Candy Moulton: Reading the West 9-26-11
September 27, 2011
Traveling in the 1870s on the Deadwood Stage from Cheyenne through Fort Laramie and across present eastern Wyoming to Deadwood, S.D., or from Sidney, Neb., north to Red Cloud Station (Fort Robinson) and through the Black Hills to Deadwood, was an adventure regardless of route or time of year. The stage rolled through rough country, and almost from the inception of service road agents lay in wait for the coaches, which were driven by skilled teamsters and protected by shotgun messengers. The reason was simple – gold. The Deadwood Stage was the primary transportation link to and from the Black Hills gold fields so the robbers knew there was great likelihood that a stick-up could net real riches.
Robert DeArment, known for his books “Deadly Dozen” (three volumes), “Ballots and Bullets: The Bloody County Seat Wars of Kansas” and other material (books and articles), related to some of the West’s outlaws and robbers, shows in dramatic detail in “Assault on the Deadwood Stage: Road Agents and Shotgun Messengers” how for two years gangs of robbers ruled the road. The book is published by the University of Oklahoma Press and is enhanced with a foreword by Joseph G. Rosa, the author of the definitive biography of “Wild Bill Hickok, They Called him Wild Bill.”
DeArment is a master at research and he has dug out some gems of his own to include in this book. In fact, when it comes down to gold, you’ll find some in this book.
Donald W. Moore also turns to an icon for his book “Custer’s Ghosts, Custer’s Gold,” published by Upton and Sons Publishers.
Moore has returned to the Little Bighorn seeking answers to such questions as “Did Captain Marsh of the Far West steamer hide a fortune in gold? Did Custer bury cases of Spencer rifles during the 1874 gold expedition?” Moore writes that apparitions of Indian warriors and soldiers have appeared to people; some hear war cries, shots, voices and other sounds of battle when they are at the site. He writes of testimony of “soldiers at the Little Bighorn killing themselves.” And he adds, “This should leave no doubt why the Little Bighorn is haunted.”
One ghost Moore particularly chronicles is that of Benny Hodgson, but notes that other historians – including Robert Utley, Neil Magnum, and Douglas McChristian – don’t believe there are any spirits lurking at the battlefield.
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In Part Two of his book, Moore turns to the stories that Custer left behind Spencer rifles while in the 1874 expedition into the Black Hills, that there was $25,000 unaccounted for following the battle at Little Bighorn, and that Captain Marsh of the Far West hid a cache of gold.
Moore digs deeply and presents solid arguments related to ghosts and gold. Whether the reader agrees with them is, of course, the reader’s decision.
For a different view of the West check out “In the Whirlpool: The Pre-Manifesto Letters of President Wilford Woodruff to the William Atkin Family, 1885-1890” by Reid L. Neilson with contributions by Thomas G. Alexander and Jan Shipps, published by the Arthur H. Clark Company.
When Congress moved against polygamist Mormons in the 1880s, more than a thousand men were jailed and others went into hiding, including Wilford Woodruff, who took refuge with the family of William Atkin. Woodruff was not just any Mormon; he would become president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1887. These letters were written during his years in hiding and they depict a man “in the midst of a whirlpool.”
Even though Woodruff recognized that polygamy was not accepted in America at the time, he, nevertheless, believed that outlawing it also restricted his constitutional right to freedom of religion.
This book includes Woodruff’s letters. It also has by Neilson related to the Atkins’ family life, by Alexander on the history of Mormon polygamy, and by Shipps on how the manifesto affected Mormon women and men.
The letters themselves are a view into the times and the political climate that forced men underground. As Woodruff wrote on December 28, 1885, “If the Edmunds Bill becomes a law it looks as though they would search through the temple district of course. We have got [to] watch the signs of the times and also as the spirit moves. If they get to crowding me too hard perhaps it might be better for me to leave the country than to go to prison or hide with family.”