Old West Myth & Fact Archives

The Transcontinental Railroad Challenge

In 1850 over 9,000 miles of track covered the Northeastern portions of the United States. By 1860 there were 30,000 miles, more than the rest of the world combined, and the tracks were extending to the Midwest.

As early as the 1840’s Congress began thinking about the possibility of constructing a transcontinental railroad. And then in 1848, with the discovery of gold in California, it became even more important.


Two companies got the contract. The California based Central Pacific started eastward, and the eastern based Union Pacific began in Omaha, Nebraska, moving west. In February of 1863 the great race began. For six years the two railroad giants headed toward each other. And on May 10, 1869 they met at Promontory, Utah.

 
Four special spikes were used for the ceremonial uniting of the rails…two gold, a silver, and one that was a blend of gold, silver and iron. The celebrities lined up to drive the spikes. After several misses, and several, not so subtle snickers from weather-hardened men who had been driving spikes for six years, at 2:47 p.m. the railroad was declared completed.
 
In Washington D.C. a magnetic ball on the Capitol dome fell. A 100-gun salute went off in New York City. The Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia. 7,000 Mormons celebrated in Salt Lake City. And in San Francisco a banner waved, stating “California Annexes the United States.”
 
You may ask, “What happened to the ceremonial spikes?” Well, as soon as everyone left the area they were pulled and replaced with iron ones. Another interesting fact… the railroad wasn’t actually completed on that date. In order to meet the completion deadline they had skipped building a bridge over the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs.

The Terror of Tiburcio Vasquez

Tiburcio Vasquez

 Supposedly, when Tiburcio was just 18, he killed a man. But since he was never arrested for this crime, it might be just a story he spread.
 
What is known is that at the age of 19 he was arrested for stealing cattle and sentenced to five years at San Quentin. The prison authorities probably should have designated a permanent Tiburcio Vasquez cell, for two months after he got out, Tiburcio was back at San Quentin on larceny charges. And almost as soon as he served his time for this crime, he was back, this time charged with armed robbery.
 
At the age of 32 Tiburcio got out of San Quentin. But he obviously had not learned his lesson, because he continued his life of crime. Two years after his last prison stretch, Tiburcio escaped a posse after being shot up following a stage robbery. Then a year later, while robbing a store with six cohorts, Tee-burr-see-o killed four unarmed men.
 
With a reward posted of $8,000 alive, or $6,000 dead, in 1874 Tiburcio was captured following a shootout in which he was shot six times. He was taken to San Jose, tried, convicted, and on March 19, 1875, this 5’ 7”, 130 pound terror of California was hanged.

Dave Rudabaugh and Billy the Kid

Stephen AustinDave Rudabaugh was born in Missouri in 1841. Early in life he moved to Kansas. At the age of 18, Dave started a gang that rounded up and sold other people’s cattle. By the age of 29 he and his gang moved on to robbing payroll trains and railroad construction camps.
 
Obviously, the railroad didn’t like Rudabaugh’s activities. So they hired Wyatt Earp to stop them. But Wyatt’s pursuit didn’t inhibit Rudabaugh’s activities. For in January of 1878 he and his gang robbed a pay train in Kansas. Unfortunately for Rudabaugh, this was an area protected by Bat Masterson. Before Rudabaugh’s gang had a chance to spend the rewards of others labors, they found themselves in jail. Being a man lacking in character, Rudabaugh turned states evidence against his comrades and gained his freedom.
 
During the summer of 1880 Rudabaugh joined the gang of a New Mexico ruffian by the name of Billy the Kid. About 6 months later Rudabaugh and Billy the Kid ran into a posse led by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Rudabaugh was arrested, tried and sentenced to hang.
 
Facing a rope, Rudabaugh went underground. He dug a tunnel and high tailed it to Old Mexico.
 
For 5 years Dave Rudabaugh created all kinds of havoc in Mexico. Then, finally, this man who had lived in the shadow of other more famous men got his moment of glory. For on February 19, 1866 the local Mexican villagers fed up with Rudabaugh’s escapades, killed him. They then cut off his head, stuck it on a pole, placed the pole in the center of the village and had a fiesta. For once Dave Rudabaugh or at least part of Dave Rudabaugh was the center of attention.

Indians and the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887

Stephen AustinBy the late 1880’s most Indians were living on reservations. The reservations were under tribal ownership, with a communal style of control and use. Since it was the custom of white people to desire individual ownership of land and since many people felt that land ownership promoted industriousness, it was decided that the tribal ownership concept should be changed.
 
So, on February 8, 1887, the Dawes Severalty Act was passed. It gave the government the power to divide Indian reservations into privately owned plots. Men with families would receive 160 acres, single adult men got 60 acres, and boys received 40 acres. Women received nothing.
 
Except for women receiving nothing, it sounds like a pretty good deal, right? There were two problems. First, Indian culture was such that land, like air and sunlight wasn’t something that individuals owned. But the even greater problem was that it was a thinly veiled attempt by the government to take reservation land out of the hands of the Indians. For once the allotments were divided among the eligible Indians there were 86 million acres of land, or 62 percent of their holdings, left over. This land was available to be sold to anyone.
 
Even though friends of the Indians supported the act, it never produced the desired effect of assimilating Indians into white culture. In addition to the loss of lands, the Indians lost tribal bargaining power, and resentment developed that the government was trying to destroy traditional cultures.
 
Few people felt the Severalty Act was accomplishing its purpose, but it continued as law for forty years. Finally, in 1934, the Wheeler-Howard Act was passed that ended further transfer of lands from Indian hands, and made possible communal ownership to any tribe desiring it.

The Shoes (Made) of Flat Nose George

George Manuse went under a number of aliases. They included “George Parrott,” “Flat Nose George” and “George Curry.” There are even those who confuse him with Harvey Logan, because Harvey used a couple of similar aliases.
 
But, our George operated in the Powder River region of Wyoming. He was the leader of a gang that attempted to rob a Union Pacific train by removing a length of railroad track. Unfortunately, the train was running behind schedule. And a railroad inspection crew happened onto the missing rails before the train arrived. The crew notified the sheriff. A posse arrived, and engaged the would-be train robbers. In the fracas, two of the posse were killed.
 
Realizing things would be hot for him, George laid low for a while. But like with many a man, George just couldn’t keep his mouth shut and in July of 1880 he was in a saloon in Miles City, Montana with too many whiskeys under his belt. And he started bragging about his escapades in Wyoming. It was only a matter of days, and George found himself in jail in Rawlings, Wyoming. By the end of 1880, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to be hanged.
 
Like kids and Christmas, the citizens of Rawlings just couldn’t wait, and on the night of March 22, 1881, George Manuse, was escorted out of jail and hanged from a telegraph pole.

But they weren’t done with George. A couple of “surgeons” pealed the hide off of him, and made a pair of moccasins and a tobacco pouch out of it. Incidentally, you can still view this “remembrance” in a museum in Rawlings.
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