Sunday, June 12, 2016

'Dinner in Hades': Outlaws' Last Words

http://kathleenriceadams.com/

Bad boys of the Old West—they’re endlessly fascinating. Why is that? Maybe it’s because they lived such bold, flash-in-the-pan lives, as untamed as the land they roamed. Some have become such mythic figures, it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. True or not, their legends live on…and in some cases, so do the last or near-last words that—in a strange, sad way—defined their short, reckless lives.

Bits and pieces like the ones below bring real-life villains to life and sometimes provide insight into the men behind the myths. Still, I often find myself wondering “who were these guys?” Had I been a contemporary, would I have seen the same life historians recorded? Or would the real person have been astoundingly different from what we think we know 100 years later?

All of the outlaws below had parents, grandparents, siblings. Some had wives and children. One, Deacon Jim Miller (also known as Killer Jim Miller) was a pillar of his community…when he wasn’t eliminating someone for money.

As an author of historical fiction, part of my job is to entertain, but I believe there’s another, equally important part, as well: getting the facts straight—or at least trying to hide the wrinkles. Of course, fiction isn’t fact, and no fiction author worth his or her salt lets facts get in the way of a good story. Nevertheless, studying the past and the kinds of people about whom we write is almost a sacred trust for many of us who write historical fiction. Only by familiarizing ourselves with the larger-than-life and the mundane can we give any authority or verisimilitude to the fictional lives we create.

As the writerly saying goes, “Even the villain is the hero of his own life story.” Maybe that’s why I spend so much time researching bad boys…and why the heroes in my stories so often are outlaws, even the ones who wear badges. After all, somebody has to tell the villains’ life stories, right?

Wild Bill Longley




“I deserve this fate. It is a debt I owe for my wild, reckless life.”
Wild Bill Longley, outlaw and mean-tempered bully, age 27. Hanged in Giddings, Texas, Oct. 11, 1878, for the murder of a childhood friend.





Tom O'Folliard





“Aw, go to Hell you long-legged son-of-a-bitch.”
—Tom O’Folliard, rustler and best friend of Billy the Kid, age 22. Spoken to Sheriff Pat Garrett shortly after Garrett mortally wounded him during a manhunt near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Dec. 19, 1880.





Billy the Kid




 “I’m not afraid to die like a man fighting, but I would not like to be killed like a dog unarmed.”
—Billy the Kid, hired gun, age 21, in a March 1879 letter to New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace. Shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, July 14, 1881.










“Can’t you hurry this up a bit? I hear they eat dinner in Hades at twelve sharp, and I don’t aim to be late.”
Black Jack Ketchum, train robber, age 37. Decapitated during hanging for train robbery, Clayton, New Mexico, April 26, 1901.








 “Killing men is my specialty. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.”
—Tom Horn, Pinkerton detective turned assassin, one day shy of 43. Hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Nov. 20, 1903, for the murder of a 14-year-old boy.







“Let the record show I’ve killed 51 men. Let ’er rip.”
“Deacon Jim” Miller, age 42, professional assassin. Lynched in Ada, Oklahoma, April 19, 1909, for the contract killing of a former U.S. marshal.










“I love it [the bandit life]. It is wild with adventure.”
—Henry Starr, age 53, to a reporter shortly before he was shot to death during an attempted bank robbery in Harrison, Arkansas, 1921.


Image credits
Black Jack Ketchum: University of New Mexico
Tom Horn at the Cheyenne Jail, 1902: Wyoming State Archives
Henry Starr: University of Arkansas, Little Rock




A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperados. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.

Her short novella “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the coveted Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun won the EPIC Award for Historical Romance and is the only novel-length western historical romance ever nominated for a Peacemaker.

Visit Kathleen’s hideout on the web at KathleenRiceAdams.com, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and/or Pinterest.



22 comments:

  1. Kathleen, I look forward to your posts. Like you, I enjoy studying the history of the era in which we set our books. Another writerly saying is "You can't have a strong hero without a strong villain".

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    1. I completely agree with both, Caroline. You do such a expert job of incorporating your research seamlessly into your stories. I want to write like you do when I grow up. :-)

      Thank you for your kind words about my posts. :-)

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  2. You nailed it when you said 'somebody has to tell the villains’ life stories, right?'. Having worked with more than a few contemporary 'bad boys', they do have lives that get lost in the 'drama' they created.

    Additionally, getting the history correct, even it is just a small part of the story, is important to me. I enjoyed this post a lot. Doris

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Doris! Kinda figured you would with your background. It's sad that what remains of these is a bad reputation and, in some cases, cryptic final words. One of these villains, in particular, seems to have been evil incarnate.

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  3. aha! Jack Ketchum plays a small part in my WIP, from the time he was up in Buffalo, WY, at the Hole-in-the-Wall.. Good to read his last words.
    Andrea
    http://andreadowning.com

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    1. How cool is that, Andrea? Finish that puppy so I can read it! :-)

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  4. Dang, Kathleen, using those big fifty cent words like "verisimilitude". I had to look it up. Just in case anybody else is wonderin' what it means, here ya go: verisimilitude:
    (Noun) a statement which merely appears to be true

    Now I really liked how these outlaws had the presence of mind to say some mighty funny or smartass things just before they met their maker. I would have been busy bawling my eyes out. I guess that just shows how little regard they had for human life, including their own. I loved all the quotes and pictures, Kathleen. I'm also trying to get the imaginary image of Black Jack's head popping off when he was hanged out of my mind. Ick!
    Terrific post!

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    1. I wrote a post about Mr. Ketchum earlier. It's linked in this post. He was the only man ever hanged for "felonious assault on a railway train." I think they were just looking for an excuse to do away with him. Evidently, the man had sarcasm to spare.

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  5. Kathleen,

    I do love villains. They're so interesting in motive, life perspective, behaviors, and rationalization of why they are the dastardly individuals they are. I also appreciate a story in which the author is able to make me 'root for/identify with' [whatever the descriptor] the villain (or villain type). Literary examples: Hannibal Lecter and Inspector Javert. Movie examples: Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham and Hades in the animated Hercules. *grin*

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    1. I love a good villain, Kaye. Even Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley Do-Right cartoons was an interesting study in motive and perspective. :-D

      Hannibal Lecter was fascinating. Talk about twisted genius! Alan Rickman takes whatever character he plays -- usually villains -- to frightening places (sometimes for laughs). He's one of my favorite actors.

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  6. I'm with you, Kathleen. It is interesting to see the real wild men of the west. None of them seemed to be afraid of anything, and certainly not going to Hades. Great post.

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    1. Thank you, Paisley! I really would like to have met these guys...when they were sober and in a good mood. ;-) Surely every once in a while they had a pleasant thought.

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  7. All of them...except Billy the Kid...looked normal, didn't they? Dressed well, handsome for the most part, and probably intelligent...except Billy the Kid. We might have been friends with them or invited them to dinner...except Billy the Kid.
    I have liked anything about Billy the Kid.
    Tom Horn--now there an interesting, intriguing man..and handsome, too.
    I read these closely--it's not difficult to believe. And today? We still have modern villains and we all know their names: Charles Whitman, (?)Manson, Clyde Barrow, the mafia bosses, the bootleggers, bank robbers,...on and on. Very sad. Thanks for a precise, concise post. I loved it.

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    1. I meant..I have NEVER liked anything about Billy the Kid.

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    2. Glad you clarified that, Celia! I was a little worried there for a second. You look so sweet -- but that's exactly the kind of person who becomes a serial killer...except for Charles Manson. He looked crazy from the get-go. Have you ever taken notice of his eyes? He has the quintessential sociopathic stare going on.

      I've never figured out Tom Horn. He and Deacon Jim Miller were contract killers -- hit men in the Old West. Horn always claimed he killed the boy by mistake. He said he meant to kill the kid's father. This is a defense? He meant to kill SOMEBODY.

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  8. A fun read, Kathleen! Loved the images. Poor Billy the Kid. Have you seen the latest picture of him to crop up? Playing croquet in a goofy striped cardigan. I believe his last words before he was shot were "Quien es?"

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    1. I HAVE seen the most recent images. That's certainly a different side of the Kid. One wonders if things might have turned out differently for him with a slight twist in Fate. "Quien es?" reportedly were his last words, but I thought the quote above was a little more outlaw-y. "Quien es?" just doesn't sound like a bad guy. :-D

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  9. Interesting post, Kathleen. Gotta love those bad boys and they add flavor to all those western stories. Hanging seems a terrible way to die.

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    1. Did you watch the most recent episode of Hell on Wheels? The army hanged a man by hoisting him from the ground instead of dropping through a gallows' trapdoor. The gallows method was designed to break the convicted person's neck instead of strangling him or her. Although the thought of any form of hanging gives me a an ugly chill, I think the gallows would be preferable to strangling. **shudder**

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  10. I haven't watched that show. Guess maybe I should. Strangling has to be terrible! When we were in Schulenburg, we visited their jail and I'd never seen a real noose before. Sure wasn't what we're used to seeing on tv.

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    1. Now there's a great vacation adventure for you: "Come see a real noose -- used to hang real outlaws! Bring the kids!" ;-)

      As death penalties go, strangling seems beyond cruel to me.

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  11. Kathleen--Just now catching up on things. I really enjoyed this post. Among my favorite is O'Folliard's last words to Pat Garrett: "Aw, go to Hell you long-legged son-of-a-bitch.” I guess there's some satisfaction getting in the last word.

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