Old West Myth & Fact Archives

Jesse James’ Home Fire-Bombed By Pinkertons

   In 1874, Jesse and Frank James were robbing banks and trains to the point that the railroads decided to hire the famous detective group the Pinkertons to hunt them down.  But, the Pinkertons, in spite of their numbers and skill, weren’t having any luck rounding up the James boys. Then late in 1874 one of their agents, John Wicher was found dead close to the James home. The Pinkertons were convinced that the James’ or one of their people had killed him, and they decided to raise the ante.
  Receiving information that Jesse and Frank were visiting their mother in Kearney, Missouri, on January 26, 1875, the Pinkertons surrounded the James home with the idea of catching Jesse and Frank.  In the process, they threw an incendiary device into the house to illuminate the interior.  But it exploded.  Unfortunately, it blew off the arm of Jesse and Frank’s mother and killed their little brother.  In addition to this, neither Jesse nor Frank was there.
  Although the Pinkerstons never acknowledged that they were responsible for the bombing, everyone knew they did it.  Realizing they had overplayed their hand, from this point forward the Pinkertons developed a low profile in their search for the James Brothers.
  The bombing convinced everyone that the James Brothers were innocent victims of the powerful railroads.  The Missouri legislature even came close to passing a bill that would give amnesty to the Jameses.  And Zerelda Samuel, their mother, was always willing to make public appearances, showing her missing arm, and giving a melodramatic speech about how the evil railroads were persecuting her innocent sons.
  It worked too.  Because farmers throughout the region hid and protected the James Brothers, so the Pinkertons were never able to come close to catching them.

A Horse Thief That Was Caught

Little is known of William Arnett prior to his arriving with a couple of buddies in Goldcreek, Montana on August 21, 1862. The trio had a string of six good horses. However, there was something strange about the men. Although they looked as if they had done some hard traveling, they had no saddlebags or other evidence of men who would own fine horseflesh.

The men put the horses in a local corral and put out the word that they were for sale. In a short time, they found a buyer. The three men split up the proceeds from the sale, and Arnett’s buddies left town. But William Arnett decided to stick around Goldcreek, have a few drinks and play some cards.
On August 25, two strangers arrived from Elk City, Idaho. They started asking around town if three men had come through with a half dozen horses. They said the men had stolen the horses. The strangers were told three men had come through town, sold the horses, and one was still in town, at the saloon.
The men went to the saloon and found Arnett playing cards. When they confronted Arnett, he said he wasn’t going to surrender and end up being hanged… That he would rather shoot it out right now. With his cards in one hand, Arnett went for his gun. Unfortunately, for him, the two men shot faster than Arnett, and killed him on the spot.
When the smoke cleared, Arnett was laying on the floor, cards still clutched in one hand and gun in the other. In fact, his hands clutched the cards and gun so tightly they couldn’t be pried open, and William Arnett was buried with two full hands. 

Rattlesnake Dick

As a teenager Dick Barter and two of his relatives went to the California goldfields to seek their wealth. Dick’s relatives found working a sluice box too tough and went up to Oregon. But Dick loved the possibility of becoming wealthy.

One of the richest areas was Rattlesnake Bar. Dick worked that area. He constantly told everyone how beautiful the area was and that Rattlesnake Bar would make him wealthy. So, people started calling him Rattlesnake Dick.
But it seems his personality was such that he irritated everyone around him. After working the area a couple of years, some cattle showed up missing. Although there was no proof, Rattlesnake was accused and arrested for stealing the cattle. Eventually he was found innocent. A few months later he was accused and arrested for stealing a mule. This time he was convicted. But, on his way to prison, another man confessed to the crime.
Dick decided he had no future at Rattlesnake Bar, so he left. For two years he prospected with no incidents. Then miner’s items started disappearing, and Dick was again accused of taking them. To complicate things, a miner who had known Dick at Rattlesnake Bar told everyone about Dick’s background.
At this point Rattlesnake Dick decided that if everyone thought he was a thief, that’s just what he would become. And for the next three years he and his gang stole cattle and horses, robbed miners and stages.
Then on July 24, 1859 he met the fate of most outlaws and was killed by the sheriff. One could say, Rattlesnake Dick lived down to the expectations of others. 

Gambler Charles Cora Lynched

Following the money, in 1851 professional gambler Charles Cora traveled to San Francisco. He brought with him his 22-year-old paramour, Bella.
Gambling being legal, and Charles being a good gambler, he did well. But, San Francisco’s high society looked down upon them because he and Bella weren’t married.
In November of 1855 Charles and Bella went to a play at the American Theater. Their attendance outraged many of the attendees, including Marshall Richardson and his wife. Marshall Richardson asked them to leave. But Charles and Bella refused.
Over the next couple of days Charles and the Marshall exchanged insults, until one evening a drunken Marshall Richardson called Charles out. Shots were fired, and Marshall Richardson was dead.
In the first trial of Charles, the jury failed to come to a decision. So a second trial was scheduled. Charles Cora was confident of an acquittal… That is until May 14 when James Casey joined him in jail.
James Casey had shot James King, a respected newspaper editor. Ten thousand people gathered outside the jail, seeking vengeance for the shooting of King. Finally, the sheriff handed Casey over to the vigilantes. But they weren’t satisfied. They also wanted Charles Cora.
For two days Cora and Casey were held by the vigilantes. When the newspaper editor died, Cora and Casey’s fate was sealed. On May 22, as the editor was buried, Cora and King were hanged.
Had Casey not killed the editor, Cora would have probably gotten off with a second trial. But that’s not the only point of irony. Just before Cora was hanged, he and Bella got married. Had they done this nine months earlier, Cora wouldn’t have even been in jail.

Who Coined The Phrase “Hold Up?”

As a young man Bill Miner tried his hand at mining gold in California and later had a mail delivery service in San Diego. Not doing well at either, he started looking for some easy money. So… Bill robbed his first stage. Not being a success at this either, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin. While in San Quentin Bill Miner “got religion” and was released after serving 10 years.

Moving to Colorado, Bill left California and his religion behind. He robbed a number of trains and stagecoaches until he was captured and imprisoned. A jailbreak was followed by more robberies and another arrest. This time he was sentenced to a 25-year term in San Quentin. Again Bill Miner got religion and was released after serving 10 years.
A trip to Georgia for contributions from various trains and banks got him arrested again. This time he was sentenced to a life term.The religion ploy having run its course, Bill went back to the escape route. But he wasn’t any more successful with this activity than any other in which he engaged. He tried escaping three times, only to be captured and brought back to prison. Finally, in 1913, Bill Miner died in his cell.

Now, the phrase that Bill Miner coined that is used today took place on March 18, 1881. During a stagecoach robbery Bill made sure the passengers couldn’t go for their guns by telling them “hands up.” This was the first time this phrase was used. Later robbers varied the phrase by telling their victims, “hold your hands up” which later identified their activity as a “hold up.”
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