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Wild West - December 2009 - Letters from Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: October 01, 2009 
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'Thus the sources these authors cite do not hold up to scrutiny when closely examined as to any role Crazy Horse definitely and personally played in the Fetterman Fight'

Crazy Horse Image
I read the news item on P. 8 of your "Roundup" section in the June issue about the "Crazy Horse" picture. Surfing the Net one day, I came across a supposedly authentic copy of a tintype of Crazy Horse [from the Custer Battlefield Museum]. What do you know about this other "Crazy Horse" photo? I am an avid reader of anything that has to do with native American history. Keep the great stuff coming. I just can't get enough of your super, super magazine.

Howard Sizemore
Maple City, Mich.

The editor responds: The photo in our June issue is not of Crazy Horse (Tasunka Witko), as History Detectives investigators proved. The studio photo you provided was first published more than 50 years ago; it was supposedly taken in 1877 at Camp Robinson, Nebraska Territory (where Crazy Horse died), and owned by the half-French, half-Sioux scout Baptiste "Little Bat" Garnier. Few historians or photo experts today accept it as an authentic portrait of Crazy Horse; some say it is No Neck, who surrendered with Crazy Horse. It is possible Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed.

Crazy Horse Role
In the "Interview" in the August 2009 issue of Wild West, historian John H. Monnett questions Crazy Horse's decoy role at the Fetterman Fight. Monnett says there is a lack of original Indian sources. I am currently reading the 2005 book The Journey of Crazy Horse, by Joseph M. Marshall III, who was raised on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Marshall reports hearing oral history about Crazy Horse's role as the leader of the decoys.

Ed Colbach
West Linn, Ore.

John Monnett responds: I am quite certain that people living and growing up on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations from the 1940s to the present have heard stories of Crazy Horse's role as leader of the decoy party at the Fetterman Fight of December 21, 1866. Many of these later stories have found their way into print and other media in recent times. James M. Marshall's recent novel Hundred in the Hand tells the tale of a young man who accompanied Crazy Horse in the battle. The book is a good read and an excellent piece of fiction as to form. None other than Stephen Ambrose in his nonfiction Crazy Horse and Custer relates a vivid account of Crazy as a decoy at the battle; so too has Larry McMurtry in his short-form biography of Crazy Horse and in his fictional Boone's Lick. Kingsley Bray in his highly acclaimed nonfiction Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life does the same.

The problem is that none of these tales ever appeared to the larger public prior to 1942. Thus the sources these authors cite do not hold up to scrutiny when closely examined as to any role Crazy Horse definitely and personally played in the Fetterman Fight. During the summer of 1930, Eleanor Hinman of the Nebraska State Historical Society, and her friend, Mari Sandoz, who in 1930 had yet to write anything about Indians, interviewed several aged friends and relatives of Crazy Horse who were still living on the reservations. There were no less than 10 interviews, including four with He Dog, Crazy Horse's friend since boyhood. These informants went into detail about Crazy Horse's life from birth to death. None of them mention Crazy Horse's presence at the Fetterman Fight, let alone his being one of the decoys or their leader. Prior to 1930, others like Eli S. Ricker interviewed a number of Lakotas who were in the Fetterman Fight, including fellow Oglala American Horse and George Sword (Sword Owner), both of whom were decoys. Ricker interviewed Horn Chips, also a friend of Crazy Horse's since boyhood. These three warriors make no mention of Crazy Horse at the battle. Other eyewitnesses interviewed in the early 20th century include warriors like White Bear (Minneconjou), Fire Thunder (Oglala), Little Wolf (Cheyenne, whose brother was a decoy killed in the Fetterman Fight) and White Elk (Cheyenne). These warriors were in the battle and told their stories long after the death of Crazy Horse but make no mention of him being a decoy in the Fetterman Fight. The cornerstone of Indian eyewitness accounts of the fight is the autobiography of White Bull (Minneconjou), Warpath, written by Walter S. Campbell in the 1930s. Again, White Bull makes no mention of Crazy Horse at the Fetterman Fight, although he tells of Crazy Horse's heroics at the Wagon Box Fight in 1867 and during the 1870s.

We do not know why Eleanor Hinman did not write the biography of Crazy Horse she had intended after completing the interviews, but she relinquished her notes to Sandoz. In 1942 Sandoz published Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas, actually a "fictional" biography. Here we see for the first time the dramatic exploits of Crazy Horse as a decoy at the Fetterman Fight. Even though the tactics and ruses employed by the decoys are accurate as to cultural content, they were attributed to Big Nose (Cheyenne), whose story as a decoy was told by his brother, Little Wolf, to George B. Grinnell in the early 20th century. Mari Sandoz lists no sources for her claims either in her books or her handwritten notes as to Crazy Horse in respect to these actions. And, as mentioned earlier, there is nothing in the Hinman interviews Sandoz based her book on that relate any hint of Crazy Horse as a decoy in the Fetterman Fight. Even George Hyde, in his early 20th-century interviews with Two Moon, did not claim Two Moon said Crazy Horse was in the fight, although he did so in later printings of Red Cloud's Folk, published in the 1940s long after Two Moon's death.

Yet these actions attributed to Crazy Horse by Sandoz by the late date of 1942 have since appeared in numerous publications as facts. As I addressed in my book Where A Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth (see P. 210–219), anthropologists and historians have pointed out that sometimes stories show up in Indian oral tradition that were often contrived by whites with the tool of the written word. Usually, such stories are too dramatic in nature, intended to make readers of the written word see what Indians or certain individual Indians "could have" or "should have" done in line with cultural contexts. The Sandoz tale is too dramatic and heroic not to be repeated in secondary histories and novels or, for that matter, not to be adopted into modern oral heroic tradition. But the fact remains that virtually none of the original Indian testimonies by participants in the Fetterman Fight, who knew Crazy Horse or were his contemporaries, even mentioned Crazy Horse as being a decoy in the fight or even being in the fight—and they were interviewed long after Crazy Horse had become famous to the larger world. They praised his exploits during the Wagon Box Fight and the engagements of the 1870s but not the Fetterman Fight. These stories start showing up in 1942.

If there were living contemporaries who knew Crazy Horse (they were gone by the 1940s) and did indeed remember him in the Fetterman Fight, their stories were never told to the outside world or held secret by family custom. If so, both Indian and non-Indian people have missed out on a chance to learn some wonderful history that could be verified for people of all cultures.

Jessie Evans' Story
The August 2009 feature "The Search for Jessie Evans," by David Turk and Rick Parker, is the well-worn mixture of what little is known about the man and a series of conjectures (I am beginning to loathe the use of the word "likely" in such contexts), which together might be defined as rehashed rehash. The Texas Ranger photograph purportedly featuring Billy the Kid also features a rifle which was not manufactured until some years after the Kid's death, the "Pecos" photograph is very old hat indeed, and the biographical propositions just do not work. The spelling "Jessie" was first propagated by Phillip Rasch back in the 1960s, predicated on a document Evans was said to have signed.

Here, however, are the vital stats for Jesse (taken when he entered the penitentiary at Huntsville in 1880: Texas State Archives in RG 021, Records of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Convict Record Ledger 1998/038-151, #9078. Jesse Evans. Age: 27. Height: 5'5". Weight: 150. Complexion: fair. Eyes: gray. Hair: light. Marks on person: two large scars on left thigh, one bullet scar above and one below left elbow. Marital relations: none. Does not use tobacco. Limited education. Occupation: laborer. Nativity: Missouri. Convicted: October 16, 1880. Offenses: murder and robbery. Term of imprisonment: 10 years. County: Presidio. Residence: Fort Davis. No money. Received at penitentiary: December 1, 1880. Expiration of sentence: October 16, 1900. (Escaped: May 23, 1882.)

In the complete absence of any valid information to the contrary, and since there would not appear to be any reason for him to have lied on this occasion, we have to believe Jesse (not Jessie) was born in Missouri in 1853 and, therefore, cannot have been either H.W. or Sam Daves (who ya gonna believe, a census enumerator or a death certificate?). The idea of a high-profile pistolero like Jesse Evans living unrecognized in a town as small as Carrizozo is nothing short of risible, and the authors' attempt to tie it all in with Texas Jack Vermillion stretches believability even further. If such a suspect is needed, surely a far better one would be the Texas Jack for whom Governor Lew Wallace offered a reward, later a fighter in the Coe-Stockton feud?

Nothing wrong with it as an article (the words are all spelled correctly and so forth), but—and it's a big one—a string of what-ifs, likelies and might-bes cannot and do not constitute history.

Frederick Nolan
Bucks, England

David Turk responds: While I respect Nolan's body of work on the Lincoln County War, I couldn't disagree more with his critique of my co-written article. His remarks centered around misunderstood or hasty conclusions. Among these:

• On P 42–43, I am not concluding that H.W. Daves actually lived in Carrizozo, New Mexico. Instead, it was a presentation of reported rumors of that association. A careful look at P. 43 will show that Ben Loving Daves, the brother of H.W., definitely lived near Carrizozo about 1910–1914.

• The late Phil Rasch was not the originator of the spelling of Jessie's name with the letter I included. An affidavit in Frank Angel's Report in the National Archives, Record Group (RG) 60, College Park, Md., has his signature on it. Further corroborating documents spelled by contemporaries who were familiar with him: Lincoln County Sheriff George W. Peppin on the paperwork for the "Bonds of Jessie Evans approved July 6, 1878," in the Rio Grande Collections, New Mexico State University, and Case No. 279, "The Territory vs. Jessie Evans," New Mexico State Archives. I don't argue there were other interpretations of the spelling, as in the case papers mentioned. Someone else interpreted, and the signature was clearly "Jessie" on the Angel document.

• The research on Jim Glenn is completely fresh, and there is no conjecture in it. Sure, the photographs have been seen before, but no one identified Glenn in them before. It corroborates a connection between a) the Texas Rangers and b) some of the participants of the Lincoln County War. The Daves connection is a what-if with a trail of circumstantial clues, but so many that omission would be irresponsible. Given both these new tangents toward identifying Jessie Evans, this is not only history but historical analysis. I'm confused what Nolan considers "rehashed" or "well worn" when this has never been presented.

• The Pettit photograph was included to compare the James R. Glenn images, not either of the Kid or the gun. A later period photograph (if indeed it was mistaken by Pettit) doesn't discredit my use of the photograph for this purpose.

As Nolan is a respected authority on the Lincoln County War, I felt it important to answer this thoroughly. Answering the what-if and the likely is what makes history fascinating, and it should be encouraged to bring more to the table for everybody.

I'd just like to throw out a few observations on the picture "Texas Rangers in 1878" on P. 38 of your August issue, which purports to show Billy the Kid on the right. First, all the descriptions of the Kid I've seen describe him as slender or wiry. I would describe the man in the picture as stocky or husky. Second, the odds that the kid was a Texas Ranger in 1878 are slimmer than the guy in the picture. Third, he wasn't known as Billy the Kid in 1878. Of course, he could have joined up under another name, and the picture could have been labeled later by someone who recognized him by his "newspaper name," but that's unlikely. Most likely, the guy in the picture was someone really named Billy who just happened to be the youngest guy in the troop, so they called him the Kid. The picture was probably labeled in 1878 by someone who could have had no idea that the alias "Billy the Kid" was going to be significant a couple of years later.

Paul Kelly
Delta, Colo.

David Turk responds: There has been a great deal of response [including at least a dozen letters to Wild West] to the Pettit photograph used in "The Search for Jessie Evans." Gun experts believe Glenn is holding an 1884 Colt Lightning rifle. While I am not disputing this, it does not discredit the photograph for its evidentiary value in this article. The purpose of utilizing the photograph was to associate Glenn with the Texas Rangers in the same historical period. While both are interesting, my focus was neither the Kid nor the rifle. Regardless, the interest alone is prompting further research on the part of my co-author, Rick Parker, and his associated experts in the field.

Given this interest, the legible writing on the back of the photo, which was not seen in the article, says the following: "I will say that the [illegible] mother's [illegible] me much now—it was taken the day before I started [for] Mexico, and I have Broken in [with] greatly since." New Mexico was sometimes termed as simple "Mexico." This was clearly written after the fact. The writing is certainly period, but later than the photograph was taken—in other words, the writing could have been a decade or two later. Kelly makes a good point there was more than one "Billy the Kid" in the history of outlaws. True. I have also seen alleged photographs of the Kid thin and heavier. This is a valid question for another historian to tackle.

I co-authored with James H. Powell the book Jessie Evans, Lincoln County Badman (produced by Creative Publishing, College Station, Texas, 1983). This biography of Jessie Evans documented the known facts of his life up to the time of publication.

The article in the August issue by David S. Turk and Rick Parker documented the writers' research to date and is a contribution to filling in the blanks in the history of the American West. Although this excellent article did not prove the whereabouts of Jessie Evans in his later life, I am in hopes it will assist other researchers and possibly generate other leads concerning Jessie's life after the Texas prison. Maybe it will shake enough family trees so that the real Jessie Evans of Lincoln County fame will fall out. I hope these two researchers will successfully solve the mystery by more investigation.

Grady McCright
via e-mail

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