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Wild West - June 2010 - Letters from Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: April 02, 2010 
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'Such informed disagreements among sincere students of the subject are what keeps history such a lively field of inquiry for scholars and laymen alike'

Captain Benteen Quote
In the October 2009 article "Wild and Woolly War of Words," Leo Banks' No. 2 quote is from Captain Frederick Benteen upon seeing the fallen body of Lt. Col. George Custer: "There he is, God damn him. He will never fight anymore." The assertion that Benteen betrayed Custer is preposterous.…Had it not been for Benteen, the Indians would have crushed Major Marcus Reno. Had Benteen been able to bring the rest of the 7th to help Custer, I see the entire 7th dying that fateful day. Custer's fate was set when he refused additional forces and decided the glory would be all for the 7th (and himself). He ignored good sense and took all those who followed to their death. No one could save Custer. Those who take a knife to a gunfight do not live to regret their choice.

John Pidgeon
Ellensburg, Wash.

The editor responds: Longtime Wild West contributor Robert Barr Smith agrees with you that Benteen isn't to blame for Custer's June 1876 disaster at the Little Bighorn. Read for yourself in Smith's feature article "Benteen: Between a Rock and a Hard Place" (this issue).

Spotted Tail Quote
One of my favorite frontier quotes (not in Leo Banks' Top 10, October issue) was spoken by Lakota Chief Spotted Tail, whom Wyoming historian L.G. "Pat" Flannery, my grandfather, described as having "unusual intellect, with deep and abiding understanding of human rights and dignity."

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie had established Sioux ownership of the Black Hills, but miners poured into the hills after gold was discovered there in 1874. In May 1875, Spotted Tail and other delegates traveled to Washington, D.C., in a last-ditch attempt to persuade President Ulysses S. Grant to stem the invasion of miners. Instead, what the delegates heard was that Congress wanted to give the Sioux money and have them move to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), which was described in glowing terms. Spotted Tail then gave his counterproposal: "If it is such a good country, you ought to send the white men now in our country there and let us alone." Spotted Tail had made it clear he was not an "ignorant savage" who could easily be deceived by scheming Washington politicians.

Michael Griske
Hicksville, N.Y.

Lightning Strikes
I enjoyed the Ruidoso River Museum article on P. 64–65 of the February 2010 Wild West. The revolver (not identified by model) on the upper right that was presented to Pat Garrett is an 1877 .41-caliber Colt Thunderer. The revolver on the lower left, mistakenly identified as an 1860 Colt Army, is actually an 1877 .38-caliber Colt Lightning. The Army was a .44-caliber percussion revolver that had no flutes in the barrel.

Uncle John Emerson
Via e-mail

The editor responds: Thanks to Uncle John (yes, he really is my uncle). Another of my favorite gun experts, Wild West special contributor Lee Silva, points out that the Colt Lightning came in .32, .38 and .41 calibers and that the .41-caliber version also was marketed with the name Thunderer, but it was and still is technically classified as a Lightning model. Silva put a magnifying glass to the photo of the Pat Garrett revolver and says it is stamped COLT. D.A. 41 on the left side of the barrel just forward of the frame. He adds, "Except for the bore size, there is no visual or physical difference between the three calibers of the Lightning model."

Pinta Trail Dust
I read Wayne Austerman's "The Fight at Pinta Trail Crossing" (December 2009) with interest, for in 1984 I researched the battle site with a view to obtaining a historical marker. Pioneer settler A.J. Sowell gave the date as 1842, while James Wilson Nichols (Now You Hear My Horn) placed the battle in 1841. Both accounts were written in [the authors'] declining years, and I believe them to be in error.

In Recollections of Early Texas, Rufus "Old Rufe" Perry called it "Hays' Fight on the Pinta Trail" and fixed the date as the summer of 1844, the year he joined Hays' Rangers. In her memoirs, Mary Mavericks said Colonel Hays told her in San Antonio on June 20, 1844, that the fight had taken place 12 days earlier, on the 8th, and commented, "Had it not been for the five-shooting pistols, I doubt what the consequences would have been." Also, The [Houston] Morning Star's story appears on June 23, 1844. Sowell, Nichols, Hays and Rufe Perry all referred to this encounter as the Pinta Trail Fight.

In describing the terrain, they were all in agreement. The Indians were on top of a level hill, or mesa, the front slope being steep and in some places overhanging. Around the base of the hill was a ravine into which Hays led his men, out of sight of the Comanches, around the brow of the hill and up behind them where the attack was launched. Most accounts agree on the presence of Yellow Wolf and the death of Ranger Peter Fohr and the wounding of four other Rangers. You'll find this site on Camp Capers Road (FM 1621) about a mile west of Waring. Go north about a mile to the low-water crossing (Old Forge) of the Guadalupe, and less than a mile on the right is the mesa and ravine exactly as described. In 1984 this property belonged to rancher Bill Busbee, who kindly gave me permission to walk the property and make sketches.

Kenneth C. Graham
Houston, Texas

Author Wayne Austerman responds: Based upon my study of available source material, I believe two separate actions were fought on or in the immediate vicinity of the Pinta Trail near Sisterdale: one early in 1841 at the river ford south of the town site, the other in June 1844 to the northwest of the settlement. A.J. Sowell did err in placing the first fight in 1842. I am inclined to accept James W. Nichols' version of events and his dating of the first fight in early 1841, because he was a participant (even if in his distant youth), and his account mentions specific terrain features and individuals whose contemporary and immediately subsequent service with Hays can be documented.

Dr. K.F. Neighbours' 1965 study of the 1844 fight placed the battle site on the property of Edgar Scheele, several miles north of Sisterdale and well above the Pinta Trail ford on the Guadalupe River. This was based upon his very literal interpretation of the terrain as described in a contemporary newspaper account of the action. In my personal reconnaissance of the Scheele site, I found that in terms of the tactical realities that must have determined the course of the fight (military/topographic terrain crests, lines of sight, routes of concealed movement, etc.), Neighbours' choice of it as the battle locale did not make proper sense. In my opinion, another site on the Iron Spur Ranch, approximately three miles southwest of the Scheele property and near the confluence of Darmstadt and West Sister Creek, fits Hays' account of the battle better in both tactical and terrain terms.

It is significant that Ranger Rufus Perry called it the fight on the Pinta Trail, for both the Scheele and Iron Spur Ranch sites border the trail to its west.

I have not visited Kenneth Graham's posited battle site in the vicinity of Waring, southwest of Sisterdale, but I think it was unlikely to have hosted either the 1841 fight (Battle of Pinta Trail Crossing) or the 1844 fight (Battle of Walker's Creek) due to its distance from what is commonly agreed upon as the main trunk of the Pinta Trail, although, in the words of one recent regional study, "There may have been multiple prongs of the trail through the hills here." Such informed disagreements among sincere students of the subject are what keeps history such a lively field of inquiry for scholars and laymen alike.

Battle of Suggs
Douglas McChristian's interesting February 2010 article ("Soldier Justice at Fort Walla Walla") on rampaging troopers put me in mind of another such incident of frontier soldiers "jumping the tracks" and going vigilante. It occurred at Suggs, Wyoming Territory, in June 1892. On the strength of a perceived insult to one of their bunkies (it was actually a squabble over a prostitute), some 34 African-American troopers ("buffalo soldiers") of the 9th Cavalry from nearby Camp P.A. Bettens went AWOL, hoofed it into Suggs and opened fire on the buildings and citizenry, inflicting minor damage and a few superficial wounds. The irate locals returned fire, killing one trooper and wounding two others. Upon returning to camp, the soldiers were all given company punishment for being absent without leave, but despite pressure from local law enforcement, their colonel refused to see them punished further. They had, he felt, received enough insults by the locals and been sufficiently discriminated against over the years to at least partially justify this "retaliatory act." And so ended the "Battle of Suggs."

Ron Soodalter
Via e-mail

Jesse Met His Match
Jesse James brought fear to many citizens with his guns. Henry Clay McDougal (as Jim Muehlberger details in his February 2010 feature) relied on his legal knowledge. What a match this must have been, and fortunately intelligence won out. Henry showed courage going up against one of the most dangerous men in American. Jesse finally met his match.

Paul Dale Roberts
Elk Grove, Calif.

Send letters to Wild West, 19300 Promenade Dr., Leesburg, VA 20176, or e-mail us at WildWest@weiderhistorygroup.com.


One Response to “Wild West - June 2010 - Letters from Readers”


  1. 1
    Sloan Rodgers says:

    There is no primary or contemporary evidence for a Capt. Jack Hays battle at the Pinta Crossing in the early 1840s, only the ramblings of a less than trust-worhy old man 40 or so years after the alleged battle. James W. Nichols also does not appear on any of Hays' company muster rolls and no one officially vouched for his service in this famed unit. I agree with Mr. Graham that Nichols is describing the Walker's Creek battle. Although Nichols did not serve in Hays' ranger company, he served in his regiment in the Mexican War. He probably heard the Walker's Creek story like many soldiers and rangers, then adapted it to his own frontier adventures.



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