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.
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.
On 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.
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.
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’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.
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.
As a young boy his father gave him the name “Slow”. But during a raid against the Crow, at the age of 14, Slow raced ahead of his fellow warriors, and made the first kill. His father immediately changed his name. You may be surprised when you learn his new name.
His father gave him the name of “Slow”…not because he wasn’t bright…but because he was deliberate. But his “deliberateness” never stood in the way of him taking action. At the age of 14 he made his first kill, and his father changed his name to…Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull is best known for his victory at Little Big Horn against George Armstrong Custer. As strange as it may seem, his victory directly resulted in his defeat. But I get ahead of myself.
Because of his braveness in battle Sitting Bull was soon made the leader of the Strong Hearts, a special society of warriors…and later he became the chief of his Hunkpapa division of the Sioux.
Sitting Bull had special abilities as a leader and organizer. Even though the Federal Government had ordered the Indians to relocate to a reservation, Sitting Bull was able to convince more than 10,000 Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne to leave the reservation, and band together…and it was a part of this group that defeated General Custer.
Because of Little Big Horn, the government made an all out effort to defeat the Plains Indians. Finally, with less than 200 followers Sitting Bull and his ragged band surrendered.
On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was living on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Because of fears of an Indian insurrection, about 40 Indian policemen rushed Sitting Bull’s home to arrest him while he was asleep. In the confusion a fight broke out and the great Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was shot twice…by a Sioux Indian policeman. Incidentally, the 59-year-old Sitting Bull had previously indicated he had no interest in the insurrection.
Although the Mexican people had traditionally occupied the southwest, by the 1880’s it comprised primarily of Angelo cattle ranches and towns…some, of whom, considered the Mexicans second-class citizens. A ranch owned by John B. Slaughter occupied the area around what is now Reserve, New Mexico. Now, John B. Slaughter isn’t to be confused with the famous rancher and lawman John Horton Slaughter.
The Slaughter cowboys were known to use the Hispanics in the area for target practice.
A young 19-year-old Mexican by the name of Elfego Baca got tired of this harassment, and got commissioned as a deputy sheriff to do something about it. One of the Slaughter cowboys, Charles McCarthy, shot at Baca. So, Baca arrested him. That evening some of the Slaughter cowboys tried to spring McCarthy loose. During the gunfight a falling horse killed one of the cowboys. The cowboys now felt justified in killing him.
On December 1, 1884 about 80 cowboys came after Baca. By now Baca had taken refuge in a tiny shack. For 36 hours the cowboys, surrounding the shack, filling it with bullet holes. They literally fired thousands of rounds at the shack. Supposedly, many as 400 bullets struck the door alone.
By nightfall Baca had killed a cowboy and wounded several others. By now the cowboys were sure Baca was dead. But they decided to wait until morning to go in after him. In the morning, the cowboys caught the smell of food cooking. It was Baca, cooking breakfast in what was left of the cabin.
Fortunately, for the cowboys, two deputies and several of Baca’s friends showed up, and they retreated. Elfego Baca was tried for killing one of the cowboys, and found innocent. He returned home, an obvious hero to the Hispanics of the area.
With the discovery of gold in California fake gold and silver mines became common. Swindlers and con men fooled many a greenhorn with “salted” mines. But there were few con men who did as great a job as two cousins from Kentucky named Philip Arnold and John Slack.
In early 1872 Arnold and Slack showed up in a San Francisco bank attempting to deposit a bag of uncut diamonds. When questioned about the diamonds, the two men immediately left with the diamonds. Curious, the bank’s director, William Ralston later found Arnold and Slack, and discovered that the diamonds came from a mine the men had found. The banker, assuming he was dealing with a couple of country bumpkins, schemed to take control of the mine.
A mining expert looked at the mine, and he reported back that it was rich with diamonds and rubies. The banker, Ralston, formed a mining company and capitalized it to the tune of $10 million. He was able to buy the country cousins off with a meager $600,000.
A young geographical surveyor by the name of Clarence King was suspicious of the stories he heard about the mine. It took him one visit to the mine to realize it had been salted…Some of the gems he found had already been cut by a jeweler.
On November 26, 1872 the whole scheme collapsed. Banker Ralston had to refund the investors, with much of the money coming from his own pocket. The two country bumpkins? They disappeared back in Kentucky, along with the meager $600,000 they had been given.
Incidentally, the young man who exposed the fraud, Clarence King, ended up becoming the first director of the United States Geological Survey.