and Daniel Casner, along with their father John Casner and brother
Lew, struck it rich in Calaveras County, California in the early days
of the gold rush. When they left California in 1876, John and Lew
took up prospecting in New Mexico and Arizona. William and Daniel
headed for the newly-opened Texas
Panhandle with some sheep and, supposedly, five thousand dollars'
worth of gold pieces.
That same year about two dozen Hispanic sheep ranchers from New Mexico
had brought their sheep to the wide open grazing lands along the Canadian
River. One of the sheepmen was Nicolas (Colas) Martinez, a former
Comanchero who settled for the pastoral
life after his trading partners, the Comanches, went out of business.
Martinez knew that country well and had worked with Goodnight
as a guide when the rancher made his first forays into the Palo Duro.
On a trip to Colorado for supplies, Goodnight expressed to Martinez
his concern about Martinez's brother-in-law, Sostenes L' Archeveque.
Sostenes had supposedly been banished from New Mexico after killing
twenty-three people in that state. Martinez knew his brother-in-law's
actions could endanger all the people who had come with him to Texas,
and he assured Goodnight that he would take care of Sostenes himself
if the outlaw caused trouble.
Sostenes supposedly did just that. He got the blame when someone rode
into William and Daniel Casners' camp on the eastern slope of Palo
Duro Canyon and killed them and their Navajo shepherd in a futile
but bloody attempt to find the gold and maybe take the sheep as well.
Colas Martinez, true to his word, lured Sostenes to a small adobe
house and helped kill him in what was viewed by his neighbors as more
of a community service than a murder. Goodnight gave Western newspapers
a description of the Casners' property and sheep, and in the spring
of 1877, John and Lew Casner arrived at Goodnight's ranch to lay claim.
They also embarked on a bloody vendetta to avenge William and Daniel's
killing. Ironically, the first person they supposedly murdered was
Colas Martinez. They killed a couple more people who lived in the
plazas, including another man who was supposedly involved with killing
Sostenes, and then they rode away, settling for a time in Donley
That's the story that has come down to us, but it might not have happened
that way. There might never have been a Sostenes l' Archevêque, though
Handbook of Texas identifies him as "one of the first badmen of the
old Southwest…the son of a French father and a Mexican-Indian mother
and a great-grandson of an expatriate French colonist, Jean l' Archevêque.
When Sostenes was a boy, his father was killed by an Anglo-American
in the town of Sapello, in northeastern New Mexico. Sostenes reportedly
vowed that when he grew up he would kill every gringo he met."
told the story of the Casner murders to writer J. Evetts Haley, who
wrote it as Goodnight told it in his 1936 biography of the rancher.
Goodnight's version of events survives because, aside from being a
good yarn, everybody who could have disputed or corrected the story
was dead by the time Haley recorded it. Even Haley called the Sostenes
l' Archeveque story "more fantastic than fiction based on pure fantasy."
We have several versions of what happened to the Casners, or what
might have happened and why, but every account discredits or ignores
another account, leaving us with a lot of questions and no answer
to a classic whodunit, a cold case that history is unlikely to ever
There's no shortage of other suspects, including John Bottom, a New
Mexico badman the Casners initially suspected of the killings because
that's just the kind of thing he would do and he happened to be hanging
out at the plazas at the time. Bottom claimed a crook named Phillip
"Joe" Goodfellow (sometimes called Goodanuff) did it.
Goodfellow wasn't a very good fellow. His main business, conducted
with the help of couple of corrupt soldiers at Fort
Elliott, was the sale of stolen government property. Goodfellow
might have put himself in the middle of all this by announcing that
he would buy the Casners' entire flock if the brothers happened to
get killed. Some have suggested said that Goodfellow's offer might
have inspired Sostenes (or somebody) to kill the Casners.
In an attempt to protect himself from the surviving-and vengeful-
Casners, Goodfellow fled to Fort
Elliott, not to turn himself in, but to offer his assistance in
locating some stolen government property. We don't know if the army
knew Goodfellow was the one who stole the property in the first place
or not, but he must have believed that the U.S. army would protect
him from the Casners. He was wrong.
Goodfellow and a group of soldiers, including one of Goodfellow's
partner in crime, departed the fort and, not by chance, encountered
John Bottom. When Goodfellow found out the soldiers hadn't brought
along a set of handcuffs, he removed the need for them by shooting
Bottom twice-in full view of his family.
Back at the fort, the commanding officer didn't buy Goodfellow's plea
of self-defense and had him confined to the guard house. A judge appointed
Edward Berry-another cohort of John and Lew Casner-to take Goodfellow
to Henrietta to stand trial for Bottom's murder. They never made it.
A dozen or so men rode into their camp the first night and took Goodfellow
Berry and his military escort found Goodfellow hanging from a cottonwood
tree along the banks of the Canadian
River the next morning.
The Dodge City Times later reported that a man named M. Harrison
killed the Casner brothers, but the same paper reported that Harrison
was in town looking for the "real" killers. A man named Frank McNabb
was, for a while, a pretty good suspect.
None of the accounts, other than Goodnight's, mention Sostenes l'
Archeveque. None of the standard histories of New Mexico mention his
name either, nor is there any evidence that he murdered twenty-three
people there, which would have put him two killings ahead of Billy
the Kid, who shows up in plenty of New Mexico histories.
Frederick W. Nolan took a deep dive into the Casners' murder mystery
in Tascosa: Its Life and Gaudy Times and came away wondering,
among other things, if Sostenes l' Archeveque, in the context of the
Casner murders, even existed.
"Goodnight might have decided, as might we, that if l' Archeveque
did not exist, it became necessary to invent him," Nolan wrote, adding
that there were "doubtless other bandits on the Staked Plains more
than ready to murder for that much gold and more than happy to have
a mythical bandit upon whom to foist their crimes."
If that's what happened the perpetrators picked the perfect foil in
Sostenes l' Archeveque-maybe too perfect.