Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves: The Invincible Lawman

Thank you to True West Magazine for this content – you can view the original post here:

True West February/March 2021 Art T. Burton

This is the best known photograph of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, possibly the greatest lawman of the Old West.
– All Photos Courtesy Art T. Burton Unless Otherwise Noted –

Born into slavery, the Arkansas native became  a lauded, and legendary U.S. deputy marshal.

Bass Reeves began his life as a slave in the state of Arkansas in July 1838, near the town of Van Buren. He and his family were owned by William Steele Reeves, who was originally from Hickman County, Tennessee. While working as a water boy and field hand with his family as a youngster, Bass would originate and sing songs about guns, rifles, knives, robberies and killings. This troubled his mother greatly as she thought he wanted to be an outlaw. When Bass was eight, the Reeves family moved to northern Texas to Peter’s Colony in Grayson County near Sherman, Texas.

Sometime after moving to Texas, Bass became a valet/body servant to William S. Reeves’ son, George R. Reeves. Bass also served as bodyguard, coachman and butler. The owner allowed Bass to use guns to hunt and learned that he was a crack shot. Bass won many turkey shoots for his master, which in Texas was prestigious for George. In 1848, George was elected tax collector, and in 1850, he was elected sheriff of Grayson County. In 1855, George was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Grayson County. At the outbreak of the Civil War, George was made an officer in the 11th Texas Cavalry Regiment, second in command to Col. William G. Young. Bass went with George into the war, serving as his body servant. Early in the war, the 11th Texas Cavalry Regiment fought at the Battle of Chustenahlah in the Indian Territory and the Battle of Pea Ridge, also known as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern. After the war, George was reelected to the Texas State Legislature, and at his death on September 5, 1882, he was Speaker of the House of Representatives for the State of Texas. Reeves County in West Texas is named for him.

Col. George Reeves, Speaker of the House, Texas State Legislature, was the owner of Reeves at the onset of the Civil War. 
– Courtesy DeGolyer Library, SMU –

Family history states that Bass and George got into an argument over a card game during the Civil War. Bass got so upset at being cheated, he beat his master down and knocked him out. For a slave to hit his master in Texas was punishable by death. Bass set out for the Indian Territory and was taken in by Seminole and Creek Indians. Here, he learned Indian languages, the lay of the land and complete mastery of pistols and rifles. Bass was also taught tactics of disguise in riding horses and stealth in combat.

After the war, Bass Reeves settled down outside Van Buren, Arkansas, and maintained a horse ranch and small farm. At this time Bass was married to his wife, Jennie, who was also from Texas, and they had four children. They would later have 11 children in the household. Bass raised horses and served as a scout for deputy U.S. marshals going into the Indian Territory. In this capacity, his familiarity with  the land served him well. The federal jail court was in Van Buren for the western district of Arkansas and Indian Territory. In 1871, the federal court and jail were moved to nearby Fort Smith.

After some malfeasance and misappropriations of federal funds, William Story was fired as the judge of the Western District of Arkansas federal court at Fort Smith. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed a U.S. congressman from Missouri named Isaac C. Parker to take over the Fort Smith federal court in March 1875.

U.S. Marshal James Fagan was replaced not long after Judge Parker took over the court with a Union veteran, Daniel P. Upham. Earlier, Upham had commanded the Arkansas State Militia and had destroyed the Ku Klux Klan in that state. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, most guards, turnkeys, cooks and bailiffs for the Fort Smith federal court were African Americans.

Bass Reeves stands in the door of a boxcar on the MK&T Railroad. On the left with a Winchester is Bud Ledbetter and lawmen guarding the shipment near Muskogee, Indian Territory, ca. 1900.

Bass Reeves was commissioned in late 1875 as a deputy U.S. marshal for the Fort Smith federal court. He was not the first Black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. As early as 1867 there was a posse out of Van Buren, Arkansas, sent to investigate a stagecoach robbery at Atoka, Choctaw Nation, that was led by a deputy U.S. marshal named “Negro” Smith. Bynum Colbert, a Choctaw Freedmen, was a veteran of an Arkansas United States Colored Regiment of the Civil War and served seven years with the 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiment post-Civil War. Colbert began his tenure as a deputy U.S. marshal with the Fort Smith federal court in 1872, three years before Bass Reeves’ commission.

In the late 1870s, although Reeves was a deputy U.S. marshal, much of his work was as a posseman for other deputy U.S. marshals, including Robert J. Topping, James H. Mershon and Jacob T. Ayers. In December 1878, Reeves served as a guard at Fort Smith for the executions of a Black man named James Diggs and an Indian named James Postoak, both for murder. In May 1881, Reeves made his first trip to Detroit, Michigan, to the House of Corrections, along with five other deputies transporting 21 prisoners by train via St. Louis.

During his 32-year career as a deputy U.S. marshal, Bass Reeves logged thousands of miles on horseback pursuing, capturing and jailing fugitives across the Indian Territory, the future state of Oklahoma. He is seen here astride in Muskogee, Indian Territory, July 1889. Bass Reeves (circled) attended the celebration of the laying of the cornerstone for the first federal court building in Muskogee, Indian Territory, July 1889.

Reeves became known in the early 1880s for bringing prisoners back to the Fort Smith court in double digits. Deputies would work out of Fort Smith and venture into the Indian Territory with warrants and open warrants. They would travel with a crew, at least one posseman or more, a cook, a guard and one or two wagons with supplies. Bass would travel west to Fort Sill, north to Fort Reno and sometimes Fort Supply, picking up and arresting felons who broke federal law in the Indian Territory. The round trip would be approximately 400 miles and would take one or two months, depending on high water in the rivers and creeks. 

Reeves was an expert with pistol and rifle and could shoot ambidextrously. He was 6’2” tall and extraordinarily strong. The residents of the territory said he could whip any two men with his fist. Research shows that he could shoot accurately with his Winchester rifle up to 500 yards or a quarter of mile, and he had several gunfights during which he shot felons at that distance.

Court Bailiff George Winston of the Fort Smith, Arkansas, federal court, served with Judge Parker for more than 20 years.
– Courtesy –

The following is just a short sampling of Reeves’ police work in the 1880s. The Fort Smith Elevator reported Reeves coming to town in August 1882 with 16 prisoners. The same news-paper reported Reeves in August 1883 bringing in 13 prisoners. The St. Louis Globe Democrat in February 1884 reported Reeves bringing in 12 prisoners to Fort Smith. The Fort Smith Elevator reported Reeves bringing in 12 prisoners in April 1884. The Arkansas Gazette in September 1884 re-ported Reeves brought 15 prisoners to Fort Smith. The same newspaper in March of 1885 reported Reeves bringing in 13 prisoners. The St. Louis Globe Democrat in October 1885 reported that Reeves had arrested 17 felons in the Indian Territory and brought them to Fort Smith.

Reeves’ greatest gunfight was in 1884. He tried to apprehend the fugitive Jim Webb, who had been foreman on the Billy Washington Ranch in the Chickasaw Nation. Webb had earlier killed a Black farmer who accidently burned some grazing land on the Washington Ranch. Reeves and Webb had a gunfight in June 1884 near Bywater’s Store, which was a stagecoach stop. Reeves shot Webb with his Winchester at 500 yards after Webb narrowly missed him several times.

Bass Reeves at the age of 67 in Muskogee on the first day of Oklahoma statehood, November 16, 1907.

Tragically, Reeves accidentally shot his cook on one of his trips into the Indian Territory in 1884. He was brought up on first-degree murder charges in January 1886 and relieved of duty. Reeves was arrested and lodged in the Fort Smith federal jail until he could make bond in June of that year. At his trial in October 1887, Reeves was found innocent. He went back to work as one of the deputies of the Western District of Arkansas at Fort Smith under Judge Isaac C. Parker. Ironically, Reeves was brought up on first-degree murder charges, not manslaughter or criminal negligence, after a new U.S. marshal was hired, the first former Confederate officer Reeves would work for.

Black members of the Muskogee Police Department in 1908, include Bass Reeves with a cane, R.C. Cotton, Paul Smith and Frank Reed.

Research shows that Reeves stayed in Fort Smith until 1893. During that era, he made one of his top arrests with the capture of the Seminole Indian fugitive known as Greenleaf in April 1890. Greenleaf had been on the run for 18 years and had murdered three white men and four Indians and had never been arrested. After his capture by Reeves, residents came from as far as 20 miles to see that Greenleaf was in handcuffs before they took him to Fort Smith. Later in November 1890, Bass and his posse raided the home of the legendary Cherokee Ned Christie, who was wanted for murdering a deputy U.S. marshal. It was later proven that Ned was not guilty of the crime. When Reeves located the cabin of Christie in the Cherokee Nation, his posse burned it down, but Ned escaped capture and death. Later, he was killed by a large federal posse in 1892, never to prove his innocence. Bass Reeves said the largest haul he made while working for the Fort Smith court was bringing in 19 horse thieves from the Fort Sill area.

When tracking criminals across the Indian Territory, Bass Reeves regularly received assistance from local tribal police, including the Choctaw Lighthorse Policemen, circa 1885.
– Courtesy –

In 1893, Bass Reeves was transferred to the Eastern District federal court at Paris, Texas. This court at that time had jurisdiction over most of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Reeves was headquartered at Calvin in the Choctaw Nation and carried many of his prisoners to the federal commissioner at Pauls Valley in the Chickasaw Nation. Reeves remained with this federal district until 1897, when he was transferred to the new Northern District of Indian Territory at Muskogee. At Muskogee, Reeves worked under Leo E. Bennett, the former Indian agent for the Five Civilized Tribes, headquartered at the same town. The Northern District was made up of the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Nations. The Creek Nation had a heavy African Indian population, as did the Seminole Nation. Muskogee was the principal town in the Indian Territory and had a large African American population with many federal offices in town. Muskogee was unique with two Black business districts that were thoroughly integrated and catered to the diverse population in the frontier town.

Bass Reeves’s son, Bennie, was arrested by Bass for domestic murder in Muskogee in 1902.

After 1900, Muskogee had city police, with two deputy U.S. marshals stationed there, Bass Reeves and a white man David Adams. Adams served as Reeves’ posseman, and they were involved in numerous police actions together in and around Muskogee. In May 1902, Reeves and Adams went to the town of Braggs, Cherokee Nation, to quell racial strife. They arrested, without incident 15 white men and eight Black men and brought them to the federal jail in Muskogee. Later, Reeves was made the principal lawman for the large African American community in Muskogee, and he had several Black assistants in that role. After 1905, Reeves did not arrest as many white felons as he had earlier in his career, due to the large influx of white settlers into the territory and racial attitudes shifting.

Deputy U.S. Marshals, Fort Smith Federal Court, circa 1890

On November 17, 1907, Indian Territory became the new state of Oklahoma. The U.S. Marshals office in Muskogee was downsized, and Reeves found himself out of work. Reeves was now 69 years old, the only deputy U.S. marshal I have found that started with Judge Parker’s regime in 1875 and worked up to Oklahoma statehood in 1907. Reeves’ unemployment did not last long because, at the start of the new year in 1908, he was hired as a Muskogee city policeman and given a beat downtown. He liked to brag that there was never any crime reported on his beat.

Judge Isaac C. Parker was only 36 when he was appointed to the federal bench in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1875. Bass Reeves was one of the first men he hired as a deputy U.S. marshal.
– Courtesy –

Reeves died in Muskogee on January 12, 1910, after a short illness. He is believed to be buried in a small cemetery on Fern Mountain Road west of town. Reeves was interviewed in 1902, and at that time he stated that he had arrested over 3,000 men and women who broke federal law in the Indian Territory. At his death, several newspapers, in and out of state, stated he had killed more than 20 men in the line of duty. Bass Reeves was indeed the Invincible Marshal. 

During his 32 years with the U.S. marshal service, Reeves worked with all races, including Fort Smith-based lawman Deputy U.S. Marshal Simon Flood.
– Courtesy –

Art T. Burton, a retired college history professor, has written four critically acclaimed history books on the American Western frontier. He is a member of Western Writers of America and the Chicago Westerners Corral, and was made an honorary territorial marshal by Oklahoma Governor David Walters.

Cherokee Bill

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – you can check out the original post here.

True West December 2020 Art T. Burton

cherokee bill indian territory outlaw true west magazine
Cherokee Bill, the most famous outlaw of the Indian Territory, stood for his portrait for a Fort Smith newspaper just before his execution on March 17, 1896. His execution made newspaper headlines across the country, including the March 18, 1896, Leavenworth Times.
– Photo of Cherokee Bill Courtesy True West Archives –

Cherokee Bill can be compared to John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd of the 1930s. Like these men, he garnered national press for his exploits; the well-known New York Times had a running commentary on his actions and deeds in the Indian Territory. Cherokee Bill was every bit as colorful and outrageous as any criminal on the Western frontier, perhaps even more so. There were a few things about him that made him truly unique for a famous desperado of the purple sage. First and foremost, he was an African American living in the Indian Territory. He was also a Native American, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation as an Indian Freedman from his mother’s lineage. Compare Cherokee Bill to Billy the Kid of New Mexico Territory fame. Although both outlaws received national media attention for their crimes while they were living, Billy the Kid was remembered and immortalized in books and films in the 20th century, but this did not occur for Cherokee Bill.

The boldest and most brazen robbery by Cherokee Bill and the Cook gang occurred on Monday morning, July 30, 1894, when the gang robbed the Lincoln County Bank in Chandler, Oklahoma Territory. Chandler was the county seat of Lincoln County; a few years later, the famous Dodge City, Kansas, lawman Bill Tilghman would become sheriff of Lincoln County.

At about ten o’clock on that July morning, five heavily armed cowboys rode into town from the northeast, coming down Manvel Avenue to 7th Street, where they turned and went to the alley. They rode behind Fletcher’s Hardware Store and stopped at the rear of the Lincoln County Bank, where they dismounted….

crawford goldsby cherokee bill true west magazine
Cowboy outlaw Crawford Goldsby, aka Cherokee Bill, was very dedicated and loyal to his mother, Mrs. Ellen Lynch, who was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Goldsby’s father was a member of Troop H, 10th Cavalry Regiment, a famous Buffalo Soldiers unit. The future outlaw was born at Fort Concho, Texas, on February 8, 1876.
– Courtesy Author’s Collection –

The Guthrie Daily Leader earlier on August 1, 1894, carried a front-page story that said:


Sheriff Parker and Posse Give Chase. A Terrific Battle and as Outlaw Brought Town – Now Safe Behind the Bars. A Mere Boy is He but the Others are Old Timers – Latest Job of the Notorious Cook Gang.

Special to the Leader.

Chandler, Ok., July 31. – The quiet and serenity of this little city was rudely disturbed yesterday morning by a bold bank robbery. About 9 o’clock, five horsemen dressed as typical cowboys and heavily armed, rode into town from the north along the street east of the court house, and turning down the alley back of Fletcher’s hardware store, proceeded to the rear of the Lincoln County Bank where they dismounted.

One of the men held the horses while two entered the building from the rear and one from the front entrance simultaneously, while another remained on the guard on the outside.

Mr. Harvey Kee, president of the bank, was at the teller’s window, when one of the men stepped up and presenting a Winchester said, “Say, you d— s— of a b—, shell out your cash, and be d—d quick about it too.” At the same time, noticing O. B. Kee, the cashier, at the books, he ordered his pal to attend to him.

The third bandit then went to a room in back of bank building where F.B. Hoyt lay very sick, and compelled him to get up to open the safe. Hoyt came in at the point of a Winchester and made an effort to open the safe but was so nervous that he did not succeed, although being roundly cursed for his delay and having a Winchester snapped in his face once or twice.

About this time, shooting commenced on the outside which so excited the bandits on the inside that they grabbed up what money they could find on the top of the counter, (about $300) and skipped out. They could have got two thousand dollars by pulling out the tellers draw just below. As they were leaving, one of the fellows jerked off O. B. Kee’s watch and put it into his pocket.

On the opposite corner from the Lincoln County Bank, J. B. Mitchell has been conducting a barber shop. He was sitting out in front of his shop, and noticing the movements of the bandits called out “the Dalton gang in town,” and got up and started to go into his shop, when the fellow in front of the bank, called to him to “shut up and sit down.” He did not heed the admonition however, and started to go into his shop, when the bandit shot killing him instantly, the bullet entering on his right side, between the fourth and fifth ribs and piercing his body.

By this time there was a general fusillade between bandits and citizens, fully 100 shots being fired. As the robbers were mounting to ride off, N. W. Warren, a deputy U.S. marshal killed one of their horses, (since ascertained to be Bill Cook’s) but the owner got up behind one of the others and all rode off in the same direction from whence they came – the Creek country.

Sheriff Parker immediately organized a posse and started in pursuit. At the edge of town another one of their horses was killed. They overtook an old German in a cart, took his horse out of the cart and rode on. They also made old man Pollard dismount and appropriated his horse also. The sheriff and posse came up on them near Chuck-a-hoe on section 36, 15-4, and a hundred or more shots were fired. One of the bandits were shot and taken prisoner. The others scattered through the woods and were lost track of. The sheriff and posse feeling that they had achieved enough glory for one day returned home. The prisoner captured is a young boy of the typical cowboy order, aged about 21 years. He gives his name as Elmer Lucas. He is shot through the hips the ball going through his body, making a painful and ugly, but not seriously fatal wound. He gives the names of the band of outlaws: Bill Cook, Tom Cook, Jack Starr or Cherokee Bill (a Cherokee Indian) and the prisoner. He says they are known as the Cook gang and that he joined them at the…ranch in the Creek nation only last Monday.

J. B. Stewart , the liveryman says that he remembers that the horse that was killed, was put up at his stable last Friday. It is evident that they were posted, because they knew exactly how to get into the rear of the Lincoln county bank. One of the gang was seen in the rear of Hoffman, Charles & Conklin’s bank about an hour before the hold-up. A number remember the fellows loafing around last night, (Sunday) and this morning one of them purchased two or three bottles of whiskey at Reeve’s saloon.

Mr. Mitchell, the gentleman shot, was a quiet, unoffensive citizen aged fifty-three years. He leaves a wife and two daughters in straightened circumstances. The people are very much worked up over the affair and are in favor of meting out summary justice to all the gang should they be captured, but as they made directly for their haunts in the Creek country, and are now safely hiding in the canyons and caves of that section there is little hope of capturing them.

lawman eli hickman bruner true west magazine
Cherokee lawman Eli Hickman “Heck” Bruner was one of many lauded man trackers who failed to capture or kill Cherokee Bill. Before the hangman dropped the Indian outlaw to his death, Bruner had one last chance in the cellblock shootout after Bill broke out from his cell and killed guard Lawrence Keating. – Courtesy Author’s Collection –

Cherokee Bill was one of the two outlaws out in front of the bank. When J.B. Mitchell started screaming about the bank being held up, Cherokee Bill called to him to shut up. When Mitchell tried to stand up from his chair, Cherokee Bill leveled his Winchester rifle and shot the barber at a distance of about 200 yards. Mitchell staggered a few feet and fell to the sidewalk near the corner of the barber shop. Mitchell died within minutes of being shot; he was 53 years old and left a wife and two young children.

When the outlaws came out of the bank, they fired their guns wildly in all directions. N.W. Warren, a county deputy sheriff, shot Bill Cook’s horse, and then Cook mounted up behind one of his gang. The gang was vigorously pursued by a posse put together by Sheriff Claude Parker, and a gunfight took place in some timber east of town. The August 3, 1894, Edmond Sun Democrat said the gun battle lasted for 15 minutes and over two hundred shots were exchanged. One of the gang, Elmer Lucas, was wounded and captured by the posse. The rest of the gang was able to escape into the hills. Lucas was taken back to Chandler, but due to anger over the death of Mitchell and calls for a lynching, he was transported to the federal jail at Guthrie, capital of the Oklahoma Territory. While he was in custody, Lucas named the other members of the gang. According to him they were Cherokee Bill, Bill Cook, Henry Munson, Jack Starr, Tulsa Jack and Lon Gordon. Under interrogation, Lucas also confessed to his involvement in the train robbery at Red Rock. Later, he was transferred to the federal jail at Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he was indicted for the train robbery and recovered from his wounds.

lawrence keating true west magazine
In the early evening of July 26, 1895, Fort Smith federal jail turnkey Campbell Eoff and guard Lawrence Keating (left) were locking jail cells on Murderer’s Row when Cherokee Bill, in an escape plan coordinated with fellow death row inmates, overwhelmed Keating and killed him with a contraband .38.

On July 31, Deputy U.S. Marshal Scott Huffvine, an Indian resident of Kellyville, got information that the Cook gang was going to meet on Polecat Creek in the Creek Nation. To be able to locate the gang, Huffvine got the most famous tracker in the Indian Territory to assist him. Tiger Jack, an Euchee Indian, a tribe closely aligned with the Creek Indians, had worked with quite a few deputy U.S. marshals, including Heck Thomas, in tracking down desperadoes. Tiger Jack picked up the trail of the gang, but they were too late, and the gang got away.

On August 9, Deputy U.S. Marshals Jesse Allen and Thompson Pickett—who were also Euchee Indians and members of the Creek Lighthorse Police—located the Cook gang with the aid of an Indian posse. Allen and Pickett had been hunting the Cook gang since the Red Fork robbery. The gang had been hiding out 14 miles west of Sapulpa, Creek Nation, in the home of Bill Province, the uncle of Henry Munson. It was 8 a.m. and the gang was outside the home washing up when the posse, about a dozen strong, came in with guns blazing. A desperate gun battle ensued resulting in about 40 shots fired between the parties. Henry Munson was killed; Lon Gordon was severely wounded; Curtis Dayson was captured; and one Indian policeman was wounded. Cherokee Bill, Bill Cook, Thurman Baldwin and Buck Snyder were able to escape a close call. Gordon later died from injuries—gunshots to the head and lungs—after being taken to Sapulpa.

Cherokee Bill was said to have had irresistible charm and a sweetheart in nearly every section of the territory. Cherokee Bill was often protected from harm by loyal friends and a violent reputation. Lawmen who pursued him, hearing of his deadly rifle accuracy and fast six-shooter action, kept a safe distance and many times avoided engaging him in battle. Because he was on good terms with Cherokees, Creeks and Seminoles, he moved easily through their villages and lands, something his pursuers could not do.

cherokee bill true west magazine
After his capture on Ike Rogers’ farm outside Nowata, Indian Territory, on January 30, 1895, Cherokee Bill was taken by wagon to Nowata, where he was chained in a boxcar for transport to Fort Smith, Arkansas. On a stop en route in Wagoner on the Creek Nation, Bill was taken off the train, where he famously posed with his captors. – E.D. MacFee, Courtesy USMS Collections –

From the time Cherokee Bill joined the Cook brothers, he acted as though he was destined to die in two years and wanted to kill as many men as he could. Some of the fugitives who allied themselves to the Cook Gang that summer of 1894 were killed in desperate fights with deputy U.S. marshals; others were captured, convicted and given penitentiary sentences.


Cherokee Bill was executed for crimes committed in the Indian Territory at the federal jail at Fort Smith, Arkansas, on March 17, 1896.

cherokee bill hanged true west magazine
An artist’s rendering of notorious outlaw Cherokee Bill’s final moments before his execution accompanied sensational news reports of his demise. – Courtesy Library of Congress –

Cherokee Bill’s family took his body to Fort Gibson where a wake and funeral were held in the old military commissary building. He was buried in the Cherokee National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, later named the Citizens Cemetery of Fort Gibson, not far from companions Jim French and the Verdigris Kid. Some of the most important Cherokee citizens in Indian Territory history are buried in this cemetery, along with Cherokee Bill, his mother and siblings. In the 1990s, a headstone was placed on their gravesite with incorrect dates for the children. It listed Cherokee Bill as the youngest.

The saga of Cherokee Bill comes to a close, but the outlaw legend from eastern Oklahoma lives on. He was like a shooting star that shines real bright for a short period but then quickly flames out. If Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, Billy the Kid and the Daltons can be celebrated as American outlaws, there is no reason we cannot also celebrate the dashing firebrand Crawford Goldsby known as “Cherokee Bill.” What is known is that Cherokee Bill’s outlaw legacy remains forever in the annals of frontier Oklahoma history.

judge isaac parker true west magazine
Judge Isaac Parker (above) sentenced Cherokee Bill to hang twice: First, on April 13, 1895, for the murder of Lenapah, Cherokee Nation, citizen Ernest Melton, and second, on September 10, 1895, for the killing of federal guard Lawrence Keating.

Virgil Returns

thanks to True West Magazine for this content – the original post can be found here

Virgil Returns

True West October 2020 Ron Williams

Virgil Earp.

In 1895, Virgil and Allie returned to Prescott, Arizona Territory, after living in Colton, California, and spending time in Colorado. Prescott had always been Allie’s favorite place.

Soon after their arrival, Virgil partnered with W.H. Harlon in a lease of the Grizzly Mine, in the Hassayampa District of the Bradshaw Mountains. The two men took to gold mining in earnest, despite Virgil having the use of only one arm since he was nearly killed in Tombstone in December 1881. Tragedy struck on November 7, 1896: While both men were working the mine, a cave-in occurred. Virgil was pinned by the debris and knocked unconscious for several hours. When he came to, Virgil discovered he had dislocated his right hip, and both his feet and ankles were badly crushed. He also suffered serious cuts on his head and bruises all about his body. The injuries took a toll on his already battered body, and it would take several months for him to recover.

Prescott was no longer the Territorial Capital of Arizona when Virgil and Allie Earp returned to the Yavapai County city in 1895, but it was the economic hub of mining and ranching in central Arizona.
– Courtesy Nancy Burgess –

In the spring of 1900, Virgil and Allie left Prescott proper and headed 25 miles southwest, to the Kirkland Valley region of Yavapai County. Virgil had applied for, and been granted, 160 acres there under the Soldier’s & Sailor’s Act as a Civil War veteran. He and Allie built a small house on their land and raised cattle, but they regularly traveled up the mountain to visit Prescott.

Later that year, in the fall of 1900, Vigil received the Republican nomination for Yavapai County sheriff at Prescott. While he must have been honored to have been nominated to that esteemed office, he quickly declined the nomination. Perhaps his numerous injuries—both in Tombstone and there in Prescott—persuaded him that he was not up to the demands of being sheriff. Perhaps he was just politically astute enough to know that he probably wouldn’t defeat Democrat incumbent Sheriff John Munds. Either way, Virgil de-clined the nomination. The Yavapai County Republican Party did not seek a replacement nomination, and Sheriff Munds was reelected.

Virgil ranched the Kirkland Valley for three years. In 1903, he sold his holdings to the neighboring Rigden family and left Arizona for good.

While living in Prescott, Virgil received a letter from his long lost daughter, Nellie, who was married with children in Portland, Oregon. Virgil soon thereafter went to see Nellie and met his two granddaughters (above) as well as three other grandchildren.
– Photo courtesy of Jim Earle –

In 1904, he settled in Goldfield, Nevada, where he became an Esmeralda County deputy sheriff. Virgil contracted pneumonia in the spring of 1905 and never recovered. He died at the age of 62 on October 19, 1905. His last words to Allie were, “Light my cigar, and stay here and hold my hand.”

At his daughter’s request, Virgil’s body was transported to Portland, Oregon, and buried at River View Cemetery. Allie would live another 42 years in San Bernardino with Virgil’s family. She died at the age of 99 in 1947.

Constable Ron Williams is a 26-year law-enforcement officer and amateur historian. He is proud to hold the same elected office as Virgil Earp. Williams has given lectures across Arizona on Virgil Earp and constable history.

Western Art in Pandemics

Thank you to True West Magazine for this content – the original post can be found here

Western Art in Pandemics, Then and Now

True West October 2020 Johnny D. Boggs

when ropes go wrong true west magazine
Visitors to Wyoming’s Big Horn Country will discover many of their favorite places open for business during the pandemic, albeit with some restrictions, including The Brinton Museum, which is offering free admission through 2020. Charles M. Russell’s When Ropes Go Wrong is just one of the classic pieces of Western art that can be enjoyed on a tour of The Brinton.
– Courtesy The Brinton Museum –

The time: November 1918 to January 1919 during the Spanish influenza pandemic. The place: Great Falls, Montana. The artist: Charles M. Russell. The cost: An estimated 675,000 American lives and at least 50 million across the world.

Today, COVID-19 has put the American West art world in a new nightmare.

headdress true west magazine
The Blackhawk Museum of Danville, California, is open for business and has an extensive exhibition space dedicated to the history and culture of the American West, including a major display of American Indian artisanship, such as the Sioux war bonnet featured in the Spirit of the Old West Gallery. – Courtesy Blackhawk Museum –

The pandemic has gotten so bad, the board of health orders “Theaters, churches, schools, dance halls, pool halls and card rooms” closed. “Public gatherings are also prohibited.” Two months later, a local artist (in need of an editor) writes a friend:

“… this old sickness surlenly trimmed this camp hers prufe enough I just sold a picture to an undertaker”

The time: November 1918 to January 1919 during the Spanish influenza pandemic. The place: Great Falls, Montana. The artist: Charles M. Russell. The cost: An estimated 675,000 American lives and at least 50 million across the world.

Today, COVID-19 has put the American West art world in a new nightmare.

Western art by Sedona, Arizona, cowboy artist James Darum celebrates the Old West’s heritage with a twist of humor and whimsy, as illustrated by his acrylic painting, The Sheriff. – Courtesy James Darum –

Western art galleries have focused on online marketing, but selling art online is difficult.

“There is a generation gap opening up between younger collectors, who are more comfortable purchasing art online and our older clientele, who are not,” says Maria Hajic, director of the Department of Naturalism and Contemporary Western Art at Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “It is the latter group that has supported and sustained the Western art market for decades. …I still believe the art business is about personal connections, but that is changing.”

western art true west magazine
Arizona artist Sherry Blanchard Stuart has continued to paint, market and sell her Western art through the pandemic. Stuart’s art celebrates the Old West, cowboys and American Indian culture, as is evident in her classic Friendly Encounter.
– Courtesy Sherry Blanchard Stuart –

Western artist Robert Pace Kidd, who splits his time between California and Mexico, headed to the Baja coast in February ahead of pandemic-forced safety measures. “I’ve been busy making art,” he says. “Selling’s a whole different matter.”

“I don’t know if anything’s going to pick back up until there’s a true vaccine,” Comanche artist Nocona Burgess says.

legacy gallery old town scottsdale true west magazine
Visitors to Old Town Scottdale’s Cowboy Legacy Gallery Arizona will discover the gallery open for business offering for sale one of the finest selections of Western collectibles, memorabilia, antiques and modern artisan classics in the United States. – Courtesy Cowboy Legacy Gallery –

Laura Foster, director/curator of the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York, flew to Spain in February to care for her sick mother. By the time her mother was well enough to travel, coronavirus-stricken Spain had rigorously locked down. Foster, interviewed by telephone in June, hoped to return to the museum by July. “When I left, I was the only person abandoning their physical location for non-COVID reasons,” she says, “and then everyone else joined me with the physical distancing.”

Even those writing about art have been hit. “The closing of museums and libraries during the current pandemic has certainly slowed research on Western art,” says B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma, who provided this article’s Spanish flu information regarding Great Falls and Russell.

Arizona artist Sherry Blanchard Stuart has continued to paint, market and sell her Western art through the pandemic. Stuart’s art celebrates the Old West, cowboys and American Indian culture, as is evident in her classic Friendly Encounter. – Courtesy Sherry Blanchard Stuart –

When this pandemic ends remains uncertain—as does what the post-COVID Western art world will be.

“Unfortunately, there may be a thinning out of galleries, some museums and even publications if the COVID pandemic persists longer than early 2021,” says Mark Sublette, president of Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson, Arizona.

The J. Watson Fine Art Gallery of Van Nuys, California, has remained open for business during the pandemic and offers a broad selection of Western art for sale through its website, including artist Frank McCarthy’s oil painting The Chief. – Courtesy J. Watson Fine Art –

Art museums must also figure out what to do with scheduled exhibits that never opened, or were rarely seen, because of COVID-19 restrictions. Will exhibits be rescheduled? Canceled? The Frederic Remington Art Museum loaned art for “Natural Forces: Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington,” which was scheduled to open at the Denver Art Museum in March and travel to the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. “We expect to announce that we are extending the loan to allow the tour to continue,” Foster says, then adds: “Nothing really can be answered until the pandemic ends.”

Online presences will be a must, insiders predict, for post-pandemic galleries, museums and artists.

“The days of merely waiting for clients to walk through the door to make a sale have seen their heyday,” Sublette says. “There is no turning back the clock. The time is now.”

Just like it was in 1918-1919. When the Spanish flu and World War I forced the Great Northern Railroad to withdraw a $5,800 commission, artist Maynard Dixon told friend Charles Lummis that he wasn’t certain he’d keep painting.

“Dixon was deeply depressed,” says Sublette, author of Maynard Dixon’s American West: Along the Distant Mesa. “Lummis wrote Dixon back with words of encouragement, and Dixon was able to move forward. He did the illustrations for that year’s Bohemian Grove, which I’m sure gave him great solace. …The takeaway is Dixon’s painting career improved dramatically soon after the pandemic resolved, and he painted some of his best paintings over the next 20 years.

maynard dixon art true west magazine
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to closures or limited operating hours at many of America’s museums, including Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Because of its closure, Western Spirit has extended “Maynard Dixon’s American West” to August 3, 2021. One of the major pieces on loan from the Booth Western Art Museum is Dixon’s mural-size masterpiece, Red Butte with Mountain Men, 1935, a 95-x-213-inch oil on canvas. – Courtesy Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, Georgia –

“Hopefully, we as a country can look back at Dixon’s ordeal and realize we, too, will have better days again.”

Long before COVID, Burgess reminds us, Comanches and other Indian tribes dealt with smallpox pandemics. “At first, the treatment was to sweat it out in a sweat lodge and then jump into cold water––absolutely the worst thing you could do.” Eventually, the Comanches and other tribes learned the best preventative. “Social distancing,” Burgess says. “They built separate camps for the sick.” A form of art came from smallpox, too. “Those red dresses you see decorated with white shells,” he says, “were worn by smallpox survivors.”

Kidd believes that just as Western artists came through the Spanish flu, World War I, the Great Depression and other wars, disasters and outbreaks, today’s Western artists will do the same.

“Artists,” he says, “seem to find a way.”

A Thousand Texas Longhorns, a novel by Johnny D. Boggs about Nelson Story’s 1866 cattle drive to Montana, is being published by Pinnacle this year.

Phantom of the Desert

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – the original post can be found here

True West September 2020 TW Editors

The undated mug shot is considered the most authentic image of the Army scout-turned-outlaw.
– True West Archives –

“The Kid was a dark folk hero, a celebrated outlaw. He was at large in Mexico, living off the land, raiding when he felt like it. It was the Old Apache way.”

Neil Goodwin, as quoted by Paul Andrew Hutton
in The Apache Wars

As lawmen, historians and treasure-hunters have chased the spectral life of the Apache Kid from Mexico’s Sierra Madre to the U.S. National Archives the past 130 years, the elusive outlaw and former Army scout’s life story has grown in reputation and notoriety. Many of the details of his final years living in Mexico and raiding in Arizona remain unknown, although his final days and demise, according to Lynda A. Sánchez in her February 2019 True West article, “The Final Nail in the Apache Kid’s Coffin,” took place in November 1900 in a fight with Mormon settlers in Chihuahua, Mexico.

One of the items that historians have used to possibly identify The Kid was a pair of “French” field glasses, which he famously was known to carry. An Apache scout wearing a set of field glasses was identified as the Apache Kid by C.S. Fly or Mollie Fly on the reverse of a photograph taken in Sonora, Mexico, prior to Geronimo’s surrender in March 1886. As historian Phyllis de la Garza says in her biography The Apache Kid “…at some point in his scouting career Kid began carrying binoculars on a long shoulder strap.”

The Apache Kid had served as an Army scout before becoming the most sought-after renegade outlaw in Arizona Territory in the 1880s and 1890s. The verso of the cabinet card, once held in the Robert G. McCubbin Collection, has written in ink: “Scene near Geronimos camp before the surrender. Sonora Mexico.” Stamped on verso: “Fly’s Gallery / Tombstone, Ariz. / C.S. Fly Proprietor. Slim Jim, Apache Kid.” The March 1886 C.S. Fly photo of the Kid is blown up from the original and clearly shows the scout wearing a pair of “French” field glasses, which historians point to as a key personal effect in identifying the scout-renegade. Alternatively, Kid historian Phyllis de la Garza believes that the Kid was joined in the photo by fellow Apache Scouts Massai and Rowdy. The author of the notes on the photo is unknown.
– True West Archives –

Searching for and correctly identifying images of rarely photographed Old West men and women through closely kept personal possessions can be a key factor in determining provenance for Western historians and photographers. This is also why historians have for decades debated the exact number of existing photos of the Apache Kid and have sought to identify new and confirmed photographs of the elusive outlaw.

So how many actual photos of the Apache Kid exist?

First, historians generally agree that there are at least two known photographs of Kid: a prison mug shot printed on a cabinet card and a group shot of prisoners known famously as “Apache Kid and His Red Devils in 1882 [sic] Kid is 2nd from right standing.”

Second, historians, referencing the verso annotation on the aforementioned C.S. Fly photo of Kid and two other Apache scouts standing amid wickiups in Sonora (Three Shot of Apache Men Near Geronimo’s Camp), have identified one cropped photo—with Kid in the shot—and two other photos of Apache scouts Fly took while accompanying Gen. George Crook in March 1886. An Apache scout with binoculars, the well-known possession of the Apache Kid, is pictured.

The sixth photo in question is a rare October/November 1889 image of five incarcerated prisoners at the Gila County Courthouse in Globe, Arizona Territory. The Apache Wars author Paul Andrew Hutton owns the photograph, which he published in his book, with the confidence that Western historian John Langellier had correctly identified the Apache Kid as one of the five men in the photo.

Does this photo contain an image of the Apache Kid? Comparing it to the other two C.S. Fly photos, may show that the scout is holding his rifle and wearing his binoculars while standing in the middle with the fellow Apache scouts—possibly Slim Jim or Massai to the right—seen in two other March 1886 C.S. Fly photos.
– Courtesy Abe Hays Collection –

A seventh image, an Arizona courtroom photograph of 11 men, possibly taken during or after Kid’s October-November 1889 trial in Globe, may include the Apache outlaw, according to Kid historian de la Garza. The image, published in Dean Smith’s Arizona Highways Album; The Road to Statehood 1912 (Phoenix, Arizona: Arizona Highways, 1987), is credited to the McLaughlin Collection, the once-famous photo library of Phoenix photographers Herb and Dorothy McLaughlin. I worked with Dorothy when I was a member of the Arizona Highways staff in the 1990s. She and her late-husband had a catalog of 100,000 historical and modern images that is now curated by Arizona State University’s Greater Arizona Archives department.

C.S. Fly made this photo of posed Apache scouts and Army soldiers while accompanying General Crook in March 1886. According to historian Phyllis de la Garza, Apache scout Massai sits upper left with a rifle across his knees; Rowdy can be seen in the back right sitting on the rock outcropping next to the soldier; and the Apache Kid leans against the rock in the lower right. If the annotation on the back of the photo labeled Three Shot of Apache Men Near Geronimo’s Camp is correct, the scout on the left is Slim Jim and the Apache scout in the back on the right remains unknown.
– True West Archives –

An eighth possible image of Kid, which True West published in July 2019 as an illustration in Frank W. Puncer’s article, “Edgar Rice Burroughs Hunted the Apache Kid,” has been at the center of swirling controversy since its publication.

In our final review before publication, we received an email, supported by three veteran Southwestern historians, that the Kid (on the right end, wearing a campaign hat) was one of the 12 Apache scouts photographed on the parade grounds at an unnamed fort in New Mexico Territory in 1881. Little did we know the reaction the photo would receive from our readers, including biographer Phyllis de la Garza and Western historian and frontier Army uniform and weapon expert, John Langellier.

In the July 2019 issue of True West, the scout wearing the hat on the far right was identified as the Apache Kid. According to Western frontier military historian John Langellier, it cannot be the Apache Kid for two reasons: one, the photo was taken at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, not Fort Wingate, New Mexico Territory; and second, the leggings the Apache scout is wearing were not available to soldiers until late June 1887, well after the Apache Kid had become a fugitive.
– True West Archives –

Langellier, who writes True West’s “Collecting the West” column, wrote us and stated emphatically that the photo was “taken sometime after 1885, given that the new five-button blouse and the canvas leggings worn by a few of the scouts were not issued before that time. Also, the figure on the far right appears to be Cut Mouth Mose, and to his right, the Yavapai Medal of Honor recipient, Rowdy.”

According to historian Phyllis de la Garza, this photo from the McLaughlin Collection, showing Indian prisoners in an Arizona Territorial courthouse, was taken in Globe in late October 1889, the week the Kid was tried, convicted and sentenced to Yuma Territorial Prison for the attempted murder of Al Sieber. She believes the Apache Kid is the second man from the left in the back row.
– True West Archives –

To Langellier’s response de la Garza answered:

“As for Kid, I am quite positive that is him in the scout lineup. He was 1st sergeant of the scouts and they always stood at the right side in photos. He was tall, and regularly dressed in white man’s garb, etc. Unless he has a definite photo of a scout named Cut Mouth Mose to compare with the Kid’s pictures, I will not believe this is anybody but Kid.”

De la Garza’s answer elicited this detailed response from Dr. Langellier:

“I highly respect Ms. de la Garza, but the photo from NARA has been misidentified as Fort Wingate by many authors, when it is, in fact, Fort Apache. I have included the correct citation from NARA’s Signal Corps collection (Apache FtApache, NARA No. 1892111SC87797) as well as an AHS image of Rowdy seated with his Medal of Honor and Cut Mouth Mose (who variously served as a sergeant and first sergeant during his enlistments) standing to Rowdy’s left. This was after Rowdy had been awarded the Medal of Honor for pursuit of the Apache Kid’s followers under James Watson and Powhatan Clarke of the 10th Cavalry, which, as you know, is the topic of my newest book.

“There is also another issue. The man identified as the Kid wears regulation leggings which were adopted in April 22, 1887, and not procured and available for purchase by soldiers until many months later (no earlier than late June), making it impossible for the Kid to wear these. As Ms. de la Garza knows, the incident that ended the Kid’s days as a scout took place in May of 1887, and by June he was standing court martial. Thus, he could not appear in a photo with other scouts wearing this specific pattern of leggings which I discuss in More Army Blue, based on original U.S. Army quartermaster records.”

In The Apache Wars, author Paul Andrew Hutton, a University of New Mexico professor, published a rare photo of five prisoners in Globe, Arizona Territory. According to historian John Langellier, the Apache Kid is in the rear on the right, wearing a neckerchief.
– Courtesy Paul Andrew Hutton –

“Apache Kid and His Red Devils”

The prisoners were photographed prior to their bold escape.

After a group of Apache defendants was found guilty in a Gila County district courtroom on October 30, 1889, they were photographed in Globe (above) before they departed by stagecoach for the Yuma Territorial Prison on November 1. Note that the Apache Kid (standing, second from right) is still wearing his brass reservation tag on his left breast pocket, as well as the incorrect date and caption ribbon attached to the photo many years after the fact. When the Apaches got out of the stage near Ripsey Wash, Bach-e-on-al (front row, center, indicted under the name Pash-ten-tah) allegedly slipped free of his handcuffs. He and El-cahn (standing, far left) overpowered Gila County Sheriff Glenn Reynolds as another two Apaches attack hired guard William “Hunkydory” Holmes, who reportedly died of a heart attack before being shot. Hos-cal-te and Sayes (standing, second and third from left) were later recaptured and died in prison. Not shown in the photograph is prisoner Jesus Avott, sentenced to one year in prison for selling a friend’s horse for $50.

– True West Archives –

Pocket Pistols

Thanks to True West Magazine for the content – the original post is here

The Plight of the Pocket Pistol

True West June 2020 Ken Amorosano

Manufactured by Henry Deringer, this .44 caliber is about 6 inches long with a 2 1/2 inch barrel and only weighs 8 ounces. John Wilkes Booth’s weapon was found on the floor of the State Box in Ford’s Theatre after Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. The original is located today in the basement museum of Ford’s Theatre.
– Photos Courtesy Library of Congress –

As the shadowy figure entered the darkness of the anteroom, he could hear actor Harry Hawk reciting his soliloquy on the theatrical stage below.  The man in black opened the door to the presidential box and found himself standing behind its four unsuspecting occupants.  Raising the single-shot pistol to his victim’s head, he pulled the trigger at point-blank range. In the ensuing chaos and brimming smoke from the black powder explosion, the perpetrator leapt from the balcony onto the stage so setting into motion one of the most bold and infamous assassinations in American history.

The single shot culprit, a .44 caliber pocket pistol known as the Deringer.  A pistol so small as to be easily concealed alongside the nine-inch dagger John Wilkes Booth used to fight his way out of the box and onto the stage, leaving behind a dying Abraham Lincoln as well as the iconic pocket pistol that would forever change the course of history.

Remington’s double-barreled derringer, also known as the Model 95, featured a two-shot, over and under design. An estimated 150,000 were produced between 1866 and 1935.

Pocket pistols have a storied history.  Primarily used as a concealed deterrent for protection in an age when most firearms of the pistol type were large and bulky, the pocket pistol evolved based on stealth and etched its way into American carnage in a multitude of ways.

The most iconic pocket pistol was the Philadelphia Deringer. Invented in 1852 by gunsmith Henry Deringer, this gun was a .41-caliber muzzle-loading percussion pistol that packed a punch.

Deringer never sought to patent his invention, which allowed the growing firearms industry to capitalize on his success. While some manufacturers simply stole his design, others intentionally misspelled the description of the concealable handgun as “derringers” to sidestep trademark infringement.

Bond Arms Roughneck, $269,

Prominent manufacturers like Colt and Remington produced their own derringer pistols in a range of calibers with the most successful being Remington’s double-barreled derringer, also known as the Model 95. It featured a two-shot, over and under design and an estimated 150,000 were produced between 1866
and 1935.

Although open carry was common practice on the range and in towns into the late 1800s, concealed carry was also popular, and the demand and desire for a capable, yet easy to hide, handgun created a burgeoning market for the creative gunsmiths of the day.

Many pocket pistols were simply smaller versions of standard revolvers that folks could carry in their pockets.  Excellent examples of these firearms include a variety manufactured by Colt.  The 1848 Baby Dragoon, 1849 Colt Pocket, and Wells Fargo Pocket brought big power into a smaller package, as did Colt’s 1860 Army Snub Nose and 1862 Police Pocket pistols.

Smith & Wesson’s 1878 Model 1½, was a favorite of gamblers, detectives, and ladies of the evening.

Another popular pocket-sized handgun was Smith & Wesson’s 1878 Model 1½, a favorite of gamblers, detectives, and ladies of the evening. This five-shot revolver was the first small-bore Smith & Wesson to use the star-type cylinder ejector, and its rebounding hammer design all but guaranteed safe carrying when the cylinder was fully loaded.

Like the Smith & Wesson Model 1½, Remington’s 1863 Pocket revolver was a cap and ball beauty with no trigger guard, a sleek profile, and a reputation of keeping card players and other gambling types honest.

Then there is the pepperbox. With a history that dates back to the 1500s, the pepperbox made its resurgence in the late 1800s becoming a favorite concealed-carry gun of lawmen, gamblers and those in need of a reliable backup.

Although easily concealed with multiple shots at the ready, the pepperbox did have its drawbacks, including the fact that it wasn’t very accurate. Mark Twain once said, “The safest place to be when facing a Pepperbox-wielding antagonist was standing directly in front of him.”

Remington’s 1863 Pocket revolver was a cap and ball beauty with no trigger guard, a sleek profile, and a reputation of keeping card players and other gambling types honest.

Perhaps some of the most unusual pocket pistols ever made were the Chicago Protector Palm Pistols. The design of these pistols was based on one patented by Jacques E. Turbiaux of Paris. Turbiaux described his pistol as a “revolver which may be held in the hand with no part exposed except the barrel.” The Protector was the size of a pocket watch and was engaged and fired by squeezing it with your hand.

Today, you can get your hands on replicas of most of these iconic pocket pistols from modern-day manufacturers Cimarron Firearms, Taylor’s & Co., EMF Company, Bond Arms, Ruger and Colt, as exhibited on these pages.

Pick your poison, then relish in the history of these pocket-sized powder kegs that continue to enthrall and entice gun aficionados of the 21st century.

Wells Fargo Detective James Hume, famed for tracking down California bandit Black Bart in 1883, carried this cut-off 1860 Colt .44 percussion revolver as a hideout gun.
– Courtesy Wells Fargo Bank Collection –
Taylor’s & Co. 1860 Army Snub Nose, $363,
Taylor’s & Co. 1863 1863 Pocket Remington Nickel Plated, $364,
Uberti 1849 Colt Pocket, $389,
Vintage Sharps & Hankins Civil War-era Four Shot Pepperbox Pistol. Mark Twain once said, “The safest place to be when facing a Pepperbox-wielding antagonist was standing directly in front of him.”
Cimarron 1862 Police Pocket, $402.14,
EMF Company 1851 Navy “Captain Schaeffer” .36 4” UI, $485,

Texas Rangers

Thank you to True West Magazine for this content – the original post is here


These five well-armed Texas Rangers and their dog are believed to have served under the leadership of legendary Ranger Captain Rip Ford in the Texas territory between the Rio Grande and Nueces River in 1850 and 1851. Most of their action was fighting the Comanches, including the capture of war chief Carne Muerta.
– Courtesy Heritage Auctions –

Nearly two centuries ago, Texas founding father Stephen F. Austin unofficially created the Texas Rangers to protect his fledgling colonists farming and ranching near the colony’s capital of Velasco, along the Brazos River near the Gulf Coast. Ever since Austin’s visionary call to arms in 1823, the Texas Rangers have been greatly admired, honored, respected—and feared—enforcers of the law. They have served in war and peace—on both sides of the border in the colony, republic and state. They fought in the Texas War of Independence, the Mexican and Civil wars and defended Texas against invasions from Mexico countless times. The Rangers’ hard-fought battles with their Mexican adversaries earned them the nickname “Los Diablos Tejanos”—“the Texas Devils.”

Since True West began publishing from Austin, Texas, in 1953, the history of the Texas Rangers—and the men who wore the badge and rode the Texas range in defense of the Lone Star State—has remained a constant source of inspiration for our editors, contributors and readers. In 2020, as Texas begins a three-year bicentennial commemoration of the storied law-enforcement agency, True West’s editors have asked two of our regular contributors, Ranger historian Chuck Parsons and Western author and film historian Johnny D. Boggs, to share their expertise on the men who wore the star of a Texas Ranger and on the 35th anniversary of Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove.

So, saddle-up and ride the whirlwind as Parsons and Boggs take you down the trail of Texas’s legendary lawmen and define why they remain icons of the Old West.

Little Bighorn’s Forgotten Hero

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – you can check the original post here

Little Bighorn’s Forgotten Hero

Utley interviewed Charlie Windolph on the front porch of the Windolph home in Lead, South Dakota in 1947. It is on the western fringe of the town’s famous Homestake Goldmine where Charlie Windolph worked for 48 years. All
– Photos Courtesy Robert M. Utley Unless Otherwise Noted. –

In 2019 I turned 90. As a Custer aficionado since the age of 12, I was prompted to reflect on my connection with Custer and the Custer Battlefield, now termed the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Errol Flynn in They Died with Their Boots On (1942) introduced me to Custer. Captain E.S. Luce, superintendent of the Custer Battlefield National Monument, introduced me to the battlefield. In 1946, I bought a bus ticket, and from my Indiana home, toured the West. At Custer Battlefield, Luce, an old cavalryman, guided me over the battlefield. The following year, he twisted government rules to hire me, at age 17, as a seasonal ranger-historian at the battlefield. I spent six college summers telling tourists the story of the Little Bighorn.

Charles Windolph True West Archives
Charles Windolph.
– True West Archives. –

Flynn and Luce may have introduced me to Custer and the Custer Battlefield, but Charlie Windolph made the connection personal. I can now look back over 72 years to meeting and visiting with Charlie Windolph, who 71 years earlier had fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was 97 and the last survivor of the troopers who fought there.


It happened this way:

During my first summer at the battlefield, in 1947, I met and became friends with R.G. Cartwright, athletic director at the Lead High School in South Dakota. He spent part of his summers combing the battlefield in the never-ending quest to discover what happened there. “Cartie” invited me to visit him in Lead on my way back to Indiana at the end of the summer.

A Trailways bus deposited me in Lead in mid-September 1947. Cartie toured me around the Black Hills as well as Lead and adjacent Deadwood. As the climax to my visit, he arranged for me to meet his longtime friend, Charlie Windolph. A German immigrant in 1870, Charlie had joined the cavalry to learn English. As a private in Company H, 7th Cavalry, he had found himself surrounded by Sioux Indians on the heights above the Little Bighorn River on June 25, 1876.

Robert Utley True West Magazine
In the summer of 1947, Robert Utley, age 17, took a bus to Custer Battlefield National Monument (renamed Little Bighorn BNF in 1991). He is seen here (far right) without a uniform, although he carried a badge. In uniform is Superintendent Edward S. Luce, a veteran of the 7th Cavalry. To his left is Casey Barthelmess, a Montana cattle rancher whose father, Christian, was bandmaster and photographer of the 22nd Infantry at Fort Keogh at the time of the Ghost Dance uprising in 1890. The boy is Casey’s son Randal Barthelmess.

In 1947, long-retired from Lead’s Homestake gold mine, Charlie passed his time sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of the home of his daughter, who cared for him. There he sat on a bright autumn day when Cartie and I ascended his porch. He received us warmly and invited us to sit on adjacent chairs. He was an old man, but he was still clear-minded, articulate and full of memories. He poured forth stories of the Little Bighorn that he had doubtless told to countless visitors for many years.

Before any stories, and throughout his stories, he dealt with his company commander, Capt. Frederick W. Benteen. Charlie worshipped Benteen. He could not heap enough praise on him as an officer and a company commander. “I thought he was about the finest-looking soldier I had ever seen. He had bright eyes and a ruddy face, and he had a great thatch of iron-gray hair. It made him look mighty handsome.”

At the Little Bighorn, Windolph fought on Reno Hill with Maj. Marcus A. Reno commanding. Company H was one of the seven companies, together with the pack train, that were corralled on a bluff above the river. They did not know what had become of Custer and the other five companies, but they did know that Sioux warriors surrounded them and kept up a steady fire. From hastily scooped-out rifle pits and from behind packs from the mule supply train, they fired back for three hours until nightfall.

Map of Reno Hill True West Magazine
Seventh Cavalry, H Company Private Charlie Windolph had a high regard for his commanding officer, Capt. Frederick W. Benteen, with whom he fought side-by-side during the Battle of Little Bighorn. Windolph’s courage during the battle would earn his commander’s praise—and the Medal of Honor.
– Map of Reno Hill Courtesy True West Archives. –

The firing resumed at dawn on June 26. A bullet killed the trooper who shared Charlie’s shallow trench. Another grazed Charlie’s chest, then another shattered the stock of his Springfield carbine. He thought a particular Indian had singled him out for a target and concentrated his fire, now with his dead companion’s carbine, on that warrior.

Windolph described for me how Benteen strode along his company line oblivious to the bullets pinging around him. Charlie said he remonstrated with his captain for exposing himself, only to be commanded: “Windolph, get up here and look at all those Indians.” He did stand beside his captain, he said, though only momentarily.

Cpt. Frederick W. Benteen True West Magazine
Photo of Capt. Frederick W. Benteen.
– Courtesy True West Archives. –

The afternoon was beastly hot, and the canteens ran dry. The wounded began to cry for water. The only water was in the river below the rugged bluffs, and warriors hid in the brush along the riverbank, firing up at the troops. Major Reno commanded, but he was at the other side of the circle, so Benteen called for volunteers to go for water. Charlie was one of the 17 who volunteered. Benteen assigned him and three other marksmen to stand on the edge of the bluff and draw the Indian fire away from the men descending the ravine to the river. None of them was hit, although several of the water-carriers were. (They all were awarded Medals of Honor.)

Robert M. Utley True West Magazine
Robert M. Utley began his career with the National Park Service in 1947 as a summer ranger leading tourists on guided tours of Custer Battlefield National Monument. He would rise to the rank of chief historian of the National Park Service.

Later in the day, Benteen saw warriors assembling below for an assault. He formed his company, Charlie included, charged down the ravine and broke up the forming Indian line. Shortly afterward, Benteen had Charlie Windolph stand at attention and awarded him a battlefield promotion to sergeant.

As twilight approached, the Sioux withdrew, packed up their lodges and moved south up the valley. They had spotted the troops of Gen. Alfred Terry and Col. John Gibbon, and the next day they learned from them that Custer and his five companies had been wiped out five miles down the river.

All these stories Charlie Windolph recounted for me on that September day in 1947. He had recently told them to the journalists Frazier and Robert Hunt, who published them that year under the title I Fought with Custer. I had not read the book when I sat, enchanted, and listened to the old man tell his stories. That half hour 72 years ago remains a cherished memory.

Charlie Windolph died on March 11, 1950, at the age of 99, the last white survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That summer, again working at the Custer Battlefield, I rode a bus down to Lead and returned with Charlie’s Medal of Honor, Purple Heart and discharge papers signed by Captain Benteen. They are displayed in the battlefield museum.

Memoir Custer & Me True West Magazine
In his memoir, Robert Utley recounts how his six summers (1947 to 1952) as a college-age ranger at Custer Battlefield National Monument influenced his life as a historian.

Author’s Note:

In 2004 I published a memoir titled Custer and Me. Errol Flynn, in They Died with Their Boots On had laid the groundwork for my rise to a Custer aficionado. At 90, I am led to look back on a memorable experience that links me over a century and a half to the battle in which Custer lost his life.

I Will Fight No More Forever

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – you can find the original post here

I Will Fight No More Forever

Chief Joseph True West Magazine
In the summer and fall of 1877, Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce people on a four-month trek across the Rocky Mountain West, trying to escape the U.S. Army and make it to Canada and freedom.
– All Images Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Noted. –

Fighting that broke out at White Bird Canyon in Idaho in June of 1877 between the Nez Perce Indians and the U.S. Army commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, had continued through the summer with engagements along the Clearwater River and at Camas Meadows in Idaho, and the Big Hole in western Montana. By August, the Nez Perce people had outpaced the Army as they struck the Madison River and followed it into Yellowstone National Park.

Chief Joseph Map True West Magazine
Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce people on a four-month trek across the Rocky Mountain West.

Few expected the Nez Perce with Chief Joseph and the other Nez Perce headmen to enter the park, but they’d already proven that they would take a different route than expected. As the main party moved slowly along the river, Yellow Wolf and fellow scouts took several tourists—George and Emma Cowan and her sister and brother, Frank and Ida Carpenter—as captives. Yellow Wolf instructed the tourists to turn east, travel along a stream later called Nez Perce Creek, and follow a barely discernable trail through a pine forest to Mary Lake.

Lean Elk, still responsible for the Nez Perce march, kept an eye on the captives and restrained younger warriors who still sought revenge for the attack on their families at the Big Hole. On the way up the trail toward Mary Lake, Lean Elk told the Cowans they could leave. Men in their party escaped into the woods while Emma and her family backtracked until younger warriors surrounded them, shot George Cowan in the leg and then in the head, and threatened the others. Lean Elk and a Nez Perce named Red Scout had followed the tourists to see to their safety, came upon the attack, and stopped the young warriors from further harming the tourists. With Red Scout’s help, Lean Elk took Emma Cowan and Frank and Ida Carpenter, back into custody, leaving George Cowan, who was presumed dead, beside the trail.

The Indians and the captives continued across Yellowstone Park and into the open meadowland of the Hayden Valley before following the Yellowstone River upstream to Mud Volcano. There, the stench of sulphur mixed with the burping, bubbling sounds of superheated boiling mud stung their noses as they plunged their horses across the river. At Pelican Valley, in the southeastern part of the park, the Indians halted for the day, building fires for each family camp while women fished for supper.

Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard True West Magazine
Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard.
Gen. Wm. Tecumseh Sherman True West Magazine
Gen. Wm. Tecumseh Sherman.
Gen. Nelson Miles True West Magazine
Gen. Nelson Miles.
Brig. Gen. Samuel E. Sturgis True West Magazine
Brig. Gen. Samuel E. Sturgis.

During the evening Nez Perce warriors and headmen joined Chief Joseph and Lean Elk in council near their fire. Emma and her siblings could not understand what was being said, but knew at least a part of the discussion involved their fate, with Joseph arguing on their behalf. The following morning, Lean Elk took the captives, gave them two horses to ride, helped them cross the Yellowstone River, showed them a trail, and told them to “go quick.” They made their way north steadily but cautiously until they met a military scouting party and provided information on the location of the Nez Perce camp, the Indians’ direction of travel and the condition of the people and their animals.

As they had intended from the onset, the Nez Perces and their families now turned toward Crow Indian lands, following Pelican Valley, a broad, 10-mile-long area. While in Yellowstone, the Indians traveled shorter distances each day, resting and recovering from what had already been a grueling trip. They separated into two major groups, one led by Joseph, the other commanded by Looking Glass, as they followed different drainages to Mist Creek Pass and then all descended to the Lamar River on the eastern side of Yellowstone Park. Joseph led his followers north along the Lamar, abandoning dozens of horses and mules that had been cut and injured as they negotiated the rugged terrain. Eventually, they turned east, traveling out of Yellowstone.

General Howard followed the Madison River into Yellowstone Park days after Joseph and the Nez Perces wove their way there and captured the tourists. Howard’s command, with its wagons for support, moved slower than the Nez Perces or the general’s own scouts. Howard’s party found George Cowan, not dead but seriously injured, and placed him in one of the wagons.

On September 4, Howard’s force reached Mud Volcano and the Yellowstone River ford the Nez Perces had used. He ordered the men to bathe and wash clothing in the hot mineral springs. The wagons had stopped after their difficult descent to the Yellowstone River and the following day Howard discharged the teamsters, telling them to make their way out of the park. The soldiers now used pack mules to carry supplies. Howard himself abandoned the trail of the Nez Perces at the ford near Mud Volcano, following the Yellowstone downstream before riding east, intending to close in on the Indians and corner them. He knew from messages received while he was in Yellowstone that Lt. Col. Samuel D. Sturgis, with 450 mounted men of the 7th Cavalry and several Crow Indian scouts, had moved into the Shoshone River country just east of Yellowstone. This force was poised to encounter the Nez Perces as they left the park but before they could cross onto the open plains of Montana’s buffalo country. Sturgis, a Pennsylvanian, was an experienced Indian fighter, having engaged Jicarilla Apaches in the 1850s and Kiowas and Comanches on the Southern Plains in the 1860s.

Joseph and the other headmen recombined their parties in Sunlight Basin, a big hole ringed by mountains just east of Yellowstone. To move out of it, they could cross over the steep mountains forming part of the Absaroka Range, or they could venture near the narrow defile of the Clark’s Fork River. This canyon was as rugged and seemingly impenetrable as those in the upper reaches of the Snake River near Joseph’s Wallowa homeland. To the dismay of Sturgis and Howard, the headmen chose the river route, and on September 8, again gave the Army the slip.

Fort Keough True West Magazine
Future general of the Army, Col. Nelson Miles commanded 520 men from multiple units of the 5th Infantry stationed at Fort Keough, Montana Territory.
– Courtesy Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument Digital Archive, –

The Nez Perces exited Clark’s Fork and headed north, back into Montana, with Lean Elk still in charge of the daily travel. The Crows would not help them and since they could not remain in the buffalo country along the Yellowstone River as intended, they revised their plans. They would travel another three hundred or more miles to Canada and join Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa leader who had escaped there after the June 1876 battle at the Little Bighorn.

The thirteen days the Nez Perces spent crossing through Yellowstone, while giving them a chance to rest and recuperate, allowed the military ample opportunity to get into position. Sturgis, though thwarted in his first effort to stop them as they departed the park, remained in striking distance, and Howard still pushed from behind. There were now hundreds of troops surrounding the Indians, closing in to check their flight.

Chief Looking Glass True West Magazine
In the summer of 1871, Nez Perce War Chief Looking Glass and the tribe were encamped along the Yellowstone River, where he was photographed by Hayden Survey photographer William Henry Jackson. He was the last Nez Perce warrior killed at the Battle of Bear Paw.


What started as an obscure Army-versus-Indian campaign in a remote mountain valley in Idaho became a national drama that summer of 1877. At first, regional newspaper correspondents like Thomas Sutherland of the Portland Daily Standard and writers for the Owyhee Avalanche and Lewiston Teller in Idaho kept the public apprised of the events, but the capture of tourists at Yellowstone brought increased newspaper attention to Joseph and his people. By the time the Nez Perces emerged from the park the story of their hegira was headlined all across America.

The success of the Nez Perces in the engagements in Idaho and western Montana, and the embarrassing fact that a few hundred Indians and their families, with a couple of thousand head of horses, had eluded an ever-growing Army force, began to draw not only attention, but also empathy from people following the story, and in some cases from the very troops who pursued them. “I am actually beginning to admire their bravery and endurance in the face of so many well equipped enemies,” Howard’s field surgeon, Dr. John FitzGerald, said.

Nez Perce True West Magazine
William Henry Jackson’s photographs of Nez Perce families camped along the Yellowstone River in Montana northeast of the future national park documented the tribe’s historical relationship with the land they would travel through six years later.

Such was not the view, however, of the Army’s supreme commander, Gen. William T. Sherman, who barely missed running headlong into the Indians during his tour of Yellowstone Park in August. He suggested harsh action: “Their horses, arms and property should be taken away. Many of their leaders [should be] executed,” he said.

Sherman, like other military commanders, believed that most of the tribesmen “will fight hard, skillfully, to the death.”

Now out of Yellowstone, the tribal members had a skirmish with troops from the 6th and 7th Cavalry commanded by Sturgis at Canyon Creek, but kept to their trail north toward Canada. There was now another effort to stop them. General Howard, plagued by weary men and horses, and suffering from limited supplies after following the Indians across rough lands impossible for wagons, asked Col. Nelson Miles, commander at the Cantonment on the Tongue River in eastern Montana, to “make every effort in your power to prevent the escape of this hostile band, and at least to hold them in check until I can overtake them.”

Teepee True West Magazine
One of the most remarkable feats accomplished by Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perces during their flight from the Army was traveling with women, children, the elderly and their full encampments.

A 38-year-old career soldier from Massachusetts, Miles took to the field against the Nez Perces on September 18, just over three months since their flight began. Miles was intimately familiar with the country the Nez Perces were then crossing. During the recent winter campaign, Miles had pursued Sitting Bull into Canada and still monitored the Hunkpapa medicine man’s band.

The Nez Perces were just 80 miles from the Canadian border when Looking Glass again assumed primary leadership for them, replacing Lean Elk. Almost immediately, the travel pace slowed but they traveled another 40 miles. They camped on Snake Creek at the edge of the Bear  Paw Mountains* at noon on September 29.

Late that day, General Miles and his 500 troops could see the Bear Paw Mountains when it began raining and then a light snow started. Late that afternoon scouts riding for Miles returned to the main column to report that they had located the Nez Perce trail and knew the camp was nearby.

Nez Percemen True West Magazine
Before the war, in the spring of 1877, three young Nez Perce men, Billy Carter, Ollokot (Chief Joseph’s brother) and Middle Bear, posed for a photograph in Walla Walla, Washington.
– Courtesy Library of Congress. –

Chief Joseph and his daughter, Sound of Running Water, were at the horse herd early on the morning of September 30, preparing to break camp when they heard the cry “Soldiers, soldiers, soldiers!” as Cheyenne Indian scouts and 7th Cavalry troopers broke over the ridge and swept toward the Nez Perce camp. “We had no knowledge of General Miles’ army until a short time before he charged upon us, cutting our camp in two and capturing nearly all of our horses,” Joseph said.

The cold morning erupted into chaos.

Miles’s troopers attacked with a vengeance. Yellow Wolf watched “hundreds of soldiers charging in two wide, circling wings. They were surrounding our camp.”

Peopeo Tholekt True West Magazine
Peopeo Tholekt.
– Courtesy –
White Bird True West Magazine
White Bird.
– Courtesy –

“I called my men to drive them back. We fought at close range, not more than 20 steps apart,” Joseph said. Some soldiers fell in the Indian camp and the Nez Percces took their guns and ammunition as they repulsed three separate onslaughts by the troopers.

The day ended in misery for both sides. Dozens of Miles’ troops had been killed or wounded. Several of the Nez Perce leaders also had been killed, including leaders Ollokot, Lean Elk and Toolhoolhoolzote. Indian families were divided as some members fled toward Canada, while others were surrounded by troops and under attack. In their camp, the Nez Perces faced tough decisions. “We could have escaped from Bear Paw Mountain if we had left our wounded, old women and children behind,” Joseph said. “We were unwilling to do this.”

Chief Joseph True West Magazine
Chief Joseph sat for his first photographic portrait while living as a prisoner of war at Fort Lincoln, near Bismarck, North Dakota, in November 1877. They would only be at Fort Lincoln a short while before being shipped to malaria-infested land around Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The Battle of Bear Paw became a siege. Over the next four days Joseph met directly with Miles. He was held in the soldier camp against his will, but at the same time soldiers were captured by the Indians. After tense negotiations Joseph was allowed to return to his camp, and the soldiers were released as well. Back in the Indian camp, Joseph met with White Bird and Looking Glass. Before any final decision was made, a military sharpshooter killed Looking Glass. This left White Bird and Chief Joseph to lead the Nez Perces. In the end they agreed to follow their own paths.

Chief Joseph said, “I could not bear to see my wounded men and women suffer any longer; we had lost enough already. My people needed rest. We wanted peace.” He continued, “The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

Yellowstone Picnic True West Magazine
A sagebrusher party lunching on ham, among various other dishes, in the upper geyser basin, circa 1873-1884. This may be similar to the base camp the Cowans (the tourist family kidnapped by the Nez Perce while the tribe was in the park) had during their stay in Yellowstone in 1877 (notice the tent at the far left, near the buggy). Yellowstone National Park Museum.

Joseph’s surrender speech became the defining statement of his life and of his people.

According to Joseph, Miles had “promised that we might return to our country with what stock we had left. I thought we could start again. I believed [him], or I never would have surrendered.”

The night of Joseph’s surrender, White Bird and tribal members who followed him escaped and fled to Canada. Of the 700 souls who had camped along Snake Creek near the Bear Paw Mountains at noon on September 29, 1877, Miles eventually held 448 as prisoners of war. Twenty-five had died on the battlefield and the remainder reached Canada.

Chief Joseph's Surrender True West Magazine
War correspondent and sketch artist G.M. Holland captured in perpetuity Chief Joseph’s dramatic surrender speech in which he promised “to fight no more forever” to Col. Nelson Miles and the Army.

This article is an excerpt from Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People, the Spur Award-winning biography by Candy Moulton. See more of Candy’s story about Chief Joseph in this exclusive video:

Death of a Mountain Man

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – the original post can be found here

Death of A Mountain Man

Death of A Mountain Man

Jedediah Smith true west magazine
On May 27, 1831, Jedediah Smith’s desperate attempt to find water for his wagon train led him off the main trail of the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail down Sand Creek, a tributary of the Cimarron River. While watering his horse, with his guard down, Smith was ambushed and killed by a small party of Comanches, after he killed their chief.
— “The Trapper’s Last Shot” by William T. Ranney, Courtesy The Beinecke Library, Yale University —

“Yet was he modest, never obtrusive, charitable, ‘without guile,’…a man whom none could approach without respect, or know without esteem. And though he fell under the spears of the savages, and his body glutted the prairie wolf, and none can tell where his bones are bleaching, he must not be forgotten.”


The anonymous eulogy to Jedediah Smith was published in Illinois Monthly Magazine in June 1832. The author’s view of Jed Smith’s character and motives differs from the views of Maurice S. Sullivan and Dale L. Morgan, the scholars who have worked most fully on his life. I see Smith as a man torn by conflicting allegiances—the values of his church and his society, and the values he learned and lived by in the wilderness. The evidence of his letters to his family seems to be that he judged his life as a mountain man to be wicked; that conviction seems to have been deep and sincere. He seems to have damned himself for his love of wildness in the same way that settlers would later damn most mountain men for it. So he went home in an attempt to live by his beliefs he professed.

Smith says nothing about his decision to return to the mountains in 1831. Though it was only a partial turning back to his former way of life, I think it expressed a strong-felt need, a need he probably chastised himself for. So what is remarkable here, to me, is the conflict between professed values and the values he actually lived by. When his anonymous eulogist said that Smith made his altar the mountaintop, he meant that as a tribute to Smith’s ability to live in Christian faith in the mountains. The irony may be that Smith made the mountaintop his altar in a different sense—that he replaced, symbolically, the altar of the Christian Church with his mountaintop as an object of worship.

I believe that Smith, had he lived, would have been unable to stick to his decision to become a respectable citizen of the settlements.

Jedediah smith true west magazine
A descendent of Puritan New Englanders, Jedediah Strong Smith was born in 1799, the oldest of four brothers, and raised on the edge of the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio frontiers.
— True West Archives —

The Pious Man of the Mountains

Jed had been aware, from the beginning that he was unlike most of the men in the mountains. He was learned, for one thing. He was serious—serious about his religion, serious about turning a profit, serious about writing a book and making maps. He didn’t go for debauchery: He stayed away from Indian women and didn’t join in the rendezvous carousing. He tried to practice his religion in a profane environment.

Jed, a Christian in the Puritan tradition, regarded making money as one of a man’s positive duties, and thought of unused capital as an evil. He now had to decide on some use for his capital. Well, he might go to Ohio and that farm eventually, but he wanted some business venture in the meantime. The role of gentleman farmer may have pulled at his fancy, but not strongly enough. He hired Samuel Parkman, a young man who had gone to the mountains in 1829 and come back with Jedediah, to copy out his journals and help him make his maps. That was one important enterprise.

He also thought that he might go into a partnership with Robert Campbell. He discovered, though, that his Irish friend had gone home to Ireland; Robert’s brother Hugh, who lived in Richmond, Virginia, informed Jed that Robert’s health was failing again. He wrote to Hugh with good wishes for Robert’s well-being and a fervent wish that the two friends might be together again. In the spring, he added, he would still have capital to start a business with Robert.

Younger brothers Peter and Austin had wanted to follow ’Diah to the mountains. Another young man, J. J. Warner, came to Jed for advice on how to become a mountain man; Jed talked him out of such a pagan life. So Jed began to think of the West again—not Absaroka and Cache Valley, this time, but Santa Fe. Maybe he could explore the possibilities of trade with the Mexican provinces.

He missed the mountains. Writing t o Hugh Campbell on November 24, 1830, just a month back from the mountains, he admitted, “I am much more in my element, when conversing with the uncivilized Man, or Setting My Beaver Traps, than in writing Epistles.”

He decided to put off going home. He did miss his father, his teacher Dr. Simons, and his brother Ralph. But that could wait. Business, he told them, was too pressing. He didn’t add that the lure of wild country was too strong.

Giving a Drink to a Thirsty Trapper true west magazine
Jedediah Smith’s Christian piety was a moral compass he did not waver from when it came to his relationship with American Indian women during his 10-year career as a fur trapper in the American West.
— “Giving a Drink to a Thirsty Trapper” by Alfred Jacob Miller, Courtesy The Beinecke Library, Yale University —

He made up his mind for Santa Fe. That was less risky than beaver trapping, even though the route lay through Indian country. He knew the business of supplying, and plenty of trappers were operating out of Santa Fe and Taos. He could get Peter, Austin, and J. J. Warner started in the world, give them a taste of the trail and the mountains, and still not be shot at by Blackfeet. At first he thought that he himself might not go along—he’d just handle the business end. But by the end of January, Jed had determined to hit the trail again. He wrote General Ashley for help in getting a passport.

He could explain it all to himself. He was making a good investment; he was going into a business he knew; he was g  iving a hand to young men of enterprise. Besides that, he could go beyond Santa Fe and see the Southwest. That was the only part of the entire West he did not know firsthand; a trip there would let him complete his map. He didn’t have to believe that he was giving in to the perverseness of his wicked heart, or to an uncivilized love of wild places.

Bill Sublette and David Jackson, meanwhile, had been waiting for Tom Fitzpatrick to arrive with confirmation of their deal to take supplies to rendezvous in the summer of 1831. But Fitzpatrick had not shown up. They had already arranged to buy the provisions and equipment. Stuck, they elected to go with Jed. Legally, the two parties would be separate, and Sublette-Jackson would get an independent passport and hire their men and sell their goods independently. But the outfits would travel together as far as Santa Fe. So, by late March of 1831, Jedediah Smith, who had tried to commit himself to the settlements by buying a farm, a fine house and two servants, was back in the mountain trade with his old partners.

trapper true west magazine
In 1831, after 10 seasons tramping, trapping and trading across the West, Jedediah Smith thought he might settle back into civilization in St. Louis, Missouri. But the siren call of the trail—as well as the opportunity to establish new profitable trading partners in New Mexico—led the veteran mountain man to organize a wagon party to Santa Fe with three of his most trusted compadres of the beaver trade: Bill Sublette, David Jackson and Tom Fitzpatrick.
— “Mural of Western Trappers and Mountain Men” by Alfred Jacob Miller, Jackson Lake Lodge, Courtesy Gates Frontiers Fund Wyoming Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress —

The Siren Call of the Trail West

They set out from St. Louis on April 10 with 22 wagons, including one bearing a six-pound cannon, and 74 men. Before they reached the frontier, two more independent wagons and nine more men joined them. Near Lexington, Missouri, they camped for final preparations. Jed took the precaution of making a new will, since he was heading back into Indian territory. But they still had several hundred miles of beautiful rolling plains before any possible danger.

Then they had a surprise in camp: Tom Fitzpatrick rode in. He was headed for St. Louis, two months late, to contract with Sublette and Jackson for supplies for the 1831 rendezvous.

The Irishman explained: Henry Fraeb and Jean Baptiste Gervais had gone to Snake country; Jim Bridger, Milton Sublette and he had moved back to the Three Forks area, again in strength, to cash in on Blackfoot country. They had made a good hunt; but during the winter they had heard nothing from their other two partners. Finally they decided to take a chance on buying a new outfit anyway. But Fitz hadn’t gotten away until March to make the express to the settlements. What could be done about the outfit?

Jackson and Sublette were not carrying exactly what they would have taken to the mountains. They were supplying two towns as well as possibly some trappers. They decided that if Fitzpatrick would go along to Santa Fe, they would supply him there. Sublette and Jackson would let him have two-thirds of the outfit, and Smith the other third. The credit of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was good with these old friends. But Fitzpatrick would have to get the goods to rendezvous on his own. And since it was already into the first week of May, he would be plenty late.

So they set out for Council Grove. They had no troubles that they weren’t used to—drizzle for days at a time, miry ground and willful mules. At Council Grove they stocked up on wood for axles—the country was barren from here on—and got organized into disciplined units for traveling safely through Indian territory. Before long a war party made a charge on the wagons, but the cannon scared them off. A little later the clerk for Sublette and Jackson dropped behind the party to hunt and was killed by Pawnees. The Santa Fe Trail was not looking as trouble-free as it was supposed to be. This expedition, though, had an unsurpassed congregation of masters of the craft of the plains and the mountains. Jed Smith, Bill Sublette, David Jackson and Tom Fitzpatrick were four of the half-dozen most skilled mountain men living.

trappers true west magazine
In 1826, Jedediah Smith was the first to lead a party of trappers to California from Salt Lake, south to the Colorado River, and then west across the Mojave Desert and San Bernardino Mountains. Returning under extreme conditions, he crossed the Sierra Nevada and the states of Nevada and Utah to Salt Lake.
— “Trappers Starting for the Beaver Hunt” by Alfred Jacob Miller, True West Archives —

The Cimarron Cutoff

They followed the Arkansas River southwest for over a hundred miles to come to the place where the route forked. The round-about way was easier and safer—along the river to the mountains and then due south, through Raton Pass, to Santa Fe. The short way was quick but treacherous. It was a straight line across the Cimarron Desert. It was a scorched country without water, without any landmark, crisscrossed by buffalo trails that disguised the wagon road and could lead a party the wrong way and into a torturous death by thirst. They took the Cimarron Cutoff. If anybody knew how to cross a desert and find water when he had to, it was Jed Smith.

In the confusing maze of buffalo trails, even these old hands lost their way. Soon they had spent three days without water. The animals were about to die. The men were delirious with thirst. Discipline was breaking down and small groups were wandering through the desert in a desperate search for water.

So Jed did what needed doing. Taking Fitzpatrick with him, he pushed ahead of the wagon train to try to find a water hole or a spring. He knew that the Cimarron meandered out there somewhere. Even if it was as sporadically wet as the Inconstant River, he would find a hole and dig for water.

old gabe true west magazine
Jim “Old Gabe” Bridger was a peer and well-respected friend of Jedediah Smith. They both went west with William Ashley and Andrew Henry’s Ashley-Henry Company in 1822 and spent many seasons together trapping beaver across the West. Both were masters of survival, trailblazing, mapmaking and trading. Bridger, Smith’s junior by six years, would out-live Smith by 50 years, dying at 77 years old in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 17, 1881.
— True West Archives —

The two men came to a hollow that should have had water. It was dry. Jed told Fitzpatrick to stay there, dig for water, and tell the main party in which direction he had gone. He was going to look further ahead. It was a dangerous choice in Indian country, because a lone man was an irresistible temptation. But Jed had to take the chance. He found the dry bed of the Cimarron 15 miles further on. It was dried to sand in most places, but here and there were holes filled with liquid. Jed’s mind said caution: Buffalo holes would make good hunting spots for Indians and were likely to be watched. But his body cried out for wet. He rode down, let his horse walk in, and waded in himself.

After his pain eased, he got back on his horse. He would be able to save the wagon train now. But when he turned, Jed saw a band of 15 or 20 Comanches blocking his way. He realized they had crept up while he was splashing in the water. He knew his chances were slim: The Comanches had a reputation for savagery.

His one hope was to make a strong front of it. He rode straight up to them and made signs of peace. They paid no attention. Since he had his gun cocked, the Indians fanned out to either side, away from the line of his rifle. Jed watched to make sure they didn’t get behind him, and again tried to talk to their leader.

His horse was fidgeting back-ward. Suddenly the Indians began shouting at the horse and waving their blankets to frighten it. The horse wheeled and turned so that Jed’s back was to the flank of braves. Instantly, one of them fired and hit him in the shoulder. Jed gasped, his breath knocked away. He turned the horse around to front, leveled his Hawken, and killed the chief.

He grabbed for his pistols. A lance knocked his arm away from a handle. Two more blows, like sledgehammers, crushed his chest. He felt a falling, back and sideways, like falling in a dream, falling without stopping. He forced his eyes to register: Blue, a vivid blue. He couldn’t think what the blue might be. It darkened. And the sense of falling slipped away.

jedediah smith true west magazine
Between 1822, when the Ashley men first went West (including Jedediah Smith), and 1843, when the first hordes of emigrants came, the trappers in a way became Indians themselves. They dressed like Indians, adopted some of the values of Indians, learned Indian languages, married (sometimes permanently) into Indian tribes, and came to believe in Indian religion.
— “Scene of Trappers and Indians” by Alfred Jacob Miller, True West Archives —

Trail’s End

Jed Smith’s brothers and friends waited and waited for him. Finally, for the safety of the caravan, they moved on. They hoped that he would miraculously survive whatever had happened, as he had always survived, and catch up with them on the trail. When they got to Santa Fe on July 4, they heard the story of his death. Mexican traders had gotten it from the Comanches. Peter and Austin bought Jed’s rifle and pistols from the traders. Jed’s body was never found.

Jed Smith had made his traditional Christianity a deep principle within himself. But the love of wild places had rooted into him and become a deeper religion. His place of meditation was not the oak pew but the lone wilderness, as his eulogist said. His altar was the mountaintop, in a sense truer than his eulogist me ant. His sacraments were mountain skills. At the age of 32, he had lost his life in the service of his true church.

He had made a great pilgrimage to discover and know intimately the West he loved. For that mission he had risked, in his own eyes, even his salvation.

Though he died young, his quest had been successful. He had found the way across the Rocky Mountains at South Pass. He had led his men the length and width of the Great Basin. He had pioneered the overland route to California. He had become the first man to cross the Sierra Nevada. And he had been first to travel by land from California to Oregon. If the trappers were light years ahead of the American government and American people in their knowledge of the West, it was because Jed Smith had shown them the way. As an explorer of the West, he had come to rank with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Such were the accomplishments of the public man.

map true west magazine
In late May 1831, Jedediah Smith and his wagon party got lost among the waterless buffalo trails of the Cimarron Cutoff in southwestern Kansas. Desperate to save his wagon train, Smith went off alone in search of water along the Cimarron River and Sand Creek. He never returned. Today, a bronze marker on Kansas Highway 25 between Ulysses and Hugoton, Kansas, commemorates the approximate location of his fatal fight with Comanches.
— John Charles Fremont’s 1846 map of his expedition to New Mexico and the southern Rocky Mountains Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections —

The private man had met his own standards in enterprise, courage, integrity and fairness. He had challenged the dangerous and the unknown with a fierce energy, and had thrived in them. He had spent his days living and feeling in the particulars—the creeks and meadows, the ridges and peaks—of the country he loved most, the Rocky Mountains.

A decade or two later, newspapers publicized the trapper garishly. Dime novelists idealized mountain men into heroes for wide-eyed boys and dreaming fathers. Kit Carson and Jim Bridger became epic figures, American versions of Odysseus. But then, when he should most have been remembered, Jedediah Strong Smith was forgotten.

Editor’s Note:

“Death of a Mountain Man: Jedediah Smith’s Last Trail” is excerpted from Give Your Heart to the Hawks: A Tribute to the Mountain Men (TorForge) by Western Writers of America Hall of Fame member Win Blevins. Originally published in 1973, Blevins’ masterpiece has been in print for nearly 50 years, a remarkable accomplishment for any work of history. As Blevins notes in the 40th anniversary introduction, “The men in these stories lived vigorously, daringly, adventurously. I hope readers will ride along with them for decades to come. It is good for the soul.” Amen.

In addition to Give Your Heart to the Hawks, Win Blevins is the author of over 35 books, including the Spur Award-winning Stone Song, a novel about Crazy Horse. He is proud to call himself a member of the world’s oldest profession—storyteller.