Today In History: The Battle of Seven Pines

May 31,


The Battle of Seven Pines, also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks or Fair Oaks Station, took place on May 31 and June 1, 1862, in Henrico County, Virginia, as part of the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the culmination of an offensive up the Virginia Peninsula by Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, in which the Army of the Potomac reached the outskirts of Richmond ha became known 

Union General George B. McClellan
Union General George B. McClellan

as the Peninsular Campaign.  On May 31, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston attempted to overwhelm two Federal corps that appeared 

Joseph E. Johnston, General CSA
Joseph E. Johnston, General CSA

isolated south of the Chickahominy River. The Confederate assaults, although not well coordinated, succeeded in driving back the IV Corps and inflicting heavy casualties. Reinforcements arrived, and both sides fed more and more troops into the action. Supported by the III Corps and Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick‘s division of

Major John Sedgwick, USA
Major General  John Sedgwick, USA

Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner‘s II Corps (which crossed the rain-swollen river on Grapevine Bridge), the Federal position was finally stabilized.

Major General Edwin V. Sumner
Major General Edwin V. Sumner

Gen. Johnston was seriously wounded during the action, and command of the Confederate army devolved temporarily to Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith. On June 1, the Confederates renewed their assaults against the Federals,

Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith
Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith


who had brought up more reinforcements, but made little headway. Both sides claimed victory.  Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, it was the largest battle in the Eastern Theater up to that time (and second only to Shiloh in terms of casualties thus far, about 11,000 total) and marked the end of the Union offensive, leading to the Seven Days Battles and Union retreat in late June.



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Today In Western History: Bill Tilghman Goes After Bill Doolin

May 30, 1893

One of the famed “Three Guardsmen” Deputy U.S. Marshals working under U.S. Marshal Evett “E.D.” Nix, leads a posse after outlaw Bill Doolin. 

U.S. Marshal Evett "E.D." Nix. creator of team known as "The Three Guardsmen"
U.S. Marshal Evett “E.D.” Nix. creator of team known as “The Three Guardsmen”

The “Three Guardsmen” were tough and experienced Marshals  Bill Tilghman (1854–1924), 

William "Bill" Tilghman, US Marshal, one of "The Three "Guardsman", the man who killed Bill Doolin
William “Bill” Tilghman, US Marshal, one of “The Three “Guardsman”, the man who killed Bill Doolin

Chris Madsen (1851–1944), and Heck Thomas (1850–1912),   

Chis Madsen, lawman and one of The Three Guardsmen, later a Quartermaster for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough RIders
Chis Madsen, lawman and one of The Three Guardsmen, later a Quartermaster for Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders
Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas, one of the Three Guardsmen
Henry Andrew “Heck” Thomas, one of the Three Guardsmen

Doolin was born in 1858 in Johnson County in north western Arkansas to Michael Doolin and the former Artemina Beller.

William "Bill" Doolin, survivor of the Dalton Coffeyville Bank robbery
William “Bill” Doolin, survivor of the Dalton Coffeyville Bank robbery

 Doolin left home in 1881 to become a cowboy in Indian Territory, having been employed by cattleman Oscar Halsell, a Texas native. During this time, Doolin worked with other cowboy and outlaw names of the day, including George Newcomb (known as “Bitter Creek”), Charley Pierce, Bill Power, Dick Broadwell, Bill “Tulsa Jack” Blake, Dan “Dynamite Dick” Clifton, and the better-known Emmett Dalton.

Doolin’s first encounter with the law came on July 4, 1891, in Coffeyville in southeastern Kansas. Doolin and some friends were drunk in public, and lawmen attempted to confiscate their alcohol. A shootout ensued, and two of the lawmen were wounded. Doolin escaped capture by fleeing from Coffeyville.  Shortly thereafter, Doolin became a member of the Dalton Gang.

On October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang made its fateful attempt to rob two banks simultaneously, in Coffeyville, Kansas. The robbery attempt was an utter failure, with a shootout ensuing between Coffeyville citizens and lawmen, and the outlaws, leaving four of the five gang members dead, with the exception of Emmett Dalton. Historians have since indicated that there was a sixth gang member in an alley holding the horses, who escaped. Who this sixth man was remains unknown to this day. Emmett Dalton never disclosed his identity, but speculation continues that it may well have been Bill Doolin.

In 1892, Doolin formed his own gang, the Wild Bunch. On November 1, 1892, the gang robbed a bank in Spearville, Kansas. After the robbery, the gang fled with gang member Oliver Yantis to

Oklahoma Territory, where they hid out at the house of Yantis’ sister. Less than one month later, the gang was tracked to that location. In a shootout Yantis was killed, but the rest of the gang escaped.

Two teenaged girls known as Little Britches and Cattle Annie also followed the gang and warned the men whenever law-enforcement officers were in pursuit. Sources indicate that it was Doolin who gave the young bandit Jennie Stevens her nickname of Little Britches.


Following that robbery, the gang embarked on a spree of successful bank and train robberies. In March 1893, Doolin married Edith Ellsworth in Ingalls, Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter, Doolin and his gang robbed a train near Cimarron, Kansas, during which a shootout with lawmen resulted in Doolin being shot and seriously wounded in the foot.


Today In Western History: Apaches Kill Lt. Jacob Almy

May 29, 1973


Today a courier arrives from the San Carlos Reservation bearing sad news.  The Apaches had murdered Lt. Jacob Almy, of the 5th Cavalry.  The details of the killing were soon revealed when a special messenger arrived at Governor Safford’s  office and informed him that the Indian Agent, a Major Larrabee, had run into some trouble with the Apaches who attacked him and attempted to kill him with their spears.  The source of the conflict was unknown.   Major Larrabee ran for his life to Lt. Almy headquarters, where he compelled Lt. Almy to take six men and go with him to the Agency with him.  Once at the Agency, they all went into Major Larrabee’s tent to talk.  When they came out, Lt. Almy in the lead, the Apache were waiting and fired several shots at both men, only three bullets hitting Lt. Almy and all of them somehow completely missing Major Larrabee.  The good Major retreated in fine order back into his tent and four of the Lt. six companions did the same.  Of the other two, one fired back but was grabbed from behind by an interpreter known as Concepcion.  Concepcion was a Mexican Apache and had been employed by the Agency for a long time.  


Today In Western History: President Jackson Signs The Indian Removal Act

May 28, 1830

President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the biggest land grab in the history of the US, as he forcibly removes all the Eastern Indians to land west of the Mississippi River.

Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and President; responsible for the Trail of Tears
Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and hero of New Orleans; President responsible for the Trail of Tears

Jackson had been no friend to the Indians long before he became president, and had supported removing them westward for a long time.  As far back as 1814, he had commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a branch of the Creek nation during the Creek War of 1813-1814.  As a punishment for daring to challenge the powerful new nation, 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama were taken away from their control.  But he wasn’t finished.  In 1814 and again in 1815, he waged war on the Seminole nation, even though they were living in Florida, which was a Spanish territory at the time.  His rational was that this was punishment for harboring runaway slaves.  The primary result of this action was that Spain realized they couldn’t defend Florida against the intrusions or acquisitions of the new country, the United States, so the next year Spain cut its losses and sold Florida to the United States.

Jackson didn’t stop at waging physical war on the Indians, he also took part in negotiating 9 out of 11 treaties with them between 1814 and 1824, treaties in which they were ‘encouraged’ to trade their home lands in Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina in exchange for lands in the west.  Keep in mind, the ‘west’ of this period was the land next to the Mississippi river, not west of the Missouri River.  The few tribes who did agree to these ‘treaties’ did so hoping this concession would help them retain control over the remaining portion of their territory and to protect themselves from future harassment by white settlers.  Of course, it didn’t work.  It was only a matter of time until white settler began crowding the Indians once more, and as their farms expanded, there was only one place to get the land they wanted.,  Once gold was discovered in Georgia, it was inevitable that the Indians would be pushed out once more.

When Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, the Indian Removal policy would become more obvious and enforced.  In his first year in office, early in 1829, he called for an Indian Removal Act and worked quickly towards reaching that goal, despite significant opposition by Christian missionaries, and others including the soon to be legendary Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, and a rookie Congressman

Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo
Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo

from Illinois  (and future president), Abraham Lincoln.  In the end though, their objections were overruled, as most white Americans were in  

Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President
Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President

favor of the passage of the Indian Removal Act to protect their own interests.  In the south, the state of Georgia, which was involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee  nation, was particularly eager to rid themselves of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole) in order to have free access to the gold to be found in their land.  

After a bitter but doomed to fail debate in Congress, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830.  In his Second Annual Message to Congress, given on December 6, 1830, Jackson’s comments on Indian removal begin with these words: “It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.”  A great piece of self-serving nonsense.



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Today In Western History: James B. “Wild Bill” Hickok Is Born

May 27, 1837


One of the true legends of the west is born today in Homer, Illinois.  His given name is James, but he will be forever known as Bill. 

James Butler "WIld Bill" Hickok, legendary lawman, shootist and gambler
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, legendary lawman, shootist and gambler

He will become a stagecoach driver, Army scout, hunting guide, an actor – a bad one, at that — a lawman, and a gambler.  He will fight a bear, and become involved as a participant in one of the most iconic events of all western folklore.  He will be known as a dandy and ladies’ man, and one of the most deadly shootists of all time.  He will be friends with one of the most famous soldiers of all time, and one of the most famous showmen of the frontier.  He will know on a first name basis some of the most well-known figures of the west, and he will always be associated with his last card game.

James Butler Hickok is an American original.  He will serve with the Union Army as a scout, courier, and spy, and be successful at all of them.  He wasn’t afraid of anything, including bragging about him-self, and he wasn’t intimidated by anyone either.  He moved to Leavenworth in the Kansas Territory in 1855, at age 18, following a fight with a Charles Hudson, during which both men tumbled into a canal, believing they had killed the other one. Hickok fled the area and joined “General” Jim Lane’s “Free State Army” (also known as the “Jayhawkers“), a vigilante group then active in the Kansas Territory.  While he was serving as a Jayhawker, he met young 12-year-old William Frederick Cody (later known

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Frontiersman, creator of the Rodeo
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Frontiersman, creator of the Rodeo

as “Buffalo Bill”) who, despite his youth, was serving as a scout for the U.S. Army during the Utah War.

One of the major events in Hickok’s life took place in 1860, when he was badly injured by a bear while he was driving a Russell, Waddell, & Majors freight team from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Keeping in mind he frequently told tall tales, according to Hickok’s account, he found the road blocked by a cinnamon bear and its two cubs. Dismounting, he approached the bear and fired a shot into its head, but the bullet only glanced off its thick skull, which only served to infuriate it further. The bear attacked, crushing Hickok with its body. Hickok said that he managed to fire another shot, disabling the bear’s paw. Hickok asserted the bear grabbed his arm in its mouth but he was able to grab his knife and kill it.

 While recuperating from the fight with the bear, James experienced another major event in his life.  He was convalescing at the Rock Creek Way Station of the freight company.  On July 12, 1861, Dave McCanless went to the Station office to demand an overdue property payment

David McCanless, first known victim of James Butler Hickok
David McCanless, first known victim of James Butler Hickok

 from Horace Wellman, who was the station manager. McCanles reportedly threatened Wellman, and either Hickok (who was hiding behind a curtain) or Wellman killed him.   Hickok, Wellman, and an employee, J. W. Brink, were tried for killing McCanles but were found to have acted in self-defense. McCanles was the first man Hickok may have killed.

On July 21, 1865, Hickok and Davis Tutt had several disagreements in Springfield, Missouri about Hickok’s unpaid gambling debts and

Davis Tutt, loser of the first recorded face off gunfight with James B. "Wild Bill" Hickok
Davis Tutt, loser of the first recorded face off gunfight with James B. “Wild Bill” Hickok

competing affections for the same woman (Susanna Moore). Tutt took a watch of Hickok’s who promptly demanded its return and warned Tutt not to be seen wearing it.  The next  day Hickok saw Tutt wearing the watch and warned him to not cross the town square with it.  Tutt challenged Hickok and the two men assumed classic duel stance, facing each other sideways. Their “quick draw duel” was the first of its kind. The “quick draw gunfight” was later fictionalized as a typical action by Hickok, but it is the first known instance of the classic Western gunfight, and in all the documentation and history of the old west, this is the ONLY time it ever happened, the opening of the tv show Gunsmoke not withstanding.  However, unlike the stereotypical Hollywood gunfight in which the two combatants stand face-to-face, the two men faced each other sideways, before drawing and firing their weapons. Tutt’s shot missed but Hickok struck Tutt through the heart from about 75 yards (69 m) away. Tutt called out, “Boys, I’m killed” before he collapsed and died.

Over the next 11 years, Hickok served as a lawman at Ft. Riley, Kansas; Abilene, Kansas; Ft. Hays, Kansas; where he kept order based on his fearsome reputation.  Few wanted to risk trading shots with Wild Bill, as he never shot to wound and uncommonly accurate when he did.  He served as a guide for General Custer, and was a favorite of Libby, the General’s wife.  He and Tom Custer, the General’s brother, did not get along.   He ‘trod the boards’ for Bill Cody in New York, where he would notoriously shoot close to the legs of the other actors to scare them.  He was only shooting blanks but they hurt, nonetheless.

In August of 1876, he was secretly going blind from glaucoma and ophthalmia Hickok had a premon-ition that Deadwood would be his last camp, and he expressed this belief to his friend Charlie Utter (also known as Colorado Charlie) and the others who were traveling with them. On August 2, 1876, Hickok was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. Hickok usually sat with his back to a wall, but the only seat open when he joined the game that afternoon was a chair that would put his back to a door. Twice he asked another player by the name of Charles Rich to change seats with him but Rich refused.   A former buffalo hunter, Jack McCall (better known as “Crooked Nose Jack”), entered the saloon unnoticed by Hickok. McCall walked to within a few feet of Hickok, drew a pistol and shouted, “Damn you! Take that!” before firing at Hickok point blank. McCall’s bullet hit Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. The bullet emerged through Hickok’s right cheek, striking another player, Captain Massie, in the left wrist. The murder weapon was a 18 inch “Sharps Improved” revolver.


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Today In Western History: John Wesley Hardin Is Born

May 26, 1853


One of the west’s most prolific and sociopathic kills is born today in Bonham, Texas.  Named for a famed minister, John Wesley Hardin is likely a real sociopath and cold-blooded killer. 

John Wesley Hardin a real sociopathic killer
John Wesley Hardin, a real sociopathic killer

Between his 15th and 25th birthday, he will kill at least 20 men.  John Wesley Hardin (May 26, 1853 – August 19, 1895) was an Old West outlaw,  gunfighter,  and controversial folk icon. From an early age, Hardin was usually on the wrong side of the law for one reason or another. and he was pursued by lawmen for most of his life.   He frequently hid at the homes of family and friends, and this led to the death of his brother-in-law.  After being arrested on a train in Pensacola, Florida for the murder of a Texas deputy sheriff,  he was finally sentenced to 25 years in prison for murder in 1877.  When he was sentenced, Hardin claimed to have killed 42 men but newspapers of the day attributed only 27 murders to him.  While in prison, Hardin wrote a highly slanted  autobiography and even studied law and most surprisingly, after his release in 1894, he was admitted to the Texas bar.   Alcohol and depression quickly took over and in August 1895, Hardin was shot to death by Constable John Selman, Sr. in an El Paso saloon. 

John Selman Jr., a notorious gunman and former outlaw in his own right, town constable and killer of John Wesley Hardin.
John Selman Jr., notorious gunman and former outlaw in his own right, town constable and killer of John Wesley Hardin.

While serving his time in prison, Hardin penned his autobiography which is the source for many stories about him, but he was known to tailor the facts to fit his perceptions, and even making up such facts as he needed to support his perceptions.  In many of his “life stories” he described his participation in events that cannot be substantiated. 

In November 1868, when he was 15, Hardin challenged his uncle Holshousen’s former slave, Major “Maje” Holshousen, to a wrestling match, which Hardin won.  According to Hardin, the following day, Maje “ambushed” him as he rode past. Hardin drew his revolver and shot Maje five times. In his auto-biography Hardin claimed he rode to get help for the wounded man, but he died three days later, but given his Southern sympathies and beliefs, this is very unlikely.  He also claimed his father did not believe he would receive a fair hearing in the Union-occupied state so his father ordered him into hiding.  Hardin claimed the authorities eventually discovered his location and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him, at which time he “chose to confront his pursuers” despite having been warned of their approach by older brother Joseph:

…I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill. It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter. Thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm.

Soon afterwards on August 6, 1871, Hardin, his cousin Gip Clements, and a rancher friend named Charles Couger put up for the night at the American House Hotel after an evening of gambling. All three had been drinking heavily. Sometime during the evening, Hardin was awakened by loud snoring coming from Couger’s room. He first shouted several times for the man to “roll over” and then, irritated by the lack of response, drunkenly fired several bullets through the shared wall in an apparent effort to awaken him. Couger was hit in the head by the second bullet as he lay in bed, and was killed instantly. Although Hardin may not have intended to kill Cougar, he had violated an ordinance prohibiting firing a gun within the city limits. Half-dressed and still drunk, he and Clements exited through a second-story window onto the roof of the hotel. He saw Hickok arrive with four policemen. “Now, I believed,” Hardin wrote later, “that if Wild Bill found me in a defenseless condition he would take no explanation, but would kill me to add to his reputation.   The incident earned Hardin a repu-tation as a man “so mean, he once shot a man for snoring”.  Years later, Hardin made a casual reference to the episode: “They tell lots of lies about me,” he complained. “They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain’t true. I only killed one man for snoring.  

His intense hatred of Northerner carpet-baggers in general and former slaves in particular led him to caused him to become repeatedly involved in political battles between pro- and anti-Reconstruction forces (naturally Hardin was pro-southern) in 1873 and he killed a former State Police officer who led the local pro-Reconstruction forces. In 1874 he murdered a sheriff’s deputy in Brown County, Texas, leading to him fleeing with his family to Florida. However, he was captured by Texas Rangers on a train in Pensacola in 1877 (during his stay in Florida, he was suspected of killing at least one and probably five more people). He was tried for the Brown County deputy’s murder in 1878 and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but only served 16 years before being pardoned in 1894.
In 1895 Hardin testified as a defense witness in a murder trial in El Paso, and after the trial was over, he decided to stay in that city and open up a law practice. Soon afterwards he began an affair with a married female client. When her husband found out, Hardin reportedly hired several off-duty lawmen to murder the man. An El Paso lawman, John Selman, Jr., arrested Hardin’s acquaintance and part-time prostitute, the “widow” M’Rose (or Mroz), for “brandishing a gun in public”. Hardin confronted Selman and the two men argued, some reports alleging Hardin had pistol-whipped the younger man. Selman’s 56-year-old father, Constable John Selman, Sr. (a notorious gunman and former outlaw in his own right), approached Hardin on the afternoon of August 19, 1895, and the two men exchanged heated words. That night, Hardin went to the Acme Saloon, where he began playing dice. Shortly before midnight, Selman Sr. entered the saloon, walked up to Hardin from behind, and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. As Hardin lay on the floor, Selman fired three more shots into him. Selman was arrested for murder and stood trial, where he claimed self-defense.  His story that he witnessed Hardin attempting to draw his pistol upon seeing him enter the saloon, and Hardin reputation as a mean drunk, resulted in a hung jury and his being released on bond, pending retrial. However, before the retrial could be organized, Selman himself was killed in a shootout following a card game by the US Marshal George Scarborough on April 6, 1896 during an argument.  Hardin was buried the following day in Concordia Cemetery, in El Paso.

US Marshal George Scarborough, former outlaw and the killer of John Selman, Sr, the killer of John Wesley Hardin
US Marshal George Scarborough, former outlaw and the killer of John Selman, Sr, the killer of John Wesley Hardin

Today In Western History: New Mexico Prohibits Slavery

May 25, 1850

New Mexico adopts a new constitution, one that prohibits slavery.

In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, the United States created a provisional government that lasted until 1850.  Although Mexico had officially ceded the territory when the war ended in 1848, the territorial boundaries were somewhat ambiguous.  

It wasn’t a smooth path to statehood for the territory as it had made this request earlier in the year using a constitution that permitted slavery, and while it was initially approved, it fell apart and died when Texas laid claim to the same territory.  The proposed state boundaries were to extend as far east as the 100th meridian West and as far north as the Arkansas River, thus encompassing the present-day Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of present-day Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, as well as most of present-day New Mexico.  In addition, slaveholders were worried about not being able to expand slavery to the west of their current slave states if this boundary was accepted.

On September 9, 1850, the Congressional Compromise of 1850 was accepted and this stopped the early 1850 bid for statehood from going any further. On the other hand, other provisions of the Compromise organized both New Mexico and neighboring Utah Territory, and also firmly established the previously disputed western boundaries of the State of Texas that are still in place.

The status of slavery during the territorial period provoked considerable debate, much of it hotly con-tested and acrimonious. The granting of statehood was up to a Congress sharply divided on the slavery issue. Some (including Stephen A. Douglas for the Democrats) maintained

Senator Stephen A. Douglas. He won the Lincoln- Douiglas Debates but lost the election.
Senator Stephen A. Douglas. He won the Lincoln- Douglas Debates but lost the election.

that the territory could not restrict slavery, as under the earlier Missouri Compromise, while others (including Abraham Lincoln for the 

Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President
Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President.  He lost the Lincoln- Douglas Debates but won the election.

Republicans) insisted that older Mexican Republic legal traditions of the territory, which abolished black, but not Indian, slavery in 1834, took precedence and should therefore be continued. Regard- less of its official status, actual slavery was rare in antebellum New Mexico and Black slaves never numbered more than about a dozen.

As one of the final attempts at compromise to avoid the Civil War, in December 1860, U.S. House of Representatives Republicans offered to admit New Mexico as a slave state immediately. Although the measure was approved by committee on December 29, 1860, Southern representatives did not take up this offer, as many of them had already left Congress due to imminent declarations of secession by their states.  

In the middle of the Civil War, Congress made an effort to sort things out.  They passed the “Arizona Organic Act“, which split off the western portion of the then 12-year-old New Mexico Territory as the new Arizona Territory, and abolished slavery in the new Territory on February 24, 1863, As in New Mexico, slavery was already extremely limited, due to earlier Mexican traditions, laws, and patterns of settlement. The northwestern corner of New Mexico Territory was included in the newly established Arizona Territory until it was added to the southernmost part of the newly admitted State of Nevada in 1864. Eventually Arizona Territory was organized as the State of Arizona.



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Today In Western History: The Potowatamie Massacre

May 24, 1856


John Brown gains his nickname, Potowatamie Brown, when he leads his followers in the massacre of five pro-slavers at Potowatamie Creek, Kansas, in retaliation for the killing of an abolitionist in Lawrence, Kansas.

John Brown, Abolitionist, first American 'terrorist', author of the Harper's Ferry Insurrection, and spark stat started the Civil War
John Brown, Abolitionist, first American ‘terrorist’, author of the Harper’s Ferry Insurrection, and spark stat started the Civil War

The Pottawatomie massacre occurred during the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 1856. In reaction to the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas by pro-slavery forces,  John Brown and a small band of abolitionist settlers—some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles—killed five settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas. This was one of the many bloody episodes in Kansas preceding the American Civil War, which came to be known collectively as Bleeding Kansas. Bleeding Kansas was largely brought about by the Missouri Compromise and Kansas–Nebraska Act.

A Free State company under the command of John Brown, Jr., set out, and the Osawatomie company joined them. On the morning of May 22, 1856, they heard of the sack of Lawrence and the arrest of Deitzler, Brown, and Jenkins. However, they continued their march toward Lawrence, not knowing whether their assistance might still be needed, and encamped that night near the Ottawa Creek. They remained in the vicinity until the afternoon of May 23, at which time they decided to return home.

On May 23, John  Brown Sr. selected a small party consisting of John Brown Sr., his sons Frederick, Owen, Salmon, and Oliver, and Thomas Weiner and James Townsley, to go with him on a private ex-pedition.  Late in the next evening, they called at the house of James P. Doyle and ordered him and his two adult sons, William and Drury (all former slave catchers) to go with them as prisoners. The three men were escorted by their captors into the night, at which time Owen Brown and one of his brothers killed them with broadswords. John Brown, Sr. fired a shot into the head of the fallen James Doyle to make certain he was dead.  Brown and his band then went to the house of Allen Wilkinson and ordered him out, where he was slashed and stabbed to death by Henry Thompson and Theodore Winer, possibly with help from Brown’s sons.  Following this murder they crossed the Pottawatomie, and after midnight, they forced their way into the cabin of James Harris. Harris had three house guests: John S. Wightman, Jerome Glanville, and William Sherman, the brother of Henry Sherman (“Dutch Henry”), a militant pro-slavery activist.  After questioning all four men, William Sherman was led to the edge of the creek and hacked to death with the swords by Winer and Thompson.

In the two years before Brown’s raid, there had been 8 killings in Kansas Territory attributable to slavery politics, and none of those were in the vicinity of the massacre.  Brown murdered five in a single night, and this was the flash point to the powder keg that exploded into violence.  Over the next three months, 29 people died in a series of retaliatory raids and battles.

John Brown wasn’t done and he wouldn’t be done until October 18, 1859, when he would lead an un-successful slave revolt at a little town called Harper’s Ferry in Virginia.  This future raid would make his name a household word and he would forever be viewed as either a hero or a terrorist, depending upon where you stood on the issue of the day, which was, of course, slavery. 



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Today In Western History: Kit Carson Goes Under

May 23, 1868

Christopher Carson, legendary mountain man, trapper, explorer and soldier
Christopher Carson, legendary mountain man, trapper, explorer and soldier

Kit Carson dies of old age, at 58, in Fort Lyon, Colorado.

Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson was an American legend.  He lived in a time of change, when the West was opening up to exploration and development.  For most of his life he lived off the land, holding few actual paying jobs.  During his lifetime he had been a trapper, a mountain man, a wild-erness guide, Indian agent, and even an American Army officer.  As with many of the famous names of that period, their reputations were greatly enhanced by repeated embellishments of their exploits, sometimes by themselves or just normal story-telling by others to build up their own reputations, and sometimes by their biographers or people just looking to make a dollar by selling complete fiction.  Ned Buntline did this for Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp.

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Frontiersman, creator of the Rodeo
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Frontiersman, creator of the Rodeo

Christopher left home at the age of 16 to become a mountain man and trapper in the vast and un-explored Western territories.  In the 1830s, he accompanied Ewing Young on an expedition to what was then Mexican California and later joined fur trapping expeditions into the Rocky Mountains.  To improve his chances of survival and acceptance by the carious tribes, Carson lived among and even married into the  Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes.  In the 1840s, based on his growing reputation as the one who knew the mountains, he was hired as a guide by John C. Fremont, the man who would become known as the Pathfinder.  Carson achieved national fame through Fremont’s accounts of his 

John C. Fremont, The Great Pathfinder"
John C. Fremont, The Great Pathfinder”

expeditions.While serving with Fremont, Carson took an active part in the uprising in California at the beginning of what became known at the Mexican-American War. Later in the war, Carson served as a courier and a scout, and became celebrated for his rescue mission after the Battle of San Pasqual and for his coast-to-coast journey from California to Washington, DC., to deliver news of the conflict in California to the U.S. government.  In the 1850s, he was appointed as the Indian agent to the Ute Indians and the Jicarilla Apaches.

During the American Civil War, Carson led a regiment of mostly New Mexico volunteers of Hispanic heritage supporting the Union at the  Battle of Valverde in 1862. When the Confederate threat to New Mexico was eliminated, Carson turned on the native Americans he had lived with and led forces to suppress the Navajo, Mescalero Apache, Kiowa and Comanche Indians.  For this service, Carson was breveted (a type of military commission conferred especially for outstanding service by which an officer was promoted to a higher rank without the correspond- ing pay) a Brigadier General, and given command of Fort Garland, Colorado, but after only a short time his declining health forced him to retire from military life.  Carson was married three times and had ten children.  Carson died at Fort Lyon, Colorado, of an aortic aneurysm on May 23, 1868. He is buried in Taos, New Mexico, next to his third wife Josefa Jaramillo.




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Today In Western History: Captain William Becknell Heads For Santa Fe

May 22, 1822

Captain William Becknell (1787-1856) takes a wagon train out of Arrow Rock, Missouri, headed across the plains and desert to Santa Fe, in the New Mexico Territory in 1821.  This is his third trip west, as he has been there twice before, as a trader.   His plan was to take three wagons loaded with merchandise, twenty-four slow-moving oxen, and twenty-one men across the plains. Because crossing the plains on fast horses was dangerous and uncertain enough, when the people learned of his plan, they considered it fairly certain suicide and death and joked he was insane and referred to Becknell’s wagon train as the ‘Caravan of Death’.

The spring of 1822 was exceedingly rainy, and the heavy wagons, weighing more than seven thousand pounds each, sank into the mud almost to the hubs. Along the way, they often had to deal with Osage Indians and Comanches, who were trying to steal their horses or goods.  The Pawnees, Kiowas, Cheyennes and the Sioux, who were later to take such a toll on the immigrants as they traveled along the Trail, were not a problem at this early point in their interaction with the whites traveling through their lands. 

The most treacherous part of journey was when the caravan reached the desert and the home of the Comanche, then things became much more desperate.  The wagon train went into the desert  with only their canteens filled with water and a compass to guide it over the glittering sand. Behind and around them was always the fear of a sudden attack by the Comanches. The men’s nerves were at breaking point, waiting for the dreaded attack to come.

At the end of two days they ran out of water and the water holes disappeared.  As the day wore on, the heat increased and the lack of water affected everyone, men and animals alike began suffer-ing to the point of madness.  They began having hallucinations (seeing mirages), delusions and sev-eral went mad from thirst.  Ultimately, however, it was a possible mirage that saved their lives.  Captain Becknell had been seeing mirages for a long time now and thought he was seeing another one when he looked up and saw a herd of buffalo just twenty yards away from him.  In desperation, he fired his gun at it and killed one with one shot.  Captain Becknell knew buffalo never ventured into the desert without a stomach full of water and after dragging himself over to it, and cutting into it with his knife, he found the stomach, filled with gallons of water.  This told him there was water somewhere nearby, and after sharing the contents of the buffalo’s stomach with the other men, he gathered all the canteens and went looking for the water.  He found it, filled all the canteens and took them back to the men, saving everyone’s life.  Thirty days later, the wagon train reached their goal, Sante Fe.  They had traveled over eight hundred long and dangerous miles, and opened up a new road to the southwest – The famed Sante Fe Trail.

          Becknell made a third trip to New Mexico in the fall of 1824 and received a license to trap in the Green Mountains, a pursuit that occupied him for the next several months. The following summer he participated with a group authorized by Congress to mark the Santa Fe Trail via the Cimarron Cutoff as the central route to the Southwest. Certainly this, in addition to his previous exploits, helped earn Becknell the sobriquet of “Father of the Santa Fe Trail.”

          Becknell subsequently retired from the trade, serving two terms in the Missouri Legislature and several years as a justice of the peace. Then in 1835 he sold his property and relocated with his family and several slaves to Red River County in northeastern Texas, where he became a prominent farmer and stockman. He took an active role in the Texas War for Independence, and served briefly in the first Texas Congress. William Becknell died on April 25, 1856, and was buried west of Clarksville, Texas. The Texas Legislature marked the grave with a large granite stone in 1957.