Got some rain last night. Still sprinkling this morning. Saw some great tattered clouds dropping virga on the way into work. Snapped off a photo right out my truck window:
We've got an issue, July, going out the door tomorrow and we're wrestling with a component of a Classic Gunfight, which features former Texas Ranger, Ira Aten, fighting the McClelland brothers in Dimmitt, Texas. Mark Boardman researched the fight and wrote up a straight ahead account of the shooting using the best sources available. Basically, Ira was peeved that Andrew McClelland called him a liar at a town meeting, so Ira rode up to the McClelland's land office (they were allegedly sellng land at inflated prices and Aten had created a rival development south of Dimmit, thus the bad blood). Aten cooly dismounted and asked Andrew if he still thought Ira was a liar. When he said he did, Aten told him to arm himself. Andrew went and got his guns, came out firing two pistols and Aten shot him down. Then, the other brother, Hugh, fired from the corner of a building, and Aten, using two hands on his pistol (another example of the Weaver Stance, in 1891) shot through the corner of the building and nicked Hugh in the neck and back, taking him out of the fight.
Pretty cool fight, no? Well, our archivist, Ron, retrieved an old Frontier Times from January 1945 that quotes an Amarillo newspaper account of the fight. It was printed several days after the fight so it's contemporary. In this account, there is a wonderful sidebar anecdote that goes like this:
"Aten met the McClellands on the street for the first time since they had insulted him and called him a liar, and asked them if they still said it. They replied that they did. Aten then told them they were -------lying-------- ----------. Andrew McClelland said he was unarmed, and Aten told him to get his gun. Hugh then said, 'I am ready for you,' and started as if to draw his pistol, where upon Aten drew his revolver and waited for McClelland to produce his, but he did not pull it, and Aten returned his pistol to its place. Hugh McClelland then went into his office, drew his revolver, came back to the door and began cursing Aten, who was backing up with both hands up, telling McClelland to shoot, and assuring him that he would catch the bullets."
I told our managing editor Meghan Saar and Mark we have to get this into the fight, but Mark was suspicious:
"I can't find anything---other than the account you've found, Bob--about Ira promising to catch Hugh's bullets. In fact, after reading a fair amount about the man, it just doesn't sound right. I mean, what guy in his right mind would dare another guy to go ahead and shoot. And again, the info I've got said that Hugh only made his appearance when he opened up from behind the building.
"I think Aten was the kind of man who would let an unarmed foe go get a gun--but not much beyond that.
"It sounds to me like that account embellishes the initial confrontation between Andy and Aten by adding Hugh to the mix. That part isn't in the Bowden, Hunter or Vick accounts, nor in the Preece. And the county historian never mentioned that, either.
"So while it sounds colorful and cool, it just doesn't ring true to me. And most of the accounts of the fight agree.
"I wouldn't go with it."
I chewed on this all last night and this morning in yoga. In a centered place, I decided we would put the anecdote in, but with a clarifer, that this was from an initial newspaper account, so the reader knows it is just one version. When I ran this by Mark, I got this reply:
On May 19, 2009, at 10:13 AM, Mark Boardman wrote:
"Does the Amarillo account say what Hugh did when his brother came out of the store firing?
"It seems a bit strange to me that he'd hightail it away, down the block and around the building when he and his bro have the drop on the guy.
"But what the heck..."
No, but it does flow to me and it seems as logical as so many of these fights. One guy is afraid, but is blustering. He runs inside, watches his brother shooting, hoping he finishes off Aten, then when his brother goes down he realizes he has to act. The "catching the bullets" is probably a stretch, but there it is, in the first newspaper account of the fight. and frankly, stranger things have happened. I may report on this in today's blog. The due diligence we go through to get these right. I'll probably say you aren't too thrilled with this being included, something like that. You cool with it?
"I agree, stranger things have happened. But newspaper accounts have also been known to be way wrong. Heck, look at all the accounts of the Street Fight in the days following. There was a bunch of misinformation.
"It's also interesting that Preece's book cites Aten's Six and One-half Years in Ranger Service but doesn't include the Hugh McClelland stuff.
"So, at the risk of sounding like a total asshole, no, I'm not too thrilled to include that part. I'm just trying to get this thing right, and we've already had to get beyond so much bad info (like the election happening in Nov. according to a couple of sources, etc.).
"This is one of those times when I wish I was out there and we could hash it out in person. Or resort to manly fisticuffs."
To Be Continued. . .
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