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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Comanche and his Horse

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The Comanche and his HorseThe acquisition of the horse in the 1600s brought immediate and sweeping changes to the Plains Indians.

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Comanche tribe members with their horses.

The acquisition of the horse in the 1600s brought immediate and sweeping changes to the Plains Indians. For the first time it gave them a wide range and mobility for hunting and military might. It brought about the most glorious period in their history. The Comanche were the first to acquire the horse referred to them as their “God Dogs.” They built an entire culture around them.

The Comanche became expert ropers and popular way to capture and break a young horse was to rope him, choke him to exhaustion and while the horse was down on the ground the captor would then blow his breath into the nostrils of the animal and remove the “wild hairs” around its eyes. A headstall or hackamore, a loop was placed around the jaw and tied at the neck. The horse would then be attached to a gentle mare. The warrior would then handle him enough to get him used to being around humans. After a few days he would be turned loose to be free but would remain with the mare, following her everywhere she went. When it came time to ride the handler would take the horse into deep water or a sand-bottomed creek to mount. This served to take some of the starch out of his bucking and make the landing softer if the horse succeeded in unloading its rider.

Capturing and breaking a wild horse was good but the Comanche was also an excellent horse thief and stealing them was developed into an art. Getting horses by plunder and especially under dangerous conditions gave the warrior an opportunity for valor and prestige. The Comanche raided for other plunder and scalps but more often than not he preferred to go on horse-stealing forays.

There were a lot of ways to break a horse and over time the Indians adopted some of the methods of the white man and vice versa. Kindness rather than cruelty was always the most effective way to break a horse.

They also practiced selective breeding, gelding the inferior males and breeding the best stallions with their mares.

Rival Plains Indians tribes noted the Comanche affinity for his mounts in their campfire stories noted that in time of danger a Comanche would bring his favorite horses into the tee pee and make his wives sleep outside. They also claimed that when a Comanche copulated with his wife he would mount her from behind and whinny like a stallion.

Artist George Catlin, who was one of the first to write about them wrote: “A Comanche is out of his element and comparatively almost as awkward as a monkey on the ground without a limb or a branch to cling to; but the moment he lays his hands upon his horse his face even becomes handsome and he gracefully flies away like a different being.”

William Blakemore, an Englishman spent eight years with the tribe left this description: “On foot slow and awkward, but on horseback graceful, they are the most expert and daring riders in the world. In battle they sweep down upon their enemies with terrific yells, and concealing the whole body with the exception of one foot behind their horses, discharge bullets or arrows over and under the animal’s neck and accurately. Each has his favorite war-horse which he regards with great affection and only mounts when he goes into battle. Even the women are daring riders and hunters, lassoing antelope and shooting buffalo.”

Ellsworth Showdown

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Erroneous Ellsworth ShowdownLetters help prove that the Wyatt Earp-Ben Thompson showdown is a tall tale.

Ellsworth Showdown Wyatt Earp Ben Thompson true west magazine
The Ellsworth Showdown has been popularly portrayed and discussed in books about Wyatt Earp. This illustration of the 1873 gunfight, by Lorence F. Bjorklund, was seen by only a few. Published in Enid Johnson’s 1956 book, Wyatt Earp, Gunfighting Marshal, the printing plate was destroyed and the book withdrawn from the market after Stuart Lake threatened a lawsuit against the publisher. Yet some copies had already been sold to the public, so the book still got out!
— All illustrations courtesy State Library of New South Wales, Australia unless otherwise noted; Wyatt Earp photo True West Archives —

Among the many questionable incidents people often repeat about Wyatt Earp’s life story, few reveal the duplicity of his biographer as much as the tale of Wyatt’s 1873 showdown with Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas.

Letters between Stuart N. Lake and a Hollywood producer show the legend makers of print and film collaborating to create a fictional character who both men insisted matched the real man. 

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Wyatt Earp.

The Ellsworth Incident

Stuart N. Lake first told the story of the Ellsworth incident in a 1930 Saturday Evening Post article. A wandering buffalo hunter searching for opportunities in the cattle business, Wyatt landed in Ellsworth on August 18, 1873, where he responded to a dangerous standoff after the killing of Sheriff Chauncey B. Whitney. Bill Thompson had shot Whitney and was allowed to ride out of town, while his brother Ben held off any pursuers with a shotgun. The remaining Ellsworth peace officers were too cowed to challenge Ben until Wyatt volunteered to arrest him, with the aid of two borrowed six-shooters and a sheriff’s badge.  Striding fearlessly across the street, Wyatt ignored the “hundred or more half drunken cowboys” who backed Ben and intimidated Ben into surrendering. When offered a permanent position on the police force by the mayor, Wyatt contemptuously refused due to the court’s release of Ben on a $25 fine.

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Wyatt Earp biographer Stuart Lake (above left) speaks with Merritt Beeson of Dodge City, Kansas, circa 1930. His face is more clearly shown in the photo below, among the few known photographs of Lake.
— Courtesy Boot Hill Museum of Dodge City, Kansas —

The problem with this story is that it has not been proven.  The only contemporary description of the incident appears in the August 21, 1873, issue of the Ellsworth Reporter,and Wyatt’s name is conspicuously absent. The newspaper story describes the shooting of Whitney and Mayor James Miller’s impatient discharge of the town’s cowardly police force, but it identifies Deputy Sheriff Ed Hogue as the only officer remaining to make arrests and the person who “received the arms of Ben Thompson.” 

Lake’s source for his contradictory version of the event apparently came either from his own imagination or Wyatt.   Evidence Wyatt may have told the story is contained in a 1928 letter he sent to Lake. Referring to a Texas gambler named George Peshaur, Wyatt wrote, “I had some little trouble with him in Ellsworth, at the time that I arrested Ben Thompson.”

Wyatt could have come up with his tall tale by reading the Ellsworth Reporter article. Wyatt enclosed a batch of unidentified newspaper clippings to Lake that year, and the Ellsworth story might have been among them.

Stuart Lake Stretches the Truth

Regardless if Lake made up the story or repeated what Wyatt told him, the biographer left clues that suggest he realized he had stretched the truth.

Lake embellished his Saturday Evening Post version of the Ellsworth incident by claiming “no more than a handful of the narrators of Earp history seem to have been aware” of the showdown, implying other accounts existed.

In 1931, when Lake published his book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, he doubled down on his claim of available historical evidence by quoting the Ellsworth Reporter text verbatim, but he intentionally left off the concluding sentence that identified Hogue as the man who received Thompson’s guns. Lake couldn’t resist bragging that no other historians had been aware of the Thompson showdown, as opposed to the “handful” he had admitted previously.   

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Stuart Lake.

Both of his claims, however, set a trap to catch Lake in his lie by declaring the story’s roots could be independently verified.

In the decades following his publication of Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, Lake grew to consider his Wyatt character as his personal intellectual property.  He often sought  payment from any print or film depictions of Wyatt that he claimed may have used material from his book, but he found that difficult for works that retold his version of the Ellsworth incident.

The only Western film based on a Wyatt Earp character to feature the heroic staredown with a Ben Thompson character was The Arizonian, filmed in 1935 from a script written by Dudley Nichols.  The movie was released just a year after Frontier Marshal by Fox Studios, which had purchased the exclusive rights to Lake’s book.

Historian Paul Andrew Hutton has speculated that Lake passed on an opportunity to sue Nichols because the Earp biographer had claimed the Ellsworth incident to be part of the historical record.  His conclusion is supported by Lake’s reluctance to litigate two decades later when the Thompson showdown came up again.

Ellsworth Showdown Wyatt Earp Ben Thompson true west magazine
Stuart Lake was super irritated at not being chosen to introduce the episodes for the ABC series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O’Brian (above). Perhaps the biographer believed he could be just as good as the “Old Ranger,” who used to introduce every episode of Death Valley Days.
— Hugh O’Brian photo Courtesy ABC; postcard courtesy NBC —

ABC Defends Lake

In 1953, Hollywood producer Robert F. Sisk wrote to Lake asking about the television rights for Frontier Marshal.  Recognizing an opportunity to boost book sales, Lake agreed to a contract, although Sisk rebuffed his additional demands for final script approval and recurring on-camera introductions to each episode.

Sisk allied with Louis F. Edelman as the executive producer for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and the pair began to line up the sponsors, talent and network contracts necessary to make the show a reality.  Sisk secured the talents of  Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, a scriptwriter with many screenplays to his credit, but he also wanted Lake to provide stand-alone narratives for each half hour episode.

“I wait with real interest your rough on the first Earp story,” Sisk wrote to Lake in May 1954, “and the reason or  rationale of his being a peace officer.”

In true Hollywood fashion, the producer added,  “and work a dame in, if but slightly.”   

Once filming got underway, a magazine article appeared that threatened to scuttle the entire project.

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This Ellsworth Showdown illustration, from the only biography Stuart Lake authorized in 1956, was drawn by Robert Doremus for Philip Ketchum’s Wyatt Earp. It treads dangerously close to Hugh O’Brian’s look as the frontier lawman in the ABC series.

In the summer of 1955, Argosy magazine came out with an expose written by Edwin V. Burkholder titled, “The Truth about Wyatt Earp.” Filled with the usual anti-Earp screed of previous debunkers, Burkholder also gave a fascinating spin on the Ellsworth incident, which must have hit close to home for ABC, as the pilot was going to feature the Ellsworth showdown.

Burkholder reported Wyatt had actually participated in  a con job by agreeing to publicly arrest Ben Thompson before the showdown. Wyatt was able to stare down the Texas gunman because he knew in advance Ben would not shoot.

Burkholder finished up his spurious retelling by mocking Lake’s version and definitively stating, “The court records name Earp as the arresting officer.”   

Intentionally or not, Burkholder had touched on the one “fact” that Lake could never deny without admitting the bankruptcy of his own version.

One of the sponsors of the show, General Mills, expressed alarm about Burkholder’s story. Sisk demanded a detailed rebuttal from Lake. Instead of complying, the writer complained about his status for the show’s credits and urged the producers to just ignore the “silly” charges.  Reminding Sisk, “if it were not for your Uncle Stuart, there would not be much of a series,” Lake insisted he be given story credit for the first episode in addition to the title of consultant. 

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As a historical figure, Wyatt Earp could not be copyrighted, but Charlton Comics avoided an issue by depicting Earp with a mustache and a buckskin shirt in this Ellsworth Showdown from Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal published in January 1956.

“Certainly, no one can dispute the fact that the Ellsworth business, barring a couple of twists, is right out of the book,” he argued, a sideways admission that the Thompson showdown came from his imagination alone.

Curiously, in his urging of the producers to leave the Argosy story unanswered,  Lake acknowledged that an 1884 account of the affair by Ben Thompson failed to mention Wyatt Earp, as if that omission somehow added to the proof of his own version.

Sisk was far from reassured by his petulant consultant. The problem with General Mills was serious enough that he was forced to answer the Burkholder story in the columns of Variety, assuring the entertainment industry that the record of Wyatt’s personal life was “impeccable.”

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The first issue of Wyatt Earp, Frontier Fighter, published by Atlas Comics in November 1955, avoided a potential legal challenge by having Earp face down Bill Thompson, rather than his brother Ben.

Lake’s Bold Bluff

Still seeking a credible statement from his consultant to back up his rebuttal, Sisk again pressed Lake for a response.

Lake wrote back about his ideas for manufacturing T-shirts and publishing a juvenile version of Frontier Marshal and a serialized Sunday newspaper comic strip.  He again laughed off the Burkholder story.

Sisk began to lose patience by the end of July. He reminded Lake that he needed a specific denunciation of the Argosy article.  Lake again stalled, angry about his reduced role in the production of the Ellsworth episode, which he thought he would be introducing himself.

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Published shortly after the debut of the television show, Philip Ketchum’s 1956 book Wyatt Earp was careful to present this cover illustration of the Ellsworth showdown with an Earp figure who bore no resemblance to the actor playing him on TV, Hugh O’Brian. This book was the only juvenile biography in 1956 that Lake specifically authorized
— Illustrated by Robert Doremus / Courtesy Whitman Publishing —

“You sen[t] down a script for the pilot just before you started to shoot it,” he fumed, “When I came up a few days later I learned that it had been entirely rewritten, not only as to story but [also] including the introductory narration.”

After a lengthy complaint about being edged out of script approval, Lake grumbled that his response would be forthcoming. Another week passed before he addressed the issue, and in his letter, Lake spent most of his typewriter ribbon questioning the value of Argosymagazine in general and the questionable identity of Burkholder in particular. He suggested Sisk demand Argosy’s editors produce Burkholder in the flesh to document the article under oath.  Lake smugly predicted Argosy would be unable to do so and bluffed, “I can document my biography of Wyatt Earp in every essential paragraph,” a bold claim for a book that failed to include a bibliography or even a single footnote.

As it turned out, the General Mills executives were mollified by Sisk’s response in Variety,and the pilot episode of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp aired on ABC on September 6, 1955. The pilot opened with an enthusiastic narrator who assured viewers that the “stories they tell about him are doubly fabulous because they’re true!”

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More than half of 1956’s The Picture Story of Wyatt Earp, by Felix Sutton and illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman, deals with a fictionalized version of the Ellsworth showdown.

The Ellsworth story featured Hugh O’Brian’s Wyatt Earp bravely facing down a less-than-threatening Ben Thompson played by Denver Pyle. (Perhaps due to budget considerations, the supposed crowd of 100 backing Thompson was reduced to three.)  The credits named Brennan for both the story and the script, a subtle indication of the growing strain between the producers and Lake.   

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp became a hit and enjoyed six years of particularly high viewer ratings, but Sisk and Edelman eventually refused to renew Lake’s contract. They also left him to challenge alone any histories of Wyatt that did not infringe on the show’s copyright.

In 1956, no less than six new children’s biographies of Wyatt appeared in bookstores, including one written by Lake.  Although he challenged some of his competitors, he could not specifically claim their repetition of the Earp-Thompson showdown as plagiarism. By that time, he had ensured the Ellsworth incident be viewed as an established historical “fact.”

Professor Kim Allen Scott is the university archivist at Montana State University Library in Bozeman. He discovered the letters between Stuart Lake and Robert F. Sisk in a mislabeled file folder that was part of the Frederick Hazlitt Brennan papers at UCLA.

Boom Town Belles

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Boom Town Belles in the Old WestWhat kind of reception did the traveling sideshows or circuses or drama/theater groups receive?

Old West Theatre Performers Boom Town Belles True West Magazine
Lotta Crabtree.

What kind of reception did the traveling sideshows or circuses or drama/theater groups receive?  Were any of these financially successful?

They were very popular in the entertainment-starved West and the good ones made a lot of money. Shakespearean plays were always popular as was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Citizens in the mining towns had money to spend and they loved to show the eastern cities how sophisticated and up to date they were.

Pretty women because were the most popular and many became very rich. Caroline Chapman was one of the first real actresses to head west. Following her first performance in San Francisco the audience carpeted the stage with poke sacks filled with gold.

Maria Eliza Rosanna Gilbert from Limerick, Ireland took the stage as the exotic Lola Montez. She could spin whoppers as good as any prospector. She had the dark, sultry beauty and exquisitely molded features of the women of Spain.  So, she invented a line of Spanish ancestors and a fraudulent girlhood spent in Seville. Another whopper she told was that she was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron.

In California, Lola became quite rich doing her famous “Spider Dance.” She performed the dance in Spanish costume with full, short skirts and flesh-colored tights.  The dance began with Lola wandering on stage then becoming entangled in a spider’s web. Suddenly she discovered a spider, (made of rubber, cork and whalebone) on her petticoat.  Attempting to dislodge the bug, she shook her petticoat furiously. On examining her skirts, she discovered other spiders and she shook her skirts with similar fury, revealing her tights.

During the 1850s this was daring to make the rowdy audiences shout “Higher! Higher!” as Lola searched beneath her skirts for the evasive spiders.  She’d kick a leg high into the air as if to squash a spider on the ceiling, and then she’d kick the other.

Finally she succeeded in shaking off all the spiders and stamped them to death on the floor.  Thunderous applause greeted her as she took her bows. She then stripped a silken garter off a shapely leg and tossed it into the audience.

In the mid-1850s Caroline became so annoyed with the attention given Lola Montez and her Spider Dance, she decided to burlesque the dance.  Her uproarious performances transformed Lola’s act from high sensuality to low comedy.

Lotta Crabtree was a pretty, red-haired Irish lass whose girlish innocence on stage made her rich. Whatever she lacked in talent she made up in image—a lamb among wolves and pure as the driven snow. She had an overprotective stage mother who, fearing they might steal the heart of her meal ticket, kept the wolves away.

As Lotta grew older, she took a fancy to smoking fancy cigarillos.  She also introduced gaminelike bits into her performances—showing off her knees by pulling off her stockings, rolling off divans with a flurry of lifted petticoats and wearing the briefest skirts.  She is believed to be the first actress to smoke on stage and the first to expose her bare legs on stage. She was the Shirley Temple of her time.

For thirty-five years, Lotta was the perennial little pet of the Western theater, and when she retired at the age of forty-four she still wore her red curls.  She lived alone with Mother, who had saved most of Lotta’s enormous earnings. After Mother died, it was too late for romance in her life. When Lotta died in 1924, she left behind a fortune of four million dollars that went to charity.

Adah Isaacs Menkens innocent appearance belied her wild and wicked lifestyle. Mark Twain wrote about her appearance in Virginia City in the play “The Mezappa” where she rode across the stage on a horse in a flesh-colored bodystocking that made her appear nude. Afterwards her adoring audience showered the stage with gold and silver.

These are but a few of the talented women who came west to “mine the miners.”

The Name Who Redeemed The Hamer Name

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The Man Who Redeemed The Hamer Name Screenwriter John Fusco makes good on his pledge to set the record straight on the takedown of Bonnie & Clyde.

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine
John Fusco, on right, shakes hands with Frank Hamer Jr. outside the former Texas Land and Cattle Steak House, in Austin, Texas, with a pledge to “do right by my daddy.”

The story of The Highwaymen, the new Depression-era Western from Netflix, has been a thirty-year obsession for author John Fusco.  “Those old photos of Barrow and Parker, leaning on their stolen 1932 Ford V8 Sedan, downright haunted me.” His investigation revealed that the real Bonnie and Clyde were the antithesis of romantic Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, and the real hero of the story was the Texas Ranger who ran them down. “As I researched, I became fascinated by Frank Hamer, one of the greatest lawmen of the 20th century, and I was really disturbed [by] his portrayal in this classic movie.”

Hamer is the lawman the outlaw duo capture, photograph and humiliate in the press, motivating him to hunt down and kill them. It never happened: Hamer and the Barrow gang never ‘met’ until the brief moment when Hamer tried to get them to surrender before opening fire. “[He’d] been shot 17 times over the course of his career, had killed over 50 men. He’d patrolled the border on a horse, with a Winchester. He was an old-time Ranger, in an era that had passed him by.” That is until Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson (played in Highwaymen by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates) reluctantly asked Hamer to come out of retirement to get the Barrows.

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine
John Fusco.

 The story simmered on the back burner until fifteen years ago, during the shooting of Fusco’s Hidalgo in the Mojave Desert. “Producer Casey Silver asked me what my passion projects were, and I told him about Frank Hamer. Coincidentally, we were staying at Whiskey Pete’s Casino Hotel where the actual Bonnie and Clyde death car was on display.” Silver was quickly onboard.

Fusco wanted the cooperation of the family, but the Hamers, who’d won a settlement from Warner Brothers for defamation, weren’t talking. “Frank Jr. like his father had been a Texas Ranger, one of the last of the flying game wardens, hunting down poachers from a Cessna plane. I happened to have a few game warden contacts; I did ride-alongs in three states.” They interceded for Fusco, and a meeting was set.  At a lunch of mostly bourbon, Fusco convinced 86-year-old Frank Jr. of his righteous intentions. “We walked out into the sun. He said, ‘I only ask one thing: to do right by my daddy.’ He had his friend take a [picture] as we shook hands, and he said, ‘Here’s our contract right here.’”

Fusco’s initial dream-cast to play Hamer and partner Maney Gault were Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Redford got the script first. “He said, ‘Don’t send the script to Paul. I’m going to bring it to him and I’m going to make sure that we do this. After Butch and Sundance and The Sting, [this] will be a perfect last one for us to do together.’” Newman signed on, and the new pairing was the talk of Hollywood. Sadly, Newman was soon too ill to work, and the deal fell apart.

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine
Scenes from the forthcoming (pictured above and below) “The Highwaymen,” starring Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer and Woody Harrelson as Maney Gault.

Fast-forward a dozen years, to Netflix, where Fusco is writing and producing the Marco Polo series, and Casey Silver is making Godless. Director John Lee Hancock had long been a supporter, “We knew there had been interest from Kevin (Costner), and Woody (Harrelson) had been circling it for quite a while. Casey called me and said, ‘You’ve got a relationship with Netflix; I do now.  What about taking Highwaymen to them?’ And bingo: they were on board and we were off to the races.”

Fusco grew up on his father’s farm in rural Connecticut, dropped out of high school to ride the rails, then got a G.E.D., and went to NYU Film School. Screenwriting teacher and Oscar-winner Waldo Salt took Fusco under his wing. “He had hoboe’d with Woody Guthrie. We were kind of kindred spirits. He got behind my work and I just idolized him.” His Bachelor’s thesis script became the 1986 movie Crossroads. Then Fusco defied all his agents’ entreaties to do something commercial, and wrote a Western, although, “A Western had not made money since Butch Cassidy.” Young Guns was a hit, as was Young Guns  2, beginning the genre revival that lead to Dances With Wolves, Tombstone, and Deadwood.

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine

“Working with the ‘Young Guns’ was great,” Fusco recalls, “but working with the ‘Old Guns’, that was the career highlight. We were casting Lawrence Murphy. I said I wrote it as Jack Palance and everybody looked at me like, he’s still alive? And so they reached out. He’s retired, he’s happy, he’s not reading anything. I said, don’t give up. Tell him this Western’s being made with all these young guys, and we want the old guard, the icons of the American Western to take on the ‘brat pack on horseback’. He read the script and came out of retirement. From there he’d go on to win an Academy Award. I think of being down on the Mexican border during Young Guns II, drinking tequila with Kiefer Sutherland, Emilio Estevez, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Coburn, and Christian Slater. James said, ‘You know, that Emilio, that’s the best (expletive) Billy the Kid there’s ever been.’ He said, ‘I played opposite Kristofferson. Kris is a good actor. But he was a pacifist. He never aims his gun directly at anybody. But Emilio, he just breathes life into the character. That’s what made me want to do this.’”

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine

“There are projects that get offered to me, and I’ll say to my wife, I just can’t find my way into this. She always says the same thing to me: think of it as a Western. As soon as I do that, I’ve got it. The Western’s in my blood and it always will be. I’ve been reading True West for years, and it’s such an honor being [named] True Westerner of the Year, it’s just so meaningful to me, as is The Highwaymen. After this 30-year dream of telling the story of Frank Hamer, I’m making good on my word, and helping to keep the interest in the west and the Western going.”

The Constable Butcher

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – you can check out the original post here https://truewestmagazine.com/constable-butcher/

The Constable Butcher Early pioneers and their daily meals come to life at the Tallman.

constable butcher tallman house true west magazine
Since trains did not reach California’s Lake County, visitors traveled via boat or stage. They found meals and respite at the Tallman House, shown in 1900, as a stage drops off guests.
— Courtesy Tallman Hotel, formerly the Tallman House —

In the 1860s, Upper Lake, California, was a farming and mill town, but because of Clear Lake’s boating and fishing, and the healthful benefits of the surrounding hot springs, the county was becoming a resort destination. People from the Pacific Northwest and larger California cities visited the area to relax and cool off.

Upper Lake was so small that some residents had multiple occupations. When Charles W. Gillett wasn’t busy running his general store, he was offering prayers and gospel as the town’s minister. When Constable Robert Bucknell wasn’t enforcing the law, he was butchering the town’s meat.

The constable butcher gave prominent pioneers a reason to celebrate, at a double wedding on  August 9, 1870, when he married Winnie Alley and her half-brother John Lemuel Alley married Ella Eliza McMath. McMath’s mother cooked the bridal couples a breakfast in dutch ovens over an open fire. Then they were escorted on horseback by 17 other couples to the Alley family home for the ceremony and a barbecue dinner served to more than 100 guests.

Five years later, Bucknell was likely butchering meat for the weary travelers, brought by stage or boat, staying at the Ridgway House, a two-story hotel erected in 1875 by Jeremiah Ridgway.

Along with delicious viands made from cows, sheep, hogs, elk and deer, diners enjoyed meals made with locally produced dairy, wheat, barley, oats, corn, beans, potatoes, sugar beets, butter and honey. Fruit trees dotted the landscape, growing apples, peaches, pears, apricots, figs and oranges for folks to snack on. Grapes, raspberries, strawberries and even olives also dressed up meals.

By 1883, Ridgway had sold his hotel to farmers Rufus and Mary Tallman, who changed the name to Tallman House. Early ownership brought challenges for the Tallmans. For instance, in February 1883, Mary laid down for a nap, but awoke to a smoke-filled room. Luckily, she was able to alert everyone to get out, and the Tallman suffered only minor damage to the dining room wall around the chimney.

The Tallman House quickly recovered from the fire. The popular hotel flourished for more than 10 years.

Then fire struck the Tallman House once again. On October 29, 1895,  guests awoke around 2:30 a.m. and narrowly escaped. But this time, the kitchen fire destroyed the entire building.

The Tallmans had the hotel rebuilt. In 1900, they advertised, “Home cooking. Reasonable Rates. Headquarters for tourists and commercial travelers.”

The hotel stayed in the family until the 1940s, and then ownership changed hands. After the hotel sat dormant for 41 years, modern pioneers Bernie and Lynne Butcher  reopened the hotel, maintaining its historic elegance and tasty fare, while also offering luxuries never dreamt of by the town’s earliest settlers.

Sample this apple and walnut dessert to experience some of Upper Lake’s bounty.

Stuffed apples

6 large apples, cored

½ cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup hot water

¼ tsp. nutmeg

Whipped cream

Place the cored apples into a baking dish. Combine the walnuts and a half-cup of sugar. Fill equal amounts into the apples, and pour the hot water around the apples. Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Remove the apples from the pan, and pour the liquid into a saucepan. Add the remaining sugar and nutmeg, and cook over medium heat until thickened, about five to 10 minutes. Drizzle sauce over the stuffed apples, and top them with whipped cream.

Recipe adapted from The San Francisco Call, October 15, 1899

Sherry Monahan kicked off her journey into Old West cuisine, spirits and places by authoring Taste of Tombstone. Visit SherryMonahan.com to learn more about her books, awards and TV appearances.

Lost Photo Mystery

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Lost Photo of Crook’s Scout Discovered? An unseen stereoview by John Campbell Burge opens up the discussion.

John Campbell Burge Cooley Crook Scout True West Magazine
Does this John Campbell Burge stereograph, taken circa 1882, depict Corydon E. Cooley?
— All photos Courtesy Collection of Jeremy Rowe Vintage Photography, VintagePhoto.com —

John Campbell Burge is one of my favorite Territorial Arizona photographers. Though his work is less common than other early Arizona photographers, Burge had a fine touch with his stereoviews, capturing motion and the personality of his subjects, and creating aesthetically pleasing scenic images.

This is a brief story about a stereoview by Burge that I’d never seen before.

John Campbell Burge Cooley Crook Scout True West Magazine
Cooley shaking hands with an American Indian.

The “New” Burge Stereoview

Burge was an itinerant photographer. His first studio was the Phoenix Gallery on Montezuma Street in Prescott, which he opened in April 1881. He moved his operation briefly to Phoenix that summer, before returning to Prescott that fall.

In early 1882, he moved his studio to Globe and traveled throughout eastern Arizona to the mining communities and the San Carlos reservation.

In 1885, he moved to Flagstaff and formed a partnership with James Hildreth. Burge made images of northern Arizona for several years before moving east—first to Kingston, then to Deming, New Mexico Territory, at the end of the 1880s, then on to El Paso, Texas, in the 1890s.

John Campbell Burge Cooley Crook Scout True West Magazine
Cooley in later life.

The image of his I’d never seen before was on a yellow Burge mount, and it depicted a camp scene of six individuals, in front of a lean-to under the shade of a large cottonwood tree, with a seventh figure in front of a tent at the rear.

Three of the American Indians wear shell coats, and one wears a backpack. Three men, including the only white in the scene, lean on rifles. A young woman draped in a blanket kneels at the base of the tree. The individual on the right leans against a branch, posed to create a separation with the background to enhance the stereo effect.

The white gentleman wears a medal and is shaking hands with an older Indian who wears a headband. The photographer’s imprint on the mount is the only identification available, but the man looked familiar. A search of relevant figures in Arizona Territory at the time located a comparison image for Corydon Eliphalet Cooley. 

John Campbell Burge Cooley
An earlier view of Cooley can be seen in Dudley Flanders’s 1874 photo, showing Cooley in a white shirt, standing at far right in the rear.

Could This Be Cooley?

Cooley was born on April 2, 1836, in Loudoun, Virginia, and served in Company C of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry during the Civil War. His unit served on garrison duty and engaged in operations against Indians and Confederate forces in Arizona and New Mexico Territories. During the war, Cooley became knowledgeable with central and northeastern Arizona Territory, and the White Mountain Apaches who lived there.

After the war, Cooley located his home base, Cooley’s ranch, about 10 miles east of Camp Apache in Arizona Territory. Cooley’s special connection with the Apaches came to the attention of George Crook soon after the general arrived in the territory. Crook hired Cooley, whose relationship with the Apaches proved invaluable in recruiting scouts and guiding troops as they attempted to contain uprisings through the territory.

In 1874, Dudley Flanders took a stereo photo of Crook with his Apache scouts at Camp Apache. Cooley appears at the right group of men, standing at the rear, in a white shirt. Unfortunately, he moved during the exposure, so his face is blurred in the image, but he also has a beard and wears a hat similar to the man in the Burge image.

Burge took his stereo about eight years after the Flanders stereo, while Burge was working out of his studio in Globe, which places it during Crook’s second Apache campaign. Cooley retired from his service with Crook in November 1882 and returned to his ranch. If the stereo can be definitively dated before that date, it would increase the likelihood that Cooley is the scout depicted.

John Campbell Burge Cooley Crook Scout True West Magazine
After the Civil War, Cooley settled his ranch 10 miles east of Camp Apache in Arizona Territory, as shown in this photo taken by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Cooley developed close relationships with the Apaches that led to him recruiting them as scouts for U.S. Army Gen. George Crook.

An Ongoing Challenge

Identifying individuals in historical photographs without provenance or definitively identified copies for comparison is an ongoing challenge. Understanding the format, mount style and information embedded within the image, as well as the context of the photographer who created it, provides extra ammunition for identification.

Unfortunately, the Burge image provides little information about the location where it was made. The subjects appear to be scouts in a camp with both an Apache-style lean-to and what appears to be a military-style tent at the rear behind the tree.

The white gentleman I believe to be Cooley is wearing a badge. Since the badge provides little detail, it does not aid in identifying the image or individual. Cooley was, however, appointed sheriff of Yavapai County in 1877, so if this is a sheriff badge, that could further increase the notion that this photograph depicts him.

A comparison with the Flanders image  and later images of Cooley shows a least a believable similarity in terms of facial characteristics, beard and style of head gear.

In the end, though, identification often boils down to beliefs.  Hopefully, this Burge stereo will encourage a lively discussion about the process of researching potential attributions.

Do you believe that the white scout in this image is Cooley?

Jeremy Rowe has collected 19th-century and early 20th-century photographs for more than 30 years. He has written several photography books and has curated museum exhibits, including a permanent one at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is emeritus professor at Arizona State University and a senior research scientist at New York University.