Sunday, January 30, 2022

Frederick Brunckow's Bloody Cabin


History tells us that on April 1st, 1877, prospector Ed Schieffelin arrived at Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona. He decided to try his luck at looking for riches in that part of the desert. Legend says that the soldiers at the fort warned him about the Indian troubles -- and even told him that the only thing he'd find was his own tombstone. Then, on August 1st of that same year, Ed Schieffelin found silver. He named his first mining claim "Tombstone." He named his second mining claim "Graveyard."
 
A town rose out of Ed Schieffelin's discovery in the San Pedro Valley. It took the name of Schieffelin's first mine and called itself "Tombstone."

Of course, it's said that for more than a thousand years before Ed Schieffelin's discovery, local Indian tribes mined clay, cinnabar, copper, turquoise, and silver. Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 1500s, and they too searched for silver and gold. Spanish missions in Southern Arizona between 1687 to 1711 documented finding silver in the mountains bordering the Santa Cruz Valley, today's Santa Cruz County, Arizona. The Spanish wrote about many mining attempts, but mining was held back because Arizona was the northern fringe of the Spanish frontier and susceptible to Indian attacks. Yes, it was an area plagued by guerilla warfare with the Apaches. That problem limited the Spaniards, just as it would limit Americans from mining and prospecting that area.

American prospectors in more significant numbers started mining the silver deposits that were previously known to the Spanish and Mexicans after southern Arizona became part of the United States when the Gadsden Purchase took place in 1853. Of course, as we all know, American prospecting led to conflicts known as the Apache Wars. 

While Apache raids on prospectors and mines are documented, as with life, that which we know about is not always the greatest threat to us. One American prospector who learned that lesson also discovered silver in what is known today as Cochise County, Arizona. His name was Frederick Brunckow. And yes, it's a historical fact that he hit paydirt along the San Pedro River several years before Ed Schieffelin made his discovery.

Frederick Brunckow was born in Germany sometime in 1830. The Prussian-born Brunckow came to the United States in 1850 at age 20 or 21. After attending the University of Westphalia studying to become a mining engineer, Brunckow emigrated to the United States in 1850. He was hired by the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company which took him West. 

In 1858, almost 20 years before Ed Schieffelin's discovery, Frederick Brunckow discovered silver about 8-miles southwest of what would become Tombstone right there near the San Pedro River. Right after that, Brunckow left the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company to start his own San Pedro Silver Mine. 

At 28 years of age, Frederick Brunckow hired William M. Williams as his mine superintendent and his cousin James Williams as his mine's machinist. John Moss (although some say his name was Morse) was educated as a chemist. Moss was hired on as the mine's assayer. Brunckow hired a German cook by the name of David Brontrager. He also hired several Mexican laborers.

Brunckow soon built a cabin as sleeping quarters and store for supplies. His mining claim along the San Pedro River was not far from the future site of Tombstone. The small but simple cabin was made of adobe and had a fireplace. It also had a tin roof. It is said that Brunkow was known to be a good employer and friend to all there. 

Sadly, Frederick Brunckow was murdered on July 23, 1860. And while the story behind his death is sketchy, we know what William M. Williams reported as taking place. 

Williams stated that he left for a supply run to Fort Buchanan, which was about 40 miles West of the mine. That was July 23. He returned a few days later on July 26. It was then that Williams found the store ransacked and supplies were stolen. He found a lot of the provisions missing and the store in shambles. He also found the murdered body of his cousin James on the floor.

Seeing what took place, he left the cabin, ran out the door, and went back to Fort Buchanan to report what he had found. Initially, the soldiers believed it was an Apache raid. But when the soldiers arrived at the cabin the next morning, they found two more bodies. John Moss was found dead just outside of the camp. His body was reported as being "ravaged" by animals. Frederick Brunckow was eventually found inside a mine shaft. He was found with a rock drill through him. Williams M. Williams and the soldiers buried Brunckow and the others at the cabin. 

The German cook showed up later and surrendered to U.S. Army Captain Ewell at Fort Buchanan. He said that he fled and ran away as fast as he could when the killings started. He then went on to describe how the Mexican laborers robbed the store of supplies after killing the others. He said they found him running away and took him as their prisoner. One story says they released him later because he was a good Catholic. Another story, what seems a little more believable, is that he escaped after they made camp. He made good his escape when the Mexicans got drunk and passed out. He wandered until he found Fort Buchanan. 

The murders of Frederick Brunckow, John Moss, and James Williams were never solved. Sadly, justice was never served as their killers were never apprehended.

Today, Frederick Brunckow's cabin is referred to as "The Bloodiest Cabin in Arizona History." No, it's not just because Brunckow and his men were killed there. The fact is, Brunckow and his men were not the last to be killed there. In all, it's believed that at least 21 murders took place at or near that cabin between 1860 and 1890. And yes, besides Frederick Brunckow, John Moss, and James Williams, several of those killed have been buried around the cabin. A few of the graves have been identified.

A story related to Brunckow's Bloody Cabin is that of Milton B. Duffield who was the first U.S. Marshal appointed to Arizona Territory. He was born in 1810 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Frankly, from everything that I read about him, people did not like him very much at all. But, though that was the case, he had a reputation for fearlessness and for having great aim with both a rifle and pistols. He was also known to shoot first and ask questions later. 

If you've ever wondered just how cautious some lawmen were in the Old West, take a look at U.S. Marshal Milton Duffield. He was known for carrying several firearms and a concealed knife. Believe it or not, one report said he carried at least 9 guns, big and small, while another said he carried 11 of them -- all at the same time. He obviously figured out how to get around reloading during a firefight, just carry more guns. 

According to M.B. Duffield, a former well-known inhabitant of Tuolumne, murdered in Arizona. [History of Tuolumne County, 1888], "Duffield had a wife and four children, whom he abandoned to go out West. By 1852, Duffield was in Tuolumne County, California, working in real estate and in the gold mines. Around the same time, he came into conflict with a man named James G. Lyons. One day in 1854, while walking down the road, Lyons and two of his friends spotted Duffield and began firing on him with their sidearms. Duffield, with his 'raw nerve' immediately pulled out his revolver and shot Lyons dead while the other two ran off.

When the Civil War began, Duffield was sent on an exploratory mission to Nicaragua for the United States government. After he returned in 1863, the Lincoln administration appointed him to be the first United States Marshal for the new Territory of Arizona, a post he held from March 6, 1863, to November 25, 1865. 

After spending some time working as a special postal agent, in June 1870, two Mexican men entered Duffield's home and tried to kill him with an ax and a knife as he slept. Waking up to a blow to his shoulder, Duffield fought off both attackers and forced them to flee, all after having been struck thirty-one times and losing his right thumb." per History of Tuolumne County, 1888.

A few years after Marshal Duffield retired, he bought the Brunckow cabin and its mining claim. That was in 1873. Immediately after buying the land, cabin, and mine, he found out that the ownership of the property was being disputed by a man by the name of James T. Holmes. Holmes claimed to be the owner and insisted that it was his land. Holmes occupied the cabin and wasn't about to budge. And to make matters worst, Holmes was either a former Confederate soldier or a Southern sympathizer during the Civil War.

Duffield is said to have had a deep hatred for the South and their cause during the Civil War. He hated both Southern soldiers and those who supported the Confederacy. While U.S. Marshal in Arizona during the later years of the Civil War, he helped rid the area of those who he believed were responsible for burning Union Army hay depots and bushwhacking Union soldiers. After the war, some of those Confederate soldiers and sympathizers who fled Arizona -- later returned to occupy the property that was confiscated from them during the war.

While the cabin was not in use and appeared abandoned, Holmes occupied the cabin and was insistent that it was his. Tensions between the two men peaked on June 5, 1874.  

It was on that day that the 63-year-old Marshal arrived at Brunckow's Cabin with the intention of evicting Holmes. Duffield dismounted his horse and began walking up to the cabin. Holmes stated that Duffield was "waving his arms and shouting like a madman." Supposedly, that was "his usual manner." He said that because Duffield had a long-time reputation of being "armed to the teeth," and knowing his violent reputation, Holmes grabbed his double-barrelled shotgun before stepping outside to confront Duffield. 

Holmes walked out the front door. But, instead of telling Duffield to stop where he was, he shot the old lawman without hesitation. Holmes stated that it was only at that point that he figured out that Marshal Duffield arrived unarmed. 

Why was he unarmed? Do I find it strange that a man would go from carrying a lot of guns to carrying no gun at all? Well, we will never know why he was unarmed. And yes, I find it strange that he wasn't packing a gun. I can tell you that losing your right thumb in an era when you need it to cock a single-action pistol is something that can only be seen as a handicap in a gunfight. Of course, besides the fact that he still had his left thumb, there were pistols at the time that were known as "self-cockers" which we call "double-action" pistols. So no, before you write to ask, I really have no idea why he showed up to confront someone unarmed.

So of the 24 or so bodies buried around Brunckow's cabin, the first U.S. Marshal appointed to Arizona Territory, former U.S. Marchal Milton Duffield is buried there in an unmarked grave. As for Holmes, he was arrested. He was tried for murder. And believe it or not, he was only sentenced to 3 years in prison. So yes, this again proves that the myth about "cop killers didn't get off lightly in the Old West" is just a myth.

Here's something else, Holmes escaped before having served any of his time. What's more, it is said that the law in Arizona in 1874 did not make any sort of effort to find Holmes. While Holmes was never seen again, some say the sad reason that no one pursued him was that "no one like Duffield." And yes, if you're wondering, Duffield's murder has also helped foster the cabin's reputation for being haunted since some say the old Marshal haunts the place. 

According to one source, the cabin and mine were owned by Clanton gang member Frank Stilwell until he was murdered by the Earp posse on March 20, 1882. And as for reports of other ghosts at Brunckow's cabin, it's said that by as early as the mid-1880s, Arizona newspapers published reports of ghostly apparitions refusing to rest and haunting the cabin. Of course, even back then, newspapers printed embellished tales. As for the many different murders that took place there, who knows how many killings and tragedies were said to have taken place there - but only happened in the imagination of some newspaper writer? No one will ever know.

Today, it's said that local ranchers try to keep the cabin ruins safe from souvenir hunters who want to take pieces of its walls. And no, unlike many other historical landmarks of significance, there is no sign acknowledging what took place there. And frankly, one would think there would be since Frederick Brunckow discovered silver there long before Ed Schieffelin did in 1877.

And as a last note about the Brunckow Cabin, I do find it very interesting that Ed Schieffelin gets the credit for discovering silver in that area. That's especially true when we consider that 17 years after the Brunckow cabin murders, Ed Schieffelin used the Brunckow cabin fireplace to assay samples of his mines.

Tom Correa


Monday, January 24, 2022

Texas Drift Fences


After writing my article on The Great Cattle Extinction of 1886, a few of you have written to ask why I didn't talk about the thousands of cattle that were found on the fences after the thaw. Well, frankly, if I kept writing, that article would have been longer than it already is. Besides, I had planned to write this article as a follow-up. I hope you like it, and see why I had to make them two articles.

So what is a Drift Fence? Well, as used today, a modern "drift fence" is any long continuous stock fence used to collect animals for research. The concept of drift fences has been adopted today as one of the most effective techniques for researchers to collect and sample wildlife species in a particular area. They do so to learn such things as population density. The drift fence they use is short so that animals like deer can easily jump them. The technology of a short drift fence helps gather reptiles, amphibians, insects, and even small mammals that are subjects for studies.

In reality, today's drift fence is an example of a type of technology that has kept its original name while its use changed over the years. According to one source, "When animals come upon the fence, they move along looking for an opening. Many can be captured in a single night when many species are most active and hard to observe."

Some folks confuse "drift fences" with "snow fences" which are used in various states to control drifting snow from burying highways. Snow fences prevent massive drifts from forming on the highway. Of course, as anyone who has driven in those sorts of conditions can testify, drift fences help with better visibility -- which means there is a huge reduction in the number of accidents in those areas.

In my last article, The Great Cattle Extinction of 1886, I talked about how cattle died and the cattle industry changed because of the Winter of 1886. Well, a few years before that event, back in 1882, barbed wire drift fences were built to specifically stop roaming Northern range cattle from migrating South in their search for better pastures. The idea was to stop the cattle from competing with other cattle for grass. There was something else, their migration South cost ranchers in the Southwest time and manpower. Nothern open range cattle were seen as a problem since they competed with the local cattle for the little grazing that was there, and they had to be cut out from the cattle that were supposed to be there. Mixed brands during gatherings are a problem and time-consuming to cut out. Since drift fences were constructed to stop the Southern migration and keep herds separated, a drift fence would also make a round-up easier. 

While it is said that some ranchers in Arizona built them, and I've heard of New Mexico and Wyoming ranchers having built them, Texas built drift fences to epic proportions. Some say the most famous drift fence was that built by the enormous XIT Ranch. It supposedly extended from the New Mexico border and across the Texas Panhandle. In Wyoming, the Two-Bar Ranch constructed one in Goshen Hole. 

The drift fence in Texas was built to hold back cattle from Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico from crossing into Texas during blizzards. It was strung along the northern boundary of each ranch. The fence extended for more than two hundred miles in Texas, with a gate every three miles. Yes, you read that right. The Texas drift fence was over 200 miles long. 

In the Winter of 1880, thousands of Northern open range cattle drifted down the plains into the Texas Panhandle. Because the cattle gathered at the Canadian River, it almost ruined the Winter pastures of local ranchers. With pastures endangered, local cattlemen decided to put an end to what they saw as an incursion into their territory. They saw building fences across the northern borders of their range as the solution. 

Construction started in 1881, and by 1885 drift fences extended across the Panhandle. We should remember that by that time, barbed wire was being used throughout Texas. It wasn't new for pastures belonging to individual ranchers to be fenced off. Also, it should be noted that all of the cattlemen in the Northern Texas Panhandle strung drift fences. 

It is said, "Fences thirty to forty miles in length were common, and some were even longer. They were constructed on level ground above the Canadian River, and when completed it extended 200 miles across the northernmost counties from near Higgins to the vicinity of Dalhart and into New Mexico. The fencing material consisted of cedar posts set, usually, two rods apart and connected with four strands of barbed wire. Fences across some ranges were built with posts set closer together and strung with wire in three to five strands or more. Camps were established at regular intervals, and men were employed to keep the fences in good repair. The work was facilitated by a $500 reward for the apprehension of anyone damaging the fences. The wire was hauled in wagons from rail lines in Kansas, Colorado, or New Mexico or from Harrold, Texas, then the terminus of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway. Fence posts were cut, mostly, in the breaks of the Canadian and its tributaries, but some came from Palo Duro Canyon. Construction costs averaged $250 a mile."

In the town of Dumas, in Moore County, Texas, there is a historical marker with the inscription:

Site of Historic Drift Fence

Until the mid-1880s, no range fences existed in the Texas Panhandle. Thus when winter blizzards came, cattle drifted from Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas to the Texas ranches of T ("Box T"--Dominion Cattle Co. Ltd.), 7K ("Seven K"--York, Parker & Draper), CC ("Bar C's"--Creswell Land & Cattle Co.), ("Turkey Track"--Hansford Land & Cattle Co.), LX (Bates & Beal), LIT (Littlefield), and LE (Lee & Reynolds). The influx caused these ranches in the Canadian River breaks to be overgrazed, for by spring roundup there were as many northern as local cattle in the herds.

To prevent the costly and time-consuming job of separating the cattle, each Texas rancher agreed to construct a fence along his north boundary line. The resulting fence was 200 miles long and ran from the northeast corner of the Panhandle southwest to near the site where Dumas was later founded, then west about 35 miles into New Mexico. It was a 4-strand, 4-barb fence with posts 30 feet apart and a gate every 3 miles. The materials amounted to about 65 carloads of wire and posts hauled from Dodge City.

In 1890, however, to comply with an 1889 state law prohibiting any fence from crossing or enclosing public property, most of the fence was removed.

As a result of the 1887 blizzard, Texas in 1889 passed a law prohibiting fencing of public property, and the fence was removed in 1890.

Near the town of Stinnett, in Hutchinson County, Texas, a historical marker is inscribed:

Drift Fence

Famed cattleman Charles Goodnight established one of the first ranches in the Texas Panhandle, the JA Ranch, in 1876. Later that year Thomas S. Bugbee established the first cattle ranch in Hutchinson County.

As a result of soaring beef prices, cattle ranching proliferated in this region of the U.S. In the 1880s, the Texas Panhandle, with its open range and expansive grasslands, became the preferred winter grazing site for cattle migrating south from Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. This seasonal influx of cattle disrupted the practice of area ranchers who went to great lengths to respect adjacent ranch boundaries.

Members of the Panhandle Stock Association pooled their resources and in 1882-85 erected barbed wire barriers along a 200-mile stretch of the panhandle Including Hutchinson County to prevent cattle from drifting south into the fertile Canadian River Valley.

The "drift fence" worked too well in the winters of 1886 and 1887 when thousands of cattle moving south ahead of strong storms stalled at the fence line and froze or were trampled to death. The staggering losses prompted legislation that limited fencing on public lands and the "drift fence" was removed or incorporated into private ranch fencing.


It was pretty evident from the start that cattle would gather along the drift fences during winter storms. In the Winter of 1884 and 1885, ranchers saw that the cattle were unable to go any farther and many died of a combination of starvation and exposure. Of course, as heavy as the losses were that Winter, it's said nothing prepared them for what happened in The Great Cattle Extinction of 1886 also known as the "Big Die-Up."

It is believed that more than 250,000 cattle may have died in the Winter of 1886 along that drift fence. As I said in my other article, it was such losses that wiped out many ranchers. It changed the way ranchers tended their herds. The days of ranchers believing that herds could sustain themselves changed. It became apparent that for ranches to survive, they had to change how they produced range cattle. Cattle could not be left unattended to forage for themselves during such winters. It was then that ranchers began to purchase more land. They also started leasing more land. They reduced herd size, fenced off their own pastures which enable them to rotate pastures, supplemented feed, and produce their own forage crops. More ranchers started looking at ways to provide cattle with food, water, and shelter during such horrific times. 

Of course, with the changes came a few benefits. For example, fencing off pastures defined property lines, controlled herds, mitigated the dangers of over-grazing, all helped to lessen the need for the drift fences. Because of the Winter of 1886 and the efforts made by cattlemen as a result of that disaster, laws were enacted to remove them, most drift fences were seen as unnecessary. Most were removed by 1890. Most, but not all. In fact, it is said that some sections of drift fences were still found years after they were supposed to be removed. Those sections weren't removed because they were seen as non-threatening to livestock. 

Drift fences were actually disastrous for ranchers and cattle during the Winter of 1886 and the Big Bie-Up. Incredibly deep snow and ice prevented cattle to find food, and the fences stopped them from moving South to greener pastures. As a result, the cattle froze to death along the fences. Of course, the intrepid cowboy had of riding the line to prevent the fence from being broken. This was some of the worse work that a hand had to endure. 

There is a story by Glynda Pflug titled "A Child's Grave." In that story, the writer talks about a cowboy near Dumas, Texas, who found a missing child. In her story, she describes how "The nearest cattle market [to Dumas] was 200 miles north at Dodge City, Kansas. The cattle were driven to market in large cattle drives and soon their feet wore a trail in the grass all the way to Kansas. Travelers going by horse and buggy, wagons, stagecoaches, and horseback started using those trails to make their way across the country."

She wrote about how "a day's travel was about 30 miles" and how a stage stop about 11 miles East of Dumas, was known as "The Little Blue Stage Stop." The stage stop was run by the Moore family. The writer notes in her story that there was no connection between the Moore family that ran that stage stop and the name of Moore County.

The story goes on as follows: "The Moores cared for extra horses for the stage, cooked for travelers, and provided overnight lodging. The family had a small boy. One day, John Arnot, an LX cowboy, was riding the drift fence checking for LX Cattle and stopped at the stage shop. The little boy had wandered away from home that day and John Arnot joined the search for him, finally finding him in a water pond where he had died.

The Moores buried him there on the prairie on a rocky hill overlooking a small creek. They found a big flat rock and chiseled the name "Moore" on the rock. They stood it up by the grave and put pretty rocks around it.

The markings on the stone grow fainter as the years pass, but decades later it was still possible to read the last two letters. The grave is believed to have been made in 1890. At one time, a fence was built around the grave in an attempt to preserve the site. Girl Scouts of Moore County have used the ranchland for their annual Day Camps and hiked to the gravesite each year. They take their gloves, hoes, shovels, and other tools and maintain the gravesite as best they can.

The deep wagon ruts that were made by the stage line can still be seen by looking closely and some of the wire and posts of the famous "drift fence" might still be there. It is in the same area that legends tell about John Arnot killing the last buffalo in the Panhandle of Texas."

It's said that the child's grave is one of the oldest in Moore County, Texas. 

Tom Correa


Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Great Cattle Extinction of 1886


As Americans, our culture is tied to the Old West. Along with our endless larger-than-life stretches of land, vistas that take a breath away, we have a heritage of enduring and prevailing through struggles against the elements and the land itself. And more so, our legacy is that of heroic deeds, storied in the annals of adversity and accomplishment. Our desire to gain freedom and be our own boss is tied to our want to provide for others. Our heritage has been one that is absolutely tethered to cattle, dairies, and farming. 

I've had several conversations about how the Old West ended. I've heard some say it was the end of the Indian Wars, others say it was when organized law and order was established, some say it was the Homestead Act. And yes, as strange as it sounds, believe it or not, I've even been told that a relatively insignificant gunfight and feud in Tombstone, Arizona was what brought about the end of the Old West. 

For me, no act changed the Old West, ended things as they were, and forced things to change more than a single act of nature in 1886. What happened would impact the way we feed our nation. It's an event that changed the role of cowboys. But more so, it altered how American cattle producers and farmers feed our country forever.  

Do I make it sound ominous? I hope so. While our history is rich in stories of our brave men and women doing things that many believed impossible, this is the story of what changed the West more than any other event in our history. This story is about the end of the Old West for cattlemen and cowboys as they knew it. This is also about how they survived that cataclysmic event. 

During the Winter of 1886 to 1887, Theodore Roosevelt, the man who would be our 26th President, owned a cattle ranch near Medora in the Dakota Territory. He was one of the ranchers who were hit by that devastating Winter. In a letter, he wrote, "Well, we have had a perfect smashup all through the cattle country of the northwest. The losses are crippling. For the first time, I have been utterly unable to enjoy a visit to my ranch. I shall be glad to get home."

The Winter of 1886 to 1887 was extremely tough on most of the United States, but the West was affected the most. Its hardest hit victim was the American cattle industry. The "perfect smashup" that Theodore Roosevelt wrote about was a violent collision of several damaging and unpredictable factors -- natural and manmade. 

In 1886, a ten-year drought culminated in a scorching dry summer. Besides water sources drying up, to make matters worse, overgrazing on the open range had created tinder-dry grasslands, which saw many extensive prairie fires. And please, keep in mind, before the advent of organized fire fighting, forest fires and prairie fires would simply burn until they burned themselves out for lack of fuel, were dampened by passing showers, or died out when they reached a river that was too wide to jump. 

As for ranchers in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, the early 1880s was still a time of optimism. With its fenceless expanse of what looked to be unlimited open range, grazing land was ripe for the taking. Because of this, the big ranchers saw their herds increasing in larger and larger numbers. In fact, during the two decades leading up to 1886, it is believed that an estimated 6 million head of cattle were driven to market or the Northern grasslands. 

Those ranchers drove huge herds across the Great Plains to railheads to be shipped to places such as Kansas City and Chicago stockyards. In the beginning, the slaughterhouses were clamoring for beef to feed the demand coming from fast-growing urban areas in the East. By the early 1880s, the cattle industry was in trouble because it essentially created a cattle glut. Because of the cattle glut, cattle prices dropped in 1885. While the ranchers would still profit on their cattle, the market was not as favorable as it was in 1880. A severe hit was not what they needed, but it's what they got.

About now, we should mention something that is rarely mentioned when talking about contributing factors to the Winter of 1886. It should be noted that domestic sheep were introduced to North America when the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s. Though that was the case for years, by 1880 there were an estimated 110,000 sheep in the state of Colorado alone. By 1886, that number had increased to about 2 million sheep just in Colorado. 

The late 1870s was when the West saw the introduction of sheep and the beginnings of the Sheep Wars to that region. The problem was with sheep on the range was two-fold: First, the sheep competed with the cattle for the same grass. And second, it was how the sheep devastated the range. Most folks in the West at the time saw sheep as "hooved locusts destroying the land." 

The Sheep Wars were just that. They were armed conflicts between cattlemen and sheepmen. So yes, since they competed for the same grazing, the war began almost immediately. The Sheep Wars were deadly conflicts. Cattle, sheep, and those tending to them were killed as those conflicts escalated.

So when we talk about factors that helped along such a disaster take place, it was not only cattle that contributed to the overgrazing problems. Large herds of sheep and cattle eroded the banks of streambeds as well as other water sources. 

In fact, I believe that sheep had more of an impact on the overgrazing problem than the cattle did. When sheepherders brought their flocks in to graze, their sheep ripped the grass out by its roots. So, while leaving no food for cattle was bad enough, the overgrazing caused by sheep ripping out the grass by their roots actually reduced the prairie grass's ability to hold soils together. The bottom line is that that's one of the most significant reasons why overgrazing made the rangelands so vulnerable to drought and disastrous Winter. 

The ten-year drought had brought season after season of mild winters. The mild winters were followed by some rain, but not as much as needed to make tall grass and streams flow as they should. Summer came after what many called a rainless Spring in 1886. The lack of winter runoff and Spring rains didn't help the land or the cattle as Summer's scorching heat dried up scarce water sources and burned much of the grass to the roots. The lack of forage and water made it difficult to fatten their herds. 

With grass being low and water almost non-existent, cattle lost weight and suffered. Larger than prudent herds overgrazed during that drought helped create the "perfect smashup" of things going wrong. This was such the case by the Winter of 1886 when millions of head of cattle were in no condition to weather one of the worse Winters in our entire history. 

There was early snow in November of that year. The problem quickly became evident because it kept snowing. By the end of December, the entire region was slammed with a blizzard of epic proportions. That blizzard is said to have dumped over 2 feet of snow across the entire region. Along with it were gale-force winds and 50 degrees below zero temperatures. The blizzard's effects were even felt on the West Coast, 

The plummeting temperatures were terrible enough, but things got worse when it started to rain, and a freeze followed the rains. The freeze is said to have actually covered forage by blocking access to the small amount of grazing grass. The grass that the cattle fed on for forage was trapped beneath a thick layer of snow that became impenetrable ice. So with the gale-force winds, 50 degrees below zero temperatures, exposure to this, and their inability to get to their food source, it was not long before cattle starved to death. 

How many frozen carcasses of cattle littered the plains? How many head of cattle died, you ask? Well, it is believed to have been in the millions. In fact, Montana alone later reported that it found about 600,000 dead that Spring.

By the Spring of 1887, carcasses of the millions of cattle were really revealed to all there at the time. It's true. Spring brought the thaw, but it also brought evidence of millions of dead cows. And yes, dead cattle were found just about everywhere. It's said they dotted the plains, fouled the rivers, dammed the streams, bloated and rotted in the sun, all while the warm weather made the stench waft over what some said were thousands of square miles of open range. One report said, "the stench was of an unimaginable throat-closing intensity."

The "perfect smashup" that the future 26th President of the United States wrote about became officially known as "The Great Cattle Extinction of 1886." Westerners gave it a few different names. Some called it "The Big Die-Up" and "The Great Die-Up," while others called it "Death's Cattle Round-Up." It was far from a round-up. There was nothing about it that was good in any way at all. 

The few remaining cattle, those that actually survived that Winter, were found in poor health. Most were emaciated and suffered from frostbite. Because of that, those cattle were sold for much less than expected. We have to remember the economic impact on the ranches was enormous. 

Friends, that Winter wiped out a lot of ranches from Montana and the Dakotas down to the Texas Panhandle. And yes, that included bankrupting those big ranches owned by Eastern conglomerates and Foreign-owned ranches owned by folks in Europe. In fact, out of the close to 60 big ranches hit that year -- only 9 survived to stay in business. As for rancher Theodore Roosevelt, he could say that he was going to his home in the East. But not everyone was in his position. In fact, the majority were wiped out because they had nothing to fall back on. Most lost everything they had. So, because of the loss of livestock and their remaining herds being sold at low prices, some ranches had no alternative but to declare bankruptcy. 

Of course, as for ranchers, the idea of rotating pastures and stock, limiting accessibility to sections of grazing land, maintaining limited access to invasive species such as sheep that proved detrimental to grazing land, all to ensure feed availability were not yet considerations. As for the idea that cattle needed supplementary feeding during the Winter, that too had not yet come about. Of course, that was to change.

As far as changes that came about? So besides ranches erected miles of barbed wire fences to keep their cattle from ranging too far from their food supply, what changed? Old, long-standing ranching practices changed, operating methods, feeding practices, fenced-off ranges, increased efforts to keep sheep and cattle grazing separated, and much more also changed. Those ranchers who managed to continue raising cattle did so with smaller herds. As big ranches liquidated, smaller ranches sprang up in their place. And out of necessity, many ranchers also became farmers as well. They did so because they realized that growing their own fodder meant saving their herds in the future. 

In addition to reducing herd sizes, the livestock industry took other measures to protect against another catastrophe. Ranchers are said to have worked together to limit overgrazing. But they also attempted to mediate boundary disputes and create recommendations to take better care of both the land and their livestock. 

The open range flooded with too many cattle and sheep competing for the same grass were shut down and saw fences going up. Of course, this was not an easy transition as the introduction of barbed wire brought about its own problems, including range wars. The significant change of closing the once-boundaryless open range with miles of fences effectively ended open range grazing. Though the availability of barbed wire came about in 1884, fencing of rangeland ended the years of unrestricted open range grazing. While fencing restricted the access to traditionally open rangeland, it also allowed ranchers to close off sections of range, rotate pastures, prohibit grazing, and provide the land time to regenerate. Those measures allowed forage to regrow. And, as I said before, these efforts also enabled ranchers to begin more extensive farming operations to grow food for the animals they had. 

The end of the Old West for cattlemen and cowboys struck like a hammer. It wasn't soft and slow. It was sudden and brutal. It was an end of life as many knew it. And as I said before, it was, in fact, what brought an end of the Old West for cattlemen and cowboys as they knew it. 

It did so by changing almost everything that was done before regarding the cattle industry. The changes came about because of the severe impact of that Winter. Because both big and small ranchers were hit so hard, many of the large ranches that had previously kept their doors open to out-of-work cowboys simply did not exist any longer. Also, many ranchers hanging on by threads simply wouldn't offer traditional hospitality to out-of-work hands because they couldn't. 

While it wiped out the majority of the stock growers outright and forever changed the role of the cowboy, most cowboys were driven out of work and took to what was known as "riding the chuck-line" by drifting from one ranch to another for a meal and shelter. Many might not really understand that the end of the cattle drives negatively affected cowtowns simply because most of the cowboys needed for trail drives and to maintain a herd on open range simply weren't needed any longer. Some cowtowns survived the loss of the cowboys annually showing up while others didn't.

As for cowboys, a lot of cowboys moved on to do other things. And yes, if you're wondering, some went on to become lawmen. Of course, some went on to drive stages, tend stock, work in the stockyards, found themselves working on farms that supported the cattle industry, and many were forced to find jobs in various other occupations not related to ranching. While many former cowboys did not work in jobs that were cattle-related, some cowboys took to making their way with a hot running iron. It's true, believe it or not, there were those cowboys who hit bottom and turned to rustle the very cattle that they had once been paid to herd. 

Officially called the Great Cattle Extinction of 1886, because of that Winter, the old-time cattle industry of the Old West never recovered. Trail drives and open rangelands decimated by sheep and overgrazed by more cattle than the land could support were closed. And yes, the extreme cold killed both animals and those trying to save their herds. Many died in white-out conditions near their homes. Of course, those pioneers unprepared for such a severe winter froze to death in their sod-huts. Some new arrivals who were totally unprepared actually died in their makeshift shelters.

The impact of that single Winter really ended the life of roving cowboys because it put a lot of cowboys out of work. The glut of out-of-work cowboys meant they had less choice where to work if they could even find a job cowboying. The attitude of the cowboy who said he wouldn't work unless he could do it "from the top of a horse" was gone. Cowboys became ranch hands to the few ranches that survived. If that sounds sad, it should. That Winter was a dream killer in many ways for many people. Yes, especially cowboys. 

Tom Correa

Saturday, January 1, 2022

I Appreciate Our Sheriff's Office


As some of you know, I became a Calaveras County Sheriff's Volunteer earlier in 2021. There are a couple of reasons why I volunteer for the Sheriff's Office. One reason has to do with you. Yes, you, my readers, and your feedback.

Over the years, I've preached about how Americans did more for their towns and counties in the Old West than we do today. I've written about how newcomers out West were expected to volunteer for community projects and participate in the community, unlike today. I've written about how those who didn't help were labeled "shirkers." In some cases, they were driven out of town. In other cases, they were shunned. Of course, these days, no one cares if someone's a shirker or not.

Most of my long-time readers know that I've talked about how citizens volunteered to provide security for their towns long before we had established organized law enforcement agencies. We know they were called "Citizens Watch Groups." Of course, they were what in the Spanish Colony of Florida was called "Vigilante Groups." While "Vigilante Group" sounds ominous today, it really wasn't that way at the time. The word "vigilante" has taken on negative connotations today. But, there was a time when the word "vigilante," which means "to be vigilant," meant citizen involvement. After all, in Spanish Florida in the 1600s, a "Vigilante Group" was just a "Watch Group" of citizen volunteers.

I've talked about how for hundreds of years of English Common Law, anyone, whether a peace officer or a private citizen, who witnessed a crime was obliged to make the "hue and cry" so that fleeing criminals could be apprehended. Upon apprehension, those citizens were required to turn criminals over to the Sheriff. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they didn't and were later found dangling from a tree.

We know there was a time when "all able-bodied men" were "obliged by law" to assist in the pursuit of a criminal. It was a time when citizens were deputized under posse comitatus laws to assist in posses, be put in positions such as guards, transports, couriers, court clerks, and much more. It was a time when citizens volunteered to keep the peace. It was only when people knew that someone could be paid to do it did -- that people decided to pay others to do it -- instead of doing it themselves. Soon, the stigma of being a shirker was gone.

And yes, my friends, I've talked about all of this -- and how instead of just bitching about how bad things are today, how we as citizens should get off our asses and do more to help. Of course, some of you have written to ask me what I do to help. Some of you have written to tell me to put my money where my mouth is and volunteer to do something.

So okay, about a year ago, I decided to get off my ass and do something constructive for my community. Because I've had a great deal of experience in the security field, I volunteered for the Calaveras County Sheriff's Volunteers. I saw it as a way of using my experience, giving back, and doing my part for our community. I also see it as a way of supporting the great group of men and women of our Sheriff's Office, all who can use our support and appreciation. I wanted them to know that I appreciate the hard job that they are doing for us. Hopefully, my volunteering to help in some small way will do that.

Of course, I'm just like all of you in that I'm not "legally obliged" by law to give of myself as "all-able-bodied men" and women once were. But, I really feel as though I'm "morally obliged" to give back a little of myself to better my community. That is even more true when considering that I really like where I live. 

Friends, I have been all over the United States. I've seen some beautiful places and met some really nice people. For a while there, everything pointed to me settling in one of those places at one time or another. But frankly, I really like Calaveras County. This is a great place to live. Because it is a little over 1,000 square miles in size, its relatively small population of just under 46,000 residents is easy to deal with. The fact is, other than a few towns like Mokelumne Hill, San Andreas, Valley Springs, Angles Camp, Murphys, Arnold, and Copperopolis, the residents are pretty spread over an area that goes from almost 400 feet elevation to a little over 8,000 feet elevation. And while some of our ranch lands look a lot like Central Texas, others say they look a lot like Oklahoma. Our hill country resembles Colorado. Our mountain ranges would make some think they are in the Appalachian Mountains, while our snowy mountains will make Alaskans feel right at home.

As for our Calaveras County Sheriff's Volunteers Unit, it was established in 1989 and has grown in numbers and varied assignments. In 1991, our Sheriff's Volunteers became uniformed to make us more visible to the public. It was about that time that our volunteers started doing more security for community events, parades, festivals, and such. Yes, that includes support for Neighborhood Watch programs and the You Are Not Alone (Y.A.N.A.) program.
 
The You Are Not Alone (Y.A.N.A.) program was started by Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio. The Y.A.N.A. program is all about reaching out to Calaveras County's senior citizens who would benefit from phone calls and safety visits from our volunteer unit. Frankly, with all of the worries that seniors are experiencing these days, a program designed "to promote peace of mind and a sense of security for residents who primarily are elderly or disabled and live alone" is an excellent thing for all.

Of course, besides the Y.A.N.A. program, our volunteers relieve Sheriff's Deputies from some of the more mundane tasks of manning the Sheriff Substations, doing traffic control, and other non-law enforcement tasks. Research indicates that law enforcement spends a great deal of its valuable time on things not related to law enforcement. 

While the Calaveras County Sheriff's Volunteers falls under the command and supervision of Under Sheriff Jim Macedo, our volunteer unit commander is Capt. Betty Miner. As our Volunteer Captain, her knowledge and leadership ensure we accomplish our mission. As she put it recently, "We focus on freeing up the Deputies so that they can do law enforcement." To do this, our volunteers serve as clerical help in the Sheriff's Office and the Jail. We perform special assignments, do vacation house checks, and complete residential, business, and school patrols in marked vehicles. Again, this helps free up Deputies to do the actual law enforcement work.

As for driving marked patrol vehicles, volunteers are not just handed the keys. Volunteers get training. In the case of driving, we are trained and have to pass written and driving tests, tests on the use of the radio, use of the 10-Code, and so on to qualify to drive patrol vehicles. Once on patrol, we're there strictly as a "presence" with communication capabilities. We help by being extra "eyes and ears."

Before you turn to another website because this sounds boring, let me just say that boring is not bad sometimes. And really, while my beat has a bad reputation, patroling it has not come close to reminding me of the days when I specialized in coordinating the security for strike actions in cities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. That was the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thankfully, these days are nothing like those days at all. No, not even close. In fact, most of my patrol hours as a Sheriff's Volunteer are relatively uneventful. Sure, there are busier days of a typical wild goose chase or two which can be time-consuming, to reports of livestock on roads, house checks, and more. But really, I don't mind any of it. 

As for getting cattle back into where they belong before they become a real hazard, I've been doing my fair share of getting cattle off roads and back in fences. As for me being sent on a wild goose chase or two after receiving a report or two from concerned residents. I don't mind checking on things that don't check out. Naturally, I always check things out before calling Dispatch to send a Deputy. Because their time is a lot more valuable than mine, I'd hate to relay information that turned out to be false and just a waste of their time.

Of course, there are those situations that simply seem to get worse. And while embarrassing, they too can turn out to be just a wild goose chase or embarrassing. One event that turned out that way started when I was on patrol and was flagged down by a local resident. She reported that she saw a woman and child stranded in a red Toyota on Swiss Ranch Rd. The reporting person said the red car looked like it was stuck in the snow in a ditch about 4 to 5 miles on Swiss Ranch Rd from where we met.

After hearing about people being possibly stranded, I immediately left to check it out. I drove about 4 miles before I got stuck in the snow.  This was just the first time that I got stuck that day. Yes, it happened twice. And while my volunteer marked patrol vehicle is a 2001 Ford F-150 4X4, whether it was in 4-wheel drive or not, I worked on getting un-stuck from that snowy soup for what seemed like forever before finally being able to get out and back on the road. After freeing the truck, I continued further up Swiss Ranch Rd to find the car with stranded people in it.

The snow was getting deeper as I went another mile or so. I still couldn't find a red Toyota. I also couldn't find anyone stranded or in the slightest trouble. It was about that time that I started asking myself how exactly was I going to get myself out of there since turning around looked impossible.

About 5 and a half miles in on Swiss Ranch Rd, just before the road becomes Summit Level Road, I saw a white Chevy Tahoe blocking the road. I got out of my patrol vehicle and walked uphill to find out if someone was in trouble and needed a hand. There were 3 young men there. I knew one of the men since he lives near me. He and the two others came in from the Summit Level Road end of Swiss Ranch Road and were there to help get two cars out. I asked about the car that I was looking for. They said that neither car was the one that I was looking for. They also said they didn't see a red Toyota or anyone stranded along Summit Level Rd. Once I realized that they were okay, and the supposed stranded red Toyota was just another wild goose chase, I walked back downhill to my patrol vehicle.

As I said, I had already gotten stuck once. Well, after I tried going forward a bit to straighten my vehicle out -- I was stuck again. I had absolutely no traction even in 4 wheel-low. Things didn't look good this time, and I wasn't going anywhere. Frankly, I didn't want to call in on the radio that I may need a tow -- but I had no cell service either. So after trying to get my patrol vehicle out of the soup, I made the embarrassing call over the radio.

I called Dispatch to let them know that I was "10-6 (busy) in possible need of an 11-85 (tow request)." Dispatch acknowledged my call and checked back every few minutes to find out my status. For me, I was hoping to try everything humanly possible to stave off the embarrassment of being known as the Sheriff Volunteer who got stuck and needed a tow. 

Good Samaritans to the rescue. Yes, about that time, my friend and his two buddies walked down the hill to ask if I needed help. With their great help, in almost no time, I was back on the road. And yes, just in case you're curious, believe it or not, in the process, the four of us turned the truck 180 degrees so that I was able to leave in the same direction that I came in.

About that time, Dispatch again checked on me to find out my status. I let Dispatch know that I was 10-8 and going again. On my way out on Swiss Ranch Rd, I met with a Deputy who heard my radio calls about being stuck. As with all of the great Deputies who work for our Sheriff's Department, he is an outstanding officer who didn't hesitate to see if he could pull me out. Luckily, I didn't need his help.

A few days before Christmas, I volunteered for an assignment that was outdoors and in the rain. It was raining hard off and on, with the weather acting as though it couldn't make up its mind as to whether or not it wanted to take a break or come down in a steady deluge. And while out there, many of our Deputies stopped by to check on me. Yes, including our Department's Under Sheriff Jim Macedo. In fact, he asked if I wanted some coffee and had a cup brought out to me. A few minutes later, two Deputies brought me out a meal because they were concerned that I didn't have any sort of dinner. 

Friends, they didn't have to do that. But of course, they did. Such acts of kindness and concern for others speak volumes of who they are, what sort of character they are made of, how caring they really are. But more than that, it really showed me how appreciative they are of regular citizens like myself volunteering to help in even a small way -- like standing what was essentially guard duty.

For me, I love volunteering. Besides my belief that volunteering is good for one's soul, I believe volunteering is as American as Apple Pie and Old Glory. Just as in the tradition of the Old West, where friends came to the aid of friends, and townspeople chipped in to do things for their communities, Americans have an incredible history of volunteering. We care about our neighbors, our family, and our friends. But more so, we care about anyone in a jam that needs help.

As for my friend and his buddies who helped me get unstuck in my volunteer patrol vehicle -- they didn't do it for recognition. It's more than that. It's about caring. As for our Under Sheriff making sure that I had a cup of coffee and the Deputies who brought me something to eat, and the Deputy who showed up to pull me out of the snow, they do what they do because they care. It's about caring. 

Frankly, I've never met a more professional and personable group of men and women than those who make up the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office. Because we have a Sheriff's Office that cares and proves it every day, we, the residents of Calaveras County, are incredibly fortunate to have a great Sheriff in Rick DiBasilio, an outstanding Under Sheriff in Jim Macedo, absolutely top-notch Deputies, an excellent Dispatch, an incredibly professional Jail Staff, and exceptional support personnel. All are dedicated to a commitment to service that other departments can only aspire to obtain.

Please understand that I have been a resident of Calaveras County for over 20 years, and I've always seen our Sheriff's Office as a top-notch agency. So no, my assessment of the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office is not merely some sort of recent revelation on my part simply because I've gotten to know more of the Deputies -- or because I've now worked with more of them. No, from everything that I can see, this is a legacy that this department has had for a long time. It's a legacy they can and should be proud of. 

Honestly, they should. That's true, especially since our Sheriff's Office is an outstanding representation of the vast number of great Officers who do the job to serve and protect for all the right reasons. And really, as a citizen who reaps the rewards of their hard work and dedication to excellence, how can I ever really say, "Thanks" -- especially when "Thank You" doesn't seem to cover how grateful I am to them.

In a world where thanklessness seems to be rampant, I can only hope they know that some of us really appreciate what they do for us. And yes, that's probably the biggest reason I don't mind volunteering for such a great department. I appreciate them.

Tom Correa