Friday, September 22, 2017

125th Anniversary of the Johnson County War

A few months ago I was contacted by Earl Madsen, owner of the historic TA Ranch outside Buffalo, Wyoming. Earl explained to me his plans to commemorate the West's most notable range war during its 125th anniversary year. The Wyoming conflict between large ranchers and small homesteaders came to a head in 1892. I wrote an account, The Johnson County War, which won the 2005 Book of the Year Award of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History. During my research period, Karon and I stayed on two or three occasions at the TA, which played a central role in the climax of the Johnson County War. So when Earl asked me to come to Wyoming to represent Texas at the 125th Anniversary of the Johnson County War, I eagerly accepted his invitation.

With Earl Madsen, owner of the TA Ranch
I felt the same way about participating in this anniversary as I had when asked why, as a Texan, was I writing about a major Wyoming event? I always replied that a Texas cowboy (Nate Champion) was the great hero of the range war. A Texas fugitive (Joe Horner) escaped custody in the Lone Star State and, under an assumed name (Frank Canton) came to Wyoming, where he was a feared assassin during the Johnson County War. And wealthy cattlemen hired more than a score of gunmen from Texas to try to impose their will in Johnson County. Therefore it seemed quite appropriate for a Texan to write about and to speak about Wyoming's Johnson County War.

Heroic statue of Nate Champion, by sculptor Mike Thomas
Statue of Frank Canton
Statue of rustler about to be apprehended by Frank Canton
I flew into Billings, Montana, on Thursday, September 14, and rented a vehicle for the beautiful drive to Buffalo. I arrived at the TA late in the afternoon, just as Earl and his gracious wife, Barb, were beginning to host a dinner for the participants in the next day's events. Earl had asked me to moderate a two-hour panel, to be held from 10 to 12 the next day, Friday, September 15. He assembled a stellar panel, featuring former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and Alan's older brother, Peter, a prominent college administrator and a Wyoming legislator. Alan and Pete's father, Milward Simpson, was governor of Wyoming from 1955 until 1959. Other panelists included John W. Davis, Wyoming attorney who wrote Wyoming Range War, focusing upon the legal machinations of the Johnson County War; Bill Markley, writer for True West and Wild West magazines, and a re-enactor in such motion pictures as Dances With Wolves and Gettysburg; Tim Slosser, English author of More Than Cowboys and Out West, and producer of more than a dozen documentaries about the American West for the BBC and National Geographic; and Jim McGagna, Executive Director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which played a crucial role in the Johnson County War. Also present was Sylvia Bruner, Director of Buffalo's Jim Gatchell Museum, a major sponsor of the event.

With Sylvia Bruner, Director of the Gatchell Museum
On Friday morning, after an excellent breakfast at the TA, I drove into Buffalo early to visit with the crowd gathering at the Civic Center. I renewed many acquaintances with history-minded friends who had helped me put together my book. There was a film crew present, headed by Tim Hoch, who is hoping to develop a documentary. An audience of 120 assembled for the panel discussion, and the two hours flew by rapidly. Following a Question and Answer period, we were treated to a catered lunch by Buffalo's Sagebrush Café. During and after lunch we were approached by numerous guests who wanted to ask further questions and who asked for inscriptions in books they had just purchased. On Friday evening a dinner was held at the Civic Center, featuring several presenters who were descendants of participants in the Johnson County War.

Bill Markley at the Speakers' Stand
Tom Hoch, head of the film crew
Earl Madsen acquired Frank Canton's 3-room cabin and moved it to the TA, where Karon and I were the first to stay there.
The Saturday highlight was a re-enactment at the TA Ranch of the climactic events of the two-day siege by 400 townspeople of more than 50 "Invaders" of Johnson County, including 20-odd Texas gunmen. For two days the Invaders, who already had killed accused rustlers Nate Champion and Nick Ray at the KC Ranch, 40 miles south of Buffalo, forted up at the TA while angry citizens besieged the ranch with rifle fire. Townspeople seized three supply wagons of the Invaders, firing their own ammunition at the Invaders. The chief defense points were the TA's log cabin and barn, as well as a redoubt hastily constructed on a hill.

Tourists beginning a wagon tour of the TA
The historic TA Ranch cabin
The most famous barn in the West
Townspeople fashioned a "Go-Devil" from two of the confiscated wagons, lashing the vehicles together with protective planking in front. On the third morning of the siege citizens intended to advance behind the Go-Devil, but before this assault could be made three troops of cavalry from Fort McKinney, located two miles west of Buffalo, arrived to take the Invaders into military custody. The dramatic arrival of the U.S. Cavalry averted a bloodbath, and months of legal maneuvers followed.

Filming a scene at the barn
Earl Madsen with cavalry re-enactors
Part of the crowd preparing to watch the re-enactment
 The Johnson County War later was memorialized by such classic novels and movies as The Virginian and Shane, along with numerous non-fiction books and TV documentaries. Buffalo-based sculptor Mike Thomas executed statues of Nate Champion and Frank Canton which adorn the Main Street of Buffalo.

On Saturday afternoon the re-enactors and film crew rehearsed seven scenes, and this dress rehearsal offered the best opportunity for photographs. Although the temperature dropped into the 30s and there was a light mist, a large crowd assembled for the five o'clock re-enactment. Certainly it was thrilling to view a re-enactment at the very site where a major gun battle exploded 125 years ago.     

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Lubbock Cowboy Symposium and Celebration - Plus Historical Bonuses

On Friday and Saturday, September 8 and 9, I participated in the 29th annual Cowboy Symposium and Celebration. Programs, entertainment, and special events were staged in Lubbock's big civic center. And on the field north of the civic center was an array of chuck wagons, plus a few tepees. There also was outdoor entertainment and a parade. On Sunday, September 10, there was a Cowboy Church Service, with live music and appropriate cowboy poetry and a devotional message. As always, Lubbock's Cowboy Symposium and Celebration provided a splendid event built around the iconic Texas cowboy.

Vendor Aisle

Monica Hightower, the lovely and highly efficient boss wrangler of the Symposium, invited the State Historian to provide a program for the fifth consecutive year. She wanted me to continue the theme of Western outlawry which has attracted large audiences during these five years, and I developed "Cow Country Outlaws." Of course, most Cow Country Outlaws were rustlers, and I began the presentation by tracing the Regulator (later Vigilante) movement in America back to the colonial period. By the time open range ranching in the Old West began, rustlers preyed on the livestock. I detailed the methods of theft, as well as the violent retaliation by cattlemen (lynching, lynching, lynching!).
With Monica Hightower, Boss Wrangler of the Cowboy Symposium

Alvin Davis, the Founding Father of the Cowboy Symposium, attended my first presentation shortly after the Friday lunch event celebrated his 90th birthday. I acknowledged Alvin in front of the large crowd that had gathered to hear about Cow Country Outlaws, and the audience responded with an enthusiastic round of applause. Alvin's charming wife announced that she had brought the remaining portions of Alvin's birthday cake, which we all enjoyed.

Alvin Davis, Founding Father of Lubbock's Cowboy Symposium

I presented "Cow Country Outlaws" on both Friday and Saturday afternoons. Also on Friday I emceed a writer's panel. The other author/presenters were Karen Fitzjerrell and Nathan Dahlstrom. The three of us have worked together before, and our hour passed rapidly.
Author Panel: State Historian, Karen Fitzjerell and Nathan Dahlstrom

Two recent former presidents of the West Texas Historical Association,
the State Historian and Marisue Potts

Part of the Friday audience

On my way to Lubbock from my home in Carthage I experienced several historic sites. I departed Carthage on Wednesday so that I could do some research in Midland's Haley Library and Museum. The Haley Library and Museum features the immense research collections of legendary rancher and author J. Evetts Haley. About 20 years ago I visited the Haley Library in search of material about Pink Higgins, and I found excellent sources. On last Thursday I was aided by museum director Pat McDaniel, who assembled a vast array of materials for me to examine for my biographical project about cattle king John Chisum.

It was a long drive from Carthage to West Texas, so on the first night of the trip I stayed in Stanton, which is less than 20 miles from Midland. Fortunately I arrived in time for a visit to the Martin County Museum in Stanton. The museum director, Ruthie Billett, welcomed the State Historian and pointed out all kinds of historical treasures that are on exhibit in this fine museum.
Martin County Historical Museum Director Ruthie Billett
On Thursday afternoon, as I drove from Midland to Lubbock, I took a break in the little town of O'Donnell, where Dan Blocker (the future Hoss Cartwright) graduated from high school. Blocker was born in DeKalb in northeast Texas, but the family later opened a business in O'Donnell. Blocker became a football star at Sul Ross State Teachers College. He taught and coached and served in the army during the Korean War, before pursuing an acting career. In a downtown city park a statue and a historical plaque proudly make the connection between O'Donnell and Hoss from the TV series Bonanza.
Statue of Dan Blocker

On Friday morning, before going to Lubbock's civic center, I visited the Ranch Heritage Center Museum. I'm a member of the Ranch Heritage Association, and I recently published an article on Shanghai Pierce in the RHC publication, the Ranch Record. I had learned that there was a new exhibit on cattle rustling, which I wanted to visit. before delivering my program on "Cow Country Outlaws." While there I visited the gift shop, where I had the pleasure of autographing several of my books on display. And before leaving I could not resist walking through the superb collection of ranch buildings that have been assembled outside. Touring the Ranch Heritage Center Museum is perfect prep for attending the National Cowboy Symposium. 
The Ranch Heritage Center longhorn herd
1838 Pioneer cabin

XIT Bunkhouse

JAs Water Tank

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Back to School

During the second week in August the Texas State Historical Association sponsored two conferences in its Exploring Texas Workshop Series. Designed to bring content material to Texas history teachers, these two conferences were scheduled to be of assistance on the eve of the beginning of fall classes. Charles Nugent, Director of Adult Education Programs for the TSHA, was even busier than usual in lining up speakers and organizing activities for three days of conferences in two locations within a four-day period.
Fred Cooper, a fellow presenter who has a new book which features several eight-minute classroom plays for Texas history.

The week's first conference was held on Monday and Tuesday, August 7 and 8, at the Region 10 Education Service Center in Richardson. Region 10 co-sponsored the conference, which covered the period Prehistory to 1835. More than 100 teachers signed up for the conference, and Charles Nugent assembled presenters for more than 30 breakout sessions and addresses to the assembled group. 

I was asked to lead off the conference with a keynote address I called, "Dios y Tejas: The Spanish in Texas." My program was scheduled from 8:30 to 10:00 on Monday morning, and I brought a number of props. I drove to Richardson from Carthage on Sunday afternoon, and I went to the Region 10 Education Center, because Charles Nugent had arranged for the facility to be opened that evening for those of us who needed an early setup opportunity. On Monday morning I arrived about eight o'clock and, already prepared, I had time to meet with the teachers as they entered the room. I found out what schools they were from and how long they had been teaching.

I was delighted with the topic I was assigned. At the start of every semester at Panola College I lectured at length about the Spanish in Texas. For three-fifths of recorded Texas history, from the early 1500s to the early 1800s, principal control of Texas was in the hands of Spain. The largest battle ever fought on Texas soil - the Battle of Medina - was won by a Spanish army. From conquistadores to Franciscan missionaries, from longhorn cattle to hard-riding vaqueros, from Catholicism to the Spanish language, the Spanish made an indelible imprint on the rich history and culture - and future - of the Lone Star State.

I drove home after my talk, because I had only two days to prepare for my next conference, in Austin at the Lorenzo de Zavalla Texas State Archives and Library Building. Every time I approach the stately structure I take time to read the bold inscription on the front of the building. From the first Texas State Constitution:

        All Political Power is inherent in the People and all Free Governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit.
State Archives Building

I also enjoy entering the building in the shadow of the statue of Texas icon Sam Houston, clad in his Masonic regalia.

On several occasions in the past I had researched at the State Archives, but I had never presented a program there. On the second floor is an education suite which accommodated our group. I was scheduled to speak at one o'clock, and I arrived in time to share a box lunch which Charles Nugent had arranged. A grant from Humanities Texas supported this one-day conference, which was co-sponsored by the TSHA, the General Land Office of Texas, the Texas State Archives and Library, and the Texas Capitol Visitor Center.   

Left to Right: Buck Cole, General Land Office; Kyle Schlafey, Texas Capitol Visitors Center; Charles Nugent, TSHA

My topic was "The Texas Revolution," always an exciting subject to share with teachers and students. I brought poster/diagrams, coonskin caps, and Bowie knives, and I managed to squeeze the subject into one hour - barely. I wished the teachers well during the coming school year, and for the second time in three days I headed toward Carthage.