Frank James Surrenders

   Six months after a member of his own gang shot Jesse James in the back, and after committing at least twenty robberies, on October 5, 1882, Frank James, Jesse’s brother surrendered to Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden.
   At the ceremonial surrender, Frank James said, “I want to hand over to you that which no living man except myself has been permitted to touch since 1861, and to say that I am your prisoner.” With that Frank James turned over his .44 Remington revolver, holster and cartridge belt.
   Now, prior to this Frank James had entered into negotiations that were to determine the outcome of his surrender and later trial. He had written Governor Crittenden asking for amnesty because the hardships he had endured as an outlaw were worse than a prison sentence. He also maintained that others committed many of the crimes of which he had been accused.
   Governor Crittenden had replied that he could not give amnesty… but if Frank James went on trial and was convicted, he could give him a pardon.
So Frank James went on trial for murdering Frank McMillan, a passenger who had been killed during a train robbery a year earlier. After seven days of witnesses, and two days of legal arguments, Frank was acquitted. It seems the case against him had mysteriously collapsed.
   After his acquittal, Frank James returned to a normal life and spent 32 years in a variety of jobs, including a four-year tour with a theater company, and six years as a doorman at a St. Louis burlesque house. His last years were spent on the Missouri homestead where he grew up, charging tourists 50 cents to view the cabin in which he and his brother were born.

Chuckwagon: Mormon Johnnycakes

        Here is a form of cornbread used not only by the Mormon immigrants, as the name indicates, but quite often by most of the immigrants traveling west.  Because of the inclusion of buttermilk, a source of fresh milk was a necessity.

        2-cups of yellow cornmeal.                        

        ½-cup of flour.      

        1-teaspoon salt.                                        

       1-teaspoon baking soda.                             

       Combine ingredients and mix in 2-cups of  buttermilk and 2-tablespoons molasses.                                                                                      

        Pour into a greased 9” pan and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.  To get a lighter johnnycake include two beaten eggs and 2 tablespoons melted butter.

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

William Becknell Creates the Santa Fe Trail

In the early 1800’s the Southwest was part of Mexico, and Mexico was under the domination of Spain. Because the Spanish were afraid of the expansion of the Anglos, they closed the area to anyone from the states. Any American trader they found in the area ended up in jail.
In 1821 William Becknell and four other men were doing some trading with the Comanche Indians on the American controlled side of the Rockies when they encountered some Mexican troops. The troopers told Becknell that Mexico had won their independence, and the area was once again open to Americans. Immediately Becknell headed for Santa Fe, where he was able to sell everything he had at an enormous profit.
Five months later he was back in Missouri looking for men “to go westward for the purpose of trading for horses and mules and catching wild animals of every description.” With less than half the volunteers he was looking for, on November 16, 1821 Becknell and three wagonloads of merchandise arrived in Santa Fe.
Becknell’s delivery of goods to Santa Fe was a feat to be admired, but the delivery was not what made him famous. It was the route he took to get there.
For decades Mexican traders had used a route that went over a dangerous high mountain pass. What Becknell did was to create a shortcut that led across the Cimarron Desert. The route created by Becknell became known as the “Santa Fe Trail”. It became one of the most important Old West trading routes used by merchants and travelers until the 1870’s with the arrival of the train.

Chinese Massacred at Rock Springs

Coal was very important for the operation of the railroad. And because of that, many railroads controlled their supply of coal by owning the coal-mining operations. One such mining operation owned by the Union Pacific Railroad was located in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
In 1885, the miners were trying to unionize. In order to break their efforts, the Union Pacific brought in Chinese laborers to work the mines. The Chinese were hard workers, but they neither understood the concept of unionizing, nor were they interested.
Frustrated, on September 2, the striking miners decided to strike out at the easiest and most visual target they could find. About 150 miners descended upon the Chinatown area of Rock Springs, with the objective of chasing the Chinese out of the area. When the miners started approaching, most of the Chinese abandoned their businesses and homes, and hid in the hills. Unfortunately, not everyone made it. Without weapons to defend themselves, 28 Chinese were killed, and 15 others wounded.
A week later, the U. S. Military arrived and escorted the remaining Chinese back from the hills. Many of them returned to the mines. Even though the identity of the participating miners was known, the local authorities took no legal action against them. However, the Union Pacific did fire 45 miners for their part in the massacre.
This was but one of a number of violent events that took place throughout the West. It was symptomatic of the hatred of the Chinese that three years earlier had resulted in the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited further Chinese immigration into the United States. Incidentally, the Chinese Exclusion Act remained the law until World War II when China joined on the side of the Allies.

Old West Book Review: Captain John R. Hughes

captain-john-rCaptain John R. Hughes; Lone Star Ranger, Chuck Parsons, University of North Texas Press, (800-826-8911), Cloth, $29.95, 464 pp., Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

The true story of Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes is another splendid work of author Chuck Parsons who specializes in writing about the life and times of various outlaws and lawmen.  His non-fiction books are fast-paced, exciting Old West adventures.

This one begins with the early history of John R. Hughes’ ancestors with examination of his younger days leading up to his adventuresome life with the Texas Rangers.  Hughes was born in 1855, one of seven children.  His family was in the farming business in the Midwest.

Young John was adventuresome, and when he became curious about stories he’d heard about Indian Territory,” he ran away from home and worked at a number of jobs.  At one ranch he single-handedly recovered a herd of stolen horses from a band of outlaws.  His wandering led him all the way to Texas, where John and his older brother ran a horse operation for nine years known as the Long Hollow Ranch.

In time John Hughes joined the Texas Rangers, and author Parsons carefully follows the monthly return records that chronicle the unrelenting hunt for cattle rustlers, horse thieves, drunkards, embezzlers, smugglers, train robbers, and murderers.  Many photographs appear throughout the text of steely-eyed Texas Rangers packing plenty of iron, including one filled with more than thirty armed Rangers standing at the ready to prevent the Fitzsimmons-Maher prizefight in 1896. This event alone is worthy of a separate story.

Not all who dealt with the Rangers admired them.  Bat Masterson, who lived in Texas during his early career considered the Rangers little more than “a four-flushing band of swashbucklers.”  This statement is wildly hilarious when one considers that Bat Masterson was associated with the Earps who were hardly choir boys.

This biography of Capt. John R. Hughes is filled with hard riding, straight-shooting derring-do.  Hughes covered thousands of miles in all kinds of weather, recovering stolen stock while faced with sudden death in ambushes and shootouts.  Combined with this, Hughes as Captain dealt with personal problems of his men along with administrative concerns and political distractions.

One photo in the book shows Hughes with the beautiful and mysterious Elfreda Wuerschmidt taken near Rockport, Texas.  This twenty-year-old beauty, the love of Hughes’ life, died of unknown circumstances, leaving Captain Hughes a lifelong bachelor who often visited the lady’s unmarked grave.  He never shared his broken-hearted feelings with snoopy biographers, thus we do not know how she died.

By 1915, after 27 years of faithful service, Hughes retired from the Texas Rangers.  Nearing sixty, he spent his remaining years gathering honors, and resounding best wishes from his legions of grateful and admiring citizens of the Lone Star State.  He became a celebrity giving newspaper interviews and riding in rodeo parades.  He traded his horse for an automobile and even became the protagonist in a Zane Grey novel, titled Lone Star Ranger.

At age 92, wracked with illness and infirmity, white saddened by the gradual loss of friends and family, on June 3, 1947 Captain John R. Hughes took his own life with his pearl handled Colt 45.

Chuck Parson’s well-written, carefully researched and deeply sentimental tribute to this fascinating Texas Ranger belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the novel Railroad Avenue, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700.

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

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