I. P. Print Olive; One Tough Hombre

  I.P. Print Olive

I. P. Print Olive; One Tough Hombre

Visit his Gravesite here  (offsite)  
Previously published in the December 2002 issue of the Wild West.
 Copyright 2002 - Roger Myers

Special Thanks to Roger Myers for letting me post this.

As 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 Cattlemen.

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 dismissed.

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 back. 

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 years.

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 run.

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 prison.
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 Wakeeney.

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.

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 the end.

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 City, Colorado.

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 friends.

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 City, Kansas.

Joe Sparrow lived on until 1924, dying an old man in Tampico, Mexico.

Ellsworth Reporter, August 1 - August 8, 1872
Dodge City Democrat, August 21, 1886 Dodge City Times, August 19.,1886
Pueblo Daily Chieftain, December 14 - 20, 1887, May 6, 1888
Ladder of Rivers, Harry Chrisman.
Correspondence with the Daniel Olive, relative of I. P. Olive
James W. Kenedy; Fiend in Human Form, Chuck Parsons, The English Westerners Society