Sam Maverick

Texans take credit for a lot of things they weren’t responsible for, and they are usually quick to deny the things they really did — but they are Texans, after all, and it goes with the territory.  One of the things people assume came from Texas was branding livestock.  It isn’t true.  Branding livestock with fire-heated irons has been around since 2700 B.C.  The purpose, of course, is to identify the ownership of grazing animals.  Not every rancher in Texas bothered with branding, and this leads us to the word used to identify un-branded cattle: Maverick.  It also denotes someone who’s an independent thinker, or someone who’s cantankerous — or maybe even both.

According to tradition, the term maverick comes to us from the Texian whose name was Samuel Augustus Maverick, a lawyer, soldier, politician, and land baron who was notorious for refusing to brand his cattle and allowing them to graze wherever they wished.  It is impossible to tell how many of Sam’s cattle were “requisitioned” by dishonest cattlemen, who having discovered them wandering on the open range, promptly branded them as their own.  This was in the time before barbed-wire fences, of course.  

Samuel (called Gus by his family) was one in a long line of Texas’ many interesting characters.  His ancestors arrived in America in 1624, eventually migrating to Charleston, South Carolina.  After his paternal grandfather passed away in 1793, Lydia Turpin Maverick, remarried Robert Anderson, who served during the Revolutionary War as a major general.  In 1802, Gus’s father, also named Samuel, married Robert Anderson’s daughter from a previous marriage, Elizabeth.  Gus was born in 1803 and escaped the small pox disease that had taken two of his siblings.  Samuel, having experienced the untimely death of his children, became convinced that Charleston was an unhealthy place to live and moved his family to Pendleton, South Carolina.

Like most folks back then, Gus’s early education was the effort of his mother over a candle-lit table in the evenings, after supper.  After Elizabeth passed away in 1818, Samuel sent Gus to Connecticut to study under a tutor in preparation for admission to Yale College.  It was in his college years that Gus finally became known as Sam.  He graduated from Yale in 1825, returned to Pendleton, and apprenticed under his father to learn how to manage business affairs.

Whatever hopes Samuel had for his son for one day taking over the family business began to crumble after Sam first heard about Stephen F. Austin’s Texas colonies.  The seed for adventure in Texas was planted, but it took some time for the seeds to take hold.  In 1826, Sam purchased land in Pendleton when the price was right.  What he did with that land is unknown to us, but in 1828 he traveled to Winchester, Virginia to study law under Henry St. George Tucker, Sr.[1]  By 1829, Sam Maverick was licensed to practice law in Virginia and South Carolina.  In 1830 he tested the political waters by campaigning for a seat in the South Carolina legislature, but the 27-year old was running his campaign contrary to the sentiments of voters back then, and he was overwhelmingly defeated.  Sam did not favor nullification.

Sam moved to Georgia in 1833, taking on the management of a gold mine.  Unknown to many people, gold mining played a critical role in the early history of Georgia in the northern mountains.  Hernando de Soto discovered it there in 1540, but it was the discovery of gold in the Carolinas that led early-American miners to Georgia.  The first major strike occurred in 1831 near Gainesville and it set into motion the migration of some 3,000 or so prospectors.  By the time Sam Maverick showed up, wealth was pouring out of the Georgia gold mines.  The problem was that this land belonged to the Cherokee Indians — which became an underlying reason the government moved them out of Georgia.

Some gold mines were successful, others not so much.  Sam’s mine fell into the latter category and he returned to South Carolina in 1834.  During the winter of 1834-5, Sam relocated to Alabama to manage his father’s plantation, taking with him 25 of his father’s slaves, later joined by his widowed sister and her three children.  Sam was unhappy in Alabama.  He didn’t like planting, and he didn’t like having to “master” his father’s slaves.  By this time, the seeds had taken root and in 1835, Sam Maverick migrated to Texas.

From New Orleans, Maverick booked passage on the ship Henry, arriving at Velasco, Texas (the mouth of the Brazos River) in April 1835.  He staked out his first land claim before the end of May, but in order to register the land, he had to travel to San Felipe de Austin.  His journey took him along the Brazos, which caused him to look for additional land.  Unfortunately, Texas wasn’t entirely “healthy” in those early days, and Maverick contracted malaria.  The disease sent him into San Antonio de Béxar, where he discovered large tracts of unclaimed land.  He began buying them up.

The fly in that ointment was that in 1835, Texas was a troubled land.  Mexican officials had finally settled the question of its republic by adopting a centralized, authoritarian form of government, and the Anglo-settlers, known as Texians, weren’t going to stand for it.  Mexico’s president, Antonio López de Santa Anna was equally determined to force the Texians into compliance.  Stephen F. Austin, having been held in a Mexican jail for 18-months, returned to Texas with information about Mexico’s government that stirred up the Texians even more.

By the time Austin returned to Texas, Mexico was already a hotbed of insurrection — and it wasn’t only a few Texians.  Several Mexican states were already in rebellion over the issue of centralism, and, true to form, Santa Anna moved against those states with a strong military force.  Earlier, in June, a few Texians had used this political unrest as an excuse to “rebel” against the imposition of customs duties.  Mexico used these demonstrations as an excuse to send a military detachment into Texas to enforce the customs laws.  Texian opinions were never in short supply, always sharply divided, and freely offered at any time or place. They didn’t care as much about customs duties as they did about the presence of Mexican troops, and of course, there was always that larger issue of centralism vs. federalism in Mexico City.

Texian leaders called for a “consultation” to determine whether a majority favored rebellion, independence, and a return to federalism, or to accept political centrism.  The consultation was scheduled for 15 October.  In August, the citizens of Gonzalez overwhelmingly supported Santa Anna’s government.  That is, until, on 10 September, a Mexican soldier bludgeoned a Texian for “insubordination.”  The incident led to widespread outrage and public protests.  This, in turn, led Mexican authorities to demand that the Texians turn over their weapons to Mexican authorities.

Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, the commander of all Mexican troops in Texas, dispatched a corporal and five troopers to retrieve a cannon previously loaned to the Texians.  Ugartechea’s demand convinced some that the Mexican army was preparing to attack the colonies and eliminate their militias.  At a Gonzalez town meeting, only three citizens voted to return the cannon. The remainder of the citizens, including its Mayor, Andrew Ponton, refused to hand it over.  This issue quickly became a point of honor and a symbol of Texian independence.  Citizens of Gonzalez apprehended Ugartechea’s men and escorted them out of town. 

On 19 September 1835, Stephen Austin issued a “call to arms.”  Not every Texian agreed with Austin that a fight was necessary, including, even then, most of the settlers at Gonzalez.  Nevertheless, several Texian colonies began organizing militia companies as a means of self-defense against the possibility of Santa Anna’s use of force.  Still, the Texians at Gonzalez overwhelmingly supported Santa Anna, the issue of the Cannon aside.

On 27 September, Ugartechea dispatched 100 Mexican dragoons to Gonzalez with an order to return the cannon.  The officer commanding this detachment was Francisco de Castañeda.  His orders were simple enough: retrieve the cannon and use force if necessary.  When Castañeda reached Gonzales, he found that the citizens had removed the ferry and all boats from the Guadalupe River, and that 18 armed Texians were waiting on the other side of the fast-moving river.  The first shot fired in the Texas Revolution occurred on 2 October when Texians from Gonzalez reaffirmed their loyalty to the Mexican Constitution of 1824 (federalism) and refused to knuckle under to the dictates of Ugartechea and Santa Anna.

On 16 October, General Martin Perfecto de Cos (brother-in-law to Santa Anna) placed John Smith, Sam Maverick, and A. C. Holmes (then living in Béxar at the home of John Smith) under house arrest.  General Cos forbid these men, under pain of death, to leave their homes.  On 24 October, the Texian army arrived in Béxar and initiated the siege of San Antonio.  During this time, Maverick kept a journal of the events inside Béxar, dutifully recording all that happened there.  He (and Smith) sent messages to the Texians, providing them with useful information about the number and disposition of General Cos’s military force.  In particular, Maverick regularly communicated with his childhood friend, Thomas Jefferson Rusk[2].

After General Cos released Maverick, Smith, and Holmes on 1 December, Maverick and Smith made a bee-line to the Texian camp to report on the situation inside San Antonio; both men urged an immediate attack.  General Edward Burleson, commanding the Texian forces, was unsure that this was, at that time, a wise move.  If there was going to be a fight, he wanted to win it.  He reasoned that a loss to the Mexican army at this early stage would simply demoralize his few men, most of whom were already arguing for winter camp.  Winter camp simply meant, “go home.”  And, of course, there were things these men had to do around their farms and ranches.  Beyond this, Burleson lacked sufficient supplies (ball, shot, and powder) to sustain a long engagement.  Ed Burleson was not being foolish; he was being cautious, and he knew that urban warfare was extremely difficult even under the best of circumstances.

But “Old” Ben Milam was impatient for a fight.  When he asked Burleson’s permission to form a volunteer force, Burleson relented, and three-hundred men soon formed to carry out the assault.  Sam Maverick was assigned to act as a guide for Milam’s force, while Smith guided a second group under Frank Johnson[3].  The battle raged for five days.  When Milam was shot and killed by a Mexican sniper, Maverick caught his body as it fell.  On the sixth day, Sam Maverick attended the ceremony at which General Cos surrendered his force to Burleson.

Earlier, in the previous November, the provisional government of Texas decided that all land sales in Texas, after 20 August 1835, would be voided.  Unshaken by either the new law or his experience with the Texian army, Maverick remained with the army in San Antonio, and continued to purchase land after the end of the siege of Béxar.  After hostilities ended in San Antonio, an election of delegates was called —men who would act as the citizen’s representatives to the provisional government of Texas.  Members of the military garrison were prohibited from voting, however, because they were transient (non-citizens of Béxar).  Accordingly, Texian soldiers held their own election and selected Sam Maverick and James Butler Bonham[4] (another Maverick friend from Pendleton, South Carolina) to represent them at the convention for independence.  Bonham declined to serve, however, electing to remain with the Texian garrison at the Alamo.  Jesse Badgett[5] was elected as a delegate in Bonham’s place.

Jesse Badgett departed immediately to the site of the convention at Washington-on-the-Bravos.  Sam Maverick remained at the Alamo until 2 March, on the same day other delegates were signing the Texas Declaration of Independence.  By this time, the Alamo was surrounded by Mexican troops, and according to the Maverick family’s history, William Travis urged Maverick accept a mission to convince the delegation to send immediate reinforcements.  Sam arrived at the convention on 5 March, along with John Smith, who carried one of Travis’ final message to the delegation.

At the time of Maverick’s arrival at Washington-on-the-Bravos, the convention was in recess for the weekend.  Maverick and Smith’s messages called the delegates back into an emergency session on 6 March.  By the time the session was concluded, the Alamo had fallen to Mexican forces and all of its defenders were dead.  Maverick attached his signature to the Declaration of Independence on the following day[6] and remained at the convention to help draft a new Republic of Texas Constitution —a document that essentially rendered all of his land claims invalid.  This work was completed on 16 March and an interim government was formed.  Subsequently, Maverick traveled to Nacogdoches, where he fell ill.  After his recovery, he returned to Alabama to aid his widowed sister.

Soon after his return to Alabama, 33-year old Sam Maverick met 18-year-old Mary Ann Adams, fell in love, proposed marriage, within three months, the couple married.  Early in 1837, after the sale of his Alabama property, Sam and Mary Maverick moved to New Orleans.  Sam’s decision was tied to business investments, but it allowed him to monitor events in Texas.  When matters were settled to his satisfaction, he and Mary returned to South Carolina to introduce his bride to the family.  While there, on 13 May 1837, Mary gave birth to Sam Maverick, Jr.  In October, the Maverick family set off overland to Texas, accompanied by several slaves, Mary’s brother Robert, and his three slaves.

The Mavericks reached Texas on New Year’s Day 1838.  In February, leaving his family with a friend in Jackson County, Sam continued on to San Antonio and began, once again, to purchase land through the acquisition of headright[7] certificates.  As a participant in the Texas Revolution, Maverick received his own headright on 2 March.  Mary and the baby joined Sam in San Antonio in June, renting rooms until they were able to purchase their own home along the San Antonio river in 1839.  Another son was born in March 1839.  By the end of the year, Sam had purchased 41 lots inside the city —banking on the expectation that more settlers would be eager to purchase his land, but there were fewer Anglo migrations after 1838.

Having received his license to practice law, Maverick began arguing cases within the Texas District Court system.  In January 1839, Maverick was elected to serve as the Mayor of San Antonio, which at the time was on the edge of the Texas frontier.  While serving as mayor, he also performed the duties of city treasurer and justice of the peace.  Maverick escaped certain death in late 1839 when, as part of a land survey party, he departed his encampment ahead of schedule.  Not long after his departure, a band of Comanche raided the camp and killed all but one man, whom they scalped.  The frequency of Comanche raids prompted Sam Maverick to join the local militia.  It was a “ready reserve” arrangement where militia members agreed to respond to emergencies within fifteen minutes of a centrally located dinner bell.  On 19 March 1840, Sam participated in the Council House Fight.  Two days later, business called Maverick away to New Orleans, Alabama, and South Carolina.  Maverick intended to relocate his family to Linnville, Texas, but before the move could take place, the Comanche War Chief Buffalo Hump destroyed the town and everything in it.  Nevertheless, by the end of 1840, Sam Maverick owned 4,605 acres of land and had an additional 12,942 acres under survey.

Despite President Santa Anna’s capture during the Texas Revolution and his agreement to cede Texas to the Texians, the Mexican Congress repudiated the treaty claiming, with some justification, that Santa Anna signed the treaty while under duress.  In the minds of Mexican officials, Texas was still the rightful property of the Republic of Mexico — which meant that hostilities between Texians and Mexicans was far from over.

In February 1842, word came to the Texians that Santa Anna was once more organizing a military expedition into Texas.  The Mavericks joined a group of Texians who decided to withdraw from San Antonio, known today as the Runaway of ’42.  The Maverick family eventually ended up in Gonzalez.  Believing his family safe from the brewing fight, Sam joined Texas troops to re-take San Antonio, but by then the Vasquez Expedition had retreated back to Mexico.  When they arrived in San Antonio, the Texians found that Vasquez’s troops hand damaged many of the houses, but only those belonging to Texians.

Several Indian scares in the area of Gonzalez prompted Maverick to move his family to La Grange (Fayette County) near the Colorado River.  In August, Sam returned to San Antonio to argue a legal case.  While there, Mexican General Adrian Woll led an expedition to San Antonio, surrounded the city, and placed 150 Texians under arrest.  Around sixty of those people had gathered in Maverick’s home to discuss their options, which were essentially only two: fall to Mexican gunfire, or surrender.  General Woll marched the captured Texians toward the Rio Grande, starting out on 15 September.  Texian militia made two attempts to rescue them, but neither was successful.

Woll marched his captives to Veracruz, Mexico — a distance of 850 miles, a three month ordeal.  The Mexicans mistreated the captives, forcing them to sleep in the manure of animal pens and denying them adequate rations and water.  Upon arrival in Veracruz, the Texians were chained in two’s and forced to perform hard labor.  Maverick protested this treatment, but his only reward was solitary confinement.  Mexican authorities offered Maverick his freedom on several occasions, but only on condition that he publicly renounce the Texian’s claims to Texas.  This he would not do.

Mexican authorities released Sam Maverick on 30 March 1843, and he returned to Texas.  Overwhelmingly elected to the Texas legislature, he was active as a member of several committees.  Throughout this period, Mary and the children were frequently ill.  In November 1844, Sam relocated his family to Matagorda Bay, which was a much healthier environment.  According to tax rolls, in 1844 Maverick owned just over 35,000 acres of land in Béxar County and surrounding territory, and additional 20,000 acres under survey, and 21 lots inside San Antonio.

Sam Maverick

After the United States annexed Texas in 1845, Maverick became a staunch unionist and sided with Sam Houston at the beginning of the American Civil War.  As a member of the legislature, however, he voted with the will of his constituents for secession.  He later negotiated with U. S. Army Major General David E. Twiggs for the peaceful surrender of federal garrisons in Texas.[8]  Twiggs, with southern roots and sympathies, had no problem ceding federal property to Texans, after which he promptly resigned his commission.

Maverick again served as mayor of San Antonio from 1862 to 1863.  After the war, he was instrumental in reorganizing the Democratic Party in Texas.

Now, back to the branding of cattle.  Maverick steadfastly refused to do it.  But why wouldn’t he?  According to Sam, he didn’t want to inflict pain on his animals.  Well, that’s what he said, but his neighbors accused him of a more dishonest reason.  By refusing to brand his cattle, they said, it allowed him to collect their unbranded animals and claim them as his own.  We don’t know the answer to such a charge, but circumstantial evidence suggests that the accusations were unfounded.  Sam Maverick never grew his heard.  He may have become a land baron, but he was never one of the cattle barons.  Sam’s son, George, attested to the fact that his father acquired 400 head of cattle (that he did not want) as payment of a $1,200 debt.  Maverick then left the care of these animals to a Negro family, who eventually grew the herd near the Conquista Ranch.  But because none of his cattle were branded, they became “mavericks” and some of them ended up in the herds of his neighbors.

Sam Maverick passed away following a brief illness on 2 September 1870.  He was laid to rest in San Antonio.


  1. Green, R. M.  Samuel Maverick, Texan.  Alamo Printing, 1952.
  2. Marks, P. M.  Turn Your Eyes Toward Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary Maverick.  Texas A&M University Press, 1989.
  3. Maverick. M.  The Memoirs of Mary Maverick.  Alamo Printing Company, 1921.
  4. The Handbook of Texas (online), Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870)


[1] Virginia Congressman, a state Senator, and President of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

[2] Within a short time after his arrival in Texas in 1835, Rusk became a prominent leader in the Texian rebellion, served as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto, served as Texas’ first Secretary of War, and later served as a US Senator representing Texas through 1835.  After his wife died from tuberculosis in 1856, Rusk began suffering from a tumor at the base of his neck.  He committed suicide on 29 July 1857 while serving as President Pro Tempore in the United States Senate.

[3] Francis (Frank) White Johnson served under Burleson as his second-in-command of the Texian Army with duties that included adjutant and inspector-general.  Formerly a river boat operator, malaria eventually led him to Texas in 1826.  He was employed within the Texian colonies as a surveyor, and he is known today for plotting the new town of Harrisburg, Texas.  Johnson eventually became the surveyor-general of San Felipe de Austin and briefly served as the town’s Alcalde(mayor).  In temperament, Johnson was a hothead who was always spoiling for a fight with Mexican authorities, particularly in matters involving the rights of citizens.  Johnson seemed unaware of the fact that in Mexico, citizens did not have rights in the same way as they existed in the United States.

[4] Bonham, a native son of South Carolina, became one of the true heroes of the Texas Revolution.  After declining to serve as a delegate to the convention, Bonham made his services available to his cousin, William Travis.  During the siege of the Alamo, Bonham acted as a messenger from Travis to Fannin at Goliad requesting reinforcement.  When it was clear that Fannin could provide no reinforcement, Bonham then rode to Washington-on-the-Brazos, the site of the Convention for Independence.  Robert Alpine Williamson gave him a message to carry back to Travis: ‘Help is on the way.  Hold the Alamo’.  This is the message he carried back to Travis, arriving there on 3 March 1836.  To deliver this message, Bonham was required to skirt Mexican cavalry pickets.  Bonham was at the Alamo on 6 March 1836; it is where he met his fate.

[5] Jesse B. Badgett served under William Travis at the Alamo until he was elected to attend the Convention for Independence.  After signing the declaration, he returned to his home in Arkansas.  Nothing more is known about Badgett.

[6] Sam Maverick’s signature does appear on the original Declaration of Independence, but his name was omitted from the published edition.  

[7] A legal grant of land made to settlers.  These were common in the expansion of British North American colonies (often granted by the Virginia Company, Plymouth Company, etc.) and used in Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  Most land grants ranged in size from one to 1,000 acres.

[8] A son of Georgia, David E. Twiggs (1790-1862) served with distinction in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and Mexican-American War.  For an overview of this substantial family, see also Twiggs-Myers Family (in 3 parts).

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, History, Mexican American War, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Texas | 4 Comments

The Battle of the Generals


Seniority in the United States Armed Forces is determined by rank, date of rank, and in the case of two officers promoted to the same rank on the same date, by the last lineal number.  It sounds confusing, but it isn’t.  And it’s important because seniority determines assignments, tactical commands, promotions, and general courtesy.  In the early days, seniority determined appropriate honors rendered to senior officers (generally, field grade and flag rank officers).

In the modern-day, seniority works on two different levels.  For officers serving at different ranks, seniority is determined by rank.  An Army colonel is senior to an Army captain, and the captain is senior to a lieutenant.  The system extends across the armed services.  An Army major is senior to an Air Force captain, and a Navy commander is senior to both.  Whenever officers serve at the same rank, their seniority is determined by their date of promotion to that rank.  If two officers advance to the same rank on the same day, seniority is determined by the date of promotion to their previously held rank.

Seniority in the Civil War

Officer seniority was an issue in both the United States Army and Confederate States Army.  Some modern historians credibly argue that the pettiness of seniority and military etiquette did as much to damage the internal efficiency of the Confederate States Army as did any battle in which the Union won.  The Union Army experienced similar problems among its senior officers, of course, but in the Confederacy, the animosity and rancor among senior officers was debilitating.[1]

The Confederacy’s problem in this regard may have started with Confederate President Jefferson F. Davis, who always had a high opinion of himself — a man who also graduated from the U. S. Military Academy (Class of 1828) and who distinguished himself in combat in the Mexican-American War.


Jefferson Davis

Davis (USMA Class of 1828) (23/33) was more politician than a soldier.  He resigned from the Army in 1835 to pursue plantation farming in Mississippi.  In that same year, both he and his wife Susan (a daughter of Zachary Taylor) contracted either yellow fever or malaria.  Susan died in 1835, and Jeff was slow to recover.  From 1836-1840, a somewhat reclusive Davis confined himself to the plantation.  He first entered Mississippi politics in 1840, serving as a state convention delegate through 1844.  As presidential elector in 1844, he campaigned vigorously for James K. Polk.  In 1844, he won a seat in the U. S. Congress.

In 1846, while still serving in the House of Representatives, Davis raised a volunteer regiment for service in the Mexican-American War and commanded it as a US Volunteer Colonel. However, he distinguished himself in combat during the war — at least sufficiently to convince President Polk to offer him a commission as a brigadier general, but Davis respectfully declined. His insistence on replacing his regiment’s muskets with the M1841 rifle caused a life-long feud with the U. S. Army’s Commanding General, Winfield Scott. He had a broader vision.

Following the war, Davis served as a U. S. Senator (1847-1851), as Secretary of War (1853-1857), and again in the Senate (1857-1861).

When Mississippi seceded from the Union on 9 January 1861, Davis sent a telegram to Governor John J. Pettus, offering his services at the pleasure of his home state.  On 23 January, Pettus appointed Davis to serve as major general of the Army of Mississippi.  At the constitutional convention (of southern states) in early February, delegates considered both Davis and Robert Toombs (Alabama) as a possible Confederacy president; Davis won handily, assuming his office on 18 February 1861.  Davis, himself, did not believe anyone was more qualified to serve the Commander-in-Chief of the Confederacy’s armed forces.

Creating the Confederated States of America was no easy task.  Established on 8 February 1861, the Confederacy initially included seven Southern states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas — soon joined by Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland may have joined the Confederacy had it not been for the rapid occupation of those states by the Union Army.  President Jefferson Davis had his hands full trying to organize an effective government.  Of course, he needed an army, and he needed good men to lead it — and this is where the trouble began.

In selecting his most senior generals, the men who would lead the Confederate States Army, he chose Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and P. G. T. Beauregard.  He would eventually choose another two to serve as full-general, but these were Davis’ initial selections.[2]

Samuel Cooper

Sam Cooper (USMA Class of 1815) (36/40), whom almost no one knows anything about, was, despite his northern roots (New York), an advocate of states’ rights.  His service in the U. S. Army was primarily that of a staff officer who eventually attained the rank of colonel.  He briefly served as interim Secretary of War in 1857 and, in this capacity, first formed a strong friendship with Jefferson Davis.  Cooper received two general officer appointments on the same day, first to brigadier general, and full general, on 16 May 1861.  Davis appointed Cooper as Adjutant General and Inspector-General of the Confederate States Army.[3]

Albert Sidney Johnston

Albert S. Johnson (USMA Class of 1828) (8/41) had a most colorful background.  Davis regarded him as the nation’s finest field commander.  In addition to his service in the U. S. Army, Johnston served as a general officer in the Republic of Texas, as the Texas Republic’s Secretary of War, as a colonel in the U. S. Army during the Mexican-American War, and as a brevet brigadier general (permanent rank colonel) during the Utah War and commander of the Military Department of the Pacific.  He resigned his commission at the outbreak of the Civil War, initially enlisting as a private in the Los Angeles Rifles, a secessionist group in Southern California.

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee (USMA Class of 1829) (2/46) was a Virginia aristocrat and an Army engineer of some distinction who served 26 years in that capacity before transferring to the Cavalry in 1855 as a lieutenant colonel.  Lee was prominent during the Mexican-American War as a staff officer and engineer.  He served in command of the Army detachment sent to quell disturbances at Harpers Ferry in 1859, and he commanded Fort Brown, Texas, in 1860-61.  When General David E. Twiggs surrendered U. S. forces to Texas after its secession, Lee returned to Washington, where he was appointed to command the 1st Cavalry Regiment and promoted to Colonel.  Two weeks later, President Lincoln offered Lee advancement to major general.  Lee declined the promotion and, upon the secession of Virginia, resigned from the U. S. Army.[4]

Joseph E. Johnston

Joseph Eggleston Johnston (USMA Class of 1829) (13/46) was from a distinguished family of Scots whose grandfather and father both served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.  With his mother being the niece of Patrick Henry and his brother and father-in-law being members of the U. S. Congress, Johnston was politically well-connected.  Joe Johnston was the only Confederate general to have served as a general officer in the Union Army before his resignation to join secession.  This is important because Johnston, although in the same graduating class as Lee, was Lee’s senior officer in the Union Army.

When he returned home to Virginia, the governor offered him an appointment to the Virginia State Army as a major general.  Shortly after that, state officials notified him that Virginia only needed one major general, and so they decided to offer that commission to Robert E. Lee.  He could have, however, an appointment as a brigadier general, serving under Lee.  Given that Lee was junior to him in the Union Army, his proposal was unacceptable, and he declined the offer.

Jeff Davis thereafter offered Johnston a commission as brigadier general in the CSA, which he accepted.  Initially, Johnston’s assignment was command of the CSA forces at Harper’s Ferry.  Shortly thereafter, he assumed command of the Army of Shenandoah.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

P. G. T. Beauregard (USMA Class of 1838) (2/45) was an Army engineer, brevetted to Captain in 1847 for excellence as a staff officer (planning officer) under General Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War.  He served as an engineer for the next 13 years, repairing old forts and building new ones in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana.  Beauregard was born in Louisiana to an aristocratic French-Creole family.  Well-educated in private schools, Beauregard was brought up speaking French, never learning English until he was twelve years old.

Beauregard’s brother-in-law was John Slidell, a prominent attorney, politician, and former United States Minister to Mexico (1844-46).  In January 1861, the War Department appointed Beauregard to serve as Superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy.  Before assuming office, however, Louisiana seceded from the Union, and the War Department canceled his appointment.  Incensed, Beauregard promptly resigned his commission and returned home to Louisiana.

With his political connections, Beauregard expected the Governor of Louisiana to appoint him as the general officer commanding Louisiana state militia.  The appointment, instead, went to Braxton Bragg, who in turn offered Beauregard a colonelcy.[5]  Instead, Beauregard enlisted as a private in the New Orleans Guards but at the same time wrote to Jeff Davis offering his services as a general officer in the CSA.  A common rumor was that Davis was considering him as the Commanding General of the CSA — which infuriated Bragg to no end.  On 1 March 1861, Davis appointed Beauregard a brigadier general, the first general appointee in the CSA.  His first assignment was the command of Charleston harbor.  

Essentially, General Beauregard was the officer who initiated hostilities with the United States on 12 April 1861. After negotiations failed to convince the Commanding Officer, Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, to surrender to Confederate authority, Beauregard ordered his artillery to bombard the fort — an assault lasting 34 hours. Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter on 14 April.  

A short time later, Davis ordered Beauregard to assume command of the Alexandria Line at Manassas.  In July, Davis promoted Beauregard to full general, with seniority behind Joseph E. Johnston.

Back to Joe Johnston

Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807-1891) came from a distinguished family of Scots.  Both his grandfather and father fought in the American Revolution.  His mother was a niece of Patrick Henry.  His brother, Charles, served as a Congressman from Virginia.  He married Lydia McLane, whose father was a Congressman from Delaware.[6]  He was politically well-connected, an aristocrat of sorts and perhaps, full of himself.

Despite Johnston’s promotion to full general in August 1861, he stewed over his lack of seniority.  On 12 September 1861, Johnston wrote a letter to President Davis to explain his point of view:

“It (the ranking of senior generals) seeks to tarnish my fair fame as a soldier and as a man, earned by more than thirty years of laborious and perilous service.  I had but this, the scars of many wounds, all honestly taken in my front and in the front of battle, and my father’s Revolutionary sword.  It was delivered to me from his venerated hand, without a stain of dishonor.  Its blade is still unblemished as when it passed from his hand to mine.  I drew it in the war, not for rank or fame, but to defend the sacred soil, the homes and hearths, the women, and children — aye, and the men of my mother Virginia, my native South.”[7]

Johnston additionally complained to Davis that the president’s rankings were “in violation of my rights as an officer, of the plighted faith of the Confederacy and the Constitution and the laws of the land. […] I now and here declare my claim that I still rightfully hold the rank of first general in the armies of the Southern Confederacy.”  President Davis responded to Johnston’s letter, accusing the general of being “one-sided” whose complaints were “as unfounded as they are unbecoming.”  President Davis did nothing to resolve this problem, and, to be honest, I’m not sure why Davis kept him on the payroll.

The long-held system of seniority and etiquette explains why Johnston refused to subordinate himself to Robert E. Lee and others.  At the time he resigned from the U. S. Army, Johnston was a regular Army brigadier general.  Lee, upon his resignation, was a colonel.  Ultimately, however, both Lee and Johnston ended up as generals in the Confederate States Army — and Lee ended up being senior to Johnson because he had served, albeit briefly, as a Confederate major general.

As for trying to understand Johnston’s pettiness, there are several possibilities to consider.  Johnston was obviously a prideful man and mindful (possibly obsessed) with his prerogatives as a senior military commander. There are no small egos among high-ranking military officers. The concept of teamwork probably didn’t apply as much during the Civil War as it does today.  Still, there were other issues, such as Johnston’s unwillingness to listen to the advice and recommendations of his subordinate commanders, his ability to admit to or take responsibility for serious errors in planning, judgment, and his inability to acknowledge that in some cases, he was out of his depth.

However, commanding a field army — and commanding it well, is a gargantuan task.  It’s more than directing maneuver elements; there is also the question of logistics, which along with weather, is a war-stopper.  On the one hand, our field commander must win the battles and do it with whatever manpower he has available to him.  Excessive battlefield casualties limit his next moves.  He has to control the battlespace, which means choosing the time and place to fight as much as he is able.  During the Civil War period, rural Virginia was still a wilderness.  Having only one plan up his sleeve simply won’t do.

A series of small battles took place in Virginia following the First Battle of Bull Run (also, First Battle of Manassas), many of which resulted in inconclusive outcomes: Greenbrier River, Camp Allegheny, Cockpit Point, Hampton Roads, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Eltham’s Landing, and Seven Pines.

Command and control were quite difficult in 1862. At Seven Pines on 31 May – 1 June 1862, General Joseph E. Johnston attempted to overwhelm two Federal corps that he thought were isolated south of the Chickahominy River.  Although Johnston’s Confederates did succeed in driving General McClellan’s forces back, as well as inflicting heavy casualties, his assaults were not well-coordinated.  

On 1 June 1862, Johnston was seriously wounded and evacuated from the field, relinquishing command to Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith.  President Davis rushed Robert E. Lee to assume command of Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia within a day.[8]

In 1862, field commanders did not have deputies. When Johnston was wounded, the next senior general below him assumed command of the army. The problem was that before Smith became a major general, he was a U. S. Army captain.  No general can effectively lead an army that has not led or fought a division — which goes a long way in explaining General Smith’s nervous breakdown on 1 June 1862.  President Davis’ decision was a good one. General Lee retained command of the Army of Northern Virginia until the war’s end.

But Johnston’s problem wasn’t only with President Davis and General Lee; he had little regard for Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood, as well.

In the spring of 1864, while in command of the Army of Tennessee, Johnston engaged William T. Sherman between Chattanooga and Atlanta.  By this time, John Bell Hood had lost two of his limbs and yet could ride twenty miles a day while strapped to his saddle.  General Hood was a fire-eater and had little patience with Johnston’s apparent timidity.  He may have wondered why a senior general needed so much encouragement to act.  It wasn’t that Johnston was afraid of being injured; he had more than a few scars from battle wounds — it was, instead, that Johnston was afraid to fail.  It made Johnston, in Hood’s view, far too cautious.  Ironically, on one of the rare occasions when Johnston acted decisively at the Battle of Cassville, General Hood demurred on the battlefield.

Johnston’s strategy involved a series of delaying withdrawals.  Force withdrawal is, on occasion, a worthwhile strategy if its purpose is to maneuver the enemy into a position of disadvantage.  Johnston, however, seemed to focus his efforts on avoiding battle rather than engaging the enemy.  Over several weeks, General Hood sent messages to Richmond that criticized Johnston’s behavior.  The issue came to a head when President Davis ordered General Bragg to travel to Atlanta to investigate Hood’s claims.

After meeting with Johnston, Bragg interviewed Hood and General Joseph Wheeler, who testified that they had urged Johnston to attack rather than withdraw.  Hood claimed that Johnston was ineffective, timid, and weak-willed, saying, “I have, general, so often urged that we should force the enemy to give us battle as to almost be regarded reckless by the officers high in rank in this army [Johnston and Corps commander, William J. Hardee] since their views have been so directly opposite.”

Of course, Hood’s letters were insubordinate and subversive, but at least in Hood’s mind, necessary if the purpose of the war was to win important battles.  Historians today claim that Hood’s letters were self-serving and not entirely honest.[9]

But Hood was not alone in his criticism.  General Hardee reported to Bragg, “If the present system continues, we may find ourselves at Atlanta before a serious battle is fought.”  Presented with the facts of Johnston’s behavior, nearly every Confederate general agreed with Hood, Wheeler, and Hardee.

On 17 July 1864, President Davis relieved Johnston of his command.  Davis initially planned to replace Johnston with Hardee, but Bragg urged that he give control of the Army of Tennessee to Hood.  While it was true that Hood had impressed Bragg, it was also accurate that Bragg harbored ill feelings toward Johnston from bitter disagreements during earlier campaigns.

Davis temporarily promoted Hood to full general and gave him command of the army just outside Atlanta.  The Confederate Senate never confirmed hood’s appointment.  The 33-year old John Bell Hood was the youngest man on either side to command an army.  In Lee’s opinion, Hood was “a bold fighter on the field, but careless off.”  But Hood was well known by his Yankee classmates as temperamentally reckless and rash; they would use that knowledge to their advantage.  Davis’ decision to relieve Johnston was controversial and unpopular — besides which, Hood could no more hold Atlanta than Johnston.

In Johnston’s letter to Davis after his relief, he remarked of Hood, “Confident language by a military commander is not usually regarded as evidence of competency.”  Of this incident, Mary Chestnut recorded, “We thought this was a struggle for independence.  Now it seems it is only a fight between Joe Johnston and Jeff Davis.”[10]  Even though eventually restored to command, Johnston could never forget the perfidy of Davis, Bragg, and Hood.  Johnston later wrote, “I know Mr. Davis thinks he can do a great many things other men would hesitate to attempt.  For instance, he tried to do what God failed to do — make a soldier out of Braxton Bragg.”

Johnston’s End

History remembers Joe Johnston kindly.  His battle history is second to none: Manassas, Seven Pines, Vicksburg, Dalton, Resaca, Adairsville, New Hope Church, Dallas, Picket’s Mill, Kolb Farm, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek, Averasboro, Bentonville, Morrisville Station, and the Bennett Place.  For him, it was a long war.  He afterward published his memoirs in Narrative of Military Operations, which was highly critical of Jefferson Davis, John Bell Hood, and Braxton Bragg.

He also built a life-long friendship with his former enemy, William T. Sherman — the officer to whom he surrendered in 1865.  Sherman once opined, “No officer or soldier who ever served under me will question the generalship of Joseph E. Johnston.  His retreats were timely, in good order, and he left nothing behind.”  Afterward, because of Johnston’s gentlemanly behavior, he would not tolerate anyone speaking ill of Sherman in his presence.  When Sherman passed away on 14 February 1891, Johnston served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral, keeping his hat off during the burial rites to show his respect.  The weather was cold and rainy, and Johnston caught a cold, which developed into pneumonia.  Joseph E. Johnston died ten days later.  He was 84 years old.


  1. Bonds, R. S.  War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta.  Westholme Publishing, 2009.
  2. Bowman, S. M., and R. B. Irwin: Sherman and His Campaigns: A military biography.  Richardson Publishing, 1865.
  3. Davis, S.  Texas Brigadier to the fall of Atlanta: John Bell Hood.  Mercer University Press, 2019.
  4. Johnston, J. E.  Narrative of Military Operations: Directed, During the Late War between the States.  Appleton & Co., 1874.
  5. Jones, W. L.  Generals in Blue and Gray: Davis’s Generals.  Stackpole Books, 2006.
  6. Miller, W. J.  The Battles for Richmond, 1862.  National Park Service Civil War Series, 1996.
  7. Symonds, C.  Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography.  Norton, 1992.
  8. Woodworth, S.  Jefferson Davis, and His Generals: A Failure of Confederate Command in the West.  University of Kansas Press, 1990.


[1] All senior officers in both the Union and Confederacy attended the same school, used the same textbooks, had the same teachers, and graduated within a few years of each other.  They served together in the various military departments, in the Indian wars, and in one capacity or another, in the Mexican-American War (1846-48).  Later, as senior field commanders, they all knew what their opponents were likely to do.  With few exceptions, they all had inflated egos.

[2] Prior to the Civil War, the senior rank of the Army (discounting George Washington) was Major General, although the position was often filled by brigadier generals.  With the expansion of the military during the Civil War, as massive number of combat commands, both Union and Confederate armies expanded their command structure to accommodate much larger units.  Depending on circumstances and the availability of general officers, Brigadier Generals commanded brigades (consisting of from three to five regiments); major generals commanded divisions (three or four brigades); lieutenant generals commanded corps (three to four divisions), and generals command armies (three to four corps).

[3] What we know about the internal workings of the Confederacy today we owe in large measure to Sam Cooper, who maintained concise records and later turned these documents over to the U. S.  government at war’s end.  

[4] Robert E. Lee was an intellectual, a gentleman, and a pro-Union southerner whose final decision to resign his commission and join with his state was prompted by his loyalty to his home state.  His last US Army rank was colonel, and that is the insignia he wore on his uniform throughout the Civil War, rather than the insignia of a full general.  In Lee’s opinion, he had done nothing to warrant his full-general rank. 

[5] Braxton Bragg may have been the worst general officer on either side of the Civil War.  He lost nearly every engagement, shifted responsibility for his failures to junior officers, excessively disciplined subordinates.  He detested LtGen Leonidas Polk, a subordinate, who had a close relationship with President Jefferson Davis.  Bragg’s failures as a field general are among the primary reasons for the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.

[6] Joseph and Lydia Johnston had no children.  Lydia passed away in 1887; Johnston passed away of a heart attack on 21 March 1891.  

[7] Craig L. Symonds book, Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography, W. W. Norton, 1992. 

[8] Union armies were named after rivers; Confederate armies were named after the places where they fought.  Earlier, however, both the Union and Confederates has an “Army of the Potomac.”  The confusion of this forced the Confederates to adopt a different naming convention.  

[9] Steven E. Woodworth wrote that Hood had, more than General Hardee, urged Johnston to withdraw his force.

[10] Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut, A Diary from Dixie.

Posted in American Frontier, American Military, American Southwest, Antebellum Period, Civil War, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Mexican American War, Politicians | 2 Comments

An Old Texas Fort

Age of Discovery

Spanish Coat of Arms

Spain began its age of discovery and conquest with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492.[1]  From that moment when Columbus accidentally stumbled into the American continent, Spanish explorers and conquistadors began building an empire so large that it nearly defies one’s imagination.  The reality of Columbus’ discovery was not immediately apparent.  Still, it wasn’t long before Spanish ships began making regular trips to the new world, returning to Spain with vast treasures in gold and silver, gemstones, and foods never before known in Europe.  With the addition of priests to the ships’ passenger manifests, it became a quest for God, Glory, and Gold.

Native people were already living in this new land.  Some were curious, others distrustful, and some were outright hostile to the foreigners arriving from across the water.  If the Spanish could not coax the natives into giving up their land, they would have to subdue them by force — and to soothe the natives, it would be an ideal arrangement to bring them into the fold of Christendom — hence, the mission of priests.

These were the old days — perhaps today, we might consider them as ancient times.  There was no such thing as rapid communications.  Sending messages and letters back to Spain took months and double that if the writer expected a reply.  The distance and time factor made it impossible for the Spanish Crown to make timely, informed decisions about matters of importance, and so the King of Spain appointed men as his deputies to govern these far-distant territories in his name and by his authority.  They were called Viceroys, and their responsibilities were to manage a place named New Spain.  The new world was one less thing the King of Spain had to worry about once the Viceroy was in place.  The Viceroy could make critical and timely decisions.  Granted, making decisions was still slow, but not as before.

The challenge was considerable, for not only did the Spanish have to seize these new lands, but they also had to keep them, maintain them, and transform them into a profitable enterprise.  It was more than a matter of subduing the natives; the Spanish also had to defend these territories from French and British interlopers.  For Spain, it was an expensive undertaking.  There was only one line of communication between the old and new worlds: the sea, which forced the Spanish to construct hundreds of seaworthy vessels, some of which to transport cargoes of untold wealth, and other ships to protect them from the interlopers.


The King of Spain and his new world viceroys were well-aware of the intentions of France and Great Britain.  They wanted a piece of the new world for themselves.  Remember that Spain (which in 1492 had only recently emerged from eight hundred years of domination by Islamic Moors) was as determined to protect its newfound territory as the French and British were in carving out pieces of it for themselves.  This competition set into motion numerous armed conflicts, both in the old world and in the new, that involved the additional expense of maintaining large navies and land armies.

There was never any question in the minds of the Spanish about what the French and English were doing in North America.  As time progressed, particularly after the Seven Years’ War, the Spanish realized that it would only be a matter of time before the British American colonies challenged Spain for control of New Spain’s territories in the present-day western United States.  If this was not altogether true in 1763, when France turned over New France to the British, it was absolutely true after American President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territories from Napoleon’s France.

Revolution and Evolution

Mexico Coat of Arms

But then, almost as if the Spanish Crown and his Viceroy weren’t paying attention to its own house, Mexico declared its independence from Spain (1810-1821), and three hundred years of Spanish territorial domination in North America came to an end.[2]  In that final year of the revolution, 1821, an enterprising fellow named Moses Austin offered a proposal to the newly created Mexican government — a way of populating its northern province of Tejas with immigrants from the United States.  The proposal would solve one of New Spain’s/Mexico’s more perplexing problems — settling Tejas and making it into productive land.  Of course, those migrating Americans would have to become citizens of Mexico and convert to Catholicism, but that was a minor issue compared to the benefit of purchasing large tracts of land for a mere twelve and a half cents an acre.

After the Mexican revolution,  Mexicans themselves began struggling with the question of the best form of self-governance.  The challenge was deciding whether to develop semi-autonomous states, such as those found in the United States under federalism, or a more centralized (authoritarian) system of government.  In 1821, when Americans began migrating to Tejas, Mexican provinces enjoyed the provincial/state government freedoms.  Within a few years, however, Mexican governance became more centralized, stripping away the right of Mexicans within states to govern themselves.  The Texians determined that they would not live in a totalitarian state; they would not abide a tyrant.

The Texas Revolution began in 1836 when Texians (including the Mexicans who lived in Tejas) declared their independence.  Tejas wasn’t the only province to rebel, of course, but it seems the only rebellion people remember today.  Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna, as commander-in-chief of Mexico’s armed forces, led an expedition to put down the rebellion in Tejas.  He initially had a few successes but was ultimately defeated, captured, and eventually sent home.

Despite Santa Anna’s surrender document, which acknowledged Texas’ Independence, Mexico’s legislature repudiated the Treaty of Velasco and claimed it was an invalid instrument.  They argued that Santa Anna was under duress when he signed the document and that, in signing it, he did so without the advice and consent of the legislature.  Not only was this an excellent argument, but it was also the basis of continuing conflicts between the Texas and Mexican armies through 1844.


It was always the intention of (General and later President of Texas) Sam Houston to petition the United States government for the admission of Texas to the United States.  These negotiations began informally in 1837.

The Mexicans knew about this, of course, and it irritated them considerably.  Spanish/Mexican officials had been expecting such trickery since Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of French Louisiana.  Many Mexican officials believed that the Americans had always been pirates — a conclusion that was not entirely without merit.  American filibusters had been stirring up trouble in Mexico for more than a few decades.

In 1844, President John Tyler dispatched General Zachary Taylor to Fort Jesup, Louisiana as a “guard” against any possible attempt by Mexico to reclaim Texas.  James K. Polk assumed the US presidency in March 1945.  President Polk was an unapologetic expansionist; he wanted statehood for Texas, which, by November 1845, was well underway.  There was one sticking point, however: Texas’ southern border.[3]  Polk sent John Slidell to Mexico City with two offers.  First, Slidell was authorized to pay Mexico $25 million in exchange for Mexico’s recognition of the Rio Grande as Texas’ southern border.[4]  Second, Polk authorized Slidell to pay an additional $25-30 million for Alta California.  Before leaving on his mission, Slidell suggested that Mexico might require, in addition to substantial payment, some military inducements.

President Polk ordered General Taylor to proceed to Texas.  In compliance with his instructions, Taylor established his headquarters at Corpus Christi and ordered regular patrols within the Nueces Strip.   

Mexican officials rebuffed Slidell, citing national honor  — but the fact was that Mexico could not have accepted President Polk’s offer because, at that time, Mexico was undergoing a period of political turmoil.  Between 1844-45, Mexico had four presidents, six war ministries, and sixteen finance ministries.  Undeterred, the United States admitted Texas as its 28th State on 29 December 1845, and its southern border was the Rio Grande.  A war between Mexico and the United States was only a matter of time — and it wasn’t going to be a long wait.

In early 1846, Mariano Paredes assumed the presidency of Mexico.  In his inaugural address, President Paredes declared that he would uphold the integrity of Mexican territory to the Sabine River — Mexico’s original northeastern border with the United States.  Afterward, President Polk directed Taylor to establish a more prominent military presence along the Rio Grande.  On 24 April 1846, Mexican General Mariano Arista, commanding Mexico’s northern division (a force of about 5,000 men), officially notified General Taylor that a state of war existed between Mexico and the United States.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican/American War, reduced the size of Mexico to around 800,000 square miles (from 1.7 million square miles).  Based on the Texian’s previous experience with Mexican treaties, no one quite trusted the Mexican government to abide by the treaty’s provisions.

About Fort Gates

US 8th Inf

Another issue between 1848-50 was a significant increase in native American hostilities.  As a safeguard against Mexican treachery and Indian depredations, the United States established military forts from the Rio Grande to the Red River.  The forts were named Fort Worth, Fort Graham, Fort Croghan, Fort Martin Scott, Fort Inge, Fort Duncan, and Fort Gates.

The U. S. Army established Fort Gates on 26 October 1849, known initially as Camp Gates.  The fort was named in honor of Brevet Major Collinson Reed Gates of New York, an officer who distinguished himself at the Battle of Palo Alto, the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, and the Battle of Molino del Rey.

The Battle of Palo Alto was the first major battle of the Mexican/American war, fought on 8 May 1846, five miles from modern-day Brownsville, Texas.  Around 3,700 Mexican troops of General Arista’s division engaged US troops numbering around 2,300 under General Taylor.  While Arista deployed his forces competently, he was defeated by overwhelming US artillery, forcing Arista to withdraw to Resaca de la Palma.

Taylor pursued Arista’s remaining forces, engaging them on 9 May.  Arista established a defensive position along a resaca, then known to Mexicans as Resaca de Guerrero and the Americans as Resaca de la Palma.[5]  Arista positioned his force within the twelve-foot deep, two-hundred-foot wide resaca some three miles from the Rio Grande.  He placed most of his men in the ravine, which was thickly vegetated on either side to lessen the effect of Taylor’s artillery.  When the battle joined, the fighting was disorganized and uncoordinated due to the dense chaparral and intense Mexican artillery.  After Captain Robert C. Buchanan’s 4th Infantry outflanked the Mexican artillery battery and successfully defended against Arista’s counter-attacks, the Mexican force panicked and fled back across the Rio Grande with many of the soldiers drowning in their attempt to escape.

Major Gates was the son of Brigadier General William Gates[6].  Although participating in numerous battles from Florida to Canada and during the Mexican/American War, the 33-year-old Gates passed away from cholera while stationed at Fort Martin Scott.

Fort Gates was located on the north bank of the Leon River (five miles east of present-day Gatesville, Texas.  The Leon River has three primary forks, which meet near Eastland, Texas, and then run for about 185 miles to the Lampasas River and Salado Creek, forming the Little River near Belton.

The initial garrison at Fort Gates included four companies of the US 8th Infantry Regiment.  The fort reached its peak strength of 256 enlisted men and 45 officers in April 1851.  The fort had four officer’s quarters, two headquarters buildings, three laundries, a hospital, a stable, two storehouses, a guardhouse, a bakery, and a blacksmith shop.  Its commanding officers were Captain William Reading Montgomery (1849-1850), Captain James G. S. Snelling (1850-51), Captain Carlos Adolphus Waite (1851-52), and Captain Horace Haldeman (1852).

The Army promoted Captain Montgomery to Major in 1852, but in 1855 he was dismissed from the service due to allegations of inappropriate financial conduct.  Historians now believe that Major Montgomery had run afoul of pro-slavery elements in Kansas, which sought to discredit him for his anti-slavery views.  With the outbreak of the Civil War In 1861, the Army offered Montgomery command of the 1st New Jersey Regiment of Volunteer Infantry.  Montgomery advanced to Brigadier General following the First Battle of Bull Run.

One of the officers serving under Captain James G. S. Snelling in 1851 was First Lieutenant George Pickett (1825-1875).  Virginian by birth, he began pre-law studies with Andrew Johnson, an uncle, in Quincy, Illinois, but at the age of 17, he obtained an appointment to the USMA at West Point.  Pickett was appointed to West Point by Congressman John T. Stuart, a friend of his uncle’s and the law partner of Abraham Lincoln.

At West Point, George Pickett was popular among fellow cadets but had no interest in academics beyond doing the least amount of work necessary to graduate.  He had no ambitions toward class standing, and as a result of this lackluster performance, George Pickett graduated last of 59 students in the class of 1846.

In January 1851, George Pickett married Sally Harrison Minge, the great-great grandniece of President William Henry Harrison and the great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  In November 1851, Sally died during childbirth — at Fort Gates, Texas.

Not long after the opening of Fort Gates, dozens of families from Milam County relocated to the area surrounding the fort.  The fort’s presence significantly decreased the number of hostile Indian raids in the area, its intended mission.  Having accomplished that mission, the Army transferred the garrison to Fort Phantom Hill in 1852.  A small caretaker staff maintained the fort until February 1853.

A Time of Remembrance 

In 1853, Mr. O. T. Tyler, an early settler near Fort Gates, petitioned the Texas House of Representatives to establish a new county.  Governor Elisha M. Pease signed the legislation on 4 February 1854, creating Coryell County, Texas — named in honor of Texas Ranger James Coryell (1803-1837).  Whether Mr. Tyler knew Jim Coryell is unknown.  Fort Gates became the Coryell County seat since renamed Gatesville.

Jim Coryell was the son of Lewis and Sarah Voshall Coryell.  At around the age of 18, Jim left home and migrated to Texas.  He resided in San Antonio in 1831 and joined the expedition of James Bowie to the San Saba region in search of silver mines.  Afterward, Coryell made his way to the Robertson Colony in 1834.  He made his home with the Cavitt family near Sarahville/Fort Milam.[7]  In 1835, James accompanied the Leon River country with Cavitt and applied for a land grant in the area that is now Fort Hood, Texas.  In 1836, Coryell enlisted as a private in the Texas Ranger company under Captain Sterling C. Robertson.  Later that year, he transferred to Captain Thomas H. Barron’s ranger militia to protect settlers in Sarahville.

In 1837, Jim Coryell and rangers Ezra Webb and Michael Castleman hunted for honey when attacked by several Caddo Indians.[8]  The best thing to do under those circumstances was “hightail it,” which is what Webb and Castleman did.  Coryell, who was in poor health and unable to run, was punctured with arrows and scalped.  A few hours later, a party of men from the fort returned to the site and found Coryell badly wounded, though still alive.  He died from his wounds two days later and was laid to rest nearby.  No one in the rescue party thought to record the exact location of the grave.  The Fort Milam Ranger Company disbanded in 1837.  

In 1853, Churchill Jones established a plantation near old Sarahville and established a cemetery for his slaves, called Bull Hill — about a mile or so northwest of the old settlement.  The Jones plantation eventually declined, but many of his emancipated slaves remained in the area and continued to use Bull Hill as their final resting place.  The graveyard finally closed.  By the 1960s, many tombstones had weathered away, and no one quite knew who was buried where.  In 2006, Churchill Jones III sold the property to Summerlee Foundation of Dallas.  Jones informed the new owner, John Crain, of the old graveyard but couldn’t say where it was.  Crain invited the Texas Historical Commission to conduct an archaeological investigation.  From the oral history of Mr. Ned Broadus, a former slave, the THC learned of Bull Hill’s location and a grave “said to belong to Mr. Jim Coryell.”

With the assistance of the Smithsonian Institution, THC located and excavated the James Coryell gravesite.  A forensic examination of the remains revealed an individual who had been wounded by an arrow, scalped, and whose head wound had been bandaged in cotton with a tobacco poultice.  The body was an adult male, 35-40 years of age, who stood 5’5” tall.  Investigators claimed in 2019 that they had found the body of Texas Ranger James Coryell, 182 years after his death.

My last home in Texas was 31 miles southwest of Old Fort Gates on Texas Route 116 in a small town named Copperas Cove, established in 1870, eleven miles due west of Killeen.


  1. Bauer, K. J.  The Mexican War, 1846-1848.  University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
  2. Borneman, W. R.  Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America.  Random House, 2008.
  3. Crimmins, M. L.  The First Line of Army Posts was Established in West Texas in 1849.  West Texas Historical Association, 1943.
  4. Gordon, L. J.  General George Edward Pickett in Life and Legend.  University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  5. Hyman, C., and Toni S. Turner: James Coryell, 1803-1837.  Handbook of Texas, 1952, 2020
  6. McKinley, S. B.  Old Rough and Ready: The Life and Times of Zachary Taylor. Vanguard Press, 1946.
  7. Morgan, R. J.  A Whig Embattled: The Presidency Under John Tyler.  University of Nebraska Press, 1954.
  8. Scott, Z.  Fort Gates, Texas.  Handbook of Texas, 1952, 2019.
  9. Warner, E. J.  Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders.  Louisiana State University Press, 1964.


[1] Columbus, of course, was looking for a shorter, more direct route to Asia.  When he arrived off the coast of Hispaniola, he thought he’d found it.  When he returned to Spain, therefore, Señor Columbus had no clear idea about where he’d been, nor of what he’d discovered.

[2] The sequestration of the Spanish royal family by Napoleon Bonaparte and the abdications of Bayonne gave rise to rise to liberalism throughout the Spanish Empire; Mexico’s revolution was but one of several in the Americas.

[3] The Treaty of Velasco designated the southern border of Texas at the “Rio Grande del Norte.”  In Texian speak, that meant the modern-day Rio Grande.  But Mexico didn’t call it the Rio Grande — they called it the Rio Bravo.  To Mexicans, Rio Grande del Norte was the Nueces River.  The land between these two river systems was called the Nueces Strip.  When Congress approved the annexation of Texas, there was no mention of the southern border, but President Polk claimed the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo as the southern border of Texas.

[4] John Slidell (1793-1871) was an American politician, lawyer, and businessman.  He was a native of New York but moved to Louisiana and served as the New Orleans district attorney, state representative, member of the House of Representatives, and US minister to Mexico.  He was afterward elected to the US Senate from Louisiana and served as a pro-Union moderate.  Slidell resigned from the senate at the beginning of the Civil War.  As an appointed diplomat to France representing the Confederacy, he, and fellow Confederate diplomat James M. Mason (Virginia), were taken into captivity by the US Navy from the British ship RMS Trent and held at Fort Warren, in Boston.  Lincoln subsequently offered an apology to the British for having assailed a British flagged ship and released Slidell and Mason … thus averting a war with Great Britain in 1861. 

[5] A resaca (channel) is a type of oxbow lake found in southern Cameron County, Texas.  They are former naturally formed channels of the Rio Grande having no inlet or outlet.   

[6] William Gates (1788-1868) graduated first in his class of eleven at the USMA in 1801.  He was a veteran of the War of 1812, Seminole Wars, the Mexican/American War, and the American Civil War.  He outlived his son by 19 years.

[7] Sarahville, also known as Sarahville de Viesca, also known as Bucksnort, is now a ghost town at the falls of the Brazos River four miles southwest of present-day Marlin.  The town, named after Sterling C. Robertson’s mother and Agustin de Viesca, a governor of Coahuila y Tejas, was established in 1834, abandoned in 1837.

[8] The Europeans were but one in a long line of interlopers in Caddo traditional territory, pushed westward by stronger Indian tribes.  Their “new” territories included present-day East Texas, Arkansas, western Louisiana, and southeastern Oklahoma.  Given their history, the Caddo traditionally challenged any “foreigner” in their homeland.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Antebellum Period, British Colonies, Civil War, Colonial America, History, Indian Territory, Mexican American War, New France, New Spain, Pioneers, Revolution, Texas, Texas Rangers, Westward Expansion | 2 Comments

The Apache Kid

The Aravapai Canyon

The Aravaipa Canyon is a wilderness area managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  It consists of a little more than 19,000 square acres in the southeast section of Arizona.  The canyon area was the birthplace of an Apache Indian named Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl — believed to have been born in 1860.  His family belonged to the Tsee Zhinnee (Dark Horse) clan, a subgroup of the Western Apache nation.  He is better known to history as the Apache Kid.

There was nothing “Disney Land” about the old west.  As we have seen in countless other stories at Old West Tales, life was hard on the American frontier — it didn’t matter whether one was white, black, red, or brown.  Life was much the same for Haskay.  When he was still a boy, Yuma Indians attacked Haskay’s village and took him captive.  He remained with the Yuma for several years until rescued by a cavalry unit.  Afterward, Haskay lived as a homeless person within or close to army camps and trading posts.  In the mid-1870s, Haskay fell under the influence and care of Al Sieber, Chief of the Army Scouts.

Albert Sieber (1843-1907) was a German-born Union veteran of the American Civil War.  After his father died in 1845, his mother, Katharina, migrated with her eight children to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  In 1862, the Sieber family lived in Minnesota.  Nine-year-old Albert joined the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.  During his service, Sieber fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.  During the Battle of Gettysburg, he received grievous wounds at Cemetery Ridge.  After the war, between 1868-71, Sieber managed a ranch in Arizona.  In July 1871, General George Stoneman hired Sieber to serve as Chief of Scouts during Apache Wars.[1]

Haskay enlisted in the U. S. Army Scouts in 1881.  Haskay excelled in his duty assignments; in 1862, the Army promoted him to sergeant.  In this capacity, he accompanied Crook into the Sierra Madre Occidental and worked in both Arizona and New Mexico.  In 1885, Sergeant Haskay became involved in a melee while intoxicated.  To prevent Mexican authorities from hanging him, Sieber sent him back to the United States.

Sometime later, Haskay married into an important Apache family, becoming the son-in-law of Chief Eskiminzin (roughly meaning “Angry men stand in line for him).”  Eskiminzin (1828-1894) was a Pinal Apache and became their chief through marriage into the Aravaipa clan.  He was a firm believer that Indians and whites could live peacefully with one another and accepted the U. S. government’s offer of land near Fort Grant.  When Mexican and American civilians assaulted the settlement, known as the Fort Grant Massacre, they killed 144 peaceful Apaches, mostly women, and children.  Eskiminzin survived the assault but lived as a broken man until his death.  

In May 1887, Chief Scout Sieber accompanied other post officers on a trip lasting several days.  Sieber placed Sergeant Haskay in charge of the Indian Scouts in his absence.  One or more of the scouts thought it would be fun to throw a party — a drinking party.[2]  Two inebriated Indians got into a fight, and one of them ended up dead.  The dead Indian happened to be Haskay’s father, Togo-de-Chuz.  Naturally, Togo’s murder demanded retribution, so friends of Haskay killed Togo’s murderer, Gon-Zizzie.  Then, to keep matters from escalating, Haskay killed Gon-Zizzie’s brother, Rip.


On 1 June 1887, Sieber and Lieutenant John Pierce confronted the scouts involved in the altercation and ordered them to disarm and submit to arrest until the army could conduct a proper investigation.  Haskay complied with the order, but a crowd gathered to watch and, perhaps, agitate during the arrest proceeding.  From within the group of on-lookers, someone fired a shot.  Several more gunshots followed, one of the bullets striking Sieber in his ankle.  Confusion ensued, and Haskay and several other scouts fled the scene.

It looked as though Haskay, and his scouts were attempting to escape justice to army investigators, and if the truth were known, they were doing precisely that.  The army reacted by sending two troops of the 4th Cavalry in pursuit.  Sympathetic Apache gave the fleeing Indians aid and comfort.  Haskay did contact the army to negotiate his surrender.  If the army withdrew their troops from Apache land, he would turn himself in.  The Army agreed.

On 25 June 1887, Haskay and four others submitted to a court-martial.  The court found all four guilty of mutiny and desertion and sentenced them to death by firing squad.  The sentence, upon review, was commuted to life in prison, and the supervisory authority, General Nelson A. Miles, further reduced the sentence to ten years in prison.  In compliance with Miles’ order, the Army escorted the five Apache convicts to Alcatraz Prison in California.  The following year, a higher court overturned the court-martial conviction, and the prisoners were set free.

After their release from prison, the relatives of the murdered Gon-Zizzie and Rip claimed that they had been denied justice.  They put up such a fuss that the army issued new arrest warrants, this time alleging murder.  Once more, Haskay (now called the Apache Kid) went on the run; he was again captured, stood trial, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.  Initially, Territorial authorities ordered Haskay, and his cohorts, confined in Globe, Arizona, but later directed their transfer to the Arizona Territorial Prison.

During this transfer, on the morning of 2 November 1889, nine prisoners (including Haskay) escaped by overpowering two guards and a stagecoach driver.  Pas-Lau-Tau shot and killed Sheriff Glenn Reynolds, William Holmes suffered a heart attack and died, and Eugene Middleton, the stage driver, survived although shot in the head.  In Middleton’s later testimony, he stated that had it not been for Haskay’s intervention, the other escapees would have murdered him outright.

All prisoners escaped into the desert.  State militia, bounty hunters, and army patrols conducted extensive manhunts for the escapees.  One of the men who participated in the search, as a member of the 7th Cavalry, was a future book writer by the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Authorities eventually recaptured the escaped prisoners.  Well, all except one: the Apache Kid.

Between 1890 and 1899, numerous sources claimed to have seen or suspected Haskay’s presence in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Still, none of these reports was ever confirmed, and Haskay, the Apache Kid, disappeared from the historical record.

For example, settlers in Southeast Arizona accused Haskay of vicious crimes over several years, even though there was never any evidence that he committed those crimes.  During an 1890 shootout between Apache renegades and Mexican soldiers, one of the dead Apaches was found with Glenn Reynold’s pistol and his timepiece.  The dead Apache was too old to be Haskay.  Then, in 1894, over in the San Mateo Mountains, rancher Charlie Anderson and a few of his boys killed an Apache caught rustling his cattle.  Anderson claimed that the dead Indian was Haskay, but the Indian’s identity was never confirmed.

In 1896, famed lawman Texas John Slaughter claimed to have killed the Apache Kid in the Chihuahua Mountains.[3]  In 1899, El Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky of the Mexican Rurales sent word to the American authorities that Haskay was living among the Apache of Sierra Madre Occidental — a claim never confirmed.

Finally, in 1968, authors Ben W. Kemp and J. C. Dykes related their knowledge of the last days of the Apache Kid.  Kemp wrote that in 1907, as a 17-year old cowhand working in Chloride, New Mexico, he saw Billy Keene (a former member of a posse looking for Haskay) in possession of a human head that Keene claimed was that of the Apache Kid.  Whether true, one must wonder what kind of person carries a human charge around with him for bragging rights.


  1. De la Garza, P.  The Apache Kid.  Westernlore Press, 1995.
  2. Forrest, E. R., and E. B. Hill.  Lone War Trail of Apache Kid.  Trails End Publishing, 1947.
  3. Kemp, B. W., and J. C. Dykes.  Cow Dust and Saddle Leather.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
  4. McKana, C. V.  The Court-Martial of the Apache Kid: Renegade of Renegades.  Texas Tech University Press, 2009.


[1] The Apache Wars didn’t end until 1924; Sieber passed away in 1907.

[2] Indians and most East Asians are alcohol intolerant.  

[3] John Horton Slaughter, known as Texas John Slaughter, was a noted Indian fighter and old west lawman, gambler, and New Mexico rancher.  

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Apache Indians, Arizona Territory, History, Indian Territory, Indian War | 1 Comment

Henry Newton Brown

Henry was never the brightest bulb in the box, but he was probably typical of young men in the Old West.  He was born in Missouri but was orphaned early in his life, raised by his uncle Jasper Richardson until he reached the age of 17.  Again, more, or less typical, Henry drifted west working as a cowhand in Texas and Colorado.  We don’t know this for a fact, but some suggest that he relocated to Colorado on account of killing a hombre in Texas.  He may not have been yet 20 years old.

In 1877, Henry was living in the New Mexico Territory at the time of and participated in, the Lincoln County War.

On 18 February 1878, John Tunstall, William Bonney, Richard Brewer, John Middleton, Robert Widenmann, Fred Waite, and Henry Brown drove horses from Tunstall’s Rio Feliz Ranch into Lincoln, New Mexico.  Also on that day, the corrupt Sheriff William J. Brady formed a posse and proceeded to the Tunstall Ranch to serve Mr. Tunstall with a court-ordered lien on his cattle, part of a lawsuit.

When Brady and his deputies (actually, members of the Jesse Evans outlaw gang) arrived at the Rio Feliz Ranch, they discovered that Tunstall was out on the range.  Evans and several gang members broke off and went in search of Tunstall.  They caught up with Tunstall a few miles outside Lincoln.  William Bonney and Henry Brown, riding drag, spotted the Evans gang approaching.  Bonney fired a warning shot into the air.  Evans may have thought that Bonney was shooting at him and returned fire.  Tunstall’s other ranch hands heard the firing and rode to the top of a hill to observe the goings-on; Tunstall remained with his horses.

Realizing that Tunstall was unprotected, Jesse Evans and his men surrounded Tunstall and murdered him in cold blood.  After killing Tunstall, gang members arranged his body to make it look as if he resisted arrest.  Jesse Evans may have been the dullest knife in the drawer because one of his gang had shot Tunstall in the back of the head.  Beyond that, every one of Tunstall’s ranch hands witnessed the murder.

At the time of his murder, John Tunstall was 24 years old.  It was this murder that ignited the Lincoln County War.  William Bonney (who I believe has been wrongly maligned by history writers), was devastated by Tunstall’s murder because the two young men had become close friends.[1]

Bonney and ten of Tunstall’s ranch hands reported the murder to Lincoln Justice of the Peace Squire John Wilson and gave testimony to what they saw.  Wilson accepted the complaint and deputized the men as “special constables.”  Wilson ordered them to arrest Tunstall’s killers.  Dick Brewer, Tunstall’s ranch foreman, served as Chief Constable.  Henry Brown was one of these constables, the group became known as “Lincoln County Regulators.”

On 1 April, Henry Newton Brown, William Bonney, Jim French, Frank McNab, John Middleton, and Fred Waite ambushed and killed Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady.  Believing that Andrew L. Roberts (also known as Buckshot Roberts) took part in Tunstall’s murder, Regulators engaged Roberts at Blazer’s Mill three days later.

Like many civil war veterans, circumstances after the war forced Roberts to make a living as a buffalo hunter.  He may have hunted with Buffalo Bill Cody, and some say he also served as a Texas Ranger under the name Bill Williams.  Buckshot earned that nickname after receiving serious wounds from a shotgun blast.  The wound restricted the movement of his right arm, and this required that he develop an unorthodox shooting style.   

Roberts may have been typical of his generation.  He was a quiet man, someone who kept to himself and was one of those fellows whom a prudent man would never intentionally annoy.  Roberts worked for James Dolan in Lincoln, which placed him at odds with the Regulators.  Roberts wanted nothing to do with the dustup between Dolan/Brady and the Regulators and made plans to sell his ranch and move away.  On 4 April 1878, Roberts rode to Blazer’s Mill, a local trade store, looking for the arrival of his payment for his ranch.  Instead of a check, Roberts found the entire group of regulators eating a meal in an adjacent building.

Regulator Frank Coe, a gun hand of some repute, approached Roberts and spoke to him about surrendering his weapon to the Regulators —for his own safety.  Roberts, believing that he would be assassinated out of hand, refused to give up his weapons.  Suspecting that Roberts may have played a role in Tunstall’s murder, Dick Brewer sent a few men to Blazer’s store to arrest Roberts.  Roberts saw the armed men approaching and took up his Winchester repeating rifle.  Charlie Bowdre drew his weapon and he and Roberts fired at the same time.  Roberts was hit in the stomach but retreated to the doorway of Blazer’s Mill while firing at the Regulators.  His bullets hit John Middleton, Doc Scurlock, William Bonney, and George Coe (Frank’s brother).

Barricading himself inside Blazer’s Mill, Roberts ignored his wound and the Regulator’s gunshots.  Since none of the Regulators wanted to approach the trading post, they called out for Roberts to surrender.  Roberts declined, prompting Dick Brewer to go to the side of the building where he could get a clear shot.  Brewer fired into the building but missed Roberts.  Roberts returned fire and didn’t miss.  Demoralized, the Regulators left town but sent a doctor to see to Roberts, who died the next day.  Roberts and Brewer were buried near Blazer’s Mill.

After the killing of Sheriff Brady, the regulators (although themselves duly constituted lawmen) became wanted men. Knowing this, the regulators spent the next few months in hiding.  On 15 July 1878, the regulators found themselves trapped in the home of Alexander McSween, one of Tunstall’s business partners.  While Brady’s deputies fired into the home, Henry Brown was outside sniping at Brady’s men.  Eventually, the deputies managed to set McSween’s house on fire, which allowed  Brown and Bonney to escape in the resulting confusion.  McSween died while trying to escape the inferno inside his home.

In the fall of that year, Brown, Bonney, and a few of the other regulators trailed a herd of stolen horses to Tascosa, Texas.  After selling the horses, most of the regulators returned to their normal haunts, but Henry Brown, named in two New Mexico arrest warrants for murder, wisely decided to remain in Texas.  Some historians claim that Brown became a lawman in Tascosa, but whether he served as a deputy sheriff of Oldham County, a town marshal, or a constable isn’t clear.  In any case, Brown may not have been an ideal candidate for police work.

Brown drifted through Oklahoma and into Kansas, mostly working as a ranch hand.  In July 1882, he settled down in Caldwell, Kansas.  Caldwell was where the Chisholm Trail met the Santa Fe Railroad, and as such the town had a history of violence somewhat comparable with Dodge City and Abilene.  Within a short time, Brown secured an appointment as assistant town marshal.  He became Town Marshal five months later.  Henry Brown, an outlaw turned lawman met up with and joined forces with Benjamin (Ben) Wheeler, a lawman who had turned outlaw.  Between the two men, violence in Caldwell dropped off. 

Caldwell, Kansas

People who knew Henry Brown described him in this way: he was small in stature, not given to drink, gambling, smoking, chewing, or cussing.  He regularly attended church services, was modest or somewhat shy.  Despite these characteristics, he somehow managed to instill confidence in the townspeople of Caldwell.  He was likable and well-received in polite society.  He wasn’t necessarily handsome, but he had a square-set jaw and the appearance of firmness and was known to act on the strength of his convictions.  When called upon to exercise his law enforcement duties, he was utterly fearless.  At those moments, Brown went through a somewhat remarkable transformation, from the shy, well-mannered young man to someone who was aggressively confrontational.  He wore two six guns around his waist, was known to be a deadly accurate shot with either hand.  He was one of the west’s few fast-draws — which came in handy when confronting rowdy trail hands.

In May 1883, Henry Brown shot and killed a renegade Indian known as Spotted Horse.  His second victim was a drunken gambler by the name of Newt Boyce.  When Boyce wasn’t gambling, he tended bar at Moore’s Saloon.  He was one of those bartenders who drank a shot of whiskey for every shot he sold to a customer.  In December 1883, Boyce was on one of his benders when he became ugly and violent, wounding a few people with a knife.  Deputy Marshal Ben Wheeler captured Boyce and took him to jail to “sleep it off.”

As soon as Brown released Boyce from his cell, he went straight to a gun shop where he bought a pistol and another knife and started making threats against Marshal Brown and Deputy Wheeler.  Brown went looking for Boyce and found him just outside Moore’s Saloon.  We don’t know what was said between them, but Boyce went for his sidearm.  From what we know of Brown, Boyce’s move was ill-advised.  Brown shot Boyce twice and within a few hours, the drunken gambler was dead.

The citizens of Caldwell appreciated Brown’s efforts to keep them safe and demonstrated their that gratitude by presenting him with an extensively engraved, gold, and silver-mounted Winchester rifle.  Moreover, as a demonstration of how well the town folks thought of him, everyone celebrated his marriage to Alice Maude Levagood, the daughter of a prominent local brick-maker.  Alice was one of America’s few women to earn a college degree.

Henry Newton Brown

But then, something went wrong.  Henry and Ben concocted a plan to ride over to Medicine Lodge and rob the Medicine Valley Bank.  They enlisted the assistance of two cowboys named William Smith and John Wesley.  From every account, the plan was simple.  Rob the bank, and then hightail it back to Caldwell.  But even the simplest plans go awry, and this one did exactly that.  During the robbery, John Wesley shot and killed bank president Wylie Payne.  Wheeler and Wesley then shot and killed the bank’s chief cashier, George Geppert.  Worse, Geppert sealed the cash safe before dying so none of the robbers got any money.

Brown and his accomplices fled the town under fire with a posse of twelve men hot on their trail.  The chase came to an end when Brown led the outlaws into a box canyon.  Placed in jail, Brown and Wheeler planned a jailbreak because the good folks of Medicine Lodge decided to string the outlaws up.  The four men did make good their escape, but it was short-lived.  The dopes ran into the town mob.  A shotgun blast cut Brown literally in two.  Wheeler, while seriously wounded, was lynched with Smith and Wesley. We don’t know what became of Alice Levagood Brown.  At the time of his death, Henry Newton Brown was 27 years old.


[1] See also: Miss Catherine’s Boys and The Timely End of Pecos Bob.

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Corruption, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Kansas, New Mexico, Outlaws, Texas | 6 Comments

Jeff Davis Milton

His parents named him Jefferson Davis, which should tell us something about the politics of his father, John Milton.  John was a capable attorney, a wily politician, and a proud Floridian who, as Florida’s fifth governor, guided his state through the travail of the American Civil War.    John’s grandson, William Hall Milton (1864-1942), served as a US Senator from Florida (1908-1909).

At the end of the Civil War, when Jeff was only three years old, his father committed suicide.  He was staunch in his support of the states’ rights issue, apparently concluding that suicide was a viable alternative to Yankee imperialism (reconstruction).  Afterward, the Milton family suffered financially and emotionally — but this was a common situation for most Americans through the 1880s.  When Jefferson was 15-years old, he considered his prospects in Florida and decided they were limited.  He joined his married sister in Texas and ended up working for her husband in a general store.  He also worked as a cowhand.

Jeff D. Milton

On 27 July 1878, Jeff Milton presented himself to the Texas Ranger headquarters in Austin, Texas.  With letters of recommendation from several prominent citizens, Jeff applied for enlistment.  He wasn’t the first (or last) to lie about his age to enlist as a ranger and he only had to add two years; he was sworn in on the same day.

Jeff Milton served four years as a Texas Ranger before moving further west.  By 1884, Jeff was wearing the star of a deputy U. S. Marshal and a railroad detective.  During that time, Jack Taylor, a notorious train robber, was making a name for himself in New Mexico and Arizona.  Taylor was particularly cruel in meting out death to anyone who opposed him.  In one train robbery near Sonora, Taylor shot the engineer to death.  In another, he murdered four passengers.  By mid-1885, Jeff Milton figured it was time to do something about the Jack Taylor gang, but restrictions placed on him as a U. S. Marshal caused him to leave the service and join Sheriff John Slaughter as a Cochise County deputy. 

Texas John Slaughter was one of those “real deal” old west personalities who did as much to tame the western frontier as any man.  Slaughter was originally from Louisiana and moved with his parents to Sabine County, Texas where he learned about ranching from Mexican vaqueros and became fluent in Spanish.  By the 1860s, Slaughter had earned a reputation as a fearless Indian fighter.  As a true southerner, he fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War.  When Union reconstruction became too much for him, he moved to New Mexico and Arizona with a view of starting his own ranch, eventually settling in Cochise County.

In 1886, Slaughter decided to take on the Jack Taylor Gang; there to assist him was Deputy Sheriff Jeff Milton.  Slaughter received information that Taylor and his cut-throats were hiding out at a ranch belonging to Flora Cardenas.  When the posse arrived at Flora’s house, gang members Geronimo Miranda, Manuel Robles, Nieves Deron, and Fred Federico had already fled.  Slaughter and Milton tracked these men to Contention City, Arizona, to the home of a woodcutter named Guadeloupe Robles, Manuel’s brother.  Without any warning, Slaughter and Milton charged the house.  Slaughter shot and killed Guadeloupe; Deron shot at Milton, nicking his ear, and then he and Manuel scampered out of the house for better cover in nearby rocks.

During the subsequent gunfight, Slaughter or his deputy killed Deron and wounded Manuel.  Manuel managed to escape through a thicket.  A short time later, Mexican authorities captured Jack Taylor in Mexico and he was sentenced to life in prison.  Gang members Manuel Robles, Geronimo Miranda, and Fred Federico were still at large, however.  Robles’s life wasn’t pleasant with these lawmen on his tail; it is hard to recover from a .44 or .45 caliber gunshot wound when you’re on the run.  Guardia Rurales finally caught up with Robles and Miranda near the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in 1887; neither of them walked away.  The Jack Taylor Gang ceased to exist after outlaw Fred Federico mistook Deputy Sheriff Cesario Lucero for Slaughter in a planned ambush and killed him.  Fred was captured shortly afterward and died at the end of a rope.

In 1887, Jeff Milton joined the U. S. Customs Service as a mounted inspector where he served in the El Paso district.  He spent two years patrolling the area from Nogales to the Colorado River.  As a political appointee, Milton found himself out of a job in 1889 when a new administration took over the reins of the federal government.  He subsequently joined the El Paso police force.  In 1895, Milton was El Paso’s Chief of Police and formed an unofficial but close partnership with Deputy U. S. Marshal George Scarborough.

Scarborough was an experienced lawman who, before his appointment as a Deputy U. S. Marshal, served as Sheriff for Jones County, Texas.  Scarborough developed a peculiar method of tracking down outlaws.  He went “undercover,” masking himself as an outlaw and moving among the evil-doers until he found the man he was looking for.  As a result, Scarborough was both hated and feared among outlaw elements; the ploy undoubtedly made outlaws wary of hiring on a new gunman, particularly if no one had ever heard of the fellow.

Martin M’Rose was a known cattle rustler wanted by Sheriff J. D. Walker of Eddy County, New Mexico.  Chief Milton contacted Walker to ascertain the warrant was still outstanding, and Walker assured Milton that there were several charges pending.  Milton learned the M’Rose was hiding out in Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso.  Milton sent officers into Juarez with an extradition warrant and M’Rose was returned to the United States and incarcerated pending Walker’s arrival from New Mexico.  While Milton was investigating a separate matter, Martin’s legal counsel managed to have him released on a technicality — the extradition paperwork had been incorrectly filled out.  When Milton returned to El Paso and learned of Martin’s release, he again contacted Walker, who confirmed that M’Rose was still wanted on a felony warrant.

Milton met with Scarborough, and they devised a plan to return M’Rose to the United States.  Undercover, Scarborough concocted a ruse that drew M’Rose from Mexico into Texas.  With Scarborough playing the shill, Milton and one of his officers (a man named McMahon) concealed themselves at the arranged meeting place near a dump.  When Scarborough and M’Rose made contact, Milton and McMahon appeared from their hide and ordered M’Rose to throw up his hands.  Martin M’Rose, being a genius, instead went for his gun.  M’Rose managed to get off one errant shot before Milton killed him.  During the inquest, Milton testified that officer McMahon then went into El Paso for the sheriff and a doctor, who pronounced him “dead as a doornail.”  A day or so later, the only fellow present at Martin’s burial was the undertaker.  According to the El Paso Times, a witness from Juarez testified at the inquest that a few days before Martin M’Rose met his maker, he overheard Martin planning a train robbery in Mexico.

Walter E. “Bronco Billy” Walters was originally from Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  After working as a cowhand for several years in his youth, Billy took a job with the Santa Fe Railroad as a section hand.  It didn’t take Walters long to expand his job description by robbing trains and an occasional stagecoach.  Billy formerly joined the Black Jack Ketchum Gang for a few years before moving on to form his own outlaw gang.  As a new start-up enterprise, Billy sought to increase his market share by enlarging his train robbing operations.  Apparently, he was quite skillful at robbing trains because his “take” became legendary.  Bronco Billy was the genesis of the legend of “lost treasure” in Arizona.

In 1898, Walters organized a failed robbery attempt in Grants, New Mexico.  He and his cohorts were driven off by gunfire by train guards.  It was after this that lawmen Jeff Milton and George Scarborough tracked the Walters Gang down near Solomonville, Arizona, in Graham County.  After taking Walters into custody, gunfire erupted from a member of the gang.  Milton or Scarborough shot and killed one gang member — the rest, being loyal desperadoes, scattered to the four winds.  Walters was convicted of numerous crimes and received a “life sentence.”  State authorities released Walters from prison in 1917.  He died in 1921 from a fall while attempting to repair a windmill. 

In 1900, Jeff Milton was working as a train guard/express agent for the Santa Fe Railroad/Wells Fargo Express.  On 15 February, Milton substituted for another agent who was ill.  In Fairbank, while handing packages off to a station agent, outlaw Burt Alvord with five cohorts attempted to rob the train.  Milton shot “Three Finger Jack” Dunlop, mortally wounding him; he also wounded “Bravo Juan” Yoas.  Milton, too, was seriously wounded.  A bullet hit him in his left arm, breaking it, and rupturing an artery.  Milton survived the shooting, but permanently lost the use of his left arm.

Jeff D. Milton, 1940

Four years later, Milton joined the Bureau of Immigration.  His duty was the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  He was 62-years old when appointed to the Border Patrol in 1924.  The Economy Act of 1932 forced 70-year old Jeff Milton into retirement.  In recognition of his many years of service in law enforcement, Governor Benjamin B. Moeur commissioned Milton a lifetime colonel and military aid to the Governor of Arizona, an honorary appointment.  Milton retired in Tucson, Arizona, where he remained until his death on 7 May 1947 (aged 85).  The life of Jeff Milton was fictionalized/incorporated a book titled Education of a Wandering Man by western author Louis L’Amour.


  1. Skelton, S.  Jeff Davis Milton.  Shooting Times Magazine, 1971.
  2. “Jefferson Davis Milton a.k.a. Jeff Milton (1861-1947)”.  U. S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security.
  3. Johnson, R. And J. H. Brown.  The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans.  The Biographical Society, 2019.


[1] Formerly, Pueblo Viejo.

[2] Burt Alvord was a former lawman turned outlaw after his mother died.  His ultimate fate is unknown, but while on the lam from the Arizona Rangers, Alvord fled to Panama in 1910.  There is no record of Burt after then. 

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Civil War, Gunfights and such, History, Old Florida, Outlaws, Texas, Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals | 2 Comments

More Cattle — More Cattle Wars

Some background

Florida’s cattle were the first in North America, brought here by the 1521 expedition of Ponce de Leon.  Cattle ranching began before the Seventeenth Century around America’s first city, St. Augustine.  When Florida became a US territory in 1821, it was a frontier region plentifully stocked with wild cattle.  By the eve of the American Civil War, Florida was second only to Texas in the per capita value of southern livestock.  Central and South Florida were open range areas.

Here’s something else about Florida: it was a thoroughly dangerous place in the early 1800s for man and beast.  Even in areas where the land was firm (unlike the swampy and quicksand laden savannah), thick saw grass could cut man and beast to ribbons.  Humans were in constant danger from heat and humidity, malaria and yellow fever, poisonous snakes, large panthers, and constantly irritated insects.

Florida crackers couldn’t move herds without drovers, but more to the point, Florida ranchers needed drovers who were familiar with Florida’s seacoasts and swamps.  The vegetation in Florida was so thick that entire herds could wander or vanish within an hour in the trackless region.  Drovers were critical to the cattlemen because there was no rail system anywhere south of the Florida/Georgia border.  Significant demand for Florida cattle in Cuba drove the industry for over a decade, beginning in the late 1840s.  After 1850, free-ranging cattle in South Florida, south of an imaginary line from Orlando to Fort Myers, not only attracted cattle drovers and hardy pioneers, but the area also attracted murderers, rustlers, armed robbers, military deserters, and runaway slaves.

In 1859, Florida’s semi-wild herd approached around 700,000 head — nearly five times as many cattle as people.  South Florida was “cow country.”  Except for Key West and Tampa, only about 3,500 people lived south of present-day Orlando/Kissimmee.

The distance from South Florida to the Georgia railhead was between 300-400 miles.  A cattle drive over this distance would take around a month.  Discussions about moving rail systems south did occur, but for some reason, cattle ranchers resisted it.

The Remington Connection

1861 was the year Frederic Remington was born in Canton, New York.  Today, we remember Frederic Remington as a painter, illustrator, and sculptor who left us with depictions of the Old West.  He gave us images of cowboys, Indians, and the old US Cavalry.

Frederic’s father’s name was Seth Pierrepont Remington. His mother was Clarissa Bascom Sackrider.  Seth’s family were prominent hardware merchants — immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine from around the mind-1600s; Clarissa’s family originated in the French Basque Country in the early 1600s.  Her ancestors helped establish the colony in Windsor, Connecticut.

During the Civil War, Seth Remington served as a colonel in the Union Army.  Before then, he was a newspaper editor, a staunch Republican active in local politics, and a breeder of horses.  Frederic’s other family included cousin Eliphalet Remington, the Remington Arms Company founder, and legendary mountain men Jedediah Smith, Jonathan T. Warner, and Robert “Doc” Newell.

Frederic grew into a large man, healthy, strong, and active in such outdoor activities as hunting, riding, swimming, and fieldcraft.  Seth, who wanted his son to attend the US Military Academy, enrolled him in several private military preparatory academies.  Still, despite these efforts, Frederic was a poor student in the one subject he needed most for the USMA: mathematics.  Frederic’s problem wasn’t intellect; it was a lack of interest.  He was pleasant, laidback, good-humored, generous, and kind-spirited.  His strength was in his ability to draw or sketch humans, animals, and landscapes.

Frederic attended art school at Yale University.  In his third year, his mother called him home to help attend his ailing father, who passed away from consumption in the following year.  Frederic subsequently headed west to Montana.  He intended to start a cattle ranch and invest in mining, but lacking the necessary capital, he sought other opportunities.

Eventually, three events prompted him to pursue art as a vocation.  The first was his failure as a saloon keeper and hardware store owner.  The second was that his wife, fed up with his lazy lifestyle and business failures, left him.  The third was his realization that the west was shrinking.  Barbed wire fencing reduced the vast prairies to pastures, hunters (intentionally) killed off vast herds of buffalo, and Army policy destroyed the free-roaming American Indian.  These realities prompted Frederic to capture Old West images on canvas.

By 1890, easterners proclaimed that the Old West was officially a thing of the past.  There was no more American frontier, they said.  Of course, this wasn’t altogether true, but it was an adequate predictor of things to come.  Wyatt Earp was still alive, just an older man who was no longer involved in law enforcement.  John “Doc” Holliday had passed away from consumption, and Butch Cassidy’s remaining days were almost in single digits.  The old west cattle ranches had become a corporate enterprise, and technology had begun to change the ways of the ranch hands.

But in 1890, Florida still had cattle ranches; they still had cowboys (whom everyone called Crackers), saloons were ever-present, and Florida had gunfights as real as anything one might have encountered in Dodge City, Kansas.

Harper’s Weekly wanted to do a story on the Old East (Florida) and sent Frederic Remington to write about it and illustrate it.  Remington arrived in Arcadia in 1895, and he could not have been less impressed with Florida cattlemen or the flatlands that extended as far as the eye could see.  It was not, Remington wrote, a country for a high-spirited race of moral giants.  Neither was Mr. Remington impressed with Florida’s scrub cattle.  They were “scrawny creatures,” he complained.  As for the cow hunters, they were “wild-looking individuals” who always presented an unkempt appearance.

Frederic Remington’s problem was that he didn’t dig deep enough into Florida culture.  He missed the cattle roundups, cattle drives, cattle rustling, thoroughly dangerous gunslingers, and the hostile Indians of South Central Florida.  Today we can drive to Kissimmee and spend a day or week in Disney World (but not much more than a week), but in 1895, Kissimmee was known as a thoroughly lawless and dangerous place and had been for more than 20 years.

The Civil War didn’t ravage Florida in the same way as it did other Confederate states, but Floridians did join the citizens of other southern states in the humiliation and suffering of Union Reconstruction.  People were dirt-poor and remained that way for a very long time.  In 1865, if Floridians could save their state, it would have to be through its massive cattle population that ranged on Florida’s enormous prairie.

Once the Union lifted its blockade of Florida ports, cattlemen could establish trade with beef-hungry Cuba.  If a rancher could deliver his annual herd to buyers in St. Augustine, Tampa, and other port cities, he could sell them for hard money (cash), which was in short supply.  For a time, Spanish currency was more abundant in Florida than American dollars.

An armed robbery was rare in Florida but did produce deadly results.  Most of the theft involved cattle rustling, and the way Floridians dealt with it was through vigilante justice.  Vigilantism was prominent and necessary because few people were ever arrested or convicted of cattle theft.  In plain truth, dirt-poor Floridians were unwilling to convict their neighbors for stealing cattle because it was a community endeavor.  Everyone was involved in it.  Lawlessness was rampant and walking down the street in Orlando, one was likely to observe a gunfight or a brawl outside any of a dozen saloons.  Orlando was so violent that respectable citizens didn’t leave their homes at night.

Moses and William Barber migrated to Northern Florida from Georgia in 1833 and settled near the town of MacClenny.  Indians killed William in 1841, but Moses (Old Mose) established one of the largest cattle empires in the state.  In 1860, Mose owned land valued at $21,400; he owned other property valued at $116,000.  He also owned 100 slaves.  When the Civil War erupted, federal authorities seized the Barber family’s cattle to feed Union troops and seized Mose’s slaves as contraband.  Old Mose’s son Isaac lost his life at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  Isaac’s death prompted Moses Jr. to convince his father to uproot the remaining family and move them south of Orlando to Kenansville, where the Barber clan reestablished their ranching interests.

William, Luke, and David Moselle fled religious persecution in France to settle in North Carolina before the American Revolution.  Luke’s descendants later migrated to Alabama.  William’s clan moved to South Georgia.  David’s offspring relocated to Florida.  David’s grandson, also named David, anglicized his name from Moselle to Mizell and settled in present-day Lake City in the mid-1830s.  Indian hostilities resulted in the deaths of two family members — an event that prompted David Jr. to enlist in the army against the Indians.  The army stationed him at Fort Christmas in Central Florida.

David Jr. convinced several family members to join him in settling near Orlando.  Four of David Jr.’s sons fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Sons Thomas and Joshua lost their lives; John served as a captain, while David saw little action because of an illness.

Despite his service in the Confederacy, Captain John Mizell gained favor with reconstruction officials.  He obtained a judgeship in the Orlando area and convinced the Reconstruction governor to appoint his brother David as Sheriff of Orange County.  The Mizell’s became the most powerful political family in the area.  It also earned them the title “Carpetbagger” by their pro-Confederate neighbors.

The government was particularly oppressive to the Barber family by instituting stiff taxes on large herds of cattle.  John and David Mizell had a duty to enforce the law and government regulation.  In doing so, they incurred deep resentment from pro-Confederate sympathizers and from among the dirt poor folks who saw the Mizell brothers as oppressive agents of Yankee aggression.  Deep post-war resentment permeated central Florida.

The Mizell’s attempted to enforce cattle regulations by making an example of Jackson (Jack) Barber, a son of William.  According to Barber family accounts, the Mizell’s harassed Jack at every opportunity.  Sheriff Mizell arrested Jack numerous times, and although acquitted each time, he was still required to pay “court costs.”  Eventually, the Mizell’s did manage to get Jack convicted — of what, no one today is quite sure — and Jack ended up spending time in the Chattahoochee prison.

Jack’s nephew Deed Barber ran afoul of the Mizell family when they caught him removing a prize steer from Mizell’s property.  The animal belonged to Mose Barber but had strayed onto the land owned by Morgan Mizell.  Deed was 14-years old at the time.  Sheriff Mizell wanted to arrest Deed for cattle rustling, but Morgan diffused the situation by agreeing to slaughter the animal and divide the meat between the families.  It was a prized animal, but Morgan’s solution was probably the best one without proof of ownership.

The Barber-Mizell crisis came to a head in 1868 when Sheriff Mizell seized a large portion of the Barber’s heard for back taxes.  Of course, Old Mose had it in his head that he wouldn’t pay any damn taxes to the Yankee government, and he’d warned David Mizell what might happen if he ever stepped foot on Barber land.  David may have thought that Mose was only blustery; if he felt that, he was wrong.  Old Mose and Moses Jr. were very serious about protecting their land from carpetbaggers.

The Barbers decided to challenge the Mizell’s in court during the fall term.  Everyone was on edge.  Most people anticipated that it would be one-helluva court battle.  A delay in the trial caused a rescheduling of the hearing (the reason is unknown to me), but two days before the rescheduled hearing, the courthouse burned down, along with all of its records.  Investigators later discovered bottles of turpentine around the gutted remains of the courthouse.  It was clearly a case of arson, but there were no witnesses.  Later, the jailhouse was set on fire as well.  Matters in Central Florida were heating up to boiling temperature.

In early February 1870, Robert Bullock filed a complaint against Mose Barber for an unpaid bill for the sale of some cattle.  Judge John Mizell issued a warrant for the arrest of Mose and sent Sheriff David Mizell to make the arrest.  On the evening of 21 February, Mizell stopped for the night to water and rest his horses at Bull Creek. David thought it would be a nice outing, so he took his son Billy and his nephew Morgan. As darkness settled on their small camp, gunfire suddenly erupted from the surrounding woods, fatally wounding David but leaving the boys unscathed.

Morgan instructed the younger Billy to tend to his father while he rode back to Orlando for help.  Along the route, Morgan met a man named George Sullivan, who rushed to Bull Creek to assist Billy.  As Sheriff Mizell lay dying, he asked his son to tell the family not to avenge his death.  Unhappily, the Mizell’s were as stubborn and as ornery as the Barbers, and Judge Mizell was not known for his forbearance.

When John Mizell learned of David’s death, he immediately called for a posse of twenty men and instructed them simply, “Bring the Barbers to justice, and take no prisoners doing it.”  John appointed David B. Stewart to replace his brother as Sheriff.

The first person Sheriff Stewart arrested was Needham Yates.  Needham was Jack Barber’s uncle.  Along with Needham Yates, Steward also arrested Needham’s sons, William, and Needham Jr.  Next on the list came Moses Jr.’s son Isaac.  When the posse caught up with Isaac, they tied him to a tree and then shot him to death.  News of this atrocious act spread quickly, which enabled Old Mose, Moses Jr., and Jack to escape before the posse arrived at the Barber ranch.  Isaac’s widow, the fearless Harriet Geiger Barber, waited for the posse, including Judge Mizell.  She soundly cursed these men, but the undeterred posse seized Barber cattle and quickly departed.

While Judge Mizell and most of the posse returned to Orlando, a few other posse members decided to pursue Old Mose, Jack, and Moses Jr.  Deputies Jack Evans, Joe Moody, and Bill Duffield almost succeeded in capturing the Barber trio, but Old Mose and Jack escaped leaving Moses Jr., in the hands of the law.  That night, Evans, Moody, and Duffield made camp along the shore of Lake Conway.  The lawmen, fearing that Moses might attempt to escape during the night, shackled him in irons.  They later testified that when they awoke the following day, they found that Moses had escaped.   As dutiful law officers, they tracked him to the shores of the lake.  Moses must have been a very remorseful person because not only did he drown himself trying to escape custody, but he also shot himself numerous times.  This incident may have been the first instance in the United States of a drowning/suicide while trying to escape.  Within a few weeks, eight more members of the Barber family died violently.

The Barber-Mizell feud, which began just after the Civil War, lasted until 1940.  Over many years, the feud resulted in the killing of 41 people. 

Moses Barber died in November of 1870 at the age of 62. Jack became a respected citrus grower near Lake Conway in Orange County; he died in 1916. Judge Mizell, who led the campaign against the Barbers, became an influential figure in the state Republican Party, which held power until Reconstruction ended in 1876.

John Mizell eventually worked his way down the east coast of Florida, settling in a farming community just north of Fort Lauderdale. When the town incorporated on June 6, 1908, as Pompano, Mizell was elected the first mayor.

Old Bone

Bone Mizell by Frederic Remington

Frederic Remington never had to dodge any bullets or street brawls during the Barber-Mizell feud, but he did eventually meet the most famous Mizell character of them all.  Morgan Bonaparte Mizell, known to everyone simply as “Bone,” was the son of Morgan Mizell, who was riding with his uncle, Sheriff David Mizell, the day of the ambush at Bull Creek.

Bone Mizell was a Florida cowboy, a drunk, and a practical joker who spoke with a lisp.  He covered up his embarrassing speech impediment with a sharp wit that delighted his many admirers.  He would sometimes light his pipe with dollar bills, and he occasionally rode his horse into a saloon and had his first drink while still in the saddle.

Bone was range foreman on a ranch near the Peace River outside Acadia, Florida, in DeSoto County.  He was an expert horseman, crack shot with either pistol or rifle, and a respected wrangler.  He was a fun-loving scruff whom everyone liked. Bone’s real fame, however, came from his tall tales and outrageous practical jokes. Frederic Remington immortalized Bone Mizell in a painting titled “A Cracker Cowboy.”

Sometime around 1890, Bone’s long-time friend John Underhill died while at cow camp in Lee County, and Bone laid John to rest in a solitary grave out on the range.  A short time later, a young Jewish man from New Orleans drifted into cattle country and became friendly with Bone.  The young man was already in failing health from a vigorous lifestyle and soon passed away.  Bone buried him next to John Underhill.  After a few years, the young man’s parents learned of their son’s death and sent money to an undertaker to return his body to New Orleans for a proper burial in the family plot.  The undertaker hired Bone to collect the body.

As Bone rode out to the gravesite, he recalled John Underhill telling him that he always wanted to take a train ride but never had enough money to afford it.  And he remembered the young man telling him that he was tired of traveling, never wanted to see the inside of another train, and never wanted to revisit New Orleans.  Bone thought about this and decided it didn’t seem right that you had a young fellow who was tired of traveling and another fellow who never got to take a train ride.  So, Bone unearthed John’s body, delivered it to the undertaker; Mr. Underhill finally got to ride on a train — and, on top of that, he got a Jewish funeral with all the trimmings.

Bone Mizell was a product of his environment, and just like everyone else in South/Central Florida, he was known to dabble in cattle rustling from time to time.  The courts dropped most of the charges against him, but the Fort Myers court did convict him in 1896 and sentenced him to two years imprisonment at hard labor. 

Such was Bone Mizell’s reputation that the prison was primed for his arrival.  He was met officiously by the warden, who gave him a tour of the facility, fed him a nice dinner in the warden’s quarters.  Shortly afterward, the warden presented him with a pardon and returned him to Acadia by train, a fully rehabilitated man.  Almost.

Bone remained a hard-drinking fellow until the day he died in 1921.  He just keeled over at the train station in Fort Ogden.  The cause of death was simple and to the point — as was the custom in Florida back then: Cause of death, moonshine.


  1. Bass, M. I.  Florida’s Frontier: The Way Hit Wuz.  Magnolia Press, 1992.

Linton, R. B.  Pine Castle: A Walk Down Memory Lane.  Book Crafters, 1993.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, Civil War, Feuds & Rivalries, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Old Florida, Politicians, Range War | 3 Comments

Conflicting Loyalties

The Story of William Wells

We aren’t quite sure when William was born.  We think it was sometime in 1770 at a place called Jacob’s Creek in Pennsylvania; there is no record of his birth.  He was the son of Captain Samuel Wells, an American patriot who served in the Virginia militia early in the American Revolution.  In 1779, Captain Wells moved his family to an area known as Bear Grass Creek in Kentucky.  His decision to relocate his family coincided with a similar decision made by hundreds of other settlers with their eye on the Northwest Territory.  Captain Wells’ wife, William’s mother, passed away within a year of the family’s arrival in Kentucky.  William would have been around ten or eleven years old.

The Northwest Territories had been a contested area for well over 100 years.  French colonists jealously guarded their territories and their trapping interests.  They did this by enlisting local Indians to help keep British trappers, explorers, and settlers (and their Indian allies), away from New France.  Because both French and British officials enlisted the aid of American Indians, the Northwest Territory became an intensely contested part of the world.  Everyone was a target for violence.

Both French and British officials took advantage of the Native American’s appetite for flattery.  Essentially, the Indians would support whoever gave them the best stuff.  It was not uncommon to find Indians fighting for the French also fighting with the Indians who were friends of the British.  Trade relationships were the key to understanding human affairs in the Northwest Territory.  At the conclusion of the French & Indian War (1763), France ceded all of its North American lands to the British — and did so without first consulting with their Indian allies.  The Indians were not pleased.

The British were every bit as sensitive to Indian trade relations as were the French.  To preserve a healthy relationship with their Indian allies, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation of 1763, which settled the border dispute between colonial Pennsylvania and Virginia and established a boundary for Indian homelands that no British subject could encroach.

By the mid-1760s British colonists had already developed a uniquely American culture.  In addition to hard work, a willingness to take risks, and exhibited extreme loyalty to their wives and children, the settlers were defiant of English authority, stubborn, and fiercely independent — the sort of thing one might expect from a free people.  If western settlers had it in their minds to enter Indian territory, no piece of paper would keep them out.  The King’s prohibition was such an affront to the settlers that it became an early cause of revolutionary thought.  Besides that, from the settler’s point of view, if they could ignore the King, they could damn well ignore the Parliament, as well.

By 1779, famed frontiersman Daniel Boone had already moved west from Boonesborough and established a new settlement called Boone’s New Station in an area known as Cross Plains.  Fifteen families settled at Boone’s New Station.  In 1780, Daniel’s brother James was killed by Shawnee raiders while hunting within present-day Bourbon County.  Two years later, Daniel Boone’s son Israel and his nephew Thomas lost their lives during the Battle of Blue Licks[1].

Captain Samuel Wells lost his life in an ambush during the evacuation of Boone’s New Station in 1782, and William (now an orphan) went into the care of William Pope and his family.  A Miami[2] and Delaware[3] raiding party took thirteen-year-old William Wells and three other youngsters’ captive two years later.  The Indians carried the boys into Indiana Territory, where, in time, Chief Gaviahate (translated to Porcupine) adopted William and raised him along the Eel River in northern Indiana.  Because of his red hair, Gaviahate renamed William Apekonit.

William adjusted to life with the Miami and adopted their ways as a young brave of the tribe.  He frequently accompanied other young warriors on raids and helped decoy flatboats on the Ohio River to go ashore where the Indians robbed them for their cargo.  Historians do not know how many raids William participated in — only that he did — and this tells us that William successfully assimilated into the Miami tribe within a few years.  This relationship was set into stone, more or less, when William/Apekonit married a Miami woman and had a child with her.  The woman, named Wea, was later captured by James Wilkerson in 1791 and taken as a hostage to Cincinnati.[4]

During these formative years, Apekonit came under the influence of a Miami war chief named Little Turtle, whom history remembers as one of the Indian’s more adroit combat leaders.  During the Battle of the Wabash in 1791, where Major General Arthur St. Clair suffered America’s worst defeat by native Americans, Wells served as the leader of Indian riflemen.  A year later, Wells traveled to Louisville in an effort to negotiate the release of Indian hostages.  While there, William met with his brother Sam, who convinced him to travel to Cincinnati to meet with Brigadier General Rufus Putnam.

Putnam was an experienced militia officer whose long service began with the French & Indian War.  He initially commanded engineers[5] in the Continental Army and, later, two regiments in the Battle of Saratoga and under Anthony Wayne, the 4th Regiment of light infantry.  He was also one of the principal organizers of the Ohio (Land) Company.  During Wayne’s Ohio Campaign (1792-93), Brigadier General Putnam confronted Shawnee, Lenape, and Seneca tribes.

In 1792, Putnam hired Wells to help broker a treaty with the Indians at Vincennes.  Through these efforts, Miami hostages were set free.  Putnam then appointed Wells to serve as a captain in the Legion of the United States[6] and assigned him to supervise spies and interpreters targeting the confederated Indian councils in northwest Ohio.

While Wea was in captivity, Wells married the daughter of Little Turtle, a woman named Wanagrapeth.[7]  Wells and Wanagrapeth had four children.

In 1793, Wells filed a report with General Anthony Wayne at Fort Jefferson informing them that efforts to reach an agreement with the Grand Council had failed, primarily because Alexander McKee[8] and Simon Girty disrupted the negotiations.[9]  Additionally, Wells notified Wayne that more than 1,500 warriors awaited him near Fort Washington.  Wayne appreciated the warning, but he found his relationship with Wells somewhat perplexing because Captain Wells would only obey Wayne’s orders if he found them practicable.

Captain Wells led a military recovery operation to the site of St. Clair’s defeat, where he uncovered several field cannon that the Miami Indians had buried.  General Wayne decided to construct Fort Recovery at this location.  In 1794, Wells led the Legion’s advance to the Maumee River (near Fort Wayne, Indiana).  Being aware of an impending Indian attack by the Shawnee war chief Blue Jacket, Wells warned Anthony. Wells’ scouting party later discovered and captured the British officers supplying Indians with shot and powder.  A few days before the Battle of Fallen Timbers, where Anthony defeated Blue Jacket, Wells received a hand-wound while attempting to infiltrate a band of Delaware.  Despite his wound, he escaped with his life and served as an advisor to General Wayne during the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

In 1795, Wells served as an interpreter at the Treaty of Greenville, at which the Indian Confederation of Miami, Piankeshaw, Kickapoo, and Kaskaskia Indians ceded most of the Ohio Country to the United States.  During these negotiations, it must have been uncomfortable for Wells to stand between General Wayne, his military commander, and Little Turtle, his father-in-law, during these negotiations.

Following the Treaty of Greenville, Little Turtle requested that Wells be appointed Indian Agent for the Miami nation.  Wells moved his family into the home constructed for him by the Army at Fort Wayne.  Both Wells and Little Turtle traveled with General Wayne to Philadelphia, where President Washington received them warmly.

During Thomas Jefferson’s administration, Wells wrote a letter to the president recommending the establishment of a trading post at Fort Wayne.  His idea was to encourage friendly relations with area Indians.  President Jefferson did authorize the trading post but appointed John Johnston as its manager.  Jefferson needed Wells to implement his Indian policy, which called for the civilizing Indians and using treaties to gain as much of their homelands as possible — and within the shortest period of time.  Johnson was entirely on board with Jefferson’s scheme — Wells was not, so it is no surprise that the two men had a troubled relationship.

After assuming his duties as territorial governor in 1801, William Henry Harrison appointed Wells as a justice of the peace and charged him with creating a postal service between Fort Wayne and Fort Dearborn.  Three years later, Harrison came to resent that Wells sided with Little Turtle in his opposition to the Treaty of Vincennes of 1804, which proposed that the Indians relinquish large areas to the American settlement.

In 1805, Harrison sent former acting territorial governor John Gibson and militia colonel Francis Vigo to investigate Wells and Little Turtle on suspicion of financial corruption.  Gibson, who spoke several Indian languages and dialects, concluded that “Wells appeared more attentive to the needs of the Indians than he was to the people of the United States.” There being no evidence of corruption, however, Wells was retained.  After Sweet Breeze died in 1805, Wells sent his daughters to live with his brother Samuel in Kentucky.  Afterward, Wells and Little Turtle had an amicable meeting with Governor Harrison.

In 1808, Wells and Little Turtle signed Harrison’s Treaty of Grouse Land, but once more concerned about the Indians, Wells led a delegation of Indian chiefs to Washington, D. C. to meet with President Jefferson.  Whether or not this effort was worthwhile, Wells’ insubordination infuriated Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, who promptly fired Wells and replaced him with John Johnston.

Wells married his third wife, Mary, a daughter of Colonel Frederick Geiger, in 1809.  They and Wells’ children returned to Fort Wayne, where Wells was discharged as Indian Agent by his replacement.  After signing the Treaty of Fort Wayne in the Autumn of 1809, the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh and his brother began to organize a militant Indian confederation.  Wells gave due warning to the government in Washington, but Dearborn had a long memory and ignored the warning.  The alarm did nothing to help Wells’ relationship with Tecumseh, either.

With the full support of the Miami chieftains and Kentucky Senator John Pope, Wells traveled to Washington to challenge John Johnston’s decisions.  Ultimately, the decision was left to Governor Harrison, who sided with Wells — not because he trusted Wells, but because he feared that the Miami Indians might join Tecumseh.  Wells was able to keep the Miami tribe out of the Shawnee Confederation.  When Little Turtle died in 1812, Wells buried him near his home, a 1,300-acre farm outside Fort Wayne.

Following President James Madison’s momentous decision to declare war on Great Britain in 1812, he notified nearly everyone west of Naples, Italy — except for the settlers living in the Northwest Territory.  They found out when British soldiers and their Indian allies began shooting at them.  Much to the surprise of everyone living at or near Fort Dearborn (present-day Chicago), hundreds of Potawatomi Indian warriors appeared one morning, surrounded the fort, and demanded their surrender.  William Wells led a band of Miami Indians from Fort Wayne to aid in Fort Dearborn’s evacuation.  Captain Nathan Heald, commanding Fort Dearborn, was the husband of Rebekah, a daughter of William Wells.

Captain Wells intended to offer protection to the garrison and their families (around 100 people — about a third women and children) while they abandoned the post and retreated to Fort Wayne.  Wells negotiated with the Indians for the garrison’s release, and this would have been fine had Captain Heald not destroyed the garrison’s supplies before marching away.  Heald’s destruction of whiskey stores is what angered the Indians most; it is why they attacked the withdrawing garrison.  Historians remember the subsequent massacre as the Battle of Dearborn.  It wasn’t much of a battle.  Nathan and Rebekah were both wounded, taken prisoner, and later ransomed to the British.

When Wells learned that Heald had destroyed the whiskey, he knew the Indians would attack.  In the Miami tradition, he painted his face black — a sign that he knew he was about to die.  William Wells was one of the first to die in the Indian assault.  As a sign of respect to Wells, the Pottawatomi consumed his heart. 

William Wells was a man with conflicting loyalties.  The Miami Indians were his adopted family; he had no other.  His country was frequently at war with his only family, and yet he endeavored to serve his country as best as he was able to do so.  One might argue that he served his family with compassion and his country with distinction.  Others have suggested that he was a traitor.  Readers can decide this question for themselves.

Wells County, Indiana, is named in honor of Captain William Wells, Legion of the United States.


  1. Carter, H. L.  The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
  2. Clayton, A. R. L.  Frontier Indiana.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
  3. Heath, W.  William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.
  4. Sonneborn, L.  The War of 1812.  Rosen Publishing Group, 2004.
  5. Sword, W.  President Washington’s Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790-1795.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.


[1] One of the last battles of the Revolutionary War, which occurred ten months after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.  The battle involved British forces augmented by Indian raiders who attacked the settlement near the Licking River.

[2] Miami Indians in the Illinois area were also called Myaamiaki.  They speak the Algonquian language and are part of the Great Lakes tribes that occupied North-Central Indiana.

[3] Also, Lenape whose traditional territories included Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Lower Hudson Valley.

[4] Wea was the mother of William’s son, William Wayne Wells, a graduate of the USMA, West Point.

[5] Responsible for constructing the fortifications at Sewall’s Point, Providence, Newport, Long Island, and West Point.

[6] The Legion of the United States was a re-organization and extension of the Continental Army (1792-96).

[7] Sweet Breeze.

[8] Alexander McKee (1735-1799) was a British-American colonel who served as an Indian Agent with the British Indian Department during the French & Indian War, the American Revolution, and the Northwest Indian War.  He was instrumental in organizing the American Indian tribes against the Americans during the Revolutionary War and Northwest Indian War.

[9] Simon Girty (1741-1818), like Wells, was captured and raised by the Indians.  He assimilated Seneca culture and served as a principal advisor to the Indians during the Northwest Indian War and, like Wells, participated in St. Clair’s defeat.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, British Colonies, Colonial America, History, Indian War, Northwest Territory | 4 Comments

Cowboy Hats

… and why folks wear them.

Actually, they are WESTERN hats.  Worn out west.  But because they were popularized in the “cowboy” films dating from the silent era, people started calling them cowboy hats.  Of course, stockmen wore western hats, along with many other people, because not everyone who lived out west was a rancher.

The first “western” hat, a broad-brimmed hat with a high crown, didn’t originate in the United States.  Mongolian horsemen wore similar hats as far back as the thirteenth century.  The hat has an important purpose, which is why folks wore them.  The high crown provides insulation and warmth in cold weather.  It does get mighty cold “out west.”  A wide brim keeps the sun off the wearer’s face and out of his eyes.  It also keeps the rain channeled away from the wearer’s head.  It was popular by those who lived on the western plain, hence “The Plains Hat.”  It is not a coincidence that it somewhat resembles the Mexican sombrero.  Westerners learned a lot about clothing from Mexicans.

While still a young man, doctors diagnosed John B. Stetson with life-threatening consumption.  With this knowledge, Stetson left his father’s hat-making business and headed west.  Otherwise, he reasoned, he may never get to see the wild-wild-west.  During his journey, Stetson met drovers, bullwhackers, and “cowboys.”[1]  Mr. Stetson was not well impressed with what those fellows were wearing on their heads: flea-infested coonskin caps.  Returning to Philadelphia, Stetson began manufacturing hats suitable for western wear.  The first was the plains hat, shown above.  The plains hat was practical and durable.  Heck, one could even water his horse from the plains hat.  Within a short time, the Stetson hat became the best-known hat in the American West.  It still is.  Stetson hats have been made for Texas Rangers, park rangers, cavalry troops, and even U. S. presidents.

Stetson’s first hat style in 1865 not only became popular among westerners but was appreciated in the east, as well.  Modern production western films, striving for accuracy in western attire, depict Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), and Captain Call (Tommy Lee Jones) wearing the “Boss Plains” Stetson.  Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall) wore his hat with the brim turned up on the sides.[2]  Its wearer often modified the shape of the crown and brim by applying steam and then shaping it by hand or some other device.  Today’s basic western hat style has remained essentially unchanged in its construction and design since 1865.

Why were the brims turned up?  Stockmen started that trend; the flat brim got in the way while attempting to rope a cow or horse.  But there was an even more popular hat in the old west: The Derby (bowler) hat, mostly worn within western cities.  Bat Masterson and Luke Short were two famous gunfighters who wore the Derby hat.

Was there a connection between Stetson’s design and the earlier Tricorn hat?  Other than the fact that it was worn on the head, no.  The purpose of the tricorne was simple: to accommodate the wearing of white wigs when they were fashionable.  It is possible that migrants wore the tricorne hat en route to their western destinies and that in time the fasteners to keep the corners up became dysfunctional.  Now picture the tricorne hat without its corners.  Could this have inspired John Stetson?  Who knows?

There aren’t that many cowboys anymore — some, but not many — but there are a lot of people who celebrate America’s “old west” history by wearing western hats.  Even New Yorkers wear them — and give themselves away the moment they say something.  The genuine stockman knows, though.  If a real cowboy observes some dude at the mall wearing a western hat and highly polished boots, he’s likely to think to himself, “All hat, no horse.” And, in case you’re interested, I own three western hats and 475 horses.  I run those horses under the hood of my Ford F-350.  Yeah, okay, go ahead and laugh — but I never arrive at my destination with saddle sores.


[1] In those days, the term “cowboy” was synonymous with thug, rascal, or blackguard. During the American Revolution, the term cowboy was applied to British loyalists, its meaning “marauder.”  A person who worked as a stockman was generally referred to as a cowherd, cowman, or ranch hand. 

[2] William H. Bonney (a.k.a. Billy the Kid) wore a stovepipe hat.  What was he thinking?

Posted in History, Western Gear | 10 Comments

Let the games begin …

Many of the things we attribute to the old southwest tradition were handed down from other times, places, and cultures.  I want to discuss American rodeo, but I must first acknowledge the origin of modern rodeo events.

Bull jumping

Men have been messing around with bulls since the time of the Minoans (between 3,000 and 1,450 BCE) (please note that “BCE” does not mean before cellphones or ethernet).  The Minoans of the island of Crete didn’t have professional golf back then, so they amused themselves with the equally aggravating sport of pulling bulls to the ground by their tails.  It was aggravating because once a very angry bull was on the ground, what then?  It may have been “then” that the Minoans came up with such other amusements as bull jumping, bull riding, and bull wrestling.  No one in the ancient world kept score, so we don’t know how many Minoans were gored, stomped, or kicked in the head.

In Spanish Mexico, haciendas challenged one another in demonstrations of horsemanship, including all the skills expected of the vaquero: cattle wrangling, bull riding, and bullfighting.  To my knowledge, these American demonstrations began in the early sixteenth century.  I’m not entirely sure about this, but I suspect that bull riding evolved after far too many shots of tequila, which then turned into one of those los dobles desafíos van primero things for which Spaniards are famous.

Today, and every year since zero, people travel to Pamplona to run with the bulls.  It is an exciting event because not every bull appreciates the competition.  My wife and I visited Pamplona on 12 July 2018 and watched the event.  Neither of us likes tequila, and we’re both in our 70s.  So, even though we didn’t do any running, it was still an interesting event.


When the Spaniards colonized Mexico, the settler’s first mandate was to raise horses; their second was to keep Indians from learning how to ride them.  However, by 1528, the Spaniards had established vast estancias and since most Spaniards were steadfast in avoiding any semblance of manual labor, they had little choice but to train Indians as herdsmen.  The Indians not only became excellent horsemen, but they also began the evolution from traditional Spanish Charro (horseman) to Mexican vaquero (cowboy).[1]  Some historians also credit the Mexican Indian as the inventors of the charreada, which originated in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua, and Guanajuato.  The charreada, which is the forerunner of American rodeo, involved demonstrations of ranching skills and animal husbandry.

Today, Mexican charreada include nine events for men and one for women.  They all involve horses and cattle.  Before 1910, Canadian, Mexican, and American horsemen competed for trophies and recognition, but following the Mexican Revolution (ending in 1921), international competition ceased because Mexico’s land reform initiatives broke up the old Spanish hacienda system.  Fearing the end of this long-held tradition, Mexican charros formed associations to keep the charreada alive.  Motion pictures of the 1920s and 1930s helped maintain public interest in the charreada while promoting the popularity of old Mexican music (singing vaqueros).  Singing cowboys also found audiences in the United States through such Hollywood stars as Ken Maynard, John Wayne, Dick Foran, Gene Autrey, Tex Ritter, and Roy Rogers.

In Mexico, participants in charreada wear traditional charro clothing, which includes tight-fitting suits, chaps, boots, spurs, and wide sombreros.  From the fairgrounds of Spanish Mexico to the racetracks, fiestas, and festivals of modern Mexico, charreada and rodeo[2] continue to attract audiences to observe horsemanship, roping, and cattle wrangling.

Before we get to the subject of the American cowboy, which everyone knows was that fellow who ranged cattle from South Texas to Montana, an activity that began in earnest around 1850, there was another and somewhat older American horse and cattle tradition: a cowman called the Florida Cracker.

The term “cracker” was used in the Elizabethan period to describe braggarts and blowhards — “crack” meaning an entertaining conversation (to crack a joke).  William Shakespeare used the term in his play, King John, “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears, with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

In the mid-1700s, the ruling classes in Great Britain and the American colonies applied the term cracker to Scots-Irish and English American settlers in the remote southern backcountry.  We know this because of a letter dispatched to the Earl of Dartmouth: “I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers: a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”

Florida Cracker Bone Mizell

The term easily transferred to southern Georgia and Florida cowboys, many of which were the descendants of earlier colonizers who had moved south to seek their fortunes.  In Florida, those who owned or worked cattle were traditionally called cowmen, but by the 1800s, they were also referred to as cow hunters because they sought out cattle scattered over wooded rangelands during roundup periods.  Beginning around the 1820s, the terms cowman and cracker were used interchangeably because of similarities in their backwoods culture.

The Florida Cracker was distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the western cowboy because they did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle: their primary tools were well-trained dogs and cow whips.  Cracking whips to move/herd cattle resulted in the term “cracker.”  Because Florida horses and cattle were smaller than Spanish or Texas breeds, they were collectively known as scrub breeds.  The cattle averaged 600 pounds on market day.  They had large horns and large feet, which suited them to grazing on the swampy grasslands of the central peninsula.

Today, cattle ranchers in Florida proudly refer to themselves as “crackers.”  Others, primarily punk Negroes, and white liberals from the northeast, derisively refer to all southerners as crackers … which, of course, displays their profound ignorance.  The most famous of Florida Crackers was Bone Mizell (1863-1921), the subject of a Frederic Remington painting.  Florida’s Silver Spurs Rodeo began in 1941 and has since become one of the largest rodeos in the United States — billed as the largest rodeo east of the Mississippi River.

As previously indicated, many of the American cowboy’s skills and traditions originated with the Spanish vaquero.  Rodeo, which initially meant “round up,” also evolved from Spanish/Mexican traditions, but there may never have been the popular sport we know today as American rodeo were it not for a black cowboy named Bill Pickett.

Bill Pickett

Willie M. “Bill” Pickett was Texas-born in 1870.  He was the second oldest of thirteen children of Thomas J. Pickett, a former slave, and Mary “Janie” Gilbert.  Bill had four brothers and eight sisters.  As with most children in the early 1880s, Bill left school after the fifth grade to become a ranch hand.  Now, contrary to the scenes depicted in Hollywood movies, ranching is not only hard work but also dangerous.  The average life expectancy of a cowboy between 1850-1900 was 25-years.  Gunfights and Indian engagements factored in a few of these, but most young men were killed in horse accidents which caused broken necks and concussions.  More than a few cowboys died after an irritated cow gored them, and a few more came to the end of their roundup by being struck by lightning.[3]

If anyone was “asking for it,” though, it was probably Bill Pickett.  The man was fearless.  Bill Pickett, you see, invented bulldogging in the 1890s — his own unique method of capturing steers.  From a galloping horse, Bill jumped onto the back of a racing steer, and after grabbing ahold of the animal’s horns, he would lean into the animal, bite its upper lip, and pull on its horns to throw the animal to the ground.  He then tied off the animal’s hooves to keep them on the ground.  Despite his profession, Bill lived to the age of sixty-one (although his death in 1932 was attributed to being kicked in the head by a horse).  People fascinated by the publicity of Pickett’s bulldogging began showing up as local rodeos to watch him do it.

Shortly after the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days celebration, the famous 101 Ranch of Oklahoma hired Pickett to perform during “wild west” exhibitions, which took him throughout the United States and Europe.  Everyone was impressed with Bill Pickett, including other cowboys who duplicated his stunts.  There were soon enough of these bulldoggers for promoters to stage contests that became a regular part of the rodeo exhibitions.

Anna Mathilda Winger (aka Tillie Baldwin)

Women joined the rodeo as competitors in 1913 when Tillie Baldwin demonstrated her trick riding and horse racing skills.  She was the first female to take on the bulldogging contest.  It didn’t kill her — but neither did her activities encourage a rush of females to join the rodeo – a fact that may go a long way in settling the argument about which sex has the most brains.

Within a few years rodeo associations outlawed the “lip-biting” aspect of bulldogging.  Today, we remember bulldogging as an event entirely attributed to Bill Pickett.  All of Pickett’s honors came to him long after his death, however.  In 1971, Bill was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame; in 1989, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame; in 1997, the Texas Trail Hall of Fame, and in 2003 the National Multicultural Western Heritage Hall of Fame.


  1. Allen, M.  Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination.  Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1998.
  2. Bennett, D. Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship.  Amigo Publishing, 1998.
  3. Candelaria, C.  Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture.  Greenwood Publishing, 2004.
  4. Clancy, F.  My Fifty Years in Rodeo: Living with Cowboys, Horses, and Danger.  San Antonio: Naylor Press, 1952.
  5. Hanes, B.C.  Bill Pickett, Bulldogger: The Biography of a Black Cowboy.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.
  6. Johnson, C.  Guts: Legendary Black Rodeo Cowboy Bill Pickett.  Fort Worth: Summit Group Publishing, 1994.


[1] A Spaniard will argue vociferously that there is a world of difference between charros and vaqueros, and it’s true.  The Spanish horse tradition originated in Salamanca, Spain … gentlemen horsemen who are masters of the horse, who observe long-held traditions in etiquette, mannerisms, and dress.  Vaqueros, who are fine horsemen, are generally not regarded as gentlemen.

[2] In its original use, the word rodeo meant the roundup of cattle for branding, counting, and preparation for marketing.

[3] One of my personal acquaintances years ago, a Marine officer, paid for his college education by engaging in bull riding contests in California.  By the time he was 40 years old, the man could hardly walk.  After he died at age 55, his widow told me that he’d lost his mental capacity several years earlier.  She suspected it came from having his brains scrambled in the rodeo. 

Posted in Charreada & Rodeo, History, The Horsemen (and women), The Ladies | 5 Comments