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Wednesday, October 12, 2016


These fellers ain't REAL cowboys!
     They were glorified in thousands of novels and motion pictures...the American cowboy in the days of the Wild West. 
     By definition a cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend. There are also cowboys in many other parts of the world, particularly South America and Australia, who perform similar work. 
This is a REAL cowboy.
     The cowboy of myth and reality had his beginnings in Texas. There, cattle grew wild with few natural enemies. It wasn't until after by the end of the Civil War that the cowboy entered his twenty-year golden age, 1866-1886, the era of the open range and the great cattle drives.
     Cattle drives required a man to be a great horseman and accept the fact that he was embarking on a dangerous journey. Driving a thousand to two thousand cattle hundreds of miles to market while facing the vagaries of weather, stampedes, rattlesnakes, and outlaws, sleeping under the stars and facing many other dangers was not for the faint of heart. 
     The summer of 1886 was a dry one and the winter of 1886-1887 was terrible. They destroyed what remained of the original cattle industry and the open range ended. Fences went up and ranchers took to buying cattle designed to improve the stock. The result was cowboys were often reduced to riding a hay rake, mending fences, and applying medicines to sick cattle. No more herding cattle up the trails to Abilene or Dodge. 
     One little know fact is, it's estimated that of the men who worked the great cattle drives originating in the Southwest in the late 1800s, at least one-fourth of them were black. Many were born into slavery but later found a better life on the open range where they experienced less open discrimination. 
     After the Civil War many were employed as horse breakers, but few ever became foremen or managers. Some black cowboys became rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others owned their own farms and ranches while a few became gunfighters and outlaws. A number of them achieved considerable fame. 
     Men like Bose Ikard, a top hand and drover for rancher Charles Goodnight, also served as Goodnight's chief detective and banker. 
     Then there was Daniel W. "80 John" Wallace who started cow-punching as a teenager and saved enough money to purchase a ranch where he acquired more than 1,200 acres and 500 to 600 cattle. He was a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association for more than thirty years. 
     William Pickett was one of the most outstanding Wild West rodeo performers in the country and is credited with originating the modern event known as bulldogging. He was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1971. 
    Known as “the most noted Negro cowboy that ever topped off a horse,” Addison Jones was known for his skill at breaking (topping off) untamed wild broncos. 
Stagecoach Mary
     Mary Fields, born a slave in Tennessee and known as Stagecoach Mary, gained her freedom after the Civil War. Fields who stood six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds was said to be a match for any man and enjoyed brawling and bragged that she could knock any man out with a single punch. Newspapers of the time claimed that she broke more noses than anyone else in central Montana and she always backed herself up with a six-shooter holstered under her apron. She liked to drink, smoked homemade cigars and was so respected in Cascade, Montana that her birthday was made a school holiday every year. 
     She had moved to Cascade in 1885 to work for, of all people, the nuns of St. Peter’s Convent. She did all the heavy work there and one of her most famous deeds of derring-do came when wolves attacked her supply wagon one night. The horses were spooked and the wagon overturned, but she stood guard until morning, keeping the wolves at bay with her revolver. 
Mary's sixshooter

     She was forced to resign after Montana’s first Catholic bishop heard of her brawling and a rumored gunfight. Shortly afterward, she hitched a team of horses faster than any other applicant and was hired to deliver mail to the towns around Cascade, braving blizzards and the harsh terrain in the process. She was 60 at the time and only the second woman ever hired by the US Postal Service. 
     She loved baseball and babysat for most of the children in town, which included the future actor Gary Cooper. After retiring she tried opened a restaurant, but went broke because she let too many needy people eat for free. When her house burned down in 1912, the whole town came together to build her a new one. A 1910 contract to lease a hotel in town included a clause stipulating that Mary could always eat for free. She was also the only woman allowed to drink in the local saloon. She passed away of liver failure in 1914. 
     Charlie Willis was born a slave in Austin, Texas, in 1847 and became known across Texas as a bronco buster and cattle drover as well as a talented songwriter. Old Paint was supposedly the name of his horse when he rode the Chisholm trail and he wrote the the song Goodbye Old Paint
     In the years after the Civil War, the Indian Territory of modern Oklahoma had a reputation as the most lawless place in the country. When "Hanging Judge" Isaac C. Parker arrived in 1875 to bring order he commissioned Bass Reeves, a former slave, as a lawman.
     Reeves become one the finest lawman in the history of the West. Born in Arkansas, Reeves fled to Oklahoma after beating up his owner during a card game. As a Deputy US Marshal, he had excellent relationships with the local Indian tribes who helped him avoid the many outlaws who threatened to kill any lawman brazen enough to show up in the territory. Reeves captured over 3,000 criminals and killed more than a dozen in 27 years as a marshal. Included in the count was his own son whom he tracked down and arrested. Reeves' son was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. 
     Like their white counterparts, it was the outlaws that were better known. Isom Dart might have been a cattle rustler, or he might have been only a rancher; nobody knows for sure. He had the misfortune to run into Pinkerton Detective Tom Horn who had the reputation of being one of the most ruthless hired killers in the West. 
Tom Horn

     On October 4, 1900 Dart was bushwhacked when he stepped out of his cabin in Brown’s Hole, Colorado. The large ranchers in the area had hired Horn, who went undercover on one of the big cattleman's ranch, to investigate rustling in the area. Shortly after that anonymous letters soon appeared warning Dart and another fellow, both of whom Horn suspected to be guilty, to leave town or face the consequences. The other guy was found shot to death in his cabin a few months before Dart was murdered. Nobody was prosecuted over the murders but Horn was suspected. Horn got his comeuppance when he was executed in 1903 for the murder of a 14-year-old boy. 
     An early enemy of segregation was a black outlaw named John “The Texas Kid” Hayes. When he spotted a Whites Only sign on a saloon he would enter and ask for a drink. If the bartender refused, he rode his horse into the bar and shot up the place then skedaddled.
     Crawford "Cherokee Bill" Goldsby was as ruthless as Jesse James or Billy the Kid. The son of a Cherokee mother and an African-American Buffalo Soldier, Cherokee Bill committed his first murder at the age of 12 when he shot his brother-in-law during an argument over chores. 
     After fleeing to Indian Territory and living a life of crime he was finally caught and taken before Judge Parker who sentenced him to death, but a friend smuggled him a pistol and he tried to escape. A gun battle soon turned into a standoff and prison guards persuaded another prisoner to negotiate Goldsby’s surrender. After Cherokee Bill surrendered the other prisoner was released and no time was wasted hanging old Bill. His last words were, “This is about as good a day to die as any.”

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