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Wild West - February 2013 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: November 29, 2012 
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Important Ledger
The announcement that the Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Express Train Robbery Ledger would be sold through the Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas (April 2009, P. 80), was met with great excitement and anticipation by those who research and write about these thrilling events. You can imagine my disappointment when I learned the ledger would not be made available so that I could do for the ledger what was done for the Wells, Fargo & Co. Report of Losses From Stagecoach and Train Robbers, 1870–1884.

Still, I decided it might be possible to document the 99 treasure-related events noted in ledger advertising. Using contemporary newspaper sources and records at the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco, I have discovered 113 events during the ledger period and 17 events afterward. Unfortunately, I cannot say with any confidence that I have all the train robberies mentioned in the ledger until that document is made available for research. One day, perhaps, I or someone else will have the opportunity to build upon the record of more than 1,100 American train robberies, more than half of which occurred in the Wild West.

R. Michael Wilson
Las Vegas, Nev.

Editor's note: Author Wilson, even without access to the ledger, recently produced the book Wells, Fargo & Co. vs. the Train Robbers, 1870–1912. "Train robbery," he writes, "was a unique American experience for the last three decades of the 19th century." He details 130 assaults on trains carrying Wells, Fargo treasure, beginning with the November 5, 1870, holdup near Verdi, Nev., of Central Pacific train No. 1. (By then robbers had hit several trains east of the Mississippi River.) He concludes with a December 9, 1912, crime in California on the Santa Fe's Sunset Pacific that involved a Wells, Fargo messenger, though it was technically embezzlement rather than train robbery.

Judge Wells Spicer
You have many stories about the Earps, and I was wondering what you can tell me about Wells Spicer, the judge at the Earp brothers' trial. Where did he come from? What happened to him? I heard that shortly after the trial he was shot. Would appreciate any information you can provide.

Bonnie L. Scheuffele
Nampa, Idaho

Editor responds: After the October 1881 gunfight near Tombstone's O.K. Corral, Justice of the Peace Wells Spicer presided over a hearing (not a trial) now popularly known as the "Spicer Hearing." He ruled that Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday had not engaged in any criminal wrongdoing, and the men never faced trial. Spicer was born in 1831 in upstate New York and spent time in Iowa and Utah Territory (where he defended John D. Lee of Mountain Meadows Massacre infamy) before moving to Tombstone around 1878. He disappeared in 1887 and was rumored to have committed suicide in the Arizona desert, though another report suggests he died in Mexico and was buried there. For more see Lynn R. Bailey's book A Tale of the "Unkilled": The Life, Times and Writings of Wells W. Spicer (1999) and Cochise County Stalwarts: A Who's Who of the Territorial Years (2000), by Bailey and Don Chaput.

'Lakota activist Russell Means stood and, with characteristic arrogance, scoffed and said, "The Arapahos just held our horses" '

Arapahos at the Little Bighorn
As I read John Koster's article "The 'Arapaho Five' at the Little Bighorn" [June 2012], I was reminded of something that happened when I was chief historian at the battlefield back in the early 1990s. At one of the initial meetings the National Park Service convened to explore the possibility of establishing an Indian memorial at Little Bighorn, someone suggested the Arapahos should be represented in the discussions. Lakota activist Russell Means stood and, with characteristic arrogance, scoffed and said, "The Arapahos just held our horses." I was impressed with how the animosities stemming from that event linger, even among American Indians today.

Doug McChristian
Tucson, Ariz.

Texas in Australia
Congratulations to Paul Hutton for a fascinating compilation of the history of the Alamo ["The Alamo, Well Remembered"]. Much of the information in his award-winning February 2011 article [a 2012 Western Writers of America Spur Award winner] I did not know.

Two stories from our travels to Australia: 1) We were visiting a small craft fair in north Queensland. When I struck up a conversation with an exhibitor, he asked where we were from. I replied, "Texas." He said, "Oh, yes, that's not far from the border of New South Wales, is it? (Look it up.); 2) On that same trip we were dining in a lovely restaurant in Cairns. The musician was singing his heart out and strolled over to ask for requests. When we identified ourselves as Texans, he mentioned that his father had become friends with World War II servicemen when they reoccupied the Philippines. They had taught him many songs, which the son had adapted into his repertoire. Then, he looked at us quizzically and asked, "What is an 'Alamo'?" He had been singing "Rose of San Antone" for years not knowing what that meant. We, of course, were happy to explain at length.

Ann McDonald
Via e-mail

Send letters to Wild West, 19300 Promenade Dr., Leesburg, VA 20176 or by e-mail.


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