Bubblegum, Pen Names, and Wild Bill Hickok

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February 4, 2022 by libroshombre

            It began with “Little Arrows,” Leapy Lee’s 1968 (and only) hit that I heard recently for the first time since 1968 on the morning show on KRFF.  It’s a pernicious bubblegum earworm that took days to shake and led me to some little known aspersions aimed at Wild Bill Hickok.  Wikipedia cites Carl Cafarelli ‘s “An Informal History of Bubblegum Music” that “bubblegum music” was coined by a couple of record producers, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz, who, at the time, said they “used to be chewing bubblegum, and my partner and I used to look at it and laugh and say, ‘Ah, this is like bubblegum music’.”  And Kim Cooper’s book, “Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears,” claimed that “teen pop” and “boy bands” don’t qualify as true bubblegum, which they define as “music from 1967-1972: the classic bubblegum era,” that was “disposable,” “contrived and marketed to appeal to pre-teens,” had an “intangible, upbeat ‘bubblegum’ sound,” and was “produced in an assembly-line process, driven by producers and using faceless singers.”

            The “faceless singers” led to musings on names, particularly odd names, such as Leapy Lee, who subsequently had a couple of minor country hits in the 70s and a brief role in a BBC reality series in 1999 about British expats living in Majorca.  Along the way he changed his name to Lee Graham, but interestingly, he’d changed his unusual original name, Graham Pulleybank, to Leapy Lee back in the 60s.  “If you want to change the world,” as Joseph Campbell maintained, “you have to change the metaphor.”  Like George Orwell, who was really Eric Arthur Blair, plenty of writers utilize pseudonyms, AKA pen names.  Charles Dickens’ first works were published under the name of “Boz,” Gore Vidal wrote as “Edgar Box,” and dear Benjamin Franklin used a slew of pen names, beginning at age 16 when his letters to the Boston papers went unpublished until he wrote as the middle-aged widow, “Silence Dogood.”  And then he used Martha Careful, Anthony Afterwit, Harry Meanwell, and, of course, Richard Saunders, of “Poor Richard’s Almanack” fame.  Perhaps the very best authorial pen name is that of Dav Pilkey, the extremely popular author of “The Captain Underpants” series of extremely juvenile fiction.  For his new “Dumb Bunnies” series he writes as “Sue Denim.”

            Some of the most colorful pseudonyms arose in the Wild West, as outlined in a great book on that subject, “The Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters” by Bill O’Neal.  I possess a signed copy – Mr. O’Neal’s hometown was Corsicana, Texas, where I libraried before coming to Fairbanks – but sadly, while our local library used to own a copy, it’s been lost, and now there’s only one non-circulating copy in Anchorage.  That’s too bad, because O’Neal’s rigorously researched book is lively and well-written and verifies the lives of 255 gunmen with brief descriptions of 587 gunfights that took place in the “gunfighters’ era”: the 1870s-1890s.  He clarifies that hardly any of the gunfights were of the Marshall-Dillon-facing-the-badman-in-the -street-at-high-noon variety, for most gunmen preferred shooting opponents who were unarmed, asleep, or had their backs turned.

 The book also lists the deadliest gunmen, beginning with “Killin’ Jim” Miller (a Texas Ranger, hired killer, and “an outwardly devout Methodist”) who executed at least 12 men by bushwhacking, i.e. shooting in the back, including former sheriff Pat Garret while he was relieving himself.  Garret had slain Henry McCarty (Aka William Bonney and Billy the Kid) who, despite his notoriety, only murdered 4 men.  Wes Hardin (“schoolteacher, farmer, cowboy, businessman, convict, lawyer, and son of a Methodist preacher”) killed 11, while Bill Hickok dispatched 7, and Wyatt Earp no one at all.  147 of the gunfighters (57%) died by shooting, while 61 (23%) succumbed to natural causes.  They came from all walks of life: 110 were lawmen, 75 cowboys, 54 ranchers, and notwithstanding the multitude of movies and TV shows, only 35 were hired gunmen.  There were 3 politicians, 3 lawyers, 2 customs collectors, 2 school teachers, and only one school superintendent, postmaster, sailor, movie producer, spy, and newsboy.  And I’m glad to report, zero librarians, who had better things to do.

            Texas was the most violent state, where 160 of the 587 gunfights took place, and in 1878 alone there twenty in New Mexico during the Lincoln County War, in which my relatives were involved, and also when Pat Garret slew Henry McCarty.  That “war” lasted from 1878-81, and began when dudes from England and Scotland, John Tunstall and Alexander McSween, respectively, bought a ranch in Lincoln County and opened a dry goods store there in competition with the only other such shop for many miles, known as “the House,” that was owned by James Dolan and Lawrence Murphy, Irish immigrants who controlled the local sheriff (another Irishman), and the local court system.  Moreover, the Irishmen were allied with the New Mexico Attorney General, Thomas Catron, who ran the “Santa Fe Ring” that controlled the territory, and Catron held the mortgage on The House.  The newcomer’s store cut deeply into The House’s profits, “and Catron’s bottom line was affected.”

According to Wikipedia, Catron’s colleagues included Samuel Axtell (New Mexico Territorial Governor fired by President Rutherford Hayes for corruption), and William Rynerson (“a district attorney, who had assassinated John P. Slough, the Chief Justice of New Mexico, and gotten away with it.”).  With Catron’s acquiescence, Dolan and Murphy hired “The Boys,” a gang led by Jesse Evans, so Tunstall and McSween hired their own gunmen, including the 18-year-old Henry McCarty who was already a wanted criminal then going by William Bonney and only later adopted his “Billy the Kid” nickname.  He was riding with Tunstall and his other hired guns when they were jumped by a vigilante posse organized by Dolan and Murphy, and Tunstall died at age 24.

Wild Bill Hickok probably possessed the best nickname for a gunman, but there were competitors, like Edward T. “Red” Beard who was killed by Joe “Rowdy” Lowe (“whose sobriquet accurately reflected his temperament”), John “Happy Jack” Morgo (“semiliterate drunken brawler” and lawman), “Curley Bill Brocious” (ne William Graham), and Jesse “Dingus” James.  Hickok’s first gunfight occurred in 1861.  He was 24 and working as a stock tender at a stage depot at Rock Creek Station, Nebraska where a local rancher, Dave McCanles, kept a mistress in a cabin.  Hickok began visiting her with amorous intent, and the rancher took umbrage and began referring to Hickok (who had noticeably protruding lips) as “Duck Bill,” “a slur upon his facial features,” and as “a hermaphrodite,  a slur upon certain other of his features.”  McCanles called Hickok out, but Hickock refused.  McCanles went into the depot where Hickok, who was hiding behind a curtain, shot and killed him.  While McCanles’ 12-year-old son cradled his father’s head, a cousin and hired man ran in, and Hickok shot both but not fatally. They escaped, but the stage depot manager chased them with a gardening hoe and chopped one to death while his stable hand killed the other with a shotgun.

So much for the glamor of the Wild West.  Wild Bill died when he was shot in the back of the head by a drifter who was paid $200 for the deed by several of Bill’s enemies.  As Disney’s chief creative officer Jennifer Lee, said, “If you don’t want the nickname, don’t live up to it.”

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