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Wild West - December 2010 - Letters from Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: October 01, 2010 
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'I don't pretend to omniscience or even to possess inside knowledge of [Frederick] Benteen's motives, unlike Paul Hutton, editor of The Custer Reader, who views Benteen's inability to find and support [George Armstrong] Custer as entirely a matter of choice resulting from hatred for Custer'

Bronc-Buster Bonnie
I showed your August 2010 "Westerners" photo of Bonnie McCarroll being thrown from a horse to my friend Tom Shelton, who lives on the side of a caliche hill in the Rosalios about 30 miles from Tilden in the free state of McMullen County, Texas. Tom is 84, and his grandmother and parents (Dick and Reine Shelton) were Wild West show and rodeo people in the early 1900s and up to the 1930s. They are all in the halls of fame in Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Tom replied:

Thank you for the picture of Bonnie's being bucked off Silver in 1915. Her hobbles broke, which was the cause of her being thrown so far out front. Her husband, Frank, often arranged for Bonnie to 'draw' some rough stock, because it gave Bonnie a chance to win day money as well as qualify for champion, if she didn't get bucked off during the show. If a rider is bucked off, it disqualifies them from the championship but not the day monies. Bonnie was a very good bronc rider, according to Reine. Reine and Dick were close friends of Bonnie and Frank. Reine and Dick made the Northwest rodeo circuit in 1927, 1928 and 1929. Dick competed against Frank in bulldogging, and Reine competed against Bonnie in bronc riding. Reine had won bronc riding in Madison Square Garden in 1925. They were at the 1929 show (Pendleton Roundup) where Bonnie was fatally injured, resulting from her foot going through the stirrup and hanging. Yakima Canutt had designed stirrups for Bonnie rigged to keep her feet in the stirrups….Even though her foot was jammed through the stirrup in the bronc's fall, it should have yanked free by the second jump anyway. It was my parents' opinion that the 'hang-up stirrup' was a major factor in Bonnie's fatal injury.

Jack Seals
Beeville, Texas

Happy Clampers
I am a longtime Wild West subscriber and satisfied reader of Western history and lore, as well as an active Clamper and member of E Clampus Vitus. I am an X-Noble Grand Humbug (XNGH) of the John P. Squibob Chapter No. 1853, representing both San Diego and Imperial Counties in California. In addition, I am an X-Sublime Noble Grand Humbug (XSNGH) of E Clampus Vitus. In translation, the titles represent past president of the Squibob Chapter and past national president of the Ancient and Honorable Brotherhood of E Clampus Vitus.

The August 2010 "Pioneers & Settlers" article, "The Clampers of the Old West Were a Cut Below the Masons," by Dave McCormick, was accurate and enjoyable reading. McCormick did his homework, leaving out enough information to provide subsequent articles regarding the Clampers. We, of Squibob Chapter, are proud of our patron namesake, Lieutenant George Horatio Derby, and of helping to preserve and promote a portion of our great Western history as members of E Clampus Vitus, more directed to the protection of the widders and orphans. Thank you, and a Clamper "satisfactory" to McCormick.

Harrison P. Barton
El Centro, Calif.

I read with interest the article on Clampers in the August issue. Last year I published [an] anthology of literature connected with E Clampus Vitus Redevivus in 1931. Books in the anthology cover the period from 1934 to the centennial of the Gold Rush in 1949. The New Dispensation of E Clampus Vitus resulted in a series of books that were printed in small print runs and are now rare and difficult to obtain. These are all compiled in E Clampus Vitus: Anthology of New Dispensation Lore.

Thomas Duncan
Catheys Valley, Calif.

Thanks for the article on E Clampus Vitus, the Gold Rush fraternity. I am a member of Jim Savage Chapter [No. 1852], Fresno. As an addition to our motto, "I believe because it is absurd," please note that "E Clampus Vitus" has no meaning, except for an accepted "We've gotcha by the balls." We pay no dues but are expected to wear a red shirt whenever a Clamper gathering is announced by our Noble Grand Humbug. We have the option of contributing to the Jackass Fund, for liquid refreshment, of course.

Moton "Bob" Holt
Citrus Heights, Calif.

Badman Marshall Ratliff
I was somewhat surprised to see Marshall Ratliff included with such badmen as John Wesley Hardin, Bill Longley, Jim Miller, Sam Bass and Clyde Barrow in the recently reviewed [December 2009] book Ten Deadly Texans, by Dan Anderson and Laurence J. Yadon. Of course, growing up in Cisco, Texas, I have been familiar since I was a kid with the Santa Claus bank robbery that Ratliff planned and in which he participated. In fact, I knew several of the bank employees who were there that day but at the time had no sense or appreciation of the historical implication they represented.

Since Cisco is in Eastland County, my dad took me to see where they lynched Marshall Ratliff and the county jail where he was housed and from which he tried to escape, killing the jailer, "Uncle Tom" Jones. Before the robbery, Ratliff had been imprisoned for another bank robbery but certainly not murder. While the Santa Claus bank robbery was certainly an exciting event in the small town I came from, it's hard for me to place this man in with such impressive outlaw company. But then, I didn't write the book.

Duff Hale
Midlothian, Texas

Benteen Second-Guessers
Thanks to the June 2010 Custer issue, I've just sent a check for a subscription to Wild West. It was an enjoyable read, especially the article on [Missouri River Captain] Grant Marsh and Robert Barr Smith's defense of Captain Frederick Benteen against latter-day critics. It seems astonishing that more than a century after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the second-guessers are out in force again, at the moment targeting Benteen, who has usually received only minor censure compared to George Custer's obvious blunders (like a nebulous battle plan and dividing his forces in the face of a superior enemy force) and the questionable leadership of Major Marcus Reno. But you might think the current crop of critics were a panel of ESPN sportscasters reviewing a baseball playoff.

Maybe the most unrelenting critique of Benteen on all points is that of the Great Second-Guesser James Donovan, in his 2008 book A Terrible Glory. This is a work supported with a great deal of research but unfortunately rather shallow in assessing the persons involved and myopic in its view of the battle. By second-guessing nearly every officer involved in the campaign, including George Crook, John Gibbon and Alfred Terry, Donovan seems to be trying to restore Custer to something like his former hero status. In the end, Donovan falls into the trap of criticizing Benteen for actions of the kind Donovan had excused Custer for performing on the Washita.

At least, despite Donovan's rationalizations, he concedes that Benteen was impressive in his defense of Reno Hill on the second day of the battle. By contrast, Nathaniel Philbrick, while seeing Custer as an egomaniac with charisma, comes down harder on Benteen in his 2010 book The Last Stand, although, ironically, Philbrick tends to share Benteen's view of Custer. In Philbrick's view, Benteen didn't follow Custer's order to "come on…be quick," failed to have his men build barricades soon enough on Reno Hill and, incredibly, shouldn't have been fatigued enough to get some sleep before the hostiles' attack on the second day. In my opinion, only the second charge has merit.

Curiously enough, Philbrick, despite much sensible criticism of Reno's actions, doesn't seem to comprehend Benteen's indignation over Reno's suggestion (on the evening of the first day) that he and Benteen should take the surviving troops and sneak off, leaving the wounded on Reno Hill to the mercies of the Lakotas and Cheyennes. I suspect that most readers of this magazine will understand Benteen's disgust over that cowardly proposal.

I don't pretend to omniscience or even to possess inside knowledge of Benteen's motives, unlike Paul Hutton, editor of The Custer Reader, who views Benteen's inability to find and support Custer as entirely a matter of choice resulting from hatred for Custer. Perhaps Paul has been communicating with psychics—or talking to the spirits himself.

Edgar L. Chapman
Professor of English Emeritus
Bradley University
Peoria, Ill
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More Pony Stops
In response to the October 2010 "Pony By the Bay" letter by Roger Reed of Walnut Creek, Calif., it appears that Roger also missed the boat concerning details of the Pony Express route between Sacramento and San Francisco. In addition to the Martinez and Lafayette stops, the Pony established six other stations.

If the mail missed the steamboat at Sacramento, the riders did not ride along the Carquinez Strait but followed the route that is now I- 80/I-680. The first station west of Sacramento was the Solano House in Davis, then on to the Halfway House at Silverville (no longer extant, but the town site is marked), Gillespie's Store in Vacaville, the Rockville House in Rockville, then to the Solano Hotel on First Street in Benicia before boarding the ferry to cross the Carquinez Strait. On the Strait's other side was another station, the Woodfords Hotel at Pacheco, between Martinez and Lafayette. The Pony Express Trail Association has established markers at these locations.

Howard Wray
Modesto, Calif.

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