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Historically Speaking: Marshall Ashmun Upson

Art Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Marshall Ashmun Upson" — artist unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Celebration of a life: 127 years later — Marshall Ashmun Upson and an invitation to Texas

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Some people walk quietly through life, but leave footprints that last forever. Such was the case of Marshall Ashmun Upson. There is big news out in the world of history in that his long sought after place of burial has finally been located by the Wild West History Association (WWHA,) and to add to this excitement, they will soon be hosting a memorial and tombstone dedication with a reception in Uvalde, Texas, and anyone who is interested in our local history is invited to attend.

Now to first revisit some of his most interesting life and times in the Pecos Valley and Lincoln County, I will share a little info from my first article about him:

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Roswell Daily Record

Aug. 5, 2019

“His full name was Marshall Ashmun Upson. He was born Nov. 23, 1828, ‘of the good old New England stock,’ with ancestry reaching far back into the Old World. His parents lived and died in Connecticut. He was well educated and trained for literary work; but the wanderlust was in his blood and more than half of his life, he anticipated author and journalist Rudyard Kipling’s lines: ‘I must go — go — away from here; On the other side of the world I am overdue.’

“The great Southwest seemed to have called for him especially and he followed that calling, meeting the Native Americans and the first settlers. Upson left home when he was little more than a boy and began work as a “printers devil” in New Haven, New York City.

“While living in New York he was fond of telling that he was employed in an office in which Edgar Allan Poe was engaged at the time. Poe befriended him and for a short period of time, he shared a room with the future great poet, until a sudden illness caused him to have to return home to New Haven. Poe assisted him to the boat, which returned him home to his mother.

“In 1853, and again in 1862, Upson was in Cincinnati working for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Between these dates, he crossed the plains into Colorado bearing witness to the sight of unnumbered herds of buffalo. He doubtless was sent on this expedition by the Enquirer, as one letter of his speaks of the possibility of accompanying a party from that office against the Sioux. Upson climbed Pikes Peak, visited Utah territory and made his first visit to New Mexico.

“He also says in this letter that he had served as assistant quartermaster in the Federal Army. Upson writes: ‘I am a Democrat, of the old school, from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot, and have been since the demolition of the old Whig party.’

“So when Lincoln and Douglas made their famous senatorial campaign, Upson was with them throughout — as reporter, no doubt, for the Cincinnati Enquirer. During this time, he wrote home, ending his letter — in spite of his sympathies — with, ‘and three cheers for the scar strangled banner and old Abe.’

“In 1866, he was in Kansas City, in 1870, he was in Santa Fe, in 1871, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1874, in Roswell, in 1876, he was here at its founding. He spoke of many other places, including Salt Lake City, Utah and San Antonio, Texas. In Salt Lake City, Brigham Young gave him his photograph. In fact, for more than 40 years he led a wanderer’s life and many of his letters home express with pathos the conflict in his being between his longing for home and the life of the wild. Wherever he went, he made friends and only few enemies. For many years during the end of his life, he was righthand man and business manager to Pat F. Garrett, the famous sheriff of Lincoln County. The business letterhead carried the firm name of ‘Upson and Garrett.’

“It was while with Garrett that Upson wrote for him, ‘The Life of Billy the Kid.’ Upson once boarded in Silver City with the Kid’s mother. Besides his newspaper and other literary connections — being a frequent correspondent for New York newspapers — he was a surveyor, notary public, storekeeper, postmaster, justice of the peace and school teacher. He was one of the few educated men in Roswell’s early days. At one time he served as adjutant general of the New Mexico Territory and was often called upon to assist different circumstances. ‘Viva Este dia, y manana cuidado por manana,’ he writes in a letter home, and he would seem to have lived up to his motto, which means to live this day and let tomorrow take care of itself.

“When Garrett moved to Uvalde County, Texas, Upson accompanied him. Shortly after that move, Upson returned to Connecticut in 1892, remaining a few months, during which time his mother, at age 91, passed away; his father had died two years earlier. The couple had been married 71 years when his father died. After the death of his mother, Upson became ill while returning to the Garrett’s in Uvalde County, Texas, where he, too, died in 1895.”

Pat Garrett took care of his burial having him buried in a family plot there upon which no headstone nor memorial marker was placed. His place of burial has been a mystery for over a hundred years, until now.

I was contacted by Roy Young, editor of the Wild West History magazine, last fall about the exciting fact that they had finally located his grave, and he asked that I put the word out that anyone from this area who has an interest in the history and the part that Upson played in our history, were invited to attend the upcoming reception and celebration. Because of COVID-19, they had to put it off until now. Following is what Young and the WWHA asked to share with area residents:

Marshall Ashmun Upson: The Investigation of a ‘Grave’ Matter

Tombstone Dedication Set in Uvalde, April 17, 2021


Several Wild West History Association (WWHA) members, including Pam Potter (California), Eddie Lanham (Georgia), Roy Young (Oklahoma) and Kurt House (Texas) were sitting around the campfire at Mission Sin Caja, near Three Rivers, Texas, discussing various mysteries of the Old West. One of the subjects that arose was the demise of “Ash” Upson, best known as the ghost writer of the first account in 1882 of the life and death of Billy the Kid, “The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid” — supposedly authored by his killer — Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett. Although Garrett is listed as the author, most historians agree that the book was actually written by Garrett’s ever-faithful friend Ash Upson, a professional author with a larger vocabulary and more experienced style of writing than Garrett. Garrett’s demise under mysterious circumstances on the road from his ranch to Las Cruces on Feb. 29, 1908 are well documented, but what happened to Ash Upson?

The four WWHA members initiated a search for the answer to Upson’s fate. Where is he buried? This led the team to Uvalde, Texas.

Meager facts gleaned from the literature confirm that Marshall Ashmun “Ash” Upson was born on Nov. 23, 1828, died on Oct. 6, 1894, and was buried in Uvalde. The circumstances of why he was buried in Uvalde soon became apparent to the four researchers, who vowed in the spring of 2020 to find his grave. The first thing found was that his grave yet remained unmarked. Yes, it was somewhere in a Uvalde, Texas cemetery but which cemetery and where is the grave located?

In July 2020, an initial field trip to Uvalde was made to locate Upson’s grave. In spite of the important role played by Upson in New Mexico history as a career newspaper man, postmaster of Roswell, adjutant general of New Mexico Territory, a Lincoln County justice of the peace, Sheriff Pat Garrett’s office deputy, as well as an accomplished author of some renown, the team could not find the grave location specified in the literature. Reaching Uvalde in July 2020, the team located the city cemetery where Upson was said to be buried in an unmarked grave in Lot 54 between the graves of John P. Baker and Will Gibson. John P. Baker was an alternate delegate from New Mexico to the 1898 Democratic National Convention while Pat Garrett was one of five delegates selected.

A document with the city of Uvalde cemetery section revealed that plots 923, 924, 925 and 926 were purchased by Pat Garrett and, later, at least one space was transferred to Upson. On a hot July day, the plots were located by the WWHA team on row 6, site C, lot 54, but we still did not know which one of the four was occupied by Upson and no tools were at hand for probing. We quit our work late in the day and resolved to visit Uvalde again, after establishing some local contacts.

In the subsequent trip, Aug. 20, 2020, we were fortunate to have several helpful local folks who steered us to the appropriate city and county officials. According to the city cemetery records, the grave dimensions are 5 feet by 7 feet in a 21 by 42 feet plot, and there are 12 graves in the plot, therefore the four grave spaces purchased by Garrett are verified by the cemetery records as in the first row contained in the 21 feet width. Photos and measurements were taken to ensure accuracy of location of Upson’s actual grave.

The team met with local Uvalde County historian Ginger Davis and El Progreso Library Director Mendell Morgan who not only physically visited the gravesites but furnished fascinating details from local sources and facilitated our connections. One of the surprises uncovered by library staff was Pat Garrett’s bar bill from the Heard Saloon in Uvalde on which Ash Upson had charged drinks, as well as a photo of the Heard Saloon.

Following these two visits to Uvalde, the team of researchers was provided with a copy of a letter from Pat Garrett to Emeline M. Upson Downs on the occasion of the death of her uncle Ash Upson. The letter contains fascinating details of the relationship between Garrett and Upson, among them being that Garrett was “… an avowed atheist …” and that “… We buried him (Upson) in the city grounds at my expense …” and that “… he has a trunk here and clothing. What should I do with them. …”  If only historians could locate that trunk, said to contain a manuscript recording Upson’s life experiences and details of the Lincoln County War.

The final investigation was to pinpoint the exact spot of Upson’s grave. On the team’s third visit to Uvalde, they arrived at a determination of the location and have since purchased a large, beautiful tombstone that is now placed in the Uvalde City Cemetery by Uvalde’s Laguna Monument Company.

The dedication ceremony for the new tombstone will be on April 17, at 2 p.m. at the cemetery with a reception and light refreshments following at the El Progreso Library.

Everyone is welcome. A limited number of autographed copies of John LeMay’s recent biography of Upson, “The Man Who Invented Billy the Kid, The Authentic Life of Ash Upson,” will be available for purchase at the library by those who wish to learn more about this “rolling stone” who took the Wild West by storm and created a legend.

This event is the culmination of a project of the Wild West History Association, an international organization of some 500-plus members dedicated to researching and publishing the truth about characters and events in America’s Wild West, especially outlaws and lawmen. One ongoing project is locating and marking graves of Wild West characters, such as Ash Upson.

WWHA members have worked in cooperation with the Uvalde County Historical Commission and El Progreso Library and their local representatives Mendell Morgan and Ginger Davis.

For questions or more information about the dedication ceremony, visit wildwesthistory.org or contact WWHA representative Roy B. Young at royyoung@pldi.net.

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

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