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!
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.
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
“A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.” ~John Wayne
The Code of the West is alive and well today!
When I began writing western historical romances, I had to do some serious research on the old west. It became quickly apparent that every account of the men and women who came out to the new frontier during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by a special caveat that ruled their conduct … not by written laws. Being a native Texan, I grew up with these unspoken policies being pounded in my head, but never thought about them being anything but doing what is right whether you can legally get by with it or not. I never thought about “The Lone Ranger” being a perfect example of a hero living by homespun laws and a gentleman’s agreement.
Almost every article about the Code of the West attributes the famous western writer, Zane Grey, as the first chronicler of the unwritten laws in his 1934 novel aptly titled The Code of the West. The resilient, heroic trailblazers who forged west and learned to live in the rough and tough country were bound by these understood rules that centered on integrity, fair play, loyalty, hospitality, and respect for the land. For these pioneers, their survival depended largely upon their ability to coexist with their neighbors, their rivals, and their peers.
A cowman might break every written law on the books if deemed necessary, but took pride in upholding his own code of ethics. Failure to abide by the unwritten law of the land didn’t necessarily bring formal punishment, but the man who broke it basically became a social outcast. Losing a man’s honor was considered a fate worse than being hanged.
I read a very technical, yet interesting, article where historians and social theorists explained the evolution of the Code of the West. How it was a result of centuries-old English common law. The paper explained the code’s elements which includes “no duty to retreat”, “the imperative of personal self-redress”, “homestead ethics”, and “ethic of individual enterprise.”
Although informative and logical, it sounded a little stiff, so here’s my explanation of the code as it applies today as it did in the Old West.
1. Mind your own business;
2. Keep your hands to yourself; if it isn’t yours, don’t touch it;
3. Be loyal, modest, courageous, friendly, and respectful; and
4. Live by the Golden Rule.
There are many practical, and some quite humorous, interpretations, I’ve come across.
Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.
Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.
Never try on another man’s hat.
Tend to your horse’s needs before your own, regardless of how weary and hungry you might be from a long day in the saddle.
Be loyal to your “brand,” your friends, and those you ride with.
Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses, and cows.
Defend yourself whenever necessary and look out for your own; but never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. Known as “the rattlesnake code”, always warn before you strike.
And, never shoot a woman, no matter what.
Don’t inquire into a person’s past.
Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
Be pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is for quitters, and a cowboy hates quitters.
When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting (call to camp) before you get within shooting range.
After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back…it implies you don’t trust him.
Be modest. A braggart who is “all gurgle and no guts” is intolerable.
Honest is absolute–your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract.
There are hundreds of “do’s and don’t” that the pioneers and cowboys honored because of the informal code they lived by. What are some of your favorites?
As a holiday week extra, I will give one lucky reader who leaves a comment an Amazon Gift Certificate.
Facing down murderous outlaws. Starting schools. Saving the lives of strangers. Rose Maria Segale’s life would one day become the stuff that legends are made of, but she started out with humble beginnings. She was born in the tiny Italian village of Cicagna on January 23, 1850, but her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when she was four years old. She wanted to become a nun, even at a young age, and she told her father that as soon as she was old enough she wanted to join the Sisters of Charity. When she was sixteen, she entered the novitiate, becoming Sister Blandina.
For a short time in 1872, she taught in Steubenville and Dayton, Ohio, but much to her delight, she received word that she was to go to Trinidad to work as a missionary. Her hopes of traveling to a foreign country were soon dashed when Sister Blandina boarded the train and realized that the Trinidad to which she was going was not a tropical island, but the westerner frontier ofColorado.
In Trinidad, she taught she discovered a town frequented by outlaws. Lynching was a common practice, and law was often determined by the mob not the sheriff. One day, two men shot it out, ending with one man fatally wounded and the other in jail. Friends of the dying man were waiting for him to pass and then they planned to storm the jail and lynch the shooter. The son of the shooter, one of Sister Blandina’s students, rushed to her and begged for her help. Appalled, she hurried to the dying man’s bedside and pleaded with him to forgive the man and allow the law to determine his punishment, rather than the frenzied mob bent on revenge. He did, and the shooter faced a judge, not a lynch mob. This fascinating story was later re-enacted on the CBS series Death Valley Days. The episode was called “The Fastest Nun in the West.”
Sister Blandina Segale was later transferred to Santa Fe, where she co-founded public and Catholic schools. During her time in New Mexico, she worked with the poor, the sick, and immigrants. She was also an advocate on behalf of Native Americans and Hispanics who were losing their land to swindlers.
Though Sister Blandina helped many, it was her encounter with Billy the Kid that made her famous. The sister learned of a wounded outlaw the town’s doctors refused to treat, and she found the man and nursed him back to health. When Billy the Kid came to Trinidad to scalp the doctors for not treating his cohort, he met Sister Blandina and thanked her and offered to do anything she asked as a reward for her kindess. What she asked for was that he spare the four doctors. Billy wasn’t happy, but he kept his word, and Sister Blandina saved four men that day.
In a later encounter with the outlaw, the sister told how she was inside a covered wagon when Billy tried to rob its passengers. Seeing her there, the outlaw supposedly tipped his hat to her and left empty-handed.In letters to her sister, she described Billy the Kid as having “a rosy complexion and the air of a little boy. … He could choose the right path, and instead he chose the wrong.” Many of the tales she wrote in letters to her sister later became a book, At the End of the Santa Fe Trail.
Sister Blandina Segale choose the right path for her life and ended up helping many people.
Bio: Bestselling author, Vickie McDonough, grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who’s scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen and others living in the West during the 1800s. Vickie is the award-winning author of over 30 published books and novellas. Visit Vickie’s website to learn more about her books or to sign up for her newsletter: www.vickiemcdonough.com
Vickie is giving away an autographed copy of Call of the Prairie, book 2 in her Pioneer Promises series.
Here’s what the book is about:
Sophie Davenport fears life is passing her by. Her strict, overprotective parents have kept her close to home because of the severe asthma attacks she sometimes endures. She longs to live a normal life and hopes to marry, but that dream seems impossible. When her aunt has a tragic accident and requests someone come to Kansas to help her, no one is available except Sophie. Her father, tied up with business, reluctantly agrees to let her go. Sophie is ecstatic and sees this trip as her one chance to prove to her parents—and herself—that she’s capable of living on her own. But things in the small town of Windmill are not as her aunt portrayed. And her aunt’s handsome neighbor, Josh Harper, guardian of two of the children her aunt cares for after school, obviously doubts her abilities. Will the Kansas dust, the drama, and difficulties prove too much for Sophie? Or will she lose her heart to her neighbor and succumb to the call of the prairie?