The Last Stagecoach Hold-up

The summer of 1914 may have truly marked the end of the old west. Why, because that was the year of the last stagecoach holdup, and it took place near Shoshone Point in Yellowstone Park. Other places claim the last holdup, including one of the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage and one in Nevada, but I like this one. The year marked the end of the horse’s only transportation in the park, as cars came for the first time the next year, and a year after that, 1916 would mark the end of the coaches in the park.

I like this bit of history  because the robber, Edward Trafton, (Ed Harrington) did not just hold up a stagecoach, he held up fifteen in a row. The stages carried tourists seeing the sights of the park, and the sixteenth coach, sniffing out something bad, turned around and went for help.

Wearing several layers of extra clothes and a black mask,Trafton stopped each coach rustled out the passengers and asked them, while holing a rifle, to put their money in a sack lying at his feet. For his days work he collected a little over nine hundred dollars and jewelry worth another one- hundred and thirty dollars. Trafton, a ladies’ man, or one who believed he was, laughed and asked the ladies to hide their jewelry, he was only interested in cash. Not sure how or why he ended up with more than a hundred dollars worth anyway, maybe he didn’t like some of the women as much as others.

Trafton had so much fun holding up a stage every half hour that he even allowed some of the passengers to take his photo. Not sure Tafton was the smartest of outlaws, but he likely believed he was, because of this day, famous, and needed to secure his place in history. It did secure a place but maybe not what he had in mind.

The well photographed outlaws next stop was Leavenworth, where he rested up for five years. He died more than a decade later
with a letter in his pocket claiming he was the cowboy Owen Wister based the Virginian on. More likely, if Wister  ever met him and put him in the famous novel, he was one of the bad guys or less than bright characters in the story. Trampas?

Modern Day Western

Just finished reading, Cormac McCarthy’s, No Country for Old Men, I liked the story line, and have always enjoyed, so called, modern day western’s. The trouble I had with this book, and one other of his that I have read, is trying to figure out where dialog starts and ends, or story narration is taking place. Part of the way down each page I would figure it out and then often start that page over. But somewhere along the ling I realized I could not put it down—I really liked the story, and now I want to read another of his works. Good book, but beware of the lack of punctuation.

Published in: on January 8, 2011 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Western Movies

In just a few days the new version of True Grit opens. Will it be a winner or just another western that today’s audiences don’t like? Fifty years ago nearly everything on Television was some kind of western series and many feature films were westerns. Did too much cowboy time on TV kill the western? Twenty-nine series westerns in 1959 –Over exposure, maybe! And maybe that is what killed the big budget westerns on the silver screen. There have been some exceptions but for the most part westerns, of today, are marginal hits at best.

Maybe westerns don’t lend themselves to enough special effects and big screen tricks to keep today’s young viewers in their seats.

Or likely we oldsters don’t go to the theater enough.

Just for fun here is a list of my favorite westerns (some well know some a little more obscure) – not in order just my top 15.

What are your favorites?

       Here is mine.

  1. Open Range

  2. 3-10 to Yuma

  3. The outlaw Josie Wales

  4. Winchester 73

  5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

  6. The Shadow Riders

  7. Last of the Dogmen

  8. Jeremiah Johnson

  9. Dances With Wolves

10.  Stage Coach

11.  Unforgiven

12.  The Good the Bad and the Ugly

13.  Rio Bravo

14.  Treasure of the Sierra Madre

15.  Ride the High Country

Justice in the Old West –or- A Day in Dodge City Court

 

From—Great Gunfighters of the Kansas Cowtowns 1867-1886, page 171,

 Nyle H. Miller and Joseph W. Snell

“The Marshal will preserve strict order,” said the Judge. “Any person caught throwing turnips, cigar stumps, beets, or old quids of tobacco at this court, will be immediately arranged before this bar of justice.” The Policeman Joe W. Mason looked savagely at the mob in attendance, hitched his ivory handle a little to the left and adjusted his moustache. “Trot out the wicked and unfortunate, and let the cotillion commence,” said his Honor.

Ah—the good old beet and turnip throwing days.  How I miss them.

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 1:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Just for Fun – It’s Spring

 

The tall stranger bellied up to the counter and watched as the patrons lowered their heads and shuffled away. A wry smile turned the corners of his mouth into his drooping mustache. He dug in his pocket and pulled out a weathered dollar bill, unfolded it and placed it on the counter. He didn’t have to say a word—they all knew and they all watched.

The bar-keep reached slowly, after first making eye contact he couldn’t hold, under the counter and pulled out a clean mug, filled it, and carefully sat the still foaming mug in front of the tall stranger with the big thirst. Then he turned again reaching low, a glint of metal showed in his right hand. His hand came up quickly, but not too fast and placed a large scoop of vanilla ice cream into the glass.

The stranger nodded, pulled the paper end from his straw and shot the barkeep with the paper in the center of his chest. The patrons fell silent and moved farther from the action as the tall stranger took a long cool drink. Man-oh-man how the stranger loved the first Monday of spring—Root Beer floats, only a buck every Monday until June 1st.

Five minutes later it was all over, as fast as it had started. The glass was empty, the stranger smiled and wiped the dripping root beer flavored ice cream from his mustache with the back of his straw paper shooting hand. He stepped back as the other patrons held their breath—what would happen next.

He turned walked three steps, pushed open the glass door and walked once again into the stifling mid-day heat. Inside the patrons let out a collective sigh and ordered floats all around.

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bad Guy–But It’s Still Kind of Funny

Wyoming bad guy George W. Pike was once accused by a neighbor of stealing a pot of stew cooking on a stove in the wall tent they were temporarily calling home. When the neighbor went to find the town marshal Pike reportedly watched him go then stole the stove the stew had been cooked on. Reportedly there was not enough evidence to convict Pike on either charge. Pike was better known as a horse and cattle thief but was never the less well liked by people in and around Douglas Wyoming. (At least the ones he did not steal from)

   George W. Pike (Born around 1863- died 1906)          

 Grave Stone, Douglas Park Cemetery – Douglas, Wyoming

Underneath this stone in eternal rest
Sleeps the wildest one of the wayward west
He was a gambler and sport and cowboy too
And he led the pace in an outlaw crew
He was sure on the trigger and staid to the end
But he was never known to quit on a friend
In the relations of death all men are alike
But in life there was only one George W. Pike

__________________________________________

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 2:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bad Guy but a Fun Guy – George W. Pike

Wyoming bad guy George W. Pike was once accused by a neighbor of stealing a pot of stew cooking on a stove in the wall tent they were temporarily calling home. When the neighbor went to find the town marshal Pike reportedly watched him go then stole the stove the stew had been cooked on. Reportedly there was not enough evidence to convict Pike on either charge. Pike was better known as a horse and cattle thief but was never the less well liked by people in and around Douglas Wyoming. (At least the ones he did not steal from)

   George W. Pike (Born around 1863- died 1906)          

 Grave Stone, Douglas Park Cemetery – Douglas, Wyoming

Underneath this stone in eternal rest
Sleeps the wildest one of the wayward west
He was a gambler and sport and cowboy too
And he led the pace in an outlaw crew
He was sure on the trigger and staid to the end
But he was never known to quit on a friend
In the relations of death all men are alike
But in life there was only one George W. Pike

__________________________________________

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 3:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Last Old West Gunfight – ?

 

On Labor Day in 1912, Hartville Wyoming located at the head of Eureka Canyon in Platte County may have been the sight of the last old west main street gun fight.  Not much is known about the fight other than two men emptied their revolvers in the general direction of each other and it was all over—no bloodshed. Stories change in a hundred years but the one I like best starts with two cowboys on their day off enjoying a few beers in one of the local bars. The two punchers argued then took the fight outside. This is where the stories differ—did they really try to kill each other? Some remember the two being at least, “a fair peace apart, maybe too far, when they drew.” Onlookers were not impressed with either cowboy’s quick draw or marksmanship. Locals listed two windows and one hitching rail injured. Reportedly,  the  would be gunfighters  returned to the bar after the high-noon showdown and went back to what they were better at, drinking and swapping lies about how good they were with a gun and a rope.  (Maybe they skipped the gun stuff)  If one of the bullets had accidentally killed one of the cowboys they could have been buried in Hartville’s Boot Hill Cemetery on the south side of the time hamlet of 40 people.

 

Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 3:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Big Nose George and a Pair of Fancy Shoes

Big Nose George Parrott was a petty crook, horse thief and stage coach robber in Wyoming during most of the 1870s. He made a few local headlines but longed for more, both money and fame. Gangs he rode with were not famous like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch or the James Gang, two groups he rode with many years after his death in dime novels and writers dreams. Now the fame he sought while robbing stage coaches and hardware stores has finally become part of his legend. Today he is famous, at least in Wyoming, but maybe not for what he wanted. There are so many versions of his train or attempted train robbery in Wyoming that it is often hard to believe any of them. So like all writers I choose to put together parts of the many stories and come up with my own. (I may have also thrown in a few of my own ideas.)

Big Nose George and his gang of two, Sim Jan and Frank McKinney had started to tear up a small section of railroad track near Medicine Bow Wyoming. The three were so content on working that they did not see an official of the railroad checking track. Once he and the outlaws spotted each other the official high tailed it back to the office and wired for help. While he ran back east to the office the outlaws ran south and west toward the mountain side hamlet of Elk Mountain.

Railroad official Tip Vincent and Carbon county Deputy Sheriff Robert Widdowfield soon caught up with the outlaws. A good old west shot out ensued with Big Nose and the gang killing both Widdowfield and Vincent. Widdowfield reportedly taking a shotgun blast in the face and Vincent shot in the back tiring to get away.

It took three years but the law finally caught up with up with Big Nose George Parrott in Montana and he was taken back to the city of Rawlins in Carbon County Wyoming for trial. Within days he attempted to escape but he was no better at this than train robbing and he never got outside the jail house building. The people of Rawlins, although a good humor bunch did not find this funny. Within hours he was ripped from the jail by a mob of 200 and lynched.

This should have been the end of the line for Big Nose George but in his unusual case we’re just getting warmed up. The body was given to a local doctor and his apprentice who attempted a crude autopsy sawing off the top of Parrots head in search of some type of outlaw lobe in his brain. Not sure if they found much of anything—see bungled robbery and escape above. But the story still does not end. Will it ever?

Big Nose George was skinned and made into a pair of shoes a small bag and according to some a belt and a wallet. The shoes were worn by a local doctor on many special occasions including his own inaugural ball after being elected governor of Wyoming in 1893.

Big Nose George’s body was pickled in salt brine and kept for a year or more in various business places in and around Rawlins Wyoming. Reportedly a favorite game of locals was to take unsuspecting visitors to see the famous Big Nose George—the big game likely went something like this:

“Hey Pard ya ever heard of Big Nose George the outlaw?”

“Sure everyone’s heard of him.”

“Ya wanna see him.”

“Not likely, he’s been dead for years”

The local comic then reaches over opens the wooden whiskey keg reaches in grabs a few parts of ol’ Big Nose and pulls him out of the barrel and starts laughing hysterically. At this point visitor passes out or throws up.

But a year later all the parts of Big Nose George disappeared—until 1950 when a construction project unearthed his bones—Big Nose George was back.

Historical Note—The skull and shoes can still be viewed in a downtown Rawlins Wyoming museum. There was a bag that appeared to be a medical bag but it has not been seen in more than a century. As for the belt and wallet –they may have existed only in legend; if they were real, like the bag they are lost forever.

Personal Note—My wife and I live within an hour’s drive of the train robbery site, my son and his family live on a hill overlooking the train tracks Big Nose tried to tear up just outside of Medicine Bow Wyoming.

Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 2:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Gun that Won the West

 Most cowboys’ didn’t carry one but when they did the 1873 Colt Peacemaker, a .45 caliber single action revolver was the gun of choice. And you could buy it mail order for less than twenty bucks including postage. It didn’t look fancy but was quite reliable; enough so that the U.S. Army adopted the gun. From that time on the gun was usually referred to as the Army Colt. The gun the military purchased came with a seven and one half inch barrel and was much preferred to the civilian mail order model with the shorter five and a half inch barrel. This became the gun of the gunfighters—even if most of the famous gunfighters were only in novels and later on television. This is the gun that won the west. But not all famous gunman of the west carried the .45 Army Colt. Some like Bill Hickok (I really don’t like him) carried a .36 caliber Navy Colt made in 1851. As a matter of fact he carried three, along with an array of other weapons. Dime novelists claimed he often carried several knives and at least one derringer. His Navy Colt’s were a little lighter than the Army version but had the same barrel length. The model came out more than twenty years before the 1873 Peacemaker and fans of the Army Colt liked the larger caliber and claimed it to be more accurate than the Navy. Hickok and many others of the old west did not agree. Hickok’s guns were chrome plated and engraved with his initials. Looked like TV western guns of the 1950s and 60s. Oh, by the way—Wild Bill was killed by a .45 caliber Colt.