Category Archives: FRONTIERADO

PONY EXPRESS RIDERS: THE CLIFF BROTHERS

pony express stationIt’s less than two months until the major holiday Frontierado, so here’s a third blog post about Pony Express Riders – April 3rd, 1860 to October 26th, 1861. A few weeks ago came Balladeer’s Blog’s look at the first Pony Express riders.

As always, Frontierado celebrations are about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

THE CLIFF BROTHERS

charlie cliffCHARLIE CLIFF – The younger of the two Cliff brothers to ride for the Pony Express was born in 1844 in St. Louis County, MO. Sometime in 1852 the family moved to St. Joseph, MO and by May of 1860 Charlie and his older brother Gus were Expressmen, the official title of Pony Express Riders.

Charlie’s rout passed through Kickapoo Indian territory but the tribe was peaceful and the young man never experienced difficulties with them. However, in 1861 he encountered a small company of nine covered wagons headed west and shared their plight of being besieged by over one hundred Sioux warriors. The siege lasted three days with periodic gunplay before a larger wagon train approached and the Sioux, realizing they were outnumbered, rode off. Continue reading

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LAST STAND OF A PONY EXPRESS RIDER: BILLY TATE

The major holiday Frontierado is just over two months away, so as a followup to last week’s look at the first Pony Express riders Balladeer’s Blog explores the one-man stand and death of 14-year-old Expressman Billy Tate.

pony express ridersBILLY TATE – Born in 1846, Billy Tate traveled west with his family in 1857 as part of the Baker-Fancher Wagon Train from Arkansas. In September of that year, Billy’s family were among the pioneers slaughtered at the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah. The massacre was perpetrated by Mormons disguised as Native Americans.

Billy and possibly other child survivors (accounts vary) were taken in by Mormon farmers and worked on their farms. By some accounts Billy’s original last name was Miller but it was changed to Tate to match the family who took him in.

In 1859 the government ruled that any child survivors of the Mountain Meadows Massacre should be returned to relatives back in Arkansas. Billy, not wanting to be sent back east, ran away, ultimately signing on as a bullwhacker with the parent company of the Pony Express in December of that year. By the April 3rd 1860 launch of the Express Billy Tate was serving as a rider. Continue reading

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FIRST PONY EXPRESS RIDERS

pony expressBalladeer’s Blog always marks the holiday called Frontierado, which is observed every year on the firstrichardson, fry, cliff brothers charlie and gus Friday in August. This year that will be August 5th. Frontierado is about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality.

A topic I haven’t covered in the past is the legendary Pony Express, which operated from April 3rd, 1860 to October 26th, 1861. Prior to the spread of telegraph wires all the way across the continent, the Pony Express was the fastest way of getting messages – and mail – from Missouri to California and vice versa.

Their riders, officially titled Expressmen, faced perils from nature, bandits and hostile Native Americans depending on circumstances at any given moment. Everything boiled down to speed, so to save on weight on the horses Expressmen were only permitted to carry one pistol after a few riders were caught carrying two pistols and a rifle or more.

richardson and fryI will cover many of the other riders as we get closer to the actual date of Frontierado, but for today here is a brief look at the first Pony Express riders to depart from Saint Joseph, MO headed west and from Sacramento, CA headed east. There is still some dispute about which men officially count as the first riders, with two men put forth for both routes.

WEST FROM ST. JOSEPH – The first potential riders from St. Joseph, MO were, alphabetically, Johnny Fry and “Sailor Billy” Richardson. After ceremonial speeches by politicians and businessmen, a cannon shot inaugurated the first ride westward around 7:15PM on April 3rd, 1860. 

johnny fryJOHNNY FRY was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1840 (exact date unknown) and in 1857 his family moved to Missouri. After the firing of the cannon, whoever the first rider was, Fry or Richardson, they galloped to the ferry Denver waiting at the landing on Jules Street. The Denver carried the rider across the Missouri River to Elwood, KS where that first ride resumed. Continue reading

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THE CHRISTMAS KID (1967) – AN EASTER WESTERN (?)

Christmas Kid

Jeffrey Hunter as The Christmas Kid

I always think of this bizarrely themed Spaghetti Western as The Gospel According to Sam Colt or Paul’s Letter to Smith & Wesson. Our title gunslinger is played by Jeffrey “Captain Pike on Star Trek” Hunter. As Jesus in the movie King of Kings, Hunter’s youthful appearance brought on ridicule from wags who called the film I Was a Teenage Jesus.  

Once again Jeffrey plays a character who is born in a manger at Christmas and gets visited by three wise (well … no) men. The Christmas Kid‘s half-assed Jesus parallels continue from there in sporadic fashion. The little babe – called Christmas Joe at first – grows up to be a philosophical boy who practices pacifism. 

Christmas Kid 2When our hero’s home hamlet of Jaspen, Arizona becomes a Boom Town after copper is discovered, the place turns into a proverbial web of sin and vale of tears. Michael Culligan (Louis Hayward), the greedy town boss, builds an empire for himself out of crime and greed as the copper rush continues.     

This being a western, the day comes when Christmas Joe must strap on a gun and pin on a badge for a three-year mission – I mean term in office – to fight the forces of evil in Arizona Territory. Now called the Christmas Kid our hero spreads the Good News of Gunplay as he blows away various bad men who leave him with no other choice.  Continue reading

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THE SIRINGO SAGA: HAPPY FRONTIERADO 2021!

western scenery“All through the year we waited” as the song lyric goes, but in this case regarding Frontierado instead of Christmas. 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 kicked off Thursday night, for others they wait until the actual day of Frontierado to hold their festivities. Enjoy yourselves today and tonight, and enjoy the leftovers on Saturday and Sunday.

SiringoCHARLIE SIRINGO – Like a real-life Harry Flashman of the American West, Charles Angelo Siringo, cowboy, bounty hunter and lawman, fought alongside or against some of the biggest names of his era. Siringo crossed paths with the likes of Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, the Wild Bunch, Tom Horn, Clarence Darrow, Kid Russell, Will Rogers, William Borah and many others.

Charlie was born February 7th, 1855 on the Matagordo Peninsula in Texas. In 1867 he began doing ranch work in whatever positions his youthful frame could handle. By April of 1871 he was working for Abel “Shanghai” Pierce as a full-fledged cowboy. Siringo went on to work on cattle drives throughout Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma (then called Indian Territory).

L Q Jones as Siringo

L.Q. JONES AS SIRINGO

In 1876 our hero rose to the position of trail driver and led his subordinate cowboys in herding roughly 2,500 head of Longhorn Cattle from Austin, TX along the Chisholm Trail to Dodge City, KS. Spring of 1877 found Charlie once again serving as trail driver from Austin to Dodge City.

On his trips to iconic Dodge City, Siringo had supposedly friendly encounters with the likes of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and witnessed an altercation between a pair of Dodge City merchants and Clay Allison, the notorious gunfighter and bullying rancher. Continue reading

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JEFFERSON SMITH: 1800s GANGSTER

The Frontierado holiday is this Friday, August 6th. As always the festive occasion is all about the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality. Here’s another seasonal post.

soapy smithJEFFERSON “SOAPY” SMITH – This figure was one of the closest things to a 20th or 21st Century gangland chief in the 19th Century. Jefferson Randolph Smith II was born on November 2nd of 1860 in Coweto County, GA. In 1876 his family moved to Round Rock, TX, where his mother died of natural causes in 1877.

Jeff was one of the Round Rock citizens who witnessed the Sam Bass Gang’s shootout with Texas Rangers when the gang arrived in town intent on robbing the Williamson County Bank. The date was July 19th, 1878 and Smith would forever after state that he had yelled “I think you got him!” as Rangers Richard Ware and George Herold shot Bass, mortally wounding him.

soapy smith hatlessShortly after that event Jeff moved to Fort Worth, TX. The story goes that Smith had begun working at confidence games to make money when he was 16 and in Fort Worth his savvy and leadership qualities let him gather around him a gang of talented and experienced crooks and con artists. The group traveled from town to town running rigged poker games plus 3-card Monte, the shell game and similar rapid-fire, uncomplicated cons and ripoffs.

Jeff was soon on his way to earning a name as a crime boss, with his gang being called the Soap Gang and Smith himself being tagged with the nickname Soapy. The soap references came from one of the gang’s favorite grifts. Continue reading

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CANYON DIABLO: THE MOST LAWLESS TOWN OF THE OLD WEST

It is now less than a week to go until the Frontierado Holiday coming up this Friday August 6th. Balladeer’s Blog will be making a few more seasonal posts between now and then.

railroad over canyon diabloCANYON DIABLO: THE MOST LAWLESS TOWN OF THE OLD WEST – In 1880 construction crews for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad reached the wide chasm called Canyon Diablo in what is now Coconino County, Arizona. Construction had to pause for several months when the crews discovered that the wrong size bridge had been manufactured and would not reach all the way across Canyon Diablo.

canyon diabloWhile waiting for new bridge materials to be manufactured and shipped to the site, workers stayed in the area doing stonemasonry, surveying, cutting and preparing railroad ties and preparing the grade & bed. A quick Hell On Wheels town sprouted called Canyon Diablo, named after the canyon. Unlike most such towns this one lasted for decades, from 1880 into the 20th Century but was at its peak for a few years in the 1880s.

This wasn’t just another of the many Hell On Wheels towns that sprang up along all railroads under construction in the 1800s west. Canyon Diablo earned a reputation as the deadliest and most lawless town in the old west. Law enforcement officers of any kind were not welcome in the place and so, many drifters, criminals and fugitives paraded in and out of the town, sometimes even taking up residence there. The nearest officers of the law were located 100 miles away.

canyon diablo bridge 1882Canyon Diablo is not a household name like Dodge City, Tombstone, Deadwood, Silver City or others because not only law enforcement, but anything resembling newspapers, churches or schools or any other of the usual fixtures of civilization failed to survive there.

For that same reason, few details survive about the gunfights, knife fights and ambushes which filled the graves in the town’s nearby Boot Hill Cemetery. There was simply no one on hand to chronicle events in the town. And that’s exactly how the violent and larcenous denizens liked it. 

Boozing, gambling, prostitution and shelter for fugitives from the law were the figurative economic base of Canyon Diablo. According to one historian “Murder on the street was common. Holdups were nearly hourly occurrences, newcomers being slugged on mere suspicion that they carried valuables.” Continue reading

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GET MEAN (1975): FILM REVIEW

With the Frontierado Holiday coming up on Friday, August 6th here is another seasonal movie.

Get MeanGET MEAN (1975)- One of the weirdest Spaghetti Westerns ever made and that’s saying something! Get Mean stars Tony Anthony and was also released under the title The Stranger Gets Mean, making it the final movie in Anthony’s series of Italo-Westerns as the enigmatic gunslinger known only as the Stranger.

Another alternate title the movie was released under was Beat A Dead Horse, reflecting the view of Anthony and his production company that Spaghetti Westerns really were beating that dead horse of a subgenre for everything they could squeeze out of it by this point. Emphasizing that point was the way Get Mean features its heroic gunfighter clashing with anachronistic Vikings, Moors and an evil hunchback who loves quoting Shakespeare (for obvious reasons).

The film starts out with Tony Anthony’s character being dragged into a ghost town in a box canyon by a horse he’s been tied to. We glimpse Tony through a small orb like the kind used by Gypsy fortune-tellers. Many viewers use that orb to support their argument that Anthony’s gunslinger will be magically traveling through time and that THAT’S why he battles out of date Vikings and Moors.

It still wouldn’t explain why they speak Spanish and/or English or any of the dozens of OTHER problems that would result from a time-travel explanation. My view is to just enjoy it as weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Think of it like Six-String Samurai but without the actual meaning behind that film’s metaphors. Continue reading

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FRONTIERADO PARTY ESSENTIALS

crossed pistolsHere at Frontierado international headquarters things are as hectic as you would imagine with the Frontierado holiday coming up on Friday, August 6th. As always, Frontierado celebrates the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality. Here are some party essentials that help make your family’s Frontierado get-togethers special.

buffalogalBUFFALO GAL – Balladeer’s Blog gets its Buffalo Steaks, Buffalo Burgers, Buffalo Chili and Buffalo Jerky from Buffalo Gal, which will ship to you wherever you are in the U.S. and abroad.

You can also buy Elk Meat, Wild Boar, Yak Meat and Swabian Hall Pork. There’s even Scottish Highlander Beef for those with more traditional appetites.

devils river bourbon picDEVILS RIVER BOURBON – Here’s one of the brands of whiskey that I like to drink either straight or mixed in my Cactus Jacks: Devils River (1840).

This Texas Bourbon is created with water drawn from Devils River (Devils is plural, so no apostrophe) and is 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley.

As usual I prefer Barrel Strength – I’m slamming down a 117 Proof bottle as I type – but naturally you’re free to make your own selections. Continue reading

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MARIE LORDS: 1861

marie lordsWith the Frontierado holiday coming up on Friday August 6th it’s time for another seasonal blog post. Marie Lords is still remembered for her 1861 quote “A cowgirl gets up early in the morning, decides what she wants to do, and does it.”

With increasing numbers of “menfolk” going off to serve in the Civil War that was raging, plenty of other women gained experience working as cowgirls like Marie had been doing.

From cowgirl to entertainer, Marie Lords’ life deserved a lot more attention than it has gotten. Continue reading

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