Old West History Archives


Although Tombstone, Arizona is known for the OK Corral Shootout, on November 14, 1882 another shootout took place between two Old West characters with unique nicknames. The shootout was between gunslinger Franklin “Buckskin” Leslie and Billy “The Kid” Claiborne.

Tombstone was the home to many gunmen who never achieved the fame of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday. Probably one of the most notorious of these forgotten outlaws was “Buckskin” Frank Leslie.

Little is know of his early life. At different times, he claimed to have been born in both Texas and Kentucky. Although there is no supporting evidence, he also said he studied medicine in Europe, and had been an army scout in the war against the Apache Indians.

Drawn by the moneymaking opportunities of the booming mining town of Tombstone, he opened the Cosmopolitan Hotel in 1880. That same year he killed a man named Mike Killeen during a quarrel over Killeen’s wife, and he married the woman shortly thereafter.

When John Ringo was found dead in July 1882, a young friend of Ringo’s named Billy “The Kid” Claiborne, was convinced that Leslie had murdered Ringo. A cocky young man who took on the nickname “The Kid” after Billy The Kid, seeking vengeance and the notoriety that would come from shooting a famous gunslinger, unwisely decided to publicly challenge Leslie, who shot him dead without hesitation.


On November 3, 1883, the law almost caught California’s most infamous stagecoach robber called Black Bart.  Although he managed to make a getaway, he dropped evidence that eventually sent him to prison.

Black Bart was born Charles E. Boles around 1830.  He abandoned his family for the gold fields of California.  When he failed to strike it rich as a miner, he turned to a life of crime.

By the mid-1850s, Well Fargo stagecoaches in Northern California transported not only passengers, but money as well.  Because they traveled isolated areas, the stagecoaches became favorite targets for bandits.

It’s believed Boles committed his first stagecoach robbery in July 1875.  Wearing a flour sack over his head with holes cut for his eyes, he intercepted a stage near the California mining city of Copperopolis.  When guards spotted gun barrels sticking out of nearby bushes, they handed over their strong box.  He escaped on foot with the gold, though his “gang” of camouflaged gunmen stayed behind.  When the guards returned to pick up the box, they discovered that the “rifle barrels” were just sticks tied to branches.

Known as Black Bart…the name of a western novel character…Boles embarked on a series of stagecoach robberies.  He never shot anyone nor robbed a single stage passenger…his shotgun wasn’t even loaded.  He gained fame for his daring style and the occasional short poems he left behind, signed by “Black Bart, the Po-8.”

During the robbery that took place on this date Boles was wounded and left behind a handkerchief with a laundry mark.  A Wells Fargo detective searched the San Francisco laundries until they found the laundry that led to Boles.  The detective found he was a dignified elderly man that everyone though was a mining engineer.

Arrested and tried, Boles pleaded guilty and received a sentence of six years in San Quentin prison.  The “Po-8” bandit stole only about $18,000 during the eight years of his criminal career.

There are stories that say when Boles got out of jail Wells Fargo agreed to pay him $200 a month not to rob any more of their stages.


On November 1, 1924 one of the last Old West lawman died. Bill Tilghman was 71 years old and still serving as a lawman at the time.

Coming out west at the age of 16, he fell in with a group of less than honest young men who stole horses from Indians. After several narrow escapes with angry Indians, Tilghman decided rustling was too risky and went to Dodge City, Kansas, where he served a short while as a deputy marshal before opening a saloon. Incidentally, he was arrested twice for train robbery and rustling, but the charges didn’t stick.

In spite of this shaky start, Tilghman built a reputation as an honest young man in Dodge City. He became the deputy sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, and later, the marshal of Dodge City. In 1891 Tilghman became a deputy U.S. marshal for the Oklahoma Territory. Lawlessness plagued Oklahoma, and Tilghman helped restore order by capturing some of the most notorious bandits of the day.

Over the years, Tilghman earned a well-deserved reputation for treating even the worst criminals fairly and protecting the rights of the unjustly accused. Any man in Tilghman’s custody knew he was safe from angry vigilante mobs, because Tilghman had little tolerance for those who took the law into their own hands.

In 1924, after serving a term as an Oklahoma state legislator; making a movie about his frontier days; and serving as the police chief of Oklahoma City, Tilghman accepted a job as city marshal in Cromwell, Oklahoma.

How did he die? Not of old age or at the hands of a hardened outlaw. Tilghman was shot and killed while trying to arrest a drunken Prohibition agent.


Probably no other one invention changed the face of the west and the life of the cowboy more than the one applied for on October 27, 1873

A De Kalb, Illinois farmer named Joseph Glidden submitted an application to the U.S. Patent Office for his design for a fencing wire with sharp barbs.

Glidden came up with his design after seeing an exhibit of single-stranded barbed wire at the De Kalb county fair.  But Glidden’s design improved on this wire by using two strands of wire twisted together to hold barbed spur wires firmly in place…Incidentally, Glidden used his wife’s coffee grinder to twist that first wire.

Glidden’s wire was also well suited to mass production techniques, and by 1880 more than 80 million pounds of inexpensive Glidden-style barbed wire was sold, making it the most popular wire in the nation.  Plains farmers quickly discovered that Glidden’s wire was the cheapest, strongest, and most durable way to fence their property.  As one person wrote, “it takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts, and is both durable and cheap.”

The effect of this simple invention on the life in West was great.  Since the plains were largely treeless, a farmer who wanted to construct a fence had little choice but to buy expensive and bulky wooden rails shipped by train and wagon from distant forests.  Without barbed wire, few farmers would have attempted to homestead on the Great Plains, because they wouldn’t be able to protect their farms from grazing herds of cattle and sheep.

Barbed wire also brought an end to the era of the open-range cattle industry.  Within a few years, many ranchers discovered that homesteaders were fencing the open range where their cattle had once freely roamed, and that the old technique of driving cattle over miles of unfenced land to railheads in Dodge City or Abilene was no longer possible.  In addition, the ranchers fenced in their cattle, changing the cowboy’s job to riding and repairing fences.


On October 24, 1861, the Western Union Telegraph Company linked the nation’s eastern and western telegraph networks at Salt Lake City, Utah, completing a transcontinental line that allowed instantaneous communication between Washington, DC and San Francisco, California.  The first official telegraph was sent by California Chief Justice Stephen J. Field to President Abraham Lincoln, predicting that the telegraph would ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

The push to create a transcontinental telegraph line had begun only a little more than year before when Congress authorized a subsidy of $40,000 a year to any company building a telegraph line that would join the eastern and western networks.  The Western Union Telegraph Company took up the challenge, and immediately began work on the section between the western edge of Missouri and Salt Lake City.

To accomplish this, telegraph wire and glass insulators had to be shipped by sea to San Francisco and carried eastward by horse-drawn wagons over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Because much of the area was treeless, thousands of telegraph poles had to be shipped from the western mountains.

Indians were also a problem.  In the summer of 1861, a party of Sioux warriors took a section of wire for making bracelets.  Later some of the Sioux wearing the telegraph-wire bracelets became sick and a Sioux medicine man convinced them that the great spirit of the “talking wire” had avenged its desecration.  So, the Sioux left the line alone, and the Western Union was able to connect the East and West Coasts of the nation much earlier than anyone had expected.

Incidentally, the transcontinental telegraph caused the end of the Pony Express.

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