|Captain Thomas Rynning|
A brief summary of his life include waddie, cavalry soldier, Indian fighter, Rough Rider, Arizona Ranger and prison warden. Even for a man of the west, that's an impressive resume. According to wikipedia he was born in Norway and immigrated with his family to Wisconsin when he was two, but in his book he recounts that he was born in Beloit, Wisconsin. For the moment I'll side with the fella who did the writing and being born. Either way he reveals his history in his fantastic book Gun Notches, revealing his very distinctly American attitude. Readers of today might consider some of the exploits fictional because of just how almost stereotypical or romanticized the writing is. And yet it is all true and reveals a great deal of the mindsets and the people of the time.
Rynning himself is no loud mouthed braggart, but a man concerned with colorful but accurate accounts of the exploits of himself and those around him during his time tasting dust from the trail. He writes with a simple, refreshing candor that makes him seem completely honest. Mind you, he wrote Gun Notches in the 1930's, well before the advent of political correctness.
The softies of today will likely hold the man in contempt for his reason for adventuring in the first place: He was inspired by The Battle of Little Big Horn. As a kid he got fired up at the idea of becoming an Indian fighter, and set out to do just that. With the enthusiasm of an ignorant kid full of wanderlust he was bound and determined to fight Indians and more. Lest anyone think he was a bigot of the era, I assure you this wasn't the case. He apparently grew up among at least one tribe and had many close friends, and when he had Sioux prisoners later on he actually treated them more like guests, to the point that they were almost late on the train due to having so much fun around town! He fought simply for the sheer thrill of it, as evidenced when he joined other outfits when the Indian Wars ended.
His first education in the ways of roughing it was when he hired into cattle driving outfits at the age of 17 in the year of 1883. Although not old enough to drive in today's times, he was already a superb horseman, having begun learning to ride when he was old enough to walk. It didn't take long for him to learn the ropes and become just as tough as the other cowboys he worked with. By the age of nineteen he joined up with the US Cavalry to engage in some of the skirmishes taking place between the Army and the various Indian tribes.
At first he planned to lie about his age, but by the time he got interviewed he fessed up to his actual age. The recruiter seemed a good judge of character and let him in anyway. At six foot and wiry with muscle he was hard enough to join up and pulled his weight with whatever outfit he was part of. He was apparently considered the fastest rider in his company, as his commanding officers frequently sent him out as a courier, delivering messages back and forth over hundreds of miles on his own.
He was as fast as a jack-rabbit, and claims that in the 52 races he was in he lost only one. Not a bad record! He could apparently sprint the hundred yard dash in only ten seconds. A notable race he won was against a notoriously fast and crooked racer named Harry Bethune, who he claims was the running champion of the world in 1889. According to the book Running Through the Ages, Bethune was a classic swindler. Pretending to be an amateur runner he'd arrive at towns and goad them into bets against their own local speedster, and then hustle them. Good thing he was fast, because he was often chased after by police and the people he had fooled.
Bethune also apparently had an ego, as he would often give his competitors a three yard head start. According to Rynning though, Bethune had seen what he could do and refused to let his competition get any sort of head start. Tom's fellow soldiers "bet everything but their socks" on him. Sure enough Rynning actually won, but wasn't given any sort of award due to it having been a downhill race.
Another notable account was when he got into a scrap with another soldier named Andy Carey. A minor dispute grew over a misunderstanding, and the two pulled out of the saloon to have a go at one another. Rynning's boys tried talking him out of it, claiming Carey was the toughest man in the regiment, and were fairly right, but Rynning apparently wasn't about to let the issue go. Rynning claims that Carey was 180 pounds while he himself was 140. But what followed was a brawl worthy of a Louis L'Amore showdown, as Rynning moved like lightening and kept his larger opponent at bay with a flurry of punches anytime he got close. Carey was apparently made out of cast iron though, as it took an entire hour before he finally gave out without landing a single solid punch. Carey's eyes swelled up entirely after that and took two weeks to recover, but surprisingly seemed to bear no ill will and the two seemed to take to one another afterwards.
Rynning's first real taste of Indian fighting was a real trial by fire in New Mexico by Apaches from across a gorge. The convoy got raked by fire at a hundred and fifty yards. The Apaches were experienced and perhaps the best hill fighters that ever walked this earth and fought from their rocky fortress, scrambling around and laying down a beehive of gunfire. Many of Rynning's fellow soldiers were experienced campaigners and without waiting for orders they hopped off of their horses, scrambled down into the gorge behind their own rocks and engaged in a heated skirmish that lasted for hours. They tried ricocheting their bullets off of angled rocks to strike their targets hiding behind boulders or watched for a brief flash of bare skin to fire at, each second of exposure risking a bullet in their hides. Some of the more experienced soldiers knew how to look for odd patches of grass that seemed to move and put bullets into those which turned out to be more than just innocent shrubbery.
The fight eventually ended with the Apaches slipping away with their dead and wounded, having already planned their escape route and made it out clean. Through most of the Apache campaign Tom was actually a packer or courier. He was most often loading supplies onto pack mules and leading them from fort to fort, or delivering messages across great distances. Even this was mighty dangerous however, as at any moment the cagey Apaches might be watching and ready to strike. That Rynning often made trips by himself without being detected is a testament to his knowledge of stealth in hostile territory.
He also wrote some interesting claims on the adaptability of his American contemporaries. "When a white is thoroughly broken in at that kind of life, he's keener even than the Indians themselves. Years later, while warden of the Arizona penitentiary, I showed an Indian trailer where he was wrong when we were after some escaped murderers."
Rynning packed and fought through the Apache campaign until Geronimo finally surrendered, scalp intact and still enjoying his military life. He spoke highly of General Crook, who despite sounding like a cartoon villain, was a cagey and experienced campaigner who seemed to play fair by the Indians he dealt with.
Most of the officers he dealt with seemed to be decent fellows, although there were of course a few exceptions. At one point he almost wound up getting court-martialed for striking an officer. A mule had been wounded during a packing trip and after exhausting every method of trying to bring it back to health he put it down with a single bullet. When reporting the affair to an officer, the fellow became most aggressive, claiming that Rynning, a mere sergeant by now, had no authority to slay such a military asset. This man was a lieutenant, so he was perhaps rather green and new to the whole business. Whatever the case, he informed Rynning that the cost of the mule would be taken out of his wages. Rynning disagreed with this in a very matter of fact way, which sent the LT over the edge who then took a swing at his subordinate. Rynning reacted completely on reflex, only getting glanced by the punch as he dodged and delivered a solid punch that left the officer dazed.
Realizing he had committed a major military fopaux Rynning got onto his horse to beat for another fort altogether to avoid court martial when the officer regained himself and demanded he stay. When Tom politely informed him that he wasn't interested in being court-martialed and sent to a military prison vacation the LT replied that if he had the brass to strike an officer then he was a fighting man worth keeping around. The issue was let go and even another LT, when asking about the affair was told it was all true, thought Rynning had done right and actually came out admiring his fellow officer for making a good call.
Don't let these instances fool you into thinking Mr. Rynning was hot headed and got into fights with his fellow soldiers often. These were the exceptions rather than the rule, as he was by all accounts an excellent man to get along with, only fighting in self defense or if someone committed a grave offense to him. Other than that he was apparently a model soldier.
On a very fascinating note, Rynning had a Sioux friend as a kid named Kewhaten, and the two swapped much in language and craftiness. One day he used a Sioux phrase, "oc-ta-da-lit", basically meaning to move aside, and his mom asked him where he heard that, since it was almost exactly like a Norwegian phrase meaning the exact same thing. Claims his mom spoke with Kewhaten and found that many other words and phrases were similar with the same meanings. Tom even goes so far as to point out that Sioux were often lighter skinned than many of their neighbors, lending weight to the theory that Norse sailors and settlers landed on the Americas before Colombus, possibly even before Lief Erikson. Supposedly the settlers were raided by Sioux and members integrated into their society. A very interesting idea! I'll leave conclusions to the anthropologists however.
And equally fascinating but far more gruesome story entails when Rynning was running in several Sioux prisoners charged with stealing Crow ponies. When in the middle of a blizzard he came across a be-whiskered man simply standing in the open with a Hawkins rifle. Tom attempted to talk with him, but only got mutters and grumbles in return. Tom even supposed the man had been so long without human company he'd forgotten how to speak. After leaving him he spoke with the driver and found that this mountain man was a one man war-party.
According to the locals, this mountain man, who sadly goes unnamed, was with his sister and family as a child when his elders were killed by tribesmen, and he and his sister taken into the tribe for integration. It seems that he had an unparalleled capacity for vengeance and patience, for when he reached adulthood he began a singular and determined extermination of the entire tribe. He went out on his own, killed and trapped for furs which he traded for powder and lead, which he then used to slay braves by the bushel. At first it was open war, but over time the tribe kept losing men, and this old man was still alive. He became such a scourge that they began to regard him as an evil spirit and stopped trying to even fight him. According to the other elders of the region, this man ended up exterminating the entire group. Rynning couldn't even remember the name of the tribe, since he hadn't once heard it repeated since that time. Thorough vengeance that was, extremely sad too.
Eventually Thomas Rynning left the cavalry and joined up with a group of guards, and surprisingly turned down an offer from Buffalo Bill Cody himself for the chance to join his group and even play Custer in reenactments! He also did a stint of carpenter work, building, and contracting which he made a decent bit of money at.
If that wasn't a lively enough life for one man already, a war decided to crop up in the form of the Spanish-American War on Cuba. Tom it seems had plenty fight left in him, as he dropped his half of a building project to his partner and left lickety split to enlist. He sure was a patriotic one! He and a bunch of other sun hardened waddies joined up with the Arizona Rough Riders and set about preparing to fight on Cuba. Plenty of them were former soldiers and knew the ins and outs, and those that weren't were still as tough as railroad spikes and knew how to shoot straight. They got a hold of the best horses they could reasonably lay their hands on, but their Army saddles were apparently smaller than required. Tom amusingly referred to them as postage stamps, saying that they might as well have rode bareback.
After forming a regiment they marched out and Rynning got to meet the estimable Teddy Roosevelt, the human incarnation of awesome, and actually became fast friends. Although Rynning wasn't looking for any sort of promotion, his skills and seniority had bumped him pretty high up the ladder among the lower classes, attaining a sergeant's position and was drilling the recruits. He actually was against promotion, knowing that with it came more responsibilities and less of the care free carousing he was used to. Such is the fortune of men who stack up so high.
And yet he was doomed to further disappointment, for against his sincerest efforts he got turned into an officer down the line. He was interested only in joining the fighting for the kicks, and knew if he was busy commanding soldiers he'd have less time to actually be fighting. He mentions that seasoned sergeants are invaluable to a functioning military, since the officers hand out the orders, and the sergeants pass them along and implement them. Often they seem to be the backbone of any army they're in. Anyway, his own compatriots began throwing a fuss when another man was nominated for promotion, demanding that such an esteemed position be granted to the good old sergeant Rynning.
Eventually he was promoted to a second lieutenant and was helping call the shots with his company. At one point he almost ended up not going at all. Colonel Wood, the commanding officer of the group informed him that his company wouldn't be joining the fight on Cuba. Dear old Tom had a differing opinion. The reason for this being ordered is unknown, as Rynning swore to not reveal it even after Wood was dead, and has kept that promise. Even so he demanded his superior let his group come along since it was full of seasoned fighters, all of whom would be needed in fighting Spain's regulars. He even threatened to resign his officer position and join up with another company as a private to go along! He put up such an intense fight over it that within an hour Wood gave the orders to muster out. Rynning was a persistent and persuasive one it would seem.
Just before pulling out of San Antonio Texas they got one last recruit under most unusual circumstances. He was so earnest to join that Rynning actually hunted down Wood and vouched for the man to join, the little guy being named Buckshot by his new fellow soldiers. Turns out Buckshot had a most colorful record in the area of crime, having committed all sorts of offenses, with his most common being horse stealing. That was no small crime at the time, far worse than car theft today. The law was after him and he couldn't return to the ranch he'd established. He hoped that if he could join the Rough Riders and do some service he might be given some forgiveness. With Teddy's help, he sure got it. Afterwards he was given a clean slate and allowed to go back to ranching.
What strikes me as fascinating is although the man was a long time criminal, he still had a sense of honor and honesty. During the first battle his long gun got jammed and ran over to Rynning, hoping he would know how to fix it. Rynning just handed him the gun from a dead man laying nearby. During this however Roosevelt demanded to know what was wrong with the soldier and asked if he was a coward. Afterwards though Buckshot was extremely upset. He admitted to being a scoundrel and a thief, but the accusation of being a coward was more than he could bear. Roosevelt, while impulsive, realized his mistake and apologized earnestly to the horse thief, showing that he was an extremely humble man and the two got on fine afterwards. Buckshot even made the later president a tiny cake out of whatever grist he could muster!
Like almost all the rest of the Rough Riders, they fought as dismounted cavalry. Only the 2nd Cavalry got their horses, and from all accounts made good use of their advantage. But the Rough Riders were far from helpless while on their feet. Rynning's group was also the only one that was issued the Krag-Jorgensen rifles as well. Every other regiment had to muster their own weapons. Apparently Teddy Roosevelt had been in Washington making sure no one got a single moment's peace until his men were given right proper equipment. Apparently the departments tried giving thick wool underwear to guys heading for the tropics, which just wouldn't do. This was also the first time the United States used bolt actions in warfare, having retired from the Springfield trapdoor rifles.
|The unique loading mechanism of the Krag-Jorgensen.|
Rynning also mentions that some British mailmen visited them while en route through the Bermudas.
The assured his American cousins that if they wanted they'd help whup the Spaniards good, but Rynning was confident that they didn't need the help. The first scrap they got into was when some of their scouts found a huge force laying in ambush alongside a road the Americans were moving to use. The Americans pulled around behind them and the two forces let lead fly as they clashed. The Spaniards had a major numbers advantage, but the Americans held their positions stubbornly. Two other battle groups joined and hit the Spaniards on the flanks, collapsing them and forcing them to retreat, rather than risk getting surrounded.
It was a nasty scrap, with about a tenth of their men injured or dead. A British military adviser, Captain Lee, thought they should pull back and wait for more boys to show up before pushing on, but the Americans weren't having any of that and pushed forward anyway. Some of the officers ended up taking lead but kept going, one in particular acting as if it were merely a scratch.
Afterwards followed skirmishes and the like until they began pushing for the famous San Juan Hill. Amusingly, when at the nearby San Juan River Teddy pronounced it "San Jew-an" until corrected. After sneaking through blistering artillery fire the troops organized and began moving up the hill, heedless of the fire they were taking from the longer-ranged Mausers the Spaniards were armed with. Sun Tzu advises heavily against advancing on an entrenched enemy on high ground, so it is a testament to the determination and skill of the attackers that they took the hill from the Spaniards. No small feat of combat-craft!
After the hill was secured Colonel Wood asked Rynning to take a group of packers, head back and grab as much ammunition as he could haul and bring it to the firing line. Rynning grabbed a bushel of men and came across an ammo cache being guarded by a black sergeant. Although he wasn't supposed to, Rynning swiped ten thousand rounds of ammo from that poor sergeant and got it right up to the firing line. The Tenth Cavalry must have been mighty surprised when they ended up ten thousand rounds short!
Rynning also takes a moment to defend the actions of a volunteer group who had gotten raked across the coals by the media of the time. Turns out that they had taken some of the worst licking while getting shelled at the San Juan River, and were almost all green recruits. They were armed with the older Springfield trapdoor rifles and still using black powder. That black powder raised quite a cloud of smoke and the Spaniards focused a good bit of their ire on the boys down in the mud. They received a thorough blasting from the Mausers and Krupp artillery, so it was little wonder that some retreated after their colonel lost his mind and beat it for the rear echelon. But some of them stayed regardless, duking it out through that hail of lead, and Rynning commended them for it.
By the time Rynning got back to the front with the ammo he rustled up 42 lightly wounded men from the field hospital who were still in fighting condition and were led by none other than Wood himself, who had been promoted to brigadier general, and Roosevelt to colonel. The lines had shifted and the Spaniards were preparing to retake the hill. The Americans dug in and met them. Bullets and artillery opened up along the night, blasting the dust out of that hill as the defenders dug trenches and held against a vicious charge. Rynning claims they got to within a hundred yards before falling back! He had nothing but admiration for the Spaniards, even though they were fighting toe to toe and knocking the stuffing out of each other.
Things then came to more static fighting, lines solidifying and trying to break each other. This was where the American riflemen made things plain unsightly for the Spaniards. Sniping from extreme range they proved to be deadly and terrifying to their opponents. Rynning mentions one man by the name of Lee Snodderly who requested permission to fire at a mounted officer at a thousand yards who was scooting across the front of the trenches. At that sort of range without a scope a man could hardly hope to do any real damage, but Rynning gave permission anyway. The horse went down and the officer scrambled to the safety of the trench, and afterwards no officer stood in the open on horseback.
Rynning himself made things interesting for at least one Spaniard, for the fellow kept popping around in the trenches and daring the gringos to take a shot at him. Rynning decided to oblige him. He wasn't sure if the hit the guy, but he sure didn't go asking for anyone to take shots at him anymore, so it must have been mighty close!
At one point Rynning took control of a Gatling gun which he tried to use to suppress the feisty Spaniards. However he wasn't trained to use it and burned out several of the barrels, much to his dismay. He worked the crank too fast, which even the rotating barrels couldn't stand up to. Thankfully a civilian who was had once been a captain popped up and said he knew how to work the gun and set to it. He got the barrels replaced and began blazing away nice and steady. At one point the former officer voiced his suspicion that there was a cloud of snipers hiding in some thick cover, and Rynning told him to fix that problem. He did at that, and made their lives plain miserable.
Rynning makes particular mention of an attack on some block houses. Rynning himself wasn't involved, but was none the less deeply impressed by the fight. Again charging up-hill against Mauser fire from soldiers protected behind hard walls, the Americans surged up until they were at the walls and began lifting each other over right into the teeth of the enemy, resulting in some vicious close quarters combat. They didn't hesitate as they dropped right into the defended barracks and slugged it out, eventually opening the gates and taking every living Spaniard prisoner.
After some other things were taken care of that weren't combat related to Rynning, the Spaniards surrendered and things settled down. Rynning and a few others actually got to meet up and dine with General Linares, the leader of all Spanish military forces on Cuba. One would think at least one of the fellows would be sore, but they enjoyed themselves greatly. It was interesting to note that the Spaniards had been fed some less than honest propaganda back in Madrid, believing the Rough Riders were militarized convicts who took no prisoners. Linares said that was the reason they fought so hard. They believed they would have been killed if they surrendered. The Spanish officers were most impressed with the odd Americans, and were given every courtesy granted to such ranked men. They were even allowed to retain their sidearms!
After being returned back to the States and going back to civilian work, Teddy decided that Rynning's work with fighting wasn't done yet. Although the official Wild West time period had ended with the turn of the century, the West was still very wild indeed. Arizona was in dire straights. The Texas Rangers, organized in huge companies, had either killed, arrested or chased off all the major killers, thieves and cattle rustlers in their state. The problem was, the ones that had gotten chased off set up camp throughout Arizona. Law enforcement as a whole was scattered and isolated, unable to effectively fight the droves of criminals. Many deputies themselves were cattle thieves. The big wigs there decided that they needed a special force to make the territory look like something resembling a civilized land, and formed a small group of the toughest, smartest and deadliest men they could find in order to bring peace.
They were called the Arizona Rangers.
Teddy Roosevelt hand-picked Thomas Rynning to be the captain of the newly formed Arizona Rangers, replacing Burton Mossman, who had done a darned good job while he was in charge, having only 14 men against literally thousands of outlaws. At first they operated secretly, since they were fairly outgunned. The odds stacked against them made the Earps and their skirmish with the Cowboys look like a walk in the park by comparison.
Rynning actually wasn't too keen on taking on the position since he was making a decent bundle with his business, but simply couldn't turn down a request from Teddy himself. Being a Ranger actually didn't pay and he was barely able to pay his expenses. He'd just gotten married too, so it was tough living for a spell. It seems that unless you're a mercenary or thief you're not going to make much money fighting.
Up until these boys formed up the only man who made any sort of dent in the crime business was Sheriff John Slaughter, who sounds like a character from GI Joe, but sure enough he was the real deal, and apparently put more than his fair share of bad guys in the ground. He didn't bother trying to bring any outlaws in. He was the Old West version of the Punisher it seems, as he'd unleash twelve gauge fury on anyone breaking the law.
Rynning didn't take over immediately though, giving Mossman a little extra time as he was in the middle of setting a trap for a particularly bad fellow named Chacon, who bounced back and forth across the border murdering and thieving. And get him he did, with the assistance of two equally hard outlaws on the promise that they'd be signed on as Rangers after.
Rynning didn't let that happen though. He let only the elite into his tiny group of fighters. Aside from being hard as coffin nails and deadly, they had to have good judgement and know that they were here to fight crime, not be apart of it. So when he took over he told these two to take a hike elsewhere. But that wouldn't be the last he saw of the two. They were named Billy Stiles and Burt Alvord, and they were some of the stiffest and deadliest men the Rangers would ever tangle with.
The largest the Rangers group was ever at was 25, not even a platoon in military size, and they were up against literally thousands. The boys that were in there though were certainly up to the task, some of them even former Texas Rangers. Rynning moved his headquarters to the thickest concentration of the bad men, the town of Douglas in 1902. Murders were taking place daily in almost any place a person could be found, with law enforcement getting killed regularly. Half the deputies themselves were killers and weren't helping matters.
Rynning only covers a mere fraction of the fights that took place in Douglas, which were apparently legion. One can only guess at how many men were killed there. The streets and alleys would have been more dangerous than modern day Chicago or DC, which is saying a lot.
But the Arizona Rangers cleaned up not just Douglas, but the entire Arizona territory. Some of those brave men died during the course of duty, but those that did the killing never made it far. There was an unspoken code among them to avenge any of their fallen comrades killed outside of a fair fight. Even so Rynning made sure they weren't a bunch of ornery thugs. He made sure his boys acted like gentlemen and not like renegades. They acted polite to the citizenry and didn't start fights, only engaging when they were prompted to by duty.
One of the best men on the team was Webb. He was deadly fast with a revolver, as he proved one night during an attempted murder.
A saloon owner, Lon Bass, a known killer, had it out for Webb and threatened to kill him if he ever stepped into his establishment. Webb was ordered to steer clear of the place unless he had no other choice, since it wasn't wise to go looking for trouble. Rynning got word however that Bass was planning to murder the Ranger anyway and certainly tried.
One evening Webb was walking on patrol with a local deputy when shots came from the Cowboy Saloon. I have to hand it to Bass and his partner Tom Hudspeth. When it came to generic names they had that covered! Webb entered, looking to see who had been firing. He approached the bar when Bass popped out from one of the backrooms and jabbed his gun out into Webb's face hard enough to cut him down to the cheek-bone. With finger on the trigger and a gun literally at his face, one would think that the first draw here would be the winner. Webb somehow pulled his gun and shot Bass twice before he could fire even once. Both shots went through the saloon owner's heart, killing him deader than a coffin nail in a flash.
That's the kind of gun play that John Wesley Hardin would have had admired, who in my opinion was one of the fastest gun hands in the entire continent.
But the fighting wasn't over yet. Rynning and another Ranger, Frank Wheeler rode up and ran in, another Ranger, Lonnie McDonald coming up to assist. As they came in the craps dealer took a shot at the men and hit Lonnie in the lung. He didn't die however. Giving a display of his own remarkable marksmanship Rynning stabbed his pistol at the dealer and shot him through the arm without even looking at him, still surveying the interior. The arm broke from the impact. Rynning casually mentions he didn't deal craps for awhile after that.
Displaying a remarkable sense for procedure and thoroughness Rynning sized up the place, locked the doors so no one could leave, and drew a diagram of the entire saloon for evidence. There were difficulties with the local law and men planning on assassinating Webb, but Rynning saw him through safely until the court date, in which things were easily settled. The judge applauded the Ranger captain for his care in making the diagram.
Bail was payed off straight away, but plenty of men wanted Webb dead in a hurry. As they were fixing to leave the court Rynning and Webb were informed that there was a small mess of killers sitting armed and ready to send Webb into a coffin. They were waiting at a saloon owned by a man named Walker Bush, who Rynning says had at least seven notches carved onto the butt of his pistol. He owned plenty of others as well and appeared to be one of the harder cases in Douglas. The men he had ready for killing had been driven from state to state, leaving a trail of violence in their wake.
Most men would have avoided the street there altogether, but the Rangers weren't most men. Rynning, Webb and a third Ranger, Johnny Foster, marched right down that street bold as righteousness. And there at the mentioned saloon were five men milling around, and five only. Up and down the streets people were curiously vacant. Never a good sign. Three of these gents had Winchester repeaters and two with shotguns. Right off the lawmen knew that these boys were preparing to either unload into them at close range with the scatterguns or pick them off at a distance with the lever actions where their revolvers weren't as good.
Rather than let the criminals dictate the terms of engagement Rynning decided to take the initiative. At the captain's order they obeyed a military command and the three swung at the five men in a line and came right at them. They were ready to doll it all out right then and there. They must have looked a might intimidating bunch, because the would-be killers bolted like rabbits, darting in through the saloon and crashing out the back, taking the screen door with them on the way out. The three then walked right up to the bar and found Bush shaking like a leaf. He was willing to make peace with those lawmen then.
But his mischief wasn't over yet. One day he got fed up with his wife and acted in a most ungentlemanly way towards her, booting her out of their home. She complained to a constable, a man by the name of Al Kerr. Another constable and a Ranger named "Buzzard Head" Jacobson headed over to the troublesome saloon. According to Rynning Buzzard Head was a most odd character. He was a Mormon born in Mexico from Danish parents. He could speak Spanish and Danish, but barely any English. He was also an extremely wild man who would go frenzy when pushed. He and the constable unfortunately got caught when searching for Bush, popping out in a narrow corridor with a scattergun pressed at their bellies. It's a wonder that lead didn't start flying then and there.
Bush forced the men out and apparently expecting a fight buttoned up his saloon nice and tight, and anyone in there with him just had to put up with it. This included two dancing girls who were quite popular. Kerr was less than pleased with this. So he did the reasonable thing and bought enough dynamite to start a war, planted it all around the saloon and got ready to send it up like a roman candle. But being a gentleman, he decided that since a Ranger was involved it would be best to wait until Rynning showed up to get the okay. He didn't want to be discourteous after all. Awfully considerate of him. When Rynning arrived he suggested that perhaps it wasn't wise to blow up the women along with the killer. Kerr felt like he was at a standstill though. After all, he didn't want to blow up the womenfolk, but he had to get the bad man somehow.
Rynning decided to solve this with some smooth talking and actually coaxed the lawbreaker into letting the women out and agreed to come to court the next morning. Here was where being honest payed off, as even this rascal knew to trust Rynning at his word. He was fined fifteen dollars for all the trouble, but he was told that he had to act decent from then on or the next time it might not end so pretty. Sure enough he kept himself well behaved after that. Not bad work!
Some arrests were just plain hilarious. In once case Rynning and another Ranger were after an outlaw who was as slippery as an eel lathered in grease. This gent, Sam Scott, didn't feel like steering clear of Douglas and the Rangers went after him. They got word he was bunking down near a hog farmer's stead, ironically named Pigg himself, and got to poking around for him in the dead of night. And what should happen but Rynning stumbled upon the criminal on his sleeping tarp and bedding just outside of the fencing. Rynning jumped right on top of him and rolled him up in his bedding as neat as a burrito. Sam Scott was less than pleased with this and began raising a fantastic din of swearing.
As Rynning put it "Dave come loping up when he heard Sam's opinion about John Laws in general, and told me to get his knife, that he always carried one. I'd already reached into the outlaw's bedding and got his gun, keeping him rolled up as tight as boloney all the time. When he recognized our voices his oration became an education in cussing even for Arizona Rangers, but in spite of his unkind remarks we kept him hugged close to us like we was just wild with joy to meet up with him again, till we eased the Bowie out of his snug-fitting tarp."
Another mighty amusing event was when he was serving a warrant for the arrest of a man named Quarles for cattle thieving along with fellow Ranger Johnny Brooks. When informed of this man's name Brooks mentions that he once arrested a fellow by the same name for the same crime in Texas and how it would be a heap of fun coincidence if it was the same man. He had been poking around his stead but the missus said Quarles wasn't home. So he stood there jawing with her for awhile and leaned on a pitchfork that was sticking out of a hay stack. This haystack was mighty vocal for it gave a mighty yelp, and out comes Quarles with a mighty sore body.
The two then rode up to the homestead and the missus says her husband wasn't home. The moment Brooks lays eyes on her though he grabs a pitchfork, high-tails it for the nearby haystack and sticks it right in and was instantly rewarded with a familiar wail. Out comes again Quarles mighty sore and swearing. Brooks asks mighty happily if he was "living under them regular." Quarles failed to see the humor in the situation. It seemed he was incredulous that Brooks was bringing the law to this place too. They apologized to his wife for taking him away but she wasn't sore at all. She commented he wasn't of much use and kept winding himself up into trouble. I like to thing these involved a spree of haystack related crimes.
Another job they had their hands full was settling the mining strikes. These differed slightly from worker strikes we see today. Instead of pickets and slogans, these usually had alcohol, revenge and guns. It wasn't that unusual for men on both sides to end up mighty dead. Once the blood of strikers was up even good men sometimes did bad things. The Rangers held these down with minimal bloodshed. With nerves taut and fingers on triggers it was a wonder they were able to settle the things as peacefully as they did.
Some cases resembled small wars rather than workers fed up with their jobs. In one strike there were hundreds upon hundreds of armed men looking for blood and homesteads were turned into armed camps. In a miraculous display of bravery and savvy, Rynning, four Rangers and three deputies captured an armed group of four hundred strikers! He was mighty proud of that one and kept plenty of lawmen and workers alike from taking a desert bloodbath.
But two gents were still causing a pile of trouble. Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles were still at large, and after being denied entry to the Rangers on account of breaking virtually every law imaginable, they continued on their crime streak. They did everything from murdering, robbing trains, breaking out of jail and probably a myriad of other charges that just plain got lost in the long string of chaos they were creating. Rynning got word that they were poking around in the Sonora after he'd told them to move on, so he rounded up three other Rangers to try and bring them in. They were Billy Olds, Jeff Kidder and Tip Stanford. They had permission from Military Governor Luis Torres to cross the border in pursuit of criminals anytime it darned well pleased them, and they utilized it.
Then they engaged in a chase that took them all over the territory, with the Rangers tracking them and following hot on their heels as the outlaws struggled to keep ahead. Sympathizers gave the lawbreakers help any chance they got and gave them an edge over the lawmen, but they kept on all the same. They also picked up a third vaquero along the way it seems, for there was indeed a notorious murderer in their company. Eventually they trailed the trio into a treacherous chunk of territory known as The Box. From Rynning's description is sounds like a mess of a canyon, although ironically not a box canyon, that was child's play to ambush from.
Rynning urged his three companions to stay there, planning on going through by himself on the belief that the two wouldn't kill him outright, but if they saw all four they would open fire in a jiffy. And in that mess of rocks and brush it'd be easy to inflict damage on the trailers. So he tells them to stay put until he gives a signal to come along and heads in. He pretty much knew if he did find them he'd have to surrender as they'd be holding all the cards. Sure enough that's what happened.
Caught from three angles he had no choice but to raise his hands as the three outlaws figured on whether they should empty their guns into him on the spot. In an almost comical fashion they began talking in Spanish, acting mighty cordial in discussing how the other was and where the other was going. The third man, a Mexican, was far less charmed than Alvord and Stiles and was gung-ho to kill the Ranger right there until Rynning got fed up and said if the vaquero wanted to have it out then they should let him loose and finish it right there, but they declined. They get back to talking and Rynning, apparently having the Jedi mind trick, gets to chatting with them to where they make a deal. Rynning and his partners go back up into the States and they'd let him go without any extra lead ballast. He agreed and actually met up close, chatting and having a good old time. He even gave them some of his own tobacco!
As he headed back the way he came he comes across another Mexican acting mighty strange with a handful of American horses in tow, and swiftly finds that they were stolen and the man himself a wanted criminal. And right after that the other three Rangers come along, having decided to trail a bit despite their orders. They weren't about to leave him out to dry if the lead indeed started flying. On the way back the Mexican authorities recognized their lone prisoner and confiscated him. The gave him a swift escort to a shallow grave.
But sure enough the two would pop up again, this time swiping roughly 32,000 dollars worth of gold bullion. Mind you, this was before inflation skyrocketed, so at the time this was a gigantic sum. Most of it was recovered, but according to Rynning some of it is still stashed in the San Jose Mountains somewhere. That's a mighty fun treasure hunting prompt right there! But this time things got too hot for the two. After a blunder, some men got lucky and they had a brief shootout and Burt Alvord caught a ball of buckshot in the leg which paralyzed it. He got captured and helped recover some of the bullion they'd split up with an axe. One lawman almost ended up swiping a piece he'd gotten by accident. Sad fact was that even though bounties were put up for criminals most lawmen never got paid for them, so it was awfully tempting to have something to help put food on the table whilst getting shot at.
Things had gotten so hot that the two criminals ended up doing their business away from Arizona territory, taking wide detours to avoid the law there. One remarkable incident that happened around them, surprisingly without any gunfire, was an iron tough man by the name of Jeff Milton. He had been acting as a wagon guard and gotten his arm shattered but killed a bandit by the name of Three-Fingered Jack. The thieves were less keen on taking his stuff after that. So with an arm in a sling and Rynning in company they happen across Burt and Billy, and in broad daylight Jeff calls them out. Jeff believed the two had been in on the crime and wanted to have it out with them. They claim they aren't heeled. Jeff asks Tom to give Burt his own gun, but Mr. Alvord just plain wasn't having any. Jeff Milton must have had the most intimidating temper right then, because in the open he takes to calling them every insult he could muster. So scathing were these remarks that Rynning says they would "peel the hide off of a Gila monster." The two outlaws backed out with their tails between their legs.
Alvord spent time in prison for a spell, and then wasn't seen after, although it was claimed he went to Central America. Stiles managed to slip away with the help of a crooked Wells Fargo agent that smuggled him along in a boxcar and had him shipped off, where he worked for awhile in the Philippines and China. This agent had been setting up inside jobs for the two criminals for a good while, arresting other gents he set up and making himself look like an amazing and hard working agent. It was a setup worthy of REH's Vultures of Whapeton, only this bad guy managed to get away, even with Rynning on his tail. Despite his efforts, the higher ups seemed to want to brush that whole bad news under the rug rather than let it leak that one of their lead men was as twisted as a screw. There were a few other men who knew he was pretty bad though. In fact, that was how Stiles ended up dying. He returned from Asia and was staying with the agent in Nevada, and a man by the name of Hayes blasted the criminal who happened to be wearing the agent's coat at the time.
That was the end of those two bad men.
One thing of extreme interest that Rynning mentions is the mysterious sixth sense that so many men of the wilds possess. His own wife said he was psychic. And yes, he used the word 'psychic.' I didn't even know that word was around at the time! Anyway, he tells one story of this that is nothing short of a ghost story, and even he was shy of telling it.
A man and his wife were living in Douglas, when one morning the missus comes to Rynning's home and said her husband has been gone for a month after he headed to Mexico to work his mine for a spell, but should have been back long before. The night before during the night hours he suddenly came in through the door wearing an expression of indescribable sadness with a length of rope wrapped around his arms and shoulders. The moment she started to speak he vanished like a wisp of smoke. She calmly claimed that she knew he had been tortured and killed. She didn't figure they'd believe her. Rynning believed her though and sent out two men to go look for the wayward man. After a mess of traveling and scooting through rough territory with some of the most surly and suspicious looking men in Mexico they'd seen, they found his body. Sure enough it had rope around him, just like his wife had said.
One day the reputable Harry Wheeler almost met his death. A dispute over a woman had been going on and the fellow without a pretty woman on his shoulder by the name of Tracey was looking around for a certain someone to express his opinion in terms that would leave no room for misunderstanding. It's hard to misunderstand words spoken from the barrel of a .45. At the time Rynning had messed his back up something awful and a doctor was hard at work trying to put it back into the right shape, so it was up to Harry to sort the business out. He found Tracey near the train station and after calmly informing him that he was under arrest Tracey responded not with words but with hot lead. Contrary to what happens in most movies, it's usually the man who draws first that ends up scoring the killing shot. The brain requires a fraction of a second to process what it is seeing and another fraction to begin responding.
As a testament to his coolness and superhuman marksmanship Wheeler punched four rounds into Tracey in a flash, all in areas where no one in his right mind wants a bullet. Even after he took a round in the leg his aim held true, which is saying a lot for a pistolero. An unsteady leg can spoil aim something fierce. Tracey then tried to surrender and Wheeler dropped his guard, having counted the man firing five shots and supposed he was dry. SAAs at the time were notorious for going off with a round under the hammer if given a solid smack. As a result no experienced man carried a full six rounds in his gun, and gave the attempted killer an extra bullet to deal out.
At the fifth shot Tracey claimed he was giving up and Wheeler, not at all feeling good with a shot through the leg laid down and seemed to settle just as Rynning came hobbling around the corner with his gun in hand. When the shooting started he scuttled out of the doctor's and to the fight, broken back or not. Then in a most dishonorable move Tracey took a sixth shot at the downed Ranger, hitting him in the heel. Wheeler had dropped his gun but wasn't done fighting and actually returned fire with an empty sardine can! At that point the fight definitively ended, for Rynning knew he was dry, but worse were thick gouts of blood squirting from Tracey's neck. The artery had been tagged and in spite of Rynning's genuine efforts was unable to stop the bleeding. Tracey bled out as he was shipped on a train for another doctor.
For a time Rynning thought Wheeler would give up the ghost as well, as the bullet had hit where the femoral artery was and both were fairly certain that his time was limited. Thankfully the bullet had actually missed and somehow hadn't shattered the bone. According to Rynning it had gone clean through the bone without sending any shrapnel anywhere. I found this most surprising as I've heard of bullets causing catastrophic damage when they penetrate bone. Near as I can figure the low velocity of the bullet spared Wheeler an unscheduled funeral. It also turned out that Tracey had murdered a judge in Nevada and had a hefty price on his head, and for once the bounty was payed. But being a gentleman, Wheeler sent the money to the widow of the man Tracey had killed.
Rynning voted Harry Wheeler as not just a great shot, but as the best. Even during this shootout all four of his shots hit, stitching Tracey from the neck down to his belt in a straight line. He also claims that often he would throw five spent shells in the air simultaneously and the marksman would knock all five out of the air with his Krag before they hit the ground. He even went to an international shooting tournament in England and had amazed the spectators with his skills. I often wonder who would have come out on top had he gotten into a competition with Karamojo Bell. That would have been something worth seeing! Both men certainly had uncanny marksmanship and demonstrated their skills countless times.
Fast as he was however, Rynning claims Jeff Kidder was faster. According to him Jeff could work the hammer of a revolver fast as Rynning could fan one. He goes so far as to say that he was the fastest shot he had ever seen. Perhaps the best testament to his tenacity and speed with a gun was displayed on his last day of living. Some time prior he'd had a brush with some smugglers he had killed several who turned out to be Mexican Rurales. They had it out for the Ranger from then on, and in Naco in 1907 they saw their chance and took it. Kidder stopped just a short distance south of the border waiting for Wheeler for reenlistment and waited in a cantina.
For reasons I'll never understand he had only a six gun on him but no additional cartridges. For my two cents I don't like the idea of leaving the house without at least one knife and two reloads ready. This is not meant to be out of any disrespect to Kidder, but rather I simply don't understand why he would have gone into dangerous territory under-gunned. Although as we'll see, perhaps for the most part he never needed more than five shots. The best pistol shooters of the West were all killed from behind. Hickok was shot in the back while playing cards. John Wesley Hardin, who had supposedly put 40 men in the ground was shot in the chest and head from behind by a sheriff.
Kidder? Two Rurales ambushed him from behind and another two from the side. Yet even as four professional gunmen opened fire on Kidder without warning from the best angles possible he managed to mortally wound three of them and bolt from the cantina. If anyone has pulled a move like that before or since I would love to hear about him. Had these been all he had to contend with he might have gotten away. Unfortunately there were more Rurales nearby and a chase began. Kidder was wounded and limping for the American line. Yet as he was only fifty yards away he wounded a fourth man, but the return shot blinded him. His final shot missed. Having no more ammunition he was then dragged back away from the line and murdered.
Wheeler showed up a short time later and the moment he learned of the assassination he went to work, retrieving the body of his murdered companion and had it brought back to American soil. Shortly thereafter another Ranger, Billy Olds, resigned his position and drifted southwards. A few years later he returned with an air of satisfaction. It also happened that all of the Rurales involved in Kidder's death were now occupying various coffins. The hard men in the Rangers silently refused to abide any of their members being killed in such a way and it was in their blood to get even. Such was the life they led, hard as the sun-baked rocks they tread upon and as fierce as coiled rattlesnakes.
A most interesting occurrence took place in 1906 when a massive strike started up that almost resulted in the Sonora being absorbed by the US as another state. Bill Greene, the one in charge of the giant copper mines with a head for money and politics had one of his operations spin up from a strike up into a race war. Mexican and American miners alike began potting at each other. Some just wanted to take their anger out on everything and in no time thousands of armed men were increasing the territory's lead content. Aside from the miners were of course a mess of American settlers, businessmen and officials who were trying to not get caught up in the crossfire.
Naturally thousands of Americans up in Arizona got fired up and wanted to storm down south to protect their fellow Americans from getting shot up. But in such a chaotic and disorganized state they were in it would have resulted in an all around blood bath and Mexico would have been dealing with yet another war. Not like they didn't have enough of those on their hands already. All major US troop bodies were too far to get there in a reasonable time. Same for the Mexicans. They had plenty of good troops en route, Rurales and Cordadas, but none were close enough to stop things from exploding. So Rynning, Greene and others assembled a major militia to calm things down in an orderly manner.
Bill Greene, his employees and all of their families were holed up in his home holding off against hundreds of fired up Mexicans and were in rather dire need of assistance. Although they were well armed and laying down deadly fire they were badly outnumbered and only had so much ammo. The Rangers set themselves to fix this problem.
In a grand display of organization under trying circumstances Rynning gathered together the steadiest of volunteers from out of thousands, finding men with military experience and appointing them as officers who in turn organized their battle groups. In no time they had a well organized and competent fighting force assembled. One of Greene's men even set up one of the shops he owned to hand out all the weapons and ammunition needed for the force. Rynning regrets that he had turned down two experienced cavalrymen who were negroes who wanted to join up. He afraid that in the heat of the moment some of the other boys might get mixed up about who they were shooting at. They then all loaded up onto a train and hauled tail down across the border.
They arrived in Naco a short time later. Just before pulling out Rynning had been informed by General Torres, a grand man of Mexico in all matters he dealt with, that he was scooting up there as fast as he could to meet him. Almost right after arriving in Naco however the mayor requested Rynning's presence pronto. Hopping over to his estate the mayor said that he surrendered and that the Americans could have the city. It turns out that there were many Mexican officials who actually wanted the Americans to take over the Sonora. Rynning turned him down however, saying he was there only to keep Americans alive and to settle things down.
One problem that started right up was actually from the US side. The governor was sending a storm of telegraph messages to Rynning. He knew however that whatever orders he got he would have to follow, but this might result in plenty of people getting killed. To avoid this problem he had another man take all the messages for him and reply back that the Ranger captain was just too plain busy at that particular moment to return his messages.
While the militia were getting drilled so that the officers could have some semblance of cohesion a special train rolled in with Military Governors Torres and Ysabel. They were most unhappy with the proposition of a few hundred armed Americans invading their real estate and that they should haul tail right back the way they came. Rynning said that he had no intention of doing anything unsettling but would set boots wherever he needed to in order to save American lives. But he came up with a compromise that would save everyone a world of legal and blood trouble. He offered to have his militia and officers sworn in as volunteers of the Mexican Army!
Rynning apparently not only served as a Captain in the US but held a strange sort of Captain's commission in Mexico too which gave him some weight. Better still he'd had many dealings with Torres and knew each other well. Torres was well aware of the Ranger's cool behavior and keeping things straight. He also pointed out that his volunteers were extremely restless and aching for a fight. If they weren't accepted and sent in the right direction they would blast through anyway to save the women and children stranded out there. The two military governors accepted. The civilians walked over the line, were sworn in and then led under Torres to keep things under control. Rynning sure had a way with logic and sweet talking when things were rough!
They then packed up onto another train and lit out to pacify the mining region. First stop was Greene's house where most of the people had holed up for safety. A former Ranger and a bunch of other hardened cowpunchers were hiding behind an eighteen inch high rock wall and picking their targets calm and casual. They did some deadly work and held out until the American reinforcements showed up and cleared that spot out. That had been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting. In another region they chased a passel of snipers from their rocky roosts and assembled them in the nearby town.
By then Ysabel, Torres and Greene rolled up. Greene began sweet talking the strikers, reminding them how he had always been fair and treated everyone right. This was in fact very true. In contrast to a lot of robber barons who had operated in this place and time, Green paid his men well and was very sociable. He paid his miners two dollars and fifty cents a day which was actually a very handsome sum in that time and place. Most other men only made a few bits for a day's labor. In fact this was such a good wage that it had caused troubles in other places in Mexico. Ranchers could barely find any willing labor! President Diaz had even complained about this to Greene. It turns out he was paying the highest legal wage to those boys. He built up his fortune the honest way and had friends all over, and he'd earned them.
As he began speaking one Mexican jerked his gun and tried to start the fighting all over again but Greene dropped him with one shot and continued on with his speech, cool as ice. Tough old man! He managed to get that rabble settled down right quick. Johny Foster amongst others were sent at that time to calm down the biggest camp and had things wrapped up by the next morning.
One example of the toughness of frontier women was shown when Rynning was hanging around a hospital there. A few snipers were pouring fire onto that place whilst some of the women were lounging calmly on the porch as if nothing was amiss. On informing them that they should go inside for protection they laughed him off and told him that the thin slats wouldn't protect them any. Women there were as tough and dedicated as the men and could hold their own. Not many of that breed these days.
Next day the cavalry literally arrived in the form of the elite Cordada led by Colonel Kosterlitzky. As you might have guessed, this gentleman wasn't exactly born in the heart of Mexico. He was in fact a hard and savvy Russian soldier and had even served in the US Third Cavalry before deserting and hitching up with the Mexican military. He sure got around! He was also fluent in German, Polish, Spanish, English and a mess of other languages. He had enough fighting grit and smarts to work right up the ranks to the elite of the Mexican Cordada.
When he rolled up neither party was in a good mood. Kosterlitzky rode right up to Rynning and told him to beat it with his volunteers back to the US or there would be shooting. Having been fighting for hours without much sleep the Ranger was in no mood to play nice and told him that if he was in the mood for a fight, then the Russian could take his men up into the rocks where they'd have a fighting chance and get a real battle going. And he meant it. The volunteers were still full of fire and like any real American were only too happy to get into a pitched battle. For some reason the Colonel backed down and right after Greene sent for Rynning. Telling his boys to keep a wary eye out, for he didn't trust the new bunch too much, he went to the company house for a chat.
Greene, ever wary and ready to seize an opportunity had formed a plan. He had a good deal of pull with the Cordada and knew that if Kosterlitzky was out of the way he could lead them and the American volunteers all the way across the Sonora. He had backing from thousands across the US. There were still thousands of Americans all ready to rush across and get to fighting. With a combined force like that they could have cut across Northern Mexico before they could assemble a proper counter force. Even the Rurales, who were en route, wouldn't have been able to stall them for long. All Greene needed was for Rynning to grab that Russian.
The Ranger Captain called the old boy over for a business meeting. Rynning was ready to snatch him and hog-tie him, but Kosterlitzky seemed to smell that something was up. He stayed on his horse and refused to enter the building. Anytime the Ranger came close he'd spin his horse around and get some distance. Then time ran out and the Rurales rode in and the opportunity to grab a new shiny chunk of territory for the Union vanished. The Mexicans now had enough of their own muscle to calm things down, which there was little left to deal with, and it was time for the gringos to pack it up and head home.
Kosterlitzky and Rynning became friends afterwards without much trouble between them. The former said he had to be tough with him when riding in for the confidence of his men and that he had nothing personal against the Ranger. Tom even helped him get a new job in Los Angeles after having had to flee the chaos in Mexico years later. He served his new duties well and was a splendid fellow by all accounts.
Rynning still had to deal with the Arizona governor however, whom he had ignored for several days straight which was sure to wear down his sense of humor. Ready to be fired on the spot he came into the office, where he was indeed fired for ignoring the mighty important messages, but after a time reconsidered on account of the confidence the Ranger had with so many of the people in town and elsewhere. He was liked even by the criminals for being fair. Not to mention he was friends with Teddy Roosevelt and had just earned a great deal of clout from the copper tycoon Bill Greene. The governor settled down a bit and decided Rynning wasn't worth firing after all and the two made up. Sadly Military Governor Ysabel was relieved of duty shortly thereafter by his government. Rynning felt he had done the best he could with a mighty ugly mess and had helped things come out mighty shiny.
I myself wonder what would have happened if they had secured the upper Sonora desert. Greene certainly had the monetary backing and manpower to hold it down. But with the following of World War 1 later and Germany's desire for Mexico to fight with the gringos to tie them down I think that the seizing of the Sonora would have given them the perfect excuse for such an action. It would have been very interesting to see how things would have turned out historically if that had taken place. Sadly even Torres was booted from Mexico after the wave of devastating revolutions that tore the country apart later. He was able to live in Los Angeles but had been a loyal Mexican to the bone, serving with distinction in hard spots. He would have been the biggest obstacle in the way of Greene's ambitions and would have been the one most likely to beat him.
One of the last great jobs Rynning held down was being the warden of an Arizona prison, many of the inmates being men he had captured and stuck in there in the first place. It was difficult parting from the elite Arizona Rangers, but he knew where he was needed and gave the job over to Wheeler who proved time and again he was up to the task.
One would think that he would have done poorly with such a ruthless lot, but his experience with criminal minds made him a perfect candidate it seems. He openly professes to not knowing much about professional psychology and can't stack up against the theories published in papers, but he had a working knowledge of men and put it to work. He first took away the scatterguns that the guards had been using and gave them rifles instead, making them perfect their marksmanship every week. In a hostage situation that had taken place with his predecessor they almost ended up splattering the men they were trying to save. Anyone who couldn't hold up with aim was relieved. Everyone else however he gave backing so that he had their trust.
Turns out most new wardens of the time would fire the lot of original guards and give the jobs to his pals as favors. As long as they did right he would back them. He then began trying to actually improve things in the prison, which was a rather miserable place for both parties. He managed to whip them into shape, moving them to a new site and building a new penitentiary by hand, using the inmates as labor by paying them with time. Every good day of work took two days off of their sentence, giving them hope and work experience. Seems that many ended up faring alright after being released later on.
According to Rynning most of them simply "had twists in their understandings." They didn't understand why things such as stealing or forgery were wrong and had no real idea of what right or wrong were. He also implemented a curious policy of no snitches either. His reasoning was that such behavior caused distrust and paranoia amongst the inmates and that didn't do well for them at all. Once he had them working with a goal in mind they seemed to fare alright. Although some were permitted to go on errands without a guard hundreds of miles away only one man ever got away during the construction. The new setup was much nicer, allowing them to dig a well and even plant crops so that they were able to eat something decent.
As he put it "Get a prisoner interested in his work and the trouble with him is just about over."
There were of course scraps and problems to deal with. Things weren't always smooth and lots of men tried to escape or start problems. In the end he managed to turn some of them into decent citizens on release and got a lot of good work done.
Thomas Rynning was one of the most colorful and fascinating men that ever bit the dust of the American frontier. He was the embodiment of everything that made the US famous during the time: Honorable, brave, honest, cool headed, a polite and always ready for a good fight. He stored more adventure and accomplishments under his belt than most men ever dream of. He was a man of high morals and was always ready to sing the praises of his fellow man and take the humble view with himself. His book is thick with admiration for men who made the West seem a brighter place. Although he often dealt death and dealt with some of the nastiest criminals the US could produce he still managed to find the best in people and do what he could to bring it out.
Sadly his book Gun Notches is no longer in print. If you are blessed enough to have a copy keep a hold of it. Perhaps in time it can be reprinted. It is truly a literary treasure that belongs on the shelf of any lover of adventure and the grand American West.