When Law Was in the Holster: The Frontier Life of Bob Paul

When Law Was in the Holster: The Frontier Life of Bob Paul

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by John Boessenecker

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One of the great lawmen of the Old West, Bob Paul (1830–1901) cast a giant shadow across the frontiers of California and Arizona Territory for nearly fifty years. Today he is remembered mainly for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and his involvement in the stirring events surrounding the famous 1881 gunfight near the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. This


One of the great lawmen of the Old West, Bob Paul (1830–1901) cast a giant shadow across the frontiers of California and Arizona Territory for nearly fifty years. Today he is remembered mainly for his friendship with Wyatt Earp and his involvement in the stirring events surrounding the famous 1881 gunfight near the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. This long-overdue biography fills crucial gaps in Paul’s story and recounts a life of almost constant adventure.

As told by veteran western historian John Boessenecker, this story is more than just a western shoot-’em-up, and it reveals Paul to be far more than a blood-and-thunder gunfighter. Beginning with Paul’s boyhood adventures as a whaler in the South Pacific, the author traces his journey to Gold Rush California, where he served respectively as constable, deputy sheriff, and sheriff in Calaveras County, and as Wells Fargo shotgun messenger and detective. Then, in the turbulent 1880s, Paul became sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, and a railroad detective for the Southern Pacific. In 1890 President Benjamin Harrison appointed him U.S. marshal of Arizona Territory.

Transcending local history, Paul’s story provides an inside look into the rough-and-tumble world of frontier politics, electoral corruption, Mexican-U.S. relations, border security, vigilantism, and western justice. Moreover, issues that were important in Paul’s career—illegal immigration, smuggling on the Mexican border, youth gangs, racial discrimination, ethnic violence, and police-minority relations—are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.

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From the Publisher

When Law Was in the Holster is the first comprehensive biography of one of the Old West's most important lawmen, Bob Paul. Shipping before the mast at the age of twelve, Paul spent the rest of his life careening from one grand adventure to another—on the high seas, in the California gold rush, and in Arizona Territory.  Boessenecker tells the tale with thorough documentation—and with relish.”—Roger D. McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier

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University of Oklahoma Press
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6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

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When Law Was in the Holster

The Frontier Life of Bob Paul

By John Boessenecker


Copyright © 2012 John Boessenecker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8774-7


Whaleboat and Gold Pan

On a balmy July afternoon in 1842, the whaleship Majestic, her bow slicing the foam, sails filled with the salty Atlantic breeze, beat slowly out of New Bedford's harbor. Peering over the stern was a rail-thin cabin boy, waving fond goodbyes to his tearful mother on the wharf. As the spires and hills of New Bedford gradually faded in the distance, the youth turned his thoughts to the journey just begun, a twenty-two-month whaling voyage around the world. Filled with nervousness and excitement, twelve-year-old Bob Paul could never in his wildest dreams have foreseen the life that, like the Majestic's billowing sails, was about to unfold before him.

His extraordinary story of high adventure on the American frontier began inconspicuously in the milling town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Situated along the Pawtucket Falls, where the Merrimack River churned whitewater on its way to the ocean, Lowell was once one of the nation's most important industrial communities. Beginning in the 1820s, America's largest textile mills were founded in Lowell. Wealthy Boston entrepreneurs invested fortunes to build huge mills and an elaborate system of canals to bring hydraulic power to the factories. People by the thousands poured into the city to find work in the booming textile industry. Workers lived in the shadow of the mills in rows of drab brick boardinghouses. This thriving mill town was, during the 1820s, the home of John and Mary Paul, a young couple of extremely modest means. They had emigrated from Newfoundland, Canada, undoubtedly drawn by economic opportunity. John Paul's small grocery store catered to the mill workers. In 1822 came their first son, John, followed by Thomas in 1829. Their youngest, Robert Havlin Paul, was born in Lowell on June 12, 1830.

Little is known of the Paul family's life in Lowell. The booming factory town should have been perfect for a struggling merchant. Between 1830 and 1833 Lowell's population exploded from 6,500 to 15,000, with more than a third of citizens employed in the cotton mills. But in 1832, either due to John Paul's poor health or poor business acumen, he closed his grocery store and moved eighty-five miles south to the seaport town of New Bedford. There he and his wife appear to have run a boardinghouse at 20 South Water Street; later they lived at 20 South Second Street. In New Bedford, such boardinghouses, generally operated by widowed or married women, often catered to seafaring men who needed inexpensive lodging. In an era when it was considered degrading for a woman to work, lodging boarders was viewed as an extension of domestic life and was socially acceptable.

New Bedford was a celebrated town, the preeminent whaling port in North America. In 1840 it was home to twelve thousand people and a large fleet of whaling ships. In the 1830s and 1840s the nation experienced an ever-increasing demand for whale oil, which was used as lamp fuel and to lubricate factory machines. The finest candles were made from valuable sperm oil, while whalebone was used to manufacture buggy whips, fishing poles, and women's corsets. As the whale population in the Atlantic was depleted, whalers broadened their search into the South Pacific and then the North Pacific. During Paul's childhood the New Bedford whaling industry flourished, in part because the harbor at the rival port of Nantucket was too shallow for the newest and largest whaling ships. In 1829 New Bedford had 94 whaleships employing 2,029 men; ten years later it boasted 232 whaleships and 5,679 crewmen. The whaling industry also supported people in other industries, such as candle makers, the coopers who formed whale-oil barrels, shipwrights, and ship chandlers, all of whom made New Bedford prosper. The picturesque town sported many houses with distinctive widow's walks, railed roof platforms that overlooked the sea.

In Moby Dick, Herman Melville provided a memorable description of the New Bedford that young Paul knew in 1840:

The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England. It is a land of oil, true enough.... Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? ...

Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round yonder lofty mansion, and your question will be answered. Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea....

In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.

In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples—long avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms.

But life was not so idyllic in the Paul household. The family's boarding-house appears to have been run by Mary Paul, which indicates that her husband probably was in ill health. Sometime in 1838 or early 1839 John Paul died, leaving Mary to raise their three sons alone. Mary Paul was soon living with her boys at 6 First Street, still taking in boarders. But she was unable to support her sons, and the eldest, John, now seventeen, was ready and willing to go to sea. For most young men, whaling was a romantic adventure, especially when it involved a voyage to the exotic paradises of Tahiti and Hawaii, where they might encounter pretty island girls freely offering up their Polynesian charms. John signed ship's articles with Captain Shubael Hawes, a noted whaler. His whaleship, the Julian, was a 356-ton, double-decked, triple-masted vessel, 110 feet from bow to stern, and she had made one prior voyage to the South Pacific. The Julian left New Bedford on September 28, 1839. Nine-year-old Bob no doubt watched wistfully from the wharf with his mother and brother Thomas as the ship passed down the Acushnet River into Buzzards Bay. John would be gone for more than two years on a whaling voyage that would take him to New Zealand and the South Pacific.

New Bedford life on the brink of poverty was not easy for young Bob Paul. His mother was undoubtedly a stern, tough woman, for he grew up with strong Protestant values: loyalty to friends and family, strict honesty, an unfailing belief in fairness and justice, and a hard, stubborn New England work ethic. Yet considering that as an adult Paul was good natured, emotionally stable, had a fine sense of humor, and made friends easily, his boyhood was probably a happy one. In the public grammar schools, he learned to read, to speak in precise English and never in slang, and to write in an elegant, practiced hand. At the same time, an economically deprived childhood taught him to reach for things beyond his grasp, a characteristic that would be the hallmark of his adult life.

Young Paul grew up in a culture steeped in whaling. Every boy in town dreamed of becoming a whaleman. Just a few doors north of the Paul home stood the Seamen's Bethel, immortalized by Herman Melville in Moby Dick. Whalers traditionally attended services here before embarking on a voyage. Paul, like all boys in New Bedford, played on the wharves, watching the whalemen at work. When no one was looking, they would climb a ship's rigging and explore its hold and forecastle, or row abandoned whaleboats in the harbor. An observer once called such boys "a distinctive class of juveniles, accustomed to consider themselves as predestined mariners.... They climbed ratlines like monkeys—little fellows of ten or twelve years—and laid out on the yardarms with the most perfect nonchalance."

On October 21, 1841, the Paul family was filled with excitement as the Julian sailed into New Bedford for a joyful homecoming. Captain Hawes brought a small fortune in the ship's hold: 635 barrels of sperm oil and 2,300 barrels of whale oil. John Paul's "lay," or proportionate share, though just a few hundred dollars, was a godsend to his mother. John's stories of the sea, of hunting whales, and of the exotic world he had seen captivated his younger brother. Even at that early age, Bob yearned for a life of high adventure and no doubt pleaded with his mother for a chance to make his own whaling voyage.

Shubael Hawes was a fine man and role model, though he had a fondness for drink. Born in New Bedford in 1802, he was a master mariner and veteran of seven whaling voyages. Hawes had been almost constantly at sea since 1827. Nonetheless, he had managed to marry and father three children; in 1841, his wife, Nancy, was pregnant with their fourth. Shubael Hawes was no Captain Ahab. Though bold and daring, he was thoughtful, kind, and treated his crewmen well. A friend once described him as "warm hearted and generous." Mary Paul's faith in Hawes's ability to keep her sons safe was exceeded only by her financial need. Bob was puny, even for his age, standing only four feet nine inches tall. But Mary Paul finally agreed to allow both John and Bob, now twelve, to accompany Captain Hawes on his next voyage. On July 18, 1842, an immensely proud Bob Paul was granted his seaman's passport. It was a day he would fondly recall for the rest of his life.

Captain Hawes was part owner of the 103-foot-long whaleship Majestic, a 297-ton vessel with a crew of thirty-one. She boasted two decks, three masts, a square stern, three whaleboats, and one longboat. John Paul, now nineteen, signed on as a boat steerer, and Bob Paul enlisted as cabin boy. The Majestic's crew was very young, even for a whaleship. Bob Paul was the youngest, and the eldest was twenty-six. Most of the crew were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. Two were African American, and three were Portuguese from the Azores. They were paid according to experience. Captain Hawes received the highest lay, 1/15 of all whale and sperm oil brought home. John Paul, an experienced hand, was one of the highest paid at . As cabin boy, Bob Paul's lay was the lowest, . Hawes planned on recruiting additional whalemen in the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, where experienced whalers could be hired cheaply.

The Majestic sailed on July 22, 1842, four days after Bob Paul got his passport. Passing out of the Acushnet River into the bay, she lay at anchor off the lighthouse until Captain Hawes and his first mate came aboard in a small boat. At 7:00 P.M. she was again under way, passing out of Buzzards Bay at three in the morning. By daybreak the Majestic had sailed around Gay Head, at the western tip of Martha's Vineyard, and into the Atlantic. The ocean crossing took six weeks, and Paul had plenty of time to learn his cabin-boy duties, which included serving meals to the officers, keeping the night lamps lit, cleaning the decks, and learning the whaleman's skills. The latter duty was important, for if a sailor was killed or injured, the cabin boy could be called on to replace him.

Bob Paul became intimately acquainted with the Majestic's whaleboats. Every whaleship had between four and seven oar-powered whaleboats, three on the port side, one on the starboard side, and sometimes several others on deck, and Paul became intimately acquainted with them. They were symmetrical, with pointed bows and sterns, so they could make a dash at a whale, and then pull back quickly. Their bottoms were flat, so that they drew little water and could be maneuvered quickly. Each was about twenty-eight feet in length, with one long steering oar in the stern and five rowing oars; many also had a sail to be used in the event that the whaleboat drifted far from the mother ship. In the bow were two seven-foot harpoons, which would be attached a line of manila rope two-thirds of an inch thick and twelve to eighteen hundred feet long. The rope ran from the harpoon, through a groove in the bow, to a coil in a box, and, from there, lengthwise along the floor of the boat to the stern, where it was looped around a sturdy post. From the post it went forward to the line tub, where most of the rope was left coiled. Whalers would say that the round tub "resembled a Christmas cake ready to present to the whales." A spare line was carried in a second tub. Whaleboats also carried extra harpoons, lances, spades, a hatchet to cut the line if necessary, a box of food, a keg of water, and a compass. A fully loaded whaleboat, without crew, weighed about twelve hundred pounds.

At daybreak on August 6 the crew spotted a wrecked ship in the distance. Captain Hawes ordered the starboard boat lowered to investigate, but there were no survivors on the floating hulk. For young Paul, it was an ominous sign of the dangers inherent in his new calling. Three days later the Majestic was west of the Azores when the crew "raised a whale." Paul's heart pounded with excitement at the cry "There he blows!" Captain Hawes ordered the Majestic luffed to the windward side and lowered away all boats. Paul, as cabin boy, watched from the rail as the experienced whalemen and boat steerers chased the sperm whale across the open sea. It was dark when the harpooner in the lead boat managed to "fasten to" the behemoth. The crew let enough rope out for safety, then made it fast. The whale surged forward, trying to lose its pursuer. This was the most dangerous aspect of whaling, for the animal might dive and take the boat down or turn and attack the whaleboat. But in this case the whale sped onward at a tremendous rate, giving the whalemen what was called a "Nan tucket sleigh ride." Finally the whale tired, allowing the crew to approach and kill it with repeated lance thrusts.

Then came the grueling work of towing the behemoth back to the Majestic. It was 2:00 A.M. before the whale was finally brought alongside the ship. The crew ate dinner, then set to work. The head of a sperm whale was its most valuable part because it contained the spermaceti organ, or case. This was a huge sac filled with spermaceti, a waxy oil used at the time to make the finest candles. The crew cut off the whale's head and, with block, tackle, and windlass, hauled it aboard and shoved it aft, onto the quarter deck. Then the ship's officers peeled off the blubber from the floating carcass with sharp spades. The crew hoisted huge slabs onto the deck, where they were thrown into the "blubber room" below decks. By 8:00 A.M. the "cutting in" was finished, and the whale's body, swarming with ravenous sharks, was "hove in" the sea. The crew in the blubber room cut the blubber into square chunks and threw it up onto the deck. The blubber was tossed into two large kettles, called try-pots, stoked with wood fires, and boiled down into whale oil. The oil was cooled in a copper tank, then ladled into casks and stored below. Next the case in the whale's head was opened, and a crewman reached inside and bailed out the white spermaceti with a bucket. The spermaceti was fluid while encased in the whale's head, but upon exposure to air it congealed quickly into a white, waxy mass. The spermaceti was poured into casks, each labeled "case" to signify its valuable contents. The whale's teeth, used for scrimshaw, were removed. Finally the head, or what remained of it, was wrestled to the gangway and heaved overboard.

This backbreaking work took four days, with the crew working in six-hour watches. The mates and boat steerers supervised the try-pots, fed the fires, and ladled the oil into the copper cooler. Some crewmen operated a mincing machine, which ground up the blubber, while others rolled the casks onto the deck. The sight and stench was a shock to Paul. As one young whaler recalled,

The smell of the burning cracklings is too horribly nauseous for description.... Walking upon deck has become an impossibility. The oil washes from one side to the other, as the ship lazily rolls in the seaway, and the safest mode of locomotion is sliding from place to place, on the seat of your pantaloons. Moreover, everything is drenched with oil. Shirts and trowsers are dripping with the loathsome stuff. The pores of the skin seem to be filled with it. Feet, hands and hair, all are full. The biscuit you eat glistens with oil, and tastes as though just out of the blubber room. The knife with which you cut your meat leaves upon the morsel, which nearly chokes you as you reluctantly swallow it, plain traces of the abominable blubber. Every few minutes it becomes necessary to work at something on the lee side of the vessel, and while there you are compelled to breath in the fetid smoke of the scrap fires, until you feel as though filth had struck into your blood, and suffused every vein in your body. From this smell and taste of blubber, raw, boiling and burning, there is no relief or place of refuge. The cabin, the forecastle, even the mastheads, all are filled with it.


Excerpted from When Law Was in the Holster by John Boessenecker. Copyright © 2012 John Boessenecker. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

A San Francisco attorney, John Boessenecker has authored six books and numerous magazine articles on crime and law enforcement in the Old West.

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When Law Was in the Holster: The Frontier Life of Bob Paul 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A slow and laborious read.
Clamper1851 More than 1 year ago
John Boessenecker's biography of Bob Paul is an excellent account of a well known California and Arizona lawman about which little has been written. The book covers Paul's life from when he arrived in San Francisco on a whaler through his career as a sheriff in both the California Motherlode and Arizona. His cooperation with the Mexican government on cases is a good example of what can be accomplished when the US and Mexico work together to apprehend common enemies. I highly recommend this book as an excellent account of an outstanding lawman of early California and Arizona.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great writing about a great subject!! I highly recommend.