Abel Head Pierce

Able Head Pierce“There aren’t any cowboys in Rhode Island,” said a friend recently. I had to correct him, for as we will see this week there was a great cowboy who came from Rhode Island.

Abel Head Pierce was born in Rhode Island on June 29, 1834. At the age of twenty he stowed away on a schooner and ended up in southern Texas. Abel took a job for a cattleman named Grimes. Starting out doing odd jobs, Abel worked his way up to trail boss, taking cattle to New Orleans.

Abel Head Pierce was a 6 foot, 5 inch bearded giant of a man who had a habit of wearing spurs with extra large rowels, and strutting around town. Someone remarked that Abel looked like a Shanghai rooster, and he became Shanghai Pierce. Now, that’s a name any cowboy would be proud of.

After serving in the Civil War, Shanghai returned to Texas and started accumulating cattle. Shanghai took a couple of years out in Kansas… supposedly to let things cool down in Texas after lynching a couple of rustlers.

He ended up with a 250,000 acre ranch appropriately called the Rancho Grande. Obviously, Shanghai was a major factor in the Texas cattle industry.

Looking for cattle that would be resistant to ticks that was causing problems with Texas cattle going north, and a breed that would produce more meat, Shanghai went to Europe and ended up bringing home some Brahma cattle, which he crossed with the Texas Longhorns.

By the end of the 19th century Shanghai Pierce’s Rancho Grande approached a million acres. When Shanghai felt his life was close to coming to an end he hired a San Antonio sculptor to make a larger than life statue of himself to be placed over his grave. Asked why, Shanghai responded, “I knew that if I didn’t do it, no one else would.”

Santa Anna

C2C Santa AnnaI’m aware of no one who had higher highs and lower lows than the subject of this week’s story did. Even though he wasn’t a citizen of the United States, his fate was important to our country.

He was born Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the son of middle-class parents in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Joining the military, he distinguished himself during Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain. In 1833, he won election to the presidency of Mexico. Within two years, he declared himself Mexico’s dictator.

This brought him into conflict with the Anglos who had settled in a northern part of Mexico, known as Texas. Determined to crush the rebellion, Santa Anna took personal command of the army that went to Texas. After the defeat of the Alamo, and the execution of 400 prisoners at Goliad, Santa Anna became overconfident, and in April of 1836, at San Jacinto, Santa Anna was captured. In exchange for his release, Santa Anna signed an order resulting in Texas becoming an independent republic.

White Santa Anna was in Texas, he was deposed in Mexico. Although he returned to Mexico powerless, Santa Anna took advantage of an unstable situation, becoming, once again, the dictator of Mexico…But an unstable situation is both good and bad. For, once again Santa Anna was overthrown. As a matter of fact, Santa Anna became the dictator of Mexico, and was overthrown eleven times.

Finally, overthrown in 1855, Santa Anna spent his last twenty years scheming with elements of Mexico, United States and France to get back on top. But it never happened. And, on June 22, 1876, this man who played a part in Mexico’s gaining its independence, and loosing a large part of its territory, died in absolute poverty.

GAMBLERS

GamblersMen who came out west gambled everything on the hopes of becoming prosperous and having a good life. That same spirit led them into gambling halls, and games of chance. One such game started on June 15, 1853 and ended 24 years later.

For people of the Old West gambling was a way of life. They risked their life by going into Indian Territory for furs, precious metal or land. They staked everything they owned on a herd of cattle being driven north. And for sure they enjoyed a game of chance.

There was faro, euchre, monte, casino, and, of course, poker…which, incidentally, was always dealt to the left of the player to make it easier to pull a gun with the right hand in case of irregularities. The origin of most games of chance came from Europe, with the exception of the old three walnuts and a pea, which started in America, probably on the streets of New York, where it still prospers.

Not only did cowboys loose their wages, but whole herds of cattle, and a cattleman’s entire wealth would change hands over night. A few wives were even offered to “match the pot.”

On June 15, 1853, in Austin, Texas Major Danelson and Mr. Morgan sat down to play poker, and evidentially with little to go home to, forgot to quit. The game went on for a week… then a month… a year became years. The Civil War broke out, was fought and lost, but these two Texas gentlemen still dealt the cards. Finally in 1872, 19 years after it started, both men died on the same day…but the game continued. Their two sons took over, and played for 5 more years.

Finally the game ended in 1877 when a railroad train killed one of the sons, and the other went crazy. Not that all of them weren’t crazy in the first place.

BILLY THE KID CONVICTED

Billy the KidEarly in 1880, Sheriff Pat Garrett deposited Billy the Kid in jail, and left town thinking this would be the last he would ever see of “the Kid”.  But it wasn’t so.  Here is the story of what happened.

Pat Garrett was elected sheriff on the promise that he would bring in Billy the Kid.  And within a couple of months after being elected, he made good on his promise.  Feeling that chapter closed, Pat Garrett left to find other outlaws.

 Billy the Kid was transferred to the town of Messilla, New Mexico for trial.  Having a number of possible charges to place against him, they settled on the killing Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady three years earlier.

Billy the Kid was convicted of murdering Sheriff Brady.  In pronouncing the sentence, Judge Bristol said, “You are sentenced to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead.”  Billy the Kid comely responded, “And you can go to…” three times.  The hanging was set for May.

Billy the Kid was sent back to Lincoln, New Mexico. Lincoln didn’t have a formal jail so he was shackled, locked in a room on the second floor of the courthouse and placed under a twenty-four hour guard.

On April 28, 1881 Billy received a note with one word on it…“Privy”.  Understanding the meaning, Billy said he had to go to the outhouse.  Hidden in the outhouse was a pistol.  As Billy the Kid was returning to his room, he pulled the pistol and shot his escort.  Next he broke into the armory, and got a shotgun.  From a second floor window he yelled down to Robert Olinger, a guard that had been ragging on him.  When Robert looked up, he was sent to eternity by a blast from his own shotgun.

An hour later, with shackles still hanging from one leg, Billy the Kid rode out of town, once again escaping death.

STAGE HOLD-UP

Bob Paul

On March 15, 1881 the Benson-Tombstone stage was held up.  Although not intended as such, it ended up being one of the causes for the O. K. Corral shootout.  On the other hand, the two objectives of the hold-up were not accomplished.

The main objective was the assassination of Wells Fargo shotgun guard, Bob Paul.  As a Wells Fargo guard, Bob Paul had hampered the activities of the cowboys.  And, the word around town was that he was to become the Pima County Sheriff.  So the cowboys wanted to get rid of him.  The assassination failed because when the stage departed Tombstone, stage driver Budd Philpot had gotten stomach pains and Budd exchanged positions with Paul.  Orders were to kill the guard…which they did, but it was Philpot instead of Paul.

Paul was also responsible for the robbers not accomplishing their second objective…the theft of $26,000 in silver.  When Philpot was shot, Bob grabbed his shotgun and fired off both barrels.  One robber was killed and the noise of the shotgun spooked the horses.  As the stagecoach was careening out of control, Paul climbed down; secured the reigns of the runaway steeds; and brought the stage safely into Benson.

 Later, when he did became the Pima County Sheriff this 6’ 6”, 240-pound mountain of a man, typically using a shotgun, brought in bad guys, stopped lynchings, and hanged many a man legally.  It always seemed that he was able to dodge that fatal bullet…That is until 1893 when he couldn’t dodge the one called cancer, and he died on March 26, 1901.

FORTUNE LOST

During the Old West fortunes came and went.  Probably there is no better illustration of the gains and losses than the story of Horace Tabor and his wife “Baby” Doe.

 Baby DoeOn March 1, 1883 Elizabeth Doe, later known to the Colorado miners as “Baby” Doe, and Horace Tabor got married.  Baby Doe wore a $7,000 gown.  Her wedding gift from her husband was a $75,000 diamond necklace.

Five years earlier Horace Tabor was the owner of a general store.  He grubstaked a couple of prospectors to about $20 worth of merchandise in exchange for a third share of what they found…What they found was a mine called “Little Pittsburgh” that produced $20,000 worth of silver per week.  Horace Tabor decided his fortune was in silver mining.  Right after this Tabor bought a mine from a scam artist who had “salted” it with silver.  To the chagrin of the scam artist the new mine ended up out producing his first.

Following the wedding Horace and Baby Doe moved into a mansion and had two children.  Over the next few years they lived an extravagant lifestyle.  But by the late 1890’s, because of federal legislation, the market for silver took a dive.  Horace and Baby Doe ended up living in a hotel room.

In April of 1899 Horace Tabor died.  His last words to his wife were “Don’t give up the Matchless, for it will make millions again.”

Baby Doe moved to the Matchless Mine located at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, and for 35 years she lived in a shack.  She wrapped herself in burlap to keep warm.  Early in 1935, during a severe snowstorm, she froze to death.

What she didn’t know was that even if silver was discovered on the Matchless, it would have done her no good.  Her husband had lost the Matchless with his other assets before he died.

UNDERDOGS

Jesse & Frank James

Jesse JamesJesse & Frank JamesWhen it comes to public opinion, quite often being the underdog and particularly a persecuted underdog gets everyone’s sympathy.

In 1874, Jesse and Frank James were robbing banks and trains to the point that the railroads decided to hire the famous detective group the Pinkertons to hunt them down.  But, the Pinkertons, in spite of their numbers and skill, weren’t having any luck rounding up the James boys.  Then late in 1874 one of their agents, John Wicher was found dead close to the James home.  The Pinkertons were convinced that the James’ or one of their people had killed him, and they decided to raise the ante.

Receiving information that Jesse and Frank were visiting their mother in Kearney, Missouri, on January 26, 1875, the Pinkertons surrounded the James home with the idea of catching Jesse and Frank.  In the process, they threw an incendiary device into the house to illuminate the interior.  But it exploded.  Unfortunately, it blew off the arm of Jesse and Frank’s mother and killed their little brother.  In addition to this, neither Jesse nor Frank was there.

Although the Pinkerstons never acknowledged that they were responsible for the bombing, everyone knew they did it.  Realizing they had overplayed their hand, from this point forward the Pinkertons developed a low profile in their search for the James Brothers.

The bombing convinced everyone that the James Brothers were innocent victims of the powerful railroads.  The Missouri legislature even came close to passing a bill that would give amnesty to the Jameses.  And Zerelda Samuel, their mother, was always willing to make public appearances, showing her missing arm, and giving a melodramatic speech about how the evil railroads were persecuting her innocent sons.

It worked too.  Because farmers throughout the region hid and protected the James Brothers, so the Pinkertons were never able to come close to catching them.

 

LIKE LIVER?

Johnson

On January 21, 1900 one of the Old West’s most intriguing and gruesome men died in a veterans’ hospital in California.  This was a strange ending for this man who was depicted in a movie Starring Robert Redford called “Jeremiah Johnson”.

 John Johnson was a red bearded giant of a man who headed to the mountains when most mountain men were leaving them.

 Early on Johnson came across a covered wagon that had been attached by Indians.  The only survivor was the mother, and she had been driven mad from the experience.  Over the years John Johnson provided her with food.  The Indians left her alone because they were in awe of those who had been driven mad from the touch of the Great Spirit.

Johnson took a Flathead woman as his wife.  One day when he was away trapping, a Crow raiding party killed his wife, and the baby she was carrying.

This started the legend for which “Liver-Eating” Johnson is known.  For 20 years Johnson took revenge against the Crow in a savage and bloody way.  He supposedly killed as many as 300 Crow Indians, with a few Sioux thrown in for extra measure.  And legend says he ate the livers of the Indians he killed.

Later “Liver-Eating” Johnson came out of the mountains, and joined the Union Army during the Civil War.  After the war, he was a deputy sheriff in Wyoming.

As he got older, Johnson wisely made peace with the Crow Indians.  And on January 21, 1900, he died in a veterans’ hospital in California.

Why did John Johnson eat the livers of the Indians?  Was he a cannibal?  Technically, yes.  But Indians often ate the raw liver of animals they killed.  They believed it would transfer the power of the animal to the hunter.  Maybe he wanted the Indians to think that anyone who would do something this gruesome was touched by the Great Spirit.

SAMUEL COLT

Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt’s single action revolver, known as the “peacemaker” is a staple to any story about the Old West.  But chances are we wouldn’t have ever heard of Colt had it not been for an event that took place on January 4, 1847.

As the story goes in 1830, on a sea voyage to Singapore, Samuel Colt whittled out a wooden model of his revolving handgun.  A year later he made two working models, and applied for a patent.

At the time of Colt’s invention, pistols were though of as dueling weapons.  The much more accurate rifle was preferred for long distant shooting.  For close up self-defense fighting most men preferred knives.

But Colt was sure his pistol would be in great demand.  And by 1836 Paterson Colts were coming off the assembly line in Paterson, New Jersey.  The Texas Rangers started using the Colt pistol.  But they found it to be light, and didn’t hold up well when used as a club to hit someone on the head.  So, Samuel Colt made a heavier model, and called it the Walker Colt after Texas Ranger Samuel Walker.

But the demands for Colt pistols weren’t great enough to keep his plant going.  And in 1842 Samuel Colt went bankrupt.  Giving up gun making all together he started designing submarines.

Then the war with Mexico broke out, and the U. S. government started looking for weaponry.  And on January 4, 1847 the government placed an order with Samuel Colt for 1,000 of his .44 caliber revolvers.  Colt .44’s served the military so well that the government kept placing orders.

 Now infused with capital, Colt developed a system of mass production and interchangeable parts, making his pistols affordable for the average person.  And Samuel Colt never looked back.  From 1850 to 1860 he sold 170,000 small “pocket” revolvers and 98,000 larger “belt” revolvers…mostly to civilians.

A STRONG MAN & HORSE

Horse Ride

In the Old West men and horses were called upon to perform great feats.  But no man and horse did more in a short period of time than John Phillips and a big gray thoroughbred.

It was a cold December in 1866. Fort Phil Kearny was being harassed by Red Cloud and his band of Sioux.  On the 21st of December Captain John Fetterman and 80 men left the fort to chase after a small group of Indians.  The Indians were decoys, and Fetterman’s command was ambushed.  Within minutes everyone was killed.

It was necessary for someone to travel to Horseshoe Station, 190 miles away, and telegraph Fort Laramie for reinforcements.  That responsibility fell on John Phillips.  He wasn’t a member of the military, but a local prospector who had brought his family to the fort for protection.

Riding a big gray thoroughbred, given to him by the fort commander, John started on the trip wearing a buffalo coat to protect him from the severe cold spell they were having.

Hiding during the daylight hours, John still ran into war parties, but the long legged thoroughbred was able to outrun the smaller Indian ponies.  On December 24th John arrived at Horseshoe Station, but they were unable to send a telegraph to Laramie, because the line was down…either the result of Indian activity or the weather.  Jumping back on his horse, he rode the remaining forty miles to Fort Laramie.  A Christmas party was in progress when John arrived.  A half frozen John Phillips entered the hall, told his story, and collapsed on the floor.  Early Christmas day a column headed for Fort Kearny.

Although, at the time no one thought the 230-mile ride from Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie was anything more than a long cold ride, but shortly afterward it reached the level of myth…a man and horse enduring devastating weather and wild Sioux to save a beleaguered garrison.

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