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Wild West - August 2011 - Letters from Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: June 03, 2011 
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'Travis may not have drawn a line in the sand, but any good commander—despite all options being fatal—would want his men to feel like their sacrifice was meaningful and important. If Travis didn't draw the line, he should have'

Curly Bill Photo
I enjoyed reading the article "Dangerous and Inept: Curly Bill's Brutal Assault," by Peter Brand, in your February 2011 issue. On P. 44 is a depiction of Curly Bill Brocius by artist Lee McCarty with a caption that says there are no known photos of him. Behind the stage in the Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone, Ariz., is a framed copy of the original photograph of Curly Bill Brocius.

Owner Bill Hunley says he found the photograph years ago when he was rummaging through a box of odds and ends and accidentally dropped the box on the floor. The bottom of the box was lined with what appeared to be a blank piece of paper. Hunley said he had examined the contents in the box many times in the past but never thought to turn the liner over to see what might be on the other side. When Hunley began picking up the items from the floor, he noticed for the first time that the liner was actually an old photograph. Upon closer examination, Hunley said he knew immediately that the person in the photo was Curly Bill Brocius (see image above).

Today, the original photograph of Curly Bill is kept in the Bird Cage Theatre archives. The caption below the photo hanging backstage reads, "This is the only known photo of Curly Bill Brocius—Bird Cage Photo." This story appears in my self-published 2010 book The Bird Cage Theatre: A Guide to Legends, Artifacts and Ghosts, sold exclusively at the Bird Cage Theatre and its Web site.

Charles W. Edelman
Albuquerque, N.M.

Editor responds: Thanks for the image. Author Brand and others I spoke with are not convinced it is a photo of the Curly Bill Brocius who made his mark as a Tombstone Cowboy and is believed to have been killed in March 1882 by Wyatt Earp during the latter's vendetta. "As far as I know, there are no confirmed pictures of Curly Bill," said Earp biographer Casey Tefertiller. "It would be very nice to know the provenance of any of the photos that claim to be him. In dealing with photos, provenance is essential."

Catch That Train
I just finished reading "Curly Bill's Brutal Assault" in your February issue. Peter Brand notes that one of Curly Bill's victims, young Ben-Israel Butler, left Fort Bliss, Texas, on May 21, 1878, and headed up the Rio Grande in an Army ambulance wagon with the intent of catching the train in Santa Fe for his trip to Boston. The wagon journey would have required a snail's pace.

The first rail cars of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad did not pierce the northern border of New Mexico Territory until December 1878. In late February 1879 Pueblo's Colorado Weekly Chieftain reported that a celebratory trainload of dignitary excursionists had left Trinidad, Colo., bound for the Santa Fe's first New Mexico station at Otero (about six miles south of present-day Raton). Before reaching the summit of Raton Pass, the small engine was switched with a much larger 59-ton locomotive, which had the power to pull eight cars up the steep switchback rail line. (The much smaller engines could only pull one car up the same grade.) The railroad had named the colossal locomotive "Uncle Dick," in honor of onetime mountain man and Raton Pass toll road operator Richard L. Wootton.

David F. Myrick, in his book New Mexico's Railroads, notes that the southbound rails reached Las Vegas on Independence Day 1879. Rail laying crews then tackled Glorieta Canyon before reaching the relative flat land near Galisteo Junction (now Lamy). Work on the 20-mile line from Galisteo Junction to Santa Fe was not completed until February 9, 1880, 21 months after Ben-Israel Butler left Fort Bliss to catch the train.

Mike Maddox
Aztec, N.M.

Author Peter Brand responds: My mistake. Thank you for the specific information on the railroad.

Misremembering the Alamo
In regard to William Groneman III's "Misremembering the Alamo" in your February 2011 issue: The "line in the sand" (probably dirt) is still controversial, but there were at least three people who attested to the fact. Madam Candelaria (Andrea Villanueva) was supposedly a nurse for James Bowie and witnessed the Travis gesture of the line. Candelaria was a curandero (Mexican folk healer) and was asked by Sam Houston to enter the Alamo and treat Bowie. Although there are some who dispute she was in the Alamo at the time of the battle, she was granted a state pension for taking care of Bowie, secured through the aid of many prominent people of the day. Enrique Esparza, a young boy at the time of the battle, also stated he witnessed the Travis gesture. Most reliable is the statement of Susanna Dickinson, the only adult Anglo survivor of the battle. She said she was an eyewitness to the time Travis used his sword to draw the line. She maintained this until her death many years later.

As for Louis "Moses" Rose, there is strong evidence he was at the Alamo during the battle. In fact, it is stated that he fought bravely for the first 10 days of the battle, but when Travis drew the line, Moses decided to leave (he acquired his nickname for his age at the time), because, "By God, I wasn't ready to die."

He went on to open a butcher shop in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he also served as witness to many heirs of the Alamo defenders trying to get their land claims certified. Moses died in Logansport, La., in 1851. Finally, I have never seen or heard of a number exceeding 200 as being the number of defenders at the battle. I live 30 miles from the Alamo, use its research facilities often in my writing, and there are nowhere near that number engraved on any plaque at the mission.

Don Blevins
San Marcos, Texas

William Groneman III responds: A remarkable thing about the Alamo is that it still inspires strong emotions and stronger opinions. Yes, accounts attributed to Candelaria, Esparza and Dickinson all contain variations on the "line in the sand" story. All of these come after William Zuber launched his story in 1873 and firmly entrenched the tale in Texas lore. It is impossible to determine how much the reporters of these later "eyewitness" versions influenced the witnesses.

Regarding Madam Candelaria supposedly serving as Bowie's nurse: The key word here is "supposedly." Bowie was not ill on the first day of the Alamo siege on February 23, 1836. Word would have had to have reached Houston, who didn't arrive in Austin until February 29. With all the demands of hammering together a constitution and government at the Texas convention and organizing an army, Houston would have had to send a messenger back to San Antonio, which by then was already occupied by Mexican troops, instructing Candelaria to care for Bowie. This story comes from no other source than Candelaria herself.

There is no strong evidence that a Louis Rose was at the Alamo. His name appears on no pre-siege muster rolls. He may have said later, "By God , I wasn't ready to die," but he definitely never said, "By God, Travis drew a line, and everybody crossed, but I didn't want to, etc."

Regarding the number of Alamo defenders, Mr. Blevins gets right to the problem that has hampered Alamo studies for years when he writes, "There are nowhere near that number [of names] engraved on any plaque at the mission." For many people, once something is etched in stone, the need for further investigation stops. In fact, the Alamo cenotaph includes the name of Sherod Dover (in stone) as an Alamo martyr. Walter Lord pointed out in his 1961 book A Time to Stand that Dover was murdered and his killer hanged months before the Alamo siege. The cenotaph does not include the name of Damasio Ximenes, who was added to the official DRT list within the last 20 years.

To those interested in these subjects, I urge you to read the late Tom Lindley's book Alamo Traces (2003) and, humbly, my own Eyewitness to the Alamo, Revised Edition (2001). If they do not clear up any misunderstandings about the Alamo, they will at least explain why the misunderstandings exist. John Steinbeck said it best, "Like most passionate nations Texas has its own private history based on, but not limited by, facts."

Sacrifice at the Alamo
I was delighted to see great articles on the Alamo by Paul Hutton and Bill Groneman in the February 2011 Wild West. Travis may not have drawn a line in the sand, but any good commander—despite all options being fatal—would want his men to feel like their sacrifice was meaningful and important. If Travis didn't draw the line, he should have.

Further, from Bill's perspective, he is correct that Travis had enough men—additional defenders would have strained rations during a siege. But Bill also talks of a hoped for relief and breakout. Santa Anna's remarkable winter forced march achieved surprise and trapped Travis in the Alamo. Whether he wanted to delay the "Napoléon of the West" or not, Travis would have needed four to six men to serve each of his 18 cannon. That's 90 men, leaving him less than 100 to man the walls where he would have needed a rifleman every six feet and still more men to form a reserve and conduct support services. As Crockett said in the movie, "We're gonna need more men." Once the Mexicans were inside the walls, the fight was over. Armed with slow-loading rifles, the Texians would have been run through as they tried to reload. No matter how we read it, the story is one of incredible courage and sacrifice in the name of freedom.

Doug Hocking
Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Kills Two Is His Name
On P. 7 of "Letters" in the June 2011 issue, the Indian Kills Two is once incorrectly referred to as "Two Kills," an editing mistake. The corrected sentence: John Anderson, who owned this copy of the Big Missouri Winter Count, has in his typewritten list of his Indian art collection written "Kills Two."

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