Old West History Archives

William Johnson and an Old West “Romeo and Juliet”

Born and raised in Ohio, when the Civil War broke out, William Johnson became a Captain on the Confederate side. Following the Civil War, he mustered out in Texas.       
 
Deciding to do some ranching in New Mexico, Johnson picked up a small herd of cattle in Texas and drove them up to New Mexico. On the way up he ran into some Indians, and was wounded in both legs. He managed to make it to the Beckwith ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico.             
 
During Johnson’s recuperation he fell in love with one of Hugh Beckwith’s daughters, Camellia. Although Beckwith was also a believer in the Confederacy, he was against Johnson marrying his daughter. Thinking love conquers all, the two got married anyway. And Johnson started a ranch near the Beckwith spread.    
 
The cattle on the Beckwith ranch seemed to grow beyond all proportion of normalcy. And neighboring rancher John Chisum felt the reason for this was that Beckwith was stealing some of his stock. So, in April of 1877, John Chisum and a bunch of his cowboys conducted a raid on the Beckwith ranch. As it happened, none of the Beckwith men were present. But son-in-law William Johnson was. And he engaged the Chisum men in a rifle shootout until Chisum decided to give up the cause. 
 
Now, you would have though old man Beckwith would have been pleased with the performance of his son-in-law. But it doesn’t seem he was, because their one-sided feud not only continued, it escalated, until on August 16, 1878 when Johnson was talking to Beckwith about ranching practices… quite possibly criticizing Beckwith’s practice of taking other rancher’s stock… when Beckwith grabbed his shotgun and fatally shot his son-in-law. And you think your in-laws are harsh.     
cowboy with rifle

David Neagle – Marshall of Tombstone

David NeagleOn July 15, 1880 David Neagle arrived in Tombstone, Arizona. If he had had the ability to see the future, he would probability have continued on down the road.       
 
 David had operated a mine in the past, and knowing many of the miners, thought he could earn a living in that business in Tombstone. But that wasn’t the direction fate took him. He signed on as county deputy sheriff under Sheriff Behan where he perused stage robbers and stock rustlers… one time alongside Wyatt and Morgan Earp.           
 
David Neagle was a man “credited with being one of the fastest pistol shots in the West, and of indisputable courage,” and was liked by both the Democrats and Republicans. 
 
After the O. K. Corral shootout and the ambush shooting of Virgil Earp, Neagle decided to run for town marshal as an independent and won. This was during a time when the conflict between the Earps and the Clantons, and the Republicans and the Democrats was at its worst. But Neagle serving both as the town marshal and deputy county sheriff was liked by everyone, yet not quite trusted by anyone because he seldom took sides.  
 
When County Sheriff Behan decided not to run for another term, Neagle, again as an independent, decided to run for county sheriff. But this time he was branded as a Republican friend of the Earps, which resulted in his being defeated. It also resulted in the Democrat vote being split, and a Republican elected.  
        
By now Neagle was wearing thin on everyone. So David quietly served out his term as town marshal, left Tombstone, and headed for Montana. 
 
David Neagle is a good example of how, in a polarizing situation, when you want to be everyone’s friend, you sometimes end up being no one’s friend. 

Cheyenne Dog Soldier Chief Tall Bull

Cheyenne Dog Soldier Chief Tall BullTall Bull was a fairly common name for the Cheyenne, had by several braves. But the Tall Bull known by the whites of the Old West was Cheyenne Dog Soldier Chief Tall Bull. And under his leadership, they became one of the toughest foes of the United States government in the bloody Plains Indian Wars.      
 
Tall Bull and his Dog Soldiers spent the winter and spring of 1867 attacking stages and stage stations. Although, in no way defeated, they agreed to talk peace that fall. Even though the treaty they signed stated differently, they had a verbal agreement to be able to hunt the grounds above the Arkansas River as long as there were buffalo there.          
 
The next spring Tall Bull took his warriors above the Arkansas to hunt, and while they were there, they also did some raiding. With soldiers pursuing him, Tall Bull was successful in attacking them on several occasions. So, the army put together a special force under General Eugene Carr to get Tall Bull.
 
On July 11, 1869, believing he had outdistanced the pursuing force, Tall Bull and his warriors made camp at Summit Springs, Colorado. But, Carr’s Pawnee scouts had found the village, and the soldiers were able to get next to the village, undetected, before attacking. 
 
During the battle Tall Bull, and many Dog Soldiers were killed. Although the Cheyenne fought for another ten years, because of this battle, the Dog Soldiers were never again a major force. 
        
Incidentally, even though, Carr’s civilian guide, Buffalo Bill Cody, claimed to have killed Tall Bull, others in the battle say there was no way to tell who killed him, because everyone was shooting at him.  

Martin Sweeny Indian Agent

Martin Sweeny Indian AgentMartin Sweeny, Indian Agent, was born in Massachusetts in 1845, and decided to head out West at the age of 23. He ended up in Arizona shoeing horses on the Apache reservation. Here he learned the Apache language, and developed an appreciation for their lifestyle.      
 
During this time as well as Apache who were on the war path, there were those who helped the military. Because Sweeny knew the Apache language, he was hired to teach the peaceful Apache military tactics, to help them fight in conjunction with the cavalry. Sweeny worked so well with the Apache that when the local Indian agent resigned, Sweeny was offered the job.         
 
But Sweeny was looking at other opportunities. For the last couple of years he had been investing in silver mines around the Tombstone, Arizona area. One of them, the Grand Central, was beginning to do quite well. So Sweeny left the Apache Reservation for Tombstone. 
 
On June 24, 1878 Sweeny was visiting the Grand Central mine with one of his partners, an Oliver Boyer. A disagreement arose between the two men. Voices were raised, and a shove or two took place. Now, Sweeny was a large man, and was noted for his skill as a fighter, but he didn’t carry a gun. However, his partner did. And Boyer pulled his pistol, and killed Sweeny. Boyer was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. 
        
Although there were those shootouts that give the Old West the excitement we like to hear about, the vast majority of people who were killed by a gun, like they are today, were defenseless. 

Billy Wilson and Pat Garrett

Billy Wilson and Pat GarrettDuring the Old West men changed names so freely that sometimes there’s confusion as to their real ones, and their aliases. Some say the subject of today’s story’s real name was Billy Wilson; others David Anderson. In reality, what a man calls himself isn’t important; it’s what he does while using that name. Under the name of Billy Wilson, our man came to Lincoln County, New Mexico and bought a livery stable. Later he sold it, and was paid in crisp new $100 bills. Unknown to him, they were counterfeit. On the run for passing counterfeit money, he joined Billy the Kid and his renegade posse.     
 
In 1881 Pat Garrett arrested our man. Wilson was sentenced to 25 years for counterfeiting. But, he escaped jail, and went to Texas. There he used another name… David Anderson.        
 
Our man, using his new identity, bought a ranch. This time he used real money, got married, had children and became a respected citizen of the area. But, eventually his real identity was discovered, and it seemed he would be returned to New Mexico to serve his sentence.          
 
But a strange thing happened. The governor of New Mexico filed a petition to have our man given a Presidential pardon. Accompanying the petition were about 25 letters, including one from Pat Garrett, the man who originally arrested him. Our man was granted his pardon. 
 
David Anderson eventually became the county sheriff. But on June 14, 1918, unarmed, David confronted a young man who was causing a disturbance. The kid pulled a pistol, and killed Sheriff Anderson. Unlike Anderson, the young man was given no chance to reform his life. Within an hour of Anderson’s death, he was hanged.  
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