Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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

Part II: The Bad Boys

Like any self-avowed “good girl”, I have a weak spot for bad boys. But reading about some of these guys makes you realize just how baaaad some of them were. Here, for the second half of today’s Tuesday Ten are the guys who put the “wild” in Wild West!

Henry McCarty, better known as William Bonney. Even better known as Billy the Kid. Short, ugly and buck-toothed, Billy became a petty thief at a young age. He spent several years working as a cowboy in Arizona. He lost that job when he killed a man and was sent to jail. After escaping, he made his way to Lincoln County, New Mexico and was offered a job in by a kindly rancher named John Tunstall. For a while, Billy settled down and led a quiet life. But Tunstall’s death at the hands of a posse made Billy vow revenge. He got it --and then some, spurring the Lincoln County wars. These days historians point out that neither Billy and his gang, nor the lawmen who pursued them, can truly be considered “the good guys” or “the bad guys”—each side committed horrible atrocities and brutal murders. Billy eventually fled Lincoln County and got involved in cattle rustling and committed a few more murders. He was finally gunned down in 1881 by Sheriff Pat Garrett, a man Billy had once called friend.

Jesse James. Jesse’s father was a Baptist minister. His father died when Jesse and older brother Frank were young, and their mother remarried an abusive man. The Civil War broke out and the James’ sided with the Confederates. Jesse and Frank joined a band of guerilla soldiers and fought for the Confederates. When the Union won the war, the guerilla band turned to thieving. Taking full advantage of the lawlessness of the South in the early days after the war, Jesse and his gang orchestrated the first daylight robbery in US history. Jesse was the brains behind several more robberies after that, and he soon emerged as the leader of the group. These robberies usually resulted in a great deal of gunplay, so it’s hard to guess just how many deaths Jesse was personally responsible for. In 1873, Jesse and his boys took to train robbing. Private detectives were soon employed to guard the trains and Jesse was accused of murdering at least one of them. He always maintained his innocence and provided solid alibis for his whereabouts when the robberies took place. 1873 also saw Jesse settling into married life. Once he had a family, he decided it best to assume an alias and changed his name to Thomas Howard. Jesse was planning another bank heist in 1881 when he was murdered by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford, who had been commission by the governor to kill Jesse.

Cherokee Bill. Part Native American, part white, part Mexican and part African-American, Crawford Goldsby was the victim of racism from an early age. It’s widely believed this is what triggered the violence that would eventually consume him. Bill fell in with two brothers named Bill and Jim Cook. He was fiercely loyal to them, considering them the only true friends he’d ever had. One day, a sheriff came to arrest the Cook brothers for stealing some horses. Instead of the Cooks going to jail, Bill shot the lawman. The brothers were grateful and indoctrinated Bill into their gang, giving him the name Cherokee Bill. He joined them in numerous robberies and gunfights. The same year he joined the Cook gang, Bill learned his sister had been beaten by her husband. Bill hunted down, then shot and killed his brother-in-law. Several months later, Bill was arrested and sentenced to death for killing a train conductor. He was rescued by the Cook gang. A year later he was in trouble for killing again, and Judge Isaac Parker, a.k.a. “the hanging judge” sentenced him to death. That night, Bill killed one of the prison guards. Furious, Judge Parker had Cherokee Bill hanged the very next day.

Doc Holliday. Born into a wealthy Southern household, John Henry Holliday was another one who saw his family’s wealth lost—and his family destroyed—by the Civil War. Despite claims that John attended Baltimore College of Dentistry, there are no records to prove he ever did. More than likely, Holliday learned dentistry as an apprentice. Around 1870, John left Georgia in a hurry. Some claim he’d shot several men. Other claims say that he suffered a bout of tuberculosis and need a change of climate. Holliday found himself in Dallas and became a partner in a successful dentistry office. It was around this time that he began drinking and gambling on a daily basis. He carried a gun at all times and killed numerous men over card game disputes. In 1878, he headed to Dodge City and befriended Wyatt Earp. Little is known about Holliday’s time in Dodge City, but he left the town in a hurry in 1870 and soon opened a saloon in Las Vegas. Once again he was involved in several shootings, but due to his friendship with the sheriff, was never arrested. Around 1880 he became a card dealer in Tombstone, where once again, he made many enemies. He was involved in the shootout at the OK Corral with the Clantons and the Earps, but his participation is unclear. After the shootout, Holliday fled to Denver, where he was eventually arrested for his participation in Tombstone. Hearing of his incarceration, his friend Wyatt Earp sent Bat Masterson to arrange his release. Doc was soon a free man. By 1884, Doc was beginning to deteriorate from the symptoms of tuberculosis, but that didn’t keep him from getting into gunfights. He succumbed to his disease in 1887.

Black Bart. In 1875 a man wearing a flour sack over his head held up a Wells Fargo Stagecoach in Calvareas County, California. The man carried a double barrel shot gun and gave polite orders to his gang, who were apparently hiding behind boulders. The driver could not see the men, just their rifle barrels. The man in the flour sack took the Wells Fargo money box, but didn’t rob the passengers. When the stagecoach reached its destination, the driver wired Wells Fargo. Private police were sent to the scene of the crime. They discovered that the rifle barrels seen by the driver were merely sticks propped up on rocks. A poem left by the bandit was signed “Black Bart.” Another similar crime occurred a few weeks later and the investigation again turned up a poem signed by Bart. Wells Fargo hired some of the best criminal investigators available, and even posted an $800 reward for the capture of Black Bart. Five months later another hold up occurred and once again investigators found another poem. Investigators scoured the countryside and eventually found a farmer who had noticed a distinguished looking stranger with sideburns a few days earlier. Other investigators claimed the farmer was crazy, and the investigation stalled. Six months later Black Bart struck again. And again six months after that. This continued for several years. Wells Fargo began placing detectives along the routes so they could quickly find the bandit’s trail. The plan worked; one detective found a stockpile of evidence near a hold-up sight. One piece of evidence, a handkerchief, had a laundry mark inscribed on it. The detectives traced the mark to a laundry in San Francisco and learned the handkerchief belonged to a Mr. C.E. Bolton; Bolton was arrested and eventually confessed. Because he had spent only $200 of the thousands he had stolen, and returned the rest, he spent only a few years in jail. After Bolton’s release, Black Bart struck two more times. Police tried to track him down, but it turned out Bolton was merely an alias. No one knew where to begin looking for a bandit with no name.


Kristin-Marie said...

Infamy made one legendary in the Victorian era, after all.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love the badboys, though I have to admit to a soft spot for Doc Holliday. Could be because Val Kilmer played him in "Tombstone".

Susan Macatee said...

Ah, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday!

One of the reasons I watch that film again and again!

I modeled my villain in Erin's Rebel after that character.

Nicole McCaffrey said...

LOL. I prefer Dennis Quaid's take on him in the movie Wyatt Earp. But then I prefer Dennis in most anything! *G*

Marlene said...

The Black Bart information was fun for me to read. I grew up in Santa Rosa, CA and during my childhood I was told this particular bandit had been hung in the cemetary a couple of blocks down the street from our house. Until reading your blog, I had no idea who he really was - a mystery man. Sounds like the story of our cemetary might have been an urban legend.