Old West Shootouts

My parents encouraged reading, and I attended schools where there was always a well-stocked library of the things I was interested in — explorers, adventurers, and frontiersmen.  They were primarily biographies of such men as William Penn, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, and others. 

Of course, the stories were for young people, so the one thing that stood out about the biographies (although not evident to a fifth-grade reader) was that they were all full of fluff.  The writers told the story of a young Washington, who cut down his father’s cherry tree and then later, for no apparent reason, threw a dollar across the Potomac.  They wrote about young Ben Franklin, who authored Poor Richard’s Almanac — and the rough-cut John Fremont, who saved California.  Missing from these stories was that when Washington was a young man, there weren’t any “dollars” in the American colonies, Franklin plagiarized Shakespeare, or Fremont would have sold his sister into slavery for political advantage.

There were two types of stories about early America: the sanitized version and the unmitigated truth.  The truth is that some of the actual characters in America’s history were less than exemplary people. They were often profane, intemperate, untrustworthy, and dangerous. Some men wore the badges of law enforcement officers while robbing banks in nearby towns.

In the formative years of the United States, the truth about society is that almost everyone had their freedom — and little else.  Young men faced a short lifespan of back-breaking labor; their women suffered through a short life of pain and deprivation.  In 1790, 36% of American households contained seven or more people.  A century later, 23% had seven or more persons.  The large size of American families was partly so that the children could eventually assist their fathers and mothers in running the farm.  The larger the acreage, the more people needed to work it.

The period between 1750 and 1950 was difficult for young people.  Muscle-sore and work-weary parents guided their offspring through their daily routine: awaken, milk and feed the livestock, breakfast, repair or replace fencing, break for a noon meal, bale, repair, haul, supper, read a few passages from the Bible, and go to bed.  This sort of activity went on week after week, month after month, year after year — and by the time the “children” reached ten or 12-years-old, they were ready to strike out on their own.  All kids develop romantic notions about living an adventurous life away from home — and besides, life couldn’t be more challenging than what they were used to — could it?

Many of these youngsters (mostly the boys) would follow a different path from their angry, broken-down fathers and mothers.  They would follow an easier path — or so they imagined. Some could find work mucking out stalls at a livery, emptying spittoons in a saloon, working for a blacksmith, or ranching — reminiscent of their life on the old man’s farm.  In surprisingly large numbers, others turned to robbery, gambling, and drinking rotgut whiskey. Many of these kids simply “disappeared” from the face of the earth. Life in rural America was bad, but life in America’s growing cities was even worse.  The average lifespan was 38-40 for both males and females.  In 1950, only 13% of the population lived to age 65.

We should conclude that children didn’t have much of a childhood in the mid-1800s — a condition that lasted through the end of World War II.  The period between 1850 and 1950 was remarkable for its violence and human suffering.

Levi Richardson was one of those lads.  Born in 1851, he lived barely 28 years.  He was born in Wisconsin, left the home fires at an early age, found work as a buffalo hunter, and eventually found his way to Ford County, Kansas — which ultimately became the location of one of the west’s more dangerous towns: Dodge City.  In Dodge City, Levi Richardson was known as a fast gun and a perilous mankiller.  According to the rumor of the day, Levi would just as soon shoot an Indian as look at them, and he was reputed to have sent more than a few Indians to the happy hunting ground in the sky.

No one is quite sure why Levi had a reputation as a gunfighter.  Besides the one gunfight in which he was killed, no one can remember any other “more successful” shootouts.  Maybe he was all mouth.  He arrived in Dodge City around 1874 — at about the same time the Indian Wars were in full swing.  By the time Levi was 23 years old, he was a drifter, a boozer, a gambler, and a loudmouth.  Not many people liked Levi Richardson, but Levi didn’t seem to mind.  Levi did have one friend, though: a town marshal named Masterson, but then, not many people were fond of Bat Masterson, either.

Deputy town marshal Wyatt Earp knew Richardson but didn’t think much of him.  Levi proved he was smarter than some by keeping a low profile around another gambler, a fellow named John Holiday.  Most folks called John “Doc.”  Another fellow Levi got along with was a gambler named Frank Loving.

Frank Loving was a few years younger than Levi — born in 1860.  He was from Missouri but moved with his family to Texas after the Civil War.  Frank’s father was killed in 1870, and it was shortly after this that young Loving left home to become a gambler.  A ten-year-old gambler is hard to imagine.  My guess is that he started off working in saloons and eased into the gambling racket.  Loving also ended up in Ford County, Kansas, where he spent most of his time at the famed Long Branch Saloon, then owned by Charlie Bassett.  Bassett later became the Ford County Sheriff and, alternately, Dodge City Town Marshal.

By every account, Levi Richardson, and Frank Loving, who some people called Cockeye Frank, got along well enough — until 1879.  Frank Loving, a married man, concluded that Levi was making a play for his wife, Mattie.  At first, Loving addressed his concerns verbally, which in time escalated to a fistfight in the street outside the Long Branch.  When the fight was finally over (people get tired of swinging fists after a while), Levi told Frank (who was unarmed at the time), “The next time I see you, I’ll blow your guts out, you cockeyed son of a bitch.”

On 5 April 1879, Richardson decided he’d had enough of Cockeyed Frank.  He stepped inside the Long Branch Saloon with one thought in his pea-sized head: blowing Frank’s guts out.  But Loving wasn’t in the saloon, so Levi decided to wait.  Frank finally showed up for work at around 9 a.m., seating himself near a potbellied stove at the end of a long table.  Levi joined him at the table, and they spoke in low tones.  Richardson suddenly stood up and, in a louder voice, said, “You wouldn’t fight anything, you damn son of a bitch.”  Frank answered, “Well then, try me and see.”

Levi went for his gun, clearing leather, and Frank did the same.  The two men fired eleven shots from a distance of about two feet.  One of Levi’s five shots grazed Frank’s hand.  Frank fired six shots, hitting Levi in the chest, side, and arm.  Deputy Marshal William Duffy entered the saloon as Frank fired his last bullet and disarmed Levi as he fell to the floor.  Town Marshal Bassett arrived next and arrested Loving, which was standard procedure back then.  Levi, lying on the floor, bled out and died.  Officials ruled the shooting self-defense two days later, promptly releasing Frank Loving from custody.  Since Levi had his boots on at the instant of his death, well — you know.

No one else was hit by errant bullets inside the Saloon — but it was, after all, just a little past nine in the morning.  Locals couldn’t imagine what happened to Levi’s other four bullets.  There were several gunfights in the Long Branch Saloon, but the Loving-Richardson shootout was the more famous among them.  A short time later, 19-year old Frank Loving left his wife and children to pursue full-time employment as a gambler over in Trinidad, Colorado.

Frank Loving and John Allen had a lot in common.  They were both professional gamblers, they were both loudmouths, and they had known each other since their good old Dodge City days.  Early in the evening of 14 April 1882, Loving and Allen got into an argument.  Loving suggested that they step into the street and settle the matter.  Mutual friends prevented any gunplay that day, and both men went their separate ways.  Frank Loving stewed in his juices overnight, apparently deciding that the matter was unresolved.

The next morning, Frank Loving entered the Imperial Saloon, where Allen worked, with a gun in his hand.  When Allen noticed the handgun, he stood up, drew his pistol, and fired at Loving.  And missed.  Loving returned fire — and missed.  Saloon patrons scattered left and right.  In the melee, someone knocked the gun out of Loving’s hand.  Using a patron as cover, Allen shot at Loving two more times, missing both times.

Frank Loving recovered his pistol and emptied it at Allen, who was by then quickly finding his way toward the back door of the Imperial into the alley.  None of Loving’s bullets hit Allen.  Allen quickly took refuge in Hammond’s Hardware Store, two doors down from the Imperial.  Loving pursued Allen into the alley but could not find him.  Meanwhile, while serving as a deputy town marshal, James Masterson (Bat Masterson’s younger brother) located Loving and disarmed him.  Having done so, Masterson searched for Allen, who seemed to have disappeared.

Sometime later, Masterson returned to the Imperial and learned that Loving had re-armed himself with two revolvers and was out looking for Allen.  By then, Loving had entered the hardware store to buy ammunition for the guns — and this is where Allen stepped up behind Loving and shot him.  After Masterson and Town Marshal Lou Kreeger discovered Loving, who was badly wounded, they arrested Allen.

Frank Loving died from his gunshot wound on 21 April.  Allen went to trial in September 1882, charged with Loving’s murder.  Allen successfully argued that he acted in self-defense and won an acquittal.  Since Loving died with his boots on — well, you know.  John Allen moved back to Dodge City, where he became a preacher.  It didn’t pay as much as gambling, but it was safer.    

Posted in American Frontier, Colorado, Gunfights and such, History, Indian War, Kansas, Kansas Law Dogs, Society | 8 Comments

Old Paint

Following the French and Indian War (1754-63), the British colony of Virginia extended from the Atlantic seaboard to the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.  Few British subjects traveled beyond the Appalachian Mountains until the early 1770s.  The area of present-day Kentucky once formed the far-western region of the U.S. state of Virginia.  With the permission of the Virginia legislature, Kentucky County formed as a new state — the first state west of the Appalachian — admitted to the Union by Congress in 1792.

Most of us today remember reading about the exploits of frontiersman Daniel Boone — but we often overlook or fail to recall that he was also the first of thousands of westward migrating pioneers to follow the now-famous Wilderness Road.  In 1802, Missouri (sitting west of Kentucky, across the Mississippi River) was Spanish territory.  Americans who relocated to Missouri did so only with the permission of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and only on the condition that they become subjects of the Spanish Crown.  That changed in 1803 when the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, which essentially doubled the size of the United States with a few signatures and some cash.

Mathew Caldwell was born in Kentucky on 8 March 1798 and grew up there until he was 20-years of age.  In 1818, Caldwell accompanied his parents into Missouri, where Indian hostilities were frequent events. In Missouri, Mathew met and married his first wife, Martha.  In 1831, Mathew and Martha and (we believe) three young children migrated to Texas.

Upon arriving in Texas, Mathew settled his family in the DeWitt Colony, located south-southwest of the Austin Colony in East Texas.  In June 1831,  Mathew Caldwell received title to a parcel of land near the Zumwalt Settlement (southwest of present-day Hallettsville).  He acquired the Water Street residence of James Hinds in Gonzalez.  The Caldwell home was just down the street from the hat factory of George Kimball and Almeron Dickinson

In the 1830s, Mexico struggled with the complexities of establishing a new Republic, but there was no consensus about its form.  Thoughtful men wanted to form a federalist republic with semi-autonomous states or provinces, much like in the United States.  Other men imagined a strong centralized power.  The debate heated up as many Texians, citizens of Mexico, preferred federalism (less government, as outlined in the Constitution of 1824) to the authoritarianism of a centralist regime.[1]

When hostilities broke out between Texians and Mexico’s centralist authority, Mathew Caldwell was one of the leading men of the Texian community in Gonzalez and well acquainted with the other early Texians: Edward Burleson, Benjamin McCullough, John Henry Moore, and Jack Coffee Hays.  In late September 1835, Caldwell began actively recruiting Texians for a possible confrontation with Mexican troops, which is what happened on 2 October.  History remembers this fight as the Battle of Gonzalez.  As a participant in the Battle of Gonzalez, Mathew served as a scout and mediator in the matter of the now-famous cannon, which the Texians had borrowed from the Mexican army and refused to return. 

 Mathew’s call for volunteers took him from Gonzalez to Mina (around 100 miles one way).  From this effort, Mathew Caldwell became locally known as the “Paul Revere of Texas.”  Subsequently, from approximately 10 October to early December 1835, Caldwell accompanied the volunteer Texas army to San Antonio de Béxar, where they placed a siege over the Mexican garrison at the Alamo.  There is a hint that Mexican gunfire wounded Caldwell during the operation.

On 3 November 1835, Texian delegates established the provisional government of Texas.  Caldwell’s initial task was to administer and provision the volunteer army at the Alamo.  Events in Texas began to move quickly as Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna became more determined to put down the Texian rebellion, and the Texians became equally committed to achieving their independence.

On 1 February 1836, the citizens of Gonzalez elected Mathew Caldwell and John Fisher as their delegates to the Texas Independence Convention, held at Washington on the Brazos.  Both men signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.  Subsequently, Texas’ provisional government appointed Caldwell to a Committee of Three to “assess the strength of the enemy on the frontier and the condition of the Texian Army.”  Along with Byrd Lockhart and William Matthews, Caldwell formed a volunteer ranger company with twenty-three men.  Twelve Gonzalez men entered the Alamo as a relief force, reporting to Lieutenant Colonel William Travis on 2 March.  All of these men perished at the Alamo.

After the Texas Revolution in 1837, the citizens of Gonzalez County elected the 39-year old Caldwell as their sheriff.  Since Mexican troops had destroyed the town of Gonzalez, and because Comanche hostiles quickly reclaimed the area of Gonzalez, Caldwell and 29 rangers established a new village they named Walnut Branch in the northwest section of the County.  The fortification these men constructed provided some protection for the Texians filtering back into Gonzalez from the so-called “runaway scrape.”[2]

Caldwell remarried Hannah Morrison in Washington County on 17 May 1837.  As a respected Ranger and community leader, he helped keep the peace in town and the prairies.  In early 1838, hecklers tried to prevent Reverend Zachariah Morell and other ministers from preaching the gospel.  Caldwell boldly stood up to them and announced there would be no harassment of men of God.  No one dared use any violence on the preachers.

In October 1838, Comanche attacked the town and kidnapped two young women and some children.  While Caldwell’s rangers quickly mobilized and pursued these Indians, they could not catch up with them.  If this wasn’t enough, rumors began to circulate about a new Mexican army’s plan to assault San Antonio.  Indians on the one hand, Mexicans on the other.  Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar appointed Caldwell as a captain of Gonzalez Rangers to defend the immediate frontier.  Two months later, Lamar commissioned Caldwell to command a company in the First Regiment of Texas Infantry.  On 29 March 1839, Caldwell’s company, serving under General Edward Burleson, helped defeat the treasonous rebellion of Vincente Córdova of Nacogdoches.

In December 1838, several children of the Lockhart and Putman families were kidnapped by Comanche Indians while gathering pecans on the Guadalupe River south of Gonzales.  Mathew Caldwell, Ben and Henry McCullough, and other residents pursued these Indians but soon faced a bitter winter “norther” that left ice and snow on the ground.  Eventually, the winter weather defeated their efforts.  The Lockhart children would not fare well during their captivity.

The Third Congress of the Republic of Texas passed an act on 15 January 1839, which called for raising a fifty-six-man ranging company for Gonzales County.  Texas law required that the President appoint all ranger captains; the citizens of Gonzalez demanded that President Lamar appoint Caldwell to that post, which he did.

Captain Caldwell mustered his ranger company on 16 March 1839.  One of these men was Henry McCullough, already well-known as a courageous Indian fighter.  Curiously, one week later, President Lamar further appointed Caldwell to serve as a captain in the First Regiment of Texas Infantry.  Since the regiment had its lawful complement of officers, Colonel Lysander Wells informed Caldwell that there was no place for him.  Lamar’s confusing appointment prompted Judge James W. Robinson to correspond with the President urging that he rescind Caldwell’s appointment, stating, “I hope he [Caldwell] can yet be provided for, as I do think him the best Capt. of Spies in Texas, even superior in many respects to the old veteran Deaf Smith.”

“Old Paint” Caldwell would join the army in due time, but he proceeded to fulfill his obligation to command the Rangers first.  His Gonzales Rangers protected the area between San Antonio and Gonzales during the next three months.  They established their main camp about fourteen miles above Gonzales on the Guadalupe River near present Luling (present-day Caldwell County).  A large force of Austin-area Rangers and volunteers under Colonel Edward Burleson fought a battle with Vicente Cordova’s Mexican and Indian rebels on Mill Creek on 29 March 1839.

Captain Caldwell’s Rangers were on scouting missions and thus missed the main battle.  However, five of his men were attacked by Cordova’s fleeing force the following day on the Guadalupe River.  “Guns were fired and two of the Gonzales Rangers wounded,” wrote Captain Caldwell.  Two of his men, relieved of their horses, hurried back to Seguin on foot to spread the word of their skirmish.  “Old Paint” Caldwell and his Gonzales Rangers thus began a dogged pursuit of Cordova’s rebels, who were fleeing toward Mexico.  Caldwell crossed the Guadalupe River (where New Braunfels now stands) and pursued them north of San Antonio.  Colonel Henry Karnes and other volunteers joined Caldwell’s chase until signs showed that the rebels had out-distanced them.  Although unsuccessful in catching the treasonous Cordova, his men did help drive the danger from the country.

Caldwell’s 1839 Ranger company helped protect surveyors working between Gonzales and Austin.  His company disbanded on 16 June.  Caldwell then became involved with recruiting for the First Regiment of Infantry.  Records of the regiment reflect that on 29 August 1839, Mathew Caldwell served as one of the fifteen infantry captains.  By December 1839, Captain Caldwell commanded a small, mounted scouting party reporting to Colonel Burleson.

On Christmas Day, Caldwell’s scouts encountered a band of hostile Cherokees about 100 miles northwest of Austin.  Caldwell’s scouts killed six Indians during a brief fight, including two Cherokee chiefs.  The only Texian loss was John Lynch.  Caldwell’s scouts pursued the Indians for several more days without further battle, and the expedition returned to Austin in January 1840.

Nevertheless, Comanche, Kiowa, Cherokee, and Wichita Indians continued to plague the Texians by raiding settlements, killing colonists, kidnapping women and children, and stealing horses and cattle.  Under these circumstances, Texians were both surprised and suspicious of the motivations of a delegation of Comanche war chiefs who one day appeared in San Antonio seeking a truce with the whites.

On 10 January 1840, three Comanche emissaries surprised everyone in San Antonio by walking into the city and announcing that they wanted to arrange peace with the whites.  These emissaries met with Colonel Henry W. Karnes, who had served during the Texas War of Independence as Sam Houston’s spymaster.  Karnes was 28 years old.

The emissaries released one white boy to Karnes — a measure of good faith.  He was the Webster lad kidnapped in 1838.  The Indians informed Karnes that they would return in 23 days to negotiate peace with the Texians.  Karnes listened to what they had to say and agreed to meet again at the prescribed time, but he also admonished these men that no lasting peace would be possible until the Comanche returned their white captives.  Karnes estimated that the Comanche held 13-16 white prisoners.

Karnes promptly notified Secretary War, 37-year old Albert Sidney Johnson, of the impending negotiation.  Johnson ordered Karnes to detain the Indians once they arrived and retain them in custody until the Comanche returned all white people to their families.

On 19 March, the powerful Eastern Comanche Chief Muguara (also: Mukwooru) (translation, Spirit Talker) led 65 people into San Antonio, including 12 other chiefs, several women, children, and warriors.  The Indians were dressed in their finest clothing to present their best appearance.  Chief Muguara wanted most Texian recognition of the Comancheria as the Indian’s dominion.[3]

The Comanche brought along a captive female, 16-year old Matilda Lockhart, taken in 1838.[4]  Matilda had suffered the abuses of several Comanche men.  Mary Maverick, the wife of Sam Maverick, cared for Matilda once Muguara turned her over.  Maverick testified that the Indians burned off Matilda’s nose in addition to other disgusting abuses.  The girl was an absolute mess.

Chief Muguara was upset because the Texians did not offer him guns and ammunition for Miss Lockhart; he needed provisions to continue raiding.  Karnes wasn’t buying it, and he was none too happy about the condition of Matilda Lockhart.

Colonel Hugh McLeod questioned Matilda about what she knew of the thirteen kidnapped whites that Muguara promised to trade for provisions — as part of the peace negotiations.  Matilda informed the Texians that she knew of the existence of Mrs. Dolly Wester, her children, Booker and Patsy, Thomas Pierce, a child named Lyons, and the three remaining Putnam children.

When it was clear that Muguara was stalling, Karnes and McLeod suspected the Comanche of negotiating in bad faith.  Karnes had made it clear that the Comanche must release all abducted whites before the council meeting.  The Comanche, however, had a different view.  Comanche, who held those captives, had never agreed to anything of the sort — and especially not to meet with Texians.

When the Indian delegation failed to produce the expected number of captives, Texians escorted its members to the jailhouse, retaining them there until the meeting began at the Council House.  The Council House was a one-story stone building adjoining the jail at Main Plaza and Calabosa (Market) Street.[5]  Karnes was armed with the knowledge of Matilda Lockhart’s testimony that she had seen 15 other white captives at the Comanche’s main camp a few days earlier.  She reported that the Indians wanted to see how high a price they could get for their hostages.  The Indian plan was to bring in the remaining captives one or two at a time to maximize their value.

The Texians demanded to know where the other captives were.  Chief Muguara, the Comanche spokesman, informed the Texians that various bands held the other prisoners.  He informed Karnes that he was confident that the other captives would be released in time, in exchange for a significant amount of supplies, of course — including rifles, ammunition, and blankets.

Chief Muguara was undoubtedly fluent in Spanish but less so in English.  When he finished speaking his terms in Spanish, which was translated into English, he finally spoke in English, saying to the Texians, “Now how do you like that answer?”  Neither Karnes nor any other leading Texian liked it at all.  Texian militia, summoned to enter the Council House, stationed themselves at intervals along the walls.  When the Comanche could not or would not promise to return the remaining captives forthwith, Karnes announced that the Texians would hold these chiefs as hostages until the Comanche returned all remaining white prisoners.

The interpreter hesitated before relaying this message.  He warned Karnes that the Comanche would attempt to escape by fighting if he delivered this message.  Karnes ordered him to relay the message.  When the interpreter had given the notice, he quickly left the room.  As soon as the Comanche understood the Texian’s words, they arose and began attacking the militia and fighting their way out of the Council House.

At the time, Captain Caldwell was in San Antonio as a guest at the home of Samuel Maverick.  He was aware of the testimony of Matilda Lockhart and attended the negotiations in the Council House.  He walked over to the meeting unarmed, but he soon found himself in trouble when, soon after his arrival, the talks suddenly turned violent.

One of the Indian leaders attacked a Texian sentinel, and the fight quickly became general.  Caldwell wrestled a rifle away from one Indian, killed him with it, and then used the butt end of the gun to club another Comanche to death.

In the gunfire and dense smoke that permeated the packed Council House, “Old Paint” was shot through the right leg by rifle fire, possibly from another Texian.  The fighting spilled out into the streets of San Antonio.  The Texian soldiers pursued and killed all the Indian chiefs, sparing only a few women and children — best described as those not actively engaged in the fight.

Although painfully wounded, Caldwell moved outside the courthouse and continued to fight.  His “borrowed” rifle now shattered, he resorted to the only other weapon available — decorative rocks.  That night, Caldwell returned to the Maverick home with some assistance walking.  In her memoirs, Mary A. Maverick wrote, “Dr. Weideman came and cut off his boot and found the bullet had gone entirely through the leg and lodged in the boot, where it was discovered.”[6]  Caldwell’s wound, though not life-threatening, was very painful.  The resilient Captain recovered rapidly and, in a few days, walked about with only the aid of a stick.

Mathew Caldwell’s next Indian encounter came in August 1840 when the Comanche war chief Buffalo Hump led 1,000 Indians against the coastal towns of Victoria and Linnville, killing settlers, taking prisoners, looting, and destroying homes, and stealing hundreds of horses, cattle, and mules.  Known to history as the Great Raid of 1840, Buffalo Hump sought retribution for the Council House Fight.

To meet this emergency, various volunteer forces of Texian settlers took up pursuit of the Comanches as they retreated northward.  Among these forces was a mounted company under Captain Caldwell.  Other volunteer units gathered at Plum Creek near the Gonzales and Austin Roads.  Scout Henry McCullough brought word during the early morning hours of 12 August that a massive force of Comanches was approaching.  Captain Caldwell made a stirring speech to the combined Texian forces, insisting that they must attack before the Indians could reach the protection of the nearby hills.  “If we can’t whip ’em, we can try.”  Although favored by many to take command of the forces present, Caldwell instead relinquished overall leadership to the senior officer present, Major General Felix Huston, even though Huston had no previous experience as an Indian fighter.

During the Battle of Plum Creek, the Comanches lost more than eighty killed.  The Texans suffered only one man killed and seven wounded.  Several Comanche women and children were taken prisoner, and the Texians recovered a large number of stolen goods, mules, and horses.

Once the battle had begun to swing in favor of the Texans, Caldwell and Ben McCullough urged the inexperienced Huston to order an offensive charge.  Felix Huston would write in his report that Captain Caldwell commanded the left-wing of the Texian line and executed the charge “in gallant style.”

In 1841, Caldwell served as an infantry company commander during the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition.  The entire operation was a fiasco from the start, but it only became worse with time.  Mexican forces captured Caldwell and his men, disarmed them, and force-marched them across the Sonora desert in chains to Mexico City — an ordeal lasting several months.  En route, one of Caldwell’s men died from exhaustion, and several others were shot when they refused to walk any further.  Caldwell arrived in Mexico City in April 1842.  When finally released later in the summer, Caldwell returned to San Antonio.

In September 1842, Caldwell assumed command of a force of 200 volunteers defending San Antonio against the invasion of Mexican General Adrian Woll.  Promoted to colonel, Caldwell found himself surrounded by a superior number of Mexican soldiers at Salado Creek on 17 September.  Caldwell wrote in his plea for reinforcements, “The enemy are around me on every side, but I fear them not.  I can whip them on any ground — Huzza!  Huzza for Texas!”  He signed as Mathew Caldwell, Colonel Commanding.

On 18 September, Caldwell sent Captain Jack Hays with a company of mounted rifles to entice Woll’s cavalry to pursue them into the Salado Creek, where Caldwell’s men were ready to ambush them.  One of Caldwell’s soldiers was a man named Nathan Boone Burkett.  In his recount of the fight, written in 1895, Burkett reported that, in preparing for this battle, Caldwell stepped in front of his men and gave them advice and encouragement, telling them that “if everyone makes a sure shot, we will whip the hell out of them before they know it.”

Although vastly outnumbered, the Caldwell’s 200 Texians put up a stiff fight and caused the Mexican cavalry to withdraw in haste with sixty men lying dead on the field.  It wasn’t long before General Woll’s defeated army retreated across the Rio Grande into Mexico.  Some Texas leaders criticized Caldwell for not pursuing and capturing all of Woll’s soldiers — but then, of course, they weren’t at Salado Creek, so their criticism held little credibility among the Texians who were.

In 1842, Mathew Caldwell was 44 years old.  People referred to him as “Old Paint” because his hair and whiskers were spotted with white patches, like the coloring on a horse.  Although young according to modern standards, Caldwell was an old man in 1842.  Suffering from the effects of his long march across Mexico and the illnesses imposed upon him from malnutrition, Mathew Caldwell retired to his home in Gonzalez.  He died at home on 28 December 1842 and was buried with full military honors.   A historical monument now marks his grave in the Gonzalez Cemetery.


  1. Caldwell, C.  Texas Lawmen, 1835-1899: The Good and the Bad.  History Press, 2011.
  2. Groneman, B.  Alamo Defenders: A Genealogy, the People, and their Words.  Eakin Press, 1990.
  3. Hardin, S. L.  Texas Iliad — A Military History of the Texas Revolution.  University of Texas Press, 1994.
  4. Marks, P. M.  Turn Your Eyes Toward Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary Maverick.  Texas A&M University Press, 1989.
  5. Maverick, M. A.  Memoirs of Mary A. Maverick.  Alamo Printing, 1921 (available online).


[1] Several accounts of the Battle of Gonzalez and the Texas Revolution are available inside Old West Tales, including The Texas Highsmith Family, Jim Bowie: The Man Behind the Legend, El Sordo, The Dickinson’s of the Alamo, Sam Maverick, and John Coffee Hays. 

[2] Residents on the Gulf Coast and at San Antonio de Béxar began evacuating in January upon learning of the Mexican army’s troop movements into their area, an event that was ultimately replayed across Texas. During early skirmishes, some Texian soldiers surrendered, believing that they would become prisoners of war — but Santa Anna demanded their executions. The news of the Battle of the Alamo and the Goliad massacre instilled fear in the population and resulted in the mass exodus of the civilian population of Gonzales, where the opening battle of the Texian revolution had begun and where, only days before the fall of the Alamo, they had sent a militia to reinforce the defenders at the mission.

[3] Three Comanche chiefs did not attend: Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna — the fiercest war chiefs.

[4] I believe it is likely that Matilda was related to Byrd Lockhart, Sr., but I have not been able to confirm this.

[5] All Indian tribes had their own cultural traditions, but one that appears consistent across several Indian cultures involved protocols for holding council meetings.  Men might raise their voices and storm out of the meeting, but under no circumstance would Indians who attended council in peace resort to violence while in council.  To do so was a supreme affront to “civilized” behavior. 

[6] The tale of Dr. Weideman, as told by Mary Maverick, is bizarre.  A German in the employ of the Russian Tsar as a naturalist was sent to Texas to study and report on anything and everything, vegetable, and animal.  He seized upon the opportunity of several dead Comanche to collect their remains and reduced them further to skeletal remains for shipment back to Russia — one male, one female.  According to Maverick, this was only the tip of the iceberg.  After reducing these remains to skeletons, he emptied the water used to boil the bodies into the city drinking water reservoir, which caused no small amount of anger among the residents.  Maverick wrote that Weideman was arrested, fined, and released.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Comanche, History, Mexican Border War, Mexican Revolution, Missouri, New Mexico, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Texas, Texas Rangers, Very Strange | 5 Comments

Spirits in Mooney Basin

In 1929, English author Montague James offered five key features of ghost stories:  They offer the pretense of truth, a “pleasing” sense of terror, they avoid bloodshed and sex, they avoid trying to explain the mechanism, and they offer a setting common to almost everyone.

Anthropologists tell us that stories of ghosts, or if you prefer, spirits originated among early civilizations as misty, airy, or barely tangible human shapes — the persons within the person.  Where did these early people come up with such notions?  The scientists imagine from the white mist exhaled as breath in colder climates.  The remarkable thing about ghost stories is that they exist in all cultures, and they continue to exist as part of the human story-telling nature.

Mooney Basin, Nevada

I related one such tale in the story of Texas Ranger and frontiersman Big Foot Wallace in 2019.  In my story about the American Frontier, I touched briefly on the plight of the Donner Party in 1846.  It isn’t a very pleasant story — but it is true.  And terrible — and not the only incident of that kind.  One recalls that the Donner Party crossed the Ruby Mountains via the Overland Pass.  They became stranded in deep blizzards, ran out of food, and turned into cannibals.  The only reason we know about the Donner Party is that there were survivors who later told their stories. 

But, behind the Donner Party was another led by a man named Armbruster Pike.  The Pike train experienced the same blizzard.  They too became snowed-in and isolated but not in the Ruby Mountains.  No, they were stuck inside the Mooney Basin.

Like the Donner’s, the Pikes eventually consumed all their food stores, and in desperation, turned to cannibalization.  Those are the facts.  What isn’t known is whether Armbruster was murdered for his remains or dismembered while still alive so that others could consume his legs, but one story continues to exist about an apparition “believed to be” Armbruster Pike in search of his legs in and around Mooney Basin.  People who report seeing Mr. Pike (or what’s left of him) describe him as being a hunchback-looking creature with long, unkempt white hair and a scraggly beard.  Of course, it helps to have two ghost towns in the area, which adds a peculiar flavor to the tale.

The Mooney Basin sits within the Bald Mountain area of Nevada — a mining area since the early 1800s.  Numerous tales exist about miners who simply disappeared.  One miner’s body was found without his head.  Of course, there are numerous possibilities for such a thing (Indians, bears, or people looking for their legs).  Okay, go ahead a laugh.  One tale took place in 1957 when a stockman was looking for some cattle that had wandered off into the Mooney Basin area.  This fellow claimed to have discovered a hunchbacked man with long white hair and in need of a shave eating one of the dead cows.  When this scraggly person was discovered, he was covered in blood and was consuming the animal raw.  And of course, he had no legs.  There are a lot of unanswered questions about this, of course.

Still, the strange happenings in Mooney Basin continue.  In the 1980s, modern-day miners continued to report “unexplained events” along Alligator Ridge.  What kind of strange events?  I’m glad you asked.  Large vehicles suddenly started up by themselves, and late at night, a lone figure floating in the distance.  Floating, on account of the fact that he has no legs.  In 1989, while hauling a truckload of ore along Alligator Ridge, a vehicle operator was killed when his truck went out of control and rolled off the ridge — near where Armbruster Pike was allegedly consumed.  Now, of course, no one knows if there is any connection between inattentive truck drivers and legless men, but that’s how ghost stories go and are most effective when told to eight-year-olds around a campfire at night.

On the other hand, in the late 1990s, with the mines nearly worked out, archaeologists discovered human remains in the area of the horseshoe pit.  Local Indians claimed that the body was from an ancient burial site, but to play it safe, the local sheriff sent the remains to a pathologist, whose report concluded that the specimen did not come from an ancient time.  The remains were estimated to have been buried in the 1950s.  So, the Indians didn’t get the remains — but I’m not sure who did.

Now everyone knows what fun-loving fellows’ miners are, right? For many years, one good joke to play on new miners (who’ve never heard about Armbruster Pike) was first, to tell the story with individually crafted embellishments, and then later, dress up as an apparition to scare the hell out of them. Those poor saps then become eye-witnesses to weirdness.

Of course, whoever dresses up as an apparition and prowls around in the middle of the night trying to scare folks could get shot, which might then introduce a completely new ghost story.

One quiet night in the area of the horseshoe, a miner was camping alone with only his two Alsatians for company.  Late at night, the two dogs began growling, their hair stood up, and they charged off into the woods.  The camper had no idea what was happening, but he wasn’t leaving the firelight for no amount of money.  Forty or so minutes later, the dogs returned, but they remained agitated for the rest of the night, which allowed no rest for their master.  At daylight, the camper went off into the woods following the tracks of his dogs left in the snow.  He never found any other tracks except those of his dogs. 

Apparently, spirits don’t leave tracks.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, Ghoulies & Beasties, History, Nevada, Pioneers, Very Strange | 7 Comments

The Ringtail Panther

Martin Van Buren Palmer (later, Parmer) (1778-1850) was born in Charlotte County, Virginia.  In 1798, he moved to Tennessee, settling in Dickson County where he superintended the Montgomery-Bell Iron Works.  During the War of 1812, Parmer served as a commissioned officer in the Tennessee State Militia.

Note:  Originally, the Missouri Territory was known as the Louisiana Territory.  Congress renamed it because they wanted to avoid confusion with the new state of Louisiana, admitted to the United States on 30 April 1812.  The Missouri Territory was massive, taking up the entire center section of the present-day United States.  There was, of course, no shortage of stout-hearted men to tame the territory, but they’d have to do that over the dead bodies of the Indians who already lived there.  After Missouri became a state, the remaining portions of the territory (Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, parts of Colorado, Minnesota, and New Mexico) became unorganized territories of the United States.

In 1816, Martin Parmer moved on to Missouri.  Four years later, citizens elected him to a two-year term in the Missouri General Assembly.  While serving in this capacity, Martin became a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention of 1821.  Three years later, Parmer represented Clay County in the Missouri State Senate (1824-25) and was selected to serve as a colonel in the Missouri State militia where, after 1821, he led four companies of infantry against hostile Indians.

In this “unorganized” territory, Martin Parmer became known as the “ring-tail panther.”  Parmer began calling himself the Ringtail Panther in Missouri.  There is no animal so named to the best of my knowledge; however, a cat-sized carnivore resembling a small fox with a long raccoon-like tail, called Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) found in the southern portion of the United States and northern Mexico.  I cannot say whether this is the creature favored by Martin Parmer.  But in any case, that’s what people called Martin Parmer, and judging from his portrait, no one with common sense would dispute the claim.  When Missouri became a state, Martin served as a representative in the first general assembly.  He was later elected a state senator to the third general assembly and appointed an Indian agent by the famed explorer William Rogers Clark.  Major General James R. Slack of Indiana described Martin Parmer as shown in the text box below:

In 1825, Martin traveled to Texas as part of Haden Edward’s colony.  It was said by those who knew him in Missouri that Martin Parmer took French leave and moved to Nacogdoches, Texas.  French leave suggests someone who quits his post.  Parmer’s Texas migration took him to Mound Prairie (Cherokee County).  It has only been four short years before when Mexico won its independence from Spain and established a new nation consisting of several states.

The area known as Mexican Texas became part of the border state Coahuila y Tejas.  To assist in governing such a large area, the state organization included several smaller departments.  Texas was known as the Department of Béxar, consisting of several municipalities governed by an alcalde (mayor).  A large portion of East Texas (from the Sabine River to the Trinity River and from the Gulf Coast to the Red River) became part of the municipality of Nacogdoches.

Most people living in Nacogdoches were Spanish-speaking families who had occupied their land for several generations.  After 1821, many Americans illegally migrated to Nacogdoches during the Mexican War of Independence.  More than a few of these people were adventurers who had accompanied filibusters — whom Mexican officials regarded as pirates.

As the government of Mexico worked to establish control over its border with the United States, Mexican officials established a series of laws governing colonization and immigration in Texas.  Under federal law, each state could develop its own immigration rules.  On 24 March 1825, Coahuila y Tejas granted land to impresarios, each of whom would recruit settlers for their own colony.  For every 100 families an impresario settled in Texas, he would receive 23,000 acres of land to cultivate and settle.[1]

Among these impresarios was Haden Edwards, a very wealthy American land speculator known for having a quick temper and rude deportment toward others.  The government of Mexico authorized Edwards to establish 800 families in East Texas.  The contractual language required Edwards to recognize all pre-existing Spanish and Mexican land titles in his grant area, raise a militia to protect the settlers, and submit all land deeds to a state commissioner for certification.  The Edwards grant included land from the Navasota River to a point twenty leagues west of the Sabine River and twenty additional leagues north of the Gulf of Mexico to fifteen leagues north of Nacogdoches.  Note: one league in Mexico/Texas was 4,428.4 acres or roughly 3 square miles.  To the north and west of this colony were several Native tribes.  The southern boundary of the Edwards colony abutted that of Stephen F. Austin, whom Edwards detested.

Shortly after Edwards arrived in Texas, he initiated an illegal process of validating existing land claims, within which he demanded that residents provide proof of land ownership or forfeit their land at auction.  The plain truth was that Edwards didn’t like Mexicans, and he wanted their land.  However, few of the English-speaking residents had valid titles to the land, many of whom were duped by fraudulent land speculators.

Nacogdoches Alcalde Luis Procela and clerk of court José Antonio Sepulveda anticipated a problem with the new impresario, so they validated Spanish and Mexican land titles.  Edwards accused these two officials of forging deeds (ostensibly because they were Mexicans), further angered residents.  By December 1825, Edwards had successfully recruited fifty families, and — pursuant to his duty as an impresario, he organized a militia.

As it was a long-held tradition that militias elected their own company-grade officers, the men elected Sepulveda as their captain.  Edwards would not have it; he nullified the vote and named himself militia commander.  Edwards also called for elections to name a new mayor.  The two nominees were Chichester Chaplin (Martin Parmer’s son-in-law) and Samuel Norris, an early resident of Nacogdoches.  To no one’s surprise, Chaplin won the election.

Chaplin’s victory led many residents to allege vote stacking, and they appealed the election results to Juan Antonio Saucedo, the political chief of the Department of Béxar.  Saucedo overturned the election and proclaimed Norris the winner.  Edwards refused to recognize Norris as alcalde but soon left Nacogdoches for another settler recruiting campaign — leaving his brother, Benjamin, in charge of the colony.  Benjamin, however, wasn’t very good at maintaining stability.  A vigilante group formed from among the earlier settlers, and they began harassing the new immigrants.  Benjamin Edwards whined to state authorities, who soon tired of the drama and canceled the Edwards contract.  More than that, Mexican officials ordered the Edwards brothers to leave Mexico.  Mexican officials undoubtedly believed rumors that Haden had returned to the United States to raise an army.  Despite the deportation order, the Edwards brothers continued their land schemes in Nacogdoches.

Alcalde Norris evicted immigrants in October and November because they illegally settled land belonging to existing settlers.   On this occasion, Colonel Martin Parmer of the Texian militia led a force of men into Nacogdoches and arrested every official and had them court-martialed.  With Parmer sitting as the tribunal, each official was found guilty of — it is supposed — treasonous offenses and sentenced to death.  Parmer commuted the sentences on the condition that the guilty leave Texas and never return.  Following the trial, Parmer appointed Joseph Durst as Alcalde in Nacogdoches.  Parmer led the Fredonian Rebellion for one month, declaring the area around Nacogdoches the independent Republic of Fredonia with himself as its president.  The Republic lasted one month — from 21 December 1826 to 23 January 1827.  Its collapse sent Parmer scrambling ahead of the arrival of the Mexican Army into Louisiana, where he wisely remained until 1831.

The Bowie Connection

After recovering from the infamous sandbar fight in 1828, Jim Bowie decided to take his bubbling personality to Texas.  The Constitution of 1824 banned any religion other than Roman Catholic and gave preferences to faithful citizens.  Bowie liked what he saw in Texas and decided to stay.  To do that, Bowie had to convert to the Catholic faith.  With San Antonio mayor Juan Martin Veramendi, Bowie was baptized in late April of that year.  For the next 18 months, Bowie traveled through Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi but spent most of his time in New Orleans, where he specialized in human vice.  In 1829, he became engaged to Miss Cecilia Wells of Alexandria, Louisiana.  Unfortunately, Miss Wells passed away two weeks before their scheduled marriage ceremony.

In 1830, Bowie returned to Texas to receive his allotment of land from Stephen F. Austin.  Bowie’s letter of introduction, attesting to his good character and standing as a citizen of the United States, failed to mention that he was involved in land fraud schemes, but of course, there was no internet back then, so it would have been difficult for Austin to verify any such letter.  Having taken his oath of allegiance to the Republic of Mexico, Austin commissioned Bowie as a Colonel of the Texas Rangers.

Jim Bowie was fluent in the Spanish language, which offered him ready access to Mexican society in San Antonio.  He used this access to establish business and personal relationships with Mayor Veramendi — including his engagement to the beautiful 19-year old Maria Ursula Veramendi, Juan Martin’s daughter, whom he married in 1831.

According to Frank Johnson, a leader of the Texas Revolution, when Jim Bowie returned to Texas, he had with him Martin Parmer, whom Johnson acknowledged as “prominent in the Fredonian Affair.”  Parmer’s reputation preceded him to San Antonio, which caused no minor difficulty for Bowie.  Bowie was popular within Mexican society — Parmer far less so.[2]

Parmer had no use for Mexicans, nor they for him, and it was not long before certain individuals asked Mayor Veramendi to arrest Parmer, which Juan Martin felt obligated to do.  The arrest warrant was issued and delivered to deputy sheriff Captain Francis Adams, a friend of Martin Parmer.  While pretending to search Parmer, Adams warned him to skedaddle.  Frank Johnson’s entire point in telling this story was to highlight that there were no good feelings between Mexicans and Texians with only a few exceptions (such as Jim Bowie).[3]

Five years later, as things began to heat up between Mexican citizens supporting the Constitution of 1824 and those who supported the centralist regime of Antonio López de Santa Anna, Parmer served as a delegate from the District of Tenaha to the Consultation at San Felipe.  As part of the Consultation, Parmer submitted Henry Smith’s name to serve as governor of Texas.  Ultimately, Smith was chosen to serve as governor of Texas, the first U.S.-born individual to serve in such a capacity.

In March 1836, Parmer served as a delegate from San Augustine to the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  Parmer seconded Sam Houston’s suggestion that the Texians adopt the Texas Declaration of Independence.  The Convention unanimously approved the declaration; Martin Parmer was one of the signers and served as the committee chairman appointed to draft the Texas Constitution.  According to Charles B. Stewart, who knew Parmer personally, he was a man without any fear whatsoever, had the knack of telling amusing stories, and had nothing but disdain for any Mexican.  Stephen Blount described Parmer as a man of nervous temperament, stubbornness, and impatience with unnecessary delays.  Blount described him as having the best impulses: honesty, bravery, courage, and a man who could tell a good tale.

In 1839, Martin Parmer became the Chief Justice of Jasper County — where he remained until he died in 1850.  In 1876, the Texas Legislature named a county in his honor.  On the 100th anniversary of the War of Texas Independence, Texas officials relocated Parmer’s remains to the Texas State Cemetery, where he was reinterred thirty feet from Stephen F. Austin — the man who vigorously opposed Parmer’s first attempt to declare Texian Independence.


  1. Davis, W. C.  Three Roads to the Alamo.  Harper Collins, 1998.
  2. Dixon, S. H.  The Men Who Made Texas Free: The Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  Texas History Company, 1924.
  3. Parmer, T.  Fifty-Five Years Ago in the Wilderness.  Dallas Commercial Books, 1874 (Note: Tom Parmer was Martin’s son).
  4. History of Texas Online: Martin Parmer.


[1] This is not a drawing or representation of Martin Parmer; rather, it is a representation of how a Missourian frontiersman would dress in the 1820s.  Visual provided by George Catlin from A History of Missouri published in 1908.

[2] The picture shown at the right is of Martin Parmer (The Ringtail Panther) is an original work based on preliminary sketches by Charles Berkeley Normann in 1936.  The painting is on display in the Star of the Republic Museum, Washington, Texas.

[3] A generalization by Johnson, or perhaps reflective of his own personal biases.  In point of fact, 25 Mexicans died with their Anglo brothers inside the Alamo on 6 March 1836.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Justice, Missouri, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Society, Texas, Texas Rangers | 6 Comments

Olive Oatman Fairchild


Joseph Smith Jr. (1805 – 1844) was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saints movement.  Smith was born in Vermont, but by 1817, he had moved with his family to Western New York, which was the site of fundamental religious revivalism during the so-called Second Great Awakening. His book, the Book of Mormon, attracted thousands of followers and established a religion that exists today with millions of adherents.

Smith claimed to have experienced a series of visions, including those which he said involved the presence of God and Jesus Christ, and another three years later in which an angel directed him to the location of a buried book of golden plates, an inscribed Judeo-Christian history of an ancient American civilization.  An English translation of this work was published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon.  In that same year, Smith organized the Church of Christ — referring to it as a restoration of the earlier Christian church.  The people affiliated with this church were called “Latter-Day Saints” and “Mormons.”

In 1831, Smith and his followers moved west, planning to establish a commune.  They first gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, and founded an outpost in Independence, Missouri.  During this period, Smith sent out missionaries, published revelations, and supervised the construction of the Kirtland Temple.  Violent skirmishes with non-Mormon citizens resulted in the Mormon Extermination Order.[1]  Smith and his followers relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois, becoming a spiritual and political leader.  When normal society criticized Smith and his Mormons for their polygamy, Smith ordered local printing presses destroyed.  Joseph Smith was killed by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage, Illinois.

For roughly six months after Smith’s death, several people competed to assume Smith’s role as leader of the Mormon movement — including Brigham Young, James Strang, and Sidney Rigdon.  Most Mormons voted to follow Young, but several smaller groups emerged, creating permanent schisms in the movement.

Hazen Aldrich, an ordained priest within the Mormon Church, joined the group led by James Strang but was excommunicated from the church because of alleged acts of incest.  Aldrich then formed with another group known as Whitmerites.  When that sect died out, Aldrich joined James C. Brewster to create another group called Brewsterites.  Aldrich became president of this group in 1849.  In August 1850, James Brewster led 85 of his followers (including Hazen Aldrich’s pregnant daughter, Betsey Aldrich Wilder) from Independence, Missouri, to the Southwest territories.  Inadequate preparation for such a journey and a lack of adequate resupply points along the trail led to disagreements among these religious pilgrims.

One of the dissenting families of the Brewsterite group was the Oatman’s, who decided to split off from the main group near the old town of Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory.  The Oatman family, led by Royce Oatman, moved south toward Socorro and Tucson in southern Arizona.  When the Oatman party reached Maricopa Wells, local citizens warned them not to proceed.  The trail was barren and dangerous, and the Indians inhabiting the country were extremely hostile toward whites.  Several families traveling with the Oatmans decided to split off and remain in Maricopa Wells, leaving the Oatman family to proceed independently.  Around 90 or so miles from Yuma (present-day Arizona), the Indians attacked.  It was a bloody massacre.

The Oatman’s

Olive Oatman Fairchild

Olive Ann Oatman (1837-1903) was born in Illinois.  After the Yavapai murdered her family, she and her sister Mary Ann were enslaved and held for one year before being traded to the Mohave people (indigenous to the area of the Colorado River in Arizona).  The Indians in this region always suffered from a lack of food.  Mary Ann starved to death within a year of her captivity; Olive remained a captive of the Mohave Indians for another four years.

Olive’s memoirs and speeches fueled books, plays, films, and poetry. The story of the massacre was retold many times and gained more drama with each telling. We understand, and to anyone daring to suggest that Miss Oatman went out of her way to criticize her captors, let us for a moment take a good look at her face.  There was not a day that went by during the rest of her life where she was not reminded of her ordeal — and let us acknowledge that it was no great honor to become the first American white woman to have her face tattooed by American Indians.

There is much about that ordeal that Olive never shared with anyone, but here’s what we do know.  After arriving at the Yavapai village, the girls (age 14 and 7) were treated threateningly, and Olive later said that she was sure she and Mary Ann would be killed.  The Yavapai women enslaved them, sent out for food, to lug water, and collect firewood.  When the girls failed to please the tribal women, the squaws beat them severely with sticks.

Olive said that other Indians visited the village to trade; they were Mohave Indians.  Topeka, the daughter of the Mohave chief Espaniole, saw that the Yavapai mistreated the white girls, and she wanted to make a trade for the girls.  Initially, the Yavapai refused to consider trading the white girls, but eventually, they relented and made the trade for horses, vegetables, and some blankets.  When the transaction was made, the Mohave took Olive and Mary Ann to Needles, California (along the Colorado River).  Olive became very close to Topeka and her mother, Aespaneo, and spoke kindly of them throughout her life.

Aespaneo arranged for Olive and Mary Ann to have a plot of land to farm.  From this, we presume that Olive was fully adopted into the Mohave tribe — which explains Olive’s tribal name, “Oach,” and her nickname (and I’ll have to let your imagination take over from here): Spantsa, which means unquenchable lust.  Another indication of Olive’s assimilation into the Mohave tribe is that when a group of whites visited the Mohave village, Olive made no attempt to contact them for help in leaving the tribe.

However, one inconsistency in Olive’s accounting is that she claimed that her facial tattoos marked her as an enslaved woman.  Anthropologists discount this story, however.  They claim that the tribal members were tattooed as a part of a life-after-death belief — such that they would reach the land of the dead unmolested and that such steps would not have been taken on behalf of a slave.  Additionally, anthropologists point to the evenness of Olive’s tattoo … claiming that the tattoo does not in any way suggest that Olive resisted having the marking.

In the 1860s, Olive Oatman spoke of Mary Ann having developed a death wish to join her mother and father in the other world.  Mary Ann died from starvation while living with the Mohave (c. 1855-56) when Mary Ann would have been 10 or 11 years old.  Not realizing that her brother Lorenzo was still alive, Olive regarded the Mohave as her only family after Mary Ann died.

Olive was 19-years old when an Indian messenger arrived at the Mohave village from Fort Yuma.  White authorities understood that the Mohave tribe held a captive white woman, and the post commander requested that they return this woman to white society.  Initially, the Mohave denied the presence of any white girl in the village.  The Indian messenger, whose name was Francisco, warned the Mohave about lying to the white soldiers, and this prompted the Mohave to enter into a negotiation with Francisco on behalf of the Commanding Officer at Fort Yuma.

Free at Last

Eventually, the Mohave accepted the trade and escorted Olive to Fort Yuma, a twenty-day journey.  Before arriving at the fort, Olive was dressed as a white woman to cover her exposed breasts.  Olive reunited with her childhood friend, Susan Thompson, Inside the fort.  Susan later stated that she believed Olive arrived at Fort Yuma grieving because she had to give up her husband and two male children in returning to white society.  Olive, however, denied that she had ever been married or sexually active.  Her nickname, however, suggests a different story.

Within a few days of her arrival at Fort Yuma, Olive learned that her brother Lorenzo was alive.  The story made headlines from coast to coast.  This popularity led a preacher named Royal B. Stratton to seek Olive and Lorenzo out to tell their story in a book titled Life Among the Indians.  The book sold some 30,000 copies — a best seller for that time.  Stratton used the book’s proceeds to pay the tuition for Olive and Lorenzo to attend the University of the Pacific in 1857.  They also accompanied Stratton on an across-country book tour, and through this, Olive became a curiosity, and her lectures made her one of America’s first female public speakers.

In November 1865, Olive Oatman married Major John B. Fairchild (1830-1907), a cattleman.  Fairchild had lost his brother to an Indian attack during a cattle drive in Arizona in 1854 when Olive lived with the Mohave.  After their marriage, John and Olive moved to Sherman, Texas.  John prospered by creating and managing the City Bank of Sherman; the couple lived quietly in a large Victorian house in the nicest neighborhood of the city.  John and Olive never had a child, but they did adopt a little girl whom they named Mary Elizabeth (nicknamed Mamie).[2]

Lorenzo Oatman died on 8 October 1901; Olive followed him in death on 20 March 1903, dead of a heart attack at the age of 65.  She was buried at the West Hill Cemetery in Sherman.  In 1915, a mining town was named after the Oatman family in Arizona, but after the gold strike ran out, residents abandoned the town.  Additional Oatman properties include Oatman Mountain, Oatman Flats, and Olive City, Arizona (a steamboat stop on the Colorado River).  The Butterfield Overland Stage made a stop at Oatman Flats Station from 1858 to 1861.


  1. Abanes, R.  One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church.  Thunders Mouth Press, 2003.
  2. McGinty, B.  The Oatman Massacre: A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
  3. Quinn, D. M.  Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power.  Signature Books, 1994.


[1] Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs issued an executive order following the Battle of Crooked River between Mormons and Missouri State Militia, ordering that either all Mormons be exterminated or driven from the State of Missouri because they made war upon the citizens of Missouri. 

[2] Mary Elizabeth Fairchild Laing (1873-1938) died in Detroit, Michigan. 

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Arizona Territory, California, History, Indenture & Slavery, Massacres, Mormons, New Mexico, Pioneers, Religion, Texas, The Ladies, Yavapai | 7 Comments

Virginia Rangers

General Orders No. 30

War Department, Adjutant, and Inspector General’s Office

Richmond, April 28, 1862

  1. The following acts having passed both houses of Congress were duly approved by the president and are now published for the information of the army :

An act to organize bands of partisan rangers

Section 1. The congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, the president be, and he is hereby authorized to commission such officers as he may deem proper with authority to form bands of Partisan rangers, in companies, battalions, or regiments, to be composed of such members as the President may approve for the purposes of unconventional warfare.

Section 2. Be it further enacted, such partisan Rangers, after regularly received in the service, shall be entitled to the same pay, rations, and quarters during the term of service, and subject to the same regulations as other soldiers.

Section 3. Be it further enacted, for any arms and munitions of war captured from the enemy by any body of partisan Rangers and delivered to any quartermaster at such place or places, may be designated by a commanding general, the Rangers shall be paid their full value in such manner as the Secretary of War may prescribe.


In 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was not in favor of unconventional warfare.  The reason for this was that for every “unconventional” soldier, there was one less soldier to serve in the C.S. Army.  Jefferson reasoned that if this “civil” war became a protracted one, it would be difficult (if not impossible) for the Confederacy to win it.  Still, after the Union pushed conventional Confederate forces out of western Virginia in the summer-early fall of 1861, unconventional rebel forces remained behind and played hell with Union Army infrastructure.  Virginia Governor John Letcher issued a proclamation calling to raise more such irregular forces, “to recover Western Virginia” from the invaders.  On 27 March 1862, the Virginia legislature passed the Virginia Ranger Act, which authorized the organization of ten or more companies of rangers.  Note: Partisan forces were “irregular” and “unconventional” military units.

On 8 April 1862, a Virginia member of the Confederate States Congress stood to introduce a bill to allow a force of partisan Rangers (with a five-dollar bounty paid for every dead Union soldier).  The Senate removed the bounty provision but added in its place the suggestion that partisan troops receive the same basic pay as regular troops — with the caveat that they subject themselves to C.S. Army Regulations.  Note: Rangers were authorized to sell captured arms and munitions to Confederate Quartermasters.

There were two purposes to the Partisan Ranger Act.  First, control over unconventional forces and employ them to the advantage of the C.S. Army.  Second, promote the use of unconventional forces in areas outside the reach of the C.S. Army (e.g., raising hell with Union troops in Missouri).

After 22 months, however, the C.S. Congress repealed the act because far too many partisan units were “out of control.”  Quantrill’s Raiders, for example, were more an outlaw gang of murdering bastards than they were an effective “special operations” arm of the C.S. Army.  They were undisciplined and stupid.  Rather than treating civilians with tolerance and respect, they behaved themselves violently and belligerently toward “townsfolk.”  General Robert E. Lee persuaded Confederate politicians that it would be best to focus on conventional warfare because partisan forces were uncontrollable and behaved irrationally.  Moreover, according to one argument, unconventional forces were not “soldiers” under the articles of war.

The Gray Ghost

Yet, on 10 June 1863, General Lee authorized the formation of the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry and appointed 30-year old Captain John Singleton Mosby to command its only company, Company A.  Within a year, the 43rd had expanded to six companies of cavalry and one company of artillery.  When the CSA canceled the Partisan Ranger Act for all unconventional units except two: John Mosby’s 43rd Battalion, and McNeill’s Rangers (formed from Company E, 18th Virginia Cavalry, and the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry).  Both of these “guerilla units” were permitted to continue operating within Virginia and West Virginia because their commanders were known to exercise discipline over their men during military operations.  Note: Most Union generals regarded John McNeill as a bushwhacker and resolved not to offer him the courtesy of the articles of war if captured.  John Mosby didn’t have that problem.

John, born in 1833, was a small child and somewhat frail.  His diminutive size gave most boys in school the idea that he could be bullied.  Anyone who thought that soon found out differently.  John Mosby was a fighter, and when he started fighting, he wouldn’t quit until the contest was finally settled.  He enrolled at the Hampden-Sydney College in 1847 and began his studies at the University of Virginia in 1850.

After a shooting in which John Mosby shot and wounded a tavern bully named George Turpin, lawmen arrested Mosby and charged him with one count of unlawful shooting, and one count of malicious shooting.  A jury convicted Mosby and he was sentenced to ten years in prison.  While serving time, Mosby began studying law under the mentorship of the prosecutor, William J. Robertson.  In late December 1853, Virginia Governor Joseph Johnson issued Mosby a pardon and he was set free in time to spend Christmas with his family.  Mosby completed his legal studies, passed the state bar, and set up a law practice in Howardsville, Virginia.

John Mosby married Pauline Clarke of Kentucky and they were married in 1857.  Altogether, John and Pauline had five children.  Both were dedicated parents, with John remaining involved with his children after Pauline passed away in 1876.

Mosby was an anti-secessionist but did his duty to the State of Virginia by enlisting as a private in the C.S. Army within William Jones’ Washington Mounted Rifles.  Mosby wasn’t happy with Jones’ volunteer unit and asked for a transfer.  His request was not granted.  As part of the Virginia Volunteers, John Mosby fought at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.

In June 1862, Mosby served as a scout for J. E. B. Stuart during the Peninsular Campaign.  Union cavalry captured Mosby in Hanover County and imprisoned him for ten days.  While a prisoner, and while en route to the prisoner exchange, Mosby observed and made mental notes of what he saw.  While at Fort Monroe, Mosby noticed an unusual number of ships at the wharf and when he asked about it, he was told plainly that the ships were required for transporting Union troops into Virginia to reinforce General John Pope.  When released, Mosby went directly to Robert E. Lee and related what he had observed.

Mosby returned to General Stuart’s command and participated in raids behind Union lines in Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties.  The purpose of these raids was to disrupt Union communication and supply routes between Washington City and Fredericksburg.  And, whatever they could seize from the Union, they could add to their own supply stores.

John Singleton Mosby

In January 1863, J. E. B. Stuart obtained Lee’s permission to authorize John Mosby to form and command the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry.  Mosby’s single company eventually grew into a regimental-sized unit of unconventional cavalry that operated throughout Virginia.  Officially, the 43rd operated as a unit of the Army of Northern Virginia, subject to the orders of Robert E. Lee and J. E. B. Stuart — but its 1,900 men lived and ranged according to Mosby’s general scheme of maneuver, which no doubt had the approval of General Lee.

Before the official date of the 43rd’s commissioning, Mosby led a small force of raiders to the Fairfax County Courthouse where he captured three Union officers (including a brigadier general), 30 enlisted men, and 58 horses — without firing a shot.  Lee advanced Mosby to Major, C.S.A. on 26 March 1863.  Yet despite this (and other) successes, not every C.S.A. general thought well of the raiders/rangers.  They reasoned that “such freedoms among the soldiery” encouraged desertion in the regular units and had a negative impact on morale.

Mosby advanced to lieutenant colonel on 21 January 1864 and to colonel on 7 December 1864.  By then, everyone knew about John Mosby.  They called him “the Gray Ghost.”  Although seriously wounded on three occasions, Mosby always managed to elude the Union forces searching for him.

Following Lee’s surrender to Grant, General Hancock published a circular stating that he intended to destroy all guerilla bands.  The situation was somewhat reminiscent of the Clint Eastwood film, Josey Wales.  Hancock specifically named John Mosby as someone he was particularly interested in meeting.  Shortly thereafter, Mosby received a letter from Hancock’s chief of staff, General C. H. Morgan, urging his surrender with the promise that Mosby would receive the same terms of surrender offered to General Lee.  On 21 April 1865, Colonel John Mosby formally disbanded the 43rd Battalion and on the following day, many of his men rode their worst horses to Winchester, surrendered, received their paroles, and returned to their homes.  Mosby was not one of them.

Instead, Mosby and several of his officers rode south to join the army of General Joseph E. Johnson in North Carolina.  En route, Mosby learned that Johnson had also surrendered.  A few of his officers suggested assaulting the Union-occupied White House of the Confederacy as a demonstration that the matter was yet unresolved, but Mosby rejected the idea, telling his men that they were soldiers, not highwaymen.  Mosby and a few of his companions remained “free” despite the $5,000 bounty placed on his head.  It wasn’t until the Union rescinded the arrest warrant that he finally surrendered, on 17 June 1865.  He was one of the last C.S. officers to do so.

In 1872, John Mosby served as U. S. Grant’s campaign manager in Virginia.  Grant, apparently, respected Mosby as a soldier and as a man, stating in his autobiography, “Since the close of the war, I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally and somewhat intimately.  He is a different man entirely from what I supposed … He is able, thoroughly honest, and truthful.”  Through Grant, Mosby was able to bring federal patronage back to Virginia.  Despite these efforts on behalf of Virginians, his affiliation with the Republican Party made him a pariah among staunch Confederate Democrats.  Mosby was later appointed to serve as U.S. Consul to Hong Kong (1878-1885).

McNeill’s Rangers

The second “exception” to the repeal of the Partisan Rangers Act was a guerilla cavalry unit formed and commanded by John Hanson McNeill, whom everyone called “Hanse.”  McNeill was a native of western Virginia, born in Moorefield (now West Virginia), who in 1848 relocated his wife and four children to Boone County, Missouri, where he operated as a cattleman.  When the Civil War began, McNeill formed a company in the Missouri State Guard.  He led this company in battles near Booneville, Carthage, Wilson’s Creek, and Lexington.  At Lexington, which was a minor engagement, on 20 September 1861, McNeill was taken prisoner and imprisoned in St. Louis.  He escaped confinement on 15 June 1862 and made his way back to Virginia.  In Richmond, he obtained permission to form an independent cavalry unit for guerilla operations in western Virginia.  The C.S. Army commissioned him as a captain and appointed him to command Company E, 18th Virginia Cavalry, which became known as McNeill’s Rangers.

McNeill planned and executed several raids in and around Piedmont, Virginia, and Cumberland, Maryland, targeting the disruption of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad service.  He was so effective in his accomplishments that the Union Army diverted 25,000 men to guard the B&O Railroad.  Piedmont became a frequent objective because the town contained numerous machine shops and large stores of railroad supplies, which the B&O transported to where those supplies were needed to maintain rail service.  Piedmont was also the county seat of Hampshire County.

Captain “Hanse” McNeill

During 1863, McNeill’s Rangers performed scouting missions under Brigadier General William E. Jones and Brigadier General John D. Imboden, who commanded the irregular forces of the Confederacy in western Virginia.  General Robert E. Lee recognized McNeill for his participation in the Jones-Imboden Raids in Northwestern Virginia and western Maryland in April and May 1863.  This raid damaged and rendered inoperable several railway bridges, oil fields, and other resources critical to the Union effort.  What the raid failed to do, however, was impede the pro-statehood sentiments in West Virginia.

General Lee appreciated McNeill’s daring and accomplishments in capturing Union supply trains and his aggressiveness in engaging Union cavalry units operating in the same area.  During the Battle of Gettysburg, McNeill’s Rangers performed forage duty for the Army of Northern Virginia.  One can’t fight an army that isn’t regularly fed — McNeill provided 740 head of sheep, 160 cattle, and around 40 horses to General Lee’s men.  In early September, McNeill’s Rangers conducted a surprise night attack on three Union infantry companies en route from Petersburg to Moorefield.  McNeill took half these men as prisoners and turned them over to C.S. officials.

McNeill’s greatest success came in 1864 as he increased the number of assaults on B&O property, which effectively shut down railroad operations.  Union Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley, the officer responsible for securing West Virginia ordered, “ … I will simply say that I want McNeill found and killed.”  Kelley learned that his order was much easier issued than accomplished.  Despite a force of around 200 Union cavalry sent to dispatch McNeill, he was not located, inconvenienced, or diverted from his raiding activities.

But McNeill wasn’t completely unmolested.  The Union employed “irregular” units of their own.  The Pendleton County Home Guard continually confronted McNeill’s Rangers.  On 19 July 1864, McNeill sent a detachment against Captain John Boggs of the PCHG and found that they’d met their match.  Boggs not only repulsed the detachment but also killed its leader, Lieutenant Dolan.  At the Battle of New Market, McNeill’s Rangers fought a successful delaying action against Union forces that allowed C.S. General John Breckinridge to marshal his forces and attack and drive the federals out of New Market.

In the early morning hours of 3 October 1864, Captain McNeill led fifty of his rangers against a company of the 8th Ohio Cavalry, who were guarding a bridge over the Shenandoah River.  The engagement only lasted 15 or so minutes, with most of the Ohio unit ending up as prisoners, but Hanse McNeill was seriously wounded.  His men removed him to a home on Rude’s Hill where Union General Phil Sheridan later discovered him, and to whom McNeill surrendered.  Thinking that McNeill was too badly wounded to escape, Union forces ignored him long enough for a few Raiders to snatch him away and move him to Harrisonburg.  McNeill succumbed to his wounds on 10 November.  Command of the Raiders passed to “Hanse’s” son, Lieutenant Jesse Cunningham McNeill.

During the night of 21 February 1865, Jesse led 65 Raiders sixty miles behind enemy lines to Cumberland, Maryland, where, without detection by any of the 10,000 Union troops guarding them, they captured Major General George Crook and Brigadier General Kelley while they slept.  The raid was so fast and stealthy that the Raiders carried it off before anyone realized what was happening.  McNeill turned Crook and Kelley over the C.S. General Jubal Early.  Jesse was subsequently promoted to Captain.  On 8 May 1865, Captain Jesse McNeill surrendered his Rangers to Union officials and received their parole.

Those other Virginia Rangers

Samuel Carrington Means (1828-1891) was a grist miller from Waterford, Virginia, and a station master for the B&O Railroad.  Means was a Quaker and a dedicated Unionist with no interest in serving the Confederacy.  When the C.S. Army issued warrants for his arrest, Means left his family behind and escaped to Maryland.  The State of Virginia subsequently seized Samuel Means’s property.

Samuel Carrington Means

When Union General John Geary invaded Loudoun County, Virginia in March 1862, Means served as a scout in his advance element.  Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, in recognition for his service, commissioned him a captain in the Union Army with permission to raise a company of partisan cavalry for border service in Loudoun County, Virginia, and Maryland.  Dubbed the Loudoun Rangers, recruitment eventually raised two companies of men to serve as irregular cavalry.  The Loudoun Rangers often operated along with the 1st Potomac Home Brigade and equally often confronted White’s 35th Virginia Cavalry, Mosby’s 43rd Virginia Cavalry, and Mobberly’s renegade company.  Note: John Mobberly was a particularly loathsome creature who perpetrated war crimes against the citizens of Loudoun County, Virginia — citizens who assassinated him in April 1865.

Means commanded the company through 1864 when the unit was mustered into regular service with the U.S. Army.  Samuel Means resigned his commission over this decision.  Toward the end of the war, the Loudoun Rangers returned to irregular service but in April 1865, the company was deactivated, and its soldiers returned to their homes.  The Loudoun County Rangers was the only Virginia cavalry unit to serve the Union during the Civil War. 


  1. Duffey, J. W.  McNeill’s Last Charge: An Account of a daring Confederate in the Civil War.  Norton Publishers, 1912.
  2. Evans, T. J. and James M. Moyer.  Mosby’s Confederacy: A Guide to the Roads and Sites of Colonel John Singleton Mosby.  White Plains Publishing, 1991.
  3. French, S.  Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers.  Kent State University Press, 2017.
  4. Johnson, A. R.  The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army.  G.G. Fetter, 1904.
  5. Jones, V. C.  Ranger Mosby.  University of North Carolina Press, 1944.
  6. Keen, H. C., and Horace Mewborn.  43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry: Mosby’s Command.  H.E. Howard Publishing, 1993.
  7. Mosby, J. S.  The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby.  Little/Brown, 1917.
Posted in American Military, Civil War, History, Partisan Rangers, Virginia | 11 Comments

In Search of Justice

In 1885, Joseph Isaac Clanton, known to his friends as “Ike,” surrounded himself with men such as Lee Renfro, G. W. “Kid” Swingle, a man named “Longhair” Sprague, Billy Evans, and Ebin Stanley (Ike’s brother-in-law).  They were a scruffy lot, all of them low-IQ bullies who terrorized law-abiding citizens in southeast Arizona.

Even though Ike managed to escape death at the hands of Wyatt Earp during Earp’s now-famous vengeance ride (March-April 1882), he never learned any lessons about socially acceptable or law-abiding behavior.  And, while it is true that vigilantism is not a very civilized response to outlawry, Earp was frustrated with what he believed was the law’s continual failure to hold criminals accountable for their crimes.  But Earp was wrong: it wasn’t a failure in the law.  It was a failure of men to uphold it.

Wyatt Earp was a sworn officer of the law whose frustration led him to pursue extralegal means of enforcing the law.  But Mr. Earp wasn’t alone in his frustration.  Arizona Territorial Judge William Henry Stillwell was frustrated, too.  He called Earp aside one day and told him, “You’ll never clean up this crowd [by arresting them]; next time, you’d better leave your prisoners in the brush where alibis don’t count.”[1]

According to the Apache County Critic on 30 July 1887:

“Sometime last fall, while [Isaac] Ellinger was temporarily absent from his ranch, which was situated just across the territorial line in New Mexico and known as the Cottonwood Ranch, one Craig, at the instigation of [Lee] Renfro, ‘jumped’ the property.[2]

“Mr. Ellinger had purchased the place more than a year previous and had made it his home and headquarters.

“On or about the 6th of November last, he in company with Wilds P. Plummer [known as Pratt] went to Cienega [sic] Amarilla, the Clanton ranch, and it being about noon Ellinger and his friend Plummer, upon the invitation of the Clanton’s, dismounted and took dinner.  Besides these two gentlemen, Ike and Phin Clanton, Lee Renfro, and Bill Jackson were present at the table.

“While dining, the subject of the jumping of the ranch came up, but no one passed any hard words.  The first to finish eating were Mr. Ellinger, Ike Clanton, and Lee Renfro, who arose and passed to Phin Clanton’s cabin, some ten or twelve steps distant.  They had but entered the room when Renfro commenced abusing Ellinger for something reported said about the jumping of the ranch, at the same time picking up his six-shooter from the table and walking toward Ellinger.

“At this junction, Ike Clanton stepped in between them, but Renfro suddenly threw his pistol around Ike and shot Ellinger in the breast.  Mr. Ellinger lived for several days in great agony, suffering a thousand deaths, and died on or about the tenth day of November last.” 

Over those four days, as Isaac lingered in death, he consistently claimed that Renfro had shot him in “cold blood.”  Isaac and older brother William Ellinger were members of the Apache County Stockman’s Association. The stockman’s association not only made Isaac and William well-known but politically influential as well. William Ellinger owned ranches in several states and territories.

A year later, in an unrelated event, Billy Evans shot and killed Jim Hale in cold blood because he wanted to see “if a bullet would go through a Mormon.”

By April 1887, several grand jury indictments came down against the Clanton’s and their friends.  Authorities arrested Phin for cattle rustling.  Additional indictments named Renfro as a defendant in the murder of Isaac Ellinger.  Following the indictment, Apache County Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens dispatched deputies Albert Miller and “Rawhide” Jake Brighton to arrest Ike and Phin Clanton.  In addition to serving as a deputy sheriff, Brighton was also a constable at Springerville and a range detective.  Perry originally intended to hire the legendary former-Texas lawman, Jeff Milton, to bring the Clanton’s in, but Milton, at the last minute, accepted a position as a customs officer.

After three days, Brighton and Miller spent the night of 31 May at “Peg Leg” Jim Wilson’s ranch near Eagle Creek, south of Springerville.  Ike Clanton rode up to Wilson’s home as Pete, Jake, and Miller took breakfast the following day.  Hearing the horse outside, Brighton walked to the door with rifle in hand (with Miller covering him) and opened it.  Clanton and Brighton saw each other at the same instant.  Ike Clanton turned his horse to run while at the same time drawing out his rifle from its sheath.  Brighton fired first, shooting Ike through the left side, the bullet exiting Clanton’s right side.  Clanton was dead before he hit the ground.[3]

Unsurprisingly, historical revisionists question whether Ike Clanton was resisting arrest at the time Brighton shot him.  I fail to see the relevance of such an argument.  Ike was a wanted man.  In recognizing Brighton, he attempted to flee — while taking up his rifle, which is a good indication that Clanton intended to use deadly force in making good his escape.  I would judge Brighton wise in shooting Clanton, lest Clanton shoots him first.

The inane (modern) argument is that so-called sociological experts think law and order are nothing but a game.  Observe:

Extract, Recidivism, and Rehabilitation of Criminal Offenders: A Carrot and Stick Evolutionary Game

“We have proposed an evolutionary game that incorporates both punishments — the “stick” — and assistance — the “carrot” — to study the effects of punishment and rehabilitation on crime within individuals’ model society. At every round, each of the Nk players that have committed K crimes may re-offend and join the Nk+1 pool or choose not to re-offend and remain in the Nk pool. We also allow players within that decided not to re-offended to join the paladin pool P of players that will not commit any more crimes in the future. Finally, upon being arrested R times, players join the pool of un-reformables U. Within this context, the index K also represents how hardened or experienced the criminal has become.”

—Bijam Berenji, Thom Chou, and Maria R. D’Orsogna

A game —but one in which that for every single incidence of crime, there are multiple victims who, in most cases never fully recover from its effects.  We speak of PTSD among those who suffer the consequences of combat, but what of those who are shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, raped, and robbed in our modern city streets?  The survivors of murdered victims will never see their loved ones again.  If these people are looking for justice, they won’t find it in modern-day America.

The problem is not a recent phenomenon, and we only must look to past events in Pima/Cochise County, Arizona (1876-1889) to see how this plays out.  County sheriffs fraudulently elected as Democrats gave free rein to the Pima/Cochise County Cowboys, who terrorized citizens through murder, armed robbery, cattle rustling, and graft.  These government officials are sworn to uphold the law either violated the law themselves or they “enabled” the Cowboy’s ruthless outlawry —and did so to retain political power and enrich themselves from their corrupt practices.

Ike Clanton was one of the “Sons of Little Dixie,” born in Callaway County in 1847.  He was one of seven children of Newman Haynes Clanton (later known as “Old Man Clanton”) and Mariah Sexton Kelso Clanton.  After his mother died in 1866, Ike remained with the family when they relocated to the Arizona Territory —around 1877 when Tombstone was little more than a sparsely populated mining camp.  Newman established a ranch at Lewis Springs (12 miles west of present-day Tombstone and about 5 miles from Charleston). Newman’s ranching efforts included frequent armed raids into Mexico, where he helped himself to other people’s cattle and horses.  We credit Old Man Clanton with starting the “Cowboys” organization, known for banditry, murder, and intimidation.

We only remember Ike (and the other Clanton’s) because of his conflict with The Earp’s, who migrated to Tombstone to seek their fortunes.  The Clanton and Earp families soon developed personal, political, and legal differences.  Mild irritation between the two groups grew in intensity.  The Clanton’s saw the Earp’s as carpet-baggers and county interlopers —post-Civil War Republicans who couldn’t keep their damn noses out of Clanton’s several enterprises.  For their part, the Earp’s viewed the Clanton’s for they were — outlaws supporting corrupt Democrats in the county and Territorial government.  Ike was a source of irritation because he was a loudmouth, a braggart, a drunk, and dangerously quick-tempered — and, the Earps suspected, a low-down back shooter, as well.

Shortly after arriving in Tombstone in 1879, an unknown individual stole Wyatt Earp’s horse.  About a year later, an informant told Wyatt that if he had been a betting man, he’d bet that Wyatt could find his horse at the Clanton ranch outside Charleston. After obtaining written proof that he owned the animal, Wyatt, and his friend John Henry Holliday (also known as Doc Holliday), rode out to the Clanton spread where they found the horse.  18-year old Billy Clanton turned the horse over to Earp, but not without insolently asking Wyatt if he had any more horses to lose.  Wyatt’s horse’s recovery angered Ike Clanton, which is enough to cause a person of average intelligence to scratch his head because, at that moment, Ike was lucky Wyatt and Doc didn’t shoot his dumb ass.

In 1881, while sitting in the Allen Street saloon, Ike got into an argument with a gambler named Denny McCann.  At some point in the discussion, Ike insulted McCann, who then reached across the table and slapped Ike in the face.  The incident caused both men to leave the saloon, “to get heeled,” and meet in the street to solve their problem.  Town marshal Virgil Earp stopped the fight.  Without knowing anything about Denny McCann, the Earp’s assessment of Ike’s character (or lack of it) was accurate.  He was a crude, slow-thinking loudmouth bully.

Spreading disinformation was one of Ike’s strengths.  One of his rumors held that the actual robbers of the 15 March 1881 stagecoach robbery was the Earps.  At the time he started this rumor, Ike knew it wasn’t true.  Of course, the rumor irritated the Earps — one more annoyance to add to a growing list of frustrations.  

On 25 October 1881, Ike was fulfilling the role of an obnoxious drunk when Doc Holliday approached him and said that he’d heard Ike’s rumor — and then he called Ike a damn liar.  Well, of course, in those days, calling a man a liar was equal to slapping his face.  The two men squared off.  There is little doubt that Holliday was looking for a fight.  Once again, Virgil Earp intervened.  Doc went home, and Ike went back to drinking and stewing about Holliday’s “insult.”

After Doc went home, Virgil began playing cards with Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan (and one other unknown man).  The game lasted into the early hours of 26 October, when Earp went home to bed.  Ike and Tom had nowhere to go (to sleep it off).

At 8:00 a.m., Mr. E. F. Boyle observed the drunken Ike Clanton weaving back and forth in front of the town telegraph office.  Boyle suggested that Ike get some sleep.  Ike told Boyle to mind his own business.  But Boyle noted that Ike was even too drunk to realize that his six-gun was visible on his hip — a violation of the town ordinance.  Boyle, the good citizen, reached over and covered the gun with the flap of Ike’s jacket and went on his way.

In later testimony, when asked about Ike Clanton’s frame of mind, Boyle said, “Clanton told me that as soon as the Earp’s and Doc Holliday showed themselves on the street, the ball would open —they would have to fight.”  He also admitted to having informed Virgil Earp of the conversation.  In his testimony, Ike Clanton denied that he ever met Boyle that morning.

Here we find an interesting discrepancy in testimony about the events that day (there is always some discrepancy in testimony).  If Ike Clanton carried a concealed firearm at 8 a.m., why was it necessary for Ike to retrieve it from the West End Corral later that day?

Sometime around mid-morning, Mr. Ed Frink, a neighbor of Frank McLaury over near Antelope Springs, informed Frank that his brother Tom and Ike Clanton were stirring up trouble in Tombstone.  Frank collected Billy Clanton, and the two men headed for town.

At noon, Ike was drinking again (or still), was clearly “heeled,” and went looking for Holliday or one of the Earp’s.  An hour later, either Ike stumbled into Virgil and Morgan, or vice-versa, noting that Ike was “heeled,” the Earps took him into custody.

It was typical of the Earps to avoid gunplay whenever possible.  Their standard tactic was to “buffalo” armed men they placed in custody.  Buffaloing was the act of clubbing a man on the head with a firearm.  Once the arrestee was unconscious, the Earps disarmed him and took them to jail.

Ike Clanton was no exception.  After clubbing Ike, the Earps took him to see Judge Spicer.  The judge imposed a fine of $25.00 and sent the still-inebriated Ike on his way.  Virgil informed Ike that he could pick up his weapon from William Soule, the jailer, a few days later.

It wasn’t long after the incident with Ike that Wyatt, at a different location, pistol-whipped Tom McLaury for the same offense.  Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton arrived in town around 2:00 p.m.  Both men carried pistols and rifles, which was customary given frequent Apache hostilities around Tombstone.

Frank and Billy learned about the arrests of Ike and Tom while drinking with a few of their Cowboy friends at the Grand Hotel.  The angered men looked for Tom without first turning in their firearms to the barkeep at the Grand Hotel, as required by law.  Of course, there was some ambiguity in the town ordinance about the concept of “a reasonable time” for turning in their weapons.  A citizen named Coleman informed Virgil that the Cowboys were heading for the O.K. Corral and still armed.  Virgil decided to disarm the Cowboys; he wanted Wyatt’s help.

Someone told Virgil that Wyatt was over at Spangenberg’s gun shop talking with a couple of the Cowboys.  En route, he stopped by the Wells Fargo office and borrowed one of their shotguns.  Thus armed, he continued toward Spangenberg’s.  He found Wyatt, Morgan, and Holliday standing just outside Hafford’s Saloon.  Virgil traded the shotgun for Holliday’s walking stick.

From Spangenberg’s, the Cowboys moved off toward the O. K. Corral, where, according to witnesses, the “lawbreakers” were loudly discussing ways of killing the Earps.  After a few minutes, the Cowboys proceeded down the street to an empty lot next to Fly’s Boarding House (where Doc Holliday lived).

Within a few minutes, Virgil received word from several citizens that the McLaury’s and Clanton’s had gathered on Fremont Street and were packing heat.  Billy Claiborne and Wes Fuller joined the group a few minutes later.

Perhaps it was in Virgil’s mind that the McLaury’s and Clanton’s had gone “too far.”  Disrespecting sworn lawmen was one thing, but flaunting the law was worse —it was something that required a response.  Or, it may have occurred to Virgil that unenforced law had the effect of no law at all.  Several members of the community’s vigilance league offered to support Earp, but he declined.  He instead called upon his deputized brothers, Morgan and Wyatt.  He also deputized Doc Holliday.[4]

Ike Clanton had spent most of the day mouthing off about how he intended to gun down the Earps.  In this respect, Stephen Lang’s portrayal of Clanton in Tombstone (1993) was accurate.  Several days earlier, Ike had even recruited Billy Claiborne, a gunslinger, to help kill the Earps.

At around 2:30 p.m., Virgil and his deputies began their walk down Fourth Street toward Fremont Street to confront the Clanton’s and McLaury’s, admonishing them for violating the city law respecting firearms and disarming them.[5]

A few moments earlier, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan had been conversing with the cowboys.  What they were talking about is anyone’s guess, but it was no secret to anyone that trouble was brewing between the Earp’s and Cowboy’s.  While still en route to Fremont Street, Behan approached Virgil.  Now, there are two accounts of this encounter.  In the first, Behan told Virgil that he attempted to persuade the cowboys to disarm themselves, and they refused.  In the second, Behan told Virgil that he had personally disarmed the Cowboys.  These possibilities are plausible, but if Behan told Virgil that he had disarmed the cowboys, he lied.

As the Earps and Holliday approached the O. K. corral’s rear entrance, just past Bauer’s butcher shop, they saw Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton standing together against the east side of the building, opposite the vacant lot, west of Fly’s photo gallery.  Frank was holding the reins of his horse.  Ike, Billy Claiborne, and Wes Fuller stood opposite, about halfway between Fly’s and the adjacent building on the west.  Fuller was standing closest to the back of the vacant lot.

As Virgil approached the Cowboys, he carried Holliday’s walking stick in his right (gun) hand.  He later testified that he was not expecting a fight.  When the six Cowboys spotted the Earp’s, they stepped away from the building’s hardwood side.  Virgil Earp stood to the far left of his posse, just inside the vacant lot nearest to Ike Clanton.  Behind Virgil, to his right, was Wyatt. Morgan’s position was to Wyatt’s right standing on Fremont Street, and Doc Holliday was a few feet to Morgan’s right on Fremont.  Virgil announced, “Throw up your hands, boys. I’ve come for your guns.”

Within mere seconds, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton began to unholster their weapons.  Virgil loudly said, “Hold!  I don’t want that …” McLaury and Clanton’s actions prompted the Earps to draw their guns.  No one knows for sure who fired the first shot.  The testimony of witnesses was contradictory.  Black smoke from erupting handguns produced a dense fog inside the vacant lot.  Virgil said that he recalled hearing two shots together, one of them from Billy Clanton.  Billy Clanton was aiming at Wyatt but missed his target.  Wyatt ignored Billy Clanton and fired at Frank, who Wyatt knew was a more accurate shooter, hitting him mid-torso.  What Virgil heard then was the first shot by Billy Clanton and the second fired by Wyatt.  When the shooting began, Holliday took out his coach gun, stepped around Tom McLaury’s horse, and shot him center chest.  Tom, mortally wounded, stumbled away from his horse into Fremont Street, where he collapsed.

Gutshot, Frank took his horse by its reins and struggled across Fremont Street.  He attempted to withdraw his rifle from its scabbard but failed to do so, lost control of his horse, and began shooting at the lawmen with his revolver.  Holliday and Frank exchanged several shots.  One of Frank’s bullets pierced Holliday’s holster, grazing him.  Holliday exclaimed, “That son of a bitch has shot me, and now I am going to kill him.” Morgan also fired at Frank.  Within a few seconds, Frank McLaury fell on the east side of Fremont Street.

Amid all this gunfire, Ike ran toward Wyatt, screaming, “I am unarmed; I do not want to fight.” Wyatt told him, “Go to fighting or get away.” Ike ran through the front door of Fly’s Boarding House and escaped unwounded.  Billy Claiborne and Wes Fuller also ran out of the kill zone.  Later testimony suggested that once Ike was out of the line of fire, he produced a concealed gun and began firing into the vacant lot, emptying the pistol before exiting through the back door of Fly’s and running down the street.  Within the space of thirty seconds, seven or eight men fired more than thirty rounds.

After the fight, three men lay dead: Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy Clanton.  Virgil received a wound in his calf.  A grazing bullet bruised Holliday.  Likewise, a bullet grazed Morgan across both shoulder blades.  Throughout the entire gunfight, Wyatt Earp stood his ground and courageously returned fire.  He alone of the posse was unhurt in the exchange.

Ike Clanton later filed a complaint against the Earps alleging murder.  A lengthy investigation found that Virgil and his posse acted lawfully in their effort to enforce Tombstone Ordinance No. 9.  Ike Clanton continued running his mouth at every opportunity.  Later implicated in the ambush of Virgil Earp and the murder of Morgan Earp, no direct evidence ever tied Ike to either event.  At the beginning of Wyatt’s vengeance ride, after killing Frank Stilwell, Wyatt Earp allowed Ike to live and “spread the word” that Wyatt was going after the Cowboys.  

Despite all we know about the Lily-livered Ike Clanton, revisionist historians claim that Ike’s death at the hands of Jake Brighton was unfair.  Right.  Unfair.  What was unfair was that Ike Clanton continued preying on innocent people long past 25 October 1881.  The terrorism of Billy Clanton and the McLaury’s, on the other hand, suddenly came to an end when lawmen stepped up and ended the terror.

Isaac Ellinger struck down at the age of 26-years, might have produced offspring who discovered a cure for cancer.   But no, Ike Clanton made sure that wouldn’t happen.

America’s justice system ought to provide justice.  These days, it doesn’t — and the people responsible for this shameful situation are those who think that low-life criminals, wife-beaters, child abusers, thieves, and muggers somehow deserve a second chance. 

If we today expect to realize our future dreams and hopes, we must support a no-nonsense approach to law enforcement.  This is not to say we should abide by police who abuse their power; we simply want people to realize that a police officer can be your best friend or your enemy.  People get to choose for themselves which of these becomes their reality.

No one seeking to murder, rob, burn down our cities, or cut down our children in drive-by shootings deserves a second chance.  Based on what we know about the recidivism rate in this country, second chances only subject innocent people to greater jeopardy.

What we can say with certainty about the American Justice System is that it’s in a shamble.  Victims get no second chances.  Repeat offenders congest our courts.  And part of the reason for this is that government attorneys are little more than politicians seeking reelection.  Law-abiding citizens deserve better.


  1. Caplan, L.  The Invisible Justice Problem.  Daedalus, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2019
  2. Marks, P. M.  And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight.  New York: Morrow Press, 1989
  3. Tefertiller, C.  Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend.  New York: Wiley & Sons, 1997.
  4. Turner, A. E.  The O. K. Corral Inquest.  College Station: Creative Publishing, 1981.
  5. Love, D.  The Problem with Prosecutors.  Philadelphia Citizen, 2016.
  6. Walker, S. Police Accountability and the Central Problems in American Criminal Justice.  Columbia School of Law, 2010.


[1] See also, Wyatt Earp.  Stilwell was a presidential appointee to the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court with judicial authority over Cochise, Graham, Pima, and Pinal counties.

[2] Jumping property was the intention of squatting on, possessing, illegally making use of property that lawfully belonged to someone else.

[3] Reported in the Apache County Critic on 18 June 1887.

[4] Contrary to most of Hollywood’s fairy tales, Virgil Earp was the law in Tombstone; Wyatt was merely his deputy.

[5] The Earps carried their handguns in their overcoat pockets or in their trouser waistband, as they normally did.  Wyatt’s handgun was an 1869 model Smith & Wesson .44 caliber six-shooter.  Holliday carried his holstered nickel-plated six-shooter and Virgil’s shotgun beneath his overcoat.

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Arizona Territory, Corruption, Feuds & Rivalries, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Little Dixie, Outlaws, Society | 4 Comments

Pancho Villa

… and the Punitive Expedition of 1916



Historical negationism is an intentional distortion of the historical record.  It attempts to revise the past by telling a different story about the people who participated in historical events.  In most cases, historical negation is designed to achieve a national or political purpose.  It could be, for example, to transfer war guilt, demonize an enemy, sell more books, or make someone into something he never was.  Once we’ve factored out all the lies and myths told about famous people, then we begin to understand that we know far less about them than we thought.  José Doroteo Arango Arámbula is one such individual — starting with his name.  He is known to history as Francisco “Pancho” Villa, and almost nothing we know about him is verifiable.

The Boy

No one can control the circumstances of their birth.  What matters more than how a man begins his life is how he finishes it.  We believe Doroteo’s father was a poor sharecropper.  There is no shame in being poor; if Doroteo’s father was poor, he at least had something in common with 95% of Mexico’s population.

La Casa de Pancho Villa

Sharecropping was backbreaking work.  The sharecropper either worked the land by himself, or he employed his family as his helpers.  Sharecroppers and their families lived in homes on land they didn’t own.  They were at the mercy of the landowner, who could evict them at will, who decided how much profit they could expect from a field’s production.  In many ways, a sharecropper’s life was similar to the life of an indentured servant.

Pancho was raised on one of Durango’s largest haciendas, and the proof of this is that the hovel he grew up in (pictured above left) is now a historic museum in San Juan del Rio.  The environment of Doroteo’s youth taught him to value machismo, even if it meant murder.  It led him to place a high value on the lowest form of human behavior.  Fast-forwarding to the present, given the ruthlessness of the soldiers of drug cartels, we may safely conclude that no other people in the world revere cutthroats quite so much as Mexicans.

When Augustin Arango died, José dropped out of the second or third grade to help raise four younger children.  Pancho claimed that in his formative years, he worked as a field hand, muleskinner[1], butcher, bricklayer, and foreman on an American-owned railway system.  In his dictated memoir, Poncho claims to have moved away from home to work in Chihuahua.  Sometime later, the 16-year-old returned to Durango to kill the owner of a hacienda named Augustin López Negrete — whom his sister accused of rape.  The murder accomplished, he stole a horse and fled into the Sierra Madre mountains, where he became a fully vetted bandit.  Joining an outlaw gang, he began calling himself Arango.

Petty Bandit – Petty Revolutionary

By 1902, Porfirio Díaz had served as President of Mexico for 26 years.  Señor Díaz maintained an iron grip on Mexican society and made no hesitation in tracking down bandits and political opponents.  In that year, the Guardia Rural arrested José, charging him with the theft of mules and deadly assault.  At trial, he avoided the customary death penalty because the recipient of most of his stolen goods was the wealthy and very powerful Pablo Valenzuela.

Instead of death, Valenzuela arranged to have José enlisted in the Mexican Federal Army (Federales).[2]  Undisciplined, Pancho soon deserted the Army.  Worse, a year later, he murdered an army officer, stole his horse, and fled to Chihuahua.  This is about the time José began calling himself Francisco Villa — which is how I will refer to him from this point on.  In later life, Pancho explained that Francisco Villa was his grandfather’s name, but historians say that he lifted it from another bandit in Coahuila.

In 1910, Pancho met Abraham González de Hermosillo y Casavantes — a supporter of presidential hopeful Francisco Madero[3].  González assured Pancho that he could make good use of his natural affinity for murder and mayhem — to help the ordinary people in their war against the rich and powerful.  In effect, Pancho’s willingness to aid González made Pancho one of González’s “useful idiots.”

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, Pancho was 32 years old.  Villa’s campaign of domestic terror began in earnest after President Díaz ordered the arrest of Madero.  Madero’s idea, communicated through González, was that Villa should “deal with” anyone who opposed Madero’s presidency.  In effect, President-hopeful Madero began using the same strategies as President Diaz.  Pancho Villa had no hesitance in arresting or assassinating Madero’s political opponents.  Moreover, Villa was so efficient in murdering other human beings that Madero appointed him a colonel in his revolutionary forces.

Once Madero achieved the presidency, he disbanded the Revolutionary Army — as if thugs pay any attention to authority.  Subsequently, Villa teamed up with Pascual Orozco, another bandit, and they made a joint demand that Madero seizes all hacienda lands and redistribute them to his revolutionary soldiers.  Madero, as a wealthy landowner, rebuffed the suggestion — which should surprise no one.  Villa broke from Madero when he appointed Venustiano Carranza as his war minister.[4]  Orozco broke with Madero because Madero failed to reward him for his perfidy against Díaz.  Villa returned to Madero as an ally to fight Orozco, later affiliating his bandits with General Victoriano Huerta.  Huerta “rewarded” Villa by making him an honorary brigadier general.[5]

General Huerta soon realized that Villa was unreliable and attempted to discredit him by accusing him of horse stealing and referring to Villa as a bandit.  Pancho Villa beamed.  It’s nice to be recognized for one’s talents.  Still, such an “insult” must be answered, and Pancho Villa struck General Huerta in the face.  The honorary brigadier general soon faced the prospect of a firing squad.  Villa appealed to Madero, who, in his mercy, ordered Villa imprisoned instead.

While Villa was in prison, Victoriano began to imagine himself as President.  All he needed to do to achieve it was murder Madero, Madero’s two brothers (army officers), and Madero’s political advisor, Señor González.  President Madero and González were assassinated in 1913; brother Gustavo was ripped to shreds by an anti-revolutionary mob led by Porfirio’s nephew Felix Díaz.

When Pancho escaped from the Santiago Tlatelolco prison on Christmas day 1912, he slipped across the US border near Nogales, Arizona.  When Madero met his end in February, Villa crossed back into Mexico in the company of seven other bandits and a string of mules.  He intended to oppose General Huerta, who was at the time living in the presidential palace.  By this time, every petty criminal in Mexico had his sights set on becoming Mexico’s president.  Villa’s choice was dichotic.  He could either knuckle under Huerta or support Carranza, who became Huerta’s principal enemy.  Under Carranza, Pancho Villa moved his criminal activities to far northern Mexico.

Between 1913-14, Pancho Villa became a household name in Mexico.  Some wealthy landowners supported him directly; others required coaxing — not unlike America’s modern-day Rainbow/Push coalition racket.  To supplement this ill-begotten income, Pancho began robbing trains.  Part of Villa’s popularity came from the foolish meanderings of an American journalist named Ambrose Bierce, whose sudden and unexplained disappearance remains a mystery, and the unapologetically leftist writer John Reed.  John Reed glorified Villa’s blatant confiscation of cattle, grain, and bullion and made him into a Mexican Robin Hood.  Of course, Robin Hood never robbed banks, kidnapped bankers, seized haciendas, or murdered anyone in cold blood.

But thanks to the propaganda of American leftist writers and the dolts in Hollywood, slow-thinking Americans began to support Villa in his “fight for the people.”  Once he was on the losing side, however — as the revolution and civil war continued with no end in sight — the United States refused to allow Villa any further supply of arms or ammunition.  Instead, President Woodrow Wilson threw his support behind  Venustiano Carranza, even to the extent of enabling Carranza to transport his military over US-owned railroads in the Southwest United States.  Wilson believed that Carranza represented the best hope for a stabilized Mexico.  In this way, the dreaded Americanos became Villa’s enemy as much as the hated Carranzanistas. 

After January 1916, when Villa’s forces murdered fifteen employees at the American Smelting and Refining Company during an assault on the Mexico North Western Railway (near Santa Isabel), Villa began planning for an attack against the US border towns to resupply his dwindling Army.

In January 1916, the Mexican Revolution entered its sixth year, and there was no end in sight to the bloodshed.  Understanding these events is difficult for most people because nothing of what happened in those years made any sense.  It may have begun as a rebellion against Porfirio Díaz, the president who simply would not go away, but then everyone who ever rode a donkey proclaimed himself a general and gathered about him as many cutthroats and murderers as he could find, then attempted to seize power for himself.  At least seventeen donkey generals were competing for dominance in Mexico.  The cost to Mexico was 2.7 million killed — between 700,000 and 1.7 millions of those were innocent civilians, for whom Villa and others claimed to be fighting.

Columbus, New Mexico

In March 1916, Pancho Villa stationed himself along Mexico’s northern border, south of New Mexico.  He had with him approximately 1,500 men, half of whom had no weapons or horses.  Villa’s target was the small border town of Columbus.  Villa wanted to know the strength of the small US Army garrison in Columbus, information he required to finalize his attack plan.  A reconnaissance patrol dispatched by Villa later reported no more than thirty American soldiers.[6]

In Columbus, the US Army garrison fell under Colonel Herbert J. Slocum, commanding the Thirteenth U. S. Cavalry Regiment.  On 8 March 1916, the regiment’s strength was 12 officers and 341 seasoned troopers.  Of those, about one-third were on patrol duty over the night of 8-9 March.

One effect of the Mexican Revolution was the surge of tens of thousands of Mexican citizens toward the US/Mexico border, desperate to get out of the way of warring factions inside Mexico.  While understandable, the presence of so many refugees destabilized American border area communities.  Some Americans exhibited great empathy for these displaced Mexicans, but there were others who, given their experiences with border ruffians over many years, viewed these refugees with disdain. 

On 8 March, Colonel Slocum received three separate reports from Mexican sources telling him about Pancho Villa’s presence on the Mexican side of the border.  Slocum constantly received such warnings, all of them nearly impossible to verify, and up until then, all such warnings proved unreliable.  But the fact that Slocum was receiving such information at all increased tensions along the border.  No one wanted Mexico’s war spilling over into the United States.

At midnight on 9th March, Pancho Villa divided his six-hundred effective men into two columns and approached the town on foot.  The attack began at around 0400.  The Army garrison and townspeople were asleep.  Of course, Mexicans cannot attack anything without their obligatory “Viva Mexico” shouting, which immediately alerted the sleeping citizens and soldiers.  Villa’s men wasted no time setting fire to commercial buildings and looting stores and homes.  Civilians and soldiers alike scrambled to arm themselves.  Everyone living in Columbus had at least one gun.  Villa’s scouting party overlooked the Army’s two machine-gun sections, which quickly went into action against rampaging men.  It was not difficult to observe these men because the fires they set inside the town illuminated them.

The shooting lasted for around 90 minutes.  No one thinks that Villa ever set foot inside Columbus; that’s not how Mexican general’s fight.  As Villa’s forces withdrew, Major Frank Thompkins pursued them for fifteen miles into Mexico.  He broke off the chase because he had inadequate water and ammunition.

During the engagement in Columbus, Villa’s men killed or wounded forty American soldiers, sixteen civilians, and a stray bullet killed one infant.  Villa lost 183 men killed or injured, and either the Army or American civilians captured seven of Villa’s men, six of whom they executed. Given his losses, Villa’s attack was costly. Villa’s men did, however, manage to seize 300 army rifles and shotguns, 80 horses, and 30 mules. In the longer term, all Villa achieved was a more significant US military presence along the US/Mexico border.

The Mexican Expedition

At the time of Villa’s invasion, Major General Frederick Funston commanded the Army’s southern department.  He urged President Wilson to authorize a military expedition to pursue Villa into Mexico.  Wilson approved Funston’s recommendation and issued a statement to the press: “An adequate force will be sent at once in pursuit of Villa with the single object of capturing him and putting a stop to his forays.  This can and will be done in entirely friendly aid to the constituted authorities in Mexico and with scrupulous respect for the sovereignty of that Republic.”  President Wilson assigned this duty to John J. Pershing.

John J. Pershing as Major General

Brigadier General John J. Pershing, somewhat popularly referred to as “Black Jack” Pershing, had a rather meteoric rise in rank through the Army.[7]  After graduating from the US Military Academy in 1886, he served for six years as a first lieutenant before receiving a commission to major in the Ordnance Corps of U. S. Volunteers.[8]  A year later, the Army transferred him to the Adjutant General Corps of US Volunteers.  In 1903, the Army reverted him to a captain of cavalry in the regular Army.  In 1906, the Army appointed “Black Jack” Pershing to brigadier general, passing over major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel in the regular army.  He served six years as a brigadier and one year as a major general before achieving four-star rank.

Following his raid on Columbus, New Mexico, Pancho Villa led his rag-tag army in a beeline for the Sierra Madre Mountains.  Meanwhile, Pershing began assembling his expeditionary force of around ten thousand men: three brigades, including four regiments of cavalry, two of infantry, horse artillery, motorized transportation units, eight aircraft, and a substantial logistics element.

On 18 March, Pershing dispatched his lead element, the US 7th Cavalry under Colonel George A. Dodd, across the border in pursuit of Pancho Villa.  Colonel Dodd had no appreciation for the distance between Columbus, New Mexico, and the Sierra Madre Mountains.[9]  Persistent winter weather impeded Dodd’s progress, particularly in the higher elevations. 

Villa’s withdrawal strategy was to divide his army into smaller units that could more easily hide in the mountain terrain — but not before some celebration in the foothill town of Guerrero.  On 29th March, after a 55-mile night march through blizzard conditions in the Sierra Madre, Colonel Dodd led his 370 men into an attack on Villa’s celebrating criminals.  The Mexicans, upon seeing the American forces, scattered.  Dodd’s charge faltered when his fatigued horses lost their gait, but still, the 7th Cavalry killed or wounded 75 bandits.  The rest, including Villa, rapidly retreated into the mountains.  Colonel Dodd’s charge was the only successful engagement of the entire expedition.

Pershing’s expedition was a disaster from the start.  He had no viable sources of intelligence, his logistics train was too complicated, regular Mexican army units impeded its progress, and Mexican civilians intentionally interfered with the expedition’s progress.

On 12 April, five hundred Mexican troops assaulted elements of the US 13th Cavalry under Major Frank Tompkins near Parral, Mexico.  Since Thompkins’ orders directed him to avoid confrontations with the Mexican Army, he withdrew his regiment to Santa Cruz de Villegas.  Two of his men lost their lives in a rear-guard action, with one soldier reported as missing in action.

Military opposition imposed by President Carranza edged the US and Mexico closer to open war.  Because Pershing’s progress reports were dismal in the extreme, the Secretary of War urgently recommended that President Wilson withdraw the expedition.  However, following the fight at Parral, Wilson refused.  He did not like the visual effects of caving to Carranza’s pressure.  It was an election year.

President Wilson’s refusal to withdraw the expedition forced General Pershing to change his strategy.  He was no longer looking for Pancho Villa; he was trying to protect his force from attack by the Mexican Army while avoiding war with Mexico.  Moving his force to San Antonio de los Arenales, Pershing began conducting “search and detain” operations against the civilian populace.  But had Pershing been looking for Villa — he was nowhere near San Antonio de los Arenales.

President Wilson finally recalled Pershing’s expedition in January 1917.  As soon as General Pershing crossed back into the United States, he declared victory.  Pancho Villa laughed.  He was still running around inside Mexico doing bandit things.  However, worse for the United States was that President Carranza used the Pershing expedition to mobilize widespread support for his regime — for a time.  Venustiano Carranza was assassinated on 21 May 1920.

La Muerte de Pancho

Pancho Villa

After his disastrous campaign at Celaya, Pancho Villa left the public limelight, returning to his roots as a bandit thug and murdering twit in Chihuahua.  After Carranza’s assassination by Álvaro Obregón, Villa made a deal with the junta: in exchange for a 25,000-acre hacienda in Canutillo, Chihuahua, and 500,000 gold pesos, Villa would remain out of politics forevermore.

On 20 July 1923, during a visit to Parral, seven men stepped into the street ahead of the car transporting José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, a.k.a. Francisco “Pancho” Villa, and emptied their high-powered weapons into the automobile.  On that day, Villa’s numerous bodyguards had other errands to run, so they were not present to assist their patrón.  Villa was instantly killed.  He was 45 years old.  A few days later, Villa’s assassins received appointments as officers in the Mexican Army.

Mexico’s government never embraced the memory of Pancho Villa because his only personal achievement during the Revolution was a change to his title rather than a change in occupation.  He began his adult life as a bandit, and that’s the way he ended his life.  But among the Mexican people, Pancho Villa remains a hero because they admire murderers, assassins, thieves, bullies, and other low creatures.


  1. Arnold, O.  The Mexican Centaur: An Intimate Biography of Pancho Villa.  Portals Press, 1979.
  2. Boot, M.  The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.  Basic Books, 2003.
  3. Braddy, H.  Cock of the Walk: The Legend of Pancho Villa.  University of New Mexico Press, 1955
  4. Howell, J.  Evaluating the many faces of Pancho Villa: Outlaw, Hero, Patriot, Cutthroat. Historical Text Archive, 2004.
  5. Quesada, A.  The Hunt for Pancho Villa: The Columbus Raid and Pershing’s Punitive Expedition, 1916-17.  Osprey Press, 2012.


[1] A muleskinner is someone who drives a team of mules.

[2] Military conscription was frequently imposed on troublemakers and bandits, perhaps with the expectation that military service would “straighten them out.” 

[3] Francisco Ignacio Madero González (1873-1913) was a revolutionary, assassinated while serving at President of Mexico.  He was also a wealthy landowner, which tends to place the concept of “revolutionary” in its proper perspective in Mexico.

[4] Venustiano Carranza was a typical Mexican opportunist who joined with Madero when Díaz refused to appoint him as a state governor. 

[5] The only place “honorary brigadier generals” are found outside of Mexico is the U. S. Air Force.

[6] One lesson gained from the attack on Columbus, New Mexico, is that whoever conducts scouting missions should be able to count past twenty. 

[7] The genesis of the sobriquet “black jack” came from his assignment to the Tenth U. S. Cavalry Regiment, one regiment of the so-called “Buffalo Soldiers” serving in the United States southwest.  In response to young Pershing’s arrogant manner when dealing with subordinates, his black troops began referring to him as “Nigger Jack.”  The derisive term evolved into Black Jack because it was more acceptable in mixed company, and it remained with him for the rest of his life.

[8] United States Volunteers (also known as U. S. Volunteers and U. S. Volunteer Army) (and other variations) were volunteers for military service called upon during wartime to assist the U. S. Army but who served separately from the US Army and militia.  An officer commissioned within the US Volunteers held a temporary rank while maintaining (usually) a lower rank in the regular U. S. Army. 

[9] Colonel Dodd was Pershing’s senior by ten years.  He had a substantial background confronting hostile Indians.  During the Spanish/American War Dodd fought with Theodore Roosevelt during the Battle of San Juan Hill.  He was wounded in the Siege of Santiago.  He subsequently served in the Philippine Islands until 1904, when he assumed command of the US 10th Cavalry Regiment.  In pursuit of Villa, Dodd was 63 years old.

Posted in American Frontier, American Military, American Southwest, History, Mexican Revolution, New Mexico | 5 Comments

Bondage & Deliverance


The term “brain drain” describes the large-scale migration of educated or highly skilled people from one country, economic sector, or field to another, usually for better opportunities or living conditions.  It may have begun during the Age of Exploration when, because of the social structure of the time — notably, the order of their birth — the offspring of privileged families discovered that they had limited opportunities for success in their home countries.  Traveling to the “new world” was a chance to achieve wealth and prominence.[1] 

One such individual was Hernan Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, known to his friends as Hernando.  Hernando was born in Medellin, Castile, Spain, in 1485 to a family of low nobility.  Since he was not the oldest son and had no inheritance, Hernan realized that his future must lie outside Spain.  His sense of adventure or quest for opportunity may have come from his second cousin, the famed Francisco Pizarro.

Cortés’ biographer tells us that Hernan was a sickly child.  At the beginning of his fourteenth year, his family sent him to study Latin in Salamanca — an attempt to groom him for a legal profession.  He did become a notary but had little interest in full legal training.  This lack of interest set him at odds with his parents.  One account of his youth suggests that the teenaged Hernan was insufferably arrogant, ruthless, and possessed a mean streak that left him without friends.

When news of new world discoveries reached Medellin, Cortés began to focus almost exclusively on becoming an explorer.  He departed from Spain in 1504, arriving in Hispaniola a few months later, and settled near Santo Domingo where he received an appointment as the notary of Azua de Compostela.

As a Peninsular, Cortés was granted an encomienda, a land grant with accompanying authority to employ local natives to work the land.   Beginning in 1506, Cortés participated in several campaigns to conquer the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba.  The success of the Cuban campaign brought Cortés more land, increased wealth, and a growing influence with Spanish authorities.

In Cuba, Cortés answered to Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, whose good reports and patronage helped Cortés to secure influential political appointments.  He served both as Secretary to the Captain-General (governor) of Cuba, and as municipal magistrate of Santiago.  After serving fifteen years as the mayor of Santiago, Velázquez appointed Cortés Captain-General of an expedition to Mexico.  Some historians claim that the reason for this appointment was that Cortés had become romantically involved with Diego’s sister-in-law, the wife of his brother.

On 21 April 1519, Cortés’ eleven Spanish galleons (with 600 soldiers) dropped anchor off the wind-swept beach on the island known today as San Juan de Ulúa.  Captain-General Cortés may not have known what lie in store for him, but to ensure that his men were properly motivated, he ordered the ships burned as soon as they were unloaded.  There would be no “going back” to Cuba.

The Explorers

Beyond the burning of his ships, Cortés shared much in common with the other early new world explorers.  It was an exciting time for young men whose personal attributes included intelligence, confidence, ability, persistence, courage, and a certain panache.  And, perhaps, greed — for who would risk death for nothing?  Cortés’ soldiers no doubt shared their leader’s traits and desire for riches.

Spanish conquistadores viewed the natives of these new lands as mere instruments to achieve success.  Once ashore, their conqueror offered natives two choices: they could either assist the conquistadors (and perish), or they could resist the conquistadors (and perish).  In fairness, none of the new world explorers realized that they were bringing diseases that would eventually kill millions of natives, but it would not have changed the course of history even if they did have such knowledge.  When the natives did begin dying, the Spaniards were quick to realize that they had a labor problem — and they knew that unless they solved this problem, all their efforts would come to nothing.

Solving for Labor

New world explorers did not invent human bondage.  Slavery existed for thousands of years and continued even after most of the world’s religions banned it.  It wasn’t so much that slavers stopped believing in their various religious doctrines — only that business in the “here and now” became more important to them than “life after death.”  There were substantial profits in the slave trade and even more from employing slaves to work thousands of acres of new world land.  Without slave labor, there could be no profits.

Spanish authorities did impose certain restrictions on human bondage, however.  Under Alonso X of Castile (1252-1284), the Siete Partidas (Seven-part Code) (the law of Spain), limited enslavement to prisoners of war, the children of an enslaved woman, and those who indentured themselves.  The law also specified how slaveowners must treat their slaves.  Since the natives of the new world were subjects of conquest, or prisoners of the king, Spanish (and Portuguese) conquistadores could compel them into bondage — and did, until the Catholic Church later outlawed enslaving natives.  Unfortunately, by that time, native Americans had perished in the hundreds of thousands — which made the demand for labor of even greater importance.

The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) was an agreement between the monarchs of Spain and Portugal to divide the world between them into two spheres of influence.  An imaginary line was drawn down the center of the Atlantic Ocean, leaving most of the Americas to Spain and West Africa and Brazil to Portugal.  It was thus that the solution to the labor problem originated with the Portuguese.

With their exclusive access to West Africa, the Portuguese were able to purchase prisoners from African slavers (taken during tribal conflicts) and sell them to the Spanish.  When these African slavers realized the economic benefit from selling prisoners, they increased the number of raids into the African interior to collect more “prisoners” and expanded their profits.  Since these people were technically prisoners of war, their enslavement was, according to the law at that time, completely legal.

What made African slaves particularly desirable to the Spanish was that the Africans appeared immune to European diseases.  Accordingly, African labor became the basis of Spanish colonial sugar production on the island of Hispaniola.  Black slaves were also in high demand as domestic servants in Spain, where they were well-treated.  On the other hand, blacks taken to Spanish-American colonies did not fare as well.

Initially, the Spaniards simply transferred African slaves from Spain to work in the colonies.  These people either served as slaves in Spain for many years or were the children of Spanish slaves.  They spoke Spanish and were likely converts to the Christian faith.  The Spanish referred to them as bozales  (muzzled people).

Not all African slaves were happy with their situations.  Some escaped and joined with native tribes and mixed with them — known as maroons.  The Spanish were not particularly kind to the maroons once recaptured — they were, in the minds of their masters, expendable and easily replaced.

The first African slaves taken to North America accompanied Lucas Vázquez de Ayllión to Spanish Florida, which included the present-day Georgia coast.  Those slaves were quick to rebel and join local Indian tribes.  Within two months, a force of rebel slaves and Indians destroyed the colony of San Miguel de Guadalupe.  Additional slaves arrived with Hernando de Soto at the settlement of St. Augustine.  In 1693, King Carlos II granted freedom to all African and native American slaves in St. Augustine once they converted to Catholicism.[2]

Meanwhile, Europeans began arriving in the Americas by the boatload.  They risked the adventure, as dangerous as it was, to change their luck, their circumstances (which weren’t very pleasant), or to increase their opportunities.[3]  Yet, all of these Europeans remained the subjects of their king.  The notion of living as “free men” didn’t occur until much later.  In all likelihood, the Europeans, much like the enslaved people, arrived with the understanding that their voyage would be a one-way trip.  As with Hernan Cortés, they would either succeed in America or perish there.  With that in mind, the Europeans employed all the tools available to them — including slave labor.

Slavery in Spanish Texas

Texas is part of this story, too — beginning when Tejas was part of the Spanish Empire.  The first non-native slave in Tejas was named Estevanico, who accompanied Captain Andrés Dorantes de Carranza on the expedition of Panfilo de Narváez.[4]  Narváez intended to establish a colony in the area of present-day Tampa, Florida.  During further explorations of the Gulf Coast, the expedition’s barges went aground off the coast of (Galveston) Texas in 1528.  Estevanico was a North African Moor who had been captured by Dorantes while still a child and remained with him for the balance of his life.

The Narváez expedition was a disaster; of the 410 men and women who set out with him from Cuba, only four men survived.  Three of these men (Estevanico, Dorantes, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado) made their way to the mainland in 1529 but it wasn’t long afterward that native Americans captured, enslaved, and put them to work in the fields as common laborers.  Castillo’s knowledge of medicine improved the group’s relationship with their captives.  It was after this when the fourth survivor (Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca), joined the group.

In 1534, the four men escaped into the interior, relying on one another as equals to survive the inhospitable environment.  Three years later, after walking 2,000 miles through the Texas desert, all four men reached the settlement at Sinaloa.  They later proceeded to Mexico City, another 1,000 miles further south.

We only know about this adventure because Cabeza published his journal in 1542.[5]  He described Estevanico as an Arabic-speaking black man.  In 1538, the Viceroy of New Spain appointed Estevanico to serve as a guide for the expedition of Fra. Marco de Niza into the Southwestern region of Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola.  Texas’ first African slave died during a fight with hostile Indians in 1539.

In the late 1690s, civil and religious officials in Spanish Texas encouraged settlers to free their slaves.  Most did not, because labor remained a critical factor in the success of Spanish colonies.  In New Spain, domestic servants were usually native Americans (Apache and Comanche), while using blacks almost exclusively in the fields — some of whom became field bosses.  But black slaves were never employed in large numbers in Spanish Texas.  According to Spanish records in 1777, the total population of San Antonio de Béxar was 2,060 citizens; 151 of these were of African origin, and only 15 were listed as slaves (4 males, 11 females).  In 1783, the number of black slaves increased to 38 (likely the result of childbirth).  Ten years later, the slave population included 34 blacks and 414 mulattos.

When Spanish officials learned that the Americans had purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, they decreed that any slave entering Texas would become a free man or woman.  The edict explains why escaped slaves migrated from the southern United States to Texas before 1830.  Free blacks also migrated to Texas, where Spanish and Mexican law guaranteed their freedom.  However, in 1809, the Spanish Governor of Coahuila y Tejas closed the border to all immigrants no matter what color they were.  Later, Mexican Governor Manuel Maria de Salcedo interpreted that ruling to mean that U.S. slaveholders could enter Texas to reclaim their black runaways.

Meanwhile, in 1808, the United States outlawed the importation of slaves.  The law did nothing, however, to curtail the domestic slave trade — particularly in New Orleans, which because of the slave trade, soon became the United States’ fourth-largest city, and by 1840, one of the wealthiest American cities.  Between 1816-1821, slave smuggling became a pathway to obscene wealth — with Galveston Island becoming the center of this illegal trade.

Slavery in Mexican Texas

The Mexican War of Independence raged for 11 years (1810-1821).[6]  It was not a single, focused event.  The war became a series of local and regional armed struggles which some historians claim was more like a revolutionary civil war — and, as already noted, until 1836, Mexican independence was never an inevitable result.  Moreover, events in Spain precipitated and nurtured violence in Mexico because there was never any shortage of Spaniards seeking to benefit from meaningful events.[7]

In 1821, with so many issues yet unresolved, Mexican officials decided to proceed with the Viceroyalty’s approval of Anglo settlements in Texas.  Most of Moses and Stephen Austin’s recruited settlers came from the southern (slave-owning) portion of the United States.  To encourage Anglo settlement, Austin allowed each slave-owning immigrant to purchase an additional fifty acres of land for each enslaved person they brought into Texas.  Someone bringing 20 slaves to Texas would be able to claim 5,777 acres of land at the going rate of 4¢ per acre.[8]

In 1823, Mexico’s legislature prohibited the sale or purchase of human beings and required the emancipation of the children of enslaved persons when they reached the age of 14 years.  In 1827, the legislature of Coahuila y Tejas made illegal the introduction of enslaved persons and granted freedom at birth to any child born to a slave.  Mexico abolished slavery in 1829 but granted a waiver to Texians until 1830.  The result of Mexican law was that immigration to Texas dwindled to near zero.

Mexico’s anti-slave laws irritated Texas slaveowners because, had they known such laws were under consideration, they might have made different decisions about immigrating to Texas.  It was at this point that Texians began doing what Texans are famous for: they obeyed the laws they found agreeable and ignored laws they found detestable.  Even today, many Texans lay claim to the expression, “No, we won’t.”

So, the importation of slaves into Texas continued, even if in smaller numbers.  Meanwhile, enslaved people continued to escape whenever they could, and many of those joined Texas’ Indian bands — most notably, the Cherokee.  Few slaves ever tried to join the Comanche because, as a group, the Comanche had no use for anyone that would allow themselves to become enslaved.[9]

By 1836 there were around 5,000 slaves living in Texas.  Setting aside the moral question of human slavery, the areas of Texas employing slave labor were more economically viable than areas that did not rely on slave labor.  In 1834, the Mexican Department of Béxar reported zero exports; conversely, the area of the Brazos River (the site of the Austin and DeWitt colonies) produced MEX$600,000 of goods, including 5,000 bales of cotton.  East Texas settlements produced 2,000 bales of cotton and 5,000 head of cattle.

One contribution to the Texas revolution may have been the Anahuac Disturbances of 1831.  In August, John Davis Bradburn, military commander of the customs station on Upper Galveston Bay, granted asylum to two black male escapees from Louisiana.[10]  The “owner” of these two slaves hired William Barrett Travis, a local lawyer, to help retrieve his “property.”  Bradford subsequently placed Travis under arrest, charging him with suspicion of inciting insurrection, which caused a minor rebellion among residents.  The unrest subsided after a series of threats and political maneuvers, and after blaming Bradburn for the incident, everyone went back to sleep.

When the Texas Revolution began in 1835, some slaves (although not many) sided with Mexican authorities.  As a reward for their loyalty, the Mexican government granted them their freedom.  In the fall, after hearing rumors of approaching Mexican troops, around 100 slaves staged an uprising along the Brazos River.  It was only a rumor and as a consequence, the rebellious slaves suffered serious retributions.  Some escaped slaves joined the Mexican Army, but most others joined the rebellion alongside their Texian owners.  Of the three slaves within the Alamo on 6 March 1836, two survived to tell the story of what happened there.

The Constitution of the Republic of Texas, ratified in 1836, made slavery legal.  Section IX provided that persons enslaved under Mexican law would remain as slaves.  The Constitution also prohibited the legislature from restricting the immigration of slaves, prohibited emancipation, denied the right of slave-owners to free their slaves without first gaining the permission of Congress, and required that free blacks obtain the legislature’s permission to remain in Texas.

Slavery in Texas

The United States admitted Texas as the 28th U.S. State on 30 December 1845.  In 1850, the slave population of Texas exceeded 58,000 people.  Ten years later, nearly 30% of the total population of Texas were slaves, with 40% of those living along the Gulf Coast and in the East Texas river valleys where farms cultivated cotton, corn, and sugar.  Half of those slaves either worked alone or in small groups on small farms.  A few slaves worked on ranches in West Texas.

While most slaves lived in rural settings, around a thousand lived in Galveston and Houston.  The number of urban blacks increased through the 1850s.  Most urban blacks worked as domestic servants or on small farms at the edge of Texas towns.  Others served as cooks and waiters in hotels, as teamsters or boatmen, coachmen, blacksmiths, carpenters, and barbers.  In terms of the total slave population of the United States, ten percent lived in Texas.

Slavery in Texas was little affected by the Civil War because very few battles were fought inside Texas, but as Union troops began to occupy other slave states, slaveholders in those states moved their slaves to Texas to avoid having them set free by military governors.  After the commencement of hostilities, the Confederate government impressed nearly a quarter of all plantation slaves as laborers to construct forts along the Texas Gulf Coast, or as teamsters of military cargo wagons.  In total, 47 slaves escaped from Texas and joined the Union army.  At war’s end, around 250,000 slaves lived in Texas.


On 19 June 1865, U. S. Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with 2,000 troops to announce and enforce President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of 1863.  As enslaved persons learned of the proclamation, many picked up their meager belongings and left the plantations.  Some slaveholders physically prevented their slaves from leaving.  Texas politicians tried to negotiate for a gradual release of slaves, while some slaveholders offered to pay their slaves wages if they would stay.  Some did, some didn’t.

Whatever the freedmen decided, their long-awaited liberty did not significantly change their lives.  Beginning immediately after the Civil War and extending another 100 years, poorly educated and unskilled black Americans suffered the effects of poverty.  Without land of their own, economic circumstances forced them into becoming tenant farmers, which precluded them from being able to earn a decent living, kept them from attending school, and limited their opportunities in later life.  Under the Democratic Party, blacks experienced openly discriminatory treatment, were denied access to certain businesses, were deprived of the right to vote, and were forced to live in black communities, which never received any allocation from public (county) funding.  Black codes placed restrictions on labor and apprenticeship laws while unemployed blacks were subject to arrest for vagrancy violations.

But life for most whites was hardly an improvement.  Remember that most whites, while harboring racial prejudices against black people, never owned slaves.[11]  There are many reasons for racial prejudice, but among them in the post-Civil War period was that economically, Texas was destroyed.  Because Texas offered few job opportunities, it was convenient for whites to blame blacks for their hard luck.  It wasn’t true, of course, but there is a human tendency to blame others for one’s own woeful conditions.[12]  Union Reconstruction policies only made these conditions worse.  Nothing improved for Texas blacks after reconstruction, and only marginally for poor whites, but to regain their sense of superiority, whites engaged in violence and intimidation against blacks and exerted every effort to deny them suffrage.

Still, despite every effort to diminish black Texans, they participated as Americans as best they could.  They built neighborhoods, created businesses, supported their community churches, started newspapers, and supported the nation’s war efforts — and they did these things while living under the shadow of racist oppression.  But there were other problems, some of which continue today.  When employment opportunities failed to materialize in Texas (and other places in the South), black males migrated to the more industrialized northern states, leaving their wives and children behind.  It set into motion a complete breakdown of black familial solidarity.  Fatherless families placed tremendous strains on black mothers to raise their children while at the same time working two or three jobs to feed and clothe them.


The long-term effects of slavery in Texas remain observable in the state’s demographics.  The eastern portion of the state, where cotton was king, remains the western-most extension of the so-called Deep South and is heavily populated with black Americans.  Very few blacks live in West Texas.

In time, black Texans successfully challenged the institutionalized black codes of the Democratic Party.  The work of black activists improved educational opportunities, protested segregation policies, and entered mainstream politics.  Renewed efforts at the federal level resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  No matter where black Texans live today, they are better educated, more involved, and popularly acknowledged for their many contributions to Texas and the country overall. 

Today, popularly recognized black Texans include Beyoncé Knowles, Jaime Foxx, George Foreman, Jonathan Majors, Phylicia Rashad, Johnny Mathis, Barbara Lee, Tamron Hall, Bobby Seal, Bubba Smith, Doris Miller (Navy Cross recipient), Scott Joplin, Eric Dickerson, “Mean Joe” Greene, Aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Lester Young, Barbara Jordan, and Bill Pickett.

What John Steinbeck once reminded us about Texas remains a true and accurate statement: “Texas isn’t a state — it’s a state of mind.”


  1. Barr, A.  Black Texans: A history of African-Americans in Texas, 1529-1995.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
  2. Chipman, D. E.  Spanish Texas.  University of Texas Press, 1992.
  3. Marks, R. L.  Cortés: The Great Adventurer and the Fate of Aztec Mexico.  Knopf, 1933.
  4. “Lynching’s and What They Mean,” Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Commission on the Study of Lunching’s, 1931.
  5. Thompson, N. H.  Sherman Riot of 1930.  Handbook of Texas online, 2010.
  6. Williams, D. A.  Bricks without straw: A Comprehensive History of African Americans in Texas. Eakin Press, 1997.
  7. Zangrando, R. L.  The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching. Temple University Press, 1980


[1] The phenomena continue to exist in many of the old world countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  The opposite effect, known as “brain gain,” pertains to countries where these disaffected persons settle. 

[2] St. Augustine later became a refuge for African slaves who escaped from the British colonies.

[3] It is very likely that environmental changes prompted by the mini-ice age (1303-1860) played a significant role in the migration of many of these Europeans.

[4] Estevanico’s birth name was Mustafa Azemmouri, born sometime around 1500 in Portuguese Morocco.  The term “Moor” refers to Berbers, but he was known as “the black,” which suggests that he was likely of sub-Saharan African ancestry.  Estevanico was Spanish for “Little Stephen,” now spelled Estebanico.  Narváez was the newly appointed Spanish governor of La Florida, whose expedition originated in Cuba. 

[5] The first written record to describe the people, wildlife, and flora of inland North America.

[6] This period is open to debate because Spain continued to maintain a foothold in Mexico until 1829 and did not officially acknowledge Mexican independence until 1836.

[7] Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain in 1808.  This event caused King Charles IV to abdicate.  Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the throne and this, in turn, initiated a crisis of legitimacy of crown rule.  Spain was a tremendous empire, a collection of overseas possessions ruled by viceroyalties, none of which acknowledged Joseph as their king.  Instead, the viceroyalties established ruling juntas that ruled in the name of the Bourbon monarchy.  Seeking to create a new governing framework in the absence of a legitimate king, delegates from Spain and overseas territories met in Cadiz, which drafted the Spanish Constitution of 1812.  The issues involved the demands made by American-born Spaniards for more local control and equal social standing with the Peninsulars.  By then the conflict had raged for four years.

[8] At the same time, Mexico continued to offer full citizenship to free blacks, including land ownership and continued to encourage runaway blacks from the United States.  Favorable conditions for free blacks continued into the mid-1830s.

[9] Cherokee and Comanche tribes both engaged in slavery — for the Comanche, as it turned out, a profitable enterprise.

[10] Mexican authorities placed the military garrison at Anahuac (an important trade center between Texas and the United States) specifically to curtail the smuggling of slaves into Texas.  However, Antonio López Santa Anna, who at the time supported Mexico’s republican regime, sided with the Texians — which made him popular among slaveholders in Texas.  That would change, of course.

[11] Generally, no more than six percent of southern whites owned any slaves in 1860.  Most rural whites fed their families through subsistence farming and raising their own meat.

[12] Today, many blacks blame white society for their unhappy circumstances.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Apache Indians, Cherokee Nation, Civil War, Comanche, History, Indenture & Slavery, Indian Territory, Justice, New Spain, Pioneers, Texas | 7 Comments

Death in Two Parts

The Story of Black Jack Ketchum

Whenever anyone has absolutely nothing to call their own, and they happen upon someone else’s property, particularly when no one is looking, they find in this an opportunity for self-enrichment that cost them nothing — except the possibility of being discovered and labeled a thief.  Americans began their thieving ways very early in the colonial period when they “found” unattended land and claimed it for their own.

We generally attribute the development of rail transportation to the period around the year 1810, but “wagonways” actually started this evolution in the 1720s.  It progressed to a mechanized gravity system in the mid-1700s near Niagara (its British engineers called it a tramway), but railroad mania started in 1827 when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad began carrying passengers and freight.  The freight cars were filled with primarily unprotected goods, and these goods invited the escapades of dishonest men who viewed them as an opportunity to enrich themselves.

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Since railroads were primary targets for dishonest men, whose horses could overtake slow-moving locomotives, railroad theft became a widespread problem.  To protect their goods while in shipment, shippers and rail companies turned to Mr. Allan Pinkerton.  Railroad security was the foundation of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  It was a lucrative arrangement because it not only made Pinkerton a wealthy man, the security Pinkerton provided also facilitated the wealth of railroad barons who pushed their lines westward.

Railroad security evolved into something more than placing armed men inside freight cars.  It also helped facilitate the development of hardened safes to protect gold, silver, and cash shipments.  It was Pinkerton who came up with the idea of installing “burglarproof” safes inside express cars.  Dishonest men took this innovation as a personal challenge to their abilities.  When they discovered that the express car attendant didn’t have the combination to the safe, they began using explosives to get inside.  Safe manufacturers responded to the challenge by making heavier, more secure safes.  Railroad thieves began using more explosives.  At some point, thieves learned how to blow the entire railroad car (and themselves) to smithereens, but the blue ribbon went to the safe manufacturers because, while the railway care was disintegrated, their safes remained intact.

Pinkerton’s railway agents did give pause to would-be train robbers because the Pinkerton boys, as recognized law enforcement officers, established a reputation for their willingness to shoot-to-kill robbers and thieves.  But there were a few thieves who accepted Pinkerton’s challenge.  Butch Cassidy began his career as a bank robber in 1889, adding train robbery to his resume in 1899.  Bill Downing also started robbing trains in 1899, but he was a short-lived career having run into famed lawman Jeff Milton.  The Dalton Gang began their spree in 1891 when they robbed the Southern Pacific Railroad, and we’ve all heard about the James-Younger gang, who, while mainly focusing their attentions on banks, carried out the first train robbery west of the Mississippi River in July 1873.

None of these fellows had what one might call a long and illustrious career, but one fellow among them, Thomas Edward Ketchum, came to a particularly inglorious end in Clayton, New Mexico in 1901.  He was born in San Saba, Texas, in 1863.[1]

The Ketchum family migrated from Alabama to Illinois in 1825.  Patriarch Peter Reasor Ketchum, two brothers, their families, and his sons Green Berry Ketchum and James moved to Texas in 1848.  At first, the family moved to Limestone County, then to Caldwell County, where Peter and his brothers set down their roots.  Green Berry moved on to San Saba around 1855.

Green Berry Ketchum (called Berry) married Temperance Katherine Widick, a daughter of Samuel Widick and Nancy Malina Le Masters Widick from Macon County, Illinois.  Berry and Temperance had eight children: James (b.1842), Joseph (b.1845), Elizabeth (b.1848), Green Berry Jr. (b.1850), Samuel Wesley (b.1854), Abner (b. 1856, Nancy (b.1860), Thomas Edward (b.1863).

Berry Ketchum passed away, age 47 when Tom was five years old.  Temperance died five years after that, leaving the surviving children in the care of Elizabeth and Berry Jr.  In 1873, Texas was going through rough times associated with post-Civil War Reconstruction. There were not many opportunities for youngsters in San Saba County.[2] 

In the 1700s, present-day San Saba County was part of the Comancheria, owned (lock, stock, and barrel) by American Indians.  Later, Spanish missionaries established the Santa Cruz de San Saba Mission there, and the region eventually became part of Stephen F. Austin’s colony when 28 settlers considered settling there in 1828.  The first white settlers included the Harkey and Matsler families around 1853.  The county was organized from Béxar County in 1856.  In 1860, the county population was 913 (including 98 slaves).  The economy of San Saba County relied on cattle ranching and growing pecans, so, it makes sense that Tom ended up working as a stockman like almost every other young Texan at the time.

Historians believe Tom Ketchum left Texas in 1890, around 26-27 years of age, after an incident that may have involved criminal misconduct of some sort.  He eventually made his way to the Pecos River Valley in New Mexico, where he presumably worked as a ranch hand.  Within two years, however, Tom and his pals participated in the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway train robbery near the Deming, New Mexico watering station.

“Black Jack” Ketchum

In these early days, Ketchum frequented the Colorado ranch of Herb Bassett, who was known to provide a haven, fresh horses, and supplies to men who were running from the law.  Bassett’s two daughters, Josie, and Ann became outlaw women affiliated with the Butch Cassidy group, calling themselves the Wild Bunch.  One of Ann Bassett’s lovers was Ben Kilpatrick.  Ben and Tom began riding together around 1893-94, later joined by Bronco Bill Walters (the source of rumors about hidden loot around Solomonville, Arizona).

Tom (and his cohorts) must have had a lot of saddle time because, from every account, they were constantly moving between Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.  Tom’s older brother, Sam, joined him in New Mexico in 1894.

In 1895, someone murdered John Powers in Green County, Texas.  Accounts of the murder vary, but it seems that the initial suspect was Tom Ketchum.  However, this information appears to conflict with the records of local historical society.  They claim that the primary suspect in the Powers murder was always Sam Ketchum and his pal, famed outlaw gunman Will “News” Carver.  While details remain sketchy, some historians argue that the Powers murder prompted Sam and News to fold their San Angelo saloon and run for the hills — but closing up the saloon may have been a mere coincidence.  Ultimately, though, Texas lawmen arrested John Powers’ wife and her lover, Mr. J. E. Wright, for John’s murder.

It’s hard to know when Tom started his outlaw gang — but it appears to have been one of those accordion arrangements that were popular back then: a situation where outlaw gang members “came and went” as they pleased.  Both Kid Curry and his brother Lonnie may serve as an example of this, having joined Ketchum in 1895 and departing a year later.

In 1896, Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain disappeared while traveling with his 8-year old son near Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Authorities believe that Fountain and his son were murdered, but the only thing recovered was a blood-soaked wagon.  No bodies were ever found; no arrests were ever made, and even though there was never any evidence connecting him to the Fountain disappearance, Tom Ketchum was always a suspect in this case.[3]

In June 1896, during a storm in the dark of night, Sam and Tom Ketchum robbed a general store/post office in Liberty, New Mexico.  When a posse tracked the robbers to their hiding place, a gunfight erupted.  The Ketchum’s killed two of the four posse members and wounded another.  The wounded man was fortunate “playing dead” because Tom emptied his rifle into the bodies of the other two men.

Afterward, Tom & Sam joined the so-called “Hole in the Wall Gang,” participating in train robberies while working as cowboys on surrounding ranches.  This gang was a consortium of several outlaw groups, including Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, the Curry gang, and Ketchum.  It was about this time when someone mistakenly identified Tom Ketchum as another man named “Black Jack” Christian.  Afterward, everyone began referring to Tom Ketchum as “Black Jack,” and the moniker stuck. 

The Ketchum gang committed its first train robbery at Twin Mountain on 3 September 1897.  A second robbery took place at the same location on 11 July 1899, but Black Jack wasn’t present.  After the hit, Sam Ketchum, Will Carver, and William “Elzy” Ellsworth Lay (along with several other gang members) headed for the mountains southwest of Raton, New Mexico.

The next day, Sheriff Ed Farr (Huerfano County, Colorado) led Special Agent W. H. Reno (Colorado & Southern Railroad) and a five deputy possé after the train robbers, tracking them into Turkey Creek Canyon (near Cimarron, New Mexico).  In the ensuing gunfight, Sam and two deputies received severe wounds.  The gang did escape, but Sam’s injuries slowed them down and they only managed to get a short distance away before finding themselves cornered once again.

Ed Farr, Deputy W. H. Love, and other posse members engaged the outlaws in another shootout.  Gang members killed both Farr and Love, and two additional members of the gang received gunshot wounds.  Sam Ketchum again escaped, but Reno tracked him down to the home of a nearby rancher and took him into custody.  Sam died of his injuries while in custody at the Santa Fe Territorial Prison a few days later.

On 16 August, lawmen arrested Elzy Lay.  After conviction, a New Mexico judge sentenced him to life in prison.[4]  News Carver escaped and returned to ride with the Wild Bunch.  Tom, unaware of the fate of his brother Sam, attempted to rob a train on the same day Elzy went into custody.  However, Tom didn’t play it right, and the train conductor, Mr. Frank Harrington, grabbed a shotgun, proceeded to the express car, and shot Tom in the right arm, nearly severing it.

When taken into custody, Ketchum claimed to be George Stevens.  After doctors amputated his arm, they turned “Mr. Stevens” over to authorities at the Santa Fe Prison. Having by then identified him by his correct name, prison officials transferred Ketchum to the Sheriff at Clayton, New Mexico, for trial.  It wasn’t a lengthy trial and Black Jack was found “guilty as charged.”

At 8:00 a.m. on 26 April 1901, Black Jack Ketchum climbed the gallows in Clayton, New Mexico.  Stores closed, saloons cut their prices, everyone in town and half the county showed up to watch Ketchum’s final moment.  That final moment came when the hangman released the trap door, Ketchum fell through the trap, and the rope, which was too long by far, decapitated him.

Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum died at the age of 37-years.  His head lived a few seconds longer.


  1. Cox, R. J.  The Texas Rangers and the San Saba Mob (two volumes).  Self-published, 2005.
  2. Culley, J. H.  Cattle, Horses, and Men of the Western Range.  Ritchie Press, 1940.
  3. Sonnichsen, C. L., and Berry Spradley.  “The Ketchum Boys,” Texas State Historical Association, online.
  4. Taylor, A. W.  The Story of Early Clayton, New Mexico.  Clayton News, 1933.


[1] Also, the birthplace of actor Tommy Lee Jones.

[2] In the 1850s, citizens in San Saba formed vigilante committees to protect themselves from outlaws and other low critters who preyed on county residents.  In time, however, these committees turned into a murdering society, terrorizing the people they were supposed to protect.  Eventually called the San Saba Mob (also, Buzzards), the group included judges, attorneys, county officials, lawmen, business owners, and religious leaders.  Texas Ranger Bill McDonald eventually cleaned out this mob around 1899-1900.

[3] Fountain, a native New Yorker, migrated to California before the Civil War.  He worked as a reporter, soldier, lawyer, and politician.  At the time of his disappearance, he was pursuing allegations of corruption among several highly placed New Mexico landowners and politicians — one of which was a US Senator (Albert Fall). 

[4] Elzy Lay was one of a very few murderers and train robbers who lived a full life.  While in prison, he helped to foil a prison break.  New Mexico’s governor pardoned him and he lived out his life in Southern California.

Posted in American Frontier, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, New Mexico, Outlaws, Society, Texas | 9 Comments