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Wild West - August 2013 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: May 31, 2013 
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Standing Bear and Iron Eyes 
I am a longtime subscriber to Wild West. It is one of a few magazines I actually read cover to cover. I really enjoyed John Koster's February 2013 "Indian Life" article about the Oglala Lakota Indian rights advocate and film actor Luther Standing Bear. It's interesting he was assertive about having real Indians portray Indians in the movies. I'm sure there have been many Native American character actors, but the one that comes to mind is Iron Eyes Cody. I'll always remember that iconic image of Iron Eyes Cody with tears in his eyes as he looked out over a devastated American landscape in a 1970s "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcement. Can you tell me something about his background as an Indian and as an actor?

Dean Treadway
Knoxville, Tenn.

The editor responds: Iron Eyes Cody (1904–99) was some actor all right. He portrayed American Indians in such films as The Big Trail (1930), Sitting Bull (1954) and A Man Called Horse (1970), but he was in fact born in Louisiana, the son of Italian immigrants. His birth name was Espera Oscar de Corti. Even though his claim of Cherokee-Cree ancestry was false, he supported American Indian causes.

He Likes W.H.H. Llewellyn
R.K. DeArment's well researched and superbly crafted articles, such as "Major Llewellyn: In Good Company" (February 2013), continue to appear in your magazine. William Henry Harrison Llewellyn is a Western personality worthy of further study. In 1880 he and Boone May were accused of killing Leon "Curly" Grimes; that didn't stop Llewellyn from hiring Boone at the Mescalero Reservation. [See "Bane of the Badmen: Boone May," by DeArment, December 2010.] In 1883 one Major Butler, supposedly from New Orleans and a former Confederate officer, was recruiting gunmen for Justo Rufino Barrios' revolution in Central America. I suspect this is where Boone May went. James L. "Whispering" Smith probably left at the same time but probably never made it to Guatemala.

Bob Rybolt
Sunnyvale, Calif.

Fan of Doc Middleton
Finally! Granted his name was in an article about W.H.H. Llewellyn, but it's great to read about outlaw Doc Middleton. He still has a following around the Niobrara River area to Fort Robinson. Way to go!

Nancy Arensdorf
Lincoln, Neb.

Editor responds: Yes, Doc Middleton is one of Nebraska's more colorful Wild West characters. He was the subject of our "Gunfighters and Lawmen" in February 1999.

Tong Influence
As a longtime amateur buff on Deadwood, I enjoyed "Death of Deadwood's China Doll," by Jerry Bryant and Bill Markley, in the February 2013 issue. Perhaps there is a simple answer for the mystery death of Di Lee. Anytime a Chinatown was established on the 19th-century frontier it was pretty much a given that a related tong (secret organization) came into being. Much like a crime syndicate based on clan lines, the Chinese merchants were required to pay a tithing to the tong for protection in return. This was simply in keeping with the culture—they kept it to themselves regarding regulation and meting out of punishment. Di Lee may have refused cooperation with the tithing, which was not unheard of.

Control of prostitution was another key factor in a tong operation. As early as the 1850s a $300 tithing per annum was the going rate, and since that time the tongs or gangs of Chinese pimps, opium traders and black market merchants had been rapidly extending to the frontier via San Francisco. Tong enforcers were notoriously called hatchet men, or boo how doy, signifying the brutality used when carrying out a murder—sometimes using literal hatchets. Use of knives, pistols and sawed-off shotguns are also documented.

Within my own study of peace officer Morgan Earp and his relationship with the Celestial community in Butte, Montana Territory, clues steadily emerged regarding the very first tong by the dominant clan in that locale—the Chung Tong—with the appropriate hatchet man plying his trade. Incidentally, the words that researchers see so often—Ah, Wah, Tsin, Wung, Chung, etc.—are not proper names as has been popularly supposed in this country. They are a mixture of name and title—being the equivalent of shyster, trickster, bummer dead-beat, etc., in our language. When more than one tong emerged vying for control, war broke out. Tong wars of Butte became common knowledge via the press by the early 20th century.

Kenneth B. Vail
Commerce, Texas

When Shott Shot Not
I really enjoyed the Texas tongue twister "When Shott Shot Not" in your December 2012 "Roundup News" (P. 11). After I untied the knot behind my Texas teeth, I wondered if this short article was based on a real duel that occurred in my home state and when the story was originally printed. The author stated that some sources credit the duel tale to the April 1867 Printer's Circular. I believe organized dueling had fallen out of favor with the public after the horrors of the Civil War, so this date seemed too late to me. I did a little digging in some old newspapers, and I think I found the original story in the April 14, 1858, Trinity Advocate out of Palestine, Texas. This 28-word piece was one of several humorous items in a section called "Facts, Fun and Fancy." In this early version of the twister, John S. Nott is Mr. T. Knott, and he was shot by A.W. Shott in Mississippi, not in Texas. It reads: "A DUEL was fought in Mississippi last week by Mr. T. Knott and Mr. A.W. Shott. The result was that Knott was shot, and Shott was not." This wording of the duel tale was reprinted all over the United States, and the next year it was expanded into a seven-stanza poem. I've come to the conclusion this witty story was a good shot at Wild West humor, not an actual Shott and Nott shootout.

Sloan Rodgers
Austin, Texas

The Powers' Hired Man
In the October 2012 "Gunfighters and Lawmen" article [by Thomas Cobb], about the lawmen who tried to arrest the Power brothers, there appears to be a contradiction. Paragraph two states in part, "Seconds later the Powers' hired man, Tom Sisson, fatally shot Graham County Sheriff Frank McBride." In the second to last paragraph of the article it says, "Authorities sent the Power brothers and Sisson (though there was no evidence the latter had fired a shot during the gunfight, and both brothers swore he didn't) to the Arizona State Prison in Florence for life." Maybe no evidence was presented at trial. If so, what is the earlier statement based on, and why aren't the different conclusions explained?

Doug Allen
Oklahoma City

Thomas Cobb responds: This is another mystery of the shootings. Judging from the location of the bodies, it would appear Frank McBride was shot from the sleeping end of the cabin, where Sisson was. But Sisson never admitted shooting McBride, and both brothers did testify Sisson never fired a shot. Interestingly, there is also speculation McBride was shot in the back, which would suggest that Deputy U.S. Marshal Frank Haynes may have accidentally shot him.

King of Potatoes
In further tribute to the late Alex Karras (February 2013 "Roundup"), I would highlight his warm, memorable role as Hans "Potato" Brumbaugh, the Volga-Deutsche (German-Russian) immigrant farmer in the 1978–79 TV miniseries based on James A. Michener's historical novel Centennial. Karras gives a spot-on portrayal of the self-described "King of Potatoes" in this award-winning show, highlighting the early exploration and settlement of the Colorado.

Edward F. Patch
Manchester, N.H.

No 'H' In Little Pittsburg
In the February 2013 issue of Wild West, note on P. 60 that you saw fit when listing the Little Pittsburg Mine in Colorado to write "Little Pittsburg [sic]." Does this mean when I send a letter to Pittsburg, CA I should address it "Pittsburg [sic] CA"? That when I write of the later 19th-century and early 20th-century Pittsburg Pirates I should type "Pittsburg [sic] Pirates," or when writing about the Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad I should type "Pittsburg [sic] & Lake Erie Railroad"? I know that English is an ever changing and dynamic language, and I sometimes fall behind on the latest politically correcting writing style. Thus, I am seeking some guidance from your editorial staff. I enjoy the magazine.

Charles H. Bogart
Frankfort, Ky.

Editor responds: I suppose we could have nixed the "sic." The Pittsburg Mine has no "h" at the end of the word "Pittsburg"—same with Pittsburg, Calif.; Pittsburg, Ala.; Pittsburg, Miss.; Pittsburg, Neb.; Pittsburg, N.M.; and many others. But "Pittsburgh" remains the way to go when writing about the city in Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Pirates now keep the "h," even when they look sick and don't get any "hits."

Gunfighter Named Clark
As a subscriber to Wild West (which in my opinion does an excellent job) and as a collector of books on relatively unknown Old West gunfighters, I would like to know if a book has ever been written about James Cummings Clark (Clarke), who among other things was a city marshal in Telluride, Colo., in the 1890s.

Jay L. Warner
Mountainair, N.M.

Editor responds: We don't know of any book about James Clark, but author R.K. ("Bob") DeArment, who often writes about outlaws and lawmen for Wild West, has this to say: "Yes, there was indeed an interesting gunfighter named Jim Clark who was assassinated in Colorado. I have a file on him, and he is on my list of possible articles for Wild West." Stay tuned.

Email wildwest@weiderhistorygroup.com. Please include full name and home city.

 

 



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