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In The Zone . .Emotional Chaos . ..Number 9. . .September 11


Emotional Chaos
Weekly Column by Brian Codagnone

November 6, 2003


The Old West was full of larger than life characters: Buffalo Bill Cody, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok, Belle Starr, Jesse James, Billy the Kid. Everyone knows the story of the OK Corral, how the Earps and Doc Holliday faced off against the Clantons and some other guys, how Pat Garrett shot Billy The Kid, how Cool Hand Luke ate fifty eggs... oh, wait, that was a movie. But Paul Newman and George Kennedy were in it, and they made a lot of westerns. And let's not forget about Strother Martin. Anyway, the lore of the West has fascinated us for a hundred years and spawned a hundred tales (give or take. The lawyers made us put that in).

One of the most notorious gunmen of the Old West was "Angry Bill" Boskovitch. Boskovitch gave his favorite pastime as "shootin' folks". It must have been a hobby he enjoyed immensely, as by the time of his death he had killed 4,274 men, women and children (he liked killing animals, too, but no one kept an accurate count). One reason for this astonishingly high body count is that towards the end of his life, as his reputation grew, it became a great honor to be shot by Angry Bill. Wherever he went, people would come from miles around to provoke him to violence. "Nyah, nyah, barrel-eyes, can't hit the side of a barn!", they would taunt. While this almost always resulted in a fatal shooting, it did insure a sort of immortality and gave one's family something to brag about.

Perhaps the most vicious killer in the West was Wilfred Skagg. Skagg showed a mean streak from an early age. Angered by being named "Wilfred", he shot his parents at age 4 and went on a killing spree that even Billy the Kid called "an inspiration". Having read that John Wesley Hardin once "shot a man just for snoring", Skagg outdid him by shooting a man just for adhering to Hegel's philosophy of Phenomenology of Mind. "The ultimate truth of the universal is self-conscious of itself as absolute spirit, my eye!", he sneered, standing over the man's twitching corpse. Not content with killing those who differed with him philosophically, Skagg killed people for all sorts of reasons: wearing spurs that jingle jangle jingle, eating hominy out of season, having been born in Wisconsin and using the word "varmint" in a Scrabble game. He met his demise as he had lived, violently. He was playing poker in a saloon when a crazed Lithuanian, mistaking him for Archduke Franz Josef Habsburgh, stabbed him repeatedly with a salad fork. The hand he was holding, five deuces, became known as "a bunch of cards with blood all over them".

Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok weren't the only famous lawmen who sometimes trod both sides of justice. A famous gunslinger turned lawman turned gunslinger turned lawman turned nun turned gunslinger was Alonzo Pepper. Pepper, besides having serious identity issues, knew that the best way to enforce the law was to think like an outlaw. He did this so well that he frequently robbed banks "just for research", although he always kept the money. During his last period of lawlessness he teamed up with the notorious Blanche Terwilliger, aka "Dance Hall Minnie". The two of them cut a swath across New Mexico until they realized they'd left the gas on and went back. Returning to their swath, they were ambushed by "Waco Jack" Dullard, the sheriff of Taos. His deed was immortalized in the "Ballad of Dullard", although the ballad took several liberties with the facts (for example, Dullard claims he shot Alonzo and Minnie while they were robbing the Tucson stage. Actually, they were sleeping). Dullard later became governor of California.

Blanche Terwilliger wasn't as famous as Belle Starr or Calamity Jane, but she was much more famous than Saluda Montez, aka "Mexican Kate". No one knew why Mexican Kate was notorious; historians think it was an effective PR campaign. A more well documented Lady of the West was Etta Winchester, aka "Morey Amsterdam". Etta began her career as a dance hall girl, worked her way up to madam but, hitting the prostitution glass ceiling, turned to a life of crime. She was hanged in Tombstone on August 8, 1899, the last woman hanged there since the previous Thursday.

Many a tome has been written about the Old West. Why does it fascinate us so, even to this day? Is it a longing for a bygone era when a man lived by his wits and his word? The freedom, the pioneer spirit, the total lack of personal hygiene and respect for human life? Hegel said it best: "These people are crazy!"

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Surf Our Site

Home ... Misfits . Rafferty .. . S1019 .. . Star Crossed....
. .
Ginger & Shadow. ..Writer's Block.. ..Cool Links . ..More Cool Links .
Oddities ..Link To Us... Guest Comics . Online Store..
In The Zone. ..Number 9. . .September 11