The Most Dangerous Street…

The Most Dangerous Street in America

The Most Dangerous Street in AmericaIn the 1870s, Lincoln, New Mexico Territory, was the murder capital of America.

billy the kid most dangerous street in america true west magazine
“At least 200 men have been killed in Lincoln County during the last three years but I did not kill all of them.”
— Billy The Kid, as quoted in the Daily New Mexican, March 28, 1881

The Lincoln County War was exceptionally violent, and much of that violence occurred in the small town of Lincoln, New Mexico. But murder and mayhem were facts of life there long before Billy the Kid and the Regulators collided with followers of L.G. Murphy. In fact, the entire history of Lincoln in the late 19th century was punctuated with tragic accidents, senseless violence, questionable examples of frontier justice and acts of revenge. During the decade of the 1870s alone, more than 50 people were killed along the one-mile stretch of dusty road that curved through Lincoln—a fact that led President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878 to declare it “The Most Dangerous Street in America.”

The following are just a few examples of the deadly violence that plagued Lincoln in those years. Some of those who died were innocent victims, some were notorious criminals, but most were just typical denizens of the Western frontier. They were tough, independent people whose lives reflected the brutal reality of the conditions under which they lived.

Tragic Accidents

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Originally known as La Placita, Lincoln, New Mexico, looks very peaceful in this early photograph, but it was home to a deadly street.
— All Images and artwork Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Noted —

On September 2, 1876, Josiah “Doc” Scurlock accidently killed his friend Mike Harkins in the carpenter shop behind the Murphy-Dolan Store. Scurlock was showing off his new “self-cocking pistol” when it accidently discharged. The bullet struck Harkins just below the left nipple and pierced his heart, killing him instantly.

Two years later—on February 18, 1878—Lincoln was rocked by news of the murder of John H. Tunstall. Capt. George Purington sent a few soldiers from Fort Stanton to Lincoln the next day in hopes of keeping the peace. Then, on February 21, he sent a dispatch rider to Lincoln with a message for the detachment. The rider, unaware that a sentry was posted at the west end of town, attempted to gallop past the courthouse.  The sentry, Pvt. Gates, failed to recognize his fellow trooper, though both were members of the same company of the famous 9th U. S. Cavalry. Gates fired just once, but Pvt. Edward Brooks, a 29-year-old native of Kentucky, was dead as he fell from the saddle.

Senseless Violence

On the evening of October 21, 1874, Lyon Phillipowski was having a few drinks in the Billiard Room at the L.G. Murphy & Company store. Phillipowski was married to Teresa Padilla, and they had an eight-year-old daughter named Lolita. He was also a deputy sheriff of Lincoln County. When it came time for bartender William Burns to close up, Phillipowski was angry. He wasn’t ready to go home. Burns insisted. Phillipowski ominously warned Burns that he would “see” him outside. Sure enough, as Burns left, Phillipowski approached and reached for his gun—Burns was ready, and Phillipowski collapsed, mortally wounded, onto the muddy street. He died the next morning.

On October 10, 1875—former sheriff Alexander H. “Ham” Mills confronted Gregorio Valenzuela along the street in Lincoln. Valenzuela and Mills had been neighbors in San Patricio in 1870, so had known each other for several years. Mills owed Valenzuela money, but was either unable or unwilling to pay. They argued, and Valenzuela called Mills a “damned Gringo.” Mills pulled out a gun and shot  Valenzuela, a husband and father, dead. He was convicted of fifth-degree murder, but L.G. Murphy obtained a pardon for Mills from Gov. Samuel B. Axtell.

Frontier Justice?

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As a mason, George Peppin participated in the construction of several buildings in Lincoln, including the McSween home. As sheriff, Peppin and his posse make a deadly assault on the McSween house and demolish it.
— Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin —

William Wilson once bragged that he had done time in Sing Sing Prison. He drifted west to Lincoln, and on August 1, 1875, he murdered Robert Casey near the Wortley Hotel.  Wilson claimed that Casey owed him $8 in back wages. He was arrested, tried for murder and sentenced to death by hanging. This was the first legal hanging in Lincoln County, and Sheriff Saturnino Baca was anxious to get it right. On the appointed morning—December 10, 1875—Wilson was brought to the gallows under guard. The sentence was read out loud as the hangman prepared Wilson for the “long drop,” then the trap was sprung.

Unfortunately, the fall failed to snap Wilson’s neck. His body danced at the end of the rope for several minutes, but eventually he stopped struggling. Thinking him dead, Sheriff Baca cut the rope. The crowd was invited to view the remains, and a local woman realized that Wilson was still breathing. Not one to leave a job half finished, Sheriff Baca had William Wilson hoisted back up on the gallows and hanged for a second—and mercifully final—time.

George Washington, a former employee of A. A. McSween, was “trying to shoot a stray dog” in June 1879 at his home near the ruins of the McSween House. Somehow, a bullet intended for the stray hit Washington’s own wife, Luisa Sanchez, and their infant child, killing them both. The circumstances were highly questionable, but there were no witnesses. Later, when Washington attempted to elope with a teenage girl, unspoken suspicions were aroused. Washington was caught, returned to Lincoln, and late one night he was taken from the jail and lynched.


Sometime in early December 1871, 48-year-old Avery M. Clenny stopped by Pete Bishop’s saloon in Lincoln. Clenny owned a store in Hondo and was in town on business. He talked with Bishop briefly, but Bishop had to go to his storeroom to fetch something.  Two younger men, George Van Sickle and Calvin Dodson, then entered the saloon. It’s unclear why, but when Bishop returned he found Van Sickle and Dodson administering a severe beating to Clenny. Bishop retrieved a pistol that he kept behind the bar and chased Dodson and Van Sickle into the street near the Montano Store, shooting at both men. Van Sickle survived; Cal Dodson did not.

The Horrell brothers were a notorious group of Texas outlaws. One brother, Ben, was carousing in Lincoln with friends when he was killed in a confrontation with Constable Juan Martinez on December 1, 1873. The surviving Horrell brothers brooded over their loss for about three weeks, and then on the evening of December 20, they rode into Lincoln bent on revenge. Hearing music coming from Chapman’s Saloon, they surrounded the building and fired through the doors and windows. The music was for a wedding dance, and the building was crowded with men, women and children. Four Lincoln men died that night: father of the bride Isidro Patron, Isidro Padilla, Mario Balazan and Jose Candelaria. Two women and a boy were wounded. Not satisfied, the Horrells killed at least eight more people on their way back to Texas.

Lincoln is most famous for its association with Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, L.G. Murphy and other notable contestants in the Lincoln County War. But the town’s legacy of violence extends well beyond that feud. Virtually every step one takes during a stroll down the sidewalks of Lincoln’s main thoroughfare is connected with another fatal incident. It has unquestionably earned its presidential distinction: The Most Dangerous Street in America.

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The Kid peeks out from the smoke-filled kitchen as he and the McSween men get ready to make a break. The heat must have made it almost unbearable.
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José Chávez y Chávez is one of McSween’s defenders who escapes.
— New Mexico State Records Center & Archives —

Anatomy of the Killing Fields

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Billy the Kid successfully made it out of the McSween house, along with several others. Five were not so lucky and ended up dead in the back yard.

It is a half mile from one end of Lincoln to the other and, on just this street, 49 men and one woman were killed in the approximately 10-year period of the Lincoln County War and its aftermath. At about the halfway point, and in the heart of the killing fields, lie several locations, at left, where most of the shooting deaths occurred.

billy matthews true west magazine
One of the deputies, Billy Mathews, is not hit, and he runs to the Cisneros yard where he takes cover behind a picket fence. He sees two men run into the street and fires, hitting Big Jim French in the thigh.

On the night of July 19, 1878, in what is known  as the “Big Killing” and the “McSween Fight,” at least five men were killed when the Murphy-Dolan forces surrounded the McSween faction and burned them out.

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French and the Kid (who some think was trying to retrieve his Winchester which Brady had taken from him previously) hotfooted it back to the wall.
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Deputy George Hindman is hit and falls. Brady, who is hit by a dozen balls, says, “Oh, Lord” and tries to get up, but another round of shots hit him, and he falls back, mortally wounded.
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Billy the Kid and six of the Regulators are in the corral behind the Tunsdall Store when they spot Sheriff Brady riding into town. Firing from behind a ten-foot wall, they ambush Brady and four deputies when they pass on foot, walking east past the store.
squire wilson hoeing mcsween true west magazine
Squire Wilson was hoeing onions in his back yard when a stray bullet from
the Regulators firing from Tunstall’s corral tore through his buttocks.

Attempting to escape out the back door of the burning house, five men were killed: Alexander McSween, Francisco Zamora, Vincente Romero, Harvey Morris and  Robert Beckwith. Another, Yginio Salazar, survived with severe wounds and crawled off. He lives. Virtually next door from the McSween house is the Tunstall Store, where an earlier ambush by the Regulators results in the death of Sheriff Brady and his deputy George Hindman. Across the street, hoeing onions in his back yard, Squire Wilson is hit by a stray bullet and falls forward as it passes through his buttocks.

Tim Roberts is the deputy director for New Mexico Historic Sites, responsible for all aspects of preservation and interpretation across the state’s eight historic sites and properties. He is the former manager at Lincoln and Fort Stanton Historic sites.

Scott Smith is currently the instructional coordinator at Lincoln and Fort Stanton Historic Sites. He has nearly 30 years’ experience with New Mexico Historic Sites, including time as manager at Fort Sumner and Coronado Historic sites.


Deadwood’s Dora DuFran

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Did She or Didn’t She?Deadwood’s Dora DuFran is credited with coining the word “cathouse.”

madam dora dufran cathouse deadwood joanie stubbs true west magazine
Madam Dora DuFran, who is widely credited with coining the term “cathouse” for a house of prostitution, is considered to be the model for the character Joanie Stubbs in the HBO series and film, Deadwood.
— Photos Courtesy True West Archives —

The people who knew her, and the historians who love her, consider Madam Dora DuFran one of the most lucrative businesswomen in South Dakota. Her legendary brothels in Deadwood, Belle Fourche and Rapid City made the lady famous. But was the enigmatic madam really the first painted lady to utter the word “cathouse,” known today as a reference to a brothel?

Let’s start with Dora’s humble beginnings as Amy Bolshaw, born in England in 1868 and brought to America as an infant. Original documents verify that she was still living near her family in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1883, when she was employed as a domestic servant. Soon after, according to historians, the 15-year-old teenager left Nebraska and arrived in Deadwood to pursue a career in the prostitution industry. It was in about 1886, according to Dora, that she met the famed Calamity Jane in Deadwood.

dora bolshaw dufran joseph dufran true west magazine
Prostitute and madam Dora Bolshaw DuFran, photographed with an unidentified man (possibly her gambler-husband Joseph DuFran), started her career in “sporting houses” at 15 years old in Deadwood in 1883. Dora opened a brothel in the mining camp, the first of a series she operated in the Black Hills region, including “Diddlin’ Dora’s” in Belle Fourche.

Therein lies part of the rub. Historians adore referencing Dora per the writings of Agnes Wright Spring in her biography about Charlie Utter. Spring stated that Charlie and his brother Steve brought “a 30-wagon wagon train of prospectors, gamblers, 180 prostitutes, and assorted hopefuls” to Deadwood in 1876. That story has often been intertwined with the tale that Charlie once brought Dora a wagonload of real, four-legged, tail-twitching felines to wage a war against the mice running amuck in her brothel, which she then nicknamed the “cathouse.” To complicate matters, one Phatty Thompson is documented as bringing a load of cats to Deadwood in 1877, with the intention of auctioning them to housewives with mice troubles.

The trouble is that Dora was not in Deadwood in 1876 or 1877. As for the origins of the word, sources are all over the board as to where it was first used. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1401 poem from somewhere deep in the United Kingdom titled “Friar Daw’s Reply” as the earliest use of the term. But  a 1670 dictionary first explained that the word “cat” is sometimes defined as “a common whore.” Dictionaries of British-American words do agree on one thing: a cathouse is defined as a brothel.

In America, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary claims “cathouse” first came into use in 1882, but declines to give further information. Another source says the word wasn’t used until 1893. Even, the mother of all things fact and fiction, has no idea. That leads back to the British-born Dora who, lacking any other suspects, may very well rightfully deserve credit as the first in the prostitution realm to use the word. But was Dora defining her own palace of pleasure, or simply the home of her newly acquired mouse-catchers? Alas, the West may never know.

Jan MacKell Collins enjoys writing about wild women of the past. Her newest book, Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State, will be published by Globe Pequot Press in September.

Calamity Jane

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Calamity Jane: The Devil in Buckskins

Calamity Jane: The Devil in BuckskinsThe summer of 1876 remains the legendary wild woman of the West’s defining season.

calamity jane true west magazine
For this iconic photo Calamity Jane posed in her famous buckskins with a Stevens Buggy rifle for an unknown photographer, circa 1876-’77. Some sources report that the photograph was discovered under an old building in Deadwood.
— All Photos Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Stated —

The year 1876 proved the turning point in Calamity Jane Canary’s career. It began with two quick trips to the Black Hills with Gen. George Crook and his army in the winter and spring of that year. Calamity may have served informally as a scout (so a good source claims), but primarily she was a camp follower, hitching rides with soldiers and sneaking in among the teamsters and bullwhackers until she was discovered, chased out and sent back south. Several travelers on these trips and other observers reported her with Crook—and not always traditionally dressed or sober. One teamster described her as “dressed in buckskin suit with two Colts six shooters on a belt.” To him, she was one of the roughest persons he had ever seen. Calamity’s travel itinerary in the late spring and early summer of 1876 was chockablock, and more. In March she was with Crook to the north, in May back in Cheyenne, where she was arrested for stealing clothes, but was declared “Not. Guilty” [sic]. In early June she zipped back north for a second jaunt with Crook. Heading out of Cheyenne, “greatly” rejoicing “over her release from durance vile” [jail], she “borrowed” a horse and buggy. After overindulging in “frequent and liberal potations” of “bug juice,” she headed for Fort Laramie, 90 miles up from Cheyenne. By mid-June, Calamity was celebrating with soldiers from Fort Laramie. The rhythm of her life, already in uncertain high gear, whirled into overdrive in the coming months.

At the end of June, an encounter took place that would forever change Calamity’s story. In spring 1876, Wild Bill Hickok, newly married to circus owner Agnes Lake, and his partner Charlie (also Charley) Utter were in Cheyenne, making plans to ride north. Hickok would try his hand at mining, he promised his new wife, who stayed in Cincinnati. Charlie hoped to establish a stage line into the Black Hills. Soon after mid-June they were on their way. When the Hickok-Utter train stopped just north of Fort Laramie, the officer of the day at the fort asked them to take along several prostitutes, to keep them away from the soldiers. Calamity may have been among these prostitutes. One credible source describes her as drunk and “near naked.” Here in late June, in northeast Wyoming, Calamity met Wild Bill for the first time. They would know one another as acquaintances, and no more, for about the next five weeks. Members of the train gave Calamity a suit of buckskins for their trip into the Hills.

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While it’s part of the legend of Calamity Jane in Deadwood, no facts exist to confirm her supposed love affair with Wild Bill Hickok.

Contemporaries made much of the dramatic entrance of Wild Bill, Calamity and other members of the train into Deadwood in early July, picturing them as prancing along the entire main street, greeting friends. But in the weeks to come Wild Bill and Calamity were rarely together. Then tragedy struck on August 2, when Jack McCall, a drifting ne’er-do-well, sneaked up behind Hickok while he was playing poker and shot him in the back of the head.

From 1876 to 1881 Calamity was in and out of Deadwood. In man-deluged, female-starved Deadwood, Calamity became an in-demand worker, hostess and dancer in the boomtown saloons and lively theaters. But a transformation was necessary. “Boys,” she told the men camped with Wild Bill and Charlie Utter, “I wish you would loan me twenty dollars. I can’t do business in these old buckskins.” The men dished out the money, and the redressing worked. A few days later, Calamity returned to the men’s camp dressed attractively as a woman. “She pulled up her dress,” one eyewitness recalled, “rolled down her stocking and took out a roll of greenbacks and gave us the twenty she had borrowed.” Saloons and all-night dance halls, theaters and the ubiquitous, indefinable “hurdy-gurdies” offered positions to the very small group of women as hostesses, entertainers and “dance hall girls.” Calamity worked in several of these establishments but mostly in the Gem, ruled over by the unsavory manager Al Swearingen, who turned the theater into a “notorious den of iniquity.”

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Historians estimate that between five and ten thousand people were living in and around Deadwood when Charlie Utter’s wagon train with Hickok and Calamity Jane arrived at the gold camp in July 1876.
— Courtesy Library of Congress —

One observer claims that it was “generally well-established that Jane was a prostitute.” Perhaps, but unproven. No irrefutable evidence exists that Calamity sold sex in Deadwood. That she worked in houses of prostitution and hog ranches, where the main occupation was selling sex, and that she had several “husbands” without benefit of clergy is established. Still, no patron of the “joy palaces” nor any madam or worker therein ever testified to Calamity’s being an out-and-out prostitute.

During the Deadwood years, strong evidence suggests Calamity often served as a nursemaid for the sick or a helper for the needy. Granted, sometimes these stories of Calamity as Ministering Angel seemed attempts to balance harsh criticism of her unwomanly and socially aberrant acts. Illustrating this ambivalence are the stories of Jesse Brown and A. M. Willard, two early arrivals in Deadwood. At first they labeled Calamity as “nothing more than a common prostitute, drunken, [and] disorderly.” They quickly countered that negativity by praising her efforts as a nurse, particularly during a devastating invasion of smallpox. Other sources were more certain of Calamity’s positive actions. One memoirist remembered her as “the heroine of the Deadwood smallpox epidemic.” Another recalled her as “a perfect angel sent from heaven when any of the boys was sick.”

Editor’s Note:

“Calamity Jane: Devil in Buckskin” is excerpted from Richard W. Etulain’s Calamity Jane: A Reader’s Guide (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015). He is also the author of The Life and Legends of Calamity Jane (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), which True West’s editors plan to excerpt as a full-feature cover story in the near future.


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

The Knuckleheads: The amazing story of how the adventurous Kolb brothers helped inspire the creation of Grand Canyon National Park.

emery and ellsworth kolb with their boats defiance and edith true west magazine
Ellsworth and Emery are shown with Defiance and Edith, the boats that saw them through their months on the Green and Colorado rivers from September 8, 1911 to January 18, 1912. Emery christened his boat Edith, after his daughter, and Ellsworth named his Defiance, because “nobody loves me.”
— Courtesy GCNP Museum Collection —

Long before Grand Canyon was a national park, it attracted some colorful characters. Men dug for ore and built trails and camps. Later they guided tourists and were noted for their storytelling prowess.

And then there were the knuckleheads.

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A Leap in the Interest of Art typifies the adventurous spirit and drama that the Kolb brothers always liked in their photos. The person in the image remains unidentified, but several scholars think it is Emery, based on the hat and his known fearlessness in pursuit of the most dramatic photograph.
— Courtesy NAU Cline Library, Kolb Collection —

That’s the word I used to describe groundbreaking photographers, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, in my book The Amazing Kolb Brothers of Grand Canyon. I thought it best summed up their full-tilt, damn the torpedoes, you-think-that-was-crazy-here-hold-my-beer lifestyle. But my publisher thought it could be misconstrued by their family and asked me to remove it. No problem. I still call them knuckleheads at talks and book signings, and in my blog posts. Emery’s great-grandson gets a big kick out if it.

The point is the Kolbs went way beyond colorful. They were the real deal, genuine explorers who probed every corner of Grand Canyon, on foot, in the saddle, by boat and even from the air. In 1922, when aviation experts declared it impossible to land a plane in the abyss because of treacherous updrafts, Ellsworth hired a stunt pilot, climbed aboard as cameraman, and proved them wrong when they set down in the inner canyon at Plateau Point.

Yet it was the Kolbs’ astonishing journey down the Green and Colorado rivers in 1911-’12 that made them famous. John Wesley Powell first rafted those unknown waters in 1869. In the ensuing four decades only a handful of men had succeeded, and plenty had perished in the attempt. With virtually no boating experience, the Kolb brothers spent nearly four months in deep river canyons, traveling 1,100 miles, navigating 365 large rapids and numerous smaller ones. They became just the 26th and 27th men to accomplish the feat. Ellsworth would go on the next year to complete the journey, following the Colorado River all the way to the sea, just the fourth expedition to do so.

The Kolbs not only survived their river trip but shot a moving picture of it. That little film would become the longest running movie of all time, playing at their studio from 1915 until 1976. When the Kolbs weren’t filming history, they were making it.

The biggest beneficiary of the Kolbs’ work was the Grand Canyon itself. President Theodore Roosevelt, a Kolb friend and occasional houseguest, had used the Antiquities Act to designate Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. Even that level of protection was fought tooth and nail by some Arizona politicians (primarily Ralph Cameron) who wanted to continue to profit off the Big Ditch. The Kolb photos, motion picture and lectures sparked a more widespread interest in the canyon. The August 1914 issue of National Geographic was commandeered by the Kolbs. The entire issue is filled with their words and photos detailing their life at Grand Canyon and river trip. Increased attention and growing tourism numbers shifted the political landscape. Grand Canyon National Park was finally established by an act of Congress and signed into law by Woodrow Wilson on February 26, 1919.

Young Men Going West

r v thomas and ellsworth kolb with a plane by the grand canyon true west magazine
On August 8, 1922, World War I veteran pilot and barnstormer R.V. Thomas and passenger and cameraman Ellsworth (left, standing with camera) did what many thought impossible by landing the first airplane in the Grand Canyon at Plateau Point near Indian Garden. They took off from the small Williams airstrip and landed on a makeshift strip scraped out by the park rangers near the canyon oasis.
— Courtesy GCNP Museum Collection —

It all began with Ellsworth Kolb’s restless feet.

Ellsworth, who never saw a horizon that didn’t seduce him, left his Pittsburgh home in 1900, with $2 in his pocket. He rambled westward, working as he went. He manned a snowplow at Pikes Peak, swung a pick and shovel on the roads of Yellowstone and Yosemite and served as a carpenter’s helper in San Francisco. He signed on with a freighter bound for China but before shipping out decided to take a peek at a savage hole in the ground somewhere in the Arizona Territory.

Ellsworth hired on with the Santa Fe Railroad so he could travel east to Williams, a town that lay 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon amid a forest of ponderosa pines. From there, nearly broke, he walked the tracks of the spur line to the canyon for 50 miles then finally flagged down a train. He paid the reduced fare and rode the cushions the rest of the way.

The Santa Fe ran the first train to the South Rim on September 19, 1901. Ellsworth Kolb got there just a few weeks later. Both arrivals would significantly impact Grand Canyon history.

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During the Kolb brothers’ first years at the South Rim, they explored numerous new and old trails. In 1909, they decided to treat themselves to a vacation, so they traveled to the far eastern edge of the canyon where they located the abandoned Tanner Trail, a steep, long-neglected sketchy route that leads northeast towards the river.
— Courtesy NAU Cline Library, Kolb Collection —

Ellsworth fell in love and forgot all about China. He quickly landed a job chopping wood at the Bright Angel Hotel. When he wrote home, he regaled his younger brother with tales of the spectacular canyon. It intrigued Emery, who had begun pursuing photography as a hobby.

Five years separated the two Kolb boys as well as a difference in personalities. Emery was more practical, more cautious and he tended to be more intense than the easygoing Ellsworth. Still, they were inseparable as kids, wading into a fair share of adventure and mischief.

Now with Ellsworth living on the edge of one of the world’s greatest photo ops, it seemed only natural to pursue this artistic calling. In 1902, Emery traveled west to join his brother.

Running with the Mules

theodore roosevelt john hance on horseback in the grand canyon kolb brothers true west magazine
The Kolb brothers’ primary source of income was from taking photographs of mule riders, including Theodore Roosevelt (front) and famed Grand Canyon pioneer, explorer and storyteller John Hance (on white horse), near the top of the Bright Angel Trail.
— Courtesy GCNP Museum Collection —

The bulk of the Kolb brothers’ business was photographing mule riders as they clip-clopped into the canyon. The Kolbs would go on to photograph more than 50,000 mule strings descending the trail. They built a darkroom at Indian Garden, halfway down the canyon where there was fresh water, and created a business plan that would make hardened athletes weep.

The mule trains would pause for a photo to be taken at the rim and then start down the trail, only to quickly be passed by the photographer himself. After snapping the photos, Emery or Ellsworth loaded the glass plates into their pack and sprinted into the abyss.

They hurtled down the switchbacks, 4.6 miles to the clear spring at Indian Garden, where each plate had to be hand-washed once, twice, three times. Repacking the plates, they turned and charged back toward the rim. This time every step pointed uphill, always up, often in a snarling heat, passing the mules again, glass plates clattering as they ran, sweat stinging their eyes, regaining over 3,200 vertical feet—9.2 miles round trip. They would reach the studio in time to sell prints to the returning riders. This mini-marathon was often repeated twice, and occasionally, three times a day.

There are mules and then there are simply the mule-headed.

The View Stalkers

view hunters grand canyon ellsworth and emery kolb true west magazine
Ellsworth and Emery Kolb made themselves and the Grand Canyon famous through daredevil photography of the natural wonder in northern Arizona, including their famous series of images they named View Hunters.
— Courtesy NAU Cline Library, Kolb Collection —

That was part of the Kolbs’ enduring legacy. They captured not just a landscape but a spirit. At the dawn of the 20th century, when technological advancements seemed to be shrinking the country, the Kolbs showed America that the frontier still existed— and they were living right on its raggedy edge. Wild places could be reached but it took daring and nerve, and they were just the camera-slingers to pull it off. Their mule photos were mementos, but their canyon portraits were lusty dreamscapes.

The Kolbs invented the selfie. They inserted themselves into many of their photographs as markers to the scope and perils of the Grand Canyon. Sometimes they are there to provide a measure of scale, a human speck perched atop a towering ledge, a living comma pausing the viewer’s eye, at the base of precipitous cliffs. But often they emerged as characters in a larger drama. They appeared in photos clinging to cliff faces, climbing hand over hand on ropes stretched from treetops and leaping across gaping chasms.

Their signature photograph is one titled View Hunters (featured on the cover of our May 2019 issue). It perfectly captured that reckless audacity that would become their trademark. Ellsworth straddles a high crevasse with a slender tree trunk stretched across the gap. Far below him Emery dangles in mid-air clutching a rope with one hand and a camera in the other. He’s angling for the impossible shot as Ellsworth holds the rope taut.

They turned the image of View Hunters into postcards and it graced the cover of the souvenir photo album they sold at the studio and through the mail. It came to define their artistic style. Hard to imagine Ansel Adams hanging from a rope in a crevasse. Or Grand Canyon painter Thomas Moran inching across a cliff face with a brush in his teeth. The Kolbs were adventurers who just happened to carry cameras.

The Last Pioneer

emery kolb ellsworth kolb hummingbird trail grand canyon true west magazine
Emery’s photo of Ellsworth clinging to the legendary Hummingbird Trail—using ropes, ladders and chiseled toeholds and plunges down a sheer cliff face to reach an abandoned mine shaft—was just the type of image that created the Kolbs’ enduring legacy of adventure.
— Courtesy NAU Cline Library, Kolb Collection —

When Emery was born, the Apache Wars still raged across the Arizona Territory. The Earps and Doc Holiday had not yet shot it out with the Clantons and McLaurys in a vacant lot near the OK Corral in Tombstone. He lived long enough to witness every Apollo moon landing. Emery Kolb died December 11, 1976. He was 95.

Kolb Studio

kolb brothers photography studio grand canyon south rim bright angel trail true west magazine
The Kolb Brothers’ 1911–’12 Colorado River trip brought them a measure of fame, which they promoted at their studio on the South Rim near Bright Angel Trail. They became the 26th and 27th men to row the Grand Canyon and they were the first to record it in a motion picture.
— Courtesy GCNP Museum Collection —

The Kolb Studio remains. The wood frame building originally constructed by the two young novices in 1904 on an eyebrow ledge, affixed to the world’s greatest erosional masterpiece, still hangs on at the head of Bright Angel Trail. There’s a lesson in tenacity there somewhere.

The original little two-story structure grew and sprawled and now cascades down the cliff face. This wooden aerie has teetered and tottered and swayed with every breath the canyon took for over a hundred years.

Now beautifully restored by the Grand Canyon Conservancy and operated as a retail outlet and exhibition space, the Kolb Studio perches on the edge of a wilderness of towers and temples, pinnacles and promontories—a cathedral of light and stone and sky. It sits on the shore of an ocean of shadows and shapes. Clouds sweep the porch and ravens swoop past the basement door. Clusters of stars peek in the windows each night and the moon uses the roof for a footrest. And the simple rotation of the earth, the rising and setting of the sun, floods the studio with a crescendo of shimmering color, both eloquent and scandalous. Every day. The Kolb Studio is the only house still standing that has the entire Grand Canyon for a front yard.

Ellsworth and Emery may have been knuckleheads but, holy mackerel, they knew how to live!

Editor’s Note

“Knuckleheads” is an excerpt from Roger Naylor’s The Amazing Kolb Brothers of Grand Canyon, published by the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park. Thanks to Roger Naylor, Grand Canyon Conservancy, Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection and Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library, Kolb Collection for sharing the images and excerpts with True West.

Roger Naylor is a travel writer who hates to travel—at least anywhere beyond the Southwest. He spends his days rambling around Arizona and writing about what he finds. In 2018, he was inducted into the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame. He is the author of several books, including Boots & Burgers: An Arizona Handbook for Hungry Hikers, Arizona Kicks on Route 66 and Death Valley: Hottest Place on Earth.

Doc Holliday

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Was Doc Holliday Really a Deadly Dentist?

Was Doc Holliday Really a Deadly Dentist?

doc holliday age 20 true west magazine
Doc Holliday, age 20.

More than one writer has called Doc a “deadly dentist” who killed several men during his turbulent life. Most likely Doc encouraged these stories about his deadly reputation, it was a good way to make a man think before calling him out, but how many men did Doc
Holliday actually kill?

The only one confirmed is his shotgun killing of Tom McLaury in the street fight near the O.K. Corral. During the heat of battle his shots probably hit both Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. Some historians claim he also shot and killed Mike Gordon in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1879. At least one writer believes he killed Old Man Clanton at Guadalupe Canyon on August 13, 1881.

In other altercations he shot Charley White, Milt Joyce, Florentino Cruz and Billy Allen but none of these died by his bullets. There were a number of other deadly altercations including Ed Bailey, Budd Ryan, Kid Colton and Mike Gordon but there are no newspaper
accounts or court records to validate them.

Gary Roberts, author of Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, says, “Tom McLaury is Doc’s certain kill. I believe the evidence is strong that he killed Mike Gordon.  So, we agree there. Other incidents are more controversial.  I happen to believe that he killed at
least one person at the waterhole incident in Georgia before he went west, but the evidence is still circumstantial. Bat Masterson said that he killed a black soldier in Texas, and a AWOL black soldier named Jake Smith was killed by an ‘unknown person’ at Fort Griffin about the time that Doc took off for Denver and other points north and west
in 1876.  It is possible that Doc fired some of the shots that killed Frank Stilwell.  I can find no references beyond recollections about Ed Bailey and Kid Colton, so I don't give those stories credence (at least, until I find something more substantial). Bud Ryan was a gambler in Denver, and the earliest information on that incident indicates that Doc cut him up but did not kill him.  His other shooting encounters — Charles Austin, Charlie White (actually Charles Wright), Johnny Tyler/Milt Joyce, and Billy Allen — were all non-lethal.”

Frances Hamer – Texas Ranger

A Texas Ranger Earns His SpursThree decades before he became renowned for tracking down Bonnie and Clyde, the legendary Texas Ranger earned his badge under fire along the Rio Grande.

frank hamer texas ranger bonnie and clyde true west magazine
Francis “Frank” Augustus Hamer was a Hill Country Texan, born in Fairview, Texas, on March 17, 1884. When he was just 22, he passed his interview with Capt. John H. Rogers and took his oath as a Texas Ranger.
— Courtesy John Boessenecker —

Frank Hamer rested his muscular frame against the trunk of a hackberry tree.  He levered a round into the chamber of his Winchester Model 1894 saddle ring carbine, then squinted down the rear sight. Drawing a long breath, he slowly squeezed the trigger and the hammer dropped. The next instant would mark the beginning of his career as the deadliest Texas Ranger of the 20th century.

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Llano-Fredericksburg Road in Oxford, Texas.
— Family Home photo courtesy Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, Waco, TX —

Hamer (pronounced “Haymer”) was born in the Texas Hill Country in 1884. The son of a blacksmith, Frank spent long hours toiling with sledgehammer and anvil in his father’s shop. He grew into a powerful six-foot-two-inch youth, all muscle and gristle. Hamer had no formal schooling after the sixth grade. As he once said, “The only education I got was on the hurricane end of a Mexican pony.” He lived much of his early life outdoors and became an expert rider, rifleman, hunter and tracker. Hamer drifted to the Pecos River country in west Texas and rode the ranges as a cowpuncher. In 1905, as a volunteer posseman, he tracked down and captured several horse thieves. The sheriff of Pecos County was so impressed that he recommended young Hamer as a Texas Ranger.

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Franklin Hamer (lower left) raised Frank, the second oldest, and his seven brothers and sisters in their home, adjacent to his blacksmith shop, on the Llano-Fredericksburg Road in Oxford, Texas. Sitting beside the Hamer patriarch is his brother Harrison, while standing is the youngest, Flavious, and sister, Pat. — Family Photo courtesy Harrison Hamer —

In April 1906 Frank enlisted in Company C of the State Ranger Force. Then, Rangers were rarely called “Texas Rangers,” for everyone connected with them was in Texas, and adding the state’s name was redundant.  They were merely “Rangers” or “State Rangers.” Hamer’s commander was Capt. John H. Rogers, famed as one of the “four great captains” of that era. Rogers did not look like a Western lawman. Portly, bespectacled, gentlemanly and deeply religious, he was a crack detective and a deadly opponent in a gunfight. He had been a Ranger since the age of eighteen and had killed several desperadoes in hair-raising gun battles. Rogers had twice been wounded in the line of duty, leaving one arm permanently injured. He carried a special rifle with a curved stock to compensate for his crippled limb. Frank Hamer idolized his captain, and ever after sought to emulate him. Captain Rogers became the most important influence in Hamer’s professional life.

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After being posted to Ranger Company C in Alpine, Frank Hamer investigated many crimes on local ranches, including working undercover as a greenhorn on a ranch being rustled in Ysleta.
— True West Archives —

The Rangers served not only as a border protection force, riding the Rio Grande in search of outlaws, smugglers and cattle thieves, but they also assisted local officers.  Because lawmen were few, and levels of crime and violence were high, the Rangers rode from one hot spot to another, augmenting local police and sheriffs. During Hamer’s first year as a Ranger, he acquired more experience than many modern law officers get in a decade. He rode several thousand miles throughout the border region and the Big Bend, obtaining intimate knowledge of the country and its people. He learned to conduct surveillance, to work undercover and to investigate myriad crimes. He arrested seven men for murder. And he took part in an exploit in Del Rio that folks would talk about for more than a hundred years.

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Murderer Ed Putnam was the first criminal Frank Hamer killed in the line of duty.
— Photo Courtesy John Boessenecker —

Del Rio, then a dusty border town of 2,000 residents, is situated on the Rio Grande, midway between Laredo and the Big Bend. On November 30, 1906, Captain Rogers received word that a wealthy sheepman, Blake Cauthorn, had disappeared. He began an investigation, and quickly found that Cauthorn had been at the bank in Del Rio, where he paid a stranger, Ed Putnam, $4,500 for a flock of sheep. Putnam had last been seen headed out of town in a livery rig, which was found abandoned 12 miles north of Del Rio. Rogers, with Rangers Hamer and Robert M. “Duke” Hudson and County Sheriff John Robinson, spent the night in a vain manhunt for Putnam. In the morning they got word that Cauthorn had been found in his buggy, shot to death. At about the same time, the Rangers learned that another stockman, John Ralston, who had also engaged in a sheep deal with Ed Putnam, had vanished.

The town was gripped in a fever of excitement, with citizens convinced that Cauthorn and Ralston had been robbed and murdered by Mexican bandits. The Rangers paid no attention to the rumors, and kept up their hunt for Putnam. Rogers inspected Cauthorn’s body, then concluded that Putnam might have circled back to Del Rio to board a train for escape. As the lawmen watched all the outbound trains, Sheriff Robinson got a tip that Putnam was holed up in a bordello operated by Glass Sharp, situated near the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town. The sheriff and his deputies, along with Rogers, Hamer and Hudson, climbed into a pair of hacks and rushed to the Sharp house.  It was six p.m., December 1, 1906.

texas ranger frank hamer ed putnam del rio true west magazine
During the manhunt for Ed Putnam, Capt. Rogers and his Rangers staked out the Southern Pacific train station, and at one point hopped a freight from the Del Rio station to Comstock in search of the killer.
— True West Archives —

Sheriff Robinson placed seven men in the front of the Sharp bordello, while Rogers, Hamer, Hudson and another posseman covered the rear. The sheriff called for the women inside the brothel to come out, and they did so. Then he yelled to Putnam that he knew he was inside. As Rogers later explained, “At first one of the women denied that he was there. Afterwards, they admitted that he was inside and they carried him word from Sheriff Robinson to come out and surrender.” The lawmen allowed Sharp’s daughter, Georgia, to reenter the house and talk with Putnam.

“He won’t come out,” she told the officers. “He’s got a funny look in his eyes and says he won’t give up.”

Half an hour passed and Sheriff Robinson lost patience. By this time a crowd of more than a hundred citizens had gathered, some of them armed, and he feared mob violence. Robinson ordered his possemen to open fire on the house. Hamer, crouched behind a hackberry tree at the rear of the house, held his fire. The other officers unleashed a barrage of 30 or 40 shots through the wood walls. In a display of the steady diligence and calm that would mark his later career, Frank continued to hold his fire, while carefully watching the rear windows. Several times he saw a curtain rustle. Then he spotted a pistol barrel poking through the curtain. Hamer took dead aim at the six-gun barrel and squeezed his trigger. The Winchester carbine roared and the heavy bullet tore through the curtain and ripped into the stooping Putnam. It slammed into the killer’s face, just under his left eye, ranged downward and shattered his jaw, then entered his neck, cutting the jugular vein, passed out of the neck, plowed into his left shoulder and exited through his left arm. Putnam crumpled to the floor, dead.

texas ranger frank hamer ed putnam del rio true west magazine
Frank Hamer’s Company C headquarters was on Alpine’s Main Street in Brewster County. In 1906, the rowdy cattle town of a 1,000 or so was a gateway to the Big Bend and the Mexican border.
— Courtesy True West Archives —

The possemen heard a loud thud as Putnam fell, but they could not see inside the house. Captain Rogers said later, “However, not knowing whether he was dead, wounded or feigning to be dead, the house was not entered for a time and our party reloaded and fired many times after this until, perhaps, something like two hundred rounds had been fired, when the house was entered and Putnam found to be dead having received one fatal shot.” Putnam clutched a six-gun in his dead hand. Captain Rogers took three guns from his body: a .32 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver, a .32 caliber Winchester rifle and a newfangled German Luger automatic pistol. The killer’s pockets held 300 cartridges and $3,500 in cash. The walls of the house had been shredded by 500 bullets. As an eyewitness said, “The furniture in the Sharp home was completely wrecked, even the stove legs being shot off.”

The next day John Ralston’s dead body was found north of town where Putnam had dumped it. Putnam had robbed and killed both victims. The noted Noah H. Rose, then a Del Rio photographer, had been a witness to the deadly shootout. He took a photo of the dead Putnam and invited Captain Rogers and his men come to his studio and to sit for commemorative pictures. Rose shot four images of the Rangers. Two were group images, with Rogers seated, holding Ed Putnam’s Luger pistol. Next to him were Hamer, Duke Hudson and an unidentified friend, with their rifles displayed prominently. Then Rose had Hamer and Hudson take off their coats, so their six-shooters and cartridge belts showed, and photographed them both standing and kneeling with their rifles in hand. Those photographs have become iconic in Texas Ranger history and lore.

texas ranger frank hamer ed putnam del rio true west magazine
When working the Rio Grande border counties of southwest Texas, Hamer frequented the historic 1887 Val Verde County Courthouse in Del Rio, to testify in criminal cases.
— Courtesy The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress —

Captain Rogers presented Frank Hamer with Putnam’s Colt revolver, saying that since this was his “first gunfight as a Ranger he thought he should have a memento of the occasion.” Hamer’s commanding officer was greatly impressed with Frank’s coolness and deadly marksmanship. In the years to follow, Frank Hamer would eventually become the most famous lawman in the Southwest, noted for his skill in investigating murders and protecting prisoners from lynch mobs. He engaged in 52 gun battles, and killed, or participated in killing, at least 21 desperadoes in the line of duty. And that all took place long before he got on the trail of Bonnie and Clyde.

Western historian John Boessnecker adapted this story from Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde.

Texas Jack

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The Tragedy of Texas JackTexas Jack Omohundro and Giuseppina Morlacchi’s doomed romance

texas jack omohundro giuseppina morlacchi combination acting troupe on set true west magazine
Texas Jack Omohundro poses with his wife and business partner, Italian ballerina Giuseppina Morlacchi, in this colorized publicity photo. It was probably taken shortly after the couple began their Texas Jack Combination acting troupe in 1876.

Texas Jack could have been the person about whom the phrase “tall, dark and handsome” was coined. And Giuseppina Morlacchi was a heartbreaker. She was a ballet dancer from Italy and he was a cowboy from Virginia. Born John Burwell Omohundro, he later decided that “Texas Jack” was a lot easier for people to remember, and pronounce. She moved to the United States at age 21 to perform and never left. Theirs became a fairy tale romance, forged in the imaginary West of the stage but eventually broken in the real West.

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Former Confederate cavalryman Texas Jack Omohundro’s stage career and story book marriage to Italian ballerina Giuseppina Morlacchi were cut short by pneumonia in Leadville, Colorado, where he died in 1880 at the age of 33.
— All Images Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Noted —

After fighting on the side of the Confederacy under Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, John Omohundro moved to Texas at the end of the war. There he got involved with cattle herding, driving cattle north along the Chisholm Trail to railheads in Kansas several times. It may have been on one of those drives that he made the decision to relocate once again, moving first to Fort Hays, Kansas, and then to the North Platte, Nebraska, area. Drawing on his past experience, including time spent as a scout during the Civil War, Omohundro picked up odd jobs scouting, hunting and guiding. He also became “Texas Jack.”

texas jack omohundro headshot western true west magazine
Texas Jack.

In 1869, Texas Jack met William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was also scratching out a living scouting, hunting and guiding. They became fast friends, scouting together for the Army and engaging in hunts with the likes of the Earl of Dunraven and Grand Duke Alexis of Russia. They also caught the attention of dime novelist Ned Buntline. In late 1872, their fortunes changed when he invited them to become stars of Scouts of the Prairie, a play he was creating. The cast was strengthened by the presence of the noted ballerina and actress Mademoiselle Giuseppina Morlacchi.

texas jack buffalo bill acting troupe giuseppina morlacchi true west magazine
This 1873 cast photo shows the stars of Scouts of the Prairie in their stage costumes. Buntline, Cody and Omohundro wear typical frontier scouting attire. Giuseppina Morlacchi has abandoned her ballerina outfit and wears the costume for her role as Dove Eye, an heroic Indian princess.
— Courtesy Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, Golden, Colorado —

Born in Italy, Morlacchi was the same age as Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill. She became a classically trained dancer, traveling throughout Europe until her American ballet debut in 1867. She introduced the can-can to the country the following year. A fine actress as well, she was soon appearing in the major cities of the American Northeast. Just weeks before his buffalo hunting expedition with Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack, the Grand Duke Alexis saw Morlacchi on stage. Buntline also saw her and recruited her to join his new play.

texas jack omohundro globe theater poster play western true west magazine
The Texas Jack Combination was successful for Giuseppina Morlacchi and Texas Jack, but they continued to perform separately as well. In 1878, Texas Jack appeared with Dr. W. F. “Doc” Carver, a dentist turned exhibition shooter who he met several years earlier in North Platte, Nebraska. Five years later Carver joined forces with Buffalo Bill to create Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Giuseppina did not come alone to the United States. She was accompanied by her manager of five years, John Burke, who was smitten by her. He had presented her with rings and was planning on settling down with her in a house in Lowell, Massachusetts. Those dreams ended when she met Texas Jack. For the Virginian and the Italian, it was love at first sight. She returned the rings to John Burke and pledged herself to John Omohundro. Heartbroken, Burke wore the rings and never married. Instead of devoting his life to her or to any another woman, he spent it instead promoting his new friend Buffalo Bill. It was a task he pursued until Cody’s death.

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Scouts of the Prairie, a play written by dime novelist Ned Buntline in four hours, debuted
in Chicago in December of 1872. In this publicity photo, Texas Jack points at his friend William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who reclines in front of Buntline. The play was the first appearance onstage for all three.

With Scouts of the Prairie’s combination of the two well-known scouts with the lovely and talented Morlacchi, the 1872-73 season of the road show was a resounding success. The relationship between Morlacchi and Omohundro was also a success; they were wed on August 31, 1873. The following year Texas Jack, Morlacchi and Buffalo Bill struck out on their own with a new play, Scouts of the Plains, and a new co-star, their friend Wild Bill Hickok.

texas jack buffalo bill wild bill hickok scouts of the plains true west magazine
Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill pose with their friend “Wild Bill” Hickok. Hickok joined them onstage in the play Scouts of the Plains in 1873-74. He preferred gambling to acting and left the show mid-season.

Hickok, who was never very excited about acting, was the first to leave the combination after several months. The Omohundros parted amicably with Buffalo Bill in 1876 to create their own troupe, re-enacting scenes from the West on stage. They happily toured together for the next several years, with periods of relaxation at the Massachusetts home once desired by John Burke. Finally their show business career took them to Leadville, Colorado, for a series of performances. They decided to stay in the Rocky Mountain West rather than return to Massachusetts.

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Texas Jack.

Three months into their stay, Texas Jack succumbed to pneumonia in Leadville, dying on June 28, 1880. The fairy tale romance had lasted just seven years. Grief stricken, Giuseppina Morlacchi departed for their Massachusetts home, never to return to the stage, and died of cancer six years later.

Author’s Note: Texas Jack Omohundro is buried in Leadville’s Evergreen Cemetery. In 1908, Buffalo Bill commissioned a permanent granite marker in his friend’s honor. In 1994, Omohundro was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers.