Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JUNE 5, 1850, 1878, 1895: THRICE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

When the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, resigned in 1880, the county appointed Pat Garrett, a former bartender known as something of a gunman to replace him.  Garrett was immediately given the task of apprehending a friend from his saloon keeping days, jail escapee Henry McCarty, aka Henry Antrim, aka William Harrison Bonney, but more widely known as Billy the Kid.  The Kid had supposedly killed 21 men, one for every year of his life, but no one could actually name more than nine.

Later that year, Garrett captured the Kid and his companions at the posh New Mexico spa, Stinking Springs, but the Kid escaped from the Lincoln County Jail, killing his two guards. Garrett learned that the Kid was hiding out at the house of a mutual friend, Pete Maxwell. Late one night, Garrett went to Maxwell’s house while the Kid was sleeping.  Accounts differ as to what happened next. Either the Kid woke up and entered Maxwell’s bedroom, where Garrett, standing in the shadows, shot him as he asked “Who is it?” (“It is I” or even “It’s me,” being the more gentlemanly response). Or Garrett went into Maxwell’s wife’s room and tied her up, and when the Kid walked into her room (for what purpose, we can only guess), Garrett blasted him with a single rifle shot. Either account pretty much tarnished Garrett’s reputation as a straight shooter.

Conspiracy theorists maintain that Billy the Kid was not killed at all and that Garrett staged it all so the Kid could escape. They also insist that Garrett was born (on June 5, 1850) in Kenya.

At about the same time (1878, to be exact) Pancho Villa was born on this same day a bit farther south in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. During the early 20th century, he pretty much ran the state.  He and his supporters played Robin Hood, seizing haciendas and land for distribution to peasants and soldiers. They robbed and commandeered trains, and printed their own money to pay for the 1910-20 revolution.

After Villa’s rather infamous incursion into New Mexico in 1916, U.S. Army General John J. Pershing pursued Villa for nine months unsuccessfully (probably because he refused to ambush him in a lady’s bedroom) before turning his attention to World War I. Villa retired in 1920 on a large estate where he could have spent a gracious hero’s retirement, sipping Margaritas in comfort, had he not decided to get back into politics, whereupon he was assassinated.

A few years later, back in the US, William Boyd (born June 5, 1895), was making a name for himself as a straight shooting, white-hatted good guy, that name being Hopalong Cassidy.  Hoppy, as his friends called him, eschewed the role of  a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler, opting instead to be the very model of a cowboy hero, one who did not smoke, drink or swear and who always let the bad guy strike the first blow (and never ever ambushed a bad guy in a lady’s bedroom).

Conspiracy theorists maintain that Boyd was not a real cowboy, that Hoppy was a fictional character. They point to the 66 Hopalong Cassidy films and the memorabilia such as watches, comic books, dishes, Topps trading cards, and cowboy outfits as proof.  Next they’ll say he was born in Kenya.

There’s always a man faster on the draw than you are, and the more you use a gun, the sooner you’re gonna run into that man. — Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

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The first camel race in the United States was held in Sacramento, California, on April 7, 1864. The dromedaries belonged to Samuel McLeneghan who had paid $1,495 for 35 of them at an auction in Benicia, California. The camels had a curious history, one that began with an American military expedition to northern African nations along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The idea of the expedition and the importing of camels belonged to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (this is of course the Jefferson Davis who later led the Confederacy, which had no camels that we know of). Davis convinced Congress to go along with this scheme and his vision of a Camel Corps that would carry military supplies across the country from east to west, it being reasoned that camels could carry heavier loads than horses on less food and water (sort of the same idea behind today’s guest worker programs for foreigners).

Unfortunately, the Camel Corps looked better on paper than in reality. The camels did not get along with their fellow animals or people: they stampeded horses and mules, attacked and bit pedestrians and chewed laundry off clotheslines. Camel caravans were only allowed to pass through some towns at night. With the Civil War getting underway (and Jefferson Davis going to the other side), interest in the project flagged and the Camel Corps disbanded. Of the camels that didn’t go to the races with McLeneghan, some joined the circus; some were employed by private companies. Eventually, many were abandoned in the desert. And for years afterward, prospectors and drifters might come rushing into a bar, raving about the strange apparition they had seen in the desert.



hurryAlthough it seemed as though hurricane season could have come and gone outside the barn while Randall waited inside, it was just a matter of minutes before Ismelde arrived, slightly flushed and very pretty.  She was at once both disarming and demure in his favorite dress, the white one that hugged her the way he wished to.

“Look at those pants,” she said, sitting next to him in the hay.  “Aren’t they pretty?  And aren’t you pretty in them.”  She rubbed his leg, and he shuddered with longing.  And emboldened, he rubbed her leg in return, but only the part of her leg that stretched out from under the hem of the white dress.

“They’re so soft,” she cooed, caressing more and more of the blue pants.

“So are you,” he said, letting his hand roam as well.

She smiled at him and whispered in his ear:  “These pants are so nice it’s almost a pity you have to take them off.”

“Take them off?” Randall stammered.

“Of course, silly,” she said, giggling.  He jumped up and turned away as though he were a coward about to flee the enticing Ismelde.  But, confused as he was, he really just wanted to get out of Clarence Henry’s blue denims before the beauty in the hay changed her mind.  He let the pants drop, picked them up, and tossed them cavalierly back into the hay.  When he turned back to Ismelde he knew she was not going to change her mind because the white dress no longer hugged her.  He stared at her, unable to move.

“Come down here with me,” she urged, but before he could comply, a voice boomed from the front of the barn.

“Ismelde,” shouted Titus.  “Are you in there, girl?”

“Yes daddy,” she answered, slipping back into the white dress as if she had practiced donning it in a hurry.  Randall was not so calm.  He didn’t want to be here with or without pants when Ismelde’s father arrived.  He just took off at full speed out the back, leaving Clarence Henry’s beautiful blue denims lying in the hay.  Ismelde, realizing the pants were still there, crawled through the hay and buried them just as her father appeared.

“Girl, I just don’t understand why you spend so much time in this barn,” said her father.

She lowered her eyes as she pulled the straw from her hair.  “Sometimes I just like to be alone, daddy.”

At this point in Chicken’s narrative, someone might ask, Chicken Avery how can you know about this?  Randall told me, Chicken would answer and continue with the story.

Later that day, Ismelde carried the blue denims down to Port Elizabeth in a paper bag with the intention of donating them to a needy sailor.  At first, she thought she might hide them until Randall returned, but then she realized it might be weeks before he summoned up the necessary courage.  She thought of burying the pants, but couldn’t bring herself to just dispose of the delightful denims.  No, they’d be just right for some needy sailor.


This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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The California Gold Rush was in full swing by the latter half of the 19th century. Stagecoaches and Wells Fargo wagons were hauling gold out of blackbartCalifornia by the, well by the wagonload.  All this gold was just too much of a temptation for some folks, transplanted New Yorker Charles Boles being one such tempted soul.

In the summer of 1875, Boles donned a white linen duster, put a flour sack over his head and a black derby on top of that and set about robbing the gold from a stagecoach leaving the mining city of Copperopolis. Boles stepped out in front of the stage, aimed a shotgun at the driver, forcing him to stop and demanding him to “Throw down the box.” The driver was reluctant to comply until he saw several gun barrels aimed at them from nearby bushes. He calculated the odds, and turned over the strongbox. Boles whacked the strongbox with an ax until it disgorged its treasure, which Boles hauled off while the stagecoach driver remained a captive of Boles’ fellow conspirators. After this standoff had lasted a bit too long, he moved to retrieve the empty strongbox and found that the rifles pointing at him were nothing but sticks tied to branches of the bushes.

Boles was rather amazed at how easy this robbery business was and so, adopting the moniker Black Bart, he embarked on a life of crime. He became a bit of a legend due to his daring, the fact that he never rode a horse and leaving bits of verse “po8try” behind at each robbery:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread —

For honor and for riches —

But on my corns too long you’ve tred,

You fine-haired sons of bitches.

His victims also called him a gentleman. Once after ordering a stage drive to throw down the box, a frightened passenger tossed him her purse. Bart returned it to her, saying that he wanted only the strongbox and the mailbag.

Black Bart the Po8 robbed his last stagecoach on November 3, 1883 — that is, attempted to rob his last stage. Wells Fargo, not amused at having lost close to half a million to bandits, had secreted an extra guard on the stage. Bart escaped the trap but dropped his derby and left several other incriminating items behind a nearby rock. Within days, Black Bart had been apprehended.

During his eight years as a highwayman, Black Bart never shot anyone, nor did he ever rob an individual passenger. He stole a grand total of $18,000. Sentenced to six years in prison, he served four before receiving a pardon and disappearing into retirement.


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Western justice once more prevailed when law officers killed one Jim Reed, a black hat of minimal notoriety who would probably have passed quietly into desperado oblivion had he not married Myra Maybelle Shirley. starrMyra Maybelle came from a once prosperous family whose business in Carthage, Missouri, had been wiped out by the Civil War. The family moved to Texas when she was 16 years old, and it was there that she fell in love with Jim Reed, a family acquaintance from Missouri who had served as a Confederate mercenary. They were married in 1866.

Reed was a lousy husband, more into horse racing and gambling than farming. He gravitated toward a nasty Cherokee named Tom Starr, who led a brutal gang of thieves. Starr (who wore a string tie fashioned from the ears of the men he had killed) mentored Reed in the art of rustling and running whiskey (and possibly a murder here and there).

Myra Maybelle, or Belle as she was now called, was the mother of two children. Nevertheless, she began to take part in her husband’s career, attending several robberies as though they were fancy dress balls, wearing velvet skirts and plumed hats. As fame and the law began to dog them, the Reeds went back to farming in Texas where they could give their children a more respectable upbringing. Too respectable for Reed evidently, for he soon grew antsy and returned to crime, holding up a stagecoach.  And once again they had the long arm of the law all over them.

With a hefty reward offered for Reed’s capture – dead or alive – bounty hunters joined the hunt. Reed was able to elude them for a bit, but on August 6, 1874, one of his fellow gang members killed him for the reward money. Two years later, Belle married Sam Starr, the son of Reed’s Cherokee partner, and became famous as the Bandit Queen, Belle Starr. Sam Starr died in a gun battle, and three years later Belle too cashed in her ill-gotten gains, bushwhacked by hombres unknown.


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He was an infamous cutthroat bandit. Or he was a 19th century Robin Hood. One thing was certain, Joaquin Murrieta was a notorious figure in California during the California Gold Rush of head1the 1850s, and he was well outside the law. Maybe he was twins, the good twin who was driven by Anglos from a rich mining claim, his wife raped, his half-brother lynched, and Murrieta himself horse-whipped (they knocked him down, stepped on his face, slandered his name all over the place).  Or the evil twin, an occasional horse thief and a bandit who attacked settlers and wagon trains in California, killing over 40 people in the process.

By 1853, California authorities had had enough of him. In a bill passed in May 1853, the legislature authorized hiring 20 California Rangers, veterans of the Mexican-American War, to hunt down the so-called five Joaquins — Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomorenia, Joaquin Valenzuela and Murrieta.

Early on the morning of July 25, 1853, the rangers attacked Murrieta’s outlaw camp. Caught by surprise and badly outnumbered, eight of the bandits were killed, including Murrieta and his right hand man, Three-Fingered Jack (presumably his three fingers were on his left hand). To prove they had indeed killed Murrieta, the rangers cut off his head along with Jack’s three-fingered hand, preserving them in whiskey until they could exhibit them to the authorities.

The rangers received a $6,000 reward, and made some nice residual profits by taking Murrieta’s head on tour throughout California, charging a buck to see it (it’s uncertain if they charged extra for Jack’s three fingers).

Eventually, the head ended up in San Francisco Museum, where it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906. Today all that remains is a plaque near the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 marking the spot where the outlaw lost his head.

“The executioner’s argument was that you couldn’t cut off something’s head unless there was a trunk to sever it from. He’d never done anything like that in his time of life, and wasn’t going to start now.

The King’s argument was that anything that had a head, could be beheaded, and you weren’t to talk nonsense.

The Queen’s argument was that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time, she’d have everyone beheaded all round.

It was this last argument that had everyone looking so nervous and uncomfortable.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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We all know from movies, pulp fiction and other pop culture that the streets of the Old West were littered with the remnant losers of showdowns that took place practically on the hour. gunslingTwo steel-jawed gunslingers coolly staring at each other, contemplating who would draw first and, more importantly, who would draw fastest. Conspiracy theorists are quick to point out that most gun battles took place between drunks who only managed to hit their adversaries because they were standing a foot away — or if they were at a distance, were most likely hiding behind a handy horse or schoolmarm and aiming at somebody’s back.

True, but there was a sort of Code of the West based on the gentlemanly European tradition of dueling in which opponents behaved with good breeding before attempting to kill one another. The Code of the West required that a person resort to a six-gun on the city streets only in matters of major import such as the defense of one’s honor or life, and only if the opponent was also armed. If the Code were followed, a gunslinger could pretty much kill another gunslinger without fear of punishment.

On July 21, 1865, Springfield, Missouri, saw just such a classic showdown. Wild Bill Hickok had a reputation as a real hotshot with a gun, so it is a bit surprising that a former Union soldier agreed to a showdown after an argument with Wild Bill over a card game or the upcoming Presidential election or something.

Armed with sodas and popcorn, a huge crowd of onlookers watched as the two men approached each other from the far ends of the long street. When the two men were still way beyond field goal territory, the challenger drew and fired wildly in Hickok’s direction. Ever cool, Hickok, drew his own revolver, took careful aim, and put a bullet through his opponent’s chest.

Having been true to the Code, Hickok remained a free man. Unfortunately, several years later, Wild Bill was done in by someone not so fastidious about playing by the rules. A young gunslinger with absolutely no sense of gallantry shot him in the back of the head while he played cards.

When my time comes, just skin me and put me up there on Trigger, just as though nothing had ever changed. — Roy Rogers

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September 27, 1869: I Sought the Sheriff

From their spurs that jingle, jangle, jingled all the way up to their ten-gallon hats, the good folk of Ellis County, Kansas, had had it with ruffians, belligerents, and liquored-up Jesse James wanna-be’s shooting up the saloon every Saturday night.   Late that summer in 1869,  they decided to get themselves a real sheriff.

     Out of the west and through the tumbling tumbleweeds he rode – a cowpokian legend who promised law and order as well as a chicken in every spittoon. He was tall, steely-eyed with shoulder length hair. He could stare a lawbreaker down or put a bullet through a beer can in mid-air with either hand.

     And after his arrival, law and order did prevail in Ellis County – but at what price? Shortly after midnight on September 27, the sheriff broke up a brawl at the saloon between a crowd of buffalo hunters. One of the men turned and glared at the sheriff as though he would refuse to stand down. Without a single word of Miranda, the sheriff shot him between the eyes. Just a few weeks earlier, the sheriff had shot an angry soldier protesting a parking citation And on top of that, rumor had it that the sheriff had threatened a ten-year old truant with a horsewhipping.

     The sheriff had to go. And go he did. Defeated in an election by his own deputy after only three months on the job, the unemployed sheriff, Wild Bill Hickok, rode off into the Kansas sunset. To be forgotten?

A few noted lawmen:

Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok
Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok
Sheriff Pat Garrett
Sheriff Pat Garrett
Marshal Will Kane
Marshal Will Kane
Sheriff Andy Taylor
Sheriff Andy Taylor
Sheriff Bart
Sheriff Bart

Hey, where the white women at? — Sheriff Bart