Since his retirement as a special agent with the U.S. Treasury Department and criminal justice instructor at a Texas community college, Bob Alexander has been cranking out entertaining and informative books about Wild West badge wearers and their counterparts. Lawmen and badmen naturally show up in his Six-Guns and Single-Jacks: A History of Silver City and Southwestern New Mexico (Gila Books, Silver City, N.M., 2005, $34.95), but this is a more general, comprehensive history than Alexander’s earlier offerings. Somewhat less gun-oriented town folk, along with Apaches, mining activity and Mexican border developments, also receive attention here.
Alexander’s previous books include Sheriff Harvey Whitehill: Silver City Stalwart; Dangerous Dan Tucker: New Mexico’s Deadly Lawman; John Behan: Sacrificed Sheriff; and Fearless Dave Allison: Border Lawman, which won the best book award in 2004 from the Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association. For good measure, his Lawmen, Outlaws and S.O.B.s, which examines 15 previously overlooked outlaws and lawmen, snared WOLA’s best book award in 2005 (see review in the February 2005 Wild West). Alexander also received a NOLA (National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History) award for outstanding contributions to Western historical writing in 2004. Alexander recently took time to answer questions for Wild West.
Wild West: How did Six-Guns and Single-Jacks come about?
Alexander: I was doing research on Dan Tucker and Harvey Whitehill primarily, and through the course of my research in this area, I was approached to write this book because nobody had done that type of history of the area. It was a new project for both [the publisher and me]. He wanted to preserve the history, and I find it fascinating that it has so much of the Old West genre—Indians, military, gunfighters, lawmen, plus the development of the mining of the area. It’s just been missed in the past.
WW: Silver City is a microcosm of the West?
Alexander: I can honestly say I don’t think there is another place like it where we have such a dramatic coalition of the Indians of the area, the military and the townspeople. Outlaws and lawmen and gunfighters were either there or went through there. The early history took place during the Spanish colonization, when they were exploring New Mexico but missed that southwest corner. Later, the military made forays there looking for Apaches, and trying to map the area. It’s got a rich history that is supplemented by boundary surveys, which have a lot of dramatic stories.
WW: Would the city have developed more quickly if not for the Apaches?
Alexander: I think it would have certainly developed quicker. They were a definite impediment to the advance of the Anglo culture out there. Once the railroad came across the southern part of New Mexico, it had a major impact on the campaign against the Apaches. It allowed the logistics, and therefore enabled the military to operate much more efficiently, and the settlers or early residents could drag civilization with them on the railroad tracks. When the Southern Pacific met the Santa Fe it created the second transcontinental railroad in the United States, and that was a major coup for the advancement of the Anglo Manifest Destiny.
WW: Henry Antrim, aka Billy the Kid, was an early resident of Silver City.
Alexander: At the time he was there, way before the railroad, it was indeed, for lack of better terminology, a wild and woolly frontier culture, and a lot of disputes were handled immediately in the barrooms in town. Silver City was an island in the sea of all the violence going on around the area, with the Indians and the outlaws raiding into Mexico and coming back into the United States. Billy the Kid was there just as a boy and was arrested for the theft of some clothing and two revolvers from a Chinese laundryman. He was placed in jail in Silver City but escaped through the chimney in the jail and fled to Arizona Territory, where he killed his first man of record (Windy Cahill). After that he fled back through southwestern New Mexico Territory and into Lincoln County and the history books.
WW: Were Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in Silver City only once?
Alexander: To the best of my knowledge, they were. They came through after they were involved with the death of Frank Stillwell; they were fugitives. When they came through, the newspaper reported that they used assumed names, which is clear indication that they were hiding from the law. They were on their way to Colorado. It is certainly not the image we think of as our feted American hero.
WW: Why go to Silver City rather than take the more direct route to Colorado?
Alexander: I support the premise of Dan Thrapp, the late historian, that they came to Silver City to avoid Deming, where [lawman] Dan Tucker was. Had they gone to Deming there could very well have been a confrontation with Tucker. He wasn’t likely to back down.
WW: Tucker was an amazing character.
Alexander: His record was legitimate. I uncovered most of it and presented it in a biography. I will quote you from Leon Metz’s introduction for my book: “Overall Tucker was a better lawman and more dangerous than such redoubtable high profile figures as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok, yet he is practically unheard of today largely because he lacked the ability or the need to exploit himself. Somehow Tucker slipped between the pages of Wild West history, a deserving lawman but having no literary champions such as Ash Upson and Walter Noble Burns, who brought fame to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, or Stuart Lake, who lionized Wyatt Earp, or Ned Buntline with Buffalo Bill, or Harper’s New Monthly Magazine with Wild Bill Hickok. And unlike John Wesley Hardin, Tucker never considered writing his own autobiography.”
WW: The Silver City area always skated on the edge of lawlessness. How much of this came about because of the isolation?
Alexander: I think most of it was due to location. At the time Silver City was founded, the nearest railroad connection was 700 miles away in Colorado. It was basically patterned after an Eastern town. There were mining interests, and during the development of the mining you had to have the capital investment. A lot of the money came from the East, and unlike Tombstone, most of the people who came there for whatever reason, and I can’t explain it, came to stay. The soil had the right content of clay to manufacture bricks, so they started building some quite elegant homes of red brick, the typical red brick homes that you would find in metropolitan areas of the East. They had all the comforts of home that they had dragged with them. Silver City was the county seat, and Grant County was southwestern New Mexico; there was no Luna County, where Deming is now, and no Hidalgo County, where Lordsburg is. That was all just a no man’s land.
WW: What’s next for you?
Alexander: For the spring of 2006, I’ve got two books coming out. One for High-Lonesome Books about the Gage, N.M., train robbery has the working title Lynch Ropes and Long Shots: The True Story of an Old West Train Robbery. The one I’m working on now, with Gila Books, is Desert Desperadoes: The Banditti of Southwestern New Mexico.
Originally published in the April 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.