The Frontierado Holiday is coming up on August 2nd. As always, the holiday is about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.
FARMER PEEL – Gunslinger Langford Peel got the nickname “Farmer” Peel through the same sense of irony that earns some tall people the nickname Shorty and some fat people the nickname Slim. Peel was always well-dressed and smooth-tongued and the furthest thing away from the image of a Farmer that you could get among the high-stakes gambler/ gunslingers of his era.
Peel was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1829 but his family moved to America during his childhood. In 1841, at the age of 12, Peel was accepted into the U.S. Army as a bugler. Buglers and drummers could indeed be enlisted into the service as company musicians with their parents’ consent. Education in their intended musical instruments was part of the bargain.
David Robb would have made a great Farmer Peel
The young Langford Peel was shipped off to Governor’s Island, New York and then Carlisle Barracks, PA for his military and musical training. After 13 months he was discharged at Carlisle on October 24th, 1842 but chose to reenlist. Come 1845 the 16 year old blonde was with Company B of the First Regiment of U.S. Dragoons at Fort Atkinson, IA. (Yes, this would indeed have made him the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B when he was first posted there. I’m kidding!)
By the spring of 1846 Peel got his first action against Native Americans, bugling and fighting for his unit in what is now Pawnee County, Coon Creek and along the Arkansas River. Already skilled at gunplay, Langford notched 3 kills in his first battle and became even deadlier in the future, seeing a great deal of action against the Great Plains and Mojave Desert Tribes. Continue reading
Forget 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.
ARKANSAS 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. Continue reading
JUST ONE WEEK UNTIL FRONTIERADO! As always Frontierado is about celebrating the myth of the Wild West and not the grinding reality. Part of the fun each year is an examination of neglected gunslingers from the 1800s.
The likes of Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Calamity Jane and Jesse James have been the subject of a variety of movies and folk tales. Unfortunately some figures from the Wild West led lives at least as interesting as the big names did but have not gotten nearly as much attention. Here is a look at ten such men and women. Continue reading
People who experienced their very first Frontierado with Balladeer’s Blog this year agreed it was a warm and beautiful experience they’ll remember for a lifetime. Anyway, to meet the demand for more Frontierado items til next year here’s one last neglected Wild West figure.
1. SAM SIXKILLER – Not only does this gunslinger have a name that screams out for cinematic treatment (or at least a cable television series) but he also saw more action than many western figures who are better known. Born in 1842 Sam Sixkiller was a Cherokee lawman in Oklahoma back when it was still being called Indian Territory and had not yet been opened up for white settlement. The unique setting of life in Indian Territory and the way it served as a microcosm of issues that the nation at large was dealing with after the Civil War adds layers of depth to Marshal Sixkiller’s tale that I find incredibly intriguing.
After starting out in the Confederate Army, in 1863 Sam enlisted in the Union Army as the Civil War raged and saw action in Arkansas and Indian Territory. Because many Native Americans owned slaves (black and mixed-race) as their tribes had for centuries the Indian Territory was as split in terms of support for the Union and Confederacy as were badly-divided states like Missouri. Between conventional battles and Bushwacker raids the Territory was reduced to a wasteland in many areas by the end of the war. In May 1865 Sam was discharged and returned to his wife Fannie to attend to their farm.
Following the Civil War the slaves in Indian Territory were declared Freedmen like the slaves in the late Confederacy, and as citizens of Indian Territory those Freedmen were in theory entitled to some of the money that was still being paid to the tribes in the Territory and to land. In reality the Five Civilized Tribes who called Indian Territory home were resentful of their former slaves’ new status and often used violence to drive out the freed slaves, even burning down their homes in many cases.
Outlaw bands would ride in to loot and pillage in the Territory then flee outside its borders to escape prosecution. In addition bootlegging and rustling were rampant and construction of railroads through Indian Territory brought new crimes. Throw in the usual inter-tribe conflicts that still surfaced and the Territory was a very dangerous place at the time. Continue reading
Frontierado is Friday, August 5th!
WHISPERING SMITH – James L Smith, aka Whispering Smith, led an action-filled life that bore little resemblance to the squeaky clean image of the man depicted in the movie, radio and television series based on his law enforcement career. Smith was a relentless lawman whom I often describe as “the Dirty Harry of the Old West.”
Whispering Smith was born in 1838 and by 1860 was making a living as a riverboat gambler up and down the Mississippi, where he acquired his famous nickname. He had his first gunfight in the form of a duel with a gambler named Larry Boyle on the Belle of Memphis. When the Civil War broke out James joined the Union Army, as did other future gunfighters like Wild Bill Hickok, Bear River Tom, Long-Haired Jim Courtright and others.
After the war he next surfaced in New Orleans, LA, as part of the city’s Metropolitan Police Force in 1868. By 1873 Smith had made detective and married his sweetheart Anna Mannion. Continue reading
The Frontierado holiday is Friday, August 5th!
GUNPLAY MAXWELL – This neglected gunslinger was born in Boston, MA as James Otis Bliss circa 1860. When he was 15 years old he got into a fight with a friend at a Boston tavern and shot him to death. Fleeing authorities the young man headed west and began a life of using various false names, including Charles L Maxwell or “Gunplay” Maxwell as he is best remembered.
Life on the run was bringing out both the dark violence AND the shrewd manipulative streak that would characterize the young man for the rest of his life. By late 1876 he was in Texas staying alive through assorted robberies, con games and increasingly frequent gunplay. Texas eventually became too hot for Gunplay Maxwell and by the late 1870s or early 1880s he moved north to Montana. Continue reading
Frontierado is Friday, August 5th!
PISTOL PETE – Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton was another of those real-life figures that some people mistakenly think are fictional characters. The elementary alliteration and the association of the name Pistol Pete with the mascot of the Oklahoma State University sports teams are part of the reason. That mascot was named after and was designed to look like the real-life Pistol Pete.
Eaton was a man who LIVED what would eventually become a cliche of Wild West fiction: the quest for revenge over the murder of a loved one, no matter how many years it takes.
In 1868 young Frank was eight years old and living with his parents in Twin Mounds, Kansas. Frank’s father had served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was being harassed by several former Confederate Army men who had ridden with Quantrill’s Raiders for a time. One day six of those men shot our hero’s father to death right in front of him, setting the course for the rest of the young man’s life. Continue reading