Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sheriff and the Pants Tree: An Old West Story

Sheriff Carl Hayden of Phoenix had a problem. The conservative ladies of his city were up in arms over a public disgrace. They were shocked, shocked!, to see men like this walking their streets.

These men were Pima Indians, who came into town every Saturday during the first years of the 20th century in order to trade. They dressed in the traditional fashion, wearing only a breechclout. This left the rest of their bodies exposed, something the ladies didn't want to see. Whites, Mexicans, and Chinese didn't dress like that, and so they didn't want the Pima dressing like that either.

Hayden came up with a simple solution. He collected a bunch of old pants, hung them up on the branches of a tree just outside town, and told the Pima to put on a pair of pants before coming into town. Once they were done, they'd hang the pants back on the tree and go home dressed in their traditional (lack of) attire. The "pants tree" remained a Phoenix landmark for many years.

Hayden may not have been the first person to think of this. I've heard there was a pants tree outside Tucson as well for visiting Tohono O'odham.

Still the society ladies of Phoenix weren't satisfied. They complained that an old Pima chief was a polygamist, having no fewer than three wives. Sheriff Hayden rode out to visit the chief and told him that he could only have one wife. He had to pick one and tell the other two to go. The old chief thought for a long time. Then he looked at the sheriff and said, "You tell them."

Sheriff Hayden rode off. The chief got to keep his wives.

(Interestingly, a similar story is told about Comanche chief Quanah Parker, so this may just be a tall tale from the fronteir)

Carl Hayden is an Arizona icon. He was born in an adobe home on the Salt River near what is now Phoenix in 1877. His father ran a ferry boat business. Hayden became Maricopa County Sheriff in 1906, dealt with complaints from shocked ladies of society, and got a bit of fame in 1910 for foiling one of the last train robberies in the Old West.

He went on to serve in both houses of Congress for many years before retiring in 1969, the year I was born. It's not much of a stretch to go from the modern day back to a time when bandits robbed trains and half-naked Native Americans shocked the self-appointed guardians of virtue.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The No-So-Great Train Robbery

By 1910, the Wild West wasn't so wild anymore. There were no more Indian raids, cities were growing, and outlaws were becoming a thing of the past.

Not everyone realized this, though. That year two teenage brothers in the Arizona Territory, Oscar and Ernie Woodson, perhaps inspired by the silent Western films that were all the rage at the time, decided to rob a train.

There hadn't been a train robbery in the territory for years. The land was filling up and law had taken hold, but that didn't deter the two youths. One fine May evening they boarded the commuter shuttle between Maricopa and Phoenix. They had left their getaway horses tethered along the route. Once they approached the spot, they whipped out thier pistols and ordered the conductor to signal a halt.

They then took about $300 from the passengers. What they didn't know was that among their victims were several members of the territorial legislature and the Gila County sheriff. It's never a good idea to rob the rich and powerful, especially if they represent the local law.

The robbers then leapt onto their horses and galloped away, headed for the border.

Pursuit wasn't far behind. The sheriff of Maricopa County, Carl Hayden, rounded up a posse to go after them. Hayden himself grabbed a friend who owned an automobile the two set out in that. It wasn't long before the pair had left the rest of the posse in the dust. They stopped to picks up some of the lawmen as backup and continued through the desert.

Hayden and his friends soon caught up with the Woodson brothers as they rested their horses in the desert. It was a brutally hot day and they'd run out of water. When the Woodsons saw the plume of dust from the car, they thought they were miners and ran out, waving their arms in the hope of getting some water. Instead they got several rifled pointed at them. The two young outlaws had no choice but to surrender.

It was one of the last train robberies of the Wild West and the first to be foiled by use of an automobile. The press labeled the Woodson brothers the "beardless boy bandits." They did some time in prison and then disappeared from history. Sheriff Hayden went on to become a senator. I'll talk more about him in my next post.

This is the famous last shot of The Great Train Robbery, a groundbreaking silent Western from 1903. It ran a whole 12 minutes, far longer than most films of the time, and told a complete story rather than showing a simple vignette. When the bandit fired straight at the camera it's said the audience, for whom movies were still new, ducked and screamed. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Writing a new travel series on Estonia

As I mentioned earlier, I spent all of last week on assignment in Estonia. I've started a travel series on Estonia on Gadling, the travel blog that sent me there. As you can imagine, the northernmost Baltic state was pretty snowy this time of year, although unusually mild--only 0C or 32F.

Anyway, hit the link and follow my adventures as I explore one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, visit old Soviet military installations, and explore secret tunnels underneath the capital!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wild West Photo Friday: A Sioux Tobacco Pouch

This is a Sioux tobacco bag from the 19th or early 20th century.

As you can see, there's intricate quillwork showing plants and what the photographer describes as a stylized cocoon and moth in the center.

The cocoon is a symbol of spiritual and physical transformation, and also of the Sioux spirit Yumni, the whirlwind, responsible for the four directions of the world.

Like Yumni, the moth is a free spirit that breaks out of its cocoon and cannot be contained.

Native American tobacco is pure and thus very strong. Smoking it certainly gives you a buzz that makes you feel like you're flying, which is perhaps what the designer of this bag was getting at. It also made me feel sick to my stomach. Nonsmokers like me shouldn't get curious and try pure tobacco!

Photo courtesy Pierre Fabre.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Military history of Tangier, Morocco

So much has been going on this past week I forgot to mention that I did a guest post over at the Black Gate blog about Exploring the Defenses of Tangier. You'll see lots of pictures and info that didn't make it into my Tangier travel series I did for Gadling. Head on over and check it out!

Tangier was an inspiring place with a lot going on. I'm thinking of taking a solo trip there later this year to work on a writing project. See you back here tomorrow with Wild West Photo Friday!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


My Gmail and Yahoo accounts were both hacked today and started spewing out spam. If you received an email from me with a link in it, don't click on it! My apologies. I've changed the passwords now and that should fix the problem. In 20 years of being on the Internet this is the first time this has happened to me.

Reader news for February 19

My readers have been pretty busy lately. First up is Shelly Akron, who has just come out with the print version of her ghostly novel Secondhand Shoes. To celebrate, she's made the ebook version free! She's also hosting the Run Away Bride Give Away and Blog Party on Feb. 19th, 20th, and 21st. You could win a 15 dollar Amazon card or an autographed copy of Secondhand Shoes.

Tyrean Martinson recently came out with Champion in the Darkness, book one of her YA Christian fantasy series The Champion Trilogy.

At the beginning of the month, Jack Badelaire announced that he was finishing up the draft for Commando: Operation Bedlam. This will be the followup to his awesome Commando: Operation Arrowhead, which I reviewed here. It will come out this spring and it's on the top of my to-read list.

David Meyer, author of Chaos, has finally restarted his Guerrilla Explorer website, one of my favorites. It features "mysteries of history, lost treasure, strange science, cryptids, conspiracies, forgotten lands, and explorers." Welcome back to the blogosphere, Dave!

Are you a reader of this blog and have some news to share? It doesn't have to be writing related. Drop me a line at the email address to the left and I'll add it to the next Reader News!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: Thomas and William Duval, 3rd Confederate Missouri Infantry

Thomas (left) and William (right) Duvall, along with their brother Henderson, enlisted in Company C, 3rd Confederate Missouri Infantry on December 10, 1861, at Richmond, Missouri. They were already veterans, having served under General Sterling Price in the Missouri State Guard at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington.

William was promoted to junior second lieutenant on May 8, 1862 and the Duvall brothers continued to see service at such battles as Pea Ridge, Farmington, Iuka, and Corinth. On October 4, 1862, William was killed during the Confederate attack on Corinth while trying to plant the Confederate flag on the Union fortifications. An eyewitness said William died waving his sword and shouting “Victory.”  Thomas and Henderson Duvall were later killed at Champion Hill, Mississippi, on May 16, 1863.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Indie Life: Free photos for your book cover!

Welcome to the second month of the Indie Life bloghop, where we indie authors talk about the trials and rewards of going independent in the tough world of publishing.

As I mentioned in my previous post asking How can I help you? I want to do what I can to help my fellow indies. I just realized that in addition to hosting guest posts and announcing reader news, there's another thing I can do.

As many of you know, I travel a lot. In fact, one of my day jobs is as a travel blogger for Gadling. I've accumulated thousands of photos from more than two dozen countries and while I've published many of them, many more are just sitting on my hard drive. Let's put them to work.

Some subjects include:

Medieval weapons and armor
Medieval manuscripts
African markets
Scottish countryside
Old English buildings
military hardware
graffiti art
Ghost towns
The Orkney Islands
. . .and much more

I've even done some rather silly experiments with horror photography and haunted graveyards.  

If you're looking for a photo for your book, I'd be happy to help. All photos were taken in the highest resolution and can be used for print as well as ebooks. All I ask in return is credit and a copy of the book.

I'm in Estonia this week adding to my photo collection so I may be a bit slow in replying to email at the moment.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wild West Photo Friday: Pinal, Arizona, a lost boom town

I've been working on the maps for a book on Wyatt Earp and the Arizona War for Osprey Publishing. One place I couldn't put on the map with any exactitude was this town--Pinal, Arizona.

Pinal was established in the 1870s to mill the ore for the nearby Silver King mine. Pinal's post office opened in April 10, 1878. The mine was a rich one and the town quickly grew to about 2,000 residents. It even had its own newspaper called the Pinal Drill. The town benefited from its good location about halfway between Tucson and Phoenix, making it more accessible than some other mining towns.

The town had all the usual miners, prospectors, gamblers, and ladies of the evening. One of them was Mattie Blaylock, Wyatt Earp's common-law wife. In Tombstone, Wyatt had fallen in love with the beautiful actress Sadie Marcus and left her. The jilted Mattie moved to Pinal and --> went into a quick spiral of decline as a drug-addicted prostitute. She killed herself on July 3, 1888.

Unfortunately, silver prices slumped and by 1890 there were only ten people left in Pinal. The post office closed November 28, 1891. Now nothing remains of this old boom town. Even the exact location is in dispute. Imagine that--an entire town that nobody alive remembers. Probably there's nobody alive who even once met someone who remembers it. It's gone.

The top photo shows ore wagons from the Silver King mine at the Pinal mills, circa 1885. The bottom shot is a southeast view of the mill and town of Pinal, circa 1880.

For another shot of Pinal, check out my post on creative foraging in the Civil War. That blacksmith shop is in Pinal.

Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Destroying a Confederate saltpeter works

The Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas was made up of mostly small skirmishes. Researcher Carolyn Bartels counted 1100 fights in Missouri alone, and suspects that estimate is low. Only a couple of dozen of them could rightly be called battles. As I've written before, there's no such thing as an insignificant skirmish. One small action in Arkansas in January of 1863 shows why.

At this time, northern Arkansas was a sort of No-Mans-Land between the two sides. There was little infrastructure in the Ozarks to support a large force, and the rough hills and thick brush made any supply wagons easy targets for ambush. The region was full of deserters and bushwhackers, sandwiched between the Union army to the north and the Confederates to the south.

There was one Confederate outpost, however. Along the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas was a large saltpeter works. Saltpeter, of course, is a key ingredient in gunpowder, something of which the rebels were always in short supply. While they didn't have the manpower to control the Buffalo River, they left a few men to run the saltpeter works in order to supply the beleaguered Arkansas Confederates.

Union troops learned of this operation and decided to put a stop to it. Major J.W. Caldwell of the First Iowa Cavalry took 300 men from Huntsville in northwestern Arkansas and rode out on the morning of January 9. That evening he camped in the general vicinity of the works and sent out scouts to find its exact location. Before dawn the next day, he set out and completely surprised the rebels. Of the 20 workers, only three escaped and the rest were captured.

In his report, Maj. Caldwell says he destroyed 14 buildings, 2 steam engines, 3 boilers, 7 large iron kettles, and half a ton of saltpeter. This was a large enterprise indeed. As a bonus, his men found a second, smaller works four miles downriver and destroyed that too. The workers there managed to escape but the Iowa boys had made a good haul. The expedition also netted 20 bushwhacker prisoners.

While military histories tend to focus on the big battles, these skirmishes had an accumulated effect far beyond any single battle. The works on the Buffalo River weren't the only supply of saltpeter for the rebels in Arkansas, but its loss exacerbated their supply problem and made them that much weaker. Losing all those men to Union prisons didn't help their cause either.

This Wikipedia photo shows a reproduction of Anderson Mill, built in the 1850s as a corn mill and cotton gin. It was converted to a gunpowder mill for the Civil War. After the war it resumed as corn, wheat, and cotton processing. It was bought by Pioneer Mills of San Antonio and idled at the turn of the century. This reproduction was built in 1965 in Anderson Mill, Texas when the original site was flooded by the Lake Travis reservoir. OK, so it isn't a saltpeter works. I couldn't find a good public domain photo of one! Here's one I couldn't use.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and Endgame in Iraq

The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in IraqThe Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq by Francis J. West Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book about the Coalition occupation of Iraq was written by Bing West, a Vietnam veteran and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He examines the changing strategy and tactics of the occupation from its troubled beginnings through the height of the insurgency and up until 2009.

Despite West's background, he is not kind to the Bush administration. He accuses Bush of being out of touch with the reality on the ground and unwilling to listen to those who were better informed. He places the blame for much of America's troubles in Iraq at the feet of its then Commander-in-Chief

The armed forces did learn from its mistakes, however, and the bulk of this book is devoted to Coalition's attempts to devise strategy and tactics to defeat the insurgency. West embedded with numerous frontline units to get a better idea of how the changing tactics worked on the ground. His detailed military analysis is fascinating for any student of the subject and West keeps it from being a dry Defense Department briefing by giving vivid descriptions of the individuals involved and some of their firefights.

One thing I especially appreciated is that the author gives full credit to the bravery and commitment of the many Iraqis who fought alongside the Coalition to make their country a better place. Having been to Iraq myself, I have met many such Iraqis and it's too bad their story isn't told more often. The Americans got to go home at the end of their tour of duty. The Iraqis, however, didn't have that option and ran the risk of assassination at the hands of terrorists. Many fell victim to such a fate.

There are holes in his coverage, however. Coalition partners are given short shrift, and the whole Blackwater scandal (overcharging the government, pointlessly killing civilians, etc.) is shrugged off in a single page with the statement that new rules were put in place to keep the "mistakes" from happening again. That's a shockingly naive statement coming from such an experienced observer and I wonder if West actually believes it.

The Abu Ghraib scandal is treated in a similarly flippant manner. West never considers the possibility that the blame went higher than those immediately involved. I'm not saying it did; I'm just saying that it's a question worth asking.

Despite these quibbles, I still found The Strongest Tribe the single best general coverage I've read on the war. Anyone who wants to understand the occupation of Iraq or the changing tactics of modern warfare should read this exciting and informative book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How Frank and Jesse James swore loyalty to the Union

As I discussed in my post on loyalty oaths in the Civil War, many rebels swore to stop fighting the Union in return for being allowed to live as civilians. Some stopped fighting and some didn't.

Two of the most famous people to take the oath were Frank and Jesse James. At the beginning of the war, Frank joined the rebellious Missouri State Guard and saw action at Wilson's Creek and Lexington in 1861. While the State Guard was retreating to southwest Missouri in September of that year Frank fell ill, got left behind, and was captured and paroled. He took the loyalty oath and returned to the family farm in Clay County.

And he might have stayed there for the duration if it weren't for General Order No. 19, enacted in July of 1862, which forced all able-bodied men, including paroled Confederates, to join local Union militias. While this swelled the ranks of the militia, it also made many hardcore Southerners flee to the Confederate army or become bushwhackers. Frank took the latter option and joined the band of the notorious William Quantrill.

His younger brother Jesse joined him the next year. They became hardcore guerrillas and fought until the end. In May of 1865, Jesse and a group of bushwhackers rode into Lexington to surrender and Jesse got shot by a nervous group of Union troops. He survived his wound and formally surrendered on May 21. Frank was in Kentucky with the remnants of Quantrill's group and surrendered on July 26, more than three months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

You can read more about Frank and Jesse in my book The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang. They also make an appearance in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. For a photo of 16 year-old Jesse James the bushwhacker, click on the link.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: Taking the Oath of Loyalty

This week's image shows a group of Confederate prisoners taking the Loyalty Oath in 1864. This was an option given to most rebel prisoners. The deal was that if they swore loyalty to the United States, they'd be given a certificate proving they'd done so and could return to civilian life. If their home was in Union-occupied territory, they could even go home.

Most prisoners honored the oath. Some were sick of the war, while others were draftees who had never wanted to be in it in the first place. The temptation of a return to civilian life was a strong one. The Confederate armies in all theaters of the war were plagued with desertions.

Not everyone honored the oath, however. Sometimes a rebel would be captured and would take the oath in order to get out of prison. They considered the oath to have been taken under duress and therefore invalid. Often these guys would become bushwhackers. The Union Military correspondence in Missouri and Arkansas is filled with reports of bushwhackers being killed and having the loyalty oath paper being found on their persons.

Right at the bottom of the form was a line that said that if you broke the oath by acting in support of the Confederacy, the punishment was death. Sometimes oath breakers were taken alive. They nearly always faced execution.

In my next post I'll be talking about the oath of loyalty two Confederate bushwhackers named Frank and Jesse James took.

OK, so this isn't a photo, but hey, it's a photo of a drawing, right?

Image courtesy Library of Congress.