Saturday, July 29, 2017

Juan Flores -- A Californio Killer

Ever wonder who were the very first Los Angeles County lawmen to die in the line of duty? Ever wonder about the no good murdering outlaw who did it? Well, here you go.

Juan Flores was a killer who is said to have been born sometime in 1834. He was a Californio bandit, who with his gang known as "las Manillas," "the Handcuffs," robbed and stole and murdered in Southern California in the late 1850s.

At the time, Flores was considered a folk hero by some people in California. Yes, the same way that some in the Mid-West considered Jesse James a folk hero. Both were supposedly Robin Hoods, bandits who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.  Of course that wasn't the case, but let's not let myth get in the way of facts when it comes to legends of the Old West. 

Many people don't want to hear the truth when it comes to facts gathered about someone who lived back in the Old West. It's been my experience that some folks refuse to believe anything other than what Hollywood has fed them.  

As for Flores, the idea that he somehow fought the wealthy Californio and gave money to poor peasants is all fantasy. Fact is, Juan Flores was born to a prominent Californio family. And since he was a true Californio aristocrat from a wealthy Californio family, Juan Flores didn't want to work and took to stealing instead. 

The first time Flores was arrested was in 1855 when he was caught stealing a horse. For that crime, he was actually sentenced to do time in San Quentin prison. And fact is, he escaped from San Quentin in late 1856. Yes, he and a partner by the name of Jim "Red Horse" Webster actually stole a boat that was tied to the prison's wharf. The convicts took the boat and sailed it across San Francisco bay where they escaped justice.

In Northern California's Contra Costa County is where Flores joined forces with Pancho Daniel and a dozen or so other criminal types. From there they went south to Southern California and the Los Angeles basin.

There in the latter part of 1856 and the beginning of 1857, Flores and the gang known as the "las Manillas" are said to have gotten help from a great number of Mexicans in the San Luis Obispo and San Juan Capistrano areas. The help he got was with food and eluding capture. Yes, even back then, there were those who favored criminals over law enforcement for one reason or another. Usually fear or retaliation, or maybe simply hatred for authority. But harboring Flores and others was done, just as fools harbor criminals today.   

The Flores gang, the "las Manillas," is said to have terrorized the area by stealing horses and cattle, committing armed robberies, and cold-blooded murder. All while raiding towns and homesteads in Southern California.   

In either December of 1856 or January of 1857, Flores tried robbing a wagon traveling from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano. Try as he did to meet that wagon and rob it, he actually missed it a number of times. Finally in frustration, Flores lead his gang, although some folks call it the Flores-Daniel Gang, on a raid against the town of San Juan Capistrano. 

They went on a rampage and sacked the town. Yes, including looting a shop owned by a Russian-Polish merchant by the name of Michael Krazewski. Flores is said to have shot the store assistant, and then he and the others carried the stolen goods out to two waiting horses. As they were leaving, Flores threatened the town saying his gang would be back the next day. And yes, the very next day, Flores' gang hit the town again. This time, Flores murdered German shopkeeper George Pflugardt. 

The nearest law was in Los Angles County. So when the law got word of what took place, on January 22nd, 1857, the folks there dispatched Los Angeles County Sheriff James R. Barton and a posse made up of County Sheriff's Deputy Charles T. Daly, Constables Charles K. Baker and William H. Little, and three deputized citizens to San Juan Capistrano to apprehend Flores and members of his gang or kill them. Just as he deputized the other citizens on the posse, Deputy Daly had just been deputized by Sheriff Barton that day just so he would be able to legally help apprehend Flores and the others.

As for Flores, after leaving San Juan Capistrano, he went to see a woman by the name of Martina "Chola" Burruel in the Burruel Adobe a few miles outside of San Juan Capistrano.

Sheriff Barton and his posse headed south, resting for the night, before stopping for breakfast at the main house of the San Joaquin Ranch which is just Southwest of modern-day Santa Ana, California. Californio Don José Antonio Andres Sepúlveda owned the the Rancho San Joaquin. He warned Sheriff Barton that they were extremely outnumbered. He advised him to get reinforcements before continuing his pursuit of the Flores gang. But Los Angeles County Sheriff Barton ignored the warning and lead his posse forward to San Juan Capistrano. 

Then it happened, after traveling 12 miles, they were ambushed in a ravine known as the Barranco de los Alisos. During the ambush Sheriff Barton, Deputy Daly, and Constables Baker and Little were shot dead.

These were the first lawmen in Los Angeles County to lose their lives in the line of duty. The other three deputized posse members were barely able to escape the hail of bullets and report back about what took place, the ambush and the death of the four others. 

When the folks in Los Angeles heard of what took place, in not more than two hours, a posse of 60 heavily armed men was formed and left to pursue the Flores gang.  Under the leadership of James Thompson, who would later be named Los Angeles County Sheriff himself, lead a large posse which found the bodies of the four dead lawmen. Soon enough word was relayed back that the bodies of Sheriff Barton, Deputy Daly, and Constables Baker and Little, were found. 

As soon as the word of the discovery arrived, a special recovery party which consisted of a large number of outriders that escorted several wagons filled with coffins left to recover the dead lawmen. The mission of that recovery party was to secure their bodies and return them to Los Angeles. 

As for their return to Los Angeles, as for the reception of the bodies and the funeral, it was reported that the remains of the four lawmen were received in Los Angeles at about noon on a Sunday. The city went into instant mourning and all businesses closed. The burial ceremonies were held on Monday and were attended by the citizens "en masse."

Los Angeles County Sheriff Barton and his posse were on their way to arrest Flores for killing George Pflugardt when they were ambushed at Barranco de los Alisos.  The murders of Sheriff Barton and the other three lawmen is said to have been a huge miscalculation by the Flores gang. 

If the Flores gang thought that they would still find sanctuary with the Mexican community after the murders, they were wrong as even their most staunch supporters turned on them. And at the same time, citizens volunteers in great numbers to wage war against outlaws, and hunt down the Flores gang.

Sooner than most thought possible, the Flores gang was captured by a small army of legally deputized citizens. They included a Los Angeles posse of 51 American merchants and Californio ranchers, a Temecula Indian leader who supplied 43 Luiseño scouts, the Monte Rangers which was a group of former Texas Rangers living in Southern California, members of the vigilance committee known as the "El Monte Boys", and posses from San Bernardino and San Diego. And believe it or not, even U.S. Army troops from Fort Tejon and from San Diego were a part of the manhunt for the Flores gang. Yes, a small army all with a common goal of bring in the Flores gang dead or alive. 

We should also take note of what can happen when Americans bond together. For example, that small army didn't stop with the capture of the Juan Flores and those bushwhacking killers. Fact is, they attacked outlaw violence itself as between 60 and 70 Mexican-Americans were arrested on having connections with Flores and other outlaw gangs. Some say that between February of 1857 and November of 1858, there were 11 members of the Flores gang who were lynched by the vigilance committee the "El Monte Boys". In reality, all toll 52 members of the Flores gang were arrested and 18 were hanged for the murders.

As for the capture of Juan Flores and his gang, the Luiseño Indian scouts were the ones who actually discovered where the Flores gang was hiding out in the Santa Ana Mountains south of the Los Angeles basin. Soon after their discovery, a posse led by Californios surrounded and arrested those that they could. Of course as luck would have it, Flores and a few others managed to escape through the mountains. 

The Monte Rangers, those former Texas Rangers, moved in and captured Flores and the others after what was said to be one hell of a shootout. Sadly for the Rangers, a few of those they captured managed to free themselves and escape that night. Yes, one of them was Juan Flores.

During the next eleven days, a massive manhunt took place in that area, all looking for Flores. Then finally on February 14th, 1857, Flores was brought in by a 120 man posse of U.S Army troops. Imagine that if you would. Between this group and that, this all sounds like the largest group of posses ever assembled in the history of law enforcement.

One report read, "with practically every man, woman and child present in the pueblo" known as Los Angeles, in front of a crowd estimated at 3,000 people, Juan Flores was tried for murder while walking to a hanging tree at the top of Fort Hill. That spot is modern-day downtown Los Angeles. And there at Fort Hill, he was hanged until dead.

Of course, justice has a way of being slower for some. Take for example, the hanging of Juan Flores. It's said that when he was hanged, that his noose was a bit too short. So for Flores, instead of dying quickly by having his neck snap, he lingered while choking and struggling. Some say he actually danced while suffocating at the end of his rope.

For many there that day, the hanging of Juan Flores was justice finally served. Very overdue.

Tom Correa

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We're Now Working with Avantlink

Dear Friends,

In the past, many of you have written to ask why I didn't have ads on my blog? Many of you were concerned that my blog, The American Cowboy Chronicles, would disappear because I wasn't bringing in any revenue to support it. As wonderful as you are, many of you wrote suggesting a number of ways that my wife and I could make a dollar or two on here. Well, as you can see by the advertisements that we now have posted on here, my wife and I have partnered up with a few folks who have Affiliate Programs. 

For me, I'm trying to post ads that I figure might be what you're interested in. I figure you might be looking for deals when looking for a new computer, a kindle, a cell phone, and such. I also figure that you might be interested in "Cowboy" niche products such as Western boots, hats, books, movies and videos, horse tack, and more.. 

Since I've bought a number of their outstanding belt buckles, and a lot of their jewelry for my wife Deanna over the years, I'm now trying to become an affiliate of Montana Silversmiths. Make no mistake about it, I've loved Montana Silversmiths' products for many many years. 

Well, I just received a call from Jeremy Britto from Avantlink. He and others at Avantlink are looking at my blog to decided as to whether or not grant me an affiliation with Montana Silversmiths

I cannot tell how great it was to talk with Jeremy. Besides the fact that we have a great deal in common, including our ancestry from Hawaii and beyond, I can see that I will love working with the great folks at Avantlink. Just from our short phone call, I can see that they're helpful in steering me in a positive direction.  

If you noticed, I have provided links to find Avantlink. I do this because I get a lot of requests from other Bloggers for information on this and that. I figure if my experience with Avantlink is helpful to me, then I know the folks there will be helpful to others as well. 

So, in the future, I'm hoping to add an ad or two for Montana Silversmiths. But also, with the help of Avantlink, I'm hoping to add ads that you my readers will click on to find what you're looking for. By clicking on the advertisements that I've posted, you are definitely supporting my blog. And for that, I cannot tell you how truly grateful I am. Your visiting and supporting my blog has meant the world to me. 

And friends, I cannot thank you enough.

Tom Correa

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Trail of Tears

Dear Friends,

Many have heard of the "Trail of Tears." The phrase "Trail of Tears" is said by some to be the description of the removal of the Cherokee Indians from their homelands in 1838. While that may be the case, the term "Trail of Tears" is actually linked to the journey that followed the removal of a group of Indian tribes collectively known as the Five Civilized Tribes. Those tribes were the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw.

In reality, the Trail of Tears was a series of forced removals of the Choctaw, Seminole Creek, Chickasaw, and the Cherokee. This included their black slaves from their lands in the Southeastern United States between 1830 and 1850. Their destination was to an area West of the Mississippi River that became known as Indian Territory, which is modern-day Oklahoma. The trail West into Oklahoma was a total distance of nearly 1,000 miles. And yes, in case you're wondering, while they had some horses, they mostly walked that distance.

In 1831, the Choctaw were the first Native Americans to be removed. One Choctaw leader is said to have called the journey West "a Trail of Tears and Deaths." Then in 1832, the Seminole Indians were removed. The Creek Indians followed in 1834, and the Chickasaw were removed in 1837. The last to leave was the Cherokee in 1838.

While some say that all were removed, that's not true. In reality, many members of the various tribes refused to leave even at gunpoint and remained in their ancestral homelands. For example, some Choctaw are today found in Mississippi, Creek in Alabama and Florida, Cherokee in North Carolina, and Seminole in Florida. In fact, one small group of Seminole who retreated into the Everglades were never rounded up by the United States Army. Those who are there today are said to be the descendants of those who refused to be evicted back in the 1830s. 

By 1837, it is said that 46,000 Indians from the Southeastern United States had been removed from their homelands. To give you an idea of how many died along the way, it is said that approximately 1 in 4 died making the grueling trek West. More than 4,000 of the 16,543 Cherokee who made the arduous journey died along the way. They died from exposure to the elements, diseases that they had no immunity to, and of course, starvation since they had little to eat along the way West.

Why was it done? Well, simply put, it was to make more land available to American settlers in the very early 1800s. It was all about President Andrew Jackson. He was a soldier and statesman, a man who served as the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837 and the founder of the Democratic Party. He also wanted to evict all of the Indians from their lands in the Southeast. And even when he lost a battle in the U.S. Supreme Court over the legality of the removal of those Native American tribes, the five nations, he violated the Supreme Court decision and went ahead with his plan to evict all of the Indians.

This all came about because many who wanted to settle in what we know now as the Deep South actually pressured the Federal government to remove Indians from the Southeastern states. The fact is that they petitioned the Federal government while at the same time they themselves were squatters encroaching on Indian lands. President Andrew Jackson is responsible for pushing the Indian Removal Act of 1830 through Congress. And while it was definitely started under Jackson, it was actually carried out by Jackson's successor President Martin Van Buren as well.

While settlers were one reason for it taking place, I believe the other reason for what brought about the Indian Removal Act was the discovery of gold near Dahlonega, Georgia, in 1828. That discovery actually stated what became known as the Georgia Gold Rush. The result of that gold rush and the demands of the settlers for more land enabled the passing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 relocation program which opened up 25 million acres for settlement.

It should be known that the Cherokee fought the Indian Removal Act. Not with arrows, but in the courts. The Cherokee nation actually filed several lawsuits regarding conflicts with the state of Georgia. In the most startling case of the times, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court actually ruled in favor of the Cherokee.

President Andrew Jackson have completely disregarded that Supreme Court ruling. Instead, Jackson negotiated a "land exchange treaty" with the Cherokee. Jackson negotiated with the Cherokee the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835, which granted Cherokee Indians two years to move to Indian Territory. When the Cherokee negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, the tribe exchanged all of their land East of the Mississippi for land in modern-day Oklahoma and a $5 million payment from the Federal government. Just so you have an idea of how much money that amounted to in 1835, $5,000,000 in the year 1835 is worth $132,088,028.44 in 2017.

Of course, many Cherokee felt betrayed that their leadership even accepted the deal. In fact, it is said that over 16,000 Cherokee signed a petition to prevent the passage of the Treaty of New Echota. Because of this, only a fraction of the Cherokee people left voluntarily. The others were rounded up during the Van Buren administration. To relocate the tribes, the Federal government had the assistance of state militias. Most of those Cherokee were forced to go West in 1838.

During the summer of that year, like the other Indian nation being relocated, the Cherokee were placed in temporary camps along the way. These camps were furnished with very little food and disease became rampant. Then in November of 1838, the Cherokee in the camps were broken into groups of 1,000 or so. Those groups were the ones who were pushed West while having to endure the worse weather imaginable. It is said that torrential rains turned the ran into snow because of the freezing temperatures, and it took its toll on those journeying West.

By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans from the five various tribes had been removed from their land East of the Mississippi River. It was devastating as thousands died along the way West. And while people talk about those who died en route, it should be known that about 800 Cherokee died in Oklahoma after they arrived.

To me, this is one of the saddest chapters in relations between the United States and Native American Indian tribes. Knowing what took place, it should not surprise us, nor should it not be understandable, that even today almost 180 years later, that some Native Americans still loath President Jackson.

Tom Correa

Monday, July 17, 2017

Black Bart -- California Bandit -- Part 2

Black Bart Wells Fargo Wanted Poster
Dear Friends,

When we left off in Black Bart -- California Bandit -- Part 1, Charles Boles, the man who would become known as Black Bart, had just robbed his first stage. I was talking about how some historians seem to fawn over him as if he were more than just a criminal stealing other people's money.

Among what some of the things that they like to point out is the way he dressed. As I stated before, some seem almost giddy when describing him as "impeccably dressed" in a tweed suit with a topcoat that had an "exquisite velvet-collar", a cravat with a diamond stickpin, wearing an "elegant bowler" hat.

Of course, that's not the man who stopped stages to commit armed robbery. For his robberies, Charles Boles concealed his identity from head to toe. He wore a full length linen coat to conceal how he was dressed, and he wore a flour sack over his head to conceal his face. There were two holes in the sack so that he could see who he was robbing.

If that manner of disguise reminds you of something, it should. Those who dress in hoods and sheets do so to hide who they are so they won't be recognized later. It enables them to brake the law and get away with it. Boles himself was not caught for eight long years mainly because of his total concealment which the hood and long linen coat did so well. In fact his appearance was concealed so well, that nothing of himself was showing and it was his voice the was later recognized.

For years, no one knew who he was and there were no descriptions of him other than the sack hood, long linen coat, and of course a double-barrel shotgun. And by the way, depending on the driver that it was pointed at, that shotgun was said to grow in size in the reports. For example, some swore it was a 16 or 12 gauge gun while others said it must have been a large 10 gauge.

Now as for those who say that he leveled his shotgun at those on the stages but was "polite about it when doing so"? Polite or not, he was threatening to kill them. Polite or not, the threat of a shotgun is nothing to screw with and those on the stages that he held up knew that very well.

As for those who insist that Boles never even loaded his shotgun? Unloaded or not, show me someone who was daring enough to call that bluff if that is somehow fact. Fact is, I don't know who would be dumb enough to make the assumption that his shotgun wasn't loaded and disregard it when it's pointed at you.

Where do people come up with things like that? If a driver or anyone thought that his shotgun was not loaded, and was not a threat, then they would not have allowed themselves to be robbed. And while some make it sound as if Boles merely pointed the shotgun but was never a threat, I can assure them that being on the receiving end of a shotgun, just as on the receiving end of any gun, pointed at you with the intent of being used to kill you, that's indeed a threat.

Boles knew that shotguns are intimidating when looking down the business end of one. He knew that his shotgun would prevent just about everyone from acting the fool. And friends, it is ludicrous to think that the folks on those stages were not in fear of their lives, or that they did not think that Boles would kill for money. His actions made it known that he was willing to kill for money.

Remember, he accomplished what is believed to be 28 stagecoach robberies. It is very obvious that the drivers, the shotgun messengers, and the passengers of those stages all thought that they were in mortal danger. They all turned over their strongboxes, the mailbags, and whatever money and jewels that they had on them to stop from being murdered. Yes, contrary to some strange idea that this was some sort of "sophisticated bandit", people feared for their lives and gave him what he demanded. That included taking money and jewelry from the passengers.

This myth that he somehow stopped in the middle of a robbery to hand a woman back her jewelry or to hand back over some money to a poor man is imaginative but not reality. Witnesses said they feared for their lives that he was going to kill them unless they give him everything they had.

These stories about this supposed "polite sophisticated bandit" who only stole from Wells Fargo as if he were Robin Hood is silly. Whose money do folks think was in those strongboxes? Whose money was in those mailbags? That money was the hard earned dollars of people, who unlike Boles, who actually worked for a living.

We forget that when talking about bank robbers or train robbers, or stage robbers, that criminals like Charles Boles were no different than the James Gang in that they stole payrolls, life savings, the wages of others. And in the process of their crimes, those robbers took the food off the table of hard working people every time they robbed a bank, a train, or a stagecoach.

Fact is, banks at the time were not Federally Insured and covered against such loss as they are today. The FDIC only started in the 1930s. Before that, there were no insurances as we have today. Back then if payrolls were stolen, workers didn't get paid. If a business is running on a shoestring budget and can't weather the hit of a robbery, that business closed and people were laid off. In some cases where a single employer is all a town has, once they were out of business and the people who worked there no longer had jobs, people moved to look for work. And yes, that's how towns dried up.

Ever wonder how posses were easily manned by local citizens? Ever wonder why citizens armed themselves and were ready and willing to go after bandits? Knowing the ramifications that a robbery has on a town got a lot of people to take up arms. A robbery united townsfolk to take up arms and fight such bandits. Yes, they took it very personal when their money was stolen because it was their money. And yes, that's why in many cases robbers were hanged no differently than how they hanged murderers.

So why was Charles Boles called Black Bart? Well, I read where he borrowed his pen name from a character in a popular book. Another source said it was from a character in a comic strip that appeared in a Sacramento, California, newspaper at the time.

Later he supposedly used it to sign two poems as Black Bart. Yes, poems that he left behind for some reason or another that no one can really explain. And while no one really knows why he left the poems behind at two robberies and not all, some think it was like how Jessie James left behind his own press notices. Basically it was because he wanted to see what he wrote in the papers. Then again, some think Boles left them behind simply because he wanted to stick it to the people he was stealing from and taunt the law that was chasing him.

On August 3rd, 1877, Boles was said to have robbed a stage near the Russian River, a few miles south of Fort Ross. This was supposedly his fourth stage robbery. This and the fifth robbery were the only two when he left a poem. The story goes that after breaking open the strongbox and before making off with the loot, that he took the time out to leave behind a poem inside the empty box. It read:

"I've labored long for bread,
For honor and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tread
You fine haired sons of bitches."

Since the poem was signed "Black Bart, the Po8," Wells Fargo's Chief Detective, Jim Hume, used the name Black Bart to give the unknown robber a name. Especially for the newspapers, which like today were clamoring for information.

On June 23rd, 1883. Boles robbed a Wells Fargo stagecoach in Amador County about four miles from the town of Jackson. Then a few months later on November 3rd, Boles robbed his last Wells Fargo stagecoach. This time he was back in Calaveras County.

The irony is that his last robbery would be at the exact same place where he robbed his first stagecoach. Yes, that was right here in Calaveras County on Funk Hill in the Stanislaus River Canyon on the road from Sonora to Milton.

In his last robbery, the Wells Fargo stage driver was 31 year old Reason E. McConnell. McConnell picked up 19 year old Jimmy Rolleri at the Reynolds Ferry Hotel. McConnell knew the younger Rolleri. Rolleri is said to have wanted a ride to a spot up near Funk Hill where he could hunt deer.

It is said that Jimmy Rolleri thought that the storm the previous night may have driven deer down from the high country. So he wanted to hitch a ride to where the hunting might be better. McConnell agreed, and Rolleri was armed with his .44 Henry rifle when he climbed aboard the Wells Fargo stage. 

The coach was half-way up Funk Hill when Rolleri said that he'd get off and work his way around the hill looking for deer. After Rolleri left the coach, McConnell started the slow climb up Funk Hill. McConnell is said to have been rounding Yaqui Gulch close to the top of the ridge when a man in a hood and long linen coat brandishing a shotgun appeared out of nowhere.

Boles ordered McConnell to throw down the strongbox. McConnell said that he couldn't because it was actually bolted to the floorboard as a precaution against robbers. Boles then told McConnell to get down off the stage and unhitch the horses. And believe it or not, they have words as McConnell tells Boles that the brakes on the stage wouldn't hold if he got down and the coach would roll down the hill.  

Boles is said to have gotten angry and finally tells him to get down from there and do it quick or else. McConnell did so fearing for his life. He is said to have gotten down, places a rock under a wheel, then unhitched the team of four horses. The whole time, Boles has his shotgun aimed at McConnell.

Boles tells McConnell to take the horses away up the hill. As he leaves, Boles climb up and started to smash open the strongbox with a hatchet that was on board the stage. McConnell who lead the horses about 200 yards away still hears Boles smashing at the strongbox when he sees Jimmy Rolleri coming toward the stage. McConnell wanting Rolleri's Henry rifle to either capture or kill Boles, actually starts waving to get his young friend's attention.

Getting him to go around, so that Boles doesn't see him, McConnell explained to Rolleri what was taking place and soon the two start toward the coach. The two are said to have been about 100 yards away when Boles finally opened the bolted strongbox. It was also about then that Boles grabs what he could and starts to jump off the coach when he sees McConnell and Rolleri coming toward him. 

McConnell now had the Henry rifle and fires twice at Boles who now off the stage and starting to run into the bushes. While a shotgun is great at close range, it was no match for a Henry rifle at 100 yards. But, Boles was lucky because McConnell missed both shots.

After missing twice, young Jimmy Rolleri grabbed the Henry rifle and fires at Boles just as he was entering the thick brush. Seeing him fall, both McConnell and Rolleri slowly move to where they had last seen the robber hit the ground. Remember, they were about 100 yards away when they shot at Boles. Once at where he fell, Boles was already gone.

Instead of finding Boles, they find a bundle of mail that Boles had dropped and blood was on some of it. Yes, Boles was believed wounded. With that McConnell and Rolleri hitched up the team, gathered the strewn mail, and continue to the town of Copperopolis to report the robbery.  

Once there, immediately a posse was formed and young Jimmy Rolleri leads them back out to the site of the robbery. After searching the area, they find a worn leather valise that Boles left behind in his hast to get away. The leather bag contain a case for a pair of field glasses,  a razor, a belt, three soiled linen shirt cuffs, two paper sacks containing crackers and sugar, and two empty flour sacks. Also in the bag was a handkerchief with a laundry mark.

Calaveras County Sheriff Ben Thorn reached the scene before nightfall and also began a search for any additional evidence. All evidence was turned over to famous California lawman and Wells Fargo Detective Harry Morse who was hired by John Hume to specifically track down Boles. 

The handkerchief with the "F.X.O.7.5" laundry mark was their best clue. Since the Wells Fargo headquarters was in San Francisco, they decided to start there and check out the 91 laundries in the city at the time.

It's said that Harry Morse went from laundry to laundry looking for a match to the laundry mark. Then after about a week, on November 12th, lawman Harry Morse identified that the handkerchief belonged to a Charles E. Bolton. Yes, Bolton is believed to be the alias that Boles was using in San Francisco. 

Once they found him, Boles was questioned at length. As the interrogation at the Wells Fargo offices there in San Francisco went along, Boles' cover story of being a mine owner soon fell apart. It's said he lost his temper, but then asked to cut a deal for a lighter sentence. The result of the questioning was that Boles struck a deal to plead guilty to only one robbery if he'd turn over the loot from the last robbery.

After being assured that the deal was good, he directed the lawmen back to Funk Hill where he had stashed the stolen gold in the hollow of a nearby tree. After that, he was taken to the Calaveras County jail located in San Andreas which is the county seat.

Just four days later on November 16th, 1883, he was escorted to court of Judge P.H. Kean there in San Andreas. Charles Boles entered a plea of "guilty" to the single charge of having robbed the Sonora-Milton stage on Funk Hill. He was bound over to the Calaveras County Superior Court for trial but the following day waived his right to a jury trial. Superior Judge C.V. Gottschalk sentenced Boles to six years in prison. On November 21st, just a few weeks after his last stage robbery, Boles began serving his sentence in San Quentin Prison.

It was a laundry mark that the law needed to identify him. The men who hunted him down were California lawman and famous Wells Fargo agent Harry Morse, Wells Fargo's chief detective, Jim Hume, Calaveras County Sheriff Ben Thorn, San Joaquin County Sheriff Tom Cunningham, San Francisco Police Captain A.W. Stone, and Wells Fargo Special Agent J.W. Thacker.

Black Bart had carried out his last robbery at same place where he started his career as a bandit right there at Funk Hill in Calaveras County. Funk Hill is said to now be under water. Actually, Funk Hill is located under the New Melones Lake.

As I've stated a few times, over the course of 8 years from 1875 to 1883, it is believed that Charles Boles stopped and robbed at least 28 Wells Fargo stagecoaches all over Northern California at gunpoint. Fact is, while it is suspected that he did all 28 robberies, no one really knows if it was indeed him or a copycat who learned about his method of operating from newspapers.

For example, on November 14th, 1888, a Wells Fargo stage was robbed by a hooded bandit that met the known description of Boles. That bandit also left a poem behind. It read:

"So here I've stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a-sobbin,
And risked my life for that box,
That wasn't worth the robbin."

Wells Fargo's Chief Detective Jim Hume was called in to examine the poem. It was reported that after comparing it with the handwriting of the others, Hume declared that that holdup was the work of a copycat criminal. So as you can see, things were no different than what takes place today in that there are copycat criminals.

Also, later after being caught and having confessed, it is interesting to note that Boles disavowed writing the poems or committing many of the other robberies. Of course, he was caught after his last robbery when he left evidence that helped the law to track him down. But as for all of the others, could there have been other bandits who wore hoods and linen coats and brandished shotguns? It is very possible. Certainly the stage robbery in 1888 proves that that could have been the case. But frankly, we will never know as he's gotten credit for all of them.

On January 23rd, 1888, after serving four years of his six-year sentence in San Quentin Prison, he was paroled for good behavior. After being released, he boarded a train headed south to California's central valley. He arrived in Visalia, California, and got off the train there. After that, he simply disappeared. He simply vanished.

Tom Correa

Friday, July 14, 2017

Black Bart -- California Bandit -- Part 1

Dear Friends,

Over the last few years, a number of you have written to ask about Black Bart. Many of you have noted the fact that he was a bandit, a highwayman, here in Calaveras County where I live. In my last article about the California Gold Country, I talked about Mark Twain's cabin in Jackass Hill and the place where Black Bart had carried out his last robbery.

To some Black Bart is not seen so much as an armed highwayman who stole strongboxes and robbed passengers of their hard earned money and family jewelry, but more some sort of a 19th century "gentleman" bandit. Some who have written about Black Bart have done so in a way that resembles how a fan today fawns over a celebrity.

For example, I read where one writer stated, "In the 1870s and 1880s, a certain well-spoken, finely groomed man was a regular fixture in respectable San Francisco society. Unfailingly polite and with a droll sense of humor, the prosperous mine owner was always impeccably dressed in a tweed suit with a velvet-collared topcoat, his cravat fastened with a diamond stickpin, an elegant bowler on his head.

He lived in pleasant furnished rooms at Webb's Hotel, at 47 Second St., and with his luxuriant white mustache and gold watch chain, he looked every inch the successful San Francisco businessman. And, in fact, he was. Except that his business was holding up Wells Fargo stagecoaches."

Of course, when reading something like that, my first thought is how did that know that he was a certain well-spoken, finely groomed, or a regular fixture in respectable San Francisco society? How did they know that he was "unfailingly polite and with a droll sense of humor"?

And as for saying that he "looked every inch the successful San Francisco businessman," it was only after his capture that authorities found out what he looked like. Lawmen described that when he was finally caught, that he was dressed in a suit, a topcoat with a velvet-collar, and wore a diamond stickpin and a bowler.

His name was Charles E. Boles, but we also know that he used the surname Bolton as an alias. He robbed stages in California beginning in 1875 until he was finally tracked down and arrested in 1883.

He was born Charles E. Bowles in Norfolk Co. England in 1829. He was seventh child of John and Maria Bowles who migrated to the United States when Charles was two years old. His parents settled in Alexandria township, Jefferson County, in upstate New York. His father, John Bowles was a farmed and they had a homestead of nearly 100 acres. Charles would later change his name to Boles.

It is believed that in 1849, at the age of 20, he and his brothers David and James left for the gold fields of California. They landed and started prospecting on the American River near Sacramento. I don't know how their luck was because it's said that much of the placer gold was actually played out pretty quickly. Some say as early as 1850 things started looking pretty bleak in the camps. That's not to say that gold didn't continue, it's just that it had reached its peak by 1852 when some $81 million was pulled from the ground. After that year, the total take declined gradually.

The mining camps that sprung up all over the Mother Lode were complete with saloons, brothels and all sorts of mercantile businesses selling all sorts of goods to those seeking to make their fortune. The claims were limited in many places to just a few square feet and the overcrowding created all sorts of problems. Yes, that includes gambling, prostitution, banditry, and other violent lawlessness. Armed bandits were dealt with swiftly if caught, usually by hanging.

I don't believe the Boles brothers hit pay dirt because they returned to New York state in 1852. The reason that I seriously doubt that they were successful is that they returned. Frankly, if they did hit big, then why leave? It is said that for every one miner that hit pay dirt and were a success, there were nine who left to stave off starvation. 

And though mining became more and more industrialized by 1852 because the placer gold was played out, Charles Boles is said to have later returned to California with his brothers David and Robert. It is believed that not long after their journey West, both David and Robert got ill and died. Charles Boles is said to have remained in California for another two years before giving up again.

Then in 1854, Boles is recorded as having married Mary Elizabeth Johnson. And while some sources say he and his wife lived in New York, the 1860 census had the Boles living with their four children in Decatur, Illinois. 

According to records, Charles Boles enlisted as a private in the Union Army on August 13th, 1862. He was assigned to Company B, 116th Illinois Regiment. Records show his name is spelled "Boles." Supposedly he was seriously wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg, and took part in Sherman's March. It is said that he also received a "brevet" commission as a First Lieutenant. Records also show that he was discharged from the Army on June 7th, 1865, with the rest of his regiment while in Washington, D.C.. From there, he returned to his family in Illinois.

There is no record as to what Boles did after returning from California while married, before entering the Union Army. We really don't know what his occupation was during that time. All we know is that he was a miner in 1854 and than a Union soldier in 1862. We also don't know what he did for work after leaving the Army in 1865.

We do know that by 1867, Charles Boles left his family and went prospecting for gold in Idaho and Montana. Then by 1871, he stops sending money home to support his wife and children. In reality, he deserted them as his wife never heard from him again. At the time, she simply presumed he had died.
What she didn't know is that her husband Charles Boles had made his way back to California. 

No one knows if he took up mining again after arriving, or if that was when he began robbing stagecoaches. There is a story about how he supposedly had a run in with a Wells Fargo agent in either 1869 or 1870, and that was his supposed reason for wanting to rob Wells Fargo stagecoaches. While I've tried to research this, I haven't found anything to support it. And even if that were true, it seems like someone is trying to excuse his breaking the law. 

On July 26th, 1875, Charles Boles robbed his first Wells Fargo stagecoach right here in Calaveras County, California, on Funk Hill in the Stanislaus River Canyon on the road from Sonora to Milton, about 4 miles east of the town of Copperopolis. And while some see it significant that Wells Fargo stages were targeted by Boles, we should remember that Wells Fargo had a reputation for carrying large shipments of gold as well as large company payrolls. So no, whether it was Boles or another bandit, outlaws specifically targeting Wells Fargo was not out of the ordinary. 

His "modus operandi", his method of operation, that distinct pattern or method of operation which he used was always the same. It was always the same in that he would suddenly appear and step out onto a road almost directly in front of a Wells Fargo stagecoach. It would usually take place close to dark  in some remote area when the coach was a going slowly uphill or making a slow turn at a curve in the road. From the driver's side, he would level his double-barrel shotgun at the stage driver, then demand that the shotgun messenger disarm. Only after that would he demand the strongbox. 

In that, his first robbery, with a shotgun as a persuader, he ordered stage driver John Shine to "throw down the box". 

It's said that a passenger inside that coach drew his revolver and was about to shoot Boles when another passenger told him not to for fear of the driver getting killed. Then when driver John Shine supposedly hesitated for a moment before throwing down the strongbox, Boles yelled "If he makes a move, give him a volley, boys."

Since it was very dark, driver John Shine said that he thought he saw rifle barrels pointed at him from the nearby bushes. Not wanting to get killed, Shine handed over the strongbox. Once Boles left on foot into the dark brush. It was then that Shine discovered that the "rifles" were actually carefully rigged sticks to resemble gun barrels. Boles bluff worked. His score though was much smaller than he thought it would be as his first robbery only got him $160.

Boles has been described by some as being an almost superhuman outlaw. I say this because some have stated that Boles was a "powerful walker." According to them, he was capable of walking 40 to 50 miles through the thick backcountry of California in a single day. Some say that's how he avoided capture. That "he simply out-walked his pursuers." These same people assert without proof that he never rode a horse and simply "out walked" the various posses who were after him. That means some people truly believe that he could out walk a horse which is a great trick. I discount such claims as being naive at best. At worse, being believers of Dime Novels.

For Part Two, click Black Bart -- California Bandit -- Part 2

Tom Correa

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mark Twain's Cabin & More

Mark Twain's Cabin
California's Sierra Nevada foothills, the California Gold Country, is full of Old West history. It can be found in both it's original form, meaning ruins and such, or in the form of re-creation as with the replica of a cabin that Mark Twain had supposedly lived in. 

It's true, on Highway 49, about 1 mile northwest of Tuttletown, right there in Tuolumne County, is a California Historical Marker that points to the location of Mark Twain's cabin. It is part of the Mark Twain Bret Harte Trail, at the top of Jackass Hill. Fact is the original cabin burned down, but in the 1920s it was recreated.

So yes, it's a replica of the cabin where Mark Twain spent the winter of 1864-1865. That's supposedly the spot where Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the man who we know by his famous pen name of Mark Twain, is said to have been a guest of his friends the Gillis brothers, Steve, Jim and Bill Gillis.

The Gillis brothers were local miners, and the story goes that Twain was with Steve Gillis in a saloon in Angels Camp when he heard a story about a jumping frog. After returning to Jackass Hill and the cabin, Twain wrote about what he had heard earlier that day. That tale became his first book titled "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." That book launched Mark Twain's career. 

It is said that it was in Angles Camp that he gathered material for his book "Roughing It" which is said to be a semi-autobiographical book about Twain's travels through the West during the years 1861–1867. 

Supposedly, after briefly serving as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, he joined his brother Orion Clemens, who was pretty established politically. Orion Clemens had been appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory. Twain is said to have consulted his brother's diary, borrowing heavily from it, when he wrote "Roughing It." That book is pretty interesting because it talks about the gold fields in California and silver prospecting in Nevada and elsewhere. 

Jackass Hill was once a mining camp. It's said the camp achieved notoriety in 1851 and 1852 when hundreds of miners rushed to the newly discovered diggings there. The gold there was coarse and said to be plentiful. The gold often appearing in "pockets" that could make a miner rich in a matter of hours. One account says that some claims of only one hundred square feet yielded as much as $10,000. 

The mines played out quickly and soon most of the population left. That is all except the die-hards who refused to give up. They continued prospecting the area, and it's said they occasionally turned up a small pocket of gold here and there. 

Jackass Hill was named for the mules in the pack trains that stopped there to rest overnight on their way to and from the mines. It's said that as many as 200 mules were picketed there at the same time. They were known to make their presence known by their incessant braying which was said to be heard for miles in all directions. The area was named Jackass Hill to remember their "concerts" each evening during the heyday of the California Gold Rush.

North of Jackass Hill, along California Highway 49, is New Melones Lake. The Archie Stevenot Bridge that spans the lake was built in 1976. It is an impressive structure, and near the center of the bridge is a sign designating the Tuolumne County/ Calaveras County lines. 

In reality, the lake is actually a reservoir on the Stanislaus River. The New Melones Dam and reservoir stores and ships water collected for the Central Valley Project. New Melones Lake provides irrigation water, hydroelectric power, flood control, and even wildlife habitats. The lake itself has a 2,400,000 acre ft capacity with a surface area of 12,500 acres. When full, New Melones has a shoreline that's more than 100 miles long. The reservoir and the dam are located west of Jamestown and Sonora, and south of Angels Camp. 

The site of the reservoir is at the very heart of the California Gold Country. And believe it or not, water was already being diverted and the development of that area began with the arrival of the miners in 1849. Water was immediately diverted to get to the riverbeds, that was where the gold was found. Soon the area was built up by miners and businesses that served their needs. 

About now you're saying, nice travel log, but what's so interesting about the New Melones Lake? 

Well, today the New Melones Visitor Center and Museum has information about cultural and natural history of the area. The museum has exhibits on how the Stanislaus River was used by historic peoples, including the Miwok Indians, during the California Gold Rush, by ranchers, and the now defunct community of Melones. Before being renamed Melones in 1902, that town was known as Robinson Ferry. 

It was there on November 3rd, 1883, that stage driver Reason E. McConnell stopped at the Reynolds Ferry Hotel on the Stanislaus River to pick up a passenger by the name of Jimmy Rolleri. As the stage headed for Funk Hill, the stage was robbed.

Today the town of Reynolds Ferry, later known as Melones, and its hotel are at the bottom of the New Melones Lake. Upon the dam's completion, the valley was filled with water. That water covers the ruins of the original smaller Melones Dam and what's left of the old mining town of Reynolds Ferry. That water also covers the very last place where a stage was robbed by the legendary bandit Black Bart. His last stage robbery. Imagine that. 

Tom Correa

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Billy Thompson & Squirrel Tooth Alice -- Part 2

Chauncey Belden Whitney
We left off in Billy Thompson & Squirrel Tooth Alice -- Part 1, with Billy and Libby married with their first child in Ellsworth, Kansas. They were joined by his brother Ben, and the brothers worked as house gamblers at Joe Brennan's saloon.

At the same time, Libby worked as a dancehall girl and prostitute. And as I stated in part one, it's said that it didn't take Billy and Ben long after arriving in town for them to become good friends with Ellsworth County Sheriff Chauncey Whitney.

Chauncey Belden Whitney was an early Ellsworth County settler. He was Ellsworth Township Constable from 1867-1873, Ellsworth Marshall from 1871-1872,  Ellsworth County Under Sheriff in 1870, and finally County Sheriff from 1871 to his being killed in 1873.

If it seems strange that he held a number of law enforcement positions at the same time, it wasn't unusual to do so back in the day. In fact, one of the more famous examples of that sort of this is Virgil Earp who was both a Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone's City Marshal in 1881.

He was said to be an extremely effective lawman, even though he and newly elected Ellsworth City Marshal John "Happy Jack" Morco didn't get along. Marshal Morco was well known for boasting that he'd killed twelve men. A figure that no one knows if true or not. Yes, like many in the Old West that inflated such a figure -- he too was probably doing it to sound like a bad hombre that you shouldn't mess with.

As with things today, it was the same back then, those who boast and brag aren't usually the real deal. Sheriff Whitney was both well-liked and respected in Ellsworth County. In addition to his law enforcement duties, Whitney served as a civilian scout during the Indian Wars and was involved in the Battle of Beecher's Island. In fact, in July of 1869, he was a First Lieutenant of Company A, Second Battalion, of the Kansas State Militia, which provided settlers with valuable protection against hostile Indians. He didn't have to brag and boast. He was the real deal.

And while it is said that both Thompson brothers became good friends with County Sheriff Whitney, the same cannot be said about their relationship with City Marshall Morco. For example, on June 30th, 1873, City Marshal Morco arrested Billy Thompson for carrying a weapon within city limits. And yes, Ellsworth, Kansas, had a no-carry city ordinance many years before Tombstone, Arizona ever did. 

As for the fine for carrying, it is said that though the arrest and fine angered Billy Thompson, he paid it. But then just a couple of weeks later, on August 15th, 1873, Billy Thompson was drinking heavily and started to become rowdy and extremely vocal about his dislike for Marshal Morco. 

Sheriff Whitney, who had planned to leave town that day with his family, felt that Billy would get himself into trouble so he chose to remain in town instead. At the same time, Ben Thompson introduced John Sterling into a high-stakes game. Ben did this with the agreement that due to his introduction, that he would get a percentage of any winnings. 

Sterling left the saloon with over $1,000 without offering Ben Thompson his share. Ben was angry and sought him out. He found Sterling in another saloon in the company of City Marshal Morco. And even though Sterling was friends with Morco, Ben Thompson demanded his cut of the winnings.

Knowing that Ben Thompson was unarmed because of the city ordinance, Sterling stood up and slapped him. This took place while City Marshal Morco pulled his pistol on Ben. 

Believe it or not, City Marshal John Morco and John Sterling then stood outside the saloon and called for Ben Thompson to come out and fight. At this same time, an intoxicated Billy Thompson heard that his brother was in trouble and ran to help him. Both brothers then armed themselves. And to the sadness of Morco and Sterling, both brothers walked out into the street. So things are now very different. Where Morco and Sterling thought they had easy pickings against an unarmed gunman legend Ben Thompson, they now faced an armed gunman willing to kill them both -- and his armed younger brother. 

Sheriff Whitney responded immediately to try to defuse the bomb that was about to go off. He knew Morco was a bragger who talked a good fight that no one ever witnessed. On the other hand, he knew Ben Thompson was not a bragger and could back his play. So immediately, sensing that Morco and Sterling were about to be killed, Sheriff Whitney confronted the Thompson's and implored them to accompany him for a drink and talk the situation over. Whitney assured both brothers that they would not be harmed. Ben agreed while knowing that Sheriff Whitney's word was good.

As they walked to Brennan's saloon, Morco and Sterling made a move that another observer, another Texan, saw as a threat. He yelled a warning to Ben Thompson, and Ben turned and fired a rifle shot at the pair. Both Morco and Sterling froze in their tracks, some say they wet themselves. 

But the next instant, Ben heard his brother fire his shotgun from behind him. Turning to see what happened, Ben saw his friend Sheriff Whitney wither and fall to the ground. The sheriff was shot accidentally by a blast from a barrel of Billy's shotgun. 

Upon seeing what just happened, Ben was heard to say, "My God Billy! You have shot your best friend!" Billy responded, "I'm sorry!" Sheriff Whitney who was mortally wounded stated, "He did not intend to do it, it was an accident. Send for my family." 

Witnesses later stated that Billy Thompson was not even looking at Sheriff Whitney when his shotgun went off. Sheriff Whitney was actually standing to his side when Billy stumbled while turning to meet the threat by Morco and Sterling. Because of the danger from being shot in the back from backshooter City Marshal Morco and his tin-horn gambler cohort Sterling, Billy had his shotgun cocked when one barrel accidentally went off mortally wounding Sheriff Whitney. 

It is said that Ben Thompson and an army of Texas cowboys held the town at bay while Billy escaped. The fact is, Ben Thompson held off the town with a single rifle despite the shooting being accidental. 

And as for Billy? Well, Ben wisely feared that regardless of the facts of the circumstances surrounding the accidental shooting -- Billy would most likely be lynched. So Ben forced his brother Billy onto a horse and ordered him to get out of town.

One story says he left in a hurry, circled around to get Libby and their child and fled. Supposedly Billy and Libby ran and the couple wound up in Dodge City where Billy gambled and Libby worked as a dancer and prostitute. Another says that instead of riding fast, Billy appeared to have had a problem staying in his saddle while simply riding slowly through town while yelling for anyone who wanted to fight to come to take him on. Either way, Billy and Libby left Ellsworth.

Marshal Morco had deputy Ed Hogue arrest Texas cowboy Neil Cain. Cain may have been the Texas cowboy and friend of the Thompson brothers who warned them about being bushwhacked by the city marshal and his gambler friend. Cain was escorted out of town at gunpoint. Hogue is said to had made sure Cain left town without being shot in the back by Morco. 

Once Billy was safely out of town, Ben turned himself over to deputy Ed Hogue. Upon hearing what actually took place, including a statement from a dying Sheriff Chauncey Belden Whitney who did die a few days later on August 18th, charges against Ben were dropped by the city. No, he was not tried. And no, Wyatt Earp had nothing to do with anything that took place that day. 

As for Ben Thompson, he then left Kansas to later become the City Marshal of Austin, Texas. And as for the town of Ellsworth, Kansas, it is said that after the shooting that all hell broke loose in that the town council dismissed the entire police force and replaced it with new personnel.

City Marshal John "Happy Jack" Morco was fired over his having instigated the whole thing. But believe it or not, before Morco left he issued a warrant against Ben Thompson for assault which the city immediately rescinded. Former Marshal Morco also posted a reward of $500 for the capture and return of Billy Thompson -- "Dead or Alive." Billy Thompson was able to avoid Kansas authorities until 1876 when he was returned to Ellsworth. He stood trial and was acquitted when the jury ruled that the shooting was indeed an accident.

After John "Happy Jack” Morco was fired, he was replaced by a man named Ed Crawford. Crawford was known to hate Texans and had actually pistol-whipped a young Texas cowboy named Cad Pierce to death two days later after first shooting him in the side. 

Soon the citizens of Ellsworth were tired of the performance of the lawmen as well as the Texans, and vigilantes began to roam the streets issuing 'affidavits" any Texan there, cowboy or not, to "get out of town or else." Of course not long after Sheriff Whitney's death, former-City Marshal John "Happy Jack" Morco was boasting during a dispute with a Texas cowboy.

Morco was shot and killed by newly appointed Ellsworth Police Officer J. C. Brown in front of Lizzie Palmer's Dancehall. Some say Morco pulled a pistol on that cowboy and was shot by Brown. Some say Brown observed Morco and that Texan arguing and went in to break it up. That's when Morco drew down on Officer Brown, and Brown shot first. Either way, Brown shot John "Happy Jack” Morco dead in self-defense in the streets of Ellsworth. And as for Officer J. Charles Brown, he later becomes the City Marshal there.

Right after Morco is shot dead, Ellsworth's new City Marshal Ed Crawford was shot dead. Remember that Crawford hated Texans and pistol-whipped young Texas cowboy Cad Pierce to death. Well, he himself was gunned down by a Texas cowboy who is believed to have been Cad Pierce's brother-in-law who wanted revenge.

After the death of Sheriff Whitney, Billy Thompson became known as the troubled and dangerous younger brother of legend Ben Thompson. And though people may have seen him that way, only a select few friends of older brother Ben knew that Billy was still a wanted man living on the run from both lawmen and bounty hunters. 

Remember when we talked about how Aransas County would hunt for Billy Thompson for the remainder of his life because he murdered Remus Smith? Well, though officials in Aransas County changed hands over the years, their Sheriffs' Office regularly sent out warrants to lawmen around the state of Texas still looking for Billy. That murder would have to be answered for.

In June of 1874, Billy Thompson narrowly escaped capture in Austin, Texas. Then later that same year, he was captured in Mountain City, Texas, but escaped and fled to San Antonio, Texas, where he entered the Long Horse brothel with a friend. While there he supposedly slapped a prostitute and soon had to get out of town when two City Police Officers came looking for him. That incident supposedly turned into was foot race where Billy again escaped.

By 1876, Billy and Libby moved to Sweetwater, Texas. This became their permanent home. In fact, unbeknownst to the law, in Sweetwater the couple purchased a ranch outside of town and a dance hall in town. It's said that Libby ran the dance hall which was a front for her brothel. And no, Libby was not embarrassed by her profession.

It is said that Libby was well known as a madam in Sweetwater. Most folks know her for keeping pet prairie dogs. Yes, pet prairie dogs. Imagine that. Of course, that was also about the same time that she was given the moniker "Squirrel Tooth Alice" because of a gap in her teeth. As for Billy, he was in and out of Sweetwater mostly while avoiding the law whenever he could.

That worked well until Texas Ranger Captain John Sparks caught up to him in October of 1876 in Travis County, Texas. Sparks was leading a small Ranger unit that was actually seeking a rancher for cattle rustling. While raiding a ranch, the Rangers came upon Billy and took him into custody for the killing of Ellsworth County Sheriff Whitney. The Rangers would hold Billy until extradition to Kansas could be arranged.

It's said the Rangers sent fellow lawman Ben Thompson a message to notify him of his brother's arrest. Immediately Ben found an attorney to represent Billy. Ben also contacted the folks in Aransas County in an attempt to keep Billy out of the hands of the folks in Kansas who would relish the idea of hanging the Texan responsible for killing their beloved Sheriff.

Soon though, there was a rumor going around that Ben was planning to break Billy out of jail to keep him from going to Kansas. Then people started to take note of the fact that a number of Ben's friends had boarded a train in Corsicana, Texas. Ranger Sparks got word of this and soon took precautions in case it was true, that an attempt to free his prisoner by friends of Ben Thompson was real. So while in Dallas County, Texas, Ranger Sparks requested additional guards from the county sheriff. Sparks got over a dozen to bolster his guard force.

It's said that the overwhelming show of force stopped all plans of a rescue attempt to keep Billy Thompson out of Kansas. And while the town of Ellsworth sought to have Billy jailed in Salina, Kansas, feeling the jail there was more secure, the decision was made to house him at Leavenworth prison because more of Ben Thompson's friends kept showing up in town.

The trial only lasted nine days. In the end, Billy Thompson was acquitted. Yes, as shocking as that sounds, he was acquitted. And although that case was ruled to have been accidental, for some unknown reason, Billy was not held over for extradition to Aransas County, Texas, to face a jury over the murder of Remus Smith. Instead, he was released. And again Billy hit the road to gamble in saloons and gambling halls from Dodge City, Kansas, to boom towns all over the West.

Billy was arrested by lawman Mart Duggan in Leadville, Colorado, in December 1879, for disturbing the peace. He actually served only one night in jail for that. Then on June 21st, 1880, Billy was in Ogallala, Nebraska. He and a saloon owner named Bill Tucker hated each other. Supposedly Tucker was interested in a prostitute named "Big Alice" who Billy also had his eyes on.

It's said Billy Thompson was drunk when he stood in front of Bill Tucker's saloon and fired two shots inside. The first shot went wild, and the second shot is said to have actually hit Tucker in the hand. Yes, that shot took off one of Tucker's fingers while it mutilated the others.

In an absolute rage, Bill Tucker grabbed a shotgun and ran after Billy who was now running away as fast as he could. Tucker's first volley of two missed Billy. Then Tucker reloaded and fired two more. This time, Tucker hit Billy in the back "from his heels to his neck."

Bill Tucker was seen as simply protecting himself after being shot. Billy on the other hand was arrested. He was placed under guard at the Ogallala House Hotel to heal. And knowing of his brother Ben's famous reputation, the local Sheriff ordered a heavy guard just in case Ben's friends might want to come to get his brother.

This time though, things were different. Unlike what happened after finally being arrested for the accidental killing of Ellsworth County Sheriff Whitney, Ben Thompson felt his involvement would certainly result in unneeded bloodshed. So instead of his going to Ogallala, Ben asked his friend Bat Masterson to travel to Ogallala to see if he could assist Billy.

Bat Masterson did so and met with Billy. Then he met with the ailing Tucker, who was bitter but willing to drop charges for a price. Unfortunately Ben didn't have the sort of big money that Tucker wanted to drop the case. So knowing this, Bat Masterson actually distracted the guards to help Billy escape and take a train south. It's said that after Billy's escape, an embarrassed  Keith County, Nebraska, the grand jury indicted Billy for assault with intent to kill but then dropped the charges.

Of course, while the folks in Ogallala were up to forgetting about the matter of Billy's attempt to kill one of their citizens, the good folks over in Aransas County weren't about to.

On October 23rd, 1882, in El Paso, Texas, Texas Ranger Captain George W. Baylor arrested Billy Thompson for the murder of Remus Smith. Baylor turned him over to the El Paso County Sheriff. He was then remanded to the custody of Deputy Frank Manning to be returned to the town of Rockport.

It is said that Deputy Manning looked like an absolute fool after he allowed Billy "a night of freedom" with Billy's promise to return the next morning. Of course, Billy did not. And I can't help but wonder if Manning still had his job after that.

Then on May 10th, 1883, Aransas County Deputy P.P. Court found and arrested Billy Thompson in Arkansas. Deputy Court was not as dumb as Manning and finally returned Billy to stand trial for the Smith murder.

As for what took place at his trial? Well, since it was 15 years since the time of the murder, believe it or not, witnesses were not available and many of the facts entered into court were distorted because of poor record-keeping. And to add insult to injury, all of the lawmen who were serving at the time of young Smith's murder had long moved on long before the trail.

Fact is, the trial of the clear-cut murderer of Remus Smith took only one day. In the end, Billy Thompson was acquitted. Yes, he got away with cold-blooded murder. And the law allowed it to happen. This was the one killing committed by Billy Thompson that should have been an iron-clad case of murder, but he go away with it. After that judgment, for the first time since his first killing, Billy Thompson was not wanted by the law for anything.

On March 11th, 1884, his older brother Ben Thompson was killed in San Antonio, Texas, in what became known as the Vaudeville Theater Ambush. After the blatant murder of his brother Ben, many actually thought his brother Billy Thompson would go out and revenge his brother's death. Billy never did.

Billy Thompson is credited with having killed three men and wounding a fourth. That includes fatally shooting Sgt. Burke, the heartless killing of unarmed Remus Smith, the accidental shooting and subsequent death of Sheriff Chauncey Whitney, and the wounding of Bill Tucker who he shot in the hand. But instead of finding and killing those who killed his brother Ben, he didn't.

Some say it was because of his wife Libby and their many children. And of course, the reason why he didn't avenge his brother really doesn't matter because he simply didn't do what most saw as his duty. Especially, since most knew really well that his brother Ben took care of him throughout his life.

The saloons and gambling halls took their toll, and Billy Thompson died in an infirmary in Houston, Texas, on September 6th, 1897. Billy was 52 years old when he died. He died of "consumption" which is what they called tuberculosis (TB) back in the day. Yes, tuberculosis, the same thing that killed Doc Holliday.

Billy and Libby were married for 24 years. And believe it or not, it's said that he must have gone home to Sweetwater more than most folks realized simply because he and Libby had nine children together. Yes, nine children. Were they all his since she was a prostitute, no one knows.

After Billy's death, Libby Thompson, the famous "Squirrel Tooth Alice" continued running her brothel in Sweetwater, Texas. She ran it up to the time that she retired in 1921 at the age of 66. As for her children, it's said that most of her sons had become petty criminals and her daughters supposedly followed in their mother's footsteps by also becoming prostitutes.

Libby is said to have spent her last years living in Palmdale, California. On April 13th, 1953, Libby Thompson, the famous "Squirrel Tooth Alice," died at the Sunbeam Rest Home in Los Angeles, California, at the ripe old age of 98. Imagine that for a moment, that Old West madam died at 98 years old in 1953.

Imagine for a moment if your will. Though she was a prostitute and madam most of her life, she survived being taken captive by Comanche Indians and being shunned by those who thought she should've killed herself instead of being raped by Indians. She was part of the opening of the frontier, had 9 children, and endured being married to a gambler who was a drunk and a killer. Yes, a man who was on the run most of his adult life.

Her brother-in-law Ben Thompson was actually a legend in his own time. She was said to have known all three of the Masterson brothers and others who Hollywood would make famous later. She was born before the Civil War, saw the opening of the West, and lived through the cattle drives. She worked in the cow-towns, saw America go to war with Spain, saw the advent of the automobile, lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars, the dawn of the nuclear age, the age of jet aircraft, and the birth of television.

The year she died, Nikita Khrushchev took power in the Soviet Union after the death of Josef Stalin. That was the year convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States for spying for the USSR. That was the year the Korean War truce was signed. It was a year when a U.S. Air Force test pilot named Chuck Yeager set a speed record in an X-1 rocket plane. And yes, indeed, in 1953, the movie Shane starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, and Van Heflin was released by Paramount Pictures. 

Just imagine that if you would.

Tom Correa

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Billy Thompson & Squirrel Tooth Alice -- Part 1

Billy Thompson
Billy Thompson was sometimes known as "Texas Billy" Thompson. And even though he is credited with having killed 3 men and wounding a fourth, I can't help but wonder if he'd be known today if he weren't the younger brother of the famous gunfighter and lawman Ben Thompson.

Billy was born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, England, sometime in 1845. His entire family immigrated to the United States and settled in Texas when he was a child. And being true Texans, during the Civil War, both Billy and his older brother Ben volunteered to fight for the Confederate Army by joining the Second Regiment of the Texas Mounted Rifles. 

And no, neither were part of the 1.6% of the population in the South who actually owned slaves. As with many, they saw Texas as a nation in itself. And as with others, while they might have had mixed loyalties to the Confederacy, they certainly were willing to fight and die for Texas.  

Ben Thompson would go on to fame as a Texas gunfighter and later as one of the Old West's more successful lawmen. In fact. Ben would serve as the Chief of Police for Austin, Texas. And yes, as far as temperament goes, even though Ben was known as a killer, he was said to be a lot more stable than his volatile younger brother Billy. 

Known for having a quick and very violent temper, Billy Thompson would often find himself in trouble. And yes, there was usually violence of some sort involved. And while he would become known as a gambler and a gunman, Billy would never achieve the respect and fame that his brother did. In fact, during in his lifetime, Billy was mainly referred to as the unpredictable, troubled, unstable, younger brother of Ben Thompson.  But also, while Billy may have been a loose cannon in the respect that he was unpredictable and liable to cause damage if not kept in check by others, Billy was in fact a dangerous man who was said to be fairly formidable in a gunfight.

His first known gunfight was on March 31th, 1868. During a fistfight between a white Union soldier and a local black man, a Union soldier by the name of Sgt. William Burke was there. Burke was the chief clerk in the U.S. Adjutant General's Office. He became upset that the townspeople applauded the local black man and not the Union soldier. 

Of course, this was in 1868 in Texas which was still under Federal jurisdiction and martial law during the Reconstruction Era. Texans had a great deal of animosity for the Federal troops stationed there. The fact is that was simply because locals saw the Union Army as an occupying force following the war. If anyone knows anything about Texas, they should know that Texas pride means not kowtowing to anyone. The first thing to do to get on the bad side of a Texan is to make them think that you are trying to be superior to them. Unlike other places and peoples, feeling subservient, especially to the government, is simply not part of a Texan's DNA. 

Well, soon enough Union soldier Sgt. William Burke is said to have lashed out verbally at Billy. This started the two arguing. When things cooled down, Sgt. Burke apologized and supposedly the two men spent two hours drinking together before heading off to a bordello together. Once there, the two argued more but mostly got along. 

It is said that when Billy Thompson went upstairs with a soiled dove, that Burke's temper flared up again for unknown reasons. Then Burke began shouting threats against him while looking for Billy. When he found his room, Burke is said to have kicked in the door armed with a pistol in hand. Billy reached for his pistol and the two exchanged shots. Burke was shot and died the next day. Knowing that he would certainly hang for killing a Union soldier, Billy fled to Indian Territory for a few weeks.

While there, it is said that Billy Thompson ran out of money and sent word to his older brother Ben for help. Supposedly, this was a habit of his that he had the whole time his older brother Ben was alive. And yes, that makes me wonder if Billy was also riding on his brother's reputation or not? But really, one can only wonder. 

Two months after killing Burke, in May of 1868, Billy returns and lands in Rockport located in Aransas County, Texas. Later, in 1870, Rockport would be a cattle slaughtering, packing, and shipping port. Of course, while there, Billy Thompson gets into an argument with a young man by the name of Remus Smith who was an 18-year-old stable hand. The young Smith is said to have squatted Billy's horse when it tried to put its nose in some feed. 

Believe it or not, this triggered Billy's enrage and he yells at the boy. Smith, who was unarmed, told him to take off his pistols and meet him outside man to man with fists. Billy Thompson drew his pistol and shot the boy twice. It was a case of cold-blooded murder.

Remus Smith was really well-liked in Rockport. Yes, so much so that it's said that Aransas County would hunt for Billy Thompson for the remainder of his life over that cold-blooded murder.
And for the next five years, it is said that Billy stayed on the run. Yes, contacting his brother to help him with money was more often than not.

Then there's Libby Thompson. Ever hear of Libby Thompson? Well, you Old West history buffs out there probably know her better by her famous moniker "Squirrel Tooth Alice." She was a pretty famous madam of a brothel right there in Sweetwater, Texas.

Her name was actually Elizabeth "Libby" Thompson, but she was born Mary Elizabeth Haley in 1855. And to friends and her family, young Mary Elizabeth was simply known as "Libby."  

The story goes that Haley lost its fortune during the Civil War. Then in 1864, Comanche Indians raided the Haley farm in Texas and took young Libby captive. 

For about four years, from age 9 to age 13, Mary Elizabeth Haley remained a captive. Then in 1867, her parents paid a ransom for her release. Sadly, after her release, she was considered a "marked woman" because she survived her ordeal. 

Though she was only 13 years of age, the attitude of many at the time was that she had been raped by the Comanche Indians during her captivity. Or at least, that's what people assumed at the time. 

Because it was believed that she was sexually abused as a captive, Libby was shunned. Yes, believe it or not, after being saved by buying her back from the Comanche who were notorious slavers, Libby was actually avoided as if she had a disease.

Soon, Libby was drawn to the affections of an older man who didn't care about her past. But her father, James Haley, found the whole idea of an older man taking advantage of his daughter so objectionable that he is said to have shot and killed the man. With that act, and the word getting around that Libby has an older suitor, her reputation was soiled even further than it already was.

After more than a year of dealing with being ostracized, at the age of 14, young Libby ran away from home. Looking for a fresh start, she wound up in Abilene, Kansas. But since a young girl, barely a woman, traveling alone had few options to make a living, Libby became a dance hall girl. Soon after that, she became a soiled dove, a prostitute, in cattle towns during the 1870s.

While in Abilene, Kansas, she met a young cowboy who was also a gambler. His name was Billy Thompson, who was the brother of the gunfighter and lawman Ben Thompson. And yes, in 1870, the couple left Kansas for Texas while Billy worked as a cowhand. It's said he worked along the Chisholm Trail while Libby continued working as a dance hall girl in various towns across the southern prairie. And while some say he was a cowboy, the fact is he only worked as a cowboy to make a grubstake for a gambling table. Once he did that, his days of working with cattle were over.

In 1872, at the age of seventeen, Libby was plying her trade in the cattle town of Ellsworth, Kansas, while Billy worked the gambling halls. By the spring of 1873, the couple was back out on the prairie with the spring cattle drive coming up from Texas. During this time, their first child was born on the open prairie. And to make the child legitimate, Libby and Billy got married that year. Imagine that.

In 1873, Billy and Libby checked into the Grand Central Hotel in Ellsworth, Kansas. Ben joined them two months later. Soon the two brothers went into the saloon business as Joe Brennan’s house gamblers. Libby worked as a prostitute at the time as well. Ellsworth was a booming cowtown. And within a short time of arriving in town, both Thompson brothers became good friends with County Sheriff Chauncey Whitney.

So now, since this is so long that I've had to make it in two parts, please click here for Billy Thompson & Squirrel Tooth Alice -- Part 2.

The rest of the story may surprise you.

Tom Correa