Monday, April 1, 2013

Old West - Interesting Facts - Part Four

If you enjoy Old West trivia as much as I do, you might like these pieces of information that I've found here and there.

Failed bandit Elmer McCurdy’s corpse had a more interesting life than the man did.

Some say the Old West started after the Civil War in 1865 and ended in 1895 with the end of the Indian Wars. Others say it lingered on into the 1900's up to America's entry into World War I in 1917.

In 1911, Elmer McCurdy robbed a passenger train that he thought contained thousands of dollars. The disappointed train robber made off with just $46 and was shot by lawmen shortly thereafter.

McCurdy’s unclaimed corpse was then embalmed with an arsenic preparation, sold by the undertaker to a traveling carnival and exhibited as a sideshow curiosity.

For about 60 years, McCurdy’s body was bought and sold by various haunted houses and wax museums for use as a prop or attraction. His corpse finally wound up in a Long Beach, California, amusement park fun house.

Then in 1976, filming of the television show “The Six Million Dollar Man” was on location at the fun house. McCurdy's 65 year old corps was thought to be a prop for the show, but when the "prop’s" finger (or arm, depending on the account) broke off, revealing human tissue - it told a different story.

Subsequent testing by the Los Angeles coroner’s office revealed the prop was actually the outlaw McCurdy. He was buried at the famous Boot Hill cemetery in Dodge City, Kansas, 66 years after his death.

California has Indians, surprisingly California is the state with the largest self-identified Native American population in the United States according to the U.S. Census at 696,600.

Estimates of the Native Californian population have varied substantially, both with respect to California's pre-European contact count and for changes during subsequent periods.

Pre-European contact estimates range from 133,000 to 705,000 with some saying that these estimates are low. Following the European people's arrival into California, disease and other factors brought the population as low as 25,000.

It is estimated that some 4,500 Native American indigenous people of California suffered violent deaths between 1849 and 1870, and not all as a result of people of European ancestry.

Way before the European whites ever came to the place we know as America, nomadic tribes had been fighting and killing each other for thousands of years.

For example, through bloody warfare, the Iroquois Indians conquered several other Native American tribes and drove them out of their captured lands and territories.

Horrendous and torturous as it was, tribes pushed other tribes west to what has now became known as their "historically traditional lands" west of the Mississippi River.

Lands that were not their "historically traditional lands" west of the Mississippi River are now known as their "historically traditional lands" - and no, not because of whites because whites had not even arrived yet. It was one tribe against another.

Because of war between tribes, tribes originating in the Ohio Valley retreated west. This included the Osage, Kaw, Ponca and Omaha people.

By the mid-17th century, they had resettled in what is now falsely referred to as "their historical lands" in present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The Osage warred with Caddo-speaking Native Americans, displacing them in turn by the mid-18th century and dominating their lands.

Tribal warfare was traditional and continual. Usually the battles were centered on revenge, a kind of nonstop revenge, war parties going back and forth between tribes.

The Sioux hated the Crows and Shoshones, or Snakes. The Crows hated the Sioux and Blackfeet. The Blackfeet hated the Crows and Snakes and Assiniboins.

They sought to kill each other, to count coup, to humiliate, to steal women and horses, to avenge the death of warriors who had been killed in a previous battle.

Scalping was not a European invention as many today like to say. Fact is, Europeans were famous for severing their enemy's whole head and placing them on sticks to warn others. Europeans didn't bother with getting just pieces of skin and hair.

In England, Scotland, and Ireland, for example, there are stories of the English monarchs ordering the beheading of "rebels" and ordering them displayed as a warning to others who might have had thoughts of conspiracy or rebellion in mind.

Scalping was a Native Americans tradition way before the arrival of Europeans to America. It was important for them to lift their enemy's hair, both as a warning to the enemy and as a morale-booster to the scalper, his party, and other tribesmen.

Among warring tribes, nothing delighted a waiting camp more than to see scalps on the lances of returning warriors. These scalps were passed around, talked about, laughed at, sometimes thrown into the fire or given to the dogs in disdain.

Often the hair decorated a lodge or was sewn onto a war shirt.

Later during wars with whites, it is said that the scalps of white men were taken but was less desirable because it was usually short. Some of the white men were balding and weren't worth scalping. But scalping was an institution among the Plains tribes.

Contrary to moder rewrite, a scalp was a trophy of war for Indians long before they became proof of a bounty by whites.

And as another piece of trivia, Viking explorers met Native Americans long before Christopher Columbus did. First making their way to North America in the 11th century, archaeological evidence suggests they encountered Native American some 500 years before Columbus arrived.

Did Camels roam the plains of Texas?

One of the wackier ideas in American history, the U.S. Camel Corps was established in 1856 at Camp Verde, Texas.

The Army's reasoning was that the arid southwest was a lot like the deserts of Egypt. So yes, the Army imported 66 camels from the Middle East.

Despite the animals’ more objectionable qualities, like how they spitting, regurgitated, and being difficult to train, believe it or not, the great camel experiment was considered a success.

As the Civil War broke out, exploration of the frontier was curtailed and Confederates captured Camp Verde. After the war, most of the camels were sold, some to Ringling Brothers’ circus, and others escaped into the wild.

Believe it or not, the last reported sighting of a feral camel came out of Texas in 1941. Presumably, no lingering descendants of the Camel Corps’ members are alive today.

ObamaCare in the Old West?

Well, maybe there wasn't the biggest social program in the history of the world - but there were Medicine Shows that like Obama promise to treat and cure everything from sore feet to balding with very little cost to the patient.

Medicine shows were traveling horse and wagon teams which peddled "miracle cures" in the form of phony medications and other products made in quantity between various entertainment acts.

Their precise origins are unknown, but medicine shows were common in the 19th century United States - especially in the Old West and up to World War II.

They are most commonly associated with "miracle elixirs," referred to as "snake oil," which, it was claimed, had the ability to cure any disease, smooth wrinkles, remove stains, prolong life or cure any number of common ailments.

Entertainment often included a freak show, a flea circus, musical acts, magic tricks, jokes, or storytelling.

The last of these traveling shows was the Hadacol Caravan, sponsored by Louisiana State Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc and his LeBlanc Corporation, makers of the dubious patent medicine/vitamin tonic "Hadacol", known for both its alleged curative powers and its high alcohol content.

Yes, though snake oil was touted as being the cure to all that ills you - it was only high in alcohol content which made you inebriated after the swindlers took you for money that you really couldn't part with.

The stage show, which ran throughout the Deep South in the 1940s with great publicity, featured a number of notable music acts and Hollywood celebrities, and was used to promote Hadacol which was sold heavily during intermission and after the show.

Admission to the show was paid in boxtops of the vitamin tonic, sold in stores throughout the southern United States.

The Caravan came to a sudden halt in 1951, when the Hadacol enterprise fell apart in a financial scandal.

The swan song for medicine shows came in the summer of 1972 when the two man show of Chief Thundercloud who was actually pitchman Leo Kahdot, a Potawatomi Indian from Oklahoma, and Peg Leg Sam who played the harmonica, sang and told jokes as comedian Arthur Jackson played at a carnival in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Believe it or not, 1972 was the last show of the year for them because Leo Kahdot, aka Chief Thundercloud died that winter.

Ever wonder how they could get away with the con game of selling something that was truly bogus?  
The secret to their success is that they made you think you needed it even if you didn't. Sound familiar? It should, politicians have been using the same sort of tactics for years. It's all snake oil.

"Snake oil" is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.

By extension, a snake oil salesman is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is himself or herself a fraud, a quack, a charlatan, a con man, a scammer, and the like.

A common theory of the term's origin is that the name "snake oil" originated in the West from a topical preparation made from the Chinese Water Snake (Enhydris chinensis) used by Chinese laborers to treat joint pain.

The preparation was promoted in North America by travelling salesmen who often used accomplices in the audience to proclaim the benefits of the preparation.

They acted in the same way how Nancy Pelosi did when she was trying to sell ObamaCare to the public. She was Obama's "pitchman" or stooge there to help him pull off the con and trick the American people into spending vast amounts of money on ObamaCare would be good for us - all which the country did not need.

Like the "snake oil" salesmen of yesteryear, the illness and the numbers afflicted are exaggerated while the cure is sold as being to only cure.  And yes, just like ObamaCare, there are those behind the scenes making big money off the those being swindled.

The composition of the "snake oil" varies depending on who owns the wagon and who is brewing the so-called "medicine,"

Stanley's snake oil, which was produced by Clark Stanley, called the "Rattlesnake King,"was tested by the United States government in 1917. It contain:
  • Mineral oil
  • 1% fatty oil (presumed to be beef fat)
  • Red Pepper
  • Turpentine (used in lieu of alcohol)
  • Camphor
And yes, it is interesting to note that this is similar in composition to modern-day capsaicin-based liniments or chest rubs. None of the oil content was found to have been extracted from any actual snakes. And though it was common for chewing tobacco to be used as coloring, the "Rattlesnake King" didn't.

The government sued the manufacturer for misbranding and misrepresenting its product, winning the judgment of $20 against Clark Stanley. Soon after the decision, "snake oil" became synonymous with false cures and "snake-oil salesmen" became a tag for charlatans.

In the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey Wales spits tobacco on a snake oil salesman's suit and suggests he use his ointment to clean the stain.

So why was a Buckboard wagon called a Buckboard?

Most know that a buckboard is a four-wheeled wagon of simple construction meant to be drawn by a horse or other large animal.

The "buckboard" is the front-most board on the wagon that could act as both a footrest for the driver and protection for the driver from the horse's rear hooves in case the horse "bucks".

The buckboard is steered by its front wheels, which are connected to each other by a single axle. The front and rear axle are connected by a platform of one or more boards to which the front axle is connected on a pivoting joint at its midpoint. A buckboard wagon often carries a seat for a driver. Such a seat may be supported by springs.

The main platform between the axles is not suspended by springs like a carriage, but it was made in the 18th century around the same time as carriages.

Originally designed for personal transportation in mountain regions, these distinctively American vehicles were widely used in newly settled regions of the United States.

Ever wonder what life was really like in the American Frontier?

On the Great Plains, very few single men attempted to operate a farm or ranch. Those who wanted to start a farm or a ranch truly understood the need for a hard-working wife and numerous children.

Besides needing help to handle the many chores, including child-rearing, feeding and clothing the family, managing the housework, and feeding the hired hands, families meant stability.

During the early years of settlement, farm women played an integral role in assuring family survival by working outdoors.

After a generation or so, women increasingly left the field work to the men, subsequently redefining their roles within the family.

New conveniences such as sewing and washing machines encouraged women to turn to domestic roles. The scientific housekeeping movement, promoted across the land by the media and government extension agents, as well as county fairs which featured achievements in home cookery and canning, advice columns for women in the farm papers, and home economics courses in the schools all contributed to this trend.

Although the folks back East had an image of the Western farm family on the prairies as having lives that emphasized isolation of the lonely farmer, in reality rural folks created a rich social life for themselves.

They often sponsored activities that combined work, food, and entertainment such as barn raisings, corn huskings, quilting bees, Grange meetings, church activities, and school functions. The women folk organized shared meals and potluck events, as well as extended visits between families.

It really wasn't a whole lot different than in rural communities today.

Even as far back as the California Gold Rush, there are stories of the wives of miners going to meet other wives socially just as they do today.

And yes, there is a great story about the Petticoat Mine which was discovered when a few wives were on one such visit. But that's for another time!

As for gunfighters in the Old West?

Well, it seems most were born in 1853. And yes, by 1895, about a third had died of "natural causes."

Of those who did die violently, either shot or hanged, the average age of death was 35. As for those gunfighters who turned lawmen, they lived longer lives than their persistently criminal counterparts.

The "occupations" of the various gunmen, there were 110 gunmen who were law officers, 75 who were cowboys, 54 were ranchers, 46 were farmers, 45 were rustlers, 35 were hired guns. Many were also former soldiers, miners, scouts, teamsters, actors, butchers, and even bounty hunters.

And contrary to popular believe, so-called gunfights peaked in 1870 - years before the Colt Single Action Army started production in 1873.

The Colt Single Action Army, was also known as the Model P, the Peacemaker, M1873, and Colt .45 or the Single Action Army.

It was designed for the U.S. government service revolver trials of 1872 by Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, today Colt's Manufacturing Company, and was adopted as the standard military service revolver until 1892.

Believe it or not, the Colt Single Action Army has been offered in over 30 different calibers and various barrel lengths. Its overall appearance has remained consistent since 1873. Colt has discontinued its production twice, but brought it back due to popular demand.

Another bit of trivia is that in 1895-96, the Government returned 2,000 Single Action Army revolvers to Colt to be refurbished. A total of 800 of these were issued to the New York Militia with the 7 ½” barrel and 1,200 were cut down to a barrel length of 5½".

In 1898, 14,900 Single Action Army revolvers were altered the same way by the Springfield Armory. The original records of the War Department do refer to these revolvers with the shortened barrel as the “Altered Revolver”.

The name “Artillery” is actually a misnomer, maybe because the Light Artillery happened to be the first units to be armed with the altered revolver.

They became known as the Colt Model 1873, U.S. Artillery Model. The Artillery Single Actions were issued to the Infantry, the Light Artillery, the Volunteer Cavalry and other troops because the standard issue .38 caliber Colt M 1892 double-action revolver was lacking stopping-power.

For that reason, the .45 Artillery Single Action Army revolvers were used successfully by front troops in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War.

In fact, Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders charged up San Juan Hill wielding the .45 caliber Artillery Model.

Have you ever wondered why they formed the Rough Riders and why they called them "Rough Riders"?

Well, the United States Army had experiences all sorts cuts which had weakened and left with it with huge manpower shortages after the American Civil War only about 30 years before. As a result, President William McKinley called upon 1,250 volunteers to assist in the war efforts.

They were initially called "Wood's Weary Walkers" after its first commander, Colonel Leonard Wood, as an acknowledgment of the fact that despite being a cavalry unit they ended up fighting on foot as infantry.

Wood's second in command was former assistant secretary of the United States Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, who had pushed for American involvement in Cuban independence. the name bestowed on the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War and the only one of the three to see action came from an interesting source.

When Colonel Wood became commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, the Rough Riders then became "Roosevelt's Rough Riders."

Why the "Rough Riders"? That term was familiar in 1898. It originated with Buffalo Bill Cody who called his famous western show "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World."

And yes, the Rough Riders were mostly made of college athletes, cowboys, and ranchers.

One particularly famous spot where volunteers were gathered was in San Antonio, Texas, at the Menger Hotel Bar.

Believe it or not, today the bar is still open and serves as a tribute to the Rough Riders as it contains much of their and Theodore Roosevelt's uniforms and memorabilia.

William Barclay "Bat" Masterson was a figure of the American Old West known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Marshal and Army scout, avid fisherman, gambler, frontier lawman, and sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph
William Barclay "Bat" Masterson

He was considered a "dandy".

So, have you ever wondered why he was considered a "dandy"?

Well, it seems that at the time, a "dandy" was a man who appeared concerned with dreeing fancy. He would have been know to dress with extreme elegance in clothes and manners. He would be known as someone who gives an exaggerated importance to his personal appearance.

Also known as a "fop" or "foppish," which was a term used to describe someone fashionable and fastidious in taste and mannerisms. Someone self-consciously sophisticated with elaborate dress.

A "dandy" means he would definitely not have been a Cowboy!

If you like this trivia, feel free to check out these others links.

Old West - Interesting Facts - Part One

Old West - Interesting Facts - Part Two

Old West - Interesting Facts - Part Three


Story by Tom Correa 

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