Rufus Somerby – Wandering Military Man

Rufus Somerby was a military man for most of his life. But, you’re going to have to pay close attention as I go through his service record, because Rufus was ever on the move. In 1862 he enlisted in the 9th Kentucky Infantry. Within three months he was promoted to captain. After a little over a year in the infantry, he decided walking wasn’t for him. So Rufus resigned, and enlisted in the cavalry where he quickly rose to sergeant major, and two years later while fighting Indians in Arizona he became a lieutenant.   
 
In 1870 Rufus obtained a leave, and went to Boston where he spent a couple of months trying to consume all the whiskey in the town. Finding this impossible, Rufus decided to enlist in the artillery. The fact that he was still an officer in the 8th Cavalry didn’t seem to bother him. However, it did bother the military. Rufus was given the choice of either resigning his commission in the cavalry or be court martialed. He resigned. But he stayed in the artillery.  
 
In less than four years he was a sergeant in the 5th Artillery. Yearning to be back on a horse, Rufus either resigned from the artillery, was transferred or just did another double enlistment. But he ended up back in the cavalry where he became a sergeant. 
 
It was the Christmas season of 1882. Rufus, ever on the move, had applied for the position of commissary sergeant, but he was flatly turned down. Feeling he had nowhere else to go, on December 26, while in the barracks with his men, Rufus Somerby ended his military career by shooting himself with his carbine.   
Rufus Somerby - Wandering Military Man

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

Lawrie Tatum – Quaker Indian Agent

Lawrie Tatum Quaker Indian AgentIn 1869 the Kiowa and the Comanche were being relocated to a reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma. President Grant felt if Quakers were hired as Indian Agents, they would be able to teach the Indians to be pacifists.  So, Lawrie Tatum, a man known for his Quaker work, was appointed to the unenviable job as the Kiowa-Comanche agent.
Although the 47 year old knew little or nothing about wild Indians, he felt that he could tame them with honesty, industry, patience and kindness. The Comanche weren’t a major problem. But the Kiowa were impossible.  
 
Showing his trust, Lawrie had the military withdrawn from guarding the provisions. The Kiowa saw this as weakness, and not only stole the provisions, but they started making raids to nearby Texas.
 
Learning this approach wasn’t going to work, Lawrie tempered it with toughness. He had the three chiefs responsible for the Texas raids arrested. He put the provisions under guard, and refused to give any provisions to marauding Indians.
 
It had become normal for the government to ransom any white captives taken on raids. But continuing his hard line, Lawrie, feeling ransom only encouraged the taking of captives, refused to pay any.
 
Increasingly Lawrie felt that force was necessary to control the Kiowa. Eventually his actions conflicted with his Quaker superiors. And losing confidence in Grant’s Peace Policy, in 1873 Lawrie resigned.
 
Lawrie Tatum continued his Quaker belief, writing several books in support of it. He also wrote a classic about his experience with the Kiowa and Grant’s policy. On January 22, 1900, at the age of 78, he died.
 
Incidentally, late in life Lawrie was appointed the guardian of an infant by the name of Herbert Hoover, the man who became our country’s 31st President.  

Old West Book Review: Riding the Edge of an Era

Riding the Edge of an EraRiding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail, Diana Allen Kouris, High Plains Press (800) 552-7819, $17.95, Paperback.

High mountain trails deep with snow, ice storms and hail, bone-chilling wind mingled with the faraway cries of wily coyotes fill the pages of this real-life adventure.  Carefully written from beginning to end by a lady whose family spans several generations of ranchers, the setting is Butch Cassidy country where Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado meet.  From the writer’s earliest days, there was a no-nonsense approach to life where one mis-step could lead to serious injury and even death.  The family consisted of parents and six children; a cowboy father, and a mother who could ride and rope as easily as rustle up Christmas dinner.

There was no TV or electricity, but the kids had many horses and memorable days filled with everything from hummingbirds to snowflakes.  Picnics, swimming, and favorite pets are remembered, including a pony named Comet whose favorite sport was scraping his riders off under trees.  Long trail drives, wild horse roundups, killer storms, and the learning of independence, the children grew into teenagers, and eventually adults.  The reader grieves when a favorite horse is found dead where he fell in the mountains, and when another struggles in vain against fever, leaving his heart-broken young owner to mourn over the carrion remains.  When the seven-year-old sister is crushed under the back wheels of a farm truck, and when at the end of the story the brave mother dies of cancer, and a favorite brother is lost in an accident, you will close the last page with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes.

The author has captured real ranch life as it existed in the days between the old and new West, before battles between ranch families and the government’s Bureau of Land Management. Eventually the land is lost to Uncle Sam for a recreation area, and the family must make profound decisions.

Along the way, the author rides past crumbling cabins and deserted home sites where historic murders took place, and bodies were found.  Most crimes were never solved due to a lack of enough lawmen in territories too sparsely populated for a sheriff to be interested.  People faced life as it came at them on a daily basis.  They were tough and independent, they solved their own problems, they never asked for a handout.

Filled with photographs complimenting the text, we see Nonie and Diana, Bob and Marie and Bill Allen and the others in the story as they grin back at camera lenses.  The author writes with a sharp eye for detail and never misses describing scenes of “candy colored cactus flowers,” or “nighthawks darting overhead in evening coolness.”  There is love, devotion, loyalty, sacrifice, and through it all, the powerful bond existed between Marie and Bill Allen, and their children.  There were no crybabies here.  If you fell off your horse, bloodied your knee, bumped your head or fell into the creek, you learned to laugh about it.  This book is not about fluffy toy animals on Sesame Street or even fairness.  It’s about surviving the elements, self-sufficiency and courage.  It’s about cold winter cabins deprived of hot water, indoor plumbing or electric light.  It’s about doing laundry by hand, milking a cow, and stacking hay during school vacations.  It’s about Diana Allen, the smallest of the children helping drive a herd of cattle in a snowstorm when she was only 6 years old.

This highly memorable book reminds us of what good writing is about, how important original detail is to the text, and in the age of hard to find good stories, we can be grateful some wise storytellers still exist.  This book is almost breathtaking in its sincerity; a most memorable read. You can grab a copy of Riding the Edge of an Era; Growing up Cowboy on the Outlaw Trail HERE.

Editor’s Note: The Reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of many published books, including Silk and Sagebrush: Women of the Old West, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845-726-3434) www.silklabelbooks.com

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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