Thanks to Roger Myers for letting me post this.
Print Olive walked into his Longhorn saloon in Trail
City, Colorado, at 4:30 on the afternoon of August 16,
1886, 26 year old Joseph Sparrow anxiously watched him.
Harsh words had passed between the two the previous
night. A small man weighing perhaps 120 pounds, Print
Olive fought his battles with his guns and not his
fists. Joe Sparrow knew Olive's reputation as a
gunfighter, knew he was a bad hombre to deal with. He
would need to strike first. The time had come to settle
accounts between the two.
The second of nine children, Isom Prentice (Print) Olive
was born February 7, 1840, in Mississippi, the son of
James and Julia Brashear Olive, a quiet, churchgoing
couple. An older sister Elizabeth was born in Louisiana
as well as younger brothers Thomas J. and Marion F.
About 1843, the family moved to Williamson County,
Texas. Younger siblings Ira Webster, Robert A. (Bob),
Alice, Lula Parthenia, and Belle were born there.
Print answered the call of his beloved Texas and joined
the Confederate Army in 1861. He enlisted in Company H,
2nd Texas Infantry Regiment, reporting to Lt. N. L.
McGinnis. After fighting in the battles of Shiloh, where
he was wounded, Iuka, and Farmington, Print was captured
on the 4th of July 1863, at the fall of Vicksburg,
Mississippi. Three days later he was paroled upon
signing an agreement to never again bear arms against
the United States of America.
Sent back to Confederate lines, Olive was assigned to
duty in Galveston, Texas, where his regiment was to
guard the docks and supervise the unloading of the ships
bringing badly needed supplies to the South. His off
duty hours were spent drinking and gambling with a few
shooting scrapes thrown in writes Mari Sandoz in The
Print returned to the Olive ranch at war's end, hardened
by the experience of that bloody conflict. He realized a
man would have to be hard as steel to prosper in the
reconstruction days in Texas. He would have to fight to
become a success in the only marketable asset abundant
in Texas at the time, cattle. He would have to work
twenty hours a day to build his asset base of cattle and
land. He would have to fight still harder, be ruthless
even, to hold on to and expand what he had acquired. It
was said of him, “he don’t scare.” This then was
Print Olive; a man of the Texas frontier, ex-soldier,
prospering cattleman, ruthless foe of those he saw as
real or imagined enemies.
On February 4, 1866, Print Olive married Louisa Reno in
Williamson County, Texas. To this couple was born
William Prentice in 1868, Thomas in 1870, Harvey in
1872, Albert in 1874, and Gertrude in 1877. Gertrude
would die in childhood. To his family, Print was a
loving husband, father, and provider. He would give all
he had to make sure his family was taken care of, and
they loved him for it.
Forming a partnership, the Olive brothers Print, Jay,
and Ira began rounding up the wild longhorns that had
proliferated unattended during the war. There were
millions of these unbranded cattle, free for the taking
by whomever had the initiative to rope and brand the
beasts. They would then be driven north to such towns as
Baxter Springs, Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, and Dodge
City, Kansas. It was during a drive to Ellsworth that
Print tangled with James Kenedy, bad-seed son of famous
Texas cattleman Miflin Kenedy.
On July 3, 1872, Print Olive arrived with his herd in
Ellsworth, Kansas, shipping point for the eastern
markets. Holding the herd on the ranges along the Smoky
Hill River that ran just south of Ellsworth, Print
waited for a favorable offer for his cattle. During the
early part of July 27, Olive played poker with several
men including Kenedy. An unarmed Kenedy accused Olive of
cheating. Print told Kenedy in colorful language to cash
in his chips and get out or he would kill him. Kenedy
left. At about six o'clock that evening, Olive was
playing poker in the Ellsworth Billiard saloon. What
occurred this night was reported by the Ellsworth
Reporter of August 1, 1872. "Ellsworth, which has
been remarkably quiet this season, had its first
shooting affair this season last Saturday at about six
o'clock ... Kennedy [sic] came into the room, went
behind the bar and taking a revolver walked up in front
of Olive and fired at him - telling him to 'pass in his
checks.' Olive threw up his hands exclaiming 'don't
shoot.' The second, third and fourth shot took effect,
one entering the groin and making a bad wound, one in
the thigh and the other in the hand."
A piece of gold chain was driven into Print's groin with
the first hit. James "Nigger Jim" Kelly,
Olive's friend and trusted employee, shot Kenedy in the
hip, clubbed him, and took his revolver from him. Olive
and Kenedy were taken into custody and cared for.
Doctors Fox and Duck were called to attend to Print.
They were unable to extract the bullet and piece of
chain from the wound. However a Doctor Minnick was
called and his operation was successful.
James Kenedy was taken to a room on South Main Street
and guarded by three policemen. With the aid of friends,
he escaped through the window. He was never tried for
the assault. He would be heard from again on October 4,
1878, in Dodge City, Kansas, where he killed Dora Hand
in perhaps Dodge's most famous killing. In that incident
he would again escape justice and return to Texas where
he married, sired a son, and died of tuberculosis on
December 29, 1884.
By 1867, Olive Brothers saw the influx of settlers onto
the Texas ranges as a major threat to the way of life
enjoyed by the few large cattlemen who considered the
government owned land their property. With the settlers
came rustlers. Print Olive took the lead in trying to
rid the country of these troublesome newcomers.
The Olive brothers were constantly in and out of court.
For the most part, the charges filed against them were
by those trying to horn in on Olive range or rustle
Olive livestock. In January of 1867, Print was hauled
into court to face charges of assault with intent to
kill in wounding Rob Murday. Olive and Murday had shot
it out face-to-face a year earlier when Print caught Rob
driving Olive branded cattle. Murday, now an Olive,
employee failed to appear against Print.
In March 1872 Print was indicted for killing rustler
leader Dave Fream in another face-to-face gunfight after
Fream was discovered driving a herd in which Olive
steers were found. He was also suspected of earlier
attempting to ambush Bob Olive. Print suffered a gunshot
wound in the left shoulder. The case against Print was
In 1875 Print and brother Jay ambushed three men,
killing two and wounding one W. H. McDonald, for being
in possession of Olive cattle without a valid bill of
sale. That same year, Bob Olive killed brothers and
known rustlers Lawson and Dock Kelly.
In March of 1876, the Olives caught James Crow and Turk
Turner butchering two Olive steers. Both men were shot
and wrapped in the wet hides of the cattle they were
butchering, Olive brand showing. Some said Crow and
Turner were still alive when wrapped in the skins. As
the hot Texas sun bore down, the wet hides shrunk,
crushing the men to death. This was a warning to anyone
stealing cattle in the Olive community. None of the
brothers were convicted in court in any of the
incidents. As the Olives made things hot for those they
considered rustlers, the rustlers in turn began to fight
On the night of August 1, 1876, the Olives and their
cowboys were attacked at their cattle pens several miles
from their homes by 15-20 men led by Grip Crow, son of
James Crow. Jay Olive was killed and Print was wounded
in the hip. The Olives believed, from the inscription on
a watch found at the scene, their supposed friend, Fred
Smith, was also involved.
Soon after the fight, according to the story told in
Harry Chrisman's Ladder of Rivers, Print waited as Smith
crossed a stream in a wagon. When Smith was across,
Olive called for him to "[d]raw whenever you're
ready, Fred." Smith made his move. Print shot him
through the bridge of the nose, killing him instantly.
Olive disposed of the body and the story was kept quiet.
Since Smith's body was never found, no proof existed
that Smith was dead and no charges were brought.
On September 7, 1876, two Negroes named Banks and
Donaldson, with guns strapped to their horses, arrived
at the Olive ranch. The men dismounted and asked Print's
wife for water. Heading for the house, Banks inquired
into the whereabouts of her husband. Print, who had
heard the conversation from inside the house, came out
with his rifle asking the men their business. The men
explained they were out hunting stolen horses. Olive
demanded to know why they asked Mrs. Olive her
husband’s whereabouts. It was his belief that the
rustlers had sent Banks and Donaldson. Becoming scared
one of them jumped for his horse and was shot dead, the
other bullwhipped and run off. Olive was tried for the
murder and assault but acquitted.
By 1877, the Olives had decided the time had come to
move to the open ranges of Nebraska. Print, Ira, and now
Bob Olive took along most of the hired help, including
"Nigger Jim". The Olives settled in west
central Nebraska after bringing their herd north that
spring. Marion would join the three brothers within two
Things went well for a while. At about the same time the
country began filling up with settlers, the Olives began
complaining about rustling. Here, as in Texas,
everything Print Olive did was big. He would eventually
be known as Nebraska's richest rancher. Once again the
smaller ranchers and homesteaders who wanted to stake
their claims on the government land in the area were
told that this was Olive land; they were to stay out.
Two homesteaders who did not scare off were Ami Ketchum
and Luther Mitchell, two men who had a reputation for
stock theft. In November of 1878, Bob Olive got himself
named deputy sheriff of Buffalo County, Nebraska. An
arrest warrant for rustling was issued for Ketchum and
Mitchell. Bob Olive rode up to the Ketchum house and
demanded that those inside surrender. Shooting broke out
and Bob was killed. Ketchum and Mitchell went on the
Both men were soon caught and turned over to Print
Olive, by Custer County Sheriff Barney Gillan for the
$700 reward he had offered. Olive immediately hung
Ketchum and Mitchell. The bodies were then set afire.
Harry Chrisman wrote that two drunken men Bill Green and
Jack Baldwin came out from Plum Creek and burned the
bodies, not Print Olive. The local folks placed the
blame on Print whether he struck the match or simply
caused it to be done. Print Olive would now be forever
known as the "Man Burner".
On February 27, 1879, a Grand Jury indicted Print Olive,
Fred Fisher and seven other men. Barney Armstrong and
"Nigger Jim" Kelly were indicted as
accessories before the fact. The ensuing trial was held
in Liberal Hall in Hastings, Nebraska, on April 9, 1879.
Olive and Fisher were tried separately from the others.
Found guilty, Olive and Fisher were sentenced to life in
After 20 months in prison, Olive won a new trial, this
time in his own home district where he was acquitted.
Nearly broke from the trials and winterkill of more than
one-third of his cattle herd, Print Olive separated his
business from his brothers' and moved his operation to
Kansas in 1882. Here he found range on Sawlog Creek
north of Dodge City and the Smoky Hill River south of
Print invested in cattle, land, and a meat market and
was elected a director of the Western Kansas Stockman's
Association. He had put down roots once again and set
about rebuilding his fortune. Fortune did smile upon
Print for a while, his industrious nature made sure of
That smile began to fade in 1884, when his partner in a
meat market absconded with all the assets of the
business, leaving Print to pay off $10,000 owed to
creditors. Then in November of 1885, a cold front came
down from the north, covering the plains with ice and
snow. Another struck in December and a third storm
struck on New Year's Day 1886. Through all this
tremendously bad weather, cattle were dying in great
numbers. Chrisman wrote, "The series of storms
endured that winter of 1885-6 were the worst ever to
strike the Great Plains. That winter killed the range
cattle industry as surely as the butcher's knife kills
the beef " Cattlemen saved what they could and
skinned the rest, selling the hides for what they could
get for them. Print Olive figured he had lost forty
percent of all his cattle.
To make matters worse for the Olive family, oldest son
Billy killed Dave Harrison in Wakeeney on April 17,
1886. Likely facing a stiff jail sentence, Billy was
sent south to look up friends and family in Texas. Billy
only made it as far as Beaver City in No Man's Land (the
present Oklahoma Panhandle). He was murdered there in
September of 1887.
Nearly ruined with no way to repay his mortgages and
operating loans, Print turned to Trail City, Colorado.
With the moving of the line prohibiting the entrance of
Texas cattle into western Kansas, the National Cattle
Trail had come into use on the eastern border of
Colorado. To service that new cattle highway, Trail City
had sprung from the prairie near the Kansas line. By
September 1885, a number of businesses had been
established there including Print Olive's Trails End
stable. Later he would become a half-owner in a saloon
called the Longhorn. Print felt that these new ventures
would give him the leg up he needed to start building
another fortune. It would instead be the beginning of
In August of 1886, Olive had made arrangements to divest
himself of the livery business and set about collecting
his accounts. He wanted to head back to Kansas to attend
his own cattle business in Ford and Gove counties. One
of those owing him money, $3.50, was what Harry Chrisman
described as a "big, handsome, ne'er-do-well Texas
cowboy" named Joe Sparrow. He had come north from
his home at Goliad, Texas, with an Olive herd some time
before. In August of 1886, after spending some years
cowboying in Texas and present Beaver County, Oklahoma,
Sparrow was running a dance hall/whorehouse in Trail
Print Olive found Joe Sparrow in the early morning hours
of August 16 and made demand for the money owed him. The
collection attempt turned ugly when a drunk Olive was
told once again by Sparrow that he couldn't pay. Olive
drew his six shooter threatening to kill Sparrow.
Pleading that he really couldn't pay him this time,
Sparrow told Olive he didn't even have enough money to
get something to eat. Always the easy touch, Olive
handed Sparrow a dollar and told him to forget it for
the time being. Olive then went home to bed.
Also in Trail City at this time was a man named John
Stansfield, a friend of Sparrow’s. He and Sparrow had
drifted together through the western country for a time.
According to the Pueblo Daily Chieftain, December 14,
1887, Stansfied, although illiterate had gotten himself
chosen register of deeds in Syracuse, Hamilton County,
Kansas. From time to time he would go on a spree in
Trail City, just across the state line. On August 15,
the night before Print Olive and Joe Sparrow had squared
off over the outstanding debt, Stansfield and Olive had
quarreled over remarks made about one of Olive's
Print Olive arose the afternoon of the 16th and headed
toward his saloon. Inside awaited Joe Sparrow and John
Stansfield. Sparrow had told Stansfield about the
confrontation with Olive the previous night. Stansfield,
according to the Chieftain, told Sparrow, "If
you'll kill him, I'll stand by you."
As Olive entered the saloon, his hand was at his waist
band where it was generally known he carried a revolver.
But on this day, perhaps by fate, Print Olive walked
unarmed. Seeing Olive enter the saloon, Sparrow fired
twice wounding Olive. Print threw up his hands and
exclaimed, "My God Joe, don't murder me!"
Olive fell in the doorway. Sparrow stepped up to the
prostrate Olive, held the pistol close to his head, and
shot him. Sparrow had barely gotten out of the saloon
when an officer arrested him. Stansfield, according to
the Chieftain, "fled the scene and has not since
been heard of."
Sparrow was taken to Las Animas, Colorado, and put on
trial for murder. He was found guilty but due to
irregularities, a new trial was ordered and moved to
Pueblo. There, after a trial occupying a week and jury
deliberations lasting two and one-half days, the jury
deadlocked at eleven for conviction, one for acquittal.
At a third trial lasting four days in May of 1888, a
jury in Pueblo found Sparrow innocent.
Print Olive is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Dodge
Joe Sparrow lived on until 1924, dying an old man in