpetual Indian depredation.  As we learn about the events of the Elm Creek Raid and understand that it was but one among hundreds of others, we must take care not to judge these events by our modern concept of morality.  Doing so will fail us on two levels: (1) It is doubtful that the Plains Indians ever equated their behaviors to a western standard of ethicality, and (2) the Plains Indians behaved toward white settlers in the same way they acted toward other Indian tribes.

As a further reminder, Texas became the 28th state to join the Union in 1845.  Statehood precipitated the Mexican-American War (1846-48).  It was a turbulent time —and then came the American Civil War (1861-65).  In 1865, no one north or east of Texas cared about the plight of Texas settlers —not even after desperate pleadings by the Texas Judiciary [1].  The American frontier was a low priority in the United States at a time when everyone in Washington was trying to figure out how to put the nation back together.  Still, while this was going on, the realities of the American southwest in 1864 were:

    • In 1860, the U. S. Army began withdrawing all regular troops from frontier forts; in 1864, there was no immediate plan to reoccupy them.
    • Texas was the only place in the United States where large numbers of white settlers lived within reach of horse-mounted hostiles.
    • Local militias and “minutemen” were inadequate to confront the hostilities of the Plains Indians.
    • The Amerind generally, and the Kiowa and Comanche in particular, did not understand the Civil War.  What they did understand was the fact that there were no military forces in the Southwest.  When their raids went unopposed, the number of raids and depredations increased exponentially.
    • In total, the Comanche-Kiowa bands killed more white people than any other American Indian tribes—a fact that is not well known in this country.
    • As a result of Indian depredations, the Texas frontier was in full retreat in 1865 —with no relief in sight for frontier settlers.
    • Between 1865-74, the United States pursued a “peace policy,” through which the hostile tribes were to be placed on and sustained by government-funded reservations, educated and Christianized [2].

Between 1850-68, Texas settlers lived their lives “forted up” —they were in constant danger from hostile Indians.  They fought a hundred unseen and unrecorded battles; they suffered the death, injury, mutilation, rape, and kidnapping of thousands of loved ones, family members, and close friends.  The events of Young County, Texas in October 1864 is representative of this terror.  History remembers it as the Elm Creek Raid.

Fort Belknap TX 001

Fort Belknap, Texas

With the removal of Indians who were willing to live on reservations [3], the population of white settlers in West Texas grew at a rapid rate.  Young County had been organized by 1864, but just barely; there was no mechanism for the protection of settlers.  In truth, Young County, Texas was on the edge of nowhere.  Settler Francis Peveler was one of the county’s earliest settlers.  He noted in his journal, “We were right on the frontier —nothing north of us but  the North Star.”  Mr. Peveler was wrong about that because north of Young County were bands of Comanche [4] and Kiowa [5] hostiles who roamed the land as freely as the wind.

Texas militia captains Buck Barry and Jim Bourland tried to get the people to “fort up,” but not everyone was interested in doing that.  Constructing fortified cabins was hard work, and suitable logs were difficult to obtain.  At nearby Fort Belknap, long abandoned by the Army, Captain Barry constructed cabins in 100-yard long squares.  A similar structure was thrown up at Fort Murrah 1858.  Within these stockades, settlers lived almost exactly the way their forebears lived in early Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1750s.

Ten or twelve families lived at Fort Murrah; they were Anglo-Celtic clans from Kentucky who had migrated through Missouri; in all, between 60 to 80 white settlers lived along Elm Creek. 

Elm Creek Raid 001In the late summer or early fall of 1864, large parties of Kiowa moved into the Llano Estacado.  They fell under the influence of a young Comanche brave named Little Buffalo, an ambitious chief with a thirst for horses, loot, and prestige.  A careful planner, Little Buffalo scouted the territory along the upper Brazos.  Observing the widespread farms and ranches of the white eyes, he determined that the time was right for raiding.  He circulated among the northern bands of Comanche and Kiowa and the Kiowa-Apache on the Wichita range.  He spoke to his Indian allies of great victories ahead of them.  After all, there were no horse soldiers in Texas.  And, because their numbers were so small, there was nothing to fear from Texas Rangers.  Hundreds of warriors signed on for the raid —including the Kiowa war leader Aperian Crow.  Having gathered extra mounts, the Indians streamed into northern Texas.

On 13 October, Little Buffalo reached the Brazos River where it joined Elm Creek, approximately ten miles above Fort Belknap.  Riding behind him were seven-hundred braves.  This is where the killing began.  There are numerous versions of what happened that bright and clear day, explained by the fact that everyone affected told their own version of how they remembered it.  

The Indians rode down both banks of Elm Creek at midday. They first came across Joel Myers and his young son, who was out looking for strayed oxen.  The Myerses never had a chance; they were killed, stripped of their clothing, and their remains mutilated.  The Indian war party moved on.  Next came the Fitzpatrick homestead.  As a number of the men were away, gone to the trading post at Weatherford for supplies, only three women and their children remained behind: Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, her daughter Susan Durgan, and a Negro woman named Mary Johnson, the wife of Britt Johnson [6].

As howling Indians surrounded the Fitzpatrick place, Susan Durgan grabbed a rifle and went outside.  The gutsy woman put up a good fight, but was quickly overwhelmed by Comanche warriors who cut her down, stripped her naked, raped her, and then mutilated what was left of her.  The Indians then flooded inside the house and seized the remaining people.  Two braves quarreled over which of them had captured and was therefore entitled to enslave Mary Johnson’s oldest boy, aged 12 years.  Unable to resolve this problem, the braves amicably killed the boy.  Other warriors threw Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Mary Johnson, and four of their children onto the back of horses and rode off.

Not far away was the Hamby Place, where Thomas (Doc) Wilson also lived with his family.  There were three men at the homestead when the Indians arrived, including Thornton Hamby (a wounded/recovering Confederate veteran soldier).  When the men heard the commotion at the Fitzpatrick place, they rushed their women into a hiding place in a cave along the nearby bank.  Then, these men mounted up to warn neighbors of approaching danger.

The William Bragg family warned of approaching danger, hid in thick brush and avoided contact with the marauders.  Doc Wilson rode hard while the Hamby’s fought a rear-guard action to keep the rampaging Indians at bay.  Wilson reached Judge Henry Williams’ ranch and gave the alarm.  One of the men at the Williams ranch grabbed a horse and carried the alarm forward.  

Two women visitors and their children were with the Williamses, also a young man named Callan. When Callan understood the severity of the situation, he seized his horse and rode away to warn others. Mrs. Williams herded her five children and her guests across Elm Creek where they lay down in the screening brush; Sam Williams, aged fifteen years, stood guard with a shotgun.  The Williamses weren’t discovered by the hostiles when they arrived, but their homestead was sacked. 

Depredations 001Thornton Hamby (the wounded veteran} and his father rejoined Doc Wilson at the Williams place, then rode for the George Bragg ranch, a short distance further on.  George Bragg’s home was a two-room cabin built for strength.  Arriving at the Bragg homestead, the Comanches were in full fury after the Hamby’s. They leaped from their ponies in Bragg’s yard and rushed to the cabin door.  Doc Wilson didn’t make it —a Comanche arrow struck him through the heart.  He staggered into the cabin and said, “Hamby, I am a dead man.”  He jerked the missile out of his body and died.

George Bragg was inside the house with five white women, a Negro girl, and a great brood of children.  The Hamby had thought to fort up here since they expected to find more men to defend, but now they were surrounded by hostile Indians who wanted their blood.  They were committed to a defense whether they wanted it or not.  There was no escape.  Thornton Hamby later said: “I might have jumped under the bed —had it not been occupied by three families of women and children who made their way to the ranch for protection.”  This is the statement of a cool man.  When the Indians, blowing a captured or discarded bugle, advanced on the blockhouse, it was young Hamby who took charge of the defense.  The older men were excited, but Thornton had been under fire before.  He ordered the women to load the rifles and pistols, which task they undertook with great vigor.

1823 Texas Cabin

Texas Cabin c. 1823

Within mere seconds, the Comanches rushed the house, howling like madmen.  The elder Hamby killed an Indian with a pistol shot but received four wounds in return.  The Bragg defense devolved on Thornton, whose coolness under fire helped everyone maintain their wits.  He stayed at the firing ports, killing or wounding Indian after Indian; the women recharged his weapons and pressed them into his hand.  Although struck by an Indian bullet, he kept fighting.  In the afternoon, Hamby brought down Little Buffalo with a well-aimed shot.  Little Buffalo’s demise demoralized the attacking Indians.  Within a short time, the savages mournfully withdrew, carrying off their dead and wounded.

A few hours later, after dark, Thornton Hamby and George Bragg went to the Fitzpatrick ranch to see what had happened.  They buried the bodies.  Meanwhile, the Peveler & Harmonson clans had assembled at Fort Murrah, a pioneer settler’s fortification.   Little Buffalo had not known that the stockade existed as it had only just been built.  From the top of the fort, the defenders scanned the countryside through a spyglass and found it writhing with hostiles.  Francis Peveler saw the Indians playing with something in the mesquite brush.  What he observed were hostiles toying with Old Man McCoy and then finally killing him and his son.  The McCoy’s lived about a mile distant on Boggy Creek and were unable to make it to the fort.  

The war party did not try to storm the fort; if the Indians had learned one thing from the Texans, it was never to charge Texas rifles.  Meanwhile, Lieutenant Carson of Bourland’s border regiment ranged near Fort Belknap with about twenty men.  The Indians may have avoided the fort, but when Carson and fourteen men attempted ingress to the Elm Creek area, they soon found themselves facing three hundred braves.  Five of Carson’s men were killed outright, with several more wounded.  Carson’s after-action report indicated that he and his men behaved themselves with courage, but the fact was that his troops fired once and then raced away for their lives.  It was probably the wisest course of action.  It was either that or painful death.

During his retreat, Carson and his men passed by Isaac McCoy’s house and picked up the two stranded McCoy women.  Riding double, militia and women made it safely to Fort Murrah but a number of the horses had arrows protruding from their necks and rumps.  Fort Murrah prepared for a siege: the women brought in milk and water from the spring branch and the men passed around ammunition.  As night fell, the defenders could see Indians on three sides —a large fire blazed in the North.

Plains IndianThe Peveler clan, who was still mourning the death of one of their men a few days earlier  —and the Harmonson’s— agreed that a dawn attack was likely.  Someone should try to ride to Fort Belknap for assistance.  Carson’s men refused to ride out, so Francis Peveler and a man named Fields from Gainesville saddled up.  On the way out, they passed by a picket who was standing guard outside the fort—the young man was but 17-years old.  Staying off the high ground to avoid detection, the two riders passed a white object on the ground —it was the remains of Joel Myers.  A short distance further on, they came across a horse, pinned to the ground with a lance but still alive and trembling.  They could not stop to shoot the pitiful animal for fear of bringing attention to themselves.  They galloped six miles into Fort Belknap only to find that all the border regiment men had gone —it was said that they were on a scout looking for Indians.  Chester Tackett volunteered to ride to Veal’s Station, the next nearest settlement seventy-five or so miles away.  Tackett, who was about nineteen years old, rode out at 1 a.m. the next morning.  Changing horses at every white clearing he passed, he finally arrived at his destination at 9 a.m.  He found no help at the Station but the exhausted Tackett had to stop for a rest.  Another rider hastened on to Decatur, another thirty miles.

At sundown, Major Quayle at Decatur, commanding a company of militia, learned that Fort Murrah was besieged. Quayle’s command mounted up —destination Fort Murrah, some 80 miles distant.  At dusk the following day, Quayle was within twenty miles of the fort when he met a rider who told him that the Indians were gone.  Quayle detached a few of his men to track the hostiles, which they did for about 100 miles, but to no avail.

In all its details, the Elm Creek Raid was a classic hostile raid —its only difference being in the number of Indians involved, which in this case was huge.  Eleven settlers were killed, eleven homesteads were destroyed, and seven women and children were carried off.  The settlers defended themselves as best they could have, either by flight or by forting up.  The cavalry was, as usual, worthless.  The winter of 1864–65 was difficult for the survivors of Elm Creek, of which only three homesteads remained intact.  Food, clothing, bedding, furniture, and most of their horses were all lost.  The Indians had ripped up bedding to amuse themselves watching the feather ticking float in the air.  They dumped out 500-pound sacks of flour for the flour sacks, which they prized.

In furtherance of endnote 2 and the so-called Quaker Peace Policy, it is true that having located themselves within Indian territory, white settlers became the aggressors, although no more or less than the Spanish-Mexican settlers before them.  It is also true that frontier Texans developed an intense hatred for “red vermin.”  These are facts, untempered by modern-day moralistic judgments.  Human migration into areas long-populated by “indigenous” persons (no matter what their skin color) has been an often-repeated fact of history for thousands of years and the strongest tribe always wins.

In the same way, the Plains Indian assaulted Spanish/Catholic settlements, their clash with Anglo-American settlers was inevitable.  The whites weren’t going to “go away,” and the Southwest tribes weren’t going to give up their territories without a fight [7].   One interesting observation, however, is that the plains Indians were willing to sit down and negotiate with representatives of the US government (the Americanos), but they refused to meet with any Texan.  I have often wondered if this was not the result of the Council House Fight.

Nevertheless, the willingness of the hostile tribes to negotiate with the United States government was a mistake of epic proportions.  What the US government wanted after 1866 was to remove the Indians as threats to westward expansion by confining them to reservations.  Confinement is an incorrect word in this instance because the provisions of the Quaker Peace Treaty permitted Indians to leave the reservations at will, to hunt and war with other Indian tribes.  Since many of the Indian agents were corrupt [8], withholding food supplies as but one example, hunting off the reservations was necessary.  At the same time, some Comanche and Kiowa bands used their “hunting excursions” as an opportunity to conduct raids on white settlers on the frontier —a known fact.     

To achieve relocating all Southwest Indians onto reservations, and making them dependent upon their “white father” in Washington, it was first necessary to create circumstances that would convince a rational man that reservation life was preferred to starvation.  The increase in Indian violence upon white settlers after 1866 —the result of a triumph of Washington theory over stark reality in the Southwest United States— led General Phil Sheridan and General William T. Sherman to conclude that there could be no solution to the Indian problem for as long as these Indians could support themselves off the reservation.  With this in mind, the United States Congress authorized the U. S. Army to pursue a policy of extermination of the American Buffalo.


  1. Mooney, J.  Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians: Summer, 1871.  Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898.
  2. Fehrenbach, T. R.  Lone Star: A History of Texas and The Texans.  Open Road Media, Kindle Edition.
  3. Tatum, L.  Our Red Brothers and the Peace Policy of President Ulysses S. Grant, Philadelphia: Winston & Company, 1899.
  4. Greene, J. A.  Indian War Veterans: Memories of Army Life and Campaigns in the West, 1864-1898.  New York: Savas Beatie, 2007.
  5. Kessel, W. And Robert Wooster.  Encyclopedia of Native American Wars and Warfare, 2005.
  6. Wooster, R. A.  The Military and United States Indian Policy, 1865-1903.  Published 1988.


  1. “For a long time have this people endured an almost uninterrupted warfare bloody and savage at the hands of Indians.  But, sir, those depredations have been growing from bad to worse until they are perfectly alarming to our people.  I might give your Excellency scores of instances of recent dates of murder, rape, and robbery which that have committed alone in the counties composing my judicial district.  It has been but a few days since the whole Lee family, consisting of six persons were inhumanely butchered, three of them being females were ravished, murdered, and most terribly mutilated.  Then Mr. Does, the Justice of the Peace of Palo Pinto County was but last week murdered and scalped; his ears and nose were cut off.  Mr. Peoples and Mr. Crawford of the said county met the same fate.  Wm. McCluskey was but yesterday shot down by those same bloody Quaker Pets upon his own threshold.  I write to your Excellency, as to one who from your Exalted position in our nation can if you will protect us from this inhuman butchery.  Your humble correspondent believes your Excellency to be endowed with at least a moderate amount of human feeling and a mind that cannot be trammeled by this one dread insane Pseudo humanitarian policy, called the Quaker Indian Peace Policy.  Am I mistaken?”  Signed, Charles Howard, Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial District, addressed to President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.
  2. In devising this peace policy, not a single US official had ever studied the fate of Spanish missions or the failure of this peculiar ideology on the eighteenth-century frontier.  No matter how well-intentioned this policy may have been, “It [policy] was a form of idiocy, because it completely failed to halt Kiowa-Comanche depredations on the Texas plains.  The policy brutalized the Anglo-Saxon frontier, and it prolonged the agony of the American Indians.”
  3. These were Indians fooled into believing their white Indian agents, who promised the Indians a utopian existence but delivered nothing even remotely similar.  Promised food stores, the Indians were starved; promised blankets, they were occasionally supplied with blankets infected with smallpox.  One can conclude from this sad story that socialism didn’t work for the Indians, and it hasn’t worked for America’s ethnic/racial minorities, either.  Life on the reservation was hell to the Indians, just as life in the “projects” is hell to the minorities who are imprisoned there.
  4. The movement of Comanche was part of a larger phenomenon known as the Shoshone Expansion during which the language family spread across the Great Basin and across the mountains into Wyoming.  These nomadic people following the bison as their primary food source.  After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Comanche acquired horses and mules, which transformed them from mere nomadic Indians into a distinctive Comanche culture.  It may have been the search for horses that caused the early Comanche to break away from the Shoshone and move southward into the Great Plains. 
  5. The Kiowa likely shared their ethnic origin with other Amerinds of the Kiowa-Tanoan language family.  As hunter-gatherers, the Kiowa are likely to have originated from the northern Missouri River Basin, moved southward seeking more land of their own, ending up in the Black Hills region of the Dakotas, and in turn, driven further south by the Cheyenne and Sioux.  They eventually dominated the area of western Kansas, eastern Colorado, most of Oklahoma, and the Llano Estacado.  At a council meeting in 1790, the Kiowa and Comanche agreed to share the hunting groups of the Great Plains and to support one another in mutual defense.
  6. Legally, Britt Johnson was a slave in 1864, but on the West Texas plain, no one cared about that.  He had lived as a free man for most of his life.  Most people referred to him as “Nigger Britt.”
  7. As noted in endnotes (above), the Comanche themselves were comparatively recent arrivals in the areas of the present-day Southwestern United States.  Moreover, they attacked with equal ferocity any other “encroachers,” whether white, brown, or other red men.  At one stage, Comanche and Kiowa bands targeted the Tonkawa Indians for extermination—the point is that modern-day readers should dispense with this notion of the Southwest tribes being cruelly and unfairly set upon by white settlers.  In the judgment of rational thinkers, they reaped what they sowed.
  8. Indian Agent corruption was a problem almost from the beginning of the United States.  Numerous examples exist within the Congressional Record of hearings and investigations into allegations of furnishing Indian populations with inferior goods, raking off food stores and selling them to other than Indian populations, selling Indians whiskey, and pocketing government appropriations.  See also, U. S. Congress, House, Transfer of the Indian Bureau to the War Department, House Report 241, 45th Congress, 1878 (Serial 1822), and U. S. Congress, House, Report of the Indian Peace Commission, House Executive Document 97, 40th Congress, 1868 (Serial 1337).
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