Wednesday, May 30, 2012


By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

It was over in 30 seconds, and when the smoke cleared on that fateful Wednesday afternoon of October 26, 1881, three men were dead and three were wounded. Only one participant in the gunfight survived uninjured; his name was Wyatt Earp. Among the dead were Billy Clanton, and Frank and Tom McLaury. The three men wounded were Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and (with a minor graze to his hip), J.H. “Doc” Holliday. In addition, there was another man who not only managed to flee when the shooting started, but later hired legal counsel to seek murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. That man’s name was Joseph I. “Ike” Clanton.

In the aftermath of perhaps the most famous gunfight in the American West, tensions grew in Tombstone, Arizona, and public opinion became divided. Many supported the actions of the Earps and Holliday, but there were others (including the newspaper The Nugget) who felt the infamous gunfight was nothing short of murder.

A Preliminary Hearing was held before Judge Wells Spicer between November 9th and November 15th 1881, to determine if murder charges should be filed against Virgil Earp, then Chief of Police of Tombstone and a US Deputy Marshal, as well as his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, and family friend, Doc Holliday. Having read both the testimony of various witnesses for the prosecution and for the defense, including statements by Wyatt and Virgil Earp, I must say one could make viable arguments for both cases even today.

Sheriff John Behan (pictured) had been sitting in a barber’s chair getting a shave where he noticed a crowd gathering at the corner of Fourth and Allen. Amidst talk of trouble brewing on Fremont Street between the Earps and the McLaurys and Clantons, Behan told the barber to hurry up. His sworn statement reflected that he tried to stop the Earps and testified against their actions. A housewife named Mrs. Martha King, also a witness for the prosecution, testified she had been inside Bauer’s Butcher Shop on Fremont when the shooting started. She had seen the Earps and Holliday walk by and that as the wind caught Holliday’s long coat, she saw he was armed.

Ultimately, no charges were filed and the rest, as they say, is history.

But what truly led up to such a deadly gunfight in the middle of the day? Was it justice or a case of the Earps and Holliday taking the law into their own hands to settle a personal account? It would seem the latter since Sheriff Behan had tried to intervene and stop the Earps, according to his sworn testimony. Ike Clanton also testified that after the Sheriff had spoken to them (meaning him, his brother, and the McClaurys), and told them to ‘stay where they were’, Behan then approached the Earp party with his hands up and told them he had everything under control and to stop. The Earps and Holliday, obviously intent on their course, ignored the Sheriff and walked right by him. The distance between the two parties at that time had been a mere 20 paces. The actual gunfight took place at very close range as pictured in the re-enactment here.

Joseph I. ‘Ike’ Clanton, whose brother had been killed in the gunfight, testified at length. An interesting incident in his transcribed sworn testimony concerned a volatile encounter he’d had with Doc Holliday the day before the deadly gunfight. Whilst eating at a ‘lunch stand’ near the Eagle Brewery Saloon, Ike Clanton claimed Holliday started swearing at him and accused Ike Clanton of “using his name”. In his testimony, Ike Clanton stated he had no idea what Holliday even meant by “using his name”. An enraged Holliday kept on Clanton “to get my gun out and get to work”, but Ike Clanton testified he was unarmed at the time, which further aggravated Holliday. At this point, Holliday then accused him of threatening the Earps, which he also denied. Ironically, Morgan Earp—seated a short distance away—simply listened intently to the altercation, but both Morgan Earp and Holliday kept “a hand in their bosoms and I presumed on their pistols”.

Whether Ike Clanton had been drinking with friends and said something in a private conversation about Holliday that was overheard and reported back to the dentist turned gunfighter, one can only speculate now. If, as Holliday alleged, Ike Clanton had threatened the Earps, why was Morgan Earp just watching the altercation unfold and not saying anything until Ike Clanton was leaving the lunch stand? Was this an attempt at intimidation by two men highly skilled with guns or a justified argument with a braggart who had been mouthing off about Holliday and the Earps? Like they say, there are always two sides to every argument.

The American West is riddled with stories of gunfights and ‘calling outs’ which—in a predominately lawless society—was just the way men settled their arguments. And arguments could range from looking at someone the wrong way to accusations of cheating at cards, insulting a lady’s honor, or (as it appears in the famous gunfight on Fremont Street in Tombstone), the final word in a long-held grudge that had reached its boiling point. It didn’t take much for a man in the American West to take exception with a person (whether warranted or not), and for that person to then be viewed as an adversary or enemy.

Needless to say, it involves no stretch of the imagination to consider not just the origin but evolution of 'gunfights' (that could involve several people) or the act of 'calling someone out' (between two armed men). Put simply, I believe there is a strong argument the Old West way of settling disputes evolved from the practice of duels.

With its medieval origins of chivalry, a duel was an arranged combat between two individuals wherein they had equal or matched weapons and rules of conduct. In the 17th and 18th century, the weapons of a duel included swords. But with the advancement of weaponry, the late 18th century and 19th century primarily involved pistols. And like many practices adopted from England and Europe in the Colonial United States, the considered gentlemanly art of dueling became one of them.

Historically, a duel was all about honor. The intent was not to kill one’s opponent but to ‘gain satisfaction’ whereby one could restore or defend their honor by the simple fact they were willing to risk their life for it. And there were rules involving the act of dueling which were strictly observed. In fact, not following the rules of a duel was viewed not only as dishonorable but cowardly. At the same time, terms could also be established for a particular duel, i.e., to the death or ‘first blood’

First blood meant that the duel would end when one individual was wounded, even if it were minor. A duel’s terms could also be established that it would continue until one participant was too injured to continue. As a result, it could be quite a lengthy ordeal. However, these type duels were primarily fought with swords. Duels involving pistols were usually based on each party firing one shot. If no one was struck, and if the challenger felt his honor had been ‘satisifed’, the duel could end. If, on the other hand, the challenger felt his honor still insulted, the duel could continue until one person was injured or killed.

An interesting aspect regarding duels was the act of deloping, where a participant fired into the air or at a tree because they felt their opponent was not worth shooting. Deloping was viewed as dishonorable for it cheated the other participant of obtaining satisfaction. In fact, Rule 13 of the Code Duello of 1777 banned the practice of deloping.

Pistol duels were common in Colonial America, and involved many respected political leaders of their times. Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, dueled with Lachlan McIntosh (a political opponent) on 16 May 1777. Both men were wounded, and Gwinnett died three days after the duel. One of our nation’s most famous duels involved United States Vice President Aaron Burr and the former United States Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.
The duel took place on 11 July 1804 and resulted in Hamilton being killed. On 30 May 1806, a then future President of the United States, Andrew Jackson engaged in a pistol duel with Charles Dickinson, a prominent duellist. Dickinson was killed, and Jackson was wounded. It has been documented that Jackson fought at least two duels in his lifetime, although he openly bragged that he had fought 14.

In a pistol duel, both participants would stand back-to-back with matching loaded weapons in hand. They would then walk a prescribed number of paces, turn to face one another and fire their weapon. An interesting side note is that the more severe the insult that precipitated the duel, the less number of paces taken which separated the opponents. Some pistol duels stipulated that shots would not be fired at the same time, but that each participant took a turn with the challenged participant firing first.

Dueling pistols were made to exact specifications using calibers of .45, .50, .and .65. They were sometimes custom-made and often intricately embellished. As a result, a matching set of dueling pistols was prized and often became family heirlooms. Pictured below is a matched set of Italian flintlock pistols (circa 1765) I purchased for my husband years ago in New Orleans.

According to long-standing tradition, each participant in a duel would also have a second who assisted them. The second would ensure that the duel was fair and followed the established rules. Weapons to be used were checked to make sure they were identical, as well as both loaded. A second would also measure the length of ground agreed upon beforehand. But there was another important, if not vital, aspect of being a second that has often been overlooked. It was the second who not only carried the principal’s challenge but first investigated and determined if the insult resulted from a simple misunderstanding or a deliberate insult of honor requiring a duel.

The Code of Honor, Or, Rules for the Government and Principals and Seconds in Duelling (1784-1849), a 22-page booklet published by John Lyde Wilson, (a former governor of South Carolina), states if an individual believes they have been insulted, either in public or by words or behavior, they are encouraged to “be silent on the subject, speak to no one about the matter, and see your friend, who is to act for you, as soon as possible. Never send a challenge in the first instance, for that precludes all negotiation. Let your note be in the language of a gentleman, and let the subject matter of complaint be truly and fairly set forth…” “When your second is in full possession of the facts, leave the whole matter to his judgment, and avoid any consultation with him unless he seeks it. He has custody of your honor, and by obeying him you cannot be compromitted.”

One such instance of the importance of a second doing his job took place on 22 September 1842. In a scheduled duel that could have changed the course of American history, none other than Abraham Lincoln (future President of the United States and then a state legislator for Illinois) met on that date to duel with James Shields, the state auditor of Illinois. The duel was cancelled due to the mediation and intervention of seconds.

But just as there have been men who felt they had every right to defend their honor in a duel, there have always been people who denounced the practice of dueling. During the American Revolution, George Washington asked his officers to refuse challengers, believing (and rightly so), it would threaten the success of the war. And after the Burr-Hamilton duel, Benjamin Franklin openly criticized the practice.

By the end of the 1800s, laws were established to prevent duels, but they still took place – particularly in the south and American West. Yet, the armed combats that took place on the frontier followed few, if any, rules. In a climate where lawlessness often prevailed, where drunken cowboys could ride hell-bent up the street shooting off their guns for the fun of it, and tempers could flare in a heartbeat after a night of too much drinking or one bad hand of cards after another, the established rules and regulations of dueling were cast aside. The age of gunfights prevailed.

There were no seconds making sure each man was armed with an identical weapon, or marking off the distance between adversaries. As stated earlier, by the time Sheriff Behan tried to stop the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday from their appointment with destiny, they were only 20 paces away from where the Clanton-McLaury parties stood. Neither was just one bullet fired at your opponent. Quite the contrary, they kept firing until their ammunition ran out. Bullets flied, often striking innocent bystanders and damaging both public and private property. There would be so much smoke from the gunpowder, that until it settled it was difficult to know who was still standing…if anyone.

Perhaps the only type of gunfight in the American West that most resembled the so-called gentlemanly art of dueling was the ‘calling out’ of someone. This was a gunfight between two individuals, and although usually impulsive rather than planned, the two parties agreed to meet at a designated place and time.

One such ‘calling out’ occurred on 21 July 1865 between Wild Bill Hickok and David Tuff. After an argument over cards, the two men decided to shoot it out in a gun fight. Tuff was killed. Another famous ‘calling out’ type duel happened in Fort Worth, Texas on 08 February 1887 between Luke Short (incidentally, a good friend of Wyatt Earp), and Jim Courtright.

And yet, although duels have become obsolete and we now use dialogue, mediation, litigation and the courts to settle disputes, some states still do not have any laws prohibiting duels—although individuals may be prosecuted under established laws such as assault or manslaughter. Interestingly, even in the 21st century, the state of Kentucky still requires officials taking office, from a judge or county official to and including the state’s governor, to say the following oath when being sworn into office. Pay particular attention to the second paragraph.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky as long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of ______, according to law, and,

I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.” [Source: The National Conference of State Legislatures]

I hope you enjoyed this post about Dueling and my opinion of its influence on gunfights in the American West. As always, thank you for taking the time to visit the Sweethearts of the West blog. ~ AKB

NOTE: As recently as 2010, the “Kentucky Dueling Language Amendment” was supposed to be placed before the Senate and House of Representative for a vote in the state’s General Election. However, the Legislative session ended without the amendment being voted on; consequently, it was not on their November 2, 2010 ballot.

Turner, Alford (Ed.), The O. K. Corral Inquest (1992)

Wilson, John Lyde, The Code of Honor: or Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Duelling (1838, 1858)

Lubet, Steven, Murder in Tombstone: The Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp (2004)

Monday, May 28, 2012


I know it's not western-y. But it's Memorial Day. Please take a minute to remember with me.

People say all small towns look the same. The old brick buildings guarding the streets

silently speak of the past, when they were new and full of life. The traffic light on Main Street measures the slow pace of life in increments of green, yellow and red. Most times, the Christmas decorations go up on the streetlights after Halloween and don’t come down until the first warm day of spring.

The flag at the courthouse is no odd sight; flags in small towns are common and patriotism runs high along with societal values. The speed limit is no more than 35, and everyone knows that. There’s no reason to rush, anyway.

My first clue that something was different about Madill that August day was the sign. On the very far northern edge of the “city” limits someone had placed a huge banner by the side of the two-lane highway. It stood unfurled between two wooden poles.

“A TRUE AMERICAN HERO,” the lettering read, and below that, “2ND LT. JOE CUNNINGHAM.” Red and blue magic marker starbursts filled the white void of the background around the letters, leaving no doubt that the banner had taken hours of loving, painstaking precision to create.

And the rockets’ red glare,
The bombs bursting in air…

The banner stood as the beginning of what was to be a somber twenty miles of driving for me that day. Only a few feet from where the banner had been placed, small roadside flags were planted in the parched Oklahoma soil. There had been no rain for weeks, and with our record-breaking number of triple-digit days, I could only imagine how hard it must have been to push those small, fragile twelve-inch sticks into the rock-hard ground at such measured intervals.

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know Saturday mornings are the liveliest, busiest times of the week. Not so on this Saturday morning. As I topped the hill and the main part of town came into view, my heart skipped a beat. I had never seen such a profusion of color. Red, white and blue—everywhere. Flags flew from every porch, every small business, every conceivable place visible…and that could only mean one very tragic thing.

Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there…

I slowed down to twenty-five as tears blurred my eyes. A car pulled out in front of me a little further down the road, and I looked to my right. The side road had been blocked off. There were at least two hundred motorcycles parked beside the First Baptist Church. The Patriot Guard Riders had come to pay their respects—and to be certain that everyone else did, too, should a certain crazy group of fanatics from Kansas decide to make an appearance.

Across from the motorcycles, a huge, beautiful American flag was unfurled, the field of blue lending its stars to heaven, the stripes perpendicular to the ground. In front of that flag stood perhaps fifty lawmen of every type, a mix from both sides of the Red River, Texans and Oklahomans.

The parking lots for the businesses in the immediate area were full to overflowing, even though none of those businesses were open. Signs filled the windows under where the flags flew:


I stopped at the light on Main Street. The courthouse flag was, of course, flying at half-mast. There were no other cars on the road. The one that had pulled out in front of me earlier had turned off a block back, at the first available parking place, a long, half-mile hike away from the church. I was driving through a ghost town.

The signboard at the Grab & Go read, “OBAMA MAY BE PRESIDENT, BUT GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE.” Any other time, I might have smiled, but not with that small picket of flags that still sporadically lined the road, reminding me of the terrible loss this town was reeling from.

Another hand-lettered sign by the road: “WE’LL MISS YOU, JOE. GO WITH GOD.”


I drove out of Madill, headed for Kingston, another small town, a few short miles away.

Small towns, close together, are usually rivals on the high school football field and in most other things, but when all is said and done, we remember that we are, all of us, citizens of the same wonderful country, and that’s what matters—more than who wins the game on Friday night, more than which town has the best point guard on the basketball court, and more than which quarterback has better chances with the big college scouts. As Americans, we all have equal ‘bragging rights’—we are Americans, and no other country pulls together as we do when the going gets tough.

I couldn’t think of anything, anywhere, any time being tougher than losing even one of our young men to war. A bright smile that would never be seen again, coming through his parents’ door; two arms that could never open to hug his best girl again; the echoing sound of emptiness forever where once his steps fell—an aching, empty hole in the lives of every person he ever knew that could never, never be filled.

My thoughts rolled over one another as I drove. I wondered about him, about his family—about what he’d left behind, and how the people he’d known would ever manage to survive without him in their lives forevermore.

I was on the fringes of Kingston when the roadside flags started up in earnest again—though they’d never completely stopped. But now, it looked as if someone had planted a beautiful garden of red, white, and blue flowers in the cracked, dry Oklahoma soil.
As Kingston came into view ahead, flags fluttered in the wind at every business. Some buildings had bunting on their storefronts.

It doesn’t take long to cover the few miles from one end of Kingston to the other. But with every inch of ground I traveled, there was no doubt that 2nd Lieutenant Joe Cunningham was remembered, respected, and revered.

As I drove out of town, yellow ribbons tied around several branches of a tree in someone’s yard caught my eye.


No small town rivalry, now. As Americans all, we share only a unified, joint loss of a shining star; the precious, irreplaceable light of someone’s life.

He was 27. He loved to hunt and fish. He had dreams of becoming a highway patrol officer and finishing his degree. He always wore a smile.

I will never drive that sad stretch of road again without remembering a man I never met. A hometown hero is gone forever, but he will never, never be forgotten.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


By Caroline Clemmons

Audie Leon Murphy

Who better to honor this Memorial Weekend than Audie Murphy? Through LIFE magazine's July 16, 1945 issue ("Most Decorated Soldier"/cover photo), Audie Leon Murphy became one the most famous soldiers of World War II and widely regarded as the most decorated American soldier of the war. After the war he became a celebrated movie star for over two decades, appearing in 44 films. He later had success as a country music composer. And how appropriate that we honor him this weekend. In addition to be America’s Most Decorated Soldier, Audie Murphy died in a plane crash on Memorial Day Weekend, May 28, 1971.

Audie Murphy, one of the few
childhood photos available
Audie Leon Murphy was born to sharecroppers near the community of Kingston in Hunt County, Texas. His parents were of Irish descent, Emmett Berry Murphy (February 20, 1886–September 20, 1976), and his wife, Josie Bell (née Killian (1891–1941). He grew up on farms in Hunt County and has several memorials there. He was the sixth of twelve children, two of whom died before reaching adulthood.

In 1933, Emmett and Josie Murphy with their 5 children June, Audie, Richard, Gene, and Nadine moved to Celeste, Texas with the primary purpose of enrolling the children in school. They lived in an abandoned railroad boxcar on the southern end of the small community for several months before renting a rundown home in Celeste until 1937. The railroad car no longer exists.

While the family lived in Celeste, the two remaining Murphy children, Beatrice and Joseph, were born. It was here that Audie befriended the Cawthon family who played a prominent role in his life. In 1937, the Murphy family moved back into the abandoned railroad car for several weeks and then moved to a farm near Floyd, Texas located just west of Greenville. Audie finally moved out on his own in 1939 at the age of 15 after finding a job with Haney Lee, who had a farm nearby.

Audie with his Killian
grandparents in Farmersville TX
Audie spent a lot of time with his grandparents, Jefferson D. and Sarah Elizabeth Killian, at their home in Farmersville, Texas. In fact, the Killian was a place of refuge for the Murphy children when times were difficult during the years of the depression. At the height of the depression, around 1929 or 1930, Audie's oldest sister, Corrine, left the Murphy family and moved in with the grandparents to help relieve some of the financial stress burdening the Murphy family.

As the family moved from community to community over the years, they never strayed too far from the Killian home. Around 1933-36 (depending on the account), Emmett Murphy, who was known to disappear for weeks at a time while apparently seeking employment, finally vanished permanently. He had attempted to convince his wife and family to move with him to West Texas where he hoped to find work in the oil fields. Unconvinced that this was a wise move, Mrs. Murphy did not want to leave the area where her parents and lifelong friends lived.

Audie dropped out of Celeste school in the fifth grade to help support the family. He worked for one dollar per day, plowing and picking cotton on any farm that would hire him. Murphy became very skilled with a rifle, hunting small game like squirrels, rabbits, and birds to help feed the family.

Audie with a rabbit for dinner
One of his favorite hunting companions was neighbor Dial Henley. When Henley commented that Murphy never missed what he shot at, Murphy replied, "Well, Dial, if I don't hit what I shoot at, my family won't eat today." 

On May 23, 1941, his mother died. At the time of their mother's death, Audie was approximately 17 years old and was declared by the county to be old enough to take care of himself. The placement of his siblings in the Boles Childrens Home in nearby Quinlan was an event that Audie vowed to correct. On more than one occasion during the war, he told his buddies that he hoped to someday earn enough money to reunite what remained of his family.

As it turned out, Audie was able to keep his promise. He worked at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville. Boarded out, he worked in a radio repair shop. Later that year, with the approval of his older, married sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Corinne Burns (usually referred to as "Corrine"), who was unable to help, Murphy placed his three youngest siblings in an orphanage to ensure their care. He reclaimed them after World War II.

He had long dreamed of joining the military. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Murphy tried to enlist in the military, but the services rejected him because he was underage. In June 1942, shortly after what he and his sister Corrine believed was his 17th birthday, Corrine adjusted his birth date so he appeared to be 18 and legally able to enlist. His war memoirs, TO HELL AND BACK, maintained this misinformation, leading to later confusion and contradictory statements about his year of birth.

Audie's mother holding
his brother Eugene
Murphy was small, only 5 ft 5 inch and 110 pounds, but he tried once again to enlist and was declined by both the Marines and Army paratroopers as too short and underweight. The Navy also turned him down for being underweight. The United States Army finally accepted him and he was inducted at (some reports say Dallas) Greenville, Texas and sent to Camp Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas for basic training. During a session of close order drill, he passed out. His company commander tried to have him transferred to a cook and bakers' school but Murphy insisted on becoming a combat soldier, and after 13 weeks of basic training, he was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for advanced infantry training.

Murphy was awarded 33 U.S. decorations and medals, five medals from France, and one from Belgium. He received every U.S. decoration for valor available to Army ground personnel at the time. He earned the Silver Star twice in three days, two Bronze Star Medals, three Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor.

After seeing the young hero's photo on the cover of the July 16 edition of Life Magazine and sensing star potential, actor James Cagney invited Murphy to Hollywood in September 1945. Despite Cagney's expectations, the next few years in California were difficult for Murphy. He became disillusioned by the lack of work, was frequently broke, and slept on the floor of a gymnasium owned by his friend Terry Hunt. He eventually received token acting parts in the 1948 films “Beyond Glory” and “Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven.” His third movie, “Bad Boy,” gave him his first leading role.

On set of "Red Badge
of Courage" 1951
He also starred in the 1951 adaptation of Stephen Crane's Civil War novel, “The Red Badge of Courage,” which earned critical success. Murphy expressed great discomfort in playing himself in “To Hell and Back.” In 1959, he starred in the western “No Name on the Bullet,” in which his performance was well-received despite being cast as the villain, a professional killer who managed to stay within the law.

After returning home from World War II, Murphy bought a house in Farmersville, Texas for his oldest sister Corrine, her husband Poland Burns, and their three children. His three youngest siblings, Nadine, Billie, and Joe, had been living in an orphanage since Murphy's mother's death, He intended that they would be able to live with Corrine and Poland. However, six children under one roof proved difficult for Corrine and Poland to parent, and Murphy took his siblings to live with him.

Despite a lot of post-war publicity, his acting career had not progressed and he had difficulty making a living. Buck, Murphy's oldest brother, and his wife agreed to take Nadine in, but Murphy could not find a home for Joe. He approached James "Skipper" Cherry, a Dallas theater owner who was involved with the Variety Clubs International Boy's Ranch, a 4,800 acres ranch near Copperas Cove, Texas. He arranged for Joe to live at the Boy's Ranch. Reportedly, Joe was very happy there and Murphy was able to frequently visit his brother as well as his friend Cherry. In a 1973 interview, Cherry recalled, "He was discouraged and somewhat despondent concerning his movie career."

Playing cowboys with sons on the set
Variety Clubs International was financing “Bad Boy,” a film to help promote the organization's work with troubled children. Cherry called Texas theater executive Paul Short, who was producing the film, to suggest that they consider giving Murphy a significant role in the movie. Murphy performed well in the screen test, but the president of Allied Artists did not want to cast someone in a major role with so little acting experience. Cherry, Short, and other Texas theater owners decided that they wanted Murphy to play the lead or would not finance the film. The producers agreed and Murphy's performance was well-received by Hollywood. As a result of the film, Universal Studios signed Murphy to a seven-year studio contract. After a few box-office hits at Universal, the studio bosses gave Murphy increased scope in choosing his roles.

On set of "To Hell And Back" he
shows son Terry a German helmet
Murphy's 1949 autobiography TO HELL AND BACK became a national bestseller. The book was ghostwritten by his friend, David "Spec" McClure, already a professional writer. Murphy modestly described some of his most heroic actions—without portraying himself as a hero. He did not mention any of the many decorations he received, but praised the skills, bravery, and dedication of the other members of his platoon. Murphy even attributed a song he had written to "Kerrigan".

Murphy portrayed himself in the 1955 film version of his book with the same title, “To Hell and Back.” Murphy was initially reluctant to star in the movie, fearing it would appear he was cashing in on his war experience. He suggested Tony Curtis for the role. Unlike in most Hollywood films, where the same soldiers serve throughout the movie, Murphy's comrades are killed or wounded as they were in real life. At the film's end, Murphy is the only member of his original unit remaining. At the ceremony where Murphy is awarded the Medal of Honor, the ghostly images of his dead friends are depicted. This insistence on reality has been attributed to Murphy and his desire to honor his fallen friends. Audie Murphy's oldest son, Terry, portrayed Audie's younger brother Joseph Preston "Joe" Murphy (at age four).

The film grossed almost $10 million during its initial theatrical release, and at the time became Universal Studios's biggest hit of the studio's 43-year history. The movie thought to have held the record as the company's highest-grossing motion picture until 1975, when it was surpassed by Steven Spielberg's “Jaws.”

Audie Murphy on the set of one of his westerns
In the 25 years he spent in Hollywood, Murphy made 44 feature films, 33 of them Westerns. He played outlaws Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Bill Doolin. His films earned him close to $3 million in his 23 years as an actor. He also appeared in several television shows, including the lead in the short-lived 1961 NBC western detective series “Whispering Smith,” set in Denver, Colorado. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Murphy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street.

In addition to acting, Murphy also became successful as a country music songwriter. He teamed up with musicians and composers including Guy Mitchell, Jimmy Bryant, Scott Turner, Coy Ziegler, Ray and Terri Eddlemon. Murphy's songs were recorded and released by well-known artists including Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Jimmy Bryant, Porter Waggoner, Jerry Wallace, Roy Clark, and Harry Nilsson. His two biggest hits were "Shutters and Boards" and "When the Wind Blows in Chicago".
Family Photo

Murphy was reportedly plagued by insomnia, bouts of depression, and nightmares related to his numerous battles throughout his life. His first wife, Wanda Hendrix, often talked of his struggle with this condition, even claiming that he had held her at gunpoint once. For a time during the mid-1960s, he became dependent on doctor-prescribed sleeping pills called Placidyl. When he recognized that he had become addicted to the drug, he locked himself in a motel room where he took himself off the pills, going through withdrawal for a week.

Always an advocate of the needs of America's military veterans, Murphy eventually broke the taboo about publicly discussing war-related mental conditions. In an effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Murphy spoke out candidly about his own problems with PTSD, known then and during World War II as "battle fatigue". He called on the United States government to give increased consideration and study to the emotional impact that combat experiences have on veterans, and to extend health care benefits to address PTSD and other mental-health problems suffered by returning war veterans.

Murphy married actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949; they were divorced in 1951. He then married former airline stewardess Pamela Archer, by whom he had two children: Terrance Michael "Terry" Murphy (born 1952) and James Shannon "Skipper" Murphy (born 1954). They were named for two of his most respected friends, Terry Hunt and James "Skipper" Cherry, respectively. Murphy became a successful actor, rancher, and businessman, breeding and raising Quarter Horses. He owned ranches in Texas, Tucson, Arizona and Menifee, California.

Monument in his honor
Celeste, Texas
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was killed when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, 20 miles west of Roanoke, Virginia in conditions of rain, clouds/fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed. In 1974, a large granite marker was erected near the crash site. On June 7, 1971, Murphy was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. A special flagstone walkway was later constructed to accommodate the large number of people who visit to pay their respects. It is the second most-visited grave site, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

The headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington National Cemetery are normally decorated in gold leaf. Murphy previously requested that his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier. An unknown person maintains a small American flag next to his engraved Government-issue headstone, which reads as follows:

Audie L. Murphy, Texas. Major, Infantry, World War II. June 20, 1924 to May 28, 1971. Medal of Honor, DSC, SS & OLC, LM, BSM & OLC, PH & 2 OLC.

Statue in his honor stands in front of
The Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum
Greenville, Hunt County, Texas
Murphy’s diverse honors are far too numerous to list here so I’ll mention only those in the county of his birth. From the mid-1990s through the present, an annual celebration of Murphy and other veterans in all branches of service has been held on the weekend closest to Murphy's birthday at the American Cotton Museum, renamed The Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum (in Greenville, Texas), which houses a large collection of Murphy memorabilia and personal items. His statue stands in front of the museum. A monument in his honor stands in Celeste, the small town where he attended school for five years. Farmersville also claims Audie Murphy, since that is where his sister Corinne lived and the address on his draft information. Highway 69 from Greenville to Fannin County is the Audie Murphy Memorial Highway, and Highway 34 crosses the railroad tracks in Greenville on the Audie Murphy Memorial Overpass. Mark your calendar for the 13th annual Audie Murphy Day celebration in Farmersville, Texas with a Military flyover at 10 am followed by parade downtown and program under the Onion Shed.

As we remember those who have gone before us this weekend, let’s remember soldiers like Audie Leon Murphy and his comrades.

Thanks to Wikipedia,, and the Chambers of Commerce of Greenville, Celeste, and Farmersville, Texas.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Dodge City Cowboy Band

Shortly before the Santa Fe Railroad arrived, Dodge City, Kansas was incorporated. The booming business was buffalo bones and hides and the town provided a social gathering place for the soldiers from nearby Fort Dodge. In 1875 its cattle days were born and for the next ten years it was known as the “Cowboy Capital” as well as “Queen of Cowtowns”. Well known lawmen and gunfighters took their turn in Dodge- Wyatt Earp; Bat, Ed, and Jim Masterson; Doc Holliday; William Tilghman; Clay Allison; Ben and Billy Thompson; Lake Short; to name a few. Dodge. Matter of fact, it was often hard to tell the good guys from the bad.

One of the only real bullfights ever performed in the United States was in Dodge City in 1884. Mexican Bullfighters were invited and a dozen longhorn bulls corralled in town for the event. Advertising across the nation brought people in from all around the state as well as a few neighboring ones. The event was proclaimed a success, but the sport never became legal in the states so was not repeated.

Another highly attractive event for Dodge City that became extremely popular was The Dodge City Cowboy Band. Their musical abilities were high quality; however it was said it was their manner of dress that attracted fans by the hundreds. The members wore flannel shirts, gray cowboy hats, leather chaps, spurs and pearl-handled revolvers, and the band leader used a revolver to keep time instead of a baton. The Cowboy Band also played in Denver, Chicago and Minneapolis, and in Washington, D.C., at the inaugural celebration of President Benjamin Harrison.

Though known as the “Dodge City Cowboy Band” not one of the ‘cowboys’ was from Dodge.

Music played a major role in winning the west, and the base it set is still alive in the country and western genre—as is The Dodge City Cowboy Band’s manner of dress.

When the Wild Rose Press sent out its call for stories for their Honky Tonk Series, I was excited. For years, every time I heard Toby Keith’s song, How Do You Like Me Now, I’d imagine a tense reunion story of lost love and was excited to write it. My story is not related to the song, but was somewhat inspired by it in the sense my hero, Lance Dugan, had left Texas dreaming of making it big in the music scene.

Sing to Me, Cowboy was released yesterday.

Blurb: Heather Gibson's past catches up with her one dark Texas night. 

Locked in a custody battle with an ex-husband who's looking for any excuse to take her children, Heather doesn't need any more trouble. But when a broken-down car and a dead cell phone leave her stranded at the Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk, she comes face-to-face with the one man who could jeopardize everything—including her heart. 

Country-singing sensation Lance Dugan is back in Amarillo for his grandfather's birthday and to take care of a bit of unfinished business—apologize to Heather for leaving ten years ago. Lance has fought hard and won big the last few years, but seeing Heather again makes him wonder if he's been fighting for the right things.

Finding each other again may seem like fate, but one horrible secret, buried deep, could divide them forever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


By Guest Author, Lyn Horner

Lyn Horner
Years ago, while cruising the American history shelves in a used book store, I came across a book titled:  BACON, BEANS, AND GALANTINES, Food And Foodways On The Western Mining Frontier. Written by Joseph R. Conlin, it’s a thoughtful study of how well old time miners ate and how they obtained their food. Today I will pass on a few tidbits from this fascinating book.

The first obstacle faced by would-be miners was getting to the gold or silver districts. At the time of the California Gold Rush, the Pikes Peak rush to Colorado, and the great Comstock Lode rush to Nevada, no railroad had yet reached those remote areas. Thus, fortune seekers had to travel either overland, often by covered wagon, or by sea to their destinations.

Miners stocking up for their trip

Several guide books offered advice to overland travelers, including what foods to take with them, and how much of each they would need. In Joseph Ware’s authoritative EMIGRANT'S GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA, he recommended the following: 824 lbs. flour, 725 lbs. bacon, 75 lbs. coffee, 160 lbs. sugar, 200 lbs lard and suet, 200 lbs. beans, 135 lbs. dried peaches and apples, and 25 lbs. salt, pepper and saleratus (baking soda). This was enough for four persons.

Conlin also discusses the diet of miners who took the Panama route. After traveling by steamship from Atlantic or Gulf coast ports to Chagres, Panama, voyagers trekked across the isthmus, then waited in Panama City for a berth on another ship to carry them north to San Francisco. Several American-run hotels and restaurants in the crumbling Panamanian city catered to the forty-niners. Food was plentiful but expensive. From diaries kept by some of the miners, Conlin also describes shipboard fare as “generally abundant”.

Once they reached their destination, miners’ diets ranged from near starvation to culinary excellence. Inevitably there were men who had no cooking experience, having depended upon women to cook for them. Quoting Conlin, “Some miners told of filling a pot with rice but no water, placing it on the fire, and wondering why the result was not an edible fluffy piéce. Another put about two pounds of rice in a small tea kettle, and as it commenced boiling he commenced bailing out the rice, till all the vessels in the cabin were full.” Others, who knew their way around a kitchen – or campfire – ate well. One miner’s biscuits were said to “almost sail through the air.”

Salt Lake City was an important source of food, especially fresh fruit, for mountain mining camps. Fruits were a necessity as a prevention for scurvy. One Silver City, Idaho, food provider called the Mormon capital “one vast peach orchard”. Apples, plums, grapes and various grains could also be purchased there. Once the country’s first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, an even greater variety of foodstuffs flowed in from both east and west.

Miners loved to eat out when given the opportunity. “Restaurants” quickly sprang up in even the roughest mining camps. They were plain, homey eateries, set up in tents or crude shacks. Hungry miners found respite and a solid meal in such places. As larger, more elegant establishments moved in, menus also became fancier. Meals of small game, oysters, broiled steaks, or galantines (a classic French dish; meat-wrapped paté cooked in stock and served cold in its own jelly) were obtainable, though pricey.

In the 1860s, Virginia City, Nevada, was the home of several fine eating houses: the Downievill Restaurant, the Virginia Restaurant (“supplied with the best the market affords”), and the New World Restaurant (“the VERY BEST the market affords”). There were many other less boastful establishments.

In Colorado, 1859, while some Pike’s Peakers went hungry, others enjoyed abundant food in Denver. One restaurant provided meals at $12 per week. The City Bakery in Auraria let the miners pay with gold dust, for “meals at all hours.” The mile high city was also home to several popular seafood restaurants, despite being more than a thousand miles from salt water.

Hotel de Paris in Georgetown, Colorado

Georgetown, Colorado, dubbed “Silver Queen of the Rockies,” was known for its Hotel de Paris. Opened in 1875 by Louis Dupuy, a French chef and former miner, the establishment became world famous for its fine cuisine and well appointed rooms. Today the hotel is a museum. Visit online at: Hotel de Paris

As Joseph Conlin states in his introduction, the miners life was a “bizarre juxtaposition of elegance and rawness that bemused so many visitors to the western mining frontier and, since, has intrigued historians.” 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Guest Kathleen Ball

Our guest today is Kathleen Ball. She will first review a wonderful book I've had on my bookshelf for years, titled Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine. The four sections of the book have headings such as those in the title, and they are actually names of frontier quilt patterns.
The other two patterns used are Log Cabin and Lone Star.
Welcome, Kathleen!

Kathleen's review of Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine
Jo Ella Exley complied a collection of incredible writings of frontier Texas through the eyes of Texas Pioneer women. From what she named the Log Cabin: Colonization of 1821--35 to the Texas Sunshine: The Last Frontier, 1865--1905.

It’s a book telling of hardship, illness, deprivation and death. These remarkable women persevered and survived. They are an example of the resilience of the human spirit. Their faith and strength of character got them through the immense difficulties. These women built Texas.

One narrative that really struck me was the story of Rachael Parker Plummer. On May 19, 1836 married with a young son, Indians near Fort Parker captured her, which is present day the town of Groesbeck. They soon separated her from her son and she became a slave of the Comanche’s. She gave birth to her husband’s child and it was murdered in front of her.

A Mexican trader eventually bought her. When asked, she was told that her husband, mother and father were all still alive. When she mentions her reunion of her family, she talks about her parents and the whole town embracing her. There was no mention of her husband.

It made me mad. She survived and he wasn’t there. Not uncommon, but sad.

I found this book riveting. Each woman’s story is different but they all had a common goal to thrive in the Texas frontier.

(Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine can be found on Amazon)


Callie Daniels' mother has one dying wish. She wants neighboring rancher, Garrett O'Neill, to marry her seventeen-year-old daughter. Callie knows it’s not supposed to be a conventional marriage. Garrett O'Neill would keep Callie's ranch safe and Callie would go away to college.                                                         

Four years later, Callie comes home with stars in her eyes and happily ever after in her heart. She plans to make their marriage real until finds the new housekeeper, Sylvie in Garrett's arms.

Heartbroken, Callie moves out. She sustains injuries from her horse and Garrett forces Callie to move back in to his house.

Callie finally gets her heart's desire. Alone in a line shack, they make sweet love for the first time. Unfortunately, the love light is gone from Garret's eyes the next morning.


She knew that it wasn't a real marriage. Somehow, her heart became involved. The truth cut painfully. Callie walked over to the full-length mirror and gazed at her reflection. Her skin appeared too white and her blonde hair too dark. A few weeks in the Texas sun would take care of that. Her sadness reflected back to her in her violet eyes. Sometimes people stared at her eyes they were an unusual color.

She shook head in disgust, went to her closet, and found a pair of her old jeans and a faded red t-shirt. She couldn't believe she had worn a dress and left her hair down for her supposed husband. No more pretending to be anything other than a rancher. Dressed in her normal clothes, she pulled on her old scuffed boots and tried to smile.

Looking in the mirror again, Callie braided her hair down her back. Her heart still broke, but she refused to cry. Putting on her black Stetson, she walked out of her room and out of the house. It wasn't her house anymore. It never was. They had decided to close up her homestead and have her move into Garrett's farmhouse. It had all been an illusion, the same as her marriage.

The newly painted barn looked good. Callie's step lightened as she made her way to her horse, Pirate. Pirate had been her horse since forever. He'd been a gift from her father. From the first time she sat on Pirate's shiny black back, the two had become inseparable. Laughing as Pirate nickered at her; she opened the stall and walked in. Immediately she hugged her best friend, wishing she could just cry against his neck.

It surprised her to see Garrett waiting on his porch when she led Pirate out of the barn. Callie looked away and jumped onto the saddle. She knew he wanted to say something but she just couldn't. Turning Pirate, she headed out toward open land.~*~

Buy links


About Kathleen Ball
A voracious reader, Kathleen quickly discovered the world of romance novels and she knew she was home. At the encouragement of her sister Tricia, she decided to try writing. Kathleen wrote her first book three years ago. She was shocked to find out that people loved what she wrote. All of Kathleen's novels are award winners.

Callie's Heart is her first published novel. It is the first book in The Lasso Springs Series. Kathleen lives in Texas. She moved there from Rochester, New York. She is having the time of her life exploring Texas culture.

Kathleen is married to her wonderful husband Bruce and they have one son, Steven a Marine. They just welcomed new additions to their family, a new daughter in law, Brittany and her cute as a button son, Colt.

She feels blessed to be supported in her writing by her family and friends.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Come home to Hearts Crossing Ranch for some...Soul Food

by Tanya Hanson

So...can a vegetarian really be chuck cook on a wagon train? Can she really start up a veggie restaurant smack dab in the middle of cattle country? You just might have to check out Soul Food, the fifth book in my Hearts Crossing Ranch series, to see! It’s just been released from Pelican Book Group and Amazon!  

Here’s a quick blurb: With her restaurant on the brink of failure, Kelley Martin comes home to Hearts Crossing Ranch in Colorado both to renew her spirit and make some quick cash as chuck cook on the family’s famed city slicker wagon train adventures. Falling for handsome temporary geneticist Jason Easterday is definitely not on her list of things to do. And despite her wavering faith, Jason’s lack thereof shows her there’s no future for them...even if his kisses indicate otherwise.

Always on the move, Jason Easterday has lived his life searching for...something. When he meets Kelley Martin and allows God into his life, Jason feels he's finally found his place. With Kelley at his side, he'll have a home of his own and a wife to adore. But Kelley won't give him the time of day, and she's leaving town to return to her ex. Now, he must find a way to hold his ground, get her back, and remain where his heart has led him.

I’m excited at the new installment of the Martin family, a fictional group of folks I’ve come to love. As for their gorgeous spread Hearts Crossing. I wish it were a real place so I could go visit. The book covers are turning out just like I imagine it in my head.

Anyway, a gentle old horse named Peach Cobbler, belonging to Kelley’s larger than life ma, figures in many of the stories. And with Kelley being an expert in Dutch oven cooking, I just couldn’t help sharing a recipe with y’all. Bear in mind I haven’t tried it. But I just may on our next all-family cook out in August.

Hope you enjoy both the recipe and the book!

                                           Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler

6 jumbo cans of sliced peaches in heavy syrup; drain only 3 cans
2 boxes of white or vanilla cake mix
1 stick of butter

A cast Iron dutch oven is ESSENTIAL for this recipe, nothing else works.

Layer 1: Drain 3 cans of peaches and put in cast iron Dutch oven. Add 3 more cans of peaches, do not drain liquid, to the Dutch oven.

Layer 2: Pour both boxes of cake mix over the top of peaches (do not stir)

Layer 3: Slice up one stick of butter into little pats and drop all over the top of cake mix.

Put the lid on the Dutch oven and put in the campfire, near hot coals, not on the hot coals.

Place hot coals on top of the Dutch oven lid. VERY IMPORTANT.

In about 20 minutes, give the Dutch oven a 180 degree turn, to insure an even bake.

In about 20 more minutes, check under the lid.

Dessert is finished when peaches are soft and carmelized, juice will really thicken, you will have a hot, bubbly , golden brown, topping.

Don't let the Dutch oven turn all glowy red, or your cobbler will burn.


~Tanya Hanson

Monday, May 14, 2012

JEDEDIAH SMITH and The Great Basin Adventure

by Anna Kathryn Lanier

I love finding out-of-the-ordinary books and while searching the shelves at Half-Price Books, I came across TRUE TALES OF THE WILD WEST by Paul Robert Walker.  After reading several of his chapters, I finally discovered that this book was of the ‘young adult’ category.  The book is very well written and researched.  As the book’s blurb says, “Walker shares ten [legendary characters and stories] to present a delightfully readable and highly entraining history of the West…”  One of the characters he writes about is Jedediah Smith, a trapper who traveled further than any other white man of his time.

NOTE: TRUE TALES OF THE WILD WEST is part of the Sweethearts of the West Basket on Brenda Novak’s Auction for Diabetes Research.  Check it out HERE.

Sweethearts of the West Basket

Jedediah Smith was one of the first, if not the, first white man to see much of the Southwest United States. He most certainly saw more of it than any other white man in his time.  Born in 1799 in New York State, Smith moved around as a child when his father tried to stay ahead of the growing population and nearer the frontier’s edge.  Perhaps he inherited his traveling spirit from his father. According to family legend, Smith read Biddle’s 1814 edition of the Lewis and Clark journals and vowed to make his own way west.  In 1822, he joined up with William H. Ashley’s fur trading expedition.


In 1824, Smith rediscovered the South Pass across the Rockies in present-day Wyoming.  First used in 1812-13, the location was then lost until Smith found it again.  This discovery paved the way for the tens of thousands of pioneers to use the pass as part of the Oregon-California Trail during the Western Migration.

In 1826, Ashley sold the company to Smith and two other men during the annual rendezvous of fur traders.  Smith’s partners went north, but he headed southwest, “to be the first to view the country on which the eyes of a white man had never gazed and to follow the course of rivers that ran through a new land.”

The route he took had in fact been an expedition taken by two priests in 1776. The priests had mapped out the area, including a river they named Rio Buenaventura. In later maps, this river was greatly exaggerated, so that by the time Smith attempted to follow the directions, he thought it to be a large river traveling from the Rockies straight to the Pacific Ocean.  There is, as we now know, no such river.

What Smith found instead of a vast river and much wildlife, was a barren wasteland—the Great Basin of Southern Utah, also known as the Mohave Desert. It turned out to be an adventure he barely survived.

Smith, along with 18 other trappers and a handful of women (wives and two Indian women who had been kidnapped by the Utes and rescued by Smith and his men) and children, journeyed across a range of mountains into a low, dry country.  They followed small streams that would suddenly disappear into the sand, leaving them without drinking water in very harsh conditions. Eventually, Smith climbed a hill and looked through his spy glass to spot a corpse of trees.  Green plants meant water and he led his weary band to the creek.  There they found signs of beavers as well as Indians.  The Indians had fled—most likely not only fearing the white men, but their horses. Smith later said it was perhaps the very first time the Indians had ever seen horses and to them, the men were “sailing through the air.”

The trappers spent three days trying to catch beavers, all to no avail. Eventually, “they followed the creek back into the mountains and crossed another range to yet another stream.” At this point, the two men with wives wanted to turn back, but Smith said no.  As “free trappers” though, they were under no obligation or contract to stay with Smith, so they took their wives and children and headed back East.  Soon after, one of the single men also left, taking with him a horse, a rifle and both the Indian women the group had rescued from the Utes. Fifteen or so men, including Smith, pushed westward into the unknown.

 Where his travels took him.

Supplies were running low and the men faced starvation, but just when things became desperate, they discovered a large stream and dried stalks of corn planted by Indians several years before.  Shortly, they met up with those who had planted the corn in a village of Paiutes Indians.  One of the Indians held out a freshly killed rabbit as a sign of friendship. When Smith accepted the rabbit and gave a gesture of thanks, the trappers were surrounded by a group of friendly Indians. In exchange for a few trinkets, including bits of metal that could be used for arrowheads, the starving men were given corn and pumpkins.

“Smith later wrote that the simple food might seem ‘indifferent…to him who has never made his pillow of sand of the plain or to him who would consider it a hardship to go without his dinner yet to us weary and hungry in the desert it was a feast a treat that made my party in their sudden hilarity and Glee present a lively contrast to the moody desponding, silence of the night before.’”  Smith’s group spent three days among the Paiutes, trading for additional corn for their journey.

Following the river (now called the Virgin River) they came upon another Paiutes village.  There they met two men from the neighboring Mohave tribe who told them, via signs, that there was a larger river one day’s journey to the south where they could find plenty of beaver.  Smith guessed, correctly, that this larger river was the Colorado of the west.  Led by Indian guides, the men made their way to and then across the Colorado.  Finally they reached a large Mohave settlement in what is now southern Arizona.  The Mohave had had interaction with the Spanish so were more familiar with white men than the Paiutes.  They even had horses and Smith traded some of his tired animals for fresh ones. After resting a few days, Smith and his band of trappers headed out again, this time following the directions of the Mohave into the desert toward a river.

Jedediah Smith's party crossing the burning Mojave Desert

However, he was unable to find the river they had told him about and he was forced to return to the Colorado River. There he came across an even larger Mohave village, who welcomed his group with friendliness.  Being melon harvest season, he awoke to find hundreds of the melons outside his tent.

By now, it was late October and any attempt to head back East would mean being caught in the mountains during a winter storm.  Instead, with the help of two Indians who had been at a Spanish mission in California, Smith and his group crossed into the “dry rocky sandy Barren desert.”  Following a river Smith called Inconstant for its habit of disappearing into the sand (fortunately, it would soon reappear and is now known as the Mohave River) they made their way to what is now Victorville, California.

Both the Indians they came across and the priest at the San Gabriel mission were amazed to see white men come out of the desert. To them, only Indians lived east of the Mohave Desert.  Though no one “understood it on that day in November 1826,” Walker says, “they were the beginning of a great migration that would take the American people across the continent, settling the land from sea to shining sea.”

Smith continued his trapping and exploring for several more years. In 1830, after the death of his mother, Smith decided to settle down in St. Louis. He purchased a farm and townhouse, but he had to make one more trip into the Southwest.  When he had sold his share of the fur company, he had promised to procure supplies for the new owners.  While leading the caravan along the Santa Fe Trail in 1831, he was killed by Comanche warriors.

More reading:

Anna Kathryn Lanier 
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester