Battle-Tested in the RockiesMountain man Patrick Gass deserves more attention in accounts of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
In 1925, Kathryn Downing-Smith, the wife of one of Patrick Gass’s grandsons, wrote a letter to her niece Pearl about Gass. She offered keen insight into a man who, until his dying years, had been a soldier and teller of tall tales of his time with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the Rocky Mountain West.
“In height he [Gass] was medium, had gray-blue eyes, and dark brown hair. You will see the resemblance in their faces and you will recall mother’s stalky build, and she is very light on her feet,” she wrote.
“She must be like him in disposition too, for I have never heard her complain of her deafness and is even tempered, always making the best of hard circumstances, quiet, methodical, and persevering….
“He was sociable and liked company. Many people came to hear him tell of his experiences on the [Lewis and Clark] expedition. He always spoke with praise for Lewis and Clark…[and] he had a black cat which he named Sacagawea for the Indian woman who accompanied them.”
Gass lived the waning years of his life far from the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, in Wellsburg, West Virginia, which is situated roughly between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He died there on April 2, 1870, just before his 100th birthday, far outliving any of the other Corps of Discovery members.
Sought for Corps of Discovery
Born on June 12, 1771, near Chambersburg, in central Pennsylvania, Gass later moved to the central part of the state with his family, serving in the local militia and working as a carpenter. In 1779, Gass enlisted in the regular Army and was stationed at Fort Kaskaskia in Illinois Territory. That post is where, in 1803, an equally young and ambitious man named Meriwether Lewis, with orders from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, sought Gass for a most singular task: to join the celebrated Corps of Discovery.
The mission of the Corps was to chart a path to the Pacific Ocean in the newly-opened expanse of territory recently acquired by the U.S. from France in the Louisiana Purchase.
After the expedition left St. Louis, Missouri, and ascended the Missouri River, Sgt. Charles Floyd died in what is now known as Floyd’s Bluff in Sioux City, Iowa. The 22-year-old sergeant died on August 20, 1804, from a ruptured appendix.
Captain William Clark’s journal entry for that day read (typos left intact): “Floyd Died with a great deal of Composure…. We buried him on the top of the bluff. 1/2 Mile below [is] a Small river to which we Gave his name, He was buried with the Honors of War much lamented, a Seeder post with the Name Sgt. C. Floyd died here 20th of August 1804 was fixed at the head of his grave.
“This Man at all times gave us proofs of his firmness and Determined resolution to doe Service to his Countrey and honor to himself. after paying all the honor to our Decesed brother we camped in the Mouth of Floyd’s River about 30 yards wide, a butiful evening.”
That same night, the men elected Gass to serve as sergeant in Floyd’s place.
Floyd’s untimely passing was fortunately the only one of the entire 1804-05 expedition. Despite the sadness of the affair, all was not lost for the Corps. In Gass’s journals, he wrote of spending Christmas at Fort Mandan that year: “This evening we finished our fortification. Flour, dried apples, pepper and other articles were distributed in the different messes to enable them to celebrate Christmas in a proper and social manner.”
The completion of the fort was cause for celebration. On Christmas Day, Gass wrote: “Captain Clark then presented to each man a glass of brandy, and we hoisted the American flag in the garrison, and its first waving in fort Mandan was celebrated with another glass. The men cleared out one of the rooms and commenced dancing, which was continued in a jovial manner till 8 at night.”
The expedition built the fortified encampment along the Missouri River in present-day North Dakota. Gass’s skills as a carpenter were put to good use in constructing Fort Mandan.
Gass also oversaw the construction of winter quarters at Camp Dubois and Fort Clatsop. He hewed dugout canoes in Mandan, near White Bear Island in present-day Montana, and Canoe Camp, in Idaho, and constructed wagons to portage the canoes to the Great Falls in Montana Territory.
Not everything was a success. Gass also helped Lewis try to build his experimental iron frame boat near the Great Falls. Lewis had conceived of the idea back East, believing a lightweight and maneuverable boat would allow the expedition to make good time.
Once Lewis unpacked the boat, however,he realized the lack of pine trees meant he didn’t have a substance to make the pitch to seal the boat.Working obsessively, Lewis devised a makeshift formula of buffalo tallow, bees wax, charcoal and hides for the seal, but it proved unsuccessful.
“…to make any further experiments in our present situation seemed to me madness; the buffaloe had principally deserted us, and the season was now advancing fast,” wrote Lewis on July 9, 1805.
The Intrepid Fighter
After Gass returned to civilization in September 1806, he sought out and formed a partnership with David McKeehan, a Pittsburgh book and stationery store owner, to edit his expedition journals.
Gass, by his own admission, “never learned to read, write, and cipher till he had come of age.” Much of Gass’s journals paraphrase original field notes, which were destroyed during the initial publication.
Issued in 1807, Gass’s journal is important not only for its contents, but also for being the first published journal of the expedition, seven years before the first publication based on Lewis and Clark’s journals. The title page featured “Corps of Discovery,” and thus, Gass is credited for popularizing the name coined by the explorers.
Now middle-aged, Gass returned to military service and found himself stationed at the same fort in Illinois Territory he had been so eagerly recruited from in 1803. Gass saw service in the War of 1812. Two years later, he saw action at one of the war’s bloodiest battles in Niagara Falls, Canada, the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. During that battle, a falling and splintering tree caused Gass to lose one of his eyes.
Despite his injury, the intrepid fighter persisted. He wouldn’t stop until after the U.S. and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war.
In the years following the war, Gass found himself with little excitement and took to drinking and relaying to anyone who would listen stories of his days with Lewis and Clark in the Rocky Mountains.
He worked variously as a brewer, a ferryman and a carpenter. His respectable living was strengthened by the 1827 death of his father, who left Gass a sizable inheritance.
By 1829, Gass, now 58, had fallen in love with a 20-year-old woman. The two married in 1831, and, over the next 15 years, she bore him seven children. She tragically died of measles in 1846.
In 1860, he was kicked out of a local recruiting station for insisting on fighting in America’s Civil War. The chief complaint against Gass was not his fighting spirit, but his age, about 90 years old.
While Gass’s later years did not exhibit the excitement and adventurous spirit of his youth, he felt they were of equal importance, as reflected in Downing-Smith’s 1925 letter:
“Up to four years before his death when he became helpless, he walked weekly to Wellsburg to get the Wellsburg Herald for which he subscribed. At home he read the paper [and] cared for the small children. He was exceedingly fond of small children. The boys he held, one on either knee, and sang to them “Yankee Doodle,” queer Irish songs, and nonsense rhymes. This is one of them:
“A blue bird sat on a hickory limb;
He winked at me and I winked at him;
I up with my gun and broke his shin
And away the feathers flew!”
Erik J. Wright is an emergency management coordinator, in northeast Arkansas, an assistant editor for The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper and author of four books. He got his start in publishing at 16, when True West published his first article.
Jack Swilling might well be called Arizona’s “Forrest Gump” because seems to have had a penchant for being involved in a number of historic events in Arizona’s early history.
In 1858 he was a prospector at Gila City, site of the first gold rush. When Tonto Apache and Yavapai Indians raided the new camp, Jack was elected leader of a group of rangers whose mission was to protect the prospectors.
A couple of years later he was in Pinos Altos, New Mexico, where miners were being attacked by Mimbres Apache under the leadership of the great chief Mangas Colorados. Jack was elected lieutenant of a militia group who called themselves the Arizona Rangers.
During that time the Civil War broke out Southern forces from Texas invaded New Mexico and the rangers were drafted into the Confederate Army. Lieutenant Jack Swilling joined a force of some 100 Texans who arrived in Tucson and created the Confederate Territory of Arizona. Jack was familiar with the land and proved invaluable assisting the Texas guerilla tactics along the Gila River trying to impede a Union force of some 2,000 troops from California who were coming to retake Arizona.
The Union forces vastly outnumbered the Rebs and in a few weeks, drove them out of the New Mexico Territory. Jack remained in New Mexico where he was recruited by the great mountain man and explorer, Joe Walker, to guide them into the unknown central mountains of Arizona.
Walker’s party was looking for gold in an area where few white men had ever dared to travel. At Pinos Altos, near today’s Silver City, New Mexico, they encountered Jack’s old nemesis, Mangas Colorados and his Mimbres Apache. During a parley, Jack managed to get the drop on the old chieftain and turned him over to the Union troops occupying New Mexico.
Following the encounter with the Mimbres Apache Jack would guide the Walker party up the Hassayampa River where, in 1863, they discovered rich deposits of gold that led to the founding of Prescott a year later. That same year Arizona became a territory and Prescott was chosen to be the capital city.
Jack also became a founder of another rich gold strike near the Hassayampa, Wickenburg. He was also with the party that found gold at Rich Hill, a few miles north of Wickenburg. It was the richest single gold strike in Arizona history.
Then in late 1868 he led another group into the Salt River Valley. This time they weren’t looking for gold but for farm land. With mining camps and military post springing up there was a great need for farm products. They cleaned out the ancient canals originally dug by the Hohokam Indians some 1,500 years earlier and by 1870 a new community rising out of the ashes of an old civilization the future capital city of Phoenix was born.
Jack Swilling is a name that goes almost unrecognized by Arizonans today. Much of what is known about him today comes from tall tales, lies and half-truths. He was a tall, powerful man, brave, generous to a fault, a wonderful family man and for the most part was respected by his contemporaries. Swilling was the stuff of legends and certainly deserves a better place in history.
Cole Younger, American OutlawThe toughest outlaw who ever lived.
Cole Younger has to be the toughest outlaw who ever lived. In addition to having 11 slugs in his body, Cole had to guide his horse with his knees after a Northfield Raid defender shot away the reins to his bridle with birdshot. Pursued by more than 1,000 farmers hungry for the reward ($10,000), Cole and his two brothers were captured at Hanska Slough and taken to nearby Madelia, Minnesota.
After a two-week run in the constant rain, utilizing old newspapers as bandages on multiple wounds and wading through swollen rivers, the outlaw leader finally removed his boots.
“And then my toenails fell off….”
—Cole Younger, remembering his capture on September 21, 1876
What follows is how all this came down.
The Battle of Northfield: James-Younger Gang vs Townsmen of Northfield
September 7, 1876
t’s just past 2 p.m. when three horsemen, wearing matching white linen dusters, dismount in front of the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. After tying their reins to hitching posts, they stroll to the corner (see Phase One map), sit on some dry goods boxes and exchange pleasantries with several locals.
Two more horsemen, also wearing linen dusters, approach Division Street from the south. Several minutes later, three more horsemen, dressed in matching dusters, cross the iron bridge and stop in the center of Mill Square. The three men seated on the corner stand up, walk back to the bank and then go inside.
Two mounted men, who came from the south, pull up in front of the bank. One of them, Cole Younger, says under his breath, “You’d better close the door,” and the riders both dismount. His partner Clell Miller leads his horse to the bank door and shuts it. In the middle of the street, Cole scans the roadway while pretending to tighten the cinch on his saddle.
Several townsmen are suspicious of all these uniformed strangers, and one local, J.S. Allen, walks to the bank and looks in the window. His suspicions confirmed, Allen turns to go alert the other citizens when he is confronted by Miller, who has just closed the door. Grabbing Allen by the collar, the outlaw says, “You son of a bitch, don’t you holler.”
Allen breaks free and runs up the boardwalk, shouting, “Get your guns boys. They’re robbing the bank!”
Cole immediately mounts his horse and pulls his revolver, firing it in the air as a signal for the three horsemen in Mill Square to come quick—the gang has been discovered.
At almost the same instant, those outside hear a shot from inside the bank. The three horsemen from the square pull their pistols and ride into the engagement, firing and yelling at bystanders to “get in.”
Miller grabs the reins of his horse to mount up. As he steps into the stirrup, birdshot pellets fired by local Elias Stacy hit Miller in the face, and he falls backward to the ground. Another townsman, A.R. Manning, aims his single-shot Remington rifle and hits Bob Younger’s horse, which is tied in front of the bank. Struck in the neck, the animal drops in its tracks.
Four horsemen ride back and forth, firing at any who dare to show their face. Instead of cowering, the locals come out with everything they have: Flintlocks, fowling pieces with mismatched ammunition, birdshot plunkers, frying pans and rocks. One pesky storekeeper even aims an empty pistol to draw fire and taunt the brigands.
A Swede named Gustavson, who doesn’t speak English, comes out of a cellar saloon and is shot in the top of his skull after failing to respond to one robber’s command. (He dies several days later.)
Suffering from his face wounds, Miller remounts and pulls out his pistols. As he turns his horse to ride up Division Street, he is hit again, the bullet severing the outlaw’s subclavian artery, and he falls to the ground in a heap.
Cole rides over to Miller and dismounts. Cole sees the blank stare of death stamped on Miller’s bloody face. As he leans over Miller, a bullet rips into Cole’s left hip.
The elder Younger grabs Miller’s two revolvers and remounts. Birdshot and buckshot whistle past his ears as Cole again rides to the bank door and pleads for the boys to leave. “I could not imagine what was keeping them so long,” Cole later says.
Hearing the incessant firing from the street and the multiple pleadings of Cole, the robbers inside the bank become increasingly desperate. (See “Inside the Bank” sidebar.)
Seeing a chance to escape, teller Alonzo Bunker dashes out the back door and is chased by Charlie Pitts. Firing twice, Pitts hits Bunker in the shoulder, but the banker escapes. With their plan unraveling at every turn, the outlaws finally heed Cole’s third call and prepare to leave.
Outside, A.R. Manning bravely steps from behind the stairway at the corner of Scriver’s and takes quick aim at outlaw Bill Chadwell (a.k.a. Stiles). Chadwell topples from his horse, shot through the heart. (Manning is also the one who shot Cole in the hip.)
“For God’s sake come out,” Cole pleads from the doorway of the bank, more desperate than ever. “They are shooting us all to pieces.”
Pitts, Bob Younger and Frank James finally emerge from the bank. The last robber to leave climbs on the counter, turns and fatally shoots a stumbling, semi-coherent Joseph Heywood in the head.
Bob runs to the corner to confront Manning and several other townsmen. (Some sources claim Bob is merely heading for his horse, which has already been shot dead by Manning.)
While Bob plays hide-and-seek with Manning through the openings of Scriver’s stairs, an upper-story shot from across the street rips into Bob’s right arm, breaking the bone at the elbow. Undeterred, he deftly shifts his pistol to his left hand and continues firing.
As the others flee, Cole rides directly into the line of fire to pick up his little brother. A bullet severs one of Cole’s bridle reins, forcing him to guide his mount with his knee and hand. As he turns his horse for Bob to climb aboard, Cole is hit in both the side and shoulder. His hat is also shot off. Another bullet rips away the back of his saddle. (One account reports Cole urges his brother to run, then picks him up a block away.)
The six wounded men give a meek rebel yell as they head south out of town. Although they have survived the Battle of Northfield, their painful ride has just begun.
Six Factors that Unhinge the Raid
The matched outfits (white linen dusters) immediately arouse suspicion among the townspeople.
• Hardly anyone in that part of the country rides saddle horses (most use buggies or wagons); so the sight of eight, uniformed horsemen draws attention.
At the time of the shoot-out, it is hunting season, and many guns in Northfield are loaded and waiting. As Adelbert Ames later says, “Every old musket, shotgun and pistol was drawn from its hiding place.”
Although Jesse James and his men chose a rich target, they strike when too many locals are on the streets. Cole Younger later writes, “I remarked to [Clell] Miller about the crowd and said, ‘Surely the boys will not go into the bank with so many people about.’”
• In the south, where most of the James-Younger heists were committed, the poor locals didn’t have much compassion for banks. Consequently, the posses that chased the gang gave up easily. But in Northfield, the outlaws encounter fierce resistance. Why? Everyone who shoots at them has money in the bank.
• In later years, Cole admits that, unbeknownst to him, Charlie Pitts, Bob Younger and Frank James had drank a quart of whiskey before entering the bank. He concludes that their drinking was the “initial blunder at Northfield.” When the three robbers enter the bank, teller Alonzo Bunker smells the “stink of liquor” on them. The three bank employees undoubtedly feel they are dealing with three slow-thinking drunks, and in fact, they are. Once you consider the robbers’ actions inside the bank, in the light of being drunk, it all makes sense.
In the end, what can go wrong, does. What worked before, doesn’t. In seven short minutes, the lottery-driven dreams of Missouri’s premier outlaws are blasted to kingdom come in a hail of mismatched, ugly bullets.
Inside the Bank
Precious seconds turn to minutes as the three hapless bank robbers inside the bank become stymied by three bank employees playing dumb like a fox.
First, the robbers demand to know who is the cashier. But because the official cashier is out of town, all three employees honestly answer in the negative. Their response throws off the outlaws from the start, and things will only become worse.
Bookkeeper Joseph Heywood tells the bandits the safe is on a time lock and can’t be opened. It’s a lie. All the robbers need to do is turn the latch and the safe will open, but they never even try.
When one robber starts to go inside the vault to check it out, Heywood slams the door on him, bruising the outlaw. When the outlaw leader threatens him, Heywood yells at the top of his lungs, “Murder! Murder! Murder!”
Perhaps trying to shut him up, a robber cold-cocks Heywood with a pistol. The robbers then drag him inside the vault and try making him open the safe, but he’s unresponsive. The bandits even fire a bullet next to his head (the shot heard outside) to scare him, but it doesn’t work. Pulling a knife, one robber threatens to slit Heywood’s throat and then nicks the bookkeeper’s neck, but Heywood still won’t, or can’t, respond.
After teller Alonzo Bunker escapes, the thwarted outlaws get ready to leave empty-handed. A frustrated Bob Younger scoops up $26 and some change off the counter.
“The last robber to leave the bank,” Frank Wilcox later testifies, “leaped upon the cashier’s desk as he was leaving, and while he stood there, turned and shot Heywood as Heywood was staggering about the room in an effort to prevent himself from falling.”
Three Phases of the Gun Battle
As the gang crosses the iron bridge, two by two, the townsmen begin to take notice. Frank James, Bob Younger and Charlie Pitts tie their horses in front of the bank and walk to the corner to sit on dry goods boxes. As soon as they see the Jesse James-led trio arrive in the square, the men get up, walk to the bank and go inside.
After J.S. Allen sounds the alarm, Cole Younger fires his warning shot, and Jim Younger, Jesse James and Bill Chadwell begin riding the perimeter of the square, demanding that bystanders “get in.” Within moments, the locals begin shooting at the riders.
As the seconds turn into minutes, the mounted riders are driven from Mill Square by gunfire directed at them from the Dampier House and from armed locals by the hardware stores. Choked off from the only bridge crossing, the gang retreats south out of town. They outlaws eventually cross a bridge in Dundas.
Aftermath: Odds & Ends
One of the mysteries surrounding the bank raid is where were the sheriff, the city marshal or lawmen of any kind? Local tradition says the chief of police hid in a dry goods box in the back of a store and didn’t emerge until after the battle. This legend has been disproved by author and researcher John J. Koblas, who adds, “There really weren’t any sheriff types in Northfield. It is believed the chief of police, Elias Hobbs, was involved in the battle.”
In their haste to flee the bank, the outlaws left behind a duster and a grain sack with the initials H.C.A. (What the initials stood for has never been solved.) In the street, the citizens found two dead men, a single spur and two pistols, one of them being an ivory-handled Colt .45. Bob Younger’s dead horse yielded a fine saddle (illustrated here), which is now prominently displayed in the Northfield Museum.
After the Youngers were captured at Hanska Slough, a Faribault doctor extracted the ball that was still lodged in Cole Younger’s hip and gave it to A.R. Manning, the man who had fired it. Manning carried it as a good luck charm for the rest of his life.
Strange Stops on a Wayward, Wet Journey
• South of Northfield, the gang paused along the banks of the Cannon River to cleanse their wounds. A local man, Philip Empey, came by with a team of gray horses, hauling rails. The robbers waylaid him and stole one of the horses for Bob Younger. As the gang rode across the Dundas Bridge, several locals yelled at them. One asked, “What are you doing with Phil Empey’s horse?”
• In Dundas, eyewitnesses confirmed that one of the outlaws (probably Cole Younger) cursed at the others for not following orders and for being drunk. As the gang rode by, a St. Paul drummer (salesman) remarked, “If Sitting Bull was after you, you’d ride a little faster.” (George Custer’s final battle, June 26, was recent news.) One of the bandits heard the remark and pulled out his pistol, sneering, “Get in there, you son of a bitch.” The salesman got “in.”
• A half-mile beyond Dundas, the gang stopped at a farm and asked for a pail of water. As Robert Donaldson procured a bucket, he inquired about the wounded rider. He was told the injured man had been shot by a “blackleg” in Northfield, and that the gang killed the assailant. The farmer asked the name of the man they killed. One of the men yelled, “Stiles,” which was outlaw Bill Chadwell’s alias.
•A farmer driving a wagon crossed paths with the gang and noticed Cole and Jim Younger were riding on either side of their brother Bob, while holding him in the saddle. The farmer asked if the wounded man is a prisoner. One of the gang assured the farmer the man was their prisoner, and that they were taking him to jail. The perplexed farmer told them they are heading in the wrong direction. One of the outlaws turned, saying, “Oh no! We’re taking the right way.”
• The gang traveled 11 miles in two hours. Beyond Millersburg, the men stopped a farmer and stole his horse, then stopped another farmer for his saddle, but the girth on this saddle broke, spilling Bob Younger into the road. Bob was once again put up to ride behind Cole, and the men kept going.
• Responding to telegraph messages, 15 men from Faribault arrived in Shieldsville, ahead of the gang. Unfortunately, they retired inside Haggerty’s Saloon for some liquid courage and left their guns outside. The gang rode into town and stopped at a pump to take water for their horses and their wounds. Someone from inside the saloon tried to come out, but the gang buffaloed them and rode off shooting as they left.
• The Faribault posse pursued the gang on the Old Dodd Road, firing at them as they ascended a hill. The gang returned fire. Charlie Pitts was thrown from his horse. As Pitts remounted, his saddle cinch broke, and he fell again. Pitts jumped up behind Bob Younger (whose horse was being led by Cole), and he and the rest of the robbers disappeared into the “Big Woods.”
• A torrential downpour moved through the area. Heavy rains would continue on and off for two weeks.
• Former Civil War Union Gen. Edmund Pope was put in charge of the robber roundup operation. He established command headquarters at Eagle Lake, and he stationed law enforcement officers, troops and volunteers on picket lines from the Wardlaw Ravine to the Waseca County line.
• Surrounded near German Lake, the gang abandoned its horses, tied them to trees and took only their bridles. The men then slipped through the picket lines on foot and escaped.
• On September 12, Faribault posse members found two of the outlaws’ horses about five miles north of Lake Elysian. They also found five saddles.
• Two or three miles from Mankato, the gang discovered a deserted farmhouse and holed up for two days and two nights. Although they had slipped through several dragnets, they traveled less than 50 miles in five days.
• Rewards for the robbers reached over $3,000 a man, and many in Minnesota and Iowa came down with “robber fever.”
• The rain continued to fall. Old-timers claimed it is the wettest two weeks in memory. All the streams were swollen, bridges were out and the entire area was a quagmire. The weather worked in favor of the robbers because their tracks were immediately wiped out by the rain.
• On September 13, a farm hand was kidnapped and forced to show the outlaws the way through Mankato and across the Minnesota River. “After about a mile,” Cole Younger later recounted, “we turned him loose.” Although the kid promised not to rat them out, the farm hand went to the sheriff and told all.
• A posse jumped the gang near Minneopa Falls, but they escaped, barely. The gang left behind “part of a roasted chicken, some green corn, a hat and a rubber overcoat.”
•Near Rush Lake, the robbers decided to split up. Jesse and Frank James
stole a horse and headed west, while the Youngers and Pitts headed southwest on foot.
• At the edge of Linden Lake, a father and his son were milking cows out on the road (the driest place near their farm). When two of the outlaws, Jim Younger and Charlie Pitts, passed by, the boy, Oscar Sorbel, told his father he thinks the men were the Northfield bank robbers, but his dad was not convinced. “No,” Ole Sorbel replied. “They was nice men.” Oscar watched the two men disappear into the timber. After warning three neighbors, Oscar took the harness off a draft horse and rode the seven miles to Madelia, spreading the news.
• Two separate posses converged on Hanska Slough and successfully blocked the Youngers’ escape route.
The Six Who Won’t Get Away
Photographs of the captured Younger gang members will be widely sold for four bits. This photo collage of dead and captured robbers (right) will be printed as cartes de visite and collected and sold throughout the United States.
On February 29, 1908, Jesse Wayne Brazel walked into the Doña Ana County sheriff’s office and announced, “Lock me up. . . . I’ve just killed Pat Garrett.”
Despite Brazel’s confession, we still do not know, 110 years later, who killed the man responsible for ending the life of Billy the Kid. To date, at least 10 books and dozens of articles have been published examining Sheriff Pat F. Garrett, not to mention Sam Peckinpah’s classic 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, yet his murder remains one of the Southwest’s most intriguing and enduring cold cases because few historians believe Brazel was capable of violence. But what if they are wrong?
“I’ll Put You Out Right Now”
When Brazel admitted to killing Garrett on a lonely stretch of road just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory, in 1908, he claimed he shot in self-defense during a property dispute. Eyewitness Carl Adamson backed up Brazel’s version of events. Adamson told officials Brazel waited until Garrett threatened him with: “You, I’ll put you out right now,” and he did not draw his own gun until Garrett had drawn his first.
Evidence at the crime scene, however, contradicted their testimony. Doña Ana County officials determined that Garrett was probably not holding his shotgun when he was felled—surprising for a man who was always courting danger—and that he had been first hit in the back of the head and almost simultaneously in the stomach while he was urinating on the side of the road, making self-defense an unlikely explanation.
Brazel was a cowboy for one of the largest spreads in the Tularosa Basin, William Webb Cox’s San Augustine Springs Ranch. When Cox hired an expensive attorney, Albert Bacon Fall, to defend his hired hand, stories quickly surfaced that Brazel had been a pawn in a larger conspiracy, asked to take the blame for someone else.
After a one-day trial, on April 19, 1909, during which attorneys on both sides provided little evidence or testimony, a jury found Brazel not guilty of murder. He walked away a free man. That’s when wild speculation began over who had murdered Garrett.
Incapable of Murder
From the day he achieved fame for killing the Kid until his own death 26 years later, Garrett made numerous enemies. He drank and gambled excessively, was drawn into arguments easily and borrowed money from powerful people he could not always repay.
Despite his negative qualities, Garrett remained a feared lawman whom politicians often called on to investigate high-profile murders in southern New Mexico Territory. At the time of his death, Garrett was apparently about to bring charges against local ranchers for rustling and perhaps even for the murders of politician Albert Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry. Some researchers have suggested Garrett was slain before he could arrest prominent citizens.
Most historians argue the lowly cowboy Brazel lacked the ability with a firearm to get the upper hand against one of the Southwest’s most accomplished lawmen. Interviews with family and friends revealed Brazel as incapable of murdering anyone in cold blood.
Garrett biographer Leon Metz believes Brazel told the truth, that he shot in self-defense, while Brazel biographer Robert Mullin, who published The Strange Story of Wayne Brazel in 1969, concluded the ranch hand was not a violent man and thus “did not pull the trigger that ended the life of Pat Garrett.”
Historians have shifted the blame to others, creating a long list of possible suspects, including gun-for-hire James P. “Killin’ Jim” Miller, Brazel’s boss Bill Cox and A.P. Rhodes, Brazel’s partner in the disputed property. These historians have also provided us with a large assortment of theories to explain what happened, including suggesting a secret meeting to plan the assassination took place in a hotel in El Paso, Texas.
But what if Brazel wasn’t the choir boy everyone thought he was?
Court Case Discovery
While researching the Power shoot-out for the documentary film Power’s War and for my book on Arizona’s deadliest gunfight, I stumbled upon a Cochise County legal case in the Arizona State Archives involving the Power family and Brazel.
Brazel was not listed by name as a plaintiff in the case of “C.S. and M.J. Power v. J.W. Gould et al” filed on August 26, 1910, so I could see how other researchers overlooked this case, but the court proceedings reveal a side of Brazel not seen in previously published works.
Shortly after his acquittal for the murder of Garrett, Brazel began to accumulate grazing land for a cattle operation at the base of Steins Peak in Doubtful Canyon, located near the border between present-day Hidalgo County in New Mexico and Cochise County in Arizona.
The Butterfield stage line ran through this dry and windswept stretch during the late 1850s. Attacks on the stage in those days were so frequent that stage drivers warned passengers that “Doubtful Canyon was so named ‘because it’s always doubtful whether we’ll reach the other end alive.’”
When Brazel moved to Doubtful Canyon in 1910, the area remained sparsely populated by ranchers because of the limited water supply.
Brazel’s partner in the venture was rancher and saloon proprietor James W. Gould, a long-time resident of Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory, who had testified at the 1899 trial for Henry Fountain’s murder. The previous owners of the land, the Power family—which included matriarch Jane Power, her widower son Jeff and four grandchildren between the ages of 16 and 21—remained in Doubtful Canyon, staking a new claim and submitting a homestead application for land nearby.
Evidently, the Power family’s continued presence on the land somehow threatened Brazel and Gould’s plans.
Gould filed charges against Jeff Power, claiming he had sold the Doubtful Mine under false pretenses and failed to vacate the premises. A jury in Grant County district court quickly cleared Jeff of wrongdoing.
Gould decided to take matters into his own hands. He, his new business partner Brazel and local rancher and Deputy Sheriff Elmer Archer Lyall traveled to the Power property in Doubtful Canyon in July 1910 to remove the problematic family. The three held no warrants or eviction notice—the Powers had filed all the proper paperwork for their Doubtful property—so Lyall was not there in an official capacity as deputy, but rather as a hired gunman.
The trio entered the ranch house heavily armed and threatened to kill the entire family, including Jane, who was 66, and her 16-year-old granddaughter Ola May.
Unlike Brazel’s deadly encounter with Garrett two years prior, gunfire was not exchanged. The Powers cooperated, gathering up their personal belongings and leaving. They chose to fight their assailants in court instead.
The Powers filed a lawsuit against Brazel, Gould and Lyall, charging them with forcible entry and detainer. In the fall of 1910, Gould, Brazel and Lyall were summoned to the Bowie justice court in Cochise County, where a judge found the three men guilty and awarded the Powers $500 in damages plus court costs.
The case was appealed. Once again, a high-powered attorney, this time Allen R. English of Tombstone, was hired for Brazel’s defense team. The court overruled the initial judgment—not the first time Brazel had avoided conviction with the help of first-rate legal talent.
After the incident, the Power family left Doubtful Canyon and never spoke of their encounter with Brazel, evidently fearing repercussions from him or his powerful associates. They would find themselves in new difficulties eight years later, when a posse surrounded their mining cabin in the Galiuro Mountains. In the ensuing gunfight, Jeff Power, the Graham County sheriff and two deputies were killed.
What Happened to Brazel?
Brazel’s fate is less certain.
At the time of the court proceedings with the Power family, he married Olive Boyd in September 1910, a union which produced a baby boy. When Olive died a few months after giving birth, Brazel left his son to be raised by his in-laws in El Paso, Texas, moved to Ash Fork, Arizona, and then vanished, raising even more questions about him and his role in Garrett’s death.
In November 2017, Angelica Valenzuela, the records and filing supervisor with the Doña Ana County clerk’s office, discovered the coroner’s report for the death of Garrett, a document most historians believed had vanished long ago. The report stated: “the deceased [Pat Garrett] came to his death by gunshot wounds inflicted by one Wayne Brazel.”
I don’t know how many other public records, like the coroner’s report or the court proceedings in Cochise County, are out there that might one day shine a spotlight on the real Brazel, allowing us to determine if he should be on the top, rather than the bottom, of any list of suspects.
I’m sure researchers must endure many more hours of breathing dust in musty archives before we’ll ever solve the mystery of Garrett’s killing.
Dinner with a Brazell
A woman who claims relation to the alleged killer of Pat Garrett read one of my True West Moments in The Arizona Republic. She offered to tell me what happened to Wayne. I met with 82-year-old Emalee Brazell Price and two of her friends at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant on February 27, 2017.
Emalee told me Wayne had died in 1936 of typhoid. He was working on a Civilian Conservation Corps project (one of the “CCC Boys,” as they were called) at the time of his passing. His body is buried in Barton Cemetery, near Edgewood, New Mexico.
If true, this fills in a major gap in our knowledge of what happened to the man who allegedly killed the man who killed Billy the Kid.
She also told me that Wayne spent time in a Yuma prison in Arizona Territory, possibly because of the Garrett killing. This seems odd since he was acquitted in New Mexico Territory and the charges probably wouldn’t have carried over to Arizona Territory, but that is the family story.
Emalee spells her family name “Brazell,” rhymes with “razzle,” and she is unsure where the Brazel spelling, with only one L, came from. Perhaps a misspelled court document?
Historian Lauren Kormylo (one of our True West Maniacs) investigated the family’s story about the name. She says Wayne is in the 1910 Census, spelled with one “L” for Brazel. The census reports show he could read and write. All of the news sources of the day also spelled his name with one “L,” and the 1880 Census shows his parents’ name with the same spelling.
As far as the grave goes, Kormylo has not been to the cemetery in person, but according to the “Find a Grave” website, the cemetery is home to five Brazell graves, but Wayne Brazell is not among them. Billy the Kid author Mark Lee Gardner thoroughly examined the burial records of the Edgewood cemetery and found no trace of our guy.
To add more fuel to the fire, others have claimed to be Wayne’s relatives. Amy Brazel wrote a blog claiming her father and uncle swear that Wayne lived under an assumed name (Charles O’Neal) the rest of his life
Bill Brazel claimed he visited his cousin Wayne in Arizona, where he was reportedly alive during the 1930s, reports Iraq veteran Kevin Randle, who met Bill and shared the encounter in a 2009 blog (thank you, Billy the Kid researcher Robert M. Stahl for sharing this with me). Like Emalee, Bill also claimed Wayne spent time in Arizona, telling Randle: Wayne “worked on a ranch there, doing the same things that he had done before. No one really knew about Pat Garrett or the murder charges that had been filed against him or any of his later trouble with the government.”
Even more, Bill claimed that Wayne had an earlier encounter with Garrett, when the lawman led a posse to the Brazel ranch, perhaps around July 1898, when the posse was chasing Bill McNew, Oliver M. Lee and Jim Gililland. Garrett wanted the posse to spend the night at the Brazel ranch, but Bill’s grandmother, wielding a Winchester, chased him off her property.
Family lore can be a sticky wicket for researchers to navigate. Looks like historians still have more digging to do to solve the mystery of Wayne Brazel’s final years.
—Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell
Heidi J. Osselaer earned her Ph.D. in history at Arizona State University. This article is adapted from a paper she presented at the 2017 Arizona-New Mexico History Convention and from her most recent book, Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight: Draft Resistance and Tragedy at the Power Cabin, 1918, published this May by University of Oklahoma Press.
The Constable ButcherEarly pioneers and their daily meals come to life at the Tallman.
In the 1860s, Upper Lake, California, was a farming and mill town, but because of Clear Lake’s boating and fishing, and the healthful benefits of the surrounding hot springs, the county was becoming a resort destination. People from the Pacific Northwest and larger California cities visited the area to relax and cool off.
Upper Lake was so small that some residents had multiple occupations. When Charles W. Gillett wasn’t busy running his general store, he was offering prayers and gospel as the town’s minister. When Constable Robert Bucknell wasn’t enforcing the law, he was butchering the town’s meat.
The constable butcher gave prominent pioneers a reason to celebrate, at a double wedding onAugust 9, 1870, when he married Winnie Alley and her half-brother John Lemuel Alley married Ella Eliza McMath. McMath’s mother cooked the bridal couples a breakfast in dutch ovens over an open fire. Then they were escorted on horseback by 17 other couples to the Alley family home for the ceremony and a barbecue dinner served to more than 100 guests.
Five years later, Bucknell was likely butchering meat for the weary travelers, brought by stage or boat, staying at the Ridgway House, a two-story hotel erected in 1875 by Jeremiah Ridgway.
Along with delicious viands made from cows, sheep, hogs, elk and deer, diners enjoyed meals made with locally produced dairy, wheat, barley, oats, corn, beans, potatoes, sugar beets, butter and honey. Fruit trees dotted the landscape, growing apples, peaches, pears, apricots, figs and oranges for folks to snack on. Grapes, raspberries, strawberries and even olives also dressed up meals.
By 1883, Ridgway had sold his hotel to farmers Rufus and Mary Tallman, who changed the name to Tallman House. Early ownership brought challenges for the Tallmans. For instance, in February 1883, Mary laid down for a nap, but awoke to a smoke-filled room. Luckily, she was able to alert everyone to get out, and the Tallman suffered only minor damage to the dining room wall around the chimney.
The Tallman House quickly recovered from the fire. The popular hotel flourished for more than 10 years.
Then fire struck the Tallman House once again. On October 29, 1895,guests awoke around 2:30 a.m. and narrowly escaped. But this time, the kitchen fire destroyed the entire building.
The Tallmans had the hotel rebuilt. In 1900, they advertised, “Home cooking. Reasonable Rates. Headquarters for tourists and commercial travelers.”
The hotel stayed in the family until the 1940s, and then ownership changed hands. After the hotel sat dormant for 41 years, modern pioneers Bernie and Lynne Butcherreopened the hotel, maintaining its historic elegance and tasty fare, while also offering luxuries never dreamt of by the town’s earliest settlers.
Sample this apple and walnut dessert to experience some of Upper Lake’s bounty.
6 large apples, cored
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup hot water
¼ tsp. nutmeg
Place the cored apples into a baking dish. Combine the walnuts and a half-cup of sugar. Fill equal amounts into the apples, and pour the hot water around the apples. Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Remove the apples from the pan, and pour the liquid into a saucepan. Add the remaining sugar and nutmeg, and cook over medium heat until thickened, about five to 10 minutes. Drizzle sauce over the stuffed apples, and top them with whipped cream.
Recipe adapted from The San Francisco Call, October 15, 1899
Sherry Monahan kicked off her journey into Old West cuisine, spirits and places by authoring Taste of Tombstone. Visit SherryMonahan.com to learn more about her books, awards and TV appearances.
Lost Photo of Crook’s Scout Discovered?An unseen stereoview by John Campbell Burge opens up the discussion.
John Campbell Burge is one of my favorite Territorial Arizona photographers. Though his work is less common than other early Arizona photographers, Burge had a fine touch with his stereoviews, capturing motion and the personality of his subjects, and creating aesthetically pleasing scenic images.
This is a brief story about a stereoview by Burge that I’d never seen before.
The “New” Burge Stereoview
Burge was an itinerant photographer. His first studio was the Phoenix Gallery on Montezuma Street in Prescott, which he opened in April 1881. He moved his operation briefly to Phoenix that summer, before returning to Prescott that fall.
In early 1882, he moved his studio to Globe and traveled throughout eastern Arizona to the mining communities and the San Carlos reservation.
In 1885, he moved to Flagstaff and formed a partnership with James Hildreth. Burge made images of northern Arizona for several years before moving east—first to Kingston, then to Deming, New Mexico Territory, at the end of the 1880s, then on to El Paso, Texas, in the 1890s.
The image of his I’d never seen before was on a yellow Burge mount, and it depicted a camp scene of six individuals, in front of a lean-to under the shade of a large cottonwood tree, with a seventh figure in front of a tent at the rear.
Three of the American Indians wear shell coats, and one wears a backpack. Three men, including the only white in the scene, lean on rifles. A young woman draped in a blanket kneels at the base of the tree. The individual on the right leans against a branch, posed to create a separation with the background to enhance the stereo effect.
The white gentleman wears a medal and is shaking hands with an older Indian who wears a headband. The photographer’s imprint on the mount is the only identification available, but the man looked familiar. A search of relevant figures in Arizona Territory at the time located a comparison image for Corydon Eliphalet Cooley.
Could This Be Cooley?
Cooley was born on April 2, 1836, in Loudoun, Virginia, and served in Company C of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry during the Civil War. His unit served on garrison duty and engaged in operations against Indians and Confederate forces in Arizona and New Mexico Territories. During the war, Cooley became knowledgeable with central and northeastern Arizona Territory, and the White Mountain Apaches who lived there.
After the war, Cooley located his home base, Cooley’s ranch, about 10 miles east of Camp Apache in Arizona Territory. Cooley’s special connection with the Apaches came to the attention of George Crook soon after the general arrived in the territory. Crook hired Cooley, whose relationship with the Apaches proved invaluable in recruiting scouts and guiding troops as they attempted to contain uprisings through the territory.
In 1874, Dudley Flanders took a stereo photo of Crook with his Apache scouts at Camp Apache. Cooley appears at the right group of men, standing at the rear, in a white shirt. Unfortunately, he moved during the exposure, so his face is blurred in the image, but he also has a beard and wears a hat similar to the man in the Burge image.
Burge took his stereo about eight years after the Flanders stereo, while Burge was working out of his studio in Globe, which places it during Crook’s second Apache campaign. Cooley retired from his service with Crook in November 1882 and returned to his ranch. If the stereo can be definitively dated before that date, it would increase the likelihood that Cooley is the scout depicted.
An Ongoing Challenge
Identifying individuals in historical photographs without provenance or definitively identified copies for comparison is an ongoing challenge. Understanding the format, mount style and information embedded within the image, as well as the context of the photographer who created it, provides extra ammunition for identification.
Unfortunately, the Burge image provides little information about the location where it was made. The subjects appear to be scouts in a camp with both an Apache-style lean-to and what appears to be a military-style tent at the rear behind the tree.
The white gentleman I believe to be Cooley is wearing a badge. Since the badge provides little detail, it does not aid in identifying the image or individual. Cooley was, however, appointed sheriff of Yavapai County in 1877, so if this is a sheriff badge, that could further increase the notion that this photograph depicts him.
A comparison with the Flanders imageand later images of Cooley shows a least a believable similarity in terms of facial characteristics, beard and style of head gear.
In the end, though, identification often boils down to beliefs.Hopefully, this Burge stereo will encourage a lively discussion about the process of researching potential attributions.
Do you believe that the white scout in this image is Cooley?
Jeremy Rowe has collected 19th-century and early 20th-century photographs for more than 30 years. He has written several photography books and has curated museum exhibits, including a permanent one at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is emeritus professor at Arizona State University and a senior research scientist at New York University.
His name was O.C. “Harelip Charlie” Smith, and he may be the least known member of Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride. But the Connecticut native—nicknamed because of a cleft palate—had a remarkable career of his own.
Smith was the only Vendetta Rider to return to Tombstone, where he served as a lawman for many years. He helped track the perpetrators of the Bisbee Massacre and went after train robbers in 1887. One reason that he might be forgotten: there are no known photos of Charlie Smith.