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Wild West—June 2014—Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: April 02, 2014 
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Leap in Logic

In the February 2014 Gunfighters and Lawmen article [by Phyllis de la Garza] about Johnny Boyett, the man who gunned down Warren Earp, the grave marker in the photo (P. 27) has Boyett's birth date as February 29, 1862. There was no February 29 in 1862. For it to be February 29, he would have to have been born in 1860 or 1864. My own date of birth: February 29, 1944.

Ronald Meadville
North Fork, Idaho

No Common Killer

While I enjoyed reading Jim Pettengill's "Murder, Mobs and the Marlow Brothers," in the December 2013 issue of Wild West, I am saddened by the impression it left of my grandfather, Phlete A. Martin, whom Pettengill refers to as a "convicted killer from North Carolina." The implication is that Granddad was a common murderer. Pettengill puts the mark of Cain on him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Philetus Augustus Martin Sr.—both his son and my brother bore his name, surprisingly common in the 19th century to judge by genealogical research—accidentally shot his best friend with an old Colt he found in his father's bedroom. The incident happened in Blowing Rock, N.C. The same genealogical websites indicate the sentence served was only six months. Presumably, then, he was convicted of something less than murder, possibly negligent homicide. To refer to him as a "convicted killer" suggests he was some sort of depraved, homicidal sociopath.

It is entirely possible that the Colt he fired was the same one his father carried as a colonel in the army of the Confederacy. Colonel Leland "Big Drunk" Martin was the stuff of legend himself. While escorting some Union troops, Illinois regulars, to a Rebel POW camp, his party was waylaid by Quantrill's Raiders. The bushwhackers demanded Colonel Leland turn the Yankees over to him, but my great-grandfather, knowing the Yanks would be hanged, refused and escorted them to safety after staring the raiders down. After the war the Union soldiers held a reunion in Chicago and made Colonel Leland Martin their honored guest. They paid for his round-trip train ticket, put him up in the finest hotel, and wined and dined him like royalty. After all, some of them owed their very lives to the man. As for his son Phlete, he left Blowing Rock and settled in Fort Worth. When he got his law license, he moved to Young County and became the youngest county attorney in Texas, going on to be district judge and, finally, associate justice of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals. Not bad for a "convicted killer."

James M. Martin
Corpus Christi, Texas

More Finkel

Comparing the photographs of Sergeant August Finckle and Frank Finkel in the December 2013 Letters, they look to be the same person. The facial structure of both is the same based on the head shape, mustache shape, chin, cheekbones, mouth, nose and eyes (especially the spacing of the eyes) and nose. The hairline is receded in the later photo but is the same on the sides.

Pax Riddle
Phoenixville, Pa.

Editor responds: As convincing as the photos are to you and many others—including John Koster, author of the 2010 book Custer Survivor: The End of a Myth, the Beginning of a Legend—the debate continues about the alleged sole survivor of Lt. Col. George A. Custer's immediate command (five companies of the 7th U.S. Cavalry) at the June 25, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn. History Publishing Co. of Palisades, N.Y., has set June 25, 2014, as the publication date for a revised edition of Custer Survivor that will include additional documents and photos that reportedly back Finkel's story.  

 

I read John Koster's Custer Survivor with great interest. Over time many people have examined the battle itself, and our understanding of events has been changed by historians who have searched for the truth and presented new evidence to the public. In this case Koster brings out several valid points that alter our understanding of the battle and its participants. At the very least we now know it is possible there was a survivor. Sergeant August Finckle, known to be present that day, and Frank Finkel have enough similarities to make me intrigued with the prospect of a survivor. They were the same height, the handwriting appears to be the same, and the two photographs appear to portray the same person. This evidence, as described in Koster's book, is compelling.

I do believe, however, that the events as described by Frank Finkel after the fact were improbable due to the low survivability of the wounded during travel away from the battle. It is more likely Finkel exaggerated his wounds and simply ran from the battle after he saw Custer had put his men in a hopeless situation. He was able to escape at this early point because the Indians had not yet gathered in great numbers and were still organizing. While I'm sure there will always be differing viewpoints, and the idea of Finkel as a survivor is difficult for some to accept, I believe Koster's book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the battle.

Edward Routel
Vernon, N.J.

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



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