Diversions: Tombstone, Arizona

Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.
Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.

Welcome to Tombstone, Arizona. Dust off your chaps, leave your side-irons with the sheriff, and step back in time to the Old West. Just mind the horsepucky…

Good old Butch Cassidy got me thinking on the Old West. He got me thinking that would make a mighty fine subject for Diversions. Tombstone would be a right perfect choice, I reckoned. So I decided to giddy up and rope me a story!

I told you to mind the horsepucky…

Anyways, when most people think of the Old West, the Wild West, or variations thereof, Tombstone is usually what their minds are drawn to. This small town was host to some of the most notable (and surprisingly rare) gunfights in Wild West history, and home to the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. The town’s Boot Hill cemetery is one of the most famous of its kind, and even reportedly haunted.

Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.
Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.

The town started as a silver mining claim made by Ed Schieffelin in 1877. Native Americans had been known to kill miners nearby where Schieffelin had been searching for silver and had been warned “The only rock you will find out there will be your tombstone.” I’m sure you can guess what he called his claim.

The town, named for Schieffelin’s claim, was formally established in March of 1879. It consisted mostly of tents and a handful of wooden shacks. Tombstone’s initial population was a whopping 100 souls.

Business was booming by 1880. The Grand Hotel opened, introducing fine amenities such as toilet stands and hot and cold running water(aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century?) At the height of the silver boom, Tombstone was host to 10,000 residents. But with riches and beer comes bitches and tears.

Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache
Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache

Smuggling of items across the US/Mexico border thirty miles away led to Tombstone being somewhat of a haven to outlaws. These unfavorables, laden with ill-gotten gains, made it a habit of getting smashed and then smashing each other. Shootings and stabbings became common occurrences.

In March of 1881, three cowboys attempted to rob a stagecoach carrying a large quantity of silver bullion. Both men manning the stagecoach were killed. US Marshall Virgil Earp, along with his deputized brothers Wyatt and Morgan Earp began searching for the men responsible.

The culmination of that manhunt is the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Coral. The thirty-second altercation saw the McLaury and Clanton brothers along with Billy Claiborne square off against the brothers Earp and temporary Marshal Doc Holliday. Virgil and Morgan Earp ended the fight wounded. Billy Clanton and both McLaurys wound up in the ground. Claiborne and Ike Clanton straight up ran away.

A fire in 1886 damaged an important mining operation enough to practically bring mining to a halt. The population dwindled to less than 700 by 1900. Nowadays tourism has become the life blood of Tombstone. Nearly a half-million tourists filter through the small, dusty town each year. Tombstone would likely have become a ghost town by now if not for this and other lucky breaks throughout it’s long and troubled history.

Butch Cassidy: Robber Extraordinaire

Say what you want, the man cleaned up nice.
Say what you want, the man cleaned up nice.

You know what this website has been lacking? Wild Westiness. I’m here to correct that mistake. I couldn’t think of a more fitting, more prolific wild west outlaw to start with than Butch Cassidy. Read on then tell me I’m wrong.

Meet Butch Cassidy, aka George Parker, Lowe Maxwell, James Ryan…

Butch was born Robert Leroy Parker on April 13, 1866. He left home in his early teens and found himself working at a dairy farm with a cowboy calling himself Mike Cassidy. He got the nickname Butch working as a butcher a couple years on and decided to couple it with the supposed surname of his old cowboy mentor. Thus Butch Cassidy was born.

Cassidy robbed his first bank in 1889 with two other men. They successfully stole $21,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank. A year later, Cassidy purchased a ranch which many believe may have been a front for clandestine activities and providing protection for fellow outlaws.

Sure enough, the rancher-cum-outlaw found himself arrested in 1894 for stealing horses, though some believed it was also for possibly aiding and abetting known criminals. He was released in 1896, promising the governor he would remain on the straight and narrow. He proved this by getting himself associated with a fresh group of criminals almost immediately.

Together they formed a band of outlaws christened “The Wild Bunch” and set to work. The outlaws robbed a bank in Idaho of $7,000. They struck again the following year, this time robbing a coal company of their payroll, also totaling $7,000. 1889 saw them rob a Union Pacific overland flyer in Wyoming. Things finally went sour later that year.

He was involved in a train robbery that went bad in Folsom, New Mexico. Elzy Lay, Cassidy’s best friend, shot and killed sheriff Edward Farr and a man named Henry Love. Lay was caught and eventually imprisoned for life in the New Mexico state penitentiary. Cassidy and his compatriots were very much wanted men.

Despite their predicament, Cassidy and the wild bunch went on to rob the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada of over $32,000 in the year 1900. Less than a year later in 1901,  a smaller group robbed a Great Northern train in Montana of $60,000 in cash. The law came down hard, with one gang member arrested and two more killed as a result of the pursuit. Cassidy fled with “The Sundance Kid” Harry Longabaugh to Argentina, where they bought a 15,000 acre ranch.

Not content with the considerable wealth they had, the two men struck again in 1905. This time a bank near the Strait of Magellan was the target, being robbed of approximately $4,500. They struck again later that year at a bank near Buenos Aires, making off with 12,000 pesos.

Cassidy’s luck supposedly came to an end in 1908 after robbing a courier carrying the payroll for the Cia Silver Mine, totaling 15,000 Bolivian pesos. A miner at a nearby boarding house became suspicious of the men, who had taken the courier’s mule, and contacted a local cavalry unit. Long story short: The two ended their lives after a sustained shootout. One man shot the other before shooting himself.

That makes at least nine robberies for Butch Cassidy, Robber Extraordinaire.

 

Least Wanted: The Most Monstrous Inmates

Some prisoners have trouble adapting to their new environment.
Some prisoners have trouble adapting to their new environment.

Everybody has their own special talent. Some people are great at creating art. Some people are known for carrying a tune. Some people are known for kicking other peoples’ asses. The following two people fall squarely under that last talent, though one also qualifies for the first.

Oh, hai!
Oh, hai!

We’ll start with the uh, more colorful of the two inmates. Allow me to introduce you to Charles Bronson, born Michael Gordon Peterson, formerly Charles Ali Ahmed. I know it’s hard to tell from that photo, but he can be quite the character.

Mr. Bronson started his illustrious prison career all the way back in 1974 after being convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Mr. Bronson had trouble… adjusting. He went on to be transferred between prison and medical facilities well over a dozen times in as many years.

Some of Charlie’s escapades: Attacking an inmate with a glass jug, damaging prison property, straight-up punching prison officers in the face, trying to dig a tunnel out of his cell, staging rooftop protests and even at least one case of attempted murder. He did manage to make it out of prison briefly in 1987 (those naughty things he did stretched his sentence a bit) and enjoyed a short stint as a bare-knuckle boxer. He changed his name to Charles Bronson at that point on the suggestion of his manager.

Not surprisingly, he landed his ass back in jail because of committing… armed robbery. I could go on and on about this man, but I won’t. You seriously need to check out his wiki page. I’m just scratching the surface, here!

NOT farmer John
NOT farmer John

Charles Bronson is most definitely a violent man, but one thing that can’t be said of him is that he is a murderer. Thomas Silverstein on the other hand can make no such claim. Meet one of the most notorious prisoners in history who also looks like he could be your next door neighbor.

Mr. Silverstein made it into prison a few years after Mr. Bronson, in 1977. He used the same tactic to get there though: armed robbery. He was sentenced to fifteen years at Leavenworth.

He joined up with the Aryan Brotherhood while there. This led to his first prison murder in 1980. The victim, Danny Atwell, reportedly refused to serve as a drug mule. He received a life sentence and was transferred to a high security prison. The conviction was overturned in 1985 however, when it was revealed that testifying inmates had perjured themselves.

That didn’t make much difference, seeing how Silverstein struck again in 1981. His new victim was Robert Chappelle, a member of the D.C. Blacks prison gang. Silverstein said he didn’t do it(of course,) but newly-transferred Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, national leader of the D.C. Blacks said oh yes he did and immediately set to trying to kill his ass. Silverstein and another inmate killed Smith first, stabbing him 67 times.

Silverstein’s last victim was correction officer Merle Clutts. Silverstein managed to get out of his cuffs while being transferred from the showers and stabbed Clutts to death with a shank obtained from another prisoner. He didn’t deny that one.

Thomas Silverstein is currently housed in a supermax facility in Colorado. He will be eligible for release in 2095. Surprisingly, he is not the artist in the bunch. Seriously, go read more about Charlie!

 

Home, Sweet Prison

Some prisons are nicer than others, like this one!
Some prisons are nicer than others, like this one!

Prisons are like homes. The come in all shapes and sizes. Some are nicer than others. Occasionally, they are set upon by the undead. That last one isn’t as common but I heard it helps to combat boredom in the prison population. Here are some notable ones…

Not surprisingly, the world’s largest prison is located in the country with the world’s largest prison population: the United States. Rikers Island in New York City is literally an island-sized jail complex located adjacent to LaGuardia Airport. A whopping 12,300 convicts are looked after by 9,000 officers. The first batch of prisoners touched down on the island all the way back in 1932. None were zombified, though.

That sounds like it could get a little crowded. What about a nice facility? Bastøy Prison in Norway fits the bill. The 2.5 mile island houses a mere 115 prisoners. Convicts live in cottages (which they hold the keys to) and work on a prison farm. But they also find time to go sunbathing on the beach, go horseback riding and enjoy some tennis. They don’t even have to worry about dead people rising from the grave which is good, since some are convicted murderers…

Maybe that was a little too nice. Prisoners are in prison to be punished, not coddled! You should send them to Camp 22 in North Korea… or not, if you have a soul. Inmates are said to be regularly subjected to extreme torture. Others are experimented on with deadly chemicals and other hazardous agents such as anthrax.

Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and guess that’s where the zombies are…