Share This Article

Write us!

Got something stuck
in your craw, or do you
just feel like jawing?
Shoot us an email at
Be sure to include
your name and hometown.

Shotgun Messenger
There was a mistake on P. 73 of Matthew Bernstein’s “Murder in the Black Hills,” in the December 2018 issue. The treasure coach from Deadwood to Cheyenne and Sidney was not owned by Wells, Fargo. It was owned by Jack Gilmer. His shotgun messengers (called the “Elite Eight”) were Boone May, Scott Davis, Jesse Brown, Jimmy Brown (who left for Wells, Fargo in 1877), Gale Hill, James May, Bill May and Billy Sample (who left for Wells, Fargo in 1880). Gilmer’s stagecoach was the Black Hills Stage and Express Co., aka the “Deadwood Stage.” The bimonthly ironclad gold coach was guarded by the before mentioned on Homestake cleanup days. No passengers were allowed on the down trip.

The treasure coach went to Cheyenne, until Sept. 26, 1878, when it was robbed, and Galen Elliott Hill was shot through the lung. Then Gilmer changed the gold shipment to be delivered to the railroad in Sidney, Neb. The daily passenger coaches had small salamander safes that might have passenger gold, jewels, notes, and it was robbed very frequently. These coaches used by passengers were different than the two ironclad treasure coaches. The same shotgun messengers guarded the passenger coaches. There were a few relief guards while the regulars were laying off. Each guard was assigned a stage station. May was assigned Robber’s Roost Stage Station, and he was the most feared by the road agents. Of the five trails leading to Deadwood, the treasure first ran to Cheyenne, then Sidney and the last year to Pierre. The Bismarck trail had no treasure coach, only passengers. All trails had passenger robberies, but the only successful robbery of the treasure was Sept. 26, 1878.

Patricia A. Campbell
Deadwood, S.D.

Ambrose Bierce (Huntington Library)

Matt Bernstein responds: Hats off to Patricia A. Campbell, author of Deadwood in My Blood: Boone May, Gale Hill, Shotgun Messengers on the Deadwood Stage and Their Historic Families. I used as my source Ambrose Bierce (at right). In an 1890 essay published in California’s Oakland Daily Evening Tribune Bierce noted that rather than allowing their coaches to be plundered “the mine owners had adopted the more practicable plan of importing from California a half-dozen of the most famous ‘shotgun messengers’ of Wells, Fargo & Co.—fearless and trusty fellows with an instinct for killing.” That they had changed companies as well as territories had escaped me. Bierce also related riding from Deadwood to Rockerville in an ironclad coach “loopholed for rifles” with $30,000 in his possession and Boone May at his side:

May sat hunched up beside me, a rubber poncho over his shoulders and a Winchester rifle in its leathern case between his knees. I thought him a trifle off his guard, but said nothing. The road, barely visible, was rocky, the wagon rattled, and alongside ran a roaring stream. Suddenly we heard through it all the clinking of a horse’s shoes directly behind, and simultaneously the short, sharp words of authority: “Throw up your hands!”

With an involuntary jerk at the reins I brought my team to its haunches and reached for my revolver. Quite needless: With the quickest movement that I had ever seen in anything but a cat—almost before the words were out of the horseman’s mouth—May had thrown himself backward across the back of the seat, face upward, and the muzzle of his rifle was within a yard of the fellow’s breast! What further occurred among the three of us there in the gloom of the forest has, I fancy, never been accurately related.

Swinging Doors
It seems to me this question was answered previously in Wild West, but I can’t recall. Were there actually swinging doors at the entrances to Old West saloons?

Ken Haines
Taylor, Mich.

Historian Richard Selcer responds: Yes, they seem to have been a standard feature on saloons across the country. I think the idea was to provide a little privacy from innocent, prying eyes and to allow in a little fresh air. All the drawings and pictures of saloons showing swinging doors are strong evidence they weren’t a creation of Hollywood or dime novels.

Pete Spence

Spence Photo
I am a great fan of your wonderful magazine and have even given my father-in-law and brother-in-law subscriptions as Christmas presents. In the October 2020 issue in John Boessenecker’s article “They Shoot Cowboys, Don’t They?” the picture of cowboy Pete Spence (at left) looks a great deal like some of the photos of Harvey Logan, aka “Kid Curry,” of the Wild Bunch. I have seen the prison photo of Spence and he looks a great deal different from this picture. What do you think? Keep up the great work. I look forward to your next issue.

Paul W. Harper
Dallas, Texas

John Boessenecker responds: Roy B. Young, author of Pete Spence: Audacious Artist in Crime, researched the photo and found it came from Spence family descendants in the 1940s. It was discovered by one of the famous Southwest historians—possibly C.L. Sonnichsen, though I cannot recall. I have heard the same comment about this photo, though from people who have not seen mug shots on the subject’s entry into prison—one in street clothes with facial hair, the next in stripes with head shaved. Such images often look like different men but are the same man.

Send letters by email or to 
Wild West, 901 N. Glebe Road, 5th Floor, Arlington, VA 22203. Please include your name and hometown. These letters were published in the April 2021 issue.