Category: Cemeteries

The Ghosts of Old Tascosa

 

I hope you’re doing some fun things this summer. A few weeks ago, I drove thirty miles from where I live to what used to be only one of three towns in the entire Texas Panhandle. Tascosa used to be a thriving, but very dangerous, town that at its peak boasted 350 people. It was settled in 1876 by an ex-soldier and blacksmith named Henry Kimball and it became the assembling point for the Tascosa/Dodge City Cattle Trail. Surrounded by large ranches, the town quickly became known as the Cowboy Capital of the Plains and was an economic rival of Dodge City, Kansas.

It also became a place where outlaws and bad men outnumbered the law-abiding sort.

Here’s an adobe schoolhouse (built 1911). It’s the oldest one of adobe in Texas.

Due to the town being only thirty -five miles from the New Mexico line, Billy the Kid used to rustle cattle and bring them to Tascosa to sell. He made the trip many times. His campground is still marked today in a shady spot near a creek.

Pat Garrett was another regular to frequent Tascosa that in 1879 had a population of 150 with only 8 English speaking women who were not employed in the considerable brothels and saloons.

Inside of two years, there were twenty-eight deaths caused by shootings and Boot Hill saw much activity. Here’s the picture I took and the restored markers. I think it’s the first Boot Hill cemetery I’ve ever been in.

A post office opened in 1878 and in 1880 the county of Oldham (only the second county in the entire Texas Panhandle) was formed and a stone courthouse was built. That courthouse is still there and they’ve turned it into a museum. Here’s the picture I took during my visit.

Despite the lawlessness, romance was alive and well. A mysterious saloon girl and gambler named Frenchy fell deeply in love with Mickey McCormick who owned one of the saloons. They married and from then on, the two became inseparable. This huge, deformed tree and marker is all that remains of the spot where their adobe house sat.

         

Mickey died in 1912 and Frenchy walked to visit his grave every day—even after the town died and everyone moved away, she remained. She lived alone in the ghost town by herself with no running water or electricity for twenty-seven years, grieving for Mickey. Finally, in poor health and her house falling around her, the woman whose real name they never knew or where she was from let them move her to the nearby town of Channing where she stayed a little over a year before dying in 1941. As per her wishes, they brought her back and laid her to rest next to her beloved Mickey.

Other ghosts reside there also—like Ed King, Frank Valley, Fred Chilton, and Jesse Sheets who were killed in a gunfight in the wee hours of March 20, 1886.

The ghost town was bought by Julian Bivins who turned around and donated it to the Cal Farley Boy’s Ranch in 1939. The town sits on this private land and I believe the thousands of boys(and now girls also) who’ve lived there have purged the voices of the ghosts. I didn’t feel any restless spirits. Although it is on private land, they welcome visitors.

If you’ve read any of my Outlaw Mail Order Brides, you’ve seen the town of Tascosa in the stories. Here’s one segment in Tally Shannon’s point of view from Book 1 – The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride:

Life was full of ups and downs, and this wasn’t the worst that they would face. She’d heard the men talk about a bounty hunter Ridge had seen in Tascosa and the reward poster the man had been showing around. Foreboding told her the worst still lay in front of them.

Have you ever been to or read about a ghost town? I’m curious what you thought. I would love to have seen Tascosa at its peak but I wouldn’t have wanted to live there. Too rough for me!

 

Deadwood’s Mount Moriah

This may seem morbid to some but I’ve always loved cemeteries. I love walking through them, reading the tombstones, imagining the person’s story. Did they achieve their hopes and dreams? Did they know love? Were they loved in return? How did they die? So many questions go through my mind. One of the most interesting trips my husband and I went on before he passed was to Deadwood. So much history there. Deadwood is where Wild Bill Hickok met his end in the Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon, shot by Jack McCall. Hickok, as well as Calamity Jane and a whole lot of others, is buried in the Mount Moriah cemetery.

Records show that in Deadwood’s first three years as a town there were 97 murders and suicides.

Here are few of Mount Moriah’s residents:

POTATO CREEK JOHNNY was a Welch immigrant at seventeen years old and looking for gold and excitement. Johnny (real name John Perrett) stood just 4’ 3” tall and as he grew older, he let his hair and whiskers grow long. Folks said he resembled one of Snow White’s dwarfs. Then one memorable day in May 1929, in working his mine, he discovered one of the largest gold nuggets anyone in South Dakota had ever seen. It weighed 73/4 troy ounces and valued at $45,000 at today’s currency rate. The find thrust him into celebrity status and he became a regular in all the parades. Folks from all around visited the cabin he built by himself in the woods. In 1943 at 77 years old, he took sick and died. He’s buried next to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane.

 

PREACHER SMITH was the first missionary in Black Hills and he was undoubtedly one of the most famous good guys. His real name was Henry Weston Smith and he walked into Deadwood with a wagon train in May 1876. He began preaching on the jam-packed street to the cutthroats, gamblers, prostitutes, and anyone who would listen. Tough, grizzled miners wearing guns would sit on the wooden planks or stand and listen to him. They always passed the hat at the end. August 20, 1876, he preached his last sermon and headed to a nearby town. He never made it. They found him three miles from Deadwood, shot through the heart. The killer was never found. All of Deadwood’s businesses shut down for the burial on Mount Moriah.

 

CHAMBERS DAVIS came to Deadwood in 1877 from the Denver Mint. He was an expert at ore testing an opened an assayer office on Main Street. He had a credit of $100,000 with which he was able to buy ore for California companies from eager prospectors. He was young and had a beautiful young wife, Adrienne. They were a popular young couple and were mentioned frequently in the social columns of the newspaper. In June 1878, she died very suddenly at the age of 33 of unknown causes. Then a year later in April, Chambers also died very suddenly and was buried next to his wife.

 

KITTY LEROY was Deadwood’s most famous soiled dove. The magnetic beauty was also a bigamist, married to five men all at the same time. Kitty was always armed to the teeth with two pistols, a couple of Bowie knives, and a dagger she tucked into her long brown curls. She wore huge diamonds in her ears and knew how to show a man a good time. In fact, men fought and killed over her. She was a professional dancer in the saloons and was often found at the card tables where she cheated men out of their hard-earned gold. Sam Curley, her fifth husband, was a faro dealer and very jealous. On Dec. 7, 1877, he caught Kitty in bed with another man and shot her, then shot himself. She was only 28 years old. Their funerals were held in the Lone Star saloon and they buried in a double grave. A month after the tragedy, ghostly apparitions were seen and continued until the saloon was demolished.

 

These are just a few of the interesting stories that are buried in Mt. Moriah cemetery. I’ll end this with a poem someone wrote upon the death of Marie Gaston, Deadwood’s first librarian.

How vainly we struggled to save her,

Around her how deeply we mourned,

When back to her Maker who gave it

Her beautiful spirit returned.

 

I just love visiting old cemeteries. In a plot next to my parents in the small country cemetery where they’re buried is a family who all died in the 1800s. The wife’s name was Texanna and I used her name as my heroine in a story I wrote for Give Me a Texas Ranger. I’m always finding something of interest. Do cemeteries interest you? Maybe you have one you’d like to share.

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