|If his legend wasn’t enough during his short life time, it would soon grow larger when in 1854, the first “fictionalized” account of his life appeared in a San Francisco newspaper and a book by John Rollin Ridge. In The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta.
Ridge portrayed Murrieta as a folk hero who had only turned to a life of crime after a mob of American miners had beaten him severely and left him for dead, hanged his brother, and raped and killed his wife. According to Ridge’s account, Joaquin was a dashing, romantic figure that swearing to avenge the atrocities committed upon his family, committed his many crimes only in an effort to “right” the many injustices against the Mexicans.
According to the tale, Murrieta fled from his claim only to set up a saloon in nearby Hangtown, where miners began to go missing. One by one, the dead bodies of the miners, all who were said to have been part of the killings at the Murrieta claim, turned up with their ears cut off.
After Joaquin’s supposed death, advertising posters were displayed where the head could be viewed, 1853.
|After fourteen miners had been found dead or missing, a Hangtown settler identified Murrieta who fled once again. Before long, he had gathered up his outlaw gang and began to take out his vendetta against the white settlers through robbery and mayhem. However, to his Mexican compatriots he was generous and kind, giving much of his ill gotten gains to the poor, who in turn helped to shelter him from the law.
There is no evidence that Ridge’s version of the tale is accurate; however, similar atrocities were committed on both Mexicans and Chinese who were living in California at the time.
Over the years, the telling of the tale continued to grow until the dead Mexican outlaw began to be called the Robin Hood of El Dorado and take on a symbolized resistance of the Mexicans to the Anglo-American domination of California. And all throughout Gold Country, tales were told of how the outlaw had stayed at this or that hotel, drank in various saloons, and those who claimed to have actually met or was robbed by the man.
As to what happened to Joaquin’s head, it was finally placed behind the bar of the Golden Nugget Saloon in San Francisco, until the building was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.
|The head itself would become yet a part of another legend – the ghost of Joaquin. Even today, the tales continue of Joaquin’s headless ghost riding through the old gold fields, crying like a banshee – “Give me back my head.”|
The terms “gunfighter” or “gunslinger,” as they are most often called today, are actually more modern words utilized in films and literature of the 20th Century.
During the days of the “real” Wild West, men who had gained a reputation as being dangerous with a gun were more commonly called gunmen, pistoleers, shootists, or bad men. Gunslingers weren’t even called gunslingers during the ‘Wild West’ period. They didn’t wear the standard ‘gunfighter’s rig’ of a low-slung hip holster tied to their thigh for a faster draw. The terms “gunfighter“ or “gunslinger“ are more commonly synonymous to a hired gun who made a living with his weapons in the Old West.
Here’s a look at 10 of the deadliest Wild West gunslingers.
1. John Wesley Hardin
Some say the worst bad man that Texas ever produced.
John Wesley Hardin was easily the deadliest gunfighter of all time and one of the darkest characters in the Old West. He was a kind of a guy who will shoot first and ask questions later. This American outlaw and gunfighter claimed to have killed 42 men though the newspapers attributed only 27 killings. He was so quick tempered with a gun that it has been said that he once killed a man for snoring.
Hardin committed his first murder in 1868, when he was just 15 years old (gunned down an ex-slave) and then proceeded to kill three Union soldiers before going on the run. Hardin was known for carrying two pistols in holsters strapped to his chest, which he claimed facilitated the quick draw, and he used them to gun down three more people in various gunfights soon after his flight. At age 17, he was arrested for the murder of a Texas City Marshal, but he was able to escape. At 25, he was finally arrested by a team of Texas Rangers, and eventually served 17 years in prison before being released at the age of 41. Shortly after his release, he was shot in the back of the head by John Selman Jr. in the Acme Saloon in El Paso, Texas, while playing dice.
2. Jim “Killer“ Miller
James “Killin’ Jim“ Miller, also known as “Killin’ Jim“, “Killer Miller“ and “Deacon Jim“, was an American outlaw and assassin of the American Old West who is credited with killing at least 14 people, though legend has it that the number is somewhere closer to 50. As a teenager, Miller blasted his sister’s husband in the head with a shotgun after a disagreement. He was handed a life sentence for the murder but escaped justice owning to a technicality.
Described as being cold to the core, Miller famously declared that he would kill anyone for money, and is rumored to have gunned down everyone from political figures to famed sheriff Pat Garrett. On April 19, 1909, following the murder of former Deputy Marshal Allen “Gus“ Bobbitt, he was arrested and his days of bloodshed finally came to an end. Before he died, he made two requests. He wanted his ring to be given to his wife (who was a cousin of John Wesley Hardin) and to be allowed to wear his hat while being hanged. Both requests were granted. He also asked to die in his black frock coat; this request was denied. Apparently, he screamed, “Let ‘er rip,“ before stepping off the box. His body was left hanging for hours until a photographer could be found to immortalize the event.
3. James “Wild Bill” Hickok
A legend in his own time.
James Butler Hickok (a.k.a. Wild Bill) was the most notorious man in the Wild West. A gunfighter, gambler, civil war spy, Indian fighter, peace officer, Hickok was said to have killed more than 100 men. At the age of 17, he left home and worked as a “canal boat pilot“ in Utica, Illinois. Got his nickname “Wild Bill“ from fighting in the Union army during the Civil War. During this time, he provided many services, such a spy, scout, and a sharpshooter.
In 1865, on the streets of Springfield, Missouri, he gained a reputation for being handy with a gun after he killed David Tutt with a single bullet from 75 yards away (first classic “Wester-style“ quick-draw duel). Suddenly he could not go anywhere without being recognized. On August 2, 1876, Deadwood, South Dakota, Hickok was playing poker when he was shot in the back of the head by a gambler named Jack McCall (better known as “Crooked Nose Jack“), supposedly in retaliation for a prior insult. Hickok was supposedly holding a pair of Aces and Eights at the time, a combination now known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.“
4. Tom Horn Jr.
Thomas “Tom“ Horn, Jr. was a respected lawman and detective, but he was one of the most cold-blooded killers of the Old West. In the 1880s, Horn made a name for himself as a tracker and a bounty hunter. He was eventually hired as a detective by the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency and was responsible for the arrest of many feared criminals. Quickly becoming known for his volatile temper and dangerous capacity for violence, he was forced to resign his position with the Agency after becoming linked to the murders of 17 people.
Following his resignation, he developed a reputation as a hitman and is said to have been responsible for as many as 50 murders in his 43 years of life. Thomas Horn was arrested, tried in a controversial trial and hanged the day before his 43rd birthday in 1903. A retrial was held in 1993 in which he was declared innocent. The New York Times described the trial, “Once Guilty, Now Innocent, But Still Dead.“
5. Clay Allison
Robert Clay Allison was a Texas cattle rancher and gunfighter. Known for his unpredictable personality and violent temper, Clay was a gunslinger who is remembered as one of the deranged outlaws of the Old West. Allison fought in the Civil War, but was discharged after a blow to the head started causing unpredictable behavior in him. Historians believe this event explains some of his shockingly brutal actions, which included once beheading a man he suspected of murder and carrying the head into his favorite bar to share a drink.
After this incident, which bond his reputation as one of the most dangerous figures of his day, Allison was participating in a number of gunfights against fellow gunslingers. The most famous of these gunfights was against outlaw Chunk Colbert, whom Allison shot in the head when the other drew his gun on him following a meal they had shared. When asked why he had eaten with a man who wanted to kill him, Allison replied, “I wouldn’t want to send a man to hell on an empty stomach.“ He died in 1887 when he fell from his wagon and broke his neck. His gravestone is said to read:
“Clay Allison. Gentleman. Gun Fighter. He never killed a man that did no need killing.“
6. Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was an American gambler, deputy sheriff, and deputy town marshal inTombstone, Arizona. He spent most of his life roaming the West, supporting himself with police work, mining, gambling, saloon-keeping, and real estate deals.
Famed lawman Earp is perhaps the most storied figure of the Wild West, but he was also an accomplished gunslinger who was greatly feared by the bandits of the time. Earp had a violent career that saw him travel to boomtowns like Wichita, Dodge City and the lawless town of Tombstone to serve as sheriff, and he participated in some of the most legendary gunfights of the 1800s.
Best known for his participation in the controversial “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,“ which took place at Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26, 1881. The famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a 30-second gunfight between the semi-outlaw group “The Cowboys“ (Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury) and lawmen (Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and Doc Holliday), that is generally regarded as the most memorable shootout in the history of the American Wild West and the greatest gunslinger moment of all time (the outcome of the shootout: Earp, Virgil, and Morgan wounded; Doc Holliday grazed; Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton killed.). The shootout and the bloody events that followed resulted in Wyatt Earp acquiring the reputation as being one of the Old West’s toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day. All told, Earp participated in numerous gunfights in his life, killing anywhere from 8 to 30. He would become the fearless Western hero in countless novels and films.
7. Dallas Stoudenmire
Dallas Stoudenmire was a feared lawman and is known for participating in more gunfights than most of his contemporaries. Stoudenmire earned himself repute as a legendary lawman and gunslinger, but he also made himself a lot of enemies. Armed with two guns, he was an accurate shooter with both hands, and he had a reputation for being tough and dangerously shot-tempted when he had a drink or two. After being wounded several times while fighting in the Civil War, Stoudenmire moved to the lawless and violent city of El Paso, Texas, to serve as sheriff. On the third day on the job, he killed three men with his two 44 caliber Colt revolvers in a famous incident known as the “Four Dead In Five Seconds“ gunfight.
Witnesses generally agreed that the incident lasted no more than five seconds after the first gunshot though a few would insist it was at least ten seconds. Marshal D. Stoudenmire was responsible for three of the four fatalities with his “twins.“ Less than a year after these incidents, he would kill as many as six more men in gunfights while in the line of duty, eventually gaining a reputation as one of the most feared lawmen in Texas. In 1882, Stoudenmire was shot to death by a group of outlaws during a verbal confrontation.
8. Billy The Kid
Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney or just “Billy the Kid,” started his life of crime with petty theft and horse thievery, but is said to have first killed a man at the age of eighteen. In 1877, he was deputized during the so-called “Lincoln County War” and rode with lawmen who were seeking to arrest a group of corrupt businessman responsible for the murder of an innocent rancher. Billy’s group, called, “the Regulators,” became known for their wanton violence, and were themselves soon regarded as outlaws.
The group was unfazed by their new classification as bandits and proceeded to go on a killing spree, gunning down three people in the course of just three days, including a sheriff and his deputy. The group was eventually broken up by law enforcement, but the Kid managed to elude capture. He formed a gang and increased his notoriety after shooting down a gambler in a New Mexico saloon. After a number of run-ins with the law, the Kid was again captured and sentenced to death, but he managed to escape after he got a hold of a weapon and gunned down the two men guarding him. After three months on the run, he was killed when Sheriff Pat Garrett and two deputies shot him to death in 1881. All told, Billy the Kid is said to have killed a total of 21 men, one for each of the years of his life, though this number is often regarded as inaccurate and exaggerated.
9. King Fisher
One the lesser-known but more violent pistoleers of the Old West, gunfighter, and one-time lawman John King Fisher was in and out of prison from the age of sixteen. By the early 1870s, Fisher became known as a bandit when he joined a group of outlaws whose specialty was raiding ranches in Mexico. Though quickly becoming known for his flamboyant style of dress, (always seen wearing brightly colored clothes), and signature twin ivory-handled pistols, it was his propensity for aggression that singled him out.
Among his many exploits, he was known for gunning down three members of his own gang during a dispute over money and then killing seven Mexican bandits a short time later. In his most famous gunfight, Fisher is said to have taken on four Mexican cowboys single-handedly, which after hitting one with a branding iron, outdrew another. Then in his well-documented sadistic style, then shot the other two who were unarmed. In 1884, Fisher was ambushed and killed, along with gunslinger Ben Thompson, by friends of a man Thompson had previously killed in a gunfight.
10. Sam Bass
Sam Bass started out an honest man. He had a simple and modest dream of moving to Texas and becoming a cowboy. Eventually he did just that but decided after one season he didn’t like it. While transitioning from simple farmer to famed outlaw might be a stretch for some, Bass did it seamlessly. He began robbing banks and stagecoaches and became rather proficient at it.
After his 7th stagecoach robbery, Bass and his gang turned their sights on bigger prizes and decided to rob trains. They eventually robbed the Union Pacific gold train from San Francisco, netting over $60,000, which is to this day the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific. He was wounded by Texas Rangers on the way to rob a small bank in Round Rock and died two days later on his 27th birthday.
For the land that would eventually become California, the year 1542 was a pivotal point in time. The first recorded sighting of the California coastline occurred in that momentous year. Two small ships commanded by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo worked their way up the west coast of Mexico to what is now San Diego Bay. Cabrillo had been present during the final conquest of Mexico City and had personally witnessed the fall of the Aztec empire. But his discovery of California would be his crowning achievement, although he didn’t realize it at the time.
Sixty years later, the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino cruised the California coastline in search of wealth. Vizcaino named many locations along the coast including Carmel, Monterey, Santa Catalina, and San Pedro. The expedition found no treasure but did discover “fool’s gold” and a metallic silvery-blue mineral used by the natives.
It wasn’t until 1769 that a joint land and sea expedition to California was mounted by the Spaniards. Don Gaspar de Portola arrived in San Diego in June of that year as California’s first governor. The expedition included a number of illustrious men including Father Junipero Serra, Father Juan Crespi, Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada, and Lieutenant Pedro Fages. The Spanish presence was now firmly established in California.
Five years later, another expedition set out for the newly-established San Gabriel Mission in southern California. Led by Juan Bautista de Anza, the Spaniards marched from Sonora along the Camino de Diablo trail to the junction of the Colorado and Gila rivers. Here they encountered the Yuma Indians led by their famous chief Palma. From the Yuma villages, the Spaniards marched westward through the desert sands to Borrego Springs and then on to San Gabriel Mission. The floodgates were now open. Spanish prospectors quickly followed on the heels of de Anza and by 1780, were scouring the mountains of the lower Colorado River country. In that same year, gold was discovered in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains, in the Picacho
Basin, and at the “Potholes” near the southern end of the Chocolate Mountains. The Cargo Muchachos have veteran status among the mountain ranges of southern California. They were the site of the first discovery of gold in California by Spanish prospectors. Initially the surface ores were extremely rich, but deeper down they gave way to very low grade ore. The Spanish miners quickly skimmed off the richest ores and moved on to other locations. The Cargo Muchacho deposits were sporadically worked by Mexican prospectors, but they essentially lay dormant for over 80 years.
Then in 1862, American prospectors discovered rich gold-bearing quartz veins in the Cargo Muchachos. Miners and prospectors swarmed into the area. In 1884, the rich Gold Rock lodes were discovered by a railroad worker named Pete Walters. Railroad men sure seem to make good prospectors. Besides Pete Walters’ Gold Rock strike in the Cargo Muchachos there was John Sutter’s discovery of the fabulous Bagdad-Chase lode and Tom Schofield’s lost mine in the Clipper Mountains.
The Gold Rock claims were extremely rich. A mining camp known as Gold Rock Camp sprang up near the workings, but it was renamed Hedges soon after. (In 1910, the name was again changed to Tumco.) Hedges was a hell-raising town during its heyday. During the late 1800’s, an Irishman named Jim Sullivan worked at one of the saloons in town. One of his fellow employees was an old Indian who had lived in the lower Colorado River country all his life. The Indian carried a secret with him. In his wanderings he had stumbled on a ledge of gold-bearing ore and had samples to prove it! Sullivan eventually persuaded him to reveal the location of the ledge and the two of them set out from Hedges. The Indian led Sullivan eastward towards the Chocolate Mountains. After about 15 miles, they located the ledge, worked it, and then returned to town. Soon after, the old Indian disappeared but Sullivan always figured he could find the ledge on his own. He was never able to.
Boundary Canyon slices through the heart of the rugged Amargosa Range just north of Beatty Junction, California. Besides Highway 190 which follows Furnace Creek Wash further south, the road through Boundary Canyon is the only route that cuts through the Amargosas. Boundary Canyon forms the border between two subranges of the Amargosas, the Grapevine Mountains to the north and the Funeral Mountains to the south. The canyon and surrounding mountains are extremely rugged and nearly waterless, but early prospectors sometimes used Boundary Canyon to travel to and from Death Valley. Occasionally, they left their marks along the way. On a vertical cliff in the Boundary Canyon area, an old inscription is carved into the rock. The words are enough to fire the imagination. There, cut into the rock above the canyon floor, is the message: “Hunting the Breyfogle. 1872.”
The Lost Breyfogle Mine is one of several legendary lost mines of Death Valley and is indeed one of the most famous lost mines of the entire West. And no wonder. The renowned Death Valley prospector, “Shorty” Harris, saw some of Breyfogle’s amazing ore and instantly pronounced it the richest he had ever seen! A chunk of the fabulously rich ore was on display in Austin, Nevada for a number of years. Hundreds of mining men and prospectors stared with amazement at the ore sample. It was nearly half gold!
The man who discovered this golden bonanza came west during the 1849 rush to California. Charles C. Breyfogle and his brothers Jacob and Joshua left their home in Ohio and joined the nearly 50,000 Argonauts who journeyed overland to the California goldfields. Charles spent the next 10 years of his life in the mining districts of the Mother Lode country. In 1859, he was drawn to the booming silver camps of Nevada. By 1862, Charles Breyfogle was one of many prospectors working the western slopes of the Toiyabe Range, overlooking the Reese River valley. The mining town of Austin rose up near the silver mines.
Several accounts of the Lost Breyfogle Mine have Charles setting out from Austin on his fateful journey. Other sources have him traveling from Los Angeles to the Nevada silver camp when he made his discovery. The sources are confused and contradictory, but in any case, Breyfogle and at least two companions were traveling through Death Valley in 1863 when they were attacked by Indians. All were killed except Breyfogle. Breyfogle scampered into the foothills of the Funeral Range and started wandering through the mountains in a generally northward direction. Somewhere on the western flanks of the Funerals, Charles spied a solitary mesquite tree in the distance. As he headed toward the tree, he stumbled on an outcrop of incredibly rich gold ore! It consisted of native gold in an iron-stained “chocolate brown” quartz. The ore contained nearly 50% gold! He continued northward, his pockets bulging with gold. Charles was eventually discovered wandering in the Nevada desert and brought in to Austin, where he recovered from his ordeal.
The incredible richness of Breyfogle’s ore astounded the local miners. By 1865, Charles was ready to return to the Death Valley country to search for the ledge. Breyfogle, Jake Gooding, and Pony Duncan wandered the valley for months but were unable to find it. Charles returned many times; his last attempt in 1869 ended in failure. He died the following year. In 1872, Jacob Breyfogle (Charles’ brother) took up where his brother left off. Unfortunately, his efforts also proved to be futile. The fabulous ledge remains hidden today.
Lost Santa Rosa Emerald Mine….
The rugged Santa Rosa Mountains rise up from the desert floor northwest of the Salton Sea, in the extreme south-central part of California. Part of the Peninsular Ranges, the Santa Rosa Mountains stretch for nearly 40 miles in a northwest-southeast direction. The Santa Rosas are dominated by three peaks, Toro Peak and Santa Rosa Mountain in the northwest part of the range and Rabbit Peak in the southeast part. Toro Peak is the highest peak in the Santa Rosas, rising to 8717 feet. The mountains decrease in elevation to the southeast, eventually petering out into a series of low hills just west of the Salton Sea. The Santa Rosas are bounded on the east and west by the Coachella Valley and Clark Valley, respectively. The range is separated from the adjacent San Jacinto range to the northwest by Palm Canyon. The southern part of the range merges with the seared wasteland known as the Borrego Badlands. The town of Borrego Springs lies a scant 12 miles southwest of the Santa Rosas.
The Santa Rosa Mountains have always stood on the periphery of events in California. Even today, the area is remote and fairly inaccessible. In 1774, a Spanish expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza passed through Borrego Springs on its way to San Gabriel Mission, near present day Los Angeles. But for the most part, people and events have by-passed the Santa Rosas.
The mountains have an air of mystery about them. For many years, persistent rumors of rich gold-bearing pockets in the Santa Rosas have circulated around the mining camps of southern California. Indeed, a few of these have been discovered. The area also contains numerous Pre-Columbian archeological sites including camp sites, stone rings, and ancient Indian trails. Many legends have come down to us concerning the activities of these early Indians. One of the most intriguing legends is that of a lost emerald mine worked for many years by the local Indians.
In the 1940’s, a mining engineer named Marshal South got wind of the legendary emerald mine from an old Indian living in Hermosilla. The two formed a partnership and began prospecting the Santa Rosa Mountains. Using Rockhouse Canyon as their base camp, Marshal South and the old Indian scoured the mountains in search of the emerald deposit. Although they never located the mine, they did find a small fragment of emerald in one of the many steep canyons that cut the flanks of the Santa Rosas. The emerald was found mixed with beryl float at the bottom of the canyon.