‘A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my childhood on the Chisholm Trail—my cattle, my horses, my family and that place written about in that song “Don’t Fence Me In” ’
I don’t know whether to say, “Wow!” or, “Ow!” Wow for the great article “The Belknap Scandal: Fulcrum to Disaster,” by John Koster; Ow for exposing the black sheep in my family. Little did I realize when a friend gave me his copy of your June 2010 issue that I would be reading about my relative. Yes, sad to say, I am related to Maj. Gen. William Worth Belknap on my mother’s side. The story surrounding his time as secretary of war to his resignation has been a hushed-up tale within the family. I have a letter written in 1952 covering the events leading up to General Belknap’s impeachment trial from a family viewpoint.
Koster has done a masterful job at ferreting out many details missing from the family version. One version had him marrying the younger sister of his first wife, not the second. The other version was similar to Koster’s. It was believed that William Belknap was above this, and that it was his wives who sold the favors behind his back. Of course, that notion was handed down within the family for 100 years, and I am sure that Koster’s take on what happened is more accurate. Nobody wants to admit to such a family scandal.
It was quite a shock to read that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s demise was a part of this whole scenario. My uncles, now deceased, would truly be shocked at this revelation. Thanks for a fine, well-researched article, even though it exposes my ancestor for what he was.
Castle Rock, Colo.
Revenge Against Custer
The same year (1876) that George Custer fell at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he received a subpoena to testify before a Congressional committee investigating corruption in the Army [see “The Belknap Scandal” in the June 2010 Wild West]. In his testimony Custer named President U.S. Grant’s brother, Orvil, as someone illegally involved in trading post practices. Embarrassed and enraged, Grant placed Custer on leave but then reinstated him at the request of General William Sherman. Custer was given command of the 7th Cavalry in Dakota Territory. In my play about Custer, The 7th, I hint at the idea that Grant, through his top general, Sherman, deliberately placed Custer in an untenable and unwinnable situation, payback for Custer’s damaging testimony. Libbie Custer thought so too.
Ghost Riders in the Sky
In the October 2010 “Roundup” item “‘Ghost Riders’ Tops the Chart,” which mentions some of the 100 greatest Western songs as voted by the Western Writers of America, I think there might be a big mistake. The article states that the song voted No. 1 was “‘Ghost Riders in the Sky,’ the 1948 Stan Jones tune.” I never heard of Stan Jones, and he may well have written the song. But it was definitely a 1948 hit by Vaughn Monroe, who is not mentioned in connection with the tune. The article goes on to mention “Cool Water” as the No. 3 song, “a best seller by Vaughn Monroe and The Sons of the Pioneers.” [But] “Cool Water” was written by Bob Nolan of The Sons of the Pioneers in 1934; the Sons had been singing that song for 14 years before 1948. Further, I’ve never heard a Vaughn Monroe version of that song. I think Vaughn Monroe has been transposed here.
Richard O. Cheadle
The editor responds: Stan Jones did write “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” in 1948. Vaughn Monroe recorded his popular version the following year (calling it “Riders in the Sky”), with later versions by Johnny Cash, Frankie Lane, Marty Robbins, Gene Autry, Peggy Lee and many others. Yes, Bob Nolan did write “Cool Spring,” in 1936, but Vaughn Monroe and The Sons of the Pioneers recorded the best-selling version a dozen years later. Monroe apparently had hits with both songs in the late 1940s. Both “Riders in the Sky” and “Cool Water” are on his “Greatest Hits” album, which came out in 1963.
Don’t Fence Me In
I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences,
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses,
I can’t look at hobbles, and I can’t stand fences,
Don’t fence me in.
Those are some of the greatest lyrics ever written. I was raised between the 98th meridian and the Chisholm Trail in southwest Oklahoma. I live in Tennessee now, but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my childhood on the Chisholm Trail—my cattle, my horses, my family and that place written about in that song “Don’t Fence Me In.” Did Cole Porter really write it? Someone from New York? People like me don’t set in front of a computer much, so did this song make the list of the Western Writers of America’s Top 100 Western songs of all time? Love your magazine.
The editor responds: You’ll be happy to know that “Don’t Fence Me In” is No. 12 on the Western Writers of America’s Top 100. Cole Porter, who was born in Peru, Indiana (not New York), wrote the music for the song in 1934. He also wrote the lyrics but based them on a poem written by Bob Fletcher, who was with the Department of Highways in Helena, Mont. Ahead of it on the WWA’s list are “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “El Paso,” “Cool Water,” “Streets of Laredo/Cowboy Lament,” “Back in the Saddle Again,” “High Noon/Do Not Forsake Me,” “Oh Shenandoah/Across the Wide Missouri,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Home on the Range,” “Red River Valley” and “Big Iron.” Those folks who do set in front of a computer (and who just might feel a bit fenced in by modern technology at times), can visit the WWA Web site for the full list of WWA Top 100 Western Songs.
Roman Nose Death
I really enjoyed John Koster’s “Roman Nose: Knight-Errant in a War Bonnet,” in the August 2010 issue of Wild West. However, I have found a slightly different account of Roman Nose’s death at Beecher Island that your readers may be interested in. My source is “The Battle of Arickaree,” an article written by Winfield Freeman for the Kansas State Historical Society (see Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. 6, 1897–1900). The death, according to this article, occurred during a charge that took place around 10:30 a.m. when “Roman Nose assumed command”:
The Indians were taken by surprise, not knowing that the east end of the island was occupied by scouts, but they kept wildly on, making for the main body at the west end of the island. The scouts opened a deadly fire, well directed on the enemy, as they reached the middle of the island. Roman Nose’s spear fell from his hand; he was about to fall from his horse and seized hold of his horse’s mane. His braves gathered around him and held him on his horse, and by that means carried the great chief off the field, under a deadly fire from the island. He was mortally wounded.
[Footnote:] It was ascertained afterwards that Roman Nose was shot in the lower part of the body and, after suffering great pain, died before midnight. The Indians buried him on a scaffold, the body being enclosed in a buffalo’s hide. The scaffold was erected on the south fork of the Republican River, about 20 miles from Arickaree.
Tracking the West
I “discovered” your magazine about three issues ago and wow—it’s great! For two summers in a row I have traveled from Virginia out to Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana, tracking my great-great grandfather who fought at Rosebud and Slim Buttes and was present during the Cheyenne outbreak at Fort Robinson. Naturally, all of this and much more is right in your “wheelhouse.” The article by R.K. DeArment in the December 2010 issue on Boone May is fabulous! Ol’ Boone was one bad ___ (you fill in the blank). If I was prowlin’ around Deadwood and the stage routes back in that day, I’d want to make sure that guy was on my side. Kudos to your team for dusting off true old tales like these and publishing them for our enjoyment. The Wild West lives again!
The editor responds: Thanks for your kind words, fellow Virginian. (And, by the way, how’s that biography of Wyatt Earp going?) The real kudos should go to authors like R.K. DeArment whose truly engaging books and articles keep the Wild West (and our Wild West to boot) alive. Western writers and editors, of course, couldn’t do what we love to do unless there were readers like you who continue to enjoy the old tales from the American frontier.
I enjoyed the articles on the Fetterman Massacre in the December 2010 Wild West. Being a native of Sheridan, Wyo., I feel that I should inform your readers that Adolph Metzger’s bugle is in the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo, Wyo., along with numerous other effects from the 1866 massacre. Find out more at the museum Web site.
Idaho Falls, Idaho
The editor notes: In the “Roundup” news item “Cassidy’s Lost Court Cases” (February 2011 issue), a partner of Butch Cassidy is referred to as “Joseph ‘Billy’ Nutcher.” This was an editing error. Researcher Mike Bell actually called him “Billy Nutcher” and points out, “William and Joseph were separate individuals, two of the Nutcher (variously spelled] brothers.” We regret the error.
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