The Old West is full of true stories of bandits, shootouts, and lost treasures. Many people attempt to divide historical figures into heroes and villains, lawman and outlaws. In reality, most people are more complex than that, and few famous people from the Old West led blameless lives.
Wyatt Earp is often regarded as a heroic lawman. However, he spent only six years in law enforcement. He also worked as a gambler, buffalo hunter, stagecoach guard, and Teamster, among other jobs. He was arrested for stealing a horse, but he escaped from jail.
Like many famous Western figures, Wyatt Earp wound up in the famous town of Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton allied to find a group of cowboys who had robbed a stagecoach, but the alliance fell apart—possibly because the Clantons were involved in the robberies. This led to the famous shootout at the OK Corral and the deaths of Billy Clanton and the two McLaury brothers, known cattle rustlers. Soon after, Wyatt’s brother Virgil was seriously wounded in a shooting, and their brother Morgan was killed in a shootout. The attackers were unknown, but Wyatt and his gang killed several suspects. He fled town to avoid prosecution.
Many movies have been made featuring Wyatt Earp, most of them romanticizing his life. The truth is more complex.
A Deadly Killer
Curly Bill Brosius, on the other hand, was pure outlaw and a close friend of the Clantons. He was supposedly a crack shot who could hit running jackrabbits and shoot out candle flames without breaking the candles. His idea of a practical joke was to make a preacher dance during a sermon by shooting at his feet. He forced Mexicans at a community dance to take off their clothes and dance naked. He killed at least one man in a robbery, escaped from prison, and led a gang of rustlers in Arizona Territory.
In 1880, in Tombstone, Curly Bill killed popular Marshal Fred White. The Marshal was trying to take Bill’s gun and it went off, hitting White in the groin. Wyatt Earp then knocked Bill unconscious with his gun. White said he didn’t think Curly Bill was trying to kill him, but he died from his wound the next day. Curly Bill was also implicated in some revenge killings and at least one death during a bar fight. He was implicated in the murder of Morgan Earp, but without proof he wasn’t charged.
Violence in the Desert
Curly Bill also might have been involved in the Skeleton Canyon Massacre. Here history and legend get muddled. Some people claim that Mexican bandits looted Monterrey, Mexico, and escaped across the border with a treasure worth $75,000, or $2 million, or $8 million. Others claim there is no evidence of such a heist in Monterrey, and that it’s doubtful such a treasure ever existed in the first place.
Regardless, violence came to Skeleton Canyon, a shallow canyon in southeastern Arizona, not far from the Mexico border. An American gang ambushed a group of Mexicans—possibly the bandits, or else merely vaqueros (cowboys). One story says Curly Bill’s gang shot the Mexicans out of their saddles, which caused their mules to stampede. The bandits then shot the mules to keep them from running away with the treasure, but with the mules dead, the men had no way to transport the loot. Two men from the gang, Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds, hid the treasure somewhere in the canyon. When they were killed, the location of the hidden treasure was lost.
Curly Bill had been wounded six weeks before the Skeleton Canyon Massacre and was supposedly still recovering. Was he involved or not? Was the violence over a treasure that would be worth millions today, or merely over some cattle? The debates continue, and some people still hunt for the treasure.
What is most likely true, but is still challenged by some people, is that Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill in a shootout in 1882. Bill was in his thirties, which considering his lifestyle was a surprisingly long life.
Unsolved Mysteries took a look at the Skeleton Canyon Treasure.
Tombstone is now a popular place for tourists to visit.
History (and Legend) As Inspiration
My adventure novel, The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, was inspired by the legendary treasure. In the novel, set today, Camie and Ryan are hunting for Ryan’s uncle, who disappeared while hunting for the historical treasure. The clues take Camie, Ryan, and the feisty cat Tiger on a trail through the Southwest. Their quest takes them to historic sites such as Tombstone and eventually into the remote canyon, where danger awaits.
“The Skeleton Canyon Treasure is a light, breezy action/adventure/romance that’s perfect for summer reading.”
If you love suspense and romance, try this gripping adventure!
The Mad Monk’s Treasure is the first of the Southwest Treasure Hunters novels. The Dead Man’s Treasure is book 2 and The Skeleton Canyon Treasure is book 3. Each novel stands alone and is complete, with no cliffhangers. This series mixes action and adventure with light romance. The stories explore the Southwest, especially New Mexico.
The Mad Monk’s Treasure, “Smart romance with an ‘Indiana Jones’ feel,” is currently free at all e-book retailers.
What is your favorite historical era to read about or explore? Does visiting the real location today help you picture the past?
About the Author
Kris Bock lives in New Mexico, where she enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and watching the sunset from her patio. Her home office looks out on nature, complete with distracting wildlife such as roadrunners and foxes. Her BFA in photography is used mainly to show Facebook friends how lovely the Southwest is.
Kris writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town.
Fans of Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and Terry Odell will want to check out Kris Bock’s romantic adventures. “Counterfeits is the kind of romantic suspense novel I have enjoyed since I first read Mary Stewart’s Moonspinners.” 5 Stars – Roberta at Sensuous Reviews blog
Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page. Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.