GUNMEN OF MYSTERY FROM THE OLD WEST

masc chair and bottleForget Mysterious Dave Mather, most of whose real-life escapades are well-chronicled. THESE gunslingers are little more than names which popped up in occasional newspaper accounts or journal entries. So tantalizingly little is known about them that they’d make great RPG material for those so inclined. 

Dodge City Front StreetARKANSAS BILL – A gunfighter who made Dodge City, KS his home base in the late 1870s. Arkansas Bill was sometimes referred to in indignant articles about Western violence written in Washington DC’s Evening Star and other Eastern newspapers. The gunman claimed to be a Bounty Hunter who had slain twenty-two men thus far in his career.

Bill, who said he was nicknamed after the Arkansas RIVER, not the state, avoided having his picture taken, claiming that success at Bounty Hunting was reliant upon a certain degree of anonymity. Like many other gunslingers, Arkansas Bill was said to have served in the U.S. Civil War but on which side is not known. By the early 1880s this mysterious hombre disappeared from written accounts.

Potential Happy Ending: One could assume he eventually collected enough bounties to retire or to set up a legitimate business for himself under his real name, whatever that may have been.

Potential Unhappy Ending: Blown away by one or more of the desperadoes he was trying to bring in.

LONG-HAIRED SAM – Easily the most well-known of the neglected figures on this list, Long-Haired Sam Brown had a beard and long red hair, and was an outlaw active during the California and Nevada Gold Rushes. Long-Haired Sam and his boys robbed gold and payrolls in both locations. 

In 1855, at a cabin in Calaveras County, California, Brown and one of his gang members were gambling at cards with some gold prospectors from Chile. The Chileans supposedly tried claiming a pot that wasn’t theirs and Long-Haired Sam shot three of them to death in the following gunfight.    

Sheriff Ben K Thorn and a posse surrounded the building and Sam and his gang member eventually surrendered. After serving two years in San Quentin, Brown got out, decided California was no longer lucky for him, and headed for the Nevada fields to resume his criminal career.

The 6 ft tall, 200 lb thug became a terror in Nevada and once supposedly knifed a man to death during a card game dispute and went on mutilating the corpse long after the victim was dead.

On July 6th, 1861 a drunken Long-Haired Sam harassed German Innkeeper Henry Van Sickle, pulling a pistol and chasing him through his own establishment in front of over two dozen guests. July 7th saw the rematch, as Van Sickle engaged Brown in a running gunfight and eventually shot him to death. Accounts claim Brown had killed between 15-20 men. 

Van Sickle's InnVan Sickle’s Inn (see right) and Pony Express station is STILL open as a historic site with a max now of just 10 guests. Henry Van Sickle went on to be a major figure in Nevada politics. The man’s clash with Long-Haired Sam Brown and subsequent career was, by some accounts, the inspiration for the fictional tale The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.      

WOBBLIN’ WILLIE – Long before there was a more adult association, Wobblin’ Willie referred to William Ballow (or Ballew or Balleau or other spellings). This Wobblin’ Willie was known in Tall Tales and legends as an Oklahoma gunslinger more accurate when drunk than when sober. 

Complicating the issue is that much of the Wobblin’ Willie legend seems to have sprung up posthumously as a largely oral tradition, with very little set down in writing. Therefore I’ll omit the outrageous “Drunken Gunfighter” lore and focus on a verified series of events from the figure’s life.

In 1911 Willie fatally shot Irb Fourche over a saloon argument. While standing trial for the deed, Wobblin’ Willie apparently felt things were going against him, so on September 15th, he attempted to shoot down the presiding Judge Jimmy Mathers right on the street in Ada, OK. The Judge shot back, killing Wobblin’ Willie, who was buried in Francis, OK.

Comment: Given the way Wild West legends spring up I’m surprised that an entire body of folklore didn’t evolve around “Gunslinging Judge” Jimmy Mathers. See also California Judge David S Terry who shot to death politician David C Broderick during a duel in the 1850s.      

“BLACKIE” BLACK – A gunslinging teamster in Texas who supposedly served in the Texas War of Independence. By the 1850s Blackie was working as a teamster transporting everything including ICE around the state, overcoming the weather, geography and all man-made dangers.

Some accounts have Black driving a stage coach between San Antonio and Santa Fe, or hauling freight alongside future financial figure Thomas Frost. In defense of his cargo or passengers, Blackie Black supposedly blew away plenty of would-be robbers as well as renegade Native Americans and the occasional Mexican bandits.

This figure’s final fate is unknown but by the start of the Civil War his activities seem to have ceased. Claims that he became a teamster for the parent company of the Pony Express remain unproven.

Comment: Folklore possibilities for this figure run high. He might have met Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and Sam Houston during the Texas War of Independence. After that, any number of Texas Rangers or military men might have made his acquaintance.      

14 Comments

Filed under FRONTIERADO, Mythology

14 responses to “GUNMEN OF MYSTERY FROM THE OLD WEST

  1. Andrew

    I like learning about these out of the way gunmen. Nice article.

  2. Kid Swann

    Dam rite a bounty killer needed anonymity.

  3. Gregory

    Some of these guys need a movie!

  4. James

    Great post! The scarcity of info adds to their mystique.

  5. Marie

    The drunk gunfighter seems oddly likable.

  6. Cassidy

    Blackie sounds awesome!

  7. Jake

    This was a kickass look at some gunfighters I had never heard of.

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