Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Charlie Siringo — the man, the legend

Historically Speaking: Charlie Siringo — the man, the legend

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives Charlie Siringo is seen on this undated photo holding a revolver in one hand and a walking stick with a greyhound handle in the other. The walking stick may have a hidden sword in it. His tie has an ornamental pearl or precious stone on the top and a beaded chain hints to a pocket watch. Also, Siringo is wearing a bandring on his left small finger.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

One of the many colorful characters to roam Southeast New Mexico was a gentleman by the name of Charlie Siringo. Today, I would like to share a little about his life through the memoirs of Clarence Adams and my own research.

Charles Angelo Siringo (Feb. 7, 1855 – Oct. 18, 1928) was an American lawman, detective, bounty hunter, writer, actor and agent for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1916, Siringo began working as a New Mexico Mounted Patrolman to assist in the capture of numerous rustlers in the area, holding that position until 1918. His health began to fail, and his ranch was failing because of him being absent.

In 1920, Siringo published the book, “History of ‘Billy the Kid.’”

Siringo moved to Santa Fe (date unknown) and wrote here a second book about his experience with the Pinkerton Agency. The agency legally stopped the publication stating a break of confidentiality.

By 1922, Siringo’s financial difficulties required relinquishing his Santa Fe ranch, and moving to Los Angeles, where he became somewhat of a celebrity due to his exploits. He renewed his relationship with the legendary former sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt Earp during this period.

In 1924, Siringo played the part of an old cowboy in the movie “Nine Scars Make a Man.” In 1925, Siringo served as a consultant for William S. Hart’s “Tumbleweeds.”

In 1927, he released another book, “Riata and Spurs,” a composite of his previous books “Lone Star Cowboy” and “A Cowboy Detective.” The Pinkerton Agency again halted publication, resulting in a bowdlerized copy, with many fictional accounts rather than the true accounts that Siringo had envisioned.

Following is the story by Clarence Siringo Adams (Aug. 7, 1920 – March 19, 2005). Adams was a teacher, educator, historian, author, writer, editor and outdoorsman. He grew up in the Roswell and Berrendo area and joined the New Mexico Army National Guard and the U.S. Army in 1942. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950 and in 1957, his Master of Arts degree in education from Eastern New Mexico University. He taught in Dora, Cloudcroft, Weed, Artesia, Cottonwood and Roswell, where he retired in 1979. He was laid to rest at South Park Cemetery in Roswell.

Charlie Siringo —

Old-Time Cowboy

By Clarence Adams

“On Aug. 8, 1920, a mustached cowboy, wearing high-topped boots depicting a Texas origin, stepped out of his buckboard at a homesteader’s shack near Corona, just over the Lincoln County line in Torrance County, New Mexico.

“The man, who was slight of build, but wiry in construction, with legs bowed from many years he had spent on the ‘Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony,’ was Charlie Siringo, cowboy detective, cowpuncher, old-time western writer and former Pinkerton agent.

“As the man walked into the nester’s front yard, he met my father, Johnny Adams, and told him that he was Charlie Siringo and was out looking around, trying to get some information for a book he was putting together — the book which he called ‘Riata and Spurs,’ and one which would give much of the life of a young desperado named William Bonney, who had been a part of the Lincoln County scene for 40 years before.

“Papa felt a little bad about asking Siringo in, because my family didn’t have much, being homesteaders and no regular money coming in. Besides, the new son had been born to the young Adams couple the day before. ‘We haven’t even given him a name yet.’ Papa told Siringo.

Although I was only a day old when Charlie Siringo came to our claim that day, the event marked the beginning of a friendship between him and my family that was to last until Siringo’s death in 1928.

“Siringo must have liked me right off, for he suggested to my folks that he had never had a human named after him before, he’d had a few cows, horses and jackasses named after him but never a child. So would they please give the baby the middle name ‘Siringo.’ So my parents honored his request.

“I was a real short-timer when Siringo came to our place in 1920 — of course I know little about the event except what Mama and Papa have related throughout the many years — but since they had learned to love and admire Charlie Siringo, he was often a topic for sincere discussion. “I recall that we received letters from him after we moved to Roswell and settled on the Pat Garrett place east of town, a place which even today holds much history and intrigue.

“After Siringo had heard that we had left Corona and were on the Garrett place, he visited Roswell and renewed his acquaintance with his many friends there, often staying for several days with the Coe family on the Ruidoso as he came through.

“During one of his trips to Roswell, Siringo told about the time he had visited Pat Garrett when that former sheriff had lived in the Pecos Valley. He related that Ash Upson, another old-time Roswell and Hondo Valley man had also lived on the Garrett place back in 1882.

“According to Charlie, he had arrived at the Garrett farm just as Upson was getting ready to leave in the buggy and rode with Upson, and the two of them spent Christmas Day with the Jones family in a wild settlement down the valley known as Seven Rivers.

“A favorite story that Siringo was fond of telling happened in 1916 when he was working as a cattle detective. As he recalled the event, Charlie said that he had accepted an assignment given to him by Governor William C. McDonald, New Mexico’s first state governor, to go to the north side of the Capitan Mountains to a settlement called Encinoso to do a little detective work. It seemed that some of the native villagers had been eating too much of the big Block Cattle Company’s fat beef. Since the governor was part owner of the big ranch, he was more than willing to send out a man to put a stop to the rustling.

“After riding to Carrizozo to get some assistance from the Lincoln County sheriff’s office, but failing, Siringo rode on alone to Encinoso. Here it took him only minutes to see that the local people were not willing to cooperate; and, when his dog, Jumbo, found some ‘hot’ beef hides hanging on a corral fence and a side of beef in the barn, Siringo had no choice but to try to make an arrest and take his men to Carrizozo to jail.

“But the Encinoso townspeople had other ideas. As Charlie was making plans to arrest his man, he noticed that some of the people had gathered and were coming toward him — and they have a rope! They were planning to hang him! It was then that Charlie pulled out his old “trusty” Colt 45 and said that he’d “blow out the brains of the first one who made a move.”

“In relating that account, Siringo told my father that he knew he couldn’t make an arrest by himself. ‘I backed out of there and went back to Carrizozo and got some help,’ he said. ‘But we did go back and we did get our man, although he didn’t stop the locals from eatin’ Block beef.’

“Siringo said that he often had to go on unpleasant assignments. ‘Those people around Spindle, Encinoso and Arabela had to live, beef was handy. That and the chilies and frijoles they raised, along with their venison jerky, was their source of food. They had to eat – and they ate what was at hand.’

“Siringo often mentioned many of the old-timers of Lincoln County such as Truman Spencer of the big Block Cow outfit, the Bonnell’s and Coe’s of Glencoe, and others along the way. Charlie would stop at Bert Bonnell’s place every time he came down the valley, sometimes staying for a day or two. He often commented that “Bert had married one of Frank Coe’s pretty daughters, and she was a grand musician who really knew how to make a visitor feel at home.”

“Siringo said that those Coe brothers, Frank and George, were in a lot of gunfights during the Lincoln County troubles, but they managed to come through to live out useful lives in the valley of Ruidoso.

“My family received a letter from Charlie Siringo in 1924. It was addressed to me — ‘to my namesake —‘ but Mama had to read it to me. Charlie was in Hollywood at the time — was a technical advisor for William Hart, a producer of western movies. He sent a picture of himself and Hart along with his horse, taken from a scene in ‘Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds,’ a movie in which he had a part.

“Siringo died in 1928, and with his passing, New Mexico lost one of the great old-time real drover cowboys, and the man who wrote about the cowboy’s life as he really lived it. He wrote — not in literary fashion — but as he, and all the other cowboys of his day lived and talked.

“Not long before Charlie died, he talked about his past and thought about what lay ahead. One of his last requests was that a poem by Badger Clark, Jr., be carved on his gravestone – the poem that reads:

‘Twas good to live when all the range

Without no fence or fuss,

Belonged in partnership with God

The government and us.

With skyline bounds from east to west,

With room to go and come,

I like my film and the best

When he was scattered some.

When my old soul hunts range and rest

Beyond the last divide,

Just let me on some strip of West,

That’s sunny, lone and wide.

Let cattle run my headstone round.

And coyotes wail their kin,

Let horses come and paw the mound,

But don’t you fence it in.’

“Siringo died in Altadena, California, on Oct. 18, 1928. He was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.”

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.