HARVEY WHITEHILL

Sometimes Old West lawmen chased an outlaw only until he was out of sight.  He was lucky.  Then there were the unlucky outlaws that were chased by Harvey Whitehill.

As a yoHarvey Whitehillung man, Harvey Whitehill mined in several areas in Colorado, and following the Civil War did some mining in New Mexico.  As one of the founders of Silver City, New Mexico, he ended up as their sheriff.  Whitehill came into the spotlight as the first person the arrest a young William Bonney for a petty theft.  Bonney was to later became famous as Billy the Kid.

But, Sheriff Whitehill’s true nature came out following a November 24, 1883 train robbery.  Four men held up a Southern Pacific train near Deming, New Mexico.  In the process, the train’s engineer was killed.

Wells Fargo and Southern Pacific placed a reward of $2,000 on the head of each of the robbers.  This whetted the appetite of semi-retired Sheriff Whitehill.  Whitehill searched the scene of the crime and found a discarded out of the area newspaper.  He traced it back to the subscriber, who was a storekeeper.  The storekeeper remembered using it to wrap some food bought by a local Black cowboy named George Washington Cleveland.

Whitehill found Cleveland at a restaurant where he was working.  Immediately Whitehill arrested him.  Although Whitehill had no idea who else was involved in the train robbery, he said, “I arrested you for killing that train engineer.  I already have your partners and they talked.”  After that, Cleveland spilled his guts.  The other three outlaws were arrested.

But, the four didn’t get a chance to go to trial…because they escaped from jail.  When the posse caught up with them Cleveland was killed, and two others were captured, only to mysteriously die at the end of a rope on their way back to jail.  Although the fourth person temporarily escaped, he was eventually captured.

HARDIN’S CHRISTMAS

Although he’s not as famous as Billy the Kid or Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin probably holds the record for killing more men in the shortest period of time.  From the time he first killed in 1868 until he shot his last man ten years later, Hardin is known to have murdered more than 20 men.  Incidentally, his father was a Methodist preacher, and he was named after the founder of the Methodist Church.

So, how did John Wesley Harden spend Christmas of 1869?  On Christmas Day he went to the tiny town of Towash, Texas, seeking some holiday companionship and a good game of cards.  A big winner, Hardin got in an argument with a man named James Bradley, an obvious sour looser.

Bradley pulled a knife. Unarmed, in accordance with town ordinances, Harden went to his room and got his pistol. Later in the afternoon Harden encountered Bradley on the street. Bradley let out some curse words; pulled his pistol; and shot at Harden…Missing him. Hardin responded with a shot to Bradley’s head and chest. Harden then casually rode out of town.

The moral of the story? Christmas should be spent in church, with family, not gambling and shooting off your gun. Right, James Bradley?

BUTCH CASSIDY

On this date back in 1866 Robert Leroy Parker was born in Beaver, Utah Territory. But we know him as Butch Cassidy.

Supposedly, he picked up the name “Butch” from the short period of time he worked in a Rock Springs, Wyoming butcher shop. The last name came from a minor criminal mentor by the name of Mike Cassidy…I also suspect he didn’t want to bring shame on his strict Mormon family by using Parker.

Although Butch’s organizational skills and personality were probably suited more for a legitimate business life, he assembled a group of ruffians known as the “wild bunch.” Even though they could be considered misfits, Butch was able to meld them into a sophisticated criminal operation.

By the 1900’s the wild days of the West were fading and law enforcement was becoming more effective. So Butch, The Sundance Kid and Etta place fled to Argentina.

Here’s where legend and fact get blurry. Some say Butch and the Sundance Kid were killed by Bolivian troops. However members of his family maintain Butch came back to the United States and died of old age under another name.

Just as an aside. There are more than a dozen Old West outlaws, including Billy the Kid, who were supposedly not really killed, and they lived a long life under an alias. Sometimes I wonder if any Old West outlaw was ever killed.

Murdered on the Streets of TombstoneMurdered on the Streets of Tombstone, Joyce Aros, Goose Flats Publishing, (520) 457-3884, $26.99, Paper. 340 pages, Author’s Notes, Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index.

Countess books, movies, magazine articles, radio programs and internet chat rooms have hashed and re-hashed the history of Tombstone, Arizona “The Town Too Tough To Die.”  The most important incident triggering all the excitement was a shootout that came to be known as “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

So along comes Hollywood to tell about a huge band of outlaws and cattle rustlers known as “The Cowboys” who are terrorizing Cochise County.  But not to worry, in order to rid the Territory of these villainous, snaggle-toothed ruffians, the illustrious Earp boys arrive from Kansas to settle their hash.

And settle it they did!  On a cold and windy day in late October, 1881, things came to a head and when the smoke cleared, brothers Frank and Tom McLaury, and their young pal Billy Clanton lay dead in the street behind the O.K. Corral.

One hundred and thirty years later, why are we still worrying about it?  Everybody knows (Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Hugh O’Brien, and Rhonda Fleming told us) the Earps were the good-guy heroes, and the three dead cowboys had it coming.

But Wait!  Not so fast!  There is a lot more to the story, and Tombstone writer-researcher Joyce Aros gives us the benefit of her sleuthing.  She has tediously combed through courtroom testimony, oral history on file at the Arizona Historical Society, books, letters, interviews plus a good dose of horse sense to draw her conclusions.

Aros begins her book explaining the circumstances of life in the new Territory, and how the Clantons and the McLaurys fit into all this.  Aros allows the reader to become familiar with these men by putting faces on them.  They were living, breathing human beings who had struggles, hopes and dreams in a new land where hardworking, determined men built their ranches.

The fateful day they came to town, Tom and Frank McLaury had business to finish before heading to Iowa to attend their sister’s wedding.  Meeting with them was their friend Billy Clanton, a nineteen-year-old rancher who was on business of his own that day.

Aros is able to show the Earps were prepared to fight, but the young ranchers were not. Tom McLaury was not even carrying a gun, Frank McLaury was leading his horse, (who takes a horse to a gunfight?) and when confronted by the gun-wielding Earps, Billy Clanton shouted “I don’t want to fight!”  Even so, guns blazed and in less than thirty seconds three men were dead.

Tom, Frank and Billy were not outlaws.  They came to a sad and thunderous end behind a dusty corral on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona where they have been vilified for more than 130 years.  When you turn the last page of this book, the Earps might still be your heroes, but certainly Tom, Frank and Billy will become real people whose lives were taken far too soon.

We still do not know for sure what triggered the deadly hatred the Earps had for these three young ranchers.  However, through this detailed examination in Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone, Joyce Aros has done an incredible job of finally declaring balance to a tragedy that has gone unchallenged far too long. You can decide for yourself by grabbing the book HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including The Earp Gamble, published by Silk Label Books, P. 0. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845) 726-3434. Www.silklabelbooks.com

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

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