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Old 08-30-2021, 08:18 PM   #21 (permalink)
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For the Badge: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Law Enforcement in the Old West

(Note: For this section I am indebted to Candy Mouton and her Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840 - 1900, which is full of information, profiles and anecdotes.)

I: They Were the Law: The Men Who Kept the Peace

I know by now that if you’ve stuck with me this far you’re already sick of being told how wrong, wrong, wrong Hollywood got it, but if that’s the way you’re feelin’ pardner, I done got some more bad news a-for yer. Basically, you would have to realise that like just about every era, Hollywood writers, producers and directors let you see what they wanted you to see. The truth might have been shoe-horned in there somewhere, but chances were it would be mighty hard to find if you were to go take a looksee. In the parlance of the times, you could done send a whole goddamn posse after that there critter and still ride home empty. It’s not surprising though: when the reality of the Old West was people ekeing out a living, or trying to survive another day in a harsh and hostile country, who the hell wanted to go to the movies and see that? If there were rarely gunfights, horse rustlers, desperadoes riding into, out of or through town, banks and trains being robbed a rare occurrence, where’s the fun in that?

So western movies didn't quite make it up, but let’s say they exaggerated a little, stretching the truth almost to breaking point in the name of entertainment, and in so doing set in motion a train of events that has forever made us see a very specific view of the American West. It’s not necessarily all wrong, but most of it is. One thing that they got pretty much everything wrong on - for obvious and deliberate reasons, of course - were the profiles of the men who set out to do what few men dared in such a lawless and wild time, which was to keep the peace, lay down the law and protect their town. Let’s see if we can extract the reality from the fantasy, shall we? Ah come on! Saddle up, son: it’ll be fun.

Maybe.


Here’s a question for you: what do beavers have to do with American law? No, not those kind! The animals, the ones who build dams, you know, the guys with the flat paddle-like tails and big teeth, beloved of cartoonists for chewing down mighty trees in a few bites. Yeah, like yer man above. Well apparently the first ever law used in the Old West was called “The Law of the Beaver”, and was a set of rules and regulations set up by the fur traders, to protect their commerce. These laws were English-made, but a relatively quick search does not yield any information, so I can’t tell you what they were exactly. It’s not all that important, as by the time the West began to open up, as we’ve already touched on in the piece on frontiersmen, this kind of trade was already sliding into something of a decline, so the only reason the Law of the Beaver is mentioned here is to show that it was the first proper legal framework in the west. And because it's funny. Yes, it is.

It was pretty soon superseded by borderlands law, and here we run into those jolly people who live mostly near a lake of salt and think the secret to a happy marriage is to have more than one wife. Yup, it’s the religion that gave us - or inflicted upon us, depending on your point of view regarding the pop music of the 1970s - the Osmonds. It seems the Mormons were literally a law unto themselves. Within the limits of Utah, they did what they liked and bowed to no county, state or federal agency. Utah was at the time a theocracy, and the Word of God took very much precedence over the word of Man.

There was of course vigilante justice. There has been vigilante justice all the way back to the Bible, and recently a type of vigilantism - no justice appended, you might note - was attempted on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington. But in places where there was no real law at the time, men did indeed take that law into their own hands, leading to such things as posse and necktie parties, as justice was meted out at the barrel of a gun or the end of a rope, without going through all that tedious nonsense of trial or establishing guilt. We'll be taking a look at this a bit further on.

There was military law too. If you lived near a fort or barracks, and committed a crime you would most likely come under the jurisdiction of the army, You might be held in a military jail awaiting transport to the proper authorities, or if you were a soldier your case may have been decided by a military court, and they would be the ones to mete out the sentence. If there was a sheriff or marshal in the town in which, or near which the fort was built, soldiers from the garrison might be seconded to help him in rounding up criminals, holding trials or keeping the peace. If a soldier broke the law, even in a town where there existed law already in the shape of a marshal, deputy, sheriff or other law officer, his case would be handled by the army. If the sheriff or other law enforcement officer arrested a trooper he would most likely be handed over to the officer in charge of the fort. Where a sheriff or other peace officer existed though, military law would not apply to civilians, except perhaps in military matters (like maybe if they stole from the garrison or were found to be spies or something).

Cowboys riding on cattle drives were like sailors at sea, completely under the absolute authority of the foreman or cattle boss, at least while on the range. Just like the power a captain enjoyed aboard his ship, this was secondary to that of a sheriff or marshal if the cowboys rode into a town and there committed any crime. Miners had their own harsh system of judgement too, and this did not bode well for anyone not of a pale skin pigment. Spanish-Americans (although they had a greater claim to nativity than did the white settlers), Chilean, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, all were considered as foreigners, and almost none of the laws set down by the miners assisted them or gave them any protection. Men unable to speak (due to the language barrier) to defend themselves were given no interpreters, no chance and no quarter. Most of the miners’ laws related to claims and claim-jumping, and some of their provisions were adopted by the US Government.

Anyone with the most basic knowledge of a western movie will know there were different types of law enforcement in the Old West. We’re all familiar with the sheriff, who, along with his deputy/ies would keep the peace in a town, usually having been an ordinary guy elected by the people. Many western movies have as part of their theme a man - usually a stranger - riding into a town which has been having difficulties with bad guys and has lost its sheriff(s), either through their deaths at the hands of aforesaid bad guys or their dramatically throwing the tin star in the dust, effectively resigning their post before they end up being dead at the hands of the aforesaid bad guys. It seems to me unlikely this could generally happen. I’m not saying it didn’t happen - life, and the law, was after all quite fluid in the Old West, and men and indeed towns had to be adaptable - but the usual idea was for the sheriff to be elected.

You’ve probably seen and maybe even participated in the election of a mayor, and it looks like the election of the sheriff would have been the same. Candidates put themselves forward, folks voted, and a sheriff was elected. So it seems unlikely the town or county would just hand the badge to anyone who they thought fit the bill. For one thing, people seldom agree, and the idea of a whole bunch of townsfolk nodding and saying “He’s the man” seems, well, far-fetched at best. There may very well, of course, have been times when desperate measures were required, but as a general rule I would say not. The sheriff was elected, and if he for some reason ditched or was otherwise unable to do his job, well, that was what a deputy was for. So there would have been a reasonably reliable chain of command already in force, making it highly unlikely the town would ever find itself in the position of needing a sheriff post-haste and having no candidates, or subordinates at least.

The top law enforcement officer though, against whom nobody would dare speak a word or try to assert his regional authority, was the US Marshal. Now so far as I know, this guy was different from the marshal who often seemed to be interchangeable with the town sheriff, but I’ll check. This fella was appointed by no less a personage than the President himself (with the approval of Congress), and had wide-ranging powers and jurisdiction almost everywhere. The position was so coveted that at one point in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1882 there were over fifty applicants for the one job. The Judiciary Act, 1789, sets out the role of the US Marshal:

And be it further enacted, That a marshal shall be appointed in and for each district for a term of four years, but shall be removable from office at pleasure, whose duty it shall be to attend the district and circuit courts when sitting therein, and also the Supreme Court in the district in which that court shall sit. And to execute throughout the district, all lawful precepts directed to him, and issued under the authority of the United States, and he shall have the power to command all necessary assistance in the execution of his duty, and to appoint as shall be occasion, one or more deputies.

Which would then indicate there was to be a US Marshal for each state, or territory as they were known then. I’m not sure if the authority of a marshal in say Wyoming was good in Colorado, but I would imagine the marshal there would be ready to help him out if, let’s say, he was chasing a fugitive from his territory who had crossed into that of his colleague. Although appointed by the President, marshals were typically patronised and kept in office by district judges, and weren’t even paid a proper salary until 1896, which shows how much the position was respected, even if only paid by fee, as it was in 1882, in our example above. Marshals were allowed to swear in posses to make up a hunting party for a fugitive (we’ll find out later how a posse was made legal, and how many unofficial ones there were, also whether a sheriff had the same authority when it came to them, as Hollywood would have us believe) and to make people deputies on the spot if needed, or even to second them from other law enforcement agencies.

As opposed to the sheriff, who was a local city or town or county official, marshals were employees of the federal government, and many had cut their teeth in the Civil War and were well able to handle themselves, however like most jobs that sound glamorous and exciting, the life of a marshal could be almost summed up in one word, that one most hated by all cops: paperwork. Marshals had many duties, including prisoner transfer, hire of staff for courts, disbursement of funds, serving subpoenas, summonses and warrants, and even renting the courtrooms and the jails.

But of course there were times when they could drag themselves away from the desk and the mountain of papers, and several well-known figures in the West were marshals, including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Generally speaking, their deeds have not been embellished - that much - by the movies, and we will be looking at their careers individually later on in this section. Perhaps less glamorously though, marshals were also required - until the repeal of the law in 1864 - to assist in the return of slaves fled from southern states and were also used to break up strikes, usually by violence and intimidation. They could, and did, ride long distances when word came to them of a fugitive over whom they would have jurisdiction (an escaped bank robber who had plundered one of the banks in their territory, maybe, or someone who had shot someone in their state and evaded justice) turning up in another and being reported to them as being there.
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Old 08-31-2021, 06:36 AM   #22 (permalink)
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Wanted: Dead or Alive

It’s interesting to note that there was a very good reason why this condition was often appended to notices seeking the apprehension of fugitives from justice. Like I said, up almost to the turn of the century marshals worked for a fee, and in general this turned out to be about two dollars per head per captive, which they would be paid upon returning with the prisoner(s). But unless the wanted notice had stipulated “dead or alive”, should they bring in any of the criminals dead, they would not be paid. This probably showed how desperate states were to catch, or have killed, certain desperate characters: a marshal who knew he was not getting anything for a dead man would be mighty careful to ensure he arrived back at the jail in one piece and breathing, even if he may have had a chance to shoot him. If it was a “dead or alive” situation, on the other hand, well, prisoners are a lot less trouble when they’re dead, I expect, so this might be why it was never “alive or dead”, so that the first thing in a posse’s mind was, kill the bastard: hell, you’ll still get paid the two dollars, so why bother bringing him in alive? A sort of early form of subliminal messaging, perhaps, or a tacit approval of terminate with extreme prejudice?

As a representative of the US Government, a marshal could also try criminals if there was no judge present. As we’ll see a little further on, judges did not live in towns, but travelled around (perhaps the origin of the circuit court? Perhaps not; we’ll find out) and served a wide area, so the chances of there being a judge in town at the right time was, let’s say slim. In that case, the marshal could deputise witnesses, hire a place as a courtroom (maybe a schoolhouse, saloon, house, I don’t know: I’m learning this as I’m writing it and some of this is guesswork, to be confirmed or corrected later) and act as the judge in the case, dispensing justice to his prisoners. Whether that included hanging I don’t know, but I would think not. If the offence was that severe, maybe the prisoner(s) would have to be taken to wherever the judge was sitting. The case I read about involved a marshal fining thieves, so I expect he had some latitude but not unlimited powers. He was, after all, an officer of the law and not above it.

You probably have heard in movies the word marshal and sheriff being used to more or less describe the same official, and the guy referred to had nothing to do with the tough lawmen we just spoke about. Called town marshals, these were in fact a step below the sheriff, who was usually responsible for the entire county, whereas this marshal, as you might have guessed from his title, took care of the town he was in and no more. Mostly he was a sort of functionary: collecting fees and taxes, maintaining the town jail, running health, fire and sanitation checks, keeping records and offering evidence at court hearings.

And then, there were the Rangers.

Most will have heard of the Texas Rangers, but Arizona and New Mexico had them too. These were kind of the top guns of law enforcement, at least in the southeast, where their powers were vast and where justice meted out by them could be swift and often brutal. As Captain Burt Mossman of the Arizona Rangers put it:

If they come along easy, everything will be all right. If they don't,
well, I guess we can make pretty short work of them. I know most
of them and the life those fellows are leading in the mesquite shrub
to keep out of reach of the law is a dog's life. They ought to thank
me for giving them a chance to come in and take their medicine.
Some of them will object, of course. They'll probably try a little
gunplay as a bluff, but I shoot fairly well myself, and the boys who
back me up are handy enough with their guns. Any rustler who
wants to yank on the rope and kick up trouble will find he's up
against it.


Sounds like something out of a cowboy movie, but no, that’s an actual quote. Shows how tough and determined these men were. Even today, Texas Rangers still operate in that state and are feared as the oil state’s most indefatigable lawmen. Nevertheless, one of their first and most famous captains, John “Rip” Ford, who later went on to the US Senate and served as the mayor of Brownsville, had a slightly different view of his force:

A large proportion ... were unmarried. A few of them drank intoxicating liquors. Still, it was a company of sober and brave men. They knew their duty and they did it. While in a town they made no braggadocio demonstration. They did not gallop through the streets, shoot, and yell. They had a specie of moral discipline which developed moral courage. They did right because it was right.

Cold Justice: Law in the Frozen North

Look at the size of Alaska. Just look at it. And now figure in that around the time of the Klondyke Gold Rush (1896) the entire territory had one judge, one marshal and ten deputies to enforce law. Further north, in Canada, the Yukon, there were the Mounties, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but as miners and speculators teemed across Alaska in search of gold, keeping law and order in that cold wilderness required firm and often deadly action.

When there weren’t enough law enforcement officers to cover a case, bounty hunters might be used to supplement the force, and also detectives. Although the idea of a detective was quite new in the world during the latter half of the nineteenth century, in America the Pinkerton Detective Agency was set up and became known for their dogged, unflagging pursuit of criminals. They also provided security on trains against robberies, often taking would-be bandits by surprise, as the Pinkertons wore no uniform and could easily blend into the crowd, passing for passengers.

Hang ‘em High: Lynchings and Vigilante Justice

We spoke briefly about vigilantes before, and to be honest, the two words don’t go very well together, as vigilantes, usually at the head of a mob, seldom wanted justice but revenge. To these people, the laws either protected the criminal when they should have dealt out swift justice to him instead, or just didn’t allow the wheels of justice to turn quickly enough. When this happened, tempers boiled over, patience snapped and hotheads led fuming crowds to jailhouses or in pursuit of men who were seen to have evaded justice. The usual end of such a journey for the accused was kicking his heels in the air while he dangled from a rope.

I should clearly make the distinction here between vigilante justice and lynch mobs. The former did allow a semblance of trial, with the prisoner’s crimes read to him and even a defence allowed, whereas with lynch mobs it was a straight, direct path to the hanging tree, with none of that annoying due process getting in the way. Lynchings were not sanctioned by law, but some territories turned a blind eye if feelings were running high enough. However lynch mobs had no real authority, other than their own, and were sometimes subsequently prosecuted for taking the law into their own hands, whereas vigilantes had often tacit, unspoken approval from the town or city authorities.

In vigilante justice, the mob’s rule might be more easily accepted, or acceded to, as these were clearly the prevalent feelings and few sheriffs or marshals would dare to go against the general mood of the town. They also might unofficially see them as a blessing in disguise, so to speak. For one thing, these folks had most likely only carried out the sentence the guy was going to get anyway, and in the process had saved the courts and therefore the government money.

One place vigilante justice began to come really into its own was along the route of the transcontinental railroad. As towns began to spring up along the line, there was no formal authority and so men would band together to keep law and order, using a variant of the old miners’ law to prosecute those who had sinned against the town, mine or railroad.

In terms of lynch mob justice, here’s a story (two really, but linked) that really illustrates the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. A man accused of killing two lawmen, Charley Burris, was being transported to jail from Laramie to Rawlins, was taken from the train when it stopped in Carbon and a confession demanded of him. He refused, so they hung him from a telegraph pole. One year later another killer, “Big Nose” George Parrot took the same trip for the same crime and was stopped - perhaps by the same mob - in the same station. He too was asked to confess, but whether he had heard of Burris’s fate or not, he took the option to make a clean breast of it, and was allowed to continue on to Rawlins, where he was sentenced to be hanged. But when he tried to escape, a mob (again, maybe the same one: maybe they had followed him for the trial to make sure he didn’t retract his confession?) dragged him from the jail and hanged him. So no matter what he did, George Parrot’s destiny lay at the end of a rope. Maybe he would have been better just getting it over with at Carbon.

On that occasion it seems the mob either overpowered the sheriff and his deputies, who were holding Parrot, or else the law officers were powerless to - or reluctant to stop them. However on occasion lynch justice was openly approved by the federal marshals. Candy Mouton tells us of another interesting example when, in Aurora, Nevada in 1864, the hanging of six men accused of killing thirty settlers went ahead under the watchful eye of the US Marshal, Bob Howland, despite the governor being alerted to the illegal lynching by a concerned citizen. The marshal reported back to the governor that it was “All quiet in Aurora. Four men to be hanged in fifteen minutes.”

There were also what was known as range detectives. These men were employed by the railroad, stagecoach companies and cattle barons to protect their interests, with deadly force if need be. You might be surprised to learn that legendary gunfighter William H. Bonney, alias Billy the Kid, was a range detective himself. He worked for the Regulators, who kept the interests of rancher John Henry Tunstall as their top priority. Range detectives were highly paid for the time - sometimes clearing as much as 150 or 200 dollars a month (this in a time when, remember, the bounty on a live outlaw was two dollars and hotel rooms asked a few cents for a night’s board), and had to be good fighters. The deadlier the reputation, the less likely anyone would mess with them, though Billy’s rep did not stop the Lincoln County War from breaking out, but that’s another story, for another time.

Range detectives worked first and only for their employers, If they got into trouble with local or even federal law enforcement while carrying out the orders of their bosses, they relied on those bosses to smooth things out for them with the authorities, whether with bribes, threats or via their connections in high places. Pat Garret was also a range detective, as was Tom Horn.

Justice on Tour: Judges in the Old West

As I correctly surmised earlier, the phrase circuit court comes from the time of the Old West, when judges were basically of no fixed abode, almost like itinerant pedlars dispensing justice and punishment, or perhaps innocence and freedom, as they travelled across their territory. Each judge was responsible for a large area, as already mentioned, and this meant he was constantly on the move, going from town to town and city to city, a real case of bringing Mohammed to the mountain. A judge would arrive in a town or district, hear all the cases that had built up over the length of time since he had been there last (excepting, I assume, any which had been dealt with by the expedient of summary justice, by vigilantes or by lynch mobs, or that the sheriff or marshal could deal with himself) and then travel on to the next town. If a crime was committed the next day, tough: you’d have to wait till he managed to fit you into his schedule again, and that could be months, months you would spend most likely in the county jail awaiting the chance to have your trial.

Not only that, but while as a defendant you had the right to be tried by a jury of your peers, given the short amount of time His Honour would likely be in town before ridin’ on into the sunset of justice, the chances of cobbling together twelve good men and true (or even twelve all right men who might occasionally play fast and loose with the truth) were slim, and what happened then? I really don’t know. Whether the trial then got delayed until a jury could be assembled (and if that meant not before the judge left town you might end up back in a cell to await his later pleasure) or whether it went ahead with what they had, or even without a jury, isn’t related in what I read. However it does appear that up until 1889 all a judge’s decisions were final, as there was no official appeal procedure, but after that the way was clear for convicted felons to appeal their sentence to the US Supreme Court, and thus I guess began the often ludicrous back-and-forth that attends trials even today, particularly in the case of the death penalty.
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Old 09-15-2021, 07:23 PM   #23 (permalink)
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II: The Face Behind the Badge: Famous Lawmen of the Old West

There are names of course that we all know by now, whether through movies or games or television, or even an accidental or otherwise encounter with history - Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, Tom Horn - but given the massive area these officers of the law operated across, and the timescale involved, it will come as no surprise that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of men who upheld the law in a lawless time of whom we know virtually nothing. We can’t talk about hundreds or thousands in this journal, but let’s look at a few of the perhaps lesser-known ones.


Bud Ballew (1877 - 1922)

I imagine almost every lawman, be he sheriff, town marshal, US Marshal or justice of the peace even, carried in them days. Ballew certainly did, gaining fame as both a gunfighter and a lawman. Born David Monticello in Texas in 1877, he acquired the nickname “Bud” from his father, Bryant Bellew having been called this himself, and his time as a young boy helping out on the family ranch gave him an easy familiarity with animals, especially horses, and with the handling of firearms too. Not one to hang around on the farm though, Bud left at the tender age of thirteen years and headed to what was then known as the Indian Territory, land which had been ostensibly set aside for the resettlement of the Native Americans, and which by 1890 had been reduced to what is now the state of Oklahoma. There he built his own ranch and was in fact joined there three years later by the rest of his family. Eight years after that he met the woman who was to be his wife.

The marriage was blessed with two sons, and by 1910 Bud’s ranch was humming along so nicely that he began to get bored, and looked for other work. He found it in prosecuting and defending the law. When Buck Garrett, sheriff of Carter County and nephew of the famous Pat, offered him a job as his deputy, he accepted, beginning a career in law enforcement which would last over a decade. At the same time, he continued ranching and even had time to do some speculating in Texas Tea, or oil as we call it.

Bud Ballew presented the kind of image of a deputy that became almost a caricature of the type in the hands of Hollywood producers. Tall for his time - an inch off six foot - he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, out of which burst his shock of fiery red hair, and he had a deep, booming laugh, wore cowboy boots, carried a pistol on each hip and was frequently seen in or around the environs of the local saloons and gambling dens. Anyone looking into his cherubic, good-humoured face though and taking him for a sap would be placing themselves very much in danger, as behind those twinkling eyes and the ready smile lurked a man who was ready to kill in the name of justice, and who would, by the end of his twelve-year career, have notched up eight kills to his credit. Not quite one a year, but for a lawman that’s a pretty decent return, I think you’ll agree.

Though himself shot in the stomach by outlaw Pete Bynum, he was not fazed and returned fire, killing Bynum and another man with the unlikely name of Alison (don’t know if that was his first or surname) who was sleeping in the next room. I also don’t know if this Alison character was allied with Bynum or if he was just an unlucky piece of collateral damage. Steve Talkington was next on his list, but when this guy tried to resist arrest, Ballew shot him dead. When he then tried to collect his pay from the town marshal, he found himself caught in the middle of a dispute. Highnote (where did they get these names, honestly?) had been fired but refused to go, and furthermore, told Ballew what he could do with his demand for his commission. So Ballew did what he did best, and shot and killed the ex-marshal. He doesn’t appear to have paid any price for the killing, so I suppose it must have been seen as justified, though how refusing to pay a man could be grounds for shooting him I don’t know. Well, it was the Wild West I guess. I suppose it’s possible that Highnote was seen as acting illegally, both in refusing to step down and in failing to hand over the reward, so maybe the deputy was within his rights.

Another outlaw tried to outrun justice by jumping from the train by which he was being taken to trial by Ballew and another deputy, but both men fired at the prisoner as he ran off and Ballew’s bullet found its mark. He later saved his boss’s life when Garrett, engaged in a gunfight with one of two highway robbers, needed his help when he, Garrett, was busy with the first robber while the other tried to circle round and get a shot at him. Ballew, coming up behind him, forced him to turn his attention on the deputy, who shot him dead. Even other lawmen were fair game for Ballew. He had a long-standing feud running with Deputy US Marshal Dow Braziel, who was angry that neither Ballew nor his boss seemed too inclined to enforce the recent Prohibition laws. As he and Ardmore Chief of Police Les Segler responded to shots fired early in the morning of January 31 1919, they found Braziel in a cafe and for whatever reason he started firing at them. Ballew returned fire and shot him dead. End of feud.

Determined to preserve the law though, and show that it applied even to those who enforced it, the Chief of Police had Ballew arrested, though later on his (the Chief’s) testimony it was made clear that Deputy Ballew had only been defending himself, having been fired at first, and he was released without charge. An interesting point here is that the account I read notes that Ballew “emptied his pistol, hitting Braziel six times”. Assuming his gun was the usual six-shooter, that means that every single bullet the deputy fired hit its mark. What a shot!

Even this impressive feat though was as nothing compared to what happened two years later, in November 1920. A wealthy oil baron known as Jake Hamon, slated for a post in President Warren Harding’s cabinet, died of a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound he said occurred when he was cleaning his gun. Despite his dying confession though, suspicion quickly fell on his lover, Clara Smith, whom it was believed had shot him, either because he was abusive to her or because he wanted to break off their affair (one assumes Hamon was married, though it doesn’t say). Accused of the crime (on what evidence, I don’t know: circumstantial at best surely) she was tried and quickly found not guilty.

Well I thought that was going to be far from the end of it, but colour me surprised: that was the end of it. The point seems to have been that during the trial the reporters from various newspapers were almost more interested in the colourful antics of Ballew and Garrett, the latter of whom, though respected was not liked, mostly due to his habit of riding through the town shooting off his gun and yelling. Far from embarrassing the deputy though, the news reports seem to have made him determined to live up to the image, and he got worse. The end was already looming for Bud Ballew however, as he resigned in support of his sheriff when Garrett was investigated for, charged with and relieved of his post for the unlawful release of prisoners and what was called non-enforcement of the law, in 1922.

Time to go out in a blaze of glory then. Ballew, with other ex-Garrett men, was involved a few days later in a fistfight with their replacements, a fistfight that rapidly became a gunfight, and in which Ballew took a bullet in his thigh. But a mere slug in his leg was not going to stop the notorious Bud Ballew from raising hell, and he headed to a rodeo in Wichita Falls, Texas, with his son, where, after being reported by the captain of the Texas Rangers to the Chief of Police, he refused to surrender and come quietly, instead reaching for his gun in a domino parlour (I know, I know!) and was shot down dead, proving I guess that even if you’re a lawman the old adage holds true: don’t fuck with Texas.

A postscript however maintains that the story was embellished if not actually a lie, as the county coroner in Ardmore, to which Ballew’s body was flown back, determined that all five shots that took the deputy down had been from behind, which disputed the official story. Nobody was ever charged, but to his dying day Buck Garrett maintained that his deputy had been murdered.
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Old 09-15-2021, 07:30 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Raymond Hatfield Gardner (1845 - 1940)

Who ever heard of a lawman in the American West living to be almost a hundred? You would assume most if not all of them had short, violent lives, but this guy seems to have survived okay. Mind you, the odds were against him from the start. Kidnapped at only two years of age by Comanches, he would surely not have been expected to have survived, but for whatever reason the Comanches held on to him and then traded him to the Sioux, among whom he grew up. When he reached age fifteen he escaped (you’d have to wonder where he was escaping to and from what; at age two he surely couldn’t have had any memory of his white parents, and so life among the Indians would have been all he remembered) and joined the US Army, riding for them as a courier and, later, for the Pony Express.

He rejoined, or joined properly, the army again when the Civil War broke out and served four terms, his knowledge of Native American ways and tactics proving invaluable later when he served as an Indian scout. He acquired the nickname “Arizona Bill” and fought against the Apache, and later joined another, more famous Bill in his Wild West Show. Later still he moved into law enforcement and served both as a US Deputy Marshal and as an Arizona Ranger. He even had his own radio show in the 1930s. He died after a long illness on January 29 1940 and was interred first in a pauper’s grave (not sure what the pauper thought of it!) and later, when evidence of his extensive military service came to light, his body was moved to the Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery, where he rests today.



John Peter Gabriel (1838 - 1898)

No, no, I kid you not! His name really was Peter Gabriel. Well, John Gabriel, but that’s not half as much fun is it? Anyway, it seems everyone knew him as Peter, or Pete. Another Arizona lawman, Gabriel was actually born in Germany, his family moving to America in 1847, when he was only nine years old, settling in Wisconsin. Luck was not with the family though and his father died only two years later, leaving his wife with six hungry mouths to feed and no way to feed them. I don’t know whether she farmed them all off, or how it happened, or if he was the only one (seems unlikely: just as hard to feed five kids as six) but John was taken in by a lawyer who caught the gold bug and headed to California in 1849. When he was old enough to support himself, John moved to Arizona, where he worked at mining and in law enforcement on and off.

Pinal County Sheriff Peter Brady must have been kicking himself when, having appointed him as deputy in 1877 he was then defeated by Gabriel in the next year’s elections, and his deputy took his job. Gabriel established himself as one of Arizona’s finest and most successful sheriffs, taking no shit from lynch mobs, tracking down stagecoach and horse thieves, killers and cattle rustlers. Friends however became enemies when, having hired his old buddy Joseph Phy as his deputy, he had to fire him for being drunk and disorderly, and later had to arrest him for assault, The year Gabriel left office, 1886, Phy came back onto the scene, ran for the office (actually with Gabriel’s initial support, though it was later withdrawn) and got the job, but the two friends-then-enemies-then-friends had once again become bitter enemies, and it would all end in the rising smoke from the barrel of a gun two years later.

The two met in a saloon in Florence, where an argument erupted between them and quickly spilled out, in true Hollywood style, into the street, where both men drew. Both were wounded, but Gabriel survived whereas Phy died from his wounds. Gabriel had to stand trial but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence that then prevailed in the West. His own end would be much longer in coming, but equally tragic. Having spent the next ten years mining around Arizona and down as far as Mexico, it was in his old stomping grounds that the Grim Reaper came to collect. Having drunk some water laced with arsenic (used in mining) at the Monitor Mine on Mineral Creek he lay alone and in agony for a week in his cabin until finally his mining partner happened by and discovered him. He died the next day and was buried near the mine.

“Big Steve” Long

I subtitled this section “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Law Enforcement”, and here’s one of the bad ones. Steve Long (known as “Big Steve”, don’t ask me why but you can make some educated guesses I’m sure, some clean, some perhaps not so much) was said to have been a “Johnny Reb”, which is to say he fought on the losing side of the Civil War, and after the defeat of the South he took up gunfighting, wandering from territory to territory until he ended up in Wyoming in 1866. There, with his half-brothers Ace and Con Moyer, who had founded the town of Laramie, and on their own authority proclaimed themselves justice of the peace and marshal, he was deputised to help his two siblings. But a gunfighter does not generally make a good lawman (though some might), and whereas our friend Bud Ballew killed eight men in twelve years, Long had notched up that many in two months!

The brothers proved more dictators than any kind of lawmen, ruling with an iron fist and crushing all who opposed them. They forced ranchers to hand over the deeds to their lands and miners to sign over their claims to them in literal backroom deals, where resistance or reluctance was met with a bullet, and the shrugged excuse that the man had gone for his gun. Well, who was going to say otherwise, when the men who ran the town’s justice system said so? Other victims quickly followed, including those who objected to the rigged card games run by the brothers at the saloon, and within a year Long was claiming to have shot and killed thirteen men, suspected of another seven, though this could not be proven. The saloon in question began to acquire the epithet “The Bucket of Blood”, and a local rancher, fed up, like most of the townsfolk, with the tyranny of Long and the Moyers, began to organise a vigilante group to take them on.

You’ve got to love these names. Long ambushed and killed a prospector called Rollie “Hard Luck” Harrison, intending to rob him, but got a bullet for his pains. As his fiancee treated the wound he confessed to her what had happened and, presumably sick of all the violence (given how brutal Long was, it doesn’t stretch the imagination too far to reason that he often took out his temper on her) she reported to N.K. Broswell, the rancher mentioned above. Accordingly, the “Bucket of Blood” was stormed and an angry lynch mob dragged the three evil siblings out into the street, where they were strung up.
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Old 09-15-2021, 07:45 PM   #25 (permalink)
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John B. Jones (1834 - 1881)

Another who fought for the South in the war, Jones was born in South Carolina but moved with his family when four years old to Texas, where he would spend the rest of his life. He achieved great fame in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Adjutant in only a month and later Adjutant-General. He took defeat hard, not surprisingly, as his service was now seen more or less as an act of treachery and rebellion, and there was neither thanks nor glory awaiting him at the war’s end. He left America, travelling to Mexico and Brazil with some half-baked idea of setting up a colony for Confederates, but it of course came to nothing and he returned to Texas, where he was elected to the State Legislature. As Texas was by now in the process of being returned to the Union, he refused to take the seat.

His chance to shine though came in 1874, when he was appointed by the governor as Major of a battalion of the Texas Rangers, and with six companies under his command he led attacks on Native American tribes such as the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa before being sent to Lampasas to try to deal with the Higgins-Horrell feud which had been going on for nearly four years at that point. Managing, in a sneak attack, to catch all the gang and arrest them, Jones then proved to be more than just a hard-headed tough old soldier, as he successfully negotiated a truce between the two clans. He next turned his attention to the apprehension of the notorious train robber Sam Bass and his gang, and after a four month chase he finally ran them to ground at Round Rock, where he shot and wounded Bass, who would die of the injury a few days later.

Jones died of natural causes in July of 1881, still in command of his Texas Rangers battalion, his exploits earning him a place in the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

“Big” Dave Updyke (c. 1830 - 1866)

(Look, the guy's actual name is Updyke, but the system treats dyke as a banned word so keeps asterisking it out. I'll be damned if I'm going to use the text cheats every time his name appears below, so I'm going to change the y to an i for laziness' sake. If you don't like it, suck it.)

Another bad lawman, Updike was the black sheep of his family, and after a stint driving stagecoaches and another spent in Columbia, he returned to the USA to join in the gold rush that had sprung up in Idaho state. He was successful here, earning enough from his claim to allow him to buy a livery stable in Boise, which is where his life, which had up until now been law-abiding, took very much a left turn. His stable began to become a meeting place for all the local desperadoes - whether he courted them or just fell in with them I don’t know - and before long he was consorting with some of the baddest men in that part of the country. His election to the post of Sheriff in 1864 did nothing to arrest (sorry) his slide towards criminality, in fact it had the opposite effect, as it put him in a position to turn a blind eye to, or often even participate in robberies orchestrated by his new friends.

So well known was his connection to the outlaws that they began to be known as “Updike’s Gang”, though there was no proof that he was part of their enterprise. Realising that the only real threat to his power was a recently-formed vigilante group out of Payette River, about thirty miles outside of Boise, he vowed to disband it, to the anger of the citizens of Ada, who relied upon them - as they could not trust the sheriff to look after their interests - to keep them safe from robbers and murderers. Going completely against the wishes of the people he was supposed to protect, he in fact planned to have the members of the vigilante group (or vigilance committee, as they were often known) shot, claiming they had resisted arrest.

Word however was sent to the Payette folk of the planned treachery and they were ready for Updike and his men, outnumbering them two to one. Forced to negotiate, the corrupt sheriff allowed the Payettes to return to town to answer the charges against them, and allowed them to keep their weapons. The charges were dismissed, and the vigilantes went free, but Sheriff Updike had, in the words of Charles Montgomery Burns, made a powerful enemy, and the Payettes, who had long suspected Updike’s involvement in the crimes that took place in the county, began to watch him closely.

They didn’t have to wait for very long, as Updike and his criminal buddies were always on the lookout for easy prey, and they didn’t come much easier than the local stagecoach, passing through Pontneuf Canyon on its way from Montana to Utah, which was known to transport gold as well as passengers. The gang was co-led by Updike with a desperado called Brockie Jack, who was actually on the run, having broken out of an Oregon prison, while the third member of their gang, Fred Williams, had been detailed to ride along with the stage to ensure there were no slip-ups, and to make certain it carried the big strongboxes of gold that were being shipped down from the Montana mines. He would desert the coach when it stopped near the spot where later it would be ambushed. No doubt Updike’s experience as a stage driver in his younger days helped the gang plan their strategy.

The raid did not quite go according to plan, unless the gang intended killing everyone on the stage, and I have to believe they were more interested in getting the gold than slaughtering the passengers, but one of them was armed and put up a fight, leading to a sudden explosion of gunfire and when the smoke cleared all the passengers were dead. Nonplussed, the thieves collected their loot and headed off, but were pursued by the Payette vigilantes, who caught two of them, one shot down when he resisted arrest, the other hanged. Both men were said to have been almost penniless at the time, leading me to believe either that they had received a smaller share of the haul or had spent it very quickly, as this was only weeks after the raid.

Updike evaded arrest, skipping town and heading to Boise City, but he had no power here and the citizens were organising their own vigilance committee. He stayed there until spring but eventually fled, along with another outlaw, John Dixon. Unaware that a posse was hot on their heels, the men stopped to rest at a cabin along the way. Taking them by surprise in the night, the vigilantes took the two men prisoner and the next morning they were hanged. No trace of the stolen gold was ever found - Updike had a mere fifty dollars on him when he swung - and its whereabouts remains a mystery to this day.


Seth Bullock (1849 - 1919)

Canadian born, with an English father and Scottish mother, Bullock ran away from home at sixteen and went to live with his sister in Montana, but not for long, as she sent him back home to his parents. Two years later he was gone again, and this time to stay. Two years after that he was elected to the Montana Senate, and helped create the famous Yellowstone National Park. Elected sheriff of Lewis and Clark County in 1874, he went into business with another man as a hardware merchant, and though he married the next year he sent his wife home to Michigan when he and his partner headed to Deadwood, South Dakota, to try their luck there.

Arriving in Deadwood, the two men discovered it to be a lawless place, with rowdy miners, cowboys, outlaws and prostitutes running wild, and nobody in charge. On the day they arrived, the famous Wild Bill Hickok was killed, and the townsfolk were demanding someone pay. Law and order needed to be established in Deadwood, and so their first marshal was appointed, but he did not last long, gunned down in an ambush less than two weeks later. Deadwood was really just a mining camp at this point, but when it was incorporated into the newly-formed Lawrence County, Bullock was elected as its sheriff, with authority too over the territory of South Dakota.

Bullock proved to be different to most sheriffs of the time. Though he appointed fearless deputies who helped him clean up Deadwood, it’s reported that he never shot a man during his time there, being able to, according to his grandson, "outstare a mad cobra or rogue elephant", and his calm, brooding manner usually unnerved most gunhands who surrendered without firing a shot. As Deadwood began to settle down, Bullock sent for his wife and daughter, meanwhile he was promoted to US Deputy Marshal, and in 1884 met future President Theodore Roosevelt for the first time. The two men got on great, and would remain lifelong friends. When his hardware store burned down ten years later, Bullock took the opportunity to replace it with Deadwood’s first hotel, and the humbly-named Bullock Hotel quickly became the place to stay. It was certainly luxurious for the time, with three floors with a bathroom on each, steam heat throughout its sixty-four rooms. It still stands today.

Given his friendship with Roosevelt, it was no surprise that Bullock signed up with the Rough Riders when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, but the war was over so quickly that he never got to see service. He did however ride in Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905 along with a group of fifty cowboys, including the legendary Tom Mix. Following his taking office, the new president promoted Bullock to the post of US Marshal for South Dakota. The two men would die within months of each other, both passing away before 1919 was out. Seth Bullock was buried alongside Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, in Mount Moriah Cemetery.
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Old 10-10-2021, 10:31 AM   #26 (permalink)
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William Carr

US Deputy Marshal in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he hunted down and arrested outlaw Harris Austin, who was a Chickasaw Indian charged with murder. When Austin resisted arrest Carr shot him, then took him back to Fort Smith where he was hanged a year later. He killed one of a gang of whiskey runners in what was then known as Indian Territory, but the rest escaped back to Texas. He had his own run-ins with the law though, arrested in 1892 and charged with murder and arson pursuant a fire in Lexington which resulted in the death of one man, but he was cleared of the charges and returned to duty, in time to take on the famous Doolin-Dalton Gang two years later. In this battle he was shot three times and left for dead by the outlaws, but he survived, to face further controversy.

In June 1895 a bunch of outlaws broke out of the Oklahoma City jail, killing the Chief of Police in the process. As Carr was known to be friendly with two of the escapees, brothers Will and Bob Christian, he was suspected of having planned or assisted in their jailbreak, and stood trial. Most felt it was a fit-up, to cover the negligence of Sheriff C. H. Deford in allowing the men to escape, but Carr was arrested and indicted by a Grand Jury, but having raised bail he skipped out of the state and disappeared from history. His name did pop up in unsubstantiated reports and anecdotes, mostly in connection with the Doolin Gang, though none of these sightings were ever confirmed. Below are some of them.

(Note: No apologies for the language, out-of-date racial slurs or even spelling and capitalisation (or mostly, lack of it) in these accounts. As they said back then in those parts, I ain't a-changin' nothin'. These are authentic accounts of an authentic time, and gosh darn it, they gunna remain as they woz scribed down, pardner. Or Somethin'.)

“A man who don’t know Carr should not be permitted to live in the Territory,” Rowdy Kate Daniels used to say while holding court in the Red Light Saloon in Purcell, [Oklahoma,] in 1889.

“Never heard of Bill Carr?” says Jim Davis, who has been in the country “since their days of Sam Bass.” “Wal, stranger, you’d better git acquainted with him. Jist now he’s laying up at the Clifton House nursing a sore arm. One uv ther Rogers gang shot him last week.

“Who is Bill? He’s a double-distilled rattler, a bunch of catmounts, a whole herd of Texas longhorns, and a grizzly bear all tied together with chain lightning. By profession, he’s a Deputy Marshal in this yer district, and he’s a killer from way up near the headwaters of Bitter Creek.

“You can jest yell that he is a daisy,” continued the old man. “Bill civilized this heathen country. He’s the chap who made angels of the Franklins and Washingtons and Christianized the Indians, and he dun it with cold lead, the only simon-pure religion of any use on the border.

“Is he the man they call the King of the Chickasaw Nation?” asked an interested tenderfoot, while the gang strolled up and took a drink of chain lightning.

Carr, the officer in question, is a handsome Pennsylvanian with a record as Deputy Marshal that is little short of miraculous. The story, as stated by old man Davis, would appear , in the vernacular of the border, “durned fishy” were it not backed up by the testimony of United States Marshals Nix and Walker.
Billy Carr came here before the Oklahoma boom” resumed Davis reflectively, as he shot a mouthful of saliva at a crack in the floor. “Yep! I believe he’s called the King of the Chickasaw country. He first came into notice on the 4th of July in 1887. Down there in the bottom, a lot of sharks were fleecing suckers. A pretty girl was in one of the crowds trying to induce her foot brother to quit a brace game, but the grinning sharp only gave her the laugh and joked the fool boy into playing until all his money was gone.

Then he insultingly ordered them to ‘clear out and let him alone.” the girl cried bitterly over her brother’s losses and the tough gang stood about and laughed. Nobody knowed Bill Carr them days, and so he didn’t cut much figger. The man who had robbed the boy was ‘Coyote Dave,’ and he had killed a man or two, and had a private graveyard down in No Man’s Land. Well, Bill, he sorter stood ’round awhile after the pretty girl and her brother had left, and then he began to play. ‘Coyote Dave’ won some his money and when Carr accused him of cheating, he said:
“‘Course I did, tender. W’at you going to do about it, hey?’
“The camp turned out an’ buried Dave next day,” and her the old-timer’s face took on a contented frown, as his mind traveled back to that delightful occasion.

“Yes, Billy put three holes in David’s carcass inside a second, and as he walked away I heard him say, ‘That’s for that pretty girl with blue eyes; durn his ugly picture.’

“Well, a day or two after this a wild and wooly chap from the Brazos country plugged a hole through our City Marshal and then skipped out for Oklahoma. There wasn’t any one to foller him, and no one wanted the job of Marshal till Bill Carr said he’d take it if he could have an assistant, and he chose Joe McNally. (Poor Joe was killed by Sheriff Throttler at Fort Smith a month or so ago.) while Joe held down the town Bill Carr mounted his horse and chased the murderer down to where Oklahoma City now stands. The skunk turned on Bill, and there was another killing. A durned foot United States Marshal arrested Carr and took him to Wichita for trial, but he beat the case, and when he came back to the Territory the boys lynched ‘Horse Thief Johnny,” a witness agin Bill, just to show their goodwill. Bill said he’d a-knowed their hearts was all right without this proof, but he couldn’t bring Johnny back to life, so he helped plant him.

“Bill and Joe had their prison about three miles out of town, in the hills. They dug a hole back into a bank and staked their prisoners out in a pen till they had a load for Fort Smith. They made a camp up on a hill where they could overlook this pen, and if any of them durned murderers, horse thieves, whiskey peddlers, or outlaws generally thought they could skip out, they were usually brought to their senses with a bullet in their carcasses.

“About this time Harris Austin, a full-blooded Chickasaw Indian who had been killing people worse than the Bender family for about ten years did some new devilment, and the Fort Smith officers wanted him captured. The old heathen had the whole country ‘buffaloed’ except Bill Carr, and some of the boys said he didn’t have sense enough to know when he was a fool. So Bill he got on his old sorrel pony and rode out to this Indian’s lair in the mountains. He laid for him at daylight, and when the old red man came out to the spring for water Bill popped out and tried to arrest him, but the chief wouldn’t have it that way and slid behind a tree. Bill and him banged away at one another from undercover for about an hour, and then Bill put three bullets into the old rascal. That night he landed him into town across his horse’s back. The Indian recovered and was afterward hung at Fort Smith.

“But the very worst fight Billy ever had was with the Franklins and Washingtons. they was nigger hoss thieves, and lived in a cabin back in the hills. when Bill went after them he took a posse along, and when they reached the cabin a posse man, a personal friend of Bill’s rode up and pounded on the door. Then those heathen niggers just opened a crack and stuck out their guns and killed that posseman. Bill vowed then and there that he would kill every one of them for murdering his pard. So he set fire to the woods back of the house, and when those heathens came running out with their guns in their hands he shot them all down. There were five in the party. Three he killed and two were taken to Fort Smith and hanged.

“Whisky peddling was one of the tough crimes about now, and a gang of outlaws along the Red River district took to sending in their red liquor by the gallon. You see, the boys rather liked the poison, and didn’t think the traffic ought to be curtailed by law so that when Bill started in to stop the supply the boys were agin it. One night Bill corralled three members of a gang of smugglers near Dennison, [Texas.] They were Lewis Jackson, his brother, and Walter Keene, a full-blood Injun. Together with a Sheriff’s posse, Carr sat down to watch a bridge. About dark, the posse went to supper, and Bill just staid on guard. While his friends were gone them chaps sneaked across the bridge, and when Carr halted them they began to shoot. Talking about hell a popping wasn’t in it. When the Sheriff heard the firing and run back they found Bill wounded and two of the gang dead. The next day they followed a trail of blood and run into Lewis Jackson’s body in a cave.

“As Carr was returning to Purcell, [Oklahoma] he was thrown from his horse and had a leg broken. He was carried into a ranch house, and who do you think he found there?” and Jim glanced eagerly into the faces of his interested audience. “Why the girl whose brother had been plucked by ‘Coyote Dave.” When Bill’s leg got well his heart was gone to the girl, and he married her soon after. All the boys turned out to Bill’s wedding, and after it was over he rode out to his ranch with his bride. While they were riding along in that moonlight one heathen coyote that had it in for Bill tried to shoot him, and they had a running fight, but Bill was too much for him, and Cherokee Ned was buried next day. Some of the boys found him along down the trail with a bullet between his cross-eyes.

“After Bill had been spliced a while and had been shot two or three times, his better half got him to quit and go down to violet springs, Oklahoma and buy a grocery. The idea of Bill Carr a-selling peas, and corn, and taters, like a common clerk!” and old Jim wiped his mouth and squinted up his eyes to show his utter contempt for such a proceeding. “Es I was a-saying, Bill turned clerk, but he didn’t like it, and neither did the boys. Arter a little a papoose was born, and then Bill was happy. At this time Bill Dalton and Bill Cook and other tough gangs was a cavorting around, and I often said that if Bill Carr hadn’t got married and settled down he’d made them fellers hard to ketch. Sure enough, Bill got into it last Spring year ago. Course you seen it in all the papers. Marshal Nix dun heered that Bill Dalton was down near Violet Springs, so he sends Carr a warrant for him and Slaughter Kid. Bill felt just like getting into the harness again. One afternoon along comes two galoots on horseback. Bill seen ’em a-coming and watched them hitch their horses to the old rack. His wife and kid were in the store when they came in and eyed Bill.
“‘Be you Bill Carr?’ asked on of the chaps.
“‘Recon I be,’ said Bill, bold as brass, as he slid along the counter toward a six-shooter. ‘Who be you’ns?

“‘I’m Bill Dalton, and this is Slaughter Kid,’ said one of the strangers. ‘Head you’d a warrant for us and thought we’d come in,’ with a laugh.
“‘Yes, she is red-hot and still a hottin,’ said Bill, as he raised his gun. Just then his two-year-old kid run in atween them and his wife run in arter it. This spoiled Bill’s aim, and afore he could pull a second time the two geisers begin to bore holes in him. But he was game and drove ’em out arter they had shot him three times. They got on their horses and escaped, but poor Bill lay about dead on the floor. When the outlaws heered that Bill wasn’t dead they threatened to finish the works, so a lot of the boys from Oklahoma City went down and guarded his house till he got better. Shortly after this Dalton was killed. when Bill got well he sold out his grocery and since then he’s making it hot for the balance of the gang. Someone shot him last week during the Rogers fight, but they can’t kill Bill Carr,” and old Jim took a drink with a tenderfoot and went off up to the Clifton House to see how the “King of the Chickasaw Country” was getting along.

Fred White

Linked with one of the most famous lawmen of the Old West, White was the first town marshal of Tombstone, Arizona (yes, it did exist) and partnered up with the deputy sheriff of the county, some guy called Earp or something. The two men also became friends, but Hollywood tried to twist the truth about White, turning him into a different man than he was in reality. He was in fact respected by cowboy gangs such as the Clantons and was particularly friendly with their leader, “Curly Bill” Brocius. One thing the movies did get right was that Tombstone, like many mining towns and railroad towns, was a lawless, raucous place where a man had to be handy with a gun or his fists in order to survive, and White was no shrinking violet.

However his easy manner with Brocius came to an abrupt and painful end when, demanding the CLantons hand over their guns, which they had been shooting and hollering with in the early hours of the morning of October 28 1880, the gang leader handed his pistol to the marshal barrel first and it went off, shooting White in the groin. Ouch! Enraged, Wyatt Earp began to pistol-whip Brocius before he and his gang were taken to the cells, but it was already too late for Fred White, who died two days later. The gang were only charged with violating city ordnance by shooting their guns in public, as at the time of the arraignment White was still alive and expected by the doctor to make a recovery. As Brocius had to wait to hire a lawyer, he was still in the town when White began to seriously decline, and as a lynch party was forming, Earp escorted him out of town as the marshal lost his battle.

Brocius was said to regret White’s death, swearing it was an accident - a claim confirmed by the dying man’s own testimony - but he resented Earp’s treatment of him, which simmered and grew and would lead to a confrontation between his gang and the marshal and his brothers which would go down in the history of the West.

Tom Nixon (born c. 1837)

Hyperbole it may be, but if one man - one white man - could be said to be most responsible for the near-extinction of the buffalo from the West, Tom Nixon must be a prime contender for that title. He once killed 120 in just forty minutes (an event witnessed by a crowd and so irrefutable) and in the course of just over a month slew 3,200. Born in Georgia, he ended up in Dodge City, Kansas, where he set up a ranch and became a very successful buffalo hunter, the only man his equal being the man himself, Buffalo Bill Cody.

Luke Short, a, well, short man who was a gunfighter, trader and businessman - perhaps what we might call today an entrepreneur - having also crossed paths with Wyatt Earp, ended up in Dodge where he fell foul of the mayor when he opened up a saloon. Dodge was the shipping point for the Texas cattle drives, and if there’s one thing thirsty, trail-weary and sex-starved range cowboys want it’s booze, gambling and women. All right, that's three things. But they wanted them. So whatever saloon could attract the patronage of the Texan cattlemen stood to make a fortune. Trouble was, the mayor of Dodge City had his own saloon and had no intention of letting anyone else take his business. Being mayor he could of course make the laws, at least town ones, and he combatted the fact that Short was a Texan, and therefore the cattlemen were more likely to go to his saloon than that of the mayor, by passing an ordnance that prohibited music in saloons.

Of course, he did not intend the new law to apply to himself, and his saloon kept on jumping while Short’s was silent. But when he realised the mayor was breaking his own rules, Short got his band going again, and they were all arrested while he was away visiting a sick friend. On his return, as he tried to get bail to release them, nobody would help him until he saw the officer he needed to deal with. This man, however, shot at him, missed and then ran when Short returned fire. The next morning he was placed under arrest and escorted that afternoon to a train bound for Kansas City. But if the mayor was exulting, thinking that was the end of his rival, he didn’t know Luke Short.

Enlisting the help of Earp and other friends, and with tacit approval from the governor of Kansas, he returned to Dodge, but the reputation of the feared marshal - and the stated due arrival of Bat Masterson, another lawman nobody in his right mind wanted to face - convinced the mayor to allow Short to return and carry on his business without interference. A truce was called, and Earp went to the telegraph office to convey the mayor’s change of attitude to the other two men. On his return to Dodge, Short issued his demands, including firing of the man who had shot at him without provocation, and those who had arrested him, as well as the revoking of the law prohibiting music. All were agreed to; not that the town had any choice, as they were literally under the gun.

The mayor was far from beaten though, and he now telegraphed the governor, requesting assistance in the shape of companies of militia. This request was flatly refused, the governor telling the mayor he had to handle the situation himself, that the militia would not ride to his rescue when it had been he himself who had started the whole affair. Finding himself without the expected reinforcements, and his support melting away, the mayor had to give in and allow Luke Short to ply his trade unmolested. Later Short moved on to Texas, but the bad feeling he had left behind continued to ferment.

Into this cauldron had already entered our hero, who had worked on the side of the mayor, and who also owned a saloon, which Webster allowed circumvent the music law. Nixon mustered a vigilante group to hassle Short and other saloon owners and drive them out of town. He ended up going head to head with the Assistant Marshal, the oddly-named “Mysterious Dave” Mather, who, you guessed it, opened his own saloon which was banned on the basis of his intending to make it into a dance hall. When ordinance left only Nixon’s saloon untouched, a bitter feud raged between the two men, exacerbated when the city replaced Mather with Nixon as the Assistant Marshal. Nixon was now authorised to collect “licence fees” (read, I think, protection money) from saloons, gambling dens, brothels and even pimps.

When Nixon shot at Mather one night, “Mysterious Dave” lived up to his name, and mysteriously did not return fire, even though he had been wounded. The mystery was solved three nights later when Mather shot Nixon from behind, killing him. More mysteriously still, Mather was acquitted on the somewhat ludicrous grounds of self-defence!
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Old 02-26-2022, 03:04 PM   #27 (permalink)
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John M. Larn (1849 - ?)

A salutary tale showing why a good vigilante does not make a good sheriff, Larn was elected to the post in Fort Griffin, Texas, in 1876, and immediately set about abusing the trust of the people of the town in him. Looking back over his career to that date, it’s obvious why he was never going to be a good upholder of the law, as he was mostly on the wrong side of it prior to this. When his boss, a rancher in Colorado, accused him of stealing one of his horses in 1869 he shot the man and fled to New Mexico, where, believing the man was after him, he shot and killed a sheriff. While working for another rancher, Bill Hays, on a cattle drive back to his old stomping grounds in Colorado in 1871, he shot and killed three more men, two of them Mexicans.

By now he was established in Fort Griffin and considered a pillar of the community, having married one of the local powerful family’s daughters, and then he got involved with the vigilante group The Tin Hat Brigade (sounds like someone who believes the CIA are monitoring our communications and aliens are trying to infiltrate our brains, doesn’t it?) and turned on his old boss, leading a posse against Hays on a charge of cattle rustling (true or not, I don’t know) instead of bringing them in, killed every last one of them. Notwithstanding this - or who knows, maybe due to it - he was made sheriff three years later, and entered into a contract with the local garrison to supply them with cattle.

However he decided the least expensive way to fulfill this contract was to take cattle from the herds of other ranchers, and so became a cattle rustler, something of which he had been privately suspected prior even to pinning on the tin star. He would not wear it long though, and whether due to pressure from the town or in order to concentrate fully on cattle rustling, he resigned the next year and with his ex-deputy went fulltime into the business of raiding herds. He continued to supply the fort, and stepped up his tactics of intimidation, waylaying ranchers and cattle men, shooting at their houses and shooting their horses, and generally prosecuting a reign of terror across the territory. Showing how little the authorities knew or cared about his extracurricular activities, he and Selman were made hide inspectors of Shackelford County, which gave them easy access to cattle - foxes in charge of the henhouse, indeed.

His crimes eventually came to light and he was arrested, though later released, but when he shot and wounded a rancher a warrant was issued for his arrest. Shackled to the floor of the cell to deter any attempts by his supporters to free him, it was in fact his old friends the Tin Hats who stormed the jail, not to set him at liberty but to hang him. As the chains made that impossible, they opted for shooting him instead.


Edward “Ned” Bushyhead (1832 - 1907 )

A Cherokee miner, Ned was seven years old when his family joined the infamous “Trail of Tears” as the Native Americans were forcibly resettled as the West began to open up to the white man. They ended up in Oklahoma, where Ned took a job as apprentice on the local newspaper, The Cherokee Messenger, later moving to Arkansas where he worked as a printer. In 1850 he and his brother heard the call of gold and headed to California, but three years later Ned was running his own newspaper in San Diego. He became a fixture there, well respected, and after selling his interest in the paper he became deputy sheriff in 1875 and sheriff in 1882, a post he would hold for two terms.

In 1899, on the very cusp of the new century, he became Chief of Police, and remained in that post until four years before his death in 1907. He was described as intrepid, brave, courteous, patient and sagacious, all qualities very much required in any good lawman.


Fred Dodge (1854 - 1938)

A man with an appropriate name for an undercover detective, Dodge worked for the Wells Fargo Company in such places as California, Arizona and Nevada. It was in fact while working in Tombstone that he recommended the services be sought of Wyatt Earp to guard the stage line. He became friends with Earp and stood with him and his brothers against the Clantons and was later himself elected constable of Tombstone, while still working undercover for Wells Fargo. He helped US Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas track down the famous Doolin-Dalton Gang. In 1906 he moved with his family to Texas, where he bought a ranch and to which he retired.

George Maledon (1830 - 1911)

Perhaps not strictly a lawman, it can’t be denied though that the end of many a convicted criminal ended with the hangman, and Maledon, with a name like some sort of devil out of Goethe or something, was acknowledged as one of the best. As in the case of every practitioner of the deadly art, no real blame can be attached to Maledon, as he merely carried out the lawful orders of his master, Judge Isaac Parker, the so-called Hanging Judge of Arkansas, whose motto was “permit no innocent man to be punished, but let no guilty man escape” and “Do equal and exact justice”. Of German descent, Maledon came to America with his family when still a child, and they settled in Detroit, Michigan. He moved to Arkansas as a young man, enlisting in the military when the Civil War broke out, having previously been a police officer there.

He cut far from the imposing figure you might associate with a hangman: short, with a little beard, dressed in black and very quietly spoken, not really the kind of person you would tremble before (for his own sake) on your way to the gallows. But soon after the war ended and he returned to Fort Smith, he was appointed as “deputy with special charge of the execution of condemned prisoners”, in other words, the prison hangman. What surprises me is that, unlike later English hangman such as Albert Pierrepoint and John Ellis, Maledon does not seem to have received any sort of basic training, needed no qualifications and was in no way any different to other turnkeys in the prison, so why he was chosen as the hangman is a mystery to me, particularly given his diminutive stature (five feet five inches). Maybe nobody else wanted the post, and because he was said to be a mild-mannered and quiet man, the authorities didn’t expect any resistance from him?

At any rate, he soon became known as “the Prince of Hangmen” and this being a time when hangings were a public spectacle, his fame spread as more and more people attended the hangings at which he officiated. At one point, in September of 1875, he hanged six men at once, before a crowd of almost five thousand fascinated onlookers. The men had of course been condemned by Judge Parker, this event earning him his epithet, and bringing his court the unofficial title of “Court of the Damned”. I’m sure they didn’t, but someone could apparently just as easily have hung a sign over the door to the court reading “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” There certainly seemed to be no hope for anyone who went into Parker’s court, as any man found guilty ended up dancing his last dance in air.

Though Maledon was famous, he was really more infamous, and people shunned him, as they would mostly with hangmen down the centuries, association with them being seen as an omen of bad luck, the stink of death believed to cling to them, and perhaps some of the blame for the deaths of the criminals too, as it had been he who had launched them into the afterlife, even if the decision was most decidedly not his and he was merely a tool of the justice system. If he had not done it, someone else would have.

In 1878, though hanging was very much still legal, and would remain so well into the next century, it became more a private affair, by invitation only, and a large fence was constructed around the gallows. Spectators were now limited to about fifty, usually the relatives and friends of those the criminal had killed, maybe his own family, officers of the court, dignitaries from the state and so on. Though dedicated to his art, Maledon did evince human feeling when he refused to execute his friend, US Deputy Marshal Sheppard Busby, who was accused and found guilty of shooting another marshal whom he had tried to arrest. Quite why this should be seen as a hanging offence, when it seems clear Busby was only carrying out his duty, I don’t know, but he was sentenced to swing (maybe just unlucky that the Hanging Judge was in town) and Maledon would not drop him. It’s not as if it saved the marshal’s life: Maledon was just replaced for the hanging by another man.

After giving twenty years of his life to the prosecution of state killing, Maledon retired in 1894, but he was not to have a quiet retirement. His daughter, having fallen in with a thief and cheat who turned out to be already married, was shot by the man, Frank Carver, and killed. Though Judge Parker passed the sentence of death upon him, by now the appeal process was in force and Carver’s lawyer successfully argued the death penalty down to life imprisonment. As a man who had meted out final justice to what he surely believed to be deserving men, the overturning of the judge’s verdict sickened Maledon, who believed the system was going soft on criminals. He took to the road with a sort of carnival of the dead, displaying his hangman paraphernalia, telling stories of those he had hanged and showing their pictures.

If, for most of his life, Maledon was a quiet, reserved and mostly unremarkable man, he died as he had lived really. He became seriously ill as he entered his mid-seventies and moved into an old soldiers’ home in 1905, where he died six years later, in 1911.


Thomas “Bear River” Smith (1840 - 1870)

Whereas I remarked earlier that the idea of a man chosen to be sheriff casting his badge down in the dust, for it to be left there until some stranger riding into town picked it up seemed to me to be nothing but Hollywood hokum, it appears I don’t know shit, which will come as no surprise to most of you. How come I don’t know shit? Well, because it happened, that's why, at least once, in the rough and dangerous Texas “cowtown” of Abilene. What was a cowtown? One of the stops along the way for the great cattle drives that took place every summer as ranchers drove or paid for their herds to be driven up north to be sold in the cattle markets. Small towns, dependent on the passing trade from cowboys (literally, the guys who herded the steers and bulls were called cowboys, and that’s where the name came from) and their trail bosses, hosted these cattle parties as the drovers passed through on their way north, availing themselves of gambling dens, brothels, saloons and dance halls. Things could, and did, get mighty rowdy when the boys were back in town, and it would be a brave or foolhardy man who would stand up to them and try to instigate, never you mind keep law and order there.

Such a man was Thomas “Bear River” Smith, one of the few who would take the job (another famous marshal having looked into it and said no thanks, heading out on the next train anywhere) and he would pay for it with his life. A professional boxer in his youth, Smith had served in the police force in New York but had to retire when he accidentally shot a fourteen-year-old boy, and took up a post with the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868, which took him to Bear River, Wyoming (presumably from which his nickname sprang). He soon became city marshal, and had to deal with vigilantes who had hanged a member of the railroad who had killed a man. A tense confrontation ensued and the army was called in.

Smith left Wyoming and made his way down south, ending up in Abilene. He took the job as the town’s marshal, and quickly made his name known as “No gun marshal”: having banned all weapons from the town, he utilised his boxing skills to subdue lawbreakers with his fists, but his edict of banning guns was unpopular in the rowdy town, where cowboys liked to ride around shooting off their pistols, settling disputes with hot lead, and generally raising hell. He survived two attempts on his life, but when he went to arrest a local man for having killed a farmer, he was ambushed and shot. His cowardly deputy fled, instead of standing to help him fight off two men. Unfazed, Smith returned fire, but the lawbreaker’s partner grabbed an axe and buried it in Smith’s head. He had lasted less than a year in the job, and would be succeeded by a real legend of the West, Wild Bill Hickok.

No less a personality than President Eisenhower himself later paid Smith homage, saying

“According to the legends of my hometown, he was anything but dull. While he almost never carried a pistol he…subdued the lawless by the force of his personality and his tremendous capability as an athlete. One blow of his fist was apparently enough to knock out the ordinary ‘tough’ cowboy. He was murdered by treachery.”
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Old 03-02-2022, 10:14 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Cowboys and Angels: Bringing the Word to God’s Country

In Ireland it was once said, and quite truly, that even the smallest villages whose population numbered in the tens would always have two things: at least one pub, and a church. And so it was in the West too. While men and women - though mostly men - wanted saloons and whorehouses and gambling dens to allow them to blow off steam after a hard ride across the range, or day in the mines, or chasing bad guys in a posse, or even just serving customers in the general store, they also needed to be close to their god. I heard somewhere, I can’t recall where, recently, the phrase “Saturday’s for drinkin’ and fightin’, Sunday’s for repentin’!” And that’s very apt. For men, certainly - very few women would be drinkin’ and fightin’ - the idea of expiating their sins on a Sunday appealed; to many, it was essential. The biggest, baddest, meanest hombre in a cowtown would still believe himself a child of God, and want to beg forgiveness for all the trouble he had caused. Faith was one exceptionally strong thread running through, and binding together the tapestry of the lives of the folk who moved out into the West.

But a church without a preacher is just an empty building, the same as a saloon without a barkeep, so men had to be sent out to take control and ownership of these places of worship - in some cases, even build them or have them built - and tend to the souls of their flock where they were in the greatest need. No matter that I’m not a believer and have no time for priests, I can recognise the incredible bravery and fortitude of these men, sent forth by their bishop or church to act as shepherd to the lambs who had headed out into the vast unknown. Those pioneering families who had chosen to leave the towns of the east and head in the opposite direction had done so with the intention of starting up a whole new life, and the husband at least would have been armed for the journey. While a priest might certainly have carried a gun, or more likely travelled with a party who were armed, his magical cloak of protection, which constrained folks to treat him with honour, respect and even fear in the civilised towns, would be of little use to him out on the range.

Bandits who attacked the wagon train might, possibly, baulk at hurting a preacher; indeed, his very presence might deter them from attacking at all. Not always of course; many desperadoes had as much respect for God’s ministers as they had for the local sheriff or a rattler, but some would defer to his authority, perhaps in their ignorance feeling that they would actually be offending the Big Man himself were they to go after his preacher. But there was one group who were more likely to prey on the settlers, and they would have no respect for, nor fear of the man in black. Indians, to whom this man would be a natural enemy, mocking their sacred rituals and denying their gods, trying to convert them to his ways, would hate and loathe preachers, or else would see them as no different from any other invader. Threatened with the wrath of God if they were to touch him, they would most probably laugh, assuming they could understand him, which they probably could not: their gods were more mighty and powerful than the man on the cross whom this man wore around his neck for protection, and his admonitions would mean nothing to them.

Unlike the early disciples of Christ, it’s doubtful the preachers of the Old West were in any great hurry to martyr themselves, and so if they were taken prisoner and tortured, while their faith may have sustained them for a time, they might certainly have cause to regret having travelled to the frontier. Amongst the savages, they could expect no better treatment than any other prisoner, and might indeed fare worse, their very presence seen as an insult to the native gods. As well as this, they would not on the whole have been fighting men. It’s a rare thing when a priest has to break up a fistfight or draw his gun (if he has one) and back home, just about everyone gave way when the man in black appeared, or else ignored him. It would be a brave man indeed who would lay hands on a preacher, an action which would most assuredly have him watching the world through a grille of iron bars for at least a day.

But out here, the priest was on his own. Well of course he would say he was not: everywhere he went, God went with him. But God could not pull a Colt 45 on assailants or cut the rope that tied the preacher to a stake as Indians danced around it, or stop his horse if it bolted after being spooked by bandits. Sure, if he wanted to believe God was with him, then technically he was not alone. But in reality, he was. He might have a wife, he might have children, but they all depended on and looked to him for their comfort and safety, and he would have nobody to speak for him. In time, yes, he would be welcomed by the community and become a valuable and respected member of it, but first he would have to earn that place, and while in general a preacher was welcomed, in some of the more lawless and dangerous towns, he would be about as welcome as a skunk in an outhouse.

Now here I think we need to make a distinction between two types of religious figures. While preachers generally stuck to their own people, tended to their flock or at least attempted to bring others of their own race over to their side from whatever heretical faith (Calvinism, Catholicism, Anglicanism etc) they held, missionaries were the type of people who couldn’t or refused to keep their god to themselves, and had to go around trying to convert “savages” who had followed their own paths for thousands of years before the palefaces ever set foot on their land. Many of these were doomed to failure, and most did more harm than good. Which leads me to

My View on the Missionary Position (sorry)

Personally, while I can certainly acknowledge the bravery and dedication of men and women who went forth among the uncivilised masses to try to get them to back their horse rather than the one they were betting on, to vote for God V2.0 as it were, the new improved deity that everyone who was anyone was worshipping, I have never had time for missionaries. I don’t see the point in anyone trying to force their philosophy, much less their religion on someone who hasn’t asked for it. At a very basic level, it’s rude and it’s also arrogant. Why do these people think they’re better than these people they call heathen? What gives them - us - the right to say to another race “Nah mate, yer doing it all wrong. Let me help you. Here’s a god you can really get behind. I promise, son, stick with me and I’ll see you right.”

Isn’t it strange that when white men visited any Indian tribe those tribes almost never tried to convert the white men to their religion? What stories or accounts exist of say a Sioux or Blackfoot or, hell, Seminole chief saying “Look, white brother, you got to worship the Great Spirit otherwise we no do business”? Never ever happened, did it? Because Indians and other so-called “savage” peoples didn’t want white interlopers getting, to somewhat use the language of the street, all up in their shit. They didn’t want the whites worshipping their gods, they didn’t proclaim they were the only gods you could worship; they just said, tell you what, brother: you keep your gods and we’ll keep ours, is that a deal?

But it wasn’t a deal. For reasons that can only be traced to incredible arrogance and a sense of superiority and disdain, white men wanted - and still mostly want - everyone to kneel down at the altar of the Christian god. And even that wasn’t enough, as we’ll see further on: it had to be the right Christian god. If you were a Protestant, forget that stupid papist Catholic god, he’s shit. Worship our good Protestant god and you’ll be in clover. And of course, behind the encouragement, the carrot so to speak lurked the stick. Reject our god (our good Protestant/Catholic/Presbyterian/insert stupid religious faction here god) and, well, we can’t be held responsible for what happens to you. Almost a kind of religious protection racket: nice god(s) you got there. Be a real pity if you kept worshipping them. Yeah. Anything could happen. Oh sorry! Was that one of your sacred relics? How clumsy of me!

Of course, it wasn’t quite that, as these tribes for the most part weren’t meek and mild, and often laughed at, derided or sometimes plain ignored the missionaries. That’s when they pointedly didn’t ignore them, and some proud clan mother might have a new skull cup to drink out of. The point being that while the Native Americans might, and almost certainly would, have been happy to have shared the country with this new god, either welcomed him as one of the lads, or just put him in a corner, over there somewhere, don’t bother us, just keep it buttoned, the reverse was definitely not true of us. We wanted one god, and it had to be our god.

And if they didn’t play ball, things were going to get very nasty.

But before we start looking into these busybod - I mean, brave and pious missionaries, let’s check out the kind of men who stayed on their side of the fence, so to speak, but were no less brave for all that.

Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show: Keeping the Faith with Circuit Preachers

Just like judges in the Old West, preachers were constantly on the move, going from town to town dispensing the word of the Lord to people hungry for salvation as effectively as His Honour would dole out justice to the deserving. And just like trials and disputes would wait for the arrival of the Circuit Judge, so too would weddings, baptisms but obviously not funerals be timed to coincide with the arrival of the preacher. In the early days these men were real sort of gunfighters of the church, armed and usually quite young, single men, often without any religious training but plenty of fire in the belly. They would preach in houses, schools or barns, even fields, and occasionally those “dens of iniquity”, the saloon and the dance hall, would be cleansed by a fire-and-brimstone sermon - no doubt returning to their sinful ways as soon as the preacher had packed up and left town.

Though these preachers could be of any religious denomination - or none - by far the largest percentage of them, at least around Texas, were Methodist. They had plenty to rail at: out here on the frontier people took what pleasure they could, and as per usual with the church, anything that gave the slightest bit of comfort was looked down upon by God, apparently. Drinking, gambling, lying, stealing, cheating, womanising, fornication and even the taking of snuff (the devils!) were all seen as affronts to God, and preached against. This of course would have hardly made the preacher popular, but in many ways this was not his job. He didn’t particularly care if people liked him, as long as they did the right thing and followed God’s laws. Perhaps slightly comparable to a doctor who you don’t like but who makes you better as long as you follow his or her advice, although in this case it wasn’t the person’s body the preacher was attempting to save but their soul.

As per usual, too, it was sometimes do as I say, not do as I do, or to put it another way, some of these men literally did not practice what they preached. In Wilbarger County in 1899 George Morrison, a Circuit Preacher, fell in love with another woman and poisoned his wife. Whether, as he believed he would, God forgave him is unknown, but what is known is that he hung for the offence. Murder was murder, regardless of what colour coat you wore or how close you were believed, or believed yourself to be to God.

“Ain’t nothing out today but crows and Methodist preachers.” - Old West saying

Preaching was not something you got into to make money. Like the early marshals we spoke of previously, payment was poor, and preachers often relied on the time-honoured collection plate to raise any sort of money on which to live. People were generally as generous as they could afford to be, but most of them having left everything behind to come to the West and yet to make their fortune, there was seldom much to go around. Most preachers died an early death, few making it into their thirties. Perhaps they received their reward in Heaven? Perhaps not.
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Old 04-13-2022, 09:12 AM   #29 (permalink)
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One thing that sometimes drove preachers of the Methodist or other Protestant persuasion west was the increasing influence of Catholicism with the influx of Irish and Italian immigrants to America. Feeling somewhat marginalised in the bigger cities of the east, many preachers decided there were “better souls to save” out there in the wilderness, God’s own country, and headed west either alone or with their families. One such was Joseph Powell, who came to Ohio with the image of Welsh Calvinists working in Jackson, Ohio smelting iron for the railroad. A native of the land of the dragon himself, Joseph believed these men would benefit from his preaching, but he ran almost headlong into a feud which was boiling towards a conflict that would spread out across the country and divide the newborn land in two, raging for six years.

Ohio borders Kentucky, one of the then-slave states, and escapees were constantly crossing over into the free state, on the run from their masters, who had not always as easy a time retrieving their absconded “property” as they might have wished. A cadre of white abolitionists had arisen in Ohio, and they faced down any slaveowner who tried to recapture escaped slaves, often leading to bloody clashes between both.

Circuit preachers also acted as a kind of messenger or news service, carrying information on births, deaths, accidents and diseases, and every other sort of titbit of reliable intelligence they could impart to the townsfolk, who had few other ways of knowing what was going on in the next town, never mind the rest of the territory. Sometimes he would carry copies of - by now well out of date - newspapers, and hand them out, and offer advice, perhaps also books for the edification of those who could read, and afford them. He would be given shelter by families, fed by them and would in return preach the word of God to them, offering them the biggest and best bargain he had in his saddlebags: absolution from their sins and acceptance into the good graces of the Lord - as long as they repented, of course.

Spoiler for Reverend Hall:

Rev. Ralph J. Hall (1891 - 1973)

A genuine Texas-born cowboy, Hall had a different approach than most ministers arriving in a new town. Aware that his appearance was likely to annoy and rile the cowboys rather than placate their souls, he kept his religious affiliations hidden, introducing himself merely as a cowboy, and earning his spurs, so to speak, by taming wild horses, roping steers, drinking and all the other things cowboys do. By the time he began to speak about God and his ministry, the men had got to know and respect him so much that they listened to what he said without discounting it right away, and so he converted, or ministered, by stealth. Many of his contemporaries back home, thinking “I’ll try that” tagged along with him on his next visit, and were quickly disillusioned about the believed romantic and glamorous life of a cowboy. As they examined their rope-burned hands through which many a steer had pulled the harsh cord, or sat with aching backs or arms tired from herding cattle, they definitely had second thoughts, and a lot more regard for the man who had brought them there, and with whom they had ridden along, a man to whom such harsh and long work days were the norm. Clearly, not everyone could pull this off.


Francis Asbury (1745 - 1816)

One of the first circuit riders in the United States, a sort of holdover from the original missions, most of whom legged it when the colony went to war against Britain, Asbury was born in the West Midlands, but moved to America - then still a colony - when he was twenty-two, and gave his first sermon at Staten Island. He worked as a circuit rider on behalf of the Methodist missions, continuing the work he had begun back home in England and assisting John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. When war broke out eight years later, only he and one other minister remained in America. His job was not easy, and he walked a religious and political tightrope as things shifted fundamentally in the former British colony:

"During his early years in North America, Asbury devoted his attention mainly to followers living on the eastern shore between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay. Bishop Asbury was a good friend of the Melsons and was their guest many times on his rounds. When the American revolution severed the traditional ties between the American Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain, Bishop Asbury, in the interest of his religious tenets and principles and in an attempt to remain aloof from the political and military fervor that swept the country, announced he would, to keep the embryonic Methodist congregations neutral, refrain from endorsing either Great Britain or the newly formed United States of America government and urged all his followers to do the same. This request placed almost all of his followers, especially those living in Maryland, in an untenable position. The State of Maryland had enacted a law requiring all citizens to take an Oath of Allegiance to the newly formed American Congress. In addition to this, it stipulated all non-residents within its boundaries also had to take and sign an Oath of Allegiance. Those refusing were summarily incarcerated for treason. Asbury, after proclaiming his neutrality, fled to Delaware, where taking an oath of allegiance was not a requirement. His adherents in Maryland suffered the rancor of the proponents of the Oath."


As a result of this Asbury had to emulate Irish Catholic priests during the time of Cromwell and the Reformation, and go into hiding while the war of independence raged across the continent. By 1780 though things were calming down and he was able to venture forth again, and met “Black Harry” Hosier, a freed black man who would become a famous preacher in his own right, and the first African American to preach directly to a white audience. Hosier was able to memorise entire passages of the Bible despite being illiterate, and he became Asbury’s driver and guide. In 1784 Asbury and Henry Coke were given the responsibility by Wesley of leading all the Methodists in America, work Asbury engaged in for a further thirty-two years, up to his death.

Asbury preached anywhere and everywhere he could: courthouses, public houses, tobacco houses, fields, public squares, and rode approximately 6,000 miles every year - that’s almost twice the entire distance from eastern seaboard to west coast - but you can’t keep that kind of pace up forever, and in 1814 he began to sicken, and so took two years off from preaching. He returned to give a sermon on March 24 1816, but it would be his last, and he died the following week, having increased the new Methodist Church membership from a mere 1200 to over 214,000 during his lifetime.

He had been, according to all sources, a powerful speaker and a dazzling preacher. One of his biographers noted raptly "If to speak with authority as the accredited messenger of God; to have credentials which bear the seal of heaven ... if when he lifted the trumpet to his lips the Almighty blew the blast; if to be conscious of an ever-present sense of God, God the Summoner, God the Anointing One, God the Judge, and to project it into speech which would make his hearers tremble, melt them with terror, and cause them to fall as dead men; if to be and do all this would entitle a man to be called a great preacher, then Asbury was a great preacher." Not in any way a vain man, he apparently hated publicity - other than for his church - and was not sold on the idea of personal popularity either, believing the message was its own reward. He suffered from bouts of depression and could be very sarcastic and cutting, even in his prayers.

"Lord, we are in thy hands and in thy work. Thou knowest what is best of us and for thy work; whether plenty or poverty. The hearts of all men are in thy hands. If it is best for us and for thy church that we should be cramped and straitened, let the people's hands and hearts be closed: If it is better for us; for the church,—and more to thy glory that we should abound in the comforts of life; do thou dispose the hearts of those we serve to give accordingly: and may we learn to be content whether we abound, or suffer need".

He rose at five every morning to read the Bible, and did not suffer fools gladly. He came to America with a heavy heart, leaving his beloved England behind, but said that the call of God could not be ignored. The many things and places named in his honour are too numerous to note, but as you might already have guessed, the town of Asbury, New Jersey, was named after him, as was the park made famous by Bruce Springsteen on his debut album.
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Old 04-13-2022, 09:38 AM   #30 (permalink)
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Spreadin’ the Disease: If You Build It, They Will Come

While itinerant preachers arriving in town on horseback and preaching in fields or schools was all well and good, and possibly all the community could hope for at the time, the main aim of the church has always been to, rather like a foreign military power in a hostile land, establish a permanent presence, and it traditionally has managed that through the building of churches. Once a church existed, there was a physical reminder of God’s presence, and of the power and authority of the Church (with a capital C); like a stern parent overlooking the town, frowning down on the saloons and whorehouses, the church would be a moderating influence on the townsfolk, a warning that the punishment of perdition was always just waiting for those who slipped into Satan’s unholy grasp, and that if the good citizens believed they had been tempted, or had succumbed to temptation by the evil one, there was only one place they were going to be safe, so they had better get down to the church double quick.

It stands to reason that the building of a church in a town or village also heightened its social status; a town with a church was a God-fearing town and didn’t mind showing it, was proud to, in fact, and its inhabitants might look down on other towns not so similarly blessed. It also did away, of course, mostly the need for travelling preachers, as a house could be built beside the church in which the preacher could stay, where he could live, and he would hold all his sermons, masses and celebrations in the newly-built church. It’s possibly likely too that the building of a church by one denomination - let’s say the Methodists, as they have been cited as being the busiest of them in this period - might dissuade or at least demoralise those of another, let’s say maybe Mormons, who had planned to erect their own. The Methodist church might silently say “this is a Methodist town, move on, boy. Nothing for you here” to visiting preachers of other religions. Of course, conversely, it might have the opposite effect, and lead to determination by that other faction to build their church.

Whichever, it meant that churches began to pop up all over the frontier, as the power of God was demonstrated physically. Between 1887 and 1913 Methodist ministers built over 1,500 churches in rural America, nevertheless circuit preachers, now rebranded as mobile ministries and driving cars instead of riding horses, survived well into the 1950s, as preachers brought the comfort and absolution of God to those who could not get to church: the sick, the old, the weak and the disabled.

Hassling the Heathen: Missionaries in the Old West

But of course the problem with America was that there were those who just didn't want a church - of any denomination - unless it was built to worship the Great Spirit, and even he wasn't too fussed. Mountains, rivers, valleys, fields and plains were good enough for him; no need for some ugly squat building with a spire reaching up like a accusing finger to the heavens. Yep, the vast majority of the American West was inhabited by what white settlers - especially Christian ones - would refer to as "the heathen" or "savages", quite more often simply, and inaccurately, as "Indians".

And these guys needed to be converted. They just didn't realise it.

The boys to take on this job were an entirely different class to your itinerant wandering circuit preachers, or even your by-now-settled ones. The former had no real need to convert anyone; they filled a requirement for the people. The good folk needed a preacher, here was one, and each was happy with the bargain. But the heathen? They didn't want, or feel they needed God, and certainly had no time for His interfering messengers and errand boys, which made the mission of these men (and some women, as we will see) that much harder.

See, a missionary is called that for a reason. He - or she - sees saving souls as a mission, and a sacred duty that has been entrusted to them. They don't really take no for an answer, and with the already long established religions of the American West firmly entrenched in the peoples of the plains, their job was not going to be that easy.

But then, nobody became a missionary because it was a doddle, did they? It took special men and special women to face down an Indian tribe and tell them outright their gods were a load of steaming Tottenham, a steaming pile of hotspur, and they should get with the programme and come over to the winning side. Men and women like these.


Pierre-Jean de Smet (1801 - 1873)

A man who would be instrumental in brokering peace treaties among warring factions, and who would step in to negotiate on behalf of the Native American tribes, particularly the Sioux, De Smet was born in Belgium and came as a missionary to the USA when he was twenty years old, with the idea of converting the natives. After six years he was ordained as a priest and founded religious academic institutions, such as seminaries, in Missouri, but in 1833 he had to return to Belgium due to poor health, and would not return to the United States until 1837. When he returned he settled in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which you may remember would become one of the main points along the transcontinental railroad, thirty years later. Seeing the danger the trade in whiskey with the Native Americans was wreaking, he set out to stop it and also helped map the upper Missouri River.

After certain tribes learned of Christianity, believing that the Christian God had the power to save their sick and dying children, they sent delegations to St. Louis requesting visitations from priests, or as they called them, rather appropriately, “black robes”. For whatever reason, the first two requests were ignored, and the third delegation ran into the Sioux, their mortal enemy, who slaughtered them. Fourth time lucky, thought the indomitable Indians, and this time their party not only reached St. Louis alive, but managed to convince the bishop to send priests, who then met up with De Smet in Council Bluffs. Having obtained permission from the bishop to make this a missionary, he baptised over three hundred people. No records exist to tell whether or not he cured any sick children. Two years later he was back, and this time they founded the St. Mary Mission in Bitterroot Valley.

Having convinced more tribes to convert and invited them to his mission, he sent back word to St. Louis that supplies and housing were needed to stop these peoples from having to be wandering nomads, a state in which it made it tough to civilise them. Cattle, the tools needed to farm the land, seed and the necessity to gather them together in villages were all, he said, vital. Perhaps he hadn’t heard that the US Government was already forcibly relocating thousands of Indians in hundreds of tribes to make way for their own white asses?

Not just a preacher but a true adventurer, De Smet then headed to the Rockies where he travelled extensively, meeting tribes such as the Cree, Chippawa and Blackfoot, crossing into Canada and returning in 1845 to Fort Edmonton, where he spent the winter. The next year he established missions in Montana and Idaho, ending up at Fort Vancouver, having covered over a thousand miles. Despite all these amazing achievements though, he is best remembered for being the first white man to successfully treat with the great Sioux war chief Sitting Bull, who had previously vowed to kill any white man coming into their territory. He so impressed the great chief that Sitting Bull was convinced to send a delegation to talk to the US peace commissioners, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868.

This was to be one of his last triumphs though, as he died in St. Louis in 1873. Almost a hundred years later, he had the honour of being one of the few preachers to be inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. He had streets, a school, mountain range and a lake named after him, and in South Dakota, his name was on the city and county seat of the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who would go on to become famous through her Little House books, which would be later televised and loved as the series Little House on the Prairie.


Henry Spalding (1803 - 1874)

Now there’s a man who looks like a preacher! You can almost see the brimstone sparking behind his eyes, can’t you, and that impressive beard, which might have made ZZ Top envious, would have added to his dramatic, almost dreaded aspect. I can just see him standing there holding court from his pulpit, thumping the bible and warning all of his congregation that they were going to Hell! Never quite got that: why go see someone rant on about how damned you were, how you had no chance and were going to burn in an eternal fire? Kind of ruins the atmos, doesn’t it? But that’s religion for you I guess.

Spalding was a Presbyterian minister, who worked, along with his wife Eliza, among the Nez Perce peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Spalding was a native New Yorker, and met his wife through a pen pals arrangement (ask yer da) before meeting her in person, with marriage quickly following as they realised they were both zealous about bringing religion to the heathen. Oddly, for such on the face of it sanctimonious people, Eliza was the daughter of cousins - her mother and father were first cousins - which seems a little, I don’t know, unconventional for a man of the cloth to accept? But as I’ve said before, and will say again, what do I know? Times were different I guess, and maybe that sort of thing went on all the time.

In those days, it seems if you wanted to civilise someone you had to go through some red tape, and the holders of that red tape was the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which seems something of an unnecessary mouthful, but again, WDIK? Applying, the Spaldings were assigned to the Osage tribe in Missouri, but on meeting Narcissa (seriously, now!) Prentiss (ah come on!) Whitman and her husband Henry, they decided to go instead to what was then known as the Oregon Country, basically the same area wherein operated Pierre-Jean De Smet. These people were so devout that they even changed steamships in order not to have to travel on the Sabbath! Ah yeah, I’ve done the same thing myself hundreds of times. Not.

They travelled through much of the same region which De Smet would later explore, he remarking some years later that the Presbyterian way of preaching had not been altogether successful and made the Nez Perce wary of preachers, though that could of course have been merely his view of an opposing religion. Having travelled part of the way with traders from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company for protection, the Spaldings and the Whitmans split up, the former going on to Idaho while the Whitmans headed off to try their luck in Washington. This would turn out to be a very bad move for them, as we will see in the next section. But back to the Spaldings. Settled in Idaho, and making history as the first whites to live there, they introduced the first ever printing press into the state, and despite the grumblings of De Smet later, Henry seems to have got on very well with the Nez Perce, converting and baptising many of their leaders, and even translating parts of the Bible into their own language.

Ah. No. I see. He wasn’t actually that well liked, as he was, being a strict Presbyterian and all, down on liquor, gambling and other fun activities the Nez Perce, being human, enjoyed, and in fact they quite disliked and even ridiculed him. They surely disliked him mightily when he whipped them or (it says here) instructed them to whip each other for having broken God’s laws. But his often brutal treatment of them was ameliorated by his wife, whom the Nez Perce loved, especially the women, who thought her very brave and strove to emulate her example. Henry’s inflexible attitude towards his, um, flock, led to the American Board dismissing him in 1842. Not that he took a blind bit of notice, just continued doing what he was doing until, maybe with a sense of fatalism, realising there wasn’t really any way they could stop him, him being out in the wilderness with savages and all, they shrugged and rescinded their decision.

When they learned of the massacre of their friends the Whitmans (see further) the Spaldings, thankful that their daughter, who had been staying at the mission, had survived, holed up at Fort Walla Walla (shut up, I’m serious) and, I guess to his credit despite what I said about him above, Henry petitioned the bishop to convince the army not to step in, as it was believed further Indian uprisings and attacks were expected. Oh but again, I should read all the way ahead before writing, as it seems once they reached safety Henry’s attitude changed and he advocated for reprisals. So, just looking after his own skin then. Anyway, the Board decided the last thing they wanted was to get involved in a Pacific Northwest war with Indians - Indians whom, after all, they had gone there to convert, and I don’t mean into piles of bones - and got the fuck out of there, ceasing all missions in the area.

Safe now in Oregon, and fuming that all his work was to go for nothing, Spalding decided to do what every good Protestant has done since Martin Luther nailed his Grievances to the cathedral door: he blamed the Catholics. Well, it made sense, didn’t it? Didn’t it? Of course it did. In a nineteenth-century version of the “stab in the back theory” that galvanised support for World War II and brought Hitler to power, Spalding decided that the bishop who had advised halting all missions in the area - and who was of course a Catholic - had somehow orchestrated the massacre of the Whitmans and their mission for reasons. I mean, come on! But though the bishop is reported to have thought him “most ungrateful”, Spalding does not seem to have been censured or punished in any way for spreading his lies. How Trumpian, eh? Instead he settled in Oregon and became pastor of the Congregational Church, while his wife took a post as a teacher. She died in 1871 and Henry was married again in 1873, taking the sister-in-law of another preacher whom we’ll be looking at too, John Smith Griffin.

Six years later he was back with the Nez Perce, though his mission seems to have only lasted less than a year, and once again he had Catholics in his sights, so much so that he travelled on the new transcontinental railroad back to the Big Apple and on to Washington where he testified before Congress as to the role they and the federal government had played - supposedly - in his failure. He died three years later, having founded a federally funded school for Indians and continued his missionary work in Idaho and Washington up almost to his death.
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