Western Trips

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Smokejumpers / The Dangers, History and Training / Missoula Montana

There are many dangerous jobs in this world and one of those is that of the Smokejumper. These are dedicated fighters of wildfires who put life and limb in harms way each and every time they are called for.

The top photo at left (courtesy of Dragomilof,CreativeCommons 3.0) shows a group of Smokejumpers heading to their aircraft for deployment.

On your next Montana vacation there is an excellent museum located in Missoula Montana that provides a great deal of information and displays explaining the hazards of this occupation as well as the invaluable service these brave people offer. The museum is located at the Aerial Fire Depot Missoula. Visitors will be taken on a tour which will include the Smokejumpers Loft and the Smokejumpers Memorial. Montana trips have much to offer. In addition to the Smokejumpers Museum you can visit Glacier Park Montana and West Yellowstone. Two great sites.

The Job of a Smokejumper

Fighting wildfires in remote regions of the western U.S. is what a Smokejumper does. This generally is in very remote terrain, very difficult to reach by any other means.

Employing a fleet of fixed wing aircraft, including a Turbine DC-3, Twin Otter, and a Shorts Sherpa, firefighters and paracargo operations can reach any location in the country. Areas that jumpers work in include everywhere from New Mexico to Alaska.

The photo at left shows a group of Smokejumpers dating back to 1949. There is also a unit called The Alaska Smokejumpers. They are part of the Alaska Fire Service and the Bureau of Land Management since 1959.  Being a part of the BLM, the Alaskan crews have also helped fight fires in the lower 48 states.   

Improvement in Fire Fighting Technology and Methods

Just like everything, wildfire fighting has improved technologically. Back in the 1800's and even during the first part of the twentieth century, firefighting seemed to be a secondary concern, taking a back seat to the natural instinct of escaping.

Both the Hinckley Minnesota Fire of 1894 and the Great Fires of 1910 in the Montana/Wyoming region were essentially efforts to escape the advancing flames. In both of these catastrophes people tried escaping by any means possible..trains, horses and by foot. In the case of Hinckley, trains were overtaken by the flames and many perished. Wildfires can become firestorms. This is what happened in Hinckley. A firestorm is a fire of such immensity that it develops it's own weather system. This is about as dangerous a fire as you can imagine with winds and speed very unpredictable.
Photo courtesy Alan Radecki, GNU Doc. Lic.

Today, one of the methods used to manage forest land is the "controlled burn". This is where  small fires are started intentionally and then put out to clear land to avoid a much larger uncontrolled wildfire.

The men and women of the Smokejumpers are also employed for these purposes. In today's modern times we also have aircraft tanker planes such as DC-10's, shown at right, that drop fire retardant  chemicals to help put out fires. As a comparison to the days back in 1910  durring the Great Fire when stopping a fire meant digging trenches to try to prevent it's advance, the technology has advanced at warp speed.

The History of Smokejumpers

Smoke Jumper history is quite interesting. Experiments were begun in 1939 with personnel from the Eagle Parachute Company from Lancaster Pennsylvania. This was done in the northern Cascades and today this area of the Matthew Valley is considered the birthplace of smokejumping.

While these tests went well there still was a reluctance to have people parachute into raging fires. This was a time when aviation itself was considered a risky business and to add people jumping out of airplanes into fires seemed just too risky. Many people in the government considered this akin to barnstorming. Eventually more tests were done using 150 pound weights on parachutes and after success with that the go ahead was received.

During World War Two, about 240 people from the Civilian Public Service Camps were trained as smoke jumpers at the McCall Smokejumpers Base in Missoula Montana. There was also a time when the U.S. Army utilized smoke jumping training facilities to help train their parachute airborne troops. The army later established facilities at Fort Benning Georgia. Another interesting fact is that the Russian Federation is considered to have the largest contingent of smoke jumpers in the world. Supposedly Russia's use of Smokejumpers dates back to the mid 1930's.

Smokejumper Training

 Yellowstone  practice jump 1975

Deaths of Smokejumpers are considered very rare. In the U.S. the best known fatalities occurred in the years 1949 and 1994.

Injuries from jumps do happen but it should be noted that a great deal of caution is exercised every time a jump is called for. The decision to jump or not to is many times a last minute decision based on a variety of factors. Wind direction and the fires path are carefully considered before the green light is issued.

Smokejumpers training is quite rigorous since you not only need superior firefighting skills but additionally you need to train as an athlete to avoid injury. As a result, the injuries and deaths for Smokejumpers are not anything different from those of ground based firefighters.

When a Smokejumper isn't fighting fires he or she  works to maintain  their equipment and has a daily physical workout regimen. A Smokejumper is required to be able to find their way around a forest using only a map and compass. Being a quick thinker and  being able to manage risk are two additional good attributes to possess. Smokejumpers clothing is heavily padded to avoid injury if landing in a tree. The aircraft drops equipment such as chain saws, axes, firefighting chemicals and potable water pumps which the Smokejumper then gathers on the ground.

Hollywood has added somewhat to the storied legend of the Smokejumper and the dangers ever present. The 1959 Smokejumpers movie "Red Skies Of Montana" was based on the 1949 Mann-Gulch Fire that claimed fifteen lives, thirteen of them being Smoke Jumpers. A popular novel by Nicholas Evans published in 2001 "The Smoke Jumper" also added to public awareness of these brave firefighters. Another interesting story is that of Edward Pulaski who developed the Pulaski Tool which is still used today by our nation's wildland firefighters.

Trips to Montana can be an exciting and fun experience. Another stop to put on your Montana vacation planner is the Pompeys Pillar Monument near Billings where you can see the etched signature of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Make certain to add the Smokejumpers Museum to your Montana travel planner. You'll be glad you did. Websites to help plan your vacation in Montana are below.

Smokejumpers Museum Missoula Montana

Livingston Montana Travel

Montana Official State Travel Site

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jesse James And The Blue Cut Train Robbery

frank and jesse james
Jesse, Frank James 1872

The Last Train Robbery

It happened five years to the date of the failed Northfield Minnesota bank robbery which turned out to be the start of the decline of Jesse Woodson James and the James Gang.

This second event was the Blue Cut Train Robbery which occurred near Glendale Missouri on September 7, 1881. The robbery itself was not a big event as far as what was stolen. Reports were that this new James Gang stole something between $1,000 and $3,000 from the train's express car depending on which news report you believe along with personal items and money from it's passengers. Some historic reports claim that the money stolen was quite larger.

Regardless, reports were that Jesse thought there was quite a bit more money on the train than there actually was. No one was shot during the holdup. At the end of the robbery Jesse exclaimed to the express agent that the James gang would ruin the Chicago & Alton Railroad. The Blue Cut train robbery was nothing like the violent crimes in years prior involving Frank and Jesse James.  The gang wasn't the same. They weren't the violent pro-Confederate holdouts of the James-Younger days. The Younger brothers were in jail for the shootings in Northfield Minnesota and the law was after Jesse like never before. Blue Cut proved to be the second turning point in Jesse James criminal career.

The Northfield robbery attempt in September of 1876 went bad from the start and as a result the James gang was decimated. It just so happened that the local town folk in the farming community of Northfield were tipped off to what was occurring at the bank and didn't wish to lose their hard earned money to the gang. The gang members appearance at the bank seemed to stand out in this farming community. In other words they were conspicuous in this type of town. A large firefight ensued and the Younger brothers, major members of the gang, were captured and sentenced to long terms in Minnesota. Jesse and his brother Frank were not only on the run but their future as robbers was quite in doubt.

There was detailed reporting of crimes in the newspaper. The same is true today however the wording of the era was quite different from today. Following is an excerpt from the Sunday Times of Chicago on September 10, 1876, three days after the robbery..

" The robbers did not get into the vault, nor did they find the cashiers drawer, except the nickel drawer, and the handful of nickels taken from it was thrown to the floor. The citizens of Northfield behaved like old veterans, as many of them are. A. R. Manning and Hewey Wheeler and others were conspicuous for their conduct.
This is the most daring attempt at robbery that ever occurred in Minnesota; and we are very much inclined to the opinion that if the remainder of the gang are arrested they will go to meet their comrades in a great deal shorter time than the process of courts will give them".

It Wasn't the Same Old Gang

chicago and alton railroad route map
Chicago & Alton RR Route Map
Returning to the story of the Blue Cut robbery, over the years since the botched Northfield robbery Jesse was able to cobble together another group of followers, many of whom were also ex-confederate soldiers and/or sympathizers.

There were still many available even years after the American Civil War ended although many contend that this new group were simply petty thieves. The area of Missouri and Kansas was one of the more divisive parts of the country during the war. It was an easy area to recruit anti-establishment outlaws.

Being west of the Mississippi River and geographically between the north and the south there were people from all parts of the east who had migrated there. Union supporters and southern sympathizers were everywhere and the bitterness between them was legendary. One result of this bitterness was the raid on Lawrence Kansas in 1863 which resulted in the deaths of over 200 boys and men. The town was completely ransacked during the raid where 180 buildings were set ablaze and was was supposedly revenge for a raid earlier by Union supporters.

In this part of the country old feelings died hard. The person responsible for the attack on Lawrence was none other than William Quantrill, a guerrilla leader with southern sympathies whose gang of marauders were referred to as Quantrill's Raiders. Quantrill's guerrillas were so violent and out of control the Confederacy disavowed any connection to them. Jesse James was a member of Quantrill's band and the end of the Civil War did nothing to alter Jesse's hard nosed pro-southern attitude. Some historians contend that the crimes and mayhem perpetuated by the outlaw Jesse James was his way of continuing his own private war.

william quantrill photo
William Quantrill, guerrilla leader
This new group of anti-social outlaws planned crimes mostly put together by Jesse James himself. The Blue Cut robbery was one of them. Blue Cut refers to a 25 mile section of curving track of the old Alton and Chicago Railroad near Glendale Missouri.

The location was chosen because the trains had to slow down to 20-25 MPH to manage the turn. Masked men blocked the tracks. The engineer could see someone waving a lantern and he also saw that he was masked. At that point he realized these were robbers and had no choice than to brake. When the gang entered the express car they demanded that the safe be opened. The express agents tried to say they didn't have the combination. There was a brief struggle and finally one of the agents opened the safe. During this time other gang members robbed passengers in the cars to the rear.

A Long Career of Crime

Most historians contend that between 1866 and 1882 Jesse James  and his gangs robbed nine banks, eight trains, four stagecoaches, the box office of the World Agricultural Exposition in Kansas City and a government paymaster. By the same token, the newspapers of the day may have attributed a few more crimes to the James Gang than what actually occurred. Some of the press no doubt were guilty of sensationalizing some of the crimes. In fact, in those days the press liked to sensationalize many stories, not just those about Jesse James. This type of reporting can produce a legend. Sometimes the legend and reality can be two different things. There were instances in which Jesse James corresponded with the press pointing out that such and such a robbery had nothing to do with him.

The photo below left is the Clay County Savings Association. It is considered the site of the first daylight bank robbery in U.S. history. While it was attributed to the actions of Jesse James there is some doubt whether he was involved.

clay county bank historic site
Clay County Bank site
An example of how some of the public sentiment in regards to Jesse James, the excerpt below from a letter to the St. Louis Post Dispatch dated June 5, 1874 from a unnamed sender is telling.

"Not many days ago I saw the celebrated Jesse W. James in the city of Galveston, talked with him, was introduced to his wife, and recognized in her an old acquaintance of Jackson County—a lady whom I had known both before and since the war, and one who had been of immense service to the Southern guerrillas when they were operating upon the border in 1862 and 1863.
I had a long talk with Jesse. He was waiting for a vessel bound for Mexico, where it was his intention to go with his wife to Vera Cruz and from there into the interior, and take him a farm. Frank was with him, and they appear to have many friends and acquaintances in Galveston."

Nobody knows for sure if the above statement was actually sent to the paper, but if it was it illustrates how newspaper stories can build celebrity images when perhaps the image shouldn't apply. You could probably compare this to how some papers reported on Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger. Papers reported on the personal doings of outlaws similar to how the media today reports on Hollywood celebrities. A few facts and lots of embellishment.

A Bounty On His Head

bonnie and clyde photo
Bonnie and Clyde 1932-34
After the Blue Cut train robbery there was a lot of pressure to capture Jesse James. He was using an assumed name. The Missouri governor put out a $10,000 reward for his capture. The gang was squabbling over dividing the Blue Cut spoils which wasn't nearly a large as what Jesse expected.

The gang was nothing like to earlier James Younger group. Everyone distrusted the other and the Blue Cut train robbery proved to be Jesse James last. The west was changing in the 1880's. The Indian Wars further west were beginning to end and the lawlessness that had to a degree been tolerated since the end of the Civil War in states like Missouri  was also coming to an end. States like Missouri were becoming more organized including their law enforcement efforts and the marauding nature of James escapades were becoming harder to pull off.

 Much of the mayhem generated by the earlier James gang was attributed by many journalists to their anti-Union sentiment and this too was fading away with the years. The James gang was no longer relevant to the civil progress being made in Kansas and Missouri.

patee house in st joseph missouri
Patee House, St Joseph, MO
Jesse James cheated death for decades. One site that remains quite popular to tourists and tourist/historians is the house where Jesse James was assassinated by his former gang partner Robert Ford.
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There have been several Jesse James movies produced.  If you saw the recent movie "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" you saw much of the story of Jesse James death and final days. If you haven't seen the movie I highly recommend that you do. The Jesse James Home Museum is located in St. Joseph Missouri. It was moved a few blocks from it's original location and is at 12th and Mitchell, St. Joseph.

Another point of interest in St. Joseph is the Patee House shown above located at 1202 Penn, St. Joseph's only National Historic Landmark. The Patee House was originally built in 1858 as a luxury hotel. It's museum is filled with artifacts from the frontier era of Missouri as well as items regarding Jesse James history. The hotel was the site of the formal investigation undertaken after James assassination. It was also the headquarters for the Pony Express in 1861. An excellent companion trip with a St. Joseph visit is the Oregon Trail History of Independence Missouri.

Another interesting story you'll enjoy is that of the Tombstone Epitaph.

(Clay County Bank and Patee House photos courtesy of Americasroof at en.wikipedia. Creative Commons 2.5, Additional photos and images from the public domain)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

San Francisco's World War Two Defenses / Protecting The Bay

fishermans wharf san francisco
A vacation or weekend road trip to San Francisco is always a fun time and there's almost an endless list of sights to see. Places to visit in San Francisco are plentiful. Aside from riding the San Francisco cable cars, visiting Fishermans Wharf and just enjoying the one of a kind views there are several unique sites to see that tell the story of the Bay Area's strategic importance during World War Two and how our armed forces protected it. At the bottom of this story I've detailed directions on how to reach several of these historic locations. The history of the Army and Navy in San Francisco Bay during the war years is quite interesting.

Strategic War Industries

San Francisco Bay was a very important area for the U.S. during the Second World War. It not only was a large population center but it also was the home to strategic war effort industries. A similar situation existed in Galveston Texas during the war. While Galveston was certainly not the size of the Bay Area, it's strategic importance was paramount. Galveston had oil to ship to the Allies. Galveston World War two defenses were quite elaborate. Because both of these ports, San Francisco and Galveston, were crucial to our war effort, both had similar defenses against any kind of enemy attack.
marin headlands
Marin Headlands

Many of the troops and supplies destined for the Pacific war passed through San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate on their way to the Pacific Theater. Important military post included Fort Mason, which was the port of embarkation for over a million soldiers during the war, and the Presidio, the headquarters for the Pacific Coast defense. There was also Treasure Island just a few miles east of the city of San Francisco and the Alameda Naval Air Station near Oakland...both important naval bases.

The Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond California, in the east bay area, were building scores of Liberty Ships. There were a total of seven Kaiser Shipyards on the West Coast of which four were in the San Francisco Bay area. The local shipyards also repaired and serviced many of the ships and submarines from the Pacific Theater.

Mare Island on the north side of the bay regularly repaired ships and submarine damaged in the fighting. Port Chicago was a critical ammunition supply depot. Every ship coming and going had to pass through the narrow Golden Gate passage.

Below left is a satellite image of Mare Island and the city of Vallejo California on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. The city and Mare Island are separated by the Napa River.

Protecting the Bay

galveston war defensesFairly similar to how the Galveston defenses were set up, San Francisco had laid submarine nets to keep any enemy subs out of the bay. Mines were laid, aircraft such as the PBY patrolled the coast, picket ships patrolled the coast and batteries were manned at the entrance to the bay on both sides of the Golden Gate. The Marin Headlands on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge in present day Marin county California is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This was the site of several military fortifications including Fort Barry and Fort Cronkhite.  Marin headlands, pictured above right.

pby aircraft
Batteries had existed in the Marin Headlands since 1890 with the intent to keep hostile ships in general out of the bay.

Batteries at Kirby Cove and at Battery Mendell were two of those predating World War One. In addition to these fortifications were observation posts. Probably the most well known battery was Battery Spencer which had been there since the Spanish-American War and all through World War One and Two. Battery Spencer was a concrete reinforced 12 inch gun battery located at Lime Point on the Marin peninsula at the Marin Headland.

The guns of World War Two were stationed all along the Marin Headlands. In fact, a total of sixty batteries and eleven forts were built in the San Francisco area after the end of the Spanish-American War. Battery Spencer just like it's cousins in Galveston Texas were concrete reinforced bunkers.

All batteries were decommissioned during the Cold War however built in their place were anti-aircraft missile launchers. During the Cold War there were eleven Nile Missile launchers in the Bay Area out of more than 300 nationwide built to protect America's cities. Like most technology, the Nike Missile eventually became obsolete. While they were effective in shooting down conventional aircraft they were useless against the new ICBM's produced by the world's superpowers during the 1960's.
battery spencer san francisco bay
Battery Spencer Gun #2

While San Francisco Bay was extremely active all during World Wart Two, the was not the kind of hostile activity nearby as there was in the Gulf  of Mexico. Along the Pacific coast during the war there were three documented assaults originating from Japanese submarines. All of these actually turned out to be more of a harassment exercise than a real military assault.

One was a shelling of an oil facility offshore from Santa Barbara..a launching of a small aircraft from a submarine off the Oregon coast for the purpose of dropping incendiary devices into the northwest forests..and the shelling around midnight at an army post at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. None of these three caused a great deal of damage and represented  what appeared to be lone wolf uncoordinated light assaults. All three submarines escaped patrol aircraft sent out after these attacks and they were not heard from again. The situation in the Gulf of Mexico was quite different where German U-Boats had a good deal of success sinking allied oil tankers after they departed the Houston/Galveston area and the mouth of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans.

Additional San Francisco Area Historic Sites

alameda naval air station
Alameda NAS 1940's
There are many interesting places to see in San Francisco and a visit to these historic sites could be a good low cost addition to your California trip planner. If your visit takes you to Fishermans Wharf be sure to see the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien. The O'Brien was involved during D-Day and is a great stop. You'll also enjoy a tour of the USS Pampanito World War Two submarine also adjacent to Fishermans Wharf.

To visit the site of the old Battery Spencer, the location is near McCullough Rd and Conzelman Rd. in Sausalito very near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Battery Spencer information and directions.

To visit old Fort Barry, the directions from San Francisco can be found on this link.

The directions to Fort Mason can be found on this link.

Another scenic visit to the Golden Gate National Recreational Area is Fort Baker in Sausalito CA. Information and directions are on their link.

Two additional Bay Area sites regarding World War Two and the San Francisco defenses are the U.S.S. Hornet permanently located in Alameda in the east bay and also the Alameda Naval Air Museum also in Alameda.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

Monday, August 22, 2011

The XIT Ranch's 3 Million Acres Built The Texas State Capitol

When you think of the history of Texas you might very well think oil. The fact is that before the massive oil discovery at Spindletop in southeast Texas the state of Texas was all about cattle and the land to graze them on. The cattle ranch and old Texas was synonymous. When you drive by the State Capitol building in Austin you see the product of Texas' early cattle industry. While the state government may not have been rich in capital Texas was quite wealthy in land...lots of land.

Visit the XIT Museum 

texas state capital statue
There are some very interesting sites to add to your Texas vacation planner to learn the whole story of the XIT Ranch, America's largest cattle ranch and how Texas built it's magnificent new State Capitol.  As capitol buildings go, the Texas Capitol was considered the seventh largest building in the world at the time of it's construction.

The picture to the right is the new capitol building showing the statue "Lady Liberty" prior to it's installation at the top of the dome. The first site to add to your Texas trip planner is the XIT Museum located in Dalhart Texas. it's located at the intersection of U.S. Hwy 54 and U.S. Hwy 87. This is in a corner of the Texas Panhandle about 300 miles west of Oklahoma City and about 70 miles northwest of Amarillo Texas.Among it's many exhibits is information and artifacts regarding the XIT Ranch, the Panhandle railroads and the County Sheriff. Another stop for your Texas trip planner might be the XIT Rodeo and Reunion held every year in Dalhart. Dates are usually late July and early August.

The Cattle Raisers Museum

If your Texas travels take you to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Cattle Raisers Museum located inside the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is an excellent stop. Learn all about Texas' cattle industry, cowboys, branding and much more. Makes a good low cost family side trip.

In Channing Texas there is a restoration of the old XIT Ranch general offices. It's location is 517 Railroad Avenue. Channing Texas is located in the Panhandle in Hartley County near Dalhart.

The Famous XIT Ranch

cowboys on XIT ranch
The romance of the XIT Ranch, enhanced by the spread's sheer size, some 3,050,000 acres, the world's largest ranch,  lives on in western lore.

The picture at left is of XIT cowboys taken in the 1880's. The northern ranch border to the southern ranch border spanned 200 miles. The thousands of XIT Ranch records are now housed in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon Texas., and the old general office building still stands in Channing.

 In Dalhart memories of the ranch are kept alive in the XIT Museum and the famous "Empty Saddles" monument. There are a great many sites to explore in Texas regarding the XIT Ranch and it's impact on Texas history. I would recommend you consider these on your next Texas vacation or side trip. They're really a lot of fun to explore.

The XIT Ranch and Texas History

As you can imagine there are many stories connected with the XIT Ranch. It's cowboys, characters passing through, the cattle drives, law and order and it's eventual closure sale of land. What we want to highlight here is how the XIT built Texas' beautiful State Capitol building. The history of the State of Texas is closely interwoven with the XIT Ranch and how it came to be. The picture below is another of XIT cowboys taken in 1891.

At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 Texas grew by leaps and bounds. This is the point where the cattle industry took hold and grew over the decades. Immigrants were arriving in droves..the railroad began to replace the freight wagons and the responsibilities of the state government took off.

Although the Comanche menace was alive and well in west and northwest Texas, a cattle ranch eventually sprang up here and there in the west. Their two biggest concerns were Indian theft and attack on their herds and of course common rustlers. The Comanche situation continued to the 1870's with the final surrender of Quanah Parker and his band in Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle. The need of a new statehouse was a top priority. Like any measure to go through the legislature, it was debated heavily.

What Texas had of great value was land. In 1875 a representative from Comanche Texas in the Texas Legislature offered a resolution setting aside 5 million acres of public land for the purpose of raising money to build the new capitol. After many arguments as to how much land to set aside, the agreed upon resolution called for 3,050,000 acres in the Texas Panhandle.

Another point to note was that the resolution wasn't formally voted on and approved until 1879. At that point a survey team was paid for and dispatched to the panhandle to designate and mark the exact acreage. Not a whole lot was known about the Panhandle at that time and although the Indian trouble had subsided greatly, the team had a security escort. After all it was in the Texas Panhandle that Kit Carson was involved in the famous Comanche battle at Adobe Walls. The land after surveyed was divided into Spanish leagues rather than the section method adopted later.

You may also enjoy our Western Trips articles on the 1890 Clay County Jail 
and Great Travel Stops Along the Old TX and NM Route 66 Segment.

Building a New State Capital

In 1881 the old state capitol building burned to the ground making the swap of land for building much more urgent. Two bids were received for the new building. One from Mattheas Schnell of Rock Island Illinois and the other from A.A. Burck from Rockdale Texas. The Schnell offer was accepted.

The acreage was transferred to the Farwell brothers, John and Charles from Chicago. In accordance with the agreement, ground was broken on February 1, 1882. The construction proved a bit more difficult than predicted. A railroad had to be built to the rock  quarries of Burnet County. There was also a shortage of American masons and the builders had to recruit granite experts from Scotland. The capitol building was completed in 1888, six years after it's start. The building's architect was Elijah E. Myers of Detroit. Myers was the only architect to design three state capitol buildings..Texas, Michigan and Colorado. As part of the agreement, the Panhandle land was to be given to the Schnell group with free and clear title. The Texas state map depicting the Panhandle area is courtesy of Wikipedia/ GNU Free Documentation License.

Largest Ranch Under Fence

cattle brandsAt left is a list of the various local XIT Brands. The XIT was the largest cattle ranch in the world under fence. It extended from the top of the Panhandle boundary all the way south 200 miles to about where Muleshoe Texas is today. The width of the ranch property varied between 20 and 30 miles and covered the entirety of ten Texas counties. At it's peak the ranch had some 150,000 head of cattle.

The only problem that arose was that in the 1885-86 period beef prices collapsed and the XIT had a hard time breaking even and relied on foreign investors for capital.

Without being too complicated, the financial setup for the XIT was thus.

Capital was raised in England by offering bonds. To comply with English business law, the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company Ltd was established in London. This was an English company. The English company leased back the land to John V. Farwell's Capitol Company. Farwell ran the ranch operations as managing director. For all intents and purposes the English company had no involvement with the operation of the XIT.

The English bonds were for terms of 5, 10 and 15 years. When they matured the English company was dissolved. The English financing behind the XIT had some people referring to the ranch as an English concern. In actuality it wasn't.  By the year 1901 with bonds maturing the ranch began selling off parcels of land to help pay back these investors. The last of the cattle was sold off in 1912 and the remainder of the land sold off shortly after.

The JA Ranch

Although not the size of the famed XIT, the JA Ranch to the east of the XIT covers six counties and is still in existence today. The JA Ranch was founded by Charles Goodnight and John Adair.

Charles Goodnight himself was a legendary Texas and Colorado rancher whose name is on the Goodnight-Loving Trail leading from Texas to New Mexico and then north into Colorado through the Raton, NM mountains. There is also a town on Hwy 287 just east of Amarillo and north of Palo Duro Canyon named after Charles Goodnight. Today, his restored ranch house remains in Goodnight Texas. You may also be interested in the story of the cattle town of Dodge City Kansas.

Another good bit of Texas old west history is our Western Trips story of Sam Bass the notorious train and stage robber.

Below is a list of links to help with your Texas vacation planner.

XIT Museum

Cattle Raisers Museum
XIT Rodeo and Reunion

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum 

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Fetterman Fight Battlefield Video / Wyoming

The Fetterman Fight which took place on December 21, 1866 represented the biggest cavalry defeat up to that time. The Battle of the Little Bighorn some ten years into the future would surpass it.

The Fetterman Fight took place in Wyoming north of Fort Laramie and about 17 miles south of present day Sheridan Wyoming. The battlefield's location is easily accessible off of Interstate-90. It's a very interesting and educational addition to your Wyoming vacation or weekend road trip.

Chief Red Cloud
Today there is a monument erected memorializing the battle which was part of Red Cloud's War. It was really a prelude to the Great Sioux War that would transpire later. Red Cloud's War like several others in the old west really was a result of the emigrants traveling through and sometimes settling in previous Native American hunting grounds.

The link below is an excellent video of the Fetterman Fight battlefield as it is today. Many tourists passing through the area of Wyoming stop to visit this historic site. It is easily reached by a path and in addition to the monument itself are plaques explaining what happened during the battle and where.

 I think you'll enjoy the video below.

Fetterman Fight Battlefield Video

The Fetterman Fight / Wyoming 1866

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tour The Oregon Trail...It's History Lives On

An earnest effort to commemorate and publicize the importance of the Oregon Trail began about 1930 spearheaded by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. This group organized a series of commemorations named the Covered Wagon Centennial. Celebrations were held everywhere from Oregon to New York including a covered wagon reenactment in St. Louis. The Oregon Trail route from Missouri to Oregon is shown below.

Monuments to This Historic Trail

oregon trail map
Also, in July of 1930 a monument was erected at the north side of Independence Rock.

A bronze memorial honoring Ezra Meeker was unveiled. Ezra Meeker traveled the trail as a youth and spent a good part of his life memorializing it while making several journeys along it as an adult. Meeker could be considered the biggest booster of the trail's importance in American western history. At the conclusion of these ceremonies Independence Rock was dedicated as a U. S. National Monument. The Scott's Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska (pictured below left) was created in 1936 along with the completion of the new Oregon Trail Museum. It's dedication included Indian dances, speeches and brass bands.

Hollywood's Portrayal of the Oregon Trail

covered wagon on oregon trailIn 1939 Hollywood joined the new Oregon Trail interest with Universal Picture's release of "The Oregon Trail" starring Johnny Mack Brown.

The very same year a book was released on the Oregon Trail which further raised the attention of the public to this historic trail. The following year, the Oregon Trail Memorial Association restored an old officers quarters at Fort Laramie Wyoming. At about the same time Fort Laramie was made a U.S. National Monument.

Hollywood again produced a motion picture in 1945, near the end of World War two, about the Oregon Trail. The Republic Pictures release starred Sunset "Kit" Carson. Appropriately titled "The Oregon Trail", the movie was more of a general western rather than on the trail itself. Regardless, the film did add to publicity for the trail. A third motion picture was released in 1959, again titled "The Oregon Trail", starring Fred McMurray, William Bishop and Nina Shipman. This release from 20th Century Fox again spurred more interest in The Oregon Trail.

The Trail Becomes Commercialized

By this time commercial interests became interested in exploiting the renewed public interest. Businesses were named after the trail and prime locations were snapped up for retail businesses and tourist attractions. In a way this was fairly similar to the modern public interest in Route 66 although Rt 66 was a twentieth century creation. It appeared that for the traveling people of America migration to the west was a popular subject.

Remembering the Oregon Trails Place in American History

The Oregon-California Trails Association was formed in 1982. During the 1980's interpretive centers were established along the trail to help tell the story. In 1990 the National Frontier Trails Center opened it's doors in Independence Missouri. It's exhibits included the Oregon, Santa Fe and California trails. Ironically, all of these trails started in Independence Missouri.

 In 1995 the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center was opened in Oregon City, Oregon. This is an excellent Oregon museum telling the story about 1800's western migration.

 In 1999 the National Oregon/California Trail Center was opened in Montpelier Idaho. The museum exhibits offer interactive displays that are quite unique. Another interesting stop is the site of Fort Kearney which is now a state historic site and park near Kearney Nebraska. Other good stops include Fort Bridger in western Wyoming, Fort Laramie Wyoming, Fort Vancouver Washington and Shawnee Mission Kansas.

The Oregon Trail Commemorative Postal Stamp

stamp of oregon trail
In 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 29 cent Oregon Trail stamp commemorating  the trail's 150 year anniversary. The stamp was issued on the same day from 36 cities and towns on the old trail which spanned from Independence Missouri to Fort Vancouver (now in Washington State but in the Oregon Territory during the mid 1800's).

See our article and photos of Oregon City, Oregon, the official terminus of the Oregon Trail.

Surprisingly, even in today's modern times, there remains about 300 miles of rutted road which the western U.S. traveler can see. While on your western road trip you can stop and stand in the same place where over 150 years ago the immigrants traveled with teams of oxen pulling in most cases all of their worldly possessions in what could be a six month journey.

It's an excellent opportunity to stop and thank the settlers who traveled this often dangerous trail and helped build the country we know today. It's a chance to know a bit more of the Oregon Trail's place in American history. There are currently over 200 historic sites located along the trail.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Route 66 Flagstaff

flagstaff arizona and san francisco peak
An Arizona vacation offers many great photo opportunities and the area around Flagstaff is no exception. Flagstaff is easy to reach being directly on Interstate-40, just west of Winslow and a few hours drive north of Phoenix, the town and surrounding area is a tourist destination for many. 

The picture left is of the beautiful San Francisco Peak as viewed from Flagstaff Arizona. Northern Arizona is home to many scenic locales not to mention the spectacular Grand Canyon National Park located about 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff. To the northeast is the vast Navajo Indian Reservation. Being at at elevation of 5,000 feet, the Flagstaff Arizona climate is mild during the summer months and terrific for skiers during the winter. 

Flagstaff and Route 66

At one time in the past travelers visited Flagstaff via the famed Route 66. The old Highway 66 map shows the route traveling straight through the northern section of the state from the New Mexico border to Kingman Arizona. Santa Fe Avenue which runs directly through Flagstaff was part of the old Route 66. 

The highway from Chicago to Los Angeles which opened the southwest to motorists from the east and midwest. The Flagstaff area and it's higher elevation has always been a popular destination for Phoenix residents wishing to escape the summer heat. Travelers on an Arizona road trip have enjoyed the forested scenery and nearby attractions since the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built it's line through the town.

Historic Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff
Ever since Rt 66 was constructed commercial interests wanted to have stores directly on the highway where an ever increasing amount of tourist dollars passed by. 

Jack Fuss

Jack Fuss was a man who helped make it possible for Route 66 tourists to find their way to all the sites northern Arizona had to offer. Originally from Philadelphia, Fuss was schooled at the Academy of Fine Arts before deciding to relocate to Arizona. Jack worked at a variety of jobs from being a cowboy to a taxi cab driver. 

Fuss earned money with his taxi service by taking tourists on trips to the Grand Canyon. With his art talent Fuss eventually became the artist for the highway, that highway being the Mother Road, Route 66. Fuss designed and built large highway signs. Some of these were sized as much as 10 feet by forty feet. His signs were seen all the way from Winslow Arizona westward to Seligman.

 Fuss also did signs for local businesses. Anyone who wanted one he would create and rent to them. Jack would rent land to place his signs and then charge a business on a monthly basis for the advertisement. Today when on a western road trip we see billboards everywhere. It seems that Jack Fuss may have been ahead of his time being one of the first in what would become a billion dollar industry in later years. Fuss was eighty years of age when he finally quit. His concern that at that age he might fall from one of his scaffolds. 

Eventually Fuss' signs adorned Route 66 all across northern Arizona as well as several buildings in the city of Flagstaff. He created as many as six signs alone for Meteor Crater, still a popular stop for tourists along Interstate-40.
route 66 sign
Another very popular Flagstaff attraction credited to Jack Fuss was the annual Powwow held at Flagstaff. Fuss was well acquainted with the Navajo Indians on the nearby reservation. He was able to convince them to come to Flagstaff and perform Native American dances, rodeos and other Indian competitions as well as display their Native American jewelry and pottery, etc for sale to the traveling public. 

Fuss did the same with other surrounding tribes including the Hopi's and the name Powwow took hold. Jack Fuss personally ran the Powwow for five years. During that time it was an Indian only performance. No white men were part of the acts. Fuss let the Indians handle the show itself. His involvement was to pay the top people each evening. After five years he took himself out of the Powwow business and devoted his time to his ever growing sign business. There is also an interesting earleir story from Jack Fuss which was printed in the Coconino Sun newspaper on December 19, 1924 regarding the fact that "deer just can't be driven".You may find it quite interesting. Today there are Powwows scheduled all across the country. Flagstaff celebrates a People's Powwow held each year.

Tour Flagstaff Arizona

courthouse in flagstaff arizona
A great way to see and learn about Flagstaff up close is to put their "Route 66 Walking Tour" on your Arizona vacation trip planner. This is an excellent self guided tour which begins at the Flagstaff Visitors Center at One East Route 66. You'll stroll past Santa Fe Plaza, the 1897 railroad depot and many other historic sites. All maps, etc can be obtained at the visitors center. 

The picture at left is of the old Coconino County Courthouse. 

The Flagstaff Route 66 Walking Tour
offers a fun low cost addition to your Arizona vacation. Another good feature about Flagstaff is it's proximity to the Grand Canyon, beautiful Sedona Arizona, the western attractions at Williams Arizona and the Glen Canyon Dam just outside Page Arizona. 

An Arizona map will show that the Flagstaff area itself offers enough fun activities for a one week Arizona vacation. All the sites in and around Flagstaff makes a great family trip. When you travel to Arizona make sure this area is on your trip planner. The weather in Flagstaff Arizona changes dramatically depending on the season so be certain to pack appropriately. There's plenty of excellent hotels in Flagstaff to fit any travel budget.

A good companion trip with Flagstaff is the historic Hubbell Trading Post which is still in operation well over 125 years on the Navajo Reservation in northeast Arizona. The old trading posts were usually the first settlements in the west, before many of the settlers arrived from the east. trading with the Native Americans during the old frontier days was both lucrative and necessary. Both parties had products the other desired.

route 66 in arizona
Photo courtesy Georgia D. Griffiths
The photo at right is of old Route 66 through a part of western Arizona.

The southwest U.S. is filled with interesting stories about Route 66. You may want to explore the story of how Route 66 was rerouted out of Santa Fe. Also how Gallup New Mexico became a second Hollywood during the heyday of western film making. 

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photo of Hotel Monte Vista from author's collection. Remaining photos and images from public domain)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

California Mining / The Argonaut Disaster

Vacationing in northern California offers you the opportunity to visit some of the historic landmarks that comprised much of the California Gold Rush region. Jackson California, the county seat of Amador county was an active California mining center right into the 20th century. Where is Jackson California? It's located about 45 miles east of Stockton and Sacramento in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of between 1,200 and 1,600 feet. The foothills include the  picturesque old gold mining towns of Angels Camp, Murphys, Sonora and Sutters Fort. There are also great places to stay during your extended vacation or perhaps just a weekend getaway to explore California mining history. Great B and B's and some very unique restaurants. Amador County is an excellent addition for your trip to California.
(Downtown Jackson photo courtesy of Bobak Ha'Eri. Creative Commons 3.0)

The Argonaut Gold Mine

The Argonaut Gold Mine was discovered in Jackson California in 1850  back in the heyday of the California Gold Rush. The gold craze was on and miners and prospectors were flooding into the region by the thousands. Jackson was one of those many settlements that grew from a simple mining camp to a full fledged town in next to no time.

Working in the mine was popular for recently arrived immigrants. Jackson's growth however was a bit different than some other mining camps. A group of miners in Jackson determined that there was money to be made by selling supplies and mining tools to the prospectors passing through the camp heading to the gold fields further south. Their idea was correct and Jackson California became known as a good place to stock up on just about anything a miner would need.The California mining boom made towns out of small camps. This same type of ultra-rapid growth occurred with many mining strikes such as in Virginia City Nevada in later years.

California mining was on a roll and gold panning was popular but after the easy gold pickings dried up by the 1860's, Jackson's mines were engaged in hard rock mining. The easy method involved gold panning. That was where the prospector gathered river silt in a pan and through a method of swishing water through the silt often gold nuggets large and sometimes very small would be left in the pan. It was time consuming but proved successful particularly during the early years. Hard rock mining was something totally different. It involved digging and blasting underground tunnels. Not only was this very hard work but it was also very dangerous. As tunnels were bored underground, sturdy timber would have to be placed inside the tunnels to prevent the earth from caving back in. The passageways would have to be constantly shored up. Blasting more rock away was also inherently dangerous and certain precautions would have to be in place before any detonation. In hard rock mining there would be drifts (levels) created from the main shaft that would be dug following veins of ore. Often horizontal shafts would also be dug between the drifts so that workers could move from one drift to another.

The Argonaut's main shafts were tunneled horizontally making use of a tram on tracks to bring the ore to the surface. The work conditions were harsh in as much as the temperature would rise one degree for every 100 feet in depth. The miners were mostly European immigrants from Italy, Spain, Serbia and the Baltic countries. Like most immigrants of the day, much of their earnings were sent back to relatives in Europe to help pay for their eventual travel to America. Pay for this type of work was not terrific..about $4.00 per day nevertheless jobs in the mine were coveted.

There were procedures in place in many mines which were meant to stop the theft of ore by working miners. Basically the men had to strip naked in one room and redress in another room so that ore could not be hidden in clothing. Another California mining rule in place was that lunch pails were left above ground and then brought down to the miners at mealtime. After lunch the pails were collected and brought back above and reclaimed by the workers after their shift ended. It was thought that ore could be hidden in pails or in their false bottoms. This procedure was suppose to stop that. Generally 75 men worked 8 hour shifts and the mines operated 24 hours, 7 days per week.

Mining gold was lucrative for mine owners. The two largest mines in the Jackson California area were the Kennedy Mine and the Argonaut Mine. They were located about a mile outside town and as you can expect there was much competition between the two. The Argonaut Mine was owned by a group of absentee investors and was located a bit uphill from the Kennedy. The competition was intense. Conflicts erupted where one mine was accused of tunneling into the property of the other. This was not uncommon when you had operating mines in such close proximity.

The Disaster Unfolds

On Sunday evening August 27, 1922 one of the worst mining disasters in California history took place at the Argonaut Mine. On a very warm night some 47 miners were trapped almost one mile underground when a fire erupted. Toxic gas and smoke filled the mine. Probably the first knowledge the miners had that something was wrong was when they noticed that their lunch buckets hadn't been picked up. Rats were usually scurrying around the empty lunch buckets but on this Sunday night there were none. Another indication that something wasn't right. One of the miners called to the surface on the mine telephone and learned that there was a fire. They were also told that no plans were in place for a rescue so they needed to protect themselves. In other words they were on their own. They tried to move to the Muldoon shaft. The abandoned Muldoon mine was used as a ventilation shaft complete with a fan. The Muldoon shaft was also to serve as a second escape route which was mandated by state and federal mine regulations. The Muldoon shaft however was already contaminated with smoke and gas. The trapped men eventually did make it up to the 4,350 foot level and made a stand there. They built one bulkhead then another.

Argonaut Mine management then made a series of decisions that would prove to be controversial. The primary question was...do we put out the fire or rescue the miners? Would it be possible to bore a hole from the lower Kennedy Mine into one of the Argonaut's shafts? After much debate the decision was made to try put out the fire. On the morning of August 28th the public was informed of the fire and of the trapped men. The press including newsreel cameras flooded Jackson and the trapped miners families and friends converged on the mine to learn the latest news and hold vigil.

Finally a committee decided on a two pronged effort. While work was being done to put out the Argonaut fire another group began digging from the Kennedy Mine, whose management offered to help in any way, through to the Argonaut. The Argonaut was being flooded with water to fight the fire which was the universal method used. The fire was put out in about 2 1/2 days. The miners digging from the Kennedy were told that their rescue effort was probably going to take three weeks at those deep levels. These rescue miners finally did reach to Argonaut shaft but it did take them 21 days. When the rescue workers reached the 4,350 foot drift they could immediately tell that there were no survivors. Breaking through the bulkheads they found 46 dead bodies most naked because they removed their clothes due to the heat. They did find writing on the wall from one of the victims that indicated that they probably died from the gas and lack of oxygen. In some ways this brought a degree of comfort to the victim's families for it seemed to show that the end came quickly and their loved ones didn't suffer for long. One missing victim, the 47th miner, was not found among the others. Forty-seven caskets were interred on Friday September 22nd. One casket was empty and was in tribute to William Fessel the unaccounted for miner.

Pictured at left is the clock tower memorial erected to honor those victims of the 1922 disaster. As with all disasters of this sort an investigation was begun. While the mine owners were found to be guilty of ignoring some safety regulations, ignoring safety regulations was not unique to the Argonaut as the same was accused of many mining operations around the country such as with a coal mine in Ludlow Colorado which resulted in warfare. In the end nothing substantive resulted from the investigation. The exact cause was never determined. Some thought the I.W.W. union was involved. Others thought the fire may have resulted from the many legal fights between the Kennedy and Argonaut mines. The most likely story was that it resulted from a spark from the electrical wires in the mine which could have ignited supporting timbers.

Along with the clock tower memorial there are three sites in Jackson that are on the National Register of Historic Places. You will be very pleased by adding Jackson CA to your California trip planner. Another must stop if you already haven't experienced it is nearby Yosemite National Park. The story of John Muir and Yosemite may be of interest to you.

Map of Jackson California.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Tombstone Epitaph And The Real Tombstone Arizona

There are certain historic names and locations and events that seem to come to mind whenever thinking about the western U.S. The California Gold Rush, George Armstrong Custer, The Indian Wars, Route 66, The Oregon Trail just to name a few. In addition to this list the town of Tombstone Arizona (pictured below in 1891) almost always comes up. Tombstone was representative of what the old west was about.

Visiting Tombstone

tombstone arizona picture If you've taken an Arizona vacation you may have visited the historic town of Tombstone. If you haven't had that opportunity I would highly recommend it. The town remains quite a big tourist draw, especially in the off winter months when the southern Arizona temperatures become a bit more friendly.

There are many things to see there including of course the storied OK Corral and Big Nose Kate's Saloon. In fact, there are terrific true stories connected with most of the buildings you will see there.Tombstone has been the setting for several motion pictures, some of which were more accurate than others. The town certainly has a place in western American lore. Located in southeastern Arizona, Tombstone was a mining town which had both a very unique beginning as well as a unique existence.

 The name Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil might be the names that come to your mind first regarding Tombstone but there are several others. Doc Holliday pictured to the right would surely be another one. Many of these names were also associated with the cattle town of Dodge City Kansas.

picture of doc holliday

Ed Schieffelin and Tombstone

The west is dotted with old mining towns just about everywhere however Tombstone stands out for several reasons. One reason involves how the town got it's name. Like many men in the late 1800's Ed Schieffelin was first a frontier scout and then decided to explored the west looking for his bonanza. As a prospector, Ed traveled back and forth through southern Arizona looking for high grade ore. Mining was a gamble by any stretch of the imagination but there were many that took that gamble. Some became rich and others lost everything.

Schieffelin's area of exploration was one of the more hostile ones. The Apache Indians roamed the hills of southern Arizona and burned more than one ranch and killed more than one rancher or prospector. The picture below right is of Geronimo in 1887, one of the most feared Apache warrior. The region was dangerous enough where Ed chose to stay near U.S. Army soldiers who scouted and patrolled the area and resided in nearby Fort Huachuca. Southern Arizona had been the region in the grips of a twenty-five year Apache War. As the soldiers moved back and forth in southern Arizona so did Ed. Sometime Schieffelin would get brave and strike out totally on his own. The soldiers joked with Ed about this and told him if he wasn't careful he'd "find his own tombstone".

tombstone arizona mine
As a result of this, "Tombstone" was the name of Ed Schieffelin's very first mine. Ed was lucky. He found silver within the Apache-filled hills. It wasn't easy. At one time Ed quit prospecting and joined his brother who was working in other people's mines. The prospecting bug however hit Ed again and he went out and gave it another try. This time things worked out and Ed Schieffelin eventually became a very rich man.

The settlement that sprang up next to Ed's mine in 1879 was appropriately named "Tombstone". Today, Tombstone is in Cochise County Arizona. At the time of it's founding it was in Pima county. Tombstone changed from a mining camp with a few tents to a real community in 1880. Word traveled fast as it always does with new mine fines and it didn't take long for throngs of people to descend on the area. By the end of 1879 the town elected it's first mayor. Things were moving fast. Two companies were running stage coaches daily between Tucson and Tombstone.

An interesting note is that even though silver mining was starting peak production in 1880, both Ed (pictured right) and his brother Al decided to sell their stakes and move on. It seems that Ed had no taste for city life and after prospectors flooded the town looking for their fortunes. It seemed that everyone wanted to mine silver. Ed decided the crowd was no place for him. The brothers stake was reportedly sold for $600,000 to be paid in installments. Their holdings were later declared to be worth about $2,000,000. Regardless, Ed and his brother were happy to cash out. Ed still bitten the mining bug left Tombstone and headed to Nevada to be a simple prospector once again. This could have marked the first time in history where a towns founder moved away after a short one year residency. The Ed Schieffelin Monument is pictured far below right on this post.

The Tombstone Epitaph

The ore production and silver prices were both going strong and one chronicle of it was the town newspaper, the Tombstone Epitaph. Founded on May 1, 1880, the paper is the oldest continually published newspaper in the United States. It's founder, John Clum, had been an Indian agent in Arizona prior to being the publisher of a Tucson newspaper. When that paper ceased to published he moved to bustling Tombstone and started the Epitaph.

The Tombstone Epitaph is probably the most recognized publication for a peek into the life of a booming mining town. It's reporting of the colorful and often lawless characters of old Tombstone is still cited today. The Epitaph was the paper with eyewitness accounts of the OK Corral ( partial Epitaph article at left) gunfight between the Earp's and Clanton's. One version in wide circulation today is that the gunfight at the OK Corral actually took place adjacent to the corral. When you visit Tombstone and observe the scene you can be the judge.

Archived Articles

Archived articles also offers glimpses into the shaping of the burgeoning town.

One story reported how a barrel of alcohol was set afire in a saloon by a bartender's lit cigar. The result was an explosion which ended up spreading and burning down a significant portion of the business district. Another situation that was prevalent in growing mining towns was the red light district.

In the case of Tombstone is was growing and growing everywhere, not just in the "Red Light District". A woman wrote a letter to the Epitaph editor which pretty well describes the views of many. She wrote in part..."It seems from your issue of the 9th that the city fathers have extended the demi monde the liberties of the city. Allen Street was virtually their, to such an extent that a respectable woman would hesitate to even cross it. But this was not enough. Hitherto, although it has been impossible to pass along the streets provided with sidewalks without our ears being stunned with a multitude of oaths at every turn we have at least been allowed certain limits for a retired house, where little children could run and play without danger of such contamination".

All mining camps attracted a host of colorful characters. Honest and dishonest prospectors, gamblers, outlaws and horse and mule thieves. To be sure there were also the hardworking merchants and miners. Whenever you have this type of mixture with law enforcement being off and on, trouble can break out in a minute. Grudges, quarrels and gambling disputes could turn into gun play without much provocation. There was a time when Wyatt Earp served as Deputy U.S. Marshal and his brother Virgil as Tombstone police chief. This was after the Earp brothers came to the area originally to attempt mining. The Wyatt Earp saga in Tombstone and the OK Corral gunfight is a story unto itself and we'll cover that in detail in an upcoming post of it's own. Pictured below left is what was left of the OK Corral after an 1882 fire.

The Newspaper Chronicles the History of Tombstone

picture of ok corral The Tombstone Epitaph offers us more insight to the town with it's December 29, 1881 article on the shooting of Virgil Earp. The article in part reports...

 " At about 11:30 o'clock last night, U.S. Deputy Marshal Virgil Earp was proceeding from the Oriental Saloon, on the northwest corner of Allen and Fifth streets, to his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and when he was about the middle of the crossing of Fifth Street, five shots were fired in rapid succession  by unknown men, who were standing in the old Palace Saloon that is being rebuilt next door above Tasker and Pridham's store, on the southwest corner of the same street".

The Epitaph later reported that with most of the damage being to his left arm Virgil survived this assassination attempt. The paper did note however that Tombstone now had assassins among their midst. I think that the closest comparison to Tombstone at about the same time during the 1800's was Deadwood in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. Both were bustling mining towns with the same cast of characters and basically the same amount of violence.

Here's another Tombstone Epitaph article regarding JUDGE GEORGE WASHINGTON SWAIN published in 1883.
Mrs. Martha Swain Recalls Arrival in Tombstone...
"Shortly after arriving in Tombstone the Swains moved into a house located adjacent to the courthouse which was completed in 1882. Some of the chairs used to seat spectators at the courthouse dedication came from the Swain home as well as from those of other residents nearby.
Mrs. Swain liked to recall the days of bustling Tombstone and its fascination as well as its hardships. The camp was really booming. When she arrived there the Bird Cage theater was just finished. There was no water supply other than that packed into the town on the backs of burros from Sycamore Springs.

The precious fluid sold at the rate of two buckets for 25 cents and was used sparingly. The price of foodstuffs was sky high. Eggs sold for as much as 25 cents apiece.
Tombstone made up in action what it lacked in polish. The town never slept. Throngs jammed the gambling halls and saloons 24 hours a day. Freighters with great cargoes of merchandise filed in and out of the camp in a steady stream. The carpenter’s saw and hammer were continually busy erecting a new frontier community. George went to work in the mines to support his family, his first experience underground. But it wasn’t long before he was elected justice of the peace, in 1883". The Epitaphs reporting offers many interesting takes on life in old Tombstone.

Mines and Tombstone's Wealth

The fact that Tombstone mines (entrance of the Tough Nut Mine pictured left) were producing an enormous amount of silver can often be lost in the more publicized stories of robberies, fights and killings. After all, the town was created by the silver mine industry. The silver mines production record in 1882 tells the story quite well. The top eight mines produced an average of $433,000 per month. The year produced $4.8 million in silver and about $325,000 in gold. Oddly enough, even with this kind of mine production it appears that property values didn't increase in step. Perhaps it was fear from many as to how long the mines would produce. There were many still who simply felt that this was the calm before the storm and that property values would be shooting up.

Some good news came from the mines regarding water. One of Tombstone's biggest concerns since it's inception was how to get water. Obviously there wasn't a natural river supply nearby but water was found in the mines below the 600 foot level. Pumps were brought in from San Francisco to get the water to the town. Southeastern Arizona was a fairly remote area however the hills offered excellent mining. Just down the trail from Tombstone is Bisbee Arizona which assumed the name "Queen of the Copper Towns". Bisbee also grew rapidly and at one time had an opera house, street cars, a baseball team, stock exchanges and just about anything you'd expect to find in a fair sized city. Pictured below left is the Cochise County Courthouse.

Visit Historic Tombstone Arizona

cochise county courthouse in arizona Tombstone is an excellent addition to any vacation planner. The many attractions there offer one of the best glimpses into old west history. The mixture of silver mining and the growth of a community in a remote section of the country is a one of a kind experience.

There were many things that made up an old west town and Tombstone seems to embody just about every one of them. Tombstone is located in Cochise county about 68 miles southeast of Tucson. Take state road AZ-80 south from Interstate-10. AZ-80 is about 38 miles east of Tucson.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)

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