Old West History Archives

Lew Wallace

Lew WallaceAs a young man Lew Wallace practiced law in Indiana. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was named the adjutant general for Indiana, and served with distinction. Following the war, he went back to his law practice. But he worked just hard enough to pay his bills.
 
Then in 1878, President Hayes, owing him a favor, appointed Lew Wallace the governor of the New Mexico Territory. Some say that Wallace was a bit obnoxious, and this was how President Hayes got rid of him.
 
On September 30, 1878, Lew Wallace and his wife arrived at Santa Fe, New Mexico. By this time the initial incidents of the Lincoln County War had already taken place, and things were quiet. Then in February of 1879 another killing took place. Governor Wallace personally went to Lincoln County, and ordered a number of grand jury indictments and arrests. He also met with Billy the Kid, and agreed to pardon the Kid if he would testify in court for the prosecution.
 
Unfortunately, Governor Wallace was unable to follow through with his promise of pardoning Billy the Kid and went back to Santa Fe. When Billy the Kid realized he wasn’t getting a pardon, he escaped from jail, killing two of his guards in the process.
 
In March of 1880, just two and a half years after he arrived in Santa Fe, Wallace packed his bags and returned east. According to Wallace he was a failure. 
 
Quite possibly while in New Mexico his attention was elsewhere. For upon his arrival in New York he delivered a book manuscript to Harper’s Publishing. It was the novel Ben-Hur.

Wrong Men Hanged From the Gallows

It was 1864 in Jackson County, Missouri. Two men, Dick Merrick and Jeb Sharp had murdered a horse trader by the name of John Bascum. The two men were arrested and put on trial. The judge sentenced them to be hanged from the gallows. And, he said it must be done within twenty-four hours. There wasn’t much of an appeals process in the Old West.
 
So, on September 6, the townspeople frantically started building a gallows. Just before the twenty-four hour deadline was up, the two men were grabbed, sacks were put over their heads, and they were led to the gallows. Ropes were placed around their necks. The trap door sprung. Before the deadline, their lifeless bodies were hanging from the end of ropes. The townspeople congratulated themselves on a job well done. 
 
Sheriff Clifford Stewart went back to his office to take care of the final paperwork. But, when he stepped inside his office, Sheriff Stewart had the surprise of his life. There in the cell were the murderers Dick Merrick and Jeb Sharp. At first, he thought it surely was a mirage. But it sure wasn’t. 
 
Within a matter of hours, the situation had been sorted out. It seems that the night before two men had been arrested for drunkenness. And they had been grabbed by mistake. The men were still too drunk to protest, and Merrick and Sharp sure weren’t going to tell anybody they had the wrong men.
 
This story should persuade any person of the merits of living a temperate life. Oh, one other thing. Since the judge had required the sentence be carried out within twenty-four hours, and it wasn’t, the two killers were set free.
 
 
Hanged From the Gallows

Black Faced Charley

Black Faced Charley It seems that everyone in the Old West had nicknames… And some of them were very strange. But, none was as strange as Charles Bryant’s. He was called “Black Faced Charley.” It seems that he was shot point-blank in the face. The bullet just creased his cheek. But, the burnt powder coming out of the pistol imbedded in his face, giving him his nickname.
Later, Bryant joined the Dalton gang. And during the gang’s shootout with a posse was heard to say something like, “Me, I want to get killed in one heck of a minute of action.” Well, Bryant put it out there, and on August 23, 1891, he got his wish.
Being arrested, Bryant had to be transported to jail by Deputy U.S. Marshal Ed Short. Marshal Short was transporting the handcuffed Bryant in a train baggage car when he had to visit the john. Marshal Short gave his pistol to the railroad messenger and left. The messenger put the pistol in a desk drawer and went about his chores.
Unnoticed, Bryant moved around to the desk and got the pistol, just as Marshal Short entered the baggage car. Bryant placed one shot into Marshal Short’s chest. Short, carrying a rifle, shot Bryant…severing his spine. Bryant continued firing the pistol until it was empty. The rest of his shots went wild.
Bryant was killed in one heck of a minute of action just as he wished. Marshal Short helped the messenger pick up Bryant’s body. Marshal Short then laid down on the cot and died… also the victim of heck of a minute of action.
Both bodies were left on the train platform at the next stop.
Black Faced Charley

One Who Yawns aka Geronimo

One Who Yawns - GeronimoOne Who Yawns was born in 1823. He was known as an easygoing person. But, as a young man, while the men were away, Mexicans attacked his village and killed the women and children, among who were his mother, wife and three children. This instilled in him a hatred for Mexicans that lasted throughout his life. A year after the attack on his village, One Who Yawns and some other braves retaliated, killing several Mexicans. In this battle he won his more popular Spanish name… Geronimo.
 
Although he was a great leader, Geronimo was never a chief, and always deferred to his people’s true chiefs. For decades he succeeded in keeping settlers off Apache lands using little more than a handful of braves. Although Geronimo never used a firearm himself, he made sure his braves had the best available. And they used field glasses for distance reconnaissance. He was a brilliant strategist who for years was able to evade the best the army could send. 
 
By 1886 Geronimo was in his 60’s, and the number of whites in the area kept growing. So, on September 4 at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, Geronimo surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles becoming the last American Indian warrior to formally surrender to the Army. 
 
A number of times over the years Geronimo agreed to live on a reservation, and later, with justification, left it. So this time his people were shipped to Florida. After several years in Florida the army moved him to Oklahoma where he became a popular celebrity. He even rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905. Geronimo died at the age of 86, a romantic symbol of the Wild West.

Dentist Clay Allison

Dentist Clay AllisonClay Allison was a hard-drinking, prankster of the type who becomes a legend in his own time. During his lifetime, Allison only killed four people. But the stories about him that didn’t involve killing are as entertaining as those that did. There’s the story of Dentist Clay Allison looking up gunman Mace Bowman with the object of killing him. But, Bowman was a congenial person, and the two men ended up getting drunk together. Still curious about who was the fastest, they decided to test each other’s speed with some fast draws. Allison found Bowman was faster than he was. So, Allison suggested they strip to underwear, and shoot at each other’s bare feet to see who could move faster. They were either poor shots or fleet of feet, because a short time later the two men, out of breath, bellied up to the bar for another drink.

Then, there was the time on August 16, 1874, when Allison arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He had a raging toothache. Now, Cheyenne had two dentists. So, Allison chose the closest one and climbed in his chair. The dentist drilled away at the tooth, only to discover he was drilling the wrong one. When the dentist announced his mistake, Allison angrily jumped out of the chair, and went over to the other dentist’s office. The other dentist took care of the problem.

With his pain gone, Allison returned to the first dentist, and pinned the dentist in his chair. Grabbing the dentist’s forceps, Clay Allison proceeded to pull, according to different stories, one, three or all of the dentist’s teeth. I can assure you that dentist never drilled on the wrong tooth again.

Clay Allison, you sure are a card.

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