The Wild West certainly earned its moniker. Nonfiction books and documentaries about 19th-century gunslingers are a reminder that truth is often stranger than – and just as dramatic as – fiction. Some may have been good guy heroes. Many were probably complex characters who did both good and bad things. And a few were simply rotten to the core.
Curly Bill Brosius easily fell into the latter category. Here’s an excerpt from my adventure novel, The Skeleton Canyon Treasure, that addresses the subject. Camie and Ryan are hunting for Ryan’s uncle, who disappeared while hunting for the historical Skeleton Canyon Treasure. They follow clues to a museum he visited and meet Jennifer, a local historian. Here she shares some tidbits about one of the gang members from the story of the lost treasure.
Jennifer shrugged. “I told you, your uncle got me curious. This Curly Bill was quite a character, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He was supposed to be a crack shot who could hit running jackrabbits and shoot out candle flames without breaking the candles. But he was a mean SOB whose idea of a practical joke was to make a preacher dance during a sermon by shooting at his feet.”
“Wait, that was a real thing?” Ryan said. “Not just something in the movies?”
Jennifer nodded. “It was mentioned in local newspapers. He also forced Mexicans to take off their clothes and dance naked at a community dance.”
Camie made a face. “Quite the charmer.”
“What do you expect from a murderer?” Jennifer asked. “He killed at least one man in a robbery, escaped from prison, and led a gang of rustlers in Arizona Territory. In 1880, in Tombstone, he killed a popular Marshal named Fred White, although that might have been an accident.”
“I hate when that happens,” Camie murmured. Ryan shot her an amused glance.
“White said he didn’t think Curly Bill was trying to kill him,” Jennifer explained. “The Marshal was trying to take Bill’s gun and it went off. White died from his wound the next day – a shot to the groin.”
Ryan winced and Camie hid a smile. She said, “You’ve really done your research.”
Jennifer gave a little shrug as if to say, Of course. “Let’s see, he was implicated in a couple of other murders during robberies, some revenge killings, and at least one death during a bar fight. He also might have been involved in the Skeleton Canyon Massacre.”
Ryan and Camie both sat up straighter and exchanged a glance.
“A gang ambushed a Mexican trail herd and killed the vaqueros, possibly after torturing some of them,” Jennifer said. “They sold the cattle to some white men who were in turn ambushed and killed by Mexicans.”
Ryan leaned forward. “Wait, cattle, not treasure?”
Jennifer shrugged. “It depends what source you trust. Some say the Mexicans were bandits who had looted Monterrey, Mexico, caring a treasure worth seventy-five thousand dollars, or two million dollars, or eight million dollars.”
Ryan leaned back and groaned. “This is the problem with history. It’s never just straightforward fact.”
“That’s what makes history so interesting,” Jennifer said.
“Does it really matter?” Camie challenged. “We don’t care if there is a treasure, right?”
Ryan gave a grunt she couldn’t interpret. What was he really looking for?
“A lot of Old West history boils down to hearsay or guesses,” Jennifer admitted. “Curly Bill had been wounded six weeks before the Skeleton Canyon Massacre and was supposedly still recovering. He was also implicated in the murder of Morgan Earp, but without proof he wasn’t charged. What is most likely true, but still challenged by some people, is that Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill in a shootout in 1882. Bill was in his thirties, which considering his lifestyle was surprising longevity.”
They pondered this for a minute before Ryan asked, “Not that it’s relevant, but did you find out why he was called Curly?”
“He was said to have dark, curly hair.”
“After everything else we’ve learned, I was hoping for something more dramatic, like his antics would curl your hair, or, I don’t know, he was a devil and the devil has a curled tail.”
“The Skeleton Canyon Treasure is a light, breezy action/adventure/romance that's perfect for summer reading.”
If you love suspense and romance, don’t miss this gripping adventure! The Southwest Treasure Hunters novels include The Mad Monk’s Treasure and The Dead Man’s Treasure. Each novel stands alone in this series mixing action and adventure with light romance.