HAPPY FRONTIERADO! The first Friday of every August marks this holiday devoted to the myth of the old west rather than the grinding reality. For some of us the celebration kicks off Thursday night, for others they wait until the actual day of Frontierado to hold their festivities. Enjoy your buffalo steaks, rattlesnake fried rice, corn on the cob, tumbleweed pizza, cactus salad and more today and tonight, and enjoy the leftovers on Saturday and Sunday.
BUCKSKIN FRANK LESLIE – Franklyn Leslie, full name Nashville Franklyn Leslie, was better known as Buckskin Frank. “Nashville” was, he claimed, his actual first name, NOT a nickname.
Buckskin Frank Leslie had no connection to the popular 1800s magazine of that name, but that’s one of the few questions that can be answered about this gunslinger. Which side of the Civil War did he serve on? He claimed both at various times.
Was he pro or anti-Clanton Faction during the gang war in Tombstone, Arizona? He claimed to be a Lone Wolf, and news accounts of the time do feature him in conflict with figures from both sides. He definitely killed Billy Claiborne and MAY have killed Johnny Ringo. Even his own death is shrouded in mystery.
Nashville Franklyn Leslie was born March 18th, 1842 in Texas. Virtually nothing is known about his early life and at different times he claimed to have served on each side of the Civil War. Why he left Texas is not known, either. By some accounts it was because of a family conflict but by others it was to flee a criminal past, possibly under the surname Korrigan or Corrigan.
Documentation starts to show up regarding Buckskin Frank on July 11th, 1869 when he arrived in San Francisco via the steamship Portland according to the passenger information published by the Daily Alta California.
After working as a bartender in San Francisco and possibly other California cities Leslie worked for Wells Fargo and similar outfits for a few years as a gunslinging guard before becoming an army scout under various commanders including Custer. He dabbled in law enforcement as a Deputy Sheriff and may or may not have met Wild Bill Hickok during the early 1870s, depending on which source you go by.
THE Tom Horn praised Frank’s abilities as a military scout & gunfighter and stated that Leslie was with him in Colorado and Arizona Territory by 1877, prospecting. The year 1878 saw him back in San Francisco bartending for Thomas Boland’s Saloon on Pine Street.
In 1879 our gunman was bartending for Kerr & Jurado’s Saloon & Billiard Room at Hardie Place. The early months of 1880 saw Buckskin Frank and a fellow San Franciscan named William H. Knapp leave the city and relocate to the boomtown called Tombstone in Arizona Territory.
Once there they opened Knapp & Leslie’s Cosmopolitan Saloon right next to the Cosmopolitan Hotel on Allen Street. Buckskin Frank signed as one of the witnesses for 23-year-old May Evans when she married 32-year-old Mike Killeen in the parlor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel on April 13th, 1880. May and Frank may or may not have already started their affair by then.
Leslie’s fame as a scout, lawman and gunfighter was already such that he was interviewed by the Arizona Quarterly Illustrated in early June, 1880 to recap his career. Before the month was out, the next chapter of Frank’s exploits began when, on June 22nd, he shot to death Mike Killeen in self-defense when Mike caught Buckskin Frank and May together in public. Frank’s head had been grazed by two of Mike’s bullets.
Let go on self-defense grounds, Leslie took to prospecting around Tombstone with his new friend Roderick Hafford. On July 1st the pair filed their claim on a large copper find that they named Copperopolis on the official papers.
Buckskin Frank and May were married on July 6th, 1880 by Justice of the Peace James Reilly. Come late September, Leslie added his name to archeological history with the documented discovery of five caves near “Copperopolis” (listed as the Leslie Mill Site in archives). Those caves featured never before discovered Apache paintings of scorpions, snakes, other tribes and more.
Tombstone’s most violent period was still ahead of it, but the boom town was already so dangerous that on November 29th the Town Council named Buckskin Frank a Special Deputy Sheriff empowered to make arrests on the premises of the Oriental Saloon.
On March 15th, 1881, four men attempted to rob the Kinnear & Company Stagecoach between Contention City and Drew’s Station. Frank joined the pursuing posse which also featured Sheriff John Behan, Bat Masterson and three Earp Brothers – Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan. The posse caught one of their quarries on March 19th.
July 1st saw Leslie sworn in as a Cochise County Deputy Sheriff serving under John Behan. Trying to wrap up loose ends from the March stagecoach robbery, our man tracked one of the gang, Jim Crane, to New Mexico.
Some sources claim that on August 13th, 1881, Buckskin Frank fatally shot five men in Guadalupe Canyon including Crane and Newman Haynes “Old Man” Clanton, the patriarch of the Clanton Crime Faction. (Other sources attribute the slayings to Mexican gunmen.) On the other hand, still other sources claim that three dead Mexican gunmen that Frank “found” in Guadalupe Canyon near the quintet of dead Americans had killed the five men and were then shot down by Leslie in turn.
At any rate, N.H. Clanton’s death left his less capable son Ike Clanton and Curly Bill Brocius in charge of the Clanton crime empire in Arizona and New Mexico Territories.
October 1st, 1881 saw Geronimo and over 400 other Apaches leave the San Carlos Reservation to hit the warpath. Leslie was invited to join a band of men setting out to search for the Native Americans but he refused, dismissing this particular bunch as rank amateurs and blowhards, not the professionals he was used to dealing with.
Buckskin Frank, always a savvy prospector and mining speculator, rang in 1882 by filing claims on three more copper finds near the Dragoon Mountains on January 4th. In March the Tombstone Epitaph reported on a brawl between Leslie and James Floyd on March 16th. The fight began in the Oriental Saloon and spilled out into the street.
In early April the one and only General William Tecumseh Sherman paid a visit to Tombstone and was greeted with a parade.
April 30th, 1882 saw Leslie and J.D. Kinnear appointed by Tombstone’s Judge Peel to lead a group of thirty volunteers in frequent patrol rides in the deserts and hills around Tombstone to defend against Apache attacks.
On July 14th Johnny Ringo’s dead body was found amid black oaks by Turkey Creek and Morse Canyon, triggering ongoing speculation about the circumstances of his death. It was ruled a suicide, but multiple old west gunmen are put forth and debated as potential killers, with Buckskin Frank receiving plenty of public accusations at the time.
(The Earps and Doc Holliday had been driven out of Arizona Territory by the Clanton Faction months earlier, no matter what various movies depict.)
Among Leslie’s accusers in the death of Johnny Ringo was Billy Claiborne himself. On November 14th, 1882 Claiborne threatened and taunted Frank from outside the Oriental Saloon, where our man was tending bar. Leslie went out to settle things with Billy and shot him to death, making him at least the 7th hombre that Frank had gunned down in the streets of Tombstone since his arrival.
Christmas Eve of 1882 was the date when Buckskin Frank either fell at the corner of Fifth and Safford Streets in Tombstone OR was attacked by unknown parties. Either way, the head wounds he received on that date were reported in the newspaper as potentially fatal.
Leslie recovered and on March 25th, 1883 was back in the news after he and a friend – Charles Young – fought and killed five attacking Apaches near Buckskin Frank’s Magnolia Ranch. Apache violence in the area continued and on June 11th General Crook recruited Leslie into his latest military campaign against the hostiles.
Frank served as a scout, dispatch rider and courier for the army, and after seeing combat in June and July, he proved crucial to providing a peaceful resolution between the army and a band of Chiricahua Apaches in August. Thanks to Leslie’s intercession the band was permitted to peacefully return to the San Carlos Reservation without bloodshed.
The campaign wore on, with our man seeing to business at the Magnolia Ranch and his various saloon and mining interests whenever he could. By March of 1884 Geronimo and his remaining forces surrendered and were being accompanied back to San Carlos. Buckskin Frank left the army’s service and returned full-time to his businesses.
In the spring of 1885, Geronimo and his troops went “off the reservation” once more and on May 20th Leslie signed on again as an Indian Scout, this time for the Fourth Cavalry, serving under Captain Henry Ware Lawton.
In the first half of June, Buckskin Frank took part in clashes with Apaches who had defeated a unit in Guadalupe Canyon and destroyed their baggage wagons.
On June 21st, our man took time to return to the Magnolia Ranch and in early July was back serving in the military campaign, now as a Chief of Scouts under General Crook. This round of battles saw Leslie and the army pursue the hostile Apaches into Mexico, with Chiricahua Chief Nana being slain in mid-August.
The women and children in Nana’s band were returned to the reservation and all of the band’s latest plunder was recovered in the battle. By September Buckskin Frank left the army and was back at his ranch.
In October of that year the Daily Tombstone reported that Leslie threatened to kill Judge Berry for harming his dog. The newspaper sided with Frank and joined calls for an American organization to fight cruelty to animals.
In January 1886 our man was once again recruited by the army for his scouting, fighting and courier skills. Buckskin Frank saw more action sixteen miles south of Nacosari in Sonora, Mexico alongside the Tenth Cavalry, an African-American regiment.
March found Leslie serving as a Mounted Inspector for the Collector of Customs, patrolling the border with Mexico in search of contraband. His partner was named Tom Green and the Tombstone Epitaph reported that on March 20th the pair had clashed with a handful of Mexican smugglers. The smugglers got away after a running gunfight during which Green was wounded twice.
The Epitaph‘s next Buckskin Frank story on April 3rd detailed the man’s solo collar of a pair of Mexican smugglers, an incident which was reported in newspapers as far away as San Francisco, like many of our hero’s doings.
On July 13th, Frank resigned as a Mounted Inspector and focused full-time on his other interests. Leslie’s affair with the married singer Birdie Wood had begun earlier that same month. Buckskin Frank had fallen for her after watching her performances at Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater and the couple scandalized the town with their flagrant affair.
Before the year was out, Buckskin Frank had gunned down a man named Bradshaw who had aroused his jealousy over Birdie. In March of 1887 the Epitaph reported that Buckskin Frank was leaving the area to assume command of the Indian Police in San Carlos.
May Leslie filed for divorce from Frank on May 27th, 1887, citing her husband’s notorious affair with Birdie Wood. On June 3rd the divorce was granted and Judge William Barnes also awarded May $650 in cash, 13 horses and 150 head of cattle from the Magnolia Ranch. Frank was also responsible for all legal fees and court costs.
The rest of 1887 and all of 1888 were pretty slow for Buckskin Frank but on January 28th of 1889 he resurfaced with a new mining claim that he called the Cottonwood. His latest business partner was named E.L. Simpson.
Mollie Edwards was the new woman in Frank’s life and she moved into the Magnolia Ranch with him. On July 10th Leslie shot and killed Mollie allegedly under the influence of alcohol. He also shot and wounded Six-Gun Jim Neil, a witness to the act, who later testified against Buckskin Frank. At first he fought the charges but on January 6th, 1890 Frank changed his plea from Not Guilty to Guilty.
Leslie was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Yuma Territorial Prison, where he and a few co-plotters were caught in an escape attempt a few months later. After a punitive period in solitary confinement, Buckskin Frank became a model prisoner, even serving in the prison pharmacy.
In January of 1893, a 36-year-old San Francisco divorcee named Belle Stowell began corresponding with the notorious convict. She began an ultimately successful campaign to obtain a pardon for Buckskin Frank. Arizona’s Territorial Governor Benjamin J. Franklin gave Leslie a full pardon on November 17th, 1896.
After Frank’s release, he married Belle in Stockton, CA on December 1st. Before too long, Leslie was off on assorted prospecting, mining and other ventures for the rest of his life. As the years went by, Belle divorced him over his frequent, lengthy absences and Buckskin Frank ultimately fell off the radar completely.
Multiple dates and locales have been presented regarding Leslie’s supposed death but nothing was ever conclusive. The latest fashionable story surrounding Buckskin Frank’s death paints him as the possible victim of murder in El Cerrito, CA.
No date is known but arguments have been made that a skeleton recovered there in 1927 was all that remained of Nashville Franklyn Leslie. There was evidence that acids and flame were used to try getting rid of the remains, leaving the world with a genuine true crime mystery at the end of this colorful figure’s life.
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