Old West Myth & Fact Archives

California Joe

California Joe (Moses Embree Milner)Moses Embree Milner was a well-built man, more than 6 feet in height. Not only did he constantly smoke a pipe, he chewed tobacco at the same time. In 1849, at the age of 20, he went to California like everyone else… for gold. Then he moved up to Oregon, and then to Montana where he acquired the name California Joe.

He then started doing some scouting for the military. In 1868, George Custer made him chief of scouts for the Seventh Cavalry. But that job didn’t last long because California Joe went out the night of his appointment and got so drunk that he had to be hogtied and returned to camp lashed to a mule. The next day Custer fired him as chief, but kept him on as a regular scout.

In 1874 he accompanied Custer on his excursion into the Black Hills of the Dakotas where gold was discovered. Although the discovery was to be kept a secret, it was supposedly California Joe who let the word out. It was probably during a drinking spree the night of his arrival back to civilization.

A year later California Joe accompanied Walter P. Jenney’s expedition into the Black Hills to confirm the discovery of gold, and open it for settlement. California Joe was able to stake out a homestead on the future site of Rapid city, South Dakota.

While in Nebraska, California Joe got into an argument with Tom Newcomb, and on October 29, 1876 Tom found California Joe looking the other way and shot him in the back. Because there was no law in the area Tom Newcomb was never tried, but two years later a couple of California Joe’s friends shot Tom in the back.

Air Conditioning in the Old West – A Reader’s Question

Question:  It’s so hot in the West and the Southwest during much of the summer that even today with air-conditioning, it can get downright uncomfortable.  How did they beat the heat in the Old West?

Air Conditioning in the Old West Answer:  There were several things people on the frontier did to make the hot, dry summers more bearable.  In some cases they used ingenuity.  In others it came with the territory.  One that came with the territory was on the plains.  With no lumber for homes, but plenty of territory or sod, they cut it into one foot by two foot rectangles and used the sod to make their homes.  Although these “soddies” had a lot of drawbacks, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Those frontiersmen who settled in areas with available lumber, built homes with overhanging porches on all sides.  That way no matter where the sun was located, the overhang shaded the windows.  The porch also provided a shady place to take a Sunday afternoon rest in a rocking chair.  And on hot nights a sleeping bag thrown on the porch provided an area with a cool breeze and protection in case of a midnight shower.  Cowboys living in bunkhouses often slept outside under the stars during the summer.

Even businesses found ways to keep their customers cool.  Back in 1880’s the town of Florence, in southern Arizona, bragged of having the coolest tavern in the southwest.  In the rear of the regular saloon, a tunnel had been dug in the ground.  That cool cave was called the Tunnel Saloon.

Clay Allison – Old West Psychopath

Clay AllisonClay Allison can be truly called a psychopath. At the height of the Civil War when the Confederate Army was drafting into service anyone who could hold a rifle, Clay was released on a medical discharge because he was maniacal.     
Ending up in Cimarron, New Mexico in 1870 Clay and some other local citizens broke a man out of jail and lynched him in the local slaughterhouse. Not being satisfied, Clay grabbed a knife; cut the man’s head off; stuck it on a pole; and gave it to a local saloon owner to display in his establishment.          
In 1875 Clay became involved in another lynching. This time the man was hanged from a telegraph pole. Without butcher equipment around, Clay dallied the end of the lynch rope around his saddle horn and dragged the corpse around town.
A lot of Clay Allison’s strange actions could also be credited to his fondness for strong drink. It seems that when Clay was “under the influence” he was inclined to take off his clothes; jump on his horse; and Lady Godiva around town. Then he would invite everyone into the nearest saloon for a round of drinks… Such a party animal.
Although Clay shot more than his share of men… usually when the confrontation was decidedly to his advantage, and knifed at least one. He didn’t go down in a blaze of glory like most gun fighters.
Clay Allison moved to the Pecos, Texas area, took a wife, started a ranch, and, for the most part, settled down. On July 3, 1887 he went into town for supplies. While there he stopped at the local tavern, and imbibed a bit more than he should have, because on the way home Clay fell off the wagon. A wheel rolled over him and broke his neck. He was dead within an hour. 

Stagecoach Driver Charley Parkhurst

Stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst was about 5’7”, with tobacco stains on a beardless face, and only one eye… The other was lost while shoeing a horse.
Charley Parkhurst
One day a gang led by a road agent named Sugarfoot held up Charley’s stage. Incidentally, they called him Sugarfoot because he wore empty sugar sacks on his extra large feet. From this point Charlie started carrying a pistol. About a year later Sugarfoot and his gang tried to hold up Charley’s stage again. This time Charley drove the stage’s horses into the gang; drew a pistol; killed Sugarfoot; and wounded the other two members of the gang.
In spite of the flashy clothes, endless stories and friendliness, Charley was a loner. Charley slept in the barn with the horses; bathed in creeks away from people; and stayed away from women.
Due to rheumatism, Parkhurst gave up driving a stage; opened up stage stop in Watsonville, California; registered to vote; and became a normal citizen of the community.
Charley ended up getting tongue cancer. Refusing treatment with threats to blow the head off any doctor who came close, Charley Parkhurst died on December 28, 1879.
When the autopsy was done, an amazing discovery was uncovered. Charley Parkhurst was actually… a fully developed woman, and she had even had a baby when she was younger. 
It seems that Parkhurst, as a young woman left alone to fend for herself, just figured out a way to make it in a male dominated world.
There’s one other accomplishment most people don’t think about when they hear the story of Charley Parkhurst. While a resident of Watsonville, California, Charley Parkhurst was the first woman in the United States to vote.

The Woman in Black in Sing Sing Prison

A Mysterious Woman Whose Repeated Visits
to the Famous Penal Institution Have
Excited Interest as to Her Identity.

Woman In Black in Sing Sing PrisonFebruary 9, 1894, Chief, Red Cloud, Nebraska
Sing Sing Prison has a mysterious woman visitor, but that is not remarkable, because seven-eighths of the visitors to the convicts there are women.  They all have burdens of sorrow to bear, but rarely of their own making, and they come and go year in and year out, to see beloved ones whom the world does not love and has put behind bars.  The gray prison walls hold all that is dear in life to these mothers, wives, sweethearts and sisters.

The husband who has committed crime that his wife may have luxurious surroundings usually retains the affections of that wife, even when he dons stripes and is close cropped.  The professional burglar often is a model family man and does not sever his family ties when he “does time.”  The man who kills his fellow man for the affections of a woman and is paying the penalty for that crime has surely a right to expect that that woman will care enough for him to remember and visit him while he is the servant of the state.

Then there is mother’s love, never failing, never even wavering in its unassailable constancy, and that accounts for one-half the visitors to the Sing Sing convicts.  Thirteen hundred men are confined at Sing Sing, and the army of women—sad women who are sad because of the thirteen hundred—must easily equal the convicts in number.

Many a romance brought to a tragic climax by the merciless hand of the law is suggested by these untiring visitors.  Even the ubiquitous hackmen who infest the Sing Sing railway station seem to appreciate this, for when these unhappy ones alight from the trains and look uneasily and self-consciously about, the drivers realize intuitively the nature of their errand and treat them with a deference rarely met within their class.  They approach respectfully, and in subdued tones say kindly, “To the prison, madam?” or, “Right this way to the prison.”

About one visitor only is there any mystery.  Others give their names and go to see some convict who is known to the keepers.  This one goes veiled, and no one knows who it is she goes to see.

A tall, lithe, graceful woman, attired all in black and wearing a heavy black veil, occupied a seat in a car directly in front of and opposite that of the writer recently.

She was uneasy and restless, though not obtrusively so; she carried herself with the fine reserve of a woman of breeding accustomed to do just such things.  Sometimes she would look anxiously about the car, as if in fear of being recognized, though with her veil recognition, even by an intimate friend, would have been clearly impossible.

An old-time hackman at the Sing Sing station approached her as she alighted.  She got into his ramshackle conveyance as if she had been in it before, and it rattled up the hill and over the stony road along the bluff to the prison a few hundred yards in advance of the equally noisy conveyance of the writer.

It was the hour at which the convicts, having finished their evening meal in the great feeding hall—it would raise the ghost of Brillat Savarin to call it a dining-room—march in lock-step to their cells, in long, single files.  They come through the stone-flagged prison-yard with a steady, machine-like shuffle of their heavy prison shoes.  Keepers stand about with heavy sticks in their hands.

By the entrance to the long granite building containing the tiers of cells are two great open boxes of bread.  Each striped miserable reach out and takes a piece with his left hand as he passes.  Slung on the right arm of each is an iron solp pail on which is painted the prisoner’s number.  The shuffle of the slowly-moving line continues for perhaps twenty minutes, at the end of which time each of the 1,300 has, with his supper in one hand and his slop-pail in the other, been locked in his cell.

The woman had been shown to the yard, and stood, a keeper by her side, under the portico of the inhospitable-looking hospital building.  The long lines of convicts marched toward her and turned not ten feet from where she stood, and marched past the bread-box into the building.  She supported herself with one daintily gloved hand against the stone wall, and, leaning forward in an attitude of eager interest, faced down the approaching line.

She tapped the pavement impatiently from time to time with the tow of her neat boot.

Some one in that long line riveted her attention; but there were hundreds there, and the veil prevented any one from seeing which striped one it was.

The prisoners all turned away their heads as they passed the woman.  Was it a prison rule that prompted this, or a sense of shame that has survived hardening crime?  Not one did otherwise.  Many faces flushed, and if any one in that line recognized the trim figure and graceful pose of the strange woman he could never be detected by the flush, for flushed faces were too numerous.

When the last man on the last line a Negro on crutches, who killed a policeman on Wall Street, had disappeared in the door, the woman was escorted out by the keeper.  She thanked Principal Keeper Connaughton for his courtesy, which to all visitors, men and women, is always the same.  Her voice was pleasant, and there were no tears in it.  Her manner indicated nothing in particular, and certainly not grief.  She was driven away to the station and returned to New York.

This woman’s visits occur once every two months.  Sometimes the interval between them is longer, and sometimes, but seldom, she misses one.

She has been coming for nearly three years, and her visits are always at the same hour.  She sees all the prisoners in their lockstep march, and no one connected with the prison knows her name.  No one in the prison has ever seen her face.

There are two ways of accounting for the periodical visits of this mysterious unknown.  She either loves or hates, with a greater love or a greater hate than ordinarily, someone of the Sing Sing convicts.  Perhaps it is love that impels her to remain veiled, and thus to spare the object of her affections humiliation and shame.  Unrequited love, perhaps, leads her to conceal her face.  Possibly her hate of some one in that long line of erring men derives a certain pleasure from the sight of him in the moment of his disgrace.

Who can tell why she hides her face?  Is it because of love or hate?

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