This short little film was shot in 1908. It's Buffalo Bill posturing and posing and generally looking heroic. Not sure what the original purpose was, but it's a postcard from the past now...
One acquitted himself well in many gun battles with the minions of the law; the other ran like a panicked chicken when the shooting started at the OK Corral... One had many stand up, one-on-one face downs with other men with guns and killed them all; the other was killed himself the first time he ever faced a real gunman...
Billy Claiborne... Tombstone's number one gunfighter wannabe. Well, actually, he had a bit of a reputation as a badass, based largely on the fact that he hung out with guys like Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill Brocious, and that he had killed a man in a saloon in Charleston in 1881. (Not exactly a stand up gunfight, though. The other guy was just being mouthy, not expecting guns to be drawn, and Billy shot him in the head.) He was found not guilty, but only after a series of comical mistrials involving jurors and defense attorneys that didn't show up.
After William Bonney was gunned down over in New Mexico later that year, Billy Claiborne insisted that everyone start calling him "Billy the Kid." Some people went along with it, I suppose, but mostly it was just cause for a lot of snickering behind his back.
What reputation he had took a nosedive after he embarrassed himself at the OK Corral, and he left town for awhile. Word was, he went to Globe and worked in the copper mines.
Then, in November of 1882, he returned to Tombstone. On the 14th of that month, (in the worst career move of his life) he showed up drunk at the Oriental Saloon where Buckskin Frank Leslie was tending bar, and told Leslie he was going to kill him for killing his friend John Ringo. (A matter suspected, but still unproven.)
Buckskin Frank escorted Billy Claiborne out of the bar and onto Allen Street. He told the subsequent coroner's jury, "I was talking with some friends in the Oriental Saloon when Claiborne pushed his way in among us and began using very insulting language. I took him to one side and said, 'Billy, don't interfere, those people are friends among themselves and are not talking about politics at all, and don't want you about.' He appeared quite put out and used rather bad and certainly very nasty language towards me. I told him there was no use of his fighting with me, that there was no occasion for it, and leaving him I joined my friends. He came back again and began using exceedingly abusive language, when I took him by the collar of his coat and led him away, telling him not to get mad, that it was for his own good, that if he acted in that manner he was liable to get in trouble. He pushed away from me, using very hard language, and as he started away from me, shook a finger at me and said, 'That's all right Leslie, I'll get even on you,' and went out of the saloon."
A few minutes later, two men rushed into the Oriental and told Leslie that a man was waiting outside with a rifle to kill him. Leslie went out a side door and came up on Billy unaware. He said he told him there was no need for any of this, to go home and sober up, but Billy raised the rifle and fired. He missed, but Buckskin Frank Leslie didn't. A bullet from his .45 hit Billy Clairborne square in the chest
Frank testified, "I saw him double up and had my pistol cocked and aimed at him again... I advanced upon him, but did not shoot when he said, 'Don't shoot again, I am killed."
Friends carried Billy down the street to a doctor, where he died six hours later. His reported last words were, "Frank Leslie killed Johnny Ringo. I saw him do it."
Billy Claiborne lies buried in Boot Hill. Buckskin Frank Leslie was not charged.
Somewhere along the line, he became known as "the Prince of Hangmen..." Probably because he hanged so many, so well. And maybe a little because he looked so much the hangman.
George Maledon... He was a little guy, maybe 5-foot-3, with stooped shoulders and dark, piercing eyes. (You've got to admit: put him in a robe and give him a scythe, and you've got the grim reaper in person.)
He was born in 1830, in Germany. His family emigrated to this country and settled in Detroit. Young Maledon left home when he was 18, made his way to Arkansas, and hired on as a Fort Smith policeman. He worked as a city cop for 12 years, until the Civil War broke out, and he enlisted (age 30) in the Confederate States Army, 1st Battalion, Arkansas Light Artillery.
His time in the army wasn't interesting enough for history to remember, but after the war it was back to Fort Smith and work as a night guard in the Federal jail.
And that's where he started hanging people. First as an assistant to an older, more experienced hand, (binding the condemned man's feet and throwing the canvas bag over his head) and eventually working his way up to Chief Executioner.
The pace of the hangings ramped up a bit when Isaac C. Parker (left) took over as Judge of the Fort Smith District Court in 1875... He sentenced 160 people to death before he retired in 1896, and because of the sloppy way records were kept and maintained, it's impossible to say exactly how many of them Maledon hanged. (He himself once said, “I pay very little attention to criminal records of any kind.”)
The inside of the Fort Smith District jail... It was a huge basement room in the original soldiers' barracks, and housed Union POWs at one time.
Prisoners did short, misdemeanor time here, awaited transfer to a federal prison, or awaited hanging. It was pretty well depicted as the hell-hole it was in the 1968 Clint Eastwood flick, Hang 'Em High... Anna Dawes, a writer of the period, visited the place once and wrote, "This dark, crowded, underground hole is noisome with odors of every description, horrible with all horrors -- a veritable hell upon earth."
At right, a replica of the scaffold where Maledon did his work. It was built to accommodate simultaneous hangings and did so on more than one occasion; Maledon twice did six at the same time.
It's a replica because in 1896, the good citizens of Fort Smith tore down the original gallows and burned it, thinking it gave the town an unsavory reputation. The usual crap from the usual bunch of do-gooders, no?
No one's quite sure when exactly George Maledon died, (once again -- sloppy record keeping) but most agree it was late in 1911. His health failed rapidly at the end, and he ended up in an Old Soldiers' Home.
One of his revolvers and a rope he used once are on display at the Fort Smith museum...
William McClintock is a writer with a checkered past in both broadcasting and law enforcement. He lives with a cat named Sam in Tombstone, Arizona.
Book Three of the Cole Matthews Trilogy... My gift to you; a free download in the Bookstore.
The first two...
Read a chapter here...