Author Archives: J.R. Sanders

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

Stage a head-on train wreck as a publicity stunt, out on the Texas plains, and invite spectators by the thousands to witness it. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty – as Katy Railroad passenger agent William Crush learned on September 15, 1896.

See my Wild West Magazine article on the “Crush Crash” here.

And listen to Scott Joplin’s “Great Crush Collision March” here.


 

 

First casualty in America’s war on drugs?

On August 20 1900, Sheriff John Henry Dillingham of Platte County, Missouri, was summoned to the sleepy little town of Farley over a case of multiple murder. A local physician named Sterling Price “Sturley” Harrington had gone on a day-long, drug and alcohol fueled killing spree. Taking his ten-year-old daughter along on his bloody errands, the doctor shot and killed his mother-in-law in cold blood, then calmly drove to the home of his wife’s uncle and killed him as well. He drove across the state line into Leavenworth, Kansas, where – apparently with further killing in mind – he resupplied with ammunition and more weapons before returning to Farley.

In what was likely part of an addle-brained plan to escape, Harrington tried to rob the town’s general store, and engaged in a point-blank shootout with the store’s clerk. About this time Sheriff Dillingham arrived with a trio of deputies, one of whom was his son, Henry. As the lawmen approached the store, Harrington met the sheriff at the entrance. Shots were exchanged and Sheriff Dillingham was killed instantly. As the murderous doctor fled toward his wagon, Henry Dillingham fired three times and Harrington fell dead in the street.

Twenty-two year old Henry Dillingham was appointed to finish out his father’s term as sheriff. Thirty years later he would also serve as the United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri

Sheriff John Dillingham’s eventful career, and the tragic events leading up to his death, are detailed in Chapter 8 of Some Gave All.

Marshal Gosling’s Final Train Ride

Kindness is an admirable trait in a lawman, but it must be tempered with a healthy dose of suspicion. It was a lesson U.S. Marshal Hal Gosling learned too late. His good nature led to his death, setting events in motion that would break up of one of the worst outlaw gangs to plague south Texas in the 1880s.

You can read about Marshal Gosling’s sad demise, and the end of the Helotes Gang, in my article from the December 2013 issue of Wild West Magazine, recently put online at Historynet.

125 years ago today, one gave all

On Jan. 14, 1891, City Marshal James F. Isbell of Bells, Texas was shot and badly wounded intervening in an armed robbery at a Bells saloon where he moonlighted as a bartender. By the time this article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the marshal had died.

Two trials, one insanity plea, one appeal, and a year and a half later, George Smith would pay the ultimate penalty for the killing. Marshal Isbell’s tragic end and Smith’s long and winding road to justice are detailed in Chapter 5 of Some Gave All.

To Marshal Isbell, and all the brave law officers before and after who have given the ultimate sacrifice – you are remembered. To those who continue to risk their lives daily to keep our communities safe – thank you.

Isbell site

John Wayne to be portrayed onscreen in “Trumbo”

David James Elliott, who starred in TV’s JAG, will play John Wayne in Trumbo, the biopic about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, and due out Nov. 6.

I’m going to go ahead and guess that it won’t be a sympathetic portrayal of the Duke, considering the film’s subject matter. Still, it’ll be interesting to see.

You can catch the Trumbo trailer (Duke-free, unfortunately) here.

Duke - Trumbo

 

Elliott as the Duke. They’ve got the look right, anyway.

Duke - DJE

Monte

We had to say farewell to our beautiful boy the day before yesterday.

We’ll remember Monte for so many things. He was a rescue – abandoned in the hills above us by a family who evidently didn’t want to deal with his issues. Their loss, our gain. He had a brief career as a shoe-chewer in his youth; I still have the boots to prove it. He was the Stealth Dog – a kitchen ninja who could sneak food off the counter, unseen and unheard, whether you were in the room or not. He was at the same time the most laid-back and easygoing dog in the world, and the most stubborn. He was Fartacus (enough said). In his prime, he was the Fastest Dog Alive. He was kind and accepting to all his fellow creatures great and small, with the exception of deliverymen; he was a terror to our mailman, Arrowhead driver, and the UPS guy (I’m convinced dogs like Monte are the reason they wear brown uniforms). He was a friendly host to any other dog who visited our home. He was the Comeback Kid. He was Braveheart.

We’ll never forget his bright, mischievous eyes, his cheerful smile, the joy on his face when he ran full tilt, and the courage and perseverance he showed when he couldn’t run any more. Mostly we’ll remember his wisdom. Many people would laugh at the notion that you could learn valuable life lessons from a dog – that a guy like Monte could teach you by example to meet each day with a happy face, to be grateful for the good things in your life, to handle adversity with patience and grace, and never to waste one precious moment feeling sorry for yourself. Those people would be wrong.

We’ll be forever grateful and honored that Monte chose to share his life journey, and his love, with us. He lived loved, and he left loved.

Goodbye, Boss. We’ll miss you.

Monte 7-21-15

History Repeats Itself…

Wild West Magazine has archived a couple of my older articles online. Although they were written a few years apart, both deal with examples of America’s earliest “extreme reality shows.” Just further evidence that there’s really nothing new under the sun.

If you’d like to check them out, you can find them here:

Dodge City’s Grand Bullfight – August, 2007
Crush’s Locomotive Crash was a Monster Smash – April, 2010

Dodge City's efforts to keep up its rough-and-rowdy reputation as the Gomorrah of the Plains with a bang-up Fourth of July celebration stirred up nationwide controversy when the town decided to include a Mexican-style bullfight - the first ever held on U.S. soil.

Dodge City’s efforts to keep up its rough-and-rowdy reputation as the Gomorrah of the Plains with a bang-up Fourth of July celebration stirred up nationwide controversy when the town decided to include a Mexican-style bullfight – the first ever held on U.S. soil.

Katy Railroad passenger agent William Crush's publicity stunt - a train wreck staged for spectators on the Texas plains - ended badly when he miscalculated what would occur as two locomotives traveling at 58 miles per hour crashed head-on into one another.

Katy Railroad passenger agent William Crush’s publicity stunt – a train wreck staged for spectators on the Texas plains – ended badly when he miscalculated what would occur as two locomotives traveling at 58 miles per hour crashed head-on into one another.

The Long and Winding Road…

On this date in 1892, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction and sentence in the case of a man who called himself George Smith, but whose true name was almost certainly something else. In January of 1891, Smith had shot and killed Bells,Texas City Marshal James F. Isbell during a failed robbery in a Bells saloon where the marshal moonlighted as a bartender.

Smith’s journey to the gallows was anything but swift and sure. Only after a failed insanity plea, a mistrial, a second trial and conviction, a death sentence, an appeal to the state’s supreme court, and petitions for clemency to the Texas governor, did he pay the ultimate price for his crimes. George Smith was hanged at the Grayson County jail in Sherman, Texas in July, 1892.

Marshal Isbell’s tragic death, and George Smith’s long road to justice, are detailed in Chapter 5 of Some Gave All.

Smith verdict