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The Birth of Buckskin Frank Leslie
"I, Nashville Franklyn Leslie, was born near San Antonio, Texas on the 18 day of March 1842 and am now a resident of Tombstone, Arizona and have been a resident of Arizona for nine years." The man we remember as "Buckskin Frank" Leslie wrote these words on an application for employment to Collector of Customs Joseph Magoffin on March 10, 1886. Leslie was hired as a mounted inspector, responsible for patrolling part of the border between Arizona and Mexico. The words that Leslie penned on his job application are the earliest known in which he recorded his date and place of birth.
Supporting evidence for March 18, 1842, being the correct birth date was given by the Sunday, March 27, 1881, edition of the Arizona Weekly Citizen, which reported "Frank Leslie, the well known scout who was with General Custer, celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday last Friday." This item was a reprint from a Tombstone paper of the previous week. The "last Friday" in question was actually Friday, March 18, 1881, which was indeed Leslie's thirty-ninth birthday.
Leslie claimed to be "born near San Antonio," and future research may validate his claim. The three United States Federal Census records that have been found for Leslie (1880, 1910, and 1920) all give his birthplace as Texas. So saying, it must be noted that an 1889 newspaper account asserted that Galveston, Texas (located some 247 driving miles from San Antonio) was Leslie's actual birthplace.
In the 1886 Great Register for Cochise County A.T., Leslie was recorded as Voter No. 1204 as "Nashville Franklin [sic] Leslie, age 44." His birthplace was given as the "Texas Republic" and contained the further information that he had been "Naturalized by Annex of Texas to U.S." Thus, Leslie had actually been born in a foreign country in 1842, since the Republic of Texas was an independent nation between its founding on March 2, 1836, and its annexation to the United States on December 29, 1845. Undoubtedly the thousands of people who were born in Texas during that period, including Leslie, automatically became U.S. citizens, following the annexation, without formal paperwork being required. In any case, the words "naturalized by Tex to U.S." provides strong evidence that Texas was indeed Leslie's actual birthplace.
There was another person named Leslie who lived in a town "near San Antonio," who was possibly a relative of Nashville Franklyn Leslie. That person was Andrew Jackson "Jack" Leslie, a first cousin once removed of President Andrew Jackson. He was born in Humphreys County, Tennessee, in 1814, arrived in Texas during 1835, and took part in early battles against Santa Anna's soldiers. The Republic of Texas awarded him 640 acres of land for his service, once Santa Anna's forces had been defeated. The land was located in Helotes, Texas, on the far northwest side of San Antonio. On January 29, 1852, Texas conducted Survey No. 217, which described Jack Leslie's land as being at the intersection of Leslie Road and Culebra Road in Helotes, Texas.
Jack Leslie also enlisted for a month's service as a Texas Ranger on October 12, 1855. He appears to have remained a bachelor, since no records are known to exist showing that he married or had children. The seriously ill Andrew Jackson "Jack" Leslie signed his will on November 10, 1884, stating that "I bequeath all of my worldly goods of whatever kind to my beloved grand-nephew G.G. Leslie." He died on February 5, 1885.
While the authors cannot state with certainty that Andrew Jackson "Jack" Leslie and Nashville Franklyn "Buckskin Frank" Leslie were related to each other, we are certain that Jack Leslie was exactly the type of person that Frank Leslie would have been proud to claim as a relative. There were also at least four other individuals named Leslie living "near San Antonio" around the time of Nashville Franklyn Leslie's birth. They were listed on Bexar County, Texas, Tax Rolls as follows: J.A. Leslie in 1841, John R. Leslie in 1841 and 1842, J.W. Leslie in 1840, and J.J. Leslie in 1842.
The many articles and the four books written about Frank Leslie have often portrayed him as being a Wild West version of Baron Munchausen. Some of the wildest stories date back to the late nineteenth century — including an account from 1893, by a San Francisco reporter who claimed "the story of his life is a romance. Born in Virginia in 1842 of a good family he went to Heidelberg to study medicine, his brother at the same time going to West Point for a military education. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Frank returned to his old home in Virginia and entered the Confederate army as a bugler, while his brother joined the Union forces."
Leslie probably never set foot in Virginia, and he certainly wasn't born there. Only on two occasions would he make the deceptive claim of a Virginia birth, first to the San Francisco reporter in 1893 then on a wedding certificate in 1896. On all of the other documents that exist for him — before 1893 and after 1896 — Leslie consistently gave Texas as his birthplace. Nothing has turned up showing that he ever went to Germany, circa 1859, to attend the Heidelberg University School of Medicine, or had a brother who attended the United States Military Academy at West Point during the same period.
While it is possible that he fought in the Civil War, no Confederate or Union military records have been found for him. On two occasions he claimed to have served the Confederacy. During 1880 he would tell an Arizona reporter that he had been a "First Lieutenant in the 10th Texas Cavalry." By 1893, when talking to the San Francisco reporter, he more modestly claimed to have "entered the Confederate army as a bugler."
Leslie further complicated the claims of his Civil War service in 1900 when he wrote a newspaper tribute to Major General Henry Ware Lawton, in which he recalled that he "knew Lawton when he was a private, fighting his way through more than thirty battles of the Civil War." In order for this to be true, Leslie had to have served as a member of the Union forces.CHAPTER 2
Buckskin Frank Enters Frontier History
Beyond his March 18, 1842, birthday in Texas nothing is really known of Nashville Franklyn Leslie's first twenty-seven years that can be supported with documentation. This all changed on July 11, 1869, when the Daily Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper, published the passenger list of the steamship Portland, owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which had docked in San Francisco. The list identified forty-four passengers by name and "26 others," who were not identified. Among the forty-four who were identified was a certain "N. F. Leslie."
We know this person was a man, since all of the female passengers were listed with a "Miss" or "Mrs." preceding their names. While it can't be stated with certainty, it seems very probable that this "N. F. Leslie" was Nashville Franklyn Leslie. There is no record of Leslie remaining in San Francisco after the Portland docked in 1869. The sole mention of someone that might have been him, was when the May 31, 1871, issue of San Francisco Chronicle printed a lengthy list of unclaimed letters that included the name "Frank Leslie." The first known mention of Nashville Franklyn "Frank" Leslie actually being a San Francisco resident doesn't appear until 1878.
It is possible that after the Portland docked, Leslie migrated to a mining camp in California or Nevada, but he could have gone anywhere. There is no record of him living in San Francisco prior to 1878. There are also no documents showing that Leslie was in Arizona earlier than 1880. Tom Horn would claim otherwise in his autobiography, in which he wrote that he, Leslie, and several others, were employed as scouts in Arizona during 1877, in the area that would later be the site of Tombstone. Horn claimed that he "had seven or eight good horses and a fine outfit, as did others of the scouts." He claimed Al Sieber was their leader, and named Archie McIntosh, Sam Bowman, Frank Monic, Charley Mitchell, Long Jim Cook — a man who was six-feet eight-inches tall — Frank Leslie, Frank Bennett, Sage, Merijilda Grijola, Jose Maria Yescus, and Big Ed Clark scouts or interpreters. Horn also noted "there were a good many packers. I think there were twenty-one of us in the bunch." Horn further recalled:
We stayed around Tucson for a while that summer till Ed Schefflin [sic] came in from California and was getting an outfit at Tucson to go to where he had found some rich mineral a few years before that time. Schefflin and Sieber were well acquainted, and they had a talk. So we all concluded that we would go to this place as we had nothing else to do. Most all of the packers had gone to work "skinning" [driving] mules for some of the freighters, so that when we did finally pull out with Schefflin there were only about five or six of our original crowd.
Tom Horn never said whether Leslie was among the "five or six of our original crowd." Lorenzo D. Walters in his 1928 book Tombstone's Yesterday had no problem including Leslie among the group of "five or six," when he decided to improve upon Horn's version. In this version, Walters came no closer to the correct spelling of Edward Schieffelin's name than Tom Horn had. Walters recorded that upon arrival at Tucson most of the gang obtained work with various freighting outfits until "only five or six of the original crowd" remained. On his return from California Ed Schieffelin stopped in Tucson for the purpose of prospecting the country now known as the Tombstone Mining District. Buckskin Frank Leslie, Al Sieber, and Tom Horn joined him along with about sixty or more seasoned prospectors. They started for what they called "Cochise Country," as Cochise had been born in that country and had ruled it until the time of his death. After Cochise died, Geronimo became the leader of all the Apache, who quickly "engaged in keeping out the invaders." Six days after their start, they landed on the ground where now stands the town of Tombstone and where the Indians had killed Scheffelein's partner, one Lenox. Scheffelein, according to Tom Horn, stated that as the initial monument of his first claim was right at the grave of Lenox, he would call the camp Tombstone.
The Horn/Walters accounts make for a great story, but historians now agree that there is absolutely no truth to it. Tom Horn's most recent biographer summed it up best when he wrote that "one of Horn's most ridiculous claims in his autobiography was that he, Sieber, ["Long Jim"] Cook, and other packers were with Edward Schieffelin when the latter made the silver discovery that led to the founding of the Tombstone Mining District." Leslie's 1999 biographer also agreed that the Horn claim could be characterized as "ridiculous" when he observed "the discovery and early workings of Tombstone are among the best documented events in the history of the Territory. The two leading principals, Ed Schieffelin and Richard Gird, have left detailed, fascinating accounts; there is no room in the historical records for Tom Horn, Frank Leslie and others."
If the story of Leslie and Tom Horn being in Arizona in 1877 has proven to be fiction, there is no question of Leslie's whereabouts the following year. He had returned to San Francisco by the time the 1878 San Francisco City Directory was published and listed him as a "barkeeper" employed at Thomas Boland's saloon at 311 Pine Street in San Francisco. Leslie's home address was given as 732 Howard Street.
In the San Francisco City Directory for 1879 Leslie was listed as a "bookkeeper," which was almost certainly a typo for "barkeeper." He was employed by James P. Kerr and Thomas A. Jurado at an establishment called Kerr & Jurado's Saloon & Billiard Room on Hardie Place, near Kearny Street in San Francisco. In the 1879 directory Leslie's home address was given as 90 Third Street.
In the 1878, 1879, and 1880 San Francisco city directories he was listed simply as "Frank Leslie," raising the question of whether the man in those directories and Nashville Franklyn Leslie were, in fact, the same individual. The definitive answer was provided by Leslie himself in 1893, when he was interviewed by W. H. Cameron of the San Francisco Chronicle. According to Cameron, "after the war Frank came West and at one time was a partner of the late James P. Kerr in a saloon on Hardie Place in this city."
It is not known whether Leslie was inflating his own importance in the Hardie Place saloon when he told the reporter that he had been "a partner of the late James P. Kerr." By the time the 1880 San Francisco City Directory was published, Thomas A. Jurado was no longer connected with the business, which was now identified simply as "Kerr & Co." There was no mention of Leslie being a partner. Leslie was listed in the 1880 directory only as a "bartender," who was now living at 746 Folsom Street.
It seems probable that Leslie had already left San Francisco by the time that the 1880 city directory was issued to the public. Leslie had decided to become just one of the many San Franciscans who left that city to try their luck in the boom town of Tombstone, Arizona. Accompanying Leslie to Tombstone was a fellow San Franciscan named William H. Knapp. We know that Leslie and Knapp arrived in Tombstone very early in 1880, at the same time that some of the Wild West's most celebrated figures were also gathering there.
Leslie arrived in Tombstone looking like a sawed-off version of Buffalo Bill Cody, dressed in the buckskin attire of a scout. They called him "Buckskin Frank" from the moment he first set foot in the mining camp. Leslie stood only 5' 7" and weighed about 135 pounds but still managed to cut a dashing figure. When in town, he traded in the clothing of a frontiersman for the more fashionable attire of the San Franciscan that he had recently been. In order to live up to his sobriquet, Leslie allegedly accessorized his city attire with a fringed buckskin vest.
"Buckskin Frank" was known as "Frank Leslie" at least as far back as his listing as such in the 1878 San Francisco City Directory. This is at odds with the story told by a certain "Jim Brophy" to an Arizona newspaper reporter in 1934. According to that account, Brophy "knew Leslie in San Francisco but under the name of Korrigan. Entering a saloon in Tombstone where Leslie was tending bar, Brophy was surprised to see his acquaintance and yelled 'Hello, Korrigan, what are you doing here?' Korrigan turned his head quickly, then put his fingers to his lips ... 'Jim, not so loud, I'm known here as Frank Leslie.' He was Leslie to Brophy from then on."
Twenty years after this was written, after Jim Brophy had died, historian Philip J. Rasch tracked down Brophy's son and pointed out several things that were wrong with the "Korrigan" story. The best that Brophy's son could come up with was that perhaps the correct spelling should have been "Corrigan."
On May 1, 1880, the Tombstone Epitaph began publishing daily and weekly editions. John Philip Clum, the founder of the Epitaph, was also appointed Tombstone's postmaster on June 4. Leslie's name would appear in the Epitaph, and other Tombstone papers, frequently that year, and in the years that followed. Around the time of the appointment of Clum as postmaster, Leslie was approached by a writer from a brand-new publication of a different type. It was called the Arizona Quarterly Illustrated, and they asked Leslie if he would be willing to grant them an interview. Leslie was glad to oblige, and provided the writer with this highly imaginative account of his life:
N.F. Leslie is a character more frequently read about than met with in the ordinary walks of life. He is a native of Texas, and now about 37 years of age. He is a man who is thoroughly conversant with every phase of life, and familiar with all grades of society, having a natural taste for seeing for himself whatever is to be seen. He has since the age of twelve, been amid scenes of peril, and danger, and his life has been one of strange adventure. In 1861 he joined the Southern Army, and continued with it, till April 9, 1865, at the time for the grand surrender, when he was attached to General Gordon's division, as First Lieutenant, in the 10th Texas Cavalry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "They Called Him Buckskin Frank"
Copyright © 2018 Jack DeMattos and Chuck Parsons.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Chapter 1 The Birth of Buckskin Frank Leslie 1
Chapter 2 Buckskin Frank Enters Frontier History 5
Chapter 3 The Killing of Mike Killeen 13
Chapter 4 1881-Tombstone's Crowded Year 25
Chapter 5 Leslie the "Masher" 33
Chapter 6 The Death of John Ringo 39
Chapter 7 The Killing of Billy Claiborne 45
Chapter 8 The Magnolia Ranch 51
Chapter 9 Government Scout in the Apache Campaign 93
Chapter 10 Lady Killer 105
Chapter 11 Convict No 632 at Yuma 125
Chapter 12 Marriage to Belle Stowell 135
Chapter 13 Fort Worth, Cuba, and Mexico 139
Chapter 14 San Francisco and the Bay Area 145
Chapter 15 Marriage to Elnora Torbert Cast 153
Chapter 16 The Death of Buckskin Frank Leslie 163
Selected Bibliography 223