Old West History Archives

Cattle Industry Decimated

Cattle Industry DecimatedBy the mid 1880’s the cattle industry was going wild. Speculators were overstocking the grazing ranges of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. And with several mild winters they were also saving money by not putting up feed for wintertime. The summer of 1886 was a dry one. By autumn the range was almost barren of grass… And then winter came early with record-breaking snow falls. January 9, 1887 was the worst day of the worst winter, with an inch of snow falling each hour for 16 hours. The temperature went as low as 63 degrees below zero. It ended up with the cattle industry decimated.
 
With no stored winter feed the cattle wandered into towns. Great Falls, Montana had as many as 5,000 cattle eating trees and anything else eatable. Most ended up dying in the streets of the town.
 
In the spring the ranchers went out to check the damage. Where once cattle grazed the ranges, now there were only carcasses. Rotting cattle filled the rivers and streams so it was impossible to find water fit to drink.   
 
The Continental Land and Cattle Company lost almost all of their 30,000 head. The Swan Land and Cattle Company found only 10% of their 5,500 three-year-olds. Hundreds of ranches went into bankruptcy… including Theodore Roosevelt, who returned East. 
 
As a result of the devastating winter, those ranchers who survived decreased the size of their herds. They realized they needed more control of the cattle and stretched barbed wire across their land. They also started doing more farming to provide plenty of winter-feed. This, in turn, changed the cowboy into a farm hand.

Train Robbed By Road Agents

Train Robbed By Road AgentsJanuary 22, 1883, Bee, Sacramento, California – Passenger train No. 1, which left Sacramento Saturday night, was captured at Montello last night by masked road agents who relieved the train men of their watches and money and then locked them up in the tank.  They then cut the engine, postal and express cars off and put them on the sidetrack, and called express messenger Ross, who, thinking he was at Tacoma, opened the car door.

He was commanded to step out, but declined, and shutting the car door was fired upon and wounded in the hand.  He kept the door closed and returned the fire as best he could.  Some fifteen or twenty shots were exchanged, the door being badly battered up.

The section men were robbed and locked up just before No. 1 reached Montello.  When No. 2 arrived at Montello, Conductor Clement was ordered to pull out, which he did, reaching Tacoma as soon as possible and reported train No. 1 as in the hands of robbers.

The train was released and reported at Tacoma before an armed force could be dispatched from Tacoma.  The passengers were not molested and nothing was lost except the money taken from train employees.  Their watches were returned.

The man who took charge of the engine is described as 5 feet 9 inches high, and of light complexion.  Conductor Casson, who had charge of the train, thinks there were six men and nine horsed, while Clement thinks there were fifteen.  They rode off in a southerly direction.

The Chinese section hands robbed were badly demoralized and will not work.  Four of them walked to Tacoma and had their feet badly frozen.

The No. 2 was the westbound overland passenger train, which stopped at the place where the robbers were at work, and was ordered on and hurried to Tacoma, four miles away, to give the alarm.  Had they got through with No.1 before No. 2 arrived it was doubtless intended to rob the latter also.

The robbery took place in Elko County, Nevada, 100 moles from Elko and 167 miles from Ogden.  The train was due at the latter place at 8 A.M., but was about three hours late in consequence of the robbery.

The Central Pacific Railroad Company has offered a reward of $500 for each man arrested and convicted, in addition to the regular reward of Wells, Fargo and Co.  All detectives and officers have been notified.

Death Valley Christmas

Death Valley ChristmasFor pioneers headed out west times were tough. But no matter what the circumstances, even the harshness of Death Valley, they took time out to celebrate a Death Valley Christmas.
It was December of 1849. The Brier family, comprised of Rev. Brier, his wife Juliet and three children aged nine, six and four were traveling from Illinois to California in an all male wagon train. Unable to keep up, the Briers were left behind. Finally forced to abandon their wagon, they continued on by foot.
On Christmas Eve the Briers entered Death Valley. Rev. Brier went ahead of his family to look for water. Juliet, carrying their four-year-old son pushed the cattle ahead. At midnight they came across a small fire and Rev. Brier. It was six more miles to the main camp and water. When they arrived, they washed off the alkali dust. Two teamsters headed in the same direction as the Briers showed up in camp. Meat was cooked, biscuits made, and coffee boiled.
Sitting by the warmth of the fire, the small group listened to Rev. Brier as he preached his Christmas sermon. After the sermon was over, a man scouting ahead for another wagon train joined the group.
Death Valley Christmas
A Night in Death Valley
Although the Briers were no longer alone, their hard time was not over. They walked the remaining 400 miles to Los Angeles. Were it not for the determination of Juliet Brier, who was only five foot tall, the family would not have made it. During those last three weeks she not only steadied her husband, but she provided inspiration to all the men in the wagon train.
The Brier family arrived safely in Los Angeles where Rev. and Juliet Brier lived a long life, having more children. But they never forgot that Christmas in Death Valley.

John Chisum

John Chisum

John Chisum

The Old West had a couple of “Chisholms” who were cattlemen… Jesse Chisholm of the Chisholm Trail fame and John Chisum of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Although their last names are spelled differently, they often get confused. Since John Chisum is less well known, today we’ll take a look at this man.

John Chisum was born in Tennessee. Although, reportedly John’s father spelled his last name the same as Jesse Chisholm of the Chisholm Trail fame, they were not related, and for whatever reason, John changed the spelling of his name.
As a young man John and his parents moved to Texas. At the age of 30 John got into the cattle business. Seeing the opportunities better in New Mexico, John moved his operation up there, and ran 80,000 head in Lincoln County.
With this cattle running over a vast isolated area, rustlers started picking them off. So, Chisum teamed up with a couple of other cattlemen named McSween and Tunstall. Their foes were a couple of cattlemen and merchants who were underselling cattle to the Army. And, Chisum felt they were able to sell the cattle cheaply because the cattle were stolen from him.
Before long there was an all-out war. Chisum, McSween and Tunstall recruited cowboys who were gunslingers. One such cowboy was Billy the Kid.
When the war turned in favor of the small cattlemen and merchants, and Chisum continued losing cattle to rustlers and Indians, he lost much of his wealth and power.
In 1884 John Chisum developed a neck tumor, and on December 22 he died in Eureka Springs, Arkansas where he had gone for treatment. An indication of the wealth he had at the peak of his career, when Chisum died, his estate was still worth a half million dollars.

William Crabtree and the Horrell Gang

Horrell Gang
Bill Crabtree was a Texas cowboy who wanted to be a great outlaw. And, try as he would, he constantly failed. It seems as if every time he turned around he was being arrested for something… from unlawfully carrying a pistol to murder, from which he was acquitted. In 1878, he got involved with the Horrell brothers. In May of that year, the Horrell gang, without the brothers, attempted to pull off a major-league robbery. In the process, the owner of the store that also operated as a bank, was killed. The outlaws got out of town in a hail of bullets. But, about a mile out of town Bill Crabtree’s horse fell dead. It had been hit by a bullet.  
 
Now, here is where 1800’s forensics comes into the picture. The posse cut off one of the horse’s feet and took it to blacksmiths in the area. It was identified by a blacksmith as belonging to Bill Crabtree. Crabtree was arrested, and he talked like a mynah bird. Even though the Horrell brothers weren’t on the robbery, they were arrested as accessories. The rest of the gang hightailed it to Mexico.  
 
On November 28, 1878, Bill Crabtree testified against the Horrell gang. That evening Crabtree was walking the streets a free man. But, his freedom didn’t last long, because as he was walking along the Bosque River, the blast of a shotgun almost cut him in half. Obviously, some member of the gang had returned from Mexico.
 
Incidentally, the Horrell brothers didn’t get a chance to serve their prison time. A short time after the death of Crabtree, vigilantes shot them dead.
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