27. August 2014 · Comments Off on Another New Chapter – The Golden Road · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book · Tags: , , ,

Chapter 7 – Fauntleroy’s Woman

(Arrived in California at last, Fredi Steinmetz – young and wide-eyed and adventurous – has come to the port town of San Diego, with his partner, the mysterious and slightly slippery Polydore A.O’Malley. They have, during a course of sampling the social life available in San Diego, met another slippery character – one Fauntleroy Bean, a gambler with no other visible means of support and a locally shady reputation. Fauntleroy Bean – in later life famous as Judge Roy Bean, the only law west of the Pecos – was in his younger incarnation – slightly less an upholder of law and order. The story continues …)

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Fredi sauntered away from the wagon-yard, hands jammed deep in the pockets of his round jacket, his bearing and general air being elaborately casual. He kept to the shadowed side of the street, making his way back to the boarding house, hoping with every step that he had attracted no interest, especially from the Sheriff. He also hoped Sheriff Haraszathy had no abiding interest in turning San Diego upside down, looking for Fauntleroy Bean. It didn’t seem as if there was. What would O’Malley say? Well, Fredi reasoned to himself, they had a promise of payment, for assisting Fauntleroy out of town, and that would be worth something.
At the boarding house, lights glowed from the parlor downstairs. Fredi stole past the doorway on tiptoe and climbed the stairs to the boarder’s room, hoping that O’Malley had returned, and they could make some pretense of speaking privately. To his relief, O’Malley had returned – he lay fully-clothed on top of the blankets, snoring loudly. There was a candle in a metal holder wobbling perilously in a pool of softened wax on the crude wooden wash-stand, the single point of light in the room. They were alone in the room, but for Nipper, curled in his usual neat brindle ball at the foot of the bedstead. Fredi shook his partner’s shoulder, to no avail. The odor of whiskey and tobacco smoke was strong on O’Malley’s clothing and on his breath.
“Wake up, O’Malley,” Fredi begged in a whisper. “Wake up … we’ll have to leave first thing tomorrow. We’ve got paid work, if we go to San Gabriel, first thing… wake up!” He shook O’Malley even more. The other boarders would be coming upstairs any minute.
O’Malley stirred, but only came partially awake. “Freddy lad – let me sleep … I must visit Orla in the morning before I go to Derry.” And then to Fredi’s utter horror, O’Malley began to weep, great shuddering sobs. “Ah, but she is dead, sweet lovely Orla … why did ye do it, Orla? Father Patrick said it was for shame…Dead, all of them, dead and buried …” His voice and the weeping diminished into incoherent mumbling, and then into sleep again, and Fredi sat back on his heels, taken back. O’Malley told many stories along the trail drive, and at the Castillo home-place, but never anything about a woman named Orla, or about leaving one or many dead and buried.
Well, perhaps he could get some sense into – or out of O’Malley in the morning, Fredi concluded. He blew out the candle, undressed as far as his shirt and crawled into bed.

In the morning, O’Malley was little the worse for the evening, only squinting as if the fog-shrouded sunrise made his head hurt. As soon as they were finished breakfast – for which O’Malley appeared to have little appetite – Fredi hustled him away towards the livery stable, Nipper trotting purposefully after.
“We have to leave this morning,” he said, as soon as they were out of any hearing.
“We do, boyo?” O’Malley squinted blearily at him. “I tell you, I was no’ drunk an’ disorderly last night. I did no’ get into a fight, either … Nipper and me, we had a good time, didn’t we, Nip?” He snapped his fingers at Nipper, who now capered alongside them, ears and tail up. If dogs could grin, Nipper was grinning.
“Remember Senor Bean – Fauntleroy Bean, who played cards with us until the sheriff came?”
“Aye – that I do recall… in a haze, but I do recall it. He was no’ supposed to be playing cards, an’ yet he was. The sheriff took him away, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” Fredi decided that short answers were best. “But he escaped from the sheriff – he’s going to have his brother pay us for getting him out of town. I found him hiding in our wagon last night.”
“Oh, did ye now? Is it certain that he will still be there, this foine morning?
“He said he would be,” Fredi answered, his heart lightening. If the elusive and faintly criminal Senor Bean was not in the wagon, then they were free to seek out other employers. “It’s not like we signed a contract or anything…” And Fredi decided that O’Malley might as well know the worst of it. “Likely it’ll be his brother that pays us, rather than him.”
“Oh, Freddy-boyo!” O’Malley looked as if his head pained him even worse. “And if his brother is no’ the least fond of him? What then?”
“Why shouldn’t he pay to get his brother out of trouble?” Fredi demanded, honestly puzzled. “My brother would give the last penny in his pocket for me, if I asked it. Wouldn’t yours?
“No, he wouldn’t.” O’Malley riposted. “Because he had neither pocket nor penny, being a poor Irish cotter lad – and second because he is dead these six years an’ more.”
“Oh,” Fredi considered this startling intelligence. “I’m sorry to hear, O’Malley – indeed I am. On the ship, coming over, was it? My mother and my sister Liesel’s little baby …”
“No,” O’Malley’s voice was curt and sharp, as it almost never was. “Not on ship. Of the Hunger, in Ireland it was. It’s something I’d rather not be reminded of, Fredi-boyo, if ye do not mind.”
“I won’t speak of it again,” Fredi promised. He translated the ‘Hunger’ that O’Malley spoke of into German. Famine, that’s what he meant. Vati had talked it it now and again, for he and his friends sent letters back and forth. The potato crop had failed in many places in the Old Country, of a particularly destructive blight, and if there were no other crop to feed the farm folk with, they would and did starve. Fredi shivered; he had been so long in a bountiful – if sometimes harsh country – that the prospect of having nothing to eat at all was like a frightening story that the older folk would tell.
The livery stable was open at this hour of the morning, a bustle of men, horses, wagons and mules. Their wagon sat by itself in the wagon park behind the stable, canvas cover drawn tight over the contents.
“If our guest is here,” O’Malley said at last. “We shall make ready to hitch the mules. The road to the north is well-marked. The King’s Highway, they call it … I don’t know why, as there has never been a king here. I suppose it was established by the authority of the King of Spain, all this time gone.”
Fredi scrambled up to the wagon-seat and peered inside; there was a great lump of O’Malley’s coachman’s overcoat, with Fauntleroy Bean’s elegant boots sticking out from one end and faint snoring sounds coming from the other.
“He’s here, all right.” Fredi breathed, just as the sleeping form underneath O’Malley’s coat twitched and sat upright, knuckling sleep from bleary eyes.
“Hey, fellows – what kept you this long? Can we get a’moving now?”
“Tell him what you wanted from us,” Fredi demanded. “About your brother and the saloon…”
“The Headquarters in San Gabriel, it’s called – Josh, he’s an officer in the militia, so he named it that.” Fauntleroy Bean yawned, a particularly jaw-cracking yawn. “I don’t have any money save what’s on me, but Josh is good for it. He an’ Sam promised Mama they would always look after me.”
“We do no’ need any excuse to linger, then,” O’Malley snapped his fingers at Nipper, who leapt up to the wagon seat, as nimble as if he had trained for a circus show. “You see to the mules, Fredi-boyo, I’ll pay the liveryman. And how to we find this Headquarters Saloon place, then?”
“Only saloon in town,” Fauntleroy Bean answered, the good cheer of the previous night restored as if by a miracle.

They departed San Diego with some regret, for it had seemed a pleasant and welcoming place to both O’Malley and Fredi. The old King’s Highway led north, near to the coast at first where the gentle salt-smelling breezes fanned them. Gradually the highway veered inland, crossing over a number of tidal salt-marshes, where the reeds grew higher than a man, and rustled in the moving air. Fresh green grasses cushioned the inland hillsides, hillsides which looked as soft as a pillow at a distance. They were dotted with oak trees – gnarled trees which sported small dark green leaves, curled at the edges.
“Another blessed land, never touched by the blighting hand of winter,” O’Malley remarked.
“It’s foggy most days,” Fauntleroy Bean pointed out, from the back of the wagon, lounging like a lord on the stacked bags of flour and beans, cushioned by O’Malley’s overcoat and Fredi’s bed-roll. O’Malley had suggested that he not show himself until they were a fair distance from where anyone from San Diego might recognize him. “And in the winter sometimes, it rains. And rains. For six months a year, you can barely see your hand in front of your face in the mornings. And the winds blow down from the mountains late in summer – it’s like God opened the oven-door of Hell.”
“It cannot be hotter than Texas in the summertime,” Fredi pointed out, and Fauntleroy laughed. “Oh, then you’ll have gotten used to it.”

It took a little more than a week to make a leisurely journey along the old highway – a well-traveled and mostly level road, which uncoiled in wide and lazy bends, only gradually climbing towards the mountains rendered blue in the distance, crowned with white on their very peaks and sometimes shrouded with clouds. They passed through many small towns, the oldest of which had been established by the Spanish, usually coalescing around a mission, like nacre in an oyster-shell. O’Malley marveled at this, and went to every one as they passed, to say his prayers and dedicate a candle.
“’Tis a wonder an’ a delight, Fredi-boyo – to be in a country where the True Church is not slighted.”
“Was it not so in Ireland?” Fredi asked, much curious.
“’Tis better than it once was,” O’Malley replied. Sometimes Fauntleroy Bean accompanied him, although not for purposes of devotion, but to rather flirt with any young women who happened to be about – which mildly annoyed O’Malley. The churches and cloisters were usually very fine – but Fredi noted that much of the orchards, fields and vineyards which once had surrounded the missions had the look of neglect, the vines reverting to their wild nature, and the untended trees dropping wizened olives and citrus fruit onto the ground underneath their branches.
The mission at San Gabriel was one of the largest churches, adorned with a campanile wall, each arched void in it filled with a bell. The building was well-kept, white-washed clean, and the cloister buildings also kept in good steading. It looked as if there were a christening being performed, with the priest in his vestments blessing the parents at the door. As the mules clomped past, Fauntleroy Bean tipped his hat and blew a kiss towards a bevy of handsome young women in bright Mexican silk dresses, the lace veils having from elaborate bone and ivory combs. The ladies giggled, and a young gallant with them scowled in a most threatening way.
O’Malley scowled also.
“Ha’ ye no decency, Faunt’ly? They’re going to confession!”
“That’s where you meet the sweetest and juiciest of them,” Fauntleroy Bean pointed out, utterly unaffected. “Lovely little gardens wherein to put the old Nebuchadnezzar out for a graze… I see it as my duty, giving them something exciting to confess to. And it gives the old padre a thrill as well.”
O’Malley – to Fredi’s mystified astonishment actually looked rather red, especially around his ears. Nebuchadnezzar, out for a graze? What did that mean?
“You’re a heathen, Faunt’ly – of the worst sort. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that you were killed by a jealous suitor, some day!”
“As long as it happens when I am an old, old man!” Fauntleroy answered, with a jaunty air. “Ah – there is the Headquarters Saloon – Brother Josh’s home away from home – present your bill, boys, for Josh will serve up the fatted calf, for certain!”

27. July 2014 · Comments Off on The Lady and the Cavalier of Valle de San Jose · Categories: Old West, Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

(I have been sidelined this week, working on a chapter of The Golden Road, and discovering about the place where Fredi and the herd of Texas cattle would have finished in California)

California marked the high tide-line of the Spanish empire in the New World. The great wave of conquistadors washed out of the Iberian Peninsula in the fifteenth century looking for gold, honor, glory and land, roared across the Atlantic Ocean, sweeping Mexico and most of South America in consecutive mighty tides, before seeping into the trackless wastes of the American Southwest. Eventually that tide lapped gently at the far northern coast, where it dropped a chain of missions, a handful of military garrisons and small towns, and bestowed a number of property grants on the well-favored and well-connected. There has always been a dreamlike, evanescent quality to that time – as romantic as lost paradises always are. Before the discovery of gold in the millrace of a saw-mill built to further the entrepreneurial aims of a faintly shady Swiss expatriate named John Sutter, California seemed a magical place. It was temperate along the coast and perceived as a healthy place; there were no mosquito-born plagues like malaria and yellow fever, which devastated the lower Mississippi/Missouri regions in the 19th century. Certain parts were beautiful beyond all reasoning, and the rest was at the least attractive. The missions, dedicated primarily to the care of souls also had an eye towards self-sufficiency, and boasted great orchards of olives and citrus, and extensive vineyards. The climate was a temperate and kindly one in comparison with much of the rest of that continent; winters were mild, and summers fair.

It was a rural society of vast properties presided over by an aristocracy of landowners who had been granted their holdings by the king or civil government. Their names still mark the land in the names of towns, roads and natural features; Carrillo, Sepulveda, Verdugo, Vallejo, Dominguez, Pico, Castro, Figueroa, and Feliz, among many others. They ran cattle or sheep on their leagues – the hard work was mostly performed by native Californian Indians; those who had survived such epidemics as were brought inadvertently by Europeans and who were amenable to being trained in useful agricultural skills. These vast estates produced hides, wool and tallow; their owners lived lives of comfort, if no very great luxury. From all accounts they were openhandedly generous, amazingly hospitable, devout … a little touchy about personal insult and apt to fight duels over it, but that could said of most men of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Carrillo Ranch house - circa 1929

The Carrillo Ranch house – circa 1929

One of the notable estates was that which lay around the present-day hamlet of Warner Hot Springs. Besides being a very fine property, it was also located the southern emigrant trail – that which ran through south Texas and New Mexico territory to Yuma, at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers, and terminated in Los Angeles. Eventually, the Butterfield stage line would follow this trail – and the ranch at the place where the road to San Diego diverted from it became a stage stop. The property also was the object of considerable legal wrangling – it was inadvertently granted to two different claimants; Silvestre de la Portila in 1836, and transplanted Yankee, John Joseph ‘Juan Jose’ Warner eight years later. Juan Joseph Warner built an adobe house on the property, and conducted ranching and trading operations until an uprising by local Indians drive him out in 1851. In the meantime, Silvestre de la Portila had deeded the property to Vincenta Sepulveda, the daughter of a long-established and important local family. Eventually, the powers that be decided in favor of Dona Vincenta, who at the age of 21 had married another scion of a well-to-do ranch family, Tomas Antonio Yorba, who was more than twice her age. Yorba and his wife set up first at his family property at Santa Ana, in present-day Orange County, where they ran cattle for their hides and tallow, and operated a small general store, trading all kinds of general goods, groceries and luxuries. Their house was a rather splendid one; they impressed many visitors with not only the generous nature of their hospitality, but order and luxury of their house – better adorned and furnished than the usual hacienda. After ten years of productive and apparently happy marriage Tomas Yorba died, leaving his wife the residence, large herds of sheep and cattle, considerable jewelry and the care of their four surviving children. She continued managing the property, her household and her business; a wealthy, attractive and able young woman. She did not remain a widow for very long; she married again, to Jose Ramon Carrillo, of San Diego, who had managed a large property in northern California. Romantically, they met at the wedding of Dona Vincenta’s niece to an office of the Mexican army. Jose Ramon Carrillo had a reputation for physical courage, which was not based solely on his experiences as a soldier. (He had engaged in several skirmishes between Californios and the Anglo members of the Bear Flag party, or during the Mexican War and in fighting with hostile local Indians, which was pretty much what had been expected of a man of his age and class.) But his most famous fighting exploit wasn’t with other men at all – it was with a bear.

When out riding with friends in the Sonoma foothills some time before his marriage, the party spotted a bear, at some distance. Carrillo proposed (and there is no evidence that liquor was involved in any) that he fight the bear … on foot and alone. He took a mochila from his saddle – a flap of leather used to attach saddle-bags and wrapped it around his left arm – and a large hunting knife with a keen blade in his right. When he advanced on the bear, it charged him; Carrillo shielded himself with his left arm, and thrust with the knife into the bear’s torso. Within a very short time, the bear lay dead before him. On another occasion, Carrillo attempted to lasso another bear, from horseback. In the heat of the chase, bear, horse and rider fell into a five or six foot deep chasm, hidden until that very moment by dense brush. The abruptness of the fall removed all fight from the bear – and it tried to scramble up the steep side of the pit. Realizing that there was no scope for fighting the bear in the ditch and that discretion might be the best part of valor, Carrillo braced himself under the bear’s hindquarters and gave a good push with all of his strength. The bear scrabbled at the edge of the pit, got over it and promptly ran away.

By the mid-1850s, Dona Vincenta had clear title to the former Warner property; she and her new husband moved there, built an even grander house – an establishment which also served as a stage station, and on the eve of the Civil War, Don Ramon Carrillo applied for the position of post-master … the rancho was also a post office. During the war itself, he also served as a spy and scout for the Union Army in the Sonora. There were shadows falling on him, however; a political and business rival was found dead, shot in the back by person or persons unknown late in 1862. He was interviewed under oath by a court in Los Angeles, and released – the court having found nothing to charge against him.

Dona Vincenta and her family in the 1890s (She is the elder lady in the center)

Dona Vincenta and her family in the 1890s (She is the elder lady in the center)

Two years later, Don Ramon also fell to an assassin’s ambush. The murderer – again – was never identified, and at the age of 51, Dona Vincenta was again a widow. She continued to manage the ranch, with the aid of her grown son for another five or six years, before moving to Anaheim, and to a long retirement in the house of her married daughter; Dona Vincenta lived to the age of 94. The ranch property was sold in the 1870s, continuing as a profitable sheep ranch for the remainder of the century and into the next. The site is now a museum, and open to the public.

(All right – here it is, the first chapter of the next book but one – the Gold Rush adventure that I have always wanted to write. This one takes place in between Book One and Book Two of the Adelsverein Trilogy.  Enjoy – I’ll be posting occasional chapters here. )

Chapter 1 – Two Boys

             Spring came to the lowlands around San Antonio de Bexar as it always did – with the springs of clear water flowing clear and ice-cold, with meadows of flowers splashed in swaths of yellow, pink and the deep rich blue of buffalo clover as if a reckless artist had chosen to go mad with the paint. Young Friedrich Steinmetz, whom most everyone called Fredi, had come with his brother-in-law’s herd of cattle and three hired buckaroos to sell in the market-plaza in Bexar. Carl Becker’s ranch spanned a stretch of the hills that defined the valley of the upper Guadalupe, where he had built a tall stone house and brought Fredi’s older sister to it some eight years before. The hill country – ranges of limestone hills quilted with oak trees, formed the wall between the grassy and well-watered lowlands, long-settled by white men and Mexicans, and the Comanche-haunted plains of the Llano country. For more than half his life, it had been home to Fredi and his twin brother Johann. They were alike in form, being wiry of build, hazel-eyed and with light-brown hair, but different in character.  Fredi was the scapegrace, impulsive and bold. Johann was the clever one; this very spring he was to sail away and study medicine in the Old Country, that country where the twins had been born sixteen and a half years before.

“I want to go and see Johann off when the cattle are sold,” Fredi said, that night when they were less than a day’s journey to Bexar. The sun had already faded to a deep apricot blush in the western sky, and the stars to glimmer pale in the sky overhead. The herd was pastured in a meadow on the bank of Salado Creek, running deep and cold at this time of year. The cattle drank from it eagerly, after a warm afternoon of being chivvied across a dry stretch. Fredi’s brother-in-law Carl Becker helped himself to another piece of journey-bread, and answered through a mouthful. “You’re gonna have to travel on your own, then. I can’t stay long enough from the place to see you to Indianola and back an’ I sure as hell can’t pay your way on the stage.”

“That’s what I planned on,” Fredi answered. “An’ … if I run out of money, I’ll work my way back.”

“That’s the ticket,” Carl Becker grinned. He was a big young man, Saxon-fair and soft-spoken, some fifteen years older than Fredi. They spoke together in German, that language which Carl had from his family, who had been settled in America some three generations longer than the Steinmetzes. “But you better get yourself back as soon as you can – I don’t want to explain to Magda and Vati that I’ve let you loose on the world, all on your own.”

“If Johann is old enough to go study medicine in Germany,” Fredi answered. “Then I don’t see how anyone would mind me making my way in the world. You told me that you enlisted in a Ranger company when you were the age I am in now.”

“That was different,” Carl answered, but didn’t offer any explanation as to why that would be. “And if something happens to you, your sister will skin me alive.”

“She’s all taken up with the baby,” Fredi answered, carelessly. “But I won’t see Johann for years and years, Carl – we’re brothers! I want to see him one more time … we can hurrah in Indianola for all the times we won’t be there with each other.” He fixed Carl with pleading eyes. “I promise I’ll come straight back to the ranch.”

“Promises like that are nut-shells, made to be broken,” Carl answered, with a touch of wry cynicism. “You and Johann are as thick as thieves and I always like to think that he keeps you out of trouble … Go and see him away – but if you do get into a ruckus on your own, I promise I will come down and skin you myself. Especially if I have to bail you out of the cabildo.”

“Excellent!” Fredi exclaimed, joyfully relieved. “As soon as you sell the cattle, then – I’ll take the road towards the coast. Johann and Mr. Coreth were to take passage on the steamer to New Orleans in three weeks. I’ll be back well before mid-summer. You can count on me!”

“I can count on you to be a handful – and that’s what worries me,” Carl answered. More »

07. June 2013 · Comments Off on The Only Justice of the Peace… · Categories: Old West · Tags: , , , ,

220px-Roybean2Unlike the lawman featured in last week’s installation of ‘rowdy tales of the old west’ this week’s rogue contrived to live a long and eccentric life, and one – considering his reputation – remarkably unstained by deadly street shootouts, outlawry and violent death, although there was the little matter of that horseback duel … the unsuccessful hanging … and that jail escape. Although he was, as noted, a bit of a rogue and a personality to which legends readily attached themselves, often with his encouragement; he ended his days as justice of the peace in the tiny hamlet of Langtry, Val Verde County, Texas – famously the only law west of the Pecos.

But Phantly Roy Bean had been knocking around the far west for decades before attaining the office for which he is most famed. And yes, that was his real name; his father was also named Phantly – and why he was laden with such a moniker is unknown. In any case, our Phantly Roy ditched the unfortunate first name as soon as possible. He was a Kentuckian who gravitated down river to New Orleans in his mid-teens, got into trouble with authorities there and migrated to San Antonio to work with Sam Bean, an older brother who had worked up a nice business hauling freight after serving in the US Army during the Mexican War. Eventually, the brothers Bean – Roy and another brother, Joshua, followed the Gold Rush to California. Cannily, the brothers Bean did not waste time and energy hunting for gold. Joshua set up a saloon in San Diego, and eventually another one in San Bernardino – but Roy continued to be the scapegrace little brother. There is a pattern here – but he lived long enough to break out of it, at least in a little way.

He was handsome and a snappy dresser, fancied – and fancied enthusiastically in return – by ladies of every nation. He fought a horseback duel with another man in the streets of San Diego, likely over the affections of a local damozel. Both men wounded each other, and startled the town considerably. Bean was arrested, and confined in San Diego’s first proper stone-built jail; the first prisoner confined there, and also the first to escape from it, with the aid of a pair of knives smuggled into him, supposedly concealed in the gift of some tamales from one of his lady admirers. Prudently, Roy moved to San Bernardino to manage the saloon that his brother Joshua had left to him, but trouble followed after, resulting in a duel – again, over the favors of a lady with a rival. This time the other duelist finished up very dead, and at Roy Bean’s hand. Supposedly, several of the rival’s good friends set him on a horse with a noose around his neck and tied to a high branch; only the timely intervention of the woman saved Roy Bean from death by hanging/slow strangulation. In any case, prudence dictated a prompt remove from California. He joined his other brother Sam, in running a saloon and grocery store in a hamlet near Silver City, New Mexico. During the last years of the Civil War, he was working as a teamster again, in San Antonio, hauling cotton to Matamoros, Mexico, to evade the Union blockade.

The post-war years saw him remaining in San Antonio, varying his career by keeping a saloon, and retailing firewood, beef and milk to the good housewives of the area. Alas, the firewood was cut from a neighbors’ wood-lot, the beef also rustled from neighbors; the milk was was adulterated with creek water and when an indignant customer objected to strenuously to the presence of live minnows swimming in the Grade-A, Roy Bean is alleged to have answered that he would stop allowing the cows to drink from the creek. In the first year of peace, Roy Bean took to himself a wife of his own instead of someone else’s. She was Virginia Chavez, a woman not quite half his age, and the marriage was bitterly acrimonious, in spite of (or because of) producing four children. Roy Bean parted from her in the early 1880s and also from San Antonio. A storekeeper in the neighborhood where they had lived was so eager to see Roy Bean gone, that he purchased all of their spare possessions – just so that Bean would have the means of leaving town. Roy separated from his wife, deposited the children with various friends and went west … one more time.

His new enterprise was a saloon in a railway camp in West Texas, which proved to be equally knockabout, until he settled on a permanent location. Typically for him, it was on land that he did not own, on the railroad right of way in Langtry. The railway camps were lawless and rowdy places, with the nearest court of any kind at all being in Fort Stockton, a good two hundred miles away. As appallingly misguided as it seems at first glance (and even on a second), Roy Bean was the nearest available person resembling a solid citizen of fixed abode in the opinion of the local Texas Ranger detachment, who had become wearied with the chore of hauling apprehended miscreants all the way to Fort Stockton. This does bring one to wonder about any of the other candidates. In any case, Roy Bean was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for the district. He held court in his saloon for the larger part of the next two decades, famously advertising himself as the only law west of the Pecos.

For someone who had notoriously trodden well over the side of the law in his day, he didn’t seem to have done too bad a job, given the age and the circumstance. Certainly it satisfied his neighbors, who routinely returned him to office by election until 1896, in spite of his administrative eccentricities. He routinely recessed the court to sell liquor to all present, drafted the barflies present to serve on the jury, and used the butt of his revolver as a gavel. In his rulings from the bench, he was guided only by rough pragmatism and those statutes in the 1879 edition of The Revised Statutes of Texas of which he personally approved. Since he did not have a jail at his disposal, he was at a disadvantage in administering punishments – but never mind. Fines would do; and by interesting coincidence, those fines were always the exact sum of money which the convicted had on him. If the convicted was dead broke, JP Bean’s sentence usually included performing any casual labor needing doing in the district. Only two death sentences were ever handed down in Bean’s court – and one of the condemned promptly escaped. Judge Bean proved adamant concerning turning over the income from fines to the State of Texas, claiming that his court was self-sustaining.

By the end of his life, a large proportion of the fines and the profits from his saloon went to assist the poor and – touchingly – to keep the local public school supplied with firewood. Even without reelection, he continued to administer his eccentric brand of justice until his death in 1903. (From natural causes, I will add.) By then he was a celebrity, and for all of that rather an endearing and relatively harmless one. Certainly, his neighbors thought the world of him. But that is Texas for you.

17. May 2013 · Comments Off on Stranded in the Death Valley · Categories: Old West · Tags: , , ,

When gold was discovered in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada in 1848, it didn’t take very long for word to get out. From the eastern United States, California was then a six-month journey by mule trail or covered wagon over land – that or a long sea voyage around South America, or two sea voyages broken by a short but disease-plagued trek across the narrowest part of Central America. The sea voyage was expense, the overland journey a bit less so – and it probably seemed much more direct, anyway. Two young Gold Rushers who hit the trail in the spring of 1849 were William Manly and John Rogers; young and adventurous single men who had come by separate means as far as Salt Lake City. Manly already had an adventurous trip just getting that far. From an account written much later, he seems to have been a broad-minded optimist, good-humored and above all – and adventurous. He and some companions had decided to venture down an uncharted river in canoes – and only an encounter with some helpful Indians prevented them from going all the way – down an uncharted river and into a deep and impassible canyon. With one thing and another, they had arrived too late in the season to consider crossing the Sierras by the Truckee River Pass. This was three years after the Donner Party – which served as a Dreadful Warning to all wagon train parties considering a mountain passage late in the trail season.

Instead, Manly and Rogers hired on as drovers or general hands to a lately-arrived party of emigrants and gold seekers who had sensibly decided to follow what was known as the Old Spanish Trail, which led south from Salt Lake City and then west to Los Angeles; the present-day IH-15 roughly follows this trail. The leaders of the so-called Bennett-Arcane party didn’t want to risk any more peril for their families than they had already. The Old Spanish Trail did cross some considerable stretches of desert, but there were regular sources of water all the way along, and it was quite well-traveled.

Unfortunately, the Bennetts and the Arcanes and their friends were tempted into taking a short-cut – the bane of early wagon train pioneers, and one which usually contributed considerable hardship, if not to their doom.  They had a map from a fellow in Salt Lake City who was represented as an expert geographer. As it turned out, he wasn’t – and the seven wagons of the Bennett-Arcane party went off the trail and into an endless and trackless stretch of desert, a valley broken here and there by ranges of steep mountains. By the end of November, 1849, they were across the valley – but nearly out of supplies and had butchered most their draft oxen as they failed, one by one. Fortunately, they had found a small freshwater spring. From there they decided to send for help – and William Manly and John Rogers volunteered … to set out on foot, with only what they could carry. Decades later, Manly set down an account of that journey. “… Mr. Arcane killed the ox which had so nearly failed, and all the men went to drying and preparing meat. Others made us some new mocassins out of rawhide, and the women made us each a knapsack. Our meat was closely packed, and one can form an idea how poor our cattle were from the fact that John and I actually packed seven-eighths of all the flesh of an ox into our knapsacks and carried it away. They put in a couple of spoonfuls of rice and about as much tea … the good women said that in case of sickness even that little bit might save our lives. I wore no coat or vest, but took half of a light blanket, while Rogers wore a thin summer coat and took no blanket. We each had a small tin cup and a small camp kettle holding a quart … They collected all the money there was in camp and gave it to us. Mr. Arcane had about $30 and others threw in small amounts from forty cents upward. We received all sorts of advice. Capt. Culverwell was an old sea faring man and was going to tell us how to find our way back …” There was no need for that; Mr. Bennett had utter faith in Manly’s ability to find his way out of the valley and back.

Rogers had a single shotgun, and Manly borrowed a repeating rifle.They set bravely out, not knowing that they would have to walk 250 miles through the desert before reaching aid. They found the occasional spring of sweet water, but others were contaminated with alkali or salt. “ … Our mouths became so dry we had to put a bullet or a small smooth stone in and chew it and turn it around with the tongue to induce a flow of saliva. If we saw a spear of green grass on the north side of a rock, it was quickly pulled and eaten to obtain the little moisture it contained …  Our thirst began to be something terrible to endure, and in the warm weather and hard walking we had secured only two drinks since leaving camp… We tried to sleep but could not, but after a little rest we noticed a bright star two hours above the horizon, and from the course of the moon we saw the star must be pretty truly west of us. … The thought of the women and children waiting for our return made us feel more desperate than if we were the only ones concerned. … I can find no words, no way to express it so others can understand. The moon gave us so much light that we decided we would start on our course, and get as far as we could before the hot sun came out, and so we went on slowly and carefully in the partial darkness, the only hope left to us being that our strength would hold out till we could get to the shining snow on the great mountain before us. We reached the foot of the range we were descending about sunrise. There was here a wide wash from the snow mountain, down which some water had sometime run after a big storm, and had divided into little rivulets only reaching out a little way before they had sunk into the sand.”

With the shotgun and repeating rifle, they were able to hunt for food along the way, but Manly suffered from an injury to one of his legs and could only limp along slowly. He urged Rogers to go ahead alone, Rogers refused, so they went on together. On the last day of December, the two young men finally arrived at Mission San Fernando. With the money they carried, they bought two horses, a mule and sufficient supplies … and returned the way they had come. They had to abandon the horses halfway back, but the mule with the precious supplies was as nimble-footed as a cat on the most treacherous part of their passage. They arrived to find their friends all alive but one; Capt. Culverwell, the seafaring man. The life-saving journey took them twenty-six days, there and back. The Bennetts and Arcanes packed up those valuables left to them on the backs of their surviving oxen and the nimble-footed mule and walked out. Years later, Manly wrote of the adventure which had tried them all to extreme: “There were peaks of various heights and colors, yellow, blue fiery red and nearly black. It looked as if it might sometime have been the center of a mammoth furnace. I believe this range is known as the Coffin’s Mountains. It would be difficult to find earth enough in the whole of it to cover a coffin. Just as we were ready to leave and return to camp we took off our hats, and then overlooking the scene of so much trial, suffering and death spoke the thought uppermost saying:—”Good bye Death Valley!”

The spring where the party had camped, waiting for the young men’s return is still called Bennett’s Well. It’s at the foot of the Panamint Mountains. Ironically, fifty years later, Death Valley itself would be the focus of the last of the great western gold and silver rushes.

(Manly’s account, Death Valley in 49 is available as a free eBook from Project Gutenberg, and it is a surprisingly lively read.)