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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
A Russian hussar in the Wild West
I've been researching a book on Tombstone for Osprey Publishing and have come across lots of little stories that can't make it into the text. One of them is about Russian Bill, who passed through Tombstone claiming to be an aristocratic lieutenant of the Imperial White Hussars of the czar. He had asked for leave in 1880 to go explore the American frontier. Another story has him coming to the Arizona Territory earlier after having been court marshaled for punching a superior officer.
Russian Bill strutted around town dressed in Western gear and claiming to be a hardened outlaw. He certainly kept company with them. In 1881 he and Sandy King, another Tombstone hoodlum, were caught in the little town of Shakespeare, New Mexico, with some stolen cattle. Vigilantes hanged the both of them.
There is no record of this lynching causing an international incident. Was Russian Bill really one of the czar's elite cavalry? It's hard to say. There were lots of Europeans wandering around the Old West claiming to be what they weren't. If all of them had been telling the truth, every castle, manorial estate, and general's headquarters in Europe would have been depopulated!
Without doing some serious research in Moscow, I guess we'll never know.
There's another Old West connection to this painting. It was done by none other than Frederic Remington.