Tuesday, February 14, 2017

LEGENDS OF THE WEIRD WEST: Queho, The Mad Mystic

   Ain’t nobody really knows ol’ Queho. Who he was or what he was truly about. He lived, that’s all anyone’s for sure on. But was he the psycho Indian savage they say? Or just some mysterious hermit or bank robber or rampaging fugitive from justice?
   All of ‘em or none, the Weird West doesn’t care. It takes ‘em as they come and they rarely come stranger'n Queho.
   He was born around 1880 and by the time he died, he had the title of first mass murderer in Nevada. Called him 'The Mad Indian.' There’s no iron-clad evidence for any murders, but why split hairs? Man was a half-breed, and folks all knew what them was like. White folks, anyway.
   His pa was a miner maybe or coulda been a soldier. Brave from a rival tribe? Maybe that, too. His ma, most are sure on, was a member of the Cocopah tribe.  
   Maybe. It’s all gonna be maybes, here. A thing like Queho, I’m not sure we want to know for sure the world had him around. If he did exist like they say, well, give him time. Being dead’s not like to inconvenience him for long.
   He was raised up like any lad, in the beginning. Lived on a reservation out Vegas Way. Did a little ranch work, some house labor. Moody little cuss, they say. Real pissy. Made himself an easy target with a temper like that.
   It’s said he killed his own half-brother in a spat and that started off the whole legend. Some day otherwise. Killed a policeman, a town elder, they say it all. Records we have don’t show any trouble with the law, for sure, until 1910. Got in a scrape with fellow tribal and did him in. Killed two more making his escape.
   So they say.
   They say too, he headed for the El Dorado Mountains. Stopped for supplies on the way, busted up a shopkeeper while robbing his store. Beat him near to death with an axe handle. Some say pick handle. Some say bare handed. Got himself a woodchopper after that. Killed him with a piece of his own timber. Some say shot. Some say stabbed a hundred times and one.
   Posse went after the sumbitch, tracked him to a gold mine. Dead watchman, shot in the back. Maybe stabbed. Maybe hung with his own guts. His badge was gone, they’re sure of that. No. 896. Posse ranged out for 200 miles in search, but came up empty. Spent months on his trail, but by February 1911, called it quits.
   It didn’t stop folks from talkin'. Things went lips to ear to pen to paper and slow and sure, a Weird West legend was born. He was insane, he was possessed, he was wronged, he was smoke and mirrors. Police couldn’t solve their crimes, sure as hell no Indian crimes, so they’d cooked up a patsy. 
   They say.
   Patsy nothin’, come the reply. Who else could possibly be responsible for all them cattle thefts, kidnappings and unsolved murders out here? No man could do all that by himself! Not unless he was the Devil come to life!
   And it just so happened, that’s what Queho was. So they say.
   In the years to come there was the blind man, the miners, the schoolteacher, all dead. The lawman, the rancher and Indian after Indian. All dead. All Queho. Children by the passel. Ate up, mutilated, shot up and stabbed. Parents'd tell their kids: “Straighten up, or Queho’s comin’ for ya!”.
   Years would go between sightings, but soon as a body showed up and no one standing over it covered in blood, it was Queho. Maude Douglas was found outside her cabin in 1919, blasted through with a shotgun. Young boy in her care said the husband did it, but that wasn’t quite possible, what with the Mad Indian’s ‘distinctive footprints’ all over the scene.
   Had a club foot, they say. Made him real easy to track. Strange how they never found him as a result, but that was likely due to his special powers. Mystical powers, they say. Queho would curse the land in his wake and made it treacherous for bounty killers to follow. For anyone to follow. 'The  Curse of Queho' was real enough, even if it was only words. Folks believed, and that was enough.
   Believed too, his life was worth a $3,000 reward. Up from a grand not long before, but after Mrs. Douglas, enough was enough. Police put down some dough, some private citizens, anything that’d help bring that monster to justice.
   A new posse come together then and set out to bring him in. Tracked Queho from the Douglas place into the Muddy Mountains. Through freezing rain and snow, they rode on for two hard months. Found two more bodies, too. Freshly mutilated. The work of Queho. Then two more, but gone down to bones. A pair of miners, lost years before. The work of Queho again.
   On they rode, but no Queho. They rode home, the glowing red eyes of Queho blazing into their backs from his mountain hideaway. Most likely.
   Last time anyone saw the man he was strolling down Fremont Street in Vegas in 1930. By the time police arrived, he was gone.
   Did they find him at last in 1940, digging up some old mine near the Colorado River? They seemed to think so, as the bones had a badge No. 896 right beside ‘em. Shotgun shells too, very same used on Maude Douglas. Of course, couldn’t bury the man right away. Brutal creature like that, no. So he was carted around like Elmer McCurdy himself and ended up in the Vegas Elks’ Club.
   Ol' Queho became the main attraction at the Elks 'Helldorado' celebrations for years after. Even rode in a convertible once, for one of the parades. Times went and changed though and come January 1962, the club wouldn’t have their reputation tarnished by such a garish display. So, off ol’ Queho went, into the local landfill.
   After that he ended up in some private collections, then the museum at the University of Nevada. 1975, a lawyer named Wiley stuck his nose in and got the man dug in proper. He’s at Cathedral Canyon now, out in his home state.
   So they say.
   Might be worth a look if you’re ever out that way.
   Maybe.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

MYTHS OF THE WEIRD WEST: The Devil in the Desert

Charles Skinner’s tale of The Death Waltz is a fine one and don’t need much in the way of improvement. It’s a bit short though, so if anything, I just wanted to tell ‘more’ of it.
So I did.

As always, a click right here brings you to Myths & Legends of Our Own Land, his collection of stories available as a free ebook over on the Project Gutenberg site.

   The years after the Civil War saw the country still smoldering top and bottom for its grand campaign while the western frontier sat unclaimed. Forts dotted it, lantern-lit bastions across the dark desert, but this was no world of men. These were pretenders to civilization, forever locked against the savage Indians eager for war and revenge. Their work was hot and bloody and death waited for each man riding out to clash with those fearsome foes.
   To even pretend toward refinement and society in such a place was foolishness, though there was little else to keep their black notions at bay. Fear for loved ones in battle, worry over a sudden Indian attack, at times just the silence of that unknowable desert, could overwhelm even the staunchest soul.
   So they danced among themselves and held boisterous dinners and played at cards and games. They were little towns unto themselves, these forts and Fort Union was no different. There in the badlands of the New Mexico Territory it laughed and ate and smiled and tried to forget why it was there. And what might happen if it wasn’t.
   Among the young ladies of this particular military station, there was a certain sister-in-law of a captain, who very much embraced the spice of life such a place had to offer. She was very comely so enjoyed too, the courtly attention of many young officers and soldiers there.
   There was a lieutenant in particular, who was especially vulnerable to her charms and devoted himself utterly to her heart in the hopes her hand might follow. His depth of understanding in such matters however, was limited. Her shy glances concealed no longing but rather, boredom. Her joyful laughter at his wit was only for the awkwardness of his delivery. When she touched him on the arm or shoulder, it was for the benefit of other men casting their envious, sidelong glances.
   He was so taken in by her deception that after many weeks, he stood on the verge of declaring himself. When a messenger arrived one day announcing an Apache outbreak to the south, the man took it as a sign. There would be no better chance! When he was given command of the detachment, it only steeled his resolve. There was nothing for him but to race to his lover and bend a knee.
   The girl caught her breath at his words and, hand to her throat, declared indeed, she loved the young man with all her heart. She was his, forever more and – she paused for effect, such was her glee at this childish game – should the horrors of war ever deprive her of her heart’s desire, she would never marry another. Never!
   Oh, I will return, he promised. And he stared deep into her eyes such that she caught her breath once more, quite forgetting herself. Nothing shall ever keep us apart, he said and strode out to his waiting men.
   However, when the soldiers returned three days later, the young lieutenant was not among them. The bride-to-be feigned a few tears and declared herself heartbroken. Seeking out a young captain then, she begged him to sit with her, lest she be alone, a victim of her own dark thoughts.
   For the next few weeks, the young woman surprised herself at her growing attraction to the captain though their wedding announcement soon after was little revelation to anyone.
   The main hall was decorated for the occasion and several long tables were laden deep with rich and sumptuous dishes. Everyone turned out in their dress uniforms and finest tails and all stood silent and respectful as the minister joined the couple in matrimony.
   Then came cheers and applause and the band struck up a rollicking tune. But as the bride and groom swung about their first dance, the doors crashed open and an icy draft gusted over the floor. A shrill, wrenching cry followed and as the guests stared in mute horror, a bloated creature filled the doorway.
   The corpse of a man, dressed in the moldy, tattered remains of an officer’s uniform. A hatchet gash cleaved his skull and the scalp was torn back from the bone. It hung over one eye, the other of which glared into the room, lit from within by a tiny spark of witchfire.
   His muddy boots clomped over the oak planks, trailing chunks of earth as he made for the happy couple. He wrenched at the arm of the bride, tearing her from her husband. The groom had no response, as entranced as the rest of the company and unable to move.
   Clasping the young girl to his blood-spattered chest, the thing turned its witch’s eye upon the band, who suddenly startled themselves into a new number. It was a shrill, off-kilter harmony, the players obviously unaware of their own movements. Strings scraped, horns blared and the demon dance began.
   Around and around they spun, the dead man clutching the bride tighter and tighter. She cried out, then began to choke, then went silent. Her head lolled, her face draining blood with each jarring turn.  Her eyes fluttered then and suddenly, she sagged in his arms.
   The creature let her fall in a jumble of limbs and stared about the room for a long moment. Then he flung his mangled head back for another raw, scathing howl and vanished from sight. As the room returned to itself, there came shouts from outside and the clatter of boots.
   Two men appeared, hats in their hands. Cowboys, who’d come to return the body of an soldier they’d come across. Surely one o' yours, they said, leading several officers out the door. Looks like an Apache got him in the head…


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The US Camel Corps Part 5


   The 'Camel Experiment', begun in 1855, saw camels imported to the US for potential use in exploring the western frontier. Within five years, a once bold endeavor was so mired in politics and bullshit that the 'experiment' barely existed on paper and the beasts themselves were now scattered all over the country.
   The breakout of the Civil War was obviously the time to bring it all together. If the thing was a film, this here would take place in the last 20 minutes and show how it all worked out. The camels all charge headlong into danger with cannons goin' off and after the North won, Grant could trot across the White House lawn on one, waving and smoking a big cigar. He'd name it Ambrose or Buckeye and there'd probably be a commemorative stamp. Sure, ol' Jefferson Davis went to the other side and the whole damned thing was his idea, but so what? We won! we'd say. We got camels outta the deal!
   After that, there'd be real interest in camel fights for a while, then o' course, camel racing. They'd go over well in zoos and the circus and hey, many actually did. The Transcontinental Railroad wasn't far off, but that didn't do the horse in, so no reason for it to tarnish the camel. In our parallel imagining, geography would relegate them west, and there they'd help in interstate trade (cheaper than a train) or pull other trade up and down from Mexico (which many also actually did).
   Despite the camel's surly attitude and fondness for scaring horses, things would smooth out. We'd keep horses away from 'em for a spell, but they'd get on, eventually. Dogs and cats do it all the time. We'd breed different types and maybe even make them more likeable. Maybe combine the one- and two-humpers into a three. There'd be camel shows and camel breeders and debutantes would ride into their parties on the back of one. Maybe a state funeral for a governor who was especially fond. A big parade of humpers down some main street, little fezzes on their heads. Maybe tassels on the ends of blankets draped over their backs with the name of some local Freemason lodge.
   Emboldened by our experience and expertise, we'd surely take them into the First World War. For any other reason than to scare the shit out of the Germans. Nostalgia for the Old West would find cowboy films made of brave men on camelback racing to save the day. Romance novels would have that scene with the paramours making love in a barn as the camels snorted from their stalls. Mr. Ed would be Mr. Abdul. It'd be the Ford Bactrian, not Mustang. Camelpower, not horsepower.
   People capable of good, solid decisions would have camel sense. Parents would tell their kids to stop cameling around. No one would ever lead a camel to water, because they can go days without it. People would be hungry enough, at times, to eat a camel. However, like the horse, we never would unless absolutely necessary. Such would be the love and admiration we'd have for this beast we brought into our home and so looked to in our hour of need.
   Oh, such a world.
But not ours. We didn't want camels in our world. And not in our 'civil' war. At the dawn of it in 1861, our pal Ed Beale asked Lincoln to make use of the herd he'd brought there years before. Ed would task them with hauling supplies and seeking in-roads for troops. He was denied.
   The mail? In 1863, a request to use camels in this small capacity was also turned down. 1864, Beale's herd was sold off to zoos and circuses. Some, like so many others, were cut loose. 1866, following the war, the 100 or so creatures that remained of the original Camp Verde experiment were also auctioned away, despite the few small, (but helpful) uses we'd been able to wring from 'em.
   Years after, they wandered through towns, through wilds, scattering cattle and still frightening their good friend the horse. They ended up in all over out west, some in the Midwest and many down in Mexico. Some even say Canada. Stories abound about who saw what or when or where this or that animal ended up or what it chased after.
   Fine stories, about a fine time in the Weird West. Shame it didn't all work out like it could've.
   But, like they say, "If wishes were camels..."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The US Camel Corps Part 4

   Jefferson Davis instituted the 'Camel Experiment' in March 1855, and two men, Henry Wayne and David Porter, imported 70 camels to make it happen. Setting up at Camp Verde, Texas in 1856 and '57, things started off just fine. But politics, personnel and plain and simple prejudice was about to queer the whole deal.
   Camp Verde was up and running, the camels were performing above expectations, but with ol' Jefferson and Mr. Wayne gone, it all tended to idle. The public was aware, the government was aware and things did happen, but not in any one direction.
   Quick aside: It's unknown (at least to my research) what happened to Dave Porter. Oh, his life is a vast record, he had a fine military career before falling in with his pal Henry and got another during the Civil War, but between landing the second camel ship in Texas in '57 and getting an offer to command a steamship in '59, I got no idea.
   It's surely in any number of biographies on the man. I like to think whatever he did, he never missed an opportunity to pick up a lady with what has to be the one of a kind line: "Hey, there. I'm an unofficial camel doctor."
   Any rate, folks hit up Camp Verde for camels all over, but none of it was 'official'. There was no direct backing from the government to truly continue the experiment toward either replacing horses or mules or 'officially' exploring the western frontier. "Hey, long as we got camels, knock yourself out," was the message. "If your little study or expedition helps, we'll take the credit. If not, oh well.   
   And no, we're probably not gonna change a goddamn thing as a result of any of it, good or bad."
One of the curious and undaunted in the face of all this was a man named Edward Beale. Ed was an explorer, best known for the road that bears his name. Called Beale's Wagon Road, it went from Arkansas to California - for the most part - and some of it survives today, courtesy of the park's service. Any rate, Ed knew ol' Jefferson and others in DC and was able to get 25 of the Verde camels (some say 22) for a march out into the world to establish that very trail.
   He set off in summer of '57 and when he arrived that winter, had nothing but high praise. Fact is, Beale kept the animals on his ranch there in California through 1864, when they were finally sold at auction. This, despite their service during the Civil War of messenger and supply work. Our nation's capital didn't care. "Glad they helped out Ed, but nobody asked 'em to," was the message.
   Quick aside: Beale's son, Truxton, would come out around 1912, almost 20 years after his father passed on, and try to compound his daddy's already robust legacy with this  - paraphrased - bit:
"Basically, my old man came up with the idea of the Camel Corps. He was hanging out in Death  Valley with Kit Carson one day (a man who never had an exaggerated word attached to him, as we all know) and was like 'Holy shit, Kit! How good would camels be, right now?' and Kit was like, 'Pretty damn good!'"
   There's varying accounts of how exuberant Trux was on convincing folks of his father's contribution to the Camel Experiment. No doubt, Ed contributed plenty and made detailed records of his adventures with the animals. The man goes down as a prominent figure in frontier history, absolutely. But he didn't come up with the Camel Corps idea.
   Well. From 1857 until the outbreak of the Civil War, others came to Camp Verde and took the animals for government or private work. Or bought the beasts off other herds that began when folks started importing or breeding the beasts themselves. Sometimes, they could be found wandering on their own, cut loose from a troubled owner.
   Surveys, expeditions, mining work, they were put to any number of things. The owners kept journals, wrote letters and made requests for more camels. They made plans to continue the Camel Experiment on their own as well, but still, none of this was 'official' and it bore no mark of a single direction.
   Camels were hardy animals, capable and uncompromising creatures. But they were never 'ours'. They were foreign, irascible and mean as hell. They spooked horses, as said. Their Arab trainers - where these were about - got snubbed or abused or outright ignored. Americans who got trained in their care resisted or fell back to horse handling ways.
   The whole thing caused a feeling that, while the country had a use for camels, the camels themselves lacked a purpose. Strange as it sounds, they'd never been given that 'rubber stamp' of approval. Again, they weren't 'official'.
   If you wanted one, they were there. But there wasn't near enough for the average person to feel anything had changed. Camels were for folks with more time and money than a regular man had. Back channel government programs and wealthy private firms. Not for a homesteader or entrepreneur wondering if he should swap out his horses.
   And when the War broke out, all that shoulda changed.
   Except, nobody asked it to.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The US Camel Corps Part 3

   March 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis got $30,000 from Congress to import camels for exploration of the western frontier of the United States.  Two men, Henry Wayne and David Porter (Hank and Dave), traveled abroad and brought back with them about 35 of the beasts, landing in Indianola, Texas in May of 1856. The US Camel Corps was born.
   Or should've been. Almost was, let's say.
   The Texans were damn impressed with the exotic creatures and proposed feats to test the animals' supposed strength and endurance. For the three weeks that Hank and Dave and the herd was there, the boys obliged the town, having the camels lift and parade and kneel on command. Indianola was so taken, a man wrote a poem for the Indianola Bulletin (damned if I can find it) and a woman named Mary Shirkey knitted a pair of socks out of camel hair for President Pierce. It's even said Hank sent those kickers on to his old pal Jefferson Davis, who sent them to the Man himself.
   Then came time to march the camels to Camp Verde, nearly 200 miles off. It was there the Army would begin their experiments in earnest, to discover just how well the camel might serve to fully claim the unknown frontier.
   But here was the thing: Why not get more camels, while the getting was good? Things were still fresh, Hank and Dave were excited, the locals were excited and they'd spent less than $10,000 of their 30K. In reply to the boys' letters of jubilation at their own progress, ol' Jefferson dashed off a word:

Boys,

Sounds like it's going gangbusters. I say we go get more o' them sumbitches. I mean, camel socks and poems? That's fantastic news! Strike while the iron's hot, I say. We got the dough, we got the drive. Let's get it done.

Love,
Jeff

   For whatever reason, someone reached out to Captain Crosman to come with (remember now, ol' George's original report had set all this off over a decade before) but again, probably still pissy, he said no. They asked the boys, obviously, but Hank was eager to show off the herd, so they sent Dave instead. Dave and a man named G.H. Heap, who'd been on the original voyage, but in the background, so we didn't pay him any mind. We still won't.
   Besides which, there ain't much to say for that second trip, anyway. It went fine. They departed late summer '56, landed in the Levant November '56, got their camels and turned around. Arrived home to Texas February of '57 with 40-odd camels in tow. They ran up to Camp Verde to join the others and now, the US Camel Corps was over 70 monsters strong.
   Now, while Mr. Heap and Dave had been away the last five, six months, Hank had been experimenting the hell out of the animals. He'd been marching them all over the area, short trips and long, measuring their loads and training the camp's personnel to tie the loads and manage the creatures. But he was worried.
   He didn't have all the authority he wanted (he was just a staff officer, basically an administrator) so he couldn't boss the other soldiers proper, plus, (the politics of the time being what they were) he was thinking ol' Jefferson Davis wasn't long as Secretary of War. He expressed his concerns December of '56 and by February '57, had been called back to Washington.
   He was then relieved of his duties as unofficial head of the unofficial US Camel Corps. It was, after all, still 'an experiment.' Man named Captain Innis Palmer then took Hank's place and would stay in charge there, until the South invaded the camp in '61, during the Civil War.
   And Hank called it for friend Jefferson. March of '57, he was out as Secretary of War and Johnny Floyd was in. Floyd was a big fan of the experiment though, and end of '58, '59 and '60 he proposed to Congress that 1,000 camels be imported for use as service animals in the US Army. He was promptly and consistently ignored.
   Meanwhile, the camels were there and they were damned useful. The Army split the herd and moved them around between '57 and '61 or so, base to base, camp to camp. And these groups bred and grew. But it was hard going. Horses hated 'em, their Arab handlers were scorned and the soldiers and locals just didn't take to the animals.
   Sometimes, hostlers in a given camp just turned them loose to get rid of 'em. Still other times, folks come around and paid up nice to get their hands on a few. It wasn't what the government expected or even wanted but, little by little, the real 'experiment' was underway.
   Camels were ending up all over the place and - as camels do - adapting like hell to it.