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.