Old West Book Review: Captain John R. Hughes

captain-john-rCaptain John R. Hughes; Lone Star Ranger, Chuck Parsons, University of North Texas Press, (800-826-8911), Cloth, $29.95, 464 pp., Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

The true story of Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes is another splendid work of author Chuck Parsons who specializes in writing about the life and times of various outlaws and lawmen.  His non-fiction books are fast-paced, exciting Old West adventures.

This one begins with the early history of John R. Hughes’ ancestors with examination of his younger days leading up to his adventuresome life with the Texas Rangers.  Hughes was born in 1855, one of seven children.  His family was in the farming business in the Midwest.

Young John was adventuresome, and when he became curious about stories he’d heard about Indian Territory,” he ran away from home and worked at a number of jobs.  At one ranch he single-handedly recovered a herd of stolen horses from a band of outlaws.  His wandering led him all the way to Texas, where John and his older brother ran a horse operation for nine years known as the Long Hollow Ranch.

In time John Hughes joined the Texas Rangers, and author Parsons carefully follows the monthly return records that chronicle the unrelenting hunt for cattle rustlers, horse thieves, drunkards, embezzlers, smugglers, train robbers, and murderers.  Many photographs appear throughout the text of steely-eyed Texas Rangers packing plenty of iron, including one filled with more than thirty armed Rangers standing at the ready to prevent the Fitzsimmons-Maher prizefight in 1896. This event alone is worthy of a separate story.

Not all who dealt with the Rangers admired them.  Bat Masterson, who lived in Texas during his early career considered the Rangers little more than “a four-flushing band of swashbucklers.”  This statement is wildly hilarious when one considers that Bat Masterson was associated with the Earps who were hardly choir boys.

This biography of Capt. John R. Hughes is filled with hard riding, straight-shooting derring-do.  Hughes covered thousands of miles in all kinds of weather, recovering stolen stock while faced with sudden death in ambushes and shootouts.  Combined with this, Hughes as Captain dealt with personal problems of his men along with administrative concerns and political distractions.

One photo in the book shows Hughes with the beautiful and mysterious Elfreda Wuerschmidt taken near Rockport, Texas.  This twenty-year-old beauty, the love of Hughes’ life, died of unknown circumstances, leaving Captain Hughes a lifelong bachelor who often visited the lady’s unmarked grave.  He never shared his broken-hearted feelings with snoopy biographers, thus we do not know how she died.

By 1915, after 27 years of faithful service, Hughes retired from the Texas Rangers.  Nearing sixty, he spent his remaining years gathering honors, and resounding best wishes from his legions of grateful and admiring citizens of the Lone Star State.  He became a celebrity giving newspaper interviews and riding in rodeo parades.  He traded his horse for an automobile and even became the protagonist in a Zane Grey novel, titled Lone Star Ranger.

At age 92, wracked with illness and infirmity, white saddened by the gradual loss of friends and family, on June 3, 1947 Captain John R. Hughes took his own life with his pearl handled Colt 45.

Chuck Parson’s well-written, carefully researched and deeply sentimental tribute to this fascinating Texas Ranger belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the novel Railroad Avenue, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700.  www.silklabelbooks.com

Jesse James’ Home Fire-Bombed By Pinkertons

   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.

Sitting Bull’s Personal Secretary and Interpreter

Johnnie Brughuier was born the son of a white father and Sioux mother near present day Sioux City, Iowa. His father sent him to St. Louis for an education. When he returned home, on December 14, 1875, in the process of breaking up a fight between his brother and another man, Johnnie killed the other man. Afraid that he would be arrested for murder, Johnnie fled to the camp of Sitting Bull.

Johnnie, now called “Big Leggins”, became Sitting Bull’s personal secretary and interpreter. His first opportunity as interpreter was between Sitting Bull and General Nelson Miles. The meeting didn’t go well and five days later 2,000 of Sitting Bull’s Sioux were forced to surrender. However, Sitting Bull and Johnnie escaped.
Johnnie yearned to return to white civilization. So he met with General Miles and explained that he had joined Sitting Bull because of his fear of being arrested for murder. Convinced of his sincerity General Miles said he would do what he could about the murder, and gave Johnnie a job… It was to meet with Sitting Bull, the man he had just betrayed, and convince him to surrender. On several occasions Johnnie was sent on missions that seemed to be certain suicide. But each time he returned, either successful in his mission, or bringing back vital information.
In 1879 his past finally caught up with him, and he was arrested for killing the man back in 1875. At the trial General Miles testified on his behalf. It took the jury just one half hour to bring back a verdict of not guilty.
The work of Johnnie Brughuier saved the lives of hundreds of whites and Indians. We’ll never know if he would have taken the same path had the tragedy of December 14, 1875 not happened.

Chuckwagon: Potato Pie

from 1885 Farmer Almanac

    Boil on-quarter pound potatoes until soft, then peel them and rub them through a sieve.  Add one quart of milk, three teaspoonfuls of melted butter, four beaten eggs, and sugar and nutmeg to taste.  Bake as you would a custard pie.

A Horse Thief That Was Caught

Little is known of William Arnett prior to his arriving with a couple of buddies in Goldcreek, Montana on August 21, 1862. The trio had a string of six good horses. However, there was something strange about the men. Although they looked as if they had done some hard traveling, they had no saddlebags or other evidence of men who would own fine horseflesh.

The men put the horses in a local corral and put out the word that they were for sale. In a short time, they found a buyer. The three men split up the proceeds from the sale, and Arnett’s buddies left town. But William Arnett decided to stick around Goldcreek, have a few drinks and play some cards.
On August 25, two strangers arrived from Elk City, Idaho. They started asking around town if three men had come through with a half dozen horses. They said the men had stolen the horses. The strangers were told three men had come through town, sold the horses, and one was still in town, at the saloon.
The men went to the saloon and found Arnett playing cards. When they confronted Arnett, he said he wasn’t going to surrender and end up being hanged… That he would rather shoot it out right now. With his cards in one hand, Arnett went for his gun. Unfortunately, for him, the two men shot faster than Arnett, and killed him on the spot.
When the smoke cleared, Arnett was laying on the floor, cards still clutched in one hand and gun in the other. In fact, his hands clutched the cards and gun so tightly they couldn’t be pried open, and William Arnett was buried with two full hands. 
 Page 1 of 58  1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »