I recently began compiling some of what I’ve written into a series of books. Now, much of this is historical (as In happening before 1910) especially the series titled The Bad Guys of the San Luis Valley.
Now I have to admit there’s a big difference between writing a simple blog post and a book. The book implies a lot more research.
And here’s where you start running into problems. You find yourself asking one simple question.
How much of is it true?
An example is a woman I’ve spoken about at some length called Poker Alice. While we know she really existed, and we now some of what she did, we still ask how much of it is true.
For instance, one story I read online says she’d been invited by Wild Bill Hickok, famed gambler and gunfighter, to play cards on August 2, 1876. She had to beg off since she’d already committed to another game. Hours later, she hears Hickok had been shot and killed, and she rushes over and see’s him dead on the floor, Allegedly, she is supposed to have said, “Poor, Wild Bill,” and then noted he’d been sitting where she would have sat.
It’s a good story.
Problem is, can we place her in Deadwood, South Dakota on that date? Looking a the time line of her life, I doesn’t make sense and it might have been just a story. And she never seemed to have repeated it.
Did some reporter find out she lived in Deadwood, and knew Hickok died in Deadwood. They knew both Alice and Hickok were gamblers. Did they take all this together, add two and two and come up with five because it sounded better?
You read some of the articles and it makes you wonder if they did any fact checking.
But there’s also some real fun involved with it.
During my research, I discovered Alice had gambled in both Del Norte and Alamosa, Colorado. I lived in Del Norte, and the Windsor Hotel used to have gambling. I was a police officer in Alamosa, and one of the places she probably gambled at was the Victoria Hotel. In it’s prime, it was a really nice place and of course had a gambling hall.
When I knew it, the place was a dump and was my battlefield. It was the scene of bloody fights and a few homicides.
It’s the same with “The Bloody Espinosa” brothers of San Rafael, Colorado. Some say one thing, some say others. Some say it was vengeance for injustices suffered at the hands of the Anglos. Others that relatives had been killed during the Mexican-American war and it drove Felipe crazy. Others that a vision sent by God commanded him to do what they did.
I have to settle for an account allegedly written by Felipe Espinosa himself. If it was indeed written by him, it clearly points at vengeance. It also shows us the inner workings of a mind overcome with hate.
But since I haven’t seen the alleged journal, the question becomes is did it exist, where is it, and does it really say that? And if it is true, then there’s bodies out there that have never been found.
Also, some of the records might simply not exist anymore, or never did.
Marriages, births, and even deaths were simply recorded in a ledger of a church or such. Buildings burn down. Paperwork is tossed in the trash, and there you go. An important link is gone.
A problem I’ve run into is when investigating crimes that happened in the past.
I want to see the police reports. My mind as a trained and experienced detective in the 20th and 21st century has different standards than the 19th century had. Today, I’d sketch the crime scene, photograph it, and even video it. I’d want it so well done that years from now, the crime scene could be rebuilt to within inches of how it looked.
No such practices existed back then. What we end up with, if at all, would be sketchy at best. The entire scene may be based on the recollection of the people who witnessed it.
So what’s wrong with that?
Here’s a simple experiment to show what I’m talking about. Show a picture of a someone to three different people. Then take it away, and then have them describe what they saw. All three will have seen something different.
We do this because we’re all different, and we filter the world through our eyes, minds, and imaginations. This is caused because of our upbringing, education, and so on. That shapes how we view things.
And that includes anything from years gone by. It’s difficult to view events from a hundred years ago through the lens of today.
What I find myself doing is investigating cold cases on steroids. The crime scene no longer exists. Witnesses are dead, and if I’m lucky, I’ve a court record to read. Often times I find myself with more questions than I started with.
Last but not least is the people who did talk about some of what they did. We’re all guilty of this. Memories fade, and we also tend to forget the bad parts of our lives and fill in the gaps. It’s part of being human.
And some people might out and out lie. I’ve been reading Liz Duckworth’s book on Poker Alice, and in it, Alice worked for a famous bad guy, Bob Ford. Yes, the same Bob Ford who history records as having killed famed outlaw Jessie James. and we know this to be true. In it, she cites an interview Alice gave that states Bob told her that he didn’t shoot Jessie. He told her his brother Charlie killed him.
I see no reason to doubt Alice, but Bob claimed he had shot Jessie to the authorities. Why would he recant the story later?
Did he lie to begin with, maybe wanting to be sure to get the bounty on Jessie?
Or did he realize his fame was putting him in harms way? If so, why didn’t he go public with it?
Or maybe since Alice was an attractive woman, it was part of some seduction act?
We don’t know, but Alice seems to have believed him.
I will be digging as deep as I can, but I suspect in at least in some cases, I’m going to run into something said in the movie, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.” It goes, “When faced with printing the truth or the legend; print the legend.”
The truth is out there.
But it might be lost forever with the men and women who knew it, and the Almighty who witnessed it.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like my blog and stories, check out my novels available on Amazon. I have two out right now, The Cross and the Badge, and Against Flesh and Blood. A third novel, The Judas Tree will be coming out soon. Click on the novel names, or the pictures of the covers above to be taken straight to them.
As always, thanks for dropping by and for your support. God Bless.