The Comanche and his HorseThe acquisition of the horse in the 1600s brought immediate and sweeping changes to the Plains Indians.
The acquisition of the horse in the 1600s brought immediate and sweeping changes to the Plains Indians. For the first time it gave them a wide range and mobility for hunting and military might. It brought about the most glorious period in their history. The Comanche were the first to acquire the horse referred to them as their “God Dogs.” They built an entire culture around them.
The Comanche became expert ropers and popular way to capture and break a young horse was to rope him, choke him to exhaustion and while the horse was down on the ground the captor would then blow his breath into the nostrils of the animal and remove the “wild hairs” around its eyes. A headstall or hackamore, a loop was placed around the jaw and tied at the neck. The horse would then be attached to a gentle mare. The warrior would then handle him enough to get him used to being around humans. After a few days he would be turned loose to be free but would remain with the mare, following her everywhere she went. When it came time to ride the handler would take the horse into deep water or a sand-bottomed creek to mount. This served to take some of the starch out of his bucking and make the landing softer if the horse succeeded in unloading its rider.
Capturing and breaking a wild horse was good but the Comanche was also an excellent horse thief and stealing them was developed into an art. Getting horses by plunder and especially under dangerous conditions gave the warrior an opportunity for valor and prestige. The Comanche raided for other plunder and scalps but more often than not he preferred to go on horse-stealing forays.
There were a lot of ways to break a horse and over time the Indians adopted some of the methods of the white man and vice versa. Kindness rather than cruelty was always the most effective way to break a horse.
They also practiced selective breeding, gelding the inferior males and breeding the best stallions with their mares.
Rival Plains Indians tribes noted the Comanche affinity for his mounts in their campfire stories noted that in time of danger a Comanche would bring his favorite horses into the tee pee and make his wives sleep outside. They also claimed that when a Comanche copulated with his wife he would mount her from behind and whinny like a stallion.
Artist George Catlin, who was one of the first to write about them wrote: “A Comanche is out of his element and comparatively almost as awkward as a monkey on the ground without a limb or a branch to cling to; but the moment he lays his hands upon his horse his face even becomes handsome and he gracefully flies away like a different being.”
William Blakemore, an Englishman spent eight years with the tribe left this description: “On foot slow and awkward, but on horseback graceful, they are the most expert and daring riders in the world. In battle they sweep down upon their enemies with terrific yells, and concealing the whole body with the exception of one foot behind their horses, discharge bullets or arrows over and under the animal’s neck and accurately. Each has his favorite war-horse which he regards with great affection and only mounts when he goes into battle. Even the women are daring riders and hunters, lassoing antelope and shooting buffalo.”
Erroneous Ellsworth ShowdownLetters help prove that the Wyatt Earp-Ben Thompson showdown is a tall tale.
Among the many questionable incidents people often repeat about Wyatt Earp’s life story, few reveal the duplicity of his biographer as much as the tale of Wyatt’s 1873 showdown with Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas.
Letters between Stuart N. Lake and a Hollywood producer show the legend makers of print and film collaborating to create a fictional character who both men insisted matched the real man.
The Ellsworth Incident
Stuart N. Lake first told the story of the Ellsworth incident in a 1930 Saturday Evening Post article. A wandering buffalo hunter searching for opportunities in the cattle business, Wyatt landed in Ellsworth on August 18, 1873, where he responded to a dangerous standoff after the killing of Sheriff Chauncey B. Whitney. Bill Thompson had shot Whitney and was allowed to ride out of town, while his brother Ben held off any pursuers with a shotgun. The remaining Ellsworth peace officers were too cowed to challenge Ben until Wyatt volunteered to arrest him, with the aid of two borrowed six-shooters and a sheriff’s badge.Striding fearlessly across the street, Wyatt ignored the “hundred or more half drunken cowboys” who backed Ben and intimidated Ben into surrendering. When offered a permanent position on the police force by the mayor, Wyatt contemptuously refused due to the court’s release of Ben on a $25 fine.
The problem with this story is that it has not been proven.The only contemporary description of the incident appears in the August 21, 1873, issue of the Ellsworth Reporter,and Wyatt’s name is conspicuously absent. The newspaper story describes the shooting of Whitney and Mayor James Miller’s impatient discharge of the town’s cowardly police force, but it identifies Deputy Sheriff Ed Hogue as the only officer remaining to make arrests and the person who “received the arms of Ben Thompson.”
Lake’s source for his contradictory version of the event apparently came either from his own imagination or Wyatt. Evidence Wyatt may have told the story is contained in a 1928 letter he sent to Lake. Referring to a Texas gambler named George Peshaur, Wyatt wrote, “I had some little trouble with him in Ellsworth, at the time that I arrested Ben Thompson.”
Wyatt could have come up with his tall tale by reading the Ellsworth Reporter article. Wyatt enclosed a batch of unidentified newspaper clippings to Lake that year, and the Ellsworth story might have been among them.
Stuart Lake Stretches the Truth
Regardless if Lake made up the story or repeated what Wyatt told him, the biographer left clues that suggest he realized he had stretched the truth.
Lake embellished his Saturday Evening Post version of the Ellsworth incident by claiming “no more than a handful of the narrators of Earp history seem to have been aware” of the showdown, implying other accounts existed.
In 1931, when Lake published his book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, he doubled down on his claim of available historical evidence by quoting the Ellsworth Reporter text verbatim, but he intentionally left off the concluding sentence that identified Hogue as the man who received Thompson’s guns. Lake couldn’t resist bragging that no other historians had been aware of the Thompson showdown, as opposed to the “handful” he had admitted previously.
Both of his claims, however, set a trap to catch Lake in his lie by declaring the story’s roots could be independently verified.
In the decades following his publication of Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, Lake grew to consider his Wyatt character as his personal intellectual property.He often soughtpayment from any print or film depictions of Wyatt that he claimed may have used material from his book, but he found that difficult for works that retold his version of the Ellsworth incident.
The only Western film based on a Wyatt Earp character to feature the heroic staredown with a Ben Thompson character was The Arizonian, filmed in 1935 from a script written by Dudley Nichols.The movie was released just a year after Frontier Marshal by Fox Studios, which had purchased the exclusive rights to Lake’s book.
Historian Paul Andrew Hutton has speculated that Lake passed on an opportunity to sue Nichols because the Earp biographer had claimed the Ellsworth incident to be part of the historical record.His conclusion is supported by Lake’s reluctance to litigate two decades later when the Thompson showdown came up again.
ABC Defends Lake
In 1953, Hollywood producer Robert F. Sisk wrote to Lake asking about the television rights for Frontier Marshal.Recognizing an opportunity to boost book sales, Lake agreed to a contract, although Sisk rebuffed his additional demands for final script approval and recurring on-camera introductions to each episode.
Sisk allied with Louis F. Edelman as the executive producer for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and the pair began to line up the sponsors, talent and network contracts necessary to make the show a reality.Sisk secured the talents ofFrederick Hazlitt Brennan, a scriptwriter with many screenplays to his credit, but he also wanted Lake to provide stand-alone narratives for each half hour episode.
“I wait with real interest your rough on the first Earp story,” Sisk wrote to Lake in May 1954, “and the reason orrationale of his being a peace officer.”
In true Hollywood fashion, the producer added,“and work a dame in, if but slightly.”
Once filming got underway, a magazine article appeared that threatened to scuttle the entire project.
In the summer of 1955, Argosy magazine came out with an expose written by Edwin V. Burkholder titled, “The Truth about Wyatt Earp.” Filled with the usual anti-Earp screed of previous debunkers, Burkholder also gave a fascinating spin on the Ellsworth incident, which must have hit close to home for ABC, as the pilot was going to feature the Ellsworth showdown.
Burkholder reported Wyatt had actually participated ina con job by agreeing to publicly arrest Ben Thompson before the showdown. Wyatt was able to stare down the Texas gunman because he knew in advance Ben would not shoot.
Burkholder finished up his spurious retelling by mocking Lake’s version and definitively stating, “The court records name Earp as the arresting officer.”
Intentionally or not, Burkholder had touched on the one “fact” that Lake could never deny without admitting the bankruptcy of his own version.
One of the sponsors of the show, General Mills, expressed alarm about Burkholder’s story. Sisk demanded a detailed rebuttal from Lake. Instead of complying, the writer complained about his status for the show’s credits and urged the producers to just ignore the “silly” charges.Reminding Sisk, “if it were not for your Uncle Stuart, there would not be much of a series,” Lake insisted he be given story credit for the first episode in addition to the title of consultant.
“Certainly, no one can dispute the fact that the Ellsworth business, barring a couple of twists, is right out of the book,” he argued, a sideways admission that the Thompson showdown came from his imagination alone.
Curiously, in his urging of the producers to leave the Argosy story unanswered,Lake acknowledged that an 1884 account of the affair by Ben Thompson failed to mention Wyatt Earp, as if that omission somehow added to the proof of his own version.
Sisk was far from reassured by his petulant consultant. The problem with General Mills was serious enough that he was forced to answer the Burkholder story in the columns of Variety, assuring the entertainment industry that the record of Wyatt’s personal life was “impeccable.”
Lake’s Bold Bluff
Still seeking a credible statement from his consultant to back up his rebuttal, Sisk again pressed Lake for a response.
Lake wrote back about his ideas for manufacturing T-shirts and publishing a juvenile version of Frontier Marshal and a serialized Sunday newspaper comic strip.He again laughed off the Burkholder story.
Sisk began to lose patience by the end of July. He reminded Lake that he needed a specific denunciation of the Argosy article.Lake again stalled, angry about his reduced role in the production of the Ellsworth episode, which he thought he would be introducing himself.
“You sen[t] down a script for the pilot just before you started to shoot it,” he fumed, “When I came up a few days later I learned that it had been entirely rewritten, not only as to story but [also] including the introductory narration.”
After a lengthy complaint about being edged out of script approval, Lake grumbled that his response would be forthcoming. Another week passed before he addressed the issue, and in his letter, Lake spent most of his typewriter ribbon questioning the value of Argosymagazine in general and the questionable identity of Burkholder in particular. He suggested Sisk demand Argosy’s editors produce Burkholder in the flesh to document the article under oath.Lake smugly predicted Argosy would be unable to do so and bluffed, “I can document my biography of Wyatt Earp in every essential paragraph,” a bold claim for a book that failed to include a bibliography or even a single footnote.
As it turned out, the General Mills executives were mollified by Sisk’s response in Variety,and the pilot episode of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp aired on ABC on September 6, 1955. The pilot opened with an enthusiastic narrator who assured viewers that the “stories they tell about him are doubly fabulous because they’re true!”
The Ellsworth story featured Hugh O’Brian’s Wyatt Earp bravely facing down a less-than-threatening Ben Thompson played by Denver Pyle. (Perhaps due to budget considerations, the supposed crowd of 100 backing Thompson was reduced to three.)The credits named Brennan for both the story and the script, a subtle indication of the growing strain between the producers and Lake.
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp became a hit and enjoyed six years of particularly high viewer ratings, but Sisk and Edelman eventually refused to renew Lake’s contract. They also left him to challenge alone any histories of Wyatt that did not infringe on the show’s copyright.
In 1956, no less than six new children’s biographies of Wyatt appeared in bookstores, including one written by Lake.Although he challenged some of his competitors, he could not specifically claim their repetition of the Earp-Thompson showdown as plagiarism. By that time, he had ensured the Ellsworth incident be viewed as an established historical “fact.”
Professor Kim Allen Scott is the university archivist at Montana State University Library in Bozeman. He discovered the letters between Stuart Lake and Robert F. Sisk in a mislabeled file folder that was part of the Frederick Hazlitt Brennan papers at UCLA.
Boom Town Belles in the Old WestWhat kind of reception did the traveling sideshows or circuses or drama/theater groups receive?
What kind of reception did the traveling sideshows or circuses or drama/theater groups receive? Were any of these financially successful?
They were very popular in the entertainment-starved West and the good ones made a lot of money. Shakespearean plays were always popular as was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Citizens in the mining towns had money to spend and they loved to show the eastern cities how sophisticated and up to date they were.
Pretty women because were the most popular and many became very rich. Caroline Chapman was one of the first real actresses to head west. Following her first performance in San Francisco the audience carpeted the stage with poke sacks filled with gold.
Maria Eliza Rosanna Gilbert from Limerick, Ireland took the stage as the exotic Lola Montez. She could spin whoppers as good as any prospector. She had the dark, sultry beauty and exquisitely molded features of the women of Spain. So, she invented a line of Spanish ancestors and a fraudulent girlhood spent in Seville. Another whopper she told was that she was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron.
In California, Lola became quite rich doing her famous “Spider Dance.” She performed the dance in Spanish costume with full, short skirts and flesh-colored tights. The dance began with Lola wandering on stage then becoming entangled in a spider’s web. Suddenly she discovered a spider, (made of rubber, cork and whalebone) on her petticoat. Attempting to dislodge the bug, she shook her petticoat furiously. On examining her skirts, she discovered other spiders and she shook her skirts with similar fury, revealing her tights.
During the 1850s this was daring to make the rowdy audiences shout “Higher! Higher!” as Lola searched beneath her skirts for the evasive spiders. She’d kick a leg high into the air as if to squash a spider on the ceiling, and then she’d kick the other.
Finally she succeeded in shaking off all the spiders and stamped them to death on the floor. Thunderous applause greeted her as she took her bows. She then stripped a silken garter off a shapely leg and tossed it into the audience.
In the mid-1850s Caroline became so annoyed with the attention given Lola Montez and her Spider Dance, she decided to burlesque the dance. Her uproarious performances transformed Lola’s act from high sensuality to low comedy.
Lotta Crabtree was a pretty, red-haired Irish lass whose girlish innocence on stage made her rich. Whatever she lacked in talent she made up in image—a lamb among wolves and pure as the driven snow. She had an overprotective stage mother who, fearing they might steal the heart of her meal ticket, kept the wolves away.
As Lotta grew older, she took a fancy to smoking fancy cigarillos. She also introduced gaminelike bits into her performances—showing off her knees by pulling off her stockings, rolling off divans with a flurry of lifted petticoats and wearing the briefest skirts. She is believed to be the first actress to smoke on stage and the first to expose her bare legs on stage. She was the Shirley Temple of her time.
For thirty-five years, Lotta was the perennial little pet of the Western theater, and when she retired at the age of forty-four she still wore her red curls. She lived alone with Mother, who had saved most of Lotta’s enormous earnings. After Mother died, it was too late for romance in her life. When Lotta died in 1924, she left behind a fortune of four million dollars that went to charity.
Adah Isaacs Menkens innocent appearance belied her wild and wicked lifestyle. Mark Twain wrote about her appearance in Virginia City in the play “The Mezappa” where she rode across the stage on a horse in a flesh-colored bodystocking that made her appear nude. Afterwards her adoring audience showered the stage with gold and silver.
These are but a few of the talented women who came west to “mine the miners.”
The Man Who Redeemed The Hamer NameScreenwriter John Fusco makes good on his pledge to set the record straight on the takedown of Bonnie & Clyde.
The story of The Highwaymen, the new Depression-era Western from Netflix, has been a thirty-year obsession for author John Fusco.“Those old photos of Barrow and Parker, leaning on their stolen 1932 Ford V8 Sedan, downright haunted me.” His investigation revealed that the real Bonnie and Clyde were the antithesis of romantic Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, and the real hero of the story was the Texas Ranger who ran them down. “As I researched, I became fascinated by Frank Hamer, one of the greatest lawmen of the 20th century, and I was really disturbed [by] his portrayal in this classic movie.”
Hamer is the lawman the outlaw duo capture, photograph and humiliate in the press, motivating him to hunt down and kill them. It never happened: Hamer and the Barrow gang never ‘met’ until the brief moment when Hamer tried to get them to surrender before opening fire. “[He’d] been shot 17 times over the course of his career, had killed over 50 men. He’d patrolled the border on a horse, with a Winchester. He was an old-time Ranger, in an era that had passed him by.” That is until Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson (played in Highwaymen by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates) reluctantly asked Hamer to come out of retirement to get the Barrows.
The story simmered on the back burner until fifteen years ago, during the shooting of Fusco’s Hidalgo in the Mojave Desert. “Producer Casey Silver asked me what my passion projects were, and I told him about Frank Hamer. Coincidentally, we were staying at Whiskey Pete’s Casino Hotel where the actual Bonnie and Clyde death car was on display.” Silver was quickly onboard.
Fusco wanted the cooperation of the family, but the Hamers, who’d won a settlement from Warner Brothers for defamation, weren’t talking. “Frank Jr. like his father had been a Texas Ranger, one of the last of the flying game wardens, hunting down poachers from a Cessna plane. I happened to have a few game warden contacts; I did ride-alongs in three states.” They interceded for Fusco, and a meeting was set.At a lunch of mostly bourbon, Fusco convinced 86-year-old Frank Jr. of his righteous intentions. “We walked out into the sun. He said, ‘I only ask one thing: to do right by my daddy.’ He had his friend take a [picture] as we shook hands, and he said, ‘Here’s our contract right here.’”
Fusco’s initial dream-cast to play Hamer and partner Maney Gault were Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Redford got the script first. “He said, ‘Don’t send the script to Paul. I’m going to bring it to him and I’m going to make sure that we do this. After Butch and Sundance and The Sting, [this] will be a perfect last one for us to do together.’” Newman signed on, and the new pairing was the talk of Hollywood. Sadly, Newman was soon too ill to work, and the deal fell apart.
Fast-forward a dozen years, to Netflix, where Fusco is writing and producing the Marco Polo series, and Casey Silver is making Godless. Director John Lee Hancock had long been a supporter, “We knew there had been interest from Kevin (Costner), and Woody (Harrelson) had been circling it for quite a while. Casey called me and said, ‘You’ve got a relationship with Netflix; I do now.What about taking Highwaymen to them?’ And bingo: they were on board and we were off to the races.”
Fusco grew up on his father’s farm in rural Connecticut, dropped out of high school to ride the rails, then got a G.E.D., and went to NYU Film School. Screenwriting teacher and Oscar-winner Waldo Salt took Fusco under his wing. “He had hoboe’d with Woody Guthrie. We were kind of kindred spirits. He got behind my work and I just idolized him.” His Bachelor’s thesis script became the 1986 movie Crossroads. Then Fusco defied all his agents’ entreaties to do something commercial, and wrote a Western, although, “A Western had not made money since Butch Cassidy.” Young Guns was a hit, as was Young Guns2, beginning the genre revival that lead to Dances With Wolves, Tombstone, and Deadwood.
“Working with the ‘Young Guns’ was great,” Fusco recalls, “but working with the ‘Old Guns’, that was the career highlight. We were casting Lawrence Murphy. I said I wrote it as Jack Palance and everybody looked at me like, he’s still alive? And so they reached out. He’s retired, he’s happy, he’s not reading anything. I said, don’t give up. Tell him this Western’s being made with all these young guys, and we want the old guard, the icons of the American Western to take on the ‘brat pack on horseback’. He read the script and came out of retirement. From there he’d go on to win an Academy Award. I think of being down on the Mexican border during Young GunsII, drinking tequila with Kiefer Sutherland, Emilio Estevez, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Coburn, and Christian Slater. James said, ‘You know, that Emilio, that’s the best (expletive) Billy the Kid there’s ever been.’ He said, ‘I played opposite Kristofferson. Kris is a good actor. But he was a pacifist. He never aims his gun directly at anybody. But Emilio, he just breathes life into the character. That’s what made me want to do this.’”
“There are projects that get offered to me, and I’ll say to my wife, I just can’t find my way into this. She always says the same thing to me: think of it as a Western. As soon as I do that, I’ve got it. The Western’s in my blood and it always will be. I’ve been reading True West for years, and it’s such an honor being [named] True Westerner of the Year, it’s just so meaningful to me, as is The Highwaymen. After this 30-year dream of telling the story of Frank Hamer, I’m making good on my word, and helping to keep the interest in the west and the Western going.”
Battle-Tested in the RockiesMountain man Patrick Gass deserves more attention in accounts of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
In 1925, Kathryn Downing-Smith, the wife of one of Patrick Gass’s grandsons, wrote a letter to her niece Pearl about Gass. She offered keen insight into a man who, until his dying years, had been a soldier and teller of tall tales of his time with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the Rocky Mountain West.
“In height he [Gass] was medium, had gray-blue eyes, and dark brown hair. You will see the resemblance in their faces and you will recall mother’s stalky build, and she is very light on her feet,” she wrote.
“She must be like him in disposition too, for I have never heard her complain of her deafness and is even tempered, always making the best of hard circumstances, quiet, methodical, and persevering….
“He was sociable and liked company. Many people came to hear him tell of his experiences on the [Lewis and Clark] expedition. He always spoke with praise for Lewis and Clark…[and] he had a black cat which he named Sacagawea for the Indian woman who accompanied them.”
Gass lived the waning years of his life far from the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, in Wellsburg, West Virginia, which is situated roughly between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He died there on April 2, 1870, just before his 100th birthday, far outliving any of the other Corps of Discovery members.
Sought for Corps of Discovery
Born on June 12, 1771, near Chambersburg, in central Pennsylvania, Gass later moved to the central part of the state with his family, serving in the local militia and working as a carpenter. In 1779, Gass enlisted in the regular Army and was stationed at Fort Kaskaskia in Illinois Territory. That post is where, in 1803, an equally young and ambitious man named Meriwether Lewis, with orders from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, sought Gass for a most singular task: to join the celebrated Corps of Discovery.
The mission of the Corps was to chart a path to the Pacific Ocean in the newly-opened expanse of territory recently acquired by the U.S. from France in the Louisiana Purchase.
After the expedition left St. Louis, Missouri, and ascended the Missouri River, Sgt. Charles Floyd died in what is now known as Floyd’s Bluff in Sioux City, Iowa. The 22-year-old sergeant died on August 20, 1804, from a ruptured appendix.
Captain William Clark’s journal entry for that day read (typos left intact): “Floyd Died with a great deal of Composure…. We buried him on the top of the bluff. 1/2 Mile below [is] a Small river to which we Gave his name, He was buried with the Honors of War much lamented, a Seeder post with the Name Sgt. C. Floyd died here 20th of August 1804 was fixed at the head of his grave.
“This Man at all times gave us proofs of his firmness and Determined resolution to doe Service to his Countrey and honor to himself. after paying all the honor to our Decesed brother we camped in the Mouth of Floyd’s River about 30 yards wide, a butiful evening.”
That same night, the men elected Gass to serve as sergeant in Floyd’s place.
Floyd’s untimely passing was fortunately the only one of the entire 1804-05 expedition. Despite the sadness of the affair, all was not lost for the Corps. In Gass’s journals, he wrote of spending Christmas at Fort Mandan that year: “This evening we finished our fortification. Flour, dried apples, pepper and other articles were distributed in the different messes to enable them to celebrate Christmas in a proper and social manner.”
The completion of the fort was cause for celebration. On Christmas Day, Gass wrote: “Captain Clark then presented to each man a glass of brandy, and we hoisted the American flag in the garrison, and its first waving in fort Mandan was celebrated with another glass. The men cleared out one of the rooms and commenced dancing, which was continued in a jovial manner till 8 at night.”
The expedition built the fortified encampment along the Missouri River in present-day North Dakota. Gass’s skills as a carpenter were put to good use in constructing Fort Mandan.
Gass also oversaw the construction of winter quarters at Camp Dubois and Fort Clatsop. He hewed dugout canoes in Mandan, near White Bear Island in present-day Montana, and Canoe Camp, in Idaho, and constructed wagons to portage the canoes to the Great Falls in Montana Territory.
Not everything was a success. Gass also helped Lewis try to build his experimental iron frame boat near the Great Falls. Lewis had conceived of the idea back East, believing a lightweight and maneuverable boat would allow the expedition to make good time.
Once Lewis unpacked the boat, however,he realized the lack of pine trees meant he didn’t have a substance to make the pitch to seal the boat.Working obsessively, Lewis devised a makeshift formula of buffalo tallow, bees wax, charcoal and hides for the seal, but it proved unsuccessful.
“…to make any further experiments in our present situation seemed to me madness; the buffaloe had principally deserted us, and the season was now advancing fast,” wrote Lewis on July 9, 1805.
The Intrepid Fighter
After Gass returned to civilization in September 1806, he sought out and formed a partnership with David McKeehan, a Pittsburgh book and stationery store owner, to edit his expedition journals.
Gass, by his own admission, “never learned to read, write, and cipher till he had come of age.” Much of Gass’s journals paraphrase original field notes, which were destroyed during the initial publication.
Issued in 1807, Gass’s journal is important not only for its contents, but also for being the first published journal of the expedition, seven years before the first publication based on Lewis and Clark’s journals. The title page featured “Corps of Discovery,” and thus, Gass is credited for popularizing the name coined by the explorers.
Now middle-aged, Gass returned to military service and found himself stationed at the same fort in Illinois Territory he had been so eagerly recruited from in 1803. Gass saw service in the War of 1812. Two years later, he saw action at one of the war’s bloodiest battles in Niagara Falls, Canada, the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. During that battle, a falling and splintering tree caused Gass to lose one of his eyes.
Despite his injury, the intrepid fighter persisted. He wouldn’t stop until after the U.S. and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war.
In the years following the war, Gass found himself with little excitement and took to drinking and relaying to anyone who would listen stories of his days with Lewis and Clark in the Rocky Mountains.
He worked variously as a brewer, a ferryman and a carpenter. His respectable living was strengthened by the 1827 death of his father, who left Gass a sizable inheritance.
By 1829, Gass, now 58, had fallen in love with a 20-year-old woman. The two married in 1831, and, over the next 15 years, she bore him seven children. She tragically died of measles in 1846.
In 1860, he was kicked out of a local recruiting station for insisting on fighting in America’s Civil War. The chief complaint against Gass was not his fighting spirit, but his age, about 90 years old.
While Gass’s later years did not exhibit the excitement and adventurous spirit of his youth, he felt they were of equal importance, as reflected in Downing-Smith’s 1925 letter:
“Up to four years before his death when he became helpless, he walked weekly to Wellsburg to get the Wellsburg Herald for which he subscribed. At home he read the paper [and] cared for the small children. He was exceedingly fond of small children. The boys he held, one on either knee, and sang to them “Yankee Doodle,” queer Irish songs, and nonsense rhymes. This is one of them:
“A blue bird sat on a hickory limb;
He winked at me and I winked at him;
I up with my gun and broke his shin
And away the feathers flew!”
Erik J. Wright is an emergency management coordinator, in northeast Arkansas, an assistant editor for The Tombstone Epitaph newspaper and author of four books. He got his start in publishing at 16, when True West published his first article.
Jack Swilling might well be called Arizona’s “Forrest Gump” because seems to have had a penchant for being involved in a number of historic events in Arizona’s early history.
In 1858 he was a prospector at Gila City, site of the first gold rush. When Tonto Apache and Yavapai Indians raided the new camp, Jack was elected leader of a group of rangers whose mission was to protect the prospectors.
A couple of years later he was in Pinos Altos, New Mexico, where miners were being attacked by Mimbres Apache under the leadership of the great chief Mangas Colorados. Jack was elected lieutenant of a militia group who called themselves the Arizona Rangers.
During that time the Civil War broke out Southern forces from Texas invaded New Mexico and the rangers were drafted into the Confederate Army. Lieutenant Jack Swilling joined a force of some 100 Texans who arrived in Tucson and created the Confederate Territory of Arizona. Jack was familiar with the land and proved invaluable assisting the Texas guerilla tactics along the Gila River trying to impede a Union force of some 2,000 troops from California who were coming to retake Arizona.
The Union forces vastly outnumbered the Rebs and in a few weeks, drove them out of the New Mexico Territory. Jack remained in New Mexico where he was recruited by the great mountain man and explorer, Joe Walker, to guide them into the unknown central mountains of Arizona.
Walker’s party was looking for gold in an area where few white men had ever dared to travel. At Pinos Altos, near today’s Silver City, New Mexico, they encountered Jack’s old nemesis, Mangas Colorados and his Mimbres Apache. During a parley, Jack managed to get the drop on the old chieftain and turned him over to the Union troops occupying New Mexico.
Following the encounter with the Mimbres Apache Jack would guide the Walker party up the Hassayampa River where, in 1863, they discovered rich deposits of gold that led to the founding of Prescott a year later. That same year Arizona became a territory and Prescott was chosen to be the capital city.
Jack also became a founder of another rich gold strike near the Hassayampa, Wickenburg. He was also with the party that found gold at Rich Hill, a few miles north of Wickenburg. It was the richest single gold strike in Arizona history.
Then in late 1868 he led another group into the Salt River Valley. This time they weren’t looking for gold but for farm land. With mining camps and military post springing up there was a great need for farm products. They cleaned out the ancient canals originally dug by the Hohokam Indians some 1,500 years earlier and by 1870 a new community rising out of the ashes of an old civilization the future capital city of Phoenix was born.
Jack Swilling is a name that goes almost unrecognized by Arizonans today. Much of what is known about him today comes from tall tales, lies and half-truths. He was a tall, powerful man, brave, generous to a fault, a wonderful family man and for the most part was respected by his contemporaries. Swilling was the stuff of legends and certainly deserves a better place in history.
Cole Younger, American OutlawThe toughest outlaw who ever lived.
Cole Younger has to be the toughest outlaw who ever lived. In addition to having 11 slugs in his body, Cole had to guide his horse with his knees after a Northfield Raid defender shot away the reins to his bridle with birdshot. Pursued by more than 1,000 farmers hungry for the reward ($10,000), Cole and his two brothers were captured at Hanska Slough and taken to nearby Madelia, Minnesota.
After a two-week run in the constant rain, utilizing old newspapers as bandages on multiple wounds and wading through swollen rivers, the outlaw leader finally removed his boots.
“And then my toenails fell off….”
—Cole Younger, remembering his capture on September 21, 1876
What follows is how all this came down.
The Battle of Northfield: James-Younger Gang vs Townsmen of Northfield
September 7, 1876
t’s just past 2 p.m. when three horsemen, wearing matching white linen dusters, dismount in front of the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota. After tying their reins to hitching posts, they stroll to the corner (see Phase One map), sit on some dry goods boxes and exchange pleasantries with several locals.
Two more horsemen, also wearing linen dusters, approach Division Street from the south. Several minutes later, three more horsemen, dressed in matching dusters, cross the iron bridge and stop in the center of Mill Square. The three men seated on the corner stand up, walk back to the bank and then go inside.
Two mounted men, who came from the south, pull up in front of the bank. One of them, Cole Younger, says under his breath, “You’d better close the door,” and the riders both dismount. His partner Clell Miller leads his horse to the bank door and shuts it. In the middle of the street, Cole scans the roadway while pretending to tighten the cinch on his saddle.
Several townsmen are suspicious of all these uniformed strangers, and one local, J.S. Allen, walks to the bank and looks in the window. His suspicions confirmed, Allen turns to go alert the other citizens when he is confronted by Miller, who has just closed the door. Grabbing Allen by the collar, the outlaw says, “You son of a bitch, don’t you holler.”
Allen breaks free and runs up the boardwalk, shouting, “Get your guns boys. They’re robbing the bank!”
Cole immediately mounts his horse and pulls his revolver, firing it in the air as a signal for the three horsemen in Mill Square to come quick—the gang has been discovered.
At almost the same instant, those outside hear a shot from inside the bank. The three horsemen from the square pull their pistols and ride into the engagement, firing and yelling at bystanders to “get in.”
Miller grabs the reins of his horse to mount up. As he steps into the stirrup, birdshot pellets fired by local Elias Stacy hit Miller in the face, and he falls backward to the ground. Another townsman, A.R. Manning, aims his single-shot Remington rifle and hits Bob Younger’s horse, which is tied in front of the bank. Struck in the neck, the animal drops in its tracks.
Four horsemen ride back and forth, firing at any who dare to show their face. Instead of cowering, the locals come out with everything they have: Flintlocks, fowling pieces with mismatched ammunition, birdshot plunkers, frying pans and rocks. One pesky storekeeper even aims an empty pistol to draw fire and taunt the brigands.
A Swede named Gustavson, who doesn’t speak English, comes out of a cellar saloon and is shot in the top of his skull after failing to respond to one robber’s command. (He dies several days later.)
Suffering from his face wounds, Miller remounts and pulls out his pistols. As he turns his horse to ride up Division Street, he is hit again, the bullet severing the outlaw’s subclavian artery, and he falls to the ground in a heap.
Cole rides over to Miller and dismounts. Cole sees the blank stare of death stamped on Miller’s bloody face. As he leans over Miller, a bullet rips into Cole’s left hip.
The elder Younger grabs Miller’s two revolvers and remounts. Birdshot and buckshot whistle past his ears as Cole again rides to the bank door and pleads for the boys to leave. “I could not imagine what was keeping them so long,” Cole later says.
Hearing the incessant firing from the street and the multiple pleadings of Cole, the robbers inside the bank become increasingly desperate. (See “Inside the Bank” sidebar.)
Seeing a chance to escape, teller Alonzo Bunker dashes out the back door and is chased by Charlie Pitts. Firing twice, Pitts hits Bunker in the shoulder, but the banker escapes. With their plan unraveling at every turn, the outlaws finally heed Cole’s third call and prepare to leave.
Outside, A.R. Manning bravely steps from behind the stairway at the corner of Scriver’s and takes quick aim at outlaw Bill Chadwell (a.k.a. Stiles). Chadwell topples from his horse, shot through the heart. (Manning is also the one who shot Cole in the hip.)
“For God’s sake come out,” Cole pleads from the doorway of the bank, more desperate than ever. “They are shooting us all to pieces.”
Pitts, Bob Younger and Frank James finally emerge from the bank. The last robber to leave climbs on the counter, turns and fatally shoots a stumbling, semi-coherent Joseph Heywood in the head.
Bob runs to the corner to confront Manning and several other townsmen. (Some sources claim Bob is merely heading for his horse, which has already been shot dead by Manning.)
While Bob plays hide-and-seek with Manning through the openings of Scriver’s stairs, an upper-story shot from across the street rips into Bob’s right arm, breaking the bone at the elbow. Undeterred, he deftly shifts his pistol to his left hand and continues firing.
As the others flee, Cole rides directly into the line of fire to pick up his little brother. A bullet severs one of Cole’s bridle reins, forcing him to guide his mount with his knee and hand. As he turns his horse for Bob to climb aboard, Cole is hit in both the side and shoulder. His hat is also shot off. Another bullet rips away the back of his saddle. (One account reports Cole urges his brother to run, then picks him up a block away.)
The six wounded men give a meek rebel yell as they head south out of town. Although they have survived the Battle of Northfield, their painful ride has just begun.
Six Factors that Unhinge the Raid
The matched outfits (white linen dusters) immediately arouse suspicion among the townspeople.
• Hardly anyone in that part of the country rides saddle horses (most use buggies or wagons); so the sight of eight, uniformed horsemen draws attention.
At the time of the shoot-out, it is hunting season, and many guns in Northfield are loaded and waiting. As Adelbert Ames later says, “Every old musket, shotgun and pistol was drawn from its hiding place.”
Although Jesse James and his men chose a rich target, they strike when too many locals are on the streets. Cole Younger later writes, “I remarked to [Clell] Miller about the crowd and said, ‘Surely the boys will not go into the bank with so many people about.’”
• In the south, where most of the James-Younger heists were committed, the poor locals didn’t have much compassion for banks. Consequently, the posses that chased the gang gave up easily. But in Northfield, the outlaws encounter fierce resistance. Why? Everyone who shoots at them has money in the bank.
• In later years, Cole admits that, unbeknownst to him, Charlie Pitts, Bob Younger and Frank James had drank a quart of whiskey before entering the bank. He concludes that their drinking was the “initial blunder at Northfield.” When the three robbers enter the bank, teller Alonzo Bunker smells the “stink of liquor” on them. The three bank employees undoubtedly feel they are dealing with three slow-thinking drunks, and in fact, they are. Once you consider the robbers’ actions inside the bank, in the light of being drunk, it all makes sense.
In the end, what can go wrong, does. What worked before, doesn’t. In seven short minutes, the lottery-driven dreams of Missouri’s premier outlaws are blasted to kingdom come in a hail of mismatched, ugly bullets.
Inside the Bank
Precious seconds turn to minutes as the three hapless bank robbers inside the bank become stymied by three bank employees playing dumb like a fox.
First, the robbers demand to know who is the cashier. But because the official cashier is out of town, all three employees honestly answer in the negative. Their response throws off the outlaws from the start, and things will only become worse.
Bookkeeper Joseph Heywood tells the bandits the safe is on a time lock and can’t be opened. It’s a lie. All the robbers need to do is turn the latch and the safe will open, but they never even try.
When one robber starts to go inside the vault to check it out, Heywood slams the door on him, bruising the outlaw. When the outlaw leader threatens him, Heywood yells at the top of his lungs, “Murder! Murder! Murder!”
Perhaps trying to shut him up, a robber cold-cocks Heywood with a pistol. The robbers then drag him inside the vault and try making him open the safe, but he’s unresponsive. The bandits even fire a bullet next to his head (the shot heard outside) to scare him, but it doesn’t work. Pulling a knife, one robber threatens to slit Heywood’s throat and then nicks the bookkeeper’s neck, but Heywood still won’t, or can’t, respond.
After teller Alonzo Bunker escapes, the thwarted outlaws get ready to leave empty-handed. A frustrated Bob Younger scoops up $26 and some change off the counter.
“The last robber to leave the bank,” Frank Wilcox later testifies, “leaped upon the cashier’s desk as he was leaving, and while he stood there, turned and shot Heywood as Heywood was staggering about the room in an effort to prevent himself from falling.”
Three Phases of the Gun Battle
As the gang crosses the iron bridge, two by two, the townsmen begin to take notice. Frank James, Bob Younger and Charlie Pitts tie their horses in front of the bank and walk to the corner to sit on dry goods boxes. As soon as they see the Jesse James-led trio arrive in the square, the men get up, walk to the bank and go inside.
After J.S. Allen sounds the alarm, Cole Younger fires his warning shot, and Jim Younger, Jesse James and Bill Chadwell begin riding the perimeter of the square, demanding that bystanders “get in.” Within moments, the locals begin shooting at the riders.
As the seconds turn into minutes, the mounted riders are driven from Mill Square by gunfire directed at them from the Dampier House and from armed locals by the hardware stores. Choked off from the only bridge crossing, the gang retreats south out of town. They outlaws eventually cross a bridge in Dundas.
Aftermath: Odds & Ends
One of the mysteries surrounding the bank raid is where were the sheriff, the city marshal or lawmen of any kind? Local tradition says the chief of police hid in a dry goods box in the back of a store and didn’t emerge until after the battle. This legend has been disproved by author and researcher John J. Koblas, who adds, “There really weren’t any sheriff types in Northfield. It is believed the chief of police, Elias Hobbs, was involved in the battle.”
In their haste to flee the bank, the outlaws left behind a duster and a grain sack with the initials H.C.A. (What the initials stood for has never been solved.) In the street, the citizens found two dead men, a single spur and two pistols, one of them being an ivory-handled Colt .45. Bob Younger’s dead horse yielded a fine saddle (illustrated here), which is now prominently displayed in the Northfield Museum.
After the Youngers were captured at Hanska Slough, a Faribault doctor extracted the ball that was still lodged in Cole Younger’s hip and gave it to A.R. Manning, the man who had fired it. Manning carried it as a good luck charm for the rest of his life.
Strange Stops on a Wayward, Wet Journey
• South of Northfield, the gang paused along the banks of the Cannon River to cleanse their wounds. A local man, Philip Empey, came by with a team of gray horses, hauling rails. The robbers waylaid him and stole one of the horses for Bob Younger. As the gang rode across the Dundas Bridge, several locals yelled at them. One asked, “What are you doing with Phil Empey’s horse?”
• In Dundas, eyewitnesses confirmed that one of the outlaws (probably Cole Younger) cursed at the others for not following orders and for being drunk. As the gang rode by, a St. Paul drummer (salesman) remarked, “If Sitting Bull was after you, you’d ride a little faster.” (George Custer’s final battle, June 26, was recent news.) One of the bandits heard the remark and pulled out his pistol, sneering, “Get in there, you son of a bitch.” The salesman got “in.”
• A half-mile beyond Dundas, the gang stopped at a farm and asked for a pail of water. As Robert Donaldson procured a bucket, he inquired about the wounded rider. He was told the injured man had been shot by a “blackleg” in Northfield, and that the gang killed the assailant. The farmer asked the name of the man they killed. One of the men yelled, “Stiles,” which was outlaw Bill Chadwell’s alias.
•A farmer driving a wagon crossed paths with the gang and noticed Cole and Jim Younger were riding on either side of their brother Bob, while holding him in the saddle. The farmer asked if the wounded man is a prisoner. One of the gang assured the farmer the man was their prisoner, and that they were taking him to jail. The perplexed farmer told them they are heading in the wrong direction. One of the outlaws turned, saying, “Oh no! We’re taking the right way.”
• The gang traveled 11 miles in two hours. Beyond Millersburg, the men stopped a farmer and stole his horse, then stopped another farmer for his saddle, but the girth on this saddle broke, spilling Bob Younger into the road. Bob was once again put up to ride behind Cole, and the men kept going.
• Responding to telegraph messages, 15 men from Faribault arrived in Shieldsville, ahead of the gang. Unfortunately, they retired inside Haggerty’s Saloon for some liquid courage and left their guns outside. The gang rode into town and stopped at a pump to take water for their horses and their wounds. Someone from inside the saloon tried to come out, but the gang buffaloed them and rode off shooting as they left.
• The Faribault posse pursued the gang on the Old Dodd Road, firing at them as they ascended a hill. The gang returned fire. Charlie Pitts was thrown from his horse. As Pitts remounted, his saddle cinch broke, and he fell again. Pitts jumped up behind Bob Younger (whose horse was being led by Cole), and he and the rest of the robbers disappeared into the “Big Woods.”
• A torrential downpour moved through the area. Heavy rains would continue on and off for two weeks.
• Former Civil War Union Gen. Edmund Pope was put in charge of the robber roundup operation. He established command headquarters at Eagle Lake, and he stationed law enforcement officers, troops and volunteers on picket lines from the Wardlaw Ravine to the Waseca County line.
• Surrounded near German Lake, the gang abandoned its horses, tied them to trees and took only their bridles. The men then slipped through the picket lines on foot and escaped.
• On September 12, Faribault posse members found two of the outlaws’ horses about five miles north of Lake Elysian. They also found five saddles.
• Two or three miles from Mankato, the gang discovered a deserted farmhouse and holed up for two days and two nights. Although they had slipped through several dragnets, they traveled less than 50 miles in five days.
• Rewards for the robbers reached over $3,000 a man, and many in Minnesota and Iowa came down with “robber fever.”
• The rain continued to fall. Old-timers claimed it is the wettest two weeks in memory. All the streams were swollen, bridges were out and the entire area was a quagmire. The weather worked in favor of the robbers because their tracks were immediately wiped out by the rain.
• On September 13, a farm hand was kidnapped and forced to show the outlaws the way through Mankato and across the Minnesota River. “After about a mile,” Cole Younger later recounted, “we turned him loose.” Although the kid promised not to rat them out, the farm hand went to the sheriff and told all.
• A posse jumped the gang near Minneopa Falls, but they escaped, barely. The gang left behind “part of a roasted chicken, some green corn, a hat and a rubber overcoat.”
•Near Rush Lake, the robbers decided to split up. Jesse and Frank James
stole a horse and headed west, while the Youngers and Pitts headed southwest on foot.
• At the edge of Linden Lake, a father and his son were milking cows out on the road (the driest place near their farm). When two of the outlaws, Jim Younger and Charlie Pitts, passed by, the boy, Oscar Sorbel, told his father he thinks the men were the Northfield bank robbers, but his dad was not convinced. “No,” Ole Sorbel replied. “They was nice men.” Oscar watched the two men disappear into the timber. After warning three neighbors, Oscar took the harness off a draft horse and rode the seven miles to Madelia, spreading the news.
• Two separate posses converged on Hanska Slough and successfully blocked the Youngers’ escape route.
The Six Who Won’t Get Away
Photographs of the captured Younger gang members will be widely sold for four bits. This photo collage of dead and captured robbers (right) will be printed as cartes de visite and collected and sold throughout the United States.