Old West History Archives

Pony Bob

When the Pony Express was formed they advertised for “Young skinny wiry fellows, not over eighteen. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Because of the amazing men who answered that ad, only one mail pouch was lost during the existence of the Pony Express. The most amazing of the riders was Bob Haslam, who was known as Pony Bob. In May of 1860 he rode horseback 380 miles in 36 hours. But that wasn’t his most amazing feat. 
Pony Bob & Robert Haslam in his later years
               
On March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the President of the United States. It was important that the people in California get Lincoln’s inauguration speech as soon as possible. Pony Bob was responsible for a 120-mile stretch in Nevada. He covered the 120 miles on 12 horses in about 8 hours. To give you an idea of how fast he traveled, a racehorse runs the short distance on a racetrack at a little over 25 miles per hour. Counting the time taken for changing horses and any other delays, Pony Bob traveled the 120 miles at approximately 20 miles per hour.
 
But Pony Bob had to contend with conditions no jockey has ever had to contend. Right after he left Cold Spring, Nevada he was surrounded by Indians riding stolen Pony Express horses. Pony Bob shot three of the Indians. Then he took an arrow in the left arm. He caught another arrow in his mouth that broke his jaw and knocked out five teeth.
 
Outrunning the Indians, at the next relay station he stuffed a rag in his mouth and successfully delivered this valuable document to the next rider.

Crime of ’73

Prior to 1873, in addition to silver and gold coins, those two metals backed paper money printed by the government. A person could actually exchange a dollar bill for a dollar’s worth of silver or gold. But in 1873, following the lead of many European countries, Congress passed a law for the United States to stop producing silver coins, or using silver to back paper money. When this happened a financial panic took place. Obviously the bottom fell out of the silver market. A man who was a wealthy owner of a silver mine one day, found himself the owner of a worthless hole in the ground the next day. In addition… farmers or anyone who carried a heavy debt load felt this bill made for a tighter supply of money, and therefore harder to pay off their debt. Congress’ bill became known as the “Crime of ’73.” 
               
With the United States going through widespread financial difficulties, it was mystically thought that going back to both silver and gold would solve all problems. The leader of the fight to go back to silver again was Congressman Richard Bland, an ex-miner and farmer. He was so tireless in his efforts that he received the nickname “Silver Dick.”
 
Finally, five years after the Crime of ’73, on February 16, 1878, the Bland-Allison Act was passed. Although it didn’t return the usage of silver to the level prior to 1873, it did require the government to resume purchasing and minting silver money.
 
Unfortunately, those who found it difficult to pay off their debt prior to the Bland-Allison Act found it just as difficult afterward. 
Crime of '73

Joel Fowler – A Vigilante Hanging

vigilante hangingJoel Fowler was born in Maryland, and he later migrated down to Texas. He spent some time on the stage as an actor and entertainer. Not able to earn much of a living at this profession, he tried his hand as a law attorney. Running abreast of the law, in 1879 Joel headed up to New Mexico. But this was still not someone who one would think would end up on the wrong end of a vigilante hanging.
           
In Santa Fe Joel Fowler spent some time on both sides of a bar, as well as on stage. One time while wildly drunk he shot up the town. Luckily, no one was hurt. Over the next couple of years Joel gave up the thespian life in favor of taking lives. While on a posse he killed a man. Later in a shootout with supposed rustlers, he killed two more men. In September of 1883 he shot a man, and caused another to commit suicide. 
               
In November of the same year he sold a ranch he had owned for a considerable amount of money. Following the sale he went on a drunk in Socorro, and ended up knifing a man. For the citizenry this was just too much. So Joel was arrested and within a month tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Joel was able to use his training as a lawyer, and got a stay of execution from the New Mexico Supreme Court. But the locals weren’t happy about this. And on January 22, 1884 they broke into the jail and took him out for a old-fashioned vigilante hanging.
 
Although Joel Fowler wasn’t a religious man, with the noose around his neck, Joel started calling on heavenly angels. This prompted one of the vigilantes to say, “It’s a cold night for angels, Joel. Better call on someone nearer town.” 

Denver’s First Trial

When the cry of silver or gold goes out, immediately hundreds and even thousands of people flock to the area. Overnight, the area is dotted with crude structures called homes. And stores, restaurants and the mandatory saloons pop up right along with the homes. What doesn’t happen immediately is the town’s infrastructure… regulations to insure people are civilized, and a means of enforcement when people aren’t civilized. That’s what happened with Denver, Colorado. But, on January 13, 1859, some of the citizens of Denver decided it was time for law and order. This led to Denver’s first trial.
               
A makeshift court was assembled along the Platte River, which would always be known as the locale of Denver’s first trial. The hardened criminal was brought before the court. The man was charged with stealing… six cans of oysters. That’s right oysters. They were a delicacy to the miners. And, those six cans were probably the last oysters in town. Besides, they were valued at $30.
 
He was found guilty. And, since there was no jail in the area, his punishment was 20 lashes. However, there were those who thought he should be hanged.
 
When they discovered that he was drunk at the time he stole the oysters, and, since most of the jury were probably heavy drinkers themselves, the final verdict was amended. They decided the offender should be banned from the settlement.
 
However, realizing that the draw of gold might mean that he would sneak back, they added one more caveat to his sentence. That was that if he returned to the village anyone could shoot him on sight.
 
I understand he was never heard from again. 
Denver's First Trial - Six Cans of Oysters

The Cowboy Kid

Johnny Baker was born on January 12, 1869. While still a young kid he met and became enthralled with Buffalo Bill Cody. At the age of 9 little Johnny would hold Buffalo Bill’s horse, and run errands for him. At this time Buffalo Bill was appearing on the stage and the subject of many a dime novel. About five years later Buffalo Bill came up with the idea of starting a Wild West show. Johnny Baker was only 14 years of age… but he talked both his parents and Buffalo Bill into letting him join up. It was discovered that Johnny was a pretty good shot. So he became the shows trick shot expert under the name “The Cowboy Kid.”
The Cowboy Kid, Johnny Baker
One of the features of the Wild West show was a shootout between Annie Oakley and The Cowboy Kid. Whether planned or not, the Cowboy Kid never won.
 
Even after the Wild West show closed, Johnny remained loyal to Buffalo Bill. And, after Buffalo Bill’s death Johnny tried resurrecting Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But it didn’t last long. Still wanting to be a part of the circus atmosphere, he went to work for the Miller 101 Shows, which were more like a rodeo. For a while Johnny was their arena director. And then they closed their doors.
 
Johnny still yearned for the excitement he experienced while traveling with Buffalo Bill. He started working with the town of Denver, Colorado to open a museum. And in 1921 the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum was opened.
 
Johnny Baker ran the museum until his death. It stands today, not just a monument to a great showman, but also an indication of the love Buffalo Bill’s unofficial foster son had for the showman.
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