Events in history that you never knew
Thomas Calabrese ….Mary Garretson was born on March 4, 1860 in Durango, Colorado, the youngest of nine children. Her father Virgil nicknamed “Buck” worked at a variety of jobs including stagecoach guard, miner and faro dealer and her mother was half Cheyenne and a former dance hall girl. Both of her parents were free spirited and reckless individuals with no inclination to be maternal or paternal so Mary and her siblings learned at an early age on how to fend for themselves.
She left home when she was fifteen years old with Bud Caudill a local boy and small time crook and they traveled around the West robbing and stealing whenever the opportunities arose and eventually ended up in Tombstone, Arizona. Even at her early age, it was easy to see that Mary was going to mature into one of the legendary beauties of her era. She had full and long wavy black hair that hung loosely about her shoulders and smoldering dark eyes that offered fleeting glimpses of the vitality and inner fire in her soul. Mary was also fortunate enough to inherit the distinctive and stunning facial features of nobleness, strength and femininity of her Native American ancestry.
When Bud was killed in a drunken brawl in Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday befriended the young woman and taught her how to take care of herself and in the process quickly found out that Mary had lightning quick reflexes and a natural aptitude for weapons. She became so adept that when Frank McLaury and Johnny Ringo attempted to assault her one evening, she shot the gun off Johnny Ringo’s hip and put a bullet though McLaury’s earlobe before either man could clear leather. They never bothered her again and when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday heard about the altercation, they invited Mary to become their partner.
It was while she was in Tombstone that Mary met her husband, Richie “Chicken Creek” Myers, a feared bounty hunter and associate of the Earp brothers. Mary and Richie had five sons and a good life in Arizona, buying land and operating brothels and saloons throughout the territory. After the gunfight at the OK Corral, things changed dramatically around Tombstone especially after the Cowboys seriously wounded Virgil Earp on December 28, 1881 in an ambush then assassinated Morgan Earp in March of 1882. Wyatt organized a posse which Richie and Mary quickly joined and together they rode the vengeance trail until they found Ike Clanton, Frank Stilwell and Bill Brocius of the Cowboys gang and killed them. After avenging his brothers, Wyatt never returned to Tombstone leaving Mary and Richie Myers to care for his business interests. He continued to stay in contact and they faithfully sent his share of the profits, accurate down to the very last dollar, to wherever he was at the time including San Francisco and Nome, Alaska.
Mary and Richie Myers were returning from Glenwood, Colorado after making the funeral arrangement for their friend, Doc Holliday who died of tuberculosis on November, 8, 1887 when they were intercepted by a group of five highway men who grossly underestimated the skills of the couple. A gunfight ensued and the five robbers were killed, but Richie Myers was also mortally wounded in the altercation and Mary sustained several non-life threatening wounds.
Mary recovered from her injuries and continued to raise her five sons; Richard Junior, Jack, Glenn, Bob and Archie on her ranch. Several years passed without incident until her teenage sons, Richard and Jack were killed by rustlers. Mary, her other three young children and ranch hands, tracked the guilty individuals to Naco, Mexico. They recovered the stolen cattle and hanged eleven men in the town square for all to see. This was not only a stern warning to outlaws in the area, but a harsh lesson to her three impressionable boys on the reality of defending their family and property against evil individuals who would take it from them. Several of the rustlers that were hanged were members of the Cowboys gang and a large bounty was placed on Mary’s head in retribution. In order to protect her children and with the greatest reluctance Mary left her brother-in-law and his wife in charge of the ranch and her boys and disappeared. She headed north to Dubois, Wyoming where she met Robert LeRoy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy and Harry Longabaugh, alias The Sundance Kid and rode with them and the Hole In the Wall Gang for two years until Wyatt Earp found a way to contact her in Circleville, Utah in 1897, “You need to get to San Diego, the railroad is putting down tracks and we can make a fortune out there.”
“If you say so then I’m on my way.”
Mary trusted Wyatt and knew he would never lie or exaggerate to convince her of anything so she bid farewell to Butch and Sundance and contacted her brother in law. Her eldest son, Glenn would stay in Arizona to help operate the ranch and oversee the business holdings while Bob and Archie would come to San Diego to be with their mother. Wyatt was right about the lucrative financial opportunities and Mary Myers wasted no time purchasing land and businesses along the train route. There was one thing that haunted Mary and that was being forced to leave Arizona and her sons behind even though she knew it was the right thing to do at the time. With Wyatt’s help, she found out who put the bounty on her head and returned to Arizona to take care of unfinished business with her weapon of choice, a Colt Peacemaker .45 caliber pistol. Mary met with Bat Masterson, a friend of her deceased husband, Jack Hayward, a former Texas Ranger and Jerry Thompson who was Doc Holliday’s nephew at the Bisbee train depot. By the time they returned two weeks later and went their separate ways, everybody remotely connected to the bounty had been killed…twelve outlaws to be exact and the matter was closed.
After returning to California, Mary moved north to Redondo Beach and bought ten acres of prime real estate that overlooked Moonstone Beach and built a mansion with garages and a large warehouse on the property and installed a five foot high white picket fence around it with dozens of posted signs that read; Private Property, We Don’t Forgive Our Trespassers, We Bury Them!
In the early 1900’s the film industry was in its infancy and it was during this time that Wyatt Earp became friends with Tom Mix and William S. Hart, two Hollywood actors who portrayed cowboys in short films. After a discussion with Wyatt about the potential for financial enrichment, Mary invested in the Nestor Motion Picture company and also funded several of D. W. Griffith’s ventures. As time passed and the movie industry evolved, Mary became firmly entrenched as a major player in the industry.
Mary Myers could be as tough as Wild Bill Hickok or as ruthless as John Wesley Hardin when the situation warranted. She was as deadly as she was beautiful with a generous nature for those less fortunate than herself or who were going through a difficult time. When the massive San Francisco earthquake occurred on April 18, 1906, Mary had a group of her employees deliver wagonloads of essential products worth tens of thousands of dollars to the Bay Area to help the victims of the disaster.
What people didn’t realize was that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did not perish in San Vincente, Bolivia in a shootout with the army on November 6, 1908 like it was falsely reported in the American newspapers. They escaped to Mexico with Etta Place and hid out in Tijuana for several months before crossing the border into California. With Mary’s assistance, Butch and Sundance found employment as executive producers while Etta got a job as a stand-in and stuntwoman for Clara Bow, Norma Talmadge and Dorothy Davenport. The trio lived the remainder of their lives in Santa Monica. Butch and Sundance assumed the names of Terence Foss and Davis Parson while Etta used the alias of Gail Serverhill. Several of America’s earliest cinematic classics happened under the guidance of these former outlaws.
In 1913 Mary Myers sold two thousand acres that bordered her expansive M/M ranch in Prescott Arizona to movie star Tom Mix who called his ranch the Bar Circle A. They remained close friends until his death on October 12, 1940 in a traffic accident eighteen miles south of Florence, Arizona.
In the summer of 1916, one year before the United States officially entered World War I; Mary Myers’ youngest son Archie left the United States to join the Lafayette Escadrille in France. He was one of the first American aces of World War I, but was later shot down by German ace, Manfred von Richthofen, commonly called the “Red Baron” on March 14, 1918 while on patrol in the skies over Verdun, France.
After the war, one of his squadron friends, Chuck Snyder came to California with a letter that Archie asked him to deliver to his mother in case he didn’t make it back. Mary Myers was so touched by the letter and the effort that Chuck Snyder made to get it to her that she immediately offered him a job in the family business. Chuck “The Reaper” Snyder wasn’t just a hell of a fighter pilot, but a wizard when it came to anything mechanical. He could just listen to a motor and instinctively know if it was running at peak performance and if it wasn’t, he knew exactly how to fix it. He became the family’s personal pilot and routinely flew Mary to Arizona to check on her businesses or up to San Simeon to socialize with William Randolph Hearst and the Hollywood elite that included such notables as; Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Gish, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, J. Randall Davidson and the breathtakingly beautiful Stacy Chatfield.
In early 1919, two rough and tumble wildcatters, “Big John” McMasters and “Square John” Sand approached Mary about a partnership. She funded their drilling operations and in the following year, Huntington Beach and Long Beach opened their first major crude oil producing fields.
On January 16, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect and Prohibition became the law of the land. Not one to miss an opportunity, Mary Myers got into the bootlegging business. Chuck Snyder used his mechanical expertise to build Stills on various parcels of land owned by the Myers throughout the west. The main bootlegging operation was at the Redondo Beach location where several more warehouses were constructed to conceal the equipment.
A fleet of trucks routinely delivered to speakeasies in Los Angeles where Mary used her Hollywood connections to be the main supplier of illegal alcohol in the region.
The East Coast criminal syndicate operated by Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel decided to expand their activities to the West Coast so they sent two of their most trusted and ruthless enforcers to Los Angeles to put things in motion. Dante “The Dude” Luciano and Salvatore “the Torch” Pucetti, wasted no time in muscling in on the Myers’ territory, threatening speakeasy owners and movie moguls alike and those that resisted were either beaten or killed and their property was burnt to the ground.
This type of behavior reminded Mary Myers of the Cowboys’ reign of terror back in Tombstone during the 1880’s. There was only way to deal with these types of people and that was to exhibit a show of brute force that was so over the top that the interlopers lost their will to fight back. The problem with this strategy was that it could also escalate into an all-out war so when Mary found out that the powerful and ruthless Lucky Luciano was behind the takeover; she immediately realized that she needed to have everything in place before retaliating.
She called Chuck into her office, “Do you think you could purchase a few planes, outfit them with weapons then teach some of our men on how to fly them?”
“Yes ma’am, I sure can,” Chuck replied without hesitation.
“Do you want to know why?” Mary said.
“No ma’am, if and when you want me to know then you’ll tell me.”
“One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was hiring you.” Mary smiled.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Chuck Snyder wasted no time finding some five Sopwith Camel bi-planes left over from World War I in Liverpool, England and had them shipped to San Diego. They were then trucked up to Lawndale where Mary Myers built a landing strip and hangar on a section of property she owned. Chuck immediately began working on the aircraft and redesigned numerous functions including the Lewis machine guns that were mounted on the wings and when he couldn’t find replacement parts, he had local machinists make new ones according to his improved specifications. Once the Sopwith Camels were ready, Chuck trained several men on how to fly them. Mary Myers was not just sitting idly by while the Luciano syndicate expanded their control in Southern California; she had her men monitor their delivery routes and had located their storage facilities in Long Beach, Santa Fe Springs and Glendale.
When Chuck gave Mary the word that he was ready, she gave him the assignment to destroy the Luciano’s holdings. The five Sopwith Camels took off at the break of dawn with a full load of bombs and machine gun magazines filled to capacity.
Employees of Mary Myer painted red arrows on the top of their vehicles and parked near the designated targets to help direct the pilots in the bombing and strafing runs. By the time the five aircraft returned to Lawndale, the Luciano incursion into California no longer existed. Dante Luciano and Salvatore Puscetti were killed in Santa Fe Springs when Chuck dropped a bomb through the warehouse roof in which they were in, causing the Stills and stored alcohol to detonate in a series of explosions that leveled the area.
When Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Benny “Bugsy” Seigel were informed that their bootlegging operations had been destroyed in California by aircraft, they realized that they did not have the expertise or equipment to fight an air war so they wisely withdrew back to the East Coast.
In 1924 Mary advised Douglas Fairbanks Sr. on the value of real estate in San Diego County so he purchased 800 acres in Northern San Diego County and called it Rancho Zorro after his 1920 classic movie, The Mark of Zorro. Later in the century, the name was changed to Fairbanks Ranch, a location now known for its multi-million dollar estates.
Hal Roach, Raoul Walsh and John Ford often consulted with Mary about authenticity issues in their Westerns or requested the use of her sprawling Arizona ranch or California properties for filming.
A young man fresh out of USC began working for Mary Myers in 1925 after an injury ended his football career. When he voiced his interest in working in the movies, Mary made several phone calls to assist the personable and hardworking individual and got him several part time jobs as an extra, prop man and stunt double. He eventually got a starring role in the movie, The Big Trail, in 1930 and his career took off from there. There were two important pieces of advice that he received from Mary Myers that had a profound effect on his life; he changed his name from Marion Morrison to John Wayne and as soon as he began earning a living in Hollywood, he bought property in Newport Beach, California. John Wayne remained indebted to Mary Myers until the day he died on June 11, 1979 after an illustrious film career that included 250 movies.
In 1928, McMasters, Sand and Mary Myers partnered up with John D. Rockefeller and expanded their operations to Central California and were the first to drill in the famous Kettleman North Dome in Fresno County in 1928. This area later became one of the most productive oil fields not only in California, but in the entire United States.
Mary’s close friend Wyatt Earp passed away on January 13, 1929 in Los Angeles and she gave a heartfelt and touching eulogy that brought tears to everyone in attendance especially actors; Tom Mix, William S. Hart and Saylor Pickett who were three of Wyatt’s pallbearers.
On May 16, 1929, the first Academy Awards ceremony was held and the movie Wings won best picture. It was the story of two World War I pilots who fall in love with the same girl. Mary Myers was the main financial backer and Chuck Snyder was the technical advisor and did most of the flying in the movie that was made in 1927. The script was based on Chuck and Archie Myers’ relationship with a young French girl.
Mary had always been fiercely protective and loyal to family and friends and as the years passed she began to designate more responsibilities to those who had earned her trust. One of the last deals that Mary helped negotiate was the sale of a large section of coastline property to the government for use by the Marine Corps for an amphibious base. That land is now called Camp Pendleton. She made sure that the parties involved knew that she was doing this to honor the patriotic service of her beloved son who died years earlier. At one time, several high ranking government officials offered to name the base, Camp Archie Myers, but when Mary politely removed that option from consideration, their second choice was Major General Joseph H. Pendleton.
Mary Myers died on July 26, 1942 at the age of eighty two and never got the chance to meet President Roosevelt for the official dedication of the base on September 25, 1942.
The Myers family continued to expand its influence into politics, sports and business as the decades passed. The great grandson of Mary Myers, Richard Myers IV founded the world renowned, Ranchos of California Historical Society. He also serves as an executive member of the Docents of Santa Margarita Las Flores, an organization that was founded to protect the long and rich history of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. When the descendants get together at various charity functions, they always like to reminisce about their powerful matriarch and ancestor, Mary Myers. There are friendly disagreements about what is the truth and what has changed over the years into legend and lore, but all agreed on two important facts; she lived a very interesting life and second, graveyards were filled with people that foolishly crossed over Mary Myers’ Picket Fence which came to symbolize something much more ominous and deadly than just a simple wooden physical barrier.