OUTLAW, LAWMAN? BAD MAN, PRINT OLIVE

PRINT OLIVE

       I am drawing from two books on this one and the author of my favorite states, Print Olive, Just plain mean as hell.  His name was Isom Prentice Olive,  known to most as “Print”.  Print rode with the Texas Volunteers in the civil War.  After the hostilities ended he returned to Williamson County, Texas and took up ranching on his father’s spread.

     This was the time when the range was filled with the wild Longhorn Cattle that bred and roamed free.  Until a maverick was branded it was fair game to anyone who could drive, drag  or wrestle it out of the heavy brush and rope and brand it.    All this was open range but the man who controlled the watering spots either by ownership or dominance was in effect in control of the surrounding area.  A person caught branding or slaughtering a steer in that area was considered a rustler,  and the Olives had no tolerance for rustlers.

      An unfortunate individual named Ron Murry was Print Olive’s first rustler.  Print in effect shot Murray out of the saddle and then took him home, patched him up and hired him as a hand.

     The next encounter turned out a little different for Print.  He discovered one Dave Fream in a running gun battle on horse back. Fream was killed but wounded Print badly.  Olive was indicted for murder but the jury scoffed  at the charge and Print was freed.

    Still on the mend from his wounds Print started on a trail drive to Kansas.  Homesteaders felt these drives should pay a fee for crossing their lands or using their watering holes.  Often they would charge a sum that the drovers considered highway robbery.   Most trail bosses would settle on a more reasonable fee, but some pushed on with bluff or bullied their way through.

     (Now I know that this word is sensitive to many and is one that I do not use.  But it was in use at the time and is recorded in the book.  I will use it only once as printed, and apologize to any I offend.)  Print had a big black cowboy and somewhat of a gun-hand.  He would have gained greater notoriety had his skin been white.  His name was James Kelly, most commonly known as “Nigger Jim”  or “Print’s Bad Nigger”.  As a gun-hand he had few peers, and was devoted to Print Olive.

    Print would send Jim  Kelly out to negotiate with these homesteaders, most of whom had never seen a Negro in their life and never one who wore his guns in so fearsome a manner.

     One cowboy recorded:  “That big black boy with his gun would sure tell them punkin’ rollers where to head in at.  He’d roll his eyes like a duck in a thunderstorm and grit his teeth–Lord he could play a tune with his teeth.  Most of the settlers were poor northern folks that never seen any colored people and was scared of them anyway.  When they saw Kelly, they would come down quickly enough from $25 to $5 as the price for watering the herd.”

     In Ellsworth, Kansas, according to a reprinted newspaper article in a second book, an account is given as to the shooting of Print — the article is too lengthily to reprint here but it gives this account.

     “Our fair city was once again rocked with another shooting in the saloon district.  Print Olive and a local known cardsharp named Jim Kennedy had a disagreement over a hand of cards.  Mr. Kennedy stood up from the table and Mr. Olive made charges as to how Mr. Kennedy had dealt the last hand of cards.  Mr. Kennedy drew a concealed gun and before Mr. Olive could move from the table, fired striking Mr. Olive in his upraised hand.  Firing twice more Mr. Olive received serious wounds to his groin and thigh. Someone standing  on the porch fire through the window striking Mr. Kennedy in the hip.  Mr. Olive was removed to a back room for treatment by local Doctors.  Mr. Kennedy was taken into custody and treated at undisclosed location.  He later escaped though a unlocked window.”

    The person who fired through the window and there-by saved Prints life was James Kelly.

     When Print recover enough he returned to Texas to recuperate.      Farmers and cowboys were now roping and branding mavericks that the Olive’s had claim to.  Print had signs made and posted that read “All cattle and horse thieves pay attention, anyone caught ridding a Olive horse or driving a Olive cow will be shot on sight.”

     Open warfare was declared in Williamson County.  One atrocity after another became the norm, between the Olives and their neighbors.  Horses were hamstrung,  tongues were cut from prized cows, causing them to starve and die of thirst.  The Olives caught James H. Crow and Turk Turner butchering a couple of Olive mavericks.  The thieves were shot to death and wrapped and bound in the green hides of the butchered steers.  Fitting shrouds for thieves the Olive’s declared.  The bodies were left in the conditions for all to see and as a warning to others of like intention.

     These murders and other acts of a like nature resulted in so much hostility against the Olive’s that in April of 1877, they packed up their possessions and took their black cowboys and Mexican vaqueros and moved to Nebraska where everyone would get a new start.

     Back in Texas in 1877 things had changed after the defeat of Custer the year before. Army Posts were springing up across the state, bringing a semblance of protection to the numerous small settlements.  The hunger for beef in the east brought about a breed of men who felt it was easier to rustle cattle than raise them.

     Once again the Olives felt the need to post their land with warning signs declaring that anyone caught rustling Olive stock would be shot.

     All the Olive brothers took turns riding range looking for rustlers.  One afternoon Bob Olive topped a rise and discovered a herd of 75 cows being readied for slaughter.  Riding up to Ami Ketchum, he asked for proof of ownership.  Ketchum produced a bill of sale that appeared to have a forged signature of Print Olive on it.  Bob rode to the sheriff who deputised Bob to make an arrest.

     On November 26, 1878, Bob Olive, with a three man posse, surrounded the Ketchum home and called for him to surrender.  Instantly shooting from inside the cabin erupted.  A Friend of Ketchum’s, Luther Mitchell shot Bob through the lungs. Two agonising days later Bob Olive died drowning in his own blood.

     One of Nebraska’s largest manhunts ensued.  Ketchum and Mitchell were soon caught in Loop city.  The local judge ordered the transported to Custer Town.  Somewhere along the way the sheriff succumbed to threats or possibly cash and turned the culprits over to Print Olive.

    The two men were taken by wagon into the back country and stopped under an Elm Tree  with convenient low-hanging branches.  Ropes were tossed over the limbs and knotted around the men’s throats.  Ketchum began to beg for his life and Print shot him with a rifle – knocking him back out of the wagon, but his boots caught on the back of the bed, stopping him from falling to the ground.

    Olive turned to the driver and said “Move it” and the wagon lurched forward and the men fell to the ground except for their necks and heads.  The vaqueros rectified this by tugging on the ropes and pulling the bodies off of the ground.  After hanging there for awhile they were hauled to a steep bank and the side caved in on them.  This location might have gone unrecognised except for the fact that one arm protruded.  When discovered the bodies were dug up taken to town photographed then reburied.

     The callous killings divided Nebraska into to camps. Some said Ketchum got what he deserved and others recoiled at the horrendous nature of the killings.

      Apparently someone had doused the bodies with kerosene and set them on fire.  Print denied any knowledge of the act (later investigation indicated that two drunken employees had donethe deed.).  Nonetheless, Print went on trial in Hastings, Nebraska for the killings.  The court was filled to capacity with people brimming with passion and threats.  The governor was in fear of mob violence so he appealed to the army for help.  General George Crook sent a force of 100 of the west’s finest to keep order.

     In an attitude of near hysteria the jury found Print Olive guilty of second degree murder.  On April 17,1879, Print Olive was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor in the Nebraska State penitentiary.  Powerful friends worked on his behalf and after twenty months he won a new trial and was acquitted.

      Print returned from prision near broke, his father had died while he was gone.  Half of his cattle died in a bad winter blizzard.  His steady friend James Kelly had drifted away, spending his final years in Ansley, Nebraska, where he died February, 1912.

      Print  moved his holdings to Dodge City Kansas, where he established the Sawlog and Smokey Hills Ranch operation.  He was elected a director of the Western Kansas Stockmen’s Association.  Slowly old Print was on the road to respectability. 

     The only stain on Print’s reputation at this time was his oldest son Billy.  Born with Print’s fiery temperament and striking good looks he was headed for trouble.  Billy killed a man in a drunken brawl then fled to the Indian Territory  where he became a bully and rustler.  One afternoon he was ambushed near Beaver City by a couple of men and killed.

     Print co-signed on a note for a Joe Sparrow a ner-do-well cowboy, business man, and part-time desperado who died in Mexico in 1924.  Joe paid all but $10 on the note and the bank made Print make good on the balance.

     Olive threatened Sparrow on several occasions to which Joe promised to make good on the  loan.    The young deadbeat brooded over the threats for some time.  He slipped into Trail City, Colorado, where he knew Print made periodic trips.

    On Monday, August 16, 1886, Print Olive stepped off the train, discussing some future plans.  Smiling largely he stepped through the swing doors of his favorite saloon into the blazing guns of Joe Sparrow.

     I have no further information on the aftermath of this shooting and both stories end at this point.  It is evident that Print had brothers but only Bob is mentioned.  The accompanying photos to the articles show Print to be a attractive looking, well dressed man.  Hardly what one would expect a killer to look like.

  Well once again thanks for drifting along down this rambling look at our western heritage.

ramblingbob   

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18 Responses to “OUTLAW, LAWMAN? BAD MAN, PRINT OLIVE”

  1. ramblingbob Says:

    I have learned since posting this chapter that Print had several more brothers and sisters. Also as to the shooting in Ellsworth, Kansas, where Print was wounded in the thigh, print was treated by two doctors. In a article I have since found, the first Dr. could not preform the opporation need and a second Dr. was called in. As he probed the wound he discovered not only bullet fragments but a peice of Prints gold watch chain burried in the wound.

  2. robert kutz Says:

    When he was a young boy, my father knew the Olives and Nigger Jim. He said Jim was well liked by all and was feared by all. Dad said the kids looked forward to Jim’s coming to town because he would play stick ball with them or roll the hoop and he always had a pocket full of sugar licks for the kids. Jim was the Olives’ top gun. One story Dad told about Jim that shows the fear the town had of him. A saloon had imported a glass chandelier and had just put it up. Two cowboys came in and were commenting on how much fun it would be to shoot out the glass balls. About that time Jim came in the saloon, saw the chandelier, and stopped cold. He looked the chandelier over from all angles and said that it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he would kill anyone that damaged it. When prohibition came, the saloon was closed and four men very gently took down the chandelier and gently packed it away being careful to not damage it. No one knew where Jim was but they knew if they damaged that chandelier and it was at all possible, Jim would come back and kill those involved.

  3. Wes Says:

    What a hoot!
    Maybe you should read a few more accounts before you assert BS.

    Printe Olive (MURDER) in both Texas and Nebraska!

    Mitchell and Ketchum were homesteaders, and like other homesteaders, they too were being threatened by the Cattle Barron Olive . Olive didn’t believe the homesteaders had a right to encroach on HIS “free range” (Note: he didn’t buy the land he was on either…he just moved his heards in).

    Now remember the homesteaders had been given the land grants by the government, for which they had to work the land for a number of years. To protect their property and preserve their lives, the homesteaders would fence their property in to keep Olive’s cattle out of their crops…Olive’s men would cut the fencing and run their cattle into the crops, attempting to starve out and then drive off the homesteaders. When this didn’t work, many “strong arm” tactics were used by the Olives.

    These tactics were learned from their experiences in Texas and also by the ideas shared with the Olives when Printe and company journeyed over into Wyoming and spoke with the Wyoming Cattle Barons. Wyoming cattle Barrons were the “Oil Barrons of those days” and their massive wealth allowed them to deal with homesteaders in many questionable ways e.g. hired guns, control of local media (trumped up stories of “Cattle theft” “Prostitution” and other things to substantiate their actions e.g. Cattle Kate, Tom Horn, etc.).

    Printe returned from Wyoming, and after realizing that Ketchum and Mitchell weren’t going to allow themselves to be bullied, he just decided to use direct force and sent out his brother (Bob) and around five other men (who’d been deputized…Olive using money and influcence to buy officials) and went over to Ketchum’s sod house. Bob (oh, and by the way Bob Olive was going by the name Stevens since he was wanted for murder and was infact hiding from the law also) determines another course of action is in order and begins firing on Ketchum. Not knowing that Mitchell was in the sod house, Bob left himself open and Mitchell shot him from inside the house. With the leader fatally wounded the band of cutthroats take off. After the shootout at Ketchum’s sod house both Ketchum and Mitchell believeing that there will be worse repercussions from the Olive empire, fled to Loup City and after speaking with Judge Wall, turned themselves into the law (as a note they also left since Ketchum was injured and needed medical attention).

    Olive’s power and influence, probably bought a Sheriff or two and allowed for both fugitives to fall into his hands (this is speculation but somehow both were taken from a secure jail and handed over to Printe while in transport). Once Olive had them he wasted no time. Both were taken away and once a tree was selected by Prine thery were immediately hung and then burned!

    Mitchell was the one actually shot prior to the hanging (Personal revenge from Printe, since Mitchell was the one who’d actually shot Printe’s brother Bob), the story goes that when Printe sent out two of his men to cut down the bodies and bury them the two gravesmen started a fire under the corpses to “unthaw” the bodies as they had frozen over night, and the proximitey of the flames caught the bodies on fire. Another version say’s it was the flame from the muzzle of Printe’s gun.

    Regardless, Printe is anything but a prince. The wars between the giant cattle barrons and the homesteaders was definitely bloody…oh, and yes there were incidents of cattle rustling, but how may Cattle Barrons were hung for destroying the crops of settlers? The settlers who depended on those crops for their very lives…ask yourselves, “If Printe destroyed your food storage for the coming winter…what would you do?”

  4. Marty Says:

    There is a book one should read (The Ladder of Rivers) The Story of I P Olive, by Harry E Chrisman. It tell the more detailed story of the Olives. It is written from the cattlemans views. A book (When You and I were Young, Nebraska!) by Berna Chrisman speaks of the mixed relationships between the Cattlemen and Settlers. Some good and Some bad. I also know there has been published a manuscript about the settlers esp. Mitchell and Ketchum from the settlers point of view but have not read it. I only slightly know the gal that wrote it, but would like to read it. The 2 books I have mentioned are great reads that could be made into movies like that of Lonesome Dove but are true.

  5. robin marie (olive) potter Says:

    it is my understanding that my family are descendants of print olive. my brother james who lives in texas is very knowledgeable on this subject. i thought i would start reading some material.

  6. lewis brownlow Says:

    An interesting part of the story is part of Williamson County (TX) history – the shoot-out at the Olive ranch cattle pens, 1 Aug 1876. This was a raid against the Olives in retaliation for one of the rustler killings. In that raid, Thomas J “Jay” Olive, was severely wounded and died 19 days later. He was buried in nearby Lawrence Chapel Cemetery. After Bob Olive was killed in Nebraska, his body was returned to be buried near his brother Jay. Their father, James, and other members of the family are buried close together in Lawrence Chapel Cemetery.
    I am descendent of one Matilda Moore Stiles who is buried under the same large oak tree as the Olive family at the back of the cemetery. Her husband, Seaborn Stiles, was buried there in 1874, two years before the Olive ranch raid. I live 30 min away and visited the graves just this past week

  7. Tom Larimer Says:

    March 23, 2013
    In Wray, Colorado there was a dance hall and reservoir called “Olive Lake”. Is there a conmnection to Print Olive and his brothers?

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  15. Prent Milhoan Says:

    Well this is some very interesting stuff. I was interested in the man to whom I was named after. My father had always told me that I was named Prent after a man named Print Olive of the Olive Ranch in Lexington and that he was a folk hero/ outlaw. Maybe not so much the folk hero part after reading all about it. My fathers family ‘Milhoan’ has rich history in Lexington whom farmed near the Daare Bridge south of Lexington, eventually moving there farm house into town. My grandfather was a soybean farmer and truck driver who also hauled liquor ‘bootlegger’ in bales of hay from Kansas. Well its good to know the history of to whom I was named after. I kinda feel like a badass now!!! haha
    regards, Prent

  16. Amie Selecman Says:

    He was my Great great uncle – well not so great after all! My grandmother was an Olive! Grew up hearing all these stories! He was mean as hell and from what I understand, so was her father! I think Olive men needed some meds!!

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