Sleight of Hand—and Feet?
I have questions about the John Swartz photograph titled “Three of a Kind” in the “Westerners” department of the December 2011 issue of Wild West. Do all three of the men in the picture look like the same man? Where is the left toe of the man on the right in the light-colored jacket? Where are the feet of the man in the top hat? Could it be an early example of clever photography and the product of a master of his trade?
Donna Donnell, who provided information about the photo, responds: I believe these are three different men. But the Swartz brothers were known for manipulation of photography, either hand painting the plate or inserting cut-and-paste persons or objects. I do not have the original cabinet card but do own a high-quality digital of the original. In reversing the photo from sepia to black and white and magnifying, I can see the gentleman on the right possesses all the toes on his left foot. The tops of his shoes are a light color, probably beige. As for Mr. Top Hat, I can assure you he has at least one leg. Thanks for not asking about his beard.
Buffalo Bill Yarn
In regard to the alleged buffalo-shooting contest between Buffalo Bill Cody and Bill Comstock that inspired Charlie Norton’s sculpture (“Art of the West,” December 2011), I did not know that anyone now believes that yarn. Certainly Don Russell did not, telling me some time before his untimely death that all the evidence suggested that Cody faked it for his 1879 book. Indeed when one studies Comstock’s life and final months, it does not make sense.
Cody never worked for the Kansas Pacific Railway. But he did work as a grader and the slayer of some buffalo (but not 4,000) for the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division (known as the UPED) in the summer of 1868. The UPED became the Kansas Pacific Railway on March 3, 1869, but over the years many forgot its original name.
So far no one has come forward with contemporary proof that any such shooting competition took place. In 1868 Comstock had faced a charge of murder (for killing a trader named Wyatt who owed him money) and soon afterward was killed by Indians. I have long admired Cody, for I realize that but for him and his worldwide publicity of the Old West, it would not have the attraction it has today. Nevertheless, once one delves into the old records, it soon becomes clear that he manipulated history to suit himself.
Joseph G. Rosa
I enjoyed Blake Bell’s excellent article “Fighting for the Homestead” in the February 2012 issue of Wild West. There is a lot more to Western history than the momentary notoriety brought about by shoot-’em-ups. For almost all the settlers, life on the Great Plains was mostly hard work and boredom with brief interludes of fear, sadness, joy, happiness and other human emotions. At the end of the article is an overview of the Homestead National Monument, of which Blake is the historian. I did not know about that museum before. But on P. 5 are ads for Grand Island and the Stuhr Museum, and years ago on our cross-country trips we stopped in the Grand Island area and visited the Stuhr—well worth the stop.
I’d also like to let your readers know about another exceptional Nebraska museum, the Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden. It has 50,000 items relating to the pioneer times through the present and has many visitor amenities. It is only an hour drive west of Grand Island and an easy 10-mile detour off I-80. We spent a day and a half there and could have easily stayed a couple more days. I would encourage anyone going cross-country to set aside at least a day to visit the site. You won’t be disappointed.
Orval Allbritton’s “Battle of the Hot Springs Gamblers” (February 2012 Wild West), about the struggle for power in Hot Springs between Frank Flynn and S.A. Doran, is a good article. But there’s one point the author got wrong near the end. In discussing Doran’s killing at the hands of Pink Fagg in Fort Smith, Ark., he said that Fagg had earlier killed his wife. This is not correct. Fagg did assault (shoot) his wife in Carthage, Mo., with intent to kill, but she recovered. Charges were dropped after all the witnesses, including the wife, left town. Fagg had already spent a stint in the Missouri pen for a robbery at Springfield, Mo., prior to trying to kill his wife (whom he supposedly took out of a whorehouse in Joplin, Mo.). After trying to kill his wife, he later shot a man in Pierce City, Mo., for which he also spent time in the pen in Jefferson City. After he got out the second time, he took off to Fort Smith, where the showdown with Doran occurred. He spent a few years in the Arkansas pen for the Doran killing, got out and went to Texas for a few years and then lived out the rest of his days as a liquor dealer in Tulsa. My 2011 book Desperadoes of the Ozarks contains a chapter on Fagg.
Two Emma Mastersons
The main photo you chose to illustrate my article “Bat Masterson’s Emma” (P. 51 in the April 2012 Wild West) is indeed of an Emma Masterson, but it is Bat’s sister Emma, not his wife Emma. Bat had two sisters: Nellie, who married Wichita Marshal James “Jimmy” Cairns in 1879 and lived until 1925; and Emma, usually called Minnie, who died on February 20, 1884, at age 20.
The editor responds: Who knew there were two Emma Mastersons? Well, author Chris Penn for one. Yes, the photo we published is of Bat’s sister Emma. The mistake was ours, not the author’s, and we apologize to him and our readers for the error.
When you mention Clay Allison (as in Bill O’Neal’s feature “Texas: Gunfighter Capital of the West” in the October 2011 issue), you know I’m going to read it. Please, my dear friends, he’s a Tennessean, born near Clifton in Wayne County in 1841. So, I’ll give you “Tennessean-cum-Texan/New Mexican,” but do not lump him in with John Selman!
I have done a lot of research on Clay Allison—in Tennessee with his extended family; the short time he was in Texas (1866, maybe 1867) when he met and partnered with his future brother-in-law Lewis G. Coleman; when they moved cattle to Colfax County, New Mexico Territory; and again in Texas in 1880 when Clay settled on Gageby Creek near Mobeetie, near Wheeler County, until his accidental, weird death near Pecos in 1887. The only concrete evidence of his having been in a so-called legitimate gunfight was with John “Chunk” Colbert, not in Texas, but at Red River Station (aka the Clifton House and/or Otero, New Mexico Territory, just south of Raton), where Clay was, indeed, the one left alive. So does one gunfight, where he emerged the “winner,” make a gunfighter of one? Maybe a shootist, as Clay called himself?
Bill O’Neal responds: Sharon has researched her fellow Tennessean more deeply than I have, but I believe Allison had the temperament and record of a man-killer. There’s the strong story that in 1862 Clay killed a Yankee soldier who was raiding his mother’s house. Then he cowboyed in Texas after the war, owned a west Texas ranch in the 1880s and died in Texas.
I credit him with four killings.
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