Wild West – June 2011 – Letters from Readers

3/30/2011 • Jesse James, Outlaws, WW Issues, Wyatt Earp

‘For two summers in a row I have traveled from Virginia out to Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana, tracking my great-great-grandfather who fought at Rosebud and Slim Buttes and was present during the Cheyenne outbreak at Fort Robinson’

Bozeman Trail Forts
I would like to see more articles on the old Western forts such as Fort C.F. Smith near Hardin, Mont. Because of the article [“The Falsehoods of Fetterman’s Fight”] by John H. Monnett on William Fetterman in the December 2010 issue, I stopped at another Bozeman Trail post, Fort Phil Kearny, on my way to Yellowstone National Park. I went through the fort, but because the bridge was out, I was unable to see the Fetterman battlefield. I enjoy reading your magazine.

Harold G. Brewer
Bloomington, Ill.

Chief Wolf Robe
I was interested to see the magnificent photograph of Southern Cheyenne Chief Wolf Robe on the cover of the August 2010 Wild West. Although I have several other photos of the man, I have never before seen that one, which is remarkable. Reading through the material available to me, I find only scattered mentions of his name, dates of photos and nothing more.

I am interested in learning any biographical information about this man, who I am sure played an important role in the life of his people. I agree that he is not likely the one who posed for the Indian Head nickel, but do any of your readers have more information about Chief Wolf Robe? Any help is appreciated.

Stephen Clarke
Santa Fe, N.M.

Tracking the West
I discovered your magazine about three issues ago, and wow—it’s great! For two summers in a row I have traveled from Virginia out to Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana, tracking my great-great-grandfather who fought at Rosebud and Slim Buttes and was present during the Cheyenne outbreak at Fort Robinson. Naturally, all of this and much more is right in your “wheelhouse.”

The article [“Boone May: Bane of the Badmen”], by R.K. DeArment, in the December 2010 issue is fabulous! Ol’ Boone was one bad ___ (you fill in the blank). If I was prowlin’ around Deadwood and the stage routes back in that day, I’d want to make sure that guy was on my side.

Kudos to your team for dusting off true old tales like these and publishing them for our enjoyment. The Wild West lives again!

John Flood
Winchester, Va.

The editor responds: Thanks for your kind words, fellow Virginian. (And by the way, how’s that biography of Wyatt Earp going?) The real kudos should go to authors like R.K. DeArment whose engaging books and articles keep the Wild West (and our Wild West to boot) alive. Western writers and editors, of course, couldn’t do what we love to do unless there were readers like you who continue to enjoy the old tales from the frontier.

Reno the Worst?
My sincerest gratitude goes to the writers who have done the valuable research for the articles in Wild West. You give some truly accurate pictures of frontier events, including the worst towns, the worst forts, the worst firearms, the badmen who became ever worse and the worst commanding officers. If there had been anyone in worse shape for issuing orders than Marcus Reno, I expect we will read about him.

Bruce I. Bereck
Bergenfield, N.J.

Editor’s response: Maybe Major Marcus Reno wasn’t quite as bad as you think. In any case, read Gregory Michno’s cover article about him in this issue and judge for yourself.

DNA Testing Unlikely
I’ve just finished reading Richard Selcer’s article “A Texas Cattleman and His Comanche Concubine” in the February issue and was wondering if DNA work could be done to prove or disprove the claims of Lena. Great article.

Kathy Young
Melrose, Wis.

Author Richard Selcer responds: DNA testing can’t be done without permission of family and/or court permission. I wouldn’t even know how to start tracking down Lena McArthur at this point; she may not even be alive. And to compare her DNA to that of the Burnett family would require a sample of Burnett DNA, and that’s never going to happen. Digging up people to do DNA testing to lay to rest old scandals/mysteries has not proved very successful so far because too many living people/authorities have to sign off on it. That’s why when it happens (e.g., Jefferson–Hemmings), it makes for great programs on the Discovery Channel or History Channel.

No. 11 on Our Top 10 List
I always enjoy reading “Wild West’s Top 10” column. I have an 11th item to add to the list in the December 2010 issue titled “John Monnett’s Groaners, Boners, Stupid Decisions and Ironies from the Indian Wars.” This frontier episode about Sioux Chief Spotted Tail and his daughter Fallen Leaf was described as follows by my grandfather, Wyoming historian L.G. “Pat” Flannery, in one of his manuscripts about pioneer John Hunton and his diaries:

[Fallen Leaf] languished and died [at a young age]…after [obtaining] a promise from Spotted Tail, that he would bury her on a hillside near Fort Lara-mie, where her spirit could look down upon the old parade ground and watch again the guard mount she loved so well….[After her death] a young and impetuous military doctor came to Fort Laramie. He had the impudence and appalling lack of respect to remove the bones [of Fallen Leaf from her burial scaffold] and make a skeleton of them for his office. One day scouts brought word to the post that [Spotted Tail], with a party of warriors, was approaching to take away the remains of his child. Post authorities, in near panic, gave the great, friendly chief and his party a ceremonious welcome and persuaded him to rest overnight at the fort before going to claim his daughter. This gave them a chance to replace Fallen Leaf’s bones in her casket before morning and remove evidence that her grave had been violated. Had they failed, old Spotted Tail might have felt relieved of [another] promise he made to his daughter to never again make war on the whites—and who could have blamed him?

Michael Griske
Hicksville, N.Y.

Jesse James Died in 1882
It was disheartening to see you provide publicity for Betty Duke and Greg Ellison in the “Roundup” section of your April 2011 edition. Though Betty Duke may (or may not) firmly believe that she is the great-granddaughter of the infamous outlaw Jesse Woodson James, there is nothing in the historical record to support her claim. She has presented a photograph she purchased on eBay that was previously widely distributed as a postcard. On the back of the postcard, some of the people in the photograph were misidentified, specifically Jesse James and his brother Frank. One correctly identified person in the photograph is Zerelda Samuel, the mother of both Frank and Jesse. There is no controversy about Betty Duke being the great-granddaughter of James L. Courtney, who lived to a ripe old age. However, the proposition that Jesse James lived beyond his documented murder in 1882 and stole the identity of Courtney is patently absurd and has been soundly discredited for a decade.

Ellison is well known to collectors of antique images as a person who claims to have the uncanny ability to consistently find images of famous 19th-century people at flea malls and on eBay. He claims to have a “million dollar” collection. I’m not surprised to see that Duke and Ellison are now teamed up to attempt to further Duke’s “theory” of her lineage and corruption of history. Your readers were not well served by giving Duke the attention she seeks in her attempt to hijack another family’s legacy.

Doug Dawson
Elkridge, Md.

Editor’s response: Readers are invited to respond to the “Roundup” item online.

Kills Two and Spotted Tail
Swedish author Claes H. Jacobson notes two mistakes the editors introduced into his “Indian Life” article on the Lakota Turning Bear in the April 2011 issue. A Lakota man pictured in the article is identified as Sam Kills Two, but Jacobson says, “I have not found any facts in official records of the time that indicated that Kills Two had this first name. John Anderson, who owned this copy of the Big Missouri Winter Count, has in his typewritten list of Indian Art collection written ‘Two Kills.’” Also, Jacobson points out: “Spotted Tail did not enlist as a U.S. Indian scout in July 1877 at Camp Sheridan. I had checked the official Army enlistment records.” Read more about Turning Bear and John Anderson, the pioneer photographer and collector who took his picture, in Jacobson’s excellent book Rosebud Sioux: A Lakota People in Transition (2004).

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