Old West Book Review: The Devil’s Triangle

The Devil's TriangleThe Devil’s Triangle, James Smallwood, Kenneth Howell, Carol Taylor, University of North Texas Press.  Paper, $19.95. Non-fiction, Maps, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

This book is a well-written study of the War of Reconstruction in Texas between 1865 and 1877.  Gangs of ex-Confederate soldiers returning home to Texas after the “Lost Cause“ harbored hatred and resentment toward freedmen (ex-slaves) and Northern sympathizers who tried to begin new lives after the Civil War.

For more than ten years, roving bands of robbers and highwaymen, acting under the guise of getting even for past grievances were determined to use the war as an excuse for the murder and mayhem they created.  Most were really bandits and renegades using their hatred for a good excuse for their skullduggery.

One young ex-Confederate soldier, born and raised on a successful Texas farm, is featured in this book as one of the ringleaders operating throughout various Northeastern counties in Texas.  Ben Bickerstaff came from a disciplined, hard-working family.  He took to soldering at a young age, joined the Confederate Army when Texas went with the South and saw military action in a number of battles.  He eventually became a prisoner of war and spent time in a Northern prison camp.  A series of harsh experiences drove his hatred for the North, and by the time he returned home in Texas at Warts end, he was a bitter, battle-hard soldier determined to get even with everybody.

Bickerstaff was one of the organizers of the Ku Klux Klan, and apart from robbing and looting, he took part in the murders of many freedmen trying to live in their own new world.  With peace officers few and far between, Bickerstaff and his followers created nearly constant fear and unrest in the entire Northeastern corner of the state of Texas.  Due to his familiarity with the countryside learned from his boyhood, Bickerstaff and his followers were able to hide in heavily wooded areas where lawmen and bounty hunters could never successfully follow.

The book goes into detailed political maneuvers among those trying to create a. safe environment for law-abiding citizens living both in towns as well as on ranches.  The emotional turmoil spilling over after years of war continued to cause harsh feelings among the people, and some even privately took sides with Bickerstaff’s hatred for the North.  Bickerstaff’s crimes were horrific; folks who sympathized with the North were in peril until Bickerstaff’s own death at the hands of an armed group of townsfolk who had finally had enough of him.  Bickerstaff was a married man, and it sounds like his wife was as tough as he was.  Upon learning of his death, she angrily retrieved the body for burial in a place of her choice, even though the corpse had been beheaded.

We read about influential people such as Sam Houston trying to establish peace and tranquility in Texas newly returned to the Union.  The history of Texas Reconstruction between 1865 and 1877 is fascinating and sometimes shocking.  The authors have presented a serious, hard-hitting view of a difficult time in Texas history that has been mostly forgotten today.  This book belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous published books about the Old West, including 9 Days At Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988 www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Chuckwagon: Cowboy Corn Muffin

COWBOY CORN MUFFIN FOR BREAKFAST

Farmer’s Almanac 1885

COWBOY CORN MUFFIN

Pour one quart of boiling milk over one pint of fine cornmeal.  While the mixture is still hot, add one tablespoonful of butter and a little salt, stirring the batter thoroughly.  Let is stand until cool, then add a small cup of wheat flour and two well-beaten eggs.  When mixed sufficiently, but the batter into well-greased shallow tins (or, better yet, into gem pans) and bake in a brisk over for one-half hour, or until richly browned.  Serve hot.

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

Grand Duke Alexis

Grand Duke AlexisIn January of 1872, the Russian Grand Duke Alexis went on what was called a “millionaire hunt.”
 
Because of his political influence, General Sheridan was instructed to make sure the 21-year-old Grand Duke had a good time. So General Sheridan selected George Armstrong Custer as the grand marshal, and Buffalo Bill Cody as the hunting guide.  
 
Buffalo Bill enlisted Sioux Chief Spotted Tail and 100 of his braves as entertainment. According to Buffalo Bill “the Duke Alexis paid considerable attention to a handsome Indian maiden.”
 
Protocol dictated that the Grand Duke should kill the first buffalo.   
 
The Grand Duke wanted to take his buffalo with a handgun. But after he emptied two pistols with no hits, Buffalo Bill gave the Grand Duke his buffalo rifle, “Lucretia”. The Grand Duke got his buffalo. Afterward, everyone drank champagne. Buffalo Bill, in his autobiography commented that he “was in hopes the Grand Duke Alexis would kill five or six more, if champagne was to be opened every time he dropped one.” 
 
One can only imagine the battle for the Grand Duke’s attention that took place between Buffalo Bill Cody and General Custer. However, it seems that the Grand Duke actually liked General Custer quite a bit. General Custer got a big hug from the Grand Duke. The two took pictures together following the hunt. And when General Custer was killed, the Grand Duke sent money to General Custer’s wife Libby. Buffalo Bill did get three buffalo’s head broaches. And then, don’t forget the free champagne.

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.

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