Deadwood’s Dora DuFran

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

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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, 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.


Boom Town Belles

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

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Lotta Crabtree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Name Who Redeemed The Hamer Name

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

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

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

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

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine
John Fusco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine

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

John Fusco The Highwaymen True West Magazine

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

Cole Younger

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Cole Younger, American Outlaw The toughest outlaw who ever lived.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
Illustration of Cole Younger.

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.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
“Those gentlemen will bear watching.” —Francis Howard, who follows the duster-clad riders across the iron bridge.
— Illustrations by Bob Boze Bell —

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.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
This shows a rarely published image of the Northfield battlefield, taken in 1876, the year of the attempted robbery. The view looks south on Division Street, straight into the scene of the fight. The Dampier House is on the left, with the third-story windows from which Henry Wheeler fires. On the far right is the staircase that A.R. Manning and other citizen shooters use to their advantage. Note the many wagons and lack of saddle horses.
— All photos courtesy Northfield Historical Society unless otherwise noted —

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.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
This 1876 photo offers the most famous view of the bank and gunfight site. Note the lack of a hitching rail in front of the bank (which is how the site has been re-created today). Instead, the street has several hitching posts (see two behind buggy). These posts spread the outlaws’ horses away from the bank entrance and may help explain why Bob Younger runs to the back of the staircase (some historians speculate he was trying to get to his horse). As Bob attempts to draw a bead on A.R. Manning, he is shot by Henry Wheeler. Using his single-shot Remington rifle, Manning kills Bill Chadwell and Bob Younger’s horse, and he wounds Cole Younger in the hip.
— Remington rifle, below, courtesy EMF Co. —

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.”

Cole Younger True West Magazine
America’s most famous outlaw brothers were photographed together for the only time in this image, taken after the Civil War, at the beginning of their outlaw careers. Fletch Taylor, a former guerrilla, stands far left, Frank sits center and Jesse stands left. Concerning hardware, Frank James states that he prefers Remington pistols because they are the “hardest and surest shooting pistol made.”
— Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection —

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.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
This bank interior photograph, taken after the robbery, shows the open vault at right; the door Alonzo Bunker runs through is at upper left. During the robbery, the wall clock stops at 2:10; it has never been reset.

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

Phase One

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.

Phase Two

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.

Phase Three

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.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
“He’s our prisoner,” Cole Younger told a farmer the gang met on the road. “We’re taking him to jail.” “You’re going the wrong way,” the farmer said, pointing toward Faribault.
— Illustration by Bob Boze Bell —

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.

Cole Younger True West Magazine
This scrapbook example, with rope border, shows six of the eight robbers: dead Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell (from left, top row), dead Charlie Pitts and wounded Cole Younger (second row), and wounded Jim Younger and Bob Younger (third row).

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.

The Man Who Killed The Man Who Killed Billy The Kid

Wayne Brazel Pat Garrett True West Magazine
Shown between cowboy pards Jim Lee and Will Craven, Wayne Brazel would become famous for confessing to killing Pat Garrett. Yet he never paid for his crime. Should he have?
— Courtesy Robert G. McCubbin Collection —

On February 29, 1908, Jesse Wayne Brazel walked into the Doña Ana County sheriff’s office and announced, “Lock me up. . . . I’ve just killed Pat Garrett.”

Despite Brazel’s confession, we still do not know, 110 years later, who killed the man responsible for ending the life of Billy the Kid. To date, at least 10 books and dozens of articles have been published examining Sheriff Pat F. Garrett, not to mention Sam Peckinpah’s classic 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, yet his murder remains one of the Southwest’s most intriguing and enduring cold cases because few historians believe Brazel was capable of violence. But what if they are wrong?

Wayne Brazel Pat Garrett True West Magazine
Pat Garrett (above) killed escaped convict Billy the Kid in 1881…and then, nearly 30 years later, found himself on the wrong end of the gun.
— True West Archives —

“I’ll Put You Out Right Now”

When Brazel admitted to killing Garrett on a lonely stretch of road just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory, in 1908, he claimed he shot in self-defense during a property dispute. Eyewitness Carl Adamson backed up Brazel’s version of events. Adamson told officials Brazel waited until Garrett threatened him with: “You, I’ll put you out right now,” and he did not draw his own gun until Garrett had drawn his first.

Evidence at the crime scene, however, contradicted their testimony. Doña Ana County officials determined that Garrett was probably not holding his shotgun when he was felled—surprising for a man who was always courting danger—and that he had been first hit in the back of the head and almost simultaneously in the stomach while he was urinating on the side of the road, making self-defense an unlikely explanation.

Brazel was a cowboy for one of the largest spreads in the Tularosa Basin, William Webb Cox’s San Augustine Springs Ranch. When Cox hired an expensive attorney, Albert Bacon Fall, to defend his hired hand, stories quickly surfaced that Brazel had been a pawn in a larger conspiracy, asked to take the blame for someone else.

After a one-day trial, on April 19, 1909, during which attorneys on both sides provided little evidence or testimony, a jury found Brazel not guilty of murder. He walked away a free man. That’s when wild speculation began over who had murdered Garrett.

Wayne Brazel Pat Garrett True West Magazine
Elmer “Arch” Lyall, the deputy sheriff who lived in Doubtful Canyon and confronted the Powers with James W. Gould and Wayne Brazel, rides on horseback carrying his roughly four-year-old son Clarence in this circa 1920 photograph.
— Courtesy Dale Lyall, grandson of Elmer “Arch” Lyall —

Incapable of Murder

From the day he achieved fame for killing the Kid until his own death 26 years later, Garrett made numerous enemies. He drank and gambled excessively, was drawn into arguments easily and borrowed money from powerful people he could not always repay.

Despite his negative qualities, Garrett remained a feared lawman whom politicians often called on to investigate high-profile murders in southern New Mexico Territory. At the time of his death, Garrett was apparently about to bring charges against local ranchers for rustling and perhaps even for the murders of politician Albert Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry. Some researchers have suggested Garrett was slain before he could arrest prominent citizens.

Most historians argue the lowly cowboy Brazel lacked the ability with a firearm to get the upper hand against one of the Southwest’s most accomplished lawmen. Interviews with family and friends revealed Brazel as incapable of murdering anyone in cold blood.

Garrett biographer Leon Metz believes Brazel told the truth, that he shot in self-defense, while Brazel biographer Robert Mullin, who published The Strange Story of Wayne Brazel in 1969, concluded the ranch hand was not a violent man and thus “did not pull the trigger that ended the life of Pat Garrett.”

Historians have shifted the blame to others, creating a long list of possible suspects, including gun-for-hire James P. “Killin’ Jim” Miller, Brazel’s boss Bill Cox and A.P. Rhodes, Brazel’s partner in the disputed property. These historians have also provided us with a large assortment of theories to explain what happened, including suggesting a secret meeting to plan the assassination took place in a hotel in El Paso, Texas.

But what if Brazel wasn’t the choir boy everyone thought he was?

Wayne Brazel Pat Garrett True West Magazine
Billy the Kid is such an icon that collector William Koch paid $2.3 million for the only authenticated photograph of the Kid (above) at Brian Lebel’s Old West Auction in 2011.
— Courtesy William Koch Collection —

Court Case Discovery

While researching the Power shoot-out for the documentary film Power’s War and for my book on Arizona’s deadliest gunfight, I stumbled upon a Cochise County legal case in the Arizona State Archives involving the Power family and Brazel.

Brazel was not listed by name as a plaintiff in the case of “C.S. and M.J. Power v. J.W. Gould et al” filed on August 26, 1910, so I could see how other researchers overlooked this case, but the court proceedings reveal a side of Brazel not seen in previously published works.

Shortly after his acquittal for the murder of Garrett, Brazel began to accumulate grazing land for a cattle operation at the base of Steins Peak in Doubtful Canyon, located near the border between present-day Hidalgo County in New Mexico and Cochise County in Arizona.

The Butterfield stage line ran through this dry and windswept stretch during the late 1850s. Attacks on the stage in those days were so frequent that stage drivers warned passengers that “Doubtful Canyon was so named ‘because it’s always doubtful whether we’ll reach the other end alive.’”

When Brazel moved to Doubtful Canyon in 1910, the area remained sparsely populated by ranchers because of the limited water supply.

Brazel’s partner in the venture was rancher and saloon proprietor James W. Gould, a long-time resident of Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory, who had testified at the 1899 trial for Henry Fountain’s murder. The previous owners of the land, the Power family—which included matriarch Jane Power, her widower son Jeff and four grandchildren between the ages of 16 and 21—remained in Doubtful Canyon, staking a new claim and submitting a homestead application for land nearby.

Evidently, the Power family’s continued presence on the land somehow threatened Brazel and Gould’s plans.

Gould filed charges against Jeff Power, claiming he had sold the Doubtful Mine under false pretenses and failed to vacate the premises. A jury in Grant County district court quickly cleared Jeff of wrongdoing.

Gould decided to take matters into his own hands. He, his new business partner Brazel and local rancher and Deputy Sheriff Elmer Archer Lyall traveled to the Power property in Doubtful Canyon in July 1910 to remove the problematic family. The three held no warrants or eviction notice—the Powers had filed all the proper paperwork for their Doubtful property—so Lyall was not there in an official capacity as deputy, but rather as a hired gunman.

The trio entered the ranch house heavily armed and threatened to kill the entire family, including Jane, who was 66, and her 16-year-old granddaughter Ola May.

Unlike Brazel’s deadly encounter with Garrett two years prior, gunfire was not exchanged. The Powers cooperated, gathering up their personal belongings and leaving. They chose to fight their assailants in court instead.

The Powers filed a lawsuit against Brazel, Gould and Lyall, charging them with forcible entry and detainer. In the fall of 1910, Gould, Brazel and Lyall were summoned to the Bowie justice court in Cochise County, where a judge found the three men guilty and awarded the Powers $500 in damages plus court costs.

The case was appealed. Once again, a high-powered attorney, this time Allen R. English of Tombstone, was hired for Brazel’s defense team. The court overruled the initial judgment—not the first time Brazel had avoided conviction with the help of first-rate legal talent.

After the incident, the Power family left Doubtful Canyon and never spoke of their encounter with Brazel, evidently fearing repercussions from him or his powerful associates. They would find themselves in new difficulties eight years later, when a posse surrounded their mining cabin in the Galiuro Mountains. In the ensuing gunfight, Jeff Power, the Graham County sheriff and two deputies were killed.

Wayne Brazel Pat Garrett True West Magazine
After reading Bob Boze Bell’s True West Moments in The Arizona Republic about rancher “Mac” Brazel who found the alleged alien spacecraft near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 (known today as the “Roswell Incident”), Emalee Brazell contacted Bell to report that Mac (shown far right, in a Brazell family photo from the 1920s) was related to Wayne Brazel.
— True West Moments courtesy The Arizona Republic; Brazell family photo courtesy Emalee Brazell —

What Happened to Brazel?

Brazel’s fate is less certain.

At the time of the court proceedings with the Power family, he married Olive Boyd in September 1910, a union which produced a baby boy. When Olive died a few months after giving birth, Brazel left his son to be raised by his in-laws in El Paso, Texas, moved to Ash Fork, Arizona, and then vanished, raising even more questions about him and his role in Garrett’s death.

In November 2017, Angelica Valenzuela, the records and filing supervisor with the Doña Ana County clerk’s office, discovered the coroner’s report for the death of Garrett, a document most historians believed had vanished long ago. The report stated: “the deceased [Pat Garrett] came to his death by gunshot wounds inflicted by one Wayne Brazel.”

I don’t know how many other public records, like the coroner’s report or the court proceedings in Cochise County, are out there that might one day shine a spotlight on the real Brazel, allowing us to determine if he should be on the top, rather than the bottom, of any list of suspects.

I’m sure researchers must endure many more hours of breathing dust in musty archives before we’ll ever solve the mystery of Garrett’s killing.

Dinner with a Brazell

A woman who claims relation to the alleged killer of Pat Garrett read one of my True West Moments in The Arizona Republic. She offered to tell me what happened to Wayne. I met with 82-year-old Emalee Brazell Price and two of her friends at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant on February 27, 2017.

Emalee told me Wayne had died in 1936 of typhoid. He was working on a Civilian Conservation Corps project (one of the “CCC Boys,” as they were called) at the time of his passing. His body is buried in Barton Cemetery, near Edgewood, New Mexico.

If true, this fills in a major gap in our knowledge of what happened to the man who allegedly killed the man who killed Billy the Kid.

She also told me that Wayne spent time in a Yuma prison in Arizona Territory, possibly because of the Garrett killing. This seems odd since he was acquitted in New Mexico Territory and the charges probably wouldn’t have carried over to Arizona Territory, but that is the family story.

Emalee spells her family name “Brazell,” rhymes with “razzle,” and she is unsure where the Brazel spelling, with only one L, came from. Perhaps a misspelled court document?

Historian Lauren Kormylo (one of our True West Maniacs) investigated the family’s story about the name. She says Wayne is in the 1910 Census, spelled with one “L” for Brazel. The census reports show he could read and write. All of the news sources of the day also spelled his name with one “L,” and the 1880 Census shows his parents’ name with the same spelling.

As far as the grave goes, Kormylo has not been to the cemetery in person, but according to the “Find a Grave” website, the cemetery is home to five Brazell graves, but Wayne Brazell is not among them. Billy the Kid author Mark Lee Gardner thoroughly examined the burial records of the Edgewood cemetery and found no trace of our guy.

To add more fuel to the fire, others have claimed to be Wayne’s relatives. Amy Brazel wrote a blog claiming her father and uncle swear that Wayne lived under an assumed name (Charles O’Neal) the rest of his life

Bill Brazel claimed he visited his cousin Wayne in Arizona, where he was reportedly alive during the 1930s, reports Iraq veteran Kevin Randle, who met Bill and shared the encounter in a 2009 blog (thank you, Billy the Kid researcher Robert M. Stahl for sharing this with me). Like Emalee, Bill also claimed Wayne spent time in Arizona, telling Randle: Wayne “worked on a ranch there, doing the same things that he had done before. No one really knew about Pat Garrett or the murder charges that had been filed against him or any of his later trouble with the government.”

Even more, Bill claimed that Wayne had an earlier encounter with Garrett, when the lawman led a posse to the Brazel ranch, perhaps around July 1898, when the posse was chasing Bill McNew, Oliver M. Lee and Jim Gililland. Garrett wanted the posse to spend the night at the Brazel ranch, but Bill’s grandmother, wielding a Winchester, chased him off her property.

Family lore can be a sticky wicket for researchers to navigate. Looks like historians still have more digging to do to solve the mystery of Wayne Brazel’s final years.

—Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell

Heidi J. Osselaer earned her Ph.D. in history at Arizona State University. This article is adapted from a paper she presented at the 2017 Arizona-New Mexico History Convention and from her most recent book, Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight: Draft Resistance and Tragedy at the Power Cabin, 1918, published this May by University of Oklahoma Press.

Lost Photo Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “New” Burge Stereoview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could This Be Cooley?

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

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

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

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

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

An Ongoing Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Frontier Soldier to Peacemaking President

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

On March 4, 1869, a rather unlikely candidate took his oath of office as the eighteenth president of the United States. The image of Ulysses S. Grant as a cigar chomping, rumpled Union general whose dogged determination helped win the Civil War and gained him two turbulent terms as commander in chief has basis in fact.

But there was much more to Grant than this familiar portrait. He was a complex product of many experiences that helped forge the man who became one of the great leaders of 19th century America.

Above all Grant was a true Westerner. His introduction to the region came soon after his graduation from West Point. As a newly commissioned second lieutenant Grant reported to his first posting at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. After nearly three quiet years with the U.S. Army 4th Infantry, his regiment received orders for Mexico, where he would earn his spurs in battle.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
In today’s parlance, Gen. Grant would be known as a “horse whisperer,” given his ability to ride virtually “anything with hair on it.” In 1864, he posed with his favorite horse, the stallion Cincinnati. A gift from a friend, the 17-hand high horse was the son of Lexington (the fastest four-mile thoroughbred in America at the time). His favorite battle-charger was the one he rode when Gen. Lee surrendered to him at Appomattox Courthouse and is featured astride in almost every piece of public statuary or artwork of the general.
— All images and artwork courtesy of the Library of Congress unless otherwise noted —

Sam, as his fellow cadets knew him, abandoned his birth name Hiram Ulysses Grant (HUG) while on the storied Plain at West Point. He meant to live up to his reputation as the most proficient horseman at the United States Military Academy where it was claimed “rider and horse held together like the fabled centaur….” Now, in Mexico mounted on a barely broken mustang, Grant humbly admitted the recurring struggle to master his stubborn steed “as to which way we should go and sometimes whether we would go at all.”

Eventually the two came to terms. They reached Mexico City where Grant underwent his baptism under fire. Drawing on his gunnery training at the Academy, Grant turned artilleryman by forming a small party of his doughboys (a nickname first adopted during the Mexican-American War for American infantrymen and later popularized in World War I) to drag a mobile mountain howitzer through a series of ditches. He and his cobbled together crew of cannoneers hauled the small, but effective piece into a church’s bell tower. From this height they lobbed 12-pound shot and shell into the enemy. Grant’s innovative actions and those of some of his fellow junior officers drove the Mexicans from their defenses.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
As a recently graduated West Point cadet, Bvt. 2nd Lt. Sam Grant awaited his regimental assignment and first duty station. Young Grant was so slightly built and diminutive (he grew from 5’2” to 5’7’ while at the academy) that when he did not appear at a function, one of his fellow officers asked, “Where is the small man with the large epaulettes?”
— Courtesy of The Chubachus Library of Photographic History —

During this same desperate clash, Grant discovered his future brother in law, Frederick Dent, lying unconscious, with a bullet wound in the thigh. Despite Grant’s rather spare size, he hauled Dent onto a wall where the incapacitated soldier could be seen, reached and taken to medical treatment. Then, the plucky Lt. Grant hurried back to his men to fight again. With Mexico City won, the end of the war was in sight.

In 1848, Grant triumphantly returned to St. Louis, where he married Julia Dent. The couple amused the next several years at eastern duty stations. Despite the boredom of garrison routine they enjoyed themselves.

All this changed in 1852 when the Army shipped Grant off to an unaccompanied tour at far away Fort Vancouver in what became Washington Territory. A lonely, lowly infantry officer, separated from his new family, Grant found life there tedious at best, especially given his various administrative chores.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
While pleasantly posted in the Pacific Northwest at Fort Vancouver across from Portland, Oregon, in today’s Washington, 1st Lt. Grant began to learn much about the West. The assignment afforded him several opportunities to try his hand at a number of business ventures he believed would secure financial stability to support his new, growing family.
— Courtesy —

One positive aspect of Grant’s early days in the West was periodic contact with some of the local American Indians. These encounters likely influenced his future views on the treatment of the Western tribes. Early on he observed: “It is really my opinin (sic), that the whole [Indian] race would be harmless and peaceable if they were not put upon by the whites.”

Other experiences did note produce such positive results. For instance, Grant’s investment in several endeavors to supplement his meager Army pay, including a mercantile effort, farming to raise crops and livestock and trying his hand at providing firewood for Columbia River steamboats, all stirred hopes of bringing his family west. He optimistically told Julia in a letter: “that if you and our little boys were here I should not want to leave here for some years to come. My fears now however are that I may be promoted to some company away from here before I am ready to go.”

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
As a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the United States 4th Infantry, Grant headed west to assume his first duties beyond the Mississippi River, Reporting to Jefferson Barracks near the growing community of St. Louis in September 1843, he set forth on his new life in uniform. In the process, Grant would court and win the hand of Julia Dent, the sister of a fellow U.S. Military Academy graduate whom he had befriended during his studies at West Point.

Those fears proved prophetic. In August 1853, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis informed Grant of his promotion to captain. This news brought a transfer to Fort Humboldt, California. Spending less than a half-year at the remote assignment, Grant missed his family and entrepreneurial prospects in Vancouver. Charges of drinking, which began during his days on the West Coast, marred his reputation and fostered the long, often exaggerated stereotype of Grant the drunkard. Sinking to the depths, Grant took leave, briefly returned to Fort Vancouver to conclude some of his remaining business affairs, and headed back to Julia and his two young sons in St. Louis.

By August 1854, Grant again was in St. Louis, having resigned his commission to try and make his mark in the civilian world. For the next four years, his labors to provide for his little family by running a 60-acre farm and selling cordwood, resulted in nothing but hardship. By 1858 he set out on another money-making scheme, spending nearly a year in real estate transactions. Regrettably he sometimes failed to collect rents, and regularly showed up late for work.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
Promotion to captain brought an unwanted transfer to California’s remote northwestern coastal outpost, Fort Humboldt. Grant’s business opportunities at Fort Vancouver were dashed as were his hopes to bring Julia to the West Coast. The lonely married man fell into depression and by some accounts turned to alcohol as an escape—a demon that periodically haunted him the rest of his life.

With his finances in ruins, Grant returned to his home in Galena, Illinois, near the Mississippi River, which would play a key role in his future as a Union general. His fortunes remained uncertain, at least until May of 1860 when he accepted an $800-a-year clerkship in his hard-driving father’s leather business. Settling the family in to a modest house, Grant finally made ends meet.

The real turning point, however, came not from eking out a living with his father. Instead Grant’s return to the military brought the success he had long sought. On June 17, 1861, Grant became the commanding colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry regiment. Less than two months later, his West Point training and subsequent martial knowledge brought a commission as a brigadier general of Union volunteers, a promotion that was requested by President Abraham Lincoln.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
Although Grant’s friend, Frederick Dent, was assigned elsewhere, young Sam visited his West Point classmate’s home on the outskirts of St. Louis. Grant spent considerable time with the family, and a romance with Julia, newly returned from boarding school, soon blossomed.

Grant eventually gained a much-deserved reputation for leadership fighting in the so-called Western Theater, although some military men—both North and South engaged in operations from Texas to California—might have taken offense at this designation. Grant’s fame grew as he delivered results, although these were often costly in both blood and national treasure as well as taking a personal toll as he led the Federal Army to victory.

Undaunted by the strain of command, Grant persevered and was elevated to General of the Army with a four star rank in July 1866. He led the military during a challenging era for the drawn-down, post-war Army with its dual-role of Reconstruction enforcer and Western protectorate of Manifest Destiny. Dealing with problems along the border with Mexico was complicated by the presence of the European-backed puppet Emperor Maximilian I, lawless elements, expansion of the railroads, Reconstruction in Texas and throughout the South, and the major issue of the American Indians (many groups resisting the course of frontier expansion).

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
During the desperate fighting to seize San Cosmé outside of Mexico City, Bvt. 1st Lt. Grant (he had been promoted for his bravery at the battle of Molino del Rey, September 30, 1846) used his West Point artillery training to rain down deadly fire on the enemy. With a howitzer manned by some of his foot soldiers who he had pressed into service as gunners, Grant showed the initiative that would win him fame during the Civil War.

All of these challenges of leadership were made even greater when President Andrew Johnson appointed Grant Secretary of War in August 1867.  As head of the war department, Grant turned to his one-time Civil War subordinates, William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan, to play major parts in the West. However, he resigned from Johnson’s administration when the U.S. Senate reinstated radical Republican Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War in January 1868. Grant’s short-tenure in Johnson’s cabinet—which swirled with controversy and impeachment proceedings—as well as his standing up to the ill-fated successor to Lincoln—made him a hero and legitimate presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1868. 

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
Ill with cancer, Grant posed with his family and his physician, Dr. John Hancock Douglas, on the porch of their modest home. The former general and president battled through pain and great suffering to complete his masterful autobiography just days before his death. The straightforward style and compelling story proved a major feat both critically and financially, saving Grant’s family from bankruptcy. Unfortunately, Grant would not live to savor the recognition that had eluded him as a young man who went west to seek fame and fortune.

In March of 1869 it was against this backdrop that Grant took the oath of office to become president. While his administration weathered considerable scandal, in many respects, as Ron Chernow argues in his new biography, Grant, this former general turned commander in chief should be considered the second most important president of the 19th century after Lincoln. Grant’s presidential tenure (1869-1877) saw the massive growth of railroads in the West, the encouragement of homesteading, which led to phenomenal increases in agricultural production, support of mining operations (including the fateful Black Hills Expedition in quest of precious minerals as one means of pulling the nation out of a devastating depression), and his well-meaning, but controversial “peace policy” to resolve white interactions with the native peoples of the West. All of this demonstrated a desire to bind the nation together and deal fairly with the diverse population in Gilded Age America. In this, Grant genuinely attempted to take up Lincoln’s mantle.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
After the war with Mexico, William T. Sherman, like Grant, left the military to try his hand at civilian pursuits. With the eruption of the Civil War, Sherman, too, returned to the Army, and became a mainstay of Grant’s administration in the West. Sherman appears here (center) with a group gathered for a meeting regarding the Union Pacific Railroad at Fort Sanders, Wyoming Territory, in July of 1868. Beside Sherman, among the other attendees were Gens. P. H. Sheridan and John Gibbon, President Grant (to Sherman’s right, wearing a straw hat just past the three young ladies), W. S. Harney and Joseph H. Potter, all of whom had served as Union officers.
— Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection —

Nevertheless, Grant was not a plaster saint nor was he perfect. Indeed, as previously alluded to, both the nation’s Indian policy and the dispatch of George Armstrong Custer to the Black Hills during his presidency had calamitous outcomes. While Custer’s defeat by Sitting Bull and others brought a tragic end to the one-time dashing Union cavalry officer, Grant’s own death proved a sad tale as well.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
A heroic painting depicting Grant the robust military leader in his prime during the Civil War.

Cancer sapped Grant’s strength and eventually took his life, but not before he penciled his memoirs to ensure his beloved wife Julia and heirs were not left in financial ruin. In great part he undertook this excruciating labor at the urging of another man of the West, Mark Twain, who agreed to publish Grant’s memoirs. Grant would not live to see the success of his compelling narrative, perhaps the best ever written by a former president. But arguably it all began as a green lieutenant who headed West as a bit player in the march of Manifest Destiny.

Frontier Soldier US Grant True West Magazine
Grant’s final painful days dying with cancer as he struggled to scribble down his story before death