9 Unsolved Mysteries of the Wild West

The lore of the Old West—stories of gunslingers, tribal and territorial warfare, missing treasure—is undying. But are the historical records to be believed? I interviewed W.C. Jameson, the famed treasure hunter, hardcore Texas cowboy, and author of over 90 books on Old West history—including Unsolved Mysteries of the Old West and the Beyond the Grave series. He tends to approach the official record more like a single piece of evidence amongst a larger crime scene. “I look for the clues that are there and chase them down,” he says. As a result, he’s drawn some conclusions of his own.

1. Did Sheriff Pat Garrett Really Kill Billy the Kid in 1881?

After William H. Bonney escaped from Lincoln County Jail in New Mexico while awaiting hanging for the murder of Sheriff William Brady, the record will tell you that Sheriff Pat Garrett tracked the outlaw, better known as Billy the Kid (above, right), to a residence in Fort Sumner where he shot and killed him. Questions abound, however, as to Garrett’s trustworthiness and the reasons for the prompt disposal of the victim’s body. Even one of his deputies present for the shooting said that the man Garrett shot was not the fugitive they had been looking for.

When a man going by the name Brushy Bill Roberts (above, left) surfaced in Texas in 1950 seeking pardon for the crimes of Billy the Kid, the media took notice. His case was eventually thrown out by the governor of New Mexico, who agreed to meet with him. The Governor did not believe Roberts was Billy the Kid. Roberts died a short time later, reportedly ashamed by the media circus that followed his confession. Jameson, however, is one of many convinced that Roberts was the real deal. “We started out trying to prove Roberts was lying,” he says of his investigation. One by one, though, all of Roberts’ claims were eventually verified. A statistical facial recognition analysis comparing Roberts to known images of The Kid suggested that the two men were actually one and the same. Jameson says that he’s challenged the so-called “traditionalist academics” that hold to Garrett’s official account of The Kid’s death to debate him on the subject, but none have accepted thus far.

2. Where is the Head of Pancho Villa?

Wikimedia Commons

This bandit-turned-hero of the Mexican Revolution retired from the battlefield after negotiating terms of withdrawal with the Mexican government in 1920—only to be assassinated in an ambush three years later. In 1926, Villa's body was exhumed mysteriously in the dark of night and his head, among other things, was removed and taken from the gravesite.

Jameson says the “prevailing theory” was that a rival Mexican general had been behind the deed. Another story held that the head was on its way to be studied by neurologists in Chicago. Others claimed the infamous Yale fraternal organization known as Skull and Bones held the skull in their vault for use in ritual rites. Jameson says that the evidence behind all of these theories is scant. (Skull and Bones has also been legally implicated in the theft of Apache Chief Geronimo’s skull, though no evidence exists that Geronimo’s head is actually missing.)

3. Where is Ben Sublett’s Secret Gold Mine?

Wikimedia Commons

In his book Unsolved Mysteries of the Old West, Jameson asserts the claim that Ben Sublett found a rich crop of gold ore in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas in the 1880s has been verified. The location of this mine, though, has been a subject of debate since Sublett’s death in 1892. Sublett says he found a canyon amongst the limestone cliffs in the Texas desert where a simple “rake of the hand through the gravel” was sure to yield a fistful of near-pure gold nuggets. Sublett even showed the location of the mine to a number of people, though none were ever able to find it in subsequent searches.

4. What Is a Thunderbird and Where Are They Now?

Pterodactyl engraving via Wikimedia Commons

Multiple newspaper articles from California and Arizona in the late 1800s report sightings of a giant winged creature resembling what would likely be called a pterodactyl today. A photo of one such beast nailed to a barn in Tombstone is said to have been widely circulated (Jameson says he’s seen it), though nobody has ever been able to produce a copy of the image.

A Cherokee treasure hunter who was a peer of Jameson’s claims to have dug up several feathers—each over 18 inches long with quills “as big around as one of his fingers”—from a cave in Utah while looking for a long-lost cache of Spanish silver. Above the mouth of this cave was an ancient pictograph of an enormous horned bird. Jameson, who says he has one of the original feathers in his collection, asserts that the feathers have been examined by a number of ornithologists, but that the species responsible for producing them has yet to be identified.

5. Where Is the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine?

Wikimedia Commons

It's perhaps the most talked-about lost treasure in American history, but there seems to be more myth than fact surrounding the gold found in Arizona by German immigrant Jacob Waltz. A party of treasure hunters moved to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona in search of Waltz’s cache shortly after his death in 1891 and, still today, an estimated 8000 visitors travel to Lost Dutchman State Park each year in hopes of striking it rich. It was said that Waltz mined his claim in the Salt River Valley of Arizona every winter between 1868 and 1886, though the source of his ore was never found.

Jameson, who wrote about the missing mine in his book Lost Mines and Buried Treasures of Arizona, suggests that the Lost Dutchman’s Mine was probably not lost at all, but says, “the chances are that the Lost Dutchman Mine was just simply mined out.” So, if you’re planning on searching for a lost treasure of your own anytime soon, it may be best to start somewhere else first.

6. Did Butch Cassidy Return to the United States?

Wikimedia Commons

It has been said that Butch Cassidy and his accomplice Henry Alonzo Longabaugh ("the Sundance Kid") were the only outlaws who lived to see themselves portrayed on film. Though the record states—and Hollywood would have you believe—that the famous bank robbers were killed in a gunfight with the Bolivian military after fleeing the U.S., many of Cassidy’s friends and family members report that he actually visited them several times after he was said to have been killed.

To complicate matters, the man responsible for identifying the two victims of the shootout in South America was a loyal friend of Cassidy’s—perhaps loyal enough to bolster Cassidy’s odds of a successful escape by falsifying the ID. Another of Cassidy’s friends was asked to look at photographs of the bodies in question and confirmed the death of Longabaugh, but said the body previously identified as Cassidy was someone else entirely.

7. Did the U.S. Army Secretly Claim the Treasure at Victorio Peak for Their Own?

Wikimedia Commons

The legend of the Victorio Peak Treasure begins in the 1600s when a dying soldier stumbled into a New Mexico monastery and confessed his knowledge of a secret cache of gold ore in the mountains to a monk named Padre Felipe LaRue. LaRue put together a band that purportedly located the mine and successfully drew ore from it for three solid years. When the Mexican Army was sent to overtake LaRue’s operation, he ordered workers to close the entrance to the mine with a landslide and, soon thereafter, LaRue’s entire camp took information about the location with them to the grave at the hands of the soldiers.

A New Mexico couple named Ernest and Ova Noss were said to have stumbled upon a narrow entrance to this mine while hunting in 1937, and then returned several times to collect the heavy gold ingots from the secret location. When Ernest tried to open the mine further with a blast of TNT, it was inadvertently sealed despite repeated attempts to reopen it. When the White Sands Missile and Bombing Range was expanded in 1955 to include the land, Ova Noss supposedly sent a party to investigate and they reported that Army officials were seen digging near the site. Still, the Army never made any mention of the Victorio gold.

In 1977, ground-penetrating radar identified an open area underground near where the Noss’ claim might have been. In the 1990s, a locked steel door was said to have been found covering the site of the original shaft. Whatever the case, a reported 88 solid-gold ingots were brought forth from the mountains of New Mexico by the Noss couple, and it is unlikely the public will ever know exactly what became of the site and its associated treasure.

8. Did Outlaw Bill Longley Elude Execution?

Wikimedia Commons

Bloody Bill Longley had more than 30 killings to his name before he was hanged at the age of 27, suggesting that Longley was one of the most prolific and psychopathic gunslingers in the Wild West. But was he successfully executed and buried in Texas?

Longley’s acquaintances held that Bloody Bill escaped from prison before being hanged and lived out the remainder of his days as a Louisiana cotton farmer under the name John Calhoun Brown. Longley had escaped prison twice before his recorded execution in 1878. Did a third escape keep this notorious killer from the gallows indefinitely?

Although Smithsonian anthropologist Douglas Owsley claims to have proven through DNA analysis that the body buried in Giddings, Texas did in fact belong to the notorious outlaw, Jameson says “all that (DNA) proves is that (the body) was a Longley relative.” Skeptics are quick to point out that a number of Longley relatives are buried in the same cemetery and that poor records make accurate identification of the body in question difficult.

9. Where Is Cochise Buried?

Dragoon Mountains via Wikimedia Commons

The body of legendary Apache Chief Cochise is buried somewhere in the wilderness of his former Chiricahua stronghold southeast of Tucson, Arizona, but the exact location of his remains is unknown to this day. Cochise and his band of Apaches occupied the area near the former location of Fort Bowie for about 15 years, most of which were marked by extreme violence on both sides. Cochise died in 1874, presumably of natural causes, and his body was buried in a traditional ceremony along with his horse and dog somewhere near his homestead. The chief’s tribespeople took the location of the grave with them when they passed on themselves.

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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