The latest Saga custom written for Frontierado, which is coming up Friday, August 2nd!
TOMAHAWK TAM – Tamara “Tomahawk Tam” Wise-Brosnan aka “The Houston Hellcat” led one of the most eventful and action-packed lives in the Old West.
Born in 1863 the ever-willful and rambunctious child ran away in a pouting huff from the westward-bound wagon train her family was traveling with in 1873. Elders from the Nevada Paiute Tribe which adopted her forever maintained that when they encountered the young lady in the desert she fearlessly walked up to them and told them she was hungry and inquired if they had any food to share with her.
Charmed by all this, the Paiute raised her as one of their own. By her teen years Tamara was a close follower of the outspoken Paiute woman Sarah Winnemucca aka Thocmentony aka Shell Flower. It was Sarah who introduced the young Tamara to Eleanor Dumont, the famous gambler/ gunslinger. Eleanor’s free spirit forever after served as an inspiration for the future legend.
When she was 15 in 1878 Tamara’s tribe left the reservation and found themselves in a conflict with the United States Army, the Bannock War (June-August).
The Paiute tribe under Chief Buffalo Horn could only muster around 500 warriors at the time and during one of the battles Tamara, wielding a rifle and a tomahawk, fought back against the attacking soldiers. From that day forward the newly rechristened “Tomahawk Tam” insisted on fighting alongside the men of her tribe. With her body-count increasing in every clash no one dared say her nay.
Not long after Chief Buffalo Horn was slain in battle and Chief Egan took over, Umatilla Indians treacherously helped the Army against the Paiutes, and Tomahawk Tam was happy to shed Umatilla blood as well. This incident forever colored Tamara’s feelings about humanity as a whole and she began to trust almost no one.
When the war ended in a Paiute defeat in August, Tomahawk Tam was resolved not to go to the new reservation at Yakima, WA. She linked up again with her old mentor Sarah Winnemucca, who headed for Washington D.C. to lobby Congress and President Rutherford B Hayes on their behalf.
After those efforts had limited success, Sarah went on to aid her people by acting as an interpreter, messenger and guide for the U.S. Army. Tomahawk Tam refused to work with the army in any way but was glad to cooperate with Sarah’s activities to educate imprisoned Native Americans.
By now it was 1880 and Tomahawk Tam felt overcome with wanderlust. She headed west again and by the end of summer had become a deputy for legendary Cherokee lawman Marshal Sam Sixkiller in Muscogee, Indian Territory. Tamara’s reputation with six-guns and rifles grew exponentially during this period and her way of occasionally resorting to her “ace in the hole” – her tomahawk – made her as associated with that weapon as “Bat” Masterson was with his walking stick or bat.
During her adventures in Indian Territory and Arkansas, Tomahawk Tam shot down plenty of rustlers and bank robbers while getting caught up in a romance with Hawaiian boxer Jason Momoa aka the Polynesian Pug. Boxing was still illegal in plenty of jurisdictions and Sam Sixkiller was a bit annoyed to have his most famous deputy consorting with a man outside the law.
Still, Tamara was so good at carrying out her law enforcement duties that Sam tactfully looked the other way. Eventually, Momoa moved on outside Indian Territory to carry on his boxing career and the illicit romance ended.
Late 1883 saw Tomahawk Tam quit working with Marshal Sixkiller after a series of arguments regarding her preference for bringing in outlaws dead instead of alive. Tamara rode south for Texas and after carousing in assorted towns along her way, she found herself in Tumbleweed, TX, just north of Houston.
Houston was the glamour city, center of industry and railroad hub of Texas. Tumbleweed was known for its violent lawlessness and as a home for all manner of criminal activity. No Sheriff had lasted longer than three months. Tomahawk Tam warmed to that kind of a challenge and signed on as the new sheriff of Tumbleweed by the end of October.
In the months that followed, Tamara clashed with Tumbleweed’s deadliest gang, the Kiss Posse. While that bullet-riddled war played out to its blood-soaked conclusion, Tomahawk Tam and Kiss member Gene “Cowtongue” Simmons engaged in a Romeo and Juliet- style doomed romance.
While blowing away the other members of the Kiss Posse as they plied their criminal trades, Tam kept trying to give Simmons a chance to escape with his life. Again and again, after their secret trysts in faraway Galveston, Tomahawk Tam encouraged him to leave Tumbleweed for good and continue his criminal life elsewhere.
Everything came to a head in May of 1884. The few remaining Kiss members tracked Cowtongue and Tamara to their Galveston love-nest. Those members, Ace, Bobcat and the Lone Star Child, burst into the lovebirds’ room. Tomahawk Tam shot Ace & the Lone Star Child to death and Gene blew away Bobcat. With his fellow gang member’s blood on his hands now, Cowtongue knew this was the end. He and Tamara had a running gunfight around the hotel and when the smoke cleared, Gene Simmons had joined his old comrades in the grave.
Dime Novels embellishing our heroine’s escapades began showing up, adding the nickname “the Houston Hellcat” to Tamara’s titles despite her being Sheriff of Tumbleweed and not Houston proper. Madonna Ciccone, the famous saloon singer who played Tumbleweed more often than any other town in the West, became Tomahawk Tam’s closest friend and confidant. The two would party into the wee hours on many occasions.
Tamara even saved Madonna from having her career “owned” by her mentally unstable ex-husband Shotgun Sean Penn. Tomahawk Tam wound up shooting down most of Penn’s gang, then warned him to make himself scarce. Shotgun Sean fled to Cuba, where he died of syphilis in 1888.
By the end of 1886 Tamara had transformed Tumbleweed into a model town. The place had been so thoroughly tamed that even her old pal Madonna teased her that she had made it too dull to hang around in. Tomahawk concurred and in the early months of 1887 she joined Madonna’s show-biz troop in heading west for more adventurous venues. Tumbleweed later became incorporated into the Greater Houston Metropolitan area and its existence as a separate town was all but forgotten.
For quite awhile, Tomahawk Tam traveled with Madonna and her band throughout Texas and New Mexico, protecting them from would-be bandits and overly rowdy fans in places like San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso, Santa Fe and Silver City. When she and Madonna weren’t romancing the local men, Tamara sometimes found herself gunning down hombres who wanted to make a name for themselves by knocking off the legendary gunslinger.
Finally, in Tucson, AZ Tamara said goodbye to her old friend and signed on as an Arizona Ranger, hoping to continue her law enforcement career. Tomahawk Tam once again thrived at hunting down and blowing away bad guys. It was during this period she started a romance with the famed Apache Kid, who was back at the San Carlos, AZ Indian Reservation after his conviction for mutiny and desertion from the U.S. Army had been overturned on grounds of prejudice among the officers of the court martial.
Unfortunately by October of 1889 political rumblings had caused a new warrant to be issued in Gila County, this time trying to pin the wounding of legendary scout Al Seiber on the Kid. Tomahawk Tam knew her beloved was being railroaded and stood by him during the new trial.
On October 25th, 1889 the Apache Kid was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years at Yuma Territorial Prison. Infuriated and disillusioned for good, Tamara resigned from the Arizona Rangers in disgust. Days later she engineered the breakout of the Apache Kid when he was being transported to prison.
The legendary former Sheriff now became an outlaw and would remain one for the rest of her years. She and the Apache Kid led a gang that preyed on ranches and trains throughout Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico.
Around 1894 the bloom was supposedly off the rose of the love affair between the two western legends. The Kid had reportedly begun taking Apache women for flings on the side, prompting arguments with Tomahawk Tam. By some accounts she killed the Apache Kid in a jealous rage, by others she simply left him and headed north.
While on the lam, Tamara encountered the famous bounty hunter, Pierce Brosnan, in New Mexico Territory. The British expatriate was originally planning on bringing in the wanted woman for the reward money but the pair fell in love at first sight.
That same weekend they married in Silver City, NM and stayed together in their travels for a time. Nobody expected Tomahawk Tam to be married to a renowned bounty hunter so it was excellent cover. Months later the love affair ran its course and the two went their separate ways on good terms. Neither ever bothered to file for divorce.
At some point in 1895 our fugitive heroine found herself hiding out at Fannie Porter’s San Antonio bordello, not as a working girl but as one of the many outlaws who boozed it up at the establishment. Before long Tamara had started a romance with fellow outlaw Kid Curry and she rode with his short-lived gang before they both wound up joining the Wild Bunch.
Over the years Tomahawk Tam would hide out at Fannie’s establishments in Texas along with her beaus of the moment like the Kid and/or another Wild Buncher like Ben “The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick.
After a few years of robbing trains and banks, fleeing and shooting it out with posses and hiding out at Hole In The Wall or Fannie Porter’s it came about that Tamara’s romance with the Tall Texan was in full swing while her ex-boyfriend Kid Curry was involved with Annie Rogers aka Della Moore.
Tomahawk Tam and Annie had gotten along well in the years that they knew each other, since Annie had been working for Fannie quite awhile. The ladies would double-date with their infamous men and tear up towns around the west, going through their recently-acquired loot like it was water.
On June 2nd, 1899, the Wild Bunch robbed the Union Pacific Railroad’s Overland Flyer near Wilcox, WY. Many famous lawmen took part in the pursuit of the gang in the subsequent chase, which was immortalized in the “Who are those guys?” segment of the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
None of the gang would have escaped if not for Tomahawk Tam’s noble self-sacrifice. With the posse closing in on them, Tamara dismounted, sought shelter behind a few trees and held off the gang’s pursuers single-handedly, buying them enough time to have at least a decent chance.
Tomahawk Tam emptied her rifle and her six-guns into the posse and even used her renowned Tomahawk to kill off a few more lawmen until she was cut down by over a dozen bullets.
Though the heroine’s sacrifice was edited out of the 1969 film, actress Jody Foster starred as Tomahawk Tam in a 1996 film which helped keep the woman’s legend alive. +++
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