Old West History Archives

Fourth of July in the Old West

Celebrating the independence of our country was important even in the Old West.  And, as we shall see, people putting on the Fourth of July in the Old West ran into the same problems as today.Fourth of July in the Old West

In 1868 the Nevada mining camps of Hamilton and Treasure Hill comprised of a few hardy miners and even fewer women.  However, it was decided that they would have a 4th of July celebration.

They formed the flag committee, the music committee and the dance committee.  The music committee’s job was simple, yet complicated.  Therewas only one man in town who had a musical instrument, a violin.  The complication was that he tended to get drunk.  So, they had to regulate the flow of whiskey to the musician.

The dance committee comprised of all the women in town…a total of two.  Like volunteer committees sometimes do, the flag committee waited until the last minute to get a flag.  And then it was to late to travel the 120 miles to the nearest store.  So, good ol’ American ingenuity took place.  They found a quilt with a red lining, and some white canvas material.  A traveling family camped nearby had a blue veil.  This was doubly good because the family included a mother and four girls…more women for the dance.  But the girls didn’t have shoes, making it impossible to dance on the rough planked floor.  So, a collection of brogan shoes was taken up among the miners.

On the 4th of July, a parade formed at Hamilton and with the makeshift American flag proceeded to Treasure Hill.  Speeches were made.  Sentiment ran high.  They decided to form a new town called the White Pine Pioneers, and that the flag should go into the town’s archives.  Unfortunately, the town disappeared and the flag ended up being used as a bed sheet.

John Thompson – Old West Mail Delivery

John Thompson - Old West Mail DeliveryJon Torsteinson was born in Norway in 1827. At the age of ten he and his family came to the United States. Americanizing his name, he became John Thompson, and at the age of 29 moved to California, and became a rancher near Sacramento. He would probably have lived and died in obscurity had he not read an employment ad in the local newspaper. The advertisement was for a mail carrier to traverse the route between Hangtown, later to be known as Placerville, California and Carson City, Nevada… during the winter. So John entered into the history of Old West mail delivery.  
 
The route was 90 miles one way. But the main obstacle was the Sierra Mountains where it didn’t snow in inches, but feet. John made a pair of skies 10 feet long and 4 ½ inches wide. For balance, he carried a 12’ pole. The mail was carried in a backpack that weighed, depending on the amount of mail, from 60 to 100 pounds. It took three days to make the trip one way.      
 
John Thompson - Old West Mail DeliveryEven though he was traveling through blizzards and snowdrifts in subzero temperatures, because of weight and time considerations, John didn’t wear a jacket and didn’t pack a blanket. He didn’t even take a weapon, and took food that didn’t require cooking.        
 
It didn’t take long for him to pick up the nickname “Snowshoe” Thompson. Snowshoe did more than just carry the mail. He rescued people, and made emergency trips for medications. For recreation Snowshoe would ski-jump. Supposedly he could fly through the air over 185 feet.  
 
For twenty years of Old West mail delivery, Snowshoe faced the worst nature could throw at him and was victorious. But, on May 15, 1876, after four days of illness, this 49 year old man of steel died quietly in bed. 

Zebulon Pike and Pikes Peak

Zebulon PikeZebulon Pike was a successful explorer. But, it seems he was successful in spite of miscalculations. He started his exploration at the age of 26 when, as a soldier, he led 20 men on an expedition up the Mississippi River. They left in August, expecting to get back before the winter freeze. Unfortunately, he miscalculated and the waterways froze, so the small band had to spend the winter in Minnesota.  
 
Less than three months later Pike was ordered on another venture. This time he and his men were sent to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas River. When they arrived in Colorado, Pike saw a towering peak. He decided to climb it. It was another miscalculation. He grossly underestimated the height of the mountain. Dressed only in thin cotton clothes, they struggled in deep snow and freezing temperatures, without making it to the top. Incidentally, although this mountain came to be known as Pike’s Peak, it was not something that Pike himself promoted.     
 
During this second expedition Pike miscalculated his location, and wandered into Spanish territory, where they were captured. He and his men were moved from Santa Fe, to Chihuahua, before being released. The whole time Pike was gathering information on the Spanish territory to be later given to his commanders.     
 
The army was impressed with his daring, and they promoted him to brigadier general. Unfortunately, on April 27, 1813 Zebulon Pike made another miscalculation by standing too close to an abandoned British powder magazine that was exploded. A rock from the explosion hit him in the back and killed him.  
 
Zebulon Pike was only 34 years of age. Another great man from American history who packed a lifetime in a few short years. 

Bitter Creek George Newcomb

Bitter Creek George NewcombGeorge Newcomb was born in Kansas in 1867. At a young age he went to Texas to become a cowboy. From there he drifted up to Oklahoma. He so frequently sang, “I’m a wild wolf from Bitter Creek, and it’s my night to howl,” that his friends started calling him Bitter Creek George Newcomb.   
 
Bitter Creek joined the Dalton gang, but fortunately for him, he missed out on the Coffeeville Raid where the Daltons were wiped out. From there he drifted over to the Doolin gang.     
 
While at a country dance he met a 15 year old Rosa Dunn, and was smitten. Rosa became the legendary “Rose of Cimarron.”      
 
On May 1, 1895, Bitter Creek and fellow outlaw Charley Pierce were on the run. They decided to go to the ranch owned by Rosa Dunn’s family on the Cimarron River in Oklahoma. Bitter Creek not only wanted to see Rosa, he was also hoping to collect the $900 owed him by Bee and John Dunn, Rosa’s brothers. Unfortunately for Bitter Creek and Charley Pierce, there was a $5,000 reward on their heads. 
 
When the two men dismounted at the Dunn’s house, gunfire opened up. With Bitter Creek and Pierce on the ground, the Dunn brothers stepped outside. Pierce let out a moan. It was silenced with another blast. 
 
The Dunns put Bitter Creek and Pierce in the back of their wagon, and headed for Guthrie. On the way in Bitter Creek, who wasn’t quite dead, asked for some water. He was given lead instead.  
 
We’re not sure about Rosa’s attitude concerning the event, there have been varying accounts over the years. But, with the $5,000 reward, and the $900 the Dunn brothers no longer had to pay Bitter Creek George Newcomb, I’m sure they felt pretty good about what happened.

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
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