Old West Shootout

Anyone who has made a serious study of Western history knows that the middle of the street, showdown gunfight is mostly a creation of pulp magazine writers and Hollywood filmmakers. There remain a few sketchy details of gun fights that might have been. Of all the stories, the most well-known gun fight may be the Wild Bill Hickok, Davis Tutt dual in July of 1865. Reportedly the combatants were 75 yards from each other and carefully drew, aimed and fired, one time, at the same moment. Hickok reportedly rested his gun across his left forearm to steady it before firing. Tutt’s shot missed while Hickok’s struck Tutt in the ribs. Tutt died a few minutes later and Hickok was arrested and later acquitted. Hickok’s killing of Tutt in Springfield, Missouri would make Hickok a Wild West legend, but this fight was far from typical.
Most old west gunfights - and there were not very many, involved several men, or were more killings than any kind of fair fight. One such fight took place in the rough and tumble Wyoming mining and ranching town of Hartville in 1883. A cowhand named Ed Taylor called Bad Man Taylor by most was shot and killed in a favorite main street saloon. The shot, fired with a rifle through a window, did not give Taylor a chance to draw and fire, dime novel style. Onlookers believe Bad Man Taylor became a target after ambushing another cowboy a month earlier shooting him in the leg.
Today Hartville still has a number of false front buildings
Note: The one fact that most stands out, for me, is that the Hickok-Tutt fight took place a distance of 75 yards. I have a tough time hitting anything from 75 feet, let alone 75 yards. My thought is that they stood far enough from each other that each felt reasonably safe, but could keep their reputations intact by shooting at each other.  Not sure if Hickok was that good of shot or just lucky or unlucky in this case.
Not sure how long since somebody called this place, near Hartville, home

The Great Wyoming Christmas Miracle – The Ride of John (Portugee) Phillips

The Great Wyoming Christmas Miracle – The Ride of John (Portugee) Phillips

On the morning of December 21, 1866, a wood train out of Fort Phil Kearny was attacked by a band of Sioux. Young Lieutenant Colonel William J. Fetterman rushed to the rescue. Fetterman, who had reportedly boasted that he could ride through the entire Sioux nation with 80 men, was sadly mistaken. Fetterman and his entire command were wiped out.
John (Portugee) Phillips

Fort Phil Kearny was now undermanned, running out of ammunition, and in a position that the fort could be lost with any type of attack. They needed help, but the nearest fort to get help would be Fort Laramie, over 200 miles away. John (Portugee) Phillips volunteered to ride for help, and the rest is legend. 

Phillips was given one of fort commander Carrington’s prize thoroughbreds to make the ride. It was more than 20 below zero when he started the famous, Paul Revere of the west, ride. Starting through hostile territory on the night of the 22nd he reached Fort Laramie on Christmas night. Phillips stopped at Horse Shoe Station long enough to resupply, warm up, and send a telegram, to Fort Laramie then went on. When he stumbled into a Christmas night party at Bedlam, the prized horse dropped dead and Phillips was nearly frozen. So goes the story.
Fort Laramie in the distance
As the years pass the story has proved to be a bit less than true. Phillips did make the ride, but not alone. Instead, he was accompanied by one, and sometimes two, men and no records show that Colonel Carrington’s horse, Dandy, dropped dead on arrival at Fort Laramie. Phillips was paid $300 for the ride and given a fine horse.
Bedlam - the back door
Today there is a monument to Phillips just east of Fort Phil Kearny.

Indian Wars In The West

In 1825 President James Monroe, after looking at reports from his top advisors, created, what was called, the Indian Frontier between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It was believed at the time that this area was unfit for anything other than the native tribes and the wandering herds of bison.

The frontier designation came shortly after the government got out of the trade business with Americas western frontier. For decades the United States Government had licensed traders in the west, allowing them to build trading posts/forts, referred to by the government as factories. When the government gave up the selling of trade licenses for specific monopolies of trade territories, it cost the government some money, but they were no longer considered a significant economic boon to the country.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, formed in March of 1824, by Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, as part of his department and without asking for, or getting authorization from Congress. Calhoun recognizing that trappers and traders were going to operate in the West without the benefit of traders licensed by the government, but still wanted some type of organization in the western wilderness. He appointed, also with anyone’s approval, Thomas L. McKenney as the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs. McKenney called himself, the head of the Indian Office. He was removed by President Jackson in 1830 because of his belief that the Indian was morally and intellectual the equal of white’s.
President Jackson

In 1834, the Indian Intercourse Act was passed, forbidding whites from going into Indian lands without permission from the commissioner of Indian affairs. That date is important because there were already hundreds if not thousands of company trappers, free trappers, traders, hunters, and wanders, already in the forbidden, to whites, Indian lands.
From this came the new Army of the West. It took a few years but by 1849, the Bureau realized the need for a presence in Wyoming, purchased Fort John, and changed it to a military post, renaming it Fort Laramie.
Fort Laramie's Old Bedlam
From that point, troubles persisted. People moved west without permission, young military commanders wanted to fight Indians not make peace and the tribes grew more and more aggressive as the bison on the plains were shot up.

During his brief, 16 months, Presidency, Zachary Taylor, moved Indian Affairs to the U. S. Department of the Interior, believing it was a better fit for the unsettled lands.

Some have argued that the BIA created as many problems as it solved. Five years late, 1854, the Grattan Massacre just east of Fort Laramie began histories Plains Indian Wars period.

Winter With the Tribes and Mountain Men

Wonderful snowy day across much of Wyoming. The wind and temperatures in the 20s kept our walk today to only a mile.
North Platte River a 1/4 mile south of our place
Weather like this always makes me wonder about the early tribes and the first mountain men, trappers and how they survived the cold. The coldest temperature in Wyoming history was -66, that makes me and today feel a little better.

Tribes and mountain men lived through winter in much the same fashion. It was not a terrible time, instead, it was a relaxing enjoyable time for most. Tribes moved to low valleys, set up against south facing walls and lined the floor and first few feet of their teepees with furs. A small fire in the middle could keep a buffalo robe wrapped person comfortable in days that reached 30 or 40 below zero. Days were spent telling stories and laughing, an enjoyable, time.

As for the mountain men, they often spent winters with the tribes, others built cabins and many wintered, swapping yarns around the stove at Fort Laramie, Taos or Saint Louis.
4th of July at Fort Laramie
We did take a drive out to the lake hoping to see the eagles that are in the park this time of year.
From the main boat ramp in Guernsey State Park this afternoon
Over the years, I have seen quite a few bald eagles but this year is the first that I have seen goldens. There is a nice pair in Guernsey State Park this winter, and they are spectacular.
Golden Eagle in the park

Wyoming the Railroad and What If

The transcontinental railroad was a brainchild of Eastern businessmen and politicians in the 1830s. It took a while, about two decades before any real planning took place and another decade before work was started. It took President Lincoln to finally push through legislation to build it. The Central Pacific started building in 1863 and the Union Pacific in 1865. Promontory Summit was reached and the railroads joined in 1869.

Wyoming was a big part and a big challenge for the railroad. The original route was to follow the Oregon Trail, but the Pony Express proved there was a better route through southern Wyoming to South Pass, the only feasible way to cross the mountains. This route saved a couple of hundred miles and was no harder to build.  Although original plans called for a route that was nearly the same as the finished railroad, there was a controversy about the route. Texas wanted a southern route, using better weather as their public reason. Privately they wanted the railroad for the huge economic benefit they knew it would bring. When the Civil War started, Texas was out and the tracks through Wyoming were not far away.
Trains are a bit faster today
Not everyone was happy with this, Denver had lobbied for the railroad, but no route including Denver was ever considered. But the early people of Denver, knowing that they could connect to the railroad and reap most of the benefits of its northern neighbors. Thus was born the Denver Pacific, a bit over 100 miles of track connecting Denver to Cheyenne completed one year after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

It was another 20 years before Wyoming became a state in 1890.  Most of the early population lived along the railroad, it brought jobs and with jobs came the people. It is always interesting to speculate as to what could have happened, what if.  How long would it have taken for Wyoming to become a state without the railroad? As the least populated state today, would it be even smaller if it would have taken another 20 or 30 years to have adequate rail service? Would the cattle drive era been a time when cowboys drove cattle south from Wyoming to the railroad in Texas?

I may have had too much time to think about offbeat subjects today. Hey, what if . . . . . .

Wyoming Timeline and Mark Twain Too

Archeological evidence suggests that humans were living in Wyoming for thousands of years before it became famous for trappers and traders. The first trappers had pioneered, by the 1830s, what would become the Oregon Trail.
Deep Ruts of the Oregon Trail 
Meanwhile back east wheat crops failed in1836, and in 1837 panic spread as banks failed and depression stretched across America and Europe. It was hard times, a time when people started to question their lives and what they were doing with them. Time to move west. Horace Greeley would not utter his famous, “Go West Young Man, go West and grow up with the country,” for another two and a half decades, but Americas were moving and they were moving west.

The great fort at the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie rivers, destined to become the most famous stopping off point on the Oregon Trail, Fort William (1834) and then Fort John (1841), and finally Fort Laramie, (1847), was a welcome relief for westward travelers. The fort was well supplied and attempted to cater to the needs of all types of travelers.
Laramie River on the grounds of Fort Laramie
From 1841 until the end of the civil war as many as a half million men, women and children traveled the trail west. Some wanted to farm, others a new life, and a few, gold and riches, but they all came through, only a handful stayed. Wyoming was much like a modern-day Interstate highway, people quickly traveled through, in a hurry to get somewhere else.

 Even Mark Twain seemed in a hurry to get through and didn’t seem overly impressed with the Wyoming scenery. “We passed Fort Laramie in the night, and on the seventh morning out we found ourselves in the Black Hills, with Laramie Peak at our elbow (apparently) looming vast and solitary -- a deep, dark, rich indigo blue in hue, so portentously did the old colossus frown under his beetling brows of storm-cloud. He was thirty or forty miles away, in reality, but he only seemed removed a little beyond the low ridge at our right.” This quote is from Twain’s trip through the state and recounted in his novel, Roughing It, (page 55), published in 1871.

Two things have always struck me about the Twain quote. First why would a stage pass on through the most famous stopover in the west, and at night? Second, how did it take a week to write about Laramie Peak being at his elbow? This area, with the peak at his immediate left elbow, would be on the trail between present day Guernsey and Glendo. The trip from Fort Laramie, through Guernsey to Glendo is a bit less than 45 miles. If Twain and his stage coach had only traveled that far in six days, they were creeping at a snail’s pace. Wagon trains traveled twice that speed or better. Maybe his notes or his memory was a bit off on this point, or it is possible he was having one of those, “are we there yet,” times.
Laramie Peak from the trail near Guernsey
  When Wyoming became a recognized territory in 1868, a few came. Later the railroad (1869), brought people and business to the southern part of the state.  Spreading across the state were would-be homesteaders and ranchers who brought in cattle and helped build settlements in the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Enough settled for the territory to become a state by 1890.

Interesting that many history sources mention the first travelers on the trail were going to Oregon and California and later travelers headed to Utah, Colorado, and Montana, not many mention Wyoming.

Not today!

Today Wyoming is no longer a pass through state. It has become a destination for tourists and for business, still small in population, the West lives on in this rugged state.
Mark Twain's view hasn't changed much
Now that’s funny – my grammar and spell checker highlighted three errors in the Mark Twain quote, not sure Mr. Twain would like that. He didn’t like editors messing with his stuff, liked the way it looked after he wrote put it down on paper.

The Curious Case of Lieutenant Hugh Fleming

The Grattan Massacre, Aug 19, 1854, is often listed as the event that started the Indian wars on the plains. Anyone who is interested in Wyoming history knows the story of the killing of the cow from a Mormon wagon train and Grattan leading his troops to their death in the ensuing battle. But very few know the story of the commanding office at Fort Laramie, who either ordered him or allowed him to take the troopers on the ill-fated journey.

Brevet Second Lieutenant Hugh B Fleming was the commander at Fort Laramie at the time. The fact that a Brevet Second Lieutenant was in charge is a bit of a mystery itself. Fleming was promoted from cadet, upon his graduation from West Point, to the rank and sent to Fort Laramie. One year later he was in command. I am not sure how officers were chosen for command, but it is likely that Fleming was neither ready nor capable of this command, only a year removed from Cadet status at West Point.

Fleming was in charge but undoubtedly was not meant to be the permanent commander. In 1854 alone, four different men commanded the Fort. Fleming followed, Lt. Richard Brooke Garnett and proceeded Major Andrew W. Evans who was followed by Major William Hoffman who stayed through 1857. It is possible that Fleming was ushered out as soon after the August Grattan massacre as the Army could make the move.

It was not this brief time as the commander alone that left his stamp forever on the Indian wars of the west. In June of 1853, Fleming was sent by Fort Commander Lieutenant Richard B. Garnett to a Miniconjou Sioux encampment that had fired upon Sergeant Raymond and captured an army supply boat near the fort. Although no one was injured and the boat was soon recovered, Fleming was sent with orders to demand the Indians turn over, to the army, the person who had fired at them. Fleming took along 23 men and an interpreter. His orders in addition to bringing back the shooter allowed for Fleming to capture and bring back two or three prisoners if the Miniconjou would not turn over the one who fired on them.  

The tribe refused to turn over the wanted man and Fleming marched his men into the center of the village to take prisoners. A battle started and three warriors were killed and three more wounded. Fleming grabbed two more as prisoners and returned to Fort Laramie. A few days later a group of Miniconjou came to the Fort, asking to parley. Whatever happened here, the tribe was not satisfied.  It took a bit over a year before Grattan and his men were killed, but Lt. Fleming and his two very bad decisions may have directly led to the Indian or Sioux wars in the west.

Fleming went on to a long but rather ordinary career in the military, serving as a recruiter and not seeing action in the Civil War, he retired as a Major.

Note* I am pretty deep into research on a new book about Fort Laramie and have found dozens of stories, like this one, that seem to give a different and deeper view of history. When researching I try to be very painstaking in getting it right. In ten minutes of looking at online sites on the Grattan Massacre I found it happened on August 17 or August 19 in either 1853 or 1854. As I told my students for 42 years, check and verify before putting it on paper. By the way -  It happened on August 19, 1854.
Couldn't resist - here I am at Fort Laramie on the Fourth of July - thanks for reading

Buffalo Bill the Actor

Buffalo Bill was an actor long before he came up with the idea of his Wild West show. 

 From 1872 until 1886 Cody led a troupe of traveling actors, a "Combination," through much of America presenting frontier melodramas. It was during this period that he honed, what would become, his Wild West Show. Bill Cody’s acting debut was in dime novel writer Ned Buntline’s, The Scouts of the Prairie.

In his 14 years with the traveling troupes, he tired of the same dull presentations of the west and wanted to offer a more real show of the west. It was during this time that he added shooting marksmanship exhibitions, and Indian dancers, and started to use animals onstage.

Cody started his, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, in 1883 and three years later acted only in his show. Interesting that it was not Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but only Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Cody’s portrayal of the Wild West toured widely in the United States and was so popular that eight different years the group visited Europe, putting on shows for commoners and crowned heads alike. Cody's show lasted for three decades, an excellent run by anyone's standards. 

Cody had two homes, one in North Platte, Nebraska and another in Cody, Wyoming. To most historians, this was the setting for his version of the west, central Nebraska through all of Wyoming.

How famous was he because of his show? Writer/western historian, Larry McMurtry says he was the most recognizable person in the world during the last part of the 1800s – pretty famous!

Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.

Under Western Skies - What a Book

Not sure this will ever happen again, but here it is. My book just ahead of Louis L’Amour on Amazon.

If you like Christmas stories and you love the west, this is the one for you. 14 Christmas stories, give it a look right here.  Only $1.99 for the eBook or $9.99 for the 170-page book, and hey, that would make a great gift for western lovers. 

Butch - Sundance, and the Wild Bunch

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, two of the best know outlaws of the American West. Best known, but not that well known until the movie, the 1969 movie starring Paul Newman and Butch and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid.  This film made Butch and Sundance the well-known, lovable, outlaws that so many people know of today. Seemed like throughout the decade of the 70s everyone had seen the movie, and maybe they had. The film, still widely played on classic and western stations, was made on a budget of six million dollars and a recent estimate accounts for it taking in more than $150,000,000, not bad.

Before the movie, Butch and Sundance are left out or barely mentioned in Wyoming textbooks, after the movie they play a more prominent role, often with both text and photos.  Indeed T. A. Larson, who wrote the definitive, History of Wyoming, spent time on Cattle Kate, Tom Horn and the Johnson County War, does not mention the Wild Bunch or any of the members of the gang. 
Seated - Sundance left and Butch right 

One of the memorable and oft-quoted lines from the movie was spoken by Butch, “Who are those guys? That is a good question these two well-known and little-known bank and train robbers.

They were Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid).

Parker was raised a rancher and farmer in Utah and his first cross with the law involved stealing a pair of pants and a pie (not sure if it was a fruit or cream pie). He went on to fame robbing banks and trains and directing the famous wild bunch gang out of Robbers Roost and Hole in the Wall.

Longabaugh was from Pennsylvania and got his famous nickname after spending jail time in Sundance Wyoming.  He came west at the age of 15 and spent his time in the Sundance jail for pilfering a horse (a most serious crime) saddle and a gun. Longabaugh is often referred to as a gunfighter, but this is more than likely not true. He was good with a gun, but it was Kid Curry, also another member of the gang that was the real gunslinger. Possibly with both being referred to as Kid, they are interchanged in history.

Butch and Sundance and the rest of the Wild Bunch were the best known and most successful train robbers in American Old West history. Butch Cassidy is often given the credit for inventing train robberies, but this is not true. The Reno Gang was about 20 years ahead of the Wild Bunch hitting their first train in 1866. But it was Butch, Sundance, Kid Curry and the rest of the gang that perfected it and made it famous.

In my 40+ years teaching there was always a good deal of talk about textbooks, too liberal, too conservative, not factual enough, too many facts – boring.  Whether we like it or not good fiction and good movies can make or change history.

Under Western Skies - my new Christmas book

-Click anywhere on the post to take a look-

Not too many facts, but there sure is a lot of fiction in my new book. This one, another western, is a book of 14 short stories about Christmas. I have enjoyed magical Christmas stories and movies my entire life and spent three years, off and on, writing this one. 

All stories are set in the west, some in modern time, others in the old west.  Several of the stories have a Christian theme others are of Santa and his magic. 

I hope readers will enjoy these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.


Wyoming and the Military

Starting with Fort Laramie in 1849 Wyoming has a long history of positive involvement with the military.

On the grounds of Fort Laramie

In the Spanish-American War Wyoming was the first state to respond to America’s call for volunteers with a full quota of soldiers. In fact, the state sent more than times the number of men the government asked for. In World War One, Wyoming sent nearly seven percent of its population, more than 11,000 men.

Teddy Rosevelt with the men

Wyoming today, has the oldest continuously active United States Air Force Base. Francis E. Warren – F.E. Warren, in the United States. The base, established in 1867 as  an Army Base, Fort Russell, was changed in 1947 to today’s modern Air Base.
The base houses the 90th Missile Wing of the Twentieth Air Force Global Strike Command.

F. E. Warren

Wyoming is also home to Camp Guernsey, one of America’s Premier Joint Training Centers. Camp Guernsey, a facility of nearly 80,000 acres, hosts National Guard units from around the country each year. The camp, used year round, is an active training ground for both the U.S. Army and Air Force.

C-130 Jump at the North Range


Army Rangers on a Jump at Camp Guernsey

Thanks to all have served and God Bless!

Wyoming's First School

Being an old school teacher, I am always interested in reading about early day schools and especially the schools of Wyoming. Like many of Wyoming’s firsts, the first school was at Fort Laramie in 1852.
On the grounds of Fort Laramie, about 200 yards across the parade grounds west of the school.
The second Wyoming school, although Wyoming was still 30 years away from statehood, was opened in 1860 on the other side of Wyoming but still on the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger.
Old School Building at Fort Laramie
It’s pretty well known that early schools had little if anything made specifically,  for teaching children. Often students would share one reading book, a few pieces of chalk and some book sized slates.
Those items, along with a few hand-hewn benches and tables, were often the only start-up supplies for a new school. Pencils and paper, when available, were used sparingly, writing fully on both sides of the paper and using pencils down to the smallest of stubs was the norm. Pen and Ink were for older students but was as readily available as paper and pencils at Fort Laramie and Fort Bridger.

The subject matter of all early schools was the, well known, reading, writing and arithmetic. Teachers in early schools were most often volunteers, who may or may not have had the knowledge or ability to teach. Some early frontier teachers beat students who were not prepared, not attentive enough, or did not know their lesson of the day. Student assignments often contained long memorizations of famous speeches, writings or poetry.

In the case of Fort Laramie, soldiers that could read and write were assigned, to teach, and, for the most part, they hated it. Several sources report soldier/teachers who hated it so much they showed up drunk for school and ended up being fined and tossed in the brig. The fine was in the $10 range, a considerable sum for a soldier making $11 a month. That might be the reason that Army Officers sent their children back east to get their schooling.
I would have been the kid with the dunce hat behind the teacher

Fort Laramie - Protecting the West

In 1834, it was Fort William named after post founder, trapper/trader William Sublette.By 1841, the post was owned by the American Fur Company and renamed  Fort John. In 1849, with gold rushers heading west, it was purchased by the United States Army for $4,000. With so many folks heading west, the government was convinced it needed to start protecting the trails.
Barracks at Fort Laramie

In 1849, the first three companies of cavalry arrived at the fort, including Company G, 6th Infantry, which would become the permanent garrison at Fort Laramie. Many of the forts early enlistees, spoke broken or no English. Even in those days it was tough to find workers for $13 a month. The good news was reenlistment would add another two bucks a month. Not only were many of the new recruits recent immigrants, most had never ridden a horse. Fort Laramie had a large number of foot soldiers, so this was not much of a problem.
Across Parade Ground to Officer Quarters

Something I have always found of interest, the army had companies of men into the 1880s then they became troops. Same group, different name. I often run across these terms used incorrectly when I am reading in my favorite genre, historical fiction.

Here is the makeup of a troop/company.

1     Captain
1     First Lieutenant
1     Second Lieutenant
1     First Sergeant
5     Line Sergeants
4     Corporals
2     Trumpeters
2     Farriers (horseshoers and
           Horse doctors – army trained or self-trained veterinarians)
78    Privates (more or less, at Fort Laramie normally a few less)
Jail Cells - solitary at the Fort
In the new research I am doing for a future book on Fort Laramie, I have found several instances where the Fort Commander held a rank lower than Captain – must not have been a very popular place.
Remains of the old Fort Hospital on the hill

Although they were never close to having a full regiment of men, it was discussed when the Indian wars escalated along the Oregon, Mormon and Bozeman trails. That would have been quite a change as a regiment was made up of ten troops, meaning the number of soldiers at Fort Laramie would have gone from a normal 300 or so to 1,000.  Note – After the Civil War a  regiment was increased to 12 troops, not sure why.
There was always plenty of action around the fort

Laramie River near the fort