FRONTIERADO IS COMING UP ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 4th!
As always, Frontierado is a holiday dedicated to the myth of the old west, not the grinding reality. Here is a look at a handful of ladies who served as gunslinging Marshals.
Around 1889 or 1890 Ada Curnutt moved to Oklahoma (formerly Indian Territory) with her sister and her brother-in-law. By some accounts Ada chose to head west to get out from under the influence of her Methodist Minister father and equally devout mother.
When she was 20 years old, Curnutt started working as a Clerk of the Court in Norman, OK. Finding a desk job too dull for her, Ada soon became a Deputy Marshal for United States Marshal William Grimes. Her duties included serving writs and warrants, escorting dangerous prisoners from one jurisdiction to another and, of course, making arrests. Continue reading
FRONTIERADO IS FRIDAY, AUGUST 4th!
BLACK JACK KETCHUM – Black Jack was one of the leaders of the many outlaws who made their home in Hole In The Wall, Wyoming, all of them roughly lumped together under the general name the Hole In The Wall Gang. Though Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch faction of the gang is by far the most famous grouping, Ketchum and his followers deserve a much bigger reputation than they currently enjoy.
Ketchum was born in 1866 in San Angelo, TX, and by 1887 he was working as an actual cowboy at various ranches in the Lone Star State. In 1890, after a cattle drive to Clayton, NM, Black Jack and his brother Sam were involved in a train robbery and would spend the rest of their lives as outlaws, vowing never to work as miserable cowhands ever again.
By 1892 Ketchum’s Hole In The Wall gang included his brother Sam, Will “Noose” Carver, Bronco Bill Walters and Ben Kilpatrick, the Tall Texan. The Gang began alternating its time between launching train and bank robberies from their Hole In The Wall headquarters and running a shady saloon and gambling hall back in San Angelo. Continue reading
FRONTIERADO IS COMING UP ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 4th!
The Vigilante called “X”.
JOHN XAVIER BEIDLER, AKA “X” – How does a real-life figure who was known by the cool nickname “X” fly under the radar as thoroughly as this man has? His real name was John Xavier Beidler with his nom de guerre coming from his distinctive middle initial.
Born in 1831 X was one of the most successful Vigilantes in the history of the American West and his way of playing judge jury and executioner should have made him the subject of several gritty, “adult” westerns from the 1960s onwards. Spaghetti Westerns in particular could have romanticized him as a figure akin to that sub-genre’s famed Vigilantes like the Soldier of God and Sartana and others.
By the 1850s Beidler was living in Kansas where he was associated with John Brown and some of the more active elements of the Abolitionist movement. In 1852 he took part in sabotaging the offices of a pro-slavery newspaper and the exchange of gunfire that accompanied the act. Whether or not X played any further role in the Bleeding Kansas violence is still being debated.
In 1863, after two years in the Union Army John took part in the Montana Gold Rush and found himself frequenting Virginia City and Bannock. As in the California Gold Rush outlaws took advantage of the chaos to prey on gold shipments and payroll deliveries.
In Montana, however, the situation was further complicated by the fact that the gunslinging leader of the criminal faction, the one and only Handsome Henry Plummer, was also serving as the head of the area’s law enforcement.
(This was similar to the way in which modern-day criminal organizations often outrightly OWN the local authorities. Back then the crooks assumed a more active role by just pinning on a badge themselves and using their office as a cover for their illegal activities.)
Frustrated, many Montanans formed groups of Vigilantes to handle what the lawmen were too crooked or too inept to handle. Beidler refused to hide his identity like the other members of the Montana Vigilantes and so in late 1863 his fame as “X” began. 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
QUEEN ANN BASSETT – Ann Bassett, like a female Michael Corleone out west, took over her late mother Beth’s leadership of the Brown’s Park Gang of rustlers. The Johnson County War proper was over and done with but Queen Ann led the band of Robin Hood rustlers in additional raids and other guerrilla strikes at the vicious Cattle Barons of Wyoming.
When Ann was much younger Beth had sent her and Ann’s sister Josie to boarding school and while Josie excelled as a student Ann was a different story. The future Queen of the Rustlers enjoyed shocking people in her teen years, dolling up in the lastest fashions from back east and wearing (gasp) MAKEUP in a way that “decent” society knew was only done by Saloon Girls.
Ann at times put on a New England accent just to see people’s reactions to it and spouted made-up gibberish while claiming to be speaking Chinese. All the while she was absorbing every element of the way her mother Beth ran the Brown’s Park Gang. Sometimes the only things Ann agreed with her mother about were the beauty of Brown’s Park and the need to fight the Cattle Barons of the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association. 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