Pony Express Riders

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Death-Defying Riders of the Pony Express Sifting through the myths to uncover the gritty truths about Pony Express riders.

Pony Express True West
The idea that Pony Express riders wore buckskins can be traced to the popularity of Frederic Remington’s 1901 oil, The Coming and Going of the Pony Express. But the master cowboy artist made a major mistake.
— Courtesy Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma —

When America’s first Pony Express rider set off on April 3, 1860, from St. Joseph, Missouri, launching a coast-to-coast transfer of news and messages that would take 10 days instead of months to arrive, pioneers hailed the news with joy.

Yet what seemed so monumental in 1860 was already old news in 1861. The telegraph promised instant communication. Instead of riders racing back and forth with your news, a series of electric current pulses would transmit messages over wires.

But first those wires needed to be strung across the nation. And thus, the Pony Express rider remained a vision of death-defying courage crossing the prairies and deserts when one steamboat pilot struck out on his stagecoach journey, abandoning his Mississippi River life to travel across the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. On his way to his destination in Nevada Territory, this adventurer came face to face with destiny.

Pony Express True West
The Pony Express ended up lasting only from April 3, 1860, to October 24, 1861, because telegraph lines got strung up across the nation, allowing for quicker transmit of messages. For such a short-lived endeavor, the Pony Express sure withstood the tests of time.
— George M. Ottinger’s 1867 wood engraving courtesy Library of Congress —

“In early August 1861, near what is now Mud Springs in remote western Nebraska, Twain saw an Express rider,” so said Christopher Corbett, author of Orphans Preferred, at this summer’s Western Writers of America convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

Corbett continued to set the scene: “The stagecoach driver had been promising him that he would see one, and Twain had taken to riding on top of the coach to take in the view, wearing only his long underwear. The entire encounter took less than two minutes.

“Writing entirely from memory (with his brother’s diary to stimulate him) in Hartford, Connecticut, 10 years later, Twain wrung an entire chapter of Roughing It from that moment. He thus initiated what many a chronicler would continue after him: he preserved the memory of the Pony, with perhaps a little embellishment.”

Of course, when the budding journalist was traveling on that stagecoach to Nevada Territory, he wasn’t yet known by his nom de plume. He was still Samuel Clemens. But by the time Roughing It got published  in 1872, the world knew him as Mark Twain.

Pony Express True West
Walter Martin Baumhofer painted a grandiose and iconic portrayal of a Pony Express rider, complete with a classic wagon train in the background and plenty of sky above.
— Courtesy Heritage Auctions, March 1-2, 2012 —

No Stetson, No Pistol, No Buckskins?

In his humorous American travelogue Roughing It, a favorite book of many to this day, Twain gave one of the most noteworthy descriptions of Pony Express riders, clothed differently than how they are popularly pictured.

“The rider’s dress was thin, and fitted close; he wore a ‘round-about,’ and a skull-cap, and tucked his pantaloons into his boot-tops like a race-rider.

“He carried no arms—he carried nothing that was not absolutely necessary, for even the postage on his literary freight was worth five dollars a letter….

“His horse was stripped of all unnecessary weight, too. He wore a little wafer of a racing-saddle, and no visible blanket.

Pony Express True West
Pony Express riders carried messages in four pockets (cantinas) as shown in the reproduction mochila. Openings cut into the leather allowed riders to fit the mochila over the saddle horn and cantle.
— Reproduction mochila Courtesy Smithsonian National Postal Museum —

“He wore light shoes, or none at all. The little flat mail-pockets strapped under the rider’s thighs would each hold about the bulk of a child’s primer.”

Isn’t that kind of shocking? An actual Pony Express rider did not wear a big ’ol cowboy hat—he wore a skull cap! He did not wear a fringe coat, nor did he carry a pistol! And his saddle didn’t have bulging mail packets on the side!

What seems odd at first, only because of numerous artistic representations that contradict the description, actually makes sense when one remembers: the lighter the ride, the faster the speed.

One of the partners behind the Pony Express, Alexander Majors, explained the saddle’s slim pockets, in his 1893 autobiography, Seventy Years on the Frontier.

The business letters and press dispatches were printed on tissue paper, which allowed for a light weight required for transporting the mail quickly via horses (usually a thoroughbred on the Eastern route and a mustang for the rugged Western terrain). The weight was fixed at 10 pounds or under; each half of an ounce cost $5 in gold to transport.

Pony Express True West
An inaccurate graphic of a Pony rider carrying his mail in a backpack,.
— True West Archives —

A rider’s desire to keep the weight as light as possible also explained why Twain’s rider didn’t carry a gun.

“Along a well-traveled part of the trail (as where Twain encountered him), a rider wouldn’t have to think about carrying a gun,” says Paul Fees, the retired curator from the Buffalo Bill Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

“At night, or through more dangerous territory, I suspect he would arm himself. The revolver of choice, apparently, was the Colt Model 1849 percussion pocket revolver in .31 caliber.”

Now we know why the 80 chosen to be riders were called the “pick of the frontier.” To put your life on the line so you could faithfully meet the 10-day schedule required grit and gumption. Yet Pony riders must have felt the gamble was worth the gig; their $50 a month salary was good pay in the days when a skilled blacksmith made $33.

Okay, so we’re making the mochila lighter and, for the most part, tossing any firearms, but what about the attire? Would a Pony Express rider really go without his cowboy hat, his boots and his buckskins?

Pony Express True West
The skulls littering the landscape remind viewers of the hostile country toward San Francisco, California, faced by this rider—he’s hoping he’ll outride those American Indians racing after him!
— True West Archives —

Dressing for Success

Hold your horses! Your notion of what that Pony Express rider looked like during his short-lived yet impressive career may still be somewhat accurate. Although one aspect does not appear to be true to history at all.

“Boots were the main footwear, although it wouldn’t be out of line for some riders to wear leather moccasins if they had them as normal footwear,” says Elanna “Quackgrass Sally” Skorupa, who has ridden the Pony Express trails for more than 25 years and is the only member of the National Pony Express Association to belong to all eight state divisions (she even carried the Olympic torch for the Pony Express!). 

The clothing changed with the seasons and was as varied as the riders themselves, Skorupa says, adding, “Hats of all shapes and styles would have been worn…. Wool, calico and cotton shirts, wool britches and homespun sackcloth would have been the norm. I have heard mention of some gloves and even perhaps some gauntlets, but these were very young men, so their personal items would have been few.”

Twain’s rider just had a penchant for a skull cap over a cowboy hat and light shoes over boots. And instead of a buckskin fringe coat, he wore a…round-about? That’s not such a familiar term.

Pony Express True West
Billy Johnson, who performed the Pony Express history for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, stands next to a mochila incorrectly stamped “U.S. Mail.”
— Johnson photo courtesy Heritage Auctions, December 11-12, 2012 —

Turns out, a round-about is a fitting choice for someone looking to literally lighten the load on his shoulders. It is a short, close-fitting jacket. Readers may be familiar with the ornate version of this jacket, worn by U.S. Dragoons of the Antebellum era, military historian John Langellier says.

Picturing Twain’s Pony rider in a short jacket, tucked-in pants, light shoes, skull cap and minus a pistol may make logical sense. (And he possibly wore boots. Twain was contradictory on this point. Perhaps his rider changed footwear for the terrain?) Each rider’s style adjusted with the seasons and topography, and beyond that, he wore what felt comfortable and light for the task at hand.

Yet getting Twain’s rider to gallop in the Pony Express movie in our minds may prove difficult. After all, the popular idea of how a Pony Express rider should look is best portrayed in Frederic Remington’s The Coming and Going of the Pony Express. His Pony Express rider is superbly clad in a buckskin suit, with his cowboy hat flared up to the sky and his trusty pistol strapped to his waist.

But the master cowboy artist got this attire wrong.

Pony Express True West
The romance of the American West’s Pony Express has reached as far as Russia, as demonstrated by Valeriy Kagounkin’s painting of a rider.
— Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum Benefit Auction, March 18-19, 2016 —

Romancing the Pony

“I have seen several artists clothe these riders in buckskins,” Skorupa says, “and usually the Pony Express rider is portrayed older than the young age of the true riders.”

Then she twists the knife in: “I have never found any evidence of the riders wearing buckskins.”

Oh, say it’s not so. Yes, the artist was a New Yorker, but his bloodlines link him to the esteemed American Indian portrait artist George Catlin, to the founder of Remington Arms Eliphalet Remington, to Mountain Man Jedediah Smith and even to our country’s first president, George Washington. He’s not the caliber to swap the real for the mythic!

When actually, that’s somewhat Remington’s appeal as an artist. When he tried out sheep ranching in Kansas in 1883, he found the work boring and rough. He was more of a pseudo-cowboy. He had real-life adventures that gave him an honest connection to the frontier world he was depicting, but you could never call him a bona fide frontiersman. His style was more hearty and breezy than scrupulous, and if he wanted his Pony Express rider to wear a buckskin suit, then truth be damned.

Pony Express True West
These riders exchange their mail in Percy Van Eman Ivory’s The Spirit of the Pony Express oil, allowing for messages to reach the coast in 10 days. Before then, news was dreadfully slow. By the time people back East heard about the 1848 gold strike in California, six months had passed and some boomtowns had gone bust!
— Courtesy Heritage Auctions, October 15-16, 2010 —

Even so, Remington paid proper homage to the Pony Express rider’s history. In the dead of winter, blinding snow all around him, his rider gallops off, having just changed his horse at one of the relay stations that made the endeavor such a success (the stops gave both horses and riders time to rest without gaps in the service of delivering the mail). All the inappropriate weight the artist threw onto his rider clothing-wise, he more than made up for in the overall tone that these riders were boys and young men to admire, who set forth in any kind of weather, in unforeseen worlds of danger, to do a job well done.   

Perhaps Remington and all the others who clothed these daring riders in buckskins were paying too much attention to “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s portrayal of them.

“For three decades a representation of the Pony Express was a spectacle at every performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” Buffalo Bill biographer Don Russell wrote. “No other act was more consistently on its program. It was easy to stage, and it had the interest of a race, as well as re-creating a romantic episode.”

Russell pointed out that “almost nothing was written about [the Pony Express] for half a century after its brief existence” and later added, “It is highly unlikely that the Pony Express would be so well remembered had not Buffalo Bill so glamorized it; in common opinion Buffalo Bill and Pony Express are indissolubly linked.”

Pony Express True West
A chip off the Frederic Remington block, Dwight V. Roberts’s oil of a Pony Express rider offers yet another buckskin blunder.
— Courtesy Heritage Auctions, December 9, 2009 —

Remington would have known of Buffalo Bill’s Pony Express presentation. He studied the Wild West show cast for his illustration published in Harper’s Weekly on August 18, 1894. He, like many Americans, undoubtedly saw Buffalo Bill as a buckskin-clad Pony Express rider on the September 19, 1888, cover of Beadle’s Dime New York Library.

We should forgive Remington for his buckskin suit rider, even as we reshape our world view to imagine one of these brave souls wearing a skull cap instead of a cowboy hat. After all, without the romance, would we even remember these Pony Express riders today?

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Arizona Cattle Company

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Arizona Cattle Company and the A1 Brand

arizona cattle company a1 true west

The arrival of Mormon colonists from Utah in 1876 heralded the first permanent Anglo-American settlements in northern Arizona.  Even though cattle ranching was one of the territory’s largest industries, it was still in its infancy in the area around Flagstaff until the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1881.

John Young, a son of Mormon leader Brigham Young was one of the earliest settlers.  He was contracted to deliver 50,000 railroad ties for the new line.  He built a camp for his tie cutters in what is today Fort Valley, a few miles north of Flagstaff.  The threat of Indian raids caused Young to turn the camp into a fortress, which he called Moroni, after the Mormon angel.  A log cabin 75 feet long acted as one side of the bastion.  The other three sides of the square consisted of railroad ties set in the ground on end.

The arrival of the iron-bellied locomotives in 1881 marked the real beginning of the cattle business in northern Arizona.  Young and several companions organized the Mormon Cattle Company, stocking the virgin ranges around Flagstaff for the first time on a large scale.  By 1883, the price of cattle was $50 a head, up from $15 a head just two years earlier.  That same year Young teamed up with a group of Eastern capitalists, led by Colonel Jake Ruppert Sr. father of the man who would own the New York Yankees during the heyday of Babe Ruth.  They founded the Arizona Cattle Company, headquartering at Fort Moroni.

Young, a polygamist, didn’t stay in the business long.  In 1885, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was forced to sell his share and make a hasty exit for the hills.

After Young left, the outfit build several new buildings at Fort Moroni and renamed it Fort Rickerson, in honor of C. L. Rickerson, an officer in the New York based company.  During its heyday, the Arizona Cattle Company, or A1, ran some 16,000 head on some of the finest cattle country in Arizona.  They ranged from south of Flagstaff near Lake Mary, north to the Grand Canyon, and from Ash Fork on the west, to the Little Colorado on the east on 132,000 acres of land purchased from the railroad at fifty cents an acre.

In 1885 the absentee owners selected a field manager, a colorful, blustering ex-Chicago fire captain named B. B. Bullwinkle, who literally talked his way into heading up one of northern Arizona’s largest cow outfits.  In spite of his inexperience, Bullwinkle learned the cow business quickly.  His commanding presence more than made up for his lack of knowledge, and the ranch flourished with the captain at the helm.  He erected fences, built barns and bridges on the ranch.  He even strung a telegraph line from Fort Rickerson to Flagstaff.  His range boss was a hard-riding cowboy named Jack Diamond, who held the job until the company folded in 1899.

Bullwinkle was a gentleman who liked pretty women, fast horses, and poker.  The epic poker games the flamboyant captain engaged in with other cattlemen were a reflection of the prosperous times in the business. In one game, with just the turn of a card, the captain held three aces, became the new owner of 762 cows, and a big stock ranch.

A few days after that historic poker game, in 1887, Bullwinkle was killed when his horse took a fall while he was racing another cowman at breakneck speed into Flagstaff.

The Arizona Cattle Company prospered a few more years before a prolonged drought and overstocked ranges drove the company out of business in 1899.  That year range boss Jack Diamond shipped a record 10,000 head to market.  But the good times were gone.  That same year the Hash Knife outfit went bust closing the book on a colorful chapter in Arizona history.

Iron Ladies of the American Railroad

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American railroad trains true west
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Chama, NM and Antonito, CO
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a historic narrow-gauge railway that operates between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado, on the D&RGWRR 1880 extension line. In 1935, Paramount Pictures used the railroad’s locomotive #168 in the Texas Rangers, directed by King Vidor and starring Fred MacMurray and Jean Parker.
– Courtesy Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad –

The first trip I took by train was an hour-long journey from my hometown in Norborne, Missouri, to Walt Disney’s hometown in Marceline, Missouri. I was seven and the 200-square-foot depot where I purchased my ticket was a hub of activity. The station agent was a one-man show, answering phones, selling tickets and handling the baggage. I was preoccupied with the framed pictures of various destinations trains could take travelers that lined the walls of the depot. Brochures with fold-out maps of faraway locations filled the shelves below pictures of Colorado, Oregon and Wyoming. Those images and maps made me want to go west.

The Norborne Depot fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down. The depot in Marceline is now the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Many notable stations have been converted to museums. Historic rail lines, locomotives and passenger cars have been restored and beckon visitors to embark on excursions to entertain and educate.

American railroad trains true west
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Chama, NM and Antonito, CO
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad’s 92-year-old coal-fired, steam-powered narrow-gauge Baldwin K-36 locomotive #487 charges past Cresco tank on its way to Cumbres Pass.
– Courtesy Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad –

A heritage rail trip today offers a ride into yesteryear. Passengers discover the joy of rail travel and learn about the men and women who built our nation’s great railroads…and made train travel possible for everyone wanting to see the West.

When the last spike was hammered into the steel track of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, Western Union lines sounded the glorious news of the railroad’s completion from New York to San Francisco. For more than five years an estimated four thousand men, mostly Irish working west from Omaha, and Chinese working east from Sacramento, moved like a vast assembly line toward the end of the track.

American railroad trains true west
Georgetown Loop Railroad, Georgetown, CO
Built in 1884, Colorado’s Georgetown Loop Railroad is one of the engineering wonders of the Rocky Mountain state’s historic narrow gauge rail lines. Passengers in 2017 will enjoy the thrill of riding on historic rolling stock pulled by a steam-driven locomotive across the new High Bridge.
– Gary A. Haines/GrizzlyCreekGallery.com –

Editorials in newspapers and magazines praised the accomplishment and some boasted that the work that “was begun, carried on, and completed solely by men.” The August edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book reported, “No woman had laid a rail and no woman had made a survey.” Although men had handled the physical task of building the railroad, women made significant and lasting contributions to the historic operation.

The female connection with railroading dates as far back as 1838, when women were hired as registered nurses/stewardesses in passenger cars. Those ladies attended to the medical needs of travelers and also acted as hostesses of sorts, helping passengers have a comfortable journey.

American railroad trains true west
Skunk Train, Fort Bragg, CA
The Mendocino Railway Company’s Skunk Train (above) is headquartered amidst the redwoods of Fort Bragg, California. Modern-day travelers on the “Redwood Route” will travel over the California Western Railroad line built as a logging train in 1885.
– Photo courtesy of the Skunk Train –

Susan Morningstar was one of the first women on record employed by a railroad. She and her sister, Catherine Shirley, were hired by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1855 to keep the interior of the cars clean and orderly. The feminine, homey touches they added to the railroad car’s décor attracted female travelers and transformed the stark, cold interior into a more welcoming setting.

Miss E.F. Sawyer became the first female telegraph operator when she was hired by the Burlington Railroad in Montgomery, Illinois, in 1872. The following year Union Pacific Railroad executives followed suit by hiring two women to be telegraph operators in Kansas City, Missouri.

American railroad trains true west
Union Pacific Railroad executive tours of the new transcontinental line in 1868-’69.
– Photo by Andrew J. Russell Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University –

Inventor Eliza Murfey focused on the mechanics of the railroad, creating devices for improving how bearings on a rail wheel attached to train cars responded to the axles. The device—or packing, as it was referred to—was used to lubricate the axles with oil which reduced derailments caused by seized axles and bearings. Murfey held 16 patents for her 1870 invention.

In 1879, inventor Mary Elizabeth Walton developed a system that deflected emissions from the smokestacks on railroad locomotives. She was awarded two patents for her pollution-reducing device.

American railroad trains true west
While author and publisher Mrs. Miriam Leslie was not on the Union Pacific Railroad executive tours of the new transcontinental line in 1868-’69, she wrote A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate based on her own cross-country round trip rail adventure. In 1880, she inherited her husband’s paper, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and continued to promote proper rail travel for women.
– Miriam Leslie photo courtesy of New York Public Library –

Nancy P. Wilkerson, a cattle rancher’s daughter from Terre Haute, Indiana, created the cattle car in 1881. Using a rack and pinion mechanism, she devised sliding partisans that separated the livestock and compartments for food and water troughs.

From the mechanical to the ornamental and a combination of both, women like civil engineer Olive Dennis and architect Mary Jane Colter made their mark on the railroad in the late 1890s. While employed with the Baltimore and Ohio, Dennis introduced reclining passenger seats and individual window vents that not only allowed fresh air into the car, but also trapped dust. Railroad lines across the country quickly adopted the refinements.

American railroad trains true west
Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad, Abilene, KS
Visitors to Abilene in 2017 can take a comfortable ride on the historic, steam-driven Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad.
– A&SRR photo by Paul Lord –

Mary Jane Colter was the chief architect and decorator for the Fred Harvey Company. Harvey developed the Harvey House restaurants and hotels that served rail passengers on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. Colter designed and decorated Harvey’s eateries and inns. She considered the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, to be her finest work.

In addition to Colter’s architecture and decorating style, the “attractive and intelligent young women of good character” who worked at the Harvey Houses throughout the West further enhanced Fred Harvey’s establishments. Dressed in their starched, black and white shirts, bibs and aprons, the always beautiful Harvey Girls served cowhands, trainmen and travelers from Dodge City, Kansas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

American railroad trains true west
Southern Railroad, Leadville, CO
The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad runs at over 10,000 feet on the awe-inspiring High Line of the former Denver, South Park & Pacific and Colorado & Southern lines.
– Photo courtesy of LC&SRR –

“The girls at a Fred Harvey place never look dowdy, frowsy, tired, slip-shot or overworked,” an article in the June 22, 1905, edition of the Leavenworth Times noted. “They are expecting you—clean collars, clean aprons, hands and faces washed, nails manicured—there they are, bright, fresh, healthy, and expectant.”

Two of the most desirable locations for Harvey Girls to work were the Cardenas Hotel in Trinidad, Colorado, and the El Garces in Needles, California. Both were beautifully situated and uniquely designed. The El Garces was referred to as the “Crown Jewel” of the entire Fred Harvey chain.

American railroad trains true west
Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, Springdale, AR
The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad has special excursion trains throughout the year with refreshments and meals served in its specialty cars, including the historic “Silver Feather” dome car.
– Photo courtesy of A&MRR –

Soiled doves capitalized on the business opportunities the completed railroad line introduced. Ambitious madams acquired their own cars and transformed the interior into parlor houses. Independently contracted locomotives would transport the rolling houses of ill repute and the wicked women aboard to various cowtowns along the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Highly principled ladies were able to make just as much of a fortune from the railways as disreputable women. Sarah Clark Kidder, the first female railroad president, proved that women were just as capable of running a rail line as men. In 1901, Kidder took over as head of California’s Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad. The rail line, which hauled lumber, farm produce and gold destined for the United States Mint in San Francisco, flourished during her twelve-year rule.

American railroad trains true west
Today, women who travel on the A&MRR don’t have to travel as formally as the women eating in a corner of the Harvey Dining Car circa 1900.
– Photo courtesy of Library of Congress –

Cora Mears Pitcher took over as president of the short line Silverton Northern Railroad in southwest Colorado in 1931. Her father, Otto Mears, built the railway in 1885 to support the lucrative mining business in the area. The Silverton Northern Railroad ran from Silverton up the Animas River to Eureka. Cora took great pride in assuming responsibility for the line and in preserving the memory for her father who operated a successful copper mine in the region.

Famed stage actress Lillie Langtry made traveling by rail a glamorous experience. The interior of her private car, named the Lalee, featured upholstered seats, carved woodwork inlaid with silver bands, plush carpeting and a ceiling of diamond-shaped form on a light tinted lavender background. In 1904, Lillie and the Lalee traveled to Val Verde County, Texas, to meet the well-known Justice of the Peace Judge Roy Bean. The judge was a great admirer of Lillie’s and had written her several times expressing his devotion. Sadly, the judge had passed away before the actress’s visit.

American railroad trains true west
Whitewater Valley Railroad, Connorsville, IN Since 1972, Indiana’s Whitewater Valley Railroad, an operating railroad museum, has run as a nonprofit excursion train between Metamora and it headquarters in Connorsville.
– Photo courtesy of Whitewater Valley Railroad –

Popular playwright and actress Eleanor Robson Belmont also traveled across the country in her own private car. Velvet curtains and a crystal chandelier adorned her palatial suite. “A private railroad car is not an acquired taste,” she told a reporter with the San Francisco Call Chronicle Examiner newspaper in 1906. “One takes to it immediately.”

Publisher and author Miriam Leslie might have done more to promote traveling by rail than any other woman in the 19th century. In 1877, she embarked on an extravagant five-month train trip from New York to San Francisco. Onboard the Union Pacific she visited popular Western locations including Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Denver. Miriam referred to the ride across the frontier as “exhilarating” and looked forward to seeing every square mile of the towns and cities on the itinerary.

American railroad trains true west
Charlie Russell Choo Chew, Lewistown, MT
The Charlie Russell Choo Chew operates a dinner train on the CMST&PRR’s old tracks between Lewistown and Denton.
– Photo courtesy of Charlie Russell Choo-Chew –

“Wyoming was like a new world. No wilder or more grandly lonely landscape has yet unfolded,” Leslie wrote. “Going to sleep in Cheyenne we awoke in Denver, our car having been attached during the night to a train upon the Denver Pacific Railroad. Denver lies broadly and generously upon a great plain sloping toward the South Platte, with the grand sweep of the Rocky Mountain chain almost surrounding it. A large number of handsome houses have been built on the western side of the city, facing the mountain view; and one foresees when Denver is forty instead of twenty years old, this will be the fashionable and charming quarter.”

Besides the Denver Pacific Railroad, Miriam enjoyed numerous treks on other short line railways like the Virginia and Truckee Railroad that connected to the Central Pacific. “There is a rise of 1,700 feet from Carson to Virginia City whither we were bound, and the train winds heavily up between mountain walls of dust-brown rock,” the author wrote of her journey through Nevada. “Not a tree, shrub, herb, nor blade of grass grew. There was nothing with life or motion in it except the brawling Carson River, which plunged magnificently down between these mountains on even a steeper grade than the road winds up. What a daunting view!”

American railroad trains true west
Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, AZ
From its inception as a AT& SF Railway extension line from Williams, Arizona, to Grand Canyon National Park in 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway has thrilled passengers with its spectacular run to the South Rim.
– Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel –

Leslie’s articles about the trip were published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, a popular publication she co-owned with her husband. She also wrote A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate, a book about the journey. Leslie described in glowing terms the many scenes she passed en route from New York to California and served as a travel guide for readers coast to coast. The transcontinental tour cost more than $20,000.

Women inspired to embark on a railroad journey after reading A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate were required to follow a number of rules for the trip. According to the Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, a woman was to be punctual and dress in plain, dignified clothing. She was to carry nothing more than a traveling satchel, or a fashionable carpet bag if staying overnight. The carpet bag was to contain grooming items, a mirror, reading material, crackers or a sandwich, a large shawl, night clothes and a woolen or silk nightcap. Women were to sit quietly and not fidget. Such behavior was cited as a sure indication that she was either ill-bred or ill at ease in society.

American railroad trains true west
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, CO
In 1895, rail pioneer Otto Mears built the Silverton Northern Railroad further up the Animas River Canyon to transport ore and passengers to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
– Photo of Silverton Northern Railroad True West Archives –

The appalling behavior of a giddy mail-order bride and her groom were the subject of much talk when they boarded the Union Pacific Railroad in Riverside, California, in 1886 heading to San Francisco. An article in the Riverside Daily Press on July 10, reported that the blissful couple were fawning over each other so much that their fellow passengers complained.

“Now what’s the use of it? When a couple get married and go off on a bridal tour, why so misbehave themselves as to be ‘spotted’ by every man, woman, and child on the train for ‘fresh fish?’, the story read. “How silly the thing must appear to them when they look back after a period of six months. Are we fools when in love, and are we idiots when we marry?”

American railroad trains true west
In the 1930s Mears’s daughter, Cora Mears Pitcher, took over the SNRR, including her father’s SNRR Stover Rail car, after her father and husband died.
– Photo courtesy of D&SNGRR –

A baggage man scolded the mail-order newlyweds but they only held on to one another more tightly. Four of the women aboard formed a committee and promised to take the matter to the legislature if the railroad company could not protect its passenger from rude behavior. The conductor came to speak to the women and ask them not to hold what had happened against him or the railroad.

“Well, the long and short of the matter was that the passengers rode 150 miles wishing they had not gotten on the train, and resolving that the thing would never happen again—never,” the Riverside Daily Press article continued. “The women all agreed that they would
walk first.”

Wanted Dead or Alive

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Wanted Dead or Alive Hit the road and follow the trails of 10 famous manhunts of the Old West.

Among the stories of the Old West, few are more exciting than the manhunts that pitted frontier authority against those who would kill, plunder and rob. Back in those days, folks were spread out quite a bit and, at the same time, law enforcement was spread pretty thin, too. As you will see in these tales, the military had to sometimes step in, and armed citizens often had to augment the authority of their peace officers or, in some cases, handle a situation by themselves.

Keep in mind that these events occurred years before the Miranda case (1966) and other niceties that made life a little safer for law-breakers. And, lawmen were chosen for their courage, their ability to handle firearms, and their willingness to spend days in
the saddle while on the trail of outlaws. Formal training rarely existed.

Outlaws, lawmen and the winning of the West have graced a thousand songs and stories. The frontier West was rarely like it has been depicted in the movies and on television. But one thing that you can say for sure, it was always interesting.

Here are 10 of my favorite manhunt tales of those early days.

good bad guys true west
The lawmen and the desperados on both sides of the law lived, fought and died in all corners of the frontier West. Head out on an adventure and discover where history happened for these legendary men, including: (opposite clockwise, left to right): Heck Thomas (lower left) and posse, Bob Younger, Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, Jesse James,
Will Roberts and Modoc warrior Black Jim.
– Photos Clockwise From Top Left: Heck Thomas Posse, True West Archives; Bob Younger, True West Archives; Pat Garrett, True West Archives; Billy the Kid, Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection; Jesse James, Courtesy Library of Congress; Will Roberts, Courtesy Library of Congress; Modoc Black Jim, Courtesy Yale University’s Beinecke Library –

1. 1872 – 1873
U.S. Army vs. The Modocs
Redding, California to Klamath Falls, Oregon

In 1872, Modoc tribe members were extremely unhappy with their existence on the Modoc/Klamath reservation in Southern Oregon. They weren’t getting along with the Klamaths and the Indian agent wasn’t supplying the food and other necessities that had been promised. Finally, one of their tribal leaders, Captain Jack, led nearly 200 Modocs off the reservation to take refuge in the lava beds on the Oregon/California border. Almost immediately, complaints began coming in from area settlers about thefts and plundering by the Modocs.

In late 1872, or early 1873, the U.S. Army, under the command of General Edward Canby, stepped in to return the Modocs to the reservation. Canby’s original goal was to talk them in peacefully, if at all possible. Accordingly, he set up a peace tent near the lava beds and invited Captain Jack to come parley. Captain Jack may have had other ideas.

On April 11, 1873, Captain Jack and some of his men met with General Canby, Reverend Eleazar Thomas and other army officers. Some believe that Captain Jack went to the meeting with the intent to murder the soldiers, believing that this would make the army leave the Modocs alone, but the truth is, Modoc warriors pressured Jack into the planned attack. Regardless, an argument soon broke out and the Modocs began to pull knives and guns. In the melee, General Canby and Reverend Thomas were both killed before the Modocs fled back into the vastness of the lava beds.

In a series of skirmishes, the army was not winning, even though they were even using artillery on the Indians ensconced in the lava beds. However, many of the Modocs had had enough and, by early May, began to surrender. Captain Jack was captured on June 4, 1873. Following a military trial, Captain Jack and Black Jim, Schonchin John and Boston Charley were hanged. Some 150 other Modocs were shipped to Indian Territory. The army had won, but at a heavy price.

On the Modoc Trail of the U.S. Army and Captain Jack

Northern California and Southern Oregon offer numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of the tragic story of Captain Jack and the Modoc War.

Chambers: YrekaChamber.com; VisitTuleLakeCalifornia.com; MtShastaChamber.com;
ReddingChamber.com
; Klamath.org

Scenic Byway: Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, VolcanicLegacyByway.org

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Lava Beds National Monument, Tulelake Museum, Tulelake, CA; Siskiyou County Historical Society, Yreka, CA; Klamath County Museum, Favell Museum, Klamath Falls, OR

Lodging: Winema Lodge, Tulelake, CA; Coffee Creek Ranch, Coffee Creek, CA; Lake of the Woods Lodge & Resort, Klamath Falls, OR

shonchin captain jack true west
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway to Lava Bed National Monument will lead the heritage traveler to the scene of battlefields of the Modoc War. After their capture on the trail, Schonchin John (left) and Captain Jack (right) were photographed at Fort Klamath before they were hanged in 1873.
–Carol Highsmith’s Photo of Lava Bed National Monument Courtesy California Tourism/Louis Herman Heller’s Photo of Schonchin and Captain Jack Photo Courtesy Yale University’s Beinecke Library –

2. January 1875
Pinkertons vs. Jesse and Frank James
Kearney to St. Joseph, Missouri

By 1875, the James-Younger Gang had been robbing banks and trains for almost ten years. In 1874, the Adams Express Company was so upset with their losses that they put the Pinkerton Detective Agency after the gang. Several Pinkertons were quickly killed when they tried to infiltrate Clay County, Missouri. It has been said that Allan Pinkerton was so furious that he swore to burn them out, if that’s what it took.

On the night of January 25, 1875, a posse led by Pinkerton investigators surrounded the home of Jesse and Frank James’ mother, Zerelda Samuel, believing that the two outlaws were present. Those same investigators later claimed that they threw a smoke bomb into the house to force the outlaws out. Their “smoke bomb” turned out to be a regular bomb that promptly exploded. The explosion killed a young half brother to the Jameses and mangled their mother’s arm so badly that it had to be amputated. Frank and Jesse were not even at home. The entire state of Missouri was infuriated by the attack; and while the Pinkertons were humiliated, they fought on with local authorities to try and capture the James Boys.

On the Missouri Trail of the James Boys and the Pinkertons

Western Missouri offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Jesse and Frank James.

Chambers: KearneyChamber.org;  StJoMo.com; VisitClayCountyMo.com; VisitKC.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Jesse James Farm, Kearney; Pattee House Museum, Jesse James House Museum, Pony Express National Museum, St. Joseph; Jesse James Bank Museum and Clay County Museum, Liberty

Lodging: The Elms, Excelsior Springs; Whiskey Mansion Bed & Breakfast,
St. Joseph

3. September 7, 1876
Northfield vs. the James-Younger Gang
Northfield to LaSalle, Minnesota

We’ll never know for sure what caused the gang to rob a bank in Minnesota. It might have been to just try out new territory or it could have been the fact that Adelbert Ames, a hated former governor of Mississippi, lived there. Historians have suggested both ideas, but a consensus has never been reached.

Whatever the reason, the gang rode into Northfield like they had done in previous towns, with with some outlaws looting the bank while other gang members shot up the street to keep the townspeople at bay. This just didn’t work so well in Northfield because the citizens were already nervous about these strangers wearing gun belts and sporting rifles on their saddles.

In the bank, one employee refused to unlock the safe and was quickly killed. Another employee was wounded as he escaped the robbery. The gunfire in the bank had already attracted citizens out in the street. Instead of running, the citizens armed themselves and began to fight back. Outlaws Bill Stiles and Clell Miller were killed. And, as the rest of the gang made their escape with precious little loot, all of them were wounded, except for Frank and Jesse, who were amazingly unharmed.

Large posses were quickly on the gang’s trail, causing the Youngers and the Jameses to split up. Two weeks later, a posse caught the Youngers near La Salle, Minnesota. In the ensuing fight, Charlie Pitts was killed and Cole, Bob, and Jim Younger were captured, having been wounded again. Frank and Jesse were in the wind. And, to our knowledge, no one ever tried to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, again.

On the Minnesota Trail of the James-Younger Gang

Southern Minnesota offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of the James-Younger Gang.

Chambers: VisitNorthfield.com; VisitGreaterMankato.com; VisitNewUlm.com; VisitMadelia.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Northfield Historical Society, Northfield; Brown County Historical Society Museum, New Ulm; Watonwan County Historical Museum, Madelia

Lodging: Archer House, Northfield; The Grand, New Ulm; Grandstay Hotel & Suites, Madelia

james younger gang true west
Clockwise, left to right: Jesse James, Frank James, Bob Younger, Jim Younger, Charlie Pitts and Cole Younger spent years riding, robbing, fighting and hiding across Missouri and neighboring states after the Civil War. The spree came to a climactic end at Northfield, Minnesota, on September 7, 1876.
– Jesse James, Frank James, Bob Younger, Jim Younger, Charlie Pitts and Cole Younger Photos From True West Archives –

4. August 24, 1877
Texas Rangers vs. John Wesley Hardin
Comanche to Huntsville, Texas

Premier Texas gunfighter John Wesley Hardin had racked up a number of kills during his turbulent career. But he brought the full wrath of the Texas Rangers down on himself when he killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Comanche, Texas, in May of 1874.

John Wesley Hardin true west
A descendent of Texas revolutionaries, John Wesley Hardin was raised in southeastern Texas, the son of a Methodist preacher and pious mother. His propensity for violence began as a teenager and at the time of his death at age 42, Hardin allegedly had killed 40 men.
– True West Archives –

Tired of this sort of conduct by Hardin, the Texas Rangers put John B. Armstrong on his trail. With a nice piece of detective work, officers soon learned that Hardin’s Texas relatives kept receiving mail from a man in Florida. Armstrong soon learned that Hardin was hiding out in various towns on the Alabama-Florida line.

Investigator Jack Duncan and local officers located Hardin on a train in Pensacola, Florida. Legend has it that when he saw the long-barreled Colt in Armstrong’s hand Hardin yelled, “Texas, by God!” and went for his own gun. Armstrong promptly combed Hardin’s hair with that long-barreled Colt and shot another member of the gang who had pulled a gun. Hardin’s own gun had supposedly caught hung up on his suspenders, causing him to fail to get off a shot.

gonzales texas panoramio true west
After Texas Rangers captured John Wesley Hardin in 1877, his trial was held in Gonzales. A newer jail was built in 1885 and today is the Gonzales County Jail Museum, a stark reminder of gallows justice on the Texas frontier.
– Courtesy Alex Garrido, Historical_Gonzales-Texas, Commons.Wikimedia.org –

John Wesley Hardin was transported back to Texas, where he was convicted of murder and sentenced to Huntsville Prison, where he served 17 years. Just 18 months after Hardin’s release from prison, on August 19, 1895, Constable John Selman killed him with a shot to the back of the head in El Paso’s infamous Acme Saloon.

On the Trail of John Wesley Hardin

Texas offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of John Wesley Hardin and the Texas Rangers.

Chambers: AustinTexas.org; GonzalesTexas.com;
HuntsvilleTexas.com; WacoHeartOfTexas.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums and Monuments: Bullock State History Museum, Austin; Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, Waco; Pioneer Village Living History Center, Gonzales; Old Jail Museum, Gonzales; Gonzales Memorial Museum, Texas State Prison Museum, Huntsville; Concordia Cemetery, El Paso

Lodging: The Driskill, Austin; Colcord Hotel, Waco; Alcalde Hotel & Grill, Gonzales; Woodbine Hotel & Restaurant, Madisonville

5. 1880
The Texas Rangers vs. Jesse Evans
Lincoln, New Mexico to Presidio, Texas

By 1880, Jesse Evans had about worn out his welcome in Lincoln County, New Mexico. The Lincoln County War had wound down and the law was making things too hot for Jesse and his friends.

fort davis true west
Cowboy turned rustler-gunman Jesse Evans fought on the side of the Murphy-Dolan faction in the Lincoln County War before fleeing to the Fort Davis, Texas, region (below) after he was involved in the murder of John Tunstall.
– Jesse Evans Photo Courtesy Paul Northrop/Fort Davis True West Archives –

Jesse and the boys decided that pickings might be easier in the Davis Mountains of west Texas. Being a bit short of funds, they rode in to Fort Davis and robbed the Sender & Siebenborn Store, as well as taking money from any citizens who happened by.  A posse was quickly formed but was only able to catch one of the outlaws.

Texas Ranger Sgt. Lamar Sieker quickly brought a detachment into the area and started an investigation. An informant told the Ranger that Jesse Evans and the rest of his gang were in the area of Presidio, some 100 miles south of Fort Davis. Leading a pack mule, Sieker and five Rangers headed south toward Presidio and the Chinati Mountains.

The Rangers spotted the outlaws as they rode toward the mountain and a running gunfight ensued. The outlaws took cover behind some boulders on the top of the mountain and began to pour the lead at the Ranger posse. Riding up to within forty yards of the gang, the Rangers fought back. Ranger Bingham was shot through the heart and Graham, one of the outlaws, also was killed. Jesse Evans and his two surviving companions wisely surrendered.

Jesse Evans was tried, convicted and sent to Huntsville Prison. After having served his sentence and been released, the outlaw disappeared.

On the Trail of Jesse Evans and the Texas Rangers

The road from Lincoln, New Mexico, to Presidio, Texas, offers historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Jesse Evans and his battle with the Texas Rangers.

Chambers: NMHistoricSites.org (Lincoln, NM); PresidioTX.us; VisitMarfa.com; FortDavis.com; WacoHeartofTexas.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Lincoln Historic Site, Lincoln, NM; Presidio County Courthouse, Fort Leaton State Historic Site, Marfa, TX; Fort Davis National Historic Site, Fort Davis, TX; Texas Ranger Museum, Waco, TX

Lodging: El Paisano Hotel, Marfa, TX; El Fortin del Cibola, Presidio County, TX; Hotel Limpia, Veranda Lodge, Indian Lodge, Fort Davis, TX; Colcord Hotel, Waco, TX

6. July 14, 1881
Pat Garrett vs. Billy the Kid
Lincoln, New Mexico to Fort Sumner, New Mexico

In the aftermath of the Lincoln County War, Henry McCarty aka Billy the Kid, was sentenced to hang for murder and remanded to the Lincoln County jail until the execution could be carried out. In April of 1881, the Kid murdered deputies James Bell and Bob Olinger while making his escape.

pat garrett el paso true west
The history of law and order on the American Western frontier has produced few friendships—and rivalries—as fraught with mythology, intrigue and tragedy as that of Sheriff Pat Garrett (above) and legendary outlaw Billy the Kid (below).
– Pat Garrett Photo True West Archives/Billy the Kid Photo Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection –

billy the kid true westFrom April to July, Sheriff Pat Garrett bided his time and gathered information that would lead to the Kid’s location. In July, probably from an informant, Garrett learned that the Kid was most likely in Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. Taking two deputies with him, Garrett quietly made his way to the old fort, now turned village.

At about midnight on the 14th, Garrett left his two deputies outside while he went into Pete Maxwell’s house to see what he could find out. While sitting and talking to Maxwell, who was already in bed, Garrett was shocked to see Billy walk into the room from a door that led to the outside. Garrett fired two quick shots, one of which hit the Kid in the chest and killed him.

Over the years, it has been argued whether the Kid had a pistol, a knife or was unarmed. To a frontier lawman, none of that mattered. On top of all of his other violent acts, Billy the Kid had killed two of Pat Garrett’s coworkers and, we may assume, friends—although many doubt Garrett and Olinger were more than professional acquaintances. Garrett’s attitude was that, if the Kid wasn’t armed, he should have been.

pat garrett billy the kid pete maxwell true west
While all of Fort Sumner’s original buildings (above) and Pete Maxwell’s house (inset), where Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881, are no longer standing, visitors can tour the historic site, which includes the Bosque Redondo Memorial Museum and two self-guided trails—the Old Fort Site Trail and the River Trail, onto the former grounds of the fort and reservation.
– True West Archives –

On the Trail of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

New Mexico offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’s final shootout.

Chambers: NMHistoricSites.org (Lincoln, NM); VisitRuidosa.comFortSumnerChamber.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Lincoln Historic Site; Ft. Stanton Historic Site; Fort Sumner Historic Site/Bosque Redondo Memorial; Hubbard Museum of the American West, Ruidosa; Old Fort Sumner Museum and Billy the Kid Museum, Fort Sumner

Lodging: Ellis Store Country Inn, Lincoln; The Wortley Hotel, Lincoln; Shadow Mountain Lodge & Cabins, Ruidosa; Billy the Kid Country Inn, Fort Sumner

7. March 24, 1882
Wyatt Earp vs. Curly Bill
Cochise County, Arizona

To say that Wyatt Earp was fed up would be an understatement. The Cowboys, as the folks in Cochise County, Arizona, called the outlaws, had murdered his brother Morgan and crippled his brother Virgil. As a deputy U.S. marshal, with a pocket full of warrants, Earp formed a posse and hit the trail. One could probably say that the outlaws’ civil rights were not high on his list of priorities.

wyatt earp tombstone true west
Wyatt Earp’s legendary life as a lawman in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona Territory, led to deadly rivalries with the Clanton allies, including Curly Bill Brocius.
– True West Archives –

On March 24, Earp led his posse up to Iron Springs (later called Mescal Springs) and rode right into the outlaws. Earp’s posse fled, thinking that he was with them. But Earp had unshucked a shotgun from his saddle scabbard and dismounted. About that time, Curly Bill Brocius took aim on Wyatt with his own shotgun. Curly Bill missed and Wyatt didn’t. Having fired both barrels of his shotgun into Curly Bill, Wyatt used his revolver to put a bullet into Johnny Barnes, who later died from the wound.

tombstone courthouse true west
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park is (above) an ideal place to start a tour of Tombstone when on the trail of Cochise County history. Wyatt Earp rival John Behan was the first sheriff to work out of the courthouse when it opened in 1882.
– Courtesy Arizona Office of Tourism –

Wyatt’s clothes were torn with bullets, but Earp was not hit. Still under fire, he hitched up his gunbelt and rode to cover. Earp later found out that the outlaws had carried Curly Bill’s body off and buried it on the Patterson Ranch.

Some believed that Curly Bill was not killed in this fight, though Wyatt and others always maintained that he was. The fact is that Curly Bill Brocious was never heard from again.

rex allen statue true west
Cochise County native and last of the singing cowboys Rex Allen is commemorated with a statue (above) and museum in his hometown of Willcox, Arizona. Warren Earp was killed in a shootout in Willcox on July 6, 1900, and is buried in the town’s Pioneer Cemetery.
– Courtesy Cochise County Tourism –

On the Trail Wyatt Earp and Curly Bill

Southeastern Arizona’s Cochise County offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Wyatt Earp and Curly Bill.

Chambers: TombstoneChamber.com;  WillcoxChamber.com; BensonChamberAZ.org; 
BisbeeArizona.com
; ExploreCochise.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: O.K. Corral and Historama, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Boothill Graveyard & Gift Shop, Tombstone; Rex Allen Arizona Cowboy Museum & Cowboy Hall of Fame, Willcox; Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, Bisbee

Lodging: Tombstone Monument Ranch, Tombstone; Virgil’s Corner Bed & Breakfast, Tombstone

8. 1886
Teddy Roosevelt vs. The Boat Thieves
Medora to Dickinson, North Dakota

The 1880s found future president Theodore Roosevelt ranching near Medora, North Dakota, along the Little Missouri River. One spring morning, as the ice in the river was beginning to break, Roosevelt found that someone had made off with the boat that he used to get to the other side of the river and tend to his livestock.

teddy roosevelt true west
Adventurous Theodore Roosevelt (above) bought the Chimney Butte Ranch near Medora, North Dakota, in 1883 after coming to the Little Missouri Badlands to hunt buffalo. After his wife and daughter died in early 1884, Roosevelt moved to his ranch, and made it his home off and on for the next few years.
– Courtesy Library of Congress –

Suspecting some neighbors who lived nearby, Teddy and two ranch hands quickly got to work and built a flat-bottomed scow so that they could go after the thieves. After three days on the river, Roosevelt and his cowboys came up on the thieves’ camp. He arrested three men that he identified as Finnigan, The Half Breed and The Old German. Then Roosevelt waited eight days for the river to thaw, spending the time guarding prisoners and reading books, all the time keeping a double-barreled 12-gauge between him and the outlaws.

Little missouriaka little muddy true west
The placid Little Missouri River (left) in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is frozen much of the winter, and during the spring thaw of March 1886, when Roosevelt and Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, chased the boat thieves on the ice-jammed river, it was a life or death adventure.
– Courtesy NPS.gov –

Finally, running short of supplies, Roosevelt decided to walk his prisoners overland to the sheriff in the town of Dickinson. Some 36 hours later, Teddy delivered his captives to the sheriff and, being a sworn deputy sheriff, collected his fees and mileage amounting to $50. He might have worn glasses and been from Back East, but the word soon got around that he was not one to mess with.

theodore roosevelt wilmot dow bill sewall true west
Ranch hands Wilmot Dow (left), and Bill Sewall (right) built a flat-bottomed scow with Theodore Roosevelt (center) to float downriver for three days down the treacherous Little Missouri in pursuit of the three thieves who stole Roosevelt’s boat from his ranch.
– True West Archives –

On the Trail of Theodore Roosevelt and the Boat Thieves

Western North Dakota offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Theodore Roosevelt and the boat thieves.

Chambers: MedoraND.com;  VisitDickinson.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, The Château de Mores Interpretive Center, Joe Ferris General Store, North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, Medora; Dickinson Museum Center, Dickinson

Lodging: Rough Riders Hotel, Medora; Bar X Guest Ranch & Horse Camp, Medora; 1026 Oasis Inn, Dickinson

9. October 1892
Coffeyville vs. The Dalton Gang
Meade to Coffeyville, Kansas

grat dalton emmett dalton true west
Brothers Emmet (above, left) and Grat Dalton (above, right) career as bank robbers ended in a hail of bullets after they tried to rob the Condon Bank (below) in Coffeyville, Kansas, October 5, 1892.
– Dalton Photos, True West Archives/Bank Photo Courtesy Coffeyville CVB –

northfield bank coffeyville true west

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang pulled either the most daring stunt, or the stupidest stunt, of their outlaw career. Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton, along with Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers, elected to hold up two banks at once in the Daltons’ old hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas.

The boys just made a few really stupid mistakes. They rode into town wearing phony-looking disguises that only called attention to them. They failed to case the banks ahead of time and did not have a good escape route planned. And they let Grat Dalton, not one of the sharpest knives in the drawer, be the leader in one bank.

dalton hideout true west
In Meade, Kansas, the Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum, is housed in the family home of Eva Whipple, the sister of the Dalton brothers, with the restored infamous escape tunnel below it open for tours.
– Courtesy Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum –

Things went to pieces in a hurry, with the double robbery taking too long. Citizens discovered the twin crimes and began shooting even before the gang got out of the banks. In the confusion, Grat Dalton killed the town marshal in an alley, and the gang killed three citizens.

Hemmed up in an alley, trying to get on their horses, the outlaws were converged upon by townspeople who killed the entire gang except Emmett Dalton, who was shot so many times that he should have died. It was said that Bill Doolin had also been with the gang, but had held back, claiming that his horse was lame. If so, it just shows that Doolin was a whole lot smarter than the rest of the Dalton Gang.

On the Trail of the Dalton Gang

Southern and Western Kansas, from Meade to Coffeyville, including a side trip to Dodge City, offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of the Dalton Gang.

Chambers: Coffeyville.com; MeadeChamber.com; VisitDodgeCity.org

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: The Daltons Defenders Museum, Condon Bank in Historic Perkins Building, Coffeyville CVB, Coffeyville; Meade County Historical Museum, Dalton Gang Hideout & Museum, Meade; Boothill Museum, Dodge City

Lodging: Regal Inn, Coffeyville; Lakeway Hotel: Bed & Breakfast, Meade; Boothill Casino & Resort, Dodge City

10. August 1896
Heck Thomas vs. Bill Doolin
Lawson to Guthrie, Oklahoma

heck thomas doolin true west
Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas had been tracking outlaws for two decades in Oklahoma Territory when in August 1886 he got a tip that escaped outlaw Bill Doolin was near Lawson. Thomas and his posse got the jump on Doolin and gunned the bandit down.
– True West Archives –

Bill Doolin’s turn finally came in 1896. After the demise of the Dalton Gang, of which he was a member, he formed his own wild bunch and kept on following the outlaw trade. Among other things, they shot up a group of U.S. marshals in Ingalls, Oklahoma Territory. Captured in Arkansas by Bill Tilghman, Doolin soon escaped from the jail in Guthrie.

bill doolin
Bill Doolin

In August of 1896, Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas set up surveillance on the home of Doolin’s father-in-law in Lawson, Oklahoma Territory. Late at night, the posse saw a man walking from the house, up a trail, in their general direction. When it was determined that it was Bill Doolin, the posse opened up. Doolin returned fire, but he was shot several times, and killed dead on the spot. Heck Thomas got the credit for killing Doolin, having centered the outlaw’s chest with a load of buckshot.

Folks have always debated if Thomas’s posse had called on Doolin to surrender. Most likely they did, but maybe, as in the case of Frank Hamer and Bonnie and Clyde, Doolin couldn’t hear them over the sound of the gunfire. We suspect that Heck Thomas didn’t much care.

carnegie library and museum guthrie true west
When on a law-and-order heritage tour of Oklahoma, don’t miss historic Guthrie, a cornerstone of state history. The Carnegie Library (below), built in 1901, is home to the Territorial Oklahoma Historical Museum with exhibits on the tumultuous, lawless days on the frontier of the Indian Territory.
– Courtesy Guthrie Chamber of Commerce –

On the Trail of Heck Thomas and Bill Doolin

Central Oklahoma offers numerous historic sites, scenic byways and heritage communities to explore on the trail of Heck Thomas and Bill Doolin.

Chambers: OKCChamber.comGuthrieChamber.com

Historic Sites, Parks, Museums & Monuments: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City; Oklahoma Territorial Museum, Summit View Cemetery, Logan County Historical Society, Guthrie; JM Davis Arms & Historical Museum, Claremore; Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville

Lodging: Pollard Inn, The Stone Lion Inn, Guthrie; Colcord Hotel, The Skirvin Hotel, Oklahoma City

Jim Wilson is a retired Texas peace officer, a former sheriff and a lifelong student of Western history. The Big Bend country of West Texas is his home.

Tombstone News

Thanks to True West magazine for this content – you can check the original post here http://www.truewestmagazine.com/toughest-news-west/

The Toughest News in the West The Tombstone Epitaph lives on…and on.

tombstone epitaph true west
In one of our nation’s most storied Wild West towns, Tombstone, Arizona Territory, C.S. Fly took this photograph of a crowd gathered in front of the town’s newspaper office from the front porch of his photography gallery across the street. The daily Prospector, launched in 1887, served as competition to The Tombstone Epitaph weekly.
– Courtesy Bob Love –

The Old West was filled with colorful names—none more so than The Tombstone Epitaph, the oldest continuous newspaper in Arizona.

Former Apache agent John Clum, who was just 29, helped found the paper soon after arriving in the silver mining boomtown in early 1880. He’d already owned and operated a publication in Florence, so he was no novice to the business.

When he got to Tombstone, Clum enlisted a couple of partners to put the operation together (the ownership group changed several times over the next two years).

Clum claimed that he came up with the name himself, contrary to stories that others had suggested it. That first issue included a Clum-authored article that trumpeted, “No Tombstone is complete without its epitaph,” evidence of the publisher’s Eastern education and natural wit.

Clum, who headed the local vigilante group and became mayor in January 1881, was pro-Republican, pro-business and pro-law ’n’ order, and so was his newspaper.  He was friends with the Earp brothers and the Epitaph made no bones about its opposition to the Cowboy faction.  The coverage of the famed 1881 street fight was decidedly one-sided in favor of the Earps and Doc Holliday.

Clum pulled up stakes in 1882 and sold his interest in the newspaper. The owner over the next several years is hard to track, and the newspaper’s political stance bounced back and forth. Tombstone began to fade after the silver ran out later that decade. The Epitaph continued to publish, but only on a weekly basis by the 1890s.

But it was still vital to the community. Thirty years later, the Epitaph helped finance and oversee Tombstone’s first Helldorado celebration in 1929.  Researchers began using its archives to write books and articles, and the paper itself featured more Old West historical sketches, helping to keep the local heritage alive, even as the town declined.

But the modern foundation was established in the mid-1970s, when Michigan businessman Harold Love entered the picture. Love had a dream of Tombstone as a tourist destination, so he bought up and renovated several Tombstone landmarks, including the O.K. Corral, Schieffelin Hall, the Crystal Palace—and the Epitaph

Love and his associates made a deal with the University of Arizona, whose journalism students would gain real-life experience by putting out two local news issues per week.  Meanwhile, a new national and international edition would print history articles on a monthly basis.

That arrangement has worked well for more than 40 years, with many subscribers to the two editions accessing the papers online.  There’s no end in sight.

If Tombstone is the “town too tough to die,” then the Epitaph is the “newspaper too strong to write its obituary.”

Tombstone Treasures – The Bird Cage Theater

One of the most interesting places to visit in Tombstone, AZ is the Bird Cage Theater.

BirdcageTheater

Originally opened in December of 1881 by Billy Hutchinson and his wife, this landmark is now a unique tourist attraction that appeals to a wide-range of visitors to the area.  The theater derived its name from the fourteen cages which lined the upstairs balcony and offered a place for the local ladies of the evening to entertain their clients.

Cages

Although it only remained open for eight years during its initial run, the theater proved to be a popular watering hole and place of entertainment that was sought out by many locals and travelers.  Portions of the exact history of the Bird Cage are lost to time, however performers popular in that day, including Eddie Foy Sr, Lotta Crabtree, Fatima and Lillie Langtry, are rumored to have spent time at the theater.  It also had a reputation as a rather rough place to visit, with gun fights, brawls and other notorious activity taking place on a regular basis.  In 1882 the New York Times remarked that the theater was “the wildest, wickedest nightspot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”

After closing in 1889, the Bird Cage re-opened in 1934 with the new owners finding much of the interior untouched from its days as a ‘wild west saloon and brothel’.  Since that time it has operated as a tourist attraction, offering insights into the history of the West and its own exotic background.  The theater is said to be haunted and has been featured on programs such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, and a haunted tour is still a popular attraction at the Bird Cage.  There are also 120 bullet holes that remain to be viewed throughout the theater, along with a wide range of displays featuring unique items of Tombstone history.  The theater recently opened up some previously sealed off rooms, which offer an ‘un-touched’ view of how the place was furnished during its heyday.

When you visit, be sure to ask about the murder of Billy Milgreen, one of the most grisly murders in Tombstone history.  And yes, of course Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and all the rest were regulars…

Faro tabel used by Doc Holiday

Phoenix to Tombstone…Not Such A Long Way

There are many reasons to visit Tombstone and if you are from the Phoenix area a few of those include:

1. It may be only a short 3-4 hour drive however you will be able to experience a totally different lifestyle, pace and historical viewpoint.  The Tombstone area is closely surrounded by the Whetstone, Huachuca and Dragoon mountains, and the quiet pace of life in the valley of these ranges can be a welcome relief.  Take time to sit outside on a cool evening and watch the stars and bands of the Milky Way wheel past you overhead.  Go for a quiet stroll along the banks of the San Pedro and then grab lunch at one of the local eateries that feature both traditional and more exotic fare.  Speak to one of the local historians about why Tombstone was the center-point of much of the events in the historic “Wild West.”  Even if you have already visited the Tombstone area, expand your horizons by checking out the local wine scene or booking a wild off-road adventure up a mountain or far out into the sand.

sky

2. The history of Arizona is often told through the eyes of those that observed it in Phoenix, Tucson and Tombstone.  Yes, there were plenty of other areas in play as the United States grew and flourished in the Southwest, however if you look at those pivotal events you will often be able to trace them back and forth from Phoenix to Tombstone.  Outlaws, politicians, celebrities, wandering prospectors and traveling entertainers all were part of the group that made the circuit between the western towns of the 1800’s and you can find pictures and references to many of them in Tombstone.  The local archive in the town is full of interesting photos and other historical documents that detail this rich history.

hotel

3. Ghost towns abound in the Tombstone area and whether you like to seek them out on your own or join up with a scheduled tour, all of them offer that tantalizing prospects of encountering something unknown.  Many of these abandoned villages are also full of local history and legend that make for a rewarding visit and long lasting memories.

ghost