The Amazing John Clum

One of my favorite Western characters is the man who won the respect of hostile Apaches, captured Geronimo without a shot, served as the mayor and newspaper editor of Tombstone, Arizona and was a lifelong friend of Wyatt Earp.   John Phillip Clum (1851-1932) was a bundle of chutzpah, energy and courage whose accomplishments became the stuff of legend.


Clum arrived in Arizona on February 26, 1874, as the newly appointed (and very young) Indian Agent for the San Carlos Apache reservation.  The Apaches, until recently on the warpath, had been abused by previous agents who used their position to line their pockets.  The Army, assigned to keep the Indians under control, only added to their animosity.

Clum was determined to change things.  At San Carlos he treated the Apaches as friends, set up an Indian Police department and a system of self-rule.  His charges nicknamed him “Nantan Betunnikiyeh” meaning “Boss with the High Forehead” because he was losing his hair.  On April 21, 1877, Clum along with 100 Apache Police captured the marauding Geronimo in New Mexico and brought him to San Carlos.   It was the only time Geronimo was ever captured  at gunpoint, and it was done without a shot being fired on either side.  Geronimo and his small band left again, to be recaptured by the Army in 1886.  By then Clum had quit his job.  Frustrated by an uncaring Indian Bureau and harassment by the Army, he resigned on July 1, 1877.

Before this, however, he organized a “Wild Apache” show and, in 1876,  took a number of his charges on the road.  They raised the money for this trip by putting on “Entertainments” in Arizona.  Back East the Apaches were well received, but tragedy struck in Washington, D.C. when Taza, son of the great Cochise, sickened and died of Pneumonia.   The Apaches finished their tour and returned home.  Clum, who’d resigned his post, took it up again until the following year. 

Clum and his wife moved to Florence, Arizona where he ran a weekly newspaper.  Following the great silver strike, they moved back to Tombstone where, in 1880, he began publication of The Tombstone Epitaph.  In 1881, when the town was incorporated he became its first Mayor.  During this time he became friends with Wyatt Earp.  Because of this friendship he was almost assassinated after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

After the famous shoot out, the Earps and their friends, including Clum, were labeled as undesirables.  Clum left Tombstone and later served as Postal Inspector for the Territory of Alaska.  In later life he worked giving lectures and promoting tourism for the Southern Pacific Railroad.  In 1928 he moved to Los Angeles where he died in 1932, at the age of 80.

Clum’s early adventures were made into a 1956 movie, “Walk the Proud Land,” starring the perfect actor to play Clum, Audie Murphy.

This book, one of my favorites, is set in Arizona in the time of the Apache wars.  The cover is a true classic.  Painted by Pino, the most famous cover artist of the early 1990’s it also features the great cover model John DeSalvo. 

The story is a classic, too.  Half-Apache scout Latigo flees for his life after being framed for murder.  Wounded, he collapses on the doorstep of the widowed Rose.  Alone with her baby, should Rose help this man or turn him over to the law?

The book is now available in e-book format.  Here’s a purchase link if you’d like to learn more.

Do you have a favorite real-life Western character?   Has anyone seen the movie about John Clum?

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26 thoughts on “The Amazing John Clum”

  1. Elizabeth,

    Such an interesting post! I’ve heard of Clum, but never knew much about him, especially after the capture of Geronimo. He seems like a man who was always in the right place at the right time to witness and be a part of history…or the wrong place at the wrong time depending upon how you look at it. :o)

    There are so many wonderful characters in the American West, it’s hard to narrow it down for me. There’s just something about the people of the West that really captures the imagination…which makes great inspiration for fiction.

    The cover of APACHE FIRE is GORGEOUS! And the story sounds like a must read. I’m heading on over to grab a copy.


  2. Hi Elizabeth – The cover is gorgeous. I remember Pino and of course, John DeSalvo. I remember doing a report about Teddy Roosevelt and thought he was an amazing man. Also love all the old pioneers and cowboys. They were real solid men.

  3. I think the West both molded and attracted strong (and often eccentric) characters, Kirsten. Something about the challenges of that rough life.
    Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. Weren’t those Pino covers great, Charlene? And he did so many of them. I was lucky enough to have his work on several of my early historicals.
    And John…sigh, nobody like him. Can’t help wondering where he is now.

  5. Audie Murphy (sigh) was a hunk! I saw all of his movies and do remember Walk the Proud Land. He was also a war hero!

  6. My best friend growing up LOVED Audie Murphy, so I saw all of his movies, too. Walk the Proud Land was one of his best. And yes, he was a great war hero. Thanks for reminding us, Connie.

  7. I don’t believe I’ve every heard of him but he has a fascinating story. I always enjoyed reading about the Indians and their way of life. He seems like an exception and was really trying to make life better for them. Great cover!

  8. Elizabeth, I have never heard of Clum! What an interesting post! I live a couple of hours from where Geronimo is buried and go visit his grave a couple of times each year. It’s very peaceful there. I absolutely LOVE that cover. I am going to get this book TODAY, because you know how I am about my wounded heroes. LOL Sounds like a winner to me, Elizabeth!

  9. Thanks for your comment, Catslady. Given Clum’s accomplishments, especially in his pioneering treatment of the Indians, it’s surprising he isn’t better known. But most people have never heard of him.

  10. Where is Geronimo buried, Cheryl? I envy your being able to visit his grave.
    My daughter-in-law, whose ancestors settled in Arizona, sent me an amazing true story about her family. They were traveling in a wagon train when Geronimo attacked. The family did the only thing they could–they knelt down by the wagon and prayed and prayed. Geronimo saw them praying to the Great Spirit and left them alone. Theirs was the only wagon spared.

  11. Thanks, Karen. At a time when the Indians were being killed, mistreated and exploited, Clum’s work with the Apaches was revolutionary. His idea to take some of them East to put on a show pre-dated Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show by several decades.

  12. Hope you can find the movie, Margaret. I haven’t seen it since it was new, but I remember it was good. As I said, Audie Murphy is the perfect Clum–both were small men, with a lot of attitude.

  13. Howdy Elizabeth, congrats on the gorgeous cover. I watched Geronimo with Matt Demon while giving platelets once but will have to re-watch to see if Clum is in it. I love learning about real people from the past. My favorite is Chief Joseph, and Captain Wood who also resigned his commission after the Nez Perce were so mistreated. Love this!

  14. Very interesting blog, Elizabeth. I’ve never heard of this man but he led an amazing life. He really must’ve been brave. A true hero.

    Love the cover for Apache Fire. That was designed in the days when publishers really cared about quality work. I’m sure it’s worth a small fortune just for the cover alone.

  15. And Tanya, that movie was just on, not too many days ago. (During the Olympics)..
    This was a very interesting blog, Elizabeth. As Tanya said that Geronimo movie was on, but not knowing who this man was, at that time, I missed the name of any of the characters. I have to admit I wasn’t listening too well.
    Will have to bone up on my Arizona history. Sounds like a very interesting man. Well done.

  16. Hi Elizabeth, Thank you for introducing John Clum. What an interesting and dedicated man! When it comes to real people of the past, I tend to think of groups rather than individuals. I admire every man and women who packed their worldly goods in a covered wagon and headed west. What an adventure!

  17. Elizabeth, he’s buried over in the Fort Sill prisoner of war cemetery near Lawton, OK. His grave is one of the most peaceful places I believe I’ve ever been. He’s surrounded by his family and warriors out in a cemetery that is surrounded by woods (there’s a chain link fence around it). It’s about an hour and 45 minutes or so from my house–a good day trip, and there’s a little place nearby, Meers, OK, that sells one of the nation’s top 10 burgers according to Diners Drive Ins and Dives–they are MARVELOUS!

  18. Forgot to say that Geronimo became a Christian in later life, of sorts, but never could give up the bottle. He was drunk one night coming home, during a freezing February, and fell off his horse. He died of pneumonia. Loved that story about the wagon, Elizabeth. That’s so interesting!

  19. Since I didn’t see that Geronimo movie, I can’t be much help, Tanya. But I do admire all you do for others, like giving blood (they don’t want mine). You’re awesome!

    Linda, back in the day, the covers were actual paintings, not touched-up photos like most of them are now. Computers have made everything faster but they haven’t kept the quality.

  20. Thanks for stopping by, Mary J. Clum may have also been a minor character in the Wyatt Earp movie, but I’d have to see it again to be sure. As Mayor and newspaper editor, he’d have been on the scene a lot.

    There were so many brave people in the West. You’re right, Vicki. How many of us would take on those hardships and dangers today? Not me!

  21. Thanks for the information on Geronimo’s grave Cheryl. Don’t know when I’ll get to Oklahoma, but I’d love to visit it. I would get goose bumps! Geronimo’s always fascinated me.

    One of his sons confirmed the wagon train story to a relative of my d.i.l. long after it happened. Maybe the memory of it influenced him to become a Christian.

  22. What an interesting man. He certainly covered a lot of territory and did a wide variety of things. It is a shame he was “forced” out of the Indian Bureau. He was just who the indians needed.

    I do not have a favorite real-life western character. There were many interesting individuals who settled and explored the West. I don’t remember seeing “walk The Proud Line.” If I did see it, it would have been on T.

    The story of APACHE FIRE sounds familiar, but I don’t recognize the cover. I definitely think it is one I would remember. I will have to dig through the boxes to see if I have it. I couldn’t find it on the shelves. Mr. DeSalvo has graced the covers of many books I have read. Were you able to get the original painting of the cover? It would certainly be a nice thing to have on the wall of your office.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

  23. Thanks for your comment, Patricia. Clum was only 23 when he was appointed Agent for the San Carlos reservation. The Indian Bureau seemed to think such a young man would be easy to control. They were wrong, and they weren’t happy with his innovative approach.
    Sadly, I don’t have the cover painting. I imagine it would have been very expensive, and I was a struggling single mom at the time the book came out. Hope you find your copy. There may be a few used paperbacks yet on Amazon if you don’t have it.

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