We’re heading towards Valentine’s Day and I’m in the thick of writing my next, and final, Taming of the Sheenans story, set in Marietta, Montana and I love this series because it celebrates tough rugged men and equally strong women.
The series started with five brothers that grew up together on the Sheenan ranch in Paradise Valley and each of the brothers (including the lost brother, Shane, that shows up this April) is a true alpha hero.
An alpha hero is my favorite hero to write, and read. He isn’t defined by money or success. He might be powerful and successful, but that’s not what sets him apart.
What makes him riveting reading is that he is almost always a masculine, primal male. He doesn’t need to be rich, but he must have the means to provide for his woman. And he can and will, because he is strong, mentally and physically.
But alpha males are not perfect. They make mistakes…maybe even more than other men…and that’s because they take risks and they aren’t quitters and they refuse to walk away from a fight where something important is at stake.
These heroes may have painful pasts, too, and because they’ve had to overcome challenges and tragedies, they can be overly confident. Possibly arrogant.
But when they love, oh how they love. Once an alpha hero finds his match…his mate…he will never be content with another woman.
I adore reading and writing alpha heroes because they sizzle and are sensual in bed (whether they seduce the heroine before marriage or wait til after), but he’s complex, and he demands more from his woman. He doesn’t want a doormat. He wants an equal, and he’s going to demand a lot from his woman. Maybe even in bed.
A great alpha hero must know how to satisfy a woman. He must focus on her, and focus on her pleasure, ensuring she is going to have the most sensual, satisfying experience of her life. He’s a man that’s gifted in foreplay, and can, and will, put her needs before his.
Readers that enjoy love scenes, want to read love scenes where the hero does satisfy the heroine…but not just sexually, emotionally, too. A great love scene requires connection and time. In real life people are rushed and tired and there might just not be enough foreplay, but in a romance novel, the hero better make sure he has endless time and energy to please his woman.
And thank goodness this same hero doesn’t ignore his ranch responsibilities. We don’t read about him leaving his socks or boots all over the bedroom. His dirty Wranglers aren’t crumpled on the bathroom floor. His truck isn’t filled with junkfood wrappers. Even better, he always takes care of the livestock and the chores so that she doesn’t have to pick up his slack. No, the great alpha hero in our western romances is concerned about making life better for her. He isn’t there to make life harder, but easier.
I love that.
I love that in a romance, we get a man who wants and needs his woman, but doesn’t want her trapped in the laundry room, or the kitchen.
Do you have a favorite type of hero? What makes him special? I’d love to hear what kind of man makes you swoon! (He can be real or fictional!) Leave a comment for a chance to win a $15 gift card from Amazon!
Winner announced on the 10th!
PS: In case you’re interested in catching up with my Sheenan Brothers, Book 2, The Tycoon’s Kiss is on sale for .99 until Feb 8th so be sure to get your download soon!
The hero in my current work in progress is in jail and needs to escape or he’ll soon be keeping company with the daisies. The question is how? As usual, whenever I have a plotting problem I hit the books. Much to my surprise my research showed that escaping jail was no big deal in the Old West.
There was a good reason for this. Jails were often built in a hurry and were flimsy affairs. Adding to the problem, towns didn’t have the money to hire jail guards. One California jail was so poorly built that prisoners were put on their honor not to escape.
The way prisoners escaped varied and, in some cases, were even laughable. Dynamite was used on occasion, but was seldom necessary. Some prisoners simply walked out of unlocked cells. Others, like a man in a Yuma jail, wiggled the bars loose in a window.
Arroyo Grande’s wooden jail house was the object of scorn and breaking out was somewhat of a town joke. On several occasions prisoners skipped town taking along the iron chains that were meant to hold them prisoners.
Roy Bean (yes, that Roy Bean) supposedly escaped a San Diego hoosegow by using a jackknife to cut through soft mortar. Bean went from escapee to the colorful judge known as The Law West of the Pecos.
Ten men escaped the Tombstone jail while the guards were having supper. They simply dug a hole in the wall and jumped fifteen feet to the ground.
Billy the Kid escaped from the Silver City prison through a chimney.
San Francisco’s first jail was a flimsy log structure built around 1846. John Henry Brown, editor of the California Star, wrote in ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF AN EYE-WITNESS, FROM 1845 TO 1850: “One night a man, by name of Pete, from Oregon, was put in the Calaboose, for having cut the hair off the tails of five horses and shaved the stumps. As Leavensworth (the Alcalde) did not send him his breakfast, he called on Leavensworth at his office, with the door of the Calaboose on his back, and told him if his breakfast was not sent up in half an hour we would take French leave. Leavensworth sent his breakfast.”
Wickenburg, Arizona didn’t have a jailhouse. Instead, prisoners were chained to a large Mesquite tree until they could be transported out of town. No one ever escaped the tree. However, so many prisoners were once chained to the boughs, there was no room for more.
Out of necessity one criminal was tied to a nearby log. He got sick of waiting, so he picked up the log and walked to the closest saloon.
One woman escaped jail with nothing more than her feminine wiles. After stagecoach robber Pearl Hart slipped out of Sheriff Wakefield’s supposedly secure jail, she boasted “he fell in love with me.”
Jailbreaks were so prevalent that New Mexico governor Lionel Sheldon declared that “escapes are as easily made as from a paper bandbox.”
Not all jailbreaks were successful, of course, and some escapees were either shot dead or caught a few days later. But many did manage to get away. Out of those who were caught, some went on to escape again and again.
More Love and Laughter from Margaret Brownley
Margaret’s story The Nutcracker Bride: He’s a Texas Ranger and she just shot him!
Once upon a time in a farmhouse in Hydesville, New York, there lived two sisters who loved to scare family and friends with their vivid imaginations. One day in late March 1848, the girls told a neighbor about spooky happenings in their bedroom. Eager to disprove the girls’ claims that the ghost of a murdered traveling salesman inhabited their home — a tale with which they’d already terrified their mother — the neighbor accompanied fourteen-year-old Maggie Fox and her eleven-year-old sister Kate into their bedroom … where the neighbor, too, was dutifully terrified by the apparently sentient wall-rapping in response to the girls’ questions.
Thus began a religion known as Modern Spiritualism, which is still practiced today.
After having their worst fears seemingly confirmed, the Fox family abandoned the farmhouse, sending Maggie and Kate to live with their older sister, Leah Fox Fish, in Rochester, New York. That may not have been the wisest decision. Rochester was a hotbed of religious activity. Mormonism and the movement that later became Seventh Day Adventism both saw their genesis in the Rochester area.
Upon hearing the tale of the murdered salesman and the unearthly sounds, a group of Rochester residents examined the Fox homestead and found strands of hair and bits of bone in the basement. At a subsequent community meeting, the girls were put to the test: Could they communicate with the dead in Rochester, too?
The girls proved they could by summoning raps on the floor. In addition, Leah seemed to communicate with one community leader’s deceased daughter. All three Foxes were escorted into a private room after the demonstration, where they disrobed and were examined for any hints of duplicity. None were found.
Word of the sisters’ uncommon abilities reached Andrew Jackson Davis, later to become known as “John the Baptist of Modern Spiritualism.” Davis claimed to have received a Divine message on the very day the Fox sisters first channeled spirits on the family farm. In response to the dreary Calvinist teachings of the day, people could not wait to adopt a new spiritualism that taught each individual was the master of his own salvation. The spirits of those who had passed on were there to guide them to their ultimate fate, as they, in turn, would guide those who came after them.
The Fox Sisters embarked on a tour of New England and the Midwest, demonstrating their abilities to notables including newspaperman Horace Greeley, author James Fennimore Cooper, and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. Many accused the girls of perpetrating a hoax, but a growing number of people, convinced by the knocking and apparent communication with dead relatives, embraced the Spiritualist movement.
In 1857, Maggie married explorer Elisha Kent Kane, a man thirteen years her senior who, though he reportedly loved her to distraction, insisted she was a fraud. He died an untimely death shortly after the wedding. Maggie began drinking heavily and abandoned Spiritualism to honor his memory. Kate married a devout Spiritualist leader and continued to develop her skills as a medium, including the use of blank cards upon which messages from the Beyond seemed to appear magically. Among the hazy apparitions she allegedly summoned was Benjamin Franklin’s.
By the end of the Civil War, more than two million believers had converted to Spiritualism; by 1880, adherents grew to more than eight million.
In 1888, Maggie received $1,500 to tell her story in front of a large audience at the New York Academy of Music. By then doing her best to live a life of sobriety, Maggie confessed to the hoax that started the mass hysteria.
“My sister Katie and myself were very young children when this horrible deception began,” the New York World reported. “At night when we went to bed, we used to tie an apple on a string and move the string up and down, causing the apple to bump on the floor, or we would drop the apple on the floor, making a strange noise every time it would rebound.”
The sisters soon discovered they could manipulate their knuckles, toes, and other joints to make a variety of unusual sounds. Maggie demonstrated by removing her shoe, placing her foot on a small stool, and producing “rapping” noises
“A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them,” Maggie said. “It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street, and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: ‘I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.’ Of course that was pure imagination.”
Spiritualists quickly split on the matter, one camp saying Maggie was a true medium who had been consumed by spirits intent on deceiving humanity, and the other claiming she had sold out her religion because, as a poor widow, she needed the money.
Leah, a popular medium in New York City, disowned her younger sister. Kate hit the bottle with increasing frequency and enthusiasm. The sisters never reconciled, even after Maggie recanted her confession a scant year after she embarrassed the family.
Leah, embittered by her sister’s betrayal, died in 1890. Kate died two years later while on a drinking binge. Maggie followed eight months later, in March 1893. Later that year, the diverse Spiritualist groups came together to found the National Spiritualist Association, the forerunner of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, which exists today.
Postscript: In 1904, a group of children discovered what appeared to be a skeleton among the ruins of the abandoned and crumbling Fox homestead. A doctor who examined the bones estimated they had been in the basement for about fifty years. Although the find lent some credence to the Fox sisters’ tale about the murdered salesman, the media and society at large continued to scoff at Spiritualists.
Five years later, another doctor examined the bones and pronounced them a clear attempt to defraud. The alleged skeleton was composed of bits and pieces from several bodies, including those belonging to chickens and other animals.
The Fox homestead burned to the ground in September 1955. A marker now stands on the spot where Modern Spiritualism was born:
Upon this site stood the Hydesville Cottage
The home of the Fox Sisters
Through whose mediumship communication
with the Spirit World was established
March 31, 1848
THERE IS NO DEATH
THERE ARE NO DEAD
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?
Have you ever encountered a ghost? Tell us about it in the comments! I’ll give an E-BOOK of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of today’s commenters.
Bad boys of the Old West—they’re endlessly fascinating. Why is that? Maybe it’s because they lived such bold, flash-in-the-pan lives, as untamed as the land they roamed. Some have become such mythic figures, it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. True or not, their legends live on…and in some cases, so do the last or near-last words that—in a strange, sad way—defined their short, reckless lives.
Bits and pieces like the ones below bring real-life villains to life and sometimes provide insight into the men behind the myths. Still, I often find myself wondering “who were these guys?” Had I been a contemporary, would I have seen the same life historians recorded? Or would the real person have been astoundingly different from what we think we know 100 years later?
All of the bad guys below had parents, grandparents, siblings. Some had wives and children. One, Deacon Jim Miller (also known as Killer Jim Miller) was a pillar of his community…when he wasn’t eliminating someone for money.
As an author of historical fiction, part of my job is to entertain, but I believe there’s another, equally important part, as well: getting the facts straight—or at least trying to hide the wrinkles. Of course, fiction isn’t fact, and no fiction author worth his or her salt lets facts get in the way of a good story. Nevertheless, studying the past and the kinds of people about whom we write is almost a sacred trust for many of us who write historical fiction. Only by familiarizing ourselves with the larger-than-life and the mundane can we give any authority or verisimilitude to the fictional lives we create.
As the writerly saying goes, “Even the villain is the hero of his own life story.” Maybe that’s why I spend so much time researching bad boys…and why the heroes in my stories so often are outlaws, even the ones who wear badges. After all, somebody has to tell the villains’ life stories, right?
“I deserve this fate. It is a debt I owe for my wild, reckless life.” —Wild Bill Longley, outlaw and mean-tempered bully, age 27. Hanged in Giddings, Texas, Oct. 11, 1878, for the murder of a childhood friend.
“Aw, go to Hell you long-legged son-of-a-bitch.” —Tom O’Folliard, rustler and best friend of Billy the Kid, age 22. Spoken to Sheriff Pat Garrett shortly after Garrett mortally wounded him during a manhunt near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Dec. 19, 1880.
“I’m not afraid to die like a man fighting, but I would not like to be killed like a dog unarmed.” —Billy the Kid, hired gun, age 21, in a March 1879 letter to New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace. Shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, July 14, 1881.
“Can’t you hurry this up a bit? I hear they eat dinner in Hades at twelve sharp, and I don’t aim to be late.” —Black Jack Ketchum, train robber, age 37. Decapitated during hanging for train robbery, Clayton, New Mexico, April 26, 1901.
“Killing men is my specialty. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.” —Tom Horn, Pinkerton detective turned assassin, one day shy of 43. Hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Nov. 20, 1903, for the murder of a 14-year-old boy.
“Let the record show I’ve killed 51 men. Let ’er rip.” —“Deacon Jim” Miller, age 42, professional assassin. Lynched in Ada, Oklahoma, April 19, 1909, for the contract killing of a former U.S. marshal.
“I love it [the bandit life]. It is wild with adventure.” —Henry Starr, age 53, to a reporter shortly before he was shot to death during an attempted bank robbery in Harrison, Arkansas, 1921.
Black Jack Ketchum: University of New Mexico
Tom Horn at the Cheyenne Jail, 1902: Wyoming State Archives
Henry Starr: University of Arkansas, Little Rock
I’m Jane Porter and new here, but not a new author. I’ve written 50 stories since I sold my first book to Harlequin Presents in January 2000, including 10 women’s fiction titles and 40 romances.
With that first sale, I launched my career writing about alpha heroes and glamorous, international settings, but long before that, I wrote cowboys. Lots of cowboys. None of them sold, even though I did win a Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America for Best Long Contemporary with my western romance, ALL-AROUND COWBOY, so I shelved my cowboys when a London editor encouraged me to write a story for her. I did, and I built a career writing sexy Greeks, Sheikhs and Italians, but I began to miss what I knew best: small towns, ranches, and independent, rugged men who love the land.
You see, I’m a small town girl myself, growing up in Central California with miles of farmland stretching in every direction, spending vacations on my late grandfather’s cattle ranch near tiny Parkfield, California. My grandfather Lyles was from Texas, just like his grandfather was from Texas, having moved there as a young boy from Mississippi following the end of the Civil War.
According to those that knew him, that great-great-great grandfather, William Durham Lyles, was big and physically tough. He stood 6’4”, had dark hair, dark-eyes and an intimidating stare. He also had a reputation for being able to work as hard, if not harder, than any professional cowhand.
According to an article on the front page of the New York Times in May 1889, he was a desperado.
That sounds bad. And there are plenty of newspaper articles claiming that he was a cattle rustler, stealing cattle and horses in Texas and crossing state line to sell the stock in Louisiana.
There is no proof he did it. We, his descendants do know he settled in Vernon, Louisiana because he fell in love with my great-great-great grandmother, married her, moving to her hometown to raise a family. My great-great-great grandmother came from a wealthy family. William Durham Lyles wasn’t wealthy. Just big, and powerful, as well as fast with a bullwhip and gun.
Not everyone liked him. In fact, the wealthy establishment really disliked him. He was so disliked, that he was murdered at the age of 37, when a group of concerned citizens (vigilantes?) fired 18 rounds of buckshot, peppering his body, leaving him to die on a bridge six miles from his home.
His death would have been just one of many in the still wild west, if his murder hadn’t created tremendous controversy, with his close friends and family vehemently protesting Lyles’ innocence, while the media reported that he was “inclined to murderous aggressiveness”. True, he nearly always carried a gun, a rifle or a pistol (or both), and famous for his adroit use of the bullwhip, but he was a farmer, a rancher, and the border of Louisiana and Texas was still little more than a frontier.
William’s younger brothers rode over from Navarro, Texas to investigate the death, and things got pretty tense in Vernon, Louisiana. It didn’t help that one of William Durham’s friends was an editor at a small newspaper called People’s Friend, and the editor, Sorrell demanded justice for William Durham Lyles. “The editor of the People’s Friend, attacked State Senator E.E. Smart, a prosperous and influential citizen, demanding punishment. The Vernon News defended the Senator. The parish speedily divided into factions, the old element supporting the News and the border ruffians the Friend. Sorrell, the editor of the latter, has made himself very conspicuous and its feared he will be killed.” (NYT May 4, 1889)
The media loved this story. The New York Times was just one of a dozen papers to report on the “Texas Border Town on the Eve of Bloodshed”.
The newspapers focused on Lyles’ aggressive personality, repeatedly sharing colorful gossipy tidbits like, “He was said to have struck several parties with his rifle and deliberately stepped upon the toes of men while entering stores.” But family and friends claimed Lyles was definitely tough, but also fair. I can’t help wondering if part of the problem might have been that he wasn’t local, and he wasn’t born into money. And yet his gravestone in the Vernon cemetery is impressive. Someone must have loved him.
Was he a cattle rustler? A criminal? A desperado? Or was he a fierce, independent Texan who rubbed the wealthy and influential the wrong way?
I won’t ever know what really did happen, but I do know this. William Durham’s first born, my great grandfather William Murray Lyles, attended LSU where he ran track and played football, and earned a law degree.
My great-grandfather “Pap” was a brilliant, athletic, kind man. I don’t know how he could have turned out quite so wonderful if his father had been such a ruthless, terrifying desperado.
I love history, ancestry, and stories. Especially stories with tough heroes and the strong women who love them.
What do you like to read? I’d love to know. And I’d also love to hear if you have any juicy stories in your family. I can’t be the only one with a desperado in the family tree!
I’m giving away three digital copies of Take Me, Cowboy so leave a comment, share your thoughts and you could be a winner!
“Can’t you hurry this up a bit? I hear they eat dinner in Hades at twelve sharp, and I don’t aim to be late.” —Black Jack Ketchum
Whether or not he aimed to be late, Thomas Edward “Black Jack” Ketchum missed the dinner bell by more than an hour on April 26, 1901. In fact, his original 9 a.m. appointment on the gallows was delayed by more than four hours while authorities tried to ensure Ketchum’s execution was both humane and permanent.
They got the permanent part right.
Ketchum, the youngest of five children, was born in San Saba County, Texas, on Halloween 1863. His father, a prosperous farmer, died when Black Jack was five years old; his mother when he was ten. Because the family’s property went to the eldest son, Black Jack and his other brother, Sam, made their living cowboying in Texas. The work never suited either of them. By 1890, both had left the state.
By 1892, they were robbing trains.
Together with a gang of other young men—all of whom were described as well-mannered and well-dressed, riding good horses, and flashing plenty of money—between 1892 and 1899 the Ketchum gang liberated payrolls and other large sums of cash from trains passing through the Four Corners area of the Southwest. In 1895 and 1896, the gang included Kid Curry and his brother Lonnie Curry, who reportedly departed after a dispute over the division of proceeds from a holdup.
In 1897 alone, the Ketchums heisted more than $100,000: $42,000 from a Wells Fargo safe outside Langtry, Texas, in May and another $60,000 in gold and silver near Twin Mountain, New Mexico Territory, in September.
Two years later, in July 1899, Sam Ketchum partnered with Wild Bunch members Will Carver and William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay to rob the Twin Mountain train a second time. A posse chased the outlaws into Turkey Creek Canyon near Cimarron, New Mexico, where Sam was wounded in a shootout. He died of his wounds in Santa Fe Territorial Prison a few weeks later.
In August 1899, unaware of his elder brother’s fate, Black Jack lost his right arm to a shotgun blast fired by the conductor of a train he attempted to rob alone. “The handsome train robber” didn’t resist when either a posse or a railroad crew (there’s a dispute) found him near the tracks the following morning.
At trial, Ketchum was sentenced to hang, but the date of execution was delayed several times by arguments about where final justice should take place, since several towns wanted the honor. Finally, reacting to a rumor that the old gang planned to break Black Jack out of jail, the hanging became the center of a carnival in Clayton, Union County, New Mexico. Despite an extended debate about the length and strength of the rope necessary for the deed, something went horribly wrong.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the scaffold’s trapdoor opened and Ketchum, 37, plunged through. He died instantly, decapitated by the fall.
Black Jack Ketchum bears the dubious distinction of being the only man sentenced to die in New Mexico for “felonious assault upon a railway train.” Apparently his botched execution set the residents of Union County back a mite, because Black Jack also was the only man ever hanged in Union County. Until serial murderer Eva Dugan suffered the same fate at the Pinal County, Arizona, prison in 1930, Black Jack Ketchum was the only person in the U.S. who literally lost his head to a hangman’s noose ordered by a court.
No train robberies or grisly executions take place in the Civil War-era duet The Dumont Brand, although the hanging of a cattle rustler in her past plays a role in one heroine’s present. The book, which contains two stories about two brothers, debuted July 24. It’s the first in a trilogy about a Southeast Texas ranching dynasty with more skeletons than you can shake a stick at in its closets. Links and excerpts are on my website.
Here’s the blurb, and below that is a video trailer.
The Civil War burned Texas…and fanned the flames of love.
On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until one son finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother’s wounded soul.
The Big Uneasy: To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.
Making Peace: After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.
Some men are born to infamy; others have infamy thrust upon them.
And then there are those like Elmer McCurdy who slip into infamy sideways…sixty-five years after they should have faded into obscurity.
Except for his out-of-wedlock birth in Washington, Maine, in January 1880, McCurdy seems to have enjoyed an uneventful childhood as the adopted son of his 17-year-old biological mother’s older, married sister. When McCurdy was ten, the man he believed to be his father died, and the truth of his parentage came out. At fifteen, he ran away from home and drifted through the Midwest, developing a fondness for alcohol and working odd jobs until he joined the army. Trained in demolition, he left the service in early 1911 with an honorable discharge and a professional familiarity with nitroglycerin.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse. Unable to find a civilian job, McCurdy resolved to gain fame and fortune the old-fashioned way: by stealing it—specifically, by robbing trains. The career choice didn’t work out well for him. On his first job, he overdid the nitro and not only nearly blew the train’s safe through the wall, but also melted $4,000 in silver coins to the floor. McCurdy and three accomplices pried up about $450 in silver lumps before scramming barely ahead of the law.
After that, McCurdy backed off on the explosives, producing less than stellar results when trains’ safes failed to open. Apparently deciding a stationary target might prove less vexing, McCurdy aimed his demolition skills at a bank vault in the middle of the night. The resulting blast woke up the entire town, and the gang made off with about $150.
They went back to robbing trains.
On Oct. 4, 1911, despite careful planning, the outlaws held up the wrong train, netting a haul of about $90 and some whiskey. Evidently disgruntled, McCurdy’s cohorts abandoned him.
Undaunted, he quickly put together a new gang and three days later—on Oct. 7, 1911—held up a Missouri, Kansas, and Texas passenger train near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The take was an unimpressive $46, two jugs of whiskey…and a posse.
Mere hours later, during an armed standoff on an Oklahoma farm, a drunken McCurdy announced from a hayloft that the posse would never take him alive. Foregoing the $2,000 bounty for bringing the bandit in alive, the lawmen obliged by killing him.
When no one claimed the hapless train-robber’s remains, the mortician put McCurdy’s body on display as a somewhat gruesome promotional gimmick. For the next four years, the embalmed corpse, in a pine box bearing a sign that read “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up,” adorned the front window of the mortuary.
In 1915, two men claiming to be McCurdy’s brothers took possession of the body, ostensibly to provide a proper burial. Instead, they exhibited “A Famous Oklahoma Outlaw” as part of the Great Patterson Shows traveling carnival.
McCurdy’s corpse changed hands several times over the next two decades, popping up in all sorts of places: at an amusement park near Mount Rushmore, in several freak shows, and even in the lobby of a theater during a screening of the 1933 film Narcotic. For much of the 1930s and ’40s, McCurdy’s mummified remains, thought to be a mannequin, held a place of honor in the Sonney Amusement Museum of Crime in Los Angeles.
In 1971, an L.A. wax museum bought the by-then-unidentified “mannequin.” Until 1976, McCurdy was part of the museum’s display about Bill Doolin, an Oklahoma outlaw who actually achieved a good deal of criminal notoriety while he was alive.
More than sixty-five years after his death, McCurdy would achieve notoriety, too, though not in quite the way he may have hoped. The failed outlaw, painted fluorescent orange, made one final public appearance in December 1976, as a prop inside the Laff in the Dark funhouse at the Nu-Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California. While filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man inside the building, a crew member accidentally broke an arm off what he thought was a wax dummy hanging from a gallows. A protruding bone revealed the truth. Forensic anthropologists and the Los Angeles County Coroner identified the body.
On April 22, 1977, Elmer McCurdy’s well-traveled remains were interred in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma—ironically, alongside the final resting place of Bill Doolin. As a precautionary measure, the state medical examiner ordered two cubic yards of concrete poured over the casket before the grave was closed.
So far, at least, it appears “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up” finally did.
Not that my latest release has anything to do with Elmer McCurdy, inept outlaws, or traveling corpses, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Besides, the cover is much prettier than poor Elmer, isn’t it?
Released July 24 along with twenty-one others published by Prairie Rose Publications, The Last Three Miles features a hero and heroine who are outside the norm in their own inimitable ways. A video trailer is here, and you can read an excerpt here.
The Last Three Miles
When an accident leaves Hamilton Hollister convinced he’ll never be more than half a man, he abandons construction of a railway spur his lumber mill needs to survive. Believing no woman shackled by social convention can be complete, railroad heiress Katherine Brashear refuses to let the nearly finished track die.
The magic of Christmas in a small Texas town may help them bridge the distance…if they follow their hearts down The Last Three Miles.
“Let the record show I’ve killed fifty-one men. Let ’er rip.”
With those words, “Killer” Jim Miller, a noose around his neck, stepped off a box and into eternity. The lynch mob of thirty to forty outraged citizens who had dragged him onto a makeshift gallows may have found it irritating Miller didn’t beg for his life like the three co-conspirators hanged with him.
Then again, perhaps they rejoiced at the professional assassin’s departure, no matter how defiant his attitude. By the time of his 1909 lynching in Ada, Oklahoma, Miller had earned a reputation as sneaky, deadly, and slippery when cornered by justice.
Born James Brown Miller on October 25, 1866, in Van Buren, Arkansas, Miller arrived in Franklin, Texas, before his first birthday. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumors claim he was only eight years old when he did away with a troublesome uncle and his grandparents. His first confirmed kill—and his first jaw-dropping escape from justice—happened a few months before Miller turned 18. After arguing with a brother-in-law he didn’t like, Miller shot the sleeping man to death. Had the subsequent sentence of life in prison stuck, Miller’s reign of terror might have ended right there—but a court overturned the murder conviction on a technicality.
Upon his release, Miller joined an outlaw gang that robbed stagecoaches and trains before turning his back on a life of crime and taking a succession of jobs in law enforcement. Reportedly, he even briefly served as a Texas Ranger. Based on his boasting, the badges may have been a calculated way for Miller to indulge his bloodlust behind a thin veneer of respectability.
And he was respectable, at least on the surface. A Bible-thumping Methodist who never missed a Sunday church service, Miller didn’t curse, drink, or smoke. In fact, his clean-cut appearance and apparent piety—bolstered by an ever-present black frockcoat that made him look a bit like a minister—earned Miller the nickname Deacon.
Miller married John Wesley Hardin’s second cousin in 1888, fathered four children, and enjoyed a financially rewarding career selling real estate in Fort Worth. Reports indicate the family was considered a pillar of the community.
Behind the scenes, though, Miller advertised his services as a killer for hire, charging $150 a hit to “take care of” sheep ranchers, fence-stringing farmers, Mexicans, and almost anybody who got in someone else’s way. He specialized in doing away with lawmen, lawyers, and personal enemies, most often employing a shotgun from ambush under cover of darkness. Murder charges caught up with him several times, only to evaporate when witnesses for the prosecution mysteriously disappeared.
Frontier justice finally caught up with Miller on April 19, 1909. A cartel of ranchers outside Ada, Oklahoma, paid him $1,700 to silence a former deputy U.S. marshal who was a little too outspoken in his opposition to a shady land-acquisition scheme known as “Indian skinning.” Before the marshal-turned-rancher died, he identified his murderer. Miller and three of the conspirators were arrested, charged, and awaiting trial when an armed mob broke into the jail, overpowered the guards, and wrestled Miller and the others into an abandoned livery stable. Fearing Miller would slip a noose yet again, the mob hanged all four men from the rafters.
By the time of his death at age 42, Miller was known to have killed fourteen men. His boast of fifty-one executions may have been truthful. A photo of the grisly scene became a must-have tourist souvenir.
Killer Jim Miller was buried in Fort Worth’s Oakwood Cemetery. At the time, one respectable citizen reportedly commented, “He was just a killer—worst man I ever knew.”
The years following the American Civil War were particularly difficult for Texas. The state fought reunification for five long years, insisting it had the right to become an independent republic once again. While the U.S. Army attempted to enforce martial law and the feds dragged the battered would-be empire before the Supreme Court, outlaws, freedmen, and carpetbaggers flooded the wild and wooly, wide-open spaces.
The era produced some hard men. None were harder than Wild Bill Longley.
The sixth of ten children, William Prescott Longley was born October 6, 1851, on a farm along Mill Creek in Austin County, Texas. His father had fought with Sam Houston at San Jacinto. Little is known about Wild Bill’s youth until December 1868, when, at the age of sixteen, he killed his first man — an unarmed former slave he claimed was cursing his father.
The episode set Longley on a path he would follow for the rest of life.
After the black man’s murder, Longley and a cousin lit out for southern Texas. They spent 1869 robbing settlers, stealing horses, and killing freed slaves and Mexicans — men and women. A virulent racist with a hair-trigger temper and a fast gun hand, Longley quickly gained a reputation for picking fights with any whites he suspected of harboring Yankee sympathies or carpetbagging. In early 1870, the Union occupation force in Texas placed a $1,000 price on the cousins’ heads. Longley was not yet nineteen.
Not that he saw the bounty as a cause for concern. Standing a little over six feet tall with a lean, lithe build and a gaze described as fierce and penetrating, Longley “carried himself like a prince” and had “a set of teeth like pearls.” One newspaper writer called him “one of the handsomest men I have ever met” and “the model of the roving desperado of Texas.” The same writer called Longley “the most dreaded man north of the Rio Grande”: What his looks couldn’t get him, the brace of fourteen-inch, six-shot Dance .44 revolvers he carried could.
As news of the reward spread, Longley and his cousin separated, and Longley took up with a cattle drive headed for Kansas. By May 1870 he was in Cheyenne, Wyoming; by June, he was in South Dakota, where for unknown reasons he enlisted in the army. Within two weeks he deserted. Capture, court-martial, and prison time followed, but evidently none of that make a big impression. After his release from the stockade, Longley was sent back to his unit. In May 1872, he deserted again and lit a shuck for Texas, gambling, scraping — and killing — along the way. Folks as far east as Missouri and Arkansas learned not to get in his way, not to disagree with him, and for heaven’s sake not to insult Texas. Longley was rumored to have shot white men over card games, Indians for target practice, and black folks just for fun.
By the time he killed another freedman in Bastrop County, Texas, in 1873, Longley was well beyond notorious. The murder jogged a local lawman’s memory about the federal bounty still outstanding from 1870. The sheriff arrested Longley, but when the army wasn’t quick to hand over the reward, he let the surly gunman go.
Longley visited his family, worked a few odd jobs, and fended off several reckless sorts who hoped to make a name by besting a gunman known as one of the deadliest quick-draw artists in the west. In March 1875, he ambushed and killed a boyhood friend, Wilson Anderson, whom Longley’s family blamed for a relative’s death. That same year, Longley shot to death a hunting buddy with whom he’d had a fistfight. A few months later, in January 1876, he killed an outlaw when a quarrel-turned-ambush became a gunfight.
On the run, using at least eight different names to avoid the multiple rewards for his capture plastered all over East Texas, Longley hid out as a sharecropper on a preacher’s cotton farm, only to fall for a woman on whom his landlord’s nephew had staked a prior claim. Longley killed the nephew, then took off across the Sabine River into De Soto Parish, Louisiana. Reportedly turned in by someone he trusted, the law caught up with him on June 6, 1877, while he was hoeing a Louisiana cotton field, unarmed.
Though historians dispute the figures, Longley confessed to killing 32 men, six to ten of them white. Later, he retracted that account and claimed eight kills. A court in Giddings, Texas, convicted him of only one murder, Anderson’s, and sentenced him to hang. While awaiting execution, “the worst man in Texas” wrote his memoirs, embraced Catholicism, and filed a wagonload of appeals. All of them were denied.
Facing an ignominious end, Longley seems to have had a change of heart. On the day of his execution, October 11, 1878, the 27-year-old sang hymns and prayed in his cell before mounting the gallows “with a smile on his face and a lighted cigar in his mouth.” After the noose was placed around his neck, the man the Decatur [Illinois] Daily Review described as “the most atrocious criminal in the country” held up a hand and addressed the crowd:
“I see a good many enemies around me and mighty few friends. I hope to God you will forgive me. I will you. I hate to die, of course; any man hates to die. But I have earned this by taking the lives of men who loved life as well as I do.
“If I have any friends here, I hope they will do nothing to avenge my death. If they want to help me, let them pray for me. I deserve this fate. It is a debt I owe for my wild, reckless life. When it is paid, it will be all over with. May God forgive me.”
“Did you ever wonder why we use the word engagement to describe both a promise of marriage and a war battle?”-Undercover Bride
My June release Undercover Bride is a mail order bride story with a twist. Maggie Michaels is a Pinkerton detective working undercover to nab the Whistle-Stop Bandit. To do this she is posing as his mail order bride. The clock is ticking; if she doesn’t find the proof she needs to put him in jail, she could end up as his wife!
My heroine has a good reason for doing what she’s doing, but what about the thousands of other women during the 1800s who left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?
Shortage of Men
The original mail order bride business grew out of necessity. The lack of marriageable women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War. The war created thousands of widows and a shortage of men.
As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs. It took ten days for a letter to travel by Pony Express and often the wax seals would melt in the desert heat, causing letters to be thrown away before reaching their destinations.
According to an article in the Toledo Blade a lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).
Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society’s expectations was often subjected to public scorn. Women who had reached the “age” of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail order bride ad than younger women.
Not Always Love at First Sight
For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.
Not every bride was so lucky. In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men. Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.
Men: Do Not Be Deceived
Women weren’t the only ones who could be duped. Ads popped up warning men not to be seduced by artificial bosoms, bolstered hips, padded limbs, cosmetic paints and false hair.
Despite occasional pitfalls, historians say that most matches were successful. That’s because the ads were generally honest, painfully so in some cases. If a woman was fat and ugly she often said so. If not, photographs didn’t lie (at least not before Photoshop came along).
There may have been another reason for so much married bliss. A groom often signed a paper in front of three upstanding citizens promising not to abuse or mistreat his bride. She in turn promised not to nag or try to change him.
No one seems to know how many mail order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey who, by the turn of the century, had married off 5000 Harvey girls.
Okay, since it’s almost June and I’ve got brides on my mind how about sharing a wedding memory, either your own or someone else’s? It can be funny, sweet, nightmarish or just plain special. Fair warning: anything you say could be used in a book! If all else fails just stop by and say hello and I’ll put your name in the old Stetson.
Wild West Guns and Grins or How the West Was Fun
Another Pinkerton Lady Detective is on the case. This time the female operative masquerades as a mail-order bride. Pretty funny overall plot to begin with, so expect some fun reading while the detective team attempts to unmask a pair of train robbers and murderers. That’s how Margaret Brownley writes. Western mystery with humor rolling throughout, like tumbleweeds on Main Street.