Western Trips

Western Trips

Monday, April 30, 2012

The American Quarter Horse / A Western Road Trip to the American Quarter Horse Museum

american quarter horse museumThe American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Amarillo Texas directly off Interstate 40. When you're looking for things to do in Amarillo, it's a great stop. A perfect addition to your western road trip or vacation.  It's also at the headquarters of the American Quarter Horse Association and makes a perfect stop on your western road trip or vacation.

World's Largest Equine Breed Registry

 The American Quarter Horse Association is the world’s largest equine breed registry and membership organization. If your trip west happens to take you through Amarillo Texas you'll want to add this to your trip planner. It's a fascinating museum that you'll enjoy whether you're a horse owner or not. The museum showcases all the history there is on the Quarter Horse. One of it's interior rooms is the Grand Hall, which according to the AQHA houses the legends of American Quarter Horse history: the people and horses inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame who have paved the way for the future. Another area is the Kenneth Banks Theater / Club Room whose artwork shows a variety of American Quarter Horses famous in the bloodlines of today’s champions. The artwork was created by well known Western artist, the late Orren Mixer. In front of the museum when you arrive you'll view larger than life bronze statues of history making American Quarter Horses Rugged Lark and Refrigerator. The Quarter Horse sculptures are beautiful.

The American Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse is known as a breed of horse that is excellent at sprinting short distances. The name Quarter Horse means that this breed has the ability to outrun other horses at distances of a quarter mile or less. The American Quarter Horse is a well muscled and compact horse. You've seen them everywhere. They are seen in rodeos, on ranches and have been used extensively in western movie productions. There are seventeen recognized colors of Quarter Horses. The most seen color is sorrel or brownish-red.

The ancestry of the Quarter Horse is very interesting. The origin of this breed of horse goes all the way back to colonial America. The colonists in the north used the English horse both for work as well as racing. Their brothers in the south were searching for a faster horse and they found it among the Chickasaw Indians. These fast ponies were called "Spanish Barbs" and they came to North America from the Spaniards through Florida. These same breed of horses were used later by Cortez in Mexico. The Spanish Barb was a cross breed between the North African Barb and the native Spanish horse. The North African Barb was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula with the invasion by the Moors and thus the Barb Horse in Spain.

dash for cash quarter horse
Dash for Cash and Jerry Nicodemus
A big part of turn of the 20th century American Quarter Horse history involves the racehorse Peter McCue and Quarter Horse bloodlines. This horse lived between the years 1895 and 1923.

In his prime, Peter was 16 hands and 1,430 pounds. This bay stallion was the fastest 2 year old of his era in America. The historic racehorse, Peter McCue, gave birth to two of the original nineteen foundation sires found in the American Quarter Horse Association Studbook.

A list of Peter McCue's offspring include Hickory Bill, A D Reed, Shiek P-11, Chief P-5, Harmon Baker, John Wilkens and Jack McCue.

The very interesting book, The Schooling of the Horse by author John Richard Young, offers an answer to the question...What is a Quarter Horse?  The answer put forward states that a Quarter Horse is primarily a race horse. A superb sprinter up to distances of a quarter mile. Fanciers are not concerned with the weight carrying capacity, the stock working ability, or even the breeding of the kind of horse they favor. The horse may be a Thoroughbred. The horse's temperament may make him unsuitable for any work except racing. Those that favor this type of horse... that is all that matters. What's important is how fast he can run under a very light weight on a groomed track.

cowboy and his horse sculpture
Cowboy and His Horse by artist Jim Reno
To others, such as cattlemen and rodeo contestants, the Quarter Horse should be a chunky, well muscled horse. The horse should be fast on short distances and strong enough to bust a steer

You may also be interested in our Western Trips article about the western ranch cowboy and his gear on the link below...

Western Cowboy Gear for the Round Up

The Quarter Horse should be strong enough to carry a big man over rough country all day. To people who wanted this kind of horse, this represented the true Quarter Horse. Today, there is a more middle of the road Quarter Horse that is smoothly muscled and athletic. Rodeo contestants now largely favor this type. It's thought that this type of Quarter Horse usually has a good amount of Thoroughbred blood.

What's interesting is that someone who still favors the chunky, bulldog type of horse would never think of the middle of the road variety as being a real Quarter Horse. It's obvious from the information above that there are several definitions of the Quarter Horse. A lot appears to depend on what you prefer in a horse. The book The Schooling of the Horse also suggests that there is not hardly a Quarter Horse breeder that will not admit that the Quarter Horse is essentially a cow horse and the best cow horse in the world and that he won his reputation as such the hard way. Someone who is contemplating purchasing a Quarter Horse really needs to determine what type of horse he or she prefers.
quarter horse wimpy sculpture
Quarter Horse Wimpy

Defining a Quarter Horse

The question that might be asked is...What is a true Quarter Horse? The question really doesn't have a concrete answer. Some adhere strictly to the horses pigmentation. Others will use the horses speed as a abswer the question. Yet others will make the judgement on the horses ability to handle range stock.

A visit to the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum will give you much more information to help make your own determination.

Visit the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum

The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 2601 E. Interstate 40 in Amarillo Texas. The museum is operated by the American Quarter Horse Foundation which is the charitable organization of the American Quarter Horse Association.  The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum is a great place to bring Texas Panhandle visitors and vacationers where they can experience a piece of the West. As they say, if you're looking for stuff to do in Amarillo, this museum is one of the best.

Two other Amarillo Texas area historic points of interest are detailed in the following articles. The historic Charles Goodnight Home. Rancher Charles Goodnight is known as the Father of the Texas Panhandle. The Goodnight Home is located in Goodnight Texas, about 42 miles southeast of Amarillo. Another is the beautiful and historic Palo Duro Canyon just a short drive south of Amarillo.

(Photos are from author's private collection and article under copyright Western Trips)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Spanish Mission San Francisco de Asis / Rancho de Taos

Located four miles south of Taos New Mexico is a beautiful Spanish mission that was constructed between the years 1772 to 1816. These were the latter years of Spanish occupation of the southwest prior to Mexican rule. The scenery around the Taos New Mexico area is some of the best in the U.S. and this Spanish mission church is a perfect addition to your New Mexico vacation planner.

san francisco de asis mission
San Francisco de Asis, New Mexico
The history of New Mexico is really the history of Spanish colonization. San Francisco de Asis Mission is an excellent example of that era. So many towns today have become clones of one another. The town of Taos New Mexico and the adjacent Rancho de Taos is a showcase of natural beauty and ancient roots.

The location of the mission is in what is called Rancho de Taos. This is south of the town plaza of Taos itself. The site of the mission was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970. In addition to that, San Francisco de Asis Mission has been designated a World Heritage Church. This old Spanish Mission church is a piece of living history. Yesterday lives in this mission church.

Many contend that the San Francisco de Asis  may be the most photographed and painted church in the United States. Certainly the most photographed Taos church. The church was famously painted four times by New Mexico's Georgia O'Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams. For the artists, sketchers and photographers, the clean lines, the shadows created by the hulking buttresses and the glow of the adobe in the sunlight offer an excellent subject. The mission obviously has had to be maintained and especially so because of the adobe construction. Funds have been raised to replace sections of the roof and the entire structure needed to be re-mudded as is the case with all old adobe structures. Every spring, the community gathers to mud a new layer of adobe on the walls, preserving their church in the time worn ways of  New Mexico, with a mixture of mud and straw. San Francisco de Asis was built in the eighteenth century by the hands of Spanish settlers and their Pueblo Indian neighbors. The descendants of the original architects rebuilt the church with methods and materials that have varied little in over 200 years. This is just one of the reasons why the mission is so unique and a photographers flock to it.

rancho de taos mission
Beautiful entrance to courtyard
Surrounding the church are shops, galleries, trading posts, and restaurants. The north end of the scenic by-way, The High Road to Taos, comes out at Rancho de Taos. This scenic by-way is an excellent addition to your trip planner and your mission visit as it goes through many fine unique small villages, many with terrific art galleries, and the mountain scenery can't be beat. Many art galleries on the High Road to Taos put together a very popular art gallery tour annually. It's a great chance to meet the local artists and see some terrific scenery on your drive between the Santa Fe area and Taos.

I've found it interesting comparing the Spanish missions built in New Mexico to those established in California. The Spaniards had colonized New Mexico (Nuevo Mexico) long before California, which they referred to as Alta California. Santa Fe was established in 1610. Initially, churches were built during that time up until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. As a result, the Spaniards were driven out of New Mexico and not returning for twelve years. During their absence, most of the missions built were destroyed by the Pueblo Indians. The Pueblo revolt was blamed mostly on the strict rules laid down by the early Spanish friars on the pueblo Indians. The forced building of churches, often times on the very ground that the Natives had earlier worshiped on. Also, strict punishment for those caught practicing their native spirit religion. This was during a very early time. It was in the 1600's. The California Franciscan mission system did not start until 1769, when the first mission was established in present day San Diego. The last California mission was built in Sonoma north of San Francisco Bay. The California experience was quite different than what occurred in Nuevo Mexico about one hundred years before.

adobe home
Original historic adobe structure at Rancho de Taos
Today, the missions of New Mexico, just like the ones in California, are living example of the regions earliest settlement and colonization. The photo at left is of an old adobe home that has been preserved for historical value. When you inspect this adobe home you can see the mixture of mud and straw that was used in all original adobe homes. You can see how the weather over years can deteriorate any structure built of old adobe. When the Spaniards colonized the southwest the church was, for most intents and purposes, on an equal footing with the military. The effort to convert the Native population to Christianity was a key element in securing the territory. The Franciscans friars, by converting the native population were creating new subjects for the King of Spain. This of course was quite different than the American westward expansion during the 1800's.America's expansion west involved traders, settlers and the military.

When your western vacation or road trip takes you to New Mexico, adding the various old Spanish churches and missions to your trip planner will help make your trip very rewarding. Inspecting the old adobe homes is a unique feature of touring the southwest.  If you find yourself traveling between Taos and Santa Fe New Mexico, a stop in the village of Chimayo is another one of those must stops. The Sancturario de Chimayo is a world recognized shrine that attracts thousands of people every year from around the world. The Chimayo church and Chimayo is located just off the High Road to Taos Scenic By-Way and is an excellent tourist combination stop with the San Francisco de Asis Mission further north.

 (Photos from author's private collection)


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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Frontier Ranch / Vigilantes and Range Detectives



 Rustlers, Financial Panics and Indian Attacks

The history books are filled with stories regarding the tough job of the late 1800's cattle drives. In fact, there was no other industry during the latter 1800's that was romanticized as much as the ranching business. The frontier ranch was an industry like none other in this era. Much of the romanticizing had more to do with the cowboy as opposed to the rancher himself. The dime novelists of the era chose the cowboy as the hero of the west. It wasn't enough that a rancher and his hired cowboys had to contend with nasty weather, difficult terrain, national financial panics, Indian attacks and theft, and the Texas Longhorn cattle quarantines. In addition to all that, the ranchers had to put up with rustlers. Cattle rustling in the 1800's was big business. Ranchers and rustlers were the subjects of many frontier ranch literature. The frontier ranch was also the subject of vigilante justice and summary hangings. Law on the frontier western plains was often a private matter.

Excellent Trip Stops to Learn About the Historic Western Ranches

cattle branding photos
Cattle branding, 1888
When you travel on a western road trip through some of the country's most scenic locales, you'll have many opportunities to visit historic ranch sites, museums and monuments.

Your trip through he western U.S. offers you many of these fun and educational stops, not to mention the guest or dude ranches where lodging and horseback riding is offered. Learning more about the western cattle industry is learning more about how the U.S. expanded westward. Some of the finest museums depicting the western ranchers and the cattle drives include the Red River Museum located in Vernon Texas. Vernon is about 50 miles west of Wichita Falls Texas on US Hwy 287 and is in the area of the famous Great Western Trail which eventually extended from the Rio Grande northward to the Canadian border. Another is located in the old historic town of Tascosa Texas. Tascosa at one time was headquarters for the enormous XIT Ranch which covered some 3 million acres in the Texas Panhandle. This was an old west town visited by such people as Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. Tascosa was once known as the "Cowboy Capital of the Panhandle. The Julian Bivens Museum is housed in the old two-story courthouse which is now situated on the Cal Farley's Boys Ranch. Tascosa Texas is about a 42 mile drive northwest of Amarillo. Another excellent venue is the Cattle Raisers Museum located in Fort Worth Texas. This museum is located inside the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.


Many of the larger ranches such as the XIT in Texas employed what was referred to as the "range detective". The range detective had various definitions depending upon who you asked. The range detective was a hybrid between a quasi-lawman and outright vigilante. The range detective did not have official law enforcement authority from anyone except his employer. During the cattle driving days of the western plains, official law enforcement manpower was sparse to say the least. Lawmen could not keep a ranchers cattle from being rustled. It was physically impossible. Only the rancher himself and his employees were capable of doing that.

Range Detectives and Vigilance Committees

frontier barbed wire fence
Barbed wire which helped close the open plains
In Cattle Kings by author Lewis Atherton, there is a lot of insight as to how ranchers tried to stem the rustling problem. The first obvious method was through courts of law. Atherton points out that local juries tended to come in with not guilty verdicts. Some of this had to do with the idea that it was the wealthy rancher against the poor individual. It was a proven fact that convicting rustlers in court was quite difficult. Another approach used was the forming of vigilance committees. This method was pretty widespread in Wyoming and Montana in the 1880's. The vigilance committee's were secretive in as much as leaders in one sector were unknown to leaders in other sectors. Probably the most written about example of the vigilance method was the Johnson County War in Wyoming in the early 1890's. This was a short war between cattlemen and their hired Texas gunmen against farmers and other settlers outside of Buffalo Wyoming. There was a lot of bloodshed, a few lynchings and the U.S. Army was called in to essentially save the cattlemen invaders from the heavily armed settlers. It was a loss for the cattlemen although no one was ultimately convicted in court.

The range detective employed by the cattlemen were often not identified as such. A range detective might be a hired gun but was listed on the ranch payroll as perhaps a wrangler. The range detective rode the open range and looked for rustlers. If one suspected rustler was caught, the justice meted out could be anything. Many time it was summary justice. The farmers and settlers who often fenced in their land in most cases thought of the range detective as nothing more than a hired gun of the rancher. The most historically noted "range detective' was a man named Tom Horn. Tom Horn's career included scout, lawman, soldier, outlaw and detective. Tom Horn became infamous. he exemplified everything the homesteader thought was a range detective. Horn at one time worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

The Story of Tom Horn

tom horn photo
Tom Horn
Tom Horn was involved in killings and eventually lost his job. The story is that he was fired not for the killings but because Pinkerton didn't want someone in his employ going to prison. Tom Horn's downfall was set in motion in 1901. It was this year that he allegedly killed a fourteen year old boy. The boy's father had been in some kind of dispute about his sheep grazing on the land of a man named Jim Miller. The boy apparently got caught up in gunfire. Tom Horn was placed at the site at the time and he allegedly confessed to Miller while intoxicated. Tom Horn stood trial in Cheyenne Wyoming, was convicted and hanged there in 1903. Some controversy still remains until this day as to whether horn was guilty. It's still debated by some historians. What the unfortunate episode does tell us is that ranchers were prone to hire violent personalities for the job as range detective. The range detective was not a cowboy. The range detective's job was to try to catch rustlers. As far as many ranchers were concerned, how the range detective carried out those duties was not the concern of many ranchers. Two movies were produced about Tom Horn. One was made in 1979 and starred David Carradine. The other, Tom Horn, produced in 1980 starred Steve McQueen.

There is no question that both innocent and guilt people lost their lives during the range wars. Emotions often took the place of facts. Again, the Johnson County War in Wyoming stands out in this regard. What eventually ebbed the flow of cattle rustling in the American west was the increased fencing in of the open range. Cattle rustling even goes on today in the 21st century. The major difference today is that it typically occurs at night and in fewer numbers. The term used today is "suburban rustling". The stolen cattle is simply knocked out and taken directly to auction.

Modern Day Methods

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association currently employs hired rangers who are actually deputized by the Texas Rangers. National economic hard times coupled with high cattle prices have caused an increase in cattle theft. To give you a perspective of the problem, the Texas Department of Public Safety-commissioned special rangers in 2010 recovered some 43.6 million of stolen livestock and equipment. According to the Southwestern Cattle raisers Association, when a person brings cattle in for sale, its markings, whether it has a brand or earmark, and the seller’s license plate number all are recorded. This information is put into a large database.

cattle id tag
Today's cattle ID Tag in place of branding
That database is can be searched in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Today, it's much harder to sell stolen cattle on the open market as opposed to the days of range detectives and vigilance committees. I suppose that as long as there is something to steal, whether it be livestock or ranch equipment, somebody will try. The new identification system along with the database will no doubt help catch a good number of the thieves.

Modern Cattle ID Tags

Cattle identification methods have also made great strides. Today, many cattlemen use the identification tag affixed to the ears of their livestock. There are several types of tags available. The ID tags work with readers. Cattlemen can create a history of each animal in their operations, gather data for breeding and culling, document illnesses and treatments, and analyze data to improve herd management. These are used in the USDA's National Animal Identification System. Several different companies now manufacture tag readers. Putting the ID tag on a steers ear is very similar to ear piercing. A tool punches a round hole through the ear and the tag is affixed with a metal clip. The tags are made from aluminum or steel. There's a lot more to learn about the new methods of cattle identification and the Cattle Raisers Museum in Fort Worth Texas has the latest information. If your travels take you to the Fort Worth area, a trip to this museum makes an interesting addition to your Texas trip planner.

(Photos from the public domain. Modern Cattle Tag photo from author's private collection)

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Donner Pass Train / Southern Pacific's Baldwin Locomotive 4294


The last steam type locomotive ordered by the Southern Pacific Railroad was a very unique designed train. This was a cab forward design 4-8-8-2 configuration. The locomotive was designed to pull very heavy loads primarily over the very high Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Cab Forward Locomotives
 
All of the cab forward engines used by Southern Pacific were oil burning locomotives as opposed to coal. The oil fuel was used to produce steam in the boiler. Interestingly enough, the Sierra Nevada challenged the steam locomotives with some thirty-nine tunnels and almost forty miles of snow sheds.

The cab forward design kept most of the engine's exhaust away from the crew through tunnels. The Southern Pacific Railroad had some 150 miles of track with grades of at least 2.5 percent. On a geographical basis, the Southern Pacific Railroad was thought to have the most difficult routes. This Baldwin locomotive of the AC 12 class was powerful enough to do the job.

Crossing the Sierra Nevada

southern pacific 4294 locomotive
Southern Pacific 4294
The Sierra Nevada's Donner Summit typically has very heavy snowfalls and consequently the railroad has several long snow sheds constructed along very steep mountainsides.

The snow sheds were originally planned back in 1860 by Theodore Judah, a very talented engineer and promoter of the transcontinental railroad. His dream came to reality with the establishing of the Central Pacific Railroad and it's subsequent link as the western segment of America's first transcontinental railroad.

The Sierra Nevada snow sheds can still be seen today to travelers on Interstate 80 driving through the mountains between California and Nevada. Today's route through the Sierra Nevada's is utilized by Amtrak's California Zephyr which operates passenger service between Chicago and Emeryville California, across the Bay from San Francisco.

If  you ever happen to ride the California Zephyr between Reno Nevada and Sacramento, you'll be able to see just how extensive the snow sheds are around the Donner Summit area.

The forward cabin design of these engines kept the train crew away from the smoke and especially so when the locomotive had to run through the tunnels and long snow sheds of the Sierra Nevada's and other western mountains. The 4294 locomotive also was able to bend or turn in the middle. The length of the engine necessitated this so to be able to negotiate curving tracks. The 4294 and all engines of it's class were quite unique. Very different from the standard rear cabin locomotives and much more streamlined.

The only concerns about the new design was from a few of the train crew. The concern was that if they hit a flammable truck at a crossing they would be right on top of the wreck and explosion. Fortunately for everyone involved, in the over forty years these locomotives were in service, an accident like that never occurred. By the same token, having the cab so far forward gave the train crews a great unobstructed view of the track ahead.

The Baldwin 4294

4294 locomotive gauges
4294 locomotive gauges
World War Two brought along challenges for the American railroad industry. The Southern Pacific Railroad may have been affected the most.

Their routes running to the west coast were vital for supplying the west coast ports with critical war supplies. This meant long and heavy loads and in the case of the Southern Pacific it meant pulling these heavy loads over western mountains.

 As train loads became heavier, the railroads needed more powerful locomotives. One answer to that problem was the development of the AC-12 Class of locomotive of which the 4294 featured here was a part.

This particular locomotive, 4294, was the last of twenty ordered and was built in March of 1944. Baldwin Locomotive was the manufacturer. The engines weight is 657,900 lbs and boiler pressure of 250 psi and it's cylinder size a large 24 x 32 in. The Southern Pacific 4294 stayed in service until 1956.

On Display at the California State Railroad Museum

The Southern Pacific Railroad Baldwin 4294 on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento California is the only one of it's class that survived. After all of the AC-12's were removed from service, the railroad made the decision to preserve at least one of the models from the class.

The Southern Pacific donated this locomotive to the city of Sacramento who placed it on outdoor display at the Southern Pacific depot in 1958. When Interstate 5 was being built, the locomotive had to be moved and was in storage until 1981. Beginning that year it was moved to the railroad museum. It's fortunate for everyone that this very unique locomotive was kept for historical purposes. It was designed for the tough job of climbing the steep grades of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and it's fitting that it found a home in Sacramento.

california state railroad museum signThe Southern Pacific Baldwin manufactured 4294 is on display at the fabulous California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento California.

This museum is really a must stop if your vacation or western road trip takes you anywhere near Sacramento. The California State Railroad Museum will amaze you. The number of vintage trains under one roof makes it a one of a kind venue.

Another Western Trips link with photos you'll find interesting is a trip on Amtrak's Coast Starlight.

The California State Railroad Museum is now over forty years old. This museum features 21 lavishly restored locomotives and cars, some dating back to 1862.

There is a full-scale diorama of an 1860s construction site high in the Sierra Nevada as well as a bridge elevated 24 feet above the museum floor. The locomotive collection of the California State Railroad Museum contains 19 steam locomotives dating from 1862 to 1944. As an added railroad adventure for the family, the museum operates an excursion train on weekends, April through September.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Frontier Firearms and Antique Guns During the 1800's


colt 38 revolver
Colt .38 at Fort Sumner Museum
When you travel throughout the western United States you'll come across many of these sites. The vast majority of these frontier guns are the real thing, not replicas. In fact, some of these individual firearms have quite a bit of history tied to them. For instance, at the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos New Mexico, you'll view a double barrel shot gun on display that reportedly was owned by Kit Carson himself.

rifles of kit carson
Kit Carson's rifles on display in Taos, New Mexico
The two frontier firearms shown below were once owned by frontier legend Kit Carson. The gun at the top is a double barrel shotgun. The rifle shown below the shotgun is a Spencer carbine.
The Spencer carbine was used first by the U.S. Navy and then adopted by the U.S. Army. The rifle was used extensively during the American Civil War. The Spencer rifle could shoot twenty rounds per minute and was considered very reliable under combat conditions. The only real complaint mentioned by it's users was that it emitted a lot of smoke and could make viewing the enemy a bit difficult. Regardless, the Spencer rifle gave the Union forces a good advantage over the Confederates. An interesting side note about the Spencer is that the company actually went out of business in 1869 through a merger but ammunition for it's firearms was manufactured right up until about 1920.

The antique gun photo shown at the top of the page is of a Colt .38 caliber that is on display at the Fort Sumner Museum in Fort Sumner New Mexico. This weapon supposedly was the firearm of choice for none other than Billy the Kid. As you may know, Billy met his end at Fort Sumner at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett.

The Colt revolver pistol represented a turning point in the frontier west. Probably the most written about account of the Colt revolver involved it's use with the Texas Rangers. Texas had been the scene of countless Comanche raids on frontier settlements as early as the 1820's. The Comanches were considered by almost all as being very effective fighters. Some believe even more effective than the Apaches to the west. Single shot firearms were difficult to use against these fast moving warriors. Texas Ranger Jack Hays had proven the usefulness of the six shot Colt while encountering a far superior force of Comanches in what would be called the Battle of Bandera Pass in the year 1841.

Below is a link to our Trips Into History site for an interesting article on Samuel Colt, his invention of the repeating pistol and a story of a murder involving his brother.

Samuel Colt, His Successes and Personal Trials

Another photo article on our Western Trips site you'll enjoy is historic Fort Garland Colorado and it's frontier carbine collection.

colt 44 revolver
1843 Colt .44 revolver reproduction
His fifty Rangers held off a force of near 1,000 warriors  due to the Colt repeating fire pistol. From that point forward, the Texas Rangers had the advantage over the Comanches.

The 1843 Colt revolver .44 shown left is on display at the California State Railroad Museum located in Old Town Sacramento California.

Another interesting stop is down in Fort Stockton Texas where among other exhibits is a Sharps 1874 Sporting Rifle. The Sharps Rifle was the gun that most believed was responsible for the decimation of the bison herds on the western plains.The Sharps Sporting Rifles were well known for their accuracy over very long distances. This was the firearm that played a big part in the second Battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle. The breech loading Sharps rifles made their debut in 1848 and were designed by Christian Sharps. By the year 1874, Sharps rifles were so popular for their distance and accuracy that they were employed by many armies around the world. The second rifle from the top in the photo below is a 1874 Sharps Sporting Rifle. This display can be seen at the Fort Stockton Museum. The museum is located on the grounds of the former Fort Stockton at the town of Fort Stockton in southwest Texas. If your travels take you on Interstate 10 between San Antonio and El Paso Texas, adding a stop to this museum on your trip planner is well worth it.

sharps 1874 sporting rifle
1874 Sharps Sporting Rifle
You could make the argument that there were possibly four firearms that had a real significant impact on history during the 1800's. The first might be the Colt revolver mentioned above. The second would be the Spencer repeating shot rifles. The third might be considered the various Sharps rifles that not only, and unfortunately, decimated the buffalo herds but, because of their long range, proved effective against Indian attack, and the fourth might be the Gatling Gun and it's redesigned Battery Gun. All four of these firearms were involved in history changing events.

The Gatling Gun is well known for it's rapid firing capability. You would call it an early machine-gun. The concept of a rapid firing gun went back into the eighteenth century but lack of adequate engineering prevented it's realization. The Gatling Gun is known for it's multi-barrel design which rotated. The rotation of the barrels helped keep the gun cool during rapid firing. The first models required someone to crank the gun to turn the barrels. Firing output could reach some two-hundred rounds a minute which was incredible at the time.

gatling gun
1875 Gatling Battery Gun
The early ammunition was gravity fed using no belts. The Gatling Gun was first used in combat during the Civil War and was used right through the Spanish American War. The Gatling Gun and all it's versions were discontinued by the U.S. military in 1911.

The Gatling Gun shown in the photo at right is a 1875 version. The display shown here is at the California State Military Museum located in Old Town Sacramento California. This museum officially opened in 1991 and is the official military museum for the state of California. This museum features over 33,000 artifacts including a very large selection of vintage firearms, official flags and uniforms and a unique collection of old Spanish military equipment. In addition to this it offers a well stocked library. There are many things to do in Old Town Sacramento and a visit to this museum is certainly one of them.

When you're vacationing in the western U.S. you'll find many vintage firearms on display at a variety of historic sites. In many cases these firearms have been donated or loaned to the museum by people who have acquired these guns by having them passed down through the generations.The historic sites and museums mentioned in this article are only a few of the many out there in the western United States.

As a side note, today, many people purchase vintage gun kits such as the Sharps models. Sharps kits are now produced by at least two manufacturers from Montana. There are also many firms that buy and sell vintage rifles and pistols such as Colt's and Winchester's. There's a large market of vintage gun collectors and we're fortunate to have many of these classic firearms on display at hundreds of museums spread across the U.S. Each one of these vintage firearms come with a bit of history attached to it.

(Photos are from author's private collection)





Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Colt Revolvers / Texas Rangers

There's plenty of interesting things to do while vacationing in Texas and one popular attraction you just may want to visit is the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco. The Texas Rangers heritage goes all the way back to the time of the Republic of Texas in 1836 and even before. The history of the Texas Rangers story is the story of Texas and it's also the story of the effectiveness of the Colt revolvers. The Texas Rangers as an official group are considered by many as being the oldest law enforcement agency in the U.S. and their usage of Colt revolvers was a pivotal event in their history. The Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum is a great side trip during your Texas vacation and is located just off Interstate 35 at Exit 335B in Waco, about one hundred miles south of Dallas.

Forming the Historic Texas Rangers

texas rangers hall of fame and museum
Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum
The Texas Rangers were formed when Stephen F. Austin decided that the then colony of Texas needed a body of men to protect this new Anglo settlement. Originally, Stephen Austin envisioned a group of ten men. Their jurisdiction would be quite large, covering the entire area of the frontier line.

At that time the largest threat to the safety of settlers was from Indian attack. The Comanches conducted raids on settlement outposts on a somewhat regular basis. This had gone on during the Mexican rule and as far back as Spaniard rule. The new body of Texas Rangers equipped themselves with horses and firearms and received pay of $1.25 per day. One of the reasons that the early Rangers were able to stay together was the fact that the group was relatively inexpensive to operate. When the Texas colony went to war against Mexico for it's independence in 1835, the Rangers took part in that conflict as well.

The Biggest Indian Attack Against Texas

What is considered the largest Indian attack against the Republic of Texas occurred in 1840. The conflict is referred to as the Great Raid of 1840. The Comanches went on a raiding spree that extended southeastward all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This was quite an incursion into the Anglo settlement line. The raid had it's roots in the killing of several Comanche chiefs by Texans at a meeting that went bad. The meeting started as a negotiation for the return of several white hostages who had been kidnapped during raids. The Comanches brought for exchange one disfigured young female when the Texans were expecting all to be returned. Gunfire erupted during the meeting and the Comanches were killed.

1843 colt pistol
1843 Colt Reproduction
The Great Raid of 1840 was Comanche retribution for that ill fated meeting.

The significant battle immediately after the raid was the Battle of Plum Creek just south of present day Austin Texas. The Texans claimed some eighty Comanches killed during that battle which was quite high. The Indians were slowed down by their load of loot from the raiding and the Texans were able to more effectively fight them.

Usually the Comanches were too fast to be pinned down. Some of the stolen property was recaptured and some a bit later. What the Great Raid of 1840 did do was give then Texans a wake up call that the defenses along the frontier needed to be strengthened. While Texas militia groups were very involved against the Comanches, the Texas Rangers were the group mainly tasked with the job.

John Coffee Hays

john coffee hays
John Coffee Hays, public domain photo
One of the more famous of the Texas Rangers, and there were far more than one, was a man named John Coffee Hays. Hays joined the Texas Rangers in 1836 at the young age of nineteen.

Prior to that time Hays had been a surveyor in Tennessee. He was appointed to this elite group of Rangers by Sam Houston. Prior to the 1846 war with Mexico Jack Hays was noted for his effectiveness in fighting the Comanches.

The story is that Hays was the first to use Colt revolvers against the Comanches in the Battle of Bandera Pass and to great success. There is no historical exact date of this battle although it did occur in 1841, about one year after the Great Raid of 1840.

Bandera Texas is a short ways northwest of San Antonio. The first Colt revolver was a five shot firearm and then was redesigned as a six shot pistol. You can imagine the effectiveness of the new Colt revolvers in place of the single shot firearm. To say this was an advantage is an understatement. Prior to these Colt pistols, the Comanches and their method of battle had the advantage over the single shot arms used by the Texans.

The Texas Rangers at Bandera Pass were vastly outnumbered at the start of the battle and had they not been equipped with the new Colt revolvers they may have had to retreat. The numbers were reportedly fifty Rangers against perhaps up to a thousand Comanches. The new repeating Colt revolvers allowed the Rangers to hold their own. This was a weapon the Comanches had not went up against until this point.

The battle lasted all day from about 11A onward and only ended at nightfall. The Colt revolvers made all the difference. What occurred at the Battle of Bandera Pass was seen as the turning point in the long conflict between Texan settlers and the Comanches. The new Colt pistols would allow Texans to better fight Indian incursions.

george erath texas ranger
Texas Ranger Major George B. Erath Statue
During the war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848, Jack Hays led the Texas Rangers with precision. In fact, many believe that the actions of the Rangers during the American conflict with Mexico first gave it it's national stature.

 An interesting side note about the organization was that at various times the group was abolished and then reformed again. During the American Civil War the Union troops who had been stationed in Texas were largely withdrawn to the east. The Union troops at those forts were there primarily to help protect settlers so their departure left quite a void. At that point the Texas Rangers basically were the only line of defense for the settlers against Comanche attacks.

The Texas Rangers occupied the old Union forts and tried to keep the Comanches under control. When the Civil War ended and with Texas a former Confederate territory, the U.S.military went back in and abolished the Rangers. By the year 1874, with political things settling down in Texas, the Texas Rangers were again established this time with six companies. Their duty then involved continuing to protect the settlements against Indian attack and working to keep law and order in general.

texas ranger statue
Ranger with Republic of Texas Flag
Another interesting fact is that the city of Waco Texas where the museum is located had it's roots from the Texas Rangers.

The city of Waco can trace it's beginnings to a Texas Ranger camp located there in 1837. This would have been the time of the start of the Texas Republic. The Ranger camp was known as Fort Fisher and it's a very fitting place for the establishment of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum was officially opened in 1968.

The era in which Texas became a republic was a very volatile time. First the Texans revolted against the Mexican government to gain their independence and then had to contend with the Indian incursions to make the new republic work.

A visit to the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco during your next Texas vacation is one of the best places to get a real glimpse at how the new Republic of Texas organized itself and provided protection for it's settlers and later for it's growing ranches.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips. John Coffee Hays photo from the public domain)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Texas Ranchers, George Littlefield and the LFD Brand

The story of one of the largest Texas ranchers, George Littlefield, is the story of a Confederate officer, turned successful rancher and then into one of the first regents at the University of Texas in Austin.

The story is particularly interesting in as much as success with Texas ranching did not come easy for Littlefield. Success actually didn't come easy to many early Texas ranchers. A good example was another legendary Texas rancher by the name of Charles Goodnight. Today, many people refer to Goodnight as being the Father of the Texas Panhandle. Charles Goodnight's Panhandle ranching career went from boom to bust to boom. Such were the conditions of the second half 1800's ranching industry and the nation's economy. Regardless, Texas ranching and Texas ranchers were the backbone of the Texas economy.

The George Littlefield House

littlefield house
Littlefield House, Austin Texas
The George Littlefield House pictured in this article sits on the west side of the University of Texas campus in Austin.

The home is of Victorian architecture and was built in 1893 for a cost of $50,000. Like all Victorian architecture, the George Littlefield House is an example of ostentation. The homes like this constructed were a showcase of wealth. Many such homes were built by the wealthy but in the twenty-first century the Littlefield House sits alone in a modern campus environment.

A large veranda goes around the house with intricate iron grill work. Windows are plentiful all around the home and on both floors. The interior of the house is has a dark interior which was common in the era. Chandeliers are found in many of the rooms which have 14 foot ceilings. When Alice Littlefield passed away in 1935 she gave the home to the University of Texas. In 1970 the home was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Post Civil War Texas

After the American Civil War, George Littlefield tried his hand at farming. The venture didn't work out well partially due to flooding in the last years of the 1860's. The farming venture practically drove Littlefield broke. He wasn't the only one. At the same time Texas ranches were growing and growing rapidly. The railroad slowly but surely was expanding into Kansas. This opened up Abilene Kansas as a cowtown to Texas ranching. Soon the railroad were reach Dodge City Kansas. Dodge City represented a convenient cowtown for Texas ranchers and herds in western Texas, New Mexico as well as Colorado.

Littlefield's Ranching

littlefield house in austin texas
Littlefield House porch and grill work
Although George Littlefield's ranch was the LIT, there's a very interesting story about George Littlefield's LFD brand.

At one time Littlefield had cattle roaming not only in Texas but also in a substantial part of eastern New Mexico. The tale is that LFD stood for "Left for Dead".

Littlefield's drovers would find abandoned cattle in the arid New Mexico climate. By nursing them back to health, the Littlefield outfit built a substantial portion of their herd. Historical research however points to the use of the LFD brand as more likely derived from the name Littlefield. The rumors that LFD stood for Left for Dead did sound colorful and that's probably how it all began.

Littlefield started out in 1877 by driving a herd from south Texas up to the cowtown of Dodge City Kansas.When he determined that prices had dropped considerably in Dodge City because of the sheer number of cattle driven there, he decided to hold off and winter the herd in the Texas Panhandle.

The LIT Ranch was started when cattle prices remained low in the spring of 1878 and Texas rancher Littlefield decided to continue holding off. The Panhandle land was squatter land and a piece of a time was added. The LIT would often add land when other squatters departed. All in all, the LIT eventually encompassed some 1,000 square miles. By 1881, Littlefield had about 14,000 head of cattle and was offered by British investors over $250,000 to be bought out. After some time spent considering the offer he accepted. That amount represents about $5 million in today's money.

British investment groups were significant western ranch owners. After selling the LIT Littlefield moved to Austin Texas and got himself into the banking business, establishing the American National Bank. George Littlefield did very well in the banking business and bought into other Austin businesses including the famous Driskill Hotel. The Driskill Hotel is another great landmark in Austin still visited by thousands of tourists annually. George Littlefield also built the nine story Littlefield Building in downtown Austin in 1912.

interior of george littlefield house
Littlefield House interior
One of the best books available on the history of western ranching is The Cattle Kings by author Lewis Atherton. One review for this book states..."Professor Atherton has written an intellectual evaluation of the pioneer cattleman in his unique western habitat. It is freshly diverting, smartly written, and probably the best critical review ever presented on this complex subject."

For certain, Atherton describes the western rancher as a businessman. A good many books have highlighted the supposed romantic side of the rancher. The Cattle Kings puts the reality of ranching in proper perspective.

One attribute of the successful Texas rancher was his contribution to society. Two good examples of this are in the stories of both George Littlefield and Charles Goodnight. Littlefield with his large Texas ranches no doubt amassed a fortune. He was fortunate enough to be very financially successful. It has been said that George Littlefield gave the University of Texas some $3 million dollars during the school's first fifty years of existence. Included in Littlefield's donations to the university was the building of the Alice P. Littlefield Dormitory. The University of Texas was probably the largest receiver of Littlefield's financial contributions to culture and society.

The Texas Panhandle

george littlefield house at university of texas
Littlefield House interior
Another interesting story of successful Texas ranchers includes the accomplishments of Charles Goodnight who many refer to as the Father of the Texas Panhandle.

While Goodnight didn't amass quite the wealth that Littlefield was able to, he made many contributions to society as well as to the ranching industry. Goodnight was the founder of the Panhandle Stockman's Association and was a cattle cross-breeder.

Charles Goodnight was a trail blazer along with Oliver Loving who established a trail through New Mexico into Colorado. Charles Goodnight and his wife donated money to build the first Methodist church in Goodnight Texas and also established the Goodnight Academy which opened the door to higher education for many young people. Later in life Goodnight built the Goodnight College in Armstrong County Texas.

The old Texas ranches have a lot of history with them and were instrumental in helping Texas grow to be what it is. If your Texas vacation plans take you through the Austin area you might very well enjoy touring the Littlefield House on the western edge of the University of Texas campus. The home is located at 24th Street and Whitis Avenue, just one block east of Guadalupe Street on the campus.

Another article you may enjoy from Western Trips is Wild Horses and Cowboys.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Old Historic Buildings / A Texas Courthouse Tour

Old historical buildings are architectural treasures to preserve. There is no other state with more historic courthouses than Texas. There is estimated to be 234 courthouses in Texas that are over 50 years old and still standing. The Texas Historical Commission is very active in preserving these old historical buildings. About eighty of these structures were built before 1900. Courthouse squares throughout Texas showcase some of the finest examples of nineteenth century and early twentieth century architecture in the United States.

When your travels take you through the state of Texas there is no missing these imposing structures. When you drive through many of these small towns you may want to slow down a bit and appreciate both the architecture employed and the central role these buildings played in everyday life. So different than today's modern glass structures, these old historical buildings represent a time past when things were a bit slower.

Wise County Courthouse, Decatur Texas
To offer you an example of some of these great architectural structures, the Wise County Texas Courthouse located in the town of Decatur dates back to 1895. The Romanesque Revival building was designed  by architect James Riley Gordon of San Antonio. This building was the fourth courthouse for Wise County. Another interesting bit of history about the Decatur courthouse was that it was constructed on the old Chisholm Trail. A marker in front of the historic building denotes the location. The Chisholm Trail was named after Jesse Chisholm and led from the southern Texas cattle ranches to the rail heads in Kansas and Missouri. Decatur was named after the famous naval officer Stephen Decatur Jr. a decorated officer with a string of early nineteenth century naval victories. Decatur Texas is located about 45 miles northwest of Dallas.

Down in the Texas Hill Country in Johnson City Texas is the Blanco County Courthouse. The current structure is the third courthouse for the county. This old historic building was constructed in 1916 and was designed by Henry T. Phelps. The Blanco County Courthouse was originally located in the town of Blanco but was relocated to Johnson City Texas in 1890. The style is Classical Revival and is constructed of stone. Johnson City Texas is also known as the childhood home of former president Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Blanco County Texas Courthouse
An interesting tour while in Johnson City is the home and museum of the late president. Also located in Johnson City is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park operated by the National Park Service. One of the best times of the year to tour through Johnson City is during the winter holiday season. The entire town is lit with holiday lights and the Blanco County Courthouse in particular is marvelously illuminated. Even though December is not the height of tourist season in the Texas Hill Country, Johnson City sees thousands of travelers enjoying the lighting displays.

The McCulloch County Texas Courthouse built in 1899 is shown next. The courthouse is in the county seat of Brady Texas. As is the case with many county courthouses, this was not the first in McCulloch County Texas. The first courthouse was erected in 1879. The current structure was completed in 1900. The building is a three story sandstone structure built in the Richardson Romanesque style. One thing you may notice is the clock tower built on the top center of the building.
McCulloch County Texas Courthouse

While the clock tower is there just like with the Wise County Texas Courthouse, clocks were never installed. The red roof of the building is the result of a renovation in 2009. In front of the courthouse you'll notice a seven and one-half foot tall Texas Historical Marker. The Texas Historical Commission in 1963 designated the very center of the state of Texas as being located five miles northwest of Brady. Because of this, the town of Brady calls itself  "The Heart of Texas".

These are only three of the many historic courthouses located throughout Texas. When you take a road trip through the state it's almost impossible to miss them. The architectural designs are such that they represent quite a historical treasure. The materials used in their construction are mostly native to Texas. Starting in the early 1900's, around the 1920's, courthouse architecture really entered the modern era. The courthouses built after these dates highlight a much more modern look with straight lines and rectangular shapes. As opposed to these old courthouses, much of the material used was massed produced. Building a courthouse today in the old style would be very cost prohibitive, especially now in the era of prefab. A group called Preservation Texas, working along with the Texas Historical Commission, has restored some of the state's more spectacular old courthouses. Many of these old historical buildings fell into disrepair simply because of their age. Buildings of this nature are also quite costly just to maintain. These preservation groups provided the funding and effort to restore many of these structures to their original grandeur.

Pecos County Courthouse, Ft. Stockton Texas
The Pecos County Texas Courthouse in southwest Texas shown left gives you an idea of the more modern architecture of the 1900's. This courthouse is located in Fort Stockton Texas. When you appreciate the vast differences in architectural styles between the old and new, you can understand why these older structures need to be preserved for historical value alone. They certainly can't be reproduced.

There are three articles related to Texas historic buildings which you'll find interesting. The XIT Ranch and the Texas State Capitol. A tour of the Texas State Capitol

Also see our article on the Historic Homes of Waco Texas

Some additional information regarding the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Their accomplishments have gained both national and international attention. They received honors from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Texas Society of Architects. In 2008, the program was recognized with a Presidential Award from the White House. Another group very active is Preservation Texas.This group welcomed almost 200 preservationists from around Texas for their 2012 Texas Preservation Summit. According to the group, much of the work involves the identification of historic sites that are in need of preservation. They say that their list for 2012 highlights historic places that were once commonly found around the state that are almost gone along with sites representing varied architectural types.

(Photos from author's private collection)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Route 66 Vintage Car Museum / Santa Rosa New Mexico

There's more than one interesting vintage and classic car museum along the old Route 66 and one with a fascinating large collection is the Route 66 Auto Museum in Santa Rosa New Mexico. Santa Rosa is on Interstate 40 between Amarillo and Albuquerque. Santa Rosa is one of those towns that the Interstate goes directly past yet the main street through town is a part of the original Route 66.

A Fascinating Car Museum

vintage dodge coupe
1938 Dodge Coupe
On your next western road trip through this part of the country, exit Interstate 40 at Santa Rosa, drive through the main town area of restaurants, motels and shops and you'll be treated to a great display of vintage  cars that have marvelously restored.

 I have found some of these vintage car collections so interesting and well displayed that you'll enjoy the tour even if you're not a classic car buff. It's just a lot of fun taking a break from the highway and viewing some of these classic car designs. The automobile was what Route 66 was all about, so what better place for classic and vintage auto museums than on the old "Mother Road".

The 1938 Dodge Coupe shown at left was built by what was then called Dodge Brothers. The Dodge Brothers, Horace and John, started in business in 1900 as a supplier to the Detroit automakers. In 1915, the Dodge brothers built their first complete automobile and put out some great classics.While some may refer to photos like the ones in this article as pictures of old cars, many of these cars are here because people took the time and effort in restoring them and  we're now able to see what they looked like in their glory days.

Santa Rosa New Mexico

Santa Rosa New Mexico itself is quite an interesting stop along the old Route 66. The town was originally settled by the Spanish. Coronado during his famous expedition in the 1500's encamped along the Pecos River just about 10 miles south of the town. It is there where the historic landmark of "Coronado's Bridge" can be found in the small village of Puerta de Luna.

Santa Rosa's prominence over this smaller but older village was really the result of the railroad. Since the railroad wasn't built through Puerto de Luna, the growth occurred in Santa Rosa. While today's modern Interstate 40 whisks one past many of these historic towns, the tourist economy still remains very important just like it did during Route 66's heyday. You'll even see some of the old original diners.

1931 auburn car
1931 Auburn
The Route 66 Auto Museum offers an impressive collection of over thirty cars and trucks. You'll find some of these restored vehicles for sale. Some of the vehicles up for sale as of this writing include a 1957 Chevy, a 1956 Lincoln Mark II and a 1970 Chevelle.

 The museum address is 2866 Will Rogers Avenue (Historic Route 66). This auto museum is owned by a man named James "Bozo" Cordova. Cordova has restored many of these cars and now has made the collection available to the general public. What he has put together is a real gem of a museum. James Cordova has been involved with cars his whole life and started a repair garage in Santa Rosa. His classic car collection got so large that he decided to make it into a museum.

In addition to the classic car display, Cordova has assembled a large collection of Route 66 memorabilia including signs, toys and other items. Some classic automobile engines are also showcased.

Endee New Mexico and Classic Cars

Off Interstate 40 in Endee New Mexico just inside the border with Texas is another unique car museum. The museum is large and it's located inside Russells Truck Stop. You'll be amazed at the classic automobileson display there. When you pass this spot it's well worth your time to pull in, relax for a bit and take a look at these fascinating cars.

Arizona and California Classic Automobile Displays

1968 corvette car
1968 Corvette, 327 engine, 4 speed
Another trip note to make if your western road trip takes you through Arizona is the Hackberry General Store in Hackberry Arizona.

The general store is also a unique Route 66 museum with vintage automobiles, old gas pumps as well as those classic old Route 66 advertising signs.

The Hackberry General Store has Route 66 memorabilia displayed inside and out. It's one of those fun places that you can stop at, pick up a soda and perhaps spend an hour looking through the artifacts. Hackberry is located 23 miles northeast of Kingman Arizona.

You may also be interested in the vintage cars on our website AutoMuseumOnline.

As you probably know there are many museums found along the old Route 66 and today's Interstate 40. Some museums like the ones mentioned here feature the old classic automobiles. Others have a combination of cars and all types of memorabilia such as in Williams Arizona just about 65 miles south of the Grand Canyon and in Victorville California, southwest of Barstow and before you enter the Los Angeles metropolitan area. I've had a lot of fun visiting several of these museums and shops and I believe you will also.

Adding a few of these stops and perhaps traveling the remaining stretches of the original "Mother Road" will help make your western road trip a true adventure.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fort Sumner New Mexico, The Bosque Redondo and the Long Walk


They called it "The Long Walk" and indeed it was. Several thousand Navajo Native Americans were forced to walk to Fort Sumner New Mexico in the Pecos River Valley from their homeland, some 350 miles.

The Navajo Forced March

The traditional Navajo homeland was in today's northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. Many died on this forced march.

When your vacation or western road trip takes you through New Mexico, particularly on Interstate 40, you may just want to take a short detour to one of the state's most historic sites. There's a lot to learn there about what happened to the Navajo Native Americans as well as about the events in New Mexico Territory during the 1860's.

The Long Walk event that ended there is really about a story of a government plan that proved to be ill conceived. The story you'll learn about at Fort Sumner is about a place called "Bosque Redondo". There of course are several New Mexico reservations but this one, because of what it represented, may be one of the most historic. The Bosque Redondo Memorial is an excellent addition to your New Mexico vacation planner and a site filled with history.


bosque redondo memorial
Fort Sumner NM is located about 160 miles west of Amarillo Texas and about 160 miles east of -Albuquerque. From Santa Rosa New Mexico which is directly on Interstate 40, Fort Sumner is about 45 miles south on U.S. Hwy 84. It's about a 45 minute drive from Santa Rosa and well worth the time.

History wise, there's really two stories that most people associate Fort Sumner with. One has to do with the Navajo forced march and the other has to do with Billy the Kid. You may recall that Billy the Kid met his end at Fort Sumner at the hands of sheriff Pat Garrett.

The Navajo people had a history of conflict with every country that ruled over it's land. The first were the conflicts with the Spaniards who first settled what is today New Mexico. The conflicts continued with the Mexican government after they expelled the Spaniards from North America. When the U.S. Government took over the area of Nuevo Mexico from the Mexicans in about 1846, the conflicts continued. The causes of these centuries long struggles were really no different than any of the other struggles between Native Americans and Europeans. Mostly it was about land, freedom and religion.

bosque redondo museum
Bosque Redondo Memorial
The religion factor was most prominent with the Spanish rule with the mission building and the outlawing of Native American religions and spirit worship. In fact, the Spaniards suffered their worst defeat during the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 where they were virtually driven out of Nuevo Mexico for twelve years.

The Bosque Redondo Memorial is located at the old site of Fort Sumner which at the time of the Long Walk was a U.S. military outpost. This is just a few miles southeast of the town of Fort Sumner and along the Pecos River.

The Long Walk for the Navajo occurred during 1864. This of course was the Civil War years. The United States had control of the New Mexico Territory for about fifteen years at that point and what took place with the Navajo's was nothing short of a mass deportation. In fact, it's noted that the area of Bosque Redondo was considered a very remote area and it was for this reason that the location was chosen for the Navajos. The military wanted them relocated as far as possible from their native lands.

What was called The Long Walk was a deportation event that had it's beginning in 1862 and 1863 when Kit Carson was ordered to advance on the Navajo settlements near today's Four Corners area and secure a surrender.

The action came after the U.S. Army was able to push the Confederates down the Rio Grande in 1862 thus freeing up the resources to address the Navajos. Carson was only partly successful. At first, no Navajos agreed to surrender. Not Kit Carson essentially followed what is known as a scorched earth policy.
kit carson home
Kit Carson Home and Museum, Taos NM
a one. It was only after a lot of pressure not to mention starvation that thousands did finally give in. While these thousands did indeed surrender to U.S. forces, others scattered to the mountains as far north as Utah and as far south as into Arizona. What ensued after that was anything but peaceful. Most books will tell you that

One of the best descriptions of the intensity of Kit Carson's Navajo Campaign was written by Herbert E. Gregory in, The Navajo Country, published in 1915. Gregory goes on to say, "After New Mexico and Arizona came into possession of the United States, a series of unsuccessful expeditions directed against the Navajos culminated in the campaign of 1863. During this year Kit Carson invaded the Navajo country, killed the sheep, burned the cornfields, and took possession of water holes, thereby forcing the surrender of the whole tribe. The number of prisoners held at Bosque Redondo was 7,300 which was believed to include the whole tribe and doubtless was 90 per cent of all the Navajos in New Mexico and Arizona".


native american arrows
Arrows on display at Bent Home and Museum
Kit Carson's legend is like the story of western expansion itself. He was one of the few that literally lived all aspects of America's expansion west. He was a trapper, a scout, a farmer and trader and he was called many time to serve his country.

His military service spanned all the way back to the Fremont expedition to California to the events in the early 1860's regarding the Navajo. Most books concerning Carson will say he was quite atypical for a mountain man. He was gentlemanly and treated people with respect. At the same time, Carson could be violent if he encountered violence headed his way. Kit Carson many time was quoted as saying that he would like to just settle down as a rancher but each time he headed in that direction the U.S. military had some sort of need for his services.

The Navajo Forced March and the Civil War in New Mexico

One of the things I find interesting when describing western historical events is in what overall atmosphere they took place. None of these events occurred in a vacuum and the New Mexico native story is a good example.

In this case, during the Civil War and about fifteen years after the Mexican cessation of New Mexico, there were numerous concerns in the west. Because of the Civil War's need for more troops in the eastern battlefields, the plains and near west were more dangerous. Raids picked up along the Oregon Trail and along the Bozeman Trail up into Montana. A good number of army troops who had been stationed on the western frontier were back east. The Indians had a much easier time raiding white settlements during the Civil War.

Texas was a perfect example of this with the Comanches. People were still traveling on the Oregon Trail either heading to California or to Virginia City Nevada with the Comstock strike. The New Mexico Territory was assaulted by the Confederacy, especially in the southern section and in present day southern Arizona. There were even secession efforts in this southern section of the territory. There was a lot happening. As I had mentioned, the U.S. really didn't take decisive action against the Navajo until after they were able to take care of the Confederate threat. It was during this confusing and militarily active time that Kit Carson was summoned to round up the Navajo.

indian corn
New Mexico Indian corn from the Bent Home and Museum
To demonstrate just how ill conceived the deportation to Bosque Redondo was, the Navajo forced  presence at this reservation south of Fort Sumner lasted only some five years.

During Kit Carson's last year, 1868, he was known to have lobbied Congress for the freeing of the Navajo from Bosque Redondo. He believed that what transpired in 1863 and 1864 was a mistake and did all he could to influence it's reversal.

Kit Carson died in Colorado at Fort Lyon the very same year the treaty was signed. The treaty allowed for the Indian tribe's return to its homeland. The Treaty of Bosque Redondo had numerous provisions, including an end to the raids that had ravaged the Southwest for centuries.

kit carson guns
Firearms once owned by Kit Carson
According to the Bosque Redondo website regarding the detention of both Navajos and Apaches at this reservation, "The Bosque Redondo Memorial celebrates these two cultures’ dignity, resilience, endurance, courage and strength, in the face of extreme hardship, isolation, sickness and death, to emerge from Bosque Redondo to become the admired and proud people they are today".

There's a lot of history concerning the Native story  to be learned at this excellent memorial. The people at the memorial state, "We invite you to walk with us as we look into the Navajo and Mescalero Apache cultures and trace the history of the events that led to their terrible incarceration at Bosque Redondo, their incredible survival, and emotional return to their respective homelands".

Two related and interesting articles are the story of the Navajo Code Talkers who played such an important role for the U.S. during World War Two and the story of the original Hubbell Trading Post located on the Navajo reservation.

You may also enjoy our Western Trips visit to historic Fort Garland in southern Colorado.

When your western vacation or short road trip takes you to this part of New Mexico, south of Santa Rosa, I would encourage you to add this stop to your trip planner. It's the type of historic stop that's great for the entire family.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)


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