Sunday, September 24, 2023

Thomas Arthur Prickett -- Also Known As "Nickel Jim"

Tom Prickett
aka "Nickel Jim"
July 19, 1942 - September 6, 2023

Tom was born in Kenosha, WI on July 19, 1942. He grew up in Waukegan, IL with his father, a
chemist, mother, a homemaker, and 2 younger siblings, Jerry and Pam. As a boy, he enjoyed the outdoors and was a keen hunter, even running a trap line. At a young age, Tom showed a huge interest in machinery and engines. His interest in engines would follow him into the US Air Force in 1959 where he would work on America’s fighter planes. While in the Air Force stationed in Madrid, Spain, he met and married Frances White in 1962. She was the daughter of Senior Master Sergeant Stanley White who was also stationed in Madrid. Their marriage would last 60 years until his passing.

After receiving an honorable discharge, the young couple returned to the States where their daughter, Deanna was born in 1964. In 1967, Tom, Fran and Deanna moved West to California, and in 1969, the young family bought a new home in the small town of Livermore. Their son, Adam was born that same year.

A creative man, he could build or fix anything. He enjoyed building engines, working on hot rods and race cars, owning and running a specialty race & speed shop in Livermore, and operating one of the premier engine balancing companies in the Western United States, Balance Technology.

Tom enjoyed a game of pool and bowling, he fished, was into archery, and several shooting sports. He was an excellent marksman and participated in many competitions. He lent his shooting skills and organizational knowledge to the Livermore Pleasanton Rod and Gun Club, becoming a range master. 

Nickel Jim and his Son-In-Law Tom Correa

In 2007, he took the alias “Nickel Jim” when he joined the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and participated in 3 different clubs. As a natural shooter, Tom excelled at SASS matches while also enjoying the camaraderie of the sport.

A man of many talents, Tom served and loved his country, created a loving family, made many friends, and gave back to his community in countless ways, including dressing as one of Santa’s helpers every Christmas just for the enjoyment of children. 

He leaves his loving wife of 60 years, Fran, beloved children and their spouses, Deanna & Tom and Adam & Amanda, adored grandchildren Gabriel, Lucas, and Ginger, friends, colleagues, and his trusty dog Axel.

Services will be held Friday, October 20 at 1:00 p.m. with military honors at the San Joaquin National Cemetery located in Santa Nella, California, off Interstate 5 South. 

Tom was a generous man with a quirky sense of humor and cared deeply for animals. He loved his family and friends and will be greatly missed and forever in our hearts. Thank you, Tom, for sharing your life with us. 

We will miss you.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

At Wyoming’s Historic Occidental Hotel, The Ghost Gets Into Bed With You

The lobby at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming, is eclectic, elegant, 
and 100% Old West Wyoming. (Occidental Hotel)
Story by Renée Jean
Cowboy State Daily 
September 16, 2023

Those who work at the historic Occidental Hotel in Buffalo have heard guests tell a lot of spooky stories about their stay, and not just its famous ghost child Emily. There's one ghost who gets into the bed while you're sleeping.

Many have told and retold the tale of Emily, a small child who died of cholera in the early 1900s at Buffalo, Wyoming’s Occidental Hotel, who is said to haunt its halls to this day.

But the employees who work in the Occidental Hotel can tell about a lot more ghostly encounters than just Emily.

“Sometimes I think things move there,” Joel Mera told Cowboy State Daily. Mera, who is from Italy, has been working at the Occidental this summer and plans to return home soon.

“I have my earplugs in listening to music while I’m cleaning,” he said. “And then it’s like something is moving or the chairs have strange shadows with the tail of the eye while I’m cleaning. And sometimes I think it’s the clerk coming to check on me, because she does that sometimes, but when I look, no one is there.”

Mera said when that happens, he just pretends he saw nothing at all.

“I go right back to cleaning and thank God I work with my headphones,” he said. “This way, I don’t hear anything else other than music.”

Guests in the Teddy Roosevelt Suite at the Occidental Hotel recently told the front desk clerk they felt someone sliding into the bed between them. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Whiskey bottles have popped off the shelf and wine bottles have blown their corks in the saloon of the Occidental, hotel employees say. Wine glasses sometimes also break for no apparent reason. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Penny Ramirez has heard a piano key play on this piano in the Occidental Hotel's lobby despite no one sitting at the piano. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Unexplained Phenomena

Penny Ramirez is a waitress at the incredibly busy Busy Bee Cafe, which is right next to the hotel, and is part of the string of businesses in the block that make up Occidental Row. She has at times stepped through what felt like cobwebs at the hotel, except that there are no actual cobwebs there.

“Usually, it’s on a Friday,” she said. “I think it’s all the energy from that jam session, because it’s almost always on Fridays.”

The Thursday night jam sessions brings musicians from all over for a bluegrass session that lasts until 9:30 p.m. The sounds from the jam session can be clearly heard all over the Occidental Hotel.

One time after a jam session, Ramirez came into the hotel lobby and she could hear a key go “ding” on the piano that’s sitting in front of the hotel desk.

At first she thought she was mistaken. Probably someone’s cell phone. Until it happened again.

When she asked a co-worker whether there was any kind of digital alarm or something like that which might go ding, she was told there was nothing like that in the lobby.

Later, she had a nightmare about being upstairs in the hotel, where she was running frantically and scared to death.

But that wasn’t the creepiest thing to happen, Ramirez said.

“So, there’s one of these, they call it a spirit box that you can download on your phone,” she said. “One of the girls had it on her phone and we were asking questions like “Hey, who are you,” etc. I thought I heard it say in there, “Richard.” Then it made this popping noise, really loud on both the phone and the radio.”

That was enough of that. The girls turned the app off and stopped asking who’s there.

But that hasn’t stopped ghostly occurrences, Ramirez said. Since then she’s heard someone call her name in the saloon, even though no one was in the saloon at the time.

A stuffed orange cat and other animals left for the ghost of Emily in a room near the one where the girl died of cholera in the early 1900s. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

More stuffed animals left to comfort Emily. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

A New Ghost

Vanessa Vann, who works in the bar, has seen bottles of whiskey and wine just pop off the shelves, or pop their corks.

“That’s the weirdest thing,” she said. “That just happened the other day.”

She’s also seen glasses just break for no reason.

“I’ve seen a wine glass where someone just set up to pour some wine and it breaks,” she said. “Just like that.”

Nancy Lehnert, meanwhile, who is a desk clerk, was told a new ghost story recently, one she’s never heard before while at the hotel.

“This husband and wife were in the Herbert Hoover room,” she said. “And they ended up, like, smelling a lady’s perfume, but she doesn’t wear perfume.”

Later that night, they each felt someone slide into the bed between them, while they were facing each other in the bed.

“When they checked out, they told me that story,” she said.

Lehnert hears the most ghost stories about the Prairie Cowboy room.

“I heard someone telling how his wife was sleeping but he woke up for no reason and he heard something and then he thought he saw like a whoosh, or something like a spirit going by,” she said. “He didn’t want to wake up his wife because he’d end up at his in-laws, so he just stayed quiet in the bedroom.”

Children of guests at the Occidental sometimes write letters for the ghost of Emily, a child reported to have died of cholera there in the early 1900s. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

More notes to Emily. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily) 

Children Write Ghost Emily Notes

There have been touches in the bar, and sometimes even pinches. Others have heard a ball bouncing in the upstairs hallway, or a girl laughing, but there’s no one there.

The latter was probably Emily, Ramirez suggested.

A stuffed orange tabby is kept near the room where Emily died. This is thought to help keep that particular spirit happy. The girl is said to have had an orange tabby cat while she was still alive.

Children have left notes to Emily in that same room. Many of those notes appear to be talking directly to Emily about how much fun it was playing with her. Ramirez finds those notes a little disquieting.

Ramirez remembered two Asian girls who came to work at the hotel one summer. They each separately recounted a story about seeing a girl hiding behind a door and trying to play hide and seek with them.

“They told their stories separately, not knowing about the other one’s story,” Ramirez said. “They did not want to clean that room any more after that.”

Then there was the incident in room 56 where an old-time, heavy iron was sitting in a particular corner of the room. A hotel guest laying in bed heard the iron move across the floor.

“The first time, he put it back,” Lehnert said. “But then he heard it move again, so he just told the spirit, “Really, it’s OK there if you’re fine with it there. Good night.’”

Lehnert isn’t afraid of the hotel’s ghosts.

“These are protective spirits,” she said, recounting a story about how one guy left in the middle of the night because Emily kept bouncing on his bed.

The folks at the Occidental later learned the man was a wanted felon.

Renée Jean can be reached at

The article above is reprinted here exactly as it appeared in the Cowboy State Daily.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Pleasant Valley War

By Terry McGahey
Associate Writer/ Historian 

When it comes to range wars in the Old West, almost everyone has heard about the Johnson County War which took place in the Powder River Country of Wyoming. That war was primarily over the cattle barons' wishes to run out the small ranches and settlers from the area by calling them cattle thieves in order to have the land as their own grazing grounds.

Two of the first hung by them was a lady by the name of Ella Watson better known as Cattle Kate and her husband Jim Averell who was a businessman and didn’t even own any cattle. Later it was proven that Cattle Kate was innocent as well as her husband.

During the Johnson County War an unknown number of 15 to 38 people were killed and not until President Benjamin Harrison ordered the U.S. Cavalry to intervene did this war come to an end.

Of all the range wars the Pleasant Valley War from 1882-1892 in Gila County Arizona had the most casualties of them all. Pleasant Valley near Young Arizona is located approximately 57 miles East of Payson and 67 Miles North of Globe, Arizona. Some of the bloody conflict reached into Globe and Holbrook, Arizona, as well. 

The estimation of numbers killed during this conflict which turned into an out-and-out family feud ran between 35 and 50 men almost wiping out the male population of both families involved.

This range war was the longest lasting and most bloody range war in American history. The two families involved were the Graham’s and the Tewksbury’s. The Graham’s were ranchers and the Tewksbury’s, who were part Native American began cattle ranching but in time began raising sheep also.

The families of Tewksbury’s and Graham’s were actually friends in the beginning but with the arrival of a big rancher by the name of Stinson things began to roll downhill. Stinson’s herd began to occupy the grazing lands of the two families and he began accusing both families of rustling. 

Warrants were served and while the Graham’s were at the Tewksbury’s house two cowboys from Stinson’s outfit came to arrest them. Not allowing themselves to be arrested one of Stinson’s men fired a shot which went over Ed Tewksbury’s head, Ed then drew and fired at the same time the Stinson man fired his second shot hitting Stinson’s man in the shoulder. The second Stinson man was also wounded and they both retreated.

Later in 1884, the Graham’s and Tewksbury’s friendship fell apart when Stinson offered the Graham’s a deal paying them fifty head of cows and would see to it that they would spend no jail time if they would turn states evidence against the Tewksbury’s. The Graham’s took the deal and began working for Stinson. When the Tewksbury’s went to court in Prescott Arizona the judge dismissed the case when he realized the deal made between Stinson and the Graham’s.

In 1887 the Graham’s rode to the Tewksbury’s cabin killing John Tewksbury and William Jacobs while they were gathering their horses. They continued shooting at the cabin with return fire coming from inside and while this battle was taking place the hogs began devouring the two dead men. The law began to show up and the Graham’s fled.

Andy Blevins, one of the Graham faction, was in a store in Holbrook bragging that he had killed John Tewksbury Jr. and William Jacobs. Sherriff Commodore Perry Owens got wind of this and went to the Blevins home in Holbrook to arrest Andy Blevins. When he arrived Andy’s half-brother stepped out and took a shot at Owens and Owens returned fire wounding the half-brother and ended up killing Andy.

In the next few years, many others from both sides were killed by shootings and lynchings by men wearing masks. Tom Horn was also involved with this war but it’s not clear which side he rode for. 

The last man killed during this war took place in 1892. Ed Tewksbury ended up being the last man standing of all who were involved when the range war/ feud came to an end. Ed died in Globe, Arizona. In April of 1904. Many of the men who died during this war are buried in the cemetery in Young, Arizona.

The Pleasant Valley War, in my opinion, was more so a family feud because sheep were not involved in the equation until 1885 but the troubles began around 1883-84. Yes, sheep became part of the problem but this feud began before that. Because of this range war/feud which was going on, along with the Apache problems at the time, the Union would not allow Arizona to become a State until 1912.

I could write much more about the Pleasant Valley War but it would take a small book to do so, just too much to write in a small article.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Come Out & Enjoy A Party This September 9th

Fast guns, great Western Music, outstanding Bar-B-Q, and celebrating what's great about America are what's being served on September 9th at the Back Forty Saloon in Pleasant Hill, California, from 4pm to 7pm. 

Join us in celebrating our rich Western Heritage for our 173rd Anniversary of California's Admission to the United States. Join us as experts demonstrate the Western art of the "Quick Draw."

Gunslinger Joey Dillon Hollywood Gun Coach - YouTube

Come out to listen to genuine live Western Music featuring ... The Diablo Rhythm Wranglers 

Western Music, Outstanding Bar-B-Q, and a Fast Draw Expert make for a Great Party!

Tickets are available at $125 per couple and $75 for individuals. Children 12 and under are FREE.

For tickets, please call (925) 932-6109

or send a check to:
P.O. Box 6114 La Salle Avenue, Suite 603
Oakland, California 94611.

We're The John Coffee Hays Club. And really, I hope you'll come on out to Back Forty Saloon in Pleasant Hill, California. It will be a great time!

California became America's 31st State on September 9, 1850. 

In February of 1848, Mexico and the United States signed a treaty ending the Mexican War. As part of the treaty, Mexico turned over a vast portion of the West to the United States. The land turned over to the United States also included all of present-day California,

Of course, as history tells us, about a month earlier on January 24, 1848, gold had been discovered on the American River near Sacramento. Many things took place with the discovery of gold. But the one thing that took place, more important than anything else at the time, was how the discovery of gold and the rush to California that followed made Washington D.C. get off its backside and into gear -- all to welcome California into the Union.

Because California saw people from all over the world travel here seeking wealth and the benefits that bring in the way of increasing the quality of one's life, the California Gold Rush saw a population boom in ways that have never been seen in North America. That population boom placed emphasis on the need for food, water, the law, and civil government.

As for food and water, many a rancher made more from selling beef cattle than did miners. As for water, clean water was a priority, and pure water was sought. Yes, as was the tradition, many great beers were created as a result of purifying water in California.

As for the law, Miner's Laws and Courts, just as with Citizens Committees and other types of Vigilante Groups, were the first forms of law enforcement that was established. As for a civil government, when Californians sought statehood, the U.S. Congress voted to admit California into the Union as a free state. Officially, California's admission as a state was September 9, 1850.

So now, since I'm a member of the John Coffee Hays Club, I'm hoping that you will want to enjoy the day with our group. And since we're raising money for charity and celebrating the qualities that have made America great, you can't have a better time anywhere.

I hope to see you there!

Tom Correa

Friday, September 1, 2023

Hobby Ranches

By Terry McGahey
Associate Writer/ Historian 

When thinking of cattle ranches, it seems today that most people think of movies or television shows such as Yellowstone and others. But there are many smaller ranches owned by generations of families which are much smaller. 

Many of these smaller family ranches can range anywhere from ten thousand acres to twenty thousand acres with their leases of BLM, state or federal land.

These smaller family ranches are still working cattle ranches and deserve their respect just as much as the big outfits. They may be smaller but these folks work just as hard and even harder because they can’t afford the equipment the larger outfits can, In fact these smaller outfits are ran by just as good of cowboy’s as the big corporate outfits.

Now, changing gears some I will now touch on what I call hobby ranches. These outfits are the ones owned by very wealthy individuals who always wanted to be a cowboy while growing up as a kid but never pursued that lifestyle. Many of these folks now have the kind of money it takes to buy a ranch. Some because they want to play cowboy and some for the write offs a ranch can afford them. I worked for one of those outfits many years ago. Don’t get me wrong, we still cowboy, but it’s not the same.

The best example I can give is when it’s time for roundup. Gathering the cattle, separating mamas from baby’s, branding, castrating, vaccinating and so on. The roundup on these type of outfits are really no different that any other ranch except for one major situation. The wealthy owners of these outfits all have other wealthy individuals that they are friends with and these people love to play cowboy at roundup time but all they achieve to do is to get in the way.

The day before roundup all of the owners buddies showed up with the horse trailers with living quarters that cost more then most peoples pickup truck and with pickup trucks that most folks couldn’t afford. Their horses all came from high dollar blood lines and mostly all chromed out. By chromed out I mean beautiful horses. These horses were gorgous but they were not good working horses.

The next morning we were going to gather a small pasture with only about eighty head in it and these rich guys were all riding side by side as we headed out rather than split up a bit to search out the cattle hiding in the brush which they are very good at. There was a fairly large hill in this pasture so I just rode up on top of that hill and could see that the cows were in the bottom so I let those guys ride on in the opposite direction without saying a word. When those fellows got out of sight I rode down and started pushing the small herd up towards the working pens.

All was going well and I was only about a hundred yards from the pens when I heard those fellows hooping and hollering lake a scene from a western movie, I turned to see all four of these idiots chasing one steer at a gallop and they ran that steer right into the cattle I had brought up and blew out the whole herd. I couldn’t believe what these idiots had done. Now it was my choice, do I go gather them again or do I say the hell with it. I said the hell with it.

I rode my horse up to the ranch house, pulled my wood off and put the horse in the pen. The ranch manager, who was a real cowboy asked, what you doin’ I told him what happened and also told him I would come back when those idiots were gone. 

Being a cowhand he understood and told me they would be leaving the next day so we would finish the job afterword’s. These hobby ranches, as I call them, are nothing more than a rich man’s playground and I never worked for one of those again.