Beneath that stone rest the mortal remains of Oliver G. Thornton, who never tried
a citizen’s arrest, who was not a rancher, who never tried to blackmail anyone,
and who was definitely murdered—but not by Will Carver.
I wasn’t always
a Western writer, though I’ve been a writer of one sort or another all my adult
life. Still, until you can all yourself an author—that means you make a living
writing and don’t have to do anything else—you have to have a job or eating gets
mighty slim. For a good portion of my adult life the job I held was that of law-enforcement
officer. At one point I was considered a fair to middlin’ detective. I’m going
to bring the two—writer and detective—together and piece together, if possible,
from remaining information and clues, what really happened at Planche Spring Farm,
seven miles north and a little west of Eden,
Concho County, Texas, on the morning of March 27, 1901.
start with what I know or have found out about Oliver G. Thornton. He was born
October 3, 1866, but I don’t know where. He married Mary J. ‘Mamie’ Steen in Concho
County on April 27, 1900. Mamie was a schoolteacher. Ollie himself is said to
have been a part-time teacher. He and Mamie had no children. The two lived on
a leased quarter-section. He also worked part-time for Ed Dozier, an ex-sheriff
of Concho County. The nature of Ollie’s employment with Dozier neither legend,
records, nor local memory recalls.
place in Concho County was located at or near Planche Spring, not over a mile
from the Thornton home. It, too, was a leased quarter-section. On it lived Edward
or Edgar Kilpatrick, his wife Etta, their sons Daniel Boone (known as D. B. or
Boone), George, Benjamin A., Felix, and Will and their daughters Ola and Alice.
In 1901 George was described as being 26, Ben
24. Boone was the oldest. Felix was a young married man in 1912, so he was 12
or 13. The two girls were younger than Felix and Will was an infant. The family
livelihood, earned mostly by Boone, was derived from farming and raising hogs
Sometime prior to March 27, 1901, Ben,
who had been riding with the Cassidy-Longabaugh bunch, came home to let the world
cool off. With him he brought two men. They were introduced in the neighborhood
as Bob McDonald and Charles Walker. Both men were described as 5’5” to 5’6”, 135
to 140 lbs, 35 to 40 years old. Walker was further described a having a heavy,
dark-brown moustache and a bald or balding head. No further description was given
of McDonald, so I’ll assume he was clean-shaven and had most of his hair on the
grounds that had he looked like a cueball or Santa Claus somebody would have mentioned
Please note there is no mention anywhere of an extra woman. The only
known females at Planche Spring were Etta Kilpatrick and her two daughters, all
well known in the area. If Laura Bullion came to Concho County she didn’t impress
anyone enough to mention the fact. Laura Bullion was a woman who would have left
an impression on Concho County in 1901. Concho County has been home to some mighty
rugged men from both sides of the law—besides Ben
Kilpatrick, it claims Earl Rudder, who as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1944 led
a battalion of Rangers up the Pointe du Hoc cliffs on D-Day, and General
Ira Eaker, who commanded the 8th Air Force in Britain during WW
II—but it’s never been noted for glamorous female outlaws.
as I can tell things weren’t very exciting in the little box house at Planche
Spring on the morning of March 27. Boone and Mamma Etta were at a sheep camp several
miles away. Ed, George, Ben,
Felix, baby Will, the two strangers, and the girls were at home. Evidence seen
later indicated that at least some of them were playing croquet in the yard, but
it’s not known for certain who was in the game. Nobody was forted up and looking
for war. The place wasn’t bristling with Winchester barrels. In other words, nobody
was looking for anything unusual to happen.
around 9:30 that morning Ollie Thornton went for a walk in the direction of the
Kilpatrick place. Why he did I don’t know for sure, but I can make an educated
guess. I also don’t know for sure why he was carrying a .22 rifle, but I can make
an educated guess on that, as well.
that there aren’t all sorts of accounts. He was going over to protest to Boone
about laying proprietary hands on hogs belonging to Ed Dozier. He was going over
to make a citizen’s arrest of a houseful of hardcases (the schoolteacher with
his .22 was going to do this!). He was going over to blackmail the outlaws out
of a thousand bucks. There are probably a dozen more.
None of them make
much sense. If Ed Dozier wanted to say something to Boone about the hogs, Boone
wasn’t hard to find and there’s no suggestion, locally, that he was a violent
man. Ollie Thornton was pushing 35—certainly at an age of discretion. Even a 1901
schoolteacher had—or should have had—better sense than to try and brace four outlaws,
three of whom (Ben
and the strangers) might well be killers, with a .22. Sure, there are people that
dumb, but most of them don’t live to see 30, let alone 34.
Was he snooping
on behalf of his ex-sheriff boss? Depends on how expendable Ed Dozier considered
him. He certainly had no qualifications as a snooper, and there’s no suggestion,
locally, that Ed made up to Mamie after Ollie was killed.
Let’s look at
another possibility. It was pretty much an open secret in Concho County that Ben
was a badman. There was no particular mystery about the fact that he was home
with a couple of strangers who were probably as well-wanted as he was. Texas,
in the 19th and early 20th centuries, had a way of dealing with that—“You don’t
foul the nest, we don’t make trouble.” Ben
and his pals kept their noses clean in and around Concho County. No saddle horses
turned up missing. No banks or stores got robbed. Local law didn’t worry too much
about the fact that some Yankee bankers and the Pinkertons were after the boys.
Texas was Rebel to the core and would remain so for
years. Very few people in Texas had any love for
Yankee bankers or Pinkertons.
There is a deep human urge which can best
be described as the yen to stick one’s nose in where it doesn’t really belong
in order to see something one can tell one’s grandchildren about. Ollie Thornton
wasn’t a particularly prominent person. He wouldn’t be able to bounce grandchildren
on his knee and tell them about the cattle empire he built—but he could, if he
went sneaking through the brush, tell his grandchildren about the time he actually
Kilpatrick, the notorious outlaw, in the flesh. If you think that’s not a
natural human urge, try passing an accident scene on the highway without slowing
down to look.
around 10 AM Thornton approached the house from beyond the hogpen, going—as Eden
lawyer John Harrod expressed it to me—“from agarita-berry bush to agarita-berry
bush,” trying to sneak a peek at the outlaws. When he reached a point about 50
yards from the house, pretty much alongside the hogpen, a single shot was fired.
Oliver G. Thornton, aged 34 years, 5 months, and 23 days, would never get any
older. He’d also never see the first wedding anniversary he and Mamie had coming
up in exactly one month.
Simultaneously, the Kilpatricks had a problem
on their hands. Ben
was enthusiastically wanted by a number of folks including the Pinks for his participation
in various felonies. ‘McDonald’ and ‘Walker’ were aliases for men traveling with
a known felon and fugitive. What are the odds they, too, were fugitives, so well
known that their real names would be instantly recognizable? George Kilpatrick
may not have been as enthusiastically wanted as his younger brother, but there’s
little question some law somewhere wanted to discuss more than shoes, ships, and
sealing wax with him.
A dead man, particularly a local man who would be
quickly missed, about whom questions would be asked immediately—most particularly
a man nobody had any reason to consider other than harmless—was the last thing
the Kilpatricks wanted or needed on their place. That’s why the Kilpatricks—and
anyone else with an iota of common sense—can be considered innocent of the actual
shooting of Oliver Thornton, though certainly not innocent of the aftermath. The
suggestion one writer made—that George Kilpatrick killed Thornton as a sort of
initiation into big-time outlawry—is patently absurd. Above all, you didn’t foul
the nest. There was—and is—nothing so dear to a fugitive as a safe home base.
The Planche Spring place was the only thing in that line available to George,
‘Walker,’ and ‘McDonald.’ Anyone who wasn’t a mad-dog killer certainly should
have had better sense than to plug a local boy.
impossible to fix either a timetable or a proper sequence to what happened over
the next 8 hours or so, but certain things happened. These are those things, in
no particular order.
The girls were sent to the sheep camp to be with
Boone and their mother. I know this because they first claimed to have been at
the sheep camp all along and to know nothing about the shooting. In later years
at least Ola admitted to having been at the house, but claimed not to know who
fired the shot other than it wasn’t one of her brothers. Ed, Felix, and Will remained
at the house. George, Ben,
‘Walker,’ and ‘McDonald’ saddled up and made tracks. It’s known for sure that
George and ‘McDonald’ went southwest because of what happened later. Several folks
and ‘Walker’ went with them. However, there’s very strong circumstantial evidence
to tell us that one party, probably Ben
and his companion, went north first, and no good reason to believe they’d sacrifice
a 30 mile ride to the north and a two-day head start to swing back to the south.
about dark, when Ollie didn’t show up for supper, Mamie went looking for him.
She and her little dog headed toward the Kilpatrick place, which tells us she
had an idea where he’d gone. It’s highly unlikely, given the state of male-female
relationships in the era, that had Ollie gone over to do something stupid like
try to blackmail the outlaws or make a citizen’s arrest, or even to snoop on them
for the law, he’d have told Mamie what he was up to. Women, in 1901, were not
even supposed to know things like that went on, much less know where and when
Mamie got to the Kilpatrick place a little after dark,
and—being nearsighted—missed the body twice. She wasn’t, after all, looking for
a corpse. Her little dog found Ollie next to the hogpen, his .22 alongside him.
That .22 has caused a lot of fiction. Yes, Oliver Thornton was armed. He had a
.22. Nobody but a would-be suicide goes out to brace possible killers with a .22,
and Ollie had a lot to live for. Yes, it’s possible he got overconfident and popped
off to a pack of wolves—such things do happen, but they don’t happen often. In
reconstructing what happened I think I can ignore that possibility as entirely
What’s a .22 good for? If you and your wife are living
on her 1901 schoolmarm’s salary and what you can pick up at odd jobs, a .22’s
a right handy piece of household equipment. It puts meat in the pot—rabbits, squirrels,
and the like—and that saves grocery money. Ollie Thornton didn’t carry the gun
because he wanted to shoot somebody with it or even for self-defense. He carried
it for the same reason country people keep a .22 in the pickup today—it’s right
handy for putting a rabbit in the stewpot. In all probability he never thought
of what his appearance at the Kilpatrick place, rifle in hand, would cause a wanted
outlaw to think. He’d never been around wanted outlaws.
get Ollie home in the dark, and the Kilpatricks were very little help. She had
to find her way home, crying her eyes out.
sunup the next morning Mamie went to Paint
Rock and reported the murder. I don’t know what time she arrived, but I know
that Sheriff Jim Howze and his deputy, together with John Waide, the local barber
who filled in as an undertaker when one was needed, didn’t get to the scene until
nearly dark on the 28th. I can speculate, based on known facts and what’s known
about how rural communities operate even today, on what happened.
nearly 14 miles from Planche Spring to Paint
Rock. In all likelihood Ollie and Mamie had only one horse, a plow plug that
doubled on the buggy on Saturday and Sunday. At first light—she probably didn’t
sleep much that night—Mamie went out and caught up the horse. That took anywhere
from ten minutes to half an hour or so, depending on the horse’s mood that morning.
She had to hitch him to the rig, something Ollie usually did and she didn’t know
how to do very well. That probably took the better part of an hour. The 14 miles
took another 3 to 4 hours, considering the state of most rural roads in West
Texas in 1901. I’ll let her arrive in Paint
Rock about noon.
She went directly to the courthouse
and reported the killing to Jim Howze. The first thing he did, of course, was
pick up the telephone to call the central operator in Ballinger
and get the word out. Unfortunately, someone else had also thought about the telephone.
The line had been cut twice, once in the Malloy pasture not far south of the Kilpatrick
place, and again north of town. Paint
Rock was cut off from any outside communication any faster than a horse could
carry a man. The only telephone line in Concho County came south from Ballinger,
through Paint Rock, and
on to Eden. It might
have been the first year of the 20th century, but Jim Howze was back to 1870 as
far as communication went.
He did what any good lawman would do under the
circumstances. He found two trustworthy men with fast horses and sent one north,
the other south, to spread the word of the murder together with the names and
descriptions Mamie was busy giving to his deputy and the county clerk. They were
told to ride the telephone line and spot the breaks so the line could be repaired.
Then he had to go hunt up John Waide, get him to shut down the barber shop, and
find a wagon and team to bring the body back. Then he had to find someone dependable
to hold down the sheriff’s office while he and his deputy were gone. Once everything
else was gathered, he had to find someone to look after Mamie. All this took time,
and—coupled with another 3 or 4 hours back to Planche Spring in the wagon—it took
all day. The sheriff and his party didn’t arrive at the Kilpatrick place until
nearly dark on the 28th.
the law finally did get there, the only people on hand were Ed, Felix, and Will.
The little boy was in the house, asleep. Mamma Etta, the girls, and Boone were
at the sheep camp. George, Ben,
and the two strangers had taken to the brush.
Ed Kilpatrick was questioned
by the law. He told Jim Howze that Thornton came prowling around with a rifle
in his hand, Charles Walker saw him, and shot him on the assumption that he was
law or snooping for the law. That’s probably as close to the truth as ever came
out. The San Angelo Standard embroidered it considerably, reporting that
Thorton came, rifle in hand, to the Kilpatrick place and accused the Kilpatricks
of causing damage to Ed Dozier’s land by allowing their hogs to run on it. He
then threw down (with his .22) on at least three heavily armed men. Walker shot
him, he tried to run, and Walker shot him again. Other accounts have him shot
three or four times, all but once in the back.
Waide, in his capacity as make-do undertaker, washed, shaved, and dressed the
body. In an interview with John Eaton of Sonora
in 1963, the year before Waide died, he said there was only one wound in the body,
in the chest, from the front. Since Mr. Waide said ‘one wound’ very specifically
and did not mention an exit wound in the back, I’ll proceed from this point on
the assumption that the weapon used in the murder, while of sufficient power to
kill a man with a single shot to the chest at 50 yards, was of a nature that the
bullet could not be expected to penetrate a human body completely at that range.
phone lines were spliced and the word went out. The only description of McDonald
was the one we already have, but Walker was described as ‘a shade shorter’ than
McDonald. McDonald’s horse was not described. Walker was described as previously
mentioned, and was said to be riding a dun horse branded ‘b’ on the left shoulder
and jaw. Ben
was described as 24, 6’ tall (other descriptions have him as much as 6’6”) 180
to 200 lbs, dark complected and dark haired, wearing a ¾” beard, riding a big,
unbranded bay gelding. George was described as 26, the same height and weight
light complected with sandy hair, riding a brown or dark bay horse branded EL
on the shoulder.
the evening of Tuesday, April 1, 1901, two hard-looking men entered the Castillo
store at the southwest corner of Plum Street and Tom Green Avenue in Sonora,
the county seat of Sutton County, about 70 miles west by south of Eden.
They bought baking powder and flour. They asked about grain for their horses,
and Victor Castillo, who was a child in his father’s store at the time, told John
Eaton that the men were more concerned about getting some fresh chewing tobacco
than about horse feed. His dad didn’t have any eatin’ tobacker on hand. Some accounts
put two more men in the darkness outside, who split off and went west while the
other two rode north into town, but a cut phone line between Paint
Rock and Ballinger argues
heavily against them being Ben
and ‘Charles Walker.’
two men left the Castillo store and made at least one more stop in search of horse
feed and chaw. Finally they rode directly down Main Street from the courthouse
to Concho Avenue, turned west on Concho, and stopped at the Ogden store on the
north side of the street, just half a block west of Main. Their progress was not
Some weeks earlier several men, well dressed and driving a
buggy with rubber tires, had been in Sutton County claiming to be horse buyers
from Fort Worth. When word got
out of the Thornton murder and descriptions of the suspects followed—they got
out of Ballinger by phone on
the 28th—Sutton County lawmen immediately noted that the descriptions fit the
‘rubber-tired buggy men.’ Word went out to the citizens to be on the lookout.
Boosie Sharp, brother of Sutton County Deputy Sheriff Henry Sharp, spotted the
strangers and recognized them as two of the ‘rubber-tired buggy men’ the sheriff
was looking for. He contacted his brother.
Sharp went to his boss, Sheriff Elijah S. ‘Lige’ Briant, at his drugstore barely
two blocks away on Main. Briant summoned Deputy J. L. Davis and Constable W. D.
Thomason. All four officers armed themselves with sixshooters and proceeded to
the Ogden store, where someone—later said to be Boosie Sharp, though Boosie, being
unarmed, stayed behind—struck a match to examine the brands on the horses. The
flare of the match should have alerted the men inside, but apparently it didn’t.
The four officers stepped into the store and ordered the two men bending over
grain sacks to put up their hands.
Somebody moved wrong, but who moved
first and wrongest remains speculative. Some sources say the tall man made a fumbling
grab for his pistol, others say the shorter man made a first-rate snatch at his
but wasn’t fast enough to beat the drop. Lige Briant had recently recovered from
being seriously wounded by a felon during an arrest and was in no mood to take
chances. All four officers emptied their guns.
The shorter man was hit
six times, once in the right chest, the bullet lodging next to his spine, twice
each in the right arm and leg, and once in the temple. The tall man was hit solidly
once in the left chest, the bullet exiting behind his left shoulder, and grazed
or skinned four times, twice on the left arm, once on the left knee, and once
when a bullet struck his skull at an extreme angle, penetrating skin but not bone,
and traveled between skin and skull. It finally lodged above his ear, from where
it was removed when a doctor slit the skin and allowed it to pop out. The wounds
of both were considered mortal.
Depending on whether the sixshooters were
loaded five beans in the wheel or six around, a total of from 20 to 24 shots were
fired at a range of no more than 10 feet. Since there were only 11 hits, there
were 9 or 13 clean misses. This sounds like some pretty poor shooting, but it
likely wasn’t. If the room was lit with an oil lamp or gaslight rather than electricity,
the concussion of the first shot blew the flame out, leaving everybody in the
dark. Even if it was lit with electricity, the officers were likely loaded with
black powder or Lesmok, a mixture of black and ‘smokeless’ powder widely used
at the time since it didn’t overpressure weapons not proofed for smokeless powder.
In either case, the first 3 or 4 shots put so much smoke in the room that the
officers were simply firing into the cloud.
two presumed outlaws were taken to the Sutton County jail, where they were given
opium to ease their pain. The short man began to rave, shouting “Shell ‘em, boys,
shell ‘em,” “You’ll stick by me, old pal,” and several other things, but naming
no names. When the raving finally stopped, he was asked his own name. He first
said it was ‘Off,’ but later said he was “one of the Carver boys—Will Carver.”
He was later identified as Will Carver, who had cowboyed on the ‘Sixes’ ranch
of Stilson, Cave, Tharpe, Ryburn, & Co. in Irion and Sutton Counties between 1889
and the winter layoff of ’91. Ben Binyon of Sonora,
who had known him well then, made the identification. He acknowledged knowing
Binyon and admitted his own identity to his old acquaintance. Lee Aldwell, who
had also known him, identified him and commented that he had been highly regarded
and had many friends. Several other ex-‘Sixes’ cowboys also identified Carver.
George Kilpatrick admitted his own identity. He claimed to know the man as ‘Bill,’
and said he had only known him a few weeks. George claimed he hadn’t been at the
house when the shooting took place—if he’d said he was he would have put his head
in a noose—but that he’d heard Bob McDonald did it. Carver was not McDonald. McDonald
was a little shorter, with a big dark moustache and a balding head.
probably isn’t a contradiction. Carver and ‘Walker’ would have used their own
first names at the farm, with the aliases being reserved for nosey-parkers. George
had a slug through his chest and a pretty nasty headache from the slug that hit
his head. He can probably be excused for being unsure who was ‘McDonald’ and who
Carver, who’d ridden away from the ‘Sixes’ back in ’91, telling his pals “Next
time you see me I’ll be wearing diamonds or a pine box,” died in the Sutton County
jail on April 2, 1901. His belongings were inventoried: one Colt .45 caliber revolver,
‘silver’ plated (probably nickel) with ivory grips, serial #20916; one Smith &
Wesson hammerless revolver, caliber .38 (probably the S&W ‘lemonsqueezer’ in .38
S&W), one gold Elgin watch, one compass in a silver case, one diamond ring (it
later auctioned for $200, so it wasn’t small), one thin gold band ring very like
a woman’s wedding ring, which it probably was, $45 in currency, and a cartridge
belt containing both .45 Colt cartridges and a quantity of ‘.30 US Army’ cartridges
with full metal jacketed bullets. In 1901 that would have been the .30-40 Krag
round. There was also a photo of a young woman, later identified as the niece
of the late Vivian or Viana Byler of Tom Green County. Carver’s horse was an unbranded
sorrel with a light, cheap, new saddle. There was no rifle on the saddle.
marriage of William R. Carver and ‘Vivian’ Byler was registered at the Tom
Green County Courthouse on February 10, 1892. The records of Sherwood Cemetery
in Tom Green County list the burial of ‘Viana E.’ Byler, born July 24, 1874, died
July 22, 1892. Local gossip holds she died in childbirth. Grocery store arithmetic
tells us Viana was two days short of her 18th birthday, and—if Vivian and Viana
E. were the same person--she and Carver had been married five months and twelve
days. Draw your own conclusions.
Carver is buried in the Sonora Cemetery, where he rests today under a small stone
bearing the date April 2, 1901, and no name. There are several stories about how
the stone came to be—and, of course, several which say “It ain’t Will, it’s gotta
be somebody else, ‘cause I done seen Will down in Mexico in ’12 an’ he looked
plumb healthy to me,” but they do not bear on the Thornton murder case.
April 3 Mamie swore out a warrant charging Ed and George Kilpatrick as accessories
in the murder of her husband, Oliver G. Thornton, by Bob McDonald and Charles
Walker. Ed and George both immediately claimed they were nowhere around when it
happened and sued for habeas corpus. Ed then changed his story. It was not Walker
who shot Thornton, it was McDonald. McDonald was the man killed in Sonora.
George held out a couple of days and then joined the chorus. Carver wasn’t McDonald,
he was Walker, or maybe he was McDonald after all, but whatever, he’d shaved his
moustache, he’s the one who shot Thornton, he did it all on his own, none of the
Kilpatricks or anyone else had anything to do with it.
Why the sudden change? How did Will Carver, who had never been known to wear a
moustache and had a full head of hair, suddenly become the moustachioed, balding
feller who nailed Ollie? Pretty simple, really. Will was dead. No matter how many
murders get blamed on a dead man, the law can’t hang him. The bald, moustachioed
man wasn’t dead yet. He could be hanged if caught and convicted—unless the murder
was blamed on a dead man. Will Carver as the man who shot Ollie Thornton went
into the records.
Will shoot him? Carver’d killed his man, no doubt of that. Still, is there anything
known, from legend, rumor, history, or Pinkerton files (which are often made up
largely of the first two, with a little out-and-out fiction thrown in) that would
lead one to believe the formerly well-liked, happy-go-lucky cowboy would shoot
an unsuspecting man in cold blood? Ollie Thornton was shot once, in the chest,
from in front. He obviously wasn’t running or dodging, so he was either shot from
ambush or it happened almighty fast.
If Will did shoot Thornton, what
did he shoot him with? He didn’t have a rifle with him when he was killed, but
he did have rifle cartridges in his belt. Those cartridges were high-velocity,
full-metal-jacketed-bullet 30-40 Krag loads. In the US only three weapons were
factory-chambered for .30-40. They were the Army’s bolt-action rifle, a Winchester
high-wall single-shot with a very heavy, round barrel, for long-range target shooting—and
the Winchester Model 1895 rifle and carbine. Carver is known to have had—and used,
in a New Mexico shootout with the law—a Winchester M1895.
.30-40 had a muzzle velocity of over 2,000 fps. A full metal jacketed bullet at
that velocity would not only penetrate a human body, it would penetrate several
and retain enough energy to do damage on exiting about the fourth. At 50 yards
it might not penetrate four men, but it would certainly penetrate one and go whanging
off through the trees afterwards. John Waide said “One wound, in the chest.” He
said nothing about an exit wound
Smith & Wesson? The .38 S&W is an accurate little load, but neither long-ranged
nor powerful. A good many pocket revolvers chambered for it were also equipped
with switchblade ‘bayonets’ under the barrels in case the five or six rounds in
the cylinder didn’t do the job. Besides, the one taken off Will was a hammerless
double-action. Unless Will mastered two-stage double-action shooting—which wasn’t
developed until well into the 20th century—he probably couldn’t have hit a man-sized
target with the thing at more than about 20 yards.
The Colt? Well, maybe—but
just barely maybe. Will’s Colt was a black powder model. Colts weren’t proofed
for smokeless powder until after serial #196,000. Will probably shot black powder
loads in it. Off-the-shelf black powder ammo for the .45 Colt wasn’t noted for
pinpoint accuracy—and neither was the thumbuster Colt. Besides, Will’s gun was
bright plated. The sights on a Colt single-action are nothing to write home about
in any case, and when you plate them with bright metal it doesn’t make them any
easier to use.
I’m considered a better than average pistol shot. I shot,
when I was shooting competitively, in the mid-700s on the 900-point NRA leg match,
using a GI-issue M1911A1 automatic pistol, which has sights even less useful than
those on a single-action. I can hit a man-sized target consistently at
either 50 or 75 yards with any pistol I own, including a single-action Colt. I
own two bright-plated pistols, both Smith & Wessons, in .38 Special and .44 Special.
Both have the old ‘notch and half moon’ sights out of the 1920s. Yes, I could
hit a man-sized target with either at 50 yards—but note the emphasis on target.
Man-sized silhouette targets are dead black and they don’t move. The bright-plated
sights on either gun will show up clearly against the dead–black surface of a
silhouette target. That is, if it’s cloudy. If the sun is shining on the gun all
you see is a ball of glare. Yes, an expert pistol shot, under ideal conditions,
could have shot Ollie Thornton at 50 yards with a pistol like Will’s—but he would
have been an idiot to try it.
Oliver Thornton wasn’t shot with any of the weapons Will Carver had on him or
had ammo for when he died. Did he swap guns? With whom and where? It’s far more
likely that ‘Charles Walker,’ the moustachioed gent with the chrome dome, found
a Winchester rifle or carbine in .44-40 caliber and nailed Ollie with that. Winchester
‘73s and ‘92’s were about as common as fleas on a dog in West
Texas in the late 19th century and up to the mid-20th century, and the .44
WCF round—the .44-40—was by far the most common caliber.
load, in a rifle or carbine, is dead accurate at 50 yards, but it isn’t powerful
as we think of power today. It would knock a man flat and kill him at 50 or even
100 yards, but it would be unlikely to penetrate a human body fully at either
range. The 200-grain flat-nosed bullet that gave it the knockdown power was not
designed to go completely through a living target, it was designed to get inside
and do damage.
nothing about Will Carver save for height, weight, and age agrees with the description
of Charles Walker given by Ed Kilpatrick before Will was killed. We know why it
was laid on Will—you can’t hang a dead man—but who was, in fact, this mysterious
Charles Walker. Did he really exist, or was he, as Jim Howze was later to suggest,
a look at the famous N. H. Rose photo of the Wild Bunch, the one taken in Fort
Worth late in 1900. In the front row, seated on the left as you see the picture,
there’s a short, sort of rat-faced fellow with a light moustache, who looks very
little like Robert Redford. That’s Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid. In the
middle we find the clean-shaven face of Ben
‘Blackie’ Kilpatrick, The Tall Texan. On the right there’s a square-jawed
man who looks more like Brian Donlevy than Paul Newman—Robert Leroy Parker alias
Now look at the standing men. On the left, between Sundance
there’s Will Carver himself. He’s cleanshaven, he’s got about a half-grin on his
face, and that hard hat is tipped at a gotohell angle. His fancy watch chain is
across his belly, and his left hand, resting on Ben’s
shoulder, has the little finger slightly separated and elevated so you can’t miss
the diamond ring on it. He told ‘em he’d be wearing diamonds.
at the man on the right, standing between Ben
and Butch. He’s got his hard hat pushed back and you can see a tuft of hair over
his forehead, but his temples are bare. This man’s going bald. He’s got a heavy,
dark moustache and he’s slightly shorter than Will. Does the description ring
a bell? It should, because it fits ‘Charles Walker’ to a T. That’s Harvey Logan,
AKA Kid Curry. He had a reputation as a man who enjoyed killing. The Pinkerton
files say he “has no redeeming characteristics.”
is no direct, eyewitness evidence from someone who knew Harvey Logan and was at
Planche Spring at the time of the Thornton murder to put Kid Curry on the scene.
However, as Henry David Thoreau was wont to write, there are times when circumstantial
evidence is very strong—such as when you find a trout in the milk. Kid Curry was
a wanton killer, we know that to be a fact. He was also a dead shot. He was known
to be jumpy—just the sort who’d shoot a rubbernecking neighbor on the off chance
he was eyeballing for the law. The description given of ‘Charles Walker,’ the
killer of Oliver Thornton, before Will Carver was killed, fits Harvey Logan to
a T. None of the circumstantial evidence surrounding the death of Oliver G. Thornton
points in Will Carver’s direction. Who killed Ollie Thornton? We need to take
this one off Will Carver’s shoulders and add one more to Kid Curry’s score.
C. F. Eckhardt
April 16, 2012
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
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