With the Frontierado holiday coming up on Friday, August 3rd (and isn’t it great to have a holiday that falls on the Friday of its three-day weekend, not on the Monday?) it’s time for another seasonal post. Since Balladeer’s Blog loves to cover under-the-radar subjects today’s post is about four real Wild West figures who don’t get the pub of the big names. My attitude, as always, is that in real life the legends of the west were thugs and worse but Frontierado is about the myth of the west, not the grinding reality.
1. TEXAS BEN THOMPSON – That’s our number one figure depicted to the right. Ben and his brother were often called Texas Ben and Texas Billy and I think using the nickname as often as possible will help Ben’s myth get more attention.
Texas Ben served in the Confederate States Army, then after the Civil War he headed south and served in Emperor Maximillian’s army in Mexico. When Maximillian fell Ben crossed back over the border into Texas, and spent the remainder of his life hiring his gun out to anyone who would pay, regardless of which side of the law it placed him on. Texas Ben even pinned on a badge as a legitimate lawman at times and supposedly put in time as a Texas Ranger at one point in his career. Thompson was even involved in the infamous Railroad War between the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe RR and the Denver & Rio Grande RR.
In 1884 Texas Ben shot and killed San Antonio saloon and bawdy house owner Jack Harris. Later that year, passing back through San Antonio with fellow neglected gunfighter John “King” Fisher, he and his traveling companion foolishly entered Harris’ former establishment and were riddled with bullets by several of the dead man’s friends. Texas Ben’s trademark tall silk hat was placed on his coffin.
2. LUKE SHORT – This unjustifiably neglected figure by all accounts had a stature that matched his last name, and a baby-face to go with it. Even the moustache Luke grew did nothing to alter the impression of him as a young lightweight, purportedly giving him a gunfighter’s version of a Napoleon Complex. (I’ve always felt Michael J Fox in the early 1990’s would have made a perfect cinematic Luke Short)
Luke started out hunting and trapping in Nebraska, but discovered his skill at gambling when he would financially wipe out his colleagues on the trail in card games. That also led him into his first gunfights by some accounts. Short was a gambler/gunfighter for the rest of his life, hitting the Colorado mining camps, dealing Faro at the Earp Brothers’ Oriental Saloon in Tombstone, AZ and winding up in Dodge City, KS in the 1880’s.
Luke bought an interest in the Long Branch Saloon and during a prolonged feud with a rival saloon owner, Luke’s old friends Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp came to town to help the diminutive gunman come out on top. Short later moved on to Fort Worth, TX and bought the White Elephant gambling hall, eventually gunning down fellow neglected gunfighter Long-Haired Jim Courtright when Jim tried to extort protection money from him. In 1893 Luke sold the White Elephant and moved to Kansas City, MO, where he died in bed the same year at age 39 from an unknown ailment.
3. PEARL HART – Pearl Hart was the most famous female stagecoach robber of the west, with Jane Kirkham her only competition in the category. Pearl’s myth goes that she had a no-good gambling husband who frequently lost the household money through his bad habit. Pearl eventually took to posing as a saloon girl to lure men into rooms with her. Once there she would rob them at gunpoint.
Hart had two children, a boy and a girl, with her wastrel husband, but abandoned those children with her parents in Canada to return to her adventurous life in the American west. When her no-good husband ran off to fight in the Spanish-American War, never to be heard from again, Hart began dabbling in stagecoach robbing. Masked, armed and wearing men’s clothing, Pearl would hook up with one or more accomplices at a time and rake in hauls.
In late May 1899 Hart pulled off her last stagecoach robbery, near Globe, AZ, with accomplice Joe Boot. The pair were captured within days by a sheriff’s posse, and while awaiting trial, the imprisoned Pearl began to be a huge attraction, charming and talking with gawkers who came to see “the Bandit Queen”. Pearl escaped jail on October 12th, but was soon recaptured.
It will never be known exactly how many stagecoaches Pearl Hart robbed, as she was only tried on the one count for the job where she and Joe Boot were caught with the loot. She was too shrewd to admit to any other crimes and swayed the jury at her first trial with a tale of woe about her marriage and claimed she had only taken to a life of crime to send money to her mother and her children in Canada. Pearl was acquitted of the robbery charge, but was retried on a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm. Found guilty, Hart was sentenced to five years at Yuma Territorial Prison, where she often entertained reporters and tourists. Paroled after just eighteen months Hart took to the stage in a play about her adventures and eventually died in either San Francisco, Kansas City or Dripping Springs, AZ.
4. LONG-HAIRED JIM COURTRIGHT – Long-Haired Jim was one of the famous gunmen to have served in the Union Army during the Civil War, along with Wild Bill Hickok, Bear River Tom and a couple Earp Brothers. Courtright’s myth goes that, after the war, he remained in the army and served in conflicts with Native Americans in Arizona and New Mexico. Drummed out of the service for gambling and insubordination by some accounts Courtright took to the life of a mercenary, serving as a hired gun in Ft Worth, as a Pinkerton Detective, and finally settled in as sheriff of Lake Valley, a mining town in New Mexico Territory.
Jim was known for his ruthlessness as a law enforcer in the mining camps where life was cheap and in a celebrated incident shot an attacker through both hands, then both knees before finally putting him out of his misery with a shot through the head. When the mines were milked clean the town collapsed and Long-Haired Jim moved on to work for his old commander, General Logan, shooting rustlers who were preying on Logan’s herds.
Eventually winding up back in Ft Worth, Long-Haired Jim was put on trial for a fatal shooting from his first stay in the city, but was acquitted by reason of self-defense. Next Courtright opened the Commercial Detective Agency as a front for his protection racket as he leaned on merchants all over town. Trying to muscle fellow neglected gunman Luke Short, owner of the White Elephant, proved a fatal mistake when Short killed Courtright in an exchange of gunfire in February of 1887.
WANT MORE FRONTIERADO LISTS? CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2011/08/01/frontierado-week-the-top-four-westerns-based-on-real-life-figures/