Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Heroes and Outlaws of The Old West (Part I.)

Before you can create your own Wild West characters, it helps if you know a little bit about the larger than life legends--good and bad--who populated the era and gave it its wild reputation. (Since this blog ended up being a bit long, I’ll post it in two parts.)

First up: The Good Guys.

Wyatt Earp. May as well start with the largest legend of them all. In 1875, tired of his career as a stagecoach driver twenty-seven year old Wyatt Earp moved to Wichita, Kansas and took a job as a policeman. He was fired after about a year. Legend has it he was fired for assaulting a local businessman who was about to beat another man to death. From there, Earp moved to Dodge City and became an assistant marshal (contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t a full fledged marshal). After an uneventful career (also contrary to popular belief, Dodge City was a peaceful town) He was eventually fired for getting into a fight with a dance hall girl. In 1879, he became deputy sheriff of a town called Tombstone in Arizona. He appointed his three brothers and the notorious Doc Holiday as deputies. In 1881, the five got into the famed “gunfight at the OK Corral” with the Clanton brothers. Though acquitted for acting in the line of duty, the men were criticized for their actions (some folks say the Clantons were ambushed) and eventually forced to leave town. Earp died in 1929 at the age of 80, but retains his legendary status.

Pat Garrett. Pat was raised the privileged son of a Louisiana plantation owner. The Civil War left the Garrett family in ruins and Pat’s parents died shortly thereafter. He headed for Dallas County, Texas, intent on becoming a cowboy. In 1878, while working in New Mexico, Garrett befriended William Bonney. The two men made an odd spectacle, with Garrett, at six foot four, towering over the five foot seven inch Bonney, but they gambled together so frequently they earned the nicknames Big Casino and Little Casino. Eventually their paths went separate ways; Garret married and had seven children. Bonney went on to live the life of an outlaw. In 1880, Garrett was elected sheriff of Lincoln County, and while proud of his new position was shocked to learn his first order of business would be to hunt down and kill his friend. The people of Lincoln were frightened of the criminals in the area, and wanted Billy the Kid dead. Garrett eventually captured his one-time buddy, but The Kid escaped before his death sentence could be carried out. Garrett later hunted down—and killed—the outlaw. In 1908 Pat Garrett met a violent end himself, shot in the back and the head by a man he’d rented property to.

Wild Bill Hickock. Perhaps one of the more colorful legends of the Old West, James Butler Hickock was born the son of a presbyterian deacon. After his father’s death fifteen-year-old, James got into a gunfight. He ran away to evade the law, ending up in Kansas. At the time, Kansas was in turmoil over the issue of slavery. James joined the “Free State Army” and was involved with many pro-slavery battles. Though he never enlisted in the Union army, he fought against the South as a spy, a scout and a sharpshooter. His aim became legendary and he earned the nickname Wild Bill for the risks he took during battle. When The War ended in 1865, Bill tried to settle into a peaceful existence, but repeatedly found himself embroiled in duels. His marksmanship continued to improve until he was regarded as one of the most feared men in the west—and the best shot in the world. Hickock eventually became Marshal of Abilene, Kansas, his very presence was enough to maintain order in the town. Wild Bill tried to cash in on his image several times by creating traveling road shows in which he would demonstrate his remarkable prowess with a gun. But Hickock, who loved to drink and gamble, was no businessman and the attempts failed. In 1876 Wild Bill was shot in the back during a game of poker by Broken Nose Jack McCall. To this day, the hand of cards Hickock held --an ace of spades, an ace of clubs; an eight of spades; an eight of clubs and the jack of diamonds—is regarded as “the dead man’s hand” and considered bad luck.

Tom Smith. Perhaps one of the lesser-known heroes, little is known about Smith’s early life. Born in New York sometime around 1840, he was of Irish descent. Smith would go on to become Marshal of Abilene in the years prior to Wild Bill Hickock. He was known as quiet, soft spoken and one who avoided using his gun whenever possible. Smith was seriously wounded while protecting a friend during a shoot out. His quick recovery prompted rumors that he was “bullet proof.” Abilene was one of the stops on the Chisholm Trail (the route by which cattle were shipped from Texas to the east). While the town was bustling and prosperous, the cowboys who drove the cattle were a rowdy bunch who often made trouble. Trying to maintain order in the town was such a dangerous job that no one wanted to be marshal of Abilene. Then Tom Smith arrived in town. The mayor warned Smith of the dangers, but he took the job of Marshal anyway. Smith’s first decree was that all visitors hand their guns in to the Marshal’s office. In 1870, when smith was around thirty years of age, he and the county sheriff rode out to arrest Andrew McConnell, who had killed a neighbor in a dispute over cattle. A gunfight ensued in which Smith was wounded. Fearing for his life, the sheriff ran, leaving the seriously wounded Smith to fight McConnell on his own. Smith and McConnell began to struggle on the floor, but the Marshal hadn’t noticed that his adversary had a back up. The friend picked up an ax and cut off Smith’s head. Tom Smith was given the funeral of a hero.

Bat Masterson. William Barclay Masterson was born on a farm in Illinois, but grew up in Wichita, Kansas. His father gave him his first gun at an early age. Young William spent much of his childhood practicing his aim. As a young man, he and his older brother, Ed, ran away, seeking a life of adventure. One of their first jobs was working on a railroad line for several months. When the time came to collect their pay, they were double crossed by their boss. Defeated, Edward returned home. But Bill stayed and worked elsewhere until he had enough money to buy a gun. Then he looked up his former boss and demanded the money owed him. Masterson then became a buffalo hunter, and his prowess with a gun helped earn up to a hundred dollars a day. Once while out hunting buffalo, Masterson was beaten and robbed by a group of Native Americans. Frightened, the other buffalo hunters returned to Dodge. Not Bill! He stayed and got his revenge. He found the men who had robbed him and stole forty horses from them. He then sold the horses in Dodge City for a tidy profit. Masterson hated the sheriff of Dodge, Larry Deger. The two once got into a fist fight and Deger tossed Masterson in jail. The following year Masterson beat Deger in the election for sheriff. During his tenure as sheriff, Dodge was a quiet, peaceful town. By now Masterson had earned himself the nickname Bat for his tendency to hit criminals over the head with a cane. (The cane was necessary due to an old leg injury incurred during a gunfight over a woman.). In 1902, Masterson moved to New York and became a sportswriter for The Morning Telegraph. He died in 1921 at sixty seven years of age, still writing for the newspaper.

I’ll be back a little bit later to post the second half of our Tuesday Ten—The Bad Guys.


Susan Macatee said...

You learn something new every day!

I heard of Bat Masterson, but didn't know he got his name because he hit people with a cane!

Informative blog, Nic!

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Thanks, Susan. I didn't intend for it to be so long when I started out, LOL. I condensed where I could, but there was just so much that was interesting, I couldn't help myself!