George West Musgrave
Soft-spoken, cheerful, handsome well dressed, George West Musgrave (1877-1947) "looked more like a senator than a cattle rustler." Yet he was a cattle rustler as well as a bandit, robber, and killer, "guilty of more crimes than Billy the Kid was ever accused of." Musgrave was the enduring badman of the American Southwest.
Musgrave was a charter member of the High Five/Black Jack gang, which was responsible for Arizona's first bank hold-up, numerous post office and stagecoach robberies, and the largest Santa Fe Railroad heist in history. Following a decade-long manhunt, he was captured and acquitted of killing a former Texas Ranger. After this near brush with prison or execution, he headed for South America, where he gained fame as the leading Gringo rustler. It wasn't until the 1940s that Musgrave's age and poor health brought an end to a criminal career that had spanned two continents and two centuries.
At fifty-eight, Joe Walker, owner of the La Parita Ranch, adjoining the Musgraves' St. Rocky Ranch, stood tall and blue-eyed, though his striking blond hair showed tinges of white. In common with his Scotch-Irish forebears, Walker never went out of his way to avoid trouble; such resoluteness was another familial trait that would become apparent in the character of George West Musgrave.
A participant in east Texas's Shelby County War, Walker, a member of the Moderator faction, killed one man in a duel on the main street of Center. Injured, he rode home, dressed his wound, then took a fresh horse and fled. Later that night, he killed another man waiting in ambush.
Indian depredations in the Brush Country effectively ended in 1872. Violence found a new outlet-the Sutton-Taylor feud. Victor Rose, author of The Texas Vendetta: The Sutton-Taylor Feud and an acquaintance of many of the participants, explained, "The population of Texas was divided into three classes: The Yankees, exconfederate, and Taylors."
Even as the feud raged most fiercely, Walker's oldest son, James "Bud" Walker, courted and married Sophronia Taylor, widow of feud victim Martin Luther Taylor. The Walkers stood firmly aligned with the "Taylor companie." Bud, and his younger brother Tom, a top hand, gambler, and gunman with frequent brushes with the law, were inevitably drawn into the feud. A decade of outrages and dozens of deaths concluded with the December 27, 1875, killing of Jim Taylor, an act that left the Taylor faction leaderless.
Though he was a hardened Texan, there was a whimsical side to Joe Walker's personality, accompanied, perhaps, by an inclination toward larceny, traits later revealed in the character of his grandson. Once, during a drought and with the range overgrazed, Walker moved his herd over to the coast near Corpus Christi. There he met a sea captain who had docked to take on supplies. Walker traded the sea captain a horse for a barrel of whiskey. He returned home with the whiskey to learn what he had doubtless foreseen even as he made the trade-the horse had cast off its hobbles and had beaten Walker home.
On November 19, 1863, Joe Walker's daughter, Sarah Prudence "Prudie" Walker, married Bennett Musgrave in Live Oak County, Texas, uniting two of the Brush Country's pioneer families. In early 1869, Calvin Musgrave deeded 160 acres of land on Metate Creek to Bennett and Prudie, which the young couple used as the foundation of a successful real estate and livestock career. By 1870, they possessed land and livestock valued at six thousand dollars.
The Panic of 1873 marked the commencement of a business downturn lasting several years; many eastern entrepreneurs declared bankruptcy. In the West, panic selling of cattle, coupled with a corn shortage that raised the price of feed, depressed cattle prices. Drivers held their herds outside of Ellsworth and Wichita, fed their stock with expensive corn, and hoped for market improvement. As market prices continued to drop, panic shipping increased. Large herds sold at considerable loss. The 1873 drive proved costly to Musgrave. He, like many others, was forced to borrow money to stay solvent. Musgrave returned to Texas. There is no evidence that he ever drove north on the trail again."
Despite financial setbacks, the Bennett Musgrave family lived comfortably on their St. Rocky Ranch during the later 1870s. Under the watchful eye of Watson Stanfield, Musgrave's foreman, Bennett's stock grazed on some thirty-five hundred acres of land; the family ranked among Atascosa County's more prosperous and respected citizens. George West Musgrave joined the family on May 27, 1877?° It was a propitious time to be born.
On January 18,1896, two men attempted, but failed, to rob E. A. Robinson's store at Kiowa, in the Choctaw Nation. The two perpetrators, described as "a tall man [Will Christian] and a low heavy set man [Bob Christian] were thought to be the same as those who were successful at Savanna and Coalgate."
To avoid what must have seemed the increasing likelihood of capture, the Christian brothers now left Oklahoma. Following one of the myriad thief runs, it is likely they fled south toward Wichita Falls or Cooke County, Texas. Certainly going to Jack County, along the old stage route, would be reasonable; from Jacksboro, the route led to Shackelford County, via Throckmorton County. From Shackelford County, they probably continued on the old road to New Mexico.
During the winter of 1895-1896, they appeared at Herb Brogden's in the Seven Rivers region of Eddy County, New Mexico. The two brothers had known the Brogden family in Texas and now one of them herded sheep for Brogden while the other went to work as a herder for neighboring sheep rancher Poole. Interestingly, Brogden later related that the two brothers had stayed with him during the months of July to September 1895. If this was true, they would have had to leave the Indian Territory in June, prior to their escape from the Oklahoma City jail. One can only assume that Brogden's inaccuracy was a ruse to protect himself from any charge as an accomplice after the fact. Dee Harkey, a sometime Eddy County deputy sheriff and inspector for the New Mexico Cattle Raisers' Association, later maintained that he had located the two brothers at Jack and Herb Brogden's. They fled into a cane patch, and he was unable to chase them out. "By God! They left there afoot. They's afraid to go horse-back and they left there afoot and went out into that Arizona Country."
In the meantime, Old Man Christian and the remaining family moved away from the Violet Springs area back into an old Indian house on the Seminole County line. Bill Deister recalled, "The next time I went over to their place there was nobody there. Nbbody knows when the Christians left there. I never heard from them after that." Mother Sallie Christian later moved to Wichita Falls, Texas. Old Man Christian's later whereabouts remain unknown; presumably he joined her in Wichita Falls. Oklahoma Territory had seen the last of the infamous Christian brothers. By the spring of 1896, Bob and Will had arrived in Arizona.
Nineteen-year-old George Musgrave cowboyed on the ranch adjacent to the one that employed Bob Christian. Already partnered with Young and Hayes, Musgrave appears to have been the magnet that attracted all five men into the self-styled High Five gang. The band had no true leader, and they frequently split up for some of their escapades. However, journalists soon focused on the handle Black Jack. From that time forward, there existed an unwarranted presumption that Will Christian led the "Black Jack gang." Nevertheless, old-time acquaintances of the boys invariably called them the High Five gang.'
About eight o'clock on Monday evening, July 20, the High Fives rode into Separ, New Mexico, site of a cattle-loading station on the Southern Pacific Railroad line. With Hayes and Anderson probably standing lookout nearby Musgrave, Will Christian, and Young donned masks and held up the store of John D. Weems.
Threatened by the robbers' six-shooters, the store's few patrons lay their heads on the counter. While one bandit covered them, the other two rummaged through the premises. They next turned to the post office, located within Weems's store, and took $20.94 in cash from postmaster Robert C. Milliken. The losses from the store and post office totaled approximately $280: $180 in cash; a large red, orange, and white-striped Navajo blanket; six gray wool blankets; a three-blade penknife with buck-horn handle; three boxes of cigars; French harps; a demijohn of whiskey; a pair of oil-tanned gloves; a new bridle; socks; and miscellaneous provisions. A couple of months later, the Navajo blanket was located at a residence in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains. Code Young had given it away.
As they made their way through the mountain ranges of westem New Mexico, the High Fives may have crossed paths with Tom Ketchum. According to Deputy Ben R. Clark of Graham County, Arizona, Ketchum ran into the gang in the mountains north of Deming. Ketchum's "stay in Jack's camp was abruptly terminated by Black Jack's threatening attitude towards him over his refusal to become a member of his gang." Necessarily, the authenticity of this anecdote relies upon the credibility of both Clark and Ketchum, neither a model of veracity. Any chance encounter with the gang north of Deming would have had to take place in September or during a narrow window of opportunity in late October 1896. Considering the convivial nature of the High Fives, and given Ketchum's acknowledged saturnine disposition and outbursts of uncontrolled rage, more likely the gang rejected his application for membership on the grounds of incompatibility.
In late September, they reached Magdalena, a small mining town west of Socorro, then rode north toward a railroad watering station on the Atlantic and Pacific line near the crossing of the Rio Puerco riverbed, thirty-four miles southwest of Albuquerque. On Friday, October 2, the High Fives reached Rio Puerco, and concealing themselves by the water tank, they awaited the arrival of the eastbound train.
Train no. 802 steamed into Rio Puerco at 7:30 that evening. An overheated crank pin on the engine necessitated a brief layover. Conductor Sam Heady stepped off the train and walked forward to the engine to speak with engineer Charles Ross. Five minutes later, the train slowly pulled out of Rio Puerco to begin to its way up a small hill.
As the train started forward, three of the High Fives sprang up the steps onto the tank of Engine 72 and, drawing down on engineer Ross and fireman Abe Reed, ordered Ross to halt the train; he complied. The unscheduled stop brought brakeman L. G. Stevens and conductor Heady forward. Stevens carried a lantern. A bandit fired at the unwelcome light, hitting the bell of the lantern. A second shot shattered the lantern's handle. Stevens, nursing injured fingers, joined Heady in flight to the security of one of the coaches.
One of the outlaws ordered the engineer and fireman off the train. Code Young, standing on the ground, demanded that the fireman climb back on the engine. Young then checked each car to establish whether it was a mail car, an express car, or a baggage car. He singled out the second express car and ordered the engineer back to unhitch it. Young shoved his gun in Ross's back and herded the frightened man back to the car.
Inside the express car, messenger T. G. Hutchinson heard a rapping at his door. He opened the door about a foot; Young fired in the air in front of his face. Hastily slamming and locking the door, Hutchinson went to his desk, grabbed a revolver, filled his pockets with cartridges, turned off his desk lamp, lit a cigar, and sat down to await developments. Outside, Young stepped back as Ross started to uncouple Hutchinson's car. Shots rang out. During the distraction, the engineer bolted for freedom and hid under one of the coaches.
The three robbers still on the engine now commanded fireman Reed to pull out. The train moved forward, crossing the bridge spanning the Rio Puerco. About a quarter of a mile down the track, they ordered Reed to stop the engine and unhitch the first express car. Reed protested that he was not a brakeman and union rules forbade him to do the brakeman's work. His argument fell on deaf ears. Three bandits hustled him to the rear of the first express car while a cohort remained with the engine.
Inside that express car, messenger L. J. Kohler had heard a shot, then three more in rapid succession before the train pulled forward. Convinced that a robbery was in progress, he doused the lights and locked the door. After the rail cars stopped, Kohler listened for fifteen to twenty minutes while Reed struggled to uncouple the car; the chained drawbars thwarted his efforts. Finally, one of the bandits called out, "Wonder if he will open up if we ask him." "No," came the reply. "To Hell with him, we will fix him yet, we'll blow him out." Kohler next heard them decide to go after the dynamite. The three bandits, with Reed in tow, wandered off, calling out for Young while seeking the explosives. They found neither. Young lay wounded, bleeding to death. Conductor Heady heard him cry out, "I am shot, I can't come, I'm done for." But his weak response went unheard by his sidekicks.'
A couple more minutes passed before Kohler heard the voices of Cade Selvey and L. J. Bay talking outside his express car. Kohler opened the door and told Selvey that the bandits had gone seeking dynamite. Kohler, Selvey, and Bay left the car to get help from Hutchinson. They located the messenger still barricaded in his express car and convinced him that it was safe to unlock the door. Soon they heard the lone bandit still with the engine call out, "Boys, we had better play it off, we have been here too long." The four bandits marched fireman Reed about three hundred yards into the brush and there, shaking hands all around, borrowed his tobacco. They called out once more for Young, then rode off into the night.
With the unscheduled stop, many passengers surmised that the train was being robbed. Only one traveler made a move. Deputy Marshal Will Loomis, on his return from serving subpoenas in Gallup, was sitting with his shotgun beside him on the car seat. He had been chasing the gang since mid-August. He had followed their trail from Santa Fe via Deming to Skeleton Canyon and Mexico. Now, improbably, the High Fives had come to him.
Loomis, after he slipped out of the coach, recalled lying still as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He gradually focused upon Code Young and engineer Ross, about three cars forward. When Young stepped away from the engineer, Loomis saw his chance and a blast of his shotgun felled the train robber. Young got back on his feet, and fired his six-shooter twice in Loomis's direction. Loomis pulled the trigger a second time, the outlaw staggered a few yards and fell down the bank into the brush. Loomis returned to the coach to get more shotgun shells as the mortally wounded Young tried to make his way toward the others. His accomplices, unaware of his condition, had ordered the fireman to pull the train forward and away from Young. Loomis jumped off as the train slowed. He landed on the first trestle of the bridge across the Rio Puerco and fell about four feet into soft dirt, slightly spraining his ankle. He hesitated to fire again, fearing that he might injure one of the trainmen.
Loomis, too, heard the four bandits call to Young several times before they rode off to the south. The deputy remained concealed by the darkness and listened to voices in the distance, but the men never returned. Concluding that it would be futile to try to track the gang in the darkness, he returned to the train. By now some of the passengers had stumbled upon the dead body of Code Young. Loomis remained with Young's body at Rio Puerco when the train continued east to Isleta Junction.
Before daybreak, a special train carrying Sheriff Thomas S. Hubbell of Bernalillo County, Albuquerque city marshal Fred Fornoff, and deputies Cornelius Murphy, Juan Gonzales, and their horses arrived at Rio Puerco from Albuquerque. At dawn, Hubbell, Fornoff, Murphy, and Gonzales followed the outlaws' trail toward the Datil Mountains while Loomis, aboard the special train, accompanied Code Young's body back to Albuquerque, arriving at 11:30 A.M. An hour later, Loomis and Cade Selvey boarded another train bound for Socorro, in an effort to head off the bandits."
The High Five gang headed south with a six-hour lead. Hubbell's posse followed the trail for five miles along the Rio Puerco, then headed southwest toward the Ladrone Mountains. They rode through a gap in the mountains, which led into a box canyon and the remains of a camp. The trail from the camp turned southeast; the posse followed it for some miles until forced to turn east to the Rio Grande to obtain water for the horses. The pursuers reached the river below Sabinal, then followed the road fifteen miles north to Belen, where they spent Saturday night before returning to Albuquerque aboard a freight.
While the posses hunted the gang, the body of Code Young arrived at the undertaking rooms of O. W Strong in Albuquerque. Among the large number of people who viewed the remains were A. H. Jones and A. G. Stocket of the Atlantic and Pacific machine shop. They identified Young's body, claiming to have known Young when he lived in Trinidad, Colorado. Albert V Read, a cowboy from Deming, identified the body as Cole Estes from west Texas, a coworker at several cattle companies in southern New Mexico. At five o'clock on Monday afternoon, October 5, Young was buried in the public ground at Albuquerque's Fairview Cemetery.
While the posses searched to the southwest, 130 miles east of their hunt the four remaining High Fives prepared to hold up the San Antonio-to-White Oaks stage line. The sixteen-year-old stage line had never experienced a robbery. At four o'clock on the afternoon of October 7, the High Five gang ended that crime-free record when they held up the stage en route to White Oaks between Mountain Station Ranch and Wash Hale, near the summit of the Oscura Mountains. The stage carried neither passengers nor strongbox. After confessing to driver John Wickwire that they had held up the Atlantic and Pacific at Rio Puerco, the robbers rifled the four mail sacks looking for registered mail. Fortune smiled on the gang. The First National Bank of Las Vegas, New Mexico, had shipped a package to the Exchange Bank at White Oaks. After tearing the package open, they found it contained five hundred dollars in currency. They left the rest of the mail undisturbed. Turning their own horses loose, the bandits seized those attached to the coach. Wickwire, forced to give up his hat and boots, was left to walk barefoot eight miles back to Mountain Station. The gang headed east to Taylor's Well Stage Station, thirty-one miles west of White Oaks. At the Taylor Ranch, they ordered supper. After eating, they robbed station overseer john Mack of $6.50 and again exchanged some horses.
A telegram from San Antonio postmaster Gus Hilton (father of future hotel magnate Conrad Hilton) to officers in Albuquerque carried the news of the holdup and expressed concern that the westbound coach might have also been robbed that night. That fear proved to be well founded. Six hours after the first holdup, the gang stopped the westbound coach about two miles east of Taylor's Well Station. Encouraged by their earlier success, the High Fives again tore open the mail sacks. The bags contained seven pieces of registered mail, but yielded a meager $32.60. The gang could not have been pleased. They next relieved driver Ben Carpenter of his tobacco and knife. Passenger David Tinnen of Albuquerque, returning to Albuquerque to testify as a federal witness in a mail robbery case, hid his pocketbook. The gang helped themselves to Tinnen's hat, gloves, and pipe. Tinnen pleaded that he was a working man; his sad tale struck a responsive chord. They handed him $7.10 as compensation for the new hat before departing. Tinnen recovered his pocketbook, added up his resources, and discovered that he had turned a profit of three dollars. The robbers rode to Manchester, three miles west of White Oaks, where they headed southeast into the Capitan Mountains.
Stage and train robberies in the United States decreased 33 percent during the fiscal year 1896-97, a decline that the postmaster-general attributed to vigorous pursuit, as well as lucrative rewards. He also recognized that highway robbers were desperate criminals, and pursuit necessitated great personal bravery and skill. In spite of the dangers, both real and imagined, a posse had been formed at Mountain Station Ranch three hours following the first robbery. The lawmen rode to White Oaks, where Deputy Sheriff P S. Tate and additional men joined them. The indefatigable Loomis also set off from Albuquerque, bound for San Antonio, to take up the chase.
The activities of the High Five gang baffled law enforcement in Arizona and New Mexico. The chases resulting from four months of depredations had netted one outlaw-Code Young. New Mexico's Marshal Edward L. Hall announced rewards of five hundred dollars for the arrest and conviction of any of the robbers, but complained that the well-mounted outlaws constantly replaced their mounts, had their trail obliterated by recurring rains, and had many friends on the ranches. "The men I have been employing are brave men, who would take them, if they could find them; but they are not used to riding and the horses they get will not stand the riding." Hall expressed the need for seven saddle-experienced cowboys, appropriately mounted and familiar with the country, who could bear the hardships and who would pursue the gang day and night.
George West Musgrave, alias Robert Steward, died on August 15, seventy years old, at his home on Calle Mayor Cassianoff. In addition to his personal effects at home, Musgrave's other possessions were, "'horses, a revolver, saddle, etc.' said to be scattered among various places in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay."
Citing Musgrave's 1912 arrival in Paraguay, his obituary stated that he "from then on has lived in the country dedicated to dealing in cattle, a business at which Mr. Steward enjoyed fame." He was "very well known in all circles." Amusingly, at the time of his death the American embassy allowed that it had heard rumors that Steward was an assumed name.
The morning after his death, following both Protestant and Catholic funeral services, the last of the old-time southwestern outlaws was buried in Cementerio de la Recoleta. Only two people attended Musgrave's service, Mrs. Eaton and the United States consul.
Although modern society teaches and accepts Pericles's admonition that respect for authority and the law provides the bulwark against lawlessness, American tradition applauds courage, selfreliance, endurance, and preserves an ingrained disrespect for government. Perhaps in this dichotomy rests the foundation of America's love affair with the outlaw. Selfish, violent, and unscrupulous, the western badman is eulogized for his Robin Hood qualities, his code among thieves, his chivalry toward women. Yet, history provides us with precious few examples of badmen who embodied this mythic ideal.
George Musgrave rustled, robbed, and killed. George Musgrave was a badman. In 1896, while Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan campaigned for free silver, the High Fives helped themselves to it. Musgrave participated in the first bank robbery in the history of the Arizona Territory, he held up a previously unrobbed stage line four times in two weeks, he joined in the largest heist in the history of the Santa Fe railroad, and he killed a former Texas Ranger in cold blood. Yet crimes against banks, railroads, and express companies were forgivable felonies in the opinion of many westerners.
In spite of the fact that he was tough, hard, and cold-blooded, it was Musgrave's jovial nature that stood out most in the recollections of oldtimers. The Steins Pass postmaster, Emma Rodgers, witnessed the High Fives' chivalry; the Kent daughters attested to Musgrave°s gallantry.
A bandit with staying power, Musgrave distinguished his outlaw career by his adaptation to twentieth century circumstances. Handsome and rugged, charming yet obdurate, affable but incorrigible, George Musgrave, the last of the old-time badmen, came close to possessing the almost impossible list of qualities that exemplify America's legend of the western outlaw.
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