“Narrative of the travels and adventures of Monsieur Violet in California, Sonora, and western Texas” (1843)

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This month we’re sharing excerpts from a title found among our many well-preserved old books: the fictionalized narrative of one man’s travels throughout the U.S. southwest entitled the Narrative of the Travels and Adventures of Monsieur Violet in California, Sonora, and Western Texas. Written in 1843 by Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848), Monsieur Violet was based loosely on Marryat’s own North American journey. He had been quite the world traveler before the book’s publication, however, serving in the British Royal Navy and sailing all over the globe for several decades.

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Marryat was a widely published novelist, and is credited with being one of the first to write “sea stories” (think Master and Commander, or Moby Dick), with his most popular being the semi-autobiographical novel, Mr Midshipman Easy (1836). His authorial popularity even landed him the acquaintanceship of Charles Dickens. Oh, and in his free time Marryat invented a maritime flag signaling system.

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In 1839, four years before Monsieur Violet, Marryat published his relatively-less-fictional Diary in America. It was replete with criticisms of nineteenth-century America’s alien–to his eyes–way of doing and looking at things. Suffice to say, in the U.S. it was not uncommon to see the book publicly getting burned alongside effigies of Marryat. If he was trying to capitalize off the popularity of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 sensation, Democracy in America–and let’s be honest, he was–then he failed spectacularly.

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But back to Monsieur Violet. It was also written after Marryat’s stint in North America, and is fairly detailed in its descriptions of the southern and southwestern U.S., including the Native American tribes that inhabited those regions. We’d describe it further, but it’s not a bad read, and you may peruse it at your own leisure here: http://hdl.handle.net/10605/947. And if you’re adventurous, then perhaps you could search around the internets to see if you can locate it under its other title, The Travels and Romantic Adventures of Monsieur Violet among the Snake Indians and Wild Tribes of the Great Western Prairies.

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Cattle Rustling in the Archives

Portions of brands found in Spence Brothers Herd

At the Southwest Collection, we acquire more materials than we can describe in a thousand of these blogs. Some collections span nearly 1,000 linear feet, some a mere wallet-sized box. The Charles M. and James E. Cree Papers are one of the latter. Ranging in type from correspondence to cattle brand identification and stock counts to financial statements, the collection might at first glance inspire little interest. A closer examination, however, reveals over a decade of cattle-rustling and vandalism on a New Mexico ranch at the end of the 19th century.

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James E. Cree was a Scotsman who owned of a distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland (his son, Charles, whose name the collection also bears, was born years after this tale.) He founded the Angus VV Ranch in the 1880’s on Little Creek near Angus in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Cree and his partner Brandon Kirby are credited with introducing the Angus breed of cattle to New Mexico. Pat Garrett, former sheriff and noted slayer of Billy the Kid, at one point served as ranch manager on the VV ranch. (Although in this context, that is just some fun trivia.) The numbers of calves on the VV and other ranches are noted in the document above, as is the certification of the VV brand, below.

Brand Certificate August 30 1886-1

Report of Agent of South Eastern New Mexico Stock Growers Association 1894-1

Why do those administrative cow counts matter? Well, according to the report above as well as several related documents, someone in the Lincoln County area had been cattle rustlin’, specifically “Slick” Miller, Allen Hightower, and the Spence Brothers. From secluded spot to secluded spot, Miller and Hightower had driven the cattle stealthily until the Spences bought them at $4-5 a head. This tale was summarized by an unnamed Agent of the South Eastern New Mexico Stock Growers Association, the report of whom can be seen above, after extensive investigation and testimony.

Statement of Louis Herrera November 12 1895 2-4

Louis Herrera, a ranch employee, provided at least four separate statements at least four separate statement to investigators, a portion of which can be seen above. In other instances, only a portion of the testimony survives. The statement of J. F. Allison, below, is one such. He was involved in the arrest of “old man Eaker,” another rustler who plundered the VV.

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The conclusion of these investigations is not immediately apparent. Some rustlers were certainly arrested; others appear only once or twice in the documents. It is also possible that because these records span over a decade, other instances of cattle rustling are being document here. Perhaps some intrepid researcher could piece the entire story together using the Charles and James Cree Papers along with other SWC collections, or even collections from other archives. So take a look through the papers for yourself, and feel free to get ahold of our Reference Staff. They’re here to herd you through the process if needs be.