Old West Myth & Fact Archives

Judge Roy Bean

Before Judge Roy Bean became “The law west of the Pecos”, he had quite a life. He killed a couple of people, broke out of a jail where he was being held for attempting to kill another person, and he had a stiff neck with scars, the result of an unsuccessful hanging.
           
In 1882, at the age of 55, a bearded, rum-soaked, fat Judge Roy Bean purchased a tavern in a place on the Pecos River called Vinegaroon, Texas, and he got elected justice of the peace. 
               
Bean saw a picture of Lily Langtry, a stage performer from the east, and fell in love with her; changed the name of the town to Langtry; and the saloon, which was also his courthouse, to the Jersey Lilly.
 
His pronouncements as a judge were often unique to say the least. Finding a pistol and $40 on a dead man, he fined the man $40 for carrying a pistol, and confiscated the gun. He freed a man for killing a Chinese because the only law book he had didn’t say anything about a law against killing Chinese. Another time he let a friend off because, “the Mexican should not have gotten in front of the gun my friend happened to be firing.”
 
After a number of years handing down his unique brand of justice, Roy Bean was thrown out of office when the number of votes for him way exceeded the number of eligible voters.
 
During his time as a Judge, Roy Bean wrote Lily Langtry, asking her to visit him. Finally, in September of 1903 Lily Langtry came to Langtry, Texas. Unfortunately, Judge Roy Bean didn’t get to meet her… He had died six months earlier, on March 14, 1903.
 
Judge Roy Bean holding court in Langtry, Texas

Cynthia Ann Parker Kidnapped Twice

In 1833, when she was a child, the family of Cynthia Ann Parker and several other families came to Texas. One day when the men were in the fields working, a Comanche raid took place. Seven residents were killed and five, including Cynthia Ann Parker kidnapped. They were able to find and rescue all of the captives… except Cynthia Ann Parker. 
               
Cynthia Ann Parker Kidnapped Twice
Cynthia Ann, kidnapped at the age of nine, became the wife of Peta Nocona, the tribal chief. Cynthia had three children by him. Now, normally a Comanche chief would have a number of wives. Peta Nacona was happy with only Cynthia Ann.
 
In 1860, while the men were out hunting, some Texas Rangers and military troops raided the tribe’s village, completely catching them off guard. Cynthia Ann was captured, along with her youngest child.
 
Cynthia Ann Parker didn’t feel as if she had been rescued, it seemed as the same ‘Cynthia Ann Parker kidnapped’ story once again. She often tried to leave the white society, and the daughter that Cynthia Ann had brought with her died. And in mourning, Cynthia Ann starved herself to death. In addition, her Comanche husband, Peta Nocona, also died in mourning.
 
Cynthia Ann’s oldest son, Quanah Parker became the chief of his tribe. By 1870 the Comanche had been defeated and were being relocated to the Fort Sill reservation… All that is except Quanah and his people. They were raiding settlements throughout the Texas frontier.
 
In his many battles with the army, Quanah was never defeated. Finally, in 1875, as if the anger was gone from his heart Quanah Parker gave up his fight against the army, relocated to a reservation, and started fighting for Indian rights in the political arena. On February 22, 1911 Quanah Parker died.
 
The question remains, would Quanah Parker have gone on the warpath if his mother had been allowed to stay with her Comanche family? Probably not. 

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.

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