The Last Days of Kate & Doc

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

The Last Days of Kate & Doc

The Last Days of Kate & Doc

big nose kate doc holliday true west magazine
Was Kate “Big Nose” Elder with Doc Holliday in Tombstone during the Earp-Cow-boy troubles that led up to the deadly shootout of October 26, 1881? Kate said she was, but after the gunfight she left town and never returned.
— Painting “The Last Days of Kate & Doc” by Bob Boze Bell, Photo of Kate Elder and All Other Art by Bob Boze Bell, Photos/Maps Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Noted —

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.

big nose kate true west magazine
Kate “Big Nose Elder.”

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.

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Burning the Midnight Oil
When Doc arrives in Tombstone, there is no record of him practicing dentistry at all. Instead, he gambles full-time, often with Kate standing over his shoulder. The two of them are inseparable for periods of time. Other times they need to be separated.

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.’

big nose kate doc holliday true west magazine
“After the fight was over, Doc came in, and sat on the side of the bed and cried and said, ‘Oh, this is just awful—awful.’” — Big Nose Kate

“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.

“The Last Days of Kate & Doc” is excerpted from Chris Enss’s soon-to-be-released book, According to Kate: The Legendary Life of Big Nose Kate, Love of Doc Holliday (TwoDot, 2019).

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Pleasant Valley

Pleasant Valley: An Unpleasant Place for Sheriff Mulvenon“Look out down below boys.”

pleasant valley arizona map billy mulvenon true west magazine
A map of Pleasant Valley, Arizona, by Miguel Otero.

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.

billy mulvenon true west magazine
Billy Mulvenon.

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 marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

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

Butch & Sundance & Pike & Dutch

Butch & Sundance & Pike & DutchHow two films from the summer of ’69 changed Westerns forever.

ben johnson warren oates william holden ernest borgnine the wild bunch movie true west magazine
Director Sam Peckinpah’s legendary choreography of (l.-r.) Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden and Ernest Borgnine’s “walk down” in the The Wild Bunch iconically set up the film’s violent climax.
— Courtesy Warner Bros. —

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.

the wild bunch sam peckinpah true west magazine
In The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah juxtaposed Pike Bishop’s outlaw brotherhood against the railroad company’s notorious bounty hunters (standing l.-r.): Strother Martin, Bill Shannon, Robert Ryan, Bill Hart, L.Q. Jones; (kneeling, l.-r.) Buck Holland, Paul Harper and Robert “Buzz” Henry.
— Courtesy Warner Bros. —

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.

the wild bunch behind the scenes sam peckinpah true west magazine
Director Sam Peckinpah (above, center in chair) employed six cameras, including on a barge with a crew on the river, to capture the stunning—and very dangerous—stunt of the bridge (top) blowing up and the men and horses falling into the river in The Wild Bunch.
— Photo by Paul Harper, courtesy of Nick Redman and Jeff Slater —

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.

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The Wild Bunch bridge set.
— Photo by Paul Harper, courtesy of Nick Redman and Jeff Slater —

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.

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Despite being sick during much of The Wild Bunch’s production, veteran actor Edmund O’Brien (left) with leading man William Holden gave one of his greatest and most memorable performances as the wily outlaw Freddie Sykes.
— Courtesy Warner Bros. —

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.

the wild bunch movie poster true west magazine
The Wild Bunch movie poster.

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.

sam peckinpah warren oates behind the scenes the wild bunch true west magazine
Actor Warren Oates (above, right) receives direction from director Peckinpah during the filming of The Wild Bunch’s iconic and violent conclusion. Oates was a favorite of the director, co-starring or starring in four of Peckinpah’s pictures
— Courtesy Warner Bros. —

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.

the wild bunch butch cassidy and the sundance kid true west magazine
The “Wild Bunch” in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid posed for posterity on location in Utah. They are (l.-r.) Timothy Scott, Robert Redford, Ted Cassidy, Paul Newman, Dave Dunlop and Charles Dierkop.
— Courtesy 20th Century-Fox —

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.”

butch cassidy and the sundance kid movie stunt true west magazine
Director George Roy Hill’s production of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid features dangerous and dramatic stunts, such as the dynamiting of the railroad express car.
— Courtesy 20th Century-Fox —

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.”

katharine ross robert redford butch cassidy and the sundance kid true west magazine
The historic romance between outlaws Etta Place and the Sundance Kid was forever defined by actors Katharine Ross and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
— Courtesy 20th Century-Fox —

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.”

katharine ross robert redford butch cassidy and the sundance kid bicycle ride true west magazine
Katharine Ross’s Etta Place and Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy’s bicycle ride through the outlaws’ homestead hideout is one of the most iconic and light-hearted scenes of the comedic and iconic
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
— Courtesy 20th Century-Fox —

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.

paul newman robert redford butch cassidy and the sundance kid true west magazine
Robert Reford (left) and Paul Newman’s Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy realize they are pinned in by the posse and only have one chance of escape—leaping into the river a hundred feet below—one of the awe-inspiring stunts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
— Courtesy 20th Century-Fox —

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…

The Most Dangerous Street in America

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

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

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

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

Tragic Accidents

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

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

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

Senseless Violence

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

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

Frontier Justice?

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

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

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

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

Revenge

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

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

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

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

Anatomy of the Killing Fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadwood’s Dora DuFran

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

truewestmagazine.com/dora-dufran/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In America, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary claims “cathouse” first came into use in 1882, but declines to give further information. Another source says the word wasn’t used until 1893. Even 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.

Calamity Jane

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

Calamity Jane: The Devil in Buckskins

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

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

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

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

wild bill hickok calamity jane true west magazine
While it’s part of the legend of Calamity Jane in Deadwood, no facts exist to confirm her supposed love affair with Wild Bill Hickok.

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Note:

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

Knuckleheads!

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – the original post can be found here https://truewestmagazine.com/knuckleheads/

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

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

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

And then there were the knuckleheads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Men Going West

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

It all began with Ellsworth Kolb’s restless feet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running with the Mules

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

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

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

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

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

The View Stalkers

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Pioneer

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

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

Kolb Studio

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Note

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

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