Deborah Ann “Dusty” Murtaugh was born in California in approximately 1859. She ran away from home at 15 disguised as a boy and found a job tending to horses for the Wells Fargo stagecoach company for a few years. This was when she first started using the name Dusty.
During a period when the notorious David Letterman Gang was preying regularly on Wells Fargo stagecoaches plying the California to New Mexico Territory routes so many Wells Fargo drivers and shotgun riders were turning up dead that scrappy young Dusty volunteered to set off alone as both driver and her own shotgun rider guaranteeing to get her cargo through. Dusty was as good as her word and not only got her cargo all the way to Santa Fe but personally shot David Letterman to death when he and his gang attempted to hold her up. The gun-savvy Murtaugh also shot and killed Letterman’s right-hand man the Canadian Kid, Paul Schaefer, as well as gang members Anton Figg and Sid McGinnis. Will Lee was the only gang member Dusty brought into Santa Fe alive and rumors that she had spared Lee because she was sweet on him (and that the two had been canoodling on the long road to Santa Fe) would dog Murtaugh throughout her Wells Fargo career.
After this sensational escapade Dusty Murtaugh excited the imagination of the nation and Wells Fargo would point with pride to its only female field employee. Despite popular impression, Murtaugh most often served as shotgun rider on the job rather than driver since she was such a deadly shot with her shotgun as well as with her pistol when the need arose. In any event Dusty’s legend would spread rapidly.
Her next foe was the Clock Bandit, so-called because she hated progress and creative thinking and was always trying to set the clock back to a time when she felt on top of things. The Clock Bandit was a grizzled and embittered old woman, and in her hatred of the type of progress represented by Wells Fargo, was acting as a sniper and shooting down Wells Fargo drivers from long-distance hideouts in the wilderness areas. Dusty set out to end the madwoman’s reign of terror and her incessant efforts to obstruct progress and innovation. Dusty tracked the woman like you would a rabid beast, a task made simpler by the way the lunatic would frequently scream to the winds about how everyone should listen to her and keep doing things the way they were done in the past. Dusty and the Clock Bandit came face to face and Dusty blew the madwoman away, bringing joy to everyone the vile wretch had treated so badly and making the path once again clear for progress and new ways of doing things.
One of her most famous exploits came against the infamous stagecoach bandit Roberto Clemente, the Puerto Rican Pirate himself, scourge of the Wells Fargo Company who eventually fled the country rather than continue in conflict with the woman he loved. This tempestuous romance blossomed through a cat-and-mouse game the two played for over a year with Clemente trying to plunder Dusty’s Wells Fargo runs and Dusty doing her best to outshoot and outride her paramour and his gang. On one occassion the Puerto Rican Pirate actually made off with the goods but Dusty tracked him down and recovered all the loot, but claimed to her employers that Clemente “got away.” Whatever bargain was struck between the lovebirds for his getaway Clemente soon left the United States to begin his career as a bandido in Mexico.
Dusty was by now such a notorious figure that she even inspired a few dime novels which embellished her real-life exploits beyond recognition. It was during this period that she became involved with fellow Wells Fargo rider and wagon train scout Emmet Johnson, later legendary following his exploits with his younger brother Jake in the New Mexico town of Silverado. Though the two were reportedly very serious about one another their frequent separations in the line of business proved too tough a strain on the relationship and they eventually agreed to go their separate ways.
Among the other colorful western figures Dusty has been romantically linked to are:
– the notorious gambler James West, whom many historians now believe was really a Secret Service agent
– deadly gunfighter Randolph Mantooth who earned Dusty’s undying enmity when she realized that despite his claims of bachelorhood he had a wife and several children aged 2 to 11.
The longest lasting romance in Dusty Murtaugh’s life was with the famous British composer Sir James Page. When Page was visting the U.S. in the 1880’s he sought to hire Dusty as a guide for his buffalo hunting party. Murtaugh refused to have anything to do with such a venture but the two seemingly disparate souls felt a mutual attraction and after traveling much of the American west and northern Mexico together they were married in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since Dusty refused to leave the land of her birth Sir James had his ancestral castle disassembled and rebuilt stone by stone in Arizona Territory, where Dusty owned a parcel of land adjacent to the High Chapparal. Sir James would dedicate the Stairway to Heaven Symphony, his magnum opus, to his new bride. Jaclyn Smith would play Dusty Murtaugh in the film Dusty, We Hardly Knew Ye opposite Roger Daltrey as Sir James Page.
When Sir James died of a morphine overdose in 1899 Dusty remained in seclusion at her Cashmere Ranch, even refusing to come out of retirement to deal with the depradations of the remnants of the Clanton Gang throughout Arizona Territory. Murtaugh preferred to remain out of the public eye, mourning her late husband and raising horses and who could argue that she hadn’t earned the right after her years of hard service and high adventure?
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