BROTHERS IN THE WEST
[The Tombstone Epitaph, October, 1992]
Beginning, one supposes, with Cain and Abel, the activities of brothers have been an integral part of human history (though not always with the unhappy results which attended the interaction of these "original" two!) To this generalization the American West was no exception. The names of how many sets of brothers can you dredge up from historical memory? Here are a handful that come rather quickly to mind.
George Rogers Clark and William Clark. Certainly these brothers were very prominent in the early history of the west. In this pair are coupled significant victories over the Indians of the Old Northwest and co-leadership of what is arguably the most famous exploratory expedition in American history.
In 1826 a young boy ran away from his apprenticeship to a leather worker and joined a trading caravan headed for Santa Fe. Everyone knows the story of this boy who grew up to be one of the nonpareils of the mountain trade--Christopher "Kit" Carson. But how many remember that his older brother, Moses Carson, was also prominent as a mountain man operating out of Santa Fe?
Two other brothers also figured very prominently in the history of the Santa Fe Trail--Charles and William Bent. Co-founders (along with Ceran St. Vrain] of Bents Fort on the Arkansas, they ruled a trading empire for two decades. Charles was eventually appointed Governor of New Mexico; he was killed in the Taos Pueblo uprising. William took Owl Woman as his wife, thus cementing a relationship with the southern Cheyenne. By her he had mixed-blood sons, brothers, one of whom was at Sand Creek at the time of the infamous massacre perpetrated by Colonel Chivington and his Colorado volunteers. It also seems likely that the Bent brothers were the historical models for the Pasquinal brothers in James Michener's novel Centennial.
In 1836, an abandoned mission in San Antonio de Bexar battled its way into American history, to be forever remembered as The Alamo. Two of the most famous men who died there were David Crockett and James Bowie. Earlier in life, the latter had managed to acquire something of a reputation as an expert knife fighter, particularly when wielding the monstrous blade that came to bear his name. According to some accounts, the original "Bowie Knife" was made by his brother, Rezin.
Probably the most famous siblings involved in the fur trade were the brothers Sublette, five of them--William, Milton, Andrew, Solomon and Pickney. William was by far the best known; known as "Cut Face" by the Indians, he and Robert Campbell were instrumental in instituting the rendezvous system which eventually resulted in great gatherings at places like Green River, Brown's Hole and Pierre's Hole over about a twenty-year period. Milton, for a time, shared ownership of the post his brother had built with, among others, perhaps the greatest mountain man of them all, Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick. Milton was buried at Fort Laramie when his diseased leg, after several amputations, finally killed him. Andrew died in California after being mauled by a grizzly bear and Pickney was killed by the Blackfeet in the big fight at the rendezvous in Pierre's Hole in 1832.
One of the most fearsome experiences in trail history, and arguably the most famous tragedy associated with the westward migration, forever attached the name of two brothers to Donner Pass. Sixty-two year-old George and sixty-five year-old Jacob Donner, entranced by the reports of good land in California, were looking for a life even better than that they had left behind in Illinois. Instead, they and many of their party found death in the snows of the high Sierras-- and an historic immortality they would gladly have foregone!
Then, of course, there are those who might be termed the "Bandit Brothers", sets of siblings whose romanticized adventures have entertained and excited generations of dime novel readers, viewers of "B" movies and even an occasional major production, not to mention numerous appearances on television. James, Younger, Dalton--just reciting the names conjures up images of bank and train robberies. The James boys, Frank and Jesse, and the Youngers, Cole, Bob and Jim, came from Clay County, Missouri. Apparently they were initiated into violence by the border war which preceded (and in all too many instances also succeeded) the Civil War. In any event, all have long since become part of the romantic image of the American West, even though they were something less than successful at their chosen "profession", participation in which was largely ended by the effort to raid the bank in Northfield, Minnesota. After that, the James' and the Youngers' (those that survived) retreated into prison terms and subsequent quiet lives. Frank James, for example, served his prison term, then lived out his life in peace in and around Kansas City. Jesse,the exception, was killed by, in the words of the song, "that dirty little coward", Bob Ford, "who shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave."
The Dalton brothers (Grat, Bob and Jim) ended their criminal careers attempting the simultaneous robbery of two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas. It proved to be a classic, and for the Daltons tragic, case of biting off considerably more than one can chew.
And finally, the brothers very likely the most familiar to the readers of The Tombstone Epitaph--the Earp brothers. There were six of them--Newton, James, Virgil, Morgan, Wyatt and Warren. Newton, James and Virgil served in the army in the Civil War; as a result of a bullet wound in the shoulder received in 1863, James was partially but permanently disabled. The rest of the "ins and outs" of the Earp clan need no further elucidation for readers of a publication such as this.
Copyright Robert Munkres 1981-2009 All Rights Reserved