The Wild West, or what was left of it, still beckoned Mainers a century ago. Since before the Civil War, their brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts had been packing up and moving there by the thousands in search of the good life. Some had returned, their curiosity satisfied, realizing they could just as easily make a living and raise a family in Maine as in California. Many more stayed, living the rest of their lives in the new land.
The Bangor newspapers frequently provided news of these adventurers, publishing letters sent home or reprinting stories from other newspapers. Often the news was good — about great wealth achieved through lumbering, mining, farming or retail pursuits, or health regained in the pure mountain air. Sometimes it was bad — of gruesome endings in the desert at the hands of Indians or bandits.
Here are two such tales briefly summarized from the pages of the Bangor Daily News. They must have served as confirmation to a few armchair dreamers that they had been right to stay behind reading dime novels and attending Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Bangor’s Maplewood Park.
SAD FATE OF MAINE BOY, declared a headline on June 2, 1906. Edgar Maurice Titus, formerly of Rockland, had left Bullfrog, Nev., with his brother-in-law Earl Weller the previous summer. They had planned to cross the Grapevine Range and Death Valley to the Panamint Range with 15 pack animals and two saddle horses. They were accompanied by one John Mullin.
After hiking up the wrong canyon and missing a crucial water supply by only a few hundred yards on the return walk, the trio finally found the right canyon. Six miles from its mouth (and from Death Valley) they found enough water for themselves, but not their animals. The horses already had perished. Leaving Mullin with their provisions, Titus and Weller set out in search of a better water supply, the nearest well being seven miles away in Death Valley.
Some of their “jacks” turned up at the Grapevine Ranch 35 miles away, and several more were found dead. A Mexican found Mullin, exhausted and delirious, and brought him to Bullfrog with some of the gear. The other two men were reported missing.
About the middle of July the Bullfrog Journal published a letter mailed from Colorado and signed by four prospectors who said they had found three dead men at the north end of Death Valley and given them “a prospectors’ burial.” They had taken $165 off them, but could find no identification.
This information was sent by letter to Titus’ mother, Mrs. Lydia Titus of Rockland. The letter was written by Earl’s father, James C. Weller of Telluride, Colo. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to contact the prospectors who found the bodies. He also had gone looking for the bodies of his son and Titus for a couple of weeks without success. He said he was too old and did not have enough money to continue the search.
“Some people believe they met foul play,” he wrote. Mrs. Titus and her daughter went to Boston and New York where they were trying to raise money and secure help for a more extensive search. That’s where the newspaper account ended.
The story of Timothy O’Leary, a former resident of Brewer, was even more shocking as told in the Bangor Daily News on Sept. 25, 1908. The headline read FOUL MURDER BY MEXICAN ROBBERS. O’Leary, 47, and John Poe had left Bisbee, Ariz., on a camping trip into Mexico. Their bodies, half devoured by wild animals, were found near Montezuma, Sonora, Mexico, a few weeks later. Their camp had been looted.
First reports surmised they probably had been murdered by Yaqui Indians. But a closer examination of the case revealed other pertinent information. O’Leary and Poe had left Brasura Ranch near Montezuma for the Coronado Mine where they collected money owed them. Some Mexican workers were paid at the same time. O’Leary and Poe were killed and robbed while they were camping on their first night out from the mine.
“As usual, when anyone is killed in this country, the Yaquis get the blame, but in this case it seems more reasonable to believe that the killing was done by Mexicans who must have known that the men had some money with them,” said the report extracted from another newspaper.
O’Leary had left Brewer 25 years earlier and settled in Spokane, Wash., where he engaged in prospecting and railroading and ran a hotel. His brother Daniel, who had gone to Arizona looking for more details of his brother’s death, lived in Spokane as well. Daniel was accompanied to Arizona by Harry O’Neil, also of Spokane. O’Neil had once lived with the O’Leary family in Brewer. They wanted to bring Tim’s body back to Brewer for burial.
Timothy had gone to Arizona about two years earlier. He had lived in Globe and traveled a great deal prospecting. He had visited friends in Bangor and Brewer about 15 years earlier. He was a man of “splendid attributes, his integrity being almost proverbial.”
Timothy had a twin brother, Cornelius, who was “the well known Brewer milk dealer.” He had a sister, Mrs. Ambrose Smith of Holden. Cornelius had learned about his brother’s death from Samuel Ford of Globe, Ariz., brother of John F. Ford, a Bangor letter carrier.
Thus the West was won, or lost as the case may be, by men from Brewer and Bangor and Rockland and hundreds of other small towns and cities up and down the Eastern Seaboard.