Old West Myth & Fact Archives

Curly Bill Killed Fred White

Curly Bill Killed Fred WhiteAlthough Western movies often show a villain or hero’s dexterity with a pistol, much of that dexterity or trick shooting was fiction. But there was one incident where it may have taken place. It was when Curly Bill killed Fred White.

Even though western movies like Tombstone showed cowboys with the ability to do fancy tricks with pistols, or even tin cups, very few cowboys could, or even cared to do, fancy tricks. Success in a shootout was determined by steadiness and accuracy, not gun twirling. But, on October 28, 1880, a fancy gun trick was supposedly used.
           
Curly Bill Killed Fred White

Fred White

Tombstone was barely three years old. Fred White was the town Marshal, and Wyatt Earp was County Deputy Sheriff. A group of drunken cowboys was shooting it up in town. As White and Earp headed toward the cowboys, the group scattered. They cornered Curly Bill Brocius, a ne’er-do-well member of the Clanton gang. 

               
Marshal White asked for Curly Bill’s gun. It’s here that the story goes in two different directions. One says that Curly Bill offered his cocked pistol to Marshal White barrel first. And, either White grabbed the gun, or Wyatt Earp grabbed Curly Bill, but, in either event, the gun went off, killing Marshal White.
 
The other version says that Curly Bill handed the gun to Marshal White butt first, and as White reached for the gun, Curly Bill spun the butt into his own hand, cocking and shooting the pistol in what has come to be known as the “border draw.”
 
But, in either event, the outcome was the same… Marshal White was dead. What’s interesting is that as Marshal White was dying, he said the shooting was an accident. And, when Curly Bill’s gun was examined, there was only one spent shell. Quite possibly, he was just an innocent bystander who got swept up in a raid.
 
Whichever it was, the outcome was good for Curly Bill. Although Curly Bill killed Fred White, he was found innocent.
 

Old West Women Dueling

Women Dueling - Mattie Silks - Cort ThompsonThe year was 1877. The location was Denver, Colorado. In May, the locals were entertained by midget Tom Thumb in P. T. Barnum’s stage show. Three months later, there was a performance of another type that entertained some of the Denverites. It was the first of its kind recorded in the Old West; one where there are women dueling.
           
Mattie Silks had a boyfriend named Cort Thomson. Now, Cort was a bit of a rounder. And he started sneaking off and seeing a Kate Fulton. When Mattie found out about it, she was upset. Many a woman would have gone into her room close the door and cry her eyes out. But not Mattie. She looked up Kate and challenged her to a fight to the death with pistols.
               
On August 25, the two women met on the street, each was given a single shot pistol. Of course, boyfriend and scoundrel, Cort Thomson, had to be there to glory in the whole affair. The two women squared off and fired. Neither woman hit their mark. In a strange twist of fate, the only person hit was boyfriend Thomson. But, it was only a flesh wound.
 
After missing each other, the women threw down their pistols and commenced a fight. In the process, Kate ended up with a broken nose. Realizing Mattie was not one to trifle with, the next day, Kate left town.
 
What is not known is whether Mattie Silks took Cort Thomson back and nursed him to health. But, I can assure you, if she did, Thomson’s eyes didn’t stray again. Incidentally, it’s not known which woman actually shot Cort. But, I would suspect that whichever one did it that was her aim.

History Of The Santa Fe Trail – Pt 2

Santa Fe TrailWho is it that has neither seen nor read of Pike’s Peak?  If he has not, he has neither traveled nor read the newspapers, and is therefore ignorant of the fact that, that prominent  bump (14,147 feet high) upon the earth’s face derived its name from that of Maj Zebulon M. Pike, an explorer, by authority the United States.  He was in Santa Fe in 1807.  His condition on the route (the future Santa Fe Trail), via the Conejos, across to the Chama, and down that stream past Ojo Caliente and San Juan to Santa Fe, may be inferred from inquiries concerning him and his party; whether those men ragged apparel consisting of overalls, breech cloth ­leather coats, and without covering for the head, were a tribe living in houses.  Pike was promoted to brigadier-general and lost his life in 1813, at the taking of Toronto.

It was a misnomer to call the Santa Fe road a trail.  On either side, for miles, a vast expanse of level greensward relieved the solitude that surrounded you – unless, indeed, there was visible a band of Indians, a herd of buffaloes, a prairie dog village, a bunch of antelope, a gray wolf, badger, or long-faced coyotes, with furtive glance, on a swinging trot, putting a deal of real estate between them and supposed danger.  A trip over the plains abounded in interest.  The rarity of the atmosphere lent en­chantment to the scene; the mirage so frequently seen was not the least interesting sight.  For hundreds of miles nature denied the wayfarer fuel, but the buffalo in the plentitude of its na­ture, supplied the omission and no one for the want of fuel was compelled to go supperless to bed.

Thirty-three years ago the incidents of the journey were being related by “a tenderfoot,” who had just arrived in Santa Fe “over land,” from the states.  Kit Carson and others were present, and among other astonishing things the newcomer related was, that he had been obliged to cook by a buffalo-chip fire.  When doubts were expressed as to the truth of his assertion, “Kit” came to his relief by stating that he had been so frequently reduced to the same necessity that he finally acquired such a taste for the chip that he was induced to throw away the mean and eat the chip.

The writer, the senior of the Belt, inasmuch as he has had some experience, can well credit the statement of the stranger and Carson.  The trail is now obliterated, the buffaloes are gone, chips are a thing of the past, railroad cars have superseded the prairie schooner and the carrion crow, on the trail, no longer revels upon the decaying flesh of an overworked ox or mule that fell from exhaustion upon the unfenced expanse west of the Missouri River and east of Santa Fe.

The Rufus Buck Gang

Rufus Buck was a Ute Indian living in the Indian Territory. The Rufus Buck Gang comprised of four Creek Indians and a combination Creek and black. All of them had served time in jail for minor offenses.
           
Buck supposedly boasted, “That his outfit would make a record that would sweep all the other gangs of the territory into insignificance.” And on July 27, 1895, the gang started a thirteen-day crime spree that did exactly that.
               
They killed Deputy Marshal John Garrett. They came across a Mrs. Wilson. She was kidnapped and violated. From there they saw Gus Chambers with some horses. When he resisted, the Buck Gang killed him. They next robbed a stockman, taking his clothes and boots. Fortunately, he was able to escape in a hail of bullets. Two days later, they invaded the home of Rosetta Hassan. She was violated in front of her husband and children.
 
The Rufus Buck Gang
The gang was arrested, and brought before Hanging Judge Isaac Parker, and they were sentenced to be hanged. He scheduled it for July 1, 1896 between nine in the morning and five in the evening.
 
Quite possibly Judge Parker should have stated an exact time, because, on the day of the hanging, one of the gang members said he wanted to be hanged at ten in the morning so his body could be on the 11:30 train. Rufus Buck protested, saying that if he was hanged that early, there would be a several hour delay before his body could be on the appropriate train. The Rufus Buck Gang then decided they wanted to be hanged separately.
 
Marshal Crump smiled, set the time for 1:00, and hanged them all at one time.

Wild Bill Hickok Fighting

Wild Bill Hickok fightingOn July 21, 1870 Deputy U.S. Marshal Wild Bill Hickok was in a bar in Hayes City, Kansas when two of a group of five Seventh Cavalry troopers suddenly attacked him from behind. It’s not quite clear what provoked the attack, but there is thought it might have had something to do with an encounter Wild Bill had seven months earlier with Tom Custer, brother of George Custer and a member of the Seventh. But one thing is clear, you didn’t want to be on the wrong end of Wild Bill Hickok fighting.
           
One soldier held Wild Bill’s arms so he couldn’t fight back. A second put the muzzle of his pistol to Wild Bill’s ear and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
               
Now Wild Bill is fighting with super human strength. He got one pistol unholstered and shot one of the soldiers in the wrist and the side. Finally able to point his pistol at the man holding him, Hickok shot him in the knee. Released, Wild Bill then did the old stuntman trick of jumping through the window, breaking glass, rolling on the ground outside, and hightailing it out of the area.
 
It was a good thing too, because when word of the shooting got back to the Seventh’s headquarters a number of soldiers headed into Hayes City looking for Wild Bill. General Sheridan even ordered Hickok’s arrested. But it never took place.
 
The event, just as it happened, was something most people would find an amazing feat. But as with most of Hickok’s adventures, it immediately took on even larger proportions. At first newspapers said all five soldiers attacked Hickok. And some ten years later Wild Bill had taken on 15 troopers, killing 3, and being wounded 7 times. Now that’s a story you could tell with pride.
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