Man-Hunters of the Old West, Volume 2

Man-Hunters of the Old West, Volume 2

by Robert K. DeArment


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Until the early twentieth century, life in the American West could be rough and sometimes vicious. Those who brought thieves and murderers to justice at times had to employ tactics as ruthless as their prey. In this follow-up to his first collection of biographies of the West’s most recognized man-hunters, noted western historian Robert K. DeArment recounts the remarkable careers of eight men—Pat Garrett, John Hughes, Harry Love, Harry Morse, Frank Norfleet, Bass Reeves, Granville Stuart, and Tom Tobin—who pursued notorious criminals.

Volume 2 of Man-Hunters of the Old West shows that limited resources and dire conditions often made extralegal violence necessary for survival. Harry Love, the famous killer of California bandito Joaquin Murrieta, and Tom Tobin, who ended the murders of the Espinosa gang in Colorado, tracked their quarries to remote hideouts, shot them, and cut off their heads to prove they had been eliminated. Felon trackers, like the vigilante organizations that preceded them, on occasion administered summary justice—the on-the-spot hanging of their captured prey—especially if they believed the established court system was not working.

Some of the man-hunters in DeArment’s accounts were freelance scouts and trackers; others were career officers of the law. At least one, Frank Norfleet, was a private citizen turned dedicated nemesis of con artists. Love, Stuart, and Morse began life as easterners who made their way West. All the others were midwesterners or far westerners. Some of these man-hunters wrote about their adventures, and were written about in turn. Garrett’s account of his hunt for Billy the Kid remains a best seller, for example, and both Reeves and Hughes have been credited for inspiring the Lone Ranger of TV and movie fame.

DeArment discusses constant threats to the man-hunters’ survival, the federal government’s undependable presence, and extralegal violence as major themes in western law enforcement. In recounting these eight men’s adventures, this volume reveals the forces that made brutality seem commonplace.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806159119
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 03/08/2018
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 354,627
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Robert K. DeArment is a University of Toledo, Ohio, graduate whose field of interest is nineteenth-century American history with special emphasis on outlaws and law enforcement in the frontier West. He is the author of Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend and the three-volume Deadly Dozen: Forgotten Gunfighters of the Old West, published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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It appearing satisfactory by the within affidavits that Capt. Harry Love has captured the notorious Robber, Joaquin, I therefore believe him entitled to the reward of $1000 offered for his capture. John Bigler, governor of California

One of the earliest to gain fame on the American western frontier as a fearless, sometimes brutal hunter of wanted men was an adventurer from New England with an incongruous last name, one that normally connoted tenderness and affection: Harry Love. Born in Vermont in 1810, Love was christened Henry by his parents, but he preferred the name Harry, which he used throughout his life. The descendent of a reputedly notable American pioneering family — his paternal grandfather was a Revolutionary War veteran, and his mother was related to hero of that war Ethan Allen — Harry Love received only a rudimentary education as a youth. Still a young boy when his mother died and his father remarried, he could not accept what he called his stepmother's "petty tyranny," and he ran off to pursue a life at sea.

Although the documentation of it is scant, he would later spin fanciful tales of his nautical career, stories which were picked up and promulgated by early chroniclers. One such storyteller wrote that after sailing out as a cabin boy on a West Indies–bound vessel, he discovered he was on a pirate ship, but his "exploits on the Spanish Main he would only allude to vaguely in after years." Over his "piratical life he studiously threw the veil of taciturnity."

Although he evidently grew up at sea, and may even have spent some time as a Mississippi River keelboatman, an assertion by later writers that he captained an ocean vessel at the age of fifteen is difficult to accept. Other reports, originating perhaps with Love himself, had him serving as a scout and a warrior in conflicts as widespread as the Blackhawk War of 1832 in the upper Midwest, the 1835–42 Seminole War in Florida, and the Texas War of Independence in 1836, but reliable sources have not confirmed these claims, and it is doubtful that any are true. Love was still a seaman as late as 1839, when he first visited California aboard a ship. With the outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846, however, he definitely left the sea, as his service in that conflict is well documented.

Texans won their independence from Mexico in 1836. When, nine years later, Texas was accepted into the American union of states, many Mexicans felt that a vast expanse north of the Rio Grande had been stolen from them by the United States, and war clouds darkened over the U.S.-Mexican border. In 1845 General Zachary Taylor and a 3,500-man army were dispatched to the area to protect inhabitants from raids across the river.

Harry Love was in the port city of Mobile, Alabama, in early May 1846, courting a young lady with whom he was enamored, when news was received that a large Mexican military force had attacked an American patrol in South Texas, killing sixteen men and capturing the rest. Notices quickly appeared in Mobile, requesting military enlistees to go to the relief of Americans in the area. Harry Love, ever the adventurer, temporarily left his light-of-love to answer the call, signing up for a six-month tour of duty. His company, under Captain Robert Desha, moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where a local paper greeted them: "Yesterday a company of seventy-six fine, noble-looking fellows from Mobile arrived in this city [and] marched down to the U. S. Barracks, all in excellent spirits."

By May 13 Captain Desha's company and two others, encamped at Point Isabel, Texas — a supply depot that Zachary Taylor had established near the mouth of the Rio Grande — were welcomed by the general himself. For the next three months the new recruits performed routine garrison tasks, sentry duty, and uneventful patrol duty, while enduring torrid heat, swarms of mosquitoes, and bouts of dysentery and tropical fever. The death toll from disease was horrific; of the 754 Alabama volunteers, only 324 survived. Altogether an estimated 1,500 Americans died in this campaign, none of them from enemy action. Harry Love apparentlyweathered this sad period successfully. The only significant change for him during this tour of duty was his promotion on July 2 to "fourth sergeant."

Having signed up to fight Mexicans but finding no enemy to engage, the volunteers grew increasingly disgruntled, and desertions became a problem. In August, General Taylor ordered the volunteer companies back to their points of enlistment, and they disbanded.

Returning to Mobile, Love was struck with another disappointment, one not unique for servicemen. While he was off to the wars, his girlfriend had dumped him, perhaps for another not-so-patriotic suitor. "Alas for human constancy," wrote an acquaintance. "Harry, in a fit of misanthropic disgust, returned to the army, and throughout the war performed the most reckless feats of bravery. He never became entirely cured of his disappointment, which seemed to have taken a hold of his heart that neither time nor the instigation of common sense could entirely eradicate." Love did not reenlist in the army, but took advantage of a general order issued on July 10, 1846, announcing that early volunteers would be welcomed as civilian employees of the army. For seventy-five dollars a month he signed on as a courier for Captain William Chapman of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Department stationed at Matamoros, and it was in this capacity that he distinguished himself over the next year and a half in the Mexican War and beyond.

As a mounted courier, astride one horse and leading another packed with military dispatches, mail, and newspapers, Love rode across northern Mexico, western Texas, and southern New Mexico. The country he traversed in Mexico was especially desolate and dangerous, infested with bandits and hostile Indians. During this time Love had many narrow escapes, including a particularly harrowing one in September 1848, which was recounted in a Matamoros newspaper. He had delivered dispatches at Chihuahua and was returning to Fort Brown, accompanied by a traveler named William Sherman, when the pair was attacked one evening by a Comanche war party. He and Sherman quit the trail and hid out in the mountains overnight. When in the morning it appeared that the hostiles had departed, the two men resumed the trail, but the Comanches found them again. Taking up a defensive position on the banks of an arroyo, with a stream swollen by recent rains at their back, Love and Sherman opened fire at the onrushing Indians. Spotting one whose elaborate headdress identified him as the leader, Love toppled him from his mount with a well-aimed shot. The charge was halted as the other Indians reined up and circled their fallen chieftain, providing the two white men an opportunity to escape across the rushing stream. Love and his two horses made it to the other side successfully, but Sherman's mount, weakened by a wound received in the previous day's action, floundered and was lost. Love saved Sherman from a similar fate by roping him, cowboy-style, and pulling him across. Sherman climbed up on Love's second horse, and the two men made a clean getaway from the leaderless Comanche warriors. By this experience, commented the newspaper's editor, Love had "proved himself a good and faithful soldier, and one of the most trustworthy and fearless express riders on this line."

Stories of this and other adventures that Love experienced as a dispatch rider during these years were recounted in local papers and were picked up and republished throughout the West. He began seeing his name preceded by the designation "Captain," which was bestowed on him as a measure of respect for his prowess in a dangerous undertaking.

One of his most ardent admirers in the Matamoros area was Helen Chapman, the wife of Love's boss. In letters to her mother, Helen gushed about the brave young frontiersman whom she described as "a perfect specimen of the Border Dandy, browned by exposure to wind and weather, of magnificent physical proportions, and altogether bearing himself with a dashing easy kind of grace that would astonish you." She was shocked when the local paper reported that Love had been slain in Mexico, but when the report was later proven false, her relief was palpable: "We had heard he had been murdered and the joy of his safe return was boundless." In another letter a few months later she described her meeting with Love, who was back from one of his adventurous trips:

Last Sunday while on my way to prayer meeting in Brownsville, I discovered ... our dashing and favorite express rider, Harry Love....

I wish I could picture him to your vision, as he came dashing down the street, well mounted as he always is, sitting his horse as if he were a part of the noble animal he rides, his long black curls flowing in the wind, his chest thrown out, his expression cool, frank and resolute, his saber and spurs clashing, his clothes torn by the chaparral and covered with dust, one of Colt's revolvers, a six shooter, fastened to his side and an additional brace of pistols in his holsters. These are his usual accouterments.

News of the discovery of gold in California swept the nation in 1849, and gold fever was as exciting in such remote outposts as the settlements along the Texas Gulf Coast as it was in New England. Perhaps it was inevitable that an ambitious and adventurous fellow like Harry Love, approaching his fortieth year, would see the goldfields of California as his last opportunity to strike it rich. His superior, William Chapman, now an army major, recognized the signs that his ace dispatch rider, tempted by stories of fabulous fortunes being made in California, was preparing to pull up stakes and head westward. Concerned with ways to utilize the Rio Grande to greater advantage for the U.S. Army and aware of Love's maritime experience, Chapman developed a plan to keep him longer. He christened a keelboat the Harry Love, made Love its captain, and assigned him the duty of traversing the upper reaches of the Rio Grande with supplies for the various army posts. The ploy worked. Love postponed his departure for California, happily took to the waters again, and over the next year created another legend for himself as the heroic skipper of a Rio Grande keelboat.

Standing at the bow of his keelboat, Love certainly was a memorable figure. Second Lieutenant Egbert Viele, who worked with him during this period, described Love to his wife: "Six feet three, and stalwart and robust in proportion, as bold and intrepid as a lion, with a voice of thunder, and a mild blue eye, which softened the otherwise fierce aspect of his rough, sun-burnt face, which was half-concealed by a flowing black beard and a heavy mustache."

Finally, in September 1850, Love could resist the pull of the California goldfields no longer. Bidding his Texas friends adios, he set out for the new El Dorado to make his fortune. He crossed northern Mexico and caught a coastal steamship bound for San Francisco, arriving on December 11 to find a burgeoning city vastly changed from the one he had visited eleven years before. Little is known of his activities during the first years of his California stay, but it is evident that he, like most fortune seekers, met with little success in his search for gold. He moved around, probably seeking opportunities for work more suited to his experience. He almost joined a prospecting expedition into the Gila River region in 1852, but the project fell through.

In addition to fortune seekers, the California gold rush region was inundated in the early fifties with criminals of all types and nationalities, coming from other sections of the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and as far away as Europe and Australia. Murder and robbery were rampant during these years in California, and a crime committed in 1852 proved to be the initial event leading to Harry Love's fame as a California man-hunter.

Brothers Allen and John Ruddle had joined the rush to California in 1849 and, after achieving little success at prospecting, had invested in farmland along the Merced River in Mariposa County. On the morning of April 25, 1852, Allen set out for Stockton in an ox-drawn wagon to purchase furniture for the new homestead he shared with John and their families. What transpired after he had gone about two miles was related succinctly in a letter dated April 29, which was published first in the Stockton Journal and later in other California newspapers:

A young man named Allen B. Ruddle, who was driving a wagon to Stockton for supplies, was found dead on the road on Monday last, having been shot through the head and breast. He had about four hundred dollars in his possession when he left home, of which he was robbed. The deceased leaves an aged father, mother, brothers and sisters to mourn his untimely end. ... There is good reason for supposing that the murder was perpetrated by Spaniards.

Mexican outlaws Joaquin Murrieta, his brother-in-law Reyes Feliz, and Pedro Gonzales had been seen in the area immediately before Ruddle's murder and were suspected of that crime as well as the murder of another man on the Stockton Road three weeks earlier. When the Ruddle family offered a sizeable reward for the apprehension of the killers, man-hunters, including Harry Love, took up the trail.

While dispatch riding in Texas, Love had come to know and despise the Mexican bandits who preyed on travelers crossing the desolate expanses in which he operated, but encumbered by his official duties, he had never assumed the role of man-hunter during that period. Now, free from responsibility to anyone other than himself, he eagerly grasped the opportunity to hunt murderous bandidos and perhaps make some money in the process. So began the career of the first famous man-hunter in California's history.

For weeks Love and his companion (whose identity has never been discovered by historians), following the distinctive hoofprints of a particular horse, trailed their quarry through the San Joaquin Valley, past Tulare Lake, and over the Tehachapi Mountains. In early June they rode into Los Angeles and lost the trail in the myriad tracks of horses. By means of discreet inquiries, they learned that Gonzalez had been there, but had gone on to San Buenaventura, an isolated community northwest of Los Angeles.

On or about June 16 the two man-hunters confronted Gonzalez in a San Buenaventura roadhouse and, after a brief exchange of gunfire in which no one was hit, took him into custody. They — on horseback — then escorted their prisoner — on foot — back toward Los Angeles. On June 18 Love and his sidekick appeared in a Los Angeles justice of the peace courtroom without Gonzalez but with an explanation in the form of a prepared affidavit:

The prisoner being on foot, complained of fatigue and made several ineffectual efforts to escape. When about 8 miles this side of the river he complained of thirst and pointing to a ravine near at hand told his conductors that there was plenty of water a little way up. Accordingly [Love] dismounted and proceeded with the man til they came to a small clump of bushes, when the prisoner darted forward into them and would have made his escape — Mr. L's boots and spurs preventing him from giving chase — but the latter, in endeavoring to knock him down with his pistol, accidently [sic] discharged it and shot him through the head, killing him instantly.

Whether Harry Love shot Pedro Gonzales to death accidentally, as he claimed, or deliberately, as is quite possible, will never be known, but the act has been recognized as "the first serious blow" to be struck against the outlaw chieftain Joaquin Murrieta and his murderous followers.

One of the killers believed responsible for the murder of Allen Ruddle had been dispatched by bullet, but there is no evidence that Harry Love ever received any reward money for hunting him down. For the next year he was apparently out of the man-hunting business, even as the depredations by Mexican bandidos, most of them led by the increasingly notorious Joaquin Murrieta gang, continued. Then, in April 1853, the California state legislature in session at Benicia received an extraordinary petition. Signed by 127 prominent residents of Mariposa County, the scene of many crimes attributed to the notorious Joaquin Gang, the petition contended that local law enforcement was unable to handle the crime wave in that area and requested passage of a special act "authorizing some discreet, prudent person to organize a company of twenty or twenty-five good horsemen, well-armed and equipped [and to be] called the 'California Rangers'" in order to bring down Joaquin Murrieta and his outlaw gang.

Before the legislature took any action in response to this petition, another was received, this one signed by one hundred Mariposa County ranchers and miners. It also urged the establishment of a ranger force to be armed, equipped, and paid by the state, and it strongly recommended Harry Love be given command of the unit. This second petition was personally delivered to the assembly by Love himself.


Excerpted from "Man-Hunters of the Old West: Volume 2"
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Preface ix

1 Henry "Harry" Love 3

2 Thomas Tate "Tom" Tobin 29

3 Granville Stuart 51

4 Henry Nicholson "Harry" Morse 73

5 Bass Reeves 116

6 Patrick Floyd Jarvis "Pat" Garrett 143

7 John Reynolds Hughes 187

8 James Franklin "Frank" Norfleet 219

Afterword 254

Notes 259

Bibliography 303

Index 313

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