New Mexico, Part I

There no place on Earth without an interesting story, and there is no story about any of 19 present-day states of the United States that doesn’t begin with the Spanish Empire as a backdrop.  The story of New Mexico is one of these.


During the Middle Ages, Spain operated as a multi-national conglomerate —much like the Roman Empire that preceded it.  The Spanish arrived in the Americas for one purpose: to enrich the Spanish Crown.  In the accomplishment of this goal, the Spanish conducted exploratory expeditions, conquered indigenous people, transformed these people into sources of labor, and then set about to extract the vast resources found in the new land.  For the most part, the Spanish accomplished their mission.  They displaced native populations and immersed them in Hispanic culture and placed them on the hierarchical ladder of Spanish society.  The Spanish extracted gold and silver, established vast plantations, created new towns and cities, established provinces, and incorporated them into the Spanish Empire.  Having subjugated the natives, the Spanish took their place at the top of a complex social structure, and to make this arrangement legal and binding, they created encomiendas [Note 1].  Overall, it worked out quite well for the Spaniards, as demonstrated by the brilliant seventeenth-century societies in Lima, Peru and Mexico City.

New Spain

New Spain Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms, New Spain

In terms of land area, the Spanish Empire was twice the size of ancient Rome.  Like Rome, the Spanish Empire was too large to manage from Spain and so the Spanish crown created four viceroyalties to oversee political, social, and administrative institutions.  Spanish viceroyalties were established in New Spain, Peru, Rio de La Plata, and New Granada.  New Spain included North America, South America, Asia, and Oceania.  In North America, Spanish territories included present-day Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, parts of Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.  In present day Canada, Spain controlled the area of Southwestern British Columbia.

In the process of creating their American empire, Spain vanquished millions of natives and reshaped them in Spain’s own image.  The societies they created remain with us today.  The Empire of Spain lasted for more than 300 years … a long enough period of time to pass along to all subsequent generations their language, culture, religion, and social structure.

There is a downside to this story.  In achieving everything previously described, Spain bequeathed to its successors lasting problems that originated within Hispanic society itself: its structure, philosophy, politics, its method of distributing wealth, and even its relationship to the Church.  Modern Hispanic societies maintain many (if not most) features from the Middle Ages, including their class structure an embedded cruelty toward anyone “below” their station.  This is not a judgment—it is a fact.  The Spaniards could not help who they were.  They were the product of centuries of events before them that was far beyond anyone’s control, and they could not help but to pass along to subsequent generations their uniquely culture.  Then, as now, Spanish culture was true to its history and able to transmit its own unique set of values (or lack of them) to others.

It did not take the Spanish long after their arrival in the New World to send out explorers to learn about this new place, and they spared no expense in doing so.  Francisco Vasquez de Coronado assembled an enormous expedition at Compostela, Mexico in 1540.  His mission was to locate the mythical cities of Cibola.  What they knew of it they learned from the writings of Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, who wandered for eight years finding his way from Florida to Mexico.  De Vaca and three companions were the only survivors of an expedition mounted in 1527.  In their travels, they lost several hundred men and eighty horses.


The journey begins by Frederick Remington

Senior Coronado was sure he would do better.  He assembled 1,300 horses and mules, hundreds of sheep and cattle as a portable food supply.  He would explore the land, of course, but he was looking for riches.  What he found were natives who lived in pueblos, whom he named Pueblo Indians.  There were no magnificent cities, no high-order civilizations.  But Coronado didn’t do better than De Vaca and he returned to Mexico a poor man, dispirited, and to some extent, discredited.  Nor did subsequent expeditions uncover cities of gold —only wide plains and dangerous natives.

Fifty years later, Juan de Oǹate marched north from the valley of Mexico taking with him 500 soldiers and settlers, 7,000 head of livestock, and founded the first Spanish settlement in Nuevo Mexico.  The year was 1598 and the settlement was called San Juan de los Caballeros (St. John of the Knights).  San Juan was located in a small valley near the Chama River, which flows into the Rio Grande.  Oǹate constructed a roadway he called El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the royal interior road, which was a 700 mile trail from New Spain to his remote colony.  Senior Oǹate became the first Spanish governor of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico.

Oǹate intended to subjugate the natives, but this wasn’t the Valley of Mexico and these natives were not inclined to surrender to anyone.  Oǹate was persistent, however.  Scholars assure us that, “Spanish governors were a greedy and rapacious lot whose single-minded interest was to wring as much personal wealth from the provinces as their terms allowed.  They exploited Indian labor for transport, sold Indian slaves in New Spain, and sold Indian-made products manufactured by forced labor.”

Oǹate was no exception; he pulled out all stops to suppress New Mexico Indians.  He began by cutting off the left foot of every man over the age of 25-years.  He mercilessly killed hundreds of these people, mounted continuous raids and reprisals against the nomadic tribes, especially the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche.  Meanwhile, Franciscan missionaries could not understand why these natives continually shunned Catholicism.

Hostile Indians

Pueblo Indian Dress

Pueblo Indian Attire

The San Juan settlement was particularly vulnerable to Apache attacks, and so in 1610, Oǹate’s moved the capital to a place called Santa Fe.  Following Oǹate as governor, Pedro de Peralta ordered the construction of a governor’s palace so that everyone would know that the Spanish governor was an important man.  But Santa Fe wasn’t prosperous and in a few years all that remained in Santa Fe were a few Catholic missions.  Albuquerque became the new settlement in New Mexico beginning in the mid seventeenth-century.  Decades had passed and the Indians still wanted nothing to do with the missionaries.

A struggle began between the secular and religious factions in New Spain.  The fact was the Spanish settlements weren’t colonies in the sense of the British-American ventures.  Spanish people didn’t migrate to the new world so that they could perform labor as common peasants —that was what the Indians were for.  But native populations were decreasing as the result of European diseases, they were being worked to death, and childbirth took a sudden downturn.  A dispirited broken people often choose not to have children.  Soon, Spanish sources of labor dwindled.

In 1512, the Spanish Crown promulgated the Laws of Burgos that governed the behavior of Spaniards in the Americas, particularly with regard to indigenous people.  The maltreatment of Indians was forbidden.  Initially, the law only applied to the Island of Hispaniola, but was later extended to Puerto Rico and Jamaica.  The Franciscans in New Mexico, if they knew of these laws, ignored them.  In the minds of Franciscan missionaries, the solution to the problem of dwindling natives was to work them harder.

In 1650, governor Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal prohibited the New Mexico priests from punishing the Indians or from employing them without compensation.  He also allowed the Indians to practice their traditional observances.  The priests could not accept such interference by a politician, so they complained to the Inquisition.  Mendizabal was arrested and taken to Mexico City for trial; when he died in 1664, his body was buried in a pig pen near the prison.

Afterwards, under governor Diego de Penalosa, the priests reigned supreme in New Mexico and life for the Indians got much worse.

It should not surprise anyone that the Indians of New Mexico harbored great hostility toward the Spaniards and their priests.  The natural economies of the Indians were disrupted when they were sent off to work the encomiendas.  The Indians might have been a bit slow, but they weren’t stupid.  They began using new farming implements as weapons of defense, not only against hostile Indian raids, but against the Spanish as well.  A severe drought swept through the area in the 1670s, which increased the number of attacks by hostile Indians who were scavenging for food.  Spanish soldiers were unable or indisposed to adequately defend the settlements.  Life among the Pueblo Indians was dismal; they soon returned to worshiping their own gods which caused the Franciscans to repress them even more.

When Franciscans arrested an Indian leader by the name of Popé (pronounced Po-pay) for practicing witchcraft, Popé reacted by orchestrating a revolt.  After regaining his freedom, Popé relocated to Taos where he planned an uprising against the Spaniards.  He did this by dispatching runners to all the Pueblos carrying knotted cords that signified the number of days remaining until the beginning of the uprising.  When the Spaniards learned of the planned uprising, Popé ordered the date advanced to 13 August.  It was a massive  rebellion and the Spanish were driven from all but the southern-most portion of New Mexico.  The Spanish created a temporary capital in El Paso (Texas); it would do until Spain reconquered New Mexico.

Once the Spaniards were gone, Popé ordered the destruction of all crosses and other Catholic symbols.  He was serious about this; any Indian refusing to carry out these orders was himself put to death.  He also ordered the destruction of Spanish livestock and crops (wheat and barley), and demanded that any Indian married in the Church dismiss his wife and take another under traditional rites.  Popé seized the governor’s house and ruled over all Pueblo, collecting tribute from them until his death in 1688.

Popé’s death caused a problem among the Indians: who should inherit his hard-won authority?  The tribes were often separated by hundreds of miles; they spoke six different languages.  Who should rule?  These power struggles —weaknesses— encouraged raids by the nomadic tribes.  Drought weakened the Pueblo further —physically and psychologically.  In 1692, Diego de Vargas led the Spanish military assault against the Pueblo at Santa Fe.  He called for the Indians to surrender, promising them clemency if they would swear their allegiance to the King of Spain and return to the Christian faith.  The weary Indians agreed to sue for peace. 

Through the Indian’s short-lived independence, they gained a measure of freedom from the Spanish after 1692.  They were permitted to observe their own religious rites and maintain cultural traditions.  The Spanish crown issued substantial land grants to the Pueblo Indians and charged public defenders to protect those rights.  However, the Spanish experienced no such success with the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Ute, or Navajo; these hostiles continually raided Spanish settlements.  They took what they wanted, leaving dead settlers, soldiers, and sedentary Indians in their wake.  Pueblo Indians not killed outright were taken as slaves.  This was the nature of the plains Indians.

The Comanche

Comanche Warrior

Comanche Warrior

Beginning in the early 1600s the Southwest plains Indians developed a horse culture.  Massive raids stripped the Spanish of their horses and cattle and the population of these hostiles increased over time to around 45,000.  By the mid 1700s, the plains Indians controlled territories from South Texas to Alberta, Canada.  The Navajo were among the first mounted Indians to develop a pastoral culture based on sheep stolen from Spanish settlements.  Comanche judged wealth by the number of their horses, the Navajo by the number of their sheep.

The greatest danger to Spanish settlements after the Pueblo revolt was the Comanche.  Their territory was called the Comancheria, which was well in place in 1700.  It was, for all intents and purposes, a Comanche Empire.  The Comanche successfully confronted the Spanish, Mexican, French, and Americans in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico.  In their time, the Comanche were the most powerful military force in North America.  They maintained this reputation through utter ruthlessness, which included the slaughter of settlers, demands for tribute, robbing supplies, enslaving captives, and holding high-born persons for ransom.  The Comanche also incorporated other plains Indians into the network: Kiowa, Ute, Navajo, and Apache.  In this way, their language and culture spread across the expanse of the North American plain.

The Empire was an economic construct rooted in a vast network that facilitated trade.  Politically, it was a decentralized system.  There was no central Comanche authority; each chief went his own way, and no tribal chief could order another to comply.  In this sense, the tribes and bands operated as a cooperative.  When this was not possible, for whatever reason, they simply went to war and settled matters through violence.  Typical of nomadic cultures, whenever a band reached a certain population level, some number of them split off to organize a new band.  These bands then became part of an extended network of family and friends with shared customs, traditions, and values.  Young braves could advance within the framework of this system by proving themselves in battle.

New Mexico settlements first reported contact with the Comanche in 1706; by 1719, Spanish settlements were under constant attack.  What made the Comanche stand out from other hostile groups was the level of their violence.  It didn’t matter to the Comanche if one was a Spaniard or the member of a different Indian tribe —everyone who was not a Comanche was the enemy.  The Comanche were mobile and elusive than other Southwest Indians.  They knew where the Apache and Navajo lived; the Apache and Navajo never knew where the Comanche were.

Among European settlers and native Indians alike, the Comanche were a puzzle.  While participating in peaceful trade gatherings with New Mexicans, they concurrently raided other settlements.  At the trade fairs, they would trade or sell their captives and do this while kidnapping others from settlements some distance away.  There was no greater danger to New Mexico settlements than the Comanche Indian.  Literally thousands of Spanish settlers were killed or kidnapped between 1700 and 1850, forcing the abandonment of many settlements.

In 1779, a Spanish expedition of 600 soldiers under Juan Bautista de Anza surprised a Comanche village near Pueblo, Colorado and killed Cuerno Verde (Green Horn), who was one of the most prominent Comanche war chiefs at the time.  This event prompted the Comanche in Colorado and New Mexico to sue for peace.  These Comanche subsequently joined a Spanish and Pueblo force that concentrated on the subjugation of the Apache.  Rather than raiding Spanish settlements in New Mexico, they instead began concentrating their raids in Tejas and Mexico.  Peace with the Comanche in New Mexico stimulated population growth.  Throughout this period, the citizens of New Mexico lavished the Comanche with gifts (bribes) and the peace in New Mexico was maintained until the United States conquered it in 1846.

While peace with the Comanche benefitted New Mexico settlements, it did not protect them from Apache and Navajo raids.  The Navajo were eventually defeated by the United States Army under Colonel Christopher H. “Kit” Carson in 1864, but the Apache did not surrender until 1886.  Anglo-European expansion in the American southwest destroyed Comanche culture by the spread of disease and constant warfare with a white population that could not be stopped [Note 2].

Mexican American War

Following the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836 (a battle that, according to General Sam Houston lasted 18-minutes), President-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was taken prisoner.  On 14 May, Santa Anna and Texas Ad Interim President David G. Burnet signed the Treaties of Velasco.  There were two: The public treaty contained ten articles [Note 3]; a private treaty contained six [Note 4].  Why the Texans felt it necessary to execute two treaties is not well-understood.  In any case, the government of Mexico repudiated Santa Anna’s agreement arguing that as a prisoner of war, he was under duress at the time of his agreement.  Accordingly, hostilities continued to exist after Santa Anna’s release.

Mexican American WarThe admission of Texas into the United States in 1845 prompted the Mexican American War.  On assuming the American presidency in 1845, James K. Polk attempted to secure an agreement with Mexico establishing the boundary at the Rio Grande; he was also interested in the purchase of California.  What Polk (and others) failed to realize was that no Mexican politician could agree to the alienation of any Mexican territory, including Texas.  Frustrated by Mexico’s intransigence, Polk ordered the US Army to advance to the Rio Grande; Mexico viewed this as an act of war. 

At the conclusion of hostilities, Mexico ceded its northern holdings to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.  These holdings included California, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.  The treaty also resolved the question of the border dispute in Texas.  The United States agreed to recognize resident’s claims to lands granted them by right of ancestral and Spanish land grants.

After admission, Texas continued to claim the northeastern portion of New Mexico as part of the state of Texas.  This issue was finally resolved with the Compromise of 1850 when Texas ceded these claims to the United States.  Congress formally established the Territory of New Mexico in September 1850.  At that time, all citizens of New Mexico became citizens of the United States, which the people of New Mexico embraced without any hesitation [Note 5].

The United States gained additional territories in the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 (Southwestern New Mexico and Southern Arizona, south of the Gila River).  The Gadsden Purchase permitted the United States to construct a railroad system in the acquired areas.

Notwithstanding the establishment of the New Mexico Territory, peace did not come to New Mexicans in 1850.  It was an enormous territory that included most of present-day Arizona, New Mexico, and portions of Colorado.  When the Civil War broke out in 1861, New Mexico played a role in the trans-Mississippi theater of operations and both sides in the conflict claimed territorial rights within the territory.  For their part, the Confederacy claimed the southern tract as its own Arizona Territory and waged an ambitious campaign to control the American southwest.  Its goal was to open up a corridor to California.  Confederate assertions were short-lived, however.  The Battle of Glorieta Pass settled the matter in 1862.

(Continued next week)


  1. Brands, H. W.  Dreams of El Dorado.  New York: Hachette Books, 2019
  2. Sanchez, J. P.  New Mexico: A History.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013
  3. Fehrenbach, T. R.  Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.  De Capo Press, 1968, 2000.


  1. Encomienda was a legal system instituted in 1503 in which the Spanish crown defined the status of indigenous populations.  It was based upon the practice of extracting tribute from Muslims and Jews during the Reconquista of Muslim Spain.  An encomienda granted to a Spanish noble (or others) exclusive rights over the land, all of its resources, including human inhabitants, so long as the noble protected these persons and instructed them in the Christian.  An encomienda was not a land grant per se; it was the right to exercise supervisory authority over the land and its people.  It was the duty of the individual who received this grant to make the people and the land productive for the good of the Spanish Crown. 
  2. In 1875, there were only about 1,500 Comanche left alive, which is about the same number of Comanche that live today on the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma —formerly known as Indian Territory.
  3. Summarized, (a) a cessation of hostilities, (b) Mexico would not again take up arms against Texas; (c) the immediate withdrawal of Mexican forces across the Rio Grande; (d) restoration of property confiscated by Mexicans; (e) an exchange of prisoners; (f) Santa Anna’s safe return to Mexico; (g) the Army of Texas would not approach closer than five leagues to retreating Mexican forces.
  4. Summarized, (a) Santa Anna’s liberation on condition that he use his influence to secure from Mexico acknowledgment of Texas Independence; (b) Santa Anna’s promise not to take up arms against Texas; (c) withdrawal of Mexican forces from Texas; (d) Mexico’s acceptance of a Texas mission; (e) to strive for a treaty of commerce; (f) acknowledgement of the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas.
  5. The willingness of Hispanic citizens of New Mexico to join the Union contrasts sharply with Hispanics in South Texas and California, who never accepted the political reality of their citizenship.  Most people living in South Texas and Southern California today continue to regard themselves as citizens of Mexico.
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The Santa Fe Expedition

Lamar’s Folly

Lone Star 001Mirabeau Lama served as the second president of the Republic of Texas.  He had a vision that one day, Texas would extend from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Coast —a somewhat linear projection not unlike the earliest maps depicting the eastern state territories extending from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River (the beginning of Spanish territory).  Lamar was a well-educated man, but also insufferably arrogant.  His hubris may have gotten in the way of common sense when he “unofficially” authorized the Santa Fe Expedition in 1841.  In his mind, the opportunity to transform the Republic of Texas into a continental power was limited; time was of the essence for two reasons: first, to hinder a growing sentiment in Texas to petition the United States for annexation, and second, to defeat the suggestion of other southern states (in connection with the concept of annexation) to break Texas up into (five) smaller states that might be admitted into the Union as slave states [Note 1]. 

Lamar’s intent, in addition to transforming Texas into a continental power, was to develop trade links between Texas and New Mexico, which at the time was still a province of Mexico.  President Lamar had already dispatched commissioners to New Mexico with the hope that these emissaries could demonstrate that New Mexico would fare better under Texas than it could under the flag of Mexico.

The Santa Fe Expedition began on 19 June 1841 from Kenny’s Fort near Austin.  It was a massive train of 21 ox-drawn wagons carrying merchandise worth around a quarter of a million dollars.  Most of the men were merchants, who were promised transportation and protection of their persons and their goods along the expedition’s route of march.  Four Texian emissaries accompanied the train: William G. Cooke, Richard F. Brenham, Jose Antonio Navarro, and George Van Ness.  A military escort of 300 men and a company of artillery served under the command of Hugh Macleod.  The train was poorly prepared and organized from the beginning.  Indian attacks, inadequate supplies, and a dearth of water plagued the expedition from its beginning.  During the journey, their Mexican guide disappeared in the wilderness, which caused the train to lose its way.  Macleod was forced to split his command to create a discovery force to find a proper route to Santa Fe.

The expedition finally arrived in New Mexico in September.  Several scouts were captured by Mexican military units, including Captain William G. Lewis.  Everyone on the expedition was shocked by New Mexico’s hostility; they expected a welcoming committee but were instead met by 1,500 irritated Mexican soldiers.  Apparently, New Mexico’s governor, Manuel Armijo [Note 1] was not happy to receive these Texans and he wanted them to leave.  If the Texians agreed to leave, Governor Armijo would grant them safe passage and an armed escort to the border.  The Texans had little choice in this matter because they were seriously outnumbered by Mexican forces, they were worn out from their journey, their supplies were depleted, and there was no hope for reinforcement from Texas.  These circumstances led the Texians to surrender to Governor Armijo.

By the next morning, however, Governor Armijo had changed his mind.  Armijo’s soldiers arrested the Texians, bound them, abused them, and informed them that their deaths were imminent.  Not everyone in Armijo’s governing council supported execution, however, and the matter was put to a vote.  By a single vote, Armijo’s council decided to spare the Texans from death.  Instead, they were forced to march 2,000 miles from Santa Fe to Mexico City.  Not everyone survived the journey.  Those who did survive were imprisoned at the Perote Prison at Vera Cruz until diplomats from the United States could secure their release —about one year.

By his decision to surrender, the people of Texas reviled Lewis —but his options were nil.  Fighting would have resulted in a second Alamo.  Beyond this, Lewis assumed Governor Armijo was an honorable man and would keep his word.  Taken in context with the dishonor displayed by Mexican officials from 1835-42, this too was a mistake.  Mariano Chaves [Note 2], who had acted as Armijo’s spokesman in brokering the surrender of the Texians, claimed for the balance of his life that he had acted in good faith toward the Texans.  Chaves died in 1845.

Nor were the Texians happy with Mirabeau B. Lamar for authorizing the expedition or for his mishandling the Republic’s economy.  What was proved, however, was that the Republic of Texas lacked the resources needed to control its claimed western territories.  A majority of the people living in Texas were born and raised in the United States, and even though they voluntarily moved to a “new country,” they were idealistically and culturally Americans.  More than anything Sam Houston ever did to persuade Texians to support annexation, Mirabeau Lamar’s arrogant mistake convinced them that it was the sensible thing to do.  Houston was reelected to the office of the Texas presidency in 1841, serving until 1844.  Lamar’s folly brought General Adrian Woll to San Antonio again in 1842 and Houston was forced to deal with yet another Texan-Mexican conflict.  Anson Jones became the fourth and last president of Texas as Texas became the 28th US State, annexed in 1845.

With annexation, the quarrel between Texas and Mexico became a quarrel between Mexico and the United States.  Mexican officials had always believed that the goal of the United States was to steal Texas away from them.  They were probably right about that, but it was Mexico who invited Americans to the Mexican State of Tejas to populate it, settle it, and defend it against the Comanche Indians.  In any case, the treatment of the members of the Santa Fe Expedition while imprisoned added to the animosity between the United States and Mexico over the issue of its territorial border.  What followed in 1846 was the Mexican American War, which lasted until 1848.

The conflict ended in victory for the United States, giving it undisputed control of all lands that up until then had been claimed by Texas.  The issue of adding western territory to the state of Texas was vociferously resisted by the United States Congress and other southern states.  At this time, Sam Houston was serving as a US Senator representing Texas.  As part of the Compromise of 1850, the government of Texas agreed to relinquish its northwestern territorial claims, including Santa Fe.  In exchange, the US government agreed to assume responsibility for the state’s debts; Texas was left in control of its territorial boundaries (which was actually twice the size of the territory it had ever controlled as a republic), and most of the remaining western lands were organized as the Territory of New Mexico.

During the Mexican American War, Governor Armijo surrendered Santa Fe without firing a shot and made a hasty departure for Mexico; Mariano Chaves died in New Mexico in 1845.  After the war, Armijo returned to New Mexico, where he died in 1853.

A final disposition of the lands west of Texas were not settled prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 and because the issues were unsettled, the Confederate States of America attempted to establish control over New Mexico prompted by the arguments previously offered by the Republic of Texas under Mirabeau B. Lamar.  Rebel attempts to seize New Mexico brought that territory back into conflict with Texas.  The issue of Confederate control of New Mexico was resolved at the Battle of Glorieta Pass (26-28 March 1862).


  1. Kendall, G. W.  Narrative of the Texas Santa Fe Expedition: Comprising a Description of a Tour Through Texas and Capture of the Texans.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1844, brokered through Bauman Rare Books, New York, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. [Note 4].
  2. Simmons, M.  The Little Lion of the Southwest: a life of Manuel Antonio Chaves.  Chicago: Swallow Press, 1973.
  3. Connor, S. V.  Perote Prison.  Handbook of Texas Online, 2015.
  4. University of Texas (Austin), Robert D. Phillips (1842-1844), Phillips Family Texan Santa Fe Expedition Letters and Documents.


  1. This effort to attach conditions to the possibility of Texas annexation, which was always the goal of Texas President Sam Houston, serves as an excellent example of repugnant politics in the United States from the very beginning of the United States of America.  In his reaction to such moves, Lamar similarly demonstrates that Texas politicians were themselves inadequate to the needs of their citizens.
  2. Mariano Chaves is often confused with Manuel Antonio Chaves (1818-1889), who was a soldier in the Mexican Army, a New Mexico rancher, and a man known for his courage and marksmanship.  Manuel Antonio Chaves, having proclaimed his loyalty to the United States, participated in the Battle of Glorieta Pass as a lieutenant colonel of US volunteers and helped the Union regain control over the Territory of New Mexico during the American Civil War.
  3. Manuel Armijo (1793-1853) served three times as New Mexico’s governor.  He was instrumental in putting down the revolt of 1837, commanded the force that captured the Santa Fe Expedition, and surrendered to the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican American War (after which New Mexico became a territory of the United States).
  4. George Wilkins Kendall was born in Mount Vernon, New Hampshire in 1809.  He published the first issue of the Picayune of New Orleans in 1837, which was sold for a Picayune (a Spanish coin worth about 6.25 cents).  In 1841, Kendall joined the Santa Fe Expedition as an observer and reporter.  In this capacity, Kendall is today regarded as America’s first war correspondent owing to the expedition and his coverage of the Mexican American War.  After 1855, Kendall resided with his family in New Braunfels and Boerne.  Source: Daughters of the American Revolution, George W. Kendall Chapter, Boerne, Kendall County, Texas.
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Cattle & Cowboys

Texas Longhorn

Texas Longhorn

We’ve all seen the Hollywood recreations of the old west cattle drive.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, moving cattle was part of a major industry in the United States.  The films depict cowboys moving thousands of cattle several hundred to a thousand miles over rough terrain to stockyards or railheads.  The men involved in these drives endure drenching rain, flooded rivers, burning sun, force winds, dark nights, hostile Indians, and in a few instances, cattle rustlers.  The cattle are usually shown as Texas longhorns, a breed of animal that developed from feral Andalusian stock in South Texas.  The longhorn has become a Texas icon.  Today, the Longhorn is a favored mascot of American high-schools and universities —twenty-four in Texas alone— and we find the image or silhouette of the animal’s head depicted on football helmets, t-shirts, and sweaters.  The Texas Longhorn is a symbol of an adventurous period in southwest history; it projects the image of power, strong will, and the fierce independence we most associate with the western pioneer, trail blazer, and six-gun toting, leather chapped cowboy.

The Andalusian cow was brought to the American continent by Spanish settlers 350 years ago.  Living wild in the area of present-day South Texas, the animal developed a body and stubborn temperament that allowed it to survive in the harsh environment of the Texas plain.  The animal has formed a resistance to splenic fever [1], had a high reproductive rate, less muscle fat and less saturated fat than other types of beef.  Its marbled beef (low in cholesterol) made the Longhorn renowned for the quality of its meat, and this made Longhorn beef highly desirable.  In the late 1800s, enterprising ranchers experimented with the Longhorn by mixing it with European beef and American bison.  After 1888, the numbers of Texas Longhorn cattle declined, but when ranchers learned that the Longhorn produced comparably superior beef, efforts were made to reestablish the animal after the 1920s.

Texas Longhorn cattle are a strong and sturdy animal capable of enduring great distances.  They are also known for their aggressive and temperamental character.  No cowpoke wanted to pursue a Longhorn into dense mesquite shrub, particularly if the animal didn’t want to rejoin the herd.  With a horn span measure from four to six feet from tip to tip, many a cowpony and its rider met an unhappy fate from an angry Longhorn.  The Longhorn’s temperament is one reason old west cattle drives were so dangerous.  Herding cattle was far more involved than simply pointing them in a direction and shouting, “git along little doggie.”

Cowboys [2] didn’t all perform the same function on the cattle drive.  Essentially, the various jobs (positions) were trail boss, point rider, swing rider, flank rider, drag rider, wrangler, and cook [3].  An experienced trail boss would have served in all these positions (except cook).  The trail boss was responsible for plotting the day’s course, designating breaks along the way, deciding on watering holes, and the locations of campsites.  He also supervised branding, made decisions about what to do with injured animals, newborn calves, and anyone they met along the trail.

Point riders set the pace for the day and herded the cattle in the direction the trail boss selected.  Long drives and large herds might employ more than a single point rider.  We would find swing riders about a third of the way back in the herd —at least two.  Their job was to keep the herd bunched in transit and to help the point rider turn the herd.  Swing riders were constantly preventing animals from breaking away from the herd.  An animal trying to make a break would be caught and turned back to the herd.  A swing-rider would be called to the point whenever the point rider was called away.  Flank riders (usually two) would ride two-thirds of the way to the back of the herd.  Their main job was to back up the swing rider and keep the herd from fanning out too far in the center of the formation.  Drag rider was the least desired position on the cattle drive. His job was to keep pushing cattle forward and rounding up strays.  Drag riders inhaled the dust kicked up by thousands of cattle —which probably explains the relative short life expectancy of cowhands [4].  The average pay for stockmen working a trail drive ranged from between $120.00 a month (trail boss) to $40.00 a month for the drovers.  The men were paid at the end of the trail drive, when the cattle were sold.

Trail drives took a long time.  Although Longhorn cattle could move 25 miles in a day, such a pace would cause them to lose weight (and lose their value) while on the drive.  To keep the cattle fat, the point man set a pace of between eleven and fifteen miles per day.  After several days of travel, the trail boss would rest the animals for a day or two at a location suitable for grazing and water.  A drive of 1,000 miles would take several months.

There were four primary cattle trails that led from Texas to northern rail heads.  The earliest of these was the Shawnee (1840s-1865), which took an easterly course skirting Oklahoma (Indian territory) and ending in St. Louis, St. Joseph, or Kansas City.  The Goodnight-Loving Trail struck west from Texas to New Mexico, and into Colorado.  Rail heads were located at Pueblo, Colorado and Denver.  Some drives extended into Wyoming.  The Chisolm Trail was a northerly course from Fort Worth through Oklahoma into either Abilene or Ellsworth, Kansas.  The Chisholm Trail was a popular route from around 1867 to 1887.  The last important trail drive was called the Great Western, which began in South Texas into the western edge of Oklahoma, through Kansas, and into Nebraska, popular between 1875 and 1885.  In each case, however, closed ranges made cattle drives increasingly more difficult and set into motion such conflicts as the Fence Cutting Wars [5].

Oliver Loving

Oliver Loving

One of the famous old west trail bosses was a son of Hopkins County, Kentucky —a man named Oliver Loving.  Oliver was born on 4 December 1812.  His parents were Joseph and Susannah (Bourland) Loving.  At the age of 21-years, Oliver was farming in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and did so for ten years.  In 1843, Oliver, his brother, and his brother-in-law relocated to Texas with their families.  In Texas, Oliver acquired 640 acres of land that extended through three counties: Collin, Dallas, and Parker.  He farmed that land to feed his growing family and earned extra money hauling freight.  He was married to Susan Doggett Morgan Loving, whom he married in 1833.  They were still married when he died in 1867.

Parker County TX

Location of Parker County, Texas

In 1855, Oliver established a cattle ranch along the Keechi Creek in present-day Palo Pinto County.  At the same time, he opened a general store in Parker County [6] in a town that would become known as Weatherford, Texas.  The ranch was a successful enterprise; by 1857, Oliver Loving owned a thousand acres and a sizeable herd of cattle.  He drove some number of these out of Texas and, at the same time, he entrusted his 19-year old son Joseph to drive an additional number of his and his neighbor’s cattle to Illinois via the Shawnee Trail.  Loving’s profit was $36 per head, successful enough that he repeated the drive in 1858 in a partnership with John Durkee.

In 1860, Loving teamed up with John Dawson and started a herd of 1,500 cattle toward Denver, Colorado (roughly 800 miles) where cattle were in high demand to feed prospectors and miners.  After selling off the herd, Loving intended to return to his home in Texas, but by then the Civil War had broken out and Union authorities initially prevented him from doing so.  With the intervention of Colonel Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson [7], Loving was eventually allowed to return to his home.  Back in Texas, Loving accepted a commission to provide beef to the Confederate States Army.  At the end of the war, the confederacy owed Loving around $200,000.00 —which he never collected.  In the post-war period (1865-66), Loving suffered financially, along with other Texas cattlemen; they had more cattle than they could sell in the face of diminished markets.

Charles Goodnight

Charles Goodnight

In 1866, Loving learned that there was a demand for cattle at Fort Sumner, New Mexico where 8,000 reservation-bound Indians were in desperate need of meat.  Loving assembled a herd, combined it with that of Charlie Goodnight [8], and began the long drive to Fort Sumner.  This route later became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.  The drive of these 2,000 cattle to Fort Sumner netted Loving and Goodnight $12,000 in gold.  Goodnight remained in the New Mexico territory while Loving moved unsold cattle to Denver, Colorado.

Goodnight and Loving reunited in southern New Mexico and formed a partnership with John Chisum [9] at Bosque Grande in the New Mexico Territory, some 40 miles south of Fort Sumner.  John Chisum’s sister Nancy was married to Loving’s cousin, B. F. Bourland.  The three men spent the winter of 1866-67 at Chisum’s ranch, providing cattle to Fort Sumner and Santa Fe.

John S. Chisum

John S. Chisum

In the Spring of 1867, Loving and Goodnight returned to Texas with plans to begin a new drive.  Once the cattle were formed, however, heavy rains and Indian hostilities slowed their progress across the southern plain.  Loving rode ahead of the herd to arrange contract bidding, taking with him an experienced point man and scout called One-arm Bill Wilson.  Given the presence of hostiles, Wilson advised Loving to proceed at night, but Loving insisted that they push on during the day.

Several days later, a Comanche war party attacked Loving and Wilson at a bend on the Pecos River.  While killing several of their attackers, Loving received a serious wound in his arm during the initial engagement.  A lethal standoff then began that would last five days.  In the dead of night on the second day, Loving sent Wilson into the river to escape the Indians with the expectation that Wilson would be able to reach the Goodnight camp and bring reinforcements.  Although successfully holding off the Indians, Loving experienced high fever and a substantial loss of blood.  He finally slipped into the river and made his escape.  After a few days on foot, Loving was discovered by Mexican traders, who transported him to Fort Sumner.

Wilson made it back to Goodnight on foot, starving and dehydrated.  After Wilson reported the incident, Charlie proceeded immediately to Fort Sumner where he found Loving in the care of an alcoholic army medical doctor.  Despite the urgings of Goodnight and Wilson, the surgeon refused to undertake the amputation of Loving’s gangrenous arm.  Before Oliver Loving died on 25 September 1867, Goodnight promised to return his body to Texas.  Before he could do that, though, Goodnight had to finish driving the cattle to Colorado. Goodnight had Loving’s wooden casket set inside a metal container fashioned from 42-gallon capacity oil drums, packed it with charcoal, and temporarily buried him at Fort Sumner.  As promised, and with the assistance of Oliver’s son Joseph, Charlie Goodnight returned Loving’s remains to Weatherford for burial.  Oliver Loving was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery on 4 March 1868.

The story of Oliver Loving and Charlie Goodnight formed the basis of author/screen writer Larry McMurtry’s popular series, Lonesome Dove, published in 1985 with a television miniseries following in 1994.  The miniseries starred Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall.  Jones’ character was Woodrow F. Call (a Charlie Goodnight type character) while Duvall played Augustus McCrae, who was in many ways like the real Oliver Loving.  Incorporating the reality of western life, Lonesome Dove may be the best western fiction ever written.


  1. Skaggs, J. M. The Cattle-Trailing Industry: Between Supply and Demand, 1876-1890.  University of Kansas Press, 1973.
  2. Dykstra, R. R. The Cattle Towns.  University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
  3. Handbook of Texas Online, Donald E. Worcester: “Longhorn Cattle”; “Chisholm Trail”.
  4. Worcester, D. E. The Chisholm Trail.  University of Nebraska Press, 1980.
  5. Adams, A. The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days.  Houghton, Mifflin, 1903 (available online).
  6. Johnson, F. W. Oliver Loving: Texas Cattleman.  A History of Texas and Texans, Volume V, American Historical Society, 1916
  7. Hedstrom-Page, D. From Ranch to Railhead with Charles Goodnight.  B&H Publishing Group, 2007.
  8. Caldwell, C. R. John Simpson Chisum, The Cattle King of the Pecos Revisited.  Santa Fe: Sunstone Books, 2010.


[1] Splenic fever (also known as anthrax) is a serious bacterial infection common to cattle, sheep, horses, mules, and other feral animals.

[2] A word re-invented by Hollywood film producers.  In the mid-1800s, the term “cowboy” had a derogative meaning, something on the order of scoundrel, saddle tramp, thug, gangster, thief, murderer, and terrorist.  People who worked with cattle were referred to as cowpokes, cowmen, cowhands, stockmen, or drovers.  A drover would take offense to anyone referring to him as a cowboy.

[3] According to scholars of the old west, the trail-drive cook was far different from how he is portrayed in Hollywood films, which is usually a feeble old man who is an unreliable flake.  In truth, the camp cook was one of the toughest hands on the cattle drive.  He was the first to awaken to prepare breakfast, and the last to bed down at night.  The chuck wagon didn’t follow the herd, it led the herd and set up the camp site in advance of the herd’s arrival.  If an animal required butchering, the cook did it.  It also helped if he could prepare good food.  The cook was also in charge of ammunition storage, toolbox, cash, and medical supplies.  In ranking, the cook was second only to the trail boss, whom he would replace if necessary.

[4] Some scholars say that the average life-expectancy of old west cowhands was 24-27 years.  Many of these fellows died from falling from their horses.

[5] See also: The Texas Fence Cutting Wars; Ira Aten, Texas Ranger.

[6] Parker County was established in 1855, named in honor of Isaac Parker, a member of the Texas legislature, veteran of the War of 1812 who later served Texas in the Texas Brigade during the Civil War.  The county seat is Weatherford, named in honor of State Senator Thomas J. Weatherford.

[7] For additional information on Kit Carson, see: The First Battle of Adobe Wells.

[8] Scholars suggest that Charlie Goodnight was a real-life composite of every character ever played by the popular western actor John Wayne.  He was rugged, quiet, hard-working, accomplished, and despite a preference of justice over the rule of law, a good and decent man.  Before the Civil War, Goodnight worked as a cowhand, fought Comanche in a local militia, and served as a Texas Ranger.  Among his many accomplishments, Charlie Goodnight invented the chuck wagon.  Before then, cowhands carried their food in their saddlebags.

[9] John Chisum was another character played on screen by actor John Wayne.  In real life, Chisum arrived in Texas in 1837, started a cattle ranch in 1854, and was the first rancher to drive large herds of cattle into the New Mexico Territory.  His ranch at Bosque Grande was situated along the Pecos River.  He eventually owned about 100,000 head of cattle, prompting him to form a partnership with Oliver Loving and Charlie Goodnight.  Chisum was involved with Alexander McSween in the Lincoln County War in 1878 and an opponent of the famed William F. Bonney (a.k.a. Billy the Kid).

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Wyatt Earp

Born on 19 March 1848, he was named Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp in honor of his father’s commanding officer during the Mexican American War.  He was the fourth child of Nicholas Porter Earp and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey.  Altogether, Wyatt had seven siblings and a half-brother (Newton) from his father’s first marriage.

Sometime between 1849-1850, Nicholas joined with about a hundred others looking to relocate to San Bernardino County, California, where he intended to purchase farmland.  While not having a precise record of this, it is a reasonable assumption that Nicholas journeyed to California before deciding to risk any capital investment.  In any case, the Earps began their journey but were interrupted in their travels at Monmouth, Illinois when the child Martha became ill.  Ultimately, Nicholas bought a 160-acre plot of land just outside Pella, Iowa.  Martha eventually died there on 26 May 1856.

In November 1861, Newton, James, and Virgil enlisted in the Union Army.  At the time, their father was a provost marshal, recruiter, and drilling officer of local companies.  This left Wyatt, Morgan, and Warren behind to maintain the farm.  Before the end of the Civil War, Nicholas Earp organized a wagon train and headed off to San Bernardino, California.  The company arrived in mid-December of that year.  Virgil Earp arrived in the fall of 1865 and found work as a stagecoach driver and cargo-hauler.  Wyatt Earp became his older brother’s assistant.  Beginning in 1866, however, Wyatt drove cargo wagons between Wilmington-San Bernardino-Las Vegas-Salt Lake City.

In the spring of 1868, the Earp family moved east once more to Lamar, Missouri with Wyatt joining them the following year.  Nicholas Earp became the local constable, later being elected Justice of the Peace.  Wyatt replaced his father as the town constable.

Wyatt Earp c. 1869

Wyatt Earp c. 1869

Wyatt Earp began courting 20-year old Urilla Sutherland (1849-70), the daughter of a hotel owner in Lamar.  Wyatt and Urilla were married by Nicholas Earp on 10 January 1870.  Wyatt purchased a lot just outside town and by August of that year, Wyatt had built their home.  Urilla died of Typhoid fever while carrying their child, an event that caused Wyatt to enter a period of severe depression, exacerbated by too much drink.  Pouring gasoline on the fire, Barton County, Missouri sued Wyatt alleging that he’d skimmed money collected for tax revenues.  James Cromwell (a taxpayer) also sued Wyatt for similar reasons.

In 1871, Edward Kennedy and John Shown were charged with stealing two horses from William Keyes, the value of the horses set at $100.00 each.  Deputy US Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for theft of horses and he was arraigned later that month; bail was set at $500.  Indictments were handed down against Earp, Kennedy, and Shown.  John Shown’s wife Anna claimed that Earp and Kennedy had gotten her husband drunk and threatened his life to get him to help them in the theft of the animals.  Edward Kennedy was acquitted, but the case against Earp and Shown remained.  Earp decided not to wait for trial and escaped from jail.

Accounts of his life are confused at this point; some claim that he went to Peoria, Illinois, where he lived in the home of Jane Haspel.  Another assertion is that he headed west to hunt buffalo in the winter of 1871-72.  Available evidence suggests he went to Peoria, because when police raided Haspel’s home, they arrested four women and Wyatt, Morgan, and a man named George Randall.  The Earps and Randall were charged with operating a house of ill-repute and upon conviction, were fined $20 each.  Wyatt and Morgan were again arrested for the same offense in May, this time being fined $44.55 each.  Finally, in September 1872, Wyatt was again arrested while aboard a floating brothel registered in his name, which he named the Beardstown Gunboat.  A young woman named Sally Heckell was arrested with him and charged with prostitution, but she claimed to be Mrs. Wyatt Earp.  Sally may have been the daughter of Jane Haspel.  In the view of most citizens in Peoria, Wyatt Earp was a “bummer,” a word used to describe a contemptible loafer.  It is likely that Wyatt Earp, at this time in his life, was little more than a pimp.

In early 1874, Wyatt and Sally moved to Wichita, Kansas where his brother James operated a brothel.  Police records reflect that from 1874-76, Sally and James’ wife Nellie (Bessie) Ketchum had a controlling hand in the whore house.  Some have suggested that Wyatt and James were pimps for their wives; others contend that Wyatt was probably a “bouncer,” paid to keep order in this place of entertainment.  There is no record of Sally after 1875.

Wichita, Kansas was a cow town.  Drunken armed cowboys would fill the town in celebration of the end to long and tedious cattle drives.  Drunken cowhands meant busy police officers.  Wyatt Earp was hired as a Wichita Deputy Marshal on 21 April 1875.  Of course, an absence of cowhands meant that the lawmen were idle and needed something else to do which may explain why lawmen such as Earp often found additional work as faro dealers in local saloons.  Earp’s employment as a lawman ended a year later when former lawman Bill Smith publicly accused Earp of trying to use his position to hire his brothers as city police officers.  Earp bested Smith in a fist fight but ended up paying a fine of $30.  On 2 April 1876, the Wichita city council voted against re-hiring Earp as a deputy marshal.  Earp moved on to Dodge City, where brother James had opened a new brothel.  In Dodge City, there was no such thing as too many brothels.

Deadwood C. 1876

Deadwood, Dakota Territory c. 1876

Dodge City, Kansas evolved into a major hub for cattle drives from Texas.  In May 1876, Earp was hired as Assistant Marshal under Lawrence Deger, but soon departed with brother Morgan for the boomtown of Deadwood in the Dakota territory.  Upon arrival, the Earps learned that all the land that might be suitable for mining or prospecting was already claimed.  Pictured left, Deadwood in 1876 was little more than a slum and it didn’t take the Earp brothers long to decide to return to “civilized” Dodge City.  Morgan returned alone, Wyatt hauled firewood to mining camps during the winter of 1876-77 (earning around $5,000); he returned to Dodge City in the spring of 1877.

Arriving back in Dodge City, Wyatt re-joined the police force.  In October, “Dirty” Dave Rudabaugh [1] robbed a Santa Fe Railroad camp and fled to the south.  Wyatt received a temporary commission as a Deputy US Marshal to pursue him.  The search for Rudabaugh took Wyatt over 400 miles to Fort Clark and Fort Griffin in Texas.

At the frontier town of Clear Fork (along the Brazos River), Wyatt made inquiries at the Beehive Saloon, an establishment owned by John Shanssey [2], whom Wyatt had known for several years.  Shanssey informed Wyatt that Rudabaugh had passed through Clear Fork earlier that week but had no knowledge of where he’d gone.  Shanssey suggested that Earp check with a gambler by the name of John H. Holliday (known as Doc) since he might know something.  Holliday informed Wyatt that Rudabaugh had returned to Kansas.  Wyatt telegraphed this information to the Ford County Sheriff, Bat Masterson, and Rudabaugh was soon taken into custody.

After Wyatt returned to Dodge City, he was re-appointed as an assistant town marshal under Marshal Charlie Bassett.  “Doc” Holliday and his common-law wife, Mary Katherine Cummings (a.k.a. Big Nose Kate [3]) arrived in Dodge City during the summer of 1878.  This was the summer Ed Morrison and two dozen cowboys rode into Dodge City and shot up the town.  Morrison and several of his boys entered the Long Branch Saloon, vandalized the place, and bullied its customers.  Upon hearing the commotion, Wyatt Earp burst through the door to find numerous guns pointed in his direction.  Holliday was playing cards in the back of the saloon, unseen or ignored by Morrison.  Holliday put his pistol against Morrison’s head and forced him and his men to disarm.  Wyatt credited Doc Holliday with saving his life on that day and from that that point forward, the two men became close friends.

Mattie BlaylockAlso, while in Dodge City, Wyatt became acquainted with James and Bat Masterson, the gunman Luke Short, and a woman named Mattie Blaylock (shown right).  Mattie became Wyatt’s common law wife for about three years.  Manic-depressive, Mattie later killed herself by overdosing on laudanum (an opium derivative).

Early in the morning of 26 July, George Hoyt and other drunken cowhands began shooting their weapons wildly in the streets adjacent to the Comique Theater.  Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson (along with a few other citizens) responded by firing at the fleeing horsemen.  Hoyt and his boys crossed the Arkansas River south of town, but Hoyt fell from his horse wounded.  He later died from gangrene after his leg was amputated.  According to some stories, Hoyt was killed by Wyatt Earp, but in a situation where several men were firing their weapons at fleeing cowboys, it would be impossible to know which of the shootists hit Hoyt.

By 1879, Dodge City began to quiet down.  Virgil Earp, who was working as the town constable in Prescott, Arizona, wrote to his brothers in Kansas and told them about “opportunities” in a new boomtown called Tombstone.  Wyatt resigned from the police force in September 1879 and, with Mattie, James, and Bessie, traveled to Las Vegas, New Mexico.  There, Wyatt reunited with Doc Holliday and the three men (with their women) proceeded to Prescott, Arizona.  Three days before leaving for Tombstone (280 miles away), Virgil Earp received an appointment as Deputy US Marshal for the eastern district of Pima County.  Virgil, Wyatt, James and their wives finally arrived in Tombstone on 1 December 1879.  Doc Holliday remained in Prescott where he was making good money from gambling.

At the time of the Earp’s arrival in Tombstone, the population of the town was around 1,000 people.  The town had only been in existence for nine months, starting off with around 100 residents.  Initially, Wyatt had visions of starting a stagecoach line out of Tombstone, but upon arrival, he discovered that there were already two such businesses.  He turned to gambling as a faro dealer for his income.  Virgil, Wyatt, and James partnered with Robert J. Winders to establish the Mountain Maid Mine and purchased an interest in the Vizina Mine.  They also purchased water rights on Goose Flats.  None of these investments proved productive so the Earp brothers were forced to find other sources of income.  James became a barkeep; Wyatt found work with Wells Fargo and worked with Fred J. Dodge as a shotgun messenger.  Morgan and Warren arrived in Tombstone late in 1880.  When Doc Holliday arrived in September 1880 he was in possessions of winnings of around $40,000 (approximately 1.1 million dollars today).

For a summary of events leading up to confrontations with the Cochise County Cowboys, see The Cowboy Wars.

In late July 1880, Wyatt Earp was hired as a deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County, Arizona —which, at the time, included Tombstone.  Morgan replaced Wyatt as a shotgun messenger with Wells Fargo.  Wyatt’s position was a good one because the deputy sheriff, in addition to earning a salary, was entitled to a around 10% of taxes and fees collected.  Scholars estimate that Wyatt was making around $40,000 annually in this position —and all Wyatt had to do to obtain this kind of income was to play along with the political infrastructure of southeast Arizona.

Late-night drunks, who for some reason enjoyed firing their weapons into the air inside the town limits, caused town Marshal Fred White to confront these cowhands.  On one particular night, Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp was in the Owens Saloon.  Although unarmed, he heard the discharge of firearms and, borrowing a pistol from Fred Dodge, ran to the scene.  Town Marshal White, in the process of trying to disarm Curly Bill Brocius, had been shot in the groin.  Arriving at the scene of the shooting, Earp clubbed Brocius with his borrowed pistol, knocking him to the ground.  Brocius appeared unaware of what had happened.  Nevertheless, Wyatt took him into custody.  According to Fred Dodge, who witnessed the incident, “Wyatt’s coolness and nerve never showed to a better advantage than they did that night.  When Morg[an] and I reached him, Wyatt was squatted on his heels beside Curly Bill and Fred White.  Curly Bill’s friends were pot-shooting at him in the dark.  The shooting was lively, and slugs were hitting the chimney and cabin.  In all that racket, Wyatt’s voice was even and quiet, as usual.”

Brocius, on the advice of counsel, waived his right to a preliminary hearing so that his case could be transferred to the Tucson District Court.  Virgil and Wyatt escorted Brocius to the Tucson court to stand trial.  Moving Brocius probably saved him from being lynched in Tombstone because Fred White was popular among the residents of Tombstone. White died two days later, aged 31 years.

In December 1880, Wyatt Earp testified that the shooting of Marshal White was accidental, a claim substantiated by a qualified gunsmith and the deathbed statement of Fred White.  Curly Bill Brocius, while released by the court, remained angry at Wyatt Earp for being pistol whipped.  This inscident made Wyatt Earp a sworn enemy of the gunman Curly Bill Brocius.

At the time, Wyatt’s boss was Pima County Sheriff Charles Shibell, a Democrat who enjoyed the overwhelming support of The Cowboys.  In the election of 1880, Robert H. Paul announced his candidacy for sheriff as a Republican.  Paul had previously served as a county sheriff in California.  In the San Simon/Cienega voting precinct, Shibell won 103 votes.  What made this an interesting result was that there were only 15 registered voters living in that precinct.  Bob Paul suspected (with good reason) that there was some ballot-stuffing going on in the election; he contested Shibell’s victory.  In time, Shibell’s election was overturned.  But in the meantime, Wyatt Earp resigned as undersheriff as a protest to Shibell’s reelection.  The vacancy created by Earp’s resignation cause Sheriff Shibell to appoint fellow Democrat Johnny Behan as Earp’s replacement.

Three months later, the eastern section of Pima County was broken up to form Cochise County and Johnny Behan, with all his political connections (two terms in the Territorial Legislature) (friend and business partner of the well-connected John Dunbar) received the governor Fremont’s appointment as Cochise County Sheriff.  Wyatt Earp wanted the job but had no worthwhile political connections.  Behan’s appointment did nothing to improve his relationship with the Earp clan.

Events through 1881 increased tensions between the Earps and the Cowboys (Clanton’s and McLaury’s).  When Cowboys attempted to rob the Kinnear stage on 15 March, popular stage driver Bud Philpot was killed along with a passenger named Pete Roerig.  An Earp posse (which included Johnny Behan) tracked down Luther King, who admitted to participating in the robbery as a “horse holder.”  He identified Bill Leonard, Harry Head, and Jim Crain as his cohorts.  All three men were members of the Cowboys.  King was arrested and Behan escorted him to the Tombstone jail.  Within mere moments of King’s arrival in Tombstone, he escaped jail and fled to parts unknown.  The implication was that Behan “let him go.”  When the Earp posse finally returned from their manhunt on 1 April (empty handed), Behan informed them of King’s escape and, at the same time, refused to reimburse them for their trouble.  It was a incident that added to the already existing bad feelings between the Earps, Behan, and his Cowboy friends.

In September 1881, the Cowboys robbed the Sandy Bob stage.  The holdup men were identified as sheriff’s deputies Frank Stilwell and Pete Spence (who were also business partners).  When two of Behan’s deputies were implicated, Behan stated that he’d fired these men before the robbery.  Judge Wells Spicer set their bail at $7,000 each; both men arranged bail and were released.  In those days, $7,000. was a tremendous sum of money.

On 13 October, Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp rearrested Stilwell and Spence, charging them with violating a new law —that of interfering with a mail carrier.  The new arrest was mischaracterized in the local press, which reported that Stilwell and Spence were arrested and charged with another stagecoach robbery in nearby Contention on 8 October.  The erroneous press report convinced The Cowboys that the Earps were harassing them.  Frank McLaury approached Morgan Earp and warned him that the McLaury brothers would kill the Earps if they ever tried to arrest any of The Cowboys again.  This warning came two weeks before the gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Despite overwhelming evidence in court that Stilwell and Spence were the culprits behind the Sandy Bob robbery, the court found no direct tie connecting them to the September robbery.  Both men were released from pre-trial confinement.

For a summary of the gunfight at O.K. Corral, see The Cowboy War.

On 30 October, Ike Clanton filed murder charges against Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday.  Judge Wells Spicer opened a preliminary inquiry the next day.  Lasting for well over a month, Spicer took written and oral testimony from 30 witnesses.  Sheriff Behan testified that The Cowboys had thrown up their hands and opened their coats to prove that they were unarmed.  He also claimed that the first two shots were fired by the Earp posse, and that the first of these were fired by Doc Holliday using his nickel platted revolver.  Other witnesses reported that Doc Holliday was carrying a messenger shotgun when the gunfight broke out.  Wyatt testified that he drew out his weapon only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury went for their pistols.  Judge Spicer eventually ruled that the Earp posse acted within the law and dismissed the case.  The Cowboys promised revenge for the killings of 26 October 1881.

After the assassination attempt on Virgil’s life (where he was seriously wounded), Wyatt Earp wired Territorial US Marshal Crawley Dake and requested an appointment as Deputy US Marshal, replacing Virgil, with authority to select his own deputies.  Dake granted the request in late January 1882 and provided Wyatt with funds borrowed from Wells Fargo.  By this time, the Earps were under considerable pressure from The Cowboys and their local sympathizers.  After consulting with Virgil, Wyatt Earp resigned as a Deputy US Marshal on 2 February.  Crawley Dake refused to accept Wyatt’s resignation, however, and ordered him instead to “arrest all parties committing crimes against the United States.”

Wyatt Earp sought and received arrest warrants from Judge William H. Stilwell (no relation to Frank Stilwell) for the arrest of the men he believed were responsible for the shooting of Virgil Earp.  Judge Stilwell was one among many Tombstone residents who were unhappy with Sheriff Behan’s failure to curtail the terrorism of the Cowboy organization.

On January 17, Johnny Ringo and Doc Holliday traded threats.  Both men were arrested by James Flynn, then serving at Tombstone’s city marshal.  Both men were fined and released, but Ringo was rearrested and jailed for an outstanding warrant on a charge of robbery in Galeyville.

Less than a week later, Wyatt organized a posse consisting of brothers Morgan and Warren, Doc Holliday, “Texas Jack” Vermillion and four other men, and led them to Charleston, Arizona where Wyatt suspected that he might find Ike and Phin Clanton and the outlaw Pony Diehl [4].  Johnny Ringo, who was still in jail, learned of the posse and arranged with Sheriff Behan to post bail.  Behan released Ringo before the bail money was paid, and he headed straight for Charleston to warn his friends.

En route to Charleston, the Earp posse picked up an additional 30 riders from Tombstone.  Outside Charleston, the posse arrested known Cowboy associate Ben Maynard.  The posse soon took over the town and started a door-to-door search for the Clanton’s and Diehl, but Ringo had beat them to the punch and the three wanted men fled the town.  Ultimately, Earp re-arrested Ringo.  The next morning, Earp directed a search of the surrounding countryside.  The search was halted when a Tombstone deputy arrived with a warrant for the arrest of Sherman McMaster, alleging that he stole two horses from the Contention mining camp.  The posse returned to Tombstone where McMaster posted bail.

Ike and Phin Clanton surrendered to Wells Fargo agent Charley Bartholomew on 30 January and was placed in the Tombstone City Jail.  After being locked up, the Clanton’s were surprised to learn that the warrant was not for armed robbery, as they thought, but rather for the attempted murder of Virgil Earp.  Ike Clanton’s hat had been found at the scene of the shooting and Sherman McMaster testified that he had heard Ike talk about the shooting in Charleston.  According to McMaster, when Ike learned that Virgil had survived, he said that he would have to go back and do it again.  However, Ike and Phin’s lawyer produced seven witnesses who testified that the Clanton’s had been in Charleston the entire night.

After dismissing the charges for lack of evidence, Judge Stilwell called Wyatt aside and told him, “… you’ll never clean up this crowd this way; next time, you’d better leave your prisoners in the brush where alibis don’t count.”

Ike Clanton refiled murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday (who was then in Contention, Arizona) … but when he could not provide any new evidence, the charges were dismissed.  Meanwhile, Wyatt’s legal fees were adding up.  In mid-February, he mortgaged his home to pay his attorney, James G. Howard.

Morgan Earp was murdered on 18 March 1882.  Wyatt remembered the advice offered to him by Judge Stilwell and decided to take matters into his own hands.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp c. 1886

On 20 March, Deputy US Marshal Wyatt Earp formed a posse consisting of James and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, Charlie Smith, Dan Tipton, and Texas Jack Vermillion to protect his family and pursue Morgan’s assassins.  Earp promised to pay these men $5.00 a day.  They escorted Morgan’s body to the railhead in Benson, Arizona where James would accompany the remains to the family home in Colton, California.  The posse then provided a guard for Virgil and Allie Earp to the passenger depot in Tucson.

Wyatt had been informed that Frank Stilwell and others were waiting to ambush Virgil in Tucson.  The next morning after Virgil’s departure, Stilwell’s body was discovered alongside the rail tracks riddled with buckshot and numerous gunshot wounds.  Wyatt and five other federal deputies were promptly indicted for murdering Stilwell.  Tucson Justice of the Peace Charlie Meyer issued arrest warrants.

The Earp posse returned to Tombstone where Sheriff Behan attempted to take them into custody, but Earp brushed him aside.  Warren Earp and Charlie Smith remained in Tombstone while the rest of the posse headed for Pete Spence’s wood camp in the Dragoon Mountain area.  Spence wasn’t present, but the posse located and killed Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz.  Two days later, the posse stumbled into the wood camp of Curly Bill Brocius, Pony Diehl, and several other Cowboys near Iron Springs in the Whetstone Mountains.

Both sides opened fire almost simultaneously.  The Earp posse withdrew to find cover … but Wyatt and Texas Jack advanced on the Cowboy’s positions.  Curly Bill fired at Wyatt with a shotgun but missed.  Wyatt returned fire with his own shotgun hitting Curly Bill in the chest from about 50 feet in distance, killing him instantly.  Wyatt then unholstered his revolver and shot Johnny Barnes and Milt Hicks.  Despite the intense gunfire, Wyatt who was not hit, added to his mystique as a western hero.

After the Iron Springs fight, the Earp posse rode north to the Percy Ranch, run by Hugh and Jim Percy.  Fearing retribution by the Cowboys, the Percy’s asked Wyatt to move on, which he did.  On 27 March, the Earp posse arrived at the Sierra Bonita Ranch, owned by Henry Hooker, who befriended Wyatt and provisioned him with fresh horses —refusing payment for them.  Meanwhile, Behan’s posse, acting on the Tucson indictments, searched for Earp and his group of federal deputies.  Hooker advised Wyatt to make a stand at his ranch, but Earp elected to move his men to a point three miles further on near Reilly Hill.  Behan never located Earp’s posse.  In mid-April, Earp left Arizona and headed into New Mexico and then to Colorado.

All told, Earp and his men killed Frank Stilwell, Curly Bill Brocius, Indian Charlie, and Johnny Barnes within a two-week period.  There may have been more assassination.  In 1888, Wyatt Earp gave an interview to historian Hubert Howe Bancroft and admitted to killing “over a dozen” stagecoach robbers, murderers, and cattle thievesc[5].

The gunfight at O.K. Corral lasted less than 30 seconds.  Virgil, not Wyatt, oversaw the posse in Tombstone.  Wyatt Earp’s vengeance ride lasted less than two weeks —and yet, these two events defined Wyatt Earp for the rest of his life.  After killing Stilwell in Tucson, Wyatt Earp received his fifteen minutes of fame in the press.  However, most of Wyatt’s fame came to him after his death in 1929 (a mere sixteen years before my birth).  During his life, he associated with some of the Old West’s greatest personalities: Luke Short, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Texas Jack Vermillion, Sherman McMaster, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, Shotgun John Collins, and Charlie Bassett.  None of these men were “wholesome” Americans, but they were part of the fabric of America’s western history.

What (most) people may not know about Wyatt Earp is that in 1910, aged 62-years, he and Arthur Moore King worked for the Los Angeles Police Department as bounty hunters, apprehending and returning to US jurisdiction, men wanted for crimes committed in Los Angeles.  In this endeavor, Earp and Moore were quite efficient.  It was also a position that led to Wyatt’s final armed confrontation.

In October 1910, Los Angeles Police Commissioner H. L. Lewis asked Wyatt to head up a posse to protect surveyors of the American Trona Company, who were attempting to gain control of mining claims of potash [6] on the edge of Searles Lake.  Wyatt and his posse were regarded as claim jumpers and found themselves facing armed representatives of the other company.  With guns pulled and ready to fire, Wyatt Earp emerged from his tent armed with a Winchester rifle and fired a round at the feet of Federal Receiver Stafford W. Austin.  “Back off, or I’ll blow you apart … or my name isn’t Wyatt Earp.”  Of course, this isn’t how S. Wallace Austin remembered it in 1929, after Earp’s death.  Well, he was there as the Acting Receiver of the Trona Company, so he ought to know.  The owners summoned the US Marshal, who arrested Earp and 27 others, holding them in “contempt of court.”  Earp’s involvement did not resolve the mining dispute, which eventually led to the potash wars of the Mojave Desert.

Wyatt Earp c. 1928

Wyatt Earp c. 1928

According to a letter Wyatt wrote to John Hays Hammond in 1925, “notoriety had been the bane of my life.”  This may be a true sentiment in the same sense that men having distinguished themselves in combat do not wish for people to refer to them as heroes.  Men like Wyatt Earp —rightly or wrongly— became the heroes of young boys, and this in turn without anyone ever being aware of it, may have been a catalyst for an interest in law enforcement when the boys grew into men.  Still, Mr. Earp may have been coy because according to writer Allen Barra [7], Wyatt had ambitions with the Hollywood cinema crowd.

At this late stage in his life, he and Josie Earp were financially stressed living in run-down apartments.  Among Wyatt’s long-term friends was the famous lawman Bill Tilghman.  Earp and Tilghman worked together in the Dodge City days and in 1915 Tilghman managed to obtain financial backing for a film that he both directed and starred in.  In 1920, Tilghman was back seeking support from Universal and dropped in to visit with Earp.

Another of Earps friends was William S. Hart —the Gary Cooper of his own day.  Wyatt infrequently functioned as an unpaid consultant for silent-film era western films and Hart was known as a stickler for realistic detail.  Wyatt also befriended Tom Mix and visited the movie sets of director John Ford whose primary film star (before John Wayne) was Harry Carey.  These associations cause one to wonder, if Earp shunned notoriety, why was he so interested in the film industry?

Earp's last home

Wyatt Earp’s last home still stands in Los Angeles, California

Wyatt was the last surviving Earp brother and last surviving participant of the Gunfight at O. K. Corral.  He died at his home at 4004 W. 17th Street, Los Angeles, California on January 13, 1929.  There is some debate as to the cause of his death, but he was 80 years old.  In 1887, the Los Angeles Herald described Earp as, “quiet, unassuming, broad-shouldered, with a large blonde mustache.  He is dignified, self-contained, game and fearless, and no man commands greater respect.”  That’s the way people remember him today, as well–including me.


  1. The Eastern Earps, Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun, 10 May 2005.
  2. Isenberg, A. C.Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life.  Macmillan, 2013.
  3. Eppinga, J.  Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
  4. Guinn, J.The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at O.K. Corral and How it Change the American West.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011
  5. Marks, P.M.And Die in the West.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996
  6. Johnson, D.John Ringo.  Stillwater, OK.  Barbed Wire Press, 1996.
  7. Tefertiller, C.Wyatt Earp: the Life behind the Legend.  New York, Wiley Press, 1999


[1] See They Were All Dirty.

[2] Shanssey (1848-1919) was a professional boxer, gambler, saloon owner, and a mayor of Yuma, Arizona.

[3] It is likely that Wyatt Earp knew Kate before she took up with Doc Holliday.  Born sometime in 1850 in Hungary, Kate’s father was a physician serving Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.  When Maximilian was deposed, the family moved to Davenport, Iowa.  In 1865, both her parents passed away leaving her and sister Wilhelmina orphans and the children were placed in a foster home.  Kate ran away with the help of a boat captain, later marrying Silas Melvin, a dentist with whom she had a child.  Kate lost her husband and child to yellow fever.  In 1869, she began working as a prostitute in St. Louis.  In 1874, she worked for Nellie “Bessie” Earp, James’ wife in Dodge City.  It is likely that Wyatt knew her in this capacity.

[4] Charles “Pony Diehl” Ray (b. 1848) was a ruthless outlaw known to affiliate with the John Kinney and Jesse Evans gangs.  Pony Diehl participated in the murder of (possibly) three soldiers in a saloon in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  In 1876 he participated in cattle rustling and armed robbery and supported the Murphy-Dolan faction in the Lincoln County War.  Arriving in Arizona in 1878, he joined The Cowboys and may have participated in several robberies and cattle rustling expeditions in the Arizona Territory.  Diehl was suspected of participating in the assassination attempt of Virgil Earp on the night of 28 December 1881.

[5] Setting aside the fact that Wyatt Earp relished his history as a lawman, and the likelihood that he embellished some of his exploits, there is plenty of reason to believe that he was capable of exacting violent retribution on those who destroyed his family.

[6] Mined salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form.

[7] Allen Barra, “Wyatt on the Set,” True West Magazine (May 7, 2012)

Posted in History | 4 Comments

Who Were the Earps?

Nicholas P Earp

Nicholas Porter Earp

The Patriarchs

Walter Earp (born in 1787) grew up to marry Martha Ann Early (born in 1790).  Together, they had a son whom they named Nicholas.  By the time Nicolas was born, Walter and Martha were living in Lincoln County, North Carolina.  Of Scotch-Irish descent, Nicholas’ parents provided ample instruction to him about the benefits of hard work.

Walter was a fifth generation Marylander and the fourth great-grandson of Thomas Earp who came to America in 1674.  An educated man, Walter served as a schoolmaster, justice of the peace, and as a Methodist Episcopal preacher.  Martha delivered ten children: seven boys (one set of twins), and three girls.  Nicholas was the eldest child.

Not long after Nicolas was born, Walter and Martha relocated to Hartford, Kentucky.  Nicholas grew up there.  When he reached adulthood, he served in the Black Hawk War of 1831 and served as a sergeant in the Mexican American War (1846-1848).  In the latter conflict, Nicholas served under Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp of the Illinois Mounted Volunteers.  Nicolas would name his fourth son after Captain Stapp.  During the Civil War, Nicholas served as a Union provost marshal for recruitment.  By then the family had moved to Iowa; his recruiting effort included three of his own sons, Newton, James, and Virgil who fought for the Union Army.

When Nicholas was young, he fully intended to become a lawyer, like his father, but he had to settle for other things: soldier, farmer, constable, sheriff, cooper, wagon-master, and at one time, a bootlegger.  Nicholas was not an entirely honest or good man.  He bullied his children and had the reputation of a man with no real ambition.  As we look at the rest of the family, we should wonder how Earp’s sons turned out as well as they did.

Nicholas married three times.  His first wife was Abigail Storm whom he married in 1836.  They had two children: Newton (born in 1837), and Mariah (1839).  Abigail died that same year —perhaps from complications of childbirth.

His second wife was Virginia Cooksey, whom he married in 1840.  They had eight children: James (1841), Virgil (1843), Martha (1845), Wyatt (1848), Morgan (1851), Baxter (a.k.a. Warren) (1855), Virginia (1858), and Adelia (1861).  In 1849 Nicholas left Virginia’s side to travel to California.  He was looking for good farmland and he decided to move his family to San Bernardino.  He returned to Illinois, packed up the family, and off they went.  En route, Martha became sick and died.  Martha’s death caused Nicholas to change his plans and he moved to Iowa, instead.

In Pelia, Iowa, Nicholas’ farm consisted of 160 acres about seven miles outside of town.  He worked that acreage for eight years and then sold it.  Nicolas then moved back to Illinois only to learn that no one needed a cooper or a farmer.  Unable to find work, he ran for election as a town constable and won.  In 1859, Nicholas was charged and convicted of bootlegging whiskey.  Unable to pay the fines and legal expenses of trial, a levy was placed against his property.  The property was sold at auction and two days later the family began a journey to return to Iowa.

Nicholas’ three oldest boys fought in the Civil War, with James being severely wounded.  Wyatt was only thirteen years old but tried to enlist anyway.  He ran away several times to enlist, but each time Nicholas found him and brought him back home.  Newton and Virgil participated in several battles before returning home.

In 1864, Nicholas packed up his family again and, joining several other families, moved to San Bernardino.  He found land to rent on the banks of the Santa Ana River near present-day Redlands.  When Virgil joined his family, he found a job driving a freight wagon to Utah.  Wyatt joined him in this endeavor.  Virgil and Wyatt later took jobs with the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha.  Virgil worked as a teamster; Wyatt used a pick and shovel.

In 1868 the Earps returned to the mid-west, settling in Lamar, Missouri.  Nicholas became a constable, and in the following year he was elected as Justice of the Peace.  Wyatt, who had been studying the law with his grandfather Walter, replaced his father as town constable.

Some time prior to 1880, Nicholas and Virginia Earp moved back to San Bernardino; at this time his household included Warren, Morgan, and Morgan’s wife Louisa.  Census records reflect that Nicolas was a farmer once more.

Virginia died in January 1883 and Nicholas married Annie Elizabeth Cadd on October 14 of the same year.  Annie was the widow of Ambrose Pack Alexander, born in England in 1842.  Nicholas Earp passed away at the Soldier’s Home in the Sawtelle District of Los Angeles, California on February 12, 1907, outliving six of his ten children.  Annie passed away in 1931.

Today, we mostly know about the famous Earp brothers, Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan.  It is time we learned about the others, as well.

Jennie-Newton EarpNewton Jasper Earp

Newton was the eldest and only surviving child of Nicolas and Abigail Earp.  Born in 1837, he always remained close to the rest of the family, residing with or near them in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, California, Nevada, and Arizona.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, Newton enlisted in the Union Army with brothers James and Virgil serving with mounted troops.

After the war, Newton married Jennie and moved to California where Newton worked as a saloonkeeper, farmer, and carpenter. Newton and Jennie had 5 children: Effie (1870), Wyatt Clyde (1872), Mary Elizabeth (1875-1885), Alice Abigail (1878), and Virgil Edwin (1879).

Newton had no interest in the law.  He was a homebuilder in Northern California and Northwestern Nevada.  Jennie and her daughter Effie died on the same day in 1898, Newton lived another thirty years passing away on December 18, 1928.  He was laid to rest in Sacramento.

James C EarpJames Cooksey Earp

James was the eldest child of Nicholas and Virginia, born on June 28, 1841.  He is perhaps the least well-known brother of the Old West Earp lawmen.  He enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 19 serving as mounted infantry with the 17th Illinois Regiment.  Within a year, James had received a serious wound to his left shoulder at a battle near Fredericktown, Missouri; he was returned home after medical discharge.  James had lost the full use of his arm.

After the war, James moved around quite frequently.  He lived in Colton, California, Helena, Montana, Pineswell, Missouri, and Birmingham and Newton, Kansas.  James married a former prostitute [1] by the name of Nellie Bartlett “Bessie” Ketchum in April 1873.  For some time after that, James worked as a saloonkeeper in Wichita, Kansas and then as a deputy town marshal in Dodge City, Kansas under Charlie Bassett.  Bassett was hired to replace Marshal Ed Masterson after he was murdered.

James and Nellie, traveling with brother Wyatt and his common law wife, and John H. Holliday and his woman, arrived in Tombstone, Arizona in December 1879.  Virgil Earp arrived the month before, and brothers Warren and Morgan (and his wife, Louisa) soon joined them.  While the three younger brothers became lawmen, James managed a saloon and worked in the gambling houses.  James did not participate in the now-famed Gunfight at O. K. Corral on October 26, 1881.

The New Mexico and Arizona Railroad ended in Benson, Arizona, about 25 miles away from Tombstone.  On Sunday, March 19, 1882, Wyatt and James accompanied Morgan’s body in a wagon to Benson, where it was loaded onto a freight car for transportation to Colton.  James and two close friends accompanied Morgan’s body to California; Virgil and his wife Addie followed the next day on a passenger train.  Wyatt, Warren, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, Sherman McMaster, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson, and Texas Jack Vermillion continued their war with the Cochise County Cowboys.

After Morgan’s burial, James lived for a time in Shoshone County, Idaho until settling permanently in California after Nellie’s death in 1887.  James died of natural causes on January 25, 1926.  He was laid to rest at the Mountain View Cemetery.

Virgil Earp

Virgil W. Earp

Virgil Walter Earp

Virgil was born in Hartford, Kentucky, the second eldest son in 1843.  A sixteen-year-old Virgil eloped with Ellen Rysdam in 1859 —a marriage that was not approved by either the Earps or Ellen’s parents.  To put it mildly, they were furious, but Virgil refused to agree to an annulment.  A year later, Virgil enlisted in the Union Army and spent the next four years on the line.  When he returned home after the war, Ellen was nowhere to be found.  Ellen’s father had informed her that Virgil had been killed in action and Ellen moved on with her life.

Virgil worked as a store clerk and a farm hand after the war.  He later joined his family in California where he married a French woman named Rosella Dragoo in 1870, but beyond the record of their marriage, we know nothing more of their marriage, divorce, or her death.  In 1874, Virgil met Alvira “Allie” Sullivan from Florence, Nebraska.  They never married, but they remained together for the rest of his life.

In 1877, Virgil worked in Doge City, Kansas with James and Wyatt.  From Dodge City, Virgil and Allie moved to Prescott, Arizona Territory.  Soon after arriving, US Marshal “Little Bill” Standifer and Yavapai County Sheriff Ed Bowers were attempting to arrest John Tallos for robbery along with an accused murderer at large named Wilson.  Bowers’ posse pursued the two men to the outskirts of town with Virgil Earp running on foot after them.  A gunfight erupted at the edge of town and Virgil was credited with shooting one of the men through the head with a Henry rifle.

After this event, Patterson, Caldwell & Levally, a local freight company, offered Virgil a job as driver.  During this employment, Virgil met John J. Gosper, Secretary of the Arizona Territory who was acting as temporary governor in the absence of John C. Fremont[2].  Virgil also became good friends with Crawley Dake, who in 1878 received the appointment as US Marshal for the Arizona Territory.  Because of Virgil’s public service, he was appointed night watchman for Prescott, which paid a monthly salary of $75.00.  In November 1878, Virgil was elected as town constable for Prescott, which authorized him to collect fees for issuing licenses, collecting revenue, and serving court summons.

It was while serving as constable that Virgil wrote to James and Wyatt about the opportunities in the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone.  Unknown to Virgil at the time, he and his family were about to step into a deeply corrupt Democratic hornet’s nest.  In 1881 with the organization of Cochise County from the vast expanse of Pima County, Sheriff Johnny Behan was appointed county sheriff, the chief law enforcement officer in the county.  Behan was in league with the Cowboys, a gang of murdering, cattle stealing, stage robbing terrorists determined to see Cochise County remain free and clear of “Yankee carpetbaggers.”  Tombstone violence and corruption was stifling business in Southeastern Arizona and conservative-minded business leaders used the Earp brothers to help stamp it out.

Crawley Dake appointed Virgil Earp as the Deputy US Marshall for Pima (and later, Cochise) County.  Virgil also served as town marshal in Tombstone.  Frequently assisting him in his duties were assistant marshals Morgan and Wyatt Earp.  Doc Holliday was also deputized during the now-famous gunfight at O.K. Corral.

After the corral gunfight, Virgil Earp was shot and seriously wounded while making his late-night rounds.  Afterwards, Morgan was shot and killed while playing billiards.  While James and a few friends helped to transport Morgan’s body to the rail depot in Benson, Virgil and Addie prepared to leave for California the next day on a passenger train out of Tucson.  Virgil’s recovery from his wounds took two years.  During this time, he stayed with his parents in Colton, California.  Virgil’s first-hand account of what transpired in Tombstone appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on May 27, 1882.

In 1886, Virgil opened a private detective agency, which he abandoned the same year after being elected to serve as the village constable.  When Colton was incorporated as a city, Virgil became its first elected city marshal.  Virgil and Allie’s home still stands at 528 West “H” Street in Colton.

Between 1888 and 1895, Virgil and Allie lived in Colton, San Bernardino, and Vanderbilt, California and in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  Virgil eventually returned to Prescott, Arizona Territory where he engaged in mining interests, and established a ranch in the Kirkland Valley.

In 1898, Virgil received a letter from a woman named Mrs. Levi Law.  Mrs. Law was Virgil’s daughter with Ellen Rysdam.  In the next year, with the encouragement of Allie, Virgil traveled to Portland, Oregon and was reunited with Ellen and Nellie Jane Law.  Nellie visited her father in Arizona in the following year.

In 1904, Virgil rejoined Wyatt in Goldfield, Nevada where he became a deputy sheriff for Esmeralda County.  After suffering from the effects of pneumonia for six months, Virgil passed away on October 19, 1905 —leaving Wyatt as the last surviving participant in the famous gunfight at O. K. Corral.  Virgil was survived by his wife Allie, his daughter Nellie, and brothers James, Newton, and Wyatt.  At the request of his daughter, Allie sent Virgil’s remains to Portland, Oregon, where he was interred at the River View Cemetery.

Morgan EarpMorgan Seth Earp

Morgan was born in Pella, Iowa on April 24, 1851.  Like the other Earp brothers, Morgan had a penchant for an adventurous life and very little interest in farming.  Morgan spent time with James in Montana and took his first law enforcement position in 1875 as a deputy under Charlie Bassett in Dodge City, Kansas.  In 1887, Morgan and his common law wife Louisa A. Houston returned to Montana where they lived until 1880.

At different times, Wyatt and Morgan worked for Wells Fargo & Company as shotgun messengers [3], as deputy sheriffs for Pima County, Arizona Territory, and as deputies under Tombstone City Marshal, Virgil Earp.  In early 1882, Morgan was appointed to serve as a deputy US marshal under Wyatt Earp after Virgil had been shot.  In her book The Earp Brothers of Tombstone, Allie Sullivan described her husband’s brother Morgan as a hot-tempered man.  Others writing of Morgan describe him as even-tempered, a man who acted coolly under pressure, and with resolve.  Allie’s book has been largely discredited for containing fabrications of actual events.

Two months after the shootout at O.K. Corral, in December 1881, a would-be assassin seriously wounded Virgil Earp while he was making his late-night rounds in Tombstone.  Then, in February 1882, Morgan grew wary of the danger to his family and sent Louisa to live with his parents in Colton, California.

At around 10:50 pm on Saturday, March 18, 1882, Morgan was playing a game of billiards at Campbell’s Parlor.  An assailant shot Morgan through the upper half of a four-pane door window.  The door opened into a dark alley between Allen and Fremont Streets.  The bullet struck Morgan on his right side, shattered his spine, passed through his left side, and entered the thigh of mining foreman George Berry.  Several men rushed into the alley, but the assailant had already escaped.

Three doctors soon arrived to examine Morgan, all agreeing that his wound was fatal.  Morgan died within the hour.

Warren Earp 001Warren Baxter Earp

Warren was the youngest of the Earp brothers, born on 9 March 1855 in Pella, Iowa.  Too young to participate in the Civil War, Warren helped Wyatt and Morgan on their father’s farm while father Nicholas was occupied as a recruiter and training officer for the Union Army.

Warren joined his brothers in Tombstone, Arizona working occasionally for Virgil, along with James, as an assistant town marshal.  At the time of the gunfight at O.K. Corral, Warren was at his parent’s home in Colton, California.  After Virgil was ambushed on 28 December 1881, Warren returned to Tombstone and accepted Wyatt’s appointment as a deputy US Marshal.  Then, on 18 March 1882, Morgan was assassinated.  Warren joined the posse guarding Virgil and Allie as they were transported to Tucson for a connecting train to California.  Warren was named in the arrest warrant issued by Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer for Wyatt, Doc Holliday, Jack Johnson, and Sherman McMaster.  Eventually, these men were indicted by a Tucson grand jury, but none of them ever went to trial.

Subsequent to Wyatt’s vendetta ride, Warren left Arizona but returned sometime in 1891 and worked as a stagecoach driver between Wilcox and Fort Grant.  He may have also worked for rancher Henry Hooker in Cochise County as a range detective.  Conventionally, there are two opposing characterizations of Warren.  On the one hand, he was noted for being naïve and youthful; on the other, somewhat of a bully, playing off the reputation of his older brothers.  Of course, both descriptions could be true.  Virgil’s daughter Nellie once recalled that her father was concerned about Warren getting shot on account of his quick temper and quarrelsome nature.

On 6 July 1900, Warren argued with Hooker’s range boss, a man named Johnny Boyett, in a Wilcox saloon.  The issue may have been that they shared affections for the same woman, although the two men were known for bickering at one another.  Late this night, Earp and Boyett … both drunk, took their arguing to the next level.  Warren suggested that they arm themselves and settle the matter once and for all.  When Boyett returned well-armed, he called Warren out.  Earp calmly stepped into the saloon from another doorway and Boyett fired two rounds, both missing Warren Earp.  Without producing a weapon, Warren stepped back outside the saloon; Boyett fired two more rounds—and they missed Earp as well.  Warren Earp stepped back into the saloon, opened his coat and said, “I have no arms.”  Earp continued walking toward Boyett, talking to him all the while.  Boyett warned him at least twice to halt, his voice sounding panicked and angry.  When Earp did not “halt,” Boyett fired a fifth round striking Warren Earp in the chest, killing him.  Earp was unarmed, but while arrested after the shooting, Boyett never went to trial.

“Warren Earp, the youngest of the four Earp brothers whose names twenty years ago were synonymous with gun fighting on the Arizona frontier, died with his boots on here.  He was shot through the heart in a saloon by Cowboy Johnny Boyett and died almost instantly.”

—Tombstone Epitaph, 9 July 1900.

Next week:  Wyatt Earp


  1. The Eastern Earps, Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun, 10 May 2005.
  2. Isenberg, A. C.Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life.  Macmillan, 2013.
  3. Eppinga, J.  Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
  4. Guinn, J.The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at O.K. Corral and How it Change the American West.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011
  5. Marks, P.M.And Die in the West.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996
  6. Johnson, D.John Ringo.  Stillwater, OK.  Barbed Wire Press, 1996.
  7. Tefertiller, C.Wyatt Earp: the Life behind the Legend.  New York, Wiley Press, 1999


[1] It was not uncommon for women to work as a prostitute in the American west, most of them forced into the “oldest profession” by dire circumstances.  Some of these women were widows, their men taken from them at an early age.  Other women were runaways from abusive husbands or fathers.  No matter what their circumstances, working in saloons or social clubs was about the only work that a single woman could find.  With this understanding, we should not judge these women too harshly.  And, while some of these ladies became millionaires in their own time, most ended up marrying frontiersmen (there was a significant shortage of women in the Old West) or dying of venereal diseases.

[2] Fremont was an explorer, politician, and major general who, in 1856, became the first Republican candidate for the presidency.  He was a Democrat before 1854, a Republican until 1864, and a radical Democrat afterwards.  He was the 5th governor of the Arizona Territory (1878-1881), a US Senator from California (1850-1851), and military governor of California (1847).  Fremont was frequently absent from his post as Arizona’s territorial governor, hence Gosper’s stint as acting governor.

[3] A shotgun messenger was someone who worked as a private armed guard on stagecoaches and trains.

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The Cowboy War

To say that Tombstone, Arizona was a violent place would be a gross understatement.  There were gunfights, fistfights, knifings, and people getting falling-down drunk.  This is what one might expect from a mining town that capitalized on saloons and houses of prostitution.  Beyond this, under the surface, there were other tensions.  Most of the Cowboys were either former Confederate soldiers or sympathizers; they were Democrats from southern states, many from Texas.  Mine and business owners, merchants, and honest lawmen (including the Earps) tended to vote for Republicans and they were mostly from northern states.  If this weren’t enough to sow the seeds of distrust and outright animosity, there were also conflicts over land and resources.  In the post-Civil War period, Democrats favored small, southern-styled government; Republicans wanted governments large enough to provide citizens with reliable community services.  In the minds of southern Democrats, the problem with Republicans was that they were all “carpetbaggers,” even if it wasn’t true.

Smuggling was another problem in Tombstone, mostly the result of the Mexican government’s high taxes on cross-border goods, such as alcohol and tobacco.  Finally, Mexican ranchers were targets of Cowboy rustlers and many innocent Mexican Vaqueros fell victim to hot lead fired from Cowboy revolvers.

How bad were the Cowboys?  According to the San Francisco (California) Examiner, they were “the most reckless class of outlaws in that wild country—infinitely worse than the ordinary robber.”  Regular ranch hands, stockmen, and wranglers were insulted when anyone referred to them as a cowboy.  One wonders, if these Cowboys were so bad, why did the towns people put up with it?  The Cowboys were welcome in town because of their free-spending habits and, besides that, most of the people they killed probably deserved it.

Virgil Earp

Virgil W. Earp

Virgil Earp was the first of his family to migrate to Arizona, arriving in Prescott with his common-law wife Allie, whom he had met in Council Bluff, Iowa, in 1877.  He was not a carpetbagger, but rather someone (among thousands) looking for opportunities in the southwest.  And, he was not always a lawman.  He served in the Union Army during the Civil War, afterward working variously as a farm hand, grocery clerk, railroad construction worker, stagecoach driver, sawmill operator, mailman, and as a deputy town marshal.  He had previously worked in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and California.

In October 1877, Virgil Earp was asked to assist US Marshal Wiley Standifer, Yavapai County Sheriff Ed Bowers, and Prescott Constable Frank Murray in the apprehension of two men accused of murder whose names were Tallos and Wilson.  The lawmen closed in on the suspects at the edge of town and a gunfight broke out.  Virgil spotted one of the men at the base of a tree reloading his pistol.  Earp dispatched the fellow with a Henry rifle —a clean shot right through the man’s head.  Subsequently, Virgil worked as a driver for a local freight company.  In this capacity, he met John Gosper, who was serving as Secretary of State for the Arizona Territory.  Gosper introduced Virgil to the new appointed US Marshal, a fellow named Crawley Dake, and they became friends.  Dake was impressed with Earp’s skill with weapons.  Sometime later, with the assistance of those who respected him, Earp was elected as Constable for Prescott.  The position paid him a monthly salary and a percentage of fees collected for issuing licenses and serving court summons.

Apparently, Virgil wrote to his brothers James and Wyatt to tell them about business opportunities in the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone.  At that time, James and Wyatt were serving as assistant town marshals in Dodge City, Kansas.

In September 1879, Wyatt resigned his post in Dodge City and, with his common-law wife Mattie, his brother James and his wife, and his friend, John Henry Holliday (and his woman, who was known as Big Nose Kate), departed for Tombstone, Arizona.

When Virgil revealed to his friend Crawley that he intended to move to Tombstone, Dake offered him a commission as Deputy US Marshal for the Tombstone District of Pima County.  Virgil accepted the commission and was instructed by Dake to resolve the ongoing problems in Tombstone with the outlaws.  The job didn’t pay very much and, as a deputy, Virgil was mostly “on call” to help local and county lawmen.  By December 1879, Virgil, Wyatt, and James were reunited in Tombstone.  The Earp men found gainful employment as ferro dealers, bouncers, and part-time miners.  Holliday[1] made his living as a gambler and connoisseur of rotgut whiskey.

On 30 October 1880, Curly Bill Brocius “accidently” shot Town Marshal Fred White, who subsequently died of his wounds.  Virgil Earp was appointed interim marshal pending a special election during the following month.  This position, which would later become a permanent appointment, gave Virgil two badges of authority.  Local Cowboys did not resent Virgil Earp because he was a Republican (or carpetbagger); they resented him because he was a lawman who dared to stand up to Cowboy terrorism.

Who were these “Cowboys?”

McLaury Bros 001The Brothers McLaury

Frank McLaury was born Robert Findley McLaury on 3 March 1849 at Kortright, New York.  In his youth, everyone called him Rob to distinguish him from his father.  Tom McLaury was born in 1853.  The boys were two of eleven children born to Robert Houston McLaury and Margaret Rowland.

In 1878, Frank and Tom McLaury traveled to Fort Worth, Texas where they studied the law under the tutelage of their older brother Will.  It was at this time when Rob began calling himself Frank.  Both Frank and Tom gave up the study of law to join a cattle drive believed to have been assembled by John Slaughter[2].  The cattle drive took the boys to Arizona where, in time, they ended up working for Newman (Old Man) Clanton.  At the time, Clanton owned one of the largest cattle operations in Arizona.  Clanton sold his ranch to purchase another near the San Pedro River and Frank and Tom McLaury purchased land of their own and built a home at Soldier’s Hole near Babocomari Creek, a tributary of the San Pedro River.  There remains some question today whether the McLaury’s owned title to the land, or if it belonged to Frank Patterson.  In any case, after Old Man Clanton moved his spread, Ike Clanton remained behind with the McLaury brothers and formed a lasting friendship with them.

By 1879, the McLaury’s were experiencing some success in the cattle industry and this coincided with a population explosion in and around nearby Tombstone due to the discovery of silver.  For a brief time, when not stealing cattle from Mexican haciendas, Frank McLaury assisted town constable Melvin Jones in the apprehension of some soldiers who had stolen leather harnesses.

Frank StilwellFrank Stilwell

What we may be looking at when we view pictures of Frank C. Stilwell is a typical character of the American Southwest.  He was a son of William Henry Stilwell and Charlotte B. (Sarah) Winfrey … an Iowan by birth in 1856.  The Stilwell family soon moved to a small town called Palmyra in the Kansas territory near the Santa Fe Trail.  Then, in 1863, William and Sarah divorced; William took custody of his sons Simpson (Jack)[3], Millard, and Frank; Sarah took custody of the girls, Elizabeth and Mary.

Jack and Frank traveled from Oklahoma (Indian Territory) to Prescott, Arizona in 1877.  While in Prescott, Frank worked at Miller’s Ranch located just outside of Prescott.  On 18 October 1877, a newly hired Mexican cook by the name of Jesus (pronounced Hay-Soos) Bega brought Frank a cup of tea instead of coffee; an argument then ensued culminating in Frank drawing his side arm and shooting Jesus through the lung, killing him.  Stilwell was later acquitted of the charge of murder on grounds of self-defense.  The incident may have been the only time in US history that anyone was required to defend himself from a cup of tea.  When brother (Comanche) Jack left Arizona for Fort Davis, Texas, Frank remained behind in Arizona.

For a time, Frank Stilwell worked as a teamster, a miner, and a deputy sheriff under Johnny Behan—but one thing was abundantly clear: he was a thoroughly mean, foul human being.  On 9 November 1879, Frank entered a disagreement with Colonel John Van Houtan.  Houtan accused Stilwell of claim jumping.  When Van Houtan’s body was later found, his face had been brutally beaten in with a rock.  Frank Stilwell and James Cassidy were both charged with Van Houtan’s murder, but both men escaped Grand Jury indictment for lack of evidence linking either man to the murder.  This is the way the American judicial system is supposed to work, but on the other hand, the citizens of Tombstone deserved justice, too.

Pete SpencePete Spence

Elliot Larkin Ferguson (also known as Pete Spence) avoided a Goliad, Texas arrest warrant by fleeing to Arizona in 1878.  In Arizona, Spence was suspected of participating in several stagecoach robberies in and around Bisbee.  Pete Spence was a known associate of the McLaury’s and Clanton’s.  he was also a habitual liar, a thief, and no one any reasonable person would turn his back on.  In Tombstone, Spence was a neighbor of the Earps.

William BrociusWilliam “Curly Bill” Brocius

As with many of The Cowboys, Curly Bill’s past is sketchy.  Some claim that he was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana in 1845 and that his birth name was William B. Graham.  There is also a belief that he migrated to Arizona from Missouri.  Other researchers claim that he was William “Curly Bill” Bresnahan, who along with Robert Martin[4], was convicted of attempted robbery in Texas —during which attempt, a man was killed.  It is entirely possible that Brocius lived in Texas after migrating from Missouri.  Bresnahan and Martin escaped to Arizona before they could be transferred to a Texas prison.  Both Martin and Brocius were prominent members of the Cochise County Cowboys.

Most historians agree that Brocius arrived in the Arizona Territory around 1878.  For a time, he served as a deputy sheriff under Johnny Behan.  As one of Behan’s deputies, he was responsible for collecting taxes.  In this role, Brocius was more of an enforcer for Behan, who history remembers as thoroughly corrupt.  It was Deputy Brocius’ task to collect taxes (bribes) from other criminals on stolen Mexican cattle.  The money, of course, enriched Behan and added to Brocius’ salary.

Curly Bill Brocius was mean when sober, but far worse when drunk.  According to Wells Fargo Agent Fred Dodge, Brocius once forced Mexicans at a community dance take off their clothing and dance naked.  His orneriness may explain why he had numerous conflicts with lawmen.  Brocius was named as one of the individuals who participated in the murder of Morgan Earp.

Johnny BehanJohnny Behan

Behan moved to Prescott, Arizona in 1865.  He was a land speculator and prospector.  While prospecting, he and five other men were attacked by Indians.  Behan acquitted himself well enough to earn a good reputation for courage and tenacity in dire circumstances.  As a result of this “good reputation,” Yavapai County Sheriff John P. Bourke hired Behan as an undersheriff.  Before the end of 1866, Behan had developed feelings for Bourke’s 14-year old daughter, Victoria.  In 1868, Behan resigned his position in the Sheriff’s office to run for election as Yavapai County Recorder, which he won at the age of 23-years.  To supplement his income, Behan worked in various saloons and mines.

In 1871, Behan succeeded his father-in-law as Yavapai County Sheriff, serving until 1873.  He resigned this office to run for the Arizona legislative assembly, a position he won.  He was again nominated to serve as Yavapai County Sheriff in 1874.  He lost that election because it became known that Behan spent much of his time in saloons and brothels … a behavior that most folks condemned (even Democrats).  The Behan divorce was a nasty affair.  Victoria produced evidence of his infidelity with women of ill-repute and named Sadie Marcus as her husband’s paramour.  During the divorce hearing, Sadie was incorrectly referred to as Sada Mansfield.  Victoria also testified that her husband threatened her with violence and abused her good nature.

In August 1880, Behan sought another term as Yavapai County Recorder, but with a sullied reputation, he was soundly defeated.  He appeared in Tombstone on 15 September with his 8-year old son Albert.  Josephine Sarah (Sadie) Marcus soon joined Behan.  At first, Johnny Behan worked as a bar manager at the Grand Hotel, a favorite watering hole for the Cowboys and a good place to make political connections.  Behan then bought an interest in the Dexter Livery Stable, in partnership with John Orlando Dunbar[5].

At the time, Virgil Earp’s brother Wyatt served as the undersheriff for the eastern section of Pima County —Charles Shibell, a Democrat, serving as county sheriff.  As evidenced by the election of 1880, Shibell enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Cowboys.  In the San Simon/Cienega voting precinct, Shibell won 103 votes, which was an amazing feat since there were only 15 registered voters living in that precinct.  Shibell’s opponent in this election was Robert H. Paul, a Republican.  Paul contested the election results and after a careful review, Shibell’s election was overturned.

It was in protest to this rigged election that Wyatt Earp resigned as undersheriff.  Shibell appointed Johnny Behan to replace him.  When Cochise County was formed three months later, Behan (who, after two terms in the Territorial Legislature) used his considerable influence and that of his well-connected partner, John Dunbar, to secure his appointment as Cochise County Sheriff[6].  Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, his primary contender, had no political influence at all.

Marshal Fred WhiteThe War Begins

Both Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Claiborne were with Curly Bill when he shot and killed Tombstone City Marshal Fred White[7] on 30 October 1880.  Note: Fred White was not the old man depicted in the film Tombstone.  At the time of his death he was 30 or 31 years of age.  These men were detained after the shooting, but before he died, Marshal White acknowledged that the shooting was accidental.  The Cowboys were released from custody.

Ben SippyThe Tombstone town council[8] appointed Virgil Earp as interim town marshal pending a special election scheduled for 13 November 1880.  Tombstone police officers James Flynn and Ben Sippy announced their candidacy for the position.  Flynn dropped out of the race at the last minute and Sippy defeated Earp 311 votes to 259.  In a regular election held on 4 January 1881, Sippy defeated Earp again.  Marshal Sippy, however, was as corrupt as Behan.  Before this corruption was revealed, Sippy skipped town for parts unknown and the town council again appointed Virgil Earp to replace him.  This time, Earp’s appointment was permanent and placed into effect without an election.  The Cowboys claimed that Virgil’s appointment proved that the “fix was in.”

Three months earlier, in July 1880, Captain Joseph H. Hurst, commanding Fort Rucker, requested the assistance of Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp in the investigation of stolen government mules.  For some time, rumors persisted that the McLaury’s were involved in cattle rustling from Sonora, Mexico and then selling the animals to Old Man Clanton and local affiliated butchers.  When Virgil Earp began his investigation, he enlisted the assistance of brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and a Wells Fargo agent by the name of Marshall Williams.  During his investigation, Earp received a tip that the stolen animals could be found on the McLaury ranch.  Earp’s investigation discovered that the animals were at the McLaury ranch and that the brand on the animals had been changed from “US” to “D8.”

Marshal Earp and Captain Hurst confronted the McLaury’s.  Claiming that he wanted to avoid bloodshed with federal authorities, “ranch boss” Frank Patterson promised to return the animals if Captain Hurst and the federal posse withdrew —which they did.  Two days later the Cowboys appeared at Camp Rucker without the promised mules.  Instead, they went to Camp Rucker to ridicule Captain Hurst and the Earps for their naivete.  This was the brazen attitude of the red-sash-wearing Cowboys.

Captain Hurst printed out handbills offering rewards for the trial and conviction of the thieves.  The handbill read in part, “It is known that the stolen animals were secreted at or in the vicinity of the McLaury Brother’s ranch, and it is also believed they were branded on the left shoulder over the Government brand.”  Captain Hurst specifically charged Frank McLaury with assisting in the hiding of these mules —charges that were printed in the Tombstone Epitaph on July 30, 1880.

Frank McLaury made a countercharge in the Tombstone Daily Nugget [9].  McLaury called Captain Hurst unmanly, a coward, a vagabond, a rascal, a malicious liar, and then finally accused Hurst of stealing the mules himself.  Not content with ridiculing Captain Hurst, Frank McLaury approached Virgil Earp and warned him that if wanted to avoid a fight, he should refrain from following him around ever again.  This was not a wise move on Frank McLaury’s part.

In November 1879, someone stole a prized horse belonging to a recent arrival in Arizona —a man named Wyatt Earp.  More than a year later, Earp learned that this horse had been seen in Charleston, Arizona and was in fact in the possession of Ike Clanton and his brother Billy.  Earp and his friend John Henry Holliday (a.k.a. “Doc” Holliday) rode out to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the animal.  On the way, they overtook Sheriff Johnny Behan, who was riding in a buckboard wagon.  Behan was also going to the Clanton ranch to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike.  Wyatt Earp later acknowledged that Billy Clanton gave up the horse without objections, but asked Wyatt if he had any more horses to lose.  Apparently, Billy was every bit as smart as his brother Ike and Wyatt knew that the Clanton’s were aware of who that horse belonged to before it was stolen.  The incident did nothing to endear the Earps to the Clanton’s.

After the Territorial Legislature created Cochise County out of a portion of Pima County in early 1881, the McLaury brothers moved their ranch operations to Sulphur Springs Valley in eastern Cochise County.  There they constructed a substantial adobe ranch house, a barn, corrals, and irrigation ditches for agriculture.  They are said to have owned eight horses, two mules, and 140-head of cattle.

In seeking ways to reduce crime inside the city, the Tombstone city council passed an ordinance in April 1881 prohibiting anyone from carrying a deadly weapon inside the Tombstone town limits.  The law required everyone to deposit their weapons at a livery or saloon soon after entering town.  This law set into motion a long-simmering animosity between the Earps and The Cowboys because it was Virgil Earp’s duty to enforce this ordinance.

Old West Stage 001Tensions between the Earp’s, Clanton’s, and McLaury’s increased throughout 1881.  On March 15, three road agents attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach near Benson, Arizona.  The Stage was carrying $26,000 in silver bullion[10] —roughly three quarters of a million dollars in today’s currency.

Eli “Bud” Philpot was a top-rated stagehand and well-thought of in that community.  Although assigned as the stage driver, Philpot became ill while en route; at the stop at Contention, he changed places with the shotgun guard, a man named Robert H. Paul.  Bob Paul had previously served as the sheriff in Calaveras County, California, had run for Pima County Sheriff but lost the rigged election to the incumbent, Charlie Shibell.  He was temporarily working for Wells Fargo pending the outcome of a review of the election.  In any case, after leaving Contention, the stage approached a rise a few hundred feet short of the Drew Station.  Shadowy figures stepped out from behind boulders and demanded, “Hold!”  Paul gruffly shouted back, “I hold for no man” and lashed the team of horses with the reigns.  The road agents opened fire, hitting Philpot (riding as shotgun) close to the heart and he fell from the box, taking the team’s reigns with him.  The horses had already stepped up their pace with Paul’s lashing, and the gunfire spooked them even more.  The horses were soon in a dead run, stagecoach careening along behind it.  Riding atop an out of control stage, Bob Paul returned his shotgun completely ineffective due to the ever-increasing distance.  The stagecoach blew by Drew’s Station and Paul had no choice but to jump down onto the tongue to capture the flailing lines with his free hand.  It took him a mile to bring the team to a full stop.

Aboard the stage were nine badly shaken passengers.  One of these, a miner named Peter Roerig, had taken one of the bullets fired by the road agents and was mortally wounded.  Taking the stage on to Benson, Bob Paul sent a telegram back to Tombstone with details of the attempted holdup.  Deputy Sheriff Billy Breckenridge was the first to suggest that one of the road agents might have been Wyatt Earp’s friend Doc Holliday.  Breckenridge knew the accusation was baseless when he made it, but it does serve as an example of the contempt that existed between The Cowboys (and friends of Cowboys) and the Yankee interlopers.  Breckenridge was later proved wrong, of course, and the claim was something that Doc Holliday would not soon forget.

Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp assembled a federal posse consisting of brothers Wyatt and Morgan, Wells Fargo Agent Marshall Williams, Bat Masterson, and Sheriff Johnny Behan.  Wells Fargo offered a $3,600 reward for the capture of the road agents, dead or alive.  Robbery of a mail carrying stagecoach was a territorial crime (which also meant a federal crime).  The Earp posse tracked the robbers to a nearby ranch, where the found a drifter named Luther King.  King was tricked into naming his cohorts: Bill Leonard, Harry Head, and Jim Crane … all of whom were Cowboys.  Behan and Williams escorted King back to Tombstone and placed him in a jail cell.

On 19 March, King “escaped” from jail while Undersheriff Harry Woods (who was also publisher of the Tombstone Nugget (a Cowboy-friendly newspaper) was selling a horse to John Dunbar, Behan’s partner in the Dexter Livery Stable.  When it was learned how easily King was able to escape, the citizens of Tombstone were outraged.  Sometime later, Wells Fargo Company learned that Marshall Williams was stealing from the company and fired him.

Meanwhile, the Earp posse (Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, and Bat Masterson) pursued the two remaining road agents for seventeen days.  After more than 400 miles in pursuit, the Earp posse was forced to give up the chase.  They were out of water and fresh horses.  The worn-out posse returned to Tombstone on 1 April 1881.  To add insult to injury, Sheriff Behan refused to reimburse the federal posse for their expenses, and while Wells Fargo did compensate Earp, the incident caused further friction and resentment between county and federal law enforcement officers, and more importantly, between Behan and the Earps.

A second stagecoach was robbed in September near Bisbee —this time, masked robbers shook down the passengers and robbed the stage of its strongbox.  The newspaper account of this robbery follows:

“The Bisbee Stage Robbed by Three Masked Men”

“Thursday night, about 10 o’clock, as the stage was nearing Bisbee, being some four miles or five miles this side in the broken ground, it was stopped by three (some say four) masked men who, with pistols leveled at the driver and passengers, demanded Wells, Fargo & Co’s treasure box.  The box was thrown out when they went through the passengers, getting eight dollars and a gold watch from one and about six hundred dollars from another.  From the treasure box they got a fat haul, there being $2,500 in it.  The report is that they also went through all the baggage and mail sacks, but this is rather doubtful.  About 9:30 yesterday morning two messengers rode into Tombstone with their horses on a lope, halting in front of the Well, Fargo & Co’s office, dismounted and went in.  Those seeing the men came in such hot haste, at once surmised something wrong, and in a short time the robbery was the talk of the street.  Marshall Williams, agent for W., F. & Co., immediately notified the Sheriff’s office, and in a few hours himself, Deputy Breckenridge, Wyatt and Morgan Earp were in the saddle or on the way to the place of the robbery, from whence they will take up the trail and do their best to overhaul the robbers.  This, we fear, is a hopeless task, as so much valuable time was lost by the messengers riding from Charleston into Tombstone, when they might better have telegraphed and had the whole thing managed in secrecy.”

Tombstone Epitaph, September 10, 1881

This mystery was solved when witnesses were able to recognize the voices of the road agents.  The holdup men were identified as Behan’s deputies, Pete Spence and Frank Stilwell, who were business partners in other interests.  After it was revealed that two of his deputies were criminals, Sheriff Behan claimed to have fired Spence before the robbery due to county tax collection irregularities.  Spence and Stilwell were close friends of the McLaury’s and other Cowboys.  No one in Tombstone was surprised when Sheriff Behan released Spence and Stilwell on bail.

A month later, Virgil Earp re-arrested Spence and Stilwell charging them with interfering with a mail carrier during the Bisbee holdup.  The Daily Nugget, however, claimed that Earp had arrested them for a different stage robbery occurring on October 8, 1881 near Contention City.  Whether an unfortunate misinterpretation in the press or an outright lie, the Cowboys were now convinced that the Earps were out to get them.

While Virgil and Wyatt Earp were still out of town for the Spence and Stilwell hearings, Frank McLaury approached Morgan Earp and gave him a warning: the McLaury’s would kill the Earps if they attempted to arrest Spence, Stilwell, or either of the McLaury’s ever again.  This was McLaury’s third threat of violence toward the Earps.

Ike Clanton 001Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton spent the afternoon and evening of 25 October 1881 drinking and gambling.  Both men were angry because they had been pistol-whipped by Virgil Earp earlier in the day mouthing off.  The more they drank, the angrier they became.  Early the next morning, Ike Clanton was still drunk and still making threats toward the Earps.

26 October was an unusually cold and windy day.  At first, Virgil avoided a confrontation with Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, who had arrived in town late in the morning and failed to deposit their weapons at a livery or saloon.  Around mid-morning, Virgil Earp observed Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury buying ammunition from Spangenberg’s gun shop.  At about 1 p.m., a miner named Ruben F. Coleman informed Virgil that the Cowboys had left the Dunbar and Dexter Stable for the O. K. Corral and were still armed.  It was then that Virgil Earp decided that if the men were armed and were not headed out of town, it was time to disarm them.

Earp went to the Wells Fargo office and picked up a double-barrel shotgun.  He was wearing a long overcoat.  To avoid alarming Tombstone citizens, Earp hid the shotgun under his overcoat when he returned to Hafford’s Saloon to solicit the assistance of Wyatt, Morgan, and Doc Holliday, whom he deputized.  Virgil then led his posse down Fremont Street where he confronted the Clanton’s and McLaury’s on a narrow front behind the O.K. Corral.  Virgil Earp was not expecting a gun fight, but he was prepared for one.  Somewhere along the way, Virgil traded his shotgun for Doc Holliday’s cane.  When he approached the six Cowboys, he commanded them, “Throw up your hands; I want your guns.”

The apprehended Cowboys were Frank and Tom McLaury, Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Wes Fuller.  When these men saw the Earp’s and Holliday approaching, they stepped away from their horses.  The Cowboys were armed, but holstered.  Wyatt Earp had his weapon inside his overcoat pocket.

From most accounts, including the official one, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton cocked and drew their six-shooters.  It stands to reason that any man who does this sets into motion whatever follows.  Two shots rang out.  The first shot was officially attributed to Billy Clanton, who took aim at Virgil Earp but missed.  The second shot, heard within a split second, was fired by Virgil targeting Frank McLaury.  Earp apparently realized that Frank was the cooler head and more proficient with a side arm.  Earp’s bullet struck Frank in the stomach.

O K Corral - Bob Boze Bell

Artist’s depiction of the gunfight, by Bob Boze Bell, True West Magazine.

Tom McLaury, whose six-shooter was already drawn, stepped behind his horse and began spraying bullets around the vacant lot.  A focused Doc Holliday stepped around McLaury’s horse and shot Tom in the chest with both barrels.  Tom stumbled out of the vacant lot and collapsed at the base of a telegraph pole on Fremont Street.  Holliday dropped the shotgun and drew out his .38 revolver and began shooting at Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton.

Ike Clanton had been threatening to kill the Earps for several months—and as recently as the previous day.  But when the shooting started, Ike Clanton ran up to Wyatt Earp screaming that he was unarmed and did not want a fight.  Wyatt told him, “Go to fighting, or get away.”  Clanton ran through the front door of Fly’s boarding house to escape the gunfire, but one witness later testified that Ike Clanton drew out a hidden weapon and began firing at the Earp’s from inside Fly’s boarding house.  When he had expended all his ammunition, he ran off down the street.

Up until this moment in time, Wyatt Earp was a nobody.  What happened at the O. K. Corral made him famous, although not in his own lifetime.  Wyatt Earp passed away on 13 January 1929; he was 80 years old.  What made the American people take notice of him were the books and films produced after his death.  Historians began to wonder, “What really happened?”  They began to look carefully at the events that led up to the gunfight, and its aftermath.  The more Americans learned of it, the more they liked and respected the courage and tenacity of Wyatt Earp.  According to the Tombstone Epitaph, “Wyatt Earp stood up and fired in rapid succession, as cool as a cucumber, and was not hit.”

Morgan Earp drew his weapon and fired at Billy Clanton, hitting him in the wrist of his gun hand.  It forced Clanton to shift his weapon to the left hand and in that configuration, Clanton continued shooting at the Earps until his gun was empty.  Morgan tripped over an obstacle in the yard and fell.

Frank McLaury, shot in the stomach for the second time by Wyatt, grabbed the reigns of his horse and staggered toward Fremont Street.  He attempted to recover his rifle from its scabbard, but failed and lost control of his horse.  Frank continued shooting with his revolver, one bullet striking Doc Holliday in his holster, grazing him slightly.  While not physically wounded, the shot was enough to piss Holliday off.  He followed Frank into the street and is reported to have said, “That son of a bitch has shot me, and I am going to kill him.”

Morgan picked himself up and fired at Frank.  Frank McLaury continued to discharge his pistol until he was shot in the head.  He fell to the sidewalk on the east side of Fremont Street and died.  Though wounded, Billy Clanton is believed to have shot Morgan, the bullet grazing him across the back in a wound that struck both shoulder blades.  Morgan fell for the second time, but soon picked himself up.  Virgil Earp believed that he was shot in the calf by Billy Clanton.  Virgil turned and shot Billy Clanton, who slumped to the ground at the corner of the MacDonald house near his original position when the gunfight started.

All the above occurred within a span of 30 seconds.  The McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton lay dead; Virgil and Morgan Earp received gunshot wounds.  Doc Holliday was grazed but not wounded.  Of the Earps, only Wyatt stood unscathed.

Wyatt Earp c. 1879

Wyatt Earp c. 1879

As the wounded Earps were carried to their homes, they passed in front of Sheriff Behan’s office.  Behan approached Wyatt and said, “I’ll have to arrest you.”  Wyatt paused a moment and replied, “I won’t be arrested today, Behan.  You deceived me; you told me these men were unarmed.”  Behan wisely decided not to interfere further with the Earps.

An inquest of the shootout determined that Virgil Earp and his duly constituted posse were operating within the law in their attempt to disarm the Clanton’s and McLaury’s.  Notwithstanding this determination, Ike Clanton later filed charges against the Earps for the murder of his brother Billy.

After the gunfight at O. K. Corral, the Earps moved their families into the Cosmopolitan Hotel for safety and mutual protection.  At about 11:30 pm on 28 December 1881, Virgil Earp was ambushed while making his rounds through Tombstone, just as he exited the Oriental Saloon.  According to reports printed in the Sacramento Daily Record-Union, he was fired upon by a double-barrel shotgun, loaded with buckshot, by three men concealed in an unfinished building across from Allen Street.  Virgil was hit in the back and left arm from about 50 feet.  One shot struck him above the groin, exiting near his spine.  Another shot broke his upper arm.  Witness George Parsons said that he heard four shots in quick succession.  Critically wounded, Earp staggered into the hotel.  His left arm was permanently crippled, but he did survive.

After the attempted murder, Virgil Earp spend the next three months recuperating; he was just starting to get back on his feet when the Cowboys attacked again.

At around 10:50 p.m. on Saturday, 18 March 1882, Morgan Earp was playing billiards at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor with owner Bob Hatch.  Also present were Dan Tipton, Sherman McMaster[11], and Wyatt Earp.  Morgan was in the process of lining up his next shot when an unknown assassin fired through the upper half of a four-pane windowed door (the bottom two windows had been painted over) that led to an alley separating Allen and Fremont Streets.  The bullet struck Morgan in his right side, shattered his spine, passed through his left side, and entered the thigh of mining foreman George A. B. Berry.  Another bullet lodged in the wall above Wyatt’s head.  Several men rushed into the alley, guns drawn, but by then the shooter had already fled.  In less than an hour, Morgan Earp was dead.

The next day, Coroner Dr. H. M. Mathews held an inquest in which Pete Spence’s wife, Marietta Duarte, testified that her husband, Frank Stilwell, Indian Charlie, Frederick Bode, and an unnamed half-breed had returned home one hour after the shooting and that her husband had threatened her with violence if she ever told what she knew.

Other witnesses testified that they saw former Cochise County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Stilwell in the alley, running away from the scene of the shooting.  The Coroner’s Jury concluded that Spence, Stilwell, Bode, Fries, and Cruz were suspects in Morgan Earp’s assassination.  Pete Spence promptly surrendered to Sheriff Johnny Behan happy to remain behind bars where he could be protected from the Earps.  It will be remembered that in 1880, Spence was charged with grand larceny, the illegal possession of stolen mules.  He was acquitted of these charges.  Moreover, Spence was the business partner of Frank Stilwell in the Franklin Mine and other ventures.  He also owned a share of a saloon in Bisbee.  Spence married Marietta on August 12, 1881.

Holliday-McMaster 1882

Purportedly a photograph of Doc Holliday and Sherman McMaster c. 1882

A coroner’s jury concluded that Morgan was murdered, and that Pete Spence was one of several persons who were likely involved in perpetrating that murder.  At Spence’s preliminary hearing, his attorney objected to the testimony of Marietta Duarte arguing that anything she said in court would be hearsay evidence.  Besides that, he argued, a spouse could not testify against her husband.  After the judge dismissed murder charges against Spence, Pete demonstrated his keen appreciation of his circumstances by leaving town[12].

On 20 March, Wyatt escorted Virgil, Allie, and Morgan Earp’s body to Contention, where they drove two wagons to the railroad terminal in Benson, 25-miles away.  Wyatt had been appointed Deputy US Marshal in his brother’s place.  Assisting Wyatt in the movement of Virgil Earp were deputies Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, and “Turkey Creek” Jack Johnson.  While in Contention, Wyatt received word that Ike Clanton, Frank Stilwell, and Hank Swilling were watching the passenger trains in Tucson with the intention of killing Virgil Earp.  With this information, Wyatt and his deputies decided to remain with Virgil and Allie to Tucson.

Wyatt’s deputies were well-armed.  McMaster wore two cartridge belts; Allie wore Virgil’s pistol belt.  No one was taking any chances.  Two months later in an interview, Virgil Earp told the press, “Almost the first men we met on the platform [in Tucson] were Stillwell and his friends, armed to the teeth.  They fell back into the crowd as soon as they saw I had an escort.”

As Virgil and Allie’s train was pulling out of Tucson station, gunfire was heard and there are contradictory accounts of the number of Cowboys seen near the tracks and the numbers of shot fired.  Witnesses said they saw men running with guns drawn, but in the dark could not identify anyone.  Wyatt later said that he and his deputies spotted Frank Stilwell and another man (whom he believed was Ike Clanton) armed with shotguns laying on a flatcar.

Wyatt and his men approached these two would-be assassins and they broke and ran.  Stilwell stumbled and fell, allowing Wyatt Earp to reach him. According to Wyatt[13], “I ran straight for Stilwell.  It was he who killed my brother.  What a coward he was!  He couldn’t shoot when I came near him.  He stood there trembling for his life.  As I rushed upon him, he put out his hands and clutched my shotgun.  I let go with both barrels and he tumbled down dead and mangled at my feet.”

Stilwell’s body was discovered the next morning near the railroad tracks.  He was riddled with buckshot from two shotgun rounds, one in his leg and another in his chest.  He also had four additional bullet wounds.  According to his own account, Ike Clanton was present with Frank Stilwell in Tucson, but he claimed that they were there for a different reason than killing Virgil Earp.  In any case, Ike Clanton got away.

The War was not yet over.

Next Week, Who Were the Earps?.


  1. Isenberg, A. C.Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life.  Macmillan, 2013.
  2. Guinn, J.The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at O.K. Corral and How it Change the American West.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011
  3. Marks, P.M.And Die in the West.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996
  4. Johnson, D.John Ringo.  Stillwater, OK.  Barbed Wire Press, 1996.
  5. Tefertiller, C.Wyatt Earp: the Life behind the Legend.  New York, Wiley Press, 1999


[1]  Doc Holliday was already suffering the effects of consumption (tuberculosis).  It would eventually kill him.

[2] Texas John Slaughter (1841-1922) was an American cowboy, gambler, lawman, and rancher.  In the 1870s, Slaughter established a ranch near Douglas, Arizona in Cochise County, Arizona Territory.

[3] Comanche Jack Stilwell was an Indian fighter, Army Scout, Deputy US Marshal, police judge, and a US Commissioner in the Oklahoma territory.

[4] Robert Martin was a member of the Jesse Evans gang in New Mexico in the mid 1870s.  It is possible that Curly Bill Brocius was also a member of the Evans gang and that he participated in the Lincoln County War.

[5] John Dunbar was born in 1853 in Maine, the son of a Scottish father and an Irish mother.  Dunbar traveled to Arizona in 1876 where he joined his brother Thomas on his cattle ranch along the San Pedro River at Tres Alamos, where they also ran a boarding house.  Thomas Dunbar was appointed postmaster and stage-stop operator in the area known as Dunbar Station and Cienega Station.  Thomas and John also operated a livery stable in Tombstone, which was called Dunbar Brothers Livery.  John Dunbar and Johnny Behan became good friends and business partners.  One of these business interests was Dexter Stables.  Sheriff Behan’s office was in the building that housed Dunbar Brothers.  In 1881, Governor John C. Fremont appointed John Dunbar to serve as the first Cochise County Treasurer.

[6] In 1881, Arizona sheriffs were responsible for collecting fees and taxes on such things as prostitution, gambling, liquor, and theaters.  Of these revenues, the sheriff retained ten percent of all proceeds.  Part of Behan’s corruption was his ability to cook the books.

[7] Fred White was born in New York City in 1849.  In the months before his killing, White formed a friendship with Wyatt Earp, who was at the time serving as undersheriff for the southern jurisdiction of Pima County (which included Tombstone).  He was known as a personable and professional lawman.  He was also cordial with Curly Bill Brocius, the man who killed him.

[8] Until 1881, Tombstone, Arizona was an unincorporated town within the framework of Pima County.  After 1881, Tombstone became an incorporated city, which gave city government greater authority over the affairs of the city while reducing the authority of county officials.

[9] The Tombstone Daily Nugget was sympathetic to the Cochise County Cowboys.  Also called the Daily Nugget, the paper was published by H. M. Woods & Company from 1880 to 1882 —it was the CNN of the old southwest and Woods was in cahoots with the Cowboys.

[10] In most cases, stagecoach companies avoided shipping large amounts of bullion because the vehicles were frequently the target of outlaw activity.  However, when the stagecoach route was the only way to ship valuable cargo, shippers had few shipping alternatives.  As railroad companies expanded their lines, trains became the preferred method of high-value shipments.

[11] In 1878, Sherman McMaster was a Texas Ranger.  It was also the first year that he met Curly Bill Brocius.  History remembers McMaster as a good lawman, respected for his honesty, his courage, and his talent with a six-shooter.  Two years later, McMaster was running with the Cowboys.  He was a suspect in the stealing of Army mules from Camp Rucker, and a suspect in the stagecoach robbery near Globe, Arizona.  Planning to arrest him, Marshal Virgil Earp received instructions from Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul to wait until an accomplice, Pony Diehl, had been taken into custody.  Virgil Earp attempted to arrest McMaster on 10 September 1881, but McMaster resisted, shots were exchanged, and McMaster escaped.  These unusual events have led some scholars to think that Sherman McMaster was, while running with the Cowboys, a Texas Ranger operating “under cover.”  Maybe/maybe not … but when the Earps clashed with the Cowboys, McMaster was firmly aligned with the Earps.

[12] In June 1883, Spence was working as a deputy sheriff in Georgetown, New Mexico when he severely pistol-whipped Rodney O’Hara, which resulted in O’Hara’s death.  A jury convicted Spence of manslaughter and he was sentenced to five years at the Yuma Territorial Penitentiary.  He received a pardon by the territorial governor 18-months later.  After his release from prison, Spence reverted to his birth name: Elliot L. Ferguson.  He subsequently operated a ranch south of Globe, Arizona with his old friend Phin Clanton.  They also ran mule teams that supplied the region with much needed cargo.  Phin Clanton died in 1906.  Four years later Spence/Ferguson married Phin’s widow.  Spence died in 1914.  He was laid to rest in an unmarked grave next to the remains of Phin Clanton.

[13] Reported in the Denver Republican.

Posted in History | 5 Comments

Cowboys and Carpetbaggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tombstone Epitaph, 16 September 1881

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clanton Ranch 001

Remains of the Clanton Ranch

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

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

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

John Ringo

Gunman Johnny Ringo

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

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

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

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

Next week:  The Cowboy War


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


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

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

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

Posted in History | 5 Comments

“Your own tombstone”

Brunckow Cabin 001

Brunckow’s Cabin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Schieffelin 001

Edward Lawrence Schieffelin

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

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

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

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

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

Goose Flats-Tombstone

Aerial view of Goose Flats/Tombstone

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

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

Next week: Cowboys and Carpetbaggers.


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


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

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The Sons of Little Dixie

Walker-Colt 1847

Walter-Colt Revolver (1847)

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

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

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

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

Cole Younger

Cole Younger

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

Frank-Jesse James

The James Brothers

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

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

Bob Dalton

Bob Dalton

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

Conastoga Wagon

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

Johnny Ringo

Johnny Ringo 1875

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

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

Doc Holliday Prescott AZ

“Doc” Holliday

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

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

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

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

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[12] See also:  The Hoodoo War.

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

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

[15] No relation to the gunman Frank Stillwell.

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

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

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

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

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Captain Sam Walker

Sam Walker

Sam H. Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walker-Colt 1847

Walter-Colt Revolver (1847)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sam Colt 001

Sam Colt

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

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

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