Whiskey Jim Greathouse
"Whiskey" Jim Greathouse
This article appeared in the Spring 1974 edition of Real West magazine. It was written by Maurice Kildare.
In 1874 Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie ordered his 4th Calvary patrols to get James Greathouse, alias Whiskey Jim, dead or alive, preferably dead.
Whiskey Jim was a notorious peddler of contraband alcohol to Indians, working out of Fort Griffin, Texas. He packed it north into the panhandle and bartered it for ten times its original value.
Because he furnished them firewater in enormous quantities, it caused many of the erstwhile peaceful tribes to go on the murdering warpath. Small wonder the old Indian fighter Mackenzie wanted him put out of business permanently and suddenly. But that was easier desired than done, for Whiskey Jim was wily and a very shrewd operator.
Nothing much is known of him except that he was born and reared somewhere in Texas. He appeared at Fort Griffin when he was twenty years old, already experienced in the whiskey trade.
As Mackenzie sent his cavalry troops out, they soon became so numerous north to the Canadian River that Whiskey Jim was forced to desist. He heard of the order and wisely did not return to Fort Griffin. Instead he went to a trading post at Rath on Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River.
Out of the lucrative whiskey trade he formed a ruthless gang of livestock thieves. This bunch od outlaws, varying from ten to thirty in number as circumstances dictated, raided north into the Indian Territory and west into New Mexico.
His gang had no respect for livestock ownership or circumstances. They stole the horses and mules of buffalo hunters, which left them afoot and too often at the mercy of raiding Indians.
After losing their riding and wagon stock one group of buffalo hunters walked into Rath. Whiskey Jim was present, listening to the angry men tell their story. He then offered to take a bunch of riders, naturally his own gang, to track down the theives and recover their stock for so much per head.
Immediately commissioned, he went out for a few days and returned with all the buffalo hunters' animals. His gang had stolen them in the first place.
After several such shady deals the speed of his recoveries drew dire suspicion down on his head. He was subsequently accused of stealing the animals and returning them for a payoff.
Cursing the hunters who confronted him about the matter, he said they could thereafter stew in their own juice. The Comanches raided during the next few days and often thereafter, stealing all the livestock they could find. Whiskey Jim's former "clients" were never sure whether or not they had actually been swindled.
During this period of running off and recovering buffalo hunters' stock in 1875, two members of the gang, Larapie Dan and Little Red Randolph, stole a fine thoroughbred bay mare from a tough Rath gambler. The two culprits recovered it for a big fee. A couple of weeks later they rustled the mare again and made another recovery.
They pulled the deal twice more. His suspicions long aroused, the gambler accosted Whiskey Jim when he appeared in Rath.
"I am going to kill you, Larapie Dan and Little Red the next time my fancy mare disappears from the stable where she is kept," he threatened.
"Now, it's sure news to me you been losing her," Whiskey Jim replied casually. "But this killing talk, I'd just as soon beef you anytime you want to claw your shootin' iron."
The tough gambler hesitated. Whiskey Jim was already noted for having killed a number of men in desperate gunfights.
"Well, I'm telling you, that is what is going to happen if I have to buy back my mare once more!"
The gambler did not run Whiskey Jim out. Rath was already too hot for him. He took Larapie Dan and Little Red north to the trading post of Henry Hamburg. Leaving them there he went on towards Red River, scouting around to learn what they could steal, and how to make connections for Indian whiskey selling again.
Some freighters came in to rest over at the trading post. Two nights later, Larapie Dan and Little Red were caught stealing horses from the rope corral. The hardened teamsters promptly hanged them to lifted wagon tongues.
Hearing this news on his return ride before reaching the trading post, Whiskey Jim swerved west. He showed up next with a large party of buffalo hide hunters in the panhandle. Most of them were to become famous and infamous in New Mexico a few short years later. Among them were Jimmy Carlyle, Billy Wilson, Beaver Smith, Pat Garrett, Jimmy Dolan, Hank Campbell and Bill Kuck.
They were hunting out of Bill Devin's camp in February 1877 when a band of 150 Comanche warriors struck them. Deciding then and there that he had had enough, Garrett pulled out for New Mexico with no more than a Sharps rifle and a frying pan tied on his saddle.
Led by Whiskey Jim and Campbell, the others fought off the Comanche raiders, but had their wagons and supplies burned. They then pursued when the Indians fled.
The hunters soon lost the marauders' trail, but they came onto Comanchero Jose Tafoya. His wagons were loaded for contraband trade with renegade Indians.
Asked where he was to rendezvous with them, Tafoya refused to talk. They strung him up a few times with a rope around his neck before he confessed that his wagons and carts were enroute to meet some Comanches in Yellow House Canyon.
The hunters took what they wanted from the wagons, shot Tafoya full of holes, ran off his men, and burned his entire outfit. In the opinion of buffalo hunters, cowmen and all others on the frontier a Comanchero (a trader doing business with that tribe and usually selling them arms and ammunition)was lower than a rattlesnake's belly.
The hunters proceeded to Yellow House Canyon, where on, March 18, they began a several days' battle with a contingent of Comanches and a small group of Apaches who had joined them.
Reinforcements came to the Indians, and on the fith day the hunters were in a bad way against forty times their number. Several were killed and almost all the others wounded. They could not withdraw and flee because the Indians finally surrounded them completely.
In this desperate situation Whiskey Jim, himself wounded, led four others through the besieging lines to fire grass behind the Indians. This scheme succeeded, forcing them to retreat on one side.
The hunters then escaped south to Rath where they headquartered at the Reynolds and Company trading post. Despite his previous skullduggery there, Whiskey Jim succeeded in getting himself elected captain of a larger force of hunters.
He led them back north in pursuit of the Indians but failed to make contact. While returning to Rath from the upper panhandle they found a dozen Comancheros with their contraband loaded wagons on the Las Lagunas. Most were looted and the rest burned.
By this time Whiskey Jim had enough of Indian fighting and went on west into New Mexico. For awhile he loafed in Las Vegas, just looking around and sizing up the chances for making some easy money.
The Santa Fe trail town was filled with many badmen carousing in the dives that never closed day or night. Engaging in gambling for awhile, he started making it a business. In an argument over a poker hand on which he lost heavily, Whiskey Jim killed two tinhorn gamblers.
After another fatal shooting the local law, controlled by Mexicans, began taking a dim view of his too ready gun. When he killed his fourth man, that was it.
Leaving Las Vegas hurriedly, he established a ranch in the lush grass country on the Pecos River at Oche de Mil Egre which was not far from Anton Chico. This was during the summer of 1879.
Able to buy only a few cattle he partnered with a Mexican cattle thief. The rustlers were split: Whiskey Jim keeping as his share those animals he was certain would pass the rebrands inspection. The Mexican took his away and sold them.
This was a slow way to get rich, so he was happy when the mild mannered, easygoing, ex-buffalo hunter Kuck showed up. He had considerable money, so the two became partners in the cattle business.
Going down the Las Vegas-Lincoln road they established a larger ranch, store and roadhouse at the foot of the Jicarilla Mountains north of White Oaks.
Both ranches became stopovers for wanted men on the dodge. Kuck was more of a silent partner than an active one. The aggressive Whiskey Jim went out to scheme and make deals that enriched them both fast.
He did not deal with minor outlaws, the poor ones with no money in their possibles sack. They were sent on their way, for the small timers were liable to bring lawmen in a hurry. Only the big operators were succored and hidden out.
His contempt for the amateur outlaw was great. This was displayed when John H. Mink and one of his Mexican vaqueros tracked twelve stolen mules to the Pecos River.
When told, Whiskey Jim laughed indulgently, saying, "Show me them mules tracks and you'll soon have them back."
Being an expert tracker, Whiskey Jim experienced no difficulty overhauling the thieves. The two with the mules were shot dead in a sudden foray and the mules recovered.
Despite being a shrewd judge of the outlaws he let hide out with him, Whiskey Jim made one mistake. Or maybe he was just careless. A man calling himself West Brown drove in fourteen head of Texas horses with a kid named Ike Snow.
W.H. Smith was foreman of the Stevens and Worsham ranch from which outfit the fine horses had been taken. Following the thieves' trail into New Mexico accompanied by John Farrington, Charles Goodnight's range boss, they quit it to ride into Las Vegas one April day in 1880.
Smith informed the county sheriff that he believed the stolen horses were on the Greathouse ranch at Oche de Mil Egre. The sheriff being unable to go along with them, Las Vegas police chief Lloyd Jarrett and Charley Taylor accompanied them there.
The four men sneaked in through the brush near the ranchhouse where they found Whiskey Jim and Snow digging a well. They got the gun drop, but while disarming them Brown opened fire from hiding.
Brown was the alias of Sam Stockton, the brother of Ike and Porter Stockton who were wanted in Texas for killing a ranger.
Farrington fell to one side as bullets whined around them. Two chunks of lead from his gun felled Stockton. Jarrett shoved a gun muzzle into the unarmed Whiskey Jim's back. While cursing the officer in a blue streak, he was used as a shield moving in to get Stockton's dropped gun.
Only twelve of the horses were recovered. The wounded Stockton and Snow were lodged in the Las Vegas Juzgado. Taken back to Texas, Stockton escaped jail in that state. He fled to Colorado where vigilantes later hanged him for a murder committed during a robbery. Young Snow drew a short penitentiary sentence.
Very angry because Jarrett came to his ranch, Whiskey Jim decided to kill him. One dark night he laid for him on the Sodomia La Calle de la Amargura (the road of suffering and bitterness) fronted by most of the saloons, dancehalls, gambling dens and bordellos in town.
Jarrett came walking along with two other officers whereupon Whiskey Jim opened fire from hiding. Missing the intended victim, he killed a policeman beside Jarrett.
Fleeing Las Vegas that night, he left the northern ranch in charge of a Mexican family and went south to the larger one. He was never more than suspected of killing the policeman, there being no evidence to tie him in with the night bushwack.
That fall he bought a small band of horses and mules from Billy the Kid (William H. Bonney), selling them to freighters on the road. The Kid's gang, fleeing lawmen from one part of the territory to another, always stopped with Whiskey Jim.
This led to a trap by a posse on the cold morning of November 27, 1880. The gang, after carousing the previous day in White Oaks and shooting up the town, was pursued there by Constable T.B. Longworth.
The posse had occupied surrounding positions when the first man out of the house was freighter Joe Steck. Having stopped there overnight he set forth to feed his teams. Taken into custody, he told Longworth that the three outlaws wanted for shooting up White Oaks were inside the stone house with Greathouse and several other men.
He was sent back into the house with a note demanding the gang's immediate surrender. Whiskey Jim came back to him bearing the reply.
The Kid told the officers they could go enjoy themselves in Hades. Whiskey Jim told Longworth that Billy Wilson, not wanted for a serious crime, desired to give himself up.
If he tried it Wilson would be killed, so the Kid threatened. He must remain there with the rest and help shoot the posse to pieces. After discussing the situation with his men, Longworth decided that Jimmy Carlyle, a member of the posse and well known to the Kid and Wilson, could get the latter out of the house.
Disarming himself, Carlyle walked across the open ground and was admitted to the house. He first informed the Kid that his friend Whiskey Jim was being held a hostage for himself. Then he began trying to pursuade them all to surrender and if not, to let Wilson go.
The gang had opened a couple of bottles of whiskey, and, while friendly and joking with Carlyle, they were in no mood to be persuaded into anything. When Carlyle admitted that Longworth carried no arrest warrant for any of them, the Kid became incensed, playfully threatening to shoot him.
Carlyle had been inside the house some time when a member of the posse carelessly and by accident discharged a rifle. The crash of the shot convinced the Kid that Whiskey Jim had been killed.
Carlyle, the buffalo hunter from the Great Plains, believed so to. The Kid's gang would surely fill him full of bullet holes, so he took a running jump towards an open window. He made it but the gang rushing to the wall fired through the opening and brought him to the ground dead. Afterwards the Kid, Wilson and Dave Rudabaugh declared that they shot to one side, but that the unfortunate Carlyle was zigzagging and one bullet struck him by mere chance.
The bunch then went through the same back window, dodged hot lead when they came into the clear and reached the barns. They saddled and mounted their horses, while the inept posse was held off, and escaped into the surrounding hills.
Kuck, who had been in the house with two freight train hostlers, now emerged and told the posse what happened. Wilson had gone along with the gang, sure that he would be shot by the posse on sight.
After cooking a belated meal with Whiskey Jim's generosity furnishing food, the posse departed for Jerry Hocradle's ranch.
Whiskey Jim and Kuck rode north to their other ranch and Las Vegas. The next day Deputy Sheriff John Hurley led a posse to the Jicarilla ranch from Lincoln and burned down all the wooden buildings (plank and logs) and the interior of the stone house and store.
On hearing about this deed Whiskey Jim told a reporter for the Las Vegas Gazette that the loss was about $5,500. He also said that outlaws, uknown to him, oftened appeared at his roadhouse on the freight road in the guise of regular, honest travelers. Billy the Kid he admitted knowing intimately, but as so many other New Mexicans he played a diplomatic course of keeping his mouth shut concerning the badly wanted young outlaw's activities and movements. To do less meant almost immediate death from bushwack.
From that day on Whiskey Jim seems to have faded into oblivion, because of the general excitement and pursuit of the Kid all over New Mexico Territory, amid the rumors that he had gone to Mexico.
Remaining at the ranch on the Pecos River, Whiskey Jim was often seen in Las Vegas. He gambled and drank very little, seeming to be biding his time until something else developed.
Pat Garrett, the former buffalo hunter whom he had known in the Texas panhandle, who moved on when the going with Indians became tough, had been elected sheriff of Lincoln County for the sole purpose of removing the Kid from circulation.
In the spring of 1881 Whiskey Jim wrote a brief letter to the Kid that was left at Fort Sumner drop, warning him to leave the country. Somehow this letter fell into Garrett's hands. It was a lead to the fact that the Kid came into Fort Sumner periodically to visit his friends, attend the balls and have a general good time. Garrett laid his plans accordingly to wind up the infamous career of the Kid.
Although he had plenty of money, Whiskey Jim went to work for cattlemen Stapp and Nelson as a blind. Just why has never been explained, except that the two cowmen were close friends and trying to protect him from onerous charges to the south.
On March 1 in Anton Chico, Barney Mason, Garrett's brother-in-law, arrested him on charges of being an accessory to the murder of Carlyle. Taken to White Oaks for a hearing before a Justice of the Peace, he was quickly released on a cash bond of $3,000 which he put up himself. The wolves were after him, and this may have had much to do with his later actions of going farther afield.
It was hoped that he would leave New Mexico, but Whiskey Jim was quite aware that the preposterous charge would be thrown out of district court when it came up.
Buying a large number of wagons and teams, he entered the then very lucrative freighting business. He hauled from Las Vegas to White Oaks, to Socorro and to mines in the Black Range. He was now in a completely honest business and thrived.
It was reported in the Las Vegas Gazette, May 19, 1881, "Greathouse is regarded as an honest man and any who have freight to be taken to White Oaks and elsewhere should make terms with him."
The business gained him considerable standing in the public eye. Yet, he was still far from being reformed from the outlaw, frontier years that had vanished. Once his business was established on a remunerative basis, he turned it over to the management of a capable man. Then, unable to quit stealing cattle, he went back to doing so.
His carefully selected expert theives were posted all over the country. They rustled a few head at a time, pushing them quickly to secret holding places. Whiskey Jim and another bunch of clandestine riders then removed them for sale in Las Vegas, White Oaks, Fort Stanton, Socorro and in the mountain mining camps.
As thefts and sales increased in volume he turned that end of his business over to trusted men. That winter his next moves were to sell wagon loads of beef in the towns instead of slaughter houses on the hoof.
Seldom did an officer bother to ask him about brands on the hides. If one did, his stock reply was, "Ride out to the ranch and look at them." By then Greathouse was a large cattle owner, running several brands.
Only once did other outlaws try to cut in on his business which he controlled with an iron hand. One October day three rode into his night camp on the Pecos intending to give him warning that they were about to start selling beef to the mining camps. This was a most profitable trade. Hardly had they started telling him to keep out of certain towns when he came up with a lead and smoke spouting six shooter.
One fell dead, a second was wounded and the third threw his palsied hands into the air. He was allowed to ride out with his mortally wounded companion who was undoubtedly buried in a sandhill.
One of Whiskey Jim's butcher shop customers in White Oaks, buying exclusively from him at a cheap price, undercut all his competitors. Another informed Deputy Sheriff William H. Hudgens that the beef came from Whiskey Jim.
Forming a posse of eight men, Hudgens rode north to the ranch which had been partly rebuilt after the burning. Kuck was there and amiably agreed that they were welcome to search the premises. No beef hides were found that bore any other owner's brand. What Hudgens could not know was that by then Whiskey Jim was buying butchered beef from rustler gangs. They did the slaughtering and delivered the quarters to the ranch, being paid after the beef was sold. Whiskey Jim was a joker who never took a chance on losing a dime.
Over at Bear Springs, running cattle in the Gallinas Mountains was the job of notorious Joseph (Joe) Fowler who boastfully claimed to have killed fourteen men. His nearest neighbor was another cattleman, C.F. Blackington, who would soon become the county sheriff. Fowler had been losing cattle over a period of several months. For some reason he accused Blackington of being the theif.
On December 15, 1881, Fowler and his foreman Jim Ike cut the trail of forty rustled steers. They followed it into the mining district of Georgetown, arriving just after they were sold to a slaughter house.
The rustlers were identified as Jim Finley and Jim Kay. They were former cowboys for Blackington. Fowler did not know that they had quit their jobs a couple of weeks before. They were traced from town to Bert Shaw's ranch where Whiskey Jim happened to be present.
Fowler had an unsavory reputation for shooting victims in the back from ambush. Knowing this Finley and Kay lifted their six-guns, prepared to shoot it out on the spot. Fowler and Ike were caught cold and surely about to be killed.
Whiskey Jim started at the tableaux in astonishment. To him Fowler appealed in a shaky voice before guns blasted lead.
He asked quickly, "Hey, what the hell's wrong with these guys?"
"What's up?" Whiskey Jim asked Finley and Kay.
Finley replied, "This bastard was snaking his rouser from the holster as soon as he hit the ground from his saddle. If he wants a shooting, we'll accomodate him!"
"I, uh, just killed a man over at Socorro," Fowler lied. "Guess I'm a mite nervous and imagined these boys were after me."
"You shouldn't be sneaking in on people," Whiskey Jim replied. "It ain't noways the right thing to do."
Knowing that he was still in a shooting situation, Fowler began building up to Whiskey Jim. Afterwards he boasted that he used guile, knowing that Whiskey Jim bossed the gang preying on cattlemen’s herds.
Fowler, a bushwhacker, had never killed an antagonist in a fair fight. He wasn’t just about to brace Whiskey Jim face to face.
So well did Fowler smooth over the incident that Whiskey Jim rode along with him and Ike when they left Shaw’s ranch. Finley and Shaw followed close behind them.
At the Point of Rocks the entire party pulled up and ate a meal of cold grub carried in saddle bag pockets.
During this halt Finley got the opportunity to whisper a warning to Whiskey Jim, “Twice I have seen Fowler start to lift his gun on you when your back was turned. Watch him because he’s out to kill you.”
Whiskey Jim knew all about the often drunk Fowler’s inclination to shoot someone in the back. Therefore it seems odd that, sided by Finley and Kay, he did not handle the cold-blooded killer when the final showdown came suddenly. All three paid for this mistake with their lives.
Only Fowler’s story was accepted by investigating lawmen. According to him they were preparing to mount after partaking of lunch when Whiskey Jim turned on him holding a leveled gun.
He allegedly shouted, “I know your game, Joe! It won’t work with me.”
Fowler claimed that he was forced to draw in self-defense and killed Whiskey Jim with one bullet. His second dropped Finley dead. Ike in the meantime had killed Kay.
No one in New Mexico believed the shootout occurred that way. It was certain that in some way Fowler and Ike bushwhacked them. When lawmen went out for the bodies it was found that Whiskey Jim, then only twenty-seven years old, had been shot twice. One bullet went into the back between the shoulder blades, the second through the right side when he must have been turning about to face his slayer.
In no other way except by trickery could Whiskey Jim have been killed.
After Fowler’s death a short time later, Ike gave another version. He said that when they started mounting up to the Point of Rocks, Whiskey Jim carelessly turned sideways to fork his saddle. From behind his horse, awaiting the opportunity , Fowler leveled his sixgun over the saddle and thumbed off two shots. Wheeling, he let Finley have it. Both rustlers were then shooting wildly at Fowler and Ike killed Kay.
Whatever happened, the putrid if not infamous career of Whiskey Jim was brought to an abrupt end by a cold-blooded, wanton bushwhacker.
Continuing his murderous ways the night of November 6, 1883 in Socorro, Fowler engaged in a self made argument with one of his few remaining friends, Joseph E. Cale.
Cale was a mild little man and never carried a weapon of any kind. When he tried to withdraw, saying “Joe, we’ll talk it over later,” Fowler suddenly lost his mind.
Drunk, he pulled a Bowie knife and stabbed his friend to death before bystanders could throw him to the floor. When they did, he was held there until officers arrived to haul him off to jail.
The wanton murder enraged the citizens of Socorro. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to hang. But the local citizens could not wait that long to see justice done.
More than 100 masked men took him from jail the night of January 22, 1884 and hanged him to a cottonwood tree.