Old West History Archives

John Heath – Old West Lynching

John Heath old west lynchingOn December 16, 1883, five masked men attempted to rob a store in Bisbee, Arizona. The robbery went bad, and the masked men started shooting at bystanders. They killed two men instantly. A third man died later. Tragically, a pregnant woman with her child, watching from a window in a nearby building, was also killed. This led to an old west lynching.
           
In response to these brutal murders, a posse was assembled. John Heath, a local businessman, volunteered to lead it. When the posse returned empty handed, there was quite a discussion as to which way the killers had gone. Most of the posse members felt John Heath had done a poor job of tracking the robbers.
               
Although the robbers wore masks, several residents recognized them as men who had been hanging around Bisbee, and over the next couple of weeks townspeople started remarking about seeing John Heath and the killers together prior to the robbery.
 
It was later discovered that John Heath was actually the leader of the gang. The plan from the beginning was for John not to participate in the robbery. And, when the posse was formed, he volunteer to lead it not toward the fleeing murderers, but away from them.
 
John Heath was tried, and convicted of second-degree murder. Not satisfied, Heath’s lawyer asked for a new trial. There was universal dissatisfaction in Bisbee with the second-degree murder conviction. In addition, they didn’t like the possibility that John Heath might be set free in a new trial. And in the Old West when there was dissatisfaction with a verdict the people took action.
 
A group of almost 500 people got John Heath out of jail, and strung him up to a telegraph pole. The citizens of Bisbee would not be trifled with.     

Benjamin Rush Milam – Texas, Mexico and the Anglos

Benjamin Rush Milam Texas, Mexico and the AnglosBenjamin Rush Milam was born in 1788 in Frankfort, Kentucky. He served in the War of 1812, and in 1818, along with other Anglos, he went to Texas, and as was necessary for land ownership there, became a Mexican citizen. During this time, Texas, Mexico and the Anglos had a difficult relationship. Mexico both welcomed and feared the Anglos coming to Texas. Eventually, Mexico started imposing unfair regulations on the Anglos. And, in 1835, when Santa Ana established himself as dictator, Milam renounced his Mexican citizenship and joined the rag-tag army of Anglos fighting for the independence of Texas.
Following the Texas army’s capture of Goliad in which he participated, Milam was sent on a scouting trip to the southwest. When he returned, the Texas army was on the outskirts of San Antonio. But, to Milam’s disappointment, the Texas generals had decided to postpone the attack on San Antonio until spring. Milam was aware that Santa Ana’s forces were heading toward Texas with enough troops to suppress the rebellion, and he worried that to hesitate meant defeat. So, he went before the troops and made an impassioned plea asking: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?”
Three hundred men volunteered. And on December 5, they started their attack on San Antonio. The fighting took place house-to-house and hand-to-hand. Four days later, on December 9, with 200 Mexican soldiers dead and as many injured, the commanding general surrendered the city to the Texans.
Unfortunately, Benjamin Milam wasn’t there to celebrate. He had been shot by a sniper two days into the battle. Incidentally, had he survived, he would have probably been one of the Texans defending the Alamo from Santa Ana the following March.

Lindsey Applegate, Indian Agent

 Indian Agent Lindsey Applegate

Indian Agent Lindsey Applegate was born in Kentucky in 1808, later moving to Missouri. In 1822, fur trader William Ashley advertised for 100 “enterprising young men” for a fur trading expedition to Yellowstone. Even though he was just 14, Lindsey joined the expedition. After the expedition Lindsey came back to Missouri and worked in various businesses with his family.

           
At the age of 35 Lindsey, along with his two brothers migrated to Oregon, eventually moving to southern Oregon near present-day Salem. When the Rogue River War broke out in 1853, Lindsey formed a company to fight in the war. Following the war a treaty with the Umpqua Indians was developed and signed in Lindsey Applegate’s cabin. This, incidentally, was the only treaty signed with the Umpqua, and was not violated by either side.
               
In 1864 the Klamath and Modoc Indians signed a treaty with the government establishing the Klamath Reservation. Because of Lindsey’s favorable treatment of Indians, the tribes requested him to become the Indian agent for the reservation. This almost never happened in the Old West.
 
Unfortunately, Lindsey only served four years in this ill-fated post. Although the Klamath and Modoc Indians spoke a similar language, they were in no way friends. The Modoc, being the smaller of the two in size had a tough time. And when a group of them under the leadership of Captain Jack left to go back to their traditional grounds in California, Lindsey felt he was a failure and resigned his duties as an Indian Agent.
 
Lindsey Applegate died 27 years later on November 28, 1892. He always regretted not being successful in getting the Klamath and Modoc Indians to live peacefully on the same land, a failure that was more the result of the government’s lack of understanding of the Indian’s tribal differences.   

Santee Sioux Hanging

Execution of 38 Santee Sioux IndiansFor almost 50 years the Santee Sioux, located in Minnesota, were mistreated by almost everyone with whom they came into contact. First, white settlers invaded the Minnesota Valley where they traditionally lived. With pressure both from settlers and the army, they relocated to a reservation. On the reservation they came under the authority of corrupt Indian Agents. The agents demanded a kickback on all the rations they distributed. When the Sioux realized they couldn’t live on what was left of the rations and refused to give them the normal kickback, the agents withheld all food distribution. On the verge of starvation, the Indians sought help. But no one came to their aid.
Reaching the limits of endurance, the Santee Sioux left the reservation, and started killing settlers and taking women and children as hostages. It was called the “Minnesota Uprising,” and was part of the battles that affected the area for much of the last half of the 1800’s. The army took off after the Sioux, and underestimating their fighting ability, 13 soldiers were killed, with another 45 wounded. Finally, General Sibley, with a large force of soldiers defeated the Sioux, forcing most of the Indians to surrender, and recovering the hostages.
The captured Sioux were tried. The abuse piled upon the Indians was not a factor in the trial. And on November 5, 1862, 300 Santee Sioux were found guilty of raping and murdering white settlers. They were all sentenced to be hanged.
But the mass hanging didn’t take place… because President Abraham Lincoln heard about the trial and the conditions that caused their crimes, and commuted the sentences of 262 of the Sioux. But in December 38 of the leaders were hanged in mass.

Camillo Orlando Hanks and Barbed Wire

Barbed WireBarbed wire had encircled the cattle. So, cowboys weren’t needed to ride the line, making sure cattle didn’t wander away. The railroads had been built down to Texas, so cattle drives weren’t necessary anymore. And many of the large ranches were being purchased by eastern conglomerates looking for a quick return for their money, or the ranches were simply broken up. So, many cowboys had to look for other means of employment.
           
One such cowboy was Camillo Orlando Hanks, also known as Deaf Charley. Deaf Charley was born in Texas in 1863. As a young man, he cowboyed, accompanying a herd of cattle up to Montana and stayed on several years until he could no longer find work. So Deaf Charley decided to take up another profession… that of a train robber. Unfortunately, he didn’t do too well at that profession, and he was captured. In 1892, he was sentenced to ten years in the pen.                 
Getting out in April of 1901, within three months he had hooked up with Butch Cassidy and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. In spite of his hearing loss, Deaf Charley’s job was keeping an eye on the train passengers while Butch, Sundance and the others stole their possessions. The gang got about $30,000 in bank notes from a train robbery in Montana. Wishing to spend his share of the money elsewhere, Deaf Charley went down to San Antonio, Texas. On October 22, 1902, Deaf Charley was in a saloon in San Antonio when the local law, Pink Taylor, confronted him. Guns were drawn, a shot was fired, and Deaf Charley was no more.           
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