Sunday, May 24, 2015

A BILLIONAIRE'S WESTERN OBSESSION (And the Strange Disappearance of Buckskin Joe)

During my teens, my family took a road trip through Colorado. We took many road trips over the years, usually ending up somewhere out west.

On this particular trip, we attempted to reach the summit of Pike’s Peak in a 1973 Gran Torino similar to the one driven by Starsky and Hutch, but in an embarrassing shade of green that was far to the other end of the cool spectrum. Like most cars built in the 70s, the Torino’s front end contained enough molded steel to replate the USS Monitor. We called it The Incredible Hulk. My dad drove up the snaking, narrow gravel road at only a couple of miles per hour and, somewhere above the tree line, the incline became so steep that he could no longer see over the hood. 

He made the desperate decision to turn around with only two miles left to the peak. There was the sheer rock face of the mountain on one side of the car and very, very thin air on the other. Somehow, he managed to disregard the screams of my mom and jockey the Hulk back and forth, inch by inch, until it was pointing grille-down toward the earth’s surface.

Thus defeated, we headed for the Royal Gorge Bridge near Cañon City. We were delighted to find a full-scale western town called Buckskin Joe nearby. The town, originally built in 1957 by MGM Studios, had been the backdrop for many a western movie including Cat Ballou, True Grit, The Cowboys and Comes a Horseman. We explored the gravity-defying Mystery House, witnessed a couple of thrilling gunfights and bought ourselves onto the front page of the local newspaper, printed especially for us.

I held such good memories of Buckskin Joe that I decided to return there this summer on my own family tour of the west. (This time I’m the screaming mom.) Imagine my shock and despair when I discovered that the town of Buckskin Joe has not only closed for business but has COMPLETELY VANISHED. O Buckskin Joe, where art thou?

After some investigative reporting, I learned that the entire townlock, stock and boardwalk–was purchased in 2012 by billionaire William “Wild Bill" Koch. He is known as the eccentric sibling of the energy magnate Koch Brothers (pronounced coke) who happen to own the second largest private company in America. Even though Bill left the company years ago (and subsequently haggled with his family in court over the settlement), he still has plenty of riches to pursue his interests. He famously won the America's Cup the first time he entered in 1992.

William "Wild Bill" Koch
Undoubtedly, his hottest pursuit has been the acquisition of over a million and a half western artifacts including guns that belonged to Wyatt Earp, General George Custer, Sitting Bull, Jesse James…and even the gun that killed Jesse James. Bill Koch paid $2.3 million in 2011 for the only known photograph of Billy the Kid. He owns countless stagecoaches and wagons, military and Native American garments, Alfred Bierstadt and Charles Russell paintings, Frederic Remington bronzes and the flag thought to be flown at Little Big Horn. Read more about his amazing collection here.

So where’s a billionaire gonna keep all his western stuff? In his own western town, of course.

Bill Koch purchased all thirty-some-odd buildings of Buckskin Joe with the intent of housing his massive collection in a living museum setting. The town was dismantled and rebuilt on his 4500-acre Bear Creek Ranch near Paonia, Colorado. Other structures found here and there bring the total to more than fifty historic buildings on the property.
Buckskin Joe under reconstruction

I don’t suppose my family will be driving up to the gate, Griswold style, to gain entrance to Koch’s western wonderland. With 24-hour surveillance and security guards standing by, public visitors are expressly unwelcome. Apparently, only his billionaire friends are allowed to come over and play cowboys and Indians.

Dang, I wonder if the old boy likes to read western books? Hmmm.

All the best,

Keep up with Vonn:

Available on Amazon and Smashwords:

(2015 SPUR Award Finalist,
Best Short Fiction
(2015 PEACEMAKER Award Finalist,
Best Short Fiction)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Name that Tune by Kaye Spencer

Let’s take a stroll along a nostalgic musical path for a brief look at the history of a song (melody, not lyrics) whose origin remains somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps this song was a traditional folk tune handed down through the generations. Maybe it was “born” in 1924. However it came about, over the years, this melody has experienced a host of lyrics put to its familiar, catchy tune.

While many singers recorded their versions of this song, between 1924 and 1952, this melody saw significant renditions of different lyrics and each new song enjoyed chart-topping hit status in the country music, hillbilly, bluegrass, and gospel music genres.
Seeburg Select-o-matic Jukebox (reproduction) c. 1949
Legend has it that in 1924, Vernon Dalhart copyrighted this song and lyrics in the name of his cousin, Guy Massey, after Vernon heard it sung by a family member who “may” have learned it while serving time in prison. This song went on to become a bit hit in the 1920s.
  •  First line hint: Oh, I wish I had someone to love me…
In 1925, two songwriters/performers, Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz, recorded their lyrics to this melody.
  •  First line hint: Looking back on what we both had together…
In 1927, Roy Harvey and the North Carolina Ramblers released their version with a similar, but abbreviated title to the one the Carter Family would release in two years.
  •  First line hint: I’ve been thinking today of my blue eyes…

Carter Family promotional portrait by the Victor Talking Machine Co. 1927
In 1929, the famous Carter Family recorded their version of this melody, but with different lyrics and title.
  •  First line hint: ‘Twould been better for us both had we never…
In 1936, it was Roy Acuff who had a hit with the same melody and, again, different lyrics and title.
  •  First line hint: What a beautiful thought I am thinking…
Then, in 1952, two country music artists—Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells—had hits with this same melody, and both with different lyrics and titles.
  • Hank Thompson – First Line Hint: You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you…
And the “answer” song:
  • Kitty Wells – First Line Hint: As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playing…
So, did you *Name that Tune*?

1924 – Vernon Dalhart – The Prisoner’s Song
1925 – Toomey and Boaz – Thrills that I Can’t Forget
1927 – Roy Harvey – Blue Eyes
1929 – Carter Family – I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes
1936 – Roy Acuff – The Great Speckled Bird
1952 – Hank Thompson – The Wild Side of Life
              Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

Over the years, these songs not only achieved ‘country music standard’ status, they have achieved ‘signature song’ identification for many musicians. Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Hank Locklin, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Freddie Fender, Burl Ives, and Jerry Lee Lewis rank among the artists who come to my musical memory as having performed some version of this melody. I imagine you have your favorites, also.

A YouTube search will bring up a host of videos for each of these songs, and I am going to leave you with the one I associate the most with this tune.

Further reading:

**Music notes clipart courtesy
**Jukebox image:  "Seeburg Select-o-matic jukebox detail 01A" by Joe Mabel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
** Carter Family photo: Creative Commons -

Until next time,



Friday, May 22, 2015



June is coming upon us in a few months, along with the season for weddings -- which got me to thinking. Just how common were mail order brides in the Old West?

Think about the issue this way. After the Civil War, widows and young women outnumbered eligible men in the East. And out west, eligible men vastly outnumbered the few women who'd already followed the call of the gold fields.

So yes. The newspapers had a field day with advertisements for brides willing to travel west, the mail thrummed back and forth between eager bachelors and respectable (or not so respectable, depending on the situation) ladies in small towns out east. Like the internet today, both sides often "doctored" descriptions and/or photographs in hopes of snagging a partner. Disappointment often reigned, of course, and at times men waited in vain for a promised bride - who turned in the ticket for money instead of undertaking a journey. Some newspapers printed notices such as these.

And who doesn't love the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Adam seeks a bride one day in town, snags Millie by pure luck - who envisions a wonderful life with the handsome, sweet talking backwoodsman, but ends up being cook, maid and teacher-of-manners to his six brothers. They soon want their own brides, of course. It's pure fun, and the barn dance is the best part.

In the 1860s, Asa Mercer promised to import women of marriageable age to Seattle - and that history inspired the popular television show, Here Come the Brides (along with the film Seven Brides/Seven Brothers). A set of three brothers bet their tract of timber against the sawmill owner's offer to fund the expenses; the businessman has eyes on that land and timber, of course, while the Bolt brothers have a difficult time convincing the women of Massachusetts to leave home. It's more pure fun, and inspired lots of young girls in their teens to worship at the feet of Bobby Sherman and David Soul. Oh yeah.

Okay, back to the mail order brides issue. Fred Harvey himself played matchmaker, hiring single women "of good character" who could work  in his cafes along the railroad. The businessman kept strict standards, however, that the women must work as waitresses for a year; they were chaperoned while men visited in special "courting" parlors, and had to live in special dormitories. Between 4,000 and 5,000 women ended up marrying by first working as Harvey Girls. This also spawned the Judy Garland hit, The Harvey Girls. While the plot seems silly, they did get the uniform right.

Some immigrants also utilized ways of procuring brides, either through letters or matchmakers. Russian men paid fees to obtain potential wives, steeped in tradition from their old homes; Chinese and Japanese did the same, asking their parents to act as brokers to get a bride, sight unseen or via a blurry photograph. Such pressure from parents sent Asian women across the ocean, or else chose to escape starving to death. The recent TV mini-series, Broken Trail, starred Robert Duvall and Thomas Hayden Church and wove a group of Chinese women brought over as brides - or so they believed.

The theme of mail order brides remains popular in novels. Do a search on Amazon or B&N using that keyword, and you can scroll through 100 pages of offerings. One anthology includes our own Western Fictioneers member Cheryl Pierson in Lassoing a Mail Order Bride - published by Prairie Rose Publications - which sounds really interesting. "A woman would have to be loco to become a mail-order bride... wouldn't she? Leaving everything behind and starting fresh in the untamed west is the answer to a prayer for these ladies!" Check it out.

I used the offer of a train ticket, the promise of a wedding, a nice house with husband and family, as a subplot for a minor female character in  Double Crossing. Check out my novel if you haven't read my western historical mystery with the "True Grit on a train" major theme.

Mail order brides are not a thing of the past. And the tradition continues, not surprisingly. Where there's a need, there's a way to fill it...

Mystery author Meg Mims earned a Spur Award from WWA and also a Laramie award for her western historical mystery series, Double Crossing and Double or Nothing. Meg is also one-half of the writing team of D.E. Ireland for St. Martin's Minotaur mystery series featuring Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins -- lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a sweet Malti-poo. She loves writing novels, novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. 
Follow her on FacebookTwitter & Pinterest!

Thursday, May 21, 2015


In the mid and all the way to the turn of the century, there was an area in northern  Cooke County and Grayson County, Texas called the Delaware Bend. At one time, it was known as one of the three most dangerous and deadly areas in North America sharing that honor with Leadville, Colorado and Tombstone, Arizona.
Stories are a place to hang knowledge on.

Originally part of Fannin County, it was included in Grayson County when it was established in 1846 and was finally split with the western half of the big loop in the Red River going to Cooke County in 1848. The entire area was bounded on the west with the Chisholm Cattle Trail and on the east with the Shawnee Cattle Trail.
The Shawnee—also called the Texas Trail is today known as Preston Road—used the crossing at Colbert's Ferry. It was the only decent crossing of the Red until you got to Sivells Bend in Cooke County or Red River Station in Montague on the west. It was important in that it was the primary crossing between Texas and Indian Territory from about 1850 to 1899 for both the Shawnee Cattle Trail and the Butterfield Overland Mail route.
Stories are linear in nature, but are best presented
by an abstract person.

Delaware Bend, upper right corner

There were still Indian villages in the area when Texas declared its independence in 1836. The primary tribe was known as the Delawares. In 1842 a treaty was drawn that would exclude Indians from the land east of the Cross Timbers—an unusual strip of forest ranging from five to thirty miles wide that ran from the Arkansas River on the north some four hundred miles south to the Brazos. Well, it seems the Cross Timbers and the land west ran smack dab across the Delaware Bend. 
The area rapidly became a haven for outlaws and rogue Indians. Joe T. Roff, son of one of the early settlers wrote in his memoirs the following:
"While the great majority of the people were of the type spoken of, yet many renegades from the States had drifted into the Indian Territory to avoid the laws of the States. There were bold cattle and horse thieves to be dealt with, but when the honest people could not be protected by the law, they appealed to the first law of nature and made and enforced their own laws." - Joe T. Roff
History is not always what it seems…it's what whoever
wrote about it wants it to be.

There were many sightings of William Clarke Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson and later, the James Gang in the Bend area in and around the town of Dexter. The natives tell the story that Jesse would give some of the local boys fifty cents to keep an eye out for posses.
When someone begins a conversation…'I may be wrong'...Rest assured 
they don't think there's a chance in hell.

Dexter was a booming town until the railroad from Denison to Gainesville and points west went south through Woodbine instead of Dexter as was projected—the town kinda died on the vine after that. But that's another story. 
Dexter Hotel - Then and now

Here's some pics of the Dexter Hotel, both back in the day and recently. It was still standing seven years ago when I was up in that part of the county doing some research…it looked haunted.
A Colonel W. D. Young owned much of the fertile land along the river bottom, including a settlement known as Shawneetown. He turned it into a landing for cotton barges. He also served one term as a US Marshal and is known in Texas history as a Confederate hero who was ambushed Oct. 16, 1862 in events leading up to what is known as the largest mass lynching in American history—The Great Hanging in Gainesville, Texas.
Writers learn to write by writing.

The Delaware Bend remained a gathering area for outlaws on the scout until the Lee Gang—brothers, James, Pink and Tom, along with Ed Stein—with their huge rustling operation, were shut down. James, Pink and Tom are key antagonists in our latest Bass Reeves novel, "Across the Red"

What's left of Delaware Bend—at one time some of the best farming land in Texas—now lies under Lake Texoma.  There are a couple of houses and a feed store still left in Dexter along with a very interesting cemetery and the pile of old boards and a brick chimney that once was the Dexter Hotel.
Look at your tracks and acknowledge what you have
 or haven't done.

Continuing on with the next installment from my DICTIONARY of EMOTIONS


BEWILDERED - Perplexed or confused, mystified; dazed.
ADDLED - To make or become confused.
BEDAZZLED - Dazzled to a point of confusion or amazement.
BOGGLED - Overwhelmed with astonishment.
BENUMBED - Feeling totally stupefied.
CONFOUNDED - Brought into confusion.
CONFUSED - Unclear, addled; lacking logical order.
DAZZLED - Deeply impressed, overwhelmed or amazed.
FUDDLED - A state of confusion.
FLABBERGASTED - Dumbfounded.
LOST - Distraught; gone astray.
MUDDLED - Confused.
STUPOROUS - A state of reduced sensibility; dazed.

BELLIGERENT - Hostile, eager to fight.
ACERBIC - Bitter and sharp in speech , manner or temper.
ACID - Unpleasant disposition.
ARGUMENTATIVE - Given to arguing; disputatious.
BELLICOSE - Pugnacious; warlike in nature.
CENSORIOUS - Tending to be critical.
CONTENTIOUS - Quarrelsome.
CRUEL - Intentionally causing pain or suffering on others.
CYNICAL - Believing all people are motivated by selfishness.
DISPUTATIOUS - Given to dispute.
INDIGNANT - Feeling angry due to some injustice.
MALIGNING - To speak evil of; to defame.
MALEVOLENT - Exhibiting ill will.
MORDANT - Bitingly sarcastic.
SARDONICLY - Scornfully mocking.
SARCASTIC - Given to cutting, ironic remarks.
SPITEFUL - To be mean or evil toward another.
VENGEFUL - Desiring vengeance.
VINDICTIVE - Vengeful; spiteful.

CHARMED - Attracted to or fascinated with; delighted and pleased.
ABSORBED - Totally mentally concentrated; engrossed.
ALLURED - Enticed by charm or other attraction.
BEGUILED - Misled, diverted; amused or delighted.
BEWITCHED - Enchanted; fascinated or captivated.
CAPTIVATED - Fascinated by something or someone.
DELUDED - To deceived the mind in judgment of.
DIVERTED - Distracted.
ENAMORED - Inflamed with love.
ENRAPTURED - Filled with delight.
ENTICED - Attracted by arousing hope or desire; lure.
ENCHANTED - Bewitched; to attract and delight.
ENTRANCED - Carried away with delight.
ENTHRALLED - Fascinated; enslaved.
FASCINATED - Holding an intense interest or attraction for.
INFATUATED - Inspired with unreasoning love or attachment.
MESMERIZED - Hypnotized.
MARVELING - Filled with wonder or surprise.
RAVISH - To overwhelm with emotion.
SMITTEN - Inflamed with love.
SPELLBOUND - Fascinated as if by a spell.

CONFUSED - To be unclear in mind or purpose; bewildered.
ABASHED - Disconcerted.
ADDLED - Muddled.
BAFFLED - Frustrated, stymied, thwarted, foiled.
DISCOMBOBULATED - A state of being upset, confused.
DISCONCERTED - Thrown into disarray.
DISTRACTED - Emotionally unsettled; troubled.
DUMBFOUNDED - Filled with astonishment and perplexity.
GROGGY - Unsteady and dazed.
HAZY - Unclear or vague.
PERPLEXED - Puzzled.
PERTURBED - Disturbed, agitated.
PUZZLED - Mentally confused with a difficult problem.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Hard to believe two years have passed since our state was hit by a spate of tornadoes that killed 7 elementary school aged children in the city of Moore, Oklahoma. Even so, our state has still not voted in money to be used for storm shelters in schools! Some smaller schools are taking matters into their own hands and raising the funds on their own. I published this blog 2 years ago, but wanted to remember those victims of the storms once again on this anniversary of their deaths. No matter how far we've come since I grew up "back in the day", there are major obstacles to overcome before we can all be safer from these storms.

Growing up here in Oklahoma, every spring was the same story—tornado season. My dad would carry me out on the front porch with him to watch the clouds. He’d talk about them, and command the thunder to roar! The lightning to flash! Looking back on it now, I understand that he was trying to teach me not to be afraid of the weather, and it worked. And maybe he was trying not to be afraid, too.

In those days, there was little to no warning before the storm hit. In today’s world, so many improvements and inventions have come along that our weathermen can pinpoint the minute the storm will hit a certain area. There is round the clock coverage on the three major stations when we are in a severe weather watch. They also broadcast from sister-station radio channels, in case you’re not near a television or are in a storm shelter. Doppler radar is one of the greatest life-saving inventions that ever happened, in my opinion.

Every elementary school child here is trained in our “tornado drills” just as they are trained in fire drills. How well I remember the hardships of trying to crouch on our knees, bowed over next to the walls in the hallway! At that time, most little girls wore dresses. Our biggest worry was trying to hold our dress down so no one could see our underwear.

Most families here don’t have storm shelters or cellars. Most houses don’t have basements. Our home was no exception—no basement and no cellar. Our water table is so high here that it’s hard to keep the dampness and/or flooding out. Even the pre-fab shelters are sometimes prone to leaking water.

One of my enduring memories was of the time when I was about five years old and we were caught at my grandparents’ just before the storm hit. They had an old root cellar—dug out of the red Oklahoma dirt, with an old tin door that my grandfather had made, and some cinder block steps that led down into the darkness. I remember my mother not wanting to go down into the cellar for some reason. When I got down there, I understood. My grandfather lit a kerosene lamp and we could see spiders…There was an old cot against the wall, and Mom and I sat down on it. Across the cellar, no more than 5 feet away, there were rough shelves that my grandmother’s jars of canned goods lined. And in the space between two jars…two eyes looked out at me.

“Look, Mom…there are eyes looking at us,” I said. In the next few seconds, I found out something about my granddad I would never have suspected. He could move like the lightning above us outside! He had everyone stand to one side, and he took up a hoe and an axe from the corner (hmmm….this must have happened before down there!) and quick as anything, he had that snake out of the shelf and on the floor with its head chopped off. I learned later it was a copperhead.

Public shelters? Few and far between. Liability is a huge responsibility that no one wants to assume. And in these sue-happy days, it’s a very real possibility that organizations who are just trying to be good neighbors and offer safety could lose everything to one lawsuit. This is true of governmental and private organizations alike. Another fear, quite justified, is the fact that many people trying to get to a shelter create a traffic jam and are sitting ducks.

In light of all the tragedy that has happened lately here in our great state, I’m relieved to learn that FINALLY there is some positive action being made toward outfitting our schools with a safe place for the kids and teachers to be. That should have been done long, long ago. Of course, it’s all a matter of money. It’s expensive to do. But what price can we put on a child’s life?

I guess we can say that is the “silver lining” to all this. Thanks to each and every one of you who has kept us in your thoughts and prayers. There is still a great need for help and healing, but what a country we live in! I’m so proud to be an American. We have our differences, but when tragedy strikes, no one stands together like we do. I’m so thankful for that.

This is one of the most touching pictures I’ve seen. It reminds me of how, someway, there’s always someone who manages to fly Old Glory in the direst of circumstances and remind us that we are all just human beings, trying to make it in this world, helping one another when our world is literally ripped away from us. There has been such an outpouring of love and help from all over not only our own nation, but other countries as well, and yet–for whatever reason, we are always surprised and humbled that other care so much.

Last but not least, I leave you with a picture of one of my favorite Oklahomans, Miranda Lambert, married to another favorite Oklahoman, Blake Shelton. Blake organized a benefit concert and got tons of performers, not just fellow Okies in the business–to come out and give their all for our ravaged state. God bless them all!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Most of the blogs I write at my website focus on 19th century and early 20th century history of the American frontier. As an Ohio native, I’ve always been struck by the number of characters from my home state who made their way west and became famous, or infamous.  Here in no particular order is a small sampling those who bought into author Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go West…” and explore the opportunities accompanying the nation’s aggressive expansion. 

Isaac Charles Parker

Born Oct. 15, 1838, just outside Barnesville in Belmont County, Ohio, Parker decided at 17 to pursue a legal career. He passed the bar in 1859. Two years later, he moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, and opened his own law firm. He served as a judge for the 12th Missouri Circuit and in 1870 won election to Congress. 

Facing an uphill battle for re-election, Parker cashed in a few political chips and won appointment as judge of the Western District of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Since his predecessor William Story was impeached for bribery and forced to resign, Parker’s first challenge was to reorganize the court and weed out the corruption. 

Over the next twenty-two years, Parker dealt with thousands of criminal cases, many which involved disputes and violence between Indians and non-Indians. He sentenced 160 people to death during his term. A total of 79 were executed and 43 sentences were commuted to life in prison or lesser terms. Others either won presidential pardons, were acquitted or their convictions overturned, won new trials, were set free, or shot and killed trying to escape. 

Although Parker has often been referred to as the Hanging Judge, the term didn't appear until the 1920—nearly thirty years after he died.

William Ellsworth Lay

Born Nov. 25, 1863, in Adams County, Ohio, he was also known as Elzy and by the alias William McGinnis. It's believed he traveled to the Denver area and went to work at the Bassett ranch in Brown's Park, where he met Butch Cassidy.

When Cassidy formed the Wild Bunch, he invited Lay along. The gang achieved a reputation as the most successful train-robbing gang in history. When the Wild Bunch broke up, Lay hooked up with the Black Jack Ketchum gang. And, that's when life took a turn for the worse. 

An attempted train robbery, on July 11, 1899, near Folsom, New Mexico, got botched and members of the Ketchum Gang ended up in a shoot-out with the law. During the gun battle, Lay reportedly killed two sheriffs, and was wounded trying to escape. On October 10, 1899, he was sentenced to serve the remainder of his life behind bars - under his alias, William McGinnis, New Mexico Territorial Prison

McGinnis won his freedom for helping put an end to a prison riot. After this release, Lay went to Wyoming, worked as a bartender, oil driller and amateur geologist, got married, and moved to California where he spent the rest of his life as a respected businessman.

Annie Oakley

Born Phoebe Ann Mosey on Aug. 13, 1860, on a farm outside Greenville in Darke County, Ohio. She achieved fame as one of the most famous sharp-shooting entertainers of her time, touring with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for several years, along with shooter Frank Butler, whom she later married. 

When Annie Oakley retired, she was shocked one day to read newspaper headlines calling her destitute, a druggie, and a thief. The stories attracted coast-to-coast press coverage, thanks to two Chicago newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst. 

The 43-year old native Ohio sharpshooter retired in 1901 and moved to the New Jersey shore to enjoy retirement. She was never involved in any criminal activity or scandals of any kind. Oakley, throughout her career, spent a great deal of time cultivating a reputation as a proper Victorian lady. When the story broke, she decided to fight back. 

She filed fifty-five libel suits, traveling across the country to testify in various courtrooms. Oakley settled fifty four of the suits, collecting between $900 and $27,500. Historians say she actually lost money because of her legal and travel expenses. 

Harvey Whitehill

Born September 2, 1838, this Ohio native traveled to Leadville, Colorado, to mine for gold in the late 1850s. After making about $15,000 from his claim, Whitehill moved Southwest in 1860 where he got involved in the Apache Wars. 

He put down stakes in Silver City, New Mexico and, in 1874, won election to the post of Grant County. Whitehill’s brand of justice helped him quickly bring law and order to the county seat, considered one of the most violent communities in the Southwest at the time. 

Whitehill was the first person ever to arrest the young criminal known as Billy the Kid. He did it twice. Once in April 1875 and the second time in September. Known then as Henry McCarty, Billy the Kid got off with a stern lecture from Whitehill after being accused of stealing cheese or butter. But after the second arrest, Whitehill slapped him behind bars for pilfering laundry. 

The Kid, however, upstaged the sheriff by pulling off the first successful escape from Whitehill's jail. 

Although not as well known as his contemporaries, Whitehill earned the respect of historians for being an effective law man. He served six terms as sheriff of Grant County, interrupted by one term in the Territorial Legislature in 1882.

John Chivington

Born Jan. 27, 1821, in Lebanon, Ohio, Chivington—a former Methodist pastor—served as a colonel in the United States Volunteers during the Colorado War and, in 1862, participated in the Battle of Glorieta Pass against a Confederate supply train. 

But Chivington’s legacy revolves around his action against a peaceful Indian village at Sand Creek in Colorado Territory, Nov. 29, 1864. On that day of tragedy, 700 members of the Colorado Territory Militia, under Chivington’s command, waged inhumane slaughter against 73 to 160 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho—most of whom were women, children, and infants. Many of them were scalped, disemboweled, and mutilated. 

The massacre ignited a firestorm of controversy. Two of Chivington’s own officers–Captain Silas Soule, and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer, commanders of companies D and K–refused to follow the colonel’s orders and ordered their troops to hold fire. 

Chivington filed three official reports, justifying the bloodthirsty attack. In one of the communiques, he boasted of attacking a “Cheyenne village  of 130 lodges, from 900 to 1,000 warriors strong,” killing several chiefs, and “between 400 and 500 other Indians.” The reports were blatant hogwash. 

Chivington’s actions triggered several investigations. Despite recommendations to punish those involved for “these brutal and cowardly acts,” nothing ever came of it. After the war, Chivington failed as a freight hauler in Nebraska. He lived in California for a while before returning his native Ohio to farm. 

In 1883, while serving as editor of a local newspaper, he campaigned for a seat in the Ohio Legislature, but withdrew from the race when his opponents focused attention on the Sand Creek Massacre. He returned to Denver to work as a deputy sheriff and died from cancer in 1894.

William Clarke Quantrill

Born July 31, 1837, in Dover, Ohio, Quantrill struggled with a history of behavioral problems. He built a reputation as one of the most savage outlaws in the Civili War. A strong supporter of slavery, he joined the Confederate Army at the start of the war. 

He became disillusioned with the strict regimentation of army life and with the Confederates’ reluctance to prosecute Union soldiers. As a result, he decided to wage his own war against the Union. Early in 1861, he traveled to Indian Territory, and became friends with Joel B. Mayes, the future chief of the Cherokee Nation. Mayes taught him Cherokee guerrilla tactics, which Quantrill later incorporated into his marauding style of warfare.

Gathering a band of guerrillas, he formed Quantrill’s Raiders, and went beyond attacking Union troops. They robbed trains and stagecoaches, killed supporters of Abraham Lincoln, and were also accused or murdering Union Army soldiers they took prisoner. He and his men were so savage, Union Commander Henry Halleck  issued an order in 1862 that any of Quantrill’s guerrillas captured were to be treated as robbers and murderers, rather than prisoners of war. 

On August 21st of 1863, Quantrill’s Raiders attacked Lawrence, Kansas, burned down nearly 200 buildings, and murdered 150 of its citizens. It was considered one of the worst atrocities of the Civil War. The raid even triggered criticism from the Confederate leadership, which withdrew support from the marauders. 

In May 1865, one of the most hated men of the west was wounded in a gunfight with Union solders and died the same day. The man who formed Quantrill’s Raiders was 30.

Cassius M. "Cash" Hollister

Born Dec. 7, 1845 in Cleveland, Ohio, Hollister moved to Kansas in his early thirties and took a job as a hotel clerk in Wichita and Caldwell. A year later, he married. On Oct. 28, 1879, he won a special election as mayor after the death of the town’s first mayor, Noah J. Dixon. 

Hollister wasn’t your ordinary mayoral type. He had a few run-ins with the law while carrying out his mayoral responsibilities. Once he got arrested and paid a fine for assaulting a citizen. Despite the hassles, public service appealed to Hollister. About three years after leaving the mayor’s office he won appointment as deputy U.S. Deputy marshal. 

Later, he served as city marshal and then deputy sheriff of Sumner County. At 39 years old, Hollister led a colorful life and spent much of it being a badge. But his law career put him in several dangerous confrontations. In the early morning of October 18, 1884, Hollister and two other lawman headed for a farm in Hunnewell, outside Caldwell, to arrest Bob Cross, the son of a Texas Baptist minister. 

Hollister and his small posse arrived at the farm about 3 a.m., approached the farmhouse, and ordered Cross outside. His wife and sister-in-law said Cross wasn’t home. But the lawmen weren’t buying it and kicked in the front door. Two shots rang out. When the commotion settled, C.M. Hollister lay on the ground dead. Cross escaped, but authorities captured him the following day. Deputy Hollister is memorialized on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC.

Ohio State University Buckeyes

Born in the spring of 1890 with first home game played on Nov. 1st. The Buckeyes proceeded to win 35 Big Ten championships, capture seven Heisman trophies, along with a number of additional honors, including Lombardi awards, Maxwell awards, Outland Trophy, Walter Camp Award, a broad range of All-American and All-Conference honors. 

Under the command  of Urban Meyer, members of Buckeye Nation traveled into north Texas on Jan. 12, 2015, to a well-fortified encampment called AT&T Stadium to pursue a band of high-flying Oregon Ducks in the first-ever 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship.

The two sides battled in a large open field with the Ducks forced to retreat under heavy firepower. When the smoke cleared, the Buckeyes emerged victorious, 42-20.

(Sorry! I couldn’t help it). 

If you enjoyed this story, you'll like other quick-read true tales of the frontier in my new three-volume package, Tall Tales from the High Plains & Beyond

Book One: The Unexpected and Other Stories is now available in soft-cover or eBook and features sixty-eight stories of the American Frontier showcasing ghosts, unsolved mysteries, lost treasures, a headless horseman, a phantom train, and others. 

For a FREE SAMPLER of all three volumes, leave your name and email address at: Tall Tales Sampler

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Longest Serving Musket in the World by Gordon Rottman

I'm traveling and didn't have time to put together a decent article today. I've posted a short piece from my The Big Book of Gun Trivia: Everything you want to know, don't want to know, and don't know you need to know. It can be had as an e-book from:

What is probably the longest serving shoulder arm of all time was the British .75-caliber* Long and Short Land Pattern Muskets, popularly known as the “Brown Bess.” It soldiered in regular British frontline service from 1722 to 1836—114years—in upgraded versions and some were still in use during the Crimean War (1853-56) and Indian Mutiny (1857-58). It was used across the Empire by regular, colonial, and militia troops as well as by American revolutionaries (1775–83) and even the Mexican Army during the Texas Revolution (1835-36) and the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Small numbers of late-pattern Brown Bess muskets, converted from flintlocks to percussion cap†, were used by the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-65). These were converted at the Tower of London Royal Armories in 1839 and referred to as “Tower muskets.” “Tower” was not the designer or manufacturer. There is no telling how long Brown Besses remained in use in some capacity, probably at least into the 1870s—that’s over 150 years.

Some argue the term Brown Bess was seldom if ever used by soldiers of the era being embraced more by historians and collectors. However, the Connecticut Courant (1771) contained a line, “...but if you are afraid of the sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulder and march.” The Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue (1785) listing vernacular terms described, “Brown Bess: A soldier’s firelock. To hug the Brown Bess; to carry a firelock, or serve as a private soldier.” (The term “vulgar” in those days referred to slang and rustic or simple everyday language.)  Brown Bess appears not to have been picked up as the weapon’s nickname until late in the 1700s and was earlier simply called the “brown musket.” There is no substantiated explanation as to the origin of “Brown Bess.” The “Brown” is variously said to refer to the brown walnut stock, the brown “russeting” metal treatment, or the brown varnish applied to protect metal and wooden parts. Regardless, the weapon appeared very brown. It is probably any or all of these depending on the beholder’s perception. “Bess” is said to refer Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), colloquially known as “Good Queen Bess,” but she died over a hundred years before the musket’s adoption. It is also suggested to have been derived from blunderbuss or arquebus, 16th and 17th century firearms. Another theory is that it was derived from the German brawn Büchse or braun Büchse (strong gun or brown gun), possibly from Hessian mercenaries in British employ. Or “Bess” could have come from the Dutch Buss in the same context. The Queen Bess theory is the most plausible, the Virgin Queen being known as a hard and demanding woman. Too, Bess could have been a common nickname for a soldier’s girl during the Brown Bess’s reign; as Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) said of the Crown’s enemies, “They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.” He also compared the Bess to “An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade, with a habit of looking men straight in the eyes.” Will we ever know the true origin and meaning of the term? As Post-Captain Jack Aubrey says, “Never in life you scrub.”

* The smoothbore was .75-caliber (19mm), but the 1-ounce lead ball was .71-caliber (18mm) to allow for the tallow-dipped paper cartridge containing the ball and black powder charge and serving as a patch. In shotgun terms this would be about 11-gauge.

† Percussion caps as a means of igniting muzzle-loading weapons were developed in 1807 by a Scotsman, Alexander Forsyth (1768-1843). They did not see much use until the early 1820s and their use began to spread through the 1830s and 1840s.