In the Old West, the terms rustling and rustler had several meanings. Livestock who forged well were called rustlers by cowmen; meaning the animals could graze or “rustle up” nourishment on marginal land. A horse wrangler or camp cook was also a rustler, but the most widespread and notorious use of the word referred to a cattle thief.
On the vast open ranges of yesteryear, rustling was a serious problem and punishable by hanging. At its peak, one of the largest ranches in the Texas Panhandle had over 150,000 head of cattle and a thousand horses. Obviously, thieves could drive stolen livestock miles away before a rancher learned he had animals missing.
The vast distances to town, hence law enforcement, often prompted ranchers to take actions of their own. Court convictions for rustling were difficult because of the animosity of small ranchers and settlers toward big cattle outfits. Many times, “vigilante justice,” hang ‘um first…ask questions later, was handed down by organized stockmen. Like horse thieves, cattle rustlers could be hanged without benefit of trial, judge or jury.
Today, even with detailed brands logged in books, registering with state officials, inspectors, and the meticulous paperwork involving transportation, not to mention a new era of branding technology to keep track of animals, ranches still face cattle rustlers…those dishonest people who want to profit from selling cattle without the bother of raising them.
No longer is a single head of beef stolen for food or an occasional Native American slipping off the reservation to provide for his family… it is big business. Modern day rustlers often sneak onto rural ranches at night, or on weekends when the owners are away, steal and sell cattle. An average calf can bring thousands of dollars on the open market; so multiply that by a trailer, or even a truck load, of cattle and you can see why it’s a profitable business for thieves.
Amid warnings that cattle rustling is on the rise in Texas, recently the state Senate passed a measure that would stiffen penalties for stealing farm animals, making theft of even one head of livestock a third-degree felony drawing up to a ten year prison sentence and a fine. Until the proposal is signed into law, a rustler can steal ten or more head of livestock and the punishment is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the law of the Old West … hang ‘um high and fast.
But was hanging always fast and efficient?
I delved into the subject of cattle rustling and the methods of rustlers while researching for Give Me a Cowboy where my Pinkerton Agent comes to the Panhandle to break up an outfit of rustlers. But I became interested in “vigilante justice” from my mother-in-law, who recently passed on at the age of 92. A story teller, she was reared in Clayton, New Mexico. One of her favorite tales was about the outlaw Black Jack Ketchum, the first man hanged in the town. His execution turned into a big town event, with the lawmen actually selling tickets to the hangin’. As history has it, the sheriff had to use two blows of the hatchet before the rope broke. Probably because of their lack of experience in “structured” hangings, coupled with the lawmen misjudging Ketchum’s weight and stretching the rope during testing, he was beheaded. Ketchum was buried at Clayton’s Boot Hill on April 26, 1901.
But my mother-in-law’s story only began there. Three decades later, when she was in grade school, Ketchum’s grave was moved to the new cemetery. Because her father was Clayton’s mayor, she witnessed the reburial. According to her, they opened the grave and she and her cousin touched the bones of Ketchum’s little finger. I’m sure in those days a casket did not weather well.
To me it’s so fascinating when history bridges time and touches our lives. Do you have a family story where history inserted itself into reality?
I’m giving away your choice of either hardback or paperback of either Give Me a Texan or Give Me a Cowboy to one of the commenters.
Writing a series about outlaws has opened my eyes a bit concerning the oddities I sometimes find hidden way back in history. It’s been fun and very interesting.
Sometimes teens in the old West, just as today, had some wild oats to sow. Yet, you never think about girls doing it back in the 1880s. Yet, this one became famous for it.
Rose Ella Dunn was born Sept. 5, 1878 in Indian Territory at Ingalls, Oklahoma. She was the only girl among five brothers. That was probably the problem right there. They taught her to ride, rope, and shoot. The boys had formed their own outlaw gang by the time she was just twelve years old. I’m not sure what their parents must’ve thought of that.
A few years passed and when she was fourteen or fifteen, her brothers introduced her to outlaw George “Bittercreek” Newcomb.
The striking beauty with a kind demeanor became very infatuated and Bittercreek called her his Rose of Cimarron. Bittercreek was a member of the Doolin/Dalton gang and they were extremely protective of her.
Rose would go into town for supplies and whatever the gang needed, plus bring back news. It was a good system.
For some reason, maybe they got religion or something, her brothers disbanded their gang and started bounty hunting. Knowing most of the gangs and how they operated, they had quite a bit of success. I’m sure the brothers switching horses mid-stream must’ve made everyone on the lawless side just a tad bit nervous.
On September 1, 1893, the gang was in the saloon in Ingalls, Oklahoma when they found themselves surrounded by a posse of U.S. marshals. A hail of bullets rained down on them. The outlaws exchanged fire and made a run for it.
Bittercreek was struck down in the street but managed to pull himself to cover. Rose watched it all from a nearby hotel, filled with horror. She ran to him with two belts of ammunition and a Winchester rifle and hunkered down next to him.
Rose fired the Winchester at the marshals while Bittercreek loaded his revolvers. Finally, he was able to escape.
Three deputy marshals lay dead. On the gang side, several were badly shot up. Rose hid out with them, nursing them back to health.
By 1895 Bittercreek had a $5,000 bounty on his head and was wanted DEAD OR ALIVE. That caught the attention of her brothers. Loyalty didn’t amount to much when that much money was involved.
The next time they came to visit at the house, the brothers were waiting. They shot Bittercreek and the outlaw with him as they dismounted, killing them both.
Rose was never prosecuted for her involvement with the gang and her life of crime ended. She married a local politician until her death at the age of 76. I could find no record of any children.
So, was she just a rebellious teenager innocently caught up in something over her head? Or was she truly an outlaw and in it all the way? Have you ever been caught up in something you really wanted no part of and then couldn’t figure a way out?
I’m giving away two $10 Amazon gift cards in a drawing on Sunday.
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!
If you’ve ever read a western novel or watched a western movie, no doubt you’ve run across a whole herd of quaint terms that add character to the story. Where did those terms come from, why did folks use them, and when were they popular?
Here are some of the words and phrases used to describe the bad boys of the Old West. Some of them are older than one might imagine. Western historical romance authors may be dismayed to find others are newer than they hoped.
Buscadero: gunfighter. From the Spanish buscadero, literally a searcher. The origin of the slang usage is obscure; possibly “seeking trouble.”
Bushwhacker: cowardly enemy who strikes from ambush. Americanism; arose c. 1809. Oddly, the verb “bushwhack” arose later, c. 1837. During the American Civil War (at least from 1862-1865), “bushwhacker” acquired a less-pejorative connotation, meaning any irregular who took to the woods to strike from cover and then vanish. The term was applied in equal measure to both friend and foe.
Cabrón: an outlaw of low breeding and even lower principles. In Spanish, the word means “goat.” Origin of the slang usage is obscure.
Cold-blooded: unfeeling, dispassionate, cruel. Arose c. 1828 from the old (1600s) notion that excitement increased human blood temperature. Reptiles have been called cold-blooded since about 1600, and the reptilian image also played into the description as applied to killers and other reprehensible sorts who acted without apparent regret.
Cold lead: from the mid-1800s until the 1920s, a bullet. About 1920, usage changed and “hot lead” became slang for bullets. The reason is unclear.
Cowboy of the Pecos: rustler, based on the notion safety could be found in the lawless area around Texas’ Pecos River.
Dressed to kill: double entendre meaning not only that a man wearing two guns most likely was a killer, but also that wearing a double rig (a holstered pistol on each hip) made it difficult for a gunman to do anything with either hand without implying a threat; therefor, dudes who adopted the practice were likely to be killed.
Dry-gulch: to ambush someone, particularly in a cowardly manner.
Get the drop on: to obtain a marked advantage, especially with the help of a gun. Probably dates to the California gold rush of 1849, when claim-jumpers sometimes seemed to materialize from the ether before hijacking a profitable claim at gunpoint. First documented appearance in print 1869 in Alexander K. McClure’s Three Thousand Miles through the Rocky Mountains: “So expert is he with his faithful pistol, that the most scientific of rogues have repeatedly attempted in vain to get ‘the drop’ on him.”
GTT: on the wrong side of the law. Short for “gone to Texas,” this usage dates at least to the Civil War, when deserters and other former soldiers from both armies — suddenly unemployed and inured to violence — migrated to still-wild, wide-open Texas, “lost” their names, and took up outlawry. (Originally, “Gone to Texas” was the phrase families ruined by the financial panic of 1819 painted on doors and fence signs before lighting out to begin anew in greener pastures south of the Mexican border.) In his 1857 book Journey through Texas, Frederick Law Olmstead noted that many newcomers to the state were suspected of having skipped out on something “discreditable” back home. Thomas Hughes, in his 1884 book G.T.T., wrote “When we want to say that it is all up with some fellow, we just say, ‘G.T.T.’ as you’d say, ‘gone to the devil,’ or ‘gone to the dogs.’”
Gun: until the early 20th Century, cannon or long guns like shotguns and rifles. Handguns were called pistols or — after Samuel Colt introduced his first patented repeating revolver in 1836 — six-guns or six-shooters.
Gunman: shootist; gunfighter. First recorded use 1903 in a New York newspaper. (Gunsman, with an S in the middle, arose on the American frontier during the Revolutionary period.)
Gunslinger: No such term existed in the Old West. The word is pure Hollywood, from the early days of western movies.
Gun shark: gunfighter. Arose mid-1800s from the earlier (1700s) use of “shark” to indicate a voracious or predatory person, based on the reputation of the fish.
Heeled up: armed. Arose ca. 1866 from the 1560s usage of “heel” to mean attaching spurs to a gamecock’s feet.
Hogleg: large revolver. Originally referred to the Bisley single-action Colt (first manufactured 1894), but later generalized to any big pistol.
Holdup: a robbery. American English colloquialism, 1851. The verb “to hold up,” meaning “to stop by force and rob,” didn’t arise until 1887, apparently from the robbers’ command to raise hands. “Hold up,” meaning to delay, dates to 1837.
Hustler: thief, especially one who roughs up his victims. Arose 1825. Sense of “energetic worker” is from 1884; sense of “prostitute” dates from 1924.
Lam: to run off. U.S. slang dating to 1886; of uncertain origin. “On the lam,” meaning flight to avoid prosecution or consequences, arose c. 1897.
On the cuidado: running from the law. From the Spanish warning ten cuidado, which means “be careful.”
Owlhoot: outlaw. “Riding the owlhoot trail” referred to a man who had left the straight and narrow to become an outlaw. One explanation of origin came from a man living in the Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma around 1870. He claimed the name came about from the Indians in the area using owl hoots to signal danger or someone’s approach. Another tale indicates outlaws were called “owlhoots” because, when they were getting ready to ambush somebody in the dark, they would imitate the hooting of owls to signal one another.
Pecos swap: theft. Again, based on the reputation of Texas’s Pecos River area.
Pistolero: expert with a handgun. Adopted from Mexican Spanish, in which the word has the same meaning.
Rattlesnaked: ambushed (literally or figuratively) in a particularly devious or cunning way. Dates at least to 1818.
Safecracker (also safe-cracker): individual with a talent for liberating money from locked vaults. Arose ca. 1897, as a reference to robbers who used dynamite to thwart security boxes.
Shootist: expert marksman. Arose 1864.
Sidewinder: dangerously cunning or devious person. Arose American West ca. 1875 as a reference to some species of rattlesnakes’ “peculiar lateral movement.”
Stickup: robbery at gunpoint. Arose 1887 from the earlier (1846) verb “stick up,” meaning to rob someone at gunpoint. The phrase “stick up for,” meaning defend, is from 1823. The archaic noun “stick-up” arose ca. 1857 as a colloquial term for a stand-up collar.
Wanted posters have a long history and they existed long before America was discovered. In England, I believe the first ones came about as the sheriffs sought to get their hands on Robin Hood. Most believe the thief’s name was an alias used freely by all thieves in England. But that time period is when the first wanted posters came about.
In America, the first was for the capture of John Wilkes Booth for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know how large a part the poster played in Booth’s capture but I do know they were used extensively afterward as a tool for catching criminals.
The money offered for the culprit was a great incentive and the amounts varied. If the crime was against railroads, stagecoach lines, or big banks, it was more because the companies put up the money. For smaller businesses for just low profile criminals, it was often around $50 or less.
Since photographs were extremely hard to come by for the most part in the 1800s, the posters usually only gave a brief description of the outlaw or maybe had a hand-drawn likeness.
The progression of cameras changed the landscape considerably. No longer were lawbreakers hidden in the shadows. Their faces were everywhere for all to see.
If the poster used the phrase, “Dead or Alive” on it, that made it okay to just kill the wanted man or woman. The person got the reward either way and it was often safer to bring them in dead.
Jesse James had a $25,000 bounty on his head and the Governor of Missouri put up the money. That’s equivalent to $115,000 in today’s currency. A whole lot of dinero.
Most were lots smaller. In 1892, a poster offered $6,500 for The Sundance Kid. That same year, Bob, Emmett, and Grat Dalton had a $5,000 reward for all three, not each. In 1874, the Texas Rangers put out one for John Wesley Hardin and didn’t state an amount. One for Billy the Kid only offered $500.
In 2007, the FBI went a step further and began to use electronic billboards. In 2014, they claimed that 53 cases had been solved as a direct result of the billboards.
I’ve used wanted posters in quite a few of my books and in my upcoming To Marry a Texas Outlaw in November, Luke Weston has a $2000 bounty on his head for killing a federal judge. It’s fun to fantasize about living in that era and thinking about all that money. It would’ve been nice for someone who made less than a dollar a week come into a windfall like this for catching an outlaw.
Do you think you’d have been a bounty hunter back then? Lots to think about. I have one copy of To Love a Texas Ranger to give away to someone who comments. The drawing will be Sunday.
I’ve always been interested in history and did a lot of research on the West while I was writing the Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Cengage, 2012). I also spent time in Arizona after my father moved to a ghost town near the Mexican border, and I was fascinated by the area around Tombstone, where much of the WANTED series is set.
In the first book in the series, Grace and the Guiltless,Grace is the lone survivor after outlaws massacre her family. She risks her reputation by entering the notorious Bird Cage Theater to report the crime to the sheriff:
Clouds of smoke enveloped Grace. Like the black, acrid smoke from the burning cabin that still clung to her pores and clothes, the sweetish cigar smoke and the sharper scent of burning tobacco from hand-rolled cigarettes suffocated her. Raucous laughter, the tinkle of a piano, and the clink of glasses pulsed through the room. The infamous alcoves, or bird cages, some with their red velvet curtains drawn, perched overhead like rows of fancy packages.
Her eyes stinging from the haze, Grace squinted to find the sheriff. So many black frock coats blurred into an indistinguishable mass…
Disentangling herself from pawing hands as she crosses the room, Grace irritates the sheriff by separating him from the painted lady keeping him company.
The heavyset man frowned at her. “So, what can I do for you, Miss —”
“Grace Milton, sir. Yesterday my parents . . . my whole family . . .” Grace’s tongue tripped over the words. If she said them aloud, it would make it real. But if she didn’t, those killers would get away with what they had done. “Elijah Hale and his gang . . . they shot my pa, and-and…”
The sheriff’s face paled at the mention of Hale’s name, but he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, though his hands shook slightly. “Mr. Hale is well known in these parts as a respectable man.”
Respectable man? A picture imprinted itself on Grace’s mind – Hale smiling, his gun pointed straight at her father’s heart.
The sheriff pulled a cigar from his vest pocket and rolled it between his fingers, avoiding her eyes.
“Did you hear me? Hale killed my pa. And my ma, and my—”
The sheriff chomped down on the cigar, twisted, and then spat the end into the nearby spittoon. The wad hit the brass with a wet ringing sound. “Any witnesses?”
“Me,” Grace choked out.
Sheriff Behan lit his cigar and blew a puff of smoke in Grace’s direction. “Not sure your word,” he said, his gaze raking her disheveled appearance, “would stand up against Hale’s.” He waved his cigar in a dismissive circle. “You bring me some proof, and I’ll consider looking into it.”
A white-hot volcano of rage erupted in Grace’s stomach. Did that badge glinting at her from across the table mean anything at all?
“My family’s dead in the ground.” She sucked in air to control the tremor in her voice. “I dug their graves myself.” She held out her blistered and bloodied hands. “Is that proof enough for you?”
Something flickered in the sheriff’s eyes. Pity maybe? But he quickly shuttered it. “That’s a sad story Miss Milton, but people die every day.” His voice loaded with fake sympathy, he continued, “Lots of Injuns ’round here. Renegade soldiers. Hermits. Even coyotes. Understandable you’d be a mite mixed up following such a tragedy. You being hysterical and all.”
“I. Am. Not. Hysterical.” Grace spat out each word. Furious, yes. Hysterical, no. Although he was rapidly pushing her in that direction. She’d get no help from this snake.
As Grace suspects, the sheriff is in cahoots with the gang, so she trains as a bounty hunter to singlehandedly track down the criminals. One reviewer calls her the “Katniss of the Wild West.” But when Grace falls for Joe, a?rugged range rider, can she give up her independence to take on a partner?
In book 2, Her Cold Revenge, Grace must prove her skills and stop a train robbery masterminded by the outlaws who slaughtered her family. And as she slowly opens her heart to both Joe and the Ndeh tribe, who take her in, her heartache begins to heal. Yet she’s still torn between revenge and love.
“Every second had me on the edge of my seat…”
“I’ve never been so moved by a book. You honesty made me cry…”
The books in the WANTED series came out in the UK first, and then in the U.S., with different covers.
Erin Johnson grew up watching classic western movies with her father, which fueled her lifelong love of horseback riding. She’s always dreamed of being a fierce-talking cowgirl, but writing about one seemed like the next best thing. She loves traveling, painting, and teaching, and she writes under several pseudonyms for both children and adults.
Giveaway! : Erin has a great giveaway with two separate winners! For a chance to win, leave a comment for Erin and you’ll be entered. One winner will receive a copy of Grace & the Guiltless and the second winner will receive a copy of the recipe book, Feast on Fiction!
Patti Sherry-Crews is funny, friendly, and a pleasure to know. She lives smack-dab in the middle of the Midwest and took part of her education in Wales, where she studied archaeology, Welsh, and Welsh literature. Nevertheless, she writes western historical romance. Go figure. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Patti!
What do Billy the Kid and the Grand Duchess Anastasia have in common? Like Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, The Lost Dauphin of France, and the Princes in the Tower, years after their “deaths” rumors of their survival persisted.
It’s obvious why certain factions in Europe would want their royals to escape death. But why do we want to believe a group of gunslingers and bank robbers went on to live a quiet life under an assumed name?
I’ve been thinking about this question, and except for a few stray individuals such as D.B. Cooper, I can’t think of a group so rumored to have faked their own deaths as much as the American outlaw of the old west.
Is it because the time and place capture our imagination? Or is it the personalities? Maybe we can’t bear the thought these mythologized, larger than life men were fallible after all? I picture Butch and Sundance always two steps ahead of the posse, Billy the Kid slipping out of handcuffs and escaping from jail, and Jesse James outwitting the Pinkertons. It is hard to then, picture these same men pinned down by gun fire in Bolivia, being taken down in the middle of the night while visiting his sweetheart, or being shot in the back while righting a crooked picture.
It was not uncommon for outlaws to go by an alias. Butch Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker. Billy the Kid was christened Henry McCarty in New York City but was also known as Henry Antrim and William H. Bonney. Butch and Sundance moved around South America under the names James Ryan and Harry E. Place (Etta Place). So it’s a short stretch to see them moving on with a new name after “killing off” their old one.
Rumor has it Butch went on to live in the Pacific Northwest under a name unknown to this day. A few Billy the Kids surfaced, Bushy Bill being the most famous. Of all of them, even though Jesse James isn’t my favorite outlaw, I believe he did successfully fake his own death—but that’s another story.
When I was creating my own bad boy for Margarita and the Hired Gun, I had these men in mind, but especially the resourceful and charming Billy the Kid. Like Billy’s mother, Rafferty is an Irish immigrant who got his American start in New York City. The Kid was only 5’3”, and judging by the few photographs we have of him, it’s hard to see his sex appeal. Despite all that, he was quite the ladies’ man. A picture recently surfaced of him playing croquet and wearing a striped cardigan I’d expect to see on my grandfather. He looks incredibly young. A man loved by ladies and feared by men—my type of hero.
Rafferty had many “adventures” in America, and in true outlaw style, he had to change his name a few times. The excerpt I’ve included is the scene where Rafferty tells Margarita his real name. They’ve endured a hair-rising stretch of the trail and both have let their guard down in their relief. It is the first time since fleeing Ireland he hears his own name being spoken.
Patti Sherry-Crews writes romances because she can’t help herself. She is a romantic who turns everything into a romance in the hope that everyone can just work it out and live happily ever after. Patti has published stories in several other genres, including paranormal and narrative nonfiction. Margarita and the Hired Gun is her first historical western but won’t be her last. The old west has always fascinated her, because the time and place are unique: the mix of cultures all coming together at a point in history when so many people were drawn westward in attempts to reinvent themselves after the great shake-up of the Civil War. The old west saw the borders between law and outlaw blurred, and people moved back and forth between the two, a theme reflected in Margarita and the Hired Gun.
Beautiful Margarita McIntosh escapes Flagstaff with a hired gun, Rafferty, as her only protection from her father’s powerful enemies who are hot on their trail. Giving up her life of leisure is nothing compared to the passion she finds in Rafferty’s arms. Together, they face a perilous journey that becomes a fight for their very lives—and a dream of the future neither of them could have imagined.
Within minutes, the trail turned onto a flat piece of grassland on top of a plateau. Margarita took in a deep breath. Her hands were shaking. He waited for her to come up alongside him.
“I think we all need a rest,” he said, smiling thinly at her.
He dismounted and led his horse and the mule over to a copse of trees. He tied up his horse and mule to a tree near a patch of grass, which the animals hungrily tore into. Margarita followed his lead.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, reaching into one of the packs.
“No. I don’t trust my stomach right now.”
“Fine, but do get some water into ya,” he said, sitting down with an apple and his canteen on a big boulder in the shade. She sat down on the ground beside him and was met with his look of surprise. She’d never sat near him before.
“What would have happened if the path was too narrow for you to get off your horse?” she asked, shuddering.
He regarded her with a little grin on his face. “You don’t have to think about that now, and I don’t want to. That part of the trail is behind us, never to be repeated on this trip.”
He pulled a large knife out of his boot. Margarita flinched. He gaped at her before cutting a slice out of the apple. He handed her a slice.
“It will do you good. An apple will settle your stomach.”
Her hand brushed against his fingers as she took the slice, sending a shock up her arm. He drew back as if feeling a charge, too.
“Thank you, Raf…I don’t know what to call you. Do you have a first name? Rafferty is a mouthful.”
He looked down and smiled. “I do have a first name.”
After a long pause she added, “But you’re not going to tell me?”
“I’ve got no problem telling you,” he said, but he continued to sit in silence.
“It appears that you do,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t mean to stump you with that question.”
He looked down at her, his deep blue eyes full of mischief. “I’m only trying to work out which name to give you. I’ve had a few.”
“Oh…I see. How about the one your parents gave you?”
He looked down at his hands, focused on carving out another slice of apple. “Michael.”
“That’s a nice name.”
“And Rafferty isn’t my last name. It’s Byrne.”
“Why do you have so many names?”
“Loads of people out here have more than one name. That’s what you do here, which is one reason I like the west. If you stop liking who you are, you become someone different,” he said with a wink, handing her another slice of apple.
She smiled coyly at him. “Mr. Byrne, what have you been up to?”
He chuckled. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime. We have weeks yet ahead of us. My misdeeds will give us something to talk about. How about you, Margarita? Margarita is quite a mouthful, as well. Do people call you Rita?”
She realized this was the first time he called her by her name. She liked the way her name sounded coming from him. The way he seemed to chew the separate syllables of her name sounded like water roiling gently over pebbles in a creek.
She sat for a moment, relishing the heat radiating in her chest at the sound of her name spoken in his deep, silken voice. He was looking at her with something close to affection in his eyes. Then, she shook herself. “Not if they want to stay on my good side! I hate being called Rita. My father calls me Maggie.”
The smile disappeared, and the blood drained from his face. He stood up. “Time to hit the trail again if we want to reach camp and get these horses watered.”
He was walking away from her, already at his horse.
“All right, Michael,” she said, in a sweet voice, with a smile on her face.
His back was to her, but she saw his shoulders stiffen. Something about the gesture wiped the smile right off her face.
Life on the open range could be a discomforting experience, what with outlaws popping out from behind the sagebrush without the slightest provocation, nesters “accidentally” mistaking a cattleman’s range for the quarter section they’d purchased, steers stampeding wherever they pleased, and wild animals running amok in settlers’ vegetable gardens—not to mention all those Indians to keep track of.
Things weren’t much easier for townies. For one thing, outlaws didn’t confine themselves to the countryside. Drunks stumbled out of saloons with reckless abandon, ladies of questionable virtue roamed the streets at will, and barbers pulled teeth or performed surgery like they knew what they were doing. Even church socials sometimes got out of hand.
At least folks in town could count on the law to keep things somewhat under control, right?
Finding a reliable lawman was anything but easy. El Paso, Texas, discovered that when it hired Dallas Stoudenmire as city marshal. Stoudenmire, a deadly gunman with a mean temper and a fondness for strong drink, insisted on starting fights and shooting people—some of them even criminals. As a young man, famed lawman Wyatt Earp stole horses. Between gigs as a county sheriff, town marshal, and city policeman, Earp ran faro tables, owned brothels, got arrested for a number of crimes, broke out of jail, led a vigilante group, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Pat Garrett may have been a straight arrow legally speaking, but he was unpleasant to be around. Even his fellow officers objected to his disposition: a refreshing mixture of arrogance and surliness.
Some men found a badge to be an excellent disguise for nefarious activities. Take these guys, for example:
In 1856, at the age of 24, Plummer became the marshal of Nevada City, Calif., the third-largest settlement in the state. In 1859, the marshal killed the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he received parole in six months and immediately joined a gang of stagecoach robbers.
In January 1862, Plummer formed his own gang and began hijacking wagons transporting gold out of mining camps. When that enterprise petered out in January 1863, Plummer relocated to the newest gold rush in Bannack, Montana. There, he formed the Innocents, a network of road agents that numbered more than 100 men within a few short months.
In May 1863, Plummer lost a sheriff election and subsequently threatened his rival until the man high-tailed it, fearing for his life. Plummer took over the sheriff’s job and right away appointed two of his Innocents cronies as deputies. Oddly, crime dramatically increased. In about nine months, more than 100 murders occurred and robberies, assaults, and assorted other crimes reached unprecedented levels. All the while, Plummer—under the guise of cracking down on lawlessness—hanged witnesses.
On January 10, 1864, having had enough law enforcement for a while, fifty to seventy-five vigilantes rounded up Plummer and his two deputies and hanged them in the basement of a local store.
Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles
In the 1890s, Alvord and Stiles served as deputy sheriffs in Willcox, Arizona. Unsatisfied with their salaries, the two began robbing Southern Pacific Railroad trains to supplement their income. Emboldened by pulling a number of successful jobs, they undertook their most daring escapade on September 9, 1899, in what came to be known as the Cochise Train Robbery. Instead of clinging to tradition and stopping the train on a lonely stretch of track in the middle of nowhere, Alvord and Stiles had five members of their gang blow up the safe while the train was stopped in the town of Cochise. Alvord and Stiles, maintaining their law-enforcement decorum, were part of the posse that unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend the robbers in the Chiricahua Mountains.
About five months later, on February 15, 1900, the gang struck again, in broad daylight in the tiny town of Fairbank, Arizona. While the train was stopped at the station, the Alvord-Stiles gang approached the express car, guns drawn, only to find the messenger responsible for the safe unwilling to abide such rude behavior. During the gunfight that erupted, two of the five gang members were wounded and one ran away. The messenger, also wounded, hid the safe’s key before losing consciousness. Unable to find the key and without a single stick of dynamite between them, the rest of the gang vamoosed.
Once again, Alvord and Stiles rode with a posse to track down the outlaws, one of whom was injured so badly he had to be left behind about six miles outside town. Despite Alvord’s and Stiles’s attempts to misdirect the pursuers, they stumbled across the wounded man. Before he died, the outlaw fingered Alvord as the ringleader. Stiles confessed and turned state’s evidence, allowing him to remain comfortably outside the bars while Alvord cooled his heels inside. A short while later, Stiles broke Alvord out of the hoosegow and the two of them lit a shuck for Mexico.
The Arizona Rangers invaded Mexico and, in 1904, engaged the two now-expatriates in a gun battle. They captured Alvord, but Stiles got away. After a brief stint in the Rangers under an assumed name, Stiles was killed a few years later while working as a lawman in Nevada, also under an assumed name. Alvord did two years in Yuma Territorial Prison and took it on the lam for Panama upon his release.
In 1898, Fort Worth, Texas, Assistant Police Chief Grunnels talked a gang of Oklahoma bank robbers out of robbing a local diamond merchant and into robbing a train in Saginaw, Texas, instead. Grunnels masterminded the operation, planning to apprehend the bandits after they made off with the money, then collect the reward and keep the loot.
The Apple Dumpling Gang might have performed the train heist with more aplomb. While crawling across the top of the coal tender to reach the engine, the gang’s leader slipped and accidentally discharged his pistol. His minions mistook the misfire as their signal to hop on the train and commence whatever mischief their roles required. Chaos ensued.
Meanwhile, Grunnels and a cadre of Fort Worth police officers not in on the plan raced to the rescue of a train that had yet to be robbed. The discombobulated robbers scrammed. The Fort Worth Police Department became suspicious when it discovered Grunnels reached the scene of the crime before the crime had been reported. Grunnels was fired and indicted, but he disappeared before trial.
The heroes in the two novellas that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts could give lessons in how to fail at outlawry to all of the compromised lawdogs above. So, here’s my question for this month: If you were going to commit a crime in the Old West, what crime do you think you could pull off? Bank or train robbery? Horse or cattle rustling? Murder for hire? Spitting on the sidewalk? Something else? I’ll give an e-book of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of y’all who’s brave enough to expose your criminal dreams.😉
Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.
The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?
A couple of autumns ago, Hubs and I visited Colorado during peak aspen season and found ourselves in Leadville.
Well, you don’t just find yourself in a place two miles high…we went on purpose, had a great visit and lunch in a historic saloon. Finding Wild West memorabilia all over the walls of the Silver Dollar Saloon (formerly The Board of Trade) told me I had to set a story in this “Cloud City” breathing and seething with history, and somehow, Doc Holliday would play a part.
And I found out some stuff I thought I’d share. Please leave a comment today for a chance to win an e-copy. What info about Doc Holliday did you find most interesting?
1. John Henry Holliday, was born in Griffin, Georgia, on August 14, 1851, with a cleft pallet. His uncle, physician John Stiles Holliday surgically repaired the newborn’s defect and possibly the baby was named for him. The doctor’s first cousin Dr. Williamson Crawford Long was the anesthesiologist. John Henry Holliday most likely had a slight life-long speech impediment.
2. John’s beloved mother Alice died of tuberculosis when he was 15. His father’s remarriage only three months later to a woman just a few years older than John added to his terrible loss.
3. His father Henry Burroughs Holliday was a planter, druggist, and a soldier who moved the family near the Florida-Georgia line when he realized their home in Griffin GA was in the warpath of U.S. General Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea.
4. John Henry Holliday had been close friends with his first cousin Martha Anne “Mattie” Holliday since childhood, and after his father’s second, unpopular marriage, he spent even more time with her family. Romance bloomed, to both families’ displeasure. Although John eventually went west and Mattie joined a convent using the name Sister Mary Melanie, the two were in touch his whole life. Mattie is said to have burned his letters upon his death. The great granddaughter of her step-uncle named a character Melanie after her in her one and only novel. A character in love with a first cousin. The author, Margaret Mitchell. The book—Gone With the Wind.
5. I don’t know if the nature of John’s birth defect influenced his decision to become a dentist, but his family’s status required a respectable profession. One of 26 candidates, he graduated from Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery during its 16th commencement ceremony in 1872. His thesis was titled “Diseases of the Teeth.”
6. In 1873, John H. Holliday and his partner Dr. John Seegar won dentistry awards for “best set of teeth in gold”, “best set in vulcanized rubber”, and “best set of artificial teeth and dental ware”. (From “Facts Any Doc Holliday Aficionado Should Know and Probably Doesn’t” by Susan Ballard)
7. Not long after graduation, John Henry Holliday set up practice in Atlanta. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and given the prognosis of a short life. It is highly likely he contracted the incurable disease from his mother. To improve his condition, he headed to the drier climes of the west. Eventually, wracking coughs during dental procedures and extractions helped him accept that dentistry was not for him and he needed to seek anther profession.
8. He discovered a natural ability for gambling. Which meant developing gun fighting and knife skills to protect himself against disgruntled opponents. His reputation spread. Tall but often pale and frail from his illness, he encouraged and maybe even embellished stories about the “deadly dentist” out of self preservation. Supposedly he aimed overhead or for the hand or arm, so as to disarm, not kill, an opponent.
9. He could handle his liquor, but the tales of him consuming three bottles a day were highly exaggerated. As are the numbers of his purported massacres. Holliday most likely killed 2 men and wounded 8 others. No legal reports or newspaper accounts support anything else. Some believed Holliday accepted his diagnosis of a short life and lived dangerously because he didn’t have much time left anyway.
10. Oh, not that he didn’t make enemies. And friends such as Wyatt Earp. Truth is, Holliday was very much a part of the 30-second shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, and was himself wounded. Not long after, he was accused of killing Frank Stilwell, the man who murdered Wyatt’s brother Morgan in cold blood. Wild with grief and vengeance, Wyatt and Doc did pursue the man but Wyatt fired the fatal shots. Doc let loose two bullets after the fact. He willingly stuck by Wyatt on his ride for bloody retribution.
11. After embalming, Morgan Earp’s body was dressed in Holliday’s own blue suit before beginning the funeral cortège from Arizona to the elder Earps’ home in Colton, California.
12. Doc ended up in Denver by 1882. When The Territory of Arizona tried to extradite him, Colorado’s Governor Frederick Pitkin refused. Safe in Colorado, Doc spent time in Leadville at exactly the same time I set my story Outlaw Heart, 1885. This was shortly after a jury acquitted the popular Doc from shooting a man he actually did shoot. I found I simply could not tell Doc to stay silent when he asked for a speaking role in my story.
13. In addition to Mattie, Doc found romance with Mary Katherine Harony, but their complex 10-year on and off relationship deserves its own blog and I’ll do one on her in the near future.
14. Whatever his crimes, misdemeanors, and reputation, the flaxen-haired, elegant John Henry Holliday was easily likable, had many friends, inspired loyalty from just about anyone, and ever remained a gently-spoken, easy tempered charming Southern gentleman. He died of his long illness in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on November 8, 1887, at only 36 years old.
I hope you enjoy meeting my highly, and apologetically fictionalized version of Doc Holliday in OUTLAW HEART, which releases tomorrow and is available for preorder. Please leave a comment for a chance to win an ecopy…what was the Doc fact that most surprised you?
Outlaw Bronx Sanderson, saved from the hangman five years before, trudges two-miles high to Cloud City to find absolution and forget the wrongs caused by a redheaded widow up in Canada.
Then Lila Brewster enters his new world and opens his heart to new possibilities. But this flame-haired beauty married to a memory won’t break the vow she made to a dead man. How can Bronx convince her, and himself, the time is right to take a chance? Especially when her brother-in-law blusters into Leadville with impossible demands.
Here’s a little excerpt, when Bronx first meets Doc Holliday:
Bronx ran past a laundry and four saloons before he stumbled into one called the Board of Trade.
Not many noticed him, which was a good thing, but not many men crowded the tables, either. Then again, most were likely still digging or sweating or otherwise earning their wad. Guilt shoveled through him. He ought to be finding an occupation himself instead of lollying an afternoon away with a red-headed widow, and now, taking the edge off because of it.
The place was civilized, though. Tall dark paneled walls with a long horizon of mirror behind the bar.
“Take a seat, newcomer.” A somehow familiar face invited Bronx to a faro table. The voice wore a silky drawl, the hand tapped the chair next to him. “Welcome to this fine establishment.”
Bronx nodded, polite, for sometimes the impolite invited gun fighting. “Thanks but kindly. Not a gambling man,” he said, meaning it, despite eager for masculine company.
Instead of a red-headed widow.
“Well now, sit anyway. You look like a Kentucky bourbon man, if I may be so bold. My tab is yours.”
The brown mustache and smooth-cut hair. Many a wanted poster described just this face. Oh, and Bronx had studied them all for years, since turning outlaw at fifteen. Been both proud and terrified when his own face showed up on one. Recognition niggled like fleas. Then familiarity smacked him hard as legend became life. Asa’d been right.
“John Henry Holliday. You’re John Henry Holliday.” Bronx sank to the chair, out of breath like he’d been running fast on a hot day. The deadly dentist.
“Pleased if you’d simply call me Doc. So many already do. I’m charmed to meet you, I’m sure.” Doc Holliday raised an empty hand from his belt.
Bronx half rose and shook it, found his words. “Doc, then. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Bronx. Bronx Sanderson.”
Pleased how easy his true name slipped off his tongue, Bronx relaxed against the hard back of the chair. Nodding at the barkeep for a second glass, Doc filled it up half.
Bronx raised it in a toast of sorts, while Doc Holliday studied him, careful, finally tapped a fingernail on his front tooth. Eyebrows clenched together over a fine-looking nose if Bronx might say so himself. But his neck twitched where his hair lay against it when Doc Holliday’s eyes narrowed.
“I’m recalling such a name from my Arizona days,” Holiday mused. “And yourself on a poster or two. Yet…I was led to believe…” He took a long drink. “…a man with your face and name died in a jail break in Prescott. Just hours before getting your neck stretched. It was a sad thing, dying just as one got free.”
For a flash, Bronx’s thoughts turned black at the momentous day. The jailer’s granny had believed in him, tucked the key in a cake. Seems like she’d spread a lie to keep him safe all the way through…
Bronx clenched his fists in disbelief. Who had she buried in his stead?
“You did not know?” Doc Holliday stared at him, thoughtful, like he was thinking many thoughts himself. “So you have been someone else. Someplace else. Four, five years now?”
Nodding, Bronx gulped a huge swallow. Shuddered as the raw brew struggled down his tight throat.
Doc burst into laughter. “So…how many know you’re back here? From whenever you came back from?”
“Uh, three. No, four including you and two ladies at the boarding house.”
“Well, if they’re proper females, they likely won’t suspect you have been a wanted man. And the improper ones, well. Likely they can be bought off.”
“I won’t be showing them my face, there.” Bronx huffed. “I need to save my coin. But truth is Doc, I didn’t kill the U.S Marshal. They were folks in Prescott out to get me.”
Doc grunted, amused, as his mouth touched his glass. “Always the same story, my friend. Never quite one’s own fault. But I won’t say a word. We’re a brotherhood of sorts, are we not?”
Happy day after Memorial Day to all. I’m out in California celebrating the high school graduation of one of my granddaughters, so I decided to rerun one of my very favorite blogs that I wrote long before I became a P&P Filly. I hope you enjoy it!
In 1852, celebrated Chicago hero and former Deputy Sheriff, Allan Pinkerton, founded the first detective agency in the United States. Hated and feared by criminals, the Pinkerton Agency eventually became known as the “Pinks,” enjoying a colorful history, which included averting a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration.
During the Civil War, Pinkerton had a flourishing career as head of the American Secret Service. Adamantly opposed to slavery, he worked for the Union Army to trap southern spies. With his law enforcement agency, he garnered great success. His slogan “We Never Sleep” was painted on his door, along with a huge, black and white eye, resulting in the origin of the term “private eye”.
Said to have a third sense, Allan Pinkerton had an uncanny ability to identify guilty parties long before police investigators came up with a suspect. Although some thought he had mystic powers, he proclaimed it nothing but experience because he researched the habits and practices of not only specific criminals on the lam, but of the criminal mind in general.
By the late 1860’s his sons, William and Robert, joined him and opened branch offices in several cities. Predecessors to the modern day FBI, the agency focused on swindlers, confidence men, and other no-gooders plaguing the big cities and little towns of America. Their field agents clipped newspaper articles and pictures, organizing them in categories. By the 1870’s, they had the largest collection of mug shots in the world and became a data base of criminal activity, leading to the FBI identification system used today.
As the New Frontier spread west, so did the “Pinks”, chasing outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and “Black Jack” Ketcham, but it was the infamous outlaw Jesse James who, for a short time, created scandal and bad publicity for Pinkerton.
Until 1875, the agency held a stellar reputation that even some outlaws admired. But not the James brothers; Jesse, in particular, had an intense dislike for Allan Pinkerton. For years, the renegade managed to outwit the lawman. “Old Man Allan” knew if he continued widening his network of men hunting Jesse and kept pressure on him, the cocky, wanted man would eventually panic and do something stupid.
On January 5th, two members of the James family were innocently attacked by a Pinkerton-led posse. Believing Jesse was hiding inside, the men surrounded a cabin near Kearney, Missouri. When he didn’t surrender, an iron torch was tossed inside. Jesse James’ mother was maimed and his handicapped stepbrother killed.
At this point, fact and fiction collide. Some scholars believe this sparked Jesse James’ path of retaliation, taking him to Chicago for only one reason…to kill Allan Pinkerton. As the story goes, for weeks the outlaw roamed the city’s streets with a loaded gun. Inside was a bullet with the name “Pinkerton” on it. But the famous detective never knew James was in town. Being frustrated and unable to get Pinkerton at the right time and right place, James returned home. This tale has never been substantiated.
For certain, the incident involving James’ family strengthened the outlaw’s position of being viewed by some as a modern-day Robin Hood fighting the wealthy Yankee bankers and rail men tooth and toenail. Well into the 1870’s many Missourians were still riled that, in their opinion, the North had won the war. The “Pinks” were considered the tools of the tycoons. The atrocities against the gang’s family only fueled support for them. Allan Pinkerton staunchly denied that one of his agents tossed the torch and patiently waited his turn to take Jesse into custody.
As history would have it, the gang eventually got overconfident, made mistakes, and lead by Jesse ventured from their beloved south to hold up a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. They found a less sympathetic public, meeting with savage resistance. Because the Pinkertons had sent information in advance that the James Gang, which by then included three of the renegade Younger brothers, was heading north, the town’s citizens were prepared. Caught in a hellish barrage of bullets, the outlaw band withered. Several of the gang were captured. Wounded and bloody, Jesse and Frank escaped, but it was the beginning of the end for them.
On April 3, 1882, after another robbery and with a bounty on his head, one of Jesse’s own gang shot him. Two years, after writing eighteen books, Allan Pinkerton died in his Chicago mansion.
I’ve been asked why I decided my hero in “Ropin’ the Wind” in our anthology Give Me a Cowboy released in 2009 would be a Pinkerton Agent. I wanted a different kind of law enforcer. When you read a western historical romance you are pretty much guaranteed there will be somewhere a mystical, reputable Texas Ranger or a tough-as-leather-strop sheriff. You expect one, just like horses and sagebrush. I wanted someone unique; thus, out of my imagination and research surfaced a citified, undercover Pinkerton Agent with a Texas background. It was so much fun to once again partner with one of the founding fillies of Petticoats and Pistols, Linda Broday, along with Jodi Thomas and the late DeWanna Pace to write the anthology, “Give Me a Cowboy.”
I have to admit a Texas Ranger turns my head, even a modern day one. That’s why I cast my “Pink’s” Achilles ‘ heel a rebel-rousing, retired Texas Ranger. There’s just something about a fearless Ranger that ladies love, but I was sure happy how different my hero, Morgan Payne, turned out in “Give Me a Cowboy”.
What kind of cowboy turns your head and wiggles into your heart?
To one lucky reader who leaves a comment today, I will
send you a Bath and Body Works Gift Certificate
or you can choose one of my eBooks at Amazon.com.
Watch for “Out of a Texas Night” coming in the fall. It’s the second in the
Kasota Springs Contemporary Series and follows some of the families
from “Give Me a Cowboy” several generations later.