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McMurtry Writes Again

 Larry McMurtry, best known as the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Lonesome Dove, received due criticism for factual errors in his 2012 nonfiction book Custer. But his latest offering is Old West fiction, so we can all just relax and enjoy his distinctive prose and memorable if taciturn characters. Well, perhaps not all of us. The main characters in The Last Kind Words Saloon—Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday—prompt nearly as many differences of opinions among Wild West aficionados as Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Liberties with historical characters are certainly acceptable in novels, but someone will surely object to Wyatt punching his wife (called Jessie here, not Josie) and then crying over his act of domestic violence. Not that the real Earp and Holliday didn’t have their fair share of flaws. In his first novel in five years McMurtry makes short shrift of the oft-portrayed and much-debated gunfight near the O.K. Corral (“This is a damn waste of time,” Wyatt says, as he walks with his brothers and Doc to the showdown with the Clantons and McLaurys).

Indian Wars Letter Resurfaces

 Rarely does a historian chance upon an unknown document with the potential to drastically change the narrative of important historical events. Recently, though, Gary Anderson, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma, found just such a document.

The circumstances that touched off hostilities between tribal factions on the central Great Plains in 1868, in turn prompting Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s retaliatory winter campaign, were a series of Indian raids that August in the Saline and Solomon valleys of Kansas in which up to 15 settlers were killed. Survivors of those raids sought the fortified protection of the Schermerhorn Ranch near the mouth of Elkhorn Creek. Sheridan, commander of the military Department of the Missouri, soon arrived in the area and reported on the “unspeakable” atrocities that supported his plans for an all-out winter campaign against the Cheyennes and other tribes, under the command of his favorite field officer, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

But Sheridan’s subordinate, Brevet Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully, commander of the District of the Upper Arkansas, headquartered at Fort Harker, Kan., was the first official to arrive at the Schermerhorn Ranch, and he took affidavits from victims of the raids. Sully, following protocol, sent the settlers’ accounts in writing to Brig. Gen. Chauncey McKeever, assistant adjutant general of the Department of the Missouri, headquartered at Fort Leavenworth. On arrival at the fort on August 26, 1868, Sully’s letter was stamped as received. Sheridan either did not read the letter or perhaps suppressed it, knowing that Sully and Custer did not like each other, and that Sheridan favored Custer for his planned actions in the field. The letter wound up misfiled and thus lost in the National Archives, until recently discovered by Anderson.

More likely Sheridan thought Sully’s report might put a damper on his plans in the field. Several of the settlers Sully interviewed later filed depredation claims with the government in which they alleged that during the raids several women had been brutally raped by Cheyennes, Arapahos and, in one case, a “Sioux chief.” But the affidavits Sully cited in his report point to other culprits. In those statements the settlers claimed the raids were the doing of white whiskey peddlers (who proliferated in Kansas at the time) along with a few rogue American Indian customers. A woman who claimed to have been gang raped, and the husband of another alleged rape victim, told Sully emphatically that white outlaws had violated them. All of the settlers’ affidavits attested that whites dressed as Indians constituted the majority of the raiders. Sully’s report and the reports of others are presently being researched in depth for future publication.

—John Monnett

 The Photogenic Kid

 Author Ray John de Aragón, of Las Vegas, N.M., claims to own a genuine photo of Billy the Kid, which turned up in a family album and was endorsed in September by Houston Police forensic artist Lois Gibson. While de Aragón has owned the album since the 1970s (when his father passed it on to him), he only recently decided to verify the authenticity of this particular image (above at left). It is not de Aragón’s only reported photo of the Kid. In 1994, through Swann Auction Galleries in New York, he sold an alleged tintype portrait of young Billy for $50,600. That earlier image has not been fully accepted by historians, nor has any other Billy the Kid image, except for an authenticated tintype that sold for $2.3 million in June 2011 (a carte de visite copy of that tintype sold last June for $15,000; see the October 2014 Wild West). De Aragón’s latest Kid picture has also met with skepticism. “De Aragón says it’s in an old family album that he has, and it is a remarkable family album,” says Paul Hutton, a University of New Mexico history professor and collector of most anything related to the Kid. “Several photographs have surfaced over the years from it that are connected to Lincoln County, or at least alleged to be connected with Lincoln County and Billy the Kid. I am not a photo expert, but while the character in the new photo has a slight resemblance to Billy, I do not think they really look that much alike.” Readers, judge for yourselves.

Nevada Turns 150

 Last Halloween, October 31, Virginia City [] celebrated Nevada’s 150 years of statehood with a sesquicentennial parade and a masquerade ball, while Carson City [www.carson .org] marked the occasion a day later with a parade themed “Happy 150th Birthday, Nevada!” Silver (think Comstock Lode) was king in Nevada Territory, which Congress established on March 2, 1861, with Carson City as its capital. The silver helped fund the Union’s Civil War effort and was reason enough—despite Nevada’s unimpressive population of about 40,000—for President Abraham Lincoln to admit it as the 36th state on October 31, 1864. At the time Virginia City was the most populous city in what would become officially known as the “Silver State.” Today Carson City (pop. 55,000) remains the capital, while Virginia City, a National Historic Landmark district since 1961, is home to less than 900 people. Are both cities justly proud of their history? You bet.

But what about Las Vegas, “Sin City”? It is Nevada’s most populous city, with close to 600,000 souls, but was scarcely in evidence at the time of statehood. In fact, it was not officially incorporated as a city until 1911. Well, that’s no sin. And never fear—Las Vegas held its own sesquicentennial parade on October 31.

Baby Peggy in the West

 “My most recent news is that three of my books are being republished, this time in digital, Kindle and as e-books,” reports Diana Serra Cary, who turned 96 on October 29, from her home in Gustine, Calif. “I really miss writing Western Americana vignettes for Wild West, which I enjoyed immensely for several years.” Born Peggy-Jean Montgomery on October 29, 1918, Cary took up writing as an adult and had four articles in Wild West —“From the Old Frontier to Film” (October 1994), “Handyman Holiday” (December 1995), “Frustrated Fighting Bob’s Blaze of Glory” (October 1996) and “California Indians on the White Man’s Frontier” (August 1999). By then she had garnered lasting fame as the child film star “Baby Peggy”—the Shirley Temple of her time. Her father, Jack Montgomery, was a onetime cowboy and stuntman for Tom Mix in several Westerns. But it was Baby Peggy, discovered at age 19 months, who was the big screen star—appearing in some 150 silent shorts and feature films between 1921 and 1924 and signing a $1.5 million-a-year contract at Universal. Her surviving films include the delightful feature Captain January and the 12- minute short Peg o’ the Mounted, in which she portrays a mini Mountie to remember. After her father had a falling out with a Hollywood producer over Baby Peggy’s salary, she toured as a vaudeville performer from 1925 to 1929. When a 1930s Hollywood comeback didn’t work out, Peggy turned to writing. Her books: The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History (see review at, Hollywood’s Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era, What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy? and Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King. The documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room debuted on Turner Movie Classics in 2012.

Farney Brings Top Bid

 Yarns of a Summer Day (pictured above), an 1893 gouache on paper by French-born painter Henry Farney (1847–1916), realized $310,000, making it by far the highest selling lot at Cowan’s [www] American Indian and Western Art auction on September 26 in Cincinnati. In this work and others Farney, who spent most of his life in the United States, depicts Indians engaged in everyday activities in an idyllic setting. California Chrysanthemums, by Joseph Henry Sharp (1859–1953), sold for $24,600, while Howard Terpning’s Yellowstone Fall brought $19,680.

See You Later, Jack Burrows

 Jack Burrows, 96, a retired history professor, author and great storyteller, died on September 9 in San Jose, Calif. He wrote the 1987 book John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was, about the overrated gunfighter, and the 2000 book Black Sun of the Miwok, about California Indians he’d known as a boy.


Originally published in the February 2015 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.