Cattle Industry Decimated

Cattle Industry DecimatedBy the mid 1880’s the cattle industry was going wild. Speculators were overstocking the grazing ranges of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. And with several mild winters they were also saving money by not putting up feed for wintertime. The summer of 1886 was a dry one. By autumn the range was almost barren of grass… And then winter came early with record-breaking snow falls. January 9, 1887 was the worst day of the worst winter, with an inch of snow falling each hour for 16 hours. The temperature went as low as 63 degrees below zero. It ended up with the cattle industry decimated.
 
With no stored winter feed the cattle wandered into towns. Great Falls, Montana had as many as 5,000 cattle eating trees and anything else eatable. Most ended up dying in the streets of the town.
 
In the spring the ranchers went out to check the damage. Where once cattle grazed the ranges, now there were only carcasses. Rotting cattle filled the rivers and streams so it was impossible to find water fit to drink.   
 
The Continental Land and Cattle Company lost almost all of their 30,000 head. The Swan Land and Cattle Company found only 10% of their 5,500 three-year-olds. Hundreds of ranches went into bankruptcy… including Theodore Roosevelt, who returned East. 
 
As a result of the devastating winter, those ranchers who survived decreased the size of their herds. They realized they needed more control of the cattle and stretched barbed wire across their land. They also started doing more farming to provide plenty of winter-feed. This, in turn, changed the cowboy into a farm hand.

Heard Around The Bunkhouse #7 – Pioneer Terms and Sayings

Pioneer Terms

In our feature Heard Around the Bunkhouse we bring you pioneer terms and sayings that they used back in the Old West. Hope you enjoy them, and send us your favorite terms from those past times.

PACK –  In the old west nothing was carried.  Whether it was transported on a person or animal, the item was packed.

PACKER- The man in charge of pack animals.

PACK IRON – To carry a pistol.

SURFACE COAL – Buffalo or cow dung fuel.

SWITCHES – Thorny thickets in which cattle can hide.

PULL LEATHER – To hold on to the saddle while riding a pitching horse.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Old West Book Review: Wrecked Lives and Lost Souls

Wrecked Lives and Lost SoulsWrecked Lives and Lost Souls; Joe Lynch Davis and the Last of the Oklahoma Outlaws, Jerry Thompson, University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, Paper. Nonfiction, U.S. History, Illustrations. Maps, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Born in 1891, Joe Lynch Davis was the second of five children born to Jack Davis and Bessie Satterwhite.  The first part of this biography explains how the early Davis family migrated from northern Georgia to Oklahoma before the Civil War, accumulating land and becoming successful ranchers.

Jack Davis and his kin were tough people, allowing nothing to stand in their way of gaining vast amounts of cattle, horses, and other business interests through hard work.  However, friends and neighbors were of the same cloth, and some of their endeavors were mixed with cattle rustling, horse theft, bank heists, train robberies and murder.  In the midst of all this, Joe Lynch Davis, the main subject of this nook, grew into a tough young hellion good with guns and horses.  By the time he was in his late teens he had already been involved in much of the mayhem.  He seemed never to quell his enthusiasm whether in a roping contest at the local rodeo, or riding hard one step ahead of a sharp-shooting posse.

Joe’s family was mixed up in a Porum, Oklahoma feud that left more than 20 men dead.  The Davis clan along with friends and enemies shot it out resulting in night-riding, arson, ambushes, missing persons, maimed bodies, and bloody folks getting even with each other by a variety of aggravated misunderstandings that end like all feuds do – with nobody knowing for sure what started it all.

During and after all this, young Joe was involved in one scrape after another quite  fearlessly planning and carrying out cattle rustling, bank holdups and train robberies. Sometimes he and his gang pulled off more than one heist in one day. When occasionally Joe got caught and had to stand trial, he was let go by juries too scared of his family to find him guilty.  Behind the scenes was Joe’s rich daddy who always found top-notch, high-priced lawyers to defend his son.

The book goes into detail about all the train and bank robberies, how much was stolen, and the aftermath.  Somewhere along the way Joe met an attractive young lady named Lula Cobb, and together they had a little girl.

In 1917 Joe got caught after another train robbery that included the shooting death of a railroad employee.  Railroad and Postal detectives this time got their man. Joe and his buddies did not get away with it.  Joe did 17 years at Leavenworth Penitentiary, including several years in solitary confinement living on bread and water.  The Davis family spent all their money hiring lawyers to free their son.  Eventually President Herbert Hoover gave him a conditional commutation.  Joe quietly returned to a desolate Oklahoma, ravaged by the Dust Bowl era’s Great Depression.  His family was now poor, and Lula had been murdered years before by a violent and abusive husband who committed suicide.

Old and broken, in poor health, rebuffed by his family for having caused so much pain, Joe minded his own business, got a job, and never gave an interview.  Joe died at age 86 in 1979.  The author of this book is the son of Joe’s orphaned daughter.  His interest in his grandfather was piqued when he found some old letters in a dresser drawer after his mother’s death.  This led to years of painful research, thus readers feel the strength of his writing and depth of emotion, as he finds out about a grandfather whose outlaw life had been kept secret by the Davis family.  Jerry Thompson is to be commended for his story, neither condemning nor defending a grandfather who was never part of his life.

Publisher’s Notes: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including Death For Dinner, the Benders of (Old) Kansas, Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York, 10988.  Ph. (845) 726-3434. www.silklabelbooks.com

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Train Robbed By Road Agents

Train Robbed By Road AgentsJanuary 22, 1883, Bee, Sacramento, California – Passenger train No. 1, which left Sacramento Saturday night, was captured at Montello last night by masked road agents who relieved the train men of their watches and money and then locked them up in the tank.  They then cut the engine, postal and express cars off and put them on the sidetrack, and called express messenger Ross, who, thinking he was at Tacoma, opened the car door.

He was commanded to step out, but declined, and shutting the car door was fired upon and wounded in the hand.  He kept the door closed and returned the fire as best he could.  Some fifteen or twenty shots were exchanged, the door being badly battered up.

The section men were robbed and locked up just before No. 1 reached Montello.  When No. 2 arrived at Montello, Conductor Clement was ordered to pull out, which he did, reaching Tacoma as soon as possible and reported train No. 1 as in the hands of robbers.

The train was released and reported at Tacoma before an armed force could be dispatched from Tacoma.  The passengers were not molested and nothing was lost except the money taken from train employees.  Their watches were returned.

The man who took charge of the engine is described as 5 feet 9 inches high, and of light complexion.  Conductor Casson, who had charge of the train, thinks there were six men and nine horsed, while Clement thinks there were fifteen.  They rode off in a southerly direction.

The Chinese section hands robbed were badly demoralized and will not work.  Four of them walked to Tacoma and had their feet badly frozen.

The No. 2 was the westbound overland passenger train, which stopped at the place where the robbers were at work, and was ordered on and hurried to Tacoma, four miles away, to give the alarm.  Had they got through with No.1 before No. 2 arrived it was doubtless intended to rob the latter also.

The robbery took place in Elko County, Nevada, 100 moles from Elko and 167 miles from Ogden.  The train was due at the latter place at 8 A.M., but was about three hours late in consequence of the robbery.

The Central Pacific Railroad Company has offered a reward of $500 for each man arrested and convicted, in addition to the regular reward of Wells, Fargo and Co.  All detectives and officers have been notified.

Death Valley Christmas

Death Valley ChristmasFor pioneers headed out west times were tough. But no matter what the circumstances, even the harshness of Death Valley, they took time out to celebrate a Death Valley Christmas.
It was December of 1849. The Brier family, comprised of Rev. Brier, his wife Juliet and three children aged nine, six and four were traveling from Illinois to California in an all male wagon train. Unable to keep up, the Briers were left behind. Finally forced to abandon their wagon, they continued on by foot.
On Christmas Eve the Briers entered Death Valley. Rev. Brier went ahead of his family to look for water. Juliet, carrying their four-year-old son pushed the cattle ahead. At midnight they came across a small fire and Rev. Brier. It was six more miles to the main camp and water. When they arrived, they washed off the alkali dust. Two teamsters headed in the same direction as the Briers showed up in camp. Meat was cooked, biscuits made, and coffee boiled.
Sitting by the warmth of the fire, the small group listened to Rev. Brier as he preached his Christmas sermon. After the sermon was over, a man scouting ahead for another wagon train joined the group.
Death Valley Christmas
A Night in Death Valley
Although the Briers were no longer alone, their hard time was not over. They walked the remaining 400 miles to Los Angeles. Were it not for the determination of Juliet Brier, who was only five foot tall, the family would not have made it. During those last three weeks she not only steadied her husband, but she provided inspiration to all the men in the wagon train.
The Brier family arrived safely in Los Angeles where Rev. and Juliet Brier lived a long life, having more children. But they never forgot that Christmas in Death Valley.
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