Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bigfoot vs. Bigfoot: Biggest Bout of the 19th century! Or…The Four Deaths of Chief Bigfoot by Ben Friberg

“Have you heard of Bigfoot Wallace?”

So begins Howard’s rip snorting bio of William Alexander Anderson Wallace, aka “Bigfoot” Wallace, legendary Texas Ranger. Wallace and Jack Hays (discussed in The Texian #12) are probably the two most famous rangers of the pre-Civil War days. Arriving here a year after San Jacinto and finding the war over, they figured out another way to get their blood up – fightin’ the brutal Comanche raiders that swept through Texas stealing horses, killing settlers and stealing children. Both Wallace and Hays would end up fighting the Mexicans anyway during the Invasion of Texas in 1842 and the Mexican American War. “Devil Jack” would eventually ride on to California and settle the town of Oakland, staying there the rest of his days. Bigfoot would stay in Texas. After a few early stabs at courtship, Wallace just gave up more or less on the ladies and became a solitary soul – and the wide wild open spaces of Texas spoke to that need of solitude. He spent his life protecting the frontier as a ranger: scouting, tracking and driving the mail coach between San Antonio and El Paso, a long and very dangerous stretch of country beset by hordes of raiding Comanches and Apache. Yet he managed to survive it all and lived to a ripe old age. He’s buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

He was indeed a big man, standing at 6’ 2” in an age when most men were 5’ 6” – 5’ 8” and weighing in at a svelte 240 lbs in his prime. Big men make for big stories and legends stuck to him like white on rice. He loved to sit back and “stretch the blanket” with his many visitors over the years and thus helped create his own myth through the tall tales he’d weave. About 1870 a fellow ranger friend of his, John C. Duval, published the classic “Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace” which Howard read and seemed to have really enjoyed as it appears to be his only source for Bigfoot’s life. In his mini-bio that he whips up for HPL, Howard mentions several adventures that are only to be found in Duval’s book and are not found in any other biography available at the time. It is a very enjoyable book with a great voice. It really sounds like Bigfoot is sitting right next to you in his old worn out chair, spinning an epic yarn for your fireside entertainment. It reminds me a great deal of the Breckenridge Elkins stories. I think it’s likely that this bio inspired something of Elkins’ character, with Wallace’s size and some of his more hilarious adventures amidst polite society being an inspiration for Elkin’s misadventures through the Southwest. If you can find a copy of it, I highly recommend it.

All that being said - it’s not incredibly accurate. Duval really dialed the adventures up to 11 in order to ensure high sales. But after Duval died, Wallace told friends that he wasn’t overly happy with the book as it wasn’t particularly factual. So A. J. Sowell, another ex-ranger, sat down and helped Wallace write a new biography. This one - “The Life of Bigfoot Wallace”- is still a great read but far less colorful than Duval’s earlier book. It reads like a streamlined journalistic account with few frills. As a result, it’s far more trustworthy as a historical document. I don’t know how readily available it was in Howard’s day. Both are easily available now, so I highly encourage you to read them both if you love old Texas Ranger adventures straight from the horse’s mouth.

In his own Wallace bio, Howard’s muse takes the reigns (as She always did) and soon he is painting quite the epic, action packed picture of the famed fight between Wallace and a giant Indian who also bore the nickname of “Bigfoot”. I thought it would be interesting to compare Howard’s version to the version he was drawing on as a source. I certainly think Howard’s version is better yet Duval’s version ain’t nothing to sneeze at either. But as you will see, the true story of how Chief Bigfoot died is up for debate. Duval’s version is the most popular, with Wallace as the mythological giant killer but Sowell’s version is likely more accurate. In his version, Wallace has almost nothing to do with the death Chief Bigfoot. Another ranger brought him down! There’s not even an epic battle to death. You’ll see how it happens, as I’ve included that version too, and while interesting, it’s nowhere near the colorful battle to death that Howard and Duval have us believe it was. And then, as so often happens with history, even that second tale must be questioned because Chief Bigfoot could have actually been killed by yet another completely different ranger, Shapley Ross, around 1842. Turns out, that though there was a very real Chief Bigfoot, he eventually morphed into a frontier bogeyman of sorts. Every large footprint belonged to him and many a theft was blamed on this elusive phantom raider. But newspaper accounts from 1842 are the first to chronicle his supposed death at the hands of Ranger Ross, so that’s the best historical evidence we have about his actual death. I have included this tale as well, as told in the pages of Frontier Times Magazine – a magazine Howard enjoyed reading.

Hope you enjoy these four deaths of Chief Bigfoot.

Letter from REH to HPL, mid-October 1931:

“Have you heard of Bigfoot Wallace? When you come to the Southwest you will hear much of him, and I’ll show you his picture, painted full length, hanging on the south wall of the Alamo — a tall, rangy man in buckskins, with rifle and bowie, and with the features of an early American statesman or general. Direct descendent of William Wallace of Scotland, he was Virginia-born and came to Texas in 1836 to avenge his cousin and his brother, who fell at La Bahia with Fannin. He was at the Salado, he marched on the Mier Expedition and drew a white bean; he was at Monterey. He is perhaps the greatest figure in Southwestern legendry. Hundreds of tales — a regular myth-cycle — have grown up around him. But his life needs no myths to ring with breath-taking adventure and heroism. On his first adventure into the wilds he was captured in the Palo Pinto hills by the Keechies and was tied to the stake to be burned, when an old squaw rescued him and adopted him in place of a son, slain recently in a fight with another tribe. As an Indian Wallace lived for three months, hunting with them, riding with them on their forays against other tribes and against the Mexicans. Once with them he drove a raid into Mexico and in desperate hand-to-hand fighting with the Mexicans, won his name as a warrior. But he wearied of the life, and escaped to his own people again. He was scout, ranger, hunter, pioneer and soldier. When he settled on a ranch in the Medina country, he made a treaty with the Lipans that they would not steal his cattle. They kept that treaty until they decided to move westward. When they moved, they took Bigfoot’s stock with them — every head of it. Bigfoot was slow to anger; he was swift in vengeance. He went to San Antonio and was given charge of a ranger company of some thirty men. With them he hunted the thieves to the head-waters of the Guadalupe River. In the ensuing battle two white men bit the dust, but forty-eight red warriors went to the Happy Hunting Grounds, and the Lipans dwindled from that day, and in a comparatively short time, were but a memory of a once-powerful tribe.

Tales, and many tales, are told of his adventures as a scout, a ranger, a soldier and a stage-driver from San Antonio to El Paso, but the tale I like best is the tale of his battle with “the big Indian”, the epic combat of all the Southwest.

The rangers had trailed the Indians to the head-waters of the Llano. They went into camp, seeing at sundown the signal-smokes going up. Bigfoot was restless; that turbulent, individualist spirit of his would not let him lie down and sleep quietly with the enemy near, while other men stood guard. A few hours before dawn he slipped out of the camp and glided through the mesquite and chaparral like a ghost. Daybreak found him traversing a steep narrow canyon, which bent suddenly to the left. As he made the bend, he found himself face to face with a giant painted brave. In fact, they caromed together with such force that both were thrown to the earth by the compact. Simultaneously they bounded to their feet and for a flashing instant stood frozen, the grey eyes of the white man glaring into the flaming black eyes of the Indian. Then as if by mutual consent, each dropped his gun and they locked in mortal combat.

No white man in the Southwest could match Wallace in hand-to-hand fighting, but this red-man was quick as a cougar and strong as a bull. Not as heavy as Wallace, he was nearly as tall, and, clad only in a loin-cloth, and covered with bear’s oil, he was illusive and hard to grapple as a great serpent. It was man to man, blade to blade, the terrible strength and ferocity of the giant white man matched against the cruel craft and wiry agility of the savage, with all his primitive knowledge of foul crippling holds and twists. Back and forth they reeled, close-clinched; now rolling and tumbling on the ground, tearing and gouging; now staggering upright, locked like bears. Each was trying to draw his knife, but in the frenzy of battle, no opportunity presented itself. Bigfoot felt his wind failing him. The iron arms of the brave bent his ribs inward and threatened to shut off his breath. The grimy thumbs with their long black nails gouged cruelly at his eyes, ripping the skin and bringing trickles of blood; the steely fingers sank deep in his corded throat; the bony knees drove savagely for his groin. Shaking the blood and sweat from his eyes Wallace reeled upright, dragging his foe by sheer strength. Breast jammed hard against breast, they leaned against each other, gasping wordless curses. The great veins swelled in Wallace’s temples and his mighty chest heaved; but he saw in the red mist the sweat beading thick the redskin’s face, and the savage mouth gasping for breath. With one volcanic burst of superhuman effort, Wallace tripped his foe and hurled him backward, falling on him with all his great weight. The Indian’s head struck crashingly against a sharp-pointed rock and for an instant his dazed body went limp. And in that instant Wallace, with a desperate lunge, snatched out his knife and sank it to the hilt in the coppery body. As a dying tiger bursts into one last explosion of terrible power, the Indian started up convulsively, with a terrible yell, throwing off the giant white man as if he had been a child. Before Wallace could recover himself the Indian’s hand locked on his throat, the brave’s knee crashed down on his breast, and the knife in the red hand hissed down. In that flashing instant Wallace looked death stark in the face — he thought agonizedly of his childhood home and a girl who waited him at the settlements — he saw the black eyes of the Indian “gleaming like a panther’s in the dark” — the knife struck hard — but only into the earth beside Wallace and as the knife came down, the Indian fell forward with it, and lay dead on the breast of his foe. And Wallace said that a grim smile curved the warrior’s lips, as if, dying, he believed he was sending the white man to blaze the ghost trail ahead of him.

Shaken with the titanic upheaval of that terrible battle, Wallace rose, gazing dazedly down at the silent form of the conquered. His knife was still sheathed in the Indian’s body. The point of that knife was in the red-man’s heart and the wonder of it is that the brave, after receiving that terrible wound, lived long enough to all but slay his foe as he died. Such vitality, surely, is possible only to beasts and men bred close to the red throbbing heart of the primordial.

Wallace looked down at his foe and in his heart rose the respect of one warrior for another. He did not scalp the big brave; he arranged the stiffening limbs and piled rocks above the corpse to make a cairn and protect the body from the ravages of buzzards and coyotes, and beside the brave he laid the knife, and the Indian’s rifle, broken to pieces — weapons for a warrior to bear to the Happy Hunting Ground. And I think of Wallace standing alone and sombrely beside that rough cairn as the sun came up over the wild tree-clad hills.”

Next Up: Duval’s version from 1870…

Edward Dixon Westfall

Now Sowell’s more realistic version:

“WestFall Kills the Bigfoot Indian”

On one return trip (from a stagecoach run to El Paso), and when near Fort Inge, Wallace discovered something in the road that he was very familiar with, but which he had not seen for a long time. 

This was the track of the famous Bigfoot Indian and he had six followers with him. Wallace knew that his presence meant that all the horses in the country that he could round up would be carried off. 

When the stage arrived at Fort Inge, Westfall was there and was told about the Indians by Wallace, who advised him to be on the lookout, that the country would be cleaned up of horse stock sure. Wallace had some mules he always left at Fort Inge until he returned from San Antonio, but on this occasion ordered them carried east of the Frio and kept there. Before leaving he told Westfall where his mules would be and in case the Indians got all the horses, and men could not be mounted to follow them, to go and get his mules and use them. He also told Westfall if he killed (Chief) Bigfoot he wanted his moccassins. 
As Wallace expected, the settlers were careless and the Indians got nearly all the horses in the country and got off with them. Westfall, however, followed out the instructions of Wallace and was soon on the trail of the redskins, on the mules. The trail led up the Nueces Canyon, then not settled, to the divide and then turned south towards the head of South Llano. Westfall and his men followed on and one evening camped in the cedar brakes, being satisfied of the near proximity of the Indians. The utmost caution and silence were preserved. Westfall only had three men and one boy with him, making five in all. The boy was named Preston Polly and one of the men was Gideon Scallaron. The names of the others cannot now be ascertained. Westfall spent a wakeful night for he was satisfied the Indians were near and a fight would come off in the morning.
Just at the break of day a smoke was seen ascending above the cedar tops in the thickest part of the brake, not far from the settler’s camp. Westfall, who had stepped away from the camp a short distance to listen for any sound that might be heard in the still early hour, hastily retraced his steps and telling his companions what he had seen, took the boy Preston and went to reconnoiter the vicinity of smoke. 

The Indians had no thought that white men were near, in fact they did not suppose they had left horses enough for anyone to follow them on. Such would have been the case but for the keen sagacity and forethought of Bigfoot Wallace in having his mules hidden and telling Westfall where they were in case he needed them.

Wallace always craved to kill the Bigfoot Indian, more especially after he had killed his friend and companion Fox. While the end of the wily chief was near, and he was to fall by the hand of Edward Westfall, it was least by the instrumentality of Bigfoot Wallace. 

When Westfall left his men he told them in case they heard his rifle to come at once. He then went down a steep bluff and carefully picked his way through tall coarse grass, high as his head, to a point opposite the Indian encampment which was high ground in a dense cedar brake. There was also a pool of water there and Westfall noticed a trail leading from it up the hill towards the point where he had seen the smoke.  He was just about to start up this trail when he saw an Indian’s legs through the brush and soon discovered a large fellow coming down towards the water leading a horse. 

Westfall was a man of strong nerve but his heart beat quick when he saw the noted Bigfoot Indian before him. Making a silent gesture for the boy behind him to be still, he aimed his rifle through the tall grass and took a careful aim at the big savage. About this time the horse which Bigfoot was leading suddenly stopped and snorted as he detected the presence of Westfall. The Indian turned his head quick to look at the horse, presenting a side view of his body to the marksman in the ravine who instantly fired, and this scourge of the frontier fell hard on the ground. The three men of the camp when they heard the keen whip-like crack of Westfall’s rifle break the stillness of the early morning, came yelling and almost tumbling down the embankment, giving assurance to their leader that help was near if he needed it.

The boy Preston stood by Westfall with a gun in his hand during this exciting scene with the utmost coolness for one of his years. The old pioneer hastily but steadily reloaded his gun and his men joined him, led the way and rapidly advanced into the cedar brake, past the body of the dead chief to attack the Indian camp. The shot, however, and the answering yell of Westfall’s men had struck terror to the band and they had fled, leaving their chief to his fate…
When the body of the fallen chief was approached it was found that the bullet had struck him in the left arm without breaking the bone, passed through the heart and body and came out through the right arm. In his right hand, tightly clutched, was a bow and some arrows, while the left hand held the rope attached to the horse. Such was the strong grip on both it was with difficulty that they could be released…

Westfall had promised Bigfoot Wallace the moccasins of the Bigfoot Indian and secured them for that purpose. When everything was collected up that they wished to carry, they went back to where they left the little mules of Wallace and were soon on their way back to Fort Inge, where they returned the stolen stock to the settlers. 

Wallace had gone to El Paso with the stage so Westfall left the moccasins at the fort to be delivered to him on the return trip. They were a great curiosity and many people came to look at them on account of their size being nearly fifteen inches in length and beautifully decorated with beads. A man named John Wilkinson who had been around Fort Inge for some time, got possession of them by saying he was going down to San Antonio and would deliver them to Wallace there. Bigfoot was told about the Indian being killed on his arrival at the fort and that he could get the moccasins as soon as he arrived at San Antonio. He was however, disappointed, for Wilkinson had left and gone to the Brazos carrying them with him. Wallace wrote several letters in regard to them but to no avail. The man carried them on to the states with him.” – A J Sowell, Chapter XXIII, The Life of Bigfoot Wallace: The Great Ranger Captain

Lastly, the earlier and more likely true story of how Chief Bigfoot met his demise:

From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, November, 1928

Among the most noted frontiersmen and Indian fighters whose deeds of daring are recorded in the annals of Texas, the name of Captain Shapley P. Ross, father of the late Governor L. S. Ross stands in the forefront. He was born in Jefferson county, Kentucky, six miles from Louisville, January 18, 1811, and in his early manhood removed to Iowa, where he engaged in agricultural pursuits until 1839, when, with his family, he emigrated to Texas and settled at what was known as "Old" Nashville, on the Brazos river, in Milam county, planting a small crop of corn and killing buffalo to supply the family larder.

The Ross family and others afterward removed to Little River, in Bell county, and formed a settlement for mutual protection against the Indians, with whom they had many encounters. On one occasion during Mr. Ross's absence the savages made an incursion and stole all his horses. He returned with a fine mare, which he turned out to graze, and when he went in search of the animal discovered indications of the presence of Indians in the vicinity. The next morning Mr. Ross learned that several horses had been stolen in the settlement and it was decided to go in pursuit of the savages.

The pursuing party consisted of Capt.S. P. Ross, Sharpely Woolfork, a nephew; Capt. Monroe, and a man named Bryant. The trail of the Indians was soon discovered and on it were plainly to be discerned the tracks made by a herculean savage known as "Big Foot" a chief noted for his powers. The trail was however, lost and the pursuers returned to Bryant's house, where they were joined by two more settlers, and the next morning resumed the pursuit, traveling in a rainstorm until they reached a point known as the "Knob," within a few miles of where the town of Temple is now located. Here they overtook four Indians with the stolen stock, who immediately fled.

Thinking further pursuit useless two of the party returned home, leaving Captain Ross and three others to continue the trail. Within a short time the Indians were discovered in the act of butchering a buffalo they had killed. The savages had covered up their blankets to protect them from the rain.

Ross and his party immediately charged, but their flintlock weapons had been rendered useless and the gun of Capt. Ross was the only one which did not miss fire, and his discharge resulted in no damage. By this time the Indians had their guns uncovered and took deliberate aim at the four Texans, but their powder being also damp the weapons missed fire.

Although the pursuers had approached the savages suddenly, the latter succeeded in catching their horses and attempted to seek safety in flight, when Bryant rushed in and striking one of them with his gun killed him. Both parties then clubbed their guns and the death struggle began.

At this juncture Captain Ross saw the notorious "Big Foot" advancing on him. "He tried both of his pistols," says Wilbarger in his account, "but neither would fire. He hurled one of them at "Big Foot" hitting him on the shoulder, and then started to strike him over the head with his gun, and unaware of the presence of an Indian just in the rear, who would have dealt a fatal blow had it not been for the timely aid of his nephew (Woolfork), who knocked the Indian from his horse, but in falling the savage dismounted Woolfork and then jumped up behind "Big Foot," who was riding a fine mare which he had stolen from Captain Monroe.
"The two Indians were almost out of sight before Captain Ross and his nephew started in pursuit, as they were considerably delayed in catching Woolfork's horse. Having succeeded in this, Ross and his nephew were soon in hot pursuit of the fleeing savages and were fast gaining upon them. Captain Ross was riding a fine animal, which, being fleet of foot, soon put him some distance in advance of Woolfork.

"Big Foot" and his companion were so closely pursued that when they came to a steep bluff the animal they were riding suddenly stopped and the Indians plunged headlong into the mud and water. Ross seeing this, checked his horse within about forty yards of the Indians, but Woolfork was not so fortunate, and as his horse reached the bluff he made a similar tumble to that of the two Indians, and before he knew it was right in among them.

"At this juncture Captain Ross rushed up and ran in between them in order to separate the Indians, whereupon "Big Foot" made for him with his butcher knife. They were both now on the ground; both had on moccasins. "Big Foot" had on a pair of leggins and was wearing a checked cotton shirt, while his long plaited hair hung down his back between his shoulders.

"Captain Ross spoke to “Big Foot” in sign language as he was approaching telling him to surrender and he would not be hurt, but the defiant chief had no idea of being taken prisoner, and shaking his finger at Ross in a taunting manner began to advance. As he came to close quarters, made a furious lunge at the Captain with his butcher knife, but as he did so his foot slipped and he missed his aim, and before he could recover himself Ross with one hand grasped his plaited hair and with the other drove his hunting knife up to the hilt in "Big Foot's" body, killing him instantly.

In the meantime Woolfork dispatched and scalped his antagonist. Just after they had started back to the others Woolfork asked his uncle what he had done with “BigFoot's” scalp, and when Captain Ross replied that it was still on his head, he begged him to go back and take it off, as otherwise the boys would always believe that "Big Foot" got away. The Captain returned and "lifted" the hair from “Big Foot's” head.

When Ross and his nephew had rejoined their two companions they found the bodies of the two Indians whom Bryant and Monroe had dispatched. After exchanging congratulations over their hard earned victory they gathered their stolen horses and returned home. This was indeed a remarkable fight. It was fought without the firing of a gun and without the shooting of an arrow. Not a white man was hurt, and every Indian was slain.

Captain Ross survived for many years after this encounter, spending the evening of his day in Waco, where he passed away September 17, 1889, a few months more than seventy-eight years. of age.

Bigfoot Wallace, circa 1870

About The Author: Ben Friberg

Ben Friberg is a 7th generation Texan who lives, eats, breathes and dreams everything to do with his home state. Except big belt buckles and the Lt. Governor. He’s been a fan of Robert E. Howard since discovering him right out of college while living in Abilene, Texas - not too far from Howard’s hometown of Cross Plains. He happened upon the Baen edition of Solomon Kane and it was downhill from there into the fiery pit of Howardian addiction. He attended his first Howard Days in 2005 and has been every year since. After trying his hand at gathering material for a Howard Days documentary, he decided he could best serve Howard fandom by recording all the panels and posting them for free viewing on Youtube.  He’s done this since about 2008 or so, making sure that each year of panels is saved for future generations of Howard fans and scholars. In recognition of this, he received the 2014 Black River award for outstanding achievement and the 2016 Black Lotus award in multimedia achievement from the Robert E. Howard Foundation. He was also nominated for the Venarium Award for Emerging Scholarship in 2015 for his article about the possible sources for Howard’s classic horror tale, Pigeons from Hell. He’s been a member of  REHUPA since 2014 with his fanzine The Texian, which is also the name of his Texas folklore themed blog. In his day job, he’s an AP, Emmy, and Dupont award winning photojournalist in television news. In his spare time he loves to read, write, cook Mexican food and ice cream, indulge in photography, travel, and really just explore everything and everywhere he can.

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