Thursday, May 16, 2013

Velocipedes, Bank Heists, & Cattle Drives by @JacquieRogers #western

May in the Old West

May of 1869 brought warmer weather, the snow was mostly melted, and everyone was ready to get back to making a living. "Now that spring has opened, prospectors are starting out in all directions.  Quite a number left here during the past week."

New contraptions, too.  People in the West worked hard, but they played just as hard.  From the May 29, 1869 issue of The Owyhee Avalanche:

AT BOISE: Several of our citizens are now velocipeding at the Capital, among whom are John Wilson, Postmaster Bradly, Judge Miller, Frank Ganahl, A. P. Minear, and John T. Boyle.

1869 Velocipede

Besides a good time, Mr. Minear found a good way to promote his business.  His family livery rented velocipedes.  Here's a news item that was also in the May 29 issue:

LIVERY STABLE. John Minear and Col. Kirkpatrick, two broths of boys, design opening, next week, the old Rogers and Brinkerhoff stable, on Jordan street, where they will be most happy to furnish their patrons with any grade of riding animals, from a velocipede up.  They intend to keep on hand and in readiness all classes of vehicles from a wheelbarrow to a family carriage; and will board stock at reasonable prices; and will pledge their word to not take the barley away from the animal after the owner turns his back on the stable.

I'm not sure what "two broths of boys" refers to exactly, but probably "brothers."  [Please let me know if you have any idea.]  You have to wonder why that last sentence was included, but apparently it was a common swindle.

Talk about rowdy, the better weather brought out the best and the worst.  Nothing like a heist attempt to get the blood pumping.  This was in the May 1, 1869 issue:

BOLD.  Five men, masked, entered in daylight the office of Wells, Fargo & co., at Truckee [Nevada], when people were continually passing on the sidewalk; three of them went in at the front door and two at the back, presenting cocked pistols at the officers and another person.  The clerk seized a chair and struck one of the robbers a blow over the head.  The villains then fired several shots, fortunately missing each time.  Becoming alarmed for their personal safety, the robbers fled, minus booty.

Even in the remotest areas of the Old West, citizens were interested in national and international politics.  President Grant had a few detractors and a political mess when he took office in 1869.  In retrospect, Grant didn't get a whole lot of support from his party, and he wasn't a very good puppet, either.  Worst of all, he was a lousy politician.  Here's what The Owyhee Avalanche had to say about the president in the May 29, 1869 issue:

THE PRESIDENT.  We would judge from what we read in the papers from all quarters, that the porphyry chair of State to which General Grant has been elected is not so easy to seat as might be after all.  Gen. Grant and Mr. Fish [Secretary of State], are in a very unpleasant dilemma; and for our country's sake I feel sorry for them.  We do not believe that Secretary Fish, in justice to himself, can hold his position very long.  The leaders in Congress are making it too warm for the Secretary.  It is not so easy for the President to retire from the conflict in which he finds himself engaged.  We have no doubt but that our present Congress intends to rule the President or do all they can to ruin him.

Hamilton Fish
Hamilton Fish was Secretary of State for eight years and is considered on of our finest, so the Avalanche editor underestimated the Secretary's tenaciousness.  He reformed the Civil Service, created the government archives, and his foreign policies put the USA on a course to become a world leader.

Before the days of the FDIC, bank failure could be the ruination of a lifetime's work, so it was a personal disaster as well as a community loss.  No wonder so many people buried their savings in the back yard.  This is from the May 1, 1869 issue:

THOMAS COLE, Jr. & Co.  It is currently reported that this banking firm, doing business in granite block [an area of Silver City, Idaho Terr.], has failed.  We have been unable thus far to gain an definite knowledge concerning the matter, and are therefore unprepared to say to what extent the report may be correct.  If it is true, we regret to know it.  It is an unfortunate circumstance for this community.

About money, I've never heard of two-cent or three-cent coins, so I'm not quite sure what this next item, printed May 6, 1871, in The Owyhee Avalanche means exactly.

THE NICKEL'S COMING.  We see by the dispatches from San Francisco that the Bank of California has commenced using one, two and three cents, and that they are retailing for currency at par.  We suppose we shall soon have them in circulation here.  If whisky now would only get down to three cents a glass--the old price in the States--there would really be some chance for a poor man to live.

Spring brings cattle, too.  The tops of arid mountains that were being torn up by placer mining was no place to raise cattle, so all the beef had to be brought in.  By 1871 a few ranches had been established in Owyhee County, but driving them to Silver City was another matter--had to wait until spring.  Even so, it was often cheaper to bring stock up from Texas. From the May 13, 1871 issue:

BACK AGAIN.  Con Shea got back from Colorado this week in advance of his drove, consisting of 900 head of fat beef cattle which will arrive here in a few weeks.  The cattle were driven from Texas last fall and wintered near Fort Lyon, in Colorado Territory, where they throve remarkably well.  Tom Bugbee sold out his stock on the Arkansas River and has gone back to Texas for more, and to get himself a wife.  Mr. Shea is an enterprising gentleman and has been very fortunate in his cattle speculations.  Owyhee need not fear a scarcity this season.
I hope Mr. Bugbee had good luck procuring his cattle and wife.

Short items from various March issues of The Owyhee Avalanche from 1866 to 1873:

  • H. E. Leslie's photograph gallery is now in operation.
  • On Monday, May 1st, the Northwestern stage came in on wheels for the first time this spring.
  • Those in want of wallpaper will find a large variety of it at Rupert's drug store, as he has just received 1,700 rolls.
  • The textbooks used in school are Webster's spellers, Wilson's readers, Spenserian writers, Davies' arithmetic, Cornell's and Montieth's geographies, Pinncoe's grammar, and Qwackenbush's history.

May Events

  • May 6, 1859: John Gregory strikes gold at Clear Creek near what is now Denver.
  • May 20, 1862: President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, allowing citizens to claim a quarter-section of land.  They could either live on the land and improve it for five years, or pay $1.25 per acre after six months.
  • May 26: 1863: Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar strike gold in Alder Gulch, Idaho Territory, now known as Virginia City, Montana.
  • May 10, 1868: The U.S. Army applied its brand to a horse that caught Captain Miles Keogh's eye.  He only rode the horse in battle.  His name--Commanche, the sole Army survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
  • May 23, 1868: Kit Carson dies of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in the surgeon's quarters at Fort Lyon, Colorado.
  • May 10, 1869--Leland Stanford drove the Golden Spike into laurel ties at Promontory Summit, Utah, signifying the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
  • May 18, 1871: Satanta led 150 Kiowa and Commanche on an attack of the Warren wagon train, hauling grain to Fort Griffin, Texas.  Six teamsters and the wagon master, Nathan Long, were killed.
  • May 3, 1873: In Arizona Territory, Manual Fernandez was hanged for the mutilation death of Mike McCartney--Fernandez was the territory's first legal hanging.
  • May 6, 1877: Crazy Horse led his people to the Red Cloud Agency on the promise that they'd be allowed to live in the Powder River country.  On the same day, Chief Sitting Bull arrived with his people in Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan, getting the rest of his people out of the U.S. Cavalry's way after the Battle of the Little Bighorn the previous year.
  • May 1, 1878:  The Texas Rangers recruited Jim Murphy to infiltrate the Sam Bass gang for inside inside information, which led to Bass' capture and death in July.
  • May 17, 1883: Residents of Columbus, Nebraska, were treated to the first performance of "The Wild West—Hon. W.F. Cody and Dr. W.F. Carver’s Rocky Mountain and Prairie Exhibition."
  • May 6, 1885: Major fires broke out in Livingston, Billings, and Miles City, Montana, all on the same day.
  • May 2, 1890: Congress created the Oklahoma Territory.

May your saddle never slip.

Jacquie Rogers 
Romancing The West
Hearts of Owyhee series
#1: Much Ado About Marshals
#2: Much Ado About Madams
#3: Much Ado About Mavericks


  1. Jacquie--Thanks so much for these nuggets of history. The newspapers used such colorful and fascinating language in those days. And, the reporting seemed to suggest there weren't many secrets kept in the community.

  2. I love this feature, and look forward to it every month!

  3. Fun information! I use old newspapers a lot when researching and writing my westerns.

  4. Tom, I get a kick out of the language, too. My favorite word in today's articles is "throve." As for secrets, there was a veritable revolving door of prospectors and those who left with their tails between their legs, but there was a core community and those people had no chance to keep a secret.

  5. Troy, I'm glad you're enjoying This Month in the Old West. I wasn't so sure how it would work out when I first proposed it.

  6. Paty, so do I (obviously). This monthly column came about because of all the snippets I'd saved, most of which don't make it into my books. One of today's did, though--the Wells Fargo office robbery. I changed it around quite a bit, though.

  7. Jacquie, like Troy, I look forward to this feature of yours each and every month. I loved that word "throve" too! LOL The other thing I really thought was odd was the article where they talked about Mr. Shea going back to Texas for more cattle and a wife. OK, not sure I would have ever let anyone know that was part of my intention, had I been Mr. Shea. Just sayin'.LOL Great post. I loved it.

  8. Cheryl, that was Mr. Bugbee who went to Texas for cattle and a wife. I really got a kick out of that line. Not sure if he had a woman lined up or if he was going to pick one from the shelf. LOL.

  9. "Broth of a boy" is Irish and refers to a lively, eager lad.

  10. love these snippets.... and Shay thanks for the information on Broth of s boy!!

  11. Thanks, Shay! I had no idea, so I'm glad you told me. It makes sense now. Glad you stopped by. :)

  12. Mercedes, I get a kick out of them, too. Reading old newspapers helps to put me in the mindset of the Old West when I write. Plus, it's fun.

  13. Love your monthly "column" - I always love looking through old newspapers and magazines for research, too. Such a good idea to share them with us.

  14. J.E.S., I'm happy to share the interesting items I find. It's much more fun when others are interested, too. :)

  15. 1700 rolls of wallpaper!! wow, i guess there were a lot of houses needing that item. LOL

    I love the wife mention too. These are great, Jacquie! Such small towns and no secrets indeed.

  16. Born and raised in 'small town' USA, I well know secrets were impossible to keep. If a man let a fart the whole town knew about it.