29¢ Legends of the West
Issue Date: October 18, 1994
City: Laramie, WY, Tucson, AZ and Lawton, OK
Quantity: 19,282,800 panes
Printed By: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
Perforations: 10.1 x 10
Stories about America's West have long been among the most popular pieces of American folklore. This set pays tribute to 16 individuals and features four topic-oriented stamps as well. Each of the individuals honored played an important part in the amazing history of America. This set of stamps is the first installment in a series known as the "Classic Collection." The Classic Collection will feature two or three releases each year with the same unique 20-stamp format as the Legends of the West stamps. Broadly-defined Americana themes, exceptional artwork, a banner printed on the selvage of the sheet, and descriptive text on the back of each stamp will make them a favorite with collectors.
The story of this famous issue revolves around two mistakes made by the United States Postal Service and a string of events without precedent in the history of U.S. stamp collecting.
In January 1994 the Postal Service announced it was creating a set of 20 stamps titled “Legends of the West,” featuring “broadly defined, American-themed subjects.” Sixteen of the 20 stamps honored people associated with the exploration, settlement and development of the American West. One of the people to be featured was black rodeo star Bill Pickett. The remaining four stamps, located at the corners of the sheet, featured conceptual designs: Home on the Range, Native American Culture, Western Wildlife, and Overland Mail.
After the stamps were announced, but not officially issued, a radio reporter phoned Frank Phillips Jr., great-grandson of Bill Pickett, and asked him about the stamp. This was the first Phillips had heard of the stamp, which was ironic – for the last 14 years Phillips had written to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee suggesting that Bill Pickett should be honored on a stamp. Each year he had been politely turned down. Pleasantly surprised, Phillips went to his local post office, looked at the design and recognized it as Ben Pickett – Bill’s brother and business associate. The stamp pictured the wrong man! That was the first mistake.
Phillips complained to the Postal Service and Postmaster General Marvin Runyon issued an order to recall and destroy the error stamps. Runyon also ordered new revised stamps be created – these are the corrected Legends of the West stamps (#2869) pictures here.
But before the recall, 186 error sheets were sold by postal workers – before the official “first day of issue.” This was the second mistake. These error sheets were being resold for sums ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 each!
Several weeks later the U.S. Postal Service announced that 150,000 error sheets would be sold at face value by means of a mail order lottery. This unprecedented move was made with the permission of Frank Phillips Jr. so the Post Office could recover its printing cost and not lose money. Sales were limited to one per household. The remaining stamps were destroyed.
Home on the Range
Although the cowboy has been immortalized in American folklore, the first “cowboys” were Mexicans who did their riding and roping in the provinces of California and Texas. Calling themselves vaqueros, from the Spanish word for cow, they crafted a legacy of skills, language, and style that would live on in the American cowboy.
When Texans returned home after the Civil War, they found the plains teeming with wild longhorns. Worth $4 in Texas, a longhorn steer would fetch $40 or more back East. Soon the cattle business was booming and the cowboy became its working class. Unlike some other heroes of the West, the cowboy came by his fame honestly. He worked at a brutally hard job, tackling tasks that required agility, strength, and courage.
Riding the open range he would tend the herds of cattle, rounding them up in spring so the calves could be branded and the young bulls neutered. In the fall, the cowboys would cut the marketable steers from the herd and drive the cattle to cow towns where they were shipped East on the railroads. A major event in a cowboy’s life, the trail drive lasted 2-3 months and covered as much as 1,500 miles.
The era of the open range did not last long. By 1885, advancing homesteaders, the invention of barbed wire, and fierce blizzards brought an end to the cowboy’s way of life.
Buffalo Bill Cody
Born William Frederick Cody, “Buffalo Bill” was the embodiment of the romanticized western hero. A drover on west-bound wagon trains at age eleven, Cody became an accomplished horse wrangler, hunter, and “Indian fighter” by his teens. He served as a scout for the Union Army during the Civil War, and went on to assist the government in its attempts to wipe out Native American resistance. As a buffalo hunter supplying meat for workmen building a railroad, his amazing skill with a rifle earned Cody his famous nickname.
Meanwhile back East, his daring feats provided material for newspaper reporters and dime novelists, who transformed “Buffalo Bill” into a national folk hero. Eventually 557 dime novels were written about Cody, many by authors who had never been west of the Hudson River.
In 1883 he was inspired to organize his spectacular Wild West Show - an extravaganza featuring fancy shooting, hard-riding cowboys, and war-whooping “Indians.” The show’s stars included sharp-shooter Annie Oakley, Chief Sitting Bull, and Wild Bill Hickok. Extremely popular, Cody took his show across the U.S. and even across the sea to Europe, where he delighted audiences in England, Paris, Venice, and the Vatican.
One of America’s greatest frontiersmen, Jim Bridger has been called the “Walking Atlas of the West.” When Lewis and Clark returned from their expeditions, the explorers’ tales of abundant beaver supplies in the Louisiana Territory sent a rush of trappers westward, including Bridger.
Joining a fur-trapping expedition in 1822, he spent the next 20 years exploring new territory, and blazing early paths across the West. The first white man to see the Great Salt Lake, he was also the first one to discover the scenic wonders of what would later become Yellowstone National Park. His vast geographical knowledge proved valuable in planning overland stage routes, including the Oregon Trail.
When the fur trade began to decline in the 1840’s, he established Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming. A supply station for emigrants traveling westward on the Oregon Trail, the fort also served as a fur-trading post, and later as a post for the U.S. Army.
Bridger climaxed his useful career by becoming a scout, guiding numerous exploration parties, as well as military expeditions for the U.S. Army. Bridger National Forest in western Wyoming commemorates his contributions to the development of the West.
Learning to shoot at an early age, Annie Oakley showed remarkable skill with guns and would often shoot and sell wild game to local restaurants to help support her impoverished family. When an admirer suggested she compete against professional marksman Frank Butler in a shooting exhibition, 15-year-old Annie reluctantly agreed. To the cheers of the amazed crowd she defeated Butler on the last shot, 25 to 24. They were married in 1876. Taking the stage name Oakley, she toured with vaudeville shows and circuses.
In 1885 Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. So enthusiastic was the response to her daring feats, she was given top billing as “Miss Annie Oakley – the Peerless Lady Wingshot,” while her husband served as her assistant. As part of her act she would shoot a dime held in Butler’s hand, use a mirror to shoot at a target behind her, shoot a playing card thrown in the air 90 feet away from her, and fire shots while riding a bicycle. While performing in Berlin, she obliged Crown Prince Wilhelm by shooting a cigarette held in his mouth.
The popular Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun, was loosely based on Oakley’s life. Although the musical portrays her as an outspoken tomboy, she was actually a quiet person who did needlepoint in her spare time.
Native American Culture
The New World was first settled 40,000 to 20,000 years ago by Asian peoples crossing a land bridge formed by glaciers at the Bering Strait. When Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, the people he dubbed “Indians” had spread across the entire landmass of North and South America. The Native Americans were a diverse group, developing their cultures by harmonizing with the natural world.
As American settlers migrated westward they encountered people very different from themselves. From the salmon-fishing Chinooks of the Northwest, to the buffalo-hunting Sioux of the Great Plains, to the agricultural Navajo of the Southwest, the wild west was thriving with a different kind of civilization.
At first the Native Americans tolerated the small flow of whites through their lands, but the flow soon grew into a flood. As whites continually took more of their land, the buffalo and other game on which they depended disappeared, and strange new diseases took their toll. Attitudes changed, and although the Indians were fearless warriors, winning many victories, they were no match for well-equipped American troops. In the end, the Native Americans were settled onto reservations – their ways of life changed forever.
“It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” With those famous words Chief Joseph, whose Indian name means “Thunder-traveling-to-loftier-heights,” ended the Nez Perce War. Joseph had led his people on a 15 week, 1,700 mile fighting-retreat that ended only 40 miles from the safety of the Canadian border. Outnumbered 10-to-1, the Nez Perce repeatedly outmaneuvered the U.S. Army, and actually gained the upper hand in several clashes.
The fighting began in 1877, when the U.S. government ordered the Nez Perce to move to an undesirable reservation far from their traditional home in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. After the surrender, the Nez Perce were promised they could again return to their tribal land. And although some eventually did, Chief Joseph never again saw the land of his birth.
Chief Joseph was born around 1840, the son of a chief. Joseph’s father was a Christian, and Joseph attended a mission school. In 1871 his father died and he in turn became a chief. Before his death in 1904, Chief Joseph personally spoke to both Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt on behalf of his people.
Born in south Texas, Bill Pickett was one of the 5,000 early black cowboys to work on the western ranches. It was during his days as a cowhand that he developed the technique of “bulldogging” – a trademark for which he became internationally famous. Galloping alongside a steer, he would seize the animal by its horns and twist its head up until he could sink his teeth into its upper lip, causing the beast to drop to the ground in pain.
In 1905, Pickett signed on with the Miller 101 Ranch, an Oklahoma spread that prided itself on its skillful cowhands. Within two short years, the ranch was staging elaborate rodeos. A prime attraction, Pickett wrestled steers, while Will Rogers performed tricks with his lariat and Tom Mix dazzled the crowds with his horsemanship.
The show toured the nation and eventually reached Madison Square Garden where it took New York City by storm. In Mexico City it was wagered that Pickett could hold onto a fighting bull for five minutes. Expecting to see Pickett killed, Mexicans thronged to the arena. Miraculously he held on, and after six minutes the crowd conceded Pickett had won. In 1971, he became the first black cowboy to have his memory enshrined in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Bat Masterson was known more for his handsome dress than as a quick draw, and was more likely to use his cane than his Colt pistols to settle a dispute. But his relentless pursuit of outlaws – he seldom failed to get his man – inspired fear and respect in criminals.
Born in Quebec, Canada in 1853, Bat left his family at 19 to become a buffalo hunter. Two years later he was among the hunters besieged by Comanche Indians at the battle of Adobe Walls. While serving as a scout for Colonel Nelson Miles in Texas in 1876, a soldier attempted to shoot Bat for courting his old sweetheart – but instead killed the girl, and wounded Bat. Sprawled on the floor, Bat shot the man through the heart.
Bat began a career in law enforcement in 1877 as sheriff of Ford County, home of Dodge City. He served the law in various capacities, marked by stints as a gambler and a sports writer, before settling in Denver. There he managed a theater and gambling house. With gambling on its way out, Bat later moved to New York City. His reputation earned him an appointment to Deputy U.S. Marshall by President Theodore Roosevelt. Later he became a sportswriter, and eventually a sports editor for a prominent newspaper. Bat died while working at his desk in 1921.
John C. Fremont
Known as “The Pathfinder,” John C. Fremont explored the vast territory west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. A second lieutenant in the Army Topographical Corps, he was sent in 1842 to survey a route to Wyoming.
Accompanied by frontiersman Kit Carson, who became the guide for his expeditions, Fremont went on to explore the Oregon region, and then crossed over the Sierra Nevadas to California. Returning to St. Louis, Missouri in 1844, he helped produce the first scientific map of the American West.
War with Mexico was eminent when Fremont organized his second expedition to California in 1845. Aiding Commodore Robert Stockton and General Stephen Kearny in the conquest of California, he played an important role in the development of our 31st state. Settling there briefly, he served as one of the state’s first two senators, and was nominated as the Republican candidate for president in 1856.
Following the Civil War, in which he served as a Union officer, Fremont retired from public life to devote himself to finding a possible transcontinental railroad route. In 1878 he was appointed territorial governor of Arizona, a position he held until 1883.
In the dim light of a cold October day in 1881, four cowboys accused of horse rustling gathered in a vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral. On the other side, a group of lawmen, Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their friend Doc Holliday, slowly advanced to stand within six feet of the cowboys. Moments later the deafening roar of gunfire filled the air. When the smoke cleared, three of the cowboys lay dead or dying, and the fourth was seriously wounded. Of the law men only Wyatt Earp emerged unscathed.
Few stories capture the imagination like that of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The circumstances surrounding the fight only add to the drama. It seems that the cowboys involved in the shoot-out were cohorts of the Cochise County Sheriff, Johnny Behan, who was a rival of Wyatt Earp’s – politically and in an affair of the heart.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (1848-1929) was born in Monmouth, Illinois. During his long life, Earp drove stagecoaches, worked the railroads, hunted buffalo, prospected, kept saloons, and gambled. In 1871 he was even arrested for stealing horses in Indian Territory. But it was Ned Buntline’s highly fictionalized dime novels that immortalized Earp as a gun-toting lawman.
The search for silver and gold attracted thousands of prospectors to the West, including a young woman named Nellie Cashman. Born in County Cork, Ireland, she emigrated to Boston in 1867, and from there traveled on to San Francisco. Eventually struck by gold rush fever, Cashman joined the stampede north to the remote Cassir strike in British Columbia. Her encounter with men dying along the way from scurvy moved her to organize a relief expedition laden with fresh fruits and vegetables – beginning her career as the “Miners’ Angel.”
Following the prospectors, she moved to the silver-boom town of Tucson and then Tombstone, Arizona, where she made her home for two decades. She continued to aid the ill and the injured, raising funds through benefits and soliciting money from wealthy businessmen.
In 1897, news of gold in the Klondike reached the then 47-year-old Cashman, who once again joined the rush. Enduring the demanding 600-mile trek which climbed over the formidable Chilkoot Pass, she became the first woman in the mining camp of Dawson. From there she traveled north to the mining camps in Coldfoot, Alaska. Four years before her death at age 70, she revisited Tombstone – a trip whose first 750 miles she gamely traveled by dogsled.
Born in southern Illinois, Charles Goodnight moved to Texas with his family when he was 10 and quickly learned the tricks of frontier survival. By 1866, Goodnight owned thousands of longhorn cattle, but like many other Texans, had no easy way to get his herds to lucrative eastern markets.
Instead he turned to other potential buyers – the military posts and mining towns of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Pioneering markets in the West, he and Oliver Loving, an experienced drover, opened the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Although many cattle were lost along the way, the survivors sold readily, establishing the Goodnight-Loving Trail as one of the main highways of the cattle drives and launching Goodnight as one of the first great cattle barons.
After his banking ventures failed in 1876, Goodnight moved to the lush valley of the Palo Duro Canyon. There he built an immense empire, grazing 100,000 cattle on more than 700,000 acres. To improve his stock he imported Durhams and Herefords, transforming the Texas longhorn into today’s cattle. He also blazed a second trail to the railheads in Dodge City, Kansas, which eventually extended to Montana. In 1929, he died at age 93, the typical western cattle baron.
One of the most feared and respected Indian warriors, Geronimo fought overwhelming odds in trying to win freedom for his people. Described as having the “eye of a hawk, the stealth of a coyote, and the courage of a tiger,” the great warrior was finally defeated after more than 5,000 troops were deployed against him.
A Chiricahua Apache, Geronimo’s given Native American name was Goyahkla - “one who yawns.” Embittered by the death of his mother, wife, and children at the hands of Mexican soldiers, a fearless Goyahkla killed Mexicans with a vengeance. During one battle he repeatedly ran through a hail of bullets to kill Mexican soldiers with his knife. Seeing the warrior running towards them, the soldiers began to yell out “Geronimo!” - most likely a plea to St. Jerome to spare their lives.
In 1876, the Chiricahuas were moved to a reservation in San Carlos, Arizona. But Geronimo, refusing to give up his freedom, fled with 700 followers. After his capture, he escaped and eluded the authorities for nearly ten years. During that time he faked surrender on three occasions, but fled at the last moment. Surrendering for the fourth and final time in 1886, Geronimo was moved in 1894 to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he spent the remainder of his life.
Kit Carson’s contributions to the westward expansion of the United States rank him as one of the nation’s great folk heroes. In 1824, at age 15, he ran away from home to join a caravan of traders bound for Santa Fe. Young Kit was instructed in the art of fur trapping and trading - a career he pursued for fifteen years.
In 1842 a chance encounter with explorer John C. Fremont made Carson an active participant in extending the boundaries of the continental U.S. A guide for Fremont’s government-financed expeditions until 1846, he joined up with General Stephen W. Kearny, whose command was heading for California with presidential orders to take over the region. Alternately fighting and scouting, he earned a reputation for bravery, loyalty, and devotion to duty.
During the Civil War he served in the Union Army as colonel of the 1st New Mexico Volunteers. Following the war he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs for the Colorado Territory. Carson’s fairness and sympathy for the plight of Native Americans made him an ideal choice for the position, which he held until his death. Not easily forgotten, his name is preserved across the American southwest, including Nevada’s capital, Carson City.
Wild Bill Hickok
Because a quick draw was useful on both sides of the law, many former gunfighters found work as law officers on the rowdy western frontier. Towns often overlooked a potential lawman’s checkered past, often counting on it, since a fearsome reputation could be a marshal’s best weapon.
The victor in an authentic western shootout, Wild Bill Hickok established the ideal for the fast drawing lawman. Born James Butler Hickok, “Wild Bill” received his nickname while serving as a Union scout and spy during the Civil War. In 1869 the harassed citizens of Ellis County, Kansas, elected him sheriff. Spending much of his time in Hays City, he tamed the wild frontier town. In 1871 he moved on to Abilene, Kansas, where he served as the town’s marshal.
Gaining a reputation as an expert marksman and a greatly feared fighter, “Wild Bill” became a legend in his own time. But his fame made him a target for anyone looking to kill him for a reputation. In 1876 he moved to the gold mining town of Deadwood hoping to strike it rich. It was there he was shot and killed by Jack McCall while playing cards in a saloon. Hickok fell to the floor, still clutching a pair of aces and eights, known ever since as the “deadman’s hand.”
Their hooves pounding like thunder, thousands of bison race across the prairie. An Indian decorated with feathers draws his mount close to a buffalo. Leaning for a good shot, he lets loose his arrow, and in a cloud of dust the buffalo crashes to the ground! Such images are as much a part of the wild west as the shootout.
Grizzly bears, mountain lions, deer, elk, big horn sheep, pronghorn antelope, bald eagles, and prairie dogs were all abundant in the wild west. But the story of America’s largest animal (weighing up to 3,000 pounds), the bison or buffalo, best describes how white settlement affected western wildlife.
Two hundred years ago, about 70 million buffalo thrived on the plentiful grasses of the plains. Native Americans first hunted buffalo for commercial purposes in the early 1800s, trading the hides to whites for manufactured goods. Whites soon began harvesting the animals to feed railroad workers. In 1870 a new tanning process was developed, and hide prices soared. After nearly two decades of unabashed slaughter, a survey discovered there were only 800 buffalo left on the continent! Due to protection, the buffalo has made a remarkable comeback, and today tens of thousands of these remarkable animals once more roam the prairies.
The settlement of the territory between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean owes much to the colorful scouts of our nation’s history. Masters of the art of survival in uncharted territory, their knowledge of the land and its perils made them invaluable as guides for explorers, missionaries, surveying expeditions, and emigrant wagon trains. And their wisdom proved vital to the U.S. Army, as many scouts knew the rudiments of Native American languages and could act as interpreters and peacemakers.
One such scout was Jim Beckwourth. Born a slave in Fredericksburg, Virginia, he was emancipated in 1810, and spent six years of his life living with the Crow Indians. Hired for a fur-trapping expedition into the Rocky Mountains in 1824, Beckwourth was lured to the life of a scout.
While serving as a scout for the U.S. Army, he discovered a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Located near present-day Reno, this pass became part of a major emigration route to California. Beckwourth also participated briefly in the Mexican War and served as a guide and interpreter for U.S. troops during the Cheyenne War in 1864. He eventually settled in Denver, Colorado.
From the very start Bill Tilghman was surrounded by action and adventure. In 1854, while only a couple weeks old, a Sioux warrior sent an arrow through his mother’s sleeve as she cradled him. Later in life, he shot a buffalo from a mile away. And once he shot two Cheyenne Indians he caught prowling in his camp.
In 1875 Tilghman became famous as a fearless lawman for Ford County – home of the notorious cow town Dodge City. He continued to battle frontier lawlessness in Indian Territory. His greatest triumph was the defeat of the notorious gang-leader Bill Doolin after three years of pursuit; in the end Tilghman vanquished the criminal in hand-to-hand combat.
Tilghman was elected to the state senate, but resigned to serve as police chief of Oklahoma City. From there his career took an unexpected turn when he supervised the filming of “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws,” a movie about his fight against the Doolin Gang. In 1924 the crime-ridden, oil-boom town of Cromwell, Oklahoma enticed Tilghman out of retirement. Although he succeeded in cleaning up the town, Tilghman was shot and killed by a drunkard in the street. The famous lawman Bat Masterson described Bill Tilghman as “the greatest of us all.”
Born in present-day Idaho to Shoshone parents, Sacagawea was only 12 when she was captured by an enemy tribe and taken to what became North Dakota. In 1803, she was sold to French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau, who made her his wife.
That same year, the United States finalized the Louisiana Purchase, acquiring the vast area that lay between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. To explore the unknown territory, President Jefferson dispatched Meriweather Lewis and William Clark. By fall the explorers had reached the Missouri River, where they hired Charbonneau as an interpreter. Because she spoke Shoshone, they agreed to add Sacagawea to their party.
Carrying her infant son on her back, she guided the expedition over treacherous mountain trails and down roaring whitewater rivers. Often she would forage for food, and when a riverboat capsized, she rescued vital supplies. Her presence with the explorers also eased the suspicions of other tribes, for as Clark noted, “A woman with a party of men is a token of peace.”
When the group encountered a band of Shoshone near present-day Montana, Sacagawea discovered the tribe’s chief was her brother and was able to negotiate horses, without which the expedition might have ended.
Like Americans everywhere, the ’49ers in California wanted to get their mail, but 2,000 miles of desert and treacherous mountain passes lay between them and the end of the eastern mail lines. As a result, mail traveled by ship and across the Isthmus of Panama. In 1850 it took Californians six weeks to learn their territory had become a state. Outraged, they clamored for faster mail service.
Although various companies set up stagecoach runs from the Missouri frontier to the West, the service was unreliable and oftentimes inefficient. In 1857, Congress finally took action and directed the Postmaster General to accept bids for establishing an overland mail service. A year later the Butterfield Overland Mail Company opened a regular service between St. Louis, Missouri and a jubilant California. The trip was a jolting 25-day ordeal that traveled 2,800 miles through the burning desert – home to the hostile Apache Indians.
Not surprisingly, the stagecoach mail run lasted two years before the Pony Express rode into history. On April 3, 1860, the first rider streaked westward from St. Joseph, Missouri, arriving in Sacramento just nine days and 23 hours later. But the glory of the Pony Express was short-lived. By 1861, advancing railroads and the telegraph brought a close to another chapter in American history.