Old West History Archives

History Of The Santa Fe Trail – Pt 1

History of the Santa Fe TrailA party of young men, Hugh Stephenson, Lewis Dutton, Lucas Doane, Joshua Sledd, James Kirker, Robert McNight, Henry Corlew and Esteven Chushie, who in 1830, “made the Santa Fe trail and marked the route followed by thousands in after years.”  That they marked the route is contradicted by Gregg’s Commerce of the Plains, as also by Niles Register.  Fifteen thousand dollars worth of merchandise from St. Louis, Missouri, was delivered in Santa Fe in 1822, and the traffic had increased to $120,000 in 1830, the year in which the Las Cruces Republican claims Hugh Stephenson and others made the trail. All of this marks the history of the Santa Fe Trail.

Freight was carried by pack animals until 1824, when wagons were introduced as an experiment, and making the trip without difficulty, were used exclusively after 1825.  In January of that year, through the influence of Col. Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, a bill was passed by congress authorizing the marking out a road.  Thirty thousand dollars was appropriated for that purpose and that of obtaining the Indians’ consent to the road and its unmolested use.  The U. S. Commissioners appointed to conduct the survey were Benjamin Reeves, George C. Sibley and Thomas Maher; and Joseph C. Brown as surveyor.

In 1825 a party left Santa Fe in June and in Franklin, Missouri, in August, with 500 mules and horses, and “the Santa Fe trade” continued to grow without intermission until the present time.  But not without interruption from the Indians, which caused the committee on military affairs to report to congress, in 1828, in favor of a movable escort rather than a fixed garrison.  The recommendation was given effect in 1829, and Major Riley, with four companies of the 6th infantry, from Fort Leavenworth, were detailed as the escort.  Protection was not continued the following year; never­theless, there was an increase in traffic of just 100 per cent over the preceding year.

In 1821 the Santa Fe trade may be said to have become a business proposition.  Captain Glenn, Mr. Bicknell and Stephen Cooper were the pioneers of that commercial enterprise, although small parties of trappers and traders had previously visited Santa Fe.  In 1815 Auguste P. Choteau and Julius de Mun formed a partnership and went with a large party Upper Arkansas to hunt, trap and trade with the Indians. The following year they visited Taos and Santa Fe, and were well received by Governor Mainez.  But there was a change of policy the following year on the part of Mexican government, perhaps for the reason that the “gringos” were becoming too numerous, monopolizing the fur trade, killing the buffaloes for their skins, and making merchandise of buffalo tongues, a luxury in the states, even then in the frontier village of St. Louis they commanded a dollar each.

Jack Harris

Ben Thompson - Jack HarrisAs a young man, Jack Harris was a scout for the army, and he fought in revolutions in Central American. Returning to America, he hunted buffalo, served as a policeman, and did some serious gambling.
           
Settling down, he and Ernest Hart opened the Green Front Saloon in San Antonio. The Green Front was a first class establishment that even had a Vaudeville House on the second floor.
               
A wealthy man, involved in local politics, Jack was well liked in the San Antonio area.
 
But, as is often true, no matter how wealthy you are, or how many friends you have, it’s your enemies that determine your fate. Jack Harris had one enemy… Ben Thompson. For anyone who doesn’t know Ben, he was a hard case who took turns walking on both sides of the law. And, Ben wouldn’t back down to a buzz saw.
 
On July 11, 1882, after seething about a gambling dispute that took place two years earlier, Ben entered the Green Front Saloon demanding that Jack Harris get his guns and meet him in the street so they could have it out.
 
While Ben was standing in the street, Jack got a shotgun and went to one of the saloon’s windows. Before Jack could get off a shot, Ben saw him and shot Jack, killing him. Ben Thompson turned himself into the law, and pleading self-defense, was acquitted.
 
From this experience, one would think Ben Thompson would have realized enemies often determine your fate. But it wasn’t so. Because less than two years later Ben returned to the Vaudeville House, and the enemies he developed from killing Jack Harris put an end to his life. 

John Wesley Hardin Kills a Town

John Wesley Harden Kills a TownThere are several great stories about John Wesley Hardin, one of the Old West’s best-known outlaws. One is how he hunted down and killed Juan Bideno. When Hardin told the story, he said he found Bideno in Bluff City. The town was actually Sumner City, and the story is  how John Wesley Hardin kills a town .
In 1871, Sumner City was a young thriving town. Just a year after it was founded the town had twelve buildings, including two hotels, post office, hardware store, bakery, two clothing stores, a livery stable and blacksmith shop. And, a newspaper was soon to open.
Although Sumner City was located in the center of Sumner County, Sumner County had no county seat, and Sumner City looked to be the obvious choice.
Then, on July 6, John Wesley Hardin and three others came into Sumner City looking for Juan Bideno, because Juan had killed a trail-boss friend of Hardin’s. Hardin caught up with Juan at a café. And, Juan ended up dead.
Leaving $20.00 to cover the costs of cleaning up the café, and burying Juan, Hardin and his friends left town.
People of the county couldn’t believe that the men weren’t arrested. Newspapers asked for officers who would carry out their duties, saying the county needed officials to stem this violence.
When the county seat election took place, there were four towns in contention. And, Sumner City came in dead last.
It was but a short time before Sumner City’s buildings were removed and relocated to the county seat. And, Sumner City became just another notch on John Wesley Hardin’s gun.

Texas Ranger Frank Jones

Texas Ranger Frank JonesBorn in Austin, Texas in 1856, Frank Jones joined the Texas Rangers at the age of 17. He saw his first action when he and two other Rangers were sent after some Mexican horse thieves. In the process, the horse thieves ambushed the Rangers. Frank’s two companions were immediately taken out, but Frank was able to kill two of the bandits and capture a third.
Frank was promoted to corporal and later to sergeant. Once again while chasing a large gang of cattle rustlers, Frank and his six Ranger companions were ambushed. Three of the Rangers were immediately killed, and Frank and the other two Rangers were captured.
Now, it would have been much better for the rustlers if they had also killed Frank, for while the rustlers were congratulating themselves on their victory, Frank grabbed one of their rifles, and proceeded to kill all of them.
A few years later, now a captain, while traveling alone, Frank was again ambushed. This time by three desperadoes who shot him, and left him for dead. With a bad chest wound, Frank tracked the three men down on foot until he found their camp. He waited until dark; took one of their rifles; shot one and brought the other two back to stand trial.
Over the next few years Frank continued his confrontations and victories over outlaws. But on June 29, 1893 Frank went on his last mission. He and four other Rangers went after some cattle thieves on the Mexico border. This time they did the ambushing. But it didn’t turn out well for Frank. In the ensuing gunfight he was finally killed.
Now, I’m sure you agree that Captain Frank Jones definitely does typify the grit of the Texas Rangers.

Wilcox Train Robbery

In 1899, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch were going full tilt. The Wild Bunch may have even divided into two groups, one specializing in banks, and the other in trains. Whether it was by the whole gang or just the train specialists, on June 2, 1899 the Overland Flyer was stopped in the area of Wilcox, Wyoming. Therein lies the story of the Wilcox Train Robbery.

They placed a red lantern on the track just in front of a wooden bridge. Thinking the bridge out, the train ground to a halt. Now, if it were the “train specialists,” they needed more “training” so to speak… because from this point forward things didn’t go well.

They wanted the engineer to pull the train to the other side of the bridge, so they could blow up the bridge. He refused; was pistol-whipped… and still he refused. Finally one of the wild bunch had to do it. After blowing the bridge, they approached the express car. A messenger named Woodcock guarded the car. He refused to open the door.

A well-placed stick of dynamite blew off one side of the car, and rendered Woodcock barely conscious. With Woodcock unable to open the safe, another stick of dynamite was put to the safe. The safe blew apart sending $30,000 flying through the air, and the robbers scrambling after the money.

Now, about the marked money… As the Wild Bunch picked up the money, they noticed it had a red stain on it. At first they though it was blood. But, it turned out to be from a crate of raspberries that was next to the safe. I can only imagine the telegrams sent to banks in the area. “Be on the lookout for money with burnt edges and the taste of raspberries.”

Wilcox Train Robbery
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