‘We lived about 10 miles from Wounded Knee. My best friend, Chuckie Looking Elk, and I played Lone Ranger and Tonto. What kid gets to live out that fantasy with his very own Sioux?’
Another Texas Badman
I read with interest “Texas: Gunfighter Capital of the West” [by Bill O’Neal, October 2011]. The picture I am enclosing (see above) is a bad dude named Brack Cornett, who is described as “another of the Texas badmen who kept the Rangers in the saddle.” I am related to him on my mother’s side; my great-grandfather was Creed Cornett who had a brother, John, who is Brack’s father. What can you tell me about Brack Cornett?
Ocean View, Del.
The editor responds: Brack Cornett was born and raised in Goliad County, Texas, according to Jay Robert Nash’s Encyclopedia of Western Lawmen and Outlaws, though Denis McLaughlin’s Wild and Woolly: An Encyclopedia of the Old West claims he was Louisiana born. Neither book lists a birth date, and there is mostly conflicting information about him in the two encyclopedias. Cornett, whom Nash says was associated with the Bill Whitley Gang, robbed a number of banks and trains in south Texas in the late 1880s before lawman Alfred Allee tracked him down and killed him in 1888. Wild and Woolly says he was 29 when he died. We are interested in hearing from someone who has tracked down Brack and gotten the “true” facts.
Garrett’s First Wife
In your August 2011 issue, Mark Lee Gardner writes in “Pat Garrett: The Life and Death of Great Sheriff” that Pat married Juanita Martínez, who died the day after their wedding. In research for my book Courageous Women: Thirty-Two Short Stories, I found Pat married Juanita Gutiérrez in 1879, and she died a few months later. He then married her sister Apolinaria in January 1880 at Fort Sumner, New Mexico Territory. Which one of us is correct?
Author Mark Lee Gardner responds: There is considerable confusion regarding Garrett’s first marriage. Much of it comes from one of my favorite books, Leon Metz’s classic Garrett biography, Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman. On P. 40 of that book Metz states that Garrett is “said to have married Juanita Gutiérrez in 1877.” He then goes on to say that this Juanita Gutiérrez was presumably a sister of Garrett’s second wife, Apolinaria Gutiérrez. Where Metz got this information is unclear, but it is incorrect. Fort Sumner residents Paulita Maxwell and Paco Anaya both named a Juanita Martínez as Garrett’s first bride. And Pat’s son Jarvis wrote, “Mama did not have a sister named Juanita Gutiérrez.” The 1870 census for San Miguel County, New Mexico Territory, says that José Delores and Feliciana Gutiérrez had two daughters—Celsa, 13, and Apolinaria, 12. No Juanita. For more see my book To Hell on a Fast Horse. Accounts vary as to how long Juanita Martínez lived after her marriage to Pat Garrett, so you can take your pick on that one.
The Super Surveyor
As a retired licensed land surveyor and longtime subscriber to Wild West, I found the article “How the West Was Measured” [“Western Enterprise,” by Tom Straka and Greg Seymour] in your August 2011 issue both accurate and interesting. Many of the less colorful professions get less press in historical periodicals and studies. While this is understandable, it is refreshing to see articles like this one appear from time to time. Often modern land surveyors become amateur historians out of necessity, since they must deal with 19th-century deeds, maps, monumentation and other evidence as they attempt to establish boundaries. In areas like ours (San Luis Obispo County, Calif.) there is an interesting mix of Mexican land grants, sectionalized lands, late 19th-century subdivisions, old and new deeded lands and modern subdivisions. The surveyor must be part historian, part detective and part archaeologist while dealing with these older surveys. The accuracy of many of the 19th-century land surveys I have dealt with is remarkable considering the terrain and the instruments they used. It is a living testament to the early surveyors and their diligence that current-day surveyors build on such a strong foundation.
Probably of more interest to most laymen is the role land surveying played in Western history with the location of political boundaries, land grant boundaries and boundaries for large tracts of land. In 1976 Francois D. Uzes wrote Chaining the Land, a book focusing on the establishment of the eastern California boundary. The final resolution was still not complete when the book was published. I believe the second edition, published in 2006, completes the story. You can imagine the implications of this boundary being in question. Battles were fought and fortunes at risk because of the questions raised by the location.
And surveying is not without its color. I remember talking to a local surveyor about a boundary he had been working on in a rural area of our county. It seems the boundary between two brothers’ properties (as I recall) was in dispute, and one of the brothers was very unhappy about the survey. One day during the survey the surveyor stepped away from his instrument, heard a rifle shot and watched the instrument fly into pieces. A pickup on a nearby hill drove off, and in his words, “I picked up the pieces and got the hell outta Dodge.” Now, this was about 1980, not 1880.
R. Jack Hunter
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
As a longtime subscriber to Wild West, I was pleased to see in the April 2011 issue “Champion of the Johnson County War,” by Ron Soodalter. I was born in Buffalo, Wyo. As a small boy, my dad milked cows for Red Angus, the sheriff at Buffalo during the Johnson County War. As I write these words, Red Angus’ rifle cartridge belt hangs above my desk—he gave the belt to my dad for “milking well done” (see photo above). I also took note of the advertisement on P. 3 for artist Frank McCarthy’s tribute revolver. My wife’s mother—an accomplished artist, now 97 years old—was Frank McCarthy’s art teacher many years ago. In my wife’s studio we have a small signed portrait of a policeman Frank did in 1938.
As a side note, my dad later managed a ranch on the Pine Ridge Reservation. We lived about 10 miles from Wounded Knee. Our hired man, Paul Bear Saves Life, was a baby at the Wounded Knee Massacre, saved by his grandmother, who ran with him in her arms. Paul’s son died on the beaches of Normandy. My best friend, Chuckie Looking Elk, and I played Lone Ranger and Tonto. What kid gets to live out that fantasy with his very own Sioux? Chuckie’s grandparents had been horse Indians at the Little Bighorn. I went to a one-room school in Oglala—about 100 yards from where Leonard Peltier is accused of killing the two FBI agents in 1975.