Free At Last: The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

Blog1What would you wish for if you knew that wish would absolutely, positively come true? Please, don’t say that you’d wish for all the wishes in the world, because that’s my answer. And need I remind you that if I have all the wishes in the world, I’m already being pretty generous by letting you have one of my wishes, right? Don’t get greedy!

Today, we’re going to talk about a man and his wish . . . a wish that was anything but greedy, a wish that absolutely, positively came true. I’m talking about a man named Dayton O. Hyde and his dream of opening The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Hyde made a wish back in the 1980s and set about the business of making it come true . . . and he did it, out of sheer grit and determination.

His Kingdom for a Horse

Blog4There are doers in this world, and there are talkers . . . Dayton O. Hyde is the former.  More than a horseman, he’s a champion of horses. For most of his life, Hyde was an Oregon rancher. He later became a naturalist and accomplished author. If he’s ever been afraid to try something new, you wouldn’t know it. Heck, he even ran away from home at the age of 13 to work on his uncle’s ranch.

Blog5So, when Hyde saw what was happening to the Bureau of Land Management’s captured wild mustangs – – especially those that were unfit for adoption – – he knew he had to do something. He watched as wild horses were ripped from their families and were crammed into feedlots and kill pens. He saw some poor creatures that were too weak to stand, and he watched as some died. Then and there, Hyde knew that something had to be done, and he also knew that he was the man to do it . . . so he hatched a plan.

Blog6It was a plan of a grand scale: Buy a large parcel of land and build a safe haven for them all.  It took a while, but by 1988, Hyde had scraped together enough money to make a down payment on 11,000 acres of land in the Hot Springs, South Dakota area. Now, most people might purchase 11,000 acres of land with visions of cookie cutter housing developments and mini malls dancing in their heads. Hyde had a very different vision.

Blog7He contacted the Bureau of Land Management and persuaded them to send him their unadoptable wild horses. He was bound and determined to be the friend of the friendless, aging, old, or ugly horses . . . the horses that no one wanted, the horses that the BLM had branded with a “U”prefix on their serial number, marking them as “unwanted.” I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for those conversations!

Pony Up

Blog2Today, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is an idyllic place where horses that were born to be wild have the run of the land. There are fertile prairies, deep canyons, pine forests, and clear rivers. And it is untouched by civilization . . . it looks just the same as it did at the beginning of time. Around 600 wild horses roam freely there right now. They share the land with cougars, deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and majestic birds of prey. It’s exactly how Hyde envisioned it would be: A safe haven, where wild horses can live out their lives as naturally as God intended.

Blog3If this all sounds like a fairy tale, maybe this is a time to point out some of the harsher realities. Hyde, who is now in his 90s, was no wet behind the ears youngster when he envisioned the sanctuary. As a WWII veteran, he already knew that freedom comes at a cost. There were times when he did not have the money to buy food for himself because the horses always came first. He relies on donations to keep the sanctuary afloat, and there were plenty of times when those donations did not flow freely. Hyde isn’t a complainer, though. He says he got by just fine by eating only Raisin Bran for a while . . . six weeks or so. The “unwanted” horses that he wanted so desperately, however, never lacked for anything.

If Wild Horses Can’t Keep You Away

Blog8The land at the sanctuary belongs to the horses, but people are still welcome to visit. They offer a variety of tours:  There’s a 2-hour guided bus tour, a 4-hour, tax-deductible, photography tour, and a 3-hour cross-country tour with a private guide. For less than the cost of a night at many Holiday Inns, you can rent one of the Sanctuary’s two available cabins. For a $1500 tax-deductible donation toward the upkeep of the mustangs, you can enjoy an Adventure Tour and a two-night stay in a cabin. There is a two-person minimum on that one, but, really, you’re most certainly going to want someone to share the experience with you. You can book a tour or reserve a cabin on their website,

Blog9If you can’t make it to South Dakota anytime soon, you can still make a one-time, tax-deductible donation, or you can sponsor a horse on an ongoing basis.  Put your money where the horse’s mouth is!

Running Wild

Blog10If you’re thinking to yourself that this story would make a great movie, someone already beat you to it! Filmmaker Suzanne Mitchell made a documentary on the life Dayton O. Hyde. The award winning film Running Wild is available on DVD. So if you’d like to learn more about this remarkable cowboy and his most selfless wish, be sure to pick up a copy here, on the sanctuary website.  And in the meantime, you might enjoy watching this short video about Dayton O. Hyde and the sanctuary!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Fractured Family Values: “Squirrel Tooth” Alice and “Texas Billy” Thompson

Old West brothel and saloonThere’s something captivating about legendary lovers.  Call me a romantic, but I adore learning about everyone from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to Romeo and Juliet—from Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara to Bogie and Bacall—from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Whether their stories are sweetly romantic or romantically tragic, I love them all . . . as long as the romance is there!

But today we’re going to talk about a legendary Wild West couple that is actually rather more absurd than romantic. They’re a pair of lovers whose names – – being more comical than lyrical – – don’t exactly make them fodder for love sonnets.  Their lives, and how they chose to live them, are a far cry from the romantic tales of true love that we all crave. Today we’re going to talk about Squirrel Tooth Alice and Texas Billy Thompson, a loving couple who married and had nine children . . . and gave an entirely new meaning to the concept of “family values.”

A Marked Woman Before She Was Sweet 16

Alice1Before she had teeth, Squirrel Tooth Alice was known as Mary Elizabeth Haley-Libby for short. Born in 1855, her childhood was so wretched that if you were to write a country & western song about her early years, her need for orthodontia wouldn’t even merit its own verse.

I’ve been jotting down some ideas for a song I’m calling, “The Girl They’d Call Squirrel.”  I think a basic verse breakdown could go something like this:

  • Verse 1—Her family lost its fortune during the Civil War.
  • Verse 2—Comanche Indians raided her family’s farm and took her captive when she was still a young ‘un.
  • Verse 3—It took her parents three years to pay a ransom for her release.
  • Verse 4—People didn’t look kindly on 13-yr-old girls who had been living with Indians. She was considered a loose woman.
  • Verse 5—The only man who’d have anything to do with a supposed loose woman (who was still a girl) was an older man.
  • Verse 6—Her daddy killed the older man for taking up with his squirrel-toothed baby.
  • Verse 7—The girl they’d soon call “squirrel” ran away from home when she was just 14, and didn’t look back.

I’m still working out the tune, but I really think Blake Shelton could have a hit with this little ditty.

At Least He Had a Cooler Nickname

Alice2When Libby ran away from home, she ran to Abilene, Kansas, where she became a dance hall girl and prostitute. This is where she met up with a gambler. (Hey, maybe Kenny Rogers would be a better choice to sing my sure-fire hit song!) The gambler already came with a pretty cool nickname that could balance out the horrors of being known as “Squirrel Tooth Alice.” He was William “Texas Billy” Thompson.

Oh, and just because I feel this merits a mention, I should point out that while I am emphatically opposed to picking on people because of physical flaws, Squirrel Tooth Alice did nothing to prevent her cruel nickname.  The gap in her teeth already made her a target. But, when she started keeping prairie dogs as pets (complete with collars and leashes), she wasn’t exactly making an effort to blend in with the crowd!

Texas Billy was ten years older than Squirrel Tooth Alice. He was an English immigrant who had volunteered for the Confederate Army, along with his older brother, Ben. Ben Thompson was an Old West lawman of much greater notoriety than his baby brother. Of course being an Old West lawman didn’t make him a saint. Just so you know what sort of family we’re dealing with, Ben Thompson was also a gunman and gambler who once tried to persuade outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, to “get rid” of Wild Bill Hickok. As for Texas Billy… Well, he wasn’t quite as respectable as his big brother.

Ah, Young Love

Alice4In 1870, Texas Billy and Squirrel Tooth Alice headed for Texas. Billy worked as a cowboy along the Chisholm Trail and Squirrel Tooth Alice “entertained” her way across the prairie. I suppose it’s good when your career allows you to find work wherever you go. By 1872, the couple was back in Kansas. Texas Billy had given up cow punching and returned to gambling. The girl formerly known as Libby was working the saloons in a different capacity. They weren’t there for long, however. The following spring, the couple was back on a cattle drive.

Alice5Libby gave birth to her first child somewhere along the road. And, romantic that he was, Billy decided to make an honest woman of her. Oh, sure they had their ups and downs, like any couple. There was the time in 1873 when Billy got drunk and killed a sheriff. Why do bad things happen to scandalous people? It’s one of the great mysteries of life! Billy made bail and the young family scurried back to Texas. By 1876, they must have thought they had put that entire episode behind them. . .when, BAM, the Texas Rangers found Billy. He was extradited back to Kansas, where he stood trial for shooting the sheriff.  In a twist of Old West justice, the shooting was ruled an accident. A little thing like getting sloppy drunk and gunning down a lawman could have happened to anyone. And, in Billy’s defense, I would say this: He shot the sheriff . . . but he did not shoot the deputy.Alice6

The couple moved to Dodge City, where Libby, the dedicated working mother that she was, reentered the workforce as a dance hall girl and prostitute. From there, they went to Colorado, and back to Texas, ultimately making their home in the town of Sweetwater. Billy bought a ranch, Libby opened a brothel, and they settled into family life. Libby had eight more children. It is believed that at least five of those kids were Billy’s.

Family Values

Alice7The brothel business was good in Sweetwater, and the couple remained married until Billy’s death in 1897. Libby continued to operate her business until her retirement in 1921. Libby lived to the ripe old age of 98, and she passed away in 1953, in a Los Angeles nursing home.

So often, parents wonder if their children are picking up on the lessons they’re being taught. Are they internalizing our family values? Are they paying attention, or are we talking to the wall? The offspring of Squirrel Tooth Alice and Texas Billy Thompson were paying attention. Of the nine children, almost all of the sons became criminals and the daughters became prostitutes.

No, the story of Squirrel Tooth Alice and Texas Billy Thompson may never be the subject of a love sonnet. But I still think any part of their lives would be a fabulous country and western song!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Wyatt Earp: True, False, or Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

Earp1I really enjoy writing about the Old West. When I stumble upon a little known fact of history, it makes me positively giddy! As I see it, the more obscure the topic, the more fun our time around the virtual campfire is going to be. Then, of course, there are the stories that are anything but hidden. . .stories that have been told and retold so many times that they can fill a bookshelf. Today’s edition of the Campfire Chronicle is about a man who has been the subject of enough books to fill a room and enough movies and television episodes to fill a Netflix queue! Today, we’re going to talk about Wyatt Earp.

In all honesty, I have repeatedly shoved this notable character to the back burner because . . . well, because he was Wyatt Earp and researching even a fraction of the available information is a daunting task. Folks, I have dilly-dallied for long enough, but I don’t mind telling you that this is more intimidating than . . . than coming up with the perfect example of something that’s really intimidating (which I must confess, I have been unable to do).

Since there is so much information about this man, and since so much of that information isn’t even true, we’re going to play a little game I am calling, “Wyatt Earp: True, False, or Your Guess Is As Good As Mine!”

The Early Years

Earp1aWyatt Earp was born in Kansas. False. The most famous Old West lawman was born in Illinois in 1848. He was the third of six children born to Nicholas and Virginia Earp. Those siblings were Virgil, Morgan, James, Martha and Adelia. Martha died in childhood. He also had a half brother, Newton, and a half sister who died as a baby. The family later moved to Iowa and Missouri.

Young Earp fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, or served as a drummer boy.  False.  It wasn’t for a lack of trying though! Earp was only 13-yrs-old at the beginning of the war. He made multiple attempts to run away and join his big brothers, Virgil and James, but he as repeatedly found and dragged back to the family farm.

Wyatt’s first job was working as a teamster. True. He transported cargo from the Los Angeles area to San Bernardino. Later, his route became Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. He was still a teenager.

He worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. True. He was barely 20-yrs-old when he was hired to grade track. While we don’t think of Earp as a railroad worker, this was the time in his life when he became a consummate gambler. It’s also when he developed a side career of officiating at boxing matches.

Earp4aThe famous lawman was a constable before his 21st birthday. True. He became the constable in Lamar, Missouri in 1869. Prior to that, his father had held the position.

Some Defining Moments

Urilla Earp

Wyatt Earp’s first wife died during childbirth. False. Urilla Earp was pregnant when she died of typhus. They had been married for less than year. The period that followed was a dark one for the young widower. He sold his house in Missouri and made his way around Indian Territory. He eventually made it to Kansas. During this period, Earp had a string of legal problems.

He was arrested on more than one occasion. True. Boy howdy, that one is true! He was arrested for stealing two horses, but he broke out of jail and hightailed it to Illinois. In following years, he was arrested for slapping a smart-mouthed prostitute. There were multiple arrests for his close connection to a brothel—be he owner, bouncer, or pimp. In later years, he was arrested for crooked card games. And, he appeared in court for officiating a fixed boxing match.

Wyatt Earp was a teetotaler. Your guess is as good as mine, but this appears to be false. Or true. Oh, I don’t know anymore!

The man with the run-ins with the law became a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, and, eventually, the deputy town marshal of Dodge City. True. Of course he did!

Doc Holliday

Earp met Doc Holliday in Wichita. False. The pair met in Dodge City. It was a friendship for the Old West history books!

So You Think You Know Earp

Mattie Blaylock
Mattie Blaylock

Following the death of Urilla, Wyatt Earp swore off women. False. In fact, if you answered true to that one, I would like to interest you in some oceanfront property in Tombstone, Arizona! Wyatt Earp had a common law marriage to former prostitute, Mattie Blaylock. Blaylock later committed suicide. He also had a common law marriage to Josephine “Sadie” Marcus, who is sometimes said to have been an actress. (If by “actress,” people mean prostitute, then yes, she was likely an “actress.”) Earp and Marcus were together for 46 years. There was an earlier, serious relationship with Sally Heckell. It is possible that Sally was also Earp’s common law wife.

Josephine Marcus
Josephine Marcus

Wyatt Earp would have loved Ben & Jerry. I’m going with True. The man had a sweet tooth and was not lactose intolerant. He was perhaps the most loyal customer of the ice cream parlor in Tombstone, enjoying a scoop of ice cream every chance he got.

Wyatt Earp fired the first shot at the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Your guess is as good as mine. No one knows who fired the first shot. If you would like to brush up on the facts of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, check out this previous edition of the Campfire Chronicle. Earp7

He himself was never shot.  True. The famous lawman was never shot in a gunfight. His closest call did not happen in a gunfight, however. Once, his own gun accidentally discharged and he shot a hole through the coat he was wearing at the time.

The Later Years

Earp3Earp spent his final years in California. True. While there, he worked in horseracing, real estate, saloon keeping, and gold mining. He also spent time writing his memoirs.

John Wayne was a personal friend of his. Your guess is as good as mine. Some sources claim that the two had a close friendship. Other sources claim that was nothing but a bunch of hooey and the two never actually met. All I can say is that I haven’t seen a picture of the two together. It seems like this is an urban legend. It is true that Wyatt Earp worked as an unpaid consultant on some silent cowboy movies, but that was before John Wayne was a Western star.

Tom Mix was a pallbearer at his funeral. True. Western actor, William S. Hart was also a pallbearer. Wyatt Earp died in 1929, at the age of 80. He was the last surviving participant of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Pallbearers ar Wyatt Earp's funeral, Tom Mix far right.
Pallbearers ar Wyatt Earp’s funeral, Tom Mix far right.

In Closing

Folks, I know I haven’t begun to pick the meat off the bones of this story. But, I surrender! I suggest you spend some time filling your Netflix queue with some Wyatt Earp classics. Might I suggest the Kevin Costner version?

Here’s a wonderful biography of Wyatt Earp from the PBS series “The American Experience.”

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia


Secret Lives: Women Soldiers of the Civil War

CW1Many moons ago, I wrote a blog post about Cathay Williams, an African-American woman who disguised herself as a man and fought in the Civil War, under the alias, William Cathay. I found – – and continue to find – – that story to be absolutely riveting, but to my amazement I recently discovered that this was not an anomaly. Women posing as men during the Civil War was far more common than I ever imagined.

There are about 400 documented cases of women who fought as men during the Civil War. Women covertly joined the ranks of both the North and the South. Today’s Campfire Chronicle is dedicated to all of those women. Since we can’t possibly cover 400 individual stories, I’ve settled on three of my favorites.

Sarah Malinda Pritchard/Samuel Blalock

CWBlalockWhen Sarah Malinda “Linda” Pritchard said, “…until death do us part,” to Keith Blalock, she meant it! Keith Blalock was a Union sympathizer, who joined the Confederate Army, in 1862, in an effort to avoid being conscripted. He joined a unit that would be sent to Virginia, with plans of defecting ASAP. When Blalock joined up, his bride was not ready to be parted. So, she gave herself an “Extreme Makeover, Civil War Edition.” Linda cut her hair, dressed in her husband’s clothes and enlisted as Confederate soldier, Samuel Blalock, the 20-yr-old brother of her husband. Yes, she became her own imaginary brother-in-law!

BlalockRather than being sent to Virginia, the couple ended up in Kinston, North Carolina. The “brothers” Blalock fought side by side, until the fateful night when Linda was shot in the shoulder. The jig was up! The surgeon discovered that Sammy Blalock, brother of Keith Blalock, was actually Linda Blalock, wife of Keith Blalock.

Keith was discharged after he rolled naked in poison ivy and convinced Army doctors that he had a recurring ailment, which might spread like wildfire rather than something that just needed some Calamine Lotion. He and Linda eventually joined the Union Army, as raiders throughout the Appalachian Mountains.

The couple, who incidentally, had been from families with a 150-year long feud between them, was not parted until 1903.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman/Lyons Wakeman

CWWakemanSarah Rosetta Wakeman’s early life reminds me an old song from “Hee Haw” because if it weren’t for bad luck, she’d have had no luck at all. She was the oldest of nine children. Her father was a dirt-poor farmer who had managed to dig himself into a big hole of debt. And, at the ripe old age of 19-yrs-old, no one was asking for Sarah’s hand in marriage (nor any other part of her, for that matter!) She needed to help out financially, but there were no fabulous career opportunities available to her.

Sarah didn’t let her poor qualifications and spinsterhood status stand in her way. She dressed as a man and signed up to work on a coal barge, traveling up and down the Chenango Canal. That’s when she ran into some Union recruiters, who were looking for a few good men. That was ironic because if Sarah had had a good man herself, she wouldn’t have been there, in the first place! She enlisted to serve with the 153rd New York Infantry Regiment, in August of 1862, under the name of Lyons Wakeman. She felt like a new man! That enlistment earned her $13 a month! Cha-ching!

CWWakeman2“Lyons” Wakeman served guard duty in Alexandria, Virginia and on Capitol Hill. In February of 1864, the 153rd was sent to Louisiana. The group was forced to march hundred of miles, deep into the Louisiana bayou. The food was bad and their drinking water would have made for some lively microscope slides. Men were holding their stomachs and dropping like flies. But Wakeman persevered.

In a letter home, Sarah wrote, “I don’t know how long before I shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part I don’t care. I don’t feel afraid to go.” That’s good because she went into battle at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana on April 9,1864. She fought valiantly with the men of her regiment. They managed to beat back the advancing Confederates six times before being forced to retreat down the Red River. They fought again at Monett’s Bluff, on April 23rd.CWWakeman1

A week and half later, Wakeman reported to the regimental hospital, suffering from diarrhea. I knew that drinking water was no good! She was transferred to a hospital in New Orleans, but there was nothing to be done for her. Private Lyons Wakeman died on June 19, 1864. She was buried under that name at Chalmette National Cemetery, near New Orleans. While hers is a sad tale, she was very happy with her decision to serve. She wrote to her family that she was as, “independent as a hog on the ice.”  That was a claim few women of the 1860s could make.

Jennie Hodgers/Albert Cashier

CWHodges2The story of Jennie Hodgers is hauntingly different from the other stories of women who fought in the Civil War. For starters, Jennie Hodgers was, at the very least, dressing as a man long before the Civil War. This illiterate Irish immigrant joined the 95th Illinois Infantry in August of 1862, using the name, Albert Cashier. She passed the medical examination because that only required showing their hands and feet. She had those, so she was in!

Cashier was captured while on a reconnaissance mission, at Vicksburg. Fortunately, Albert could run like the wind. The private grabbed a guard’s gun and didn’t stop running until she met up with her regiment. Albert Cashier’s name was inscribed on the Illinois victory monument at Vicksburg.CWHodges1

Following the war, Jennie Hodgers continued to live as Albert Cashier. As Cashier, he supplemented his veteran’s pension by working as a handyman, janitor, street lamplighter, and farm hand. This story might never have been known if not for the tragic end of Cashier’s life.

CWHodges3When dementia set in, Albert Cashier was sent to live in the Watertown State Hospital for the insane. Hospital staff had no understanding of, or sympathy for, gender identity issues. Albert Cashier was forced to wear the long skirts of the time. Tripping on a hem, Cashier broke a hip and was bedridden. For all intents and purposes, Jennie Hodgers had died long ago. Albert Cashier died on October 11, 1915.

To All the Girls Who Fought Before

Women of the Civil WarFolks, I wish our time around the campfire could continue for hours longer. I really want to tell you about Frances Clailin, the mother of three, who served as Union cavalryman, Jack Williams. And then there was Mary Scaberry, who served as Charles Freeman. An Army doctor discovered Mary’s identity and she was discharged for “sextual incompatibility.” Of all the incompatibilities a person can have, a “sextual” one sounds like the worst! Or what about nurse, Sarah Edmonds, who served as male nurse, Franklin Flint Thompson?

Oh, my heart! I want to tell all the stories! Alas, it’s time to snuff out the fire. But, before we go, could we please sing a rousing chorus of, “When Joanna Comes Marching Home Again”?

Here’s an interesting video I think you’ll enjoy, about the women of the Civil War by historian DeAnn Blanton.

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia