Thursday, April 20, 2017

Headstone Suggestion & Needles Serendipity

April 20, 2017
   Kathy asked me this morning what I wanted on my headstone and here is my suggestion:

He loved his Family and the West, in that order.

   Yesterday I went home for lunch and did a quick study on a cover concept for the Olive Oatman story:




Daily Whip Out: "High Above The Needles"

   When I was laying in the washes, I thought to myself, "Dang! I remember several years ago taking a photo of The Needles Mountains from just this angle. I wish I had it now!"

   This morning, Facebook Memories placed this photo on my Home Page:




The Needles Mountains by BBB, April 20, 2010

I was doing a painting of a Colorado steamboat and wanted this distinctive range for photo reference so when Kathy and I were returning from the Arizona History Conference in Laughlin, Nevada, I took the back way down to Needles just to get this shot.

   Ironically, I'm leaving in ten minutes to drive to Flagstaff for this year's Arizona History Conference. Gee, I wonder what Bob Brink's old classmate at Yale thinks about this?

"History gives us a sense of proportion. It's an antidote to a lot of unfortunately human trends like self-importance and self-pity."
—David McCullough





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sum Buck Dust Storm

April 19, 2017
   Went home for lunch and finished a Duke of Dust study I found in the garage.




Daily Whip Out: "One Sum Buck Dust Storm." 



Full disclosure: my Kingman cowboy cousin is prone to say:

"Let's just get through this sum buck deal."
—Craig Hamilton

Early Arizona Daily Whip Outers & High Above The Needles

April 19, 2017
   I was somewhat surprised to learn that when Olive Oatman lived with the Mojaves, her home—she lived with the chief's family—was where Needles, California stands today. Somehow, I pictured her living closer to Beale's Crossing, which is north of there on the Arizona side, closer to Bullhead, as that is where much of the action takes place historically. Supposedly, the site of Olive's Needles home site was washed away in a flood early in the twentieth century.




Daily Whip Out: "High Above The Needles."

   This brings up a couple interesting questions: when Olive and Mary Ann arrived at the Colorado River from their first "home" with the Yavapais (probably near Salome, AZ), how did they cross the river? Did the Mojaves have a raft? I believe I read somewhere that Olive claimed she learned to swim while with the Mojaves and that the women threw her in the water and then guided her to shore and allowed her to relax and learn to stay afloat. This inspired me:



Daily Whip Out: "Olive Treading Water"


Speaking of Daily Whip Outs:

An Early Daily Whip Outer
   Here's an early Arizona Daily Whip Outer who drew his way across the territory in the 1860s with a rifle across his lap. Looks like J. Ross Browne favored an artist's smock and a floppy hat on his plein air outings. Must have garnered some good natured ribbing from the scouts and prospectors.



A self-portrait of J. Ross Browne drawing in the field

   Browne drew the Oatman massacre site and the graves in 1867, plus he hung out with Charles Poston and some of the other legendary Zonies who knew the Oatman story first hand.

   Two weekends ago, when Vince Murray guided me through the Gila River area, he took me to Agua Caliente (Hot Water springs) which is about twenty miles west of the Oatman massacre site. Vince told me he read somewhere that the Yavapais camped there on the first night with Olive and Mary Ann. I took a photo of the ridge where Vince thinks they camped, which is on a ledge above the wrecked cabins of the Agua Caliente Resort, which flourished through the 1920s, until irrigated farming in the area sucked the water table down and dried up the springs. 


The ledge above Agua Caliente where Vince Murray believes the Yavapais
camped the first night after the Oatman girls were kidnapped.


Olive And Mary Ann at Agua Caliente?
   Vince found the Sheriff Magazine and the article about the Oatman girls being at Agua Caliente. He quotes from J. Ross Browne's Adventures in Apache Country, "I could not but think, as [Charles] Poston, White, and myself sat bobbing about in the water, what an excellent mark we made for any prowling Tontos that might be in the vicinity. It was here that the Indians who had in captivity the Oatman girls made their first halt after the massacre of the family. The barren mountains in the rear, and the wild and desert appearance of the surrounding country, accorded well with the impressive narrative of that disaster."

"How do we preserve the humanity of our hearts among the upsurge of bestiality?"
—Stefan Zweig

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Strange Twist In The Oatman Saga: "Dr. Bugs"

April 18, 2017
   Tracking the Oatman massacre clues through the desert badlands of Gila Bend is slow going and grim work. Even today, the vast, dry river bottom is quite a daunting place to traverse in a Jeep, much less in a wagon, being pulled by exhausted oxen in the year 1851. The nearest settlement at that time was Tucson, more than a hundred miles southeast, with barely a couple hundred, very scared souls, cowering behind presidio walls. The Apaches had decimated the population and raided the place at will, until it was very close to being abandoned.

   Everything to the north of Tucson was strictly In-din country. Still, the Oatmans and two other families pushed on from the Old Pueblo to Maricopa Wells, a village of friendly Pimas and Maricopas (just south of present day Phoenix). Two of the last three wagons dropped off there but, based on a report from someone who had just been on the trail, the Oatmans pushed on.


Daily Whip Out: "Oatmans Traverse The Gila Bend"

The report came from a real life, crazy, whirling dervish character:


Daily Whip Out: "Dr. John Lawrence LeConte"

   As the Oatmans were deciding whether to venture on from Maricopa Wells, two riders came in from the west. One of them was a 25-year-old entomologist, looking for coleoptera. In other words, beetles. This son of a wealthy east-coast industrialist, he was a graduate of New York's College of Physicians and Surgeons. He related to Royce Oatman the fact that he—the doctor—and his hired guide, Sonorian Juan, had traversed the entire trail from Camp Yuma to the villages and they hadn't even seen any Indians, much less signs of Indians. This is where it gets tragic (Royce Oatman probably pushed on based on this report) and quite bizarre.

The Strange Case of Dr. Bugs
   Dr. LeConte (his father styled it as Le Conte, but the son preferred it mooshed together) had traveled by sea to San Francisco in 1849, where he explored the rich areas around San Francisco, collecting specimens of beetles everywhere (at some point he sent home to his father, 10,000 beetles preserved in alcohol). Then, from the Bay area, the good doctor traveled down to San Diego, by stagecoach, where he explored a dry lake bed east of San Diego, then, along with another physician, the two explored the Colorado River between the Yuma Crossing and the Gulf of California.


The serpentine Colorado River area below Camp Yuma Dr. LeConte explored.
It wasn't the safest place to be looking for bugs either.

And now, here he was, in February of 1851 with Juan The Sonorian, traversing the Gila River, looking for more bugs.

   You can't make this stuff up. 

   Studying his movements and his antics is mind boggling. I imagine he was exhausting simply to witness. He reminds me of a Roadrunner cartoon, shooting here and there, darting in and out, always on the lookout for his precious specimens, and, all of this, right in the middle of one of the most tragic episodes of the Westering experience.

   On the sixth day out from Maricopa Wells, the Oatmans were overtaken by Dr. LeConte and Juan the Sonorian, riding on horseback. In less than a week, the two had visited Tucson—close to a 100 mile run—collected specimens, returned to the Pima and Maricopa villages, then set out for the Colorado River where they ran right up on the rear tail gate of the Oatman wagon.

Beep! Beep!

   The Doctor and Juan discovered a depressing scene. The Oatmans were bogged down and their animals were almost collapsing and their food supplies were low. So, at Royce's suggestion, LeConte agreed to take a note to Major Heintzelman at Camp Yuma, beseeching the commander to come to the Oatman's assistance. Grabbing the note, LeConte and Juan blasted on down the trail.

   The day after they left the Oatmans, February 16, the two encountered four Indians on the trail armed with bows and arrows. Juan took them to be "Yumas" (Quechans) and, not friendly. Rebuffing their entreaties to parlay, the two tried to move on, but the Indians followed, then disappeared. The Doc and Juan made camp in a secluded canyon, and when they woke up their two horses were gone.


   LeConte sent Juan on to Camp Yuma on foot with the note from Royce Oatman while the doctor posted a card on a tree, warning the Oatmans of "the nearness of Apaches." A note they probably didn't live to see.

   When LeConte finally arrived at Yuma at the end of February (the Oatman massacre took place on Feb. 18) he demanded that Heintzelman send immediate help, but the commander pleaded he had no animals fit for the journey. When the commander finally relented and sent two soldiers out to reconnoiter, they came back with the news that the Oatmans had all been killed. Heintzelman then angrily turned on LeConte saying he should have stayed with the Oatmans. In his diary, the commander contemptuously called LeConte "Dr. Bugs."

"Some people like charity at other people's expense."
—Brevet Major Heintzelman, referring to Dr. Bugs

  LeConte never stopped moving. From Arizona he traveled to Europe, Egypt and Algiers and he was in Honduras for the building of the Honduras Interoceanic Railway. He moved to Philadelphia in 1852 and became known as the father of the American beetle study.

"And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make."
—The Beatles


Monday, April 17, 2017

Check Out This Stagecoach: Matched White Horses or Mules?

April 17, 2017
   Got a debate going here at the True West World Headquarters. Found an old photo in our archives and the ID on the picture says it's a "White Horse Stage," but some of us think those are mules. What do you think?
Schribner White Horse Stage from Walcot, Wyoming to Saratoga, Wyoming, circa 1900

We asked our mule experts and here's what they had to say:

"Look like mules to me."
—Deb Kidwell "The Jackass Lady"


"My first thought is Pissed off Horses. Reason one, I have never seen a mule with a Roman nose and the lead one on the left has a very good example of a Roman nose. Thats the front bone shape sort of arches out. Not to say it has never happened to a Mule but just what I see. Because the ears are pinned back they appear to be larger, and the builds are more of a draft cross so the ears would be a bit larger than the average horse. They have draft cross mules as well. When the Donkey is mated with the Grey Percheron the Mules would be that colored. I have a book that has huge Grey Horses pulling a fire pumper and they look just like these in your photo. I put $98.00 on HORSES!  So keep me posted on who wins. Love the Photo."
—Sylvia Durando, Three Rivers, California

PS: "Seldom were Mules hitched to Coaches due to their unpredictable temperament!"

"A very nice set of mules."
—Richard Underwoord, Bishop Mule Days


"Yep, they're mules. Back in 1976 for a Bicentennial Event I spent a week on the Crook Military Road staring at my mule, Monte's ears. The son of a gun bucked me off up near Woods Canyon Lake.
My dad loved mules. We had a couple of them when I was a kid. I didn't like 'em much as they were much smarter than me."
—Marshall Trimble


"It may have been called the White Horse Stage but it's being pulled by mules. The longer ears for sure and the nose of a mule is often larger and less .. uh ...'delicate' than that of a horse. The nearside lead mule is a good example and if you study the others close they have the similar characteristic. Regardless, it is one impressive well matched six-up."
—Lee Anderson, equine historian and True West contributor  

"Cayuse hosses. Not a mule in the six up."
—Raymond Isenberg, a Mule Man, extraordinaire

Friday, April 14, 2017

Daily Life On A Doomed Wagon Train

April 14, 2017
   One of the coolest things about finding a diary or the interview of an old pioneer, is the details about how they actually traveled. Here is the description of a young, 16-year-old girl, Susan Thompson, who was actually on the Oatman wagon train:

A Perpetual Picnic
   "We were divided into companies and each band was governed by a captain. Royce Oatman was the man from whom we received directions and counsel." Each wagon had a supply of "jerked meat, dried apples and berries, flour, corn beef, meal, preserved fruits, bacon and beans that we had prepared during the spring months and which we planned were sufficient for eighteen months, lay with our bedding and clothes in a compartment beneath the wagon floor.

  "In a few weeks we had passed beyond the occasional towns and the scattered farms of Kansas and were out into that vast unknown region known as the West. We were a happy, carefree, lot of young people and the dangers and hard-ships found no resting place on our shoulders. It was a continuous picnic and excitement was plentiful.

   "Every two or three days a stop was made and while the women baked and washed, the men hunted for antelopes n' buffalos or smaller game, such as rabbits and pheasants. Often, when we were camping near a stream, we had quantities of fresh fish.

   "Never since those days have I seen churning done so easily. Each morning, after the milking, the milk was put in the churn which sat on the projecting cross beams which supported the canvas top of the wagon, and each evening, when we made our night's halt, we had fresh butter ready for supper.

   "In the evenings we gathered about the campfires and played games or told stories or danced. My grand-daughter in El Monte, has my old violin, which so many evenings gave out the strains of 'Money Musk' and 'Zipp Coon' as the young folks danced in the light of the campfire and the lard-burning lanterns. Often, during the daytime halts,we ran races or made swings. There was plenty of frolic and where there are young people gathered together, there is always plenty of love-making."




A typical wagon train on the move in 1855. Contrary to popular opinion, the trains
often attempted to traverse wide areas in parallel lines, as you can see here, with a second line forming along side the first. On the Santa Fe Trail, the big freight wagons would sometimes travel four abreast where the space permitted it. This strategy was utilized for  protection.


   When the wagon train would reach towns, sometimes, the resulting traffic jams would resemble big city congestion.


Oxen pulling wagons was the main mode of power.

   Eventually, the perpetual picnic gave way to more somber themes, as when a young girl died on the trail:

"We were on the prairies and there was no timber, so each family gave a board from their wagons for the casket. A kind of terror of the plains came over me as the dusk of the evening [came on]. . .we left the grave on a little hillside and heard the howling of the wolves drawing nearer and nearer."
—Susan Thompson, “Following the Pot of Gold at the Rainbow's End in the Days of 1850: The Life of Mrs. Susan Thompson Lewis Parrish of El Monte, California. By Virginia V. Root--Huntington Library, San Marino

   The Oatmans began their ill-fated journey on this wagon train that had some 93 members, riding, or walking beside 43 wagons (Susan Thompson, above, says 30), bound for The Land of Bashan  (today known as Yuma). Petty infighting, alternative visions and illness took its toll. So much so, that by the time they reached Socorro, New Mexico their ranks had been cut in half.


   And by the time they reached the Gila River west of the big bend, in Arizona, the wagons had been reduced to only one.

   To read that full story of the Oatman massacre go HERE.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Layers of History On The Road Less Traveled

April 12, 2017
   When I go out to Old West sites, I'm always very aware of layers. Here's a good example: in Oatman, the town in western Mohave County, my family used to picnic there in the 1950s and my friends and I—mainly Rick Ridenour, Charlie Waters and Dan Harshberger—would play "guns" and we were thrilled to be walking along the streets of an actual 1880s Wild West town, when in fact, the town had gone belly up during World War II so many of the buildings we were awe-struck by dated from the 1930s and 40s, and not the 1880s. Add to that, the fact that Hollywood came to Oatman in the early 1960s and rebuilt part of the main street for a cinerama set piece that appears in "How The West Was Won" (1963).

   So, today, people walk the streets of Oatman thinking they are looking at the real Old West when they are actually looking at a movie set built on top of a Depression era mining town, built on top of an authentic 1914 mining camp.

   So, I am well aware of layers.

Layers On The Road Less Traveled
   Having posted a photograph of my recent trip out to the Oatman (the people, not the town) massacre site, my guide, Vince Murray and I speculated about the road up the bluff and, since it was quite developed (big boulders piled up on the sides, creating a very wide roadway) we wondered at length if it was a modern layer on top of the original road the Oatmans traversed on that fateful day in February of 1851.


Vince Murray standing in the roadway on the approach to Oatman Flat.

   Yesterday I got this email about the authenticity of the road we were standing on:

   "From the photo of the trail it is hard to tell from the perspective, but it appears to be James B. Leach's alternative trail about 100' to the south of what is probably Cooke's Wagon Road used by the emigrants and the Oatmans. The massacre took place at the old ruined Emigrant Trail trail going over the side of Sentinel Plain, which fell apart sometime before 1858. The newer trail up the side of the mesa (Sentinel Plain), 100' to the south, can be identified as Leach's improvements, because of its width. The windrows of rocks rolled back at the lip of the mesa on what is probably Cooke's Wagon Road measures 11'-12' apart. The windrows of rocks rolled back for Leach's 1858 road measure 18' apart. In Leach's 1858 report to the government he states that he improved the road by rolling the rocks back to 18' and on bends to 25' to accommodate 10 mule teams used by teamsters. Leach's road here was probably the trail Butterfield's Overland Mail Company used. Other sections of Leach's improved road can be seen on Sentinel Plain."
—Gerald T. Ahnert



An 1860s illustration of the gravesite and the approach to Oatman Flat.


   The problem I have with this layer of the wrinkle is, I took a photo of the bluff to the north of this road and I don't see any trail, or even a faint, alternative trail. Do you?


This photo is taken at the trail head, near the graves in the river bottom,
 and shows Oatman Bluff as it appears to the north of the above cut, or roadway.

Okay, here's an aerial view of what Gerard is talking about and although this is a little confusing to me, by my calculations, Vince, above, is standing on the Ruined Emigrant Trail.


Okay, after studying this aerial, here is how I think it relates to our visit and the top photo:

Daily Whip Out: "Emigrant Trail & Massacre Sign



"Damn, now I need to go out there a third time!"
—Old Kingman Codger

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Deadly Attack On The Oatmans

April 12, 2017
   It certainly wasn't like in the movies, where a horde of "Redskins" ride out of the timber, giving a high-pitched, quavering yell, as they circle an unsuspecting wagon train and rain arrows on the "white eyes."

   The deadly attack on the Oatmans on February 18, 1851 by a Yavapai hunting party (Olive put their number at 17) was almost the exact opposite of the Western movie staple most of us grew up on. And in some ways, it makes it even more chilling and unnerving.

   Royce (also styled as Roys) Oatman and his family (seven kids and a very pregnant wife) had just finished hauling their belongings up a rocky grade to a bluff on the south side of the Gila River.


My guide, Vince Murray, standing on the grade climbing up to the bluff where the attack happened. This is also the approach of the Yavapais as Lorenzo saw them
 "leisurely approaching us in the road."

   It was the end of a long day and their oxen were bone tired and so was the family. Oatman's wife, Mary Ann, 38, had enough strength to prepare a pot of bean soup and some bread for the family to eat before they continued on—they intended to travel all night to avoid the heat of the day. They were 120 miles from their destination.

   Lorenzo, 14, was loading the last of the baggage back in the wagon, when he turned and saw "several Indians slowly and leisurely approaching us in the road."

   Lorenzo said they conversed "with father in Spanish," and "made the most vehement profession of friendship." (perhaps, "Hola, amigos. Como estas?" Hi, friends, how are you?)

   Royce had a rifle but it was in the wagon. The Indians asked for tobacco and pipe, which Royce promptly produced. After the warriors finished smoking one of them mentioned seeing "two horses down in the brush." (this is intriguing because an American traveler, further down the trail towards the Colorado River, later reported having his two horses stolen the day before).

   According to the author Brian McGinty, "The Oatman Massacre," the winter of 1850-51 was the driest on record in the Southwest, so it's not hard to imagine the Yavapais being part of a hunting, or foraging party, seeking game or bounty to take back to their starving kin. This doesn't excuse what they did, but it gives some needed context to their actions.

   The Yavapais asked for pinole (corn meal) but Royce protested that he didn't have enough to give away, but they persisted and Royce reluctantly gave them some bread, which they ate, then asked for more. When Royce said no, he didn't have any more, one of the Indians brazenly walked over to the wagon and climbed in the back, rummaging around inside. When he came out, he demanded meat. When Royce again protested, the Indians became bolder and started taking objects from the wagon and stuffing items in their clothing. When the family again protested, the Yavapais withdrew a few paces and began talking in their native tongue.

   Essentially, they were divvying up who would kill who, and, who to spare.


A pile of rocks and a plaque mark the spot where the massacre happened.
It is known today as Oatman Flat.


   Royce tried to keep calm and started reloading the wagon with the family belongings the Indians had strewn about on the ground. At this point, one of the Yavapais let out a "deafening yell" as each warrior attacked a member of the family with a war club. Royce, his wife, his daughters Lucy and Charity Ann and his sons Roys, Jr. and Roland were brained senseless, falling to the ground. Lorenzo was also bashed on the head, and with blood streaming down his face, he half-ran, half-stumbled towards the edge of the bluff and fell over the side.

   Only two were spared, Olivia, 13, and Mary Ann, 8, who were forced to watch the warriors strip the dead bodies, looking for items of value. The raiders broke open boxes, tore open a feather bed, scattering its feathers to the wind. They took the wheels off the wagon, tore the canvas canopy off its frame. They unhooked the oxen, bundled up their plunder and rudely pushed the girls in front of them, as they headed back down the bluff into the gathering darkness.

"After we had descended the hill and crossed the river, and traveled about one half of a mile by a dim trail leading through a dark, rough, and narrow defile in the hills, we came to any open place where there had been an Indian camp before, and halted. The Indians took off their packs, struck a fire, and began in their own way to make preparations for a meal. They boiled some of the beans just from our wagon, mixed some flour with water, and baked it in the ashes. They offered us some food, but in the most insulting and taunting manner, continually making merry over every indication of grief in us, and with which our hearts were ready to break. We could not eat. After the meal, and about an hour's rest, they began to repack and make preparations to proceed."
—Olive Oatman, describing the first, grief stricken moments of her five year ordeal