Old West Myth & Fact Archives

Dave MatherIt is said of Dave Mather that he spent as much time in jail as he did in the occupation of putting others there. Dave is known as “Mysterious” Dave Mather, because, supposedly little is really known about his life. But we know enough that if he notched his pistol each time he assisted in sending someone to their reward, he would have had to carry a couple of guns.   
In 1876 he assisted in the lynching of an innocent man. In January of 1880 he killed two men and seriously wounded another. Three days later he killed another man. February of that year he helped lynch three men. In 1884, during a stint as a lawman in Dodge City, he got crossways with Thomas Nixon and killed him. Dave was heard to mumble, “I ought to have killed him six months ago.”      
An example of the scrapes Dave got into and his method of getting out of them happened on May 10, 1885. Mather had been playing cards in Ashland, Kansas with a grocer named David Barnes. After Barnes won two out of three hands, Mather threw the cards at Barnes and picked up the pot of money. David Barnes pulled his gun and put a hole in Mather’s hat. Now, obviously, that wasn’t where he was aiming.       
Meanwhile, Mather’s brother, who happened to be the bartender, pulled his gun and started shooting. Dave Mather did likewise. When the shooting stopped, and the room cleared of gun smoke, David Barnes, the card player, was dead… and two innocent bystanders had holes in their legs. 
The Mather brothers were arrested. But, after posting a $3,000 bond, Dave mysteriously rode out of town to seek more notches for his gun. And so was born the legend of Mysterious Dave Mather into the lore of the Old West.

An Interview With Wild Bill Hickok

Interview with Wild Bill HickokThis is an interview by Henry M. Stanley, African explorer who uttered the famous line “Dr. Livingston, I presume?”  He met James Hickok while working for the Weekly Missouri Democrat.  At the time of his interview with Wild Bill Hickok he was a scout for the Seventh Calvary.

April 4, 1867, Weekly Missouri Democrat – James Butler Hickok, commonly called “Wild Bill” is one of the finest examples of that peculiar class now extant, known as Frontiersman, ranger, hunter and Indian scout.  He is now thirty-eight years old and since he was thirteen the prairie has been his home.  He stands six feet one inch in his moccasins and is as handsome a specimen of a man as could be found.  Harper’s correspondent recently gave a sketch of the career of this remarkable man which excepting a slight exaggeration, was correct.

We were prepared, on hearing of “Wild Bill’s” presence in camp, to see a person who would prove to be a coarse, illiterate, quarrelsome, obtrusive, obstinate bully; in fact one of those ruffians to be found South and West, who delights in shedding blood.  We confess to being greatly disappointed when, on being introduced to him, we looked on a person who was the very reverse of all that we had imagined.  He was dressed in a black sacque coat, brown pants, fancy shirt, leather leggings and had on his head a beaver cap.  Tall, straight, broad compact shoulders, Herculean chest, narrow waist, and well formed muscular limbs.  A fine handsome face, free from any blemish, a light moustache, a thin pointed nose, bluish-gray eyes, with a calm, quiet almost benignant look, yet seemingly possessing some mysterious latent power, a magnificent forehead, hair parted from the center of his forehead and hanging down behind the ears in long silky curls.  He is brave, there can be no doubt; that fact is impressed on you at once before he utters a single syllable.  He is neither as coarse nor as illiterate as Harper’s Monthly portrays him.

The following verbatim dialogue took place between us: “I say Bill, or Mr. Hickok, how many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?”

After a little deliberation, he replied, “I would be willing to take my oath on the Bible tomorrow that I have killed over a hundred a long ways off.”

“What made you kill all those men; did you kill them without cause or provocation?”

“No, by Heaven!  I never killed one man without a good cause.”

“How old were you when you killed your first man, and for what cause?”

“I was twenty-eight years old when I killed the first white man, and if ever a man deserved killing he did.  He was a gambler and counterfeiter, and I was in a hotel in Leavenworth City then, as seeing some loose characters around, I ordered a room, and as I had some money about me, I thought I would go to it.  I had lain some thirty minutes on the bed when I heard some men at the door.  I pulled out my revolver and Bowie knife and held them ready, but half concealed, pretending to be asleep.  The door was opened and five men entered the room.  They whispered together, ‘Let us kill the son of a b—h; I bet he has got money.’

“Gentlemen,” he said further, “that was a time, an awful time.  I kept perfectly still until just as the knife touched my breast; I sprang aside and buried mine in his heart and then used my revolvers on the others, right and left.  Only one was wounded besides the one killed; and then, gentlemen, I dashed through the room and rushed to the fort, procured a lot of soldiers, came to the hotel and captured the whole gang of them, fifteen in all.  We searched the cellar and found eleven bodies buried there-men who had been murdered by those villains.”

Turning to us he asked, “Would you have not done the same?  That was the first man I killed and I was never sorry for that yet.”

The Masterson – Peacock Shootout

From 1879 to 1881 James Masterson, Bat Masterson’s older brother, was the marshal of Dodge City. However, on April 6, 1881, because of a change in city government, James was dismissed. However, this wasn’t James’ only income. He owned a piece of the Lady Gay Saloon. His partner was an A. J. Peacock. Now, theirs wasn’t the most cordial partnership. Peacock had hired his brother-in-law, Al Updegraph as bartender, and James didn’t like it. On April 9, the dislike turned to gunshots between James, Peacock and Updegraph. In this Masterson – Peacock shootout no shots hit their mark, but the damage was done. 
Like with many a schoolyard squabble, I’m sure James probably said something like, “I’m going to tell my brother, and he’ll beat you up.” Because right after the incident, Bat Masterson, who was in Tombstone, Arizona at the time, jumped on a train, and traveled the 1,100 miles to Dodge City to avenge his brother.      
Peacock obviously knew that Bat was coming, because Peacock and Updegraph were waiting for Bat when his train arrived on April 16. Guns were drawn, and bullets started flying. Soon more gunshots were heard from another direction as some of Peacock’s friends enter the fray. And then more shots as James Masterson and his friends joined into the rukus.    
As the shootout participants were reloading their empty guns, the mayor and the sheriff showed up with loaded shotguns, and demanded the shootout stop. Which it did. Unfortunately, brother-in-law, Updegraph was killed during the shooting. 
The outcome of the Masterson – Peacock Shootout was that Bat Masterson was arrested, and charged for discharging a pistol upon the streets of the city. He pleaded guilty, and was fined $8 in costs. Bat paid the fine, and the two Mastersons wisely left town on the next train, and onto more incidents to add to their legend.
Masterson - Peacock Shootout

Marion Hedgepeth and H.H. Holmes

Marion Hedgepeth was born and raised in Missouri. As a young man, he went out west to Montana, Wyoming and Colorado where he learned the art of rustling, robbery and killing. Afterward, Marion headed back to St. Louis where he formed a gang known as “The Hedgepeth Four.”    
Marion was one of the most debonair outlaws ever to appear on a wanted poster. He was always immaculately groomed with slicked down hair hidden by a bowler hat. He wore a well-cut suit with topcoat. His wanted poster noted that his shoes were usually polished.   
The Hedgepeth Four committed a series of train robberies. Eventually Marion was caught and put on trial. Because of his dapper dress and good looks, the courtroom was filled with women and his cell was filled with flowers. But he was still sentenced to 25 years in the state prison. 
While waiting for transfer to prison, Marion’s cellmate was a H. H. Holmes, who was awaiting trial for swindling. Holmes confessed to Marion that he had murdered several women. Marion shared the information with the authorities, hoping it would lighten his sentence. This, along with petitions from women, got him pardoned after 12 years.
Riddled with tuberculosis, Marion continued his life of crime, and was arrested in Nebraska, where he served two more years. Now a physical wreck, on the evening of December 31, 1910 Marion entered a Chicago saloon with the objective of robbing the cash drawer. Unfortunately, a policeman interrupted the robbery, and Marion was shot dead.
Hearing of his death, Allan Pinkerton said of Marion Hedgepeth, “He was a bad man clear through.”    
Marion Hedgepeth and H.H. Holmes

Texas Rangers Surrender

Texas Rangers SurrenderThe stories of the bravery of the Texas Rangers are legendary. However, there was one incident when a group of them were cowards.  It was when events made the Texas Rangers surrender.
About ninety miles east of El Paso, Texas, are salt beds where people went to gather this essential mineral, not only for food, but also for silver mining. In 1876, Charles Howard tried to get control of the salt beds by filing a land claim on them. The salt gathers living in the area didn’t like this. In a confrontation, Howard killed one of their leaders. This caused an uproar. Texas Ranger major John B. Jones was sent to investigate. Seeing the need for more help, he organized Company C of the Texas Rangers.  
To be fair, the men he recruited were toughs from Silver City, New Mexico, and the man he put in charge, John Tays, was no leader. Under normal circumstances, none of these men would have met the Texas Ranger standards. But, these weren’t normal circumstances. 
On December 12, Tays and the other Rangers entered San Elizario. As soon as they got there, the salt gathers knifed to death the local storeowner. The Rangers did nothing. The next morning a sniper shot their sergeant. With the Rangers under siege, they surrendered to the mob. 
The Rangers were locked up in a building and then the salt gathers killed anyone they thought was against them. After the killing was done the Rangers were released to return home the best way they could.
Within days military troops showed up, but by then all of the killers had fled south of the border.
Never before, nor since have the Texas Rangers stood by and watched crimes take place, or surrendered without a fight.    
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