Old West History Archives

Willard Christianson – The Mormon Kid

Willard Christianson - The Mormon KidThe family of Willard Christianson moved to Utah after they had converted to Mormonism. At the age of 14 Willard got in a fight, and thinking he had killed his adversary, ran away from home.  As a young boy Willard fell in with bad company and started rustling cattle. While operating out of Utah’s Robbers Roost area he got the nickname of the Mormon Kid.  
The Mormon Kid met a Rose Morgan, fell in love and got married. Wanting to develop some semblance of a normal life, he and his partner in crime, Tom McCarty started a cattle ranch. But this didn’t last long. In 1892 the two of them went up to Washington and robbed a bank in which two citizens were wounded. Shortly afterward they were arrested and put in jail. But two days before their trial they attempted a jailbreak by wrapping themselves in blankets and blackening their faces to look like Indians. But it didn’t work. Actually, the attempted jailbreak wasn’t necessary because they were found not guilty. 
In 1896 Willard was involved in a shootout that, in reality, could have been considered self-defense. But this time he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison. After his release in 1900, Willard settled down in Carbon County, Utah where he used his earlier training to good effect by being elected justice of the peace and serving as deputy sheriff. He later moved to Price, Utah where he served as a policeman, that is, when he wasn’t busy at his other job… selling white lightning as a bootlegger. 
Willard Christianson was able to live a full life dying peacefully on December 21, 1938 at the ripe old age of 74.    
Willard Christianson - The Mormon Kid

Rufus Somerby – Wandering Military Man

Rufus Somerby was a military man for most of his life. But, you’re going to have to pay close attention as I go through his service record, because Rufus was ever on the move. In 1862 he enlisted in the 9th Kentucky Infantry. Within three months he was promoted to captain. After a little over a year in the infantry, he decided walking wasn’t for him. So Rufus resigned, and enlisted in the cavalry where he quickly rose to sergeant major, and two years later while fighting Indians in Arizona he became a lieutenant.   
In 1870 Rufus obtained a leave, and went to Boston where he spent a couple of months trying to consume all the whiskey in the town. Finding this impossible, Rufus decided to enlist in the artillery. The fact that he was still an officer in the 8th Cavalry didn’t seem to bother him. However, it did bother the military. Rufus was given the choice of either resigning his commission in the cavalry or be court martialed. He resigned. But he stayed in the artillery.  
In less than four years he was a sergeant in the 5th Artillery. Yearning to be back on a horse, Rufus either resigned from the artillery, was transferred or just did another double enlistment. But he ended up back in the cavalry where he became a sergeant. 
It was the Christmas season of 1882. Rufus, ever on the move, had applied for the position of commissary sergeant, but he was flatly turned down. Feeling he had nowhere else to go, on December 26, while in the barracks with his men, Rufus Somerby ended his military career by shooting himself with his carbine.   
Rufus Somerby - Wandering Military Man

Lawrie Tatum – Quaker Indian Agent

Lawrie Tatum Quaker Indian AgentIn 1869 the Kiowa and the Comanche were being relocated to a reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma. President Grant felt if Quakers were hired as Indian Agents, they would be able to teach the Indians to be pacifists.  So, Lawrie Tatum, a man known for his Quaker work, was appointed to the unenviable job as the Kiowa-Comanche agent.
Although the 47 year old knew little or nothing about wild Indians, he felt that he could tame them with honesty, industry, patience and kindness. The Comanche weren’t a major problem. But the Kiowa were impossible.  
Showing his trust, Lawrie had the military withdrawn from guarding the provisions. The Kiowa saw this as weakness, and not only stole the provisions, but they started making raids to nearby Texas.
Learning this approach wasn’t going to work, Lawrie tempered it with toughness. He had the three chiefs responsible for the Texas raids arrested. He put the provisions under guard, and refused to give any provisions to marauding Indians.
It had become normal for the government to ransom any white captives taken on raids. But continuing his hard line, Lawrie, feeling ransom only encouraged the taking of captives, refused to pay any.
Increasingly Lawrie felt that force was necessary to control the Kiowa. Eventually his actions conflicted with his Quaker superiors. And losing confidence in Grant’s Peace Policy, in 1873 Lawrie resigned.
Lawrie Tatum continued his Quaker belief, writing several books in support of it. He also wrote a classic about his experience with the Kiowa and Grant’s policy. On January 22, 1900, at the age of 78, he died.
Incidentally, late in life Lawrie was appointed the guardian of an infant by the name of Herbert Hoover, the man who became our country’s 31st President.  
Collis P. Huntington - Southern Pacific RailroadWith the completion of the transcontinental railroad by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads in 1869, the men dubbed as the “western railroad barons” decided to join forces and create a monopoly on any rail traffic coming to the West Coast. So, in 1870 Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford and Mark Hopkins created the Southern Pacific Railroad.  
These men had very strong, commanding personalities. But, Collis P. Huntington was much stronger and determined that the others. Starting with nothing, Huntington had gone to the California gold fields in 1849, where he shoveled gravel for just one morning… which he considered the most foolishly squandered time of his life. The next day he started selling hardware, and never looked back. 
By 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad controlled 85 percent of California’s rails. From there Huntington and the Southern Pacific looked at creating a transcontinental railroad through the southern part of the United States. With the Texas and Pacific Railroad already on the project, Huntington had to work fast. Marshaling all of his resources, in 1881 the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe Railroads united at Deming, New Mexico, creating the second transcontinental railroad. It took two more years, and on February 5, 1883, by gaining control of a number of smaller railroads, the Southern Pacific now had what they called the “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California.
Now with a virtual monopoly over rail service to California, Huntington and his business partners started charging exorbitant shipping rates. With its tentacles creating a stranglehold on much of California’s economy, the Southern Pacific got the nickname of “the Octopus.” This resulted in California became the first state to start regulating the railroads.  
Mickey FreeWherever Mickey Free went, death seemed to follow. Even when he was a kid.  
On January 27, 1861, at the age of 12, Apache Indians kidnapped Mickey. An inept soldier by the name of Lt. Bascom led a command to find him. Lt. Bascom came across Cochise and some of his braves. And although Cochise knew nothing about the kidnapping, Lt. Bascom accused Cochise of stealing Mickey. A fight ensued, and some Indians were shot. Cochise went on the warpath, and in 60 days, he and his braves killed 150 whites. 
Later Mickey gained his freedom. Although Mickey’s real name was Felix Martinez, when he returned he started using the name Mickey Free. Some say Mickey came from his Irish father. His last name “Free” came from his being free from captivity.
Mickey has been described as having long, unkempt, fiery red hair and a red mustache. He only had one eye. He supposedly had a mug that looked like the map of Ireland. A nice way of saying that he was really ugly.
Mickey was a scout for the Army in the Apache campaign. The Apaches didn’t like him, and the feeling was mutual. He would spread rumors about the Apache, and when the Army used him as an interpreter, his translating was to the detriment of the Indians.
One time Mickey was sent to capture an Apache. He tracked him for 300 miles. After Mickey killed the Apache, realizing the body was too heavy to carry, he carved off the Indian’s face as proof of the kill.
Mickey only had one friend, chief of scouts, Al Sieber. Even he said of Mickey, “He’s half Mexican, half Irish and whole SOB.”  
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