Foot Wallace, Deaf
Smith, and Cactus
Jack Garner, but New Mexico plain outdid its neighbor in coming
up with colorful handles for its crooks, cronies and characters.
One consolation for prideful Texans: Many of the characters who became
famous – or infamous – in New Mexico either hailed from Texas or spent
some time in the Lone Star State before hitting the Land of Enchantment.
For some of them, bullets or braided ropes made New Mexico less than
Las Vegas, N.M. would be a strong contender for nickname capital of
the Old West. Founded in 1835 when New Mexico was still part of Mexico,
Las Vegas became a boom town in 1879 with the arrival of the railroad.
Improved transportation brought prosperity, along with wild cowboys,
gunmen, gamblers, saloon keepers, prostitutes, swindlers, hawkers
of patent medicine and just plain tramps.
As recorded in Howard Bryan’s “Wildest of the Wild West: True Tales
of a Frontier Town on the Santa Fe Trail,” the following characters
made life interesting during Las Vegas’s heyday:
| Beefsteak Mike,
Billy-be-Damned, Black-eyed Bruce, B.S. Sam, Caribou Brown, Cock-Eyed
Frank, Cold-Deck George, Dance-Hall Rustler, Dirty-Face Mike, Double-Out
Sam, Dummy the Fox, Durango Kid, Fly-Speck Sam, Forty-Five Jimmie,
Handsome Harry the Dance-Hall Rustler, Hatchet-Face Kit, Hog-Foot
Jim, Hold-Out Jack, Hoodoo Brown, Hook-Nose Jim, Hop-Fiend Bill, Hurricane
Bill, Jimmy the Duck, Johnny Behind-the-Rocks, Light-Fingered Jack,
Long Vest Gambler, Kansas Kid and Kickapoo George.
To continue Las Vegas’s Who Was Who:
Mysterious Dave, Pancake Billy, Piccolo Johnny, Rattlesnake Sam, Sawdust
Charlie, Scar-Face Charlie, Sheeney Frank, Short Creek Dave, Silent
Henry, Six-Shooter Johnny, Slap Jack Bill (also known as the Pride
of the Panhandle), Split-Nose Mike, and Squint-Eyed Bob.
You’d think Congress had passed a law making it a federal offense
for a shady character not to have a nickname. William Bonney became
Billy the Kid on his way to an early grave at Fort Sumner, N.M. John
Henry “Doc” Holiday, a dentist over fond of the sedative effect of
alcohol, spent time in Texas and Las Vegas before permanently cashing
in his chips in Glenwood Springs, Colo. And Wild Bill Hickok lived
up to his nickname until he drew aces and eights and a hail of lead
at the same time.
Had a statute existed requiring outlaws to adopt a nickname, some
Texas brigands were so bad they would have ignored it. In that regard,
Bass and John
Wesley Hardin come to mind. To give the devil his due, Hardin
did go by “Swain” before Texas Rangers captured him in Florida, but
he used it as an alias, not a nickname.
as common in the Old West as boots and big hats, nicknames go back
a lot further. The storied Vikings used nicknames as did many other
cultures. Etymologically, the word “nickname” traces to the Middle
English word “ekename,” from the verb “to eke,” which meant “enlarge.”
Eventually, “ekename” evolved into “nickname.”
In the 19th century American West, a nickname might describe a person’s
appearance, as in Hatchet-Face Kit; a person’s home turf as in Durango
Kid or a prominent characteristic, as in Light-Fingered Jack.
Some characters who drifted into Las Vegas from Texas came by way
of two of this state’s wilder frontier towns, the buffalo hunting
center of Fort Griffin
in Shackleford County and a cow town in Oldham County called Tascosa.
It’s a safe bet that Slap Jack Bill, the Pride of the Panhandle, spent
some time in Tascosa.
And Hurricane Bill was William A. Martin, a well-known denizen of
Though a non-exhaustive search for Old West nicknames shows Las Vegas
in the lead, Fort Griffin
had its share of distinctively named folks. Located adjacent to a
military post, even the town had a nickname, “The Flat.” The Flat’s
transient residents included Cheap John Marks, who economized by living
in sin with a woman nicknamed Hurricane Minnie. Also known around
Fort Griffin was Big
Nose Kate Elder, Comanche Jim, English Jack, Hard Times Hearn,
Indian Kate, Kansas Bill, Monte Jack, One-Arm Bill Wilson, Tom Cat
Selman and Whiskey Jim Greathouse.
Frog-lip Sadie spent time in Tascosa,
as did Frenchy McCormick, Frosty Tomb, Kid Dobbs, Slippery Sue, and
Some frontier characters undoubtedly enjoyed their nicknames, while
others must have bristled at their monikers. Surely Frog-lip Sadie’s
evidently ample smile faded to a serious pout on hearing her nickname.
the other hand, not using someone’s nickname also could cause trouble.
Consider Owen Wister’s classic Western novel, “The Virginian,” published
in 1901. During a friendly game of cards, when the outlaw Trampas
calls the Virginian an SOB, the prototypical cowboy hero pulls his
pistol, lays it on the poker table and fixes a hard look on the bad-mouthing
“When you call me that, Smile,” the Virginian says, speaking for all
time for anyone with a decided preference for how they should be addressed.