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Online Counter Lock, Stock, and History
Lock, Stock, and History

The Highbinders and Hatchet Men of the Old West,

The California Gold Rush in 1849 brought people to the West Coast from all around the world who sought opportunity, wealth, and success.  In the mid 19th century thousands of Chinese immigrants moved to California and the west.  While the vast majority of Chinese immigrants had come to America simply for a fresh new start, many of the less savory parts of the Chinese old world also tagged along. The Chinese Tongs were the organized criminal elements of China that had also come to America looking for new criminal opportunities.  Often originating as reputable organizations such as Chinese fraternities and business leagues, the Tongs dealt in slavery, illegal gambling, opium dealing, illegal booze, extortion, assassination, thievery, bribery, blackmail, and many other criminal enterprizes.

So who were the worst outlaws of the Old West? Billy the Kid? Jesse James? John Wesley Hardin?  Compared to the “highbinders”, the most famous outlaws of the day were mere boyscouts.  The highbinders were footsoldiers, enforcers, and assassins of the Tongs.  Every criminal organization needs ruthless killers to enforce it’s bottom line on the street.  The highbinders were certainly such men, as they were willing to kill anyone who crossed them, sometimes in the most gruesome ways.  In San Francisco in 1889 one of the Tongs demanded protection money from a 19 year old girl named Fung Wing.  When she refused, she was shot to death on the streets.  Two years later a white man named John Gibbs was murdered by a Tong hitman.  His body, or at least the small pieces of it, were found in an alley a short while later.

The highbinders were often recruited from the lower classes of Chinese American society and were typically also uneducated.  What is interesting about the highbinders was their choice of weapons, an odd mix of the old world and new.  Commonly the highbinders used an assortment of Chinese melee weapons such as short swords, knives, daggers, and clubs.  One popular traditional weapon was a type of short cutlass, often wielded in pairs, called the butterfly sword.

Interestingly, the highbinders also tended to wear a chain mail shirt under their clothing.  Needless to say hand to hand combat was a must for any aspiring highbinder.  One of the favorite weapons of the highbinders was the hatchet.  With a hatchet a highbinder could assassinate a target, but also use the weapon as a tool to dispose of the body (chop it up) or savagely mutilate it for intimidation purposes. Because of this, highbinders were often also nicknamed “hatchetmen”. While the highbinders were skilled with melee weapons, the highbinders also adopted modern firearms such as revolvers, rifles, and shotguns.

By 1880 there were numerous Tongs located in San Francisco alone.  Like many mafia organizations, it was not long before they began to intrude on one another’s turf.  Between 1880 and 1913 the West Coast was embroiled in the “Tong Wars”.  During this period, scores of Chinese gangsters were killed in a period of months.  During the The Bing On tong – Wah Sin San Fan Tong War seven were killed and eight were wound in just a single phase of a three part war.  In the mining town of Weaverville, California, a pitched battle between 260 Tongs led to the deaths of 8 men with dozens wounded.  For the most part, the police and law enforcement stayed out of the Tong’s way, not wanting to get involved in affairs that did not involve white people.  However, whenever the police did get involved, they would usually quickly back off when the Tongs started targeting police officers.

The decline of the Tongs came in 1906 after the San Francisco Earthquake, which destroyed many of the buildings and businesses controlled by the Tongs.  This was also combined with strict crackdowns by local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as a crackdown on prostitution, sex slavery, and opium dens.  Today some Tongs still exist, most of which have gone straight and returned to their roots as legitimate fraternities and business organizations.  Some have not.  regardless there is a never ending line of mafioso’s, gangsters, triads, and cartel goons who have picked up where the Tongs have left off nearly a century ago.

Winchester Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle formerly owned by Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull.  

The rifle was later bequeathed Dr. Nicholas Senn, personal physician to Sitting Bill in his later years.

Sold at Auction: $87,750 

Happy Birthday to Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker)
April 13th, 1866.

Happy Birthday to Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker)

April 13th, 1866.

The Sheepshooters War,

Range wars and the Old West go together like peas and carrots, especially range wars between cattlemen and sheepherders.  During the later half of the 19th century cattlemen and sheepherders were always at odds as both forms of husbandry required a lot of open land.  Cattlemen tended to fence of large plots of the open range while sheepherders were constantly on the move.  Since sheep tend to consume the grass right down to the root, a sheep herder can quickly and easily exhaust a plot of land.  Thus sheepherders were constantly on the move, looking for new land and greener pastures.  It was only a matter of time before the two groups came head to head, with one of them declaring, “dar ain’t enough room for the two of us.”

In 1892 one of the strangest range wars broke out in Oregon where over 100,000 sheep competed for land with the cattle.  When large parts of Oregon were turned into National Forests and State Parks, both cattlemen and sheepherders found they had less and less land to work with.  Finally, tensions let loose when the cattlemen decided something had to be done.  The cattlemen of Oregon banded together and formed armed militias to drive the sheepherders out of the state.  However, unlike other Old West range wars the cattlemen did not harm any of the sheepherders, even swearing a pact that no man was to be killed in their endeavor.  Rather, the cattlemen went right to the source; the sheep. 

The cattlemen would often sneak up on sheepherder’s camps, tying or otherwise incapacitating the sheepherders.  They would then proceed to slaughter sheep by the hundreds and thousands. Many organizations claimed to have killed anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 sheep in one raid. One organization, called the Crook County Sheepshooters Association, claimed to have killed around 8,000 - 10,000 sheep altogether.  In another instance, a band of sheepshooters simply drove a flock of 2,400 sheep right off of a cliff.  The law tried to step in, offering a $1,500 dollar reward for the information on any sheepshooters, but no one came forward.

During the war there was only one supposed human casualty, a storekeeper named John Creed Conn.  His death was ruled a suicide, despite the fact that his wounds were not self inflicted.  Conn played no part in the war and most likely his murder was a separate incident, the range war being used as a cover for the killing.  One sheepshooter was wounded by a stray bullet.

The cost in sheep life however was staggering. Thousands of sheep were killed between 1895 and 1904.  The height of the war occurred between 1905 and 1906, in which 10,000 - 15,000 sheep were massacred. It was then that the Federal Government stepped in to end the war.  A range supervisor was appointed, who divided the land into plots on which only one user could use.  With the land no longer open to public grazing, both cattlemen and sheepherders settled down and found more sustainable ways of raising their herds/flocks. 

No sheepshooter was ever identified and prosecuted.

An engraved and leather mounted Winchester Model 1873 lever action rifle inscribed to Judge Roy Bean, “aka The Hanging Judge”.

Active from 1882 to 1903, Phantly Roy Bean Junior was a saloon keeper operating in the tent city dubbed “Vinegaroon” when he was appointed as Justice of the Peace of the newly formed Precinct 6 of Pecos County at the request of a Texas Ranger active in the area. Dubbing himself The Law West of the Pecos, Bean held court in his saloon, and earned a reputation as a colorful Old West personality, both as a questionable figure who leveraged his position to his advantage and enforced a drink minimum on juries, and as a benefactor of the local children and respected enforcer of law in an otherwise lawless area.  He was also known as “The Hanging Judge” because of his reputation for ordering strict sentences on criminals.

Estimated Value: $13,000 - $18,000

Engraved Colt Single Action Army with silver grips and Mexican silver mounted holster rig.
Estimated Value: $30,000 - $40,000

Engraved Colt Single Action Army with silver grips and Mexican silver mounted holster rig.

Estimated Value: $30,000 - $40,000

Weird Dream

I once had a dream that I was an FBI agent who specialized in hunting Nazi war criminals.  Michael Landon (Little Joe) from Bonanza was my partner.  And yes, we both wore cowboy outfits, carried six shooters, and rode horses.  We nailed the evil Nazi in a Walmart parking lot. He drew a Luger pistol on me but Little Joe shot it out of his hand.  I then tackled him and cuffed him.

The Smith & Wesson Model 3 Schofield Single Action,

The S&W Model 3 came in many variations, but the most popular models where the Russian and the Schofield.  The Russian was the model produced for the Russian Army while the Schofield was produced for the US Military.  The Schofield Model was an improvement of the regular Model 3 with modifications made by Major George W. Schofield, a high respected and experienced cavalry officer.  The original Model 3 was a top break revolver where the revolver opened along a hinged frame exposing the cylinder’s chambers.  When the revolver was opened an extractor also ejected the empty casings all at once.  This system was much faster than the Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army, in which empty casings had to be manually unload one at a time, then cartridges loaded one at a time through a loading port.

While the system was a great improvement in theory, there was one terrible flaw.  In in the heat of combat an enemy grabbed the barrel and pulled down, it would break the revolver open while causing the cartridges to be ejected, thus effectively unload the revolver.  Major Schofield re-designed the Model 3’s break top system so that it would only open by actuating a lever, which could be accomplished with a flick of the user’s thumb.

The Schofield revolver was adopted by the US Army and issued to officers and cavalry along with the Colt Model 1873.  Originally they were chambered for .45 Schofield, a shortened version of the .45 Colt that could be fired from the Colt Model 1873.  Later they were chambered for a new cartridge called the .44 S&W.  Outside of the military the Schofield was popular with civilians.  A number of outlaws, lawmen, and cowboys used them such as  Jesse JamesJohn Wesley HardinPat GarrettTheodore RooseveltVirgil Earp, and Billy the Kid.  They were also popular with Wells Fargo and Company, who often issued them to their road agents.

Production was discontinued in 1898.  Today several reproduction models are produced by Uberti and Armi San Marco.

Colt Model 1851 with silver overlaid ivory grips.  Comes complete with bowie knife and Slim Jim holster rig.

Sold at Auction: $13,000

The Ambush of Capt. Jonathan Davis,

On December 19th, 1854 Mexican War veteran Capt. Jonathon Davis was traveling a trail in El Dorado County, California with two companions, James C. McDonald and Dr. Bolivar A. Sparks, when they were suddenly ambushed by a gang of 14 cutthroat bandits.  A motley collection of the lowest scum of the earth, the gang had made a living robbing and murdering American and Chinese miners on their way to the California gold fields.  At the outset of the ambush McDonald was killed and Dr. Sparks was wounded.  

Outnumbered 14 to 1, Capt. Davis drew a pair of cap and ball single action revolvers and returned fire.  In a blaze of gunfire Davis managed to kill seven of the outlaws and wound three others.  With his revolvers empty, Davis drew his bowie knife as the remaining four bandits charged, also armed with knives and a sword.  Davis parried a slash from the sword wielding attacker, then stabbed him in the chest.  He then sliced the fingers off another attacker followed by a slash which removed a third assailants nose.  The remaining assailant and the wounded fled in terror.

The whole battle was witnessed by a hunting party on a nearby hill.  When they arrived at the scene they found 7 dead bandits, four others would later succumb to their wounds.  As for Davis he escaped the onslaught unharmed with the exception of a few scratches and a bullet hole in his hat.  

Gang War of the Old West —- The Tong War of Weaverville

The California Gold Rush brought immigrants from all over the world who sought adventure, fame, and riches.  Unfortunately many of these people brought with them seedy characters and old world problems.  Among Chinese immigrants, Chinese gangs called the “tongs” settled in California seeking new opportunities among the west’s criminal classes.  Just like gangs today, the tongs conducted a wide range of criminal activity including drug smuggling (opium), prostitution, gambling, extortion, murder, theft, and sex slavery.  To portray a respectable front, they also tended to serve as rotary clubs, social clubs, and unions for the local Chinese miners.

The mining camp of Weaverville, California was home to over 2,000 Chinese immigrants and headquarters to two tongs called the Young Wo and Ah You.  In 1854, a gambling dispute and conflict over mining rights led to friction between the two rival gangs.  As one probably knows about Old West range wars and vicious gangs, this was not a situation that was going to end peacefully.  The two gangs declared “there ain’t enough room in this town for the both of us” and prepared for war.  

Immediately the two gangs being to raise militias armed with a motley collection of old world and new world weapons.  Blacksmiths were hired to produce swords, spears, shields, and armor for the tongs.  When local law enforcement authorities learned the tongs were arming, they issued fines to the blacksmiths.  Rather than stop, the blacksmiths continued production as the fine was minuscule compared to the profits they were making.  In addition to swords and spears, the tongs also acquired a number of military muskets left over from the Mexican War as well as some Colt revolvers.  To learn how to use their new weaponry, which was mostly unknown to the Chinese at the time, the tongs hired white military advisers to train them.  

As word spread of the coming battle, miners from all over the region came to Weaverville to place their bets and view the spectacle.  In July of 1854 the two gangs met prepared to do battle, numbering about 260 men altogether.  At first the sides were reluctant to fight each other, instead posturing in hopes of intimidating the other side into giving up.  However, the onlookers began to incite the gangs in hopes for a bloody battle.  Finally a Dutch miner drew his pistol and fired toward one of the gangs, sparking a frenzied bout of fighting.  In an unusual display of arms, swords and spears clashed as tongs armed with muskets and revolvers also took potshots at each other.  Due to the inexperience of the amateur tong gunfighters, few bullets found their mark.  The battle raged for ten minutes before the local Sheriff and Federal Marshal was able to intervene and break up the fight.   By the end of the battle 8 men lay dead and a dozens were wounded.  Among those killed was the Dutch miner who, in the midst of the battle had been shot in the back of the head by a rival miner.

After the battle both tongs agreed that honor had been satisfied and made a truce.  The two tongs never fought again.

The Legend of Stagecoach Mary,
Also known as Mary Fields, Stagecoach Mary was one of the toughest ladies of the Old West.  Born as a slave on a Tennessee plantation in 1832, she gained her freedom after the Civil War and the resulting abolition of slavery.  After the Civil War Mary made her way west where she eventually settled in Cascade County, Montana.
In Montana Mary would gain a reputation as one of the toughest characters in the territory.  Unlike most women of the Victorian Era, Mary had a penchant for whiskey, cheap cigars, and brawling.  It was not uncommon for men to harass her because of her race or her gender.  Those who earned her disfavor did so at their own risk, as the six foot tall two hundred pound woman served up a mean knuckle sandwich.  According to her obituary in Great Falls Examiner “she broke more noses than any other woman in Central Montana”.
In Montana Mary made a living doing heavy labor for a Roman Catholic convent.  She did work such as carpentry, chopping wood, and stone work.  However it was her job of transporting supplies to the convent by wagon that would earn her the name “Stagecoach Mary”.  The job was certainly dangerous, as she braved fierce weather, bandits, robbers, and wild animals.  In one instance her wagon was attacked by wolves, causing the horses to panic and overturn the wagon.  Throughout the night Stagecoach Mary fought off several wolf attacks with a rifle, a ten gauge shotgun, and a pair of revolvers.  
Mary’s job with the convent ended when another hired hand complained it was not fair that she made more money than him to the townspeople and the local bishop. When the bishop dismissed his claims, he went to a local saloon, saying that it was not fair that he should have to work with a black woman (he said something much more obscene). In response, Mary shot him in the bum. The bishop fired Mary, and she was out of a job.
After a failed attempt at running a restaurant, Stagecoach Mary was hired to run freight for the US Postal Service. Today she holds the distinction of being the first African American postal employee. Despite delivering parcels to some of the most remote and rugged areas of Montana, Mary gained a reputation for always delivering on time regardless of the weather or terrain.
At the age of seventy, Stagecoach Mary retired from the parcel business and opened a laundry.  In one incident when a customer refused to pay, the 72 year old woman knocked out one of his teeth.  For the remainder of her life Mary settled down to peace and quiet, drinking whiskey and smoking cheap cigars.  She passed away in 1914 at the age of 82.

The Legend of Stagecoach Mary,

Also known as Mary Fields, Stagecoach Mary was one of the toughest ladies of the Old West.  Born as a slave on a Tennessee plantation in 1832, she gained her freedom after the Civil War and the resulting abolition of slavery.  After the Civil War Mary made her way west where she eventually settled in Cascade County, Montana.

In Montana Mary would gain a reputation as one of the toughest characters in the territory.  Unlike most women of the Victorian Era, Mary had a penchant for whiskey, cheap cigars, and brawling.  It was not uncommon for men to harass her because of her race or her gender.  Those who earned her disfavor did so at their own risk, as the six foot tall two hundred pound woman served up a mean knuckle sandwich.  According to her obituary in Great Falls Examiner “she broke more noses than any other woman in Central Montana”.

In Montana Mary made a living doing heavy labor for a Roman Catholic convent.  She did work such as carpentry, chopping wood, and stone work.  However it was her job of transporting supplies to the convent by wagon that would earn her the name “Stagecoach Mary”.  The job was certainly dangerous, as she braved fierce weather, bandits, robbers, and wild animals.  In one instance her wagon was attacked by wolves, causing the horses to panic and overturn the wagon.  Throughout the night Stagecoach Mary fought off several wolf attacks with a rifle, a ten gauge shotgun, and a pair of revolvers.  

Mary’s job with the convent ended when another hired hand complained it was not fair that she made more money than him to the townspeople and the local bishop. When the bishop dismissed his claims, he went to a local saloon, saying that it was not fair that he should have to work with a black woman (he said something much more obscene). In response, Mary shot him in the bum. The bishop fired Mary, and she was out of a job.

After a failed attempt at running a restaurant, Stagecoach Mary was hired to run freight for the US Postal Service. Today she holds the distinction of being the first African American postal employee. Despite delivering parcels to some of the most remote and rugged areas of Montana, Mary gained a reputation for always delivering on time regardless of the weather or terrain.

At the age of seventy, Stagecoach Mary retired from the parcel business and opened a laundry.  In one incident when a customer refused to pay, the 72 year old woman knocked out one of his teeth.  For the remainder of her life Mary settled down to peace and quiet, drinking whiskey and smoking cheap cigars.  She passed away in 1914 at the age of 82.

Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870),

A Texas lawyer, politician, land baron, and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Samuel Augustus Maverick was one of the wealthiest land barons of the mid 1800’s. One of his most notable business practices was that he never branded his own cattle, believing the process to be too painful for the animals.  He also had little interest in his heard as his wealth came from real estate and stock trading.  Thus he did little to keep track of his own herd and cared little if some may be reclaimed by other cattle herders.

As a result of Maverick’s cattle lacking brands, other cattleman and cowboys of the area began to call all unmarked cattle that did not belong to the heard “Mavericks”.  Over time, the term became popular across the country, referring to a person who is independently minded.

How to deal with bad service in the Old West.

From the movie series Lonesome Dove

An Apache man poses with his rare Evans Repeating Lever Action Rifle.  Notice how he has nicely decorated the rifle.

An Apache man poses with his rare Evans Repeating Lever Action Rifle.  Notice how he has nicely decorated the rifle.