Old West History Archives

Train – Oxcart Race

The coming of the railroad was considered one of the greatest things to happen in the Old West. It made possible the transportation of goods and people from the industrialized east to the frontier west. The train also was able to cut that travel time down considerably. But, there was one occasion on December 1, 1880 that a lowly oxcart beat a train in a race that quite possible only the oxcart occupants were aware. 
Oxcart
               
Just as the eastbound fast mail train was steaming out of town a hack containing three eager gentlemen drove up to the depot, only to be told the train they wanted had just rounded the bend. The hack they had rented had left the station, and the only transportation was a wagon and four-ox team.
 
The men sternly walked up to the owner of the rig. “Five dollars if you take us up the rail thirty miles,” said one man. “Another five if you get us there before 8 o’clock,” said the second. “Five dollars more if you get us there ahead of the train,” said the third man.
 
The driver looked at the team, thought really hard about the fifteen dollars to be made in two and a half hours, and said “I’m your man.”
 
The wagon road lay alongside the tracks. The first mile was slow, but soon the oxen warmed up. In an hour they had caught up with the train. In the darkness of the evening they could see the trains red light and fire from the smoke stack in the distance behind them.
 
The men finally arrived at their destination safely. After they had domiciled at the hotel, one of the men said, “Boys, we have beaten the train by twenty minutes; let us go to the depot and see it creep in.”

Women’s Suffrage

Although women had been instrumental the development of our country, as 1869 came to a close, they didn’t have the right to hold a political office, or even vote. But that changed on December 10, 1869 as the first state gave women the right to vote and hold political office. One would expect that it would be an eastern state. But that wasn’t so. It was one of the most frontier areas of that time… Wyoming. So, why were the men in the Wyoming Territory so progressive when it came to women’s suffrage?
women’s suffrage
               
One middle-aged territorial legislator by the name of William Bright backed the bill because his wife convinced him that “denying women the vote was a gross injustice.” Incidentally, his wife just happened to be about half his age. Then there was Edward Lee, the territorial secretary, who argued that if a black man can vote, why couldn’t his dear sweet mother. But most people supported the bill for another reason.
 
At the time the Wyoming territory had a population of about 6,000 men and only about 1,000 women. And most of the 6,000 men were lonely for a woman’s companionship. It was thought that if Wyoming gave women the right to vote, the territory would get national publicity, and in turn single women would come to this rugged, isolated area.
 
When Governor John Campbell signed the women’s suffrage bill one lawmaker gave the toast, “To the lovely ladies, once our superiors, now our equals.”
 
Did it work? Well, if you visit Wyoming today you’ll meet some of the handsomest, most strong-minded women, and happiest men.
An interesting side note: In ancient Athens, often cited as the birthplace of democracy, only adult, male citizens who owned land were permitted to vote. Through subsequent centuries, Europe was generally ruled by monarchs, though various forms of parliament arose at different times. The high rank ascribed to abbesses within the Catholic Church permitted some women the right to sit and vote at national assemblies – as with various high-ranking abbesses in Medieval Germany, who were ranked among the independent princes of the empire. Their Protestant successors enjoyed the same privilege almost into modern times.

The Great Diamond Hoax

The Great Diamond HoaxWith the discovery of gold in California fake gold and silver mines became common. Swindlers and con men fooled many a greenhorn with “salted” mines. But there were few con men who did as great a job as two cousins from Kentucky named Philip Arnold and John Slack. They perpetuated the Great Diamond Hoax.
           
In early 1872 Arnold and Slack showed up in a San Francisco bank attempting to deposit a bag of uncut diamonds. When questioned, the men immediately left with the diamonds. Curious, the bank’s director, William Ralston found Arnold and Slack, and discovered that the diamonds came from a mine the men had found. The banker, assuming he was dealing with a couple of country bumpkins, schemed to take control of the mine. 
               
A mining expert looked at the mine, and he reported back that it was rich with diamonds and rubies. The banker, Ralston, formed a mining company and capitalized it to the tune of $10 million. He was able to buy the country cousins off with a meager $600,000.
 
The Great Diamond HoaxA young geographical surveyor by the name of Clarence King was suspicious of the stories he heard about the mine. It took one visit to the mine to realize it had been salted… Some of the gems he found had already been cut by a jeweler.
 
On November 25, 1872 the whole scheme collapsed. Banker Ralston had to refund the investors, with much of the money coming from his own pocket. The two country bumpkins? They disappeared back in Kentucky; along with the meager $600,000 they had been given.
 
Incidentally, the young man who exposed the Great Diamond Hoax, Clarence King, became the first director of the United States Geological Survey.

Transcontinental Telegraph

On October 24, 1861 the transcontinental telegraph was completed. Like the transcontinental railroad, it was built by two crews working toward the middle. One crew started in Missouri, and the other in San Francisco. A crew would string as much as 25 miles of wire per day. The telegraph wire followed a route similar to that taken by the Pony Express. Workmen placing poles and stringing line and Pony Express riders would wave to each other as they passed, not realizing that the success of one would mean the failure of the other.
           
The two telegraph crews met in Salt Lake City, Utah. The cost to send a telegram from coast to coast was $6 for ten words. Brigham Young sent the first telegram west, from Salt Lake City. But the first one to actually go coast to coast was a special one. 
               
Now it just so happened that as the transcontinental telegraph was being completed, the Civil War was in the process of dividing our country. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and a number of other states had seceded from the Union. Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as provisional Confederate President.
 
Abraham Lincoln was busy trying to line up states that would remain in the union, and the first transcontinental telegram was good news for Lincoln.
transcontinental telegraph
 
It was sent to him 3,595 miles away, from San Francisco, California by California’s Supreme Court chief justice, Stephen Johnson Field. The telegram from Justice Field to President Lincoln congratulated him on the completion of the telegraph line and pledged his state’s continuing loyalty to the Union in those sad days of civil strife. Incidentally, the chief justice didn’t have to pay the $6 for the telegram.

Thomas Bowe

Thomas BoweThomas Bowe was a slightly built man, who stood about 5 foot 6 inches. He had a hair trigger, both personally and gun-wise. With a mysterious background that supposedly included murder and stagecoach robbery, Thomas showed up in Silver City, New Mexico during the winter of 1874.
           
In Ward’s Dance Hall, Thomas Bowe entered into an argument with a Jack Clark. He evidently wasn’t getting the best of the situation, because he pulled his pistol and shot Jack on the spot. Although Thomas escaped to the hills, he later returned. Eventually all charges were dropped. 
               
Tom struck up a friendship with Dick Howlett, the owner of the Silver City Saloon. On the evening of October 5, 1877, the two friends, Tom and Dick, decided to play some poker. They were joined by two other men, one, Sheriff Richard Hudson.
 
As the evening progressed, Tom’s stack of chips got smaller. And Dick’s got larger. Dick started ribbing his buddy about his card playing ability. Sheriff Hudson, sensing Tom’s building anger, cautioned Dick to lighten up.
 
In desperation, Tom tried a bluff for a big pot, hoping for a huge payoff. But, Dick had a good hand, and he called Tom. This was just too much for Thomas Bowe. He stood up, pulled his gun and shot and killed his friend Dick Howlett.
 
Thomas Bowe again fled to the hills. He went down to Mexico and finally to New York City. Not able to take the city life, Tom eventually went back out west to Montana where extradition papers caught up with him, and he was returned to New Mexico for trial. Seven years after the shooting, Tom faced justice, and his case was dismissed. It seems that in Silver City, New Mexico making fun of one’s poker playing ability is justification for murder.
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