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Wild West - December 2012 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: October 02, 2012 
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May's Two Friends
Love your magazine, and the April 2012 issue had multiple articles of interest. My best man friend, George, grew up on a ranch on the Rosebud not 14 miles from the Custer's Last Stand battlefield. I always share your magazine with him, so we get to talking, and I learn a lot more about that area of Montana. I did spend the first three grades of school in Montana, and part of that was in Browning, going to school on the reservation.

My main reason for writing is the April "Westerners" picture "Friends & Firearms in Farmington." I do a lot of research in genealogy and am a good census chaser. So I decided to find out about the other two girls pictured with May Olson. This is what I found from the 1910 census: The three girls lived in Norton Township (near Farmington Township) in Walsh County, N.D. In household No. 91 May is enumerated as age 24, a servant living with the G.H. Garnaas family. In household No. 89 Tilda (Tillie, a nickname), age 18, is living with her parents, Herman and Thoren Hoff. In household No. 88 Ella M., age 24, is living with her mother, Helen Halvoman. Now, since this is such a small community, and the girls are all neighbors, don't you think these are the girls pictured?

Delores Butcher
Moab, Utah

'World-traveled poet Cincinnatus Hiner Miller (1837–1913), a passionate advocate for those without a voice and all-too-often victims of injustice in the lawless West, changed his first name to Joaquín—a rare, for the time, show of compassion'

Murrieta's Story
"Love and the Bandit's Head," by William B. Secrest, in the April 2012 issue, was excellent. Some of the story of the notorious bandit Joaquín Murrieta is lost to time. While living in Downieville, Calif., his brother was accused of stealing a miner's gold (never proved) and hanged. Joaquín's wife was then dragged from their cabin and raped by miners. Avenging the rape of his wife and hanging of his brother, Joaquín went on a murderous rampage that left many innocents who crossed his path dead. Whatever law (if any) there was, it did not include the rights of the Mexican population, so Joaquín's choices were few. World-traveled poet Cincinnatus Hiner Miller (1837–1913), a passionate advocate for those without a voice and all-too-often victims of injustice in the lawless West, changed his first name to Joaquín—a rare, for the time, show of compassion and support for a man whose fate was written by the white world without considering his side of his own story.

Al Schaller
Shasta Lake, Calif.

Murrieta's Head
William Secrest's writes that bandit Joaquín Murrieta's head was buried behind the museum owned by S.J. Jordan after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Was it? In southern Wisconsin is a tourist attraction called House on the Rock, built on a rock pinnacle, and adjacent to it is a museum full of collectables. The house and museum were built by one Alex Jordan. In the "Streets of Yesterday" exhibit, on the desk in the reproduction of a sheriff's office, is a glass jar with the head of Murrieta inside beside a smaller jar with the hand of Three-Fingered Jack.

Richard Toll
Neenah, Wis.

Author William Secrest responds: For many years a Joaquín "head" was floating around in California, turning up in various museums and private collections. It was obviously a fraud. I have heard nothing of it for several years, and the Wisconsin head you saw could be this California one. The California Rangers did bring back Murrieta's actual head. The drawing reproduced in the Wild West article was made from the head in a jar by an artist who worked right around the corner from where it was being displayed in San Francisco. I knew the historian who talked to the janitor who buried the head just after the San Francisco earthquake and fires. He had no axes to grind—he had his own idea that the head was the wrong one, and Joaquín had escaped to Mexico.

Open Range
I very much enjoyed Johnny D. Boggs' interview of After Custer author Paul L. Hedren in the June 2012 issue. I did, however, strongly disagree with Hedren's statement, "The open range era did not survive the 1880s." The open range not only survived the 1880s, it thrived.

In his interview as well as in his book Hedren focused on the cattle industry in Montana, Wyoming and western Dakota Territory. The disastrous winter of 1886–87 did create losses of 75 to 85 percent in the region and forced some major cattle interests off the range. The void left behind gave opportunity to new investors, such as the XIT out of Texas. Other outfits survived the hard winter and continued their operations, such as the 777, the OX and Pierre Wibaux's W Bar.

In After Custer Pierre Wibaux only warranted three sentences, the last of which was false. The Marquis de Morès was never an actual friend, nor was he lured to Dakota by Wibaux. Although both were French, the two men were very different. Wibaux was born in the industrial north of France and knew a lot about business, while de Morès was an aristocrat from the south who had big ideas but little business sense. The two met in Chicago, where de Morès had returned from Dakota and Wibaux had been studying the marketing phase of the cattle industry. At the suggestion of de Morès, Wibaux ventured west and selected the nearby Beaver Valley as a base for his ranching operations. While the book goes into detail about the demise of de Morès and fellow Badlands rancher Theodore Roosevelt, Wibaux is conspicuously absent.

While many cattle barons saw their dreams and investments vanish on the frozen prairies in the winter of 1886–87, Wibaux saw only opportunity. In the spring he observed that only the hardiest cattle survived, the market price for range beef was bound to rise, and the range was no longer overstocked. Acquiring more capital, Wibaux began to buy all the remnants of the former herds at sacrifice prices from ranchers eager to salvage as much as possible from their investments.

At its height in the 1890s the W Bar owned about 65,000 head of cattle. Between 1889 and 1895 Wibaux sold 3,000 to 9,000 head yearly and branded about the same number of calves. His cattle drifted as far south as Wyoming, as far west as the Powder River and as far northeast as the Killdeer Mountains. This was no small ranching operation. By 1901 homesteaders began to move into the Beaver Valley, forcing Wibaux to move his operation to the open range of the triangle, an area formed by the Missouri, Yellowstone and Musselshell rivers. He continued to operate there until 1907. There was no "calamitous end" to the open range. It died a slow and peaceful death at the hands of the homesteader.

Rob Blome
Whitefish, Mont.

Author Paul Hedren responds: Rob Blome's comments about Pierre Wibaux and the death of the open range are correct. Wibaux is another of the larger-than-life characters peopling the open range, and that his legacy is still so relatively unknown is regrettable. My sense is that Wibaux's relationship with the Marquis de Morès was somewhat larger than Blome implies, however. And I see the calamitous winter of 1886–87 as the precipitating action spelling the death of the open range, the demise arriving sooner in some sectors of Sioux country and slower in others, and hastened by homesteaders.

Billy the Kid's Hat
As a New Mexican for 15 years, I've seen prints of Billy the Kid's famous photo many times. I've always wondered about that wacky hat, as it is not exactly the typical cowboy hat. Richard Weddle's cover story in the August 2012 issue didn't mention Billy's hat. It may have been a common, beaver-felt top hat of the era. And there's another possibility. There is a hat with a striking resemblance at the El Paso Museum of History [www.elpasotexas.gov/history]. The museum exhibit identifies the hat: "U.S. Officer's hat.…Felt, leather, wool, c. 1850 to 1870.…On loan from Mr. Waterhouse." From my second-floor window in Las Cruces I can see the cemetery known for the grave site of Sheriff Pat Garrett. Maybe he knew where Billy got that hat?

Mike Jackoboice
Las Cruces, N.M.

Author Richard Weddle responds: Mr. Jackoboice has sharp eyes. The black felt Army hat on exhibit at the El Paso Museum of History does resemble the hat worn by the Kid in the tintype, but it may not be an exact match. It used to be on display at the Cavalry Museum in El Paso. The sides are straight, with a leather sweatband, and inside the crown are stamped U.S. Army and the symbol of an eagle, shield and flag. A gold cord wraps around the hat, ending in two tassels. The top has separated from the crown. Like the Army hat, the Kid's hat resembles "the Clyde," a blocked fur hat so named in the 1879 Sears Roebuck catalog, although it could be of earlier manufacture, as early as 1860. The Clyde sold for a pricey $2.75, but if the Kid had one, it probably belonged to somebody else. It is noted for the 51⁄2-inch-tall crown with straight sides, a flat top and a standard width brim that is wider at the front and back and narrower at the sides. Because of the dead-on angle of the camera, the Kid's brim looks narrower in the front than it really is. Many people dented their crowns and wore their hats tilted toward the sun. Many hats of the right period were manufactured with stylishly dented crowns, divided peaks and swooping curved brims. For more information on the Kid's "wacky" hat see my forthcoming book Billy the Kid: An Iconographic Record.

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