Tag Archives: Billy the Kid

Listeria – Cattle Towns, Mining Camps and Other Assorted Outposts

14 Feb

True West magazine came out with their list of the “Top 10 True Western Towns of the Year”, and I had to see what they came up with. As it turns out, other lists were included – “True West Towns to Know” and “True West Towns to Watch”. A quick counting brought the total number of towns mentioned to 30.

I decided to weed that list down to those that I have visited. I have no idea what criteria the people at True West used to compile the list, but here is a little information about the places that I know about.

1. Dodge City, Kansas is, in my opinion, the most famous of all the cattle towns. It was the epicenter of a huge industry and the home of real life lawman Wyatt Earp and fictional lawman Matt Dillon. Dodge City is still a player in the cattle industry, but I do not see it as a tourist mecca. Obviously, any lover of the Old West must go there, but they will be disappointed with the fake western town that sits on the main drag. However, the trolley tour is cool.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

Inside a fake saloon on a fake streetfront.

2. Durango, Colorado is a cool western town that has held on to its past. Historic buildings, such as the Strater Hotel, line the streets. The famous train from Durango to Silverton starts its journey at one end of town. There are restaurants, bars and a bookstore with all of the great western historians.

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

A couple of cars on the Durango and Silverton Line

8. Lincoln, New Mexico is a state monument that looks almost like it did when Billy the Kid was roaming around. There are all kinds of buildings and museums, but the best is the old building from which he made his famous jailbreak. Billy the Kid is the most famous of those who participated in the Lincoln County War, but I find myself more interested in John Chisum and some of the others.

9. Tombstone, Arizona which its economic peak during the 1880s and had its growth stunted when the minerals ran out. That circumstance makes it still have that feel of a frontier town. Of course, that could also be because they ripped up the concrete sidewalks and put down wooden ones. The OK Corral is cool. The Birdcage Theater is cool. However, the coolest thing is talking to Ben Traywick, the town historian.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

If this building could talk, then it would have some real stories to tell.

10. Lewiston, Idaho is a place that I have never been. However, I must mention it because the Cumberland University baseball team has won two national championships in Lewiston. It is a western town, but it is also a baseball mecca.

There is half of the Top 10, but some interesting towns are on the other lists, as well.

Prescott, Arizona is listed as one of the “True West Towns to Know” and, on the surface, looks like any other regular old town. However, a walk around its square gives you an idea of what it used to be like. The square is huge and is bustling with activity, as people venture into the historic buildings.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

This statue stands in front of the county courthouse.

“True West Towns to Watch” lists several places that I have visited.

Juneau, Alaska is the state capital and can only be entered by plane or boat. It is a small place that has a frontier and isolated quality. One of my great memories of Alaska is having a drink with my brother in one of Juneau’s saloons.

Cody, Wyoming is another good western town. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is one of my favorite places to visit. A few years ago they had a traveling exhibit in Nashville, and I was able to take my students.

Checotah, Oklahoma sits on Interstate 40, and, frankly, I have never been in the downtown area. We have only stopped a few times for gas. Most people probably know it as the hometown of Carrie Underwood.

Custer, South Dakota is one of the less famous mining camps in the Black Hills and is overshadowed by Deadwood and Sturgis. However, it is a good place to stop and look around. Also, it is named in honor of George Armstrong Custer, the man who led the gold-finding expedition into the Black Hills.

Bisbee, Arizona sits several miles down the road from Tombstone and is a place that I like better. Its economic boom lasted into the 20th Century, which means it has a more modern look than other mining camps. It also has a great mining museum operated by the Smithsonian Institute.

Those are the places listed by True West that I have visited. It would be interesting to read if any of you have been to these places. What are your thoughts and stories? What other towns have you visited that you think may be or should be on the lists?

Listeria – Gunslingers Edition

12 Nov

The folks at Wild West Magazine put out a special edition called 10 Greatest Gunfighters, and, as a historian of the American West, I had to pick the thing up. It lists the famous gunmen and includes a biography of each one. I didn’t read them in great detail because I already know the stories and the articles seemed to rehash the same old mixture of myth and reality.

Because it is difficult to separate myth from reality, I will not recount the lives of these men here. Instead, here is the list of who they consider to be the ten greatest gunslingers with a few facts about them included. I hope that you will use this as a base to explore the depth of their lives.

Wild Bill Hickok

Real Name: James Butler Hickok

Birth: May 27, 1837 in Homer, Illinois

Death: August 2, 1876 Deadwood, Dakota Territory

Death Fact: Hickok was shot while playing poker and, according to legend, was holding Ace’s and 8’s. Those cards are now known as Dead Man’s Hand.

Bat Masterson

Real Name: William Barclay Masterson

Birth: November 26, 1853 in Henryville, Canada East

Death: October 25, 1921 in New York City

Death Fact: Masterson became a sports writer and died after writing a column.

Billy the Kid

Real Name: William Henry McCarty, Jr.

Birth: Unknown – many believe he was born in New York City in 1859.

Death: July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Death Fact: The Kid was shot by Pat Garrett, sheriff of Lincoln County, but many people believe that it really didn’t happen.

Johnny Ringo

Real Name: John Peters Ringo

Birth: May 3, 1850 in Greensfork, Indiana

Death: July 14, 1882 in Turkey Creek Canyon, Arizona

Death Fact: Ringo was found under a tree with a bullet hole in his temple.

Bill Longley

Real Name: William Preston Longley

Birth: October 6, 1851 in Mill Creek, Texas

Death: October 11, 1878 in Giddings, Texas

Death Facts: Longley claimed to have killed 32 people and was executed by hanging.

Jesse James

Real Name: Jesse Woodson James

Birth: September 5, 1847 in Clay County, Missouri

Death: April 3, 1882 in Saint Joseph, Missouri

Death Fact: James was shot by Bob Ford while dusting a picture hanging on the wall.

Pat Garrett

Real Name: Patrick Floyd Garrett

Birth: June 5, 1850 in Cusseta, Alabama

Death: February 29, 1908 near Las Cruces, New Mexico

Death Fact: Garrett was killed over an argument about goats.

Clay Allison

Real Name: Robert Clay Allison

Birth: September 2, 1840 in Clifton, Tennessee

Death: July 3, 1887 on his ranch near Pecos, Texas

Death Fact: Allison fell off a wagon and suffered a broken neck when a wheel rolled over him.

Doc Holliday

Real Name: John Henry Holliday

Birth: August 14, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia

Death: November 8, 1887 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Death Facts: Holliday died of tuberculosis at the Hotel Glenwood.

Kid Curry

Real Name: Harvey Alexander Logan

Birth: 1867 in Richland Township, Iowa

Death: June 1904 near Parachute, Colorado

Death Fact: Logan shot himself rather than being captured by a posse.

Aimless Wanderings of the Mind

9 Jul

Yesterday, some friends invited me to spend the night on a houseboat. Figuring that there would be a lot of late night commotion on the boat, I took my iPod in case I needed some solitude for sleep. As it turned out, everyone conked out fast from a day filled with activity, but I plugged the iPod into my ears anyway. The Guns n’ Roses version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” came on and the following took place in my mind.

I immediately thought of the original Bob Dylan version as it played over the death scene of Slim Pickens in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, one of my favorite westerns.

From there, I thought about one of the times I saw Bob Dylan in concert. He and Willie Nelson had a tour where they played in minor league baseball stadiums. As I watched them from the infield, I kept wondering what the backstage party must have been like.

Then, I started thinking about a local legend involving Willie Nelson. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is a famous honky-tonk in Nashville where singers and players would congregate between sets of the Grand Ole Opry.

It seems that one night Willie was in Tootsie’s drowning his sorrows at the bar. He wasn’t making it in Nashville, and, in a moment of depression, he walked outside and sprawled in the middle of Broadway. His intent was to be run over by a car. Fortunately, they got him out of the street; he went to Texas; grew out his hair; and became a legend.

When this entered my mind, I started thinking about the time I saw Willie with Ray Price and Merle Haggard. Price’s biggest hit was “For the Good Times“, which happened to be written by Kris Kristofferson, the one who played Billy the Kid in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

The other person on the bill, Merle Haggard, is one of my all-time favorites. He performed a song in a movie I recently watched, and I started thinking about a song that appeared in a John Wayne movie called Chisum, an inaccurate retelling of the story of Billy the Kid.

As you can see, Billy the Kid and a bunch of connections to his pop cultural self kept entering my mind. That’s when I started thinking about the last time I visited his grave.At least, that’s his headstone. Some people claim that Billy the Kid got away and lived to be an old man. That’s doubtful. Without a doubt, a flood swept through the cemetery and washed away all of the markers. It may have even carried off a few bodies. So, Billy is probably not anywhere near this piece of rock. However, I started thinking, “What if they had buried him above ground like they do in New Orleans?”

Obviously, this started me down another tread of thought. Earlier this year, we took some students on a field trip to the French Quarter (I know. Cool teacher.), and we toured the City of the Dead, one of their above ground cemeteries. One of the most interesting graves was that of Marie Laveau, voodoo queen of New Orleans.

The grave has offerings left behind by people searching for a blessing. I thought about that, but I also thought about a song by Redbone called “The Witch Queen of New Orleans“.

New Orleans. It’s a cool city, and a lot of movies have been made there. They started running through my mind, but one that I saw the other day stuck out. It was Live and Let Die, the James Bond film that has the scene with an agent watching a funeral parade in the French Quarter. When he asks whose funeral it, he is stabbed and placed in the coffin. That’s when the parade really cranks up. Then, the theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings entered my brain.

That’s when it hit me. Holy crap. “Live and Let Die” was another movie song that was covered by Guns n’ Roses.

By this time, my mind was mush, and I mercifully faded out.

Pueblos, Pottery and Captain Vla

22 May

I have returned from the sojourn into New Mexico with fellow faculty and a class full of students. Fun was had by all, and it would be impossible to cover everything we did in a blog post. With that in mind, I will provide a brief synopsis by describing my favorite activities from each day. Hopefully, this will provide an entertaining glimpse into our adventures.

Day 1 – The beginning of a trip is always the best part of the first day. The students are anticipating the places that they have yet to see, and the teachers are anticipating the return to an interesting part of the country.

Day 2 – We can’t drive vans to New Mexico in one day, so we check out some things along the way. My favorite part of the second day is driving through Hereford, Texas, the citizen-proclaimed “Beef Capital of the World”. I don’t know if that is true, but there are definitely more cows in Hereford than there are people. Holding pens line the highway and railroad as thousands of head of cattle wait to be shipped to the plates of America. The students could only discern the smell, but I find the beef industry, both its past and present, interesting.

Day 3 – We made it to Santa Fe, our ultimate destination, later this day, but we had one stop along the way where I had the chance to talk about some history where that history took place. Billy the Kid is buried in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Well, most people think he is buried there. Conspiracy folks believe he survived instead of being killed by Pat Garrett. Anyway, I was able to tell the students about Billy the Kid next to his grave.

Day 4 – Our plans to hike Chaco Canyon were rained out, and our leader had to develop a day full of activities on the fly. We went to the Santa Fe plaza, but my favorite part of the day was spent at the Shidoni Gallery. The building and surrounding grounds are full of metal artwork that has been forged at the on-site foundry. It is interesting to see what people consider art and the prices they are willing to pay for it.

Day 5 – On this day, we went to a few places that we had never taken students before. The Very Large Array, or VLA, was the best. This is a series of giant satellite dishes used to study the far reaches of space. I don’t have a good picture of these, but if you have seen Contact with Jodie Foster, then you have seen the VLA.

It was cool to walk around them, but the real fun was on the periphery. On the way, we drove through sunshine, rain and hail. On the way back, we drove through snow. This is the first time we have seen precipitation in New Mexico – much less three different kinds. Also, one of our students, with my help, began calling himself Captain Vla. He imagined himself a superhero who could fly through space, powered by the satellite dish that emerges from his butt. His only weakness would be his limitation to travel by rail while on Earth, just like the VLA dishes. He even had a theme song – Super hearing! Super sight! He can travel through space at the speed of light! (For those readers who know the students who went, I will give you one guess who turned himself in Captain Vla.)

Day 6 – We visited my favorite place on the entire trip, the Acoma Pueblo. The oldest continually inhabited place in the United States, Acoma is located on top of a mesa and has a history of survival from the elements and European invaders. Native American docents take groups on a tour through their pueblo and their culture. Along the way, tourists can buy pottery from local artisans. One of our teachers, who shall remain nameless, buys pottery from the same lady every time we go. He also gets a hug.

Day 7 – We always eat well in New Mexico, and this trip was no different. The New Mexican cuisine is wonderful, especially the sopapillas that are always served for dessert. On the seventh day, we ate at Rancho de Chimayo, one of the great restaurants of the area, but dining was not the only enjoyment. There is a pottery shop inside, and two of the faculty members on the trip are addicted to buying Pueblo pottery. It so happens that the shop had a pot that they were lusting after. As they bickered back and forth about which one was going to purchase the $1,400 piece of pottery, the third teacher, not me, stepped in and said he would buy it. They both stood there with their mouths hanging open.

Day 8 – This was an easy day with little driving and little expended energy. Believe me when I say that everyone was ready for it. We were also ready to visit Madrid, New Mexico, an old ghost town that was resettled by flower children in the early 1970s. It is like going back in time to a place where peace, love and other things were still possible. The guys found a blonde in the ice cream parlor/art gallery that they wanted to find peace with. I found the first person to move to Madrid in 1973 and had a discussion about his life.

Mel Johnson was a dean at the Art Institute of Chicago and gave that up for a life in Madrid. In the following years, other people followed him until the town was filled with artisans and free-thinkers. Before I left his studio, I had found an interesting story and bought a painting.

Day 9 – Once again,  I was able to talk about history where it actually took place. We visited Los Alamos and a museum that is housed in the only remaining building from the days of the Manhattan Project. I find World War II history interesting and have a special interest in the building of the atomic bomb. One reason is that Oak Ridge, Tennessee was one of the secret locations. Another reason is that my mom’s uncle worked in the Manhattan Project and told a lot of stories about it. People have different opinions about the use of the bomb on Japan, and it is great to discuss the different views of the students. In the end, we agreed that hindsight is 20/20, and we can’t place that hindsight on people who were making decisions in the moment.

Day 10 – This was our last full day in New Mexico and was really a time to wind down. We hiked the mesa at Ghost Ranch and spent some time back on the plaza in Santa Fe. On top of the mesa, the students and I spent a spiritual moment reading a Native American poem, an ode to the land of New Mexico. I think we all felt a twinge of sadness because we were soon leaving and a sense of happiness because we had a great time throughout the trip.

Day 11 – We left Santa Fe at 5 am and drove over 700 miles to our original hotel in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. After a meal at Western Sizzlin’, the professors pulled chairs from our rooms into the Super 8 parking lot and discussed the trip. We deemed it a success.

Day 12 – We left Sallisaw at 5 am and headed home to Tennessee. It seemed that we got faster the closer we got to home. Like most trips, we were glad that we went but also were glad to get home.

King of the Pecos

11 Feb

Did you know the King of the Pecos was from Tennessee? Born in Hardeman County in 1824, John Chisum’s family moved to Texas when he was a teenager. As Chisum grew older, he became a leader in the booming cattle industry of the area and provided beef for reservations in New Mexico. As a result, Chisum moved his operation to a 100 mile range on the Pecos River.

With his 60,000 head of cattle, Chisum became known as the King of the Pecos. As his wealth grew, other cattlemen challenged Chisum’s power, and the famous Lincoln County War ensued, an event that made Billy the Kid famous. Chisum died in 1884, but he has been immortalized on film by such stars as James Coburn and John Wayne. While the portrayals have not been accurate, they have made for some entertaining movies and memorable quotes. Consider the following from Wayne’s Chisum.

James Pepper: You know there’s an old saying. There’s no law west of Dodge and no God west of the Pecos. Right, Mr. Chisum?

John Chisum: Wrong, Mr. Pepper. Because no matter where people go, sooner or later there’s the law. And, sooner or later they find God’s already been there.