Old West History Archives

Battle of Palo Alto

Battle of Palo AltoOn this date back in 1846, Zachary Taylor led American forces against an attacking Mexican Army in the Battle of Palo Alto.

Mexico had never recognized the independence of Texas, and when the U.S. annexed Texas, Mexico sent troops into the disputed Rio Grande River area.

President Polk ordered General Taylor into Texas to defend the border. It was viewed by Mexico as a hostile invasion and the Mexican Army attacked the American forces. 

Taylor, however, was in no position to await formal declaration of a war that he was already fighting. In the weeks following the initial skirmish along the Rio Grande, Taylor engaged the Mexican army in two battles. On May 8, near Palo Alto, and the next day at Resaca de la Palma, Taylor led his 200 soldiers to victories against much larger Mexican forces. Poor training and inferior armaments undermined the Mexican army’s troop advantage. Mexican gunpowder, for example, was of such poor quality that artillery barrages often sent cannonballs bouncing lazily across the battlefield, and the American soldiers merely had to step out of the way to avoid them.

Although the Mexican forces were much larger in number, General Taylor was not only victorious in this battle; he won four additional battles and gained control over the three northeastern Mexican states.

Taylor emerged from the war a national hero. Americans admiringly referred to him as “Old Rough and Ready” and erroneously believed his military victories suggested he would be a good political leader. This eventually catapulted him into the Presidency. Unfortunately, he was a much better general than President. Elected president in 1848, he proved to be an unskilled politician who tended to see complex problems in overly simplistic ways. In July 1850, Taylor returned from a public ceremony and complained that he felt ill. He died several days later at age 65.

Description of Being Scalped

Description of Being ScalpedWhat follows is a December 20, 1883 article from the San Antonio Light newspaper.  It’s a description of being scalped, from the actual words of a soldier who had been scalped:

Quote…“Imagine someone who hates you grabbing a handful of your hair and giving it a sudden jerk upward, and a not particularly sharp blade of a knife being run quickly in a circle around your scalp in a saw like motion.  Also imagine what effect that a strong, quick jerk on your hair to release the scalp would have on your nervous and physical systems, and you will have some idea how it feels to be scalped.

“When that Indian sawed his knife around the top of my head, first a sense of cold numbness pervaded my whole body.  A flash of pain that started at my feet and ran like an electric shock to my brain quickly followed this.  When the Indian tore my scalp from my head it seemed as if it must have been connected with cords to every part of my body.”…Unquote

Following the attack, a friend of the scalped man killed the Indian who had done the scalping, but, according to the soldier, his scalp wasn’t returned.

After recovery he chose to muster out of the service…but his commanding officer called him into his office, and suggested that the soldier was making a mistake by leaving the army.  “Think,” said his commanding officer, “how surprised and disgusted some red devil of an Indian might be if you should stay with us and happen to fall into his hands.  When he went to raise your hair he would find that someone had been there before him.”

Incidentally, the man who was his commanding officer was General George Armstrong Custer whose command was wiped out shortly afterward at Little Bighorn.

The Intelligence of the Horse

The Intelligence of the HorseAugust 10, 1887, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona Territory – It always seemed to me that there was a great deal of superstition, I may say, about the intelligence of the horse.  Sauntering up to an express man at the corner of Monroe and Dearborn Streets the other day I said to him: “How much does a horse know?”

“A horse, sir?” he replied.  “A horse knows as much as a man – just exactly.  My horse there knows everything, just like a man.”

This is the way everybody talks who owns a horse or who tends horses, and it all seems to me to be nonsense.

I have seen horses walk around a post until they had wound up the bridle and then stand all day with their heads bound down to the post because they didn’t have sense enough to walk the other way and unwind the bridle.  I have seen them get a foot over the bridle, when tied to a ring in the pavement, and then go into fits because they didn’t have sense enough to lift their feet over the bridle again.  I have seen them prance around in a burning barn, with their tails and manes on fire, and burn to death, because they did not have sense enough to run out.

Anybody can steal a horse without any objection from the horse.  A horse will stand and starve or freeze to death with nothing between him and a comfortable stall and a plenty of oats except and old door that he could kick down with one foot, or that could be opened by removing a pin with his teeth.

If this is a high degree of intelligence, even for a brute, then I am lacking in that article myself.  Compared with the dog, the elephant, or even the parrot, the horse seems to me to be a perfect fool.

Wild Bill Hickok Married

Wild Bill Hickok had lived the life of a free-spirited man hunting buffalo, being a lawman, gambling and even a stint as an actor. By the time he was 38 Wild Bill’s eyesight was going bad. For his own safety and the safety of others, he gave up being a lawman. And his attempt to be an actor was a failure. About the only thing left for Wild Bill was gambling. So then Wild Bill Hickok, married? 
           
In 1871 Wild Bill met a widow named Agnes Lake. At the time Agnes was the owner of a traveling circus, in which she also performed as a trick rider.
               
Agnes evidentially sparked something in Wild Bill… Because, even though they went their separate ways, they continued corresponding.
 
The two of them met up in Cheyenne, Wyoming and decided to get married. As an aside, there are those who say that Wild Bill had earlier married Calamity Jane. But there is no evidence to confirm this.
 
So, on March 5, 1876 Wild Bill and Agnes Lake got married. Even though they had been corresponding for five years, the marriage surprised most of their friends. Even Reverend W.F. Warren, the Methodist minister who conducted the ceremony wrote in the church register, “I don’t think they meant it.”
 
They went to Cincinnati, Ohio for a couple weeks honeymoon. Alone, Wild Bill then headed for St. Louis. From there he went to Cheyenne, Wyoming and finally to Deadwood, South Dakota where he was killed.
 
In less than 6 months after their marriage, with them being together only 2 weeks of those 6 months, Agnes Lake Hickok was once again a widow.      
Wild Bill Hickok Married

Jack Abernathy

Jack AbernathyJack Abernathy was born in Texas. At the age of six he and his older brother would sneak away from home to play piano and violin in the local saloon. Following a Christmas shootout in the saloon with several victims, his parents discovered what he was doing, thus ending his entertainment career. 
 
But that didn’t inhibit the enterprising young man. By the age of nine he was working as a cowboy, and at eleven he went on his first cattle drive. At fifteen Jack was a full-fledged cowboy breaking horses for Charles Goodnight. 
 
Jack acquired a couple of greyhound dogs. He found they would hunt wolves. He also discovered a unique way to catch them alive by jamming his hand in the wolves’ mouth. It worked so well that on December 1, 1891 he bought three more dogs and started catching wolves full time. Getting paid $50 per wolf, Jack caught more than 1,000 wolves, supplying them to zoos and traveling shows. 
 
Jack later became a deputy U. S. marshal in Oklahoma. President Theodore Roosevelt learned about “Catch-‘em-alive Jack”, and came outwest to see his skills. He was so impressed with Jack that he made him marshal of Oklahoma. 
 
As a lawman Jack captured hundreds of outlaws and ended up seeing close to 800 of them go to prison. Jack was called to New York to become a Secret Service agent, and for a short time even worked for the Mexican secret service.
 
Returning to Texas in 1919, Jack became a wildcat oil driller making and losing a fortune. Finally, Jack Abernathy, a man who had defied death literally thousands of times finally succumbed, dying of natural causes in Long Beach, California at the age of 65.    
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