Nearly two centuries ago, Texas founding father Stephen F. Austin unofficially created the Texas Rangers to protect his fledgling colonists farming and ranching near the colony’s capital of Velasco, along the Brazos River near the Gulf Coast. Ever since Austin’s visionary call to arms in 1823, the Texas Rangers have been greatly admired, honored, respected—and feared—enforcers of the law. They have served in war and peace—on both sides of the border in the colony, republic and state. They fought in the Texas War of Independence, the Mexican and Civil wars and defended Texas against invasions from Mexico countless times. The Rangers’ hard-fought battles with their Mexican adversaries earned them the nickname “Los Diablos Tejanos”—“the Texas Devils.”
Since True West began publishing from Austin, Texas, in 1953, the history of the Texas Rangers—and the men who wore the badge and rode the Texas range in defense of the Lone Star State—has remained a constant source of inspiration for our editors, contributors and readers. In 2020, as Texas begins a three-year bicentennial commemoration of the storied law-enforcement agency, True West’s editors have asked two of our regular contributors, Ranger historian Chuck Parsons and Western author and film historian Johnny D. Boggs, to share their expertise on the men who wore the star of a Texas Ranger and on the 35th anniversary of Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove.
So, saddle-up and ride the whirlwind as Parsons and Boggs take you down the trail of Texas’s legendary lawmen and define why they remain icons of the Old West.
In 2019 I turned 90. As a Custer aficionado since the age of 12, I was prompted to reflect on my connection with Custer and the Custer Battlefield, now termed the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Errol Flynn in They Died with Their Boots On (1942) introduced me to Custer. Captain E.S. Luce, superintendent of the Custer Battlefield National Monument, introduced me to the battlefield. In 1946, I bought a bus ticket, and from my Indiana home, toured the West. At Custer Battlefield, Luce, an old cavalryman, guided me over the battlefield. The following year, he twisted government rules to hire me, at age 17, as a seasonal ranger-historian at the battlefield. I spent six college summers telling tourists the story of the Little Bighorn.
Flynn and Luce may have introduced me to Custer and the Custer Battlefield, but Charlie Windolph made the connection personal. I can now look back over 72 years to meeting and visiting with Charlie Windolph, who 71 years earlier had fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was 97 and the last survivor of the troopers who fought there.
It happened this way:
During my first summer at the battlefield, in 1947, I met and became friends with R.G. Cartwright, athletic director at the Lead High School in South Dakota. He spent part of his summers combing the battlefield in the never-ending quest to discover what happened there. “Cartie” invited me to visit him in Lead on my way back to Indiana at the end of the summer.
A Trailways bus deposited me in Lead in mid-September 1947. Cartie toured me around the Black Hills as well as Lead and adjacent Deadwood. As the climax to my visit, he arranged for me to meet his longtime friend, Charlie Windolph. A German immigrant in 1870, Charlie had joined the cavalry to learn English. As a private in Company H, 7th Cavalry, he had found himself surrounded by Sioux Indians on the heights above the Little Bighorn River on June 25, 1876.
In 1947, long-retired from Lead’s Homestake gold mine, Charlie passed his time sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of the home of his daughter, who cared for him. There he sat on a bright autumn day when Cartie and I ascended his porch. He received us warmly and invited us to sit on adjacent chairs. He was an old man, but he was still clear-minded, articulate and full of memories. He poured forth stories of the Little Bighorn that he had doubtless told to countless visitors for many years.
Before any stories, and throughout his stories, he dealt with his company commander, Capt. Frederick W. Benteen. Charlie worshipped Benteen. He could not heap enough praise on him as an officer and a company commander. “I thought he was about the finest-looking soldier I had ever seen. He had bright eyes and a ruddy face, and he had a great thatch of iron-gray hair. It made him look mighty handsome.”
At the Little Bighorn, Windolph fought on Reno Hill with Maj. Marcus A. Reno commanding. Company H was one of the seven companies, together with the pack train, that were corralled on a bluff above the river. They did not know what had become of Custer and the other five companies, but they did know that Sioux warriors surrounded them and kept up a steady fire. From hastily scooped-out rifle pits and from behind packs from the mule supply train, they fired back for three hours until nightfall.
The firing resumed at dawn on June 26. A bullet killed the trooper who shared Charlie’s shallow trench. Another grazed Charlie’s chest, then another shattered the stock of his Springfield carbine. He thought a particular Indian had singled him out for a target and concentrated his fire, now with his dead companion’s carbine, on that warrior.
Windolph described for me how Benteen strode along his company line oblivious to the bullets pinging around him. Charlie said he remonstrated with his captain for exposing himself, only to be commanded: “Windolph, get up here and look at all those Indians.” He did stand beside his captain, he said, though only momentarily.
The afternoon was beastly hot, and the canteens ran dry. The wounded began to cry for water. The only water was in the river below the rugged bluffs, and warriors hid in the brush along the riverbank, firing up at the troops. Major Reno commanded, but he was at the other side of the circle, so Benteen called for volunteers to go for water. Charlie was one of the 17 who volunteered. Benteen assigned him and three other marksmen to stand on the edge of the bluff and draw the Indian fire away from the men descending the ravine to the river. None of them was hit, although several of the water-carriers were. (They all were awarded Medals of Honor.)
Later in the day, Benteen saw warriors assembling below for an assault. He formed his company, Charlie included, charged down the ravine and broke up the forming Indian line. Shortly afterward, Benteen had Charlie Windolph stand at attention and awarded him a battlefield promotion to sergeant.
As twilight approached, the Sioux withdrew, packed up their lodges and moved south up the valley. They had spotted the troops of Gen. Alfred Terry and Col. John Gibbon, and the next day they learned from them that Custer and his five companies had been wiped out five miles down the river.
All these stories Charlie Windolph recounted for me on that September day in 1947. He had recently told them to the journalists Frazier and Robert Hunt, who published them that year under the title I Fought with Custer. I had not read the book when I sat, enchanted, and listened to the old man tell his stories. That half hour 72 years ago remains a cherished memory.
Charlie Windolph died on March 11, 1950, at the age of 99, the last white survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That summer, again working at the Custer Battlefield, I rode a bus down to Lead and returned with Charlie’s Medal of Honor, Purple Heart and discharge papers signed by Captain Benteen. They are displayed in the battlefield museum.
In 2004 I published a memoir titled Custer and Me. Errol Flynn, in They Died with Their Boots On had laid the groundwork for my rise to a Custer aficionado. At 90, I am led to look back on a memorable experience that links me over a century and a half to the battle in which Custer lost his life.
Fighting that broke out at White Bird Canyon in Idaho in June of 1877 between the Nez Perce Indians and the U.S. Army commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, had continued through the summer with engagements along the Clearwater River and at Camas Meadows in Idaho, and the Big Hole in western Montana. By August, the Nez Perce people had outpaced the Army as they struck the Madison River and followed it into Yellowstone National Park.
Few expected the Nez Perce with Chief Joseph and the other Nez Perce headmen to enter the park, but they’d already proven that they would take a different route than expected. As the main party moved slowly along the river, Yellow Wolf and fellow scouts took several tourists—George and Emma Cowan and her sister and brother, Frank and Ida Carpenter—as captives. Yellow Wolf instructed the tourists to turn east, travel along a stream later called Nez Perce Creek, and follow a barely discernable trail through a pine forest to Mary Lake.
Lean Elk, still responsible for the Nez Perce march, kept an eye on the captives and restrained younger warriors who still sought revenge for the attack on their families at the Big Hole. On the way up the trail toward Mary Lake, Lean Elk told the Cowans they could leave. Men in their party escaped into the woods while Emma and her family backtracked until younger warriors surrounded them, shot George Cowan in the leg and then in the head, and threatened the others. Lean Elk and a Nez Perce named Red Scout had followed the tourists to see to their safety, came upon the attack, and stopped the young warriors from further harming the tourists. With Red Scout’s help, Lean Elk took Emma Cowan and Frank and Ida Carpenter, back into custody, leaving George Cowan, who was presumed dead, beside the trail.
The Indians and the captives continued across Yellowstone Park and into the open meadowland of the Hayden Valley before following the Yellowstone River upstream to Mud Volcano. There, the stench of sulphur mixed with the burping, bubbling sounds of superheated boiling mud stung their noses as they plunged their horses across the river. At Pelican Valley, in the southeastern part of the park, the Indians halted for the day, building fires for each family camp while women fished for supper.
During the evening Nez Perce warriors and headmen joined Chief Joseph and Lean Elk in council near their fire. Emma and her siblings could not understand what was being said, but knew at least a part of the discussion involved their fate, with Joseph arguing on their behalf. The following morning, Lean Elk took the captives, gave them two horses to ride, helped them cross the Yellowstone River, showed them a trail, and told them to “go quick.” They made their way north steadily but cautiously until they met a military scouting party and provided information on the location of the Nez Perce camp, the Indians’ direction of travel and the condition of the people and their animals.
As they had intended from the onset, the Nez Perces and their families now turned toward Crow Indian lands, following Pelican Valley, a broad, 10-mile-long area. While in Yellowstone, the Indians traveled shorter distances each day, resting and recovering from what had already been a grueling trip. They separated into two major groups, one led by Joseph, the other commanded by Looking Glass, as they followed different drainages to Mist Creek Pass and then all descended to the Lamar River on the eastern side of Yellowstone Park. Joseph led his followers north along the Lamar, abandoning dozens of horses and mules that had been cut and injured as they negotiated the rugged terrain. Eventually, they turned east, traveling out of Yellowstone.
General Howard followed the Madison River into Yellowstone Park days after Joseph and the Nez Perces wove their way there and captured the tourists. Howard’s command, with its wagons for support, moved slower than the Nez Perces or the general’s own scouts. Howard’s party found George Cowan, not dead but seriously injured, and placed him in one of the wagons.
On September 4, Howard’s force reached Mud Volcano and the Yellowstone River ford the Nez Perces had used. He ordered the men to bathe and wash clothing in the hot mineral springs. The wagons had stopped after their difficult descent to the Yellowstone River and the following day Howard discharged the teamsters, telling them to make their way out of the park. The soldiers now used pack mules to carry supplies. Howard himself abandoned the trail of the Nez Perces at the ford near Mud Volcano, following the Yellowstone downstream before riding east, intending to close in on the Indians and corner them. He knew from messages received while he was in Yellowstone that Lt. Col. Samuel D. Sturgis, with 450 mounted men of the 7th Cavalry and several Crow Indian scouts, had moved into the Shoshone River country just east of Yellowstone. This force was poised to encounter the Nez Perces as they left the park but before they could cross onto the open plains of Montana’s buffalo country. Sturgis, a Pennsylvanian, was an experienced Indian fighter, having engaged Jicarilla Apaches in the 1850s and Kiowas and Comanches on the Southern Plains in the 1860s.
Joseph and the other headmen recombined their parties in Sunlight Basin, a big hole ringed by mountains just east of Yellowstone. To move out of it, they could cross over the steep mountains forming part of the Absaroka Range, or they could venture near the narrow defile of the Clark’s Fork River. This canyon was as rugged and seemingly impenetrable as those in the upper reaches of the Snake River near Joseph’s Wallowa homeland. To the dismay of Sturgis and Howard, the headmen chose the river route, and on September 8, again gave the Army the slip.
The Nez Perces exited Clark’s Fork and headed north, back into Montana, with Lean Elk still in charge of the daily travel. The Crows would not help them and since they could not remain in the buffalo country along the Yellowstone River as intended, they revised their plans. They would travel another three hundred or more miles to Canada and join Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa leader who had escaped there after the June 1876 battle at the Little Bighorn.
The thirteen days the Nez Perces spent crossing through Yellowstone, while giving them a chance to rest and recuperate, allowed the military ample opportunity to get into position. Sturgis, though thwarted in his first effort to stop them as they departed the park, remained in striking distance, and Howard still pushed from behind. There were now hundreds of troops surrounding the Indians, closing in to check their flight.
WE COULD HAVE ESCAPED
What started as an obscure Army-versus-Indian campaign in a remote mountain valley in Idaho became a national drama that summer of 1877. At first, regional newspaper correspondents like Thomas Sutherland of the Portland Daily Standard and writers for the Owyhee Avalanche and Lewiston Teller in Idaho kept the public apprised of the events, but the capture of tourists at Yellowstone brought increased newspaper attention to Joseph and his people. By the time the Nez Perces emerged from the park the story of their hegira was headlined all across America.
The success of the Nez Perces in the engagements in Idaho and western Montana, and the embarrassing fact that a few hundred Indians and their families, with a couple of thousand head of horses, had eluded an ever-growing Army force, began to draw not only attention, but also empathy from people following the story, and in some cases from the very troops who pursued them. “I am actually beginning to admire their bravery and endurance in the face of so many well equipped enemies,” Howard’s field surgeon, Dr. John FitzGerald, said.
Such was not the view, however, of the Army’s supreme commander, Gen. William T. Sherman, who barely missed running headlong into the Indians during his tour of Yellowstone Park in August. He suggested harsh action: “Their horses, arms and property should be taken away. Many of their leaders [should be] executed,” he said.
Sherman, like other military commanders, believed that most of the tribesmen “will fight hard, skillfully, to the death.”
Now out of Yellowstone, the tribal members had a skirmish with troops from the 6th and 7th Cavalry commanded by Sturgis at Canyon Creek, but kept to their trail north toward Canada. There was now another effort to stop them. General Howard, plagued by weary men and horses, and suffering from limited supplies after following the Indians across rough lands impossible for wagons, asked Col. Nelson Miles, commander at the Cantonment on the Tongue River in eastern Montana, to “make every effort in your power to prevent the escape of this hostile band, and at least to hold them in check until I can overtake them.”
A 38-year-old career soldier from Massachusetts, Miles took to the field against the Nez Perces on September 18, just over three months since their flight began. Miles was intimately familiar with the country the Nez Perces were then crossing. During the recent winter campaign, Miles had pursued Sitting Bull into Canada and still monitored the Hunkpapa medicine man’s band.
The Nez Perces were just 80 miles from the Canadian border when Looking Glass again assumed primary leadership for them, replacing Lean Elk. Almost immediately, the travel pace slowed but they traveled another 40 miles. They camped on Snake Creek at the edge of the BearPaw Mountains* at noon on September 29.
Late that day, General Miles and his 500 troops could see the Bear Paw Mountains when it began raining and then a light snow started. Late that afternoon scouts riding for Miles returned to the main column to report that they had located the Nez Perce trail and knew the camp was nearby.
Chief Joseph and his daughter, Sound of Running Water, were at the horse herd early on the morning of September 30, preparing to break camp when they heard the cry “Soldiers, soldiers, soldiers!” as Cheyenne Indian scouts and 7th Cavalry troopers broke over the ridge and swept toward the Nez Perce camp. “We had no knowledge of General Miles’ army until a short time before he charged upon us, cutting our camp in two and capturing nearly all of our horses,” Joseph said.
The cold morning erupted into chaos.
Miles’s troopers attacked with a vengeance. Yellow Wolf watched “hundreds of soldiers charging in two wide, circling wings. They were surrounding our camp.”
“I called my men to drive them back. We fought at close range, not more than 20 steps apart,” Joseph said. Some soldiers fell in the Indian camp and the Nez Percces took their guns and ammunition as they repulsed three separate onslaughts by the troopers.
The day ended in misery for both sides. Dozens of Miles’ troops had been killed or wounded. Several of the Nez Perce leaders also had been killed, including leaders Ollokot, Lean Elk and Toolhoolhoolzote. Indian families were divided as some members fled toward Canada, while others were surrounded by troops and under attack. In their camp, the Nez Perces faced tough decisions. “We could have escaped from Bear Paw Mountain if we had left our wounded, old women and children behind,” Joseph said. “We were unwilling to do this.”
The Battle of Bear Paw became a siege. Over the next four days Joseph met directly with Miles. He was held in the soldier camp against his will, but at the same time soldiers were captured by the Indians. After tense negotiations Joseph was allowed to return to his camp, and the soldiers were released as well. Back in the Indian camp, Joseph met with White Bird and Looking Glass. Before any final decision was made, a military sharpshooter killed Looking Glass. This left White Bird and Chief Joseph to lead the Nez Perces. In the end they agreed to follow their own paths.
Chief Joseph said, “I could not bear to see my wounded men and women suffer any longer; we had lost enough already. My people needed rest. We wanted peace.” He continued, “The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”
Joseph’s surrender speech became the defining statement of his life and of his people.
According to Joseph, Miles had “promised that we might return to our country with what stock we had left. I thought we could start again. I believed [him], or I never would have surrendered.”
The night of Joseph’s surrender, White Bird and tribal members who followed him escaped and fled to Canada. Of the 700 souls who had camped along Snake Creek near the Bear Paw Mountains at noon on September 29, 1877, Miles eventually held 448 as prisoners of war. Twenty-five had died on the battlefield and the remainder reached Canada.
This article is an excerpt from Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People, the Spur Award-winning biography by Candy Moulton. See more of Candy’s story about Chief Joseph in this exclusive video:
“Yet was he modest, never obtrusive, charitable, ‘without guile,’…a man whom none could approach without respect, or know without esteem. And though he fell under the spears of the savages, and his body glutted the prairie wolf, and none can tell where his bones are bleaching, he must not be forgotten.”
The anonymous eulogy to Jedediah Smith was published in Illinois Monthly Magazine in June 1832. The author’s view of Jed Smith’s character and motives differs from the views of Maurice S. Sullivan and Dale L. Morgan, the scholars who have worked most fully on his life. I see Smith as a man torn by conflicting allegiances—the values of his church and his society, and the values he learned and lived by in the wilderness. The evidence of his letters to his family seems to be that he judged his life as a mountain man to be wicked; that conviction seems to have been deep and sincere. He seems to have damned himself for his love of wildness in the same way that settlers would later damn most mountain men for it. So he went home in an attempt to live by his beliefs he professed.
Smith says nothing about his decision to return to the mountains in 1831. Though it was only a partial turning back to his former way of life, I think it expressed a strong-felt need, a need he probably chastised himself for. So what is remarkable here, to me, is the conflict between professed values and the values he actually lived by. When his anonymous eulogist said that Smith made his altar the mountaintop, he meant that as a tribute to Smith’s ability to live in Christian faith in the mountains. The irony may be that Smith made the mountaintop his altar in a different sense—that he replaced, symbolically, the altar of the Christian Church with his mountaintop as an object of worship.
I believe that Smith, had he lived, would have been unable to stick to his decision to become a respectable citizen of the settlements.
The Pious Man of the Mountains
Jed had been aware, from the beginning that he was unlike most of the men in the mountains. He was learned, for one thing. He was serious—serious about his religion, serious about turning a profit, serious about writing a book and making maps. He didn’t go for debauchery: He stayed away from Indian women and didn’t join in the rendezvous carousing. He tried to practice his religion in a profane environment.
Jed, a Christian in the Puritan tradition, regarded making money as one of a man’s positive duties, and thought of unused capital as an evil. He now had to decide on some use for his capital. Well, he might go to Ohio and that farm eventually, but he wanted some business venture in the meantime. The role of gentleman farmer may have pulled at his fancy, but not strongly enough. He hired Samuel Parkman, a young man who had gone to the mountains in 1829 and come back with Jedediah, to copy out his journals and help him make his maps. That was one important enterprise.
He also thought that he might go into a partnership with Robert Campbell. He discovered, though, that his Irish friend had gone home to Ireland; Robert’s brother Hugh, who lived in Richmond, Virginia, informed Jed that Robert’s health was failing again. He wrote to Hugh with good wishes for Robert’s well-being and a fervent wish that the two friends might be together again. In the spring, he added, he would still have capital to start a business with Robert.
Younger brothers Peter and Austin had wanted to follow ’Diah to the mountains. Another young man, J. J. Warner, came to Jed for advice on how to become a mountain man; Jed talked him out of such a pagan life. So Jed began to think of the West again—not Absaroka and Cache Valley, this time, but Santa Fe. Maybe he could explore the possibilities of trade with the Mexican provinces.
He missed the mountains. Writing t o Hugh Campbell on November 24, 1830, just a month back from the mountains, he admitted, “I am much more in my element, when conversing with the uncivilized Man, or Setting My Beaver Traps, than in writing Epistles.”
He decided to put off going home. He did miss his father, his teacher Dr. Simons, and his brother Ralph. But that could wait. Business, he told them, was too pressing. He didn’t add that the lure of wild country was too strong.
He made up his mind for Santa Fe. That was less risky than beaver trapping, even though the route lay through Indian country. He knew the business of supplying, and plenty of trappers were operating out of Santa Fe and Taos. He could get Peter, Austin, and J. J. Warner started in the world, give them a taste of the trail and the mountains, and still not be shot at by Blackfeet. At first he thought that he himself might not go along—he’d just handle the business end. But by the end of January, Jed had determined to hit the trail again. He wrote General Ashley for help in getting a passport.
He could explain it all to himself. He was making a good investment; he was going into a business he knew; he was giving a hand to young men of enterprise. Besides that, he could go beyond Santa Fe and see the Southwest. That was the only part of the entire West he did not know firsthand; a trip there would let him complete his map. He didn’t have to believe that he was giving in to the perverseness of his wicked heart, or to an uncivilized love of wild places.
Bill Sublette and David Jackson, meanwhile, had been waiting for Tom Fitzpatrick to arrive with confirmation of their deal to take supplies to rendezvous in the summer of 1831. But Fitzpatrick had not shown up. They had already arranged to buy the provisions and equipment. Stuck, they elected to go with Jed. Legally, the two parties would be separate, and Sublette-Jackson would get an independent passport and hire their men and sell their goods independently. But the outfits would travel together as far as Santa Fe. So, by late March of 1831, Jedediah Smith, who had tried to commit himself to the settlements by buying a farm, a fine house and two servants, was back in the mountain trade with his old partners.
The Siren Call of the Trail West
They set out from St. Louis on April 10 with 22 wagons, including one bearing a six-pound cannon, and 74 men. Before they reached the frontier, two more independent wagons and nine more men joined them. Near Lexington, Missouri, they camped for final preparations. Jed took the precaution of making a new will, since he was heading back into Indian territory. But they still had several hundred miles of beautiful rolling plains before any possible danger.
Then they had a surprise in camp: Tom Fitzpatrick rode in. He was headed for St. Louis, two months late, to contract with Sublette and Jackson for supplies for the 1831 rendezvous.
The Irishman explained: Henry Fraeb and Jean Baptiste Gervais had gone to Snake country; Jim Bridger, Milton Sublette and he had moved back to the Three Forks area, again in strength, to cash in on Blackfoot country. They had made a good hunt; but during the winter they had heard nothing from their other two partners. Finally they decided to take a chance on buying a new outfit anyway. But Fitz hadn’t gotten away until March to make the express to the settlements. What could be done about the outfit?
Jackson and Sublette were not carrying exactly what they would have taken to the mountains. They were supplying two towns as well as possibly some trappers. They decided that if Fitzpatrick would go along to Santa Fe, they would supply him there. Sublette and Jackson would let him have two-thirds of the outfit, and Smith the other third. The credit of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was good with these old friends. But Fitzpatrick would have to get the goods to rendezvous on his own. And since it was already into the first week of May, he would be plenty late.
So they set out for Council Grove. They had no troubles that they weren’t used to—drizzle for days at a time, miry ground and willful mules. At Council Grove they stocked up on wood for axles—the country was barren from here on—and got organized into disciplined units for traveling safely through Indian territory. Before long a war party made a charge on the wagons, but the cannon scared them off. A little later the clerk for Sublette and Jackson dropped behind the party to hunt and was killed by Pawnees. The Santa Fe Trail was not looking as trouble-free as it was supposed to be. This expedition, though, had an unsurpassed congregation of masters of the craft of the plains and the mountains. Jed Smith, Bill Sublette, David Jackson and Tom Fitzpatrick were four of the half-dozen most skilled mountain men living.
The Cimarron Cutoff
They followed the Arkansas River southwest for over a hundred miles to come to the place where the route forked. The round-about way was easier and safer—along the river to the mountains and then due south, through Raton Pass, to Santa Fe. The short way was quick but treacherous. It was a straight line across the Cimarron Desert. It was a scorched country without water, without any landmark, crisscrossed by buffalo trails that disguised the wagon road and could lead a party the wrong way and into a torturous death by thirst. They took the Cimarron Cutoff. If anybody knew how to cross a desert and find water when he had to, it was Jed Smith.
In the confusing maze of buffalo trails, even these old hands lost their way. Soon they had spent three days without water. The animals were about to die. The men were delirious with thirst. Discipline was breaking down and small groups were wandering through the desert in a desperate search for water.
So Jed did what needed doing. Taking Fitzpatrick with him, he pushed ahead of the wagon train to try to find a water hole or a spring. He knew that the Cimarron meandered out there somewhere. Even if it was as sporadically wet as the Inconstant River, he would find a hole and dig for water.
The two men came to a hollow that should have had water. It was dry. Jed told Fitzpatrick to stay there, dig for water, and tell the main party in which direction he had gone. He was going to look further ahead. It was a dangerous choice in Indian country, because a lone man was an irresistible temptation. But Jed had to take the chance. He found the dry bed of the Cimarron 15 miles further on. It was dried to sand in most places, but here and there were holes filled with liquid. Jed’s mind said caution: Buffalo holes would make good hunting spots for Indians and were likely to be watched. But his body cried out for wet. He rode down, let his horse walk in, and waded in himself.
After his pain eased, he got back on his horse. He would be able to save the wagon train now. But when he turned, Jed saw a band of 15 or 20 Comanches blocking his way. He realized they had crept up while he was splashing in the water. He knew his chances were slim: The Comanches had a reputation for savagery.
His one hope was to make a strong front of it. He rode straight up to them and made signs of peace. They paid no attention. Since he had his gun cocked, the Indians fanned out to either side, away from the line of his rifle. Jed watched to make sure they didn’t get behind him, and again tried to talk to their leader.
His horse was fidgeting back-ward. Suddenly the Indians began shouting at the horse and waving their blankets to frighten it. The horse wheeled and turned so that Jed’s back was to the flank of braves. Instantly, one of them fired and hit him in the shoulder. Jed gasped, his breath knocked away. He turned the horse around to front, leveled his Hawken, and killed the chief.
He grabbed for his pistols. A lance knocked his arm away from a handle. Two more blows, like sledgehammers, crushed his chest. He felt a falling, back and sideways, like falling in a dream, falling without stopping. He forced his eyes to register: Blue, a vivid blue. He couldn’t think what the blue might be. It darkened. And the sense of falling slipped away.
Jed Smith’s brothers and friends waited and waited for him. Finally, for the safety of the caravan, they moved on. They hoped that he would miraculously survive whatever had happened, as he had always survived, and catch up with them on the trail. When they got to Santa Fe on July 4, they heard the story of his death. Mexican traders had gotten it from the Comanches. Peter and Austin bought Jed’s rifle and pistols from the traders. Jed’s body was never found.
Jed Smith had made his traditional Christianity a deep principle within himself. But the love of wild places had rooted into him and become a deeper religion. His place of meditation was not the oak pew but the lone wilderness, as his eulogist said. His altar was the mountaintop, in a sense truer than his eulogist me ant. His sacraments were mountain skills. At the age of 32, he had lost his life in the service of his true church.
He had made a great pilgrimage to discover and know intimately the West he loved. For that mission he had risked, in his own eyes, even his salvation.
Though he died young, his quest had been successful. He had found the way across the Rocky Mountains at South Pass. He had led his men the length and width of the Great Basin. He had pioneered the overland route to California. He had become the first man to cross the Sierra Nevada. And he had been first to travel by land from California to Oregon. If the trappers were light years ahead of the American government and American people in their knowledge of the West, it was because Jed Smith had shown them the way. As an explorer of the West, he had come to rank with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Such were the accomplishments of the public man.
The private man had met his own standards in enterprise, courage, integrity and fairness. He had challenged the dangerous and the unknown with a fierce energy, and had thrived in them. He had spent his days living and feeling in the particulars—the creeks and meadows, the ridges and peaks—of the country he loved most, the Rocky Mountains.
A decade or two later, newspapers publicized the trapper garishly. Dime novelists idealized mountain men into heroes for wide-eyed boys and dreaming fathers. Kit Carson and Jim Bridger became epic figures, American versions of Odysseus. But then, when he should most have been remembered, Jedediah Strong Smith was forgotten.
“Death of a Mountain Man: Jedediah Smith’s Last Trail” is excerpted from Give Your Heart to the Hawks: A Tribute to the Mountain Men (TorForge) by Western Writers of America Hall of Fame member Win Blevins. Originally published in 1973, Blevins’ masterpiece has been in print for nearly 50 years, a remarkable accomplishment for any work of history. As Blevins notes in the 40th anniversary introduction, “The men in these stories lived vigorously, daringly, adventurously. I hope readers will ride along with them for decades to come. It is good for the soul.” Amen.
In addition to Give Your Heart to the Hawks, Win Blevins is the author of over 35 books, including the Spur Award-winning Stone Song, a novel about Crazy Horse. He is proud to call himself a member of the world’s oldest profession—storyteller.
“I sold my photographs for twenty-five cents, and was allowed to keep ten cents of this for myself. I also wrote my name for ten, fifteen, or twenty-five cents, as the case might be, and kept all of that money. I often made as much as two dollars a day, and when I returned I had plenty of money—more than I had ever owned before.”
Geronimo Cashes In
When the Apaches were transferred from Alabama to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1896, Geronimo had been a prisoner of war for ten years. It was during this period that Goyathlay and his brand name really started to take off.
In May of 1904 Geronimo is invited to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition being held in St. Louis. He’s offered a dollar a day, but settles on $100 a month. He stays at the fair for six months.
Geronimo is accompanied everywhere by two armed soldiers, who stand on either side of him. The effect creates the aura that the warrior is still dangerous, even though he is close to 76 years old. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the “prisoner of war” trappings, Geronimo is becoming quite a celebrity, and as he puts it, “Many people in St. Louis invited me to come to their homes, but my keeper always refused.
“I am glad I went to the Fair. I saw many interesting things and learned much of the white people. They are a very kind and peaceful people. During all the time I was at the Fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.”
March 5, 1905
Geronimo is invited to ride in Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. The Army gives him a check for $171 before he leaves (to pay for traveling expenses, etc.). Geronimo takes the check to Lawton, deposits $170 in his bank account and leaves for Washington DC with $1 in his pocket. He is not in need of cash, though—all the way to the capital, at every stop of the train, he sells his autographs as fast as he can print his name. When he runs out of photographs, he sells his hat, then the buttons off his coat. When the train leaves the station, Geronimo pulls out his suitcase and sews more buttons on his coat, and buys a new hat at the next stop.
When he gets to Washington the G-Man is asked where his horse is, and he tells them they will find him one. They do.
The inaugural parade moves along Pennsylvania Avenue with Teddy in the lead, doffing his silk hat and grinning his big-toothed grin. Next comes the Army band and then come six “wild” Indians. (This was supposed to be a “before” and “after” demonstration with the “wild” Indians followed by a unit of well-dressed, disciplined Carlisle cadets, showing off the government’s success in guiding the Indians to “civilization.”) The “wild” party, and Geronimo in particular, steal the show. No one even takes a picture of the Carlisle cadets—or remembers them in the parade. Geronimo is a huge hit and holds himself erect, completely calm and self-possessed. Men along the route throw their hats in the air and shout, “Hooray for Geronimo!” and “Public Hero Number Two!” A disgusted Woodworth Clum (son of former Apache agent John Clum) has been on the inaugural committee, and he takes the opportunity to ask Roosevelt, “Why did you select Geronimo to march in your parade, Mr. President? He is the greatest single-handed murderer in American history.”
“I wanted to give the people a good show.”
March 9, 1905
Geronimo and a group of old-time warriors visit the White House. This is his chance to appeal to the highest authority for a return to Arizona. His appeal, interpreted by George Wratten, is touching: “…When the soldiers of the Great White Chief drove me and my people from our home we went to the mountains. When they followed us we slew all we could. We said we would not be captured. No. We starved but we killed. I said that we would never yield, for I was a fool.
“So I was punished, and all my people were punished with me. The white soldiers took me and made me a prisoner far from my own country…”
“Great Father, other Indians have homes where they can live and be happy. I and my people have no homes. The place where we are kept is bad for us…We are sick there and we die. White men are in the country that was my home. I pray you to tell them to go away and let my people go there and be happy.
“Great Father, my hands are tied as with a rope. My heart is no longer bad. I will tell my people to obey no chief but the Great White Chief. I pray you to cut the ropes and make me free. Let me die in my own country, an old man who has been punished enough and is free.”
Teddy Roosevelt answers him with compassion, tinged with hard-nosed political reality: “…I do not think I can hold out any hope for you. That is all I can say, Geronimo, except that I am sorry, and have no feeling against you.”
June 11, 1905
The National Editorial Association holds its annual convention in Guthrie, Oklahoma. An excursion by trainbrings the visiting editors to the 101 Ranch, where they witness “the tiger of the human race” and “the Apache terror” in person.
Geronimo is the main feature of the morning events and he shoots a buffalo (provided by Charles Goodnight’s JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle) from a fast-moving car. This is where the photograph of Geronimo behind the wheel of a car is taken. The buffalo meat is served to the guests in the afternoon.
Lawton School Superintendent Stephen M. Barrett approaches Geronimo about writing his life story. Geronimo agrees on the stipulation that Barrett can ask no questions. Geronimo also refuses to be questioned about details or to add another word. He simply says, “Write what I have spoken.”
After striking a deal with Geronimo (the wily old horse trader will get half of anything the author gets), Barrett tries to get the Army’s permission, but the officer in charge, George A. Purington, bluntly refuses, saying Geronimo should be hanged instead of being “spoiled by so much attention from civilians.” Barrett finally appeals directly to President Teddy Roosevelt, and after a series of communications through channels (five pages of fine print, ten endorsements and six weeks of bureaucratic paper shuffling), permission is approved on the stipulation that the manuscript be submitted to the Army before publication.
July 4, 1907
After attending a parade and picnic in Cache, Oklahoma, Geronimo starts home in the evening but turns south and hides in the timber (speculation is that he was drunk). The newspapers have a field day reporting he is on his way to join the still-hostile Apaches in Old Mexico (he’s 84 years old!) The soldiers find him the next day and bring him back to Fort Sill.
February 12, 1909
Not far from Geronimo’s house, Mrs. Jozhe sees his horse saddled on the bank of a creek. She and others investigate and find Geronimo lying partly in the water. They deduce that he was thrown from his horse on the ride home and has been lying in the cold water, unconscious, all night.
February 15, 1909
A severe cold has turned into pneumonia. One of the scouts has told the post surgeon, who sends an ambulance to Geronimo’s house. The bedridden war leader is surrounded by about a dozen Apache women who refuse to let him go to “the death house,” which is the Apache name for the hospital. Finally, returning with a scout, the ambulance brings the old warrior in. The post surgeon expects him to die within the next few hours, but Geronimo asks that his son, Robert, and his daughter, Eva, be brought from Chilocco.
February 17, 1909
For two days his strong spirit has refused to give up until he could see his children one more time. They have not arrived. Now, at 6:15 a.m. he closes his eyes and surrenders for the last time.
February, 18, 1909
The funeral is at three o’clock. The Army grants a half-day work furlough for the Apache men so they can attend. Robert and Eva finally arrive by train and the funeral procession starts for the cemetery.
Before the grave is filled, relatives solemnly place his riding whip and blanket in the casket. (Before he died, Geronimo told his wife to tie his horse to a certain tree and to hang up his belongings on the east side of his grave, and in three days he would come and get them.)
When his bank account is checked in Lawton, it is revealed that Geronimo had more than $10,000 in the bank at the time of his death! It turns out the old boy had cashed in on his fame. In today’s money, this would be more than a quarter of a million dollars.
After Geronimo’s death, Asa Daklugie and Eugene Chihuahua pushed the U.S. government hard to let the Apaches in Oklahoma return to the Southwest. With World War I approaching fast, the U.S. Army was all too willing to rid themselves of the burden, and so, in the spring of 1913, most of the Fort Sill Apaches (some chose to remain in Oklahoma) loaded all their household goods, people and dogs on a train which took them to Tularosa, New Mexico. Members of the Mescalero Apache tribe met them at the train station with wagons and they began their long trek up the mountain, to a new life.
Geronimo had at least 10 wives (some historians say 12) and his last wife, Zi-yeh, gave him a daughter, Eva, when the old warrior was 66. Zi-yeh also gave him a son, Fenton, who was about six when Eva was born. Eva was the apple of Geronimo’s eye and he worried about her and doted over her. Eva had her womanhood ceremony in September of 1905 when she was 16. She started to show signs of debilitating illness and Geronimo became convinced a witch was doing it so he had a local medicine man, Lot Eyelash, do a ceremony to identify the witch. During the ceremony, the witch turned to Geronimo and said he was the guilty party and had traded the sickness of his children so that he could love longer. That Lot Eyelash lived to see another day is pretty hard to believe.
From this point on, Geronimo refused to let Eva marry anyone. So, on his deathbed, Geronimo sought a promise from his nephew, Asa Daklugie, which Eve Ball finally coaxed from the reticent old Apache.
Geronimo took care of the domestic chores of his children and his extended family after Zi-yeh came down with a tubercular infection and died. He washed dishes, swept the floor, cleaned the house, and treated the children kindly. He was devoted to his Eva, born in 1889. One visitor said, “Nobody could be kinder to a child than he was to her.”
Geronimo’s Final Request
“He moved. I bent over him and took his hand. His fingers closed on mine and he opened his eyes.
“‘My nephew,’ he said, ‘promise me that you and Ramona will take my daughter Eva into your home and care for her as you do your own children. Promise me that you will not let her marry. If you do, she will die. The women of our family have great difficulty, as Ishton [Daklugie’s mother] had. Do not let this happened to Eva!’
“He closed his eyes and again he slept, but restlessly. When he spoke again he said, ‘I want you to promise.’
“Ramona and I will take your daughter and love her as our own, but how can I prevent her from marrying?”
“‘She will obey you. She has been taught to obey. See that she does.’
“He died with his fingers clutching my hand.”
–Asa Daklugie, telling Eve Ball what Geronimo said to him on his deathbed
Daklugie and his wife, Ramona, did, in fact, take in Eva, and she married Fred Godeley (a.k.a. Golene) sometime in the fall of 1909. She had a daughter, Evaline, born June 21, 1910. Evaline died August 20, 1910. Eva died of tuberculosis on August 10, 1911. All of Geronimo’s fears came true. In spite of the glorious success he had made out of his prisoner of war status, the tragedy of his life was the fate of his favorite daughter.
Kate Elder was a working girl. Throughout most of her young life, she was employed as a soiled dove—a woman of ill fame, a sporting gal, a prostitute. It was Kate’s relationship with John Henry (Doc) Holliday that brought her notoriety and lifted her out of the role of a mere courtesan to that of common-law wife to the well-known gambler, gunfighter and dentist.
Kate’s story of her life on the frontier as a soiled dove, and her time with one of the West’s most recognizable characters, has value. She was in her eighties when she dared to recall all that had transpired since she’d left Hungary, where she was born, up to the events preceding the historic gunfight near the O.K. Corral. Kate claims to have witnessed the famous gun battle in October 1881. What she said happened between she and Doc leading up to the incident, and what transpired afterwards with outlaw John Ringo, adds another controversial layer to the historic event.
It was a chilly evening in mid-March 1881. Kate had traveled from Globe, Arizona, where she had a business, to Tombstone to see Doc. According to her, she made the trip at his request. Doc had taken up residence on Sixth Street in a small boardinghouse positioned between a funeral parlor and a winery.
Kate said that a holdup, in which driver Bud Philpot and a passenger were killed, occurred during her visit to Tombstone. One of the four suspects in the stage robbery and the double killing was William Leonard, one of Doc’s friends he had met in Las Vegas, New Mexico. When Leonard relocated to southern Arizona he fell in with a bad crowd and began robbing stages. It wasn’t long before Doc was implicated in the crime. His friendship with Leonard, and a visit he had made to his home near Tombstone, made him look suspicious.
A group of outlaw cow-boys, including well-known Cochise County, Arizona, residents Ike Clanton, Pete Spencer, Frank Stillwell and Curly Bill Brocius, encouraged the rumor of Doc Holliday’s involvement in the robbery. An article in the March 24, 1881, edition of the Arizona Weekly Citizen implicated Doc in the crime as well. Three of the robbers were headed to Mexico. “The fourth is at Tombstone and is well-known and has been shadowed ever since his return.” Doc was furious. Many suspected him of taking part in the robbery, and that included Kate.
“I thought that after the holdup things looked very suspicious about the Earps and Doc,” Kate recalled later. “Something tells me Doc was in with Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan in that affair. One night after we retired, Warren Earp came after Doc and said that Wyatt wanted to see him at his home. Doc was gone for almost two hours, and when he returned I could see that he was very much put out about something. He kept saying, ‘the damned fool! I didn’t think that of him.’ And later he said, ‘I have to get up early in the morning, but I will think about it.’ This was after the holdup.
“In the morning, after we had our breakfast, Doc said. ‘Well, I don’t know what I am going to stack up against today. I am getting tired of it all.’”
Kate knew he was referring to the fact that several people believed he was one of the men who robbed the stage. She tried to convince Doc to leave town with her, but he refused. “Wyatt Earp had a powerful influence over Doc,” Kate noted years later, “which I came to realize when I could not overcome that influence and induce Doc to return to Globe with me.”
By the beginning of April 1881, Kate had left Tombstone and traveled back to her business in Globe. According to Kate, Doc sent for her a second time in June 1881. Doc invited Kate to spend Independence Day with him, and she happily accepted. Kate and Doc were reunited just before the holiday, but their time together was less than civil. His tuberculosis, which had been somewhat in remission when they lived in New Mexico, was now causing coughing fits that brought up blood. To deal with the aggravation, Doc drank to excess. Kate drank right along with him. The pair was not shy about arguing in public. The fight the couple had on July 4 ended in name-calling and cursing. Angry and crying, Kate staggered to the room she shared with Doc. The plan she had to sleep until she was no longer intoxicated was interrupted when John Behan stopped her before she reached the hotel.
According to Kate, “Sheriff Johnny Behan took me to Judge Spicer’s Justice of the Peace office, and the judge put me through the third degree. He asked me about the Earps and Doc Holliday. How did Doc act the evening of the holdup? He was referring to the stage holdup where Bud Philpot and a passenger were killed. Did the youngest or which one of the Earps came to me for Doc’s rifle? Did Doc change his clothes that afternoon and what did Warren Earp say, if anything? How long had I known the Earps?
“Then suddenly he asked me, ‘Are you sure that Doc Holliday was with the Earps at the holdup?’
“Then I told the judge I was positive of nothing and would not swear to anything Spicer said. He felt sure that the Earps and Holliday were in that holdup. I asked him why he did not question Mattie [Blaylock] and Alice Earp, that he knew Morgan Earp was the Wells Fargo messenger on that stage. The judge then got out of patients [sic] with me and threatened me. I said, ‘I can’t tell you any more.’”
Once Kate sobered up she wasted no time walking back any statements she might have made about Doc that implicated him in the stage robbery and death of two people. She insisted she was coerced into reporting anything negative about Doc. All murder charges against Doc were dismissed on July 9. The judge reviewing the case determined there was no evidence to show Doc had a part in the crime.
Kate planned to leave town as soon as she knew Doc was out of harm’s way. She was aware she wasn’t wanted in Tombstone. “It was after that,” Kate noted later, referring to her arrest by Virgil Earp, “Wyatt Earp became anxious to get rid of me. Several days later [once she was released] a gambler named J. M. Nichols, also known as Napa Nick, invited me to go for a buggy ride with him, but I declined. Mattie Earp, Wyatt’s wife, later told me in Globe that I was lucky in refusing the buggy ride, as Napa Nick had instructions to get rid of me in some lonely canyon.”
Sometime between late August and September 9, 1881, Kate and Doc reunited and traveled to Tucson to enjoy some time together. It wasn’t until late October that one of the Earps tracked down the couple at a popular saloon on Meyer Avenue in Tucson. According to Kate, on October 25, 1881, she was standing behind Doc watching him deal cards when Morgan Earp arrived on the scene. “The day before the fight took place in Tombstone, Wyatt sent Morgan to Tucson to tell Doc that he was wanted in Tombstone the following day,” Kate said later. “Morgan found us at Congress Hall where Doc was trying his luck at [the] faro bank. He took Doc aside and delivered the message from Wyatt.
“Then Doc came to me and told me that he would take me to our hotel, as he had to go back to Tombstone, but that he would come for me later on. I would not have it that way, though, and told him that if he was going to Tombstone I was going with him. We left on a freight for Benson and from there drove to Tombstone in a buckboard. Doc and I had a room in the building owned by Mr. and Mrs. Fly, who also had a photograph gallery there. It was on Fremont Street next to the back entrance of the O.K. Corral. We got to the room after midnight. Doc left me there, he and Morgan going away together.”
Doc and Morgan set off for the Alhambra Saloon, where Wyatt was waiting for them. Wyatt informed Doc of the difficulties he had with Ike Clanton. He told Doc about those difficulties and warned him to be on his guard.
Doc turned his attention to playing cards and drinking whiskey. He didn’t give the matter much thought until he ran into Ike at the restaurant adjacent to the saloon. It was after one in the morning, and Doc was less than sober. He cursed at Ike, which started a verbal sparring between the two. According to Ike Clanton, Doc called him a “damn son-of-a-bitch” and told him to “get his gun out.” Ike indicated in his eyewitness account of the matters leading up to the street fight that he left the eatery after his encounter with Doc. He noted that Morgan was watching the pair verbally abuse one another and that Morgan had his hand on his pistol. Seeing he was outnumbered, he left the building knowing that war between the Earps, Holliday and the cow-boys was on the horizon.
“Doc and Ike Clanton had some words in a restaurant,” Kate recalled about the events of the first night she returned to Tombstone in late October 1881. “In the morning Ike Clanton came to Fly’s photograph gallery with a Winchester rifle. Mrs. Fly told him that Doc was not there. Doc was not up yet. I went to our room and told Doc that Ike Clanton was outside looking for him and that he was armed. Doc said, ‘If God lets me live long enough to get my clothes on, he shall see me.’
“With that he got up and dressed. Going out he said, ‘I won’t be here to take you to breakfast, so you had better go alone.’ I didn’t go to breakfast. I don’t remember whether I ate anything or not that day.
“In a little more than a half an hour the shooting began. This lady-friend and I went to the side window, which faced the vacant lot. There was Ike Clanton, young Bill Clanton, Frank McLowry [sic], and his brother Tom on one side, Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday on the other. Before the first shot was fired, Ike Clanton ran and lost his hat and left his young brother and the McLowry boys to fight it out.
“I was at the side window looking on and saw the fight. Doc had a sawed-
off shotgun. He fired one barrel, but after the first shot something went wrong. He threw the gun on the ground and finished the fight with his revolver. I saw him fall once. His hip had been grazed by a bullet. But he was on his feet again in an instant and continued to fire.
“Bill Clanton and the McLowry boys were killed. Morgan and Wyatt [She meant Virgil Earp.] were wounded. It’s foolish to think a cow ‘rustler’ gunman can come up to a city gunman in a gunfight. After the fight was over, Doc came to our room and sat on the side of the bed and cried and said, ‘Oh, this is
just awful—awful.’ I asked, ‘Are you hurt?’ He said, ‘No, I am not.’ He pulled up his shirt. There was just a pale red streak about two inches long across his hip where the bullet had grazed him. After attending to the wound, he went out to see how Virgil and Wyatt [She meant Morgan this time.] were getting along.”
On October 29, 1881, a coroner’s inquest was held, and a summary of the evidence was compiled. Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers were charged with killing the McLaurys and Billy Clanton. Doc and Wyatt were confined to the county jail.
While the inquest was being conducted, Kate befriended Johnny Ringo. Ringo was a hard drinker who had been indicted for one murder and had been involved in several others. Kate remained in the room she and Doc had shared at Fly’s boardinghouse, and it was there that Ringo found her. Doc was residing at the Cosmopolitan Hotel while out on bail. Morgan and Virgil were staying at the Cosmopolitan recuperating, and their families were with them. Doc and Wyatt had decided to stay to protect them from any cow-boys who might sneak in and try to kill the brothers.
“I kept close to my room at Mrs. Fly’s during the Earp-Holliday trial hearing before [the] justice of the peace,” Kate recalled years later. “John Ringo visited me there twice. I gave him a tumble both times. The second time he visited me he advised me to leave the camp, but I told him I did not have enough money to go back to Globe, as Doc had lost all my money playing against faro while we were in Tucson.” Kate also noted in 1935 that she had $100 at the time of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and gave $75 of it to help with Doc’s bail.
“Ringo said that some of the Clanton gang were watching for Doc to come to our room and intended to get him there,” Kate added in her memoirs. “Ringo told me ‘if I haven’t enough money, here is fifty dollars.’ So I left that evening.
“After the O.K. Corral fight, the Clanton and McLowry gang gave notice that they would get revenge on the Earps and Holliday. John P. Clum, who was mayor of Tombstone, was notified that he was on the list, and he left the camp. Virgil was the first they got. He was shot from
ambush; the bullet failed to reach a vital spot, but he was laid up for a while with a shattered arm.
“Morgan was the next victim. At the time he was playing pool in the Palace Saloon. The back door of the place was half-glass, painted white. Someone scratched off enough of the pain [sic] to see through and fired through the door, killing Morgan. I understand that the killer was one of the Clanton gang by [the] name of Stilwell.”
Kate left town in November 1881 before Doc’s fate had been determined. She tended to her business in Globe and never again returned to Tombstone.
Pleasant Valley: An Unpleasant Place for Sheriff Mulvenon“Look out down below boys.”
Following the fatal shootout with the Tewksbury’s and Jim Roberts at the Middleton Ranch, John Blevins had some second thoughts about security at the ranch on Canyon Creek. The ranch had been a lair for horse thieves but with the killing of his brother Hamp and mysterious disappearance of his father Mart, he decided to relocate the family to a little cottage in Holbrook until things cooled off a bit. It would turn out to be a fateful decision.
Graham partisans struck again in the early dawn of August 17th, 1887. While on their way back from Holbrook, several of the Tewksbury fighters including Ed, Jim and Jim Roberts were camped near the Tewksbury Cherry Creek ranch. Roberts had gone out on the camp horse to gather the rest of the horses that had been hobbled for the night. He’d climbed to a high spot and looking down, saw several Graham partisans edging towards the camp.
He called out to the others, “Look out down below boys.”
Ed and Jim, who were just crawling out of their blankets, grabbed their rifles and opened fire, killing several. Harry Middleton was wounded as was Joe Ellenwood. Middleton was taken to the Graham ranch where he died. Ellenwood took a bullet in the rear. Years later Ed recalled that during the gunfight Ellenwood had patted his rump in a defiant gesture so he obliged by putting a bullet where the man was indicating. “He jumped ten feet” laughed Ed.
That same day eighteen-year-old Billy Graham was allegedly shot by Tewksbury partisan, Jim Houck, who was also an Apache County deputy for Sheriff Owens. According to Houck the two met on the Payson Trail and Billy went for his gun and Houck had to shoot him. Graham rode back to ranch, arriving with his intestines hanging out and died soon after.
Since Houck was a deputy and could not get in trouble for shooting Billy, he confessed to the shooting, but it’s likely Ed Tewksbury shot Billy and Houck’s confession was to save Tewksbury from a murder charge. On his death bed Billy identified Tewksbury as the man who shot him. Two men who testified at the inquest swore that Tewksbury was the shooter.
The coroner’s inquest ruled Billy died at the hands of Ed Tewksbury but nothing came of it after Houck claimed he killed Billy.
Yavapai County Sheriff Billy Mulvenon was under pressure to go to Pleasant Valley and put an end to the killing. He rode in with a four man posse but was visited by a lone rider one night who advised him to turn around and leave or he would be killed. Off in the distance were other riders. Mulvenon ignored the advice and rode on. The next day he met another group of armed men who gave him the same warning. He realized this group was the other faction in the feud. This time the sheriff heeded the advice and returned to Prescott.
On August 19th, 1887, Mulvenon left Prescott leading another posse into Pleasant Valley with warrants for the Tewksbury’s after the Middleton Ranch fight. They trailed them into the Sierra Ancha Mountains with no luck so the sheriff and his posse returned to Pleasant Valley intending to watch the Tewksbury ranches and wait until they returned. They hid their horses in a thicket and scouted the area on foot. When they returned their horses were missing. On foot they were forced to walk to the Tewksbury ranch and sheepishly ask to borrow some horses and saddles. The message from the Tewksbury’s came through loud and clear:
“If you sons of bitches will get out of this country and leave us alone you can have your own horses and saddles.”
Once again, the sheriff was forced to leave Pleasant Valley with his tail between his legs. Next time he’d bring a small army.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Butch & Sundance & Pike & DutchHow two films from the summer of ’69 changed Westerns forever.
Every period picture, consciously or not, reflects two periods, the time in which the story is set, and the time the film is made. Half a century ago, in the summer of 1969, the tumult of the times was inescapable. The “Summer Of Love” of 1967, when hippies and flower-power and LSD were supposed to save the world, had been followed by the ghastly 1968, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention, the seemingly endless Vietnam War and, good or bad, the election of President Richard M. Nixon.
Out of this maelstrom came two Western movies. Each was directed by a TV-trained World War II Marine veteran, each budgeted at the then princely sum of about $6 million, and fictionally recast and enlarged the legendary story of Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, a.k.a. The Wild Bunch. At the box office, Butch would earn $102 million, four Oscars and three more nominations. Wild Bunch would earn $638,000, two Oscar nominations, and no awards. Two of the finest films of the 20th century, their popularity today is far greater than when they were made, and their influence on films released since is incalculable.
Although the two stories have remarkably different tones, the historical inspirations for the plots are remarkably alike. In the early 1900s, an outlaw gang learns in the midst of a hold-up that they’ve been set up; a railroad magnate has spent a small fortune to assemble a super-posse to track them down and kill them. The posse in Butch is a faceless enemy. In The Wild Bunch they are a big part of the story, led by former associate Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). The gang flees south of the border. In Bunch, the gang stays together, goes as far as Mexico, and becomes involved with revolutionaries. In Butch, the gang splits up in the U.S., and Butch, Sundance, and Etta flee all the way to Bolivia, and restart their criminal careers.
The longer gestation was for Butch. Novelist, playwright and screenwriter William Goldman started researching the life of Cassidy in the late 1950s. He wrote his first drafts while teaching at Princeton. As he recalls in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, “The Wild Bunch consisted of some of the most murderous figures in Western history. Arrogant, brutal men. And yet, here running things was Cassidy. Why? The answer is incredible but true: People just liked him.” Goldman loved that while Sundance was a brooding killer, Butch had never even injured anyone during his outlaw career. Goldman had already had success in Hollywood with 1966’s Harper, the Paul Newman detective film, when producer Paul Monash bought the Butch script for $400,000, the highest price paid for a screenplay at that time. It’s frequently been called the best screenplay ever written. It won the Oscar.
The Wild Bunch was the brain-child of stuntman and Marlboro Man-model Roy Sickner. While not a writer, he’d worked in many Westerns, including Nevada Smith and Peckinpah’s ill-fated Major Dundee. He had an idea for a Western about some outlaws who move down to Mexico to escape the law, and get into more trouble. Though more about action than plot and characters, Peckinpah was encouraging, as was Sickner’s drinking buddy Lee Marvin, a big star since his 1966 Best Actor Oscar for Cat Ballou, who attached himself to the project. Katy Haber, who worked with Sam Peckinpah in various production roles on eight movies, says the story really took shape when Sickner teamed up with young screenwriter Walon Green. “It had been a Civil War film, but it was Walon Green who placed it in the Mexican revolution.” Green, a Beverly Hills kid, had visited Mexico on a nature program as a teen, and fell in love with the country and its people. He went to college in Mexico City, and absorbed the nation’s history. Though then a writer with no movie credits, he had talent and knowledge, and when he teamed with co-writer Peckinpah, they shaped the screenplay into something magnificent.
Sam Peckinpah was on shaky ground when The Wild Bunch came along. Ride the High Country had been a sleeper hit, especially overseas. But his follow-up, Major Dundee, with 42 minutes slashed from Sam’s cut, was not the film he meant it to be, and it bombed. Next, he began directing Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid, but was fired after a week for filming an unscripted nude scene. He was hired to write and direct Villa Rides!, but when star Yul Brynner complained that Villa wasn’t coming off as heroic enough, Peckinpah was replaced by writer Robert Towne and director Buzz Kulick. He hadn’t directed in two years.
George Roy Hill also had his troubles. Robert Crawford Jr., who would produce eight movies for Hill, and describes himself as “Sancho Panza to his Man of La Mancha,” recalls, “George got fired off Hawaii three times. And he was let go in post-production on Thoroughly Modern Millie.” But unlike Peckinpah’s situation, “Millie was a terrific success. So was Hawaii, and his agent then sent him Butch Cassidy.” Paul Newman and Steve McQueen had been cast as the leads, but with Newman as Sundance. “George [tells] Newman, ‘You’re not right for Sundance. You should be playing Butch.’ Newman says, ‘This is kind of comedy, and I don’t do comedy well.’ George said, ‘No, this is a tragedy, and you’ll be terrific as Butch.’ He convinced Paul to take Butch. McQueen said, ‘That’s great, but I don’t want to play Sundance.’” It may seem surprising that Robert Redford wasn’t the natural choice for Sundance, but until Butch made him a star, he was considered a light comedy actor, not a dramatic lead.
Katharine Ross, who would play Etta Place, recalls, “The first script I got was called The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy.” She was a natural for Westerns. “I started riding when I was seven.” One of the last of the contract players at Universal, she’d guested on many Western series, and her first feature-film role was as James Stewart’s daughter in the anti-war Western Shenandoah. “I really got that because of the Gunsmoke I did that Andy McLaglen [who would also direct Shenandoah] directed.” She got the role of Etta in part because she’d become a star, and an Oscar nominee, for her wonderful performance opposite Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Also, as Hill noted in his audio commentary on Butch, “She came on the picture basically because I thought she was the sexiest girl I’d ever seen…just ravishingly beautiful.”
As the Wild Bunch script evolved, Lee Marvin began to have real doubts. Pike Bishop was becoming more and more like his character in 1966’s The Professionals, plus same locale, same uniforms; he didn’t want to be typed. When he was offered $1 million to co-star with Clint Eastwood in the musical Paint Your Wagon, he took it. That gave William Holden the chance to give the performance of his career. Fifty, but looking far more world-weary, Holden had been giving repetitive performances in mediocre films; he’d been convicted of manslaughter after a drunk-driving accident in Italy. He knew Pike Bishop’s desperation, when all you have left is pride. He wasn’t the studio’s first choice, but Peckinpah held firm. “You know, Ernie Borgnine wasn’t their first choice either,” Haber remembers. After his Oscar for Marty, he’d squandered his talent on dross like McHale’s Navy. “But Sam was emphatic. Proof is in the pudding in the film—that relationship was brilliant.”
Most of the rest of the cast was made up of Peckinpah regulars, all doing exceptional work. Among the gang were Warren Oates and Ben Johnson, both on the eve of stardom, as the Gorch brothers. As Paul Seydor, director of the Oscar-nominated The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage, says, “Tell me another movie in which you believe two men are brothers more than in The Wild Bunch.” New to the Peckinpah fold was Bo Hopkins as Crazy Lee, the first of the Bunch to die, but about the last still living, and currently preparing to star in Hillbilly Elegy for Ron Howard. It was an unforgettable time in his life because, he says, “I got to work with my heroes. Bill Holden got me into two pictures. Ernest Borgnine became like a father to me till the day he died. Robert Ryan helped me do my first interview, because I didn’t know what to say.” He remembers preparing for the scene where he holds the railroad customers hostage, forcing them to march and sing hymns, “and Dub Taylor stayed up all night with me, helping me sing ‘Shall We Gather at the River,’ ’cause I hadn’t memorized the whole song.”
Between TV and movies, L.Q. Jones appeared in practically everything Sam Peckinpah did, here teamed with Strother Martin as bounty hunters who came off like a degenerate Abbott and Costello. Edmund O’Brien, Oscar-winner for The Barefoot Contessa, has a delightful turn as Freddy Sykes, a geezer who recalls Walter Huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, one of Peckinpah’s favorite films. L.Q. recalls, “Eddie was so ill all the way through the picture that I spent two weeks at Eddie’s place seeing they were feeding him right, that he was doing what the doctor told him to. Sam spaced his shooting out so Eddie didn’t have to work two days in a row. He was sweating blood, but he was getting the work done.” Remarkably, O’Brien would recover, and live another fifteen years.
Another great performance was delivered by Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez as Mapache, the terrifyingly erratic rebel leader. A unique figure in Mexican history, Fernandez was a star actor, director and a convicted killer. L.Q. remembers, “He was also a military hero for Mexico. He came in one day to get me, and I was studying at my Spanish. He loved it, so after that, every day I came to his place so he could teach me some more Spanish. But I was petrified of the man, because the first day on the show, he tried to kill a waiter for giving him the wrong food.”
The music from the two films could not have been more different. Jerry Fielding composed the score for Wild Bunch and five other Peckinpah films. W.K. Stratton, author of The Wild Bunch, the definitive book on the film, notes, “Jerry went to Mexico and researched the actual music that was being played during the revolution and then wrote his. The Wild Bunch has 85 minutes of music in it.” Fielding’s score was Oscar-nominated. Hill wanted a contemporary feel to Butch Cassidy, and that included the score by Burt Bacharach, which was focused on three lyrical music sequences. Crawford reveals that when Hill gave them the rough-cut to work with, he’d cut the famous bicycle scene to Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song,” a.k.a. “Feeling Groovy.” Bacharach would win Oscars for the score and the replacement song, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
Ross reflects, “[One] of the most memorable parts, for me, is the bicycle ride. [It] was done with a very long lens and, and the only direction we got was whether we were going left to right or right to left across frame. So we were left to our own devices; it was very improvisational. It is very uncomfortable riding in an orchard on the handlebars
of a bicycle.”
That wasn’t the only uncomfortable situation for Ross on the shoot. She was watching cinematographer Conrad Hall, who would win the Oscar for Butch, shooting the sequence where the super-posse bursts from the train. “I was going with Conrad at that time.” He invited her to operate one of the cameras. “It was the last shot of the day. There were six cameras, and I was on camera six, an Arriflex on a McConnell head, just panning along. George Roy Hill decided to sit near the camera I was operating, but he never said anything. Back at the motel, the production manager said, you have a very angry director on your hands. I got banned from the set except when I was working.” Considering how male-dominated the Camera Union was at that time, Katharine Ross may very well have been the first woman to be a camera operator on a Hollywood movie.
Lucien Ballard was Peckinpah’s cinematographer on The Wild Bunch and eight other shows, and his work was phenomenal. Notes Seydor, “He would set up four cameras and they would often be shooting at four different speeds.” This was particularly crucial for the elaborate shoot-outs at the beginning and end of the film, for which Peckinpah and editor Lou Lombardo masterfully alternated between standard speed and various degrees of slow motion, to make the viewer hyperaware of the destruction and slaughter. No action-film since The Wild Bunch has not been influenced by Ballard’s photography and Lombardo’s editing.
While the leads in both films die in the end, the filmmakers deal with it very differently. Peckinpah showed it in brutal detail. Hill did not want to see his heroes torn with bullets, and decided on a freeze-frame, with the audio of gunfire continuing. While the Wild Bunch’s last few speeches were dramatically terse, Butch and Sundance, even when mortally wounded, kid each other rather than talking about their dire situation.
Crawford remembers the first preview of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in San Francisco. “People were laughing right up to the end of the movie, when they were all shot up, and about to charge out. Everybody was elated, all the applause, all the executives saying, ‘It’s a winner! It’s wonderful!’ And George was that little guy with a cloud over his head. And he looked at me, and said, ‘They laughed at my tragedy.’”
Henry C. Parke, Western films editor for True West, writes Henry’s Western Round-uponline. His screenplay credits include Speedtrap (1977) and Double Cross (1994), and he’s done audio commentary on a fistful of Spaghetti Westerns.
The Most Dangerous Street in AmericaIn the 1870s, Lincoln, New Mexico Territory, was the murder capital of America.
The Lincoln County War was exceptionally violent, and much of that violence occurred in the small town of Lincoln, New Mexico. But murder and mayhem were facts of life there long before Billy the Kid and the Regulators collided with followers of L.G. Murphy. In fact, the entire history of Lincoln in the late 19th century was punctuated with tragic accidents, senseless violence, questionable examples of frontier justice and acts of revenge. During the decade of the 1870s alone, more than 50 people were killed along the one-mile stretch of dusty road that curved through Lincoln—a fact that led President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878 to declare it “The Most Dangerous Street in America.”
The following are just a few examples of the deadly violence that plagued Lincoln in those years. Some of those who died were innocent victims, some were notorious criminals, but most were just typical denizens of the Western frontier. They were tough, independent people whose lives reflected the brutal reality of the conditions under which they lived.
On September 2, 1876, Josiah “Doc” Scurlock accidently killed his friend Mike Harkins in the carpenter shop behind the Murphy-Dolan Store. Scurlock was showing off his new “self-cocking pistol” when it accidently discharged. The bullet struck Harkins just below the left nipple and pierced his heart, killing him instantly.
Two years later—on February 18, 1878—Lincoln was rocked by news of the murder of John H. Tunstall. Capt. George Purington sent a few soldiers from Fort Stanton to Lincoln the next day in hopes of keeping the peace. Then, on February 21, he sent a dispatch rider to Lincoln with a message for the detachment. The rider, unaware that a sentry was posted at the west end of town, attempted to gallop past the courthouse.The sentry, Pvt. Gates, failed to recognize his fellow trooper, though both were members of the same company of the famous 9th U. S. Cavalry. Gates fired just once, but Pvt. Edward Brooks, a 29-year-old native of Kentucky, was dead as he fell from the saddle.
On the evening of October 21, 1874, Lyon Phillipowski was having a few drinks in the Billiard Room at the L.G. Murphy & Company store. Phillipowski was married to Teresa Padilla, and they had an eight-year-old daughter named Lolita. He was also a deputy sheriff of Lincoln County. When it came time for bartender William Burns to close up, Phillipowski was angry. He wasn’t ready to go home. Burns insisted. Phillipowski ominously warned Burns that he would “see” him outside. Sure enough, as Burns left, Phillipowski approached and reached for his gun—Burns was ready, and Phillipowski collapsed, mortally wounded, onto the muddy street. He died the next morning.
On October 10, 1875—former sheriff Alexander H. “Ham” Mills confronted Gregorio Valenzuela along the street in Lincoln. Valenzuela and Mills had been neighbors in San Patricio in 1870, so had known each other for several years. Mills owed Valenzuela money, but was either unable or unwilling to pay. They argued, and Valenzuela called Mills a “damned Gringo.” Mills pulled out a gun and shotValenzuela, a husband and father, dead. He was convicted of fifth-degree murder, but L.G. Murphy obtained a pardon for Mills from Gov. Samuel B. Axtell.
William Wilson once bragged that he had done time in Sing Sing Prison. He drifted west to Lincoln, and on August 1, 1875, he murdered Robert Casey near the Wortley Hotel.Wilson claimed that Casey owed him $8 in back wages. He was arrested, tried for murder and sentenced to death by hanging. This was the first legal hanging in Lincoln County, and Sheriff Saturnino Baca was anxious to get it right. On the appointed morning—December 10, 1875—Wilson was brought to the gallows under guard. The sentence was read out loud as the hangman prepared Wilson for the “long drop,” then the trap was sprung.
Unfortunately, the fall failed to snap Wilson’s neck. His body danced at the end of the rope for several minutes, but eventually he stopped struggling. Thinking him dead, Sheriff Baca cut the rope. The crowd was invited to view the remains, and a local woman realized that Wilson was still breathing. Not one to leave a job half finished, Sheriff Baca had William Wilson hoisted back up on the gallows and hanged for a second—and mercifully final—time.
George Washington, a former employee of A. A. McSween, was “trying to shoot a stray dog” in June 1879 at his home near the ruins of the McSween House. Somehow, a bullet intended for the stray hit Washington’s own wife, Luisa Sanchez, and their infant child, killing them both. The circumstances were highly questionable, but there were no witnesses. Later, when Washington attempted to elope with a teenage girl, unspoken suspicions were aroused. Washington was caught, returned to Lincoln, and late one night he was taken from the jail and lynched.
Sometime in early December 1871, 48-year-old Avery M. Clenny stopped by Pete Bishop’s saloon in Lincoln. Clenny owned a store in Hondo and was in town on business. He talked with Bishop briefly, but Bishop had to go to his storeroom to fetch something.Two younger men, George Van Sickle and Calvin Dodson, then entered the saloon. It’s unclear why, but when Bishop returned he found Van Sickle and Dodson administering a severe beating to Clenny. Bishop retrieved a pistol that he kept behind the bar and chased Dodson and Van Sickle into the street near the Montano Store, shooting at both men. Van Sickle survived; Cal Dodson did not.
The Horrell brothers were a notorious group of Texas outlaws. One brother, Ben, was carousing in Lincoln with friends when he was killed in a confrontation with Constable Juan Martinez on December 1, 1873. The surviving Horrell brothers brooded over their loss for about three weeks, and then on the evening of December 20, they rode into Lincoln bent on revenge. Hearing music coming from Chapman’s Saloon, they surrounded the building and fired through the doors and windows. The music was for a wedding dance, and the building was crowded with men, women and children. Four Lincoln men died that night: father of the bride Isidro Patron, Isidro Padilla, Mario Balazan and Jose Candelaria. Two women and a boy were wounded. Not satisfied, the Horrells killed at least eight more people on their way back to Texas.
Lincoln is most famous for its association with Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, L.G. Murphy and other notable contestants in the Lincoln County War. But the town’s legacy of violence extends well beyond that feud. Virtually every step one takes during a stroll down the sidewalks of Lincoln’s main thoroughfare is connected with another fatal incident. It has unquestionably earned its presidential distinction: The Most Dangerous Street in America.
Anatomy of the Killing Fields
It is a half mile from one end of Lincoln to the other and, on just this street, 49 men and one woman were killed in the approximately 10-year period of the Lincoln County War and its aftermath. At about the halfway point, and in the heart of the killing fields, lie several locations, at left, where most of the shooting deaths occurred.
On the night of July 19, 1878, in what is knownas the “Big Killing” and the “McSween Fight,” at least five men were killed when the Murphy-Dolan forces surrounded the McSween faction and burned them out.
Attempting to escape out the back door of the burning house, five men were killed: Alexander McSween, Francisco Zamora, Vincente Romero, Harvey Morris andRobert Beckwith. Another, Yginio Salazar, survived with severe wounds and crawled off. He lives. Virtually next door from the McSween house is the Tunstall Store, where an earlier ambush by the Regulators results in the death of Sheriff Brady and his deputy George Hindman. Across the street, hoeing onions in his back yard, Squire Wilson is hit by a stray bullet and falls forward as it passes through his buttocks.
Tim Roberts is the deputy director for New Mexico Historic Sites, responsible for all aspects of preservation and interpretation across the state’s eight historic sites and properties. He is the former manager at Lincoln and Fort Stanton Historic sites.
Scott Smith is currently the instructional coordinator at Lincoln and Fort Stanton Historic Sites. He has nearly 30 years’ experience with New Mexico Historic Sites, including time as manager at Fort Sumner and Coronado Historic sites.
Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – the original post can be found here
Did She or Didn’t She?Deadwood’s Dora DuFran is credited with coining the word “cathouse.”
The people who knew her, and the historians who love her, consider Madam Dora DuFran one of the most lucrative businesswomen in South Dakota. Her legendary brothels in Deadwood, Belle Fourche and Rapid City made the lady famous. But was the enigmatic madam really the first painted lady to utter the word “cathouse,” known today as a reference to a brothel?
Let’s start with Dora’s humble beginnings as Amy Bolshaw, born in England in 1868 and brought to America as an infant. Original documents verify that she was still living near her family in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1883, when she was employed as a domestic servant. Soon after, according to historians, the 15-year-old teenager left Nebraska and arrived in Deadwood to pursue a career in the prostitution industry. It was in about 1886, according to Dora, that she met the famed Calamity Jane in Deadwood.
Therein lies part of the rub. Historians adore referencing Dora per the writings of Agnes Wright Spring in her biography about Charlie Utter. Spring stated that Charlie and his brother Steve brought “a 30-wagon wagon train of prospectors, gamblers, 180 prostitutes, and assorted hopefuls” to Deadwood in 1876. That story has often been intertwined with the tale that Charlie once brought Dora a wagonload of real, four-legged, tail-twitching felines to wage a war against the mice running amuck in her brothel, which she then nicknamed the “cathouse.” To complicate matters, one Phatty Thompson is documented as bringing a load of cats to Deadwood in 1877, with the intention of auctioning them to housewives with mice troubles.
The trouble is that Dora was not in Deadwood in 1876 or 1877. As for the origins of the word, sources are all over the board as to where it was first used. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1401 poem from somewhere deep in the United Kingdom titled “Friar Daw’s Reply” as the earliest use of the term. Buta 1670 dictionary first explained that the word “cat” is sometimes defined as “a common whore.” Dictionaries of British-American words do agree on one thing: a cathouse is defined as a brothel.
In America, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary claims “cathouse” first came into use in 1882, but declines to give further information. Another source says the word wasn’t used until 1893. Even Snopes.com, the mother of all things fact and fiction, has no idea. That leads back to the British-born Dora who, lacking any other suspects, may very well rightfully deserve credit as the first in the prostitution realm to use the word. But was Dora defining her own palace of pleasure, or simply the home of her newly acquired mouse-catchers? Alas, the West may never know.
Jan MacKell Collins enjoys writing about wild women of the past. Her newest book, Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State, will be published by Globe Pequot Press in September.