Book Review: Thunder Canyon

Thunder Canyon1Thunder Canyon, Donald Brewer, TotalRecall Publications, Inc., (281) 992-3131, Fiction, $16.95, Paperback.

This novel is informative as well as fun reading for teenagers and adults alike. It is a fantasy/historical fiction about three modern teenage cousins who are magically transported back to the 1900 rip-roaring gold mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. The kids are both delighted and awed by the boardwalks, gambling saloons, Chinese workers, miners, gamblers, horses, wagons, no indoor plumbing, and the hustle and bustle. The contrast showing modern kids in a historical setting is amusing as well as filled with surprise. Occasional expressions like “awesome,” and “Hey, dude,” keep the reader chuckling as the kids are put to work spying on various members of a dangerous outlaw gang.

The real protagonist in the story is the grown up Eddie Donnally from New York, a Secret Service operative on the trail of a gang of counterfeiters who have set up shop in Cripple Creek. The gang consists of an angry woman bent on revenge, and her three brothers who are her accomplices. Unbeknown to Eddie, he has had a run-in with this family several years earlier in New York during which time their leader was sent to prison. Now, after moving to Colorado, the remaining gang members plan to kill Eddie when they discover their old nemesis is hot on their trail again.

The kids work as sleuths, passing information about what they have seen and who they have followed, while Eddie works the gambling saloons looking for signs of counterfeit money and who the culprits might be.

As readers turn the pages, we find sharp photos of 1890s rail cars, color photos of gold pieces known as Eagles, Double Eagles, and Half Eagles. There are pictures and descriptions of telegraph keys, burro descendants of those who worked in the Cripple Creek mines, arrest cards and photos of several real female counterfeiters apprehended in the old days by the Treasure Department, counterfeit coin-making equipment, Gold Mine Stock Certificates and counterfeit coin detectors from the 1890s.

The story includes train rides between Cripple Creek and the nearby town of Victor, a bit of romance between Eddie and an attractive town lady who runs a haven for stranded persons, and a helpful connection with the Chinese community. The story ends in a big shootout inside the gang’s mine hideout, right in keeping with a good old fashioned Western story.

The Appendix gives a detailed description of the game of faro including photos and information about dealers, players, and cheating (which sometimes ended in gunplay).

The author of this book is Donald Brewer, a 26-year veteran with the United States Secret Service. He was the Special Agent-In-Charge of the Counterfeit Division in Washington, D.C., and at one time worked undercover as case agent in the Atlanta Field Office. Later, in Miami, he spent eleven years closing down counterfeit manufacturing operations when Miami was known as the counterfeit capital of the world.

While retired now, Brewer’s obvious love for his job comes through in this story which is the second book in the “Mouse Gate Series” of adventures about catching counterfeiters. When not giving speeches and presentations regarding counterfeit U.S. currency, he is busy writing a third book for this series. Brewer has appeared on both the Discovery Channel and Learning Channel in an effort to educate the public on the issues of newly designed U.S. currency.

Thunder Canyon is not only an informative book for adults, but perhaps a step toward encouraging teenagers to read about life in the Old Wild West.

Rattlesnake Dick

As a teenager, Charlie Lazure came out west to the New Mexico Territory where he got into a shooting fracas. It’s not known what happened to the other guy, but Charlie was shot in the leg, which resulted in his having a limp for the rest of his life.

Charlie stole a horse and mule, and before long there was a posse after him. He escaped to the Arizona Territory, eventually ending up in Tombstone, where his luck ran out. He was arrested and returned to New Mexico. But fortunately, for Charley, the complainant failed to show up, and he was released.
Two years later, in 1885, Charley got into another shootout in Silver City. Again Charley was arrested. But he was released on a bond posted by County Sheriff, Harvey Whitehill. Quite possibly Harvey stepped forward with the bond because he and Charley had been involved in some illegal dealings together… for later Harvey Whitehill was indicted on a number of crimes.
While out on bond, Charley again stole a couple of horses. And again, he was arrested and brought back to Silver City. This time the complainant showed up, and no one posted bond. As a result, Long Neck Charley spent two years at the Santa Fe Territorial Penitentiary. 

On May 4, 1887, Charley Lazure was released from prison. Not wanting to have anything to do with prison again, he dropped out of sight.Then again, maybe that’s how he picked up the nickname, Rattlesnake Dick. Charley Lazure mayhave just slithered under a rock somewhere.

The Oxbow Stage Route

By 1858, the population of California and the west had grown considerably, and there were a number of people traveling from the East to the West, and the West to the East. Stage routes were a series of undependable smaller lines. So Congress decided to pass legislation to authorize the establishment of one line that would transport passengers and mail from St. Louis to San Francisco.
As the Northern legislators saw it, the stage line would follow the great emigrant trail… a route that was a straight line between the two cities. However, the Southern legislators had a different view of the route. According to the legislation, the choice of the route was up to the Postmaster General. And the Postmaster General was from Tennessee.
The Postmaster General decided there would be two starting points… St. Louis and Memphis, his hometown. This was nearly 1,000 miles longer than necessary, and it lay across vast amounts of unsettled country. The press dubbed it “the oxbow route.”
 The contract, with a $600,000 a year subsidy, was given to John Butterfield. A lesser man would have failed… but not Butterfield. On September 15, 1858, the first stage started down the oxbow route. The route was to have been traveled in 25 days. But Butterfield scheduled his stages to make it in 24 days.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the oxbow route was suspended. However, by that time The Butterfield Overland Stage Line was delivering more mail to the West than all the ships at sea.

Black Faced Charlie & The Dalton Gang

It seems that everyone in the Old West had nicknames… And some of them were very strange. But, none was as strange as Charles Bryant’s. He was called “Black Faced Charlie.” It seems that he was shot point-blank in the face. The bullet just creased his cheek. But, the burnt powder coming out of the pistol imbedded in his face, giving him his nickname.

Later, Bryant joined the Dalton gang. And during the gang’s shootout with a posse was heard to say something like, “Me, I want to get killed in one heck of a minute of action.” Well, Bryant put it out there, and on August 23, 1891, he got his wish.
Being arrested, Bryant had to be transported to jail by Deputy U.S. Marshal Ed Short. Marshal Short was transporting the handcuffed Bryant in a train baggage car when he had to visit the john. Marshal Short gave his pistol to the railroad messenger and left. The messenger put the pistol in a desk drawer and went about his chores.
Unnoticed, Bryant moved around to the desk and got the pistol, just as Marshal Short entered the baggage car. Bryant placed one shot into Marshal Short’s chest. Short, carrying a rifle, shot Bryant…severing his spine. Bryant continued firing the pistol until it was empty. The rest of his shots went wild.

Bryant was killed in one heck of a minute of action just as he wished. Marshal Short helped the messenger pick up Bryant’s body. Marshal Short then laid down on the cot and died… also the victim of heck of a minute of action.
Both bodies were left on the train platform at the next stop.

McCarty Crime Family

The McCartys were from Utah, and for a while, brothers Tom, Bill & George ran with the Wild Bunch. When Tom McCarty got married, he not only gained a wife, he also gained a member of the gang, brother-in-law Matt Warner.

In 1892, they robbed a bank in Roslyn, Washington.  During the robbery, the locals assembled outside the bank.  As the McCartys exited the bank, the crowd stood there with their guns and did nothing.  The McCartys opened fire, shooting two men.  While the crowd stood there stunned, the McCartys rode away.
But the crowd wasn’t always paralyzed into inaction. On September 7, 1893, brothers Tom and Bill decided to rob a bank in Delta, Colorado. Brother-in-law Matt Warner was in jail, so they brought along nephew Fred McCarty.
While the uncles were inside gathering the money, the nephew was holding the horses. In the middle of the robbery, nephew Fred ran inside with the news that a crowd was gathering. Using the same tactic as before, the McCartys came out of the bank with guns a-blazing. What they hadn’t counted on was a hardware merchant by the name of Ray Simpson. Simpson grabbed a repeating rifle from the shelf, and ran into the street. As the three robbers passed him at full gallop, Simpson dropped Uncle Bill with a shot to the head. When nephew Fred turned to help his uncle, Simpson also killed him.
Tom McCarty was able to escape. And he wisely abandoned the outlaw trail to become a Montana sheepherder… But, always a man easy to anger, four years later, he got into his last argument. The man he was arguing with shot him dead. And that was the end of the McCartys.

The Reno Gang

A short-lived, but very active gang of the 1860s was the Reno gang. They were the first gang to rob a train. They also engaged in crimes of all kinds, including counterfeiting.

With the Pinkertons dogging their trail, key members of the gang were arrested, and placed in the Council Bluffs, Indiana jail. But, they escaped a short time later.
 Following another dramatic train robbery two of the gang members were arrested and put in jail. To make sure they didn’t escape again, the local citizens hanged them. Shortly afterward, three more members of the gang were arrested. This time, as the Pinkertons were taking them to jail, a vigilante gang overcame the Pinkertons, escorted the members of the gang to a nearby tree, and hanged them.
Seeing the writing on the wall, five members of the gang, including Frank Reno escaped to Canada.

But, the Pinkertons also crossed over the border, and arrested them. After an extradition battle that even included the involvement of President Andrew Johnson, these members of the gang were returned to the States and secured in the New Albany jail.

Everyone knew that these men wouldn’t stand trial…even the remaining free gang members. The free gang members declared open warfare on the members of the Indiana Vigilantes by shooting, and beating them. They even threw rocks through their windows with notes tied to them saying: “If the Renos are lynched you die.”
But it did no good. On the evening of December 11, a group of men wearing scarlet masks rushed the jail, wounded the sheriff,

and secured the keys. One at a time, the Indiana Vigilantes hanged the jailed members of the Reno gang.

Cattle Industry Going Wild

By the mid 1880’s the cattle industry was going wild. To get as much money as possible, speculators were overstocking the grazing ranges of Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. And with several mild winters they were also saving money by not putting up feed for wintertime.
The summer of 1886 was a dry one. By autumn the range was almost barren of grass… And then winter came early with record-breaking snow falls. January 9, 1887 was the worst day of the worst winter, with an inch of snow falling each hour for 16 hours. The temperature went as low as 63 degrees below zero.
With no stored winter feed the cattle wandered into towns. Great Falls, Montana had as many as 5,000 cattle eating trees and anything else eatable. Most ended up dying in the streets of the town.
In the spring the ranchers went out to check the damage. Where once cattle grazed the ranges, now there were only carcasses. Rotting cattle filled the rivers and streams so it was impossible to find water fit to drink.
Some ranchers lost as much as 90% of their herd. The Continental Land and Cattle Company lost almost all of their 30,000 head. The Swan Land and Cattle Company found only 10% of their 5,500 three-year-olds. Hundreds of ranches went into bankruptcy… including rancher Theodore Roosevelt, who went back east to renew his political career.
As a result of the devastating winter, those ranchers who survived decreased the size of their herds. They realized they needed more control of the cattle and stretched barbed wire across their land. They also started doing more farming to provide plenty of winter-feed. This, in turn, changed the cowboy into a farm hand.

Colorow and His People

ColorowThis story is about an Indian chief who used intimidation and psychological warfare, more than warfare to keep the whites out of his land.
Colorow was a 300-pound surly leader of a band of Northern Ute. His weight was the result of his love for biscuits covered in syrup, which he regularly got by intimidating settler housewives in the Denver area.
But Colorow wasn’t always that size. As a boy he was a Comanche captured by the Ute. However, because of his skills in battle and his leadership qualities, he was made a chief. Although Colorow never really declared war with the whites, he was a persistent thorn in their sides. In 1876 the Ute owned 32 million acres in western Colorado, and Colorow and his people made sure they kept it by threatening and intimidating any miners or settlers who entered the area.
In 1878 a new Indian agent arrived in town. Agent Nathan Meeker’s objective was to transform the Ute into farmers. At the same time Colorado elected a governor on the platform that “the Utes must go.” It was only a matter of time before the sparks lit the gunpowder. And it happened when Meeker, fearing an uprising…because he cut the Ute’s rations to a bare starvation point…called in troops. Colorow ambushed the troops, killing 13, and wounding 43. At the same time another group attacked Meeker’s family, and killed all of them. A truce was arranged. And the Ute who killed the Meekers were punished, but Colorow’s attack was considered an engagement of war.
Again in 1887 a skirmish broke out. As with the one before, it was needless. This one ended when both sides ran out of ammunition.
Finally, on December 11, 1888, Colorow died. It has been estimated that Colorow’s persistent psychological intimidation of any white entering the Ute lands probably delayed the settling of the central Rocky Mountains by at least a decade.

Seth Bullock

   BullockIn the Old West there were men who seemed to be everywhere and do everything. This week you’re going to be introduced to one of those men. His name is Seth Bullock.
In 1867, at the age of twenty, Seth Bullock left Canada to come down to the Montana Territory and do some gold mining. Four years later he was elected to the territory’s state senate. Next Seth took a horseback ride around the Yellowstone area, and sent back reports that helped influence its becoming our first National Park.
Then he became a county sheriff and proceeded to face down a lynch mob, as well as legally hang the first man in the Montana Territory.
Deciding to move on to new territory, he went to Deadwood in 1876. With no law, and no official process of selecting a sheriff, by popular demand, he became the town’s first lawman.
Also being a good businessman, he served as the president of a mining company and a bank.
As a lawman, while trailing an outlaw named Crazy Steve, he ran into a posse led by a deputy U. S. Marshall from the Dakota Badlands who had just caught Crazy Steve. The U. S. Marshall and Seth became lifelong friends. Incidentally, the marshal’s name was Theodore Roosevelt.
Although Seth became a captain in Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, he was never sent to Spain.
After Roosevelt became the President, he sent for Seth, and told Seth that he was needed in Washington. Seth responded that, “There’s just one job that would get me to live in this town, and you’re filling it just fine.” Seth settled for the job of a U.S. Marshal.
Seth served with distinction until his death on September 23, 1919. Roosevelt had called Seth Bullock the ideal American. But he wanted only one word on his tombstone…Pioneer.

Elizabeth Ann Clifton

Elizabeth Clifton     Do you think you’ve had a rough life? I can assure you that when we get through with the story of Elizabeth Ann Clifton; you’ll feel your life is a piece of cake.

            Born in 1825, Elizabeth Ann Clifton had no schooling and suffered with bouts of epilepticy. At the age of sixteen, she married Alexander Carter. They became ranchers outside of Dallas. Elizabeth managed the ranch, and ran a boarding house. Her husband and his father ran a freight company. In 1857, both her husband and his father were mysteriously killed.

A little over a year later Elizabeth married a Lieutenant Sprague. He disappeared eighteen months later. Elizabeth continued with the boarding house and ranch, becoming one of the most prosperous people in the area. At the age of 36, Elizabeth married a third time…one of her ranch’s cowboys. They were married a year and a half when he was murdered.

Surviving three husbands was tough enough to bear. But the worse was yet to come. In 1864, when she was 39, her ranch was attacked by Comanche, during which Elizabeth’s daughter and daughter’s son were both killed. Elizabeth, her thirteen-year-old son and two surviving granddaughters were taken captive.

Elizabeth was sold to the Kiowa. One of her granddaughters froze to death during the winter of 1864. The other spent nine months as a captive. The Comanche tattooed her arms and forehead before releasing her.

After spending twelve months in captivity, Elizabeth was rescued. And on August 27, 1866, at the age of 41, she headed home. Elizabeth reunited with her granddaughter. Three years later, she married again, and lived quietly until her death at the age of 57.

Truly, it took strong women to survive in the Old West.

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