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Wild West - April 2012 - Letters from Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: February 05, 2012 
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'There is never a "last word" in history. We historians and researchers never give up looking for another piece of the puzzle, another clue, another validation'

Not the Last Word
The December 2011 article with the presumptuous title "Last Word on the Famous Wild Bunch Photo" contains a new account of how law enforcement may have become aware of the now famous photo. However, it leaves many unanswered questions. The revelation that Charles Scott was the first to "discover" the photo seems to rest entirely on a November 23, 1902, newspaper article appearing seven months after the death of Scott and two years after the photo was taken. The article, by Richard Selcer and Donna Donnell, admits that the newspaper "scrambled some of the facts." It is natural, then, to question whether the newspaper's information is accurate regarding the role of Scott in the Fort Worth Police Department and his discovery of the photo. Might it also be "scrambled" by a reporter in need of something to write? Where did the reporter get the information?

Beyond that, other statements in this "last word" article are questionable or flatly incorrect. Quoting from my interview in a previous issue of Wild West, the article states I "repeated the old canards" that the photographer had placed the Wild Bunch photo in his studio window, where it was discovered by detectives, and the photographer made copies for distribution to law enforcement around the country. My statement is definitely not unfounded, false and deliberately misleading—the meaning of the word canard. My statement is based on sincere and extensive research over many years by well-respected historians.

The article goes on to say that neither of my points in the statement is true. The argument against the photo being seen in a window is that it could not be seen from the sidewalk because the Swartz gallery was upstairs. In this article the address for the photo gallery is given as 705½, with the ½ designating it being upstairs. No source for this address is given. I have copies of the Wild Bunch photos with the photographer's stamp on the back with the address given as 705 Main St. (with no ½). Donna Ernst writes in The Sundance Kid, "At 705 Main Street, photographer John Swartz ran a portrait studio named Swartz View Co. that featured a second-floor studio with a skylight, as well as a large display window in the ground floor office." Further, the Wild West article states, "Swartz's gallery sat above Sheehan's saloon." Was Sheehan's address 705 Main St.?

My statement that the photographer made copies for distribution to law enforcement does not mean Swartz personally sent them to law enforcement all around the country. The statement means Swartz made some copies for law enforcement, such as the Pinkertons and the Fort Worth law enforcement agencies. The Pinkertons possessed copies of the photo, cropped above the shoes and on plain white board with the Swartz rubber stamp on the back. Fort Worth Chief of Police W.M. Rea sent a copy to St. Louis Chief of Police Mathew Kiely on November 21, 1901. Yes, it was the Pinkertons who cropped out the faces for their notices.

The article's suggestion that "Carver and Logan stood [in the photo] because they were the big shots of the gang" is laughable. Whether families or dignitaries, the most important people were, and still are, in most cases seated center, with others standing and seated around them. When there are no "front and center" people to recognize, the photographer arranges positions to provide the best composition of the photo. This includes tallest seated and shortest standing behind. This fits with the Wild Bunch photo: Kilpatrick (6-foot-1) seated front and center, Sundance (5-foot-11) and Cassidy (5-foot-9) seated left and right…Logan (5-foot-7) and Carver (who is clearly about the same height as Logan) standing behind.

In some places the article reads like fiction…describing "the boys'" movements in the studio, what they were thinking, selecting the photos, picking up the photos, etc. It does the same with Scott. It is even speculated that Logan was "three sheets to the wind" because his hat was "pushed back on his head."

The Wild Bunch photo was not a cabinet card. The original was a large 71⁄8-inch-by-9-inch photo mounted on a gray 7½-inch-by-9¼-inch card with Swartz, Fort Worth, Tex embossed in the lower left hand corner of the photograph. (This is the copy used for the Wild West cover and again in the article.) I doubt if this photo sold at "12 pictures for $1.75." The copies made by Swartz for law enforcement were smaller and mounted on 7-inch-by-8½-inch white cardboard. The statement that "the latest sale of an 'original' Wild Bunch photo went in 2000" is incorrect. Another sold in a New York auction in 2004.

I congratulate the authors for finding the 1902 newspaper article, but I do not congratulate them on the title selected or some of their conclusions and speculations…and particularly the disrespectful use of the word canard.

Bob McCubbin
Santa Fe, N.M.

Author Donna Donnell responds: 705 Main St. was the physical address of the two-story building where John Swartz's studio was located. The studio and reception room were on the second floor, 705½ Main, along with other business offices and apartments for rent. The bottom floor was the City Meat Market in 1894 but by 1898 was Sheehan's Saloon and in 1901 was Oscar's Place (see digital copies of the Fort Worth City directories on the University of North Texas' Web site). Two articles in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (September 1, 1912, and February 23, 1914) mention John Swartz at the 705½ Main St. address. That address also appears on the front matte of photos from the same time period.

A Fort Worth Telegram article of November 11, 1901, mentions Harvey Logan's capture in Tennessee and how he had spent some time in Fort Worth a few weeks earlier: "It was only a very few days after Logan's departure that Detective Charley Scott (now dead) got a line on the fact that he had been in town, and as an evidence that Charley was right after him, there is now at the police headquarters a photograph of Logan and three pals, dudish-looking guys, that Charley had in his possession and exhibited after it was learned that the birds had flown."

There is never a "last word" in history. We historians and researchers never give up looking for another piece of the puzzle, another clue, another validation. There will always be new information come to light as long as someone out there is searching. Whether we choose to accept this information or ignore it, well, that is up to the reader. I think we can all agree on one thing: The Fort Worth Five made a stupid mistake having their photograph taken while on the lam. Whether drunk with arrogance or drunk with liquor, they would have been better off getting tattoos. Anyone with questions about my findings on the Fort Worth Five photo can e-mail me.

I enjoyed the Selcer/Donnell article on the Fort Worth Five photograph. However, I do have two minor disagreements with the article. First, the date on the Pinkerton circular—shown as May 1901—is obviously incorrect. The train robbery near Wagner, Mont., (mentioned in the circular) didn't take place until July 1901. The actual date of the wanted poster should be January 1902. Second, the authors express doubts about any Pinkerton involvement in the discovery of the gang members in Fort Worth and the outlaws' quick exit. When Harvey Logan was arrested in Knoxville, Tenn., W.P. Chandler of the Knoxville Sentinel interviewed him. In the article, which included their departure from Fort Worth, Logan stated, "One day one of us saw a Pinkerton detective on the street, and in 30 minutes the apartment was empty." That statement is rather self-explanatory. And I still believe that Butch Cassidy was the leader of the Wild Bunch.

Donna B. Ernst
Lederach, Pa.

More on Finn Burnett
As a great-great-grandson of Fincelius Gray Burnett, I found John Koster's article on him in the December 2011 "Western Enterprise" both interesting and accurate. It's refreshing to see a story not only on a very colorful figure but also one from my own family. I have Finn's notes describing his entire life, which author Robert Beebe David used to write Finn Burnett, Frontiersman (1937). These notes, lost to the family for years before being found 10 years ago, were transcribed by one of Finn's granddaughters, in a conversation she had with him many years ago. My great-grandmother never particularly liked the book, saying it was lifeless and should have had more facts and mentioned more family members.

The story that sticks in my mind most is the one on the name "Finn." Fincelius' parents, Washington Jefferson Burnett and Eliza Asbury, lived in Missouri, and the story goes that the boy's nickname came from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The family had a much-loved slave named George, and Fincelius' uncle David was captain of the riverboat Lucy Bertram. According to Finn, his life mirrored Huck's in a lot of ways, and the Clemens family evidently knew my great-great-great-grandparents back in Missouri. "I wonder where Samuel got the idea to write about Huck?" Fincelius asks in the notes. In truth, he was named for Fincelius Gray, a preacher who had helped raise him.

As Koster mentions in his article, Finn left Missouri to avoid conscription in the Union Army ("Imagine me a deserter," Finn told his granddaughter). On August 1, 1862, Finn went to Barry County, Mo., to enlist as a private in a Confederate unit, Company C of the Missouri 11th Infantry Regiment, and he served for a couple of years. Not wanting to be conscripted into the Union Army, and under advice from his father, Finn and a friend named Joe left Missouri in January 1865 to head west.

Out West, Finn took part in the 1865 Powder River Expedition. Eventually he, as Koster points out, became a "hay contractor" and got caught in the middle of Indian tensions. Finn knew some controversy. For instance, he was adamant that the commanding officer in the 1867 Hayfield Fight, Colonel Luther Bradley, had acted cowardly and almost cost Finn and others their lives. Bradley's family, of course, defended the officer. Finn became friendly with the Shoshones, as Koster notes, and this carried on to his daughter (my great-grandmother) Margaret, who taught English to the Indians. Margaret married William Lee Simpson, the only attorney to ever convict outlaw Butch Cassidy, but that's a whole other story. Finn was an amazing person, according to my mother, who luckily had a chance to live with him before he died in May 1933. He knew Jim Bridger, Sacagawea and Chief Washakie. Finn and his wife were given the Indian names "Wingo" and "Seezembaugh" (Rose Flower).

Jon Sneddon
Lake Tapps, Wash.

Columbia Still on the Map
In your Westerners article "Hosing the Competition" on P. 16 of the October 2011 issue, it says that the mining town of Columbia, Colo., founded in 1878, had a name change: "In 1887 the post office changed its name to Telluride to avoid confusion with a California town that no longer exits."

That statement is wrong. Columbia, Calif., is alive! There is a post office, grocery store, bank, live theater, saloon, three restaurants, museums, elementary school (I went to), candy store (the best candy), hotel and courtroom. Did you know it missed by a few votes from becoming the capital of California?

Joan McAllister
Via our Web site

The editor responds: Thanks. We do know Sacramento is the capital of California. And we hear tell that the central part of the gold rush town of Columbia is now a well preserved state historic park. Next time we're in town we'll be sure to try the hard candy.

Please send letters to Wild West, 19300 Promenade Dr., Leesburg, VA 20175.



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