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The First Female Sheriff in the USA was in Texas and from Texas … Of Course

Emma

Emma

 

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Emma Daugherty was born in Dallas, TX in 1871. No one would have guessed this delightful, petite child with the quick wit would become the nation’s first female sheriff.

And why does it not surprise me the nations’s first female sheriff was a sheriff in Texas?

Emma started her professional career quietly enough as a school teacher. In the meantime, John Riley Bannister, born in 1854, enlisted as a Texas Ranger in the 1880’s. He assisted in the delivery and/or capture of famous outlaws John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass. After a few years, he resigned and worked variously as a rail road detective, cattle inspector, and Treasury agent. His first wife died in 1892, leaving the lawman with five young children to raise.

To his credit, he didn’t run out and marry the first gal he could. Two years later, John married Emma and took her away from her classroom duties. Over the next ten years, the Banisters would try their hands at various professions, including farming, but law enforcement was the vocation her husband knew best. He made time for his young wife, though, and together they added four children to the five already in tow. Emma loved writing and somehow found time to work as a correspondent for the San Angelo Standard Times.

John was elected Sheriff of Coleman County, TX in 1914. The family, all eleven of them, moved to an apartment on the first floor of the jail. Along with her work as wife and mother and reporter, Emma assisted her husband as his office deputy. I.e., she did all the paperwork. They must have worked well together as John was elected to a second term.

In 1918, though, he suffered a stroke and died, only a week after winning a primary election for sheriff for a possible third term. The election results, however, were close, requiring a runoff among the three candidates. The county officials asked Emma if she would serve out the remaining months of her husband’s term while the campaigning continued and she agreed. Without any real fanfare, she became the first female sheriff in the United States. An intrepid reporter from the New York World picked up on the story and for fifteen minutes, Emma was famous.

She did not, however, see herself as such. Grieving the loss of a husband she loved, Emma stepped down at the end of her husband’s term and returned to the farm. In her three months as sheriff, she never carried a gun. A short, slightly pudgy woman, she figured if a man was intent on causing trouble, he’d just take it away from her anyway.

Emma passed away at the ripe old age of 84.

 

Copyright 2015 Heather Blanton

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A Former Slave, She Married a White Man and Left a Legacy of Peace in the Wild West

Mattie and John

Mattie and John

 

In light of all the racial tension boiling in Ferguson, I thought it would be uplifting to remind us that, even in the Wild West, peace among different races has not always been elusive. Mattie Bost Bell Castner is a wonderful example.

Born a slave in Newton, NC in 1848, she and her family moved to St. Louis after the Emancipation Proclamation for a fresh start. Mattie worked as a nanny, domestic servant, and hotel maid. Eager to expand her horizons, though, she moved to Fort Benton, MT and opened a laundry. Her business did quite well and the former slave could have called herself a successful, independent businesswoman. Sharp, wise, well-spoken, and pretty to boot, Mattie caught the eye of John Castner. Castner, too, was a hard-working entrepreneur who ran his own freight business. He had scouted much of the territory and had a particular fascination with Belt Creek. Dreaming of bigger pay offs than the freight company, he had filed several mining claims along the creek’s ford, which is near present day Great Falls.

Recognizing the fact that life in Montana is not for the faint of heart, Castner was taken with Mattie’s grit and determination to succeed in such a tough environment. Defying convention, the white man took as his wife the lovely, dark, former slave. The two were stronger together than they could have ever been apart. They dug in and went to work, building what would become the town of Belt. Castner pursued his interests in freighting and coal mining, and opened a mercantile. Matty opened the Castner Hotel, in the center of the booming little mining town. A place known for good food, exquisite service, and plenty of smiles.

Perhaps because of her background, this former slave was renowned territory-wide for her generosity and compassion. She was always ready to help out new families in town with advice, connections, and donations of supplies and cash. She became known as “the mother of Belt.” In the meantime, her husband served as the town’s mayor.

The mixed race couple had a good thing going and blessed others as much as they could, building a tight community, and living a life together that was envied by most.

When Mattie died in 1920, she left her fortune of $25,000 to charity.

A life begun in slavery could have made this woman dark and twisted. Instead, Mattie became a true Lady in Defiance. She lived in defiance of bitterness, hatred, and racism to leave behind a legacy of peace, love, and unity. Well done, Mattie. Well done.

 

copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

Like a Phoenix, Queen of the Utes Rose from the Ashes … Literally

John had Abigail. Romeo had Juliet. Chief Ouray had Chipeta.

Chief Ouray and Chipeta

Chief Ouray and Chipeta

Unless you live in Colorado or are a student of history, you’ve probably never heard of her. She was the second wife of the Ute chief, but she came to be so much more.

Dubbed “Queen of the Utes” by a reporter contemptuous of Indians, a poet turned the slam into an homage. And well-deserved it was.

When Chipeta was only an infant, a band of renegades attacked her Kiowa village. She was the sole survivor. Friendly Utes found her crawling through the smoking remains and adopted her. Many years later, when Chief Ouray’s first wife died, Chipeta became the caretaker for his son. Ouray was impressed with the girl’s keen mind, compassion, and poise. Eventually the two married and were inseparable from then on.

Chipeta traveled everywhere with Ouray, which was highly unusual for Ute culture. But he valued her counsel. She was a true confidante and friend, and one of his biggest supporters as he tried to navigate the treacherous road of negotiations with the US government.

Ouray’s overriding goal was peace with the whites. Just like in all the movies, there were hot-headed braves and opportunistic tribal leaders who hated him for “selling out”. There were some Ute bands that wouldn’t speak with him, but they welcomed his wife. Where Ouray could not go, the soft-spoken, perceptive Chipeta would hold councils and share the information with her husband as he sought to save his people, albeit on smaller and smaller pieces of land.

In 1879, an uprising at the White River Res resulted in the deaths of 11 white men, including the Indian agent, Nathan Meeker. Meeker’s wife and daughter and several others were taken captive at the massacre, enraging the government. Tradition says Chipeta housed and cared for the girls, and then, along with Ouray, negotiated their release.

This event, coupled with another deadly skirmish between Utes and soldiers, resulted in the Ute Removal Act. The entire tribe was relocated to scrub and sand in Utah. Ouray died there in 1880.

Chipeta met tribal leaders and government officials alike. They all honored and respected her. She traveled to Washington, D.C. with Ouray to negotiate a peace treaty with the government. She dined with Kit Carson and his family, and rode in a train with President Taft. Yet, for most of her life she lived confined to a government reservation, subsisting on poverty-level subsidies. Still, she always spoke up for her people, never let her conditions break her, and stubbornly believed in peace.

Chipeta died in Utah in 1924. Upon her death, Colorado petitioned to have her and Chief Ouray exhumed and reinterred in Montrose. Perhaps now the Queen of the Utes finally has her peace.

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
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Virginia Taught Her to Smile; Texas Taught Her to Fight

The past and the present

The past and the present

I love the stories of women who, on the verge of losing everything, look defeat squarely in the eye and knock the snot out of it.

When Sarah Cockrell’s husband Alexander died in 1858, he left her with three small children and a few struggling businesses. Oh, and a mountain of debt.

At the time of his death, Alexander owned a sawmill, gristmill, office building, and a ferry business in Dallas. Recognizing Sarah’s business acumen, and since he couldn’t read or write, he let her handle his books, as well as his correspondence. Upon Alexander’s passing, Sarah did not wring her hands and think about running back to Virginia. She jumped in, wrestled his debt to the ground and emerged with a sound company.

Sarah is remembered in Texas, though, for the construction of an iron suspension bridge across the Trinity River. The Texas state legislature  OKed her idea for the venture in 1860, but it took her 12 years and the end of the Civil War to bring it about. In 1872, the bridge opened up Dallas to several major roads and ushered in a pretty energetic economic boom. Ironically, while her bridge company did well and the city blossomed, Sarah never sat on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company. It wasn’t customary. She owned the majority of stock and could have sat at the head of the table, but methinks a few men on the board didn’t like the competition.

And they had reason to fear this little lady. She was just getting rolling. The bridge deal was good to Sarah and by the 1880’s she was dabbling in real estate, becoming a regular Donald Trump.  In 1889 she handled fifty-three separate land deals and in both 1890 and 1891 more than twenty.1 By 1892, the belle from Virginia owned a quarter of downtown Dallas.

There are plaques and charities and buildings named for Sarah. Who remembers the men on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company, hmmm?

1 Texas State Historical Association

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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A Teenage Girl and a Handsome Bandit. The Stuff of Legends and Regrets.

Do you remember your first boyfriend? Was he, perhaps, a bit of a bad influence? Did you follow him into escapades that now leave you wondering in horror, what was I thinking? Cheer up. He probably never shot it out with US Marshals.

Rose Dunn, youngest of ten, was born in Oklahoma and received a formal education from a convent. In the meantime, two of her brothers went astray of the law and started hanging around some pretty tough characters. Sometime in 1892, they brought George “Bittercreek” Newcomb home. Newcomb was a known outlaw who rode with the likes of Bill Doolin and the Wild Bunch. Perhaps this bandit mystique was part of his charm. Either way, at the impressionable age of 14, Rose was in love.

Rose, sometime in the 1920's

Rose, sometime in the 1920’s

Happily at the beck-and-call of the 29-year-old Newcomb, Rose rode with him when she could, often fetched supplies and groceries from town for the gang, and, after a particularly violent shoot-out in ‘93, lovingly nursed his wounds. As story-tellers have a practice of doing, she was dubbed Rose of the Cimarron. Legend says she managed to get a gun and two belts of ammo to Newcomb as US Marshals were shooting at him, thus enabling him and companion Charley Pierce to escape. The marshals didn’t mention Rose in their reports, however. Admittedly, it would have been more than a little annoying, arguably embarrassing, to confess a fugitive got away because his fifteen-year-old girlfriend interfered.

Regardless, this shoot-out resulted in the deaths of three lawmen, raising the bounty on Newcomb and Pierce to the serious sum of $5,000 each. A price worthy of Jesse James.

Now, while Rose was traveling her outlaw path, ironically her brothers flipped sides and turned into bounty hunters. They weren’t half-bad either. One might even say they were ruthless.

In 1895, Newcomb, accompanied by Pierce, swung by the Dunn family home in Norman, OK to see Rose. It was a fateful decision. Her brothers happened to be there as well. They shot Newcomb and Pierce as the two men dismounted. Why not? The reward said dead or alive.

Whether Rose set him up, which her brothers denied, or Newcomb’s death broke her wild ways, Rose turned over a new leaf. A few years later, she married Charles Albert Noble, a sober, respected man of the community who held political aspirations. Though she would outlive Albert and marry once more, Rose never again crossed the law.

In fact, she spent the rest of her life trying to prove she was not A Lady in Defiance, only a misguided girl who had a little growing up to do. Still, for years after Newcomb’s death, it was not an uncommon site to see Rose riding her favorite horse hell-bent-for-leather across the sandbars of the Cimarron River.

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Molly Goodnight — Another Rose in Texas

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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 molly_charles“When the ranch is in peace, no other life is more perfect.”

― Charles Goodnight

The Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas is 10 miles wide, 1500 feet deep and almost 100 miles long. And in the 1870’s, it was about as remote as the moon. At least for a white gal from TN.

Yet, Mary Ann “Molly” Dyer Goodnight willingly followed her husband from their ranch in CO to the harsh, unforgiving frontier. Neither she nor Charles could conceive of the fame and legend their JA Ranch would build. Molly Goodnight was a force of nature, as tough as a Texas twister, as indomitable as the landscape, and Charles was all the better for her tenacity.

An orphan who had spent years raising her siblings, Molly met Charles in Fort Belknap, Texas, in 1864 where she was working as a school teacher. After they married, they ran a ranch together in Colorado, but a combination of unstable economics and bad weather drove them out of business. Returning to Texas, Goodnight struck up a friendship with the wealthy Irishman John Adair. Adair agreed to back Goodnight in a new ranch and in 1877 the JA Ranch was born.

At its peak in 1883, the operation encompassed over a million acres and ran 100,000+ head of cattle. While the ranch provided very little in the way of neighbors (much less female neighbors), Molly was not an idle woman. She was the JA’s doctor, tailor, letter writer, teacher, and even spiritual adviser. She had a soft heart for animals as well and kept three chickens as pets.

Even when the money rolled in and life could have been easier, Molly never stopped looking for challenges or caring about others. She rode the high plains rescuing buffalo calves left behind by hunters. Goodnight indulged his wife and let her start her own herd for their preservation. She even crossed some of the buffalo with cattle and coined the phrase “cattalo.” A pretty savvy cattlewoman in her own right, Molly ran a herd separate from her husband’s under the Flying T brand. Somehow, amongst all this, she found time to run a real school in the bunkhouse for the ranch hands’ children.

In the late 1880’s, the couple moved to northeast Armstrong County to start a new ranch, but they discovered other interests as well. Both were active church members, generous philanthropists, and had quite the passion for educating children. In 1898 they established Goodnight College, a school for boys.

The Goodnights never had any children of their own. Perhaps that’s why Molly felt the need to adopt her community. She believed Texas had given her a beautiful life, it was, therefore, only right to give something back.

A true Texas Lady, she was.

Ah, Keep Your Skirt on…While You Ride, Rope, Shoot, Brand, Bust a Bronc…

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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buckley

Eastern Montana is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and lonely places in the US. It is not an area for the faint of heart. The weather, the wide-open spaces, the solitude…it’s the kind of place that makes you or breaks you.

Which is why the story of May, Myrtle, and Mabel Buckley is all the more remarkable.

When Franklin and Susannah Buckley started having children, surely they hoped for boys. After all, farming in the Dakotas and ranching in Montana was man’s work. But the Buckley daughters were born for this land. Franklin was smart enough to know it…or perhaps his precocious, fearless, ambitious daughters gave him no choice. They bloomed on those prairies like a wildflowers after a snowy winter. They took to the saddle as if they’d been born to it. Their father’s ranch hands taught the girls to ride, rope, shoot, brand, round up, even break broncs, and called them, with affection, the Red Yearlings.

Confident in his daughters’ abilities, Franklin turned his 160-acre ranch in Terry, Montana over to the girls. This freed him up to manage the farm in North Dakota, other business ventures, and serve as a state representative. Papa was also confident that men would be men, especially where his three pretty daughters were concerned. Hence, he did not leave them unattended. The girls’ mother stayed close, keeping a watchful eye on her lovely Red Yearlings.

In 1914, neighbor and friend Evelyn Cameron photographed the girls working and playing on the ranch. Cameron wrote an article about Montana cowgirls and featured the feisty ranching sisters doing what they did best. While this article spread their fame to Europe, the girls had already been fielding invitations from Wild West shows and even President Roosevelt. Turned’em all down flat. May, Myrtle, and Mabel were ranchers. The profession was no game to them. The most play-acting they did was posing for the now famous and very collectible Cameron photos.

And I’d like to point out, they did all this in skirts. Oh, there was a brief scandal whereby the girls tried wearing split skirts. Apparently, Montana was not ready for culottes. The lady photographer was threatened with arrest over in Miles City for wearing the things. So the girls went back to skirts, wearing said culottes when nobody was looking.

May, the oldest of the sisters, never married. The more reserved of the three, she nursed her mother for years after a stroke, then died at only 50 years of age.

Myrtle, the middle sister, was a handful. One could guess she occasionally had bouts of the “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” syndrome. She eloped with a ranch hand and had two children with him. The marriage failed and Myrtle late married rancher and neighbor George Straugh. That one stuck.

Mabel married Milton Gile and lived to a ripe old age.

Maybe they didn’t lead fairy tale lives, but the Buckley Sisters sure can inspire us to think past the prince and glass slipper and enjoy the lives we’re given.

No, Not a Happy Ending for this Lady in Defiance…or Was it?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah after their capture in 1861. Cynthia, believing her husband Nocona was dead, had cut her hair per Comanche mourning rituals.

Cynthia and her daughter Topsannah after their capture in 1861. Cynthia, believing her husband Nocona was dead, had cut her hair per Comanche mourning rituals.

I tend to stay away from stories of women that don’t have happy endings. But is it a disservice to ignore the gals who slogged on through life’s hardships, bent but not broken, till God called them home? Honestly, yes. So allow me to introduce you to Cynthia Ann Parker.

At the age nine or ten, Cynthia moved from Illinois with her family to Central Texas. A year or so later, in 1836, she and four others, including her brother John, were kidnapped by Comanches. In the next few years, her fellow captives returned to the White Man’s World, but Cynthia didn’t. Though she had an opportunity to leave with John sometime in the 1840’s, she refused. Cynthia Parker had gone Native and was committed to her Comanche family.

In 1846 federal troops were surprised to discover a blue-eyed white woman living with Comanches along the Canadian River. Naturally, being magnanimous public servants, they sought to “bargain” for Cynthia’s release. The tribal elders refused. Cynthia was again spotted by government officials in the late 1840’s. By this time, though, she had married Chief Peta Nocona and given him three children. She had no intention of going anywhere. Agreeing, Nocona warned the government they wouldn’t take his family without a fight. The government backed off.

Cynthia lived in peace with her family for years after that, but the battles between Comanches and Whites escalated. In 1860, Texas Rangers attacked a hunting party at Mule Creek. Imagine the Rangers surprise when they discovered that pale skin and piercing blue eyes. Taken back to the white man’s world, Cynthia was later recognized by her uncle, Col. Isaac Parker. He relocated her and her baby daughter to Birdville, with a promise that if her sons Quanah and Pecos were found, they would be brought to her.

Cynthia made more than one attempt to “escape” from civilized society, but failed. Eventually, she settled at her sister’s farm, in the vicinity of Palestine, TX. Her daughter Topsana (Prairie Flower) died during this new captivity in 1863 or ‘64. Miserable with this new life and uncomfortable with the national attention, Cynthia faded away and died in 1871. She was only 45 or so. In those last years, she never saw her boys.

Cynthia’s legacy, of course, is her oldest son. Quanah raged against the machine, becoming a great warrior and leader. But we all know how the Indian Wars ended. With the handwriting on the wall, he surrendered in 1875 and helped settle his people on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation, where the US Government appointed him chief. He embraced certain aspects of white culture, learned English, made smart investments, and hunted with President Roosevelt.

Cynthia had given her son the tools for surviving in a white world and Quanah never forget his mother. In 1910, he had her body moved from TX to Oklahoma. A year later, he joined her in the Post Oak Mission Cemetery.

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