Old West History Archives

William Crabtree and the Horrell Gang

Horrell Gang
Bill Crabtree was a Texas cowboy who wanted to be a great outlaw. And, try as he would, he constantly failed. It seems as if every time he turned around he was being arrested for something… from unlawfully carrying a pistol to murder, from which he was acquitted. In 1878, he got involved with the Horrell brothers. In May of that year, the Horrell gang, without the brothers, attempted to pull off a major-league robbery. In the process, the owner of the store that also operated as a bank, was killed. The outlaws got out of town in a hail of bullets. But, about a mile out of town Bill Crabtree’s horse fell dead. It had been hit by a bullet.  
 
Now, here is where 1800’s forensics comes into the picture. The posse cut off one of the horse’s feet and took it to blacksmiths in the area. It was identified by a blacksmith as belonging to Bill Crabtree. Crabtree was arrested, and he talked like a mynah bird. Even though the Horrell brothers weren’t on the robbery, they were arrested as accessories. The rest of the gang hightailed it to Mexico.  
 
On November 28, 1878, Bill Crabtree testified against the Horrell gang. That evening Crabtree was walking the streets a free man. But, his freedom didn’t last long, because as he was walking along the Bosque River, the blast of a shotgun almost cut him in half. Obviously, some member of the gang had returned from Mexico.
 
Incidentally, the Horrell brothers didn’t get a chance to serve their prison time. A short time after the death of Crabtree, vigilantes shot them dead.

Medicine Lodge Treaty

Medicine Lodge Treaty
As the western part of the United States was being settled the Great Plains, known as the Great American Desert, was considered unsuitable for settlement. So, it was decided to make it one big reservation for all the Indian tribes to occupy. So came the Medicine Lodge Treaty.
 
But, by 1865 farmers had found a way to raise crops in this “desert.” And, railroads and telegraph lines were crossing the area, presenting tempting targets for the Indians. Something had to be done. Prior to this, under the direction of the government, various churches had tried to civilize the Indian by making him a farmer. These were met with mixed success. But, the government still felt that it was easier to civilize than to kill.
 
It was decided to abandon the idea of a giant continuous reservation, for one that had clear boundaries in Western Oklahoma. So, on October 21, 1867 a federal peace commission met with representatives from the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and other tribes at Medicine Lodge in Kansas to sign a treaty. 
 
The government would provide rations, clothing, housing and schools. In exchange, the Indian would become a farmer, stay on the reservation, and stop attacking whites. The object was to get the Indian to give up his traditional ways, and become civilized.
 
As with other treaties, the Medicine Lodge Treaty was a failure: The treaty was so complicated that most of the chiefs who signed it didn’t realize its implications. The chiefs who signed the treaty didn’t represent all the Indians. And, although Congress set up the terms of the treaty, they wouldn’t appropriate the rations, clothing and housing spelled out in the treaty. So, the Indian wars continued.

Lew Wallace

Lew WallaceAs a young man Lew Wallace practiced law in Indiana. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was named the adjutant general for Indiana, and served with distinction. Following the war, he went back to his law practice. But he worked just hard enough to pay his bills.
 
Then in 1878, President Hayes, owing him a favor, appointed Lew Wallace the governor of the New Mexico Territory. Some say that Wallace was a bit obnoxious, and this was how President Hayes got rid of him.
 
On September 30, 1878, Lew Wallace and his wife arrived at Santa Fe, New Mexico. By this time the initial incidents of the Lincoln County War had already taken place, and things were quiet. Then in February of 1879 another killing took place. Governor Wallace personally went to Lincoln County, and ordered a number of grand jury indictments and arrests. He also met with Billy the Kid, and agreed to pardon the Kid if he would testify in court for the prosecution.
 
Unfortunately, Governor Wallace was unable to follow through with his promise of pardoning Billy the Kid and went back to Santa Fe. When Billy the Kid realized he wasn’t getting a pardon, he escaped from jail, killing two of his guards in the process.
 
In March of 1880, just two and a half years after he arrived in Santa Fe, Wallace packed his bags and returned east. According to Wallace he was a failure. 
 
Quite possibly while in New Mexico his attention was elsewhere. For upon his arrival in New York he delivered a book manuscript to Harper’s Publishing. It was the novel Ben-Hur.

Wrong Men Hanged From the Gallows

It was 1864 in Jackson County, Missouri. Two men, Dick Merrick and Jeb Sharp had murdered a horse trader by the name of John Bascum. The two men were arrested and put on trial. The judge sentenced them to be hanged from the gallows. And, he said it must be done within twenty-four hours. There wasn’t much of an appeals process in the Old West.
 
So, on September 6, the townspeople frantically started building a gallows. Just before the twenty-four hour deadline was up, the two men were grabbed, sacks were put over their heads, and they were led to the gallows. Ropes were placed around their necks. The trap door sprung. Before the deadline, their lifeless bodies were hanging from the end of ropes. The townspeople congratulated themselves on a job well done. 
 
Sheriff Clifford Stewart went back to his office to take care of the final paperwork. But, when he stepped inside his office, Sheriff Stewart had the surprise of his life. There in the cell were the murderers Dick Merrick and Jeb Sharp. At first, he thought it surely was a mirage. But it sure wasn’t. 
 
Within a matter of hours, the situation had been sorted out. It seems that the night before two men had been arrested for drunkenness. And they had been grabbed by mistake. The men were still too drunk to protest, and Merrick and Sharp sure weren’t going to tell anybody they had the wrong men.
 
This story should persuade any person of the merits of living a temperate life. Oh, one other thing. Since the judge had required the sentence be carried out within twenty-four hours, and it wasn’t, the two killers were set free.
 
 
Hanged From the Gallows

Black Faced Charley

Black Faced Charley 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 Charley.” 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.
Black Faced Charley
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