Western Trips

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Follow the Old Butterfield Stage Route Through Texas

By far one of the most colorful stories about the old west regards the trailblazing exploits of the Butterfield Stagecoach. The Butterfield Overland Mail Stage connected  Tipton Missouri to San Francisco California just prior to the American Civil War. Butterfield made this trip semi-weekly and they covered this 2,795 mile distance in twenty-five days.

butterfield stage route map
Butterfield Missouri to California route
Today, twenty-five days may seem like quite a long time to be riding a stagecoach but consider that this was in an era during 1858 and 1859 when the alternative was by ship in a voyage that was measured in a matter of months, not days.

Tipton Missouri was the eastern terminus of the stage line since this was as far west as the Pacific Railroad had laid it's tracks when the Overland Mail service began in 1858. From Tipton Missouri going westbound the Butterfield stages ran through Fort Smith Arkansas and then southwestward into Texas. The crossing into Texas occurred at Colberts Ferry about eight miles below from what was Fort Preston on the Red River.

jacksboro texas
Jacksboro Texas
The Butterfield Texas Route

Today, those touring Texas can visit several of the sites that the old Butterfield stage traversed on it's record breaking journey through the state.The route through Texas comprised 900 miles of trail in a general southwest to northeast direction with a lot of twists and turns along the way.

While there are many historical markers now placed along this old route, and a good portion now on private ranch land, we want to highlight just a few of the stops along the way and those which you may want to add to your Texas vacation planner.

After crossing the Red River at Colberts Ferry the stage traveled in a southerly direction to the town of Sherman. Sherman Texas today is a city on U.S. Hwy 75 about 60 miles north of Dallas. The first Butterfield stage reached Sherman Texas, fifteen miles from Colberts Ferry, on September 20th, 1858. In front of the Grayson County Courthouse in Sherman is a monument commemorating the passing there of both Marcy's California Trail and the Butterfield stage route.


Another stop when you're retracing the Butterfield route is the town of Jacksboro Texas. Jacksboro would have been the fifth stop after heading westbound out of Sherman. Jacksboro businessmen used Butterfield's light freight service for mail order products. Jacksboro Station was also the site for Fort Richardson a frontier army post. There you will find a historical marker on Highway 281 just north of Lost Creek Bridge.

fort belknap texas
Fort Belknap Museum and Visitors Center
Fort Belknap

Continuing on the westbound route, the next major stop for the Overland Mail was Fort Belknap. Fort Belknap was on the Brazos River about 37 miles west of Jacksboro. This fort was an active outpost with several expeditions sent from it to answer various Indian raids. When it was constructed in 1851 the fort was the northernmost on the Texas frontier line. Today Fort Belknap is a state historical park. Fort Belknap was actually at the junction of several Texas trails with the Butterfield route being the most well known. In addition to touring this historic frontier outpost you'll see an historical marker denoting the Butterfield route. This marker is located about three miles south of the town of Newcastle Texas.

Carlsbad and Fort Concho

The Butterfield Overland Mail Stage crossed the Middle Concho River in the vicinity of Carlsbad. This is a point about 15 miles northwest of San Angelo Texas along present day U.S. Hwy 87. If your travels take you to this part of central west Texas you'll definitely want to make a stop at nearby historic Fort Concho.

fort concho texas
A restored structure at Fort Concho
Fort Concho is located within San Angelo Texas and is a National Historic Landmark owned and operated by the city of San Angelo. . There's plenty for the Texas vacationer to explore at Fort Concho which was a very active cavalry outpost helping to protect settlers and wagons from Comanche attacks. San Angelo Texas is located about 227 miles southwest of Fort Worth and about 89 miles south of Abilene Texas.

See our Western Trips articles on Fort Concho and it's commander Ranald Mackenzie

Battle of Gonzales / Start of the Texas Revolution

An interesting side note is that the stagecoach roads to the east of Fort Belknap were largely the work of local citizens and ranchers. The roads were prepared to help welcome the Overland mail stages and the first stages to arrive at these settlements were greeted with much fanfare. After heading west out of Fort Belknap the roads used by the stagecoaches were mostly military roads simply because this was generally west of the line of settlement in 1858.

pecos river in texas
Pecos River Flume built in 1889
Horsehead Crossing

Horsehead Crossing was a significant location along the old Butterfield Overland Mail route. The crossing was one of the few fordable points in attempting to cross the Pecos River. The first Butterfield route actually turned west of southwest at this point and ran along the east bank of the Pecos following a route to El Paso which skirted the Texas New Mexico state line.

After about one year the Butterfield route crossed the Pecos at Horsehead Crossing and continued down to the southwest to today's Fort Stockton which at that time was named Comanche Springs.This change in route was due to the absence of sufficient water on the first route and the greater need for mail service on the new route. A ferry was maintained at Horsehead Crossing to take the stagecoach across the Pecos River.

Fort Stockton

Fort Stockton is both the name of a city and an old military outpost. The site is located in Pecos County along Interstate 10 about 240 miles east of El Paso and about 100 miles southwest of Midland Texas.

annie riggs hotel fort stockton
Historic Annie Riggs Hotel, Fort Stockton, TX
Fort Stockton was the site of a large army fort and today is located on the east side of the town by the same name. The Visitors Center/Museum and the restored buildings and grounds are operated by the city of Fort Stockton and make an excellent stop to explore.

Aldo be sure to explore the old historic Annie Riggs Hotel just a few blocks west of the fort.

See our Western Trips article on our Visit to Fort Stockton Texas.

Fort Davis and Fort Quitman

Heading southwest toward the Davis Mountains from Fort Stockton the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage made a stop at Fort Davis, another major military outpost in frontier Texas. Raids from Comanche and Apache tribes made this a particularly dangerous section of the route. Fort Davis was established to protect settlers, mail coaches and freight wagons.

A stop at old Fort Davis which today is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service is well worth your time. 

See our Western Trips article about Historic Fort Davis Texas.

fort davis texas
Fort Davis National Historic Park
Further south and west of Fort Davis the stagecoach passed by Fort Quitman which was established along the Rio Grande. This is about 184 miles west of Fort Stockton and 70 miles southeast of El Paso.

After the Butterfield Stage left Fort Quitman it traveled along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande in a northwest direction toward El Paso.One good stop to make in this section of the route is San Elizario. The San Elizario Presidio was established in 1752 by the Spaniards.

San Elizario offers tourists a walking tour of the historic district. One of the walking tour stops is the Hacienda and Stage Station. This is where the Butterfeild Overland Mail stagecoaches made a rest stop on between Fort Quitman and El Paso.

For detailed information on the walking tour see website www..visitelpasomissiontrail.com/article/san-elizario-walking-tour.html

A few recommended books about the Butterfield stage route through Texas includes...

As mentioned above, there's many historic sites to visit in Texas regarding the colorful history of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company.  

(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. Jacksboro and Annie Riggs Hotel photo from Western Trips collection. Fort Belknap photo courtesy Occam , remaining photos and images in the public domain)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Little Known Wild West Show / Buckskin Bill's

Eventually after the 1800's were over and a new century dawned, wild west shows started to lose their allure. This was for several reasons but America's fascination with westward expansion may have been the largest factor. Another was the emergence of the cinema. Even though some of the fascination dried up there were many other wild west shows that did sprout up during the first few decades of the 1900's.

cody and sitting bull
William F. Cody and Sitting Bull
These included the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show, Booger Red's Wild West Show, Buckskin Ben's Wild West and Dog and Pony Show, Allen Brothers Wild West, Irwin Brothers Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show and several others.

Three Excellent Venues on the History of the Wild West Shows 

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

When you're planning your western road trip, the best venue to include on your itinerary is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody Wyoming. Included at this site is the Buffalo Bill Museum and the Cody Forearms Museum. A stop here is well worth your time. The Buffalo Bill Museum first opened in 1927 in a log cabin in Cody Wyoming. In 1959 the museum was moved to a new wing of the Historical Center.

Part of this museum is dedicated to telling the story of Buffalo Bill's Wild West and how it took the world by strom during an era without the instant electronic communications we have today. Lots of information here about the American cowboy, western ranching and the frontier in general. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a perfect trip stop for the entire family. Cody Wyoming is just a few miles east of Yellowstone National Park and about 147 miles west of Sheridan.

sharpshooter annie oakley
Annie Oakley
Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site

Located in Golden Colorado, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site has attracted thousands of visitors from around the world. Exhibits cover all of Buffalo Bill's life, his exploits and his world famous Wild West. On display is a large collection of frontier artifacts including firearms and Sitting Bull's bow and arrows.

William F. Cody died in January 1917 at his sister's house in Denver Colorado. he was buried on Lookout Mountain in Golden just west of Denver. Cody had made it known to his family that he preferred to be buried at this site.

The Pawnee Bill Ranch

If your western road trip takes you through Oklahoma, be sure to stop in at the Pawnee Bill Museum at the Pawnee Bill Ranch. The Pawnee Bill Ranch was once the showplace of the world famous Wild West Show entertainer, Gordon W. "Pawnee Bill" Lillie. Tour Pawnee Bill's fourteen room mansion built in 1910 with all it's original furnishings. On the ranch is the Pawnee Bill Museum with a large collection of artifacts from his Wild West Show. The Pawnee Bill Ranch is located in Pawnee Oklahoma, about 50 miles west/northwest of Tulsa.

chief geronimo
Chief Geronimo in a 1905 Locomobile
The Top Three Old Wild West Shows

Buffalo Bill's Wild West was by far the most popular western show on tour. Buffalo Bill's Wild West toured all over Europe and attracted thousands of spectators including most of the monarchs ruling the continent. One of Buffalo Bill's more popular performer was the sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

Another popular touring group was Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. At one time Sitting Bull joined Buffalo Bill's troupe for a few months and the Apache chief Geronimo joined Pawnee Bill. These wild west shows celebrated the cowboy alongside the Native American.

While Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill were away a good part of the time another wild west show emerged in Paducah Kentucky. Not that Paducah was ever thought as being a part of the wild west we usually think of, but Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show was unique in many ways and it was billed as being the largest such show after Buffalo Bill's and Pawnee Bill's.

Cowboy sculpture,American Quarter Horse Museum
The Trials and Tribulations of Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show

With the success of both Buffalo Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill (G.W. Lillie) on the entertainment circuit it's no surprise that others floated the same idea.A very interesting story concerns the little known Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show.

A man named Fletcher Terrell created the Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show in 1900. Who was Buckskin Bill? He was a fictional western character created by Terrell in place of a real wild west frontiersman. Both Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill served as authentic draws for their shows so Buckskin Bill would do the same for Fletcher Terrell. In fact the character that Terrell created as Buckskin Bill was similar to Buffalo Bill Cody in most ways except a younger version.

Fletcher Terrell sold his share the show in 1902 to W.E. Allott and J.C. O'Brien. The new investors greatly expanded the show and it's employee base. By that time the only show larger than it was Cody's Wild West.

cowgirl lucille mulhall
Lucille Mulhall of the Miller Brothers Show
Trouble in Marion Kentucky and Elsewhere

It seems that some of Buckskin Bill's rough riders were in an altercation in Marion Kentucky that resulted in the clubbing and shooting death of a citizen. The killers were later acquitted of the charges by claiming self defense. In Vincennes Indiana an eighteen year old trick pony rider was killed when her horse threw her, catching her foot in the stirrup and dragging her to death.

In addition to the above, some members of Buckskin Bill's were accused of other murders, arson and kidnapping. One spectator was shot and killed accidentally during one performance. There was also an instance of several employees filed suit on Fletcher Terrell when he didn't pay them.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below...

Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Italy

Annie Oakley Meets Lillian Smith in the Wild West

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Tours Europe

A West Texas Adventure at San Angelo

Some good reading on the subject of the old Wild West Show includes Wild West Shows by author Paul Reddin... Life in the Wild West Show by Stephen Currie...Buckskins Bullets and Business, A History of Buffalo Bill's Wild West by author Sarah J. Blackstone.

cole younger photo
Early photo, Cole Younger
Enter Frank James and Cole Younger

One of the most interesting side notes about Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show were two of it's latter entertainers, Frank James and Cole Younger. Many may know that after turning himself in and being tried for murder Frank James was acquitted of all charges in 1883. Cole Younger served a long stretch in the Minnesota Penitentiary for his part in the Northfield Minnesota bank robbery. For Buckskin Bill's show, have Frank James and Cole Younger as part of the troupe would be their answer to Buffalo Bill's Sitting Bull and Pawnee Bil's Geronimo.

The old infamous James-Younger Gang decades later became the James-Younger Wild West Show thanks to a collaboration between Frank James and Cole Younger. Both James and Younger were dissatisfied with Buckskin Bill's Show. The show had trouble from the start and seemed to be cursed as the violent episode in Marion Kentucky is just one example. The tale is that Cole Younger actually had to pull a gun on one of Buckskin Bill's current owners just to quit the show.

In 1903 James and Younger decided to tour and give lectures with their own company. The show toured all over the south in 1903. In 1904 both returned to their families in Missouri. During 1908 and 1909 Cole Younger returned briefly to the carnival and lecture circuit.

(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Billy The Kid Tour of New Mexico

The story of outlaw Billy the Kid is one that has endured well over 125 years. Much of his story has to do with his involvement in the infamous Lincoln County War in New Mexico, his killing of Sheriff Pat Brady in the town of Lincoln, his pursuit by lawman Pat Garrett and his demise at the hands of Garret at a ranch outside of Fort Sumner New Mexico in 1881.

Western Trips has visited some of the sites involved in this story which can be visited today as part of your next New Mexico travel adventure. In many ways the story of Billy the Kid and the violent period of the Lincoln County War tells part of the story of early New Mexico Territory and the lawlessness of the latter half of the 1800's.

Tourists with an interest in old west history will enjoy traveling to some of the historic sites we have described below.

Who Was Billy the Kid?

Often times there are several versions of events when it comes to tales of the old west. The story of Billy the Kid is no different and perhaps the most controversial of all.  Controversy exists to this present day as to where he was actually born, his high crimes and the circumstances of his demise at the hands of a New Mexico lawman in 1881. Our brief version of events are the closest we have found to represent the most accurate account.

There has always been a degree of controversy as to what Billy the Kids real name was. While he went by the name of William H. Bonney, the Kid was thought to have been born William Henry McCarty Jr. around 1859. His birthplace has been speculated as New York City but there has never been proof of this.

billy the kid log cabin
1870's log cabin, Silver City NM
Billy the Kids mother remarried and moved to Silver City New Mexico around 1873 where her son took the last name of his new stepfather and went by the name of Henry McCarty Antrim. While in Silver City Billy attended the Sixth Street Elementary School. After Billy's mother died of consumption in 1874 he left Silver City and his stepfather for Arizona and lived and worked on his own.

Trouble was not far away and after the Kid fell in with the wrong crowd he found himself in a fight in Arizona where he killed his first man. This was at the age of sixteen. This was his start in a life of crime.Shortly after Billy drifted back to New Mexico Territory and Lincoln County and became a cattle rustler.

The Billy the Kid Cabin in Silver City New Mexico

Silver City New Mexico is a very scenic and historic old town of New Mexico which is a great stop to add to your travel planner. The town was named Silver City because rich deposits of chloride silver were discovered just west of town during the 1870's. Located about 230 miles south of Albuquerque and about 40 miles west of Interstate 25, Silver City is the jumping off point to some of the most popular attractions in New Mexico. 

See our Western Trips article about Silver City and it's nearby attractions on the link below...

A Visit to Silver City New Mexico

When you visit the historic district of Silver City you'll be able to explore a log cabin from the movie set of "The Missing" and donated to Silver City by the film's director Ron Howard. The cabin is at the site of the Murray Ryan Visitors Center which is also the site where Billy and his mother lived.

old santa fe jail site
Old Santa Fe Jail site
The New Mexico Jails That Held Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse in December 1880. After the arrest he was taken to Santa Fe and locked up in the old Santa Fe jail. Billy had actually lived for a time in Santa Fe New Mexico with his mother and did have acquaintances there. One of his jobs in Santa Fe was as a dishwasher at what is now the La Fonda Hotel on the plaza.

Billy the Kid was to stand trial for the murders of Sheriff William Brady and a man named Buckshot Roberts of Lincoln County. The trial however was transferred to Mesilla New Mexico and Garret and his men transported him there. The Kid was found guilty in the April 1881 Mesilla trial and was sentenced to hang. Because the murders took place in Lincoln County the execution was scheduled to occur there on May 13, 1881. Once again Sheriff Garrett and his men transported Billy back to Lincoln. While awaiting his execution date the Kid grabbed a jail guards shotgun and killed him. After shooting and killing another guard he stole a horse and escaped Lincoln.

The locations of the jails in New Mexico that held Billy the Kid can be visited today.  A lot of research was done to pinpoint the exact location of the old Santa Fe jail.  Walk west down San Francisco Street and you’ll come upon a plaque on the side of a building on the south side of the street. This plaque marks the site of the old Santa Fe jail that at one time, and probably more than once, housed the infamous Billy the Kid.

See our Western Trips tour of Mesilla New Mexico on the link below...

Mesilla NM and the Mesilla Valley

old jail mesilla new mexico
Old courthouse and jail, Mesilla NM
In Mesilla which is located just a few miles outside Las Cruces and about 45 miles north of El Paso Texas is one of the oldest settlements in southern New Mexico. It was here where Billy the Kid was jailed and tried for murder. The old building built around 1850 that served as the courthouse and jail is on the southeast corner of the Mesilla plaza. Today the building serves as the Billy the Kid Gift Shop. Mesilla New Mexico is easy to reach with both Interstate 10 and Interstate 25 close by.

In the old town of Lincoln, once the county seat of the very large Lincoln County, is the old Lincoln County Courthouse and Jail. This was the jail where Billy the Kid was transported to after his Mesilla trail and from where he escaped before his date with the executioner. Lincoln was made famous during one of the most violent years in New Mexico history during the period of the Lincoln County War. The war was so bloody,widespread and long that federal troops were sent in to try to restore order. Some of the troops sent in were part of the Buffalo Soldiers regiments.

courthouse and jail lincoln new mexico
Old courthouse and jail, Lincoln NM
Visitors to Lincoln today can tour the old courthouse and jail and explore exhibits which detail events during the Lincoln County War. Lincoln is located about 57 miles west of Roswell New Mexico via U.S. Hwy 380.

The End of the Line at Fort Sumner

Fort Sumner New Mexico is located 166 miles southwest of Amarillo Texas and about 158 miles east of Albuquerque NM. It is also about 44 miles southeast of Santa Rosa NM and Interstate 40.

It was at a ranch near Fort Sumner that Sheriff Pat Garrett hunted down Billy the Kid and shot him dead. Fort Sumner is also the location of Billy the Kid's grave site.

See our Western Trips article on Fort Sumner on the link below...

Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo

billy the kid gravesite
Billy the Kid grave site, Fort Sumner NM

Adjacent to the Billy the Kid grave site is the Old Fort Sumner Museum, one of two museums in Fort Sumner, with a very large collection of frontier artifacts and firearms from the 1800's and interesting items and information concerning Billy directly. This site is about 4 miles east from the center of Fort Sumner. It is about one-half mile south of U.S. 60/84 on Billy the Kid Road.

The second museum, The Billy the Kid Museum, is on the main highway U.S. 60/84 (Sumner Ave.) which goes directly through Fort Sumner. The museum is about two miles east of Fort Sumner.  If you're a lover of old west history then the museums in Fort Sumner are very well worth a visit. Both museums are just a few miles apart and it's fun and convenient to visit both.

(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. NM map image and Lincoln Jail photo in public domain. Remaining photos from Western Trips collection)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Santa Rosa California's Railroad Square Historic District

Railroad enthusiasts who have the opportunity to travel to California's scenic Sonoma County have a fun opportunity awaiting them to learn about early railroading in the area. Not that there ever is a shortage of fun things to do in Sonoma County but a visit to Santa Rosa California's Railroad Museum and Visitor Center in historic Railroad Square can make a fine addition to your northern California vacation planner.

santa rosa california train depot
Old Northwestern Pacific Depot, Santa Rosa, CA
The Great Earthquake of 1906 hit Santa Rosa California particularly hard. In Railroad Square, only 7 buildings survived the destruction, including the 1903 Train Depot, the Western Hotel and several brick warehouses.

Rebuilding after the earthquake occurred immediately. The businesses and buildings in Railroad Square were there to serve the needs of the railroad community. Railroad commerce was invaluable during the early 1900's for a town such as Santa Rosa. Many hotels, including the historic Hotel La Rose, were built as well as drinking establishments, wholesale businesses, grocery stores and small factories.

Visiting the Santa Rosa California Railroad Square Historic District

Located in the Railroad Square Historic District, the old Santa Rosa train station serves as both a Visitors Center and a railroad museum. Here you'll find a model railroad layout, plenty of vintage photos and artifacts of early railroading north of San Francisco. The Santa Rosa Visitor Center also offers maps and literature on just about every travel site you'll want to visit while in Sonoma County.

old southern pacific railroad china
China exhibit from SP Railroad car "Redwood"
The Railroad Square Historic District in Santa Rosa is the city's "Old Town". It's filled with unique small shops and eateries which make a visit to the Visitors Center and museum an even more fun experience in a village like environment.The District was added to the National Register of Historic Places due to it's fine preservation efforts for restoring and preserving the unique architectural buildings that tell the story of the railroad's influence on the community.

The Railroad Built Towns

During it's heyday, almost a dozen trains came through Santa Rosa daily. Passenger service on the route was very busy until the 1930's and the onset of the Great Depression.

As with all railroads, the automobile and improved highways ate at profits and railroad usage diminished. Railroad Square fell into disrepair over the years but finally an effort by the city and local businesses restored the district to the historic splendor it is today. Scenes for several motion pictures have been shot at the restored Northwestern Pacific Railroad Depot and the Railroad Square District.

model train exhibits
Museum model train exhibit
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad

One very interesting story is the building of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and it's impact on the region. The NWP was a joint effort by the two railroad giants of California, the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe Railroad. Not anything too significant regarding railroads would happen in California without some involvement of these two railroading giants.

By the late 1800's both railroads wanted to establish lines north of San Francisco to Humboldt County primarily for the purpose of transporting logs southward. Economically, it was apparent to both railroads that only one line could operate between San Francisco Bay and Humboldt County and show a profit. As a result both railroads arranged a joint venture and in 1906 bought up 42 short lines to create the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.

As mentioned above, traffic on the route was strong and passenger traffic was busy until the 1930's. By 1929 the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe had sold it's share to the Southern Pacific making the NWP a fully owned subsidiary. 

In addition to visiting Santa Rosa's Railroad Square Historic District you may also want to explore the sites featured in our Western Trip articles on the links below...

The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa

Two of the Best Vineyards in Sonoma County

Healdsburg and Wineries

Visit Truckee CA and It's Historic Hotel

hotel la rose santa rosa
Historic Hotel La Rose
Two excellent books to consider reading include Redwood Railways : A History of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and Predecessor Lines by author Gilbert Kneiss and The Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Redwood Empire Route by Fred A. Stindt and Guy L. Dunscomb.

Visiting Santa Rosa California and Sonoma County is an easy drive north from San Francisco. Santa Rosa is located along U.S. Hwy 101 about 50 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Railroad Square Historic District is located on the west side of Hwy 101 between 3rd and 5th Streets and Wilson Street.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Visit Historic Texas / Corsicana

Corsicana Texas, located about 58 miles southeast of Dallas, is an interesting and fun place to visit while on your Texas road trip. You may not have known that the first oil discovery west of the Mississippi River occurred in Corsicana in June 1894 while a drilling crew was looking for water. Another first for Corsicana was the first oil refinery west of the Mississippi River constructed there in 1899.

navarro county courthouse texas
Courthouse clock tower
The honor of naming the town and county seat of the new Navarro County Texas founded in 1846 was given to Jose Antonio Navarro, a Texas Revolution hero, who suggested naming it for the island of Corsica, the birthplace of his parents. The Texas legislature obliged. Jose Antonio Navarro was thought to be the seventh man to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence.

The Beaux-Art Design Navarro County Texas Courthouse

Like so many county seats in Texas, Corsicana has an architecturally unique courthouse. The current courthouse was designed by architect J.E. Flanders in a Beaux-arts style and built in 1905. The current courthouse is constructed from Red Burnet Granite.

texas county courthouses
Navarro County Texas Courthouse
Texas county seats many of times have had several courthouses over the decades for a variety of reasons, often fire, and Corsicana was no exception. Interestingly enough, it's first official courthouse built in 1849, after temporary quarters were used inside a pioneer's home prior to that, was a simple 15 by 17 foot log cabin that still exists today. The log cabin courthouse was located at West First Avenue and Twelfth Street.

In 1853 a two story frame courthouse replaced the log cabin. The second courthouse burned in 1855, allegedly by two accused murderers, and necessitated construction of a third structure. A fourth courthouse was built in 1880 but was condemned in 1904 due to a shifting foundation.

The Call To Arms Monument

Texas was aligned with the Confederacy during the Civil War years. On the southwest corner of the Navarro County Courthouse lawn is a statue named The Call To Arms. It is a statue of a Confederate soldier that was erected in 1907 just two years after the current courthouse was completed. The statue was erected by the Navarro Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy. The desire of the group was to commemorate the valor and heroism of the Confederate soldier. The unveiling of the statue in 1907 was ateended by about one thousand people.

confederate statues
The Call to Arms
The statue is of a Confederate soldier bugler calling his comrades to arms. The bronze statue was cast in Philadelphia and is nine feet tall on a ten foot marble base.

Corsicana's First Methodist Church

The First Methodist Church in Corsicana was founded in 1851, five years after the town's founding. The current sanctuary was built in 1871.

Of historical significance is that the Texas State Democratic Convention met at the church in 1872 to discuss the freeing of Texas from Reconstruction rule.

See more Western Trips historic Texas travel destinations in the articles linked below...

Old Historic Round Rock Texas

A Visit to Salado Texas 

Fun Things To Do In Texas

Several additional stops you may want to add to your Texas vacation planner include the Pearce Civil War and Western Art Museum and Pioneer Village.

historic texas churches
Historic First Methodist Church, Corsicana, TX
The Pearce Civil War and Western Art Museum, per their website seeks to preserve and interpret as fully as possible the history of the American Civil War and the people involved-North and South, men and women,children and adults, leaders and common citizens; and through the museum's Western Art Collection preserve and interpret art which depicts either the historic or modern American West.The museum is open Monday thru Saturday and is located at 2100 Collins Street, Corsicana, TX.

Pioneer Village located at 912 W. Park Avenue in Corsicana could be one of Texas' most unique museum areas. Pioneer Village consists of a large collection of historic buildings which tell a lot about the history of Corsicana and Navarron County as well as 1800's Texas history in general. Among the structures at this outdoor museum are two blacksmith shops, the Lefty Frizzell Museum, frontier jail structures, slave quarters, a trading post and houses of the 1800's. Pioneer Village in Corsicana is a fine addition to your Texas vacation planner and a great stop for the entire family.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Texas Ranger Firearms and the Wild West

It's often been said that the Winchester rifle won the West. It's also been said often that whichever make of rifle used during wild west battles or gunfights, the firearm was usually referred to as a Winchester. The fact of course is that a great many different firearms were used by settlers and lawmen throughout the west. Along with the Winchester brand were the Sharps, the Colts, the Smith and Wessons, the Remingtons and others.

texas ranger museum waco texas
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

There are excellent collections of authentic western rifles on display at museums throughout the U.S. If your travels take you to Texas you'll want to make a stop at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, about 100 miles south of Dallas and about 100 miles north of Austin. Here you will find one of the best firearm collections found anywhere with colorful histories attached to many of the exhibits.

The Texas Rangers used a variety of weapons during their storied past. The Texas Rangers were sometimes the only protection settlers had against raiding Indians, outlaws and cattle rustlers. Their founding goes all the way back to 1823 when Stephen F. Austin suggested that "rangers" be formed as a group to protect settlers.

colt 45 revolver 1881
1881 Colt .45 Caliber SAA Revolver
The Colt .45 Caliber Revolver 1881

About 37,000 Colt revolvers were sold to the U.S. Army between 1873 and 1893. revolvers that were sold to the army have the markings U.S. Civilian models were referred to as "civilian single action army" or "SAA" revolvers.

This 1881 Colt revolver held six cartridges in a revolving cylinder. While the Colt .45 Caliber Model P "Peacemaker" has been manufactured with several different size barrels since 1873, the gun's general appearance hasn't changed much.

In 1837 the new Colt revolvers produced by Samuel Colt had a ready market in Texas. The Texas Rangers ordered 180 of the .36 caliber five shot holster models of the Paterson Colt Revolver. The Rangers had a difficult time while battling the Comanches with single shot firearms. The Indians knew well the time it took to reload single shot weapons and timed their charges accordingly and with great effectiveness. When the Rangers showed up on the frontier with Colt revolvers the outcome changed dramatically. The west in general and the Texas frontier in particular were natural proving grounds for Sam Colt's revolutionary side arms.

colt walker revolver
Colt Walker Repeating Pistol
The Colt Walker

Shown here is the Colt Walker Repeating Pistol. This is a single action revolver holding six cartridges. The gun was developed in the 1840's in a collaboration with a Texas Ranger by the name of Samuel Hamilton Walker and Samuel Colt.

The Colt Walker used black powder and was the highest selling black powder revolver of all time. This was a heavy firearm weighing 4 1/2 pounds unloaded and used .44 caliber cartridges.The firearm was 15 3/4 inches long. This pistol had great power and the frame needed to be much stronger than anything before.

The Colt Walker came about at the time that Texas was fighting in the Mexican-American War and the need for such a powerful hand held black powder weapon was great. Texas ended up ordering 1,000 of the Walker Colt's and used them extensively during the war.

smith and wesson russian model
1871 Smith and Wesson Russian Model 3
Smith and Wesson .44 Caliber Model 3 1871-1874

This popular frontier firearm was manufactured in several varieties, the one featured here is the "Russian Model". The revolver took it's name because it was used by the Russian Empire military. Over 40,000 of these models were ordered by the Russians in 1871. Eventually the Russian Empire ordered about 130,000 of these Smith and Wesson Model 3's. This large order from the Russian Empire helped make Smith and Wesson a major and permanent world wide firearms manufacturer. Per the requests of the Russians, three different models were built, the one shown here is of the 1st series.

This revolver is a six shot single action weapon. One of the characteristics of the Smith and Wesson that appealed to the Russians was the firearm's tip-up open design to refill chambers. Also the larger caliber had great appeal to the Russians.

Below are links to additional Western Trips articles you may enjoy...

Flintlock Firearms of the American West

Colt Handguns 

The Sharps Rifle and Christian Sharps

colt prewar smokeless revolver
Colt Prewar Smokeless Revolver
1899-1940 Colt Prewar Model .41 Caliber

The Colt Prewar Model .41 Caliber Revolver was the Single Action Army smokeless model as opposed to the older black powder model. The smokeless models used a spring-loaded button through the side of the frame whereas the black powder models had a screw in the front of the frame.

While the series date begins in 1899 the production of the smokeless models began in 1900. Smokeless powder differs from black powder as the former emits, after combustion, gases and the latter sold particles. Smokeless powder is not necessarily smokeless. The smoke is negligible with small arms and very noticeable with heavy arms. Smokeless powder was invented in France in the 1880's at the request of French military commanders who had difficulty giving battlefield orders through thick smoke.

A good book on the subject of Colt Revolvers is Colt's Single Action Army Revolver : Pre War and Post War Model by Dan Wilkerson.

Another very interesting venue if your travels take you to the Sacramento California area is the California State Military Museum. The museum is located in Old Town Sacramento and isa part of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Museum Systems. Here you will find a very large collection of firearms from the 1800's to the present. The California State Military Museum houses over 33,000 artifacts and includes a library and archive collection.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)