Realizing through that sin, his true perfectionBy Rob Carrigan, email@example.com
It may be true now, as “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
But it was not so, 200 years ago in the wilds of Rocky Mountains, in the heydays of the early mountain men. Those men were perhaps, products of the times.
Lore has it, the popular movie "Jeremiah Johnson" was partially based on trapper John "liver-eating" Johnson, who in 1847 found his wife and her unborn child had been killed by Crow braves.
Rumors, legends, and campfire tales reflect upon the death of Johnson's wife and subsequent rampage by Johnson. His wife's death: she was of Flathead American Indian tribe descent, prompted Johnson to embark on a vendetta against the Crow tribe.
According to historian Andrew Mehane Southerland, "He supposedly killed and scalped more than 300 Crow Indians and then devoured their livers," to avenge the death of the wife, and "As his reputation and collection of scalps grew, Johnson became an object of fear."
This was said to be an insult, as the Crow believed they'd be barred from the afterlife without a liver.
There are certainly other examples.
"Virginia-born John Colter first answered the call of the West in 1804, as part of Lewis and Clark’s famed Corps of Discovery. Two years in the wilderness was more than enough for most of the expedition’s members, but as they made their way home in 1806, Colter decided to shun civilization and strike out on a career as a fur trapper. He soon established himself as one of America’s original mountain men, and may have been the first white man to lay eyes on Yellowstone National Park. A section of Wyoming’s Shoshone River even became known as “Colter’s Hell” for his descriptions of its geothermal activity," wrote History Channel's Evan Andrews.
"Colter was once wounded while fighting alongside Crow and Flathead tribesmen, but the most legendary chapter in his career came in 1809, when he was captured by a band of Blackfeet while trapping near Three Forks, Montana. After killing his partner, the Indians stripped Colter naked, gave him a brief head start and then chased after him as though he were wild game. Ignoring the rocks and cactus that were shredding his feet, Colter supposedly outran most of the warriors before disarming his closest pursuer and killing him with his own lance. The mountain man then staggered into a fort several days later, having trekked over 200 miles clothed only in a blanket."
Christopher "Kit" Carson
Namesake of towns, cities, counties, forts and other geography all over the West, Kit Carson was born in Kentucky in 1809, he fled a saddlemaker’s apprenticeship at age 16 to work as a fur trapper, teamster and buffalo hunter in the West.
"Though illiterate and small in stature, Carson was also a natural frontiersman who learned half a dozen native languages and knew the wilderness like the back of his hand. In 1842, his skills caught the attention of explorer John C. Frémont, who enlisted him as a guide for a mission to map the American West. The pair eventually teamed up on three epic excursions across the Rocky Mountains, California and Oregon, and Carson became a frontier celebrity after Frémont praised him in his expedition dispatches. His fame only grew during the Mexican-American War, when he slipped past enemy lines at the Battle of San Pasquale and made a 30-mile barefoot trek to San Diego to fetch reinforcements," wrote Evan Andrews.
Carson served as wagon train guide, Indian agent, and Union army officer during the Civil War.
"He battled Confederates at 1862’s Battle of Valverde in present day New Mexico, but spent the majority of the war leading a series of controversial campaigns to subdue the Navajo and other Southwestern Indian tribes."
He was Fort Garland's post comander for a time, and died from an aneurysm in 1868, a year after being mustered out of the army as a brigadier general. His last words were supposedly, “Doctor, compadre, adios!”
"A friend of Kit Carson, Jim Baker was just as colorful of a figure as his companion. While employed as a trapper as a young man, he and 35 other men defeated a much larger band of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors. He was later hired as a chief scout for the Army and retired on a working livestock ranch in Wyoming. He was married 21 times, each of his wives a Native American, and more than one even being the daughter of a tribe's chief," writes Seamus McAfee, of Wide Open Spaces.
Jedidiah Smith reportedly developed his thirst for adventure by reading the journals of Lewis and Clark as a boy. The New Yorker was one of several future mountain men who answered William Ashley’s 1822 call for “enterprising young men” to trap beaver and otter in the uncharted frontier. Tasked with scouting out new hunting grounds in the Dakotas and Wyoming, he helped lead an expedition that rediscovered South Pass, a key Rocky Mountain crossing that became part of the Oregon Trail. Smith went on to explore huge swaths of the West as the owner of his own fur trading company. He traversed the Mojave Desert into Southern California in 1826, and later became the first explorer to journey the Pacific coastline from California into Oregon, according to Andrews.
"As with many mountain men, Smith’s travels were often punctuated by episodes of violence. His scouting parties were ambushed and decimated by Indian attacks on multiple occasions, and he famously had his ribs smashed and his scalp partially torn off in a grizzly bear mauling. He wore his hair long for the rest of his life to cover the scars. Smith tried to retire from the hazards of the wilderness in 1830, but just a year later he was attacked and killed by Comanche Indians while traveling the Santa Fe Trail. At the time of his death, the great explorer was just 32 years old," says Evan Andrews.
Like Jedidiah Smith, Tennessee native Joseph Walker was a born explorer who pursued fur trapping and scouting as a way of financing his wanderlust. He first ventured west in 1820 as part of an illegal trapping expedition to Spanish-controlled New Mexico territory, and later served as a guide for the likes of Benjamin Bonneville and John C. Frémont. While working for Bonneville in 1833, Walker led an expedition that bushwhacked its way from Wyoming to California across the Sierra Nevada. His party was forced to eat their horses just to survive, but after exiting the mountains they became the first white men to encounter giant sequoia trees and the wonders of the Yosemite Valley. It was a sight Walker would never forget. “Camped at Yosemite” is inscribed on his tombstone.
Walker later worked as trapper, scout, wagon train guide and ranch owner. In 1861, at the age of 62, he set off on a two-year prospecting expedition across New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. "By the time his failing eyesight forced him to retire in 1867, he had spent some five decades on the frontier and served as a guide for hundreds of soldiers and pilgrims. Amazingly, during all of Walker’s years blazing new trails and traveling through hazardous territory, only one man is reported to have died under his command," said Evan Andrews.
A legend in Colorado’s history on several fronts, Tom Tobin left his mark.
His father Irish, and his mother a Delaware Indian, Tobin, and his half brother Charles Autobees, arrived in Colorado as early as 1837 with Ceran St. Vrain and worked as trapper and scout for St. Vrain and his partners, the Bent brothers, at Bent’s Fort, as well as Taos, New Mexico.
“Tom Tobin was a picturesque figure. He rode a black horse and wore a black hat, shirt, trousers and boots. He kept two loaded revolvers in his gun belt, one on each side. Although illiterate, Tobin actively supported the local school system and eventually became president of the school board,” wrote Ken Jesson in “Colorado Gunsmoke.”
Tobin also garnered a reputation for being able to “track a grasshopper through the sagebrush” and was skilled with a rifle, pistol and knife. He counted among his good friends, the likes of Kit Carson, “Uncle Dick” Wooton, Ceran St. Vrain and Charley Bent.
It was his tracking ability that got him the job that was to make him famous as a bounty hunter. Jose Filipe Nerio Espinosa and his brother Vivian Espinosa began their murderous rampage in San Luis Valley and had extended it over Ute Pass and into Dead Man’s Canyon near Fountain. One of the Espinosas was killed but Vivian and a younger cousin carried on. Basically, they declared war on all Anglos and by their own reporting, had killed 22 people in Colorado, mostly miners in the California Gulch area from Fairplay to Red Hill, in South Park.
In an interview from Oct. 10, 1946, Kit Carson III, the grandson of Kit Carson and Tom Tobin, and the proprietor of Kit Carson’s Trading Post in Sanford, Colorado, told the following tale of the end of the Espinosa’s reign of terror.
“Colonel (Sam) Tappin considered Grandpa Tobin the best tracker in the country, had him brought in and asked to catch the Espinosas, the reward was not mentioned. Grandpa was told “kill them for humanity’s sake,” nothing said about any reward.”
Tobin tracked them to a draw near LaVeta Pass.
“The Espinosas had been working their way from Colorado Springs going south killing anyone they came in contact with.”
By noticing a bunch of crows circling, Tobin identified the murderous villians’ campsite.
“He found them busy making a meal,” related Kit Carson, III. “The older Espinosa was squatting in front of the fire, while the younger one was hobbling the horses. Grandpa waited till the younger one came near the campfire, not wanting anyone to get away in the heat of battle. Hiding behind a rock, Grandpa sighted in on the older man and shot him, he fell face first into the fire, grandpa loaded a charge and spit a bare ball into the old Hawkin rifle and killed the younger Espinosa.”
Tobin finished off the elder outlaw with his knife and took the Espinosa’s heads in a gunny sack to prove the job was done.
“When arriving at Ft. Garland, the Colonel, some of his officers, and their wives had been out riding, an announcement was made that grandpa was there to see the Colonel. He was brought into a large room where the officers and wives were relaxing after their ride. The Colonel asked, ‘Any Luck, Tom?’ Grandpa said, “So-so,” and he held the gunnysack upside down rolling the heads out onto the floor, ladies were screaming, the officers and Colonel even looked a little green.”
Born April 6, 1798, in Fredricksburg, Virginia, (his father an Irish American plantation owner and his mother, a Negro slave) Jim Beckwourth was educated by his father and could read, write and spoke Spanish, French and multiple Indian dialects. For eight to nine years, Beckwourth lived with a Crow band. He rose in their society from warrior to chief (a respected man) and leader of the "Dog Clan". According to his book, he eventually ascended to the highest-ranking war chief of the Crow Nation.
James P. Beckwourth had a reputation for being able to tell a good yarn.
And that was exactly what he did in dictating his autobiography to Thomas Bonner. Bonner, a Justice of the Peace in the California Gold fields. Of course, he was obliged to add or ‘improve’ certain details about himself in “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians.”
Amazingly, most of it contained elements of truth.
“… While Beckwourth certainly had a tendency to exaggerate numbers or to occasionally make himself the hero of events that happened to other people, later historians have discovered that much of what Beckwourth related in his autobiography actually occurred,” according to beckwourth.org.
“An often-told story has it that when the book appeared, a group of miners who were well-acquainted with Beckwourth, commissioned one of its members to pick up a copy while on a trip to San Francisco. But the man, being careless, got a copy of the Bible instead. In the evening, he was requested to read aloud from the long-awaited book, and opening it at random, he hit upon and read the story of Sampson and the foxes,” according to beckwourth.org.
“That’ll do!” one of the men cried. “I’d know that story for one of Jim’s lies anywhere!”
One local story, told by Beckwourth himself, involved the legend of Jimmy Camp. Beckwourth related a tale of Jimmy Boyer (other historians have said his last name was Hayes or Daugherty) “a little dwarf Irishman” who had established a cabin and fort about 10 miles east of what is now the center of Colorado Springs. Jimmy would trade items brought from ‘civilization’ to trade with the Indians for furs.
“His wagon train would follow a segment of the Cherokee Trail (before it was the Cherokee Trail) north from the Pueblo area, and his route was called Jimmy Camp Trail, which gave the name to Jimmy Camp Creek,” writes Perry Eberhart in “Ghosts of the Colorado Plains.”
Jimmy would then light a bonfire on the top of a hill to signal that he had returned and it was time to trade. By all accounts, the Indians liked and trusted Jimmy.
Sometime from 1833 to 1835, however, Jimmy was murdered by Mexican bandits, it is believed.
According to Beckwourth, he and Indian friends of Jimmy, tracked down the murders, slit their throats and hung them by their toes in a nearby tree.
A man familiar with the American West himself, Oscar Wilde noted: "A man cannot always be estimated by what he does. He may keep the law, and yet be worthless. He may break the law, and yet be fine. He may be bad, without ever doing anything bad. He may commit a sin against society, and yet realize through that sin, his true perfection.”
Whatever the case, I don't think your could argue they were incompetent.