||Jedediah Smith, No Ordinary Mountain Man,
by Barton H. Barbour. Norman: University of Oklahoma
Press, 2009, pbk., 290pp., $19.95.
William H. Goetzmann in his Pulitzer Prize winning
Exploration and Empire, the Explorer and the
Scientist in the Winning of the American West
(1966) called Jedediah Smith "one of the
giants of the fur trade and one of the greatest
of all American explorers."
Smith however is less well known among general
readers than other great men of the Rocky Mountain
fur trade. Perhaps this is because his stern
and nearly humorless Protestant personality set
him apart from other Mountain Men, who were more
carefree than he. Smith did not smoke, he did
not drink. He carried his Bible, and he read
from it. He never married. Most men called him "Mr.
Smith," and later "Captain Smith."
It is impossible to imagine him drinking, fighting,
and whoring with the boys at the annual fur rendezvous,
or sitting around evening fires telling "stretchers" with
the best of them, great "liars" like
Jim Bridger, Joe Meek, or "Ole Fitz" Fitzpatrick.
The fact is that Smith was distant, even aloof.
He was also literate. He kept journals, and he
made maps of his explorations. Few other Mountain
Men did. Smith truly excelled as an explorer
and journalist and as a leader of men rather
than as a trapper.
As a boy in Ohio, he received basic education
in reading and writing, and he had a Methodist
upbringing. In 1822, he arrived in St Louis,
the place to go at the time for young men seeking
adventure and willing to work for wages. He signed
on with the first Ashley-Henry fur party to go
up the Missouri River, and, through sheer courage
and ability under great pressure, he survived
unhurt the party's near massacre by Arikaras
in June, 1823 on the upper River.
Smith was then chosen to lead a party farther
west. After being horribly mauled by a grizzly,
and after passing through numerous other extreme
hardships, he and his party "rediscovered" and
crossed the South Pass of the Central Rocky Mountains,
first "discovered" on October 23, 1812,
by Robert Stuart leading a party of six Astorians
returning eastward from Astoria, their fur company's
old post on the Pacific.
The South Pass would later become the route
of the "Emmigrant Trail," and still
later, famous as the "Oregon Trail" to
Oregon and California. After returning to St.
Louis late in 1825 with almost 9,000 pounds of
beaver fur, Smith was invited to become a partner
with Ashley and Henry. Soon afterward he succeeded
Ashley in a new company to be known as Smith,
Jackson, and Sublette.
His most important achievements were yet to
come. In succeeding years, he led two expeditions
to California via the Mojave Desert and San Gabriel
Mission - today a beautifully kept Catholic museum
piece within the great urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
On the second of these expeditions, Smith's entire
party was massacred by Kelawatset people on the
Umpqua River. In spite of such hardships, Smith
kept a detailed journal of the country and its
people. Surviving the massacre, he trapped again
in the Rockies, sold his partnershp in the company,
and returned to St. Louis to buy a house, and,
seemingly, to settle down at last.
It was not to be. He soon organized an expedition
of 74 men and 22 wagons to enter the Santa Fe
trade. The caravan left St. Louis in April 1831.
Late in May they took the Cimarron Cutoff of
the Santa Fe Trail. This was the shorter of the
two branches of the famous trail, but it crossed
a nearly waterless desert. While he was out alone
searching for water, a band of Comanches rode
up, surrounded him, and shot him out of the saddle.
Barbour might have explored in more depth the
apparent contradictions within Smith's character
which drove him to succeed, then quickly drove
him out again to meet his violent death. But
the book is thoroughly researched and very well
written. It is an important contribution to our
knowledge of Smith and the part he played in
the history of the Fur Trade of the Far West.
||The Bronco Bill Gang, Karen Holliday
Tanner, and John D. Tanner. Norman: University
of Oklahoma Press, 2011, cloth, 270pp., $29.95
Bronco Bill and his gang, though not known as
well as the Daltons and the James brothers, stirred
up a lot of trouble in southern New Mexico and
eastern Arizona around the turn of the century.
The Tanners, experts on Western criminals, and
their fields of plunder, have written a very
good book on the gang. Bill and his bunch became
true experts in stealing property, in their early
days chiefly horses and cattle. After a gang
in Ohio got the brilliant idea of robbing trains,
a rash of bad men across the West mastered that
risky art. Still another new field of daring
do was the art of robbing banks.
When the Civil War ended, the "western
movement" really got its boost. Thousands
of young men, large numbers of them fresh from
the Confederate army with nothing left for them
in the South, drifted west where the opportunities
Most of these men were to become law abiding
citizens who used their labors for decent purposes.
A small number of them, however, were driven
by the urge to take from others what they themselves
chose not to earn for themselves.
All of them surely knew that, at the end, they
would die by violence - by the rope hanging from
a limb of the solitary cottonwood tree or by
the lawman's gunshot - or that they would languish
away their years in dirty small town jails or
a territorial penitentiary, living on black bread
and beans, weak coffee and bad water. They had
absolutely nothing to look forward to but boredom
and a painful death, alone. Still they chose
to steal from other men and women. They lived
simply for the hell of it. They were indeed a
Bill's given name was William Walters. Most
of what we know of him must be qualified by probably
or maybe for such men left few records on purpose.
Walters was probably born in Austin and came
to New Mexico as a teenage cowboy. Stories were
told of him. One that he worked in Santa Fe as
a painter. Another that he cowboyed on the Pecos
for John Chisum's famous long rail and jingle-bob
outfit. Still another is that he may have held
up a bank in San Marcial, once a thriving town
on the Rio Grande below Socorro.
In 1889 he was arrested in Separ, east of Lordsburg,
for horse stealing and other meanness. From there
the famous sheriff Harvey Whitehill hauled him
off to jail in Silver City, where Bill promptly
broke out. Arrested in 1892, Bill was later jailed
at Socorro, where he soon sprung the jail door
By October, 1896, he and others bungled the
robbery of an A and P train westbound from Albuquerque.
Not discouraged by failure, he and the gang successfully
robbed two stagecoaches near White Oaks in Lincoln
County before bungling another train robbery
at Stein's Pass (pronounced Steen's) and still
another near Grants. Then they hit the jackpot
in a train robbery near Belen, supposedly getting
off with $20,000. The next day while on the lam
horseback, they were ambushed, but shot their
way out, killing three lawmen as they went.
From then on, Walters's story is mostly on downhill.
Badly wounded while hiding out in Arizona, he
was locked up in Santa Fe's territorial pen,
from which he escaped in 1911, then returned
to the pen, where he was sentenced to life. Strangely,
however, he was pardoned in 1917.
Thereafter, in a most ironic turn of events,
he was offered a "straight" job as
a "windmiller" for the famous Diamond
A Ranch near Hachita in New Mexico's Bootheel.
Death came on the day Bill took a bad fall from
a Diamond A windmill. At least he was spared
having to wink out defiant, six guns ablazing.
A well told story of a serious Southwestern
outlaw and his gang. ~ D
||Robin Olds, Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs
of Legendary Ace Robin Olds. New York: St.Martin's Griffin,
2010, pbk., 400pp., $15.99.
When I was a boy in the 1930s, every kid dreamed of flying an airplane.
The most exciting event of my early childhood was seeing Amelia Earhart's
aluminum skinned Lockheed Electra, a twin engine, tail wheel aircraft powered
by radial engines.
The first woman to fly the Atlantic solo in 1932, Amelia was on the
staff of the Aeronautical Engineering Department at Purdue University
as an aviation consultant and career counselor for women. She often flew
her silver bird beween the West Coast and the University. The newspaper
announced one Friday that she would stop over in Indianapolis for the
weekend and that her Lockheed would be on display at the city's airport.
My dad drove the three of us kids over to the Indianapolis airport on
Sunday afternoon. I can hardly describe my excitement when we climbed
wooden steps and walked along a platform from which we viewed the aircraft
and looked down into the Lockheed's cabin.
I was hooked on flying, but put off taking lessons. Eventually as an
adult I got my pilot's license, but much too late in life to do any serious
flying. Had I gone ahead as a youth, I might well have become a real
pilot - a fighter pilot. At least I'd have given it a shot.
Robin Olds, whose father was also a combat flyer in the Air Corps, was
probably the greatest American fighter pilot of all time. He was an "ace," scoring
enough kills in World War II and again in the Vietnam War to qualify
as a "double ace." He was also, surprisingly, a very skilled
writer and a thoughtful and reflective man. He kept a daily journal
throughout his years in the Army Air Corps and later in the U. S. Air
Force. ~ D
||The Fort Bayard Story, 1866-1899, by Neta Pope and Andrea
Jaquez. Introduction by Dr. Dale Giese, copyright 2011 by Andrea Jaquez,
390 pp., hardback, $45; pbk., $30.
Of all the nineteenth century military posts in what is now the southwest
quarter of the State of New Mexico, Fort Bayard was in many ways the most
important. Yet no one until now, so far as I know, has ever published a
major book length history of the fort.
Neta Pope and Andrea Jaquez have now done just that. And this thorough
book has long been needed. For Fort Bayard was at the center of military
action against Victorio's Warm Springs people and other warring Apache
groups all across the vast sweep of land between the more important Fort
Craig to the north and east and the still more important Fort Bowie to
the south and west.
Soldiers from the fort, many of them "Buffalo Soldiers," patrolled
this landscape during much of the period of the so-called "Apache
wars," which lasted roughly from about 1862 or so until Geronimo's
final surrender to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon.
From Fort Bayard, black soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry trailed Apache warriors
and fought battles with them from the Florida Mountains on the south, throughout
the Mogollon and Mimbres Ranges to the north, all the way to Tularosa,
then eastward to the Ojo Caliente reservation at the base of the San Mateo
Mountains. Across this immense spread of landscape, Fort Bayard's soldiers
were ambushed, stood and fought, were wounded and died. Several of them
received the Medal of Honor for great bravery in action. Perhaps even more
important in the long view of history was that the courage and the discipline
of these African American soldiers proved that black soldiers were as capable
in combat as white soldiers.
Established in 1866 on orders of General James H. Carleton, head of the
famous "California Column" and later the hated commanding officer
of the Army's Department of New Mexico, Fort Bayard was believed important
to protect settlers and miners who were swarming to Pinos Altos and the
surrounding area after the gold strike of 1859-60 had turned the tiny camp
into a boomtown.
After a trip through the area in June, 1867, Carleton wrote, "Fort
Bayard, as yet, is only an assembly of log houses. It has a capacity for
some three or four companies . . . Some stone foundations for the permanent
quarters have already been commenced. A post of four companies of cavalry
and two of infantry at this place would be strong enough soon to drive
off or destroy the marauding Apaches which are now so great an obstacle
to the filling up by farmers, stock growers and miners of this important
part of New Mexico . . ."
Then Carleton added, too optimistically as it turned out, "Before
six years shall have passed . . . there will be a town at or near Pinos
Altos larger than the city of Denver . . ." (It may be of interest
to know that the general himself held mining interests in the area).
Then he commented, "It may be doubted if there is on the known surface
of the earth an equal number of square miles on which may be found as many
as rich and extensive veins of the useful as well as the precious metals
as at or near Pinos Altos, New Mexico."
After the Apache Wars came to an end, Fort Bayard continued as a more
or less active army post until about 1900 after which it became a military
hospital for veterans and soldiers with TB.
The Fort Bayard Story was unusually well researched. Pope and Jaquez used
local sources, then went outside to libraries and archives elsewhere. They
used the old-time method of research that I call "boot-leather research." One
or the other of the two women went to sources where most of Fort Bayard's
records (and other army records too) are kept. They visited the National
Achives in Washington twice, the Carlisle Barracks collections in Pennsylvania
twice, the New Mexico State Archives and Records Center in Santa Fe, and
the Arizona Historical Society collections in Tucson.
Especially significant is the broad selection of photographs Pope and
Jaquez collected from many persons and places. Here are images of men and
women important to the fort's history, people we had all wondered about,
but never really seen in person so to speak.
The Fort Bayard Story is also remarkably well written, thus very readable.
The authors have succeeded well in filling in a gap in New Mexico's history.
I congratulate them both.
||The Fourth Wife: Polygamy, Love & Revolution,
by Carolyn O'Bagy Davis. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2011, pbk.,
||Hopi Summer: Letters from Ethel to Maud, by Carey Melville.
Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2007, pbk., 160pp., $15.95.
Here are two exceptionally interesting, very well-written books about
men and women who lived and traveled in the American Southwest and
in northern Mexico in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Tucson author Carolyn O'Bagy Davis has a sharp eye for as yet unused
source material, especially interviews, family letters, and old photographs
revealing rich detail.
Many European-Americans have been travelers toward the West. From
the very early days on, "westering" was habit with them.
Many wanted to move "out West" to settle and start a new
life. Others just wanted to see the West, called "Going out
to see the Elephant." My own Scots-Irish McCain ancestors and
my German ancestors, arriving in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in Colonial
times, kept picking up and moving farther west for generation after
generation, across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and beyond, but always
toward the West.
It was so with the Mormons, people of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-Day Saints, many of whom migrated all the way from northern
Europe. Unlike the Scots-Irish Presbyterian McCains, however, they
were persecuted by their neighbors. So they pushed ever farther West
to the remote land around the Great Salt Lake, which they believed
was their Chosen Place, the Promised Land, as their great leader
Brigham Young put it.
Feeling safe there, these industrious people settled, farmed, built,
and prospered. They had a strong impulse to convert others to their
faith. And they practiced plural marriage openly, at least until
about 1890 when the Federal Government passed laws making polygamy
a felony. Meantime LDS president Wilford Woodruff backed an edict
called the Manifesto of 1890, which denounced plural marriages in
Utah Territory. During following years, many confirmed polygamous
families either went into hiding or sought other countries where
plural marriage was permitted. At that time, Chihuahua, Mexico, was
an obvious choice. It was close by, and, although polygamy was illegal
there too, the government did not bother people with plural marriages.
Julia Sarah Abegg was the daughter of a Mormon family which in 1899
moved to Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, 170 miles southwest of El Paso.
Brought up and educated there, Julia maried Anson Bowen Call, becoming
his fourth wife. The story of her life is the focus of this book.
Julia was what might be called a "good wife," one who perfectly
represented a married woman of her day, her place, her Mormon faith,
and her culture. It appears from the evidence that she truly loved
her husband and that he surely loved her. As husband and wife, the
two had twelve children, ten of whom lived to adulthood.
The family, and other Mormon families with them, was forced to cross
the Border to Tucson and elsewhere several times for their own safety
during the Mexican Revolution, while for years competing armies ravaged
Chihuahua. In spite of the dangers, Julia always returned to her
home in Mexico as soon as matters settled down a little. And there
she lived, and died, in 1937.
I don't know of a more lively and moving account of the liife of
a faithful, dutiful, warm-hearted woman of her day than the story
of Julia Call. Fortunately for readers, Davis came to know Julia's
daughter Lorna late in Lorna's life and interviewed her in depth
about her mother. Thus this special book was written.
Hopi Summer: Letters from Ethel to Maud
Hopi Summer (winner of the ONEBOOKAZ award for 2011) is the story
of a family's going west, but for different reasons than the Mormon
Carey Melville, a professor of math at Clark Univesity in Massachusetts,
decided in the fall of 1926 to take a sabbatical leave in order
to see the West and tour much of the rest of the country besides.
He, his wife Maud, and their three children packed "Hubbub," the
brand new Model T Ford, and a trailer for camping and cooking gear,
then set out to "tour" America, as people called such
trips in those days. My own grandparents took a "tour" to
Southern California from Michigan during Christmas season of 1924,
went home, sold everything, including the family business, returned
in the spring to Glendale, built a house, and settled down for
the rest of their lives together.
The Melvilles' plan was to drive south to North Carolina to visit
relatives while they loaded their camping supplies and repacked
cooking gear, added spare parts for the Ford, metal water containers,
and camera equipment, for Carey, a hobby photographer, wanted to
take a lot of pictures. Over the nine months ahead, the family
drove 17,671 miles, circling the country south into Florida, west
through the Big Bend to San Diego, north to Seattle, then home
again through Chicago. They drove muddy roads which were little
more than trails, crossed creeks without bridges, and patched the
Model T's tires. Carey patched them ten times on one day alone.
In Albuquerque he bought four new ones.
Making a detour to the Hopi Mesas to visit a friend who was a
Baptist missionary, Carey was fascinated by the photos the country
offered, while Maud made friends with a Hopi woman, Ethel Muchvo.
The heart of Hopi Summer lies in the correspondence betwen Maud
and Ethel carried on over ten years. Maud's letters were lost.
Ethel's fortunately were saved. They offer a rare view of the few
pleasures, and of the daily trials of a Native American woman of
the 1920s. They tell of her children, her pottery, her husband's
corn and sheep, and of his long struggle with TB. This book is
a gem. Every student of the lives of traditional Native American
people should have a copy. ~DR