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Black Legends of the Wild, Wild West, Part iV 

This is the fourth and final article of a Four Part Series on Black Folks, who helped to tame the west. First we looked at US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, followed by Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary. Then James Pierson Beckwourth, American Mountain Man and our final legend from the old west is Nat (pronounced Nate) Love aka Deadwood Dick and a few others.   
If I told you that it was reasonable to assume that one out of every three cowboys, or even three out of every five in the old west were men of color, would you believe me? Keep in mind the duties of cowboys, especially drover’s included driving herds of cows over a long distant, often forging new trails, facing rustlers of all colors and creed, land barons looking to make a fast buck for allowing passage, and the always possibility of losing a small number of the cows along the way if not the entire herd. They had to manage the heat, wind or rain storms and lighting that may spook the cattle into a stampede.
Ever seen movies where the herd is restless on a dark night with the sound of accidental gunfire, thunder or lightning, maybe even the rattling of chuck wagons metal plates and cups sets them off. All trail hands mount up to stop them from running off a cliff or running themselves to deaths. Every seen the width of the horns on a Texas longhorn cow or steer? Imagine riding a galloping horse in the dark trying to avoid gopher holes and other obstacles on the ground. All while turning those puppies running at speeds up to twenty-five, thirty-five or even forty-miles-per hour depending on their size and what frightened them.     
Once the remainder of the herd was delivered to the loading pens, the trail hands job was finished. They were off to celebrate a long hard journey by whatever amused them at the time. As depicted in the movies, since these were underpaid and overworked young men, they looked for quick thrills.  There was then, as is now for that matter, nothing like wine, women and song to provide a day and night to remember for a young man. I remember one night in South Korea in 1962…me and…whoops, sorry I almost forgot this story is about the old west. 
Those cowhands that worked in the loading pens were considered less than the trail hands. You had to walk among the cattle prodding them along to different parts of the stockyard. Sometimes those cattle had been in those pens for days, eating, drinking water and releasing waste of all kinds’ right where they stood. So walking around in those pens could be difficult, made even worse if you are trying to cut out the group of cows from a large corral. Or steer, by prodding a bunch of cows with long poles, one at a time up a ramp for the purpose of loading them onto a train’s cattle car. Thus the name “cowpuncher” was awarded to these men. That could be dirty and nasty work for even less pay than a trail hand. Recorders of History via books, and writers of movie, TV scripts have all grouped these individual that handle cows on ranches, trail drives and pens at the end of the trail as “Cowboys.” Now I ask again, if I told you on an average, one out of every three Cowboys were men of color would you believe me?
Before, and even more freed and former slaves after the Civil War filled these low paying jobs.  This was during a time (late 1860’s to mid-1890’s) when the big herds were being driven from the west to eastern shipping points and beyond. Most still earned less than their white counterparts. Emancipated Blacks contributed to filling a workforce void of white men because of the huge number of manpower lost by the Confederacy and Union States alike. Add that to losses in the West, such as the Indian Wars, rampant diseases, land rights skirmishes, and Saturday night shoot-outs or just overall drunken gunfights.  One can see why the life expectancy for those type individuals (cowboys, gunslingers & outlaws) was around thirty-five.
There were over 186, 000 black people serving in the Union Armies. A very small number served in the Confederacy, most until the first chance they had to run away from the masters who had them there to fill the dirtiest jobs that Southerners did not want to do. At war's end, the Union Army established colored units from those men who fought during the Civil War. There were four infantry units and two Cavalry regiments. All units accepted new recruits who were fit for duty. This was also a way for emancipated blacks to earn a living and get an education while gaining respect from most in the nation as part of the Armed Services of the United States. All units, 24th, 25th, 38th, 40th, and 41st Infantry regiments along with the 9th and 10th Cavalry were stationed in the south-western Plains.
This was right in the heart of the Indian Wars being fought on behalf of the residents and new settlers to the area. By now you have heard of the term “Buffalo Soldiers.”  A term of respect for their bravery bestowed upon the 9th and 10th Cavalry by the Cheyenne and Comanche Indians. The Buffalo Soldiers fought Indians, cattle rustlers, Mexican revolutionaries, outlaw gangs, all while patrolling small ranches and railway construction lines. They contributed to building military outposts and erected telegraph lines.                      
Some call him the most famous black cowboy of them all. Nat (pronounced Nate) Love was born a slave, in Davidson County, Tennessee in 1854. Reading was against the law for slaves, nevertheless, as a child, he was taught how to read and write by his father, Sampson. After slavery had ended, his father, once a slave foreman in the fields, and his wife (Nat’s mother, a former manager of the plantations kitchen) settled on a small farm. Sampson Love died after the second years planting of tobacco and corn crops. Nat had to take a job on a neighboring farm to help out with the dwindling family finances.       
 After a few more years of odd jobs in the area, he left for the west. He was in search of a better life and earning a living while yearning for a free young man’s adventurous lifestyle. He met Bronco Jim, one of the black cowboys who were part of a Texas bunch preparing to return home after delivering their herd to Dodge City, Kansas. Asking for a job, the trail boss agreed to hire him if he rode and broke one of the orneriest horses in the outfit. Bronco Jim, his name giving his profession, gave his newfound friend a few quick pointers. Albeit the toughest ride of his life, he survived the ride and was hired.
It didn’t take him long to be indoctrinated into the hard life of a cowboy. After being involved in Indian hostile’s attacks and fighting off rustlers, he took every chance he could to practice shooting his forty-five pistol. He became a marksman with the weapon. He left his Texas Panhandle job and landed in Arizona working with Mexican vaqueros. Nat picked up the Spanish language and learned to identify cattle brands. The spring of 1876 saw his outfit head out for Deadwood City in the Dakota Territory to deliver three thousand head of cattle. They rode into town on the day before the Fourth of July celebrations.
The betting members in the town had put together a sporting event in honor of the holiday. It was a contest ideal to show off the expertise of a cowboy. $200 (equal to $5000 today) would be awarded to the best man who could rope, throw, tie bridles, saddle and ride some of the wildest mustangs, chosen for the contest. Note the winner had to perform the feat quicker than any other in the contest. There were a dozen men, six of them black, who entered the event. Nat completed the task in nine minutes, three minutes and twelve seconds better than his closest competitor, another black cowboy. Next was rifle and Colt shooting event. Each contestant was to fire rifle twelve shots, and the same amount of pistol rounds at a black bull’s eye target placed at 100 and 250 yards. Nat hit the bull’s-eye on all his rifle shots with ten of the twelve pistol shots hitting the target almost dead center. Nat Love’s display of his cowboy skills and marksmanship earned him the $200 in prize money so much so that Deadwood City town folk gave him the name of “Deadwood Dick.”
The words of Nat “Deadwood Dick” Love which appears in his self-authored 1907 autobiography, entitled “Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country ad ‘Deadwood Dick’ by Himself.” are descriptive of a specific era in our history. He wrote, “It has now been many years since I quit the range, and as my mind wanders back over those years as it often does, memories both pleasant and sad pass in review and it is but fitting that I record a few of them as a final to the history of my life which has been so full of action, which is but natural as the men of those days were men of action. They had to be, and probably their actions were not all good, that I freely admit, but while that is so, it is equally so that their actions were not all bad, far from it. And in the history of the frontier there is recorded countless heroic deeds performed, deeds and actions that required an iron nerve, self denial in all that these words imply, the sacrificing of one life to save the life of a stranger or a friend. Deeds that stamped the men of the western plains as men worthy to be called men, and while not many of them would shine particularly in the polite society of today or among the 400 of Gotham, yet they did shine big and bright in the positions and at a time when men lived and died for a principle, and in the line of duty. A man who went to the far west or who claimed it as his home in the early days found there a life far different from that led by the dude of Fifth Avenue. There a man's work was to be done, and a man's life to be lived, and when death was to be met, he met it like a man.”  
Nat Love worked as a Pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in the latter part of his life. He died (1921) in Los Angeles, California at the ripe old age of sixty-seven, some thirty-two years beyond the life expectancy of his peers from that era.
Men like “One Horse Charlie,” a black cowboy who reportedly rode with the Shoshone Indian tribe.
There are numerous black cowboys from that era. Men like Bronco Sam, who once rode a longhorn steer on a dare. This after his crew roped and saddled the animal for the black bronco-buster. He rode the bucking and frightened steer down the main street of Cheyenne, Wyoming followed by his crew yelling in encouragement. After seeing its own reflection in the glass window of a clothing storefront, the animal charged through the window directly at his reflection. Store shoppers and clerks went diving to get out of the way of this bucking animal. People on the outside watched as the animal turned back toward the hole he had made with is entrance. He ran, still bucking and trying to toss off Bronco Sam, who was still in the saddle. His horns had a few store items, underwear, pants, coats, and other assorted pieces of or whole garments. It was reported that Bronco Sam shouted after dismounting the steer now once again roped to be led back to the herd, “I brought out a suit of clothes for everybody in the crew.” Bronco Sam rode back into town and paid the shopkeeper $350 he said was owed him for the damages.
Then there is Jesse Stahl, who competed in an early 1900 Rodeo in Oregon. He felt he was cheated out of an outstanding first place ride by a racist judge who awarded his second place. In protest, Jesse rode his next bronco facing backward with a suitcase in his hand, just to show off his abilities for all to see.            
Other men like Addison Jones, Range Boss, (1845-1926) aka “Nigger Add” or “Old Add.” He was a range boss for the LFD outfit where he led a crew of south Texas black cowboys. A man whose recognized cowboy skills in western Texas- eastern Mexico labeled him as “the most noted Negro cowboy that ever ‘topped off’ a horse.”
Bose Ikard (1843-1929), born a slave in Mississippi, arrive in Texas as a child with his owner Dr. Milton L. Ikard. After the Emancipation Proclamation, he stayed on with the Doctor as an employee until 1866. At which time he joined a trail drive to Colorado in the employ of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Eventually, he worked for Oliver Loving, who was killed in a skirmish against the Comanche’s and then as a tracker, cowboy and de facto banker for Charles Goodnight. The “Goodnight Loving Cattle Trail” was named after his bosses. Upon his death, Goodnight, paid for a grave marker for Bose Ikard. On it he inscribed “with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanche’s, splendid behavior. C. Goodnight.”
Goodnight was quoted by the Weatherford Daily Herald in June of 1929, saying "I have trusted him farther than any living man. He was my detective, banker, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico, and the other wild country I was in.” 
Authors Note: I was proud to learn that the character of Joshua Deets (portrayed by actor Danny Glover) in one of my favorite cowboy movies, the TV mini-series, Lonesome Dove was based on Bose Ikard. By the way, Lonesome Dove’s four episodes in 1989 were Co-Executive Produced by Motown’s Suzanne De Passe. It has an outstanding all-star cast and storyline. A storyline I also learned while doing the research for this article is based on the lives of Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight. This is why I love American history.
Not so final, but finally for this article is Ned Huddleston (aka Isom Dart) (1849-1900). Born as a slave in Arkansas he later earned such nicknames as the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy”. He ended up in Texas as a twelve-year-old in the company of his owner in 1861, a Confederate Officer during the Civil War. After the war, he left for the southern Texas-Mexico border region. He found work as a stunt rider which enhanced his horse skills.  He was labeled as an Outlaw while working with Terresa, a young Mexican bandit as they rustled horses in Mexico. They brought the stolen mounts back across the Texas border, selling them for cash.
By 1875, he’d join up with the Tip Gault cattle and horse rustling Gang working out of southeastern Wyoming. The gang was eventually ambushed by an angry rancher and his men.  Everyone but Ned Huddleston was killed in the gunfight. Changing his name to Isom Dart, he began a new life of hard work as a bronco buster.
Around 1890, he became a rancher, even though, some of the Brown’s Hole locals felt he built up his herd with stolen cattle from their ranches. They hired the infamous Tom Horn, a range detective, to handle the matter. Horn, as was his style to take no chances, ambushed, killing Isom Dart on October 3, 1900. Some in the area were convinced of his guilt by the ranchers who hired Tom Horn. Others were not so sure as they saw a changed man in Isom Dart. They felt that cattlemen wanting his land were the real reason for the charge and killing.
Final Authors Note: For western yore and cowboy movie buffs like me, this has been a pleasure researching and writing this series. Doubling so because the stars are black like me. For all minorities, it is never too late to learn about your history and how America was built by people of all races, colors and creed. That is the beauty of the computer and internet, no one can tell you different. There are too many to credit here, but a heartfelt thank you to all that have documented the information I found in research, including some that have died but left books. I do have my sources on file.  
One more request if you will. I know that we are in an instantaneous cycle as for as delivering and interpreting information and news. Let me caution people of color. We are individually responsible for ensuring we get information that is not only credible but inclusively thorough. Too many reporters in the majority of media outlets are settling for the headline grabber without completing the authentication process. As a kid, I never heard of the individuals noted in this article. Yet they lived, and made history that was not being reported during my childhood. Let’s not fall for the Okie-doke again.                              
Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II 
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Black Legends of The Wild, Wild West, Part III 

This is the third article of a Four Part Series on Black Folks, who helped to tame the west. First we looked at US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, followed by Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary. Today we examine the life of James Pierson Beckwourth, American Mountain Man.

There is some discrepancy as to when James Pierson Beckwourth was born. Was it 1798 or 1800? There is no disputed of the facts about the impact he had on discovering what came to be known as the Beckwourth Pass and subsequent Trail.  A trail that went through the Sierra Nevada Mountains between Reno, Nevada and Portola, California, and in which thousands of settlers found their way into central California.

He was a mulatto, son of a black slave mother (third or thirteen children), who’s father was Sir Jennings Beckwith, an English white man. As prescribed by the law at the time, his father raised him as his own son. Yet legally, young James was considered a slave.  His biography states that his father appeared in court, once in 1824, 1825, and 1826. All in an effort to “acknowledged the execution of a Deed of Emancipation from him to James, a mulatto boy.”
James, or Jim as he was sometimes called, was the only black person who recorded his exploits during the discovery and subsequent settlement of the old western frontier. While dictating his autobiography to Thomas D. Bonner (Traveling Justice of the Peace with corrupt reputation) in 1854-55 California gold fields, it was thought he stretched the truth. Later, some historians accused him of lying, although they may have had reasons for not wanting, who they called “a mongrel of mixed blood” to get credit for any discovery or good deed.  Although many of the exploits detailed in the autobiography passed the truth test by others who substantiated his accounts of what happened, James role in events almost always made him the eventual hero. Many of his acquaintances who took part in forging trails and exploring the West didn’t see themselves as heroes but more of doing what they had to do to survive. That is probably why they viewed his 1856 book, (The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians, published by Harper and Brothers) as something of a joke. See Note 1.
Excluding those events that were substantiated by others as being accurate and true, James did have a way of exaggerating the numbers of Indians that attacked a particular exploration outpost or trading post. Historians found that some of the dates were also wrong or off by a couple of years. Some did consider the fact that the James dictation of events happened more than a few years and in some instances, decades earlier. They also found that correcting the misspelling of names in the book actually helped to authenticate the events. Most of the misspelling of names was attributed to Judge Thomas D. Bonners transcribing what he thought he heard from James Beckwourth. In the end, the book is now considered be an excellent account of life with the Crow for instance, or for life and hardships during a very historical era in our American History.
Captured by Crow Warriors (James account to his biographer) or assigned to the Rock Mountain Fur Company to the tribe to facilitate trade, according to a guess by independent sources (whoever they were and how independent were they is the question). James stay with the Crow Indian Tribe began sometime around 1828. He spent the next eight to nine years with them.  Documents confirmed his eventual leadership role as a War Chief.  James told his biographer he was appointed as the Chief of the Crow Nation immediately after the death of Chief Arapooish (Rotten Belly)  
A restless man who tired of routines quickly, the fall of 1837 found him headed for Seminole country and the war they carried out against the white man. By October, his travels led him to the Florida Everglades as head of a band of Express Riders and Muleteers. He was to be paid $50 per month.  His account of the incidents was accurate. It was not the adventure James had hoped for as the initial mission ended with men and horses stranded for days on a reef until rescued by a steam boat. This after the small boats carrying riders and horses ran into a killer storm which was too much for the inexperienced mountain men. There were no heroes in this story of men being fired for refusing to continue their mission on foot.
It was written that James Beckwourth also accurately described the Okeechobee Battle the following Christmas Day of the same year. Later, and for the next ten months he scouted while carrying messages and military dispatches from point to point. His job had become boring to him so he left for St Louis, where he was without a job for five days.
Once again, he was in his element, working again for The American Fur Company in the land of the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho Indians.  By the way, all three were enemies of the Crow tribe.  As the agent-in-charge, they were sent to Fort Vasquez via the Santa Fe Trail. That trade expedition lasted two years after having a very successful first year.

His California connection came during January of 1844. A year later he was involved in the settler’s revolt against Mexican control of California.  After experiencing the highs and lows of a marriage (Luisa Sandoval), independently traded with the Cheyenne angered his former employees. So much so, they tried to kick him, his wife, along with their almost thirty other settler families, out of the newly built Pueblo (now Colorado) trading post. This is why he is credited with helping found the town of Pueblo, Colorado. After being on the road again, James returned to Pueblo to find that Luisa had married another man. James said her current husband had produced a document that stated James wanted to be free from Luisa. He decided not to pursue the matter, once again becoming single.      
Leaving, he wound up in Santa Fe and entering into a partnership with an acquaintance in ownership of a hotel. Outside of being an excellent trader as evidenced by his trade with the Indians, he more or less left the administration of the hotel matters in the hands of his partner. James continued to do what he did best, scout, and blaze trails while carrying dispatches from the Army. News of the massacre of all the Americans living in Taos angered all settlers in the area including James whose former boss, friends and acquaintances were among the dead. After the Indians and Mexican rebels defeat, he managed to witness the January, 1847 hangings which many saw as revenge for the Taos massacre. This in keeping with his uncanny fortunate or misfortune in some cases to be at a historic event and in most case is involved in many ways.

Such was the same with his trek to the California Gold Fields in the fall of 1848. There is the authenticated report James discovering a grisly murder of the family, servants and visitors at the San Miguel Mission. While on an assigned route on the Monterey to Nipomo mail route, he almost tripped over a man’s body located in the house. He recalled the notion to look no further and rode to get a posse. He returned to the house to find the entire gross scene of eleven murdered family members (husband William Reed), wife, her infant child, a midwife, along with other children and Indian servants. The perpetrators tried to burn the Reed’s house bodies and dwelling, but the fire died out. It turned out they were still in the house when James first entered and was intending to shoot him if he had opened a door behind which they were hiding. The posse caught the murderers near Santa Barbara. Beckwourth bio went on to state there were “two Americans, two Englishmen, and ten Irishmen,” responsible for the hideous killings. Others put the number at four men, one of which drowned in an attempt to escape the posse. The thought was that James Beckwourth biographer, Judge Bonner misunderstood the words an Irishmen to be ten Irishmen as James recounted the incident to him to transcribe. James did dictate the murderer’s fate as tried in his words, “we shot them, including the state’s evidence.”  Meaning the one murderer who told them what happened while hoping to be spared immediate death, and sentenced to imprisonment for turning states evidence.  At least that is how historians interpreted this account. As to who tried them, or where anyone would go to prison, well that’s another story not told here. 

1850 found James (Jim) P. Beckwourth in northern California prospecting for gold. Without going into the descriptive details of his thoughts as written, he correctly surmised that a pass he found would accommodate horse or mule pulled wagons headed into what was called the American Valley (Central California).  It would be especially helpful to those people coming from the east.  It was the lowest mountain pass and a direct route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains which was no small discovery at the time. It actually saved travelers approximately 150 miles whereas they avoided having to climb several steep slopes like Donner Summit. Remember the Donner Party (1846-47) being caught there having to stay the winter. His discovery is currently called Beckwourth Pass.
After working to develop the trail during that summer, and well into the spring and summer of 1851, he led the first wagon train of settlers over the trail into Marysville, California. He was supposed to be paid for his discovery and efforts by the Marysville business community and other local gold towns. However, (also summer of 1851) when he tried to collect his earnings, Marysville blamed their inability to pay on two major fires that economically hindered the town.  Subsequently he had no other recourse but to accept their reasoning. As a black man, he could not sue for damages (see Note 2) in a California Court.  Other wagon trains and travelers used the Beckwourth Trail and Pass up through 1855 and beyond. Even as the railroad became the preferred method of travel to California in 1855. In fact, the Western Pacific Railroad (at the time) used the route to cross the Sierra’s running along the Feather River.
Ever the enterprising trader, Beckwourth established his ranch and trading post in the valley just west of the pass. Add his hotel to the area located in the Sierra Valley that is now called Beckwourth, California. This is the site and timeframe upon which his biography was dictated to Judge Thomas D. Bonner, who produced the book. According to a contract, James Beckwourth was to receive half the proceeds from the book from Bonner, which never happened.  Reportedly James stayed here until 1858. He left for Missouri in 1859, eventually settling in Denver, Colorado that same year. He was employed as a storekeeper and was also appointed as Indian agent by Denver’s City Council.

By 1864, he was forced to act as a scout against the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians which led to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre. The massacre resulted in ending any further contact or interaction between Beckwourth and the Cheyenne or Arapaho tribes.      
In 1866, while acting as a scout for Forts Laramie and Kearny, he suffered nosebleeds and headaches which complicated the carrying out of his mission or assignments. Finally, he returned to his beloved Crow Indians along the Bighorn River where he died on October 29, 1866.  He was placed on an elevated platform (customary of the Crow) in Laramie, Albany County, Wyoming.            
Note 1: Bonner edited or “polished up” Beckwourth rough narrative, and submitted the book to the eventual publisher, Harper and Brothers in 1856. Despite its flaws in dates and misspelling of subjects name, historians have touted the book as an acceptable reference of Frontier Life. It also provides a look at government policies regarding alcohol, diseases, massacres, and war.      
Note 2: In 1996, the Promoters of Beckwourth Frontier Days was instrumental in renaming Marysville’s largest park to Beckwourth Riverfront Park. This act was in direct recognition of the unpaid debt owed to James P. Beckwourth causing the following growth of the city.  
Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II
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Copyright 2011 Codis Hampton II, all rights reserved. A bi-weekly blog for your enjoyment

Black Legends of the Wild, Wild West, Part II 

This is the second article of a Four Part Series on Black Folks, who helped to tame the west. First we looked at US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves. Today we take a look at Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary. 

Mary Fields was born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee sometime in 1832. She lived on the family farm. Both the farm and Mary was owned by Judge Edmund Dunn. The judge’s daughter, Dolly, was about the same age as Mary. They became good friends. It is not known who taught her, but Mary was taught to read and write.
She, like countless others, was also freed by the Emancipation Proclamation Act of 1863. Yet, she stayed with the Dunn family. After the Judges death and upon the death of his wife Josephine (1883), Mary took the family’s five children to join Dolly in Toledo, Ohio. This was where Dolly lived after becoming a nun, followed by being named Mother Superior Mary Amadeus.
A year later, Mother Superior was sent to the Montana Territory. At the request of the Jesuits, she was assigned to head a school for Indian girls at St. Peter’s Mission. Accepting the assignment she left with five Ursuline nuns heading for the mission. Their task, as the first to do so, was to create and establish a curriculum to teach Native Americans from the Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfoot, and Gros Ventre-Assiniboine Reservation located in central and eastern Montana. The cold and severe winters along with other frontier elements made the task even more daunting for the nuns.  

For some unknown reason, Mary Fields stayed behind. Later, learning of Mother Amadeus bout with pneumonia, she went to the St Peters Mission aid her friend. Mother Superior Amadeus recovered and Mary ended up staying at the mission.  She earned her keep by taking a job with the Ursuline nuns. The 6 foot, approximately 200 hundred pound dark-skinned black woman, was an imposing figure to the locals, no matter their race. Her duties included hauling supplies from around Cascade County, Montana area, Great Falls, or Helena to the St. Peters Mission. By now she had become hardened by the frontier life. She took to smoking harsh cigars and carrying a pistol strapped under her apron. That type life alone designated certain duties such as required including patchwork carpentry, chopping wood, cutting down small trees and digging various type holes for the mission.   

Her Biography says that Native Americans of the area called her “White Crow” because “she acts like a white woman but has black skin.” One schoolgirl wrote of her in an essay, saying “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”
She became known as a fist fighter that would protect her rights at the drop of a hat. One website reported that the Grate Falls Examiner stated “She broke more noses than any other person in central Montana.”

There are different reports on the cause of a gunfight between Mary and one of the disgruntled workers at the mission. Mary was in charge, acting as the Forman, which reportedly angered this particular individual. Some say the man didn’t like to be told what to do by a black woman. But in our experience, even today, these issues are normally based upon economic reasons. The fact she was earning a reported $2 per month more that he, evidently, sent him off on a constant complaining campaign to whoever would listen. He even registered a complaint with the managing Bishop in charge of the nuns and mission. The old, why should an “uppity colored woman” make more than a man was his rant.  

The man’s nerve wracking complaints caused an altercation that resulted in a shootout. One version of how it started says the man hit Mary. As she fell, she pulled her six-shooter and fired, missing the guy. He pulled his gun firing, but missing and the shootout was on. Another report says Mary went looking, found the man by a latrine he was cleaning, and fired at the man upon sight.  She missed and the shootout was on.  Without going into further specifics of the differing details of the subsequent shootout, in fact there were several gunshots fired by both parties in the back of the mission. Both emptied their six-shooters ending with the man getting wounded in the buttocks. The altercation caused Mary to get fired by the managing Bishop as soon as he got wind of the gunfight. It was said the Bishop had been asking the nuns to get rid of her a long time before the shootout.

After the firing, her friend Mother Amadeus helped her open a restaurant in Cascade, which was not that far from the St Peters mission. Evidently, the gruff exterior and frontier mannerisms of Mary hid her compassion for the downtrodden and destitute. It seems that all you needed to eat in Mary’s restaurant was an appetite. She may have been an excellent friend, nanny, worker, but her cooking wasn’t that well received. Nor was she a very good business person. Thus, the place went broke within ten months. Before the closure, she fed any (person who would eat what she prepared) and everybody whether they had the money to pay for the meal or not. I would guess everybody, except the man with which she had the shootout.   
At 60 years-old in 1895, she won a job as a mail carrier.  She won because she was the fastest of twelve other cowboy applicants, half her age, to hitch a team of six horses to the mail wagon. With this assignment, she became the second American woman employed by the United States Postal Service and the first black woman mail carrier in the US. The nickname “Stagecoach” was earned in recognition of her reliability. Is the snow too deep for her horse team? No matter, Mary used snowshoes while carrying the mail sacks on her shoulders. She, and her mule, Moses, would deliver the mail in blizzards, extreme heat to the outlying and miner’s cabins.   
That was just nature elements that attempted to stop this determined woman. For six years, she rode a stagecoach carrying the mail, money and other items for delivery over a frontier postal route. The trails were littered with desperate people who did mind taking a chance on stealing whatever this black woman was carrying. In those rare occasions where some desperado had not heard of Stagecoach Mary, they may try to rob her. Their first surprise would be that she was a woman driving a six-horse team coach. Added to their shock of seeing this tall black woman alone and out in the wilderness, was the site of a double barrel ten gauge shotgun leveled at them.  The question now became, who has the drop on whom? Since it was said she never lost a piece of mail or any other valuables in her care during a stagecoach run, we know how those confrontations ended.

She didn’t have to worry about hostile Indians because most Sioux had not seen a black person before, much less such an imposing tall and armed black woman like Mary. Rather than deal with someone or something they didn’t fully understand, they would not bother her. Can’t you just imagine two young Sioux braves pointing at her coach coming down the trail, turning their pony’s aside to get out of the rolling wagon wheels path. As Stagecoach Mary cracks her whip at the horses, yelling “Git-up-there Moses.” One of the braves turns to his friend and says while pointing in the coach’s direction…”Bad medicine.”
She finally moved on to a job that was less treacherous because of health issues. She opened a laundry (also in Cascade, Montana) at the age of seventy. Spending most of her time drinking, cigar smoking and spitting in the local saloon instead of doing laundry, she was reportedly content with life. Stagecoach Mary died of liver failure in 1914. Life expectancy in the old west for those who died violently was 35. For those who live an uneventful life and took care of themselves averaged 70 years old. Mary, an ex-slave, and black woman lived to be around 82 years old. Can you believe it?  

Actress Esther Roll played Mary Fields in a 1976 TV Documentary, entitled South by Northeast, Homesteaders. Dawnn Lewis played her in a 1996 TV movie, The Cherokee Kid. Kimberly Elise was cast as Mary in the 2012 TV-movie Hannah’s Law. Next in this series is James P. Beckwourth. , American mountain man.
 Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II 
Follow Hamp at!/HampTwo   
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Copyright 2011 Codis Hampton II, all rights reserved. A bi-weekly blog for your enjoyment

Black Legends of the Wild, Wild West Part 1 

This is the first article of a Four Part Series on Black Folks, who helped to tame the west. Today we take a look at U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves. 

The subject matter and individual I’m writing about this Black History Month causes me to be reflective of my personal history. I remember when I was a nine, ten, eleven-year-old kid living in Milwaukee. Yes, it was that red brick apartment building located on thirteenth and Juneau that many have heard me lovingly refer too.
It reminds me of Saturday mornings spent watching ‘Tales of the Texas Rangers’, Lash LaRue, the Lone Ranger, and yes even Roy Rogers as well as other Cowboy television programs. We would eat breakfast, and hurry to the living room to watch my father’s, subsequently our favorite shows.  I had a makeshift holster and belt. It was just a blue boy scout’s belt with the shiny brass buckle running through a leather holster that held my trusty six- shooter. I would tie that holster down to my right thigh with an old shoe string just like a real gunfighter.

Talk about imagination, I was full of daydreams during those years. My friends or cousins, whenever they came over, and I would go in our back yard to play. We would use the fifty-gallon oil drums sitting on A-frame stands as horses. We’d even throw rags and an old blanket over the barrel as saddles. It didn’t help, because after we finished playing and went back inside? My stepmother would smell the coal oil residue on my pants and me. I would get another warning about her having to wash those pants in with other clothes spoiling the pleasant aroma she was creating with detergent fresher of some type. I am not sure, but I think after a while she just washed my play pants with daddy’s work pants.

Back then (mid-fifties) all the cowboys seen on television, movies were white. My father always told me not to worry about it because there were black cowboys in the old west.  Just because television program writers didn’t write about them, did not mean they didn’t exist. He’d tell me, I can be anything I want to be, just be the best at whatever I choose. So in my mind, it was my black face riding that horse chasing rustlers, bank robbers and fighting range wars. I would imagine me, family members, and other people I knew, would be just as comfortable in the old west as anybody.  Of course, later on in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, the public did see black faces appearing in cowboy, gangsters and all kinds of entertainment. It was readily known that Sammy Davis Jr was a fast draw expert in real life. He was seen as a frequent guest star in several of the cowboy television series. By that time, I’d hung up my gun and holster, turned to chasing girls instead of rustlers and the like.
One such real live lawman who roamed the old west while dishing out justice was U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves.  Born as a child of slaves in Paris, Texas in 1838, he served as a water boy until old enough to become a field hand. He became his master’s body servant and personal companion at an even older age.
 Bass reportedly ran away after beating up his master (George Reeves) after some type of dispute during a card game. He found a safe haven by living with the Seminole and Cherokee Indians where he developed his skills with the pistol and rifle. This is also where he became fluent in several Native American languages.  He was finally freed in Abrahams Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation order of 1863.

Moving to and buying farmland in Van Buren Arkansas, while marrying Nellie Jennie a year later. He would go on to father ten children (five girls and 5 boys) from this union. Although the family lived happily on the farm, Bass restlessness and yearning for adventure was answered.
He was appointed as part of a 200 deputy crew by U.S. Marshall, James Fagan in 1875, because of his specific knowledge of the Indian Territory and his ability to speak their language. At the time, the area had become inundated with outlaws, thieves and murderers looking for an area that before had no federal or state jurisdiction. With a patrolling area covering 75,000 square miles, the deputies were instructed to bring in the perpetrators dead or alive.

At 38 years old, he was the first black U.S. Deputy Marshall to serve in that capacity west of the Mississippi River. Known as being courteous and impeccably dressed with his boots polished to a shine, he rode a large reddish stallion with a white-blazed faced. While marshaling in the Oklahoman Native American Territory, over his 32 years of service, he is credited with killing fourteen outlaws and having arrested 3,000 felony lawbreakers of all kind. At 6’2”, approximately 200 pounds, he was ambidextrous with a reputation for being quick, accurate and deadly with his two guns. He was just as skilled with a rifle. Maybe that is why in all those years he never suffered a gunshot wound; although his hat was shot off more than a few times. A big man with those kinds of skills had to be imposing enough to look at much less take on in a gunfight.
One of his most emotional and personal manhunts involved the apprehension of his son, Benny Reeves. The warrant charged his son with the murder of his young wife. The ultimate fair-minded Bass Reeves actually demanded the assignment as other deputies were reluctant to take the job because it was his son. In 1902, after a two-week trek into the badlands, he found and arrested his son. Returning him back to Muskogee, Oklahoma to face trial, he turned him over to Marshal Bennett. Benny was tried, convicted and served twenty years at Leavenworth for the crime. A citizen’s partition was instrumental in gaining his pardon and early release after which he spent the rest of his life without further incidents with the law
By 1907, Oklahoma became a state and Reeves Deputy US Marshal Commission ended. He was 68 years old. He moved on to join the Muskogee Police Department until his health became a problem while attempting to carry out his duties.  Bass Reeves died of Bright’s disease in 1910. There are several books and articles written and available today. His life and exploits as a US Deputy Marshall was the subject of a movie entitled Bass Reeves, released in 2010. James A. House played the leading character. He confided that when independent filmmaker and owner of the San Ponderous Productions contacted to play the part, he “didn’t even know who Bass Reeves was.”    
Here was a man who could not read or write. He had to have others read his warrants to him before searching for various outlaws. He would memorize the details from that reading, including which warrant was for whom.  When serving the document, he never failed to pick out the correct warrant belonging to a specific outlaw. It is amazing to me, how our people always found a way to adjust and make progress on whatever job they had to do. That is an important legacy they left us, the ability to improvise. To this day, we use those skills in our everyday lives. Deputy Marshall Reeves goes down in US history as one of the greatest frontier heroes this country has ever known. And once again, my father proved to be right. There were black folk roaming the Wild West.  Look for Part II next week.
Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II
Follow Hamp at!/HampTwo   
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Copyright 2011 Codis Hampton II, all rights reserved. A bi-weekly blog for your enjoyment

Corportations and this Holiday Seasons American Consumer  

 Let me provide you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. It's taken from a letter from Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov 21, 1864. Some have disputed its authenticity. Given all, of the quotes and writings, attributed to one of, if not our greatest President, I see his well-documented vision as right on target and applicable to 2014. Imagine that, to be astute enough to predict the behavior of big business in the twenty-first century.   This version includes a little more context from the letter itself and is as follows,       
 "We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood....
  It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and   causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a    result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.
God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless."
                                                                              --- Abraham Lincoln
 First of all, most Americans work for some corporation. So why wouldn’t they want to see the company they work for earning maximum profits? Some have family members, like dads and granddads who fed, housed and educated their family on corporate wages. So they can’t help but have an affiliation for that particular entity. So what the heck is my problem you ask?
We have no problem with our capitalistic economy or society.
 It’s because I am a proponent of all US businesses having high moral expectations while hiring personnel that will carry out those same standards.
There are major policy questions that come up in top management business meetings all the time. The decision on how to proceed is to be made. I am just saying, more often than not, the American Consumer is not a consideration in the equation. From all reports, it’s about winning; more and more profit no matter what the cost to the health and standard of living for the American Consumer. It’s about deniability; hire an expensive law firm to answer plausible charges to avoid cutting off the profit spigot or losing one drop of revenue. It’s the fact they moved their so-called corporate headquarters overseas in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes to the Government who initially granted and or recognized their firm as a corporate entity. They are developing election PACS or contributing to a particular candidate so that those elected officials will carry out the will of the corporation rather than the will of the American People. It is those corporations that don’t seem to have a soul and are the source of greed, corruption, and God knows what else. They also validate our nation’s sixteenth presidents concern in the quote noted above.  
Some may remember years ago when the Enron Corporation Scandal broke. High price collages spoke about including a new subject in their business curriculum that would teach their students morals, integrity, assuming responsibility for all deeds and actions. Or even later, how about the recent collapse of the Housing Industry precipitated by the banking industry’s greed with no accountability. It took the same inept, according to them, US Government to bail them out. All of them took US taxpayers money, sat on it while refusing to lend money to help in the home foreclosures debacle. Where was the moral balance in that collective decision?
You see, I have a problem when a business person smiles, and ask me to make a commitment to use their services, or buy their product. Take my hard earned cash and use a portion of the funds to fund the campaign of a racist politician to make stupid and intolerant laws, while suppressing an individual’s right to vote.  Or how about running overseas sweat shops in order to make cheap products? This practice results in driving American made manufacturers out of business and increasing their profit.
Or they’re unwilling to support the idea of a minimum wage, not because it reduces the profit margin, but just because…of what?  They read the same studies that indicated a higher minimum wage is a win-win for individuals, governments Internal Revenue and the economy as a whole. Average people spend money on goods and services so the dollar circulates faster. One doesn’t need a degree in Economics to figure that out. Yet, you have an entire political party of these United States that doesn’t support a minimum wage increase. And who were the biggest contributors to their political campaigns?  Why some of the same aforementioned entities in this article. Their names are no secret; we know who they are as do most all Americans.
You there…Mr. & Mrs. American Consumer, we need to hold a debate on spending our hard earned money at places that do not support our ideals and community. Dealing with some corporations is a one way street. You pay, they take, they horde and stash cash. They work on plans to lower your wages, put rising health care responsibility on you, and pay to kill or defund government safeguards like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or Food and Drug Administration.
So what should we do as American Consumers and the public in general? The most important thing is to send a message this holiday season. Let’s spend the bulk or even half of our Christmas money at small business across this nation. I know, you still may have to go to a car dealer, Best Buy, JC Penney’s, Sears or the like for some big items. We cannot change the world overnight, but we can spend some of our money where it will do the best for us. How about buying your meat and can goods from a local meat market or store? The nationality of the store owner is less important than channeling a large part of your money in a different direction this year. Look on the Internet, you will be surprised at who is selling what out there. A lot of the mom and pop stores have websites too.  
Here are a couple of networks to search for minority and or women own entities to buy from this Christmas. They are websites that allow you to search their site for a business that carries a product or service you may be looking for. Check them out,   then there is…
They may have a store listing in your local area of which you were not aware. You should also report back to those websites of your experiences with their recommendations. We still want quality value for our dollar no matter where we spend it. 
These websites prove there is a movement already alive and growing. People are fed up supporting corporations that take more than money from you and I. Be aware of where and with whom you spend your hard earned dollars this holiday season and on throughout 2015. By this time next year, we will talk about the changes the American Consumer forced by redirecting their expenditures over the past year. Let’s make old Abe proud and assure him that freedom of choice was worth fighting for back then as it is today.   
Join us for our BTR Radio show on Wednesday November 26th at 4:00pm. We will cover this same subject with our special guest. We have a great guest, in Kevin L. Nichols of  Call in with your questions at 347-237-4908.  
 Peace, Happy Holidays and make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II 
Follow Hamp at!/HampTwo   

Subscribe to this blog at
Join us at the live broadcast of our bimonthly BTR Shows at
Get my latest book, a tribute to my grandmother entitled, Gracie Hall-Hampton, the Arkansas Years, 1917-1953 at
Our Parent Company and sponsor is CHIIA Group, online         
Copyright 2011 Codis Hampton II, all rights reserved. A bi-weekly blog for your enjoyment