Joanne “Buckshot” Bryant was a notorious bank and train robber and is possibly best-remembered as the Queen of the Rustlers in the American West of the 1800′s. It could truly be said that this queen came from a family of outlaw aristocracy. Her parents ran the infamous Bryant Gang in Australia and may have even known the outback bandit Mad Dog Morgan before he earned his enormous reputation. When you consider the fact that the later Kelly Gang, Australia’s most well-known gang of outlaws, often pointed to the Bryant Gang as their biggest inspiration and their own personal heroes, Buckshot Bryant came from the most blue-blooded bandit stock imaginable.
Joanne, or “Jo’s” parents settled in America to live in comfortable retirement from their ill-gotten wealth from Down Under. Jo was always a handful, a very willfull and adventurous young lady who caused her parents no end of trouble. In 1861 Bryant’s parents left Missouri (where Jo was born) to escape the freshly-started Civil War and traveled east. While her family hobnobbed with various east-coast gentry Jo herself purportedly began a fling with THE Samuel Colt, a newly commissioned colonel in the Union army. Colonel Colt never saw action in the field, doing mostly administrative work, but that left him with plenty of time to frolic with the beautiful young lady he had fallen in love with. Jo was in her late teens or very early twenties (accounts vary) and Colt was as old or older than her father. When Jo’s family moved on in their travels Jo insisted on staying behind to be with her lover, remaining with him until his death in 1862.
Rather than return to her parents at this time Jo’s adventurous nature led her to begin frequenting east coast rail lines, bedecked in fashionable outfits and luring well-to-do men with amorous intentions into her coachroom, where she would immediately pull a revolver on them and force them to undress and give her all their valuables. She would then slip out of the room and off the train. When the high-living young beauty was running out of the funds from her latest haul she would once again start riding the rails, relying on her sultry looks and her well-dressed appearance to draw another victim her way. One passenger she did not rob during that period of her life was a young Union officer named Humphrey Bogart,
with whom she supposedly had a brief fling. Bogart would later marry Amarillo Rose, the most colorful figure of the Amarillo Range War.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War Bryant traveled to Missouri, siezed with an uncharacteristically nostalgic desire to once again see the home where she had spent her childhood, Kiwi Aussie Manor. She found the place a gutted shell because the abandoned home had been used as a headquarters by Confederate forces and then burned during a Union raid. Feeling more rootless than ever Jo boarded a train headed west, planning to resume her usual criminal activities. As fate would have it, once the train got into eastern Kansas it was boarded and robbed by the James-Younger Gang.
As various members of the gang made their way through the train cars relieving the passengers of their valuables, Jo sprang into action and nearly shot Frank James right between the eyes before being grabbed from behind by Frank’s buddy Cole Younger. While the now-disarmed Jo stood there cursing the two outlaws in the foulest language imaginable they both stood there eyeing the gorgeous young thing before them with just one thing on their minds and it wasn’t Reconstruction Era politics. Calming down, Jo further charmed Cole and Frank by shrewdly telling them how her home had been burned by Union troops and about her railroad scam. Soon Jesse himself was on the scene ogling Jo and listening to his brother and Cole fill him in on this unexpected development. Jesse offered Jo a place in the James-Younger “organization” and she accepted, riding off with the outlaws.
Jo started out serving as a “plant” on trains the James-Younger Gang intended to rob. Dressed in finery she would pose as a passenger, then once the gang began their assault she would produce a gun or two to keep the passengers in line and accomodate the heist in any other way she could. Ever fiery, however, Jo soon tired of that role and began taking a more active part in the robberies, toting a shotgun and even dressing in the gang’s legendary long dusters and dark cowboy hats like the other notorious woman in the gang, Belle Starr
(though since this was before her marriage to Sam Starr she was still known as Belle Shirley). Jo and Belle got along famously and Belle herself gave Bryant her nickname following a legendary incident. Bob Ford, a fringe character in the Missouri outlaw world, was often trying to force himself on Jo. After one such incident Jo began loading her shotgun, swearing she would blow off Ford’s manhood so he would stop troubling her once and for all. Bob Ford fled as quickly as he could but Jo still fired off a barrel full of buckshot at his retreating form to drive home her point. Ford was far enough away that the shot wasn’t fatal but it caught him full on the buttocks, making it difficult for him to sit down for several days. Belle laughed uproariously and began calling Jo “Buckshot” Bryant, the name she would be known by forever after.
Buckshot spent a few happy years with the James-Younger Gang, enjoying dalliances with Cole Younger and the two James brothers, sometimes both at once according to Belle Starr in her memoirs. All that Hell-raising took place in between daring bank and train robberies. Eventually, however, Buckshot Bryant wanted to lead a gang of her own and headed west along with her latest lover and fellow gang member Kevin “Colorado” Costner.
In Texas, Buckshot and Colorado gathered around them the nucleus of the bank and train robbing gang that became known as the Poker Studs. That name for the gang came about because of Buckshot Bryant’s ever-roaming eye for handsome young men, whom she grew to love having around her as her subordinates. Treating these young men as her male harem, Buckshot was so desired by all of them that she took to having the young studs play poker for the privilege of sleeping with her each night. Thus, they became known as the Poker Studs, a name which was supposedly inverted and became the namesake of the game called Stud Poker, in a Burnside/Sideburns kind of way.
Colorado Costner grew increasingly jealous of this behavior and after a furious argument with Buckshot, blurted out his love for her and rode off. Bryant was surprised by Costner’s declaration of love since she thought he saw it as just fun and games like she did. Sad but too proud to chase after him, Buckshot watched him ride off, not realizing they were destined to meet again.
Oddly stirred by the depth of Colorado’s feelings for her, Bryant tried losing herself in booze, loveplay with her Poker Studs and non-stop larcenous behavior. Eventually feeling that banks worth robbing were a bit too far apart this far out west compared to back in the Missouri-Kansas area, Buckshot decided to move into rustling instead of bank robbing, though the gang would still keep their hand in train robbing with occassional heists. Sitting tall in the saddle and with her trusty shotgun always at her side, Buckshot Bryant molded her Poker Studs into a very lucrative operation. The gang would rustle cattle from ranches throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, herd them below the border into Mexico where they would be either sold or traded for horses, which could then be sold back in the U.S. for a profit.
Once, after rustling some livestock from the High Chaparral, the gang was pursued by Manolito Montoya himself, who attacked the band of rustlers single-handed.
Intrigued by this foohardy courage, Buckshot ordered her Poker Studs not to kill the handsome Latino, with whom she checked into a Tucson hotel. There the two reached some form of accomodation, with the result that Jo promised to stop rustling from the High Chaparral and Manolito promised to never reveal the location of the desert hideout that he had trailed the gang to.
Sometimes Buckshot and the Poker Studs would rustle just a few cattle for the gang’s personal consumption and would have a massive cookout under the nighttime desert skies, the beef accompanied by tortillas, rice and beans, all washed down with gutrot whiskey. Bryant would revel in these festivities, comfortable and very pleased, surrounded as she was by a gaggle of toughened hombres who all desired and feared her at the same time.
Joining in the fun with Jo at these events would be Poker Studs like:
-Dancin’ Pat Swayze, formerly of the Point Break Gang, who joined Buckshot’s gang when she sheltered him from the Texas Rangers who were pursuing him
- Lariat Leo DiCaprio, the experienced rustler, fresh out of prison, who helped educate Buckshot Bryant and the Poker Studs in the ways of rustling. His specialty was altering cattle brands
- Colin “Wild Irish” Farrell, who fancied the rustling trade (and himself) as a continuation of the ancient Irish “art” of rustling as depicted in Celtic Mythology.
During this period of her career the Queen of the Rustlers enjoyed tweaking the forces of the law in the frontier as they ineffectually tried to bring her to justice. In the New Mexico Territory Buckshot Bryant made it her personal mission to confound the best efforts of Pat Garrett as she continually bested him at the mental chess game they played. Jo made him look so foolish that she is considered the main reason why he eventually lost reelection as sheriff and moved to Texas.
Bryant held Judge Roy Bean in particular contempt and loathed him as the epitome of the hypocritical, self-serving and corrupt system of law enforcement in the Wild West. Bean had vowed that if Buckshot was brought before him he would sentence her in one minute and hang her in two. Once, when Dancin’ Pat and Wild Irish had been captured and Bean had sentenced them to the gallows Jo mounted and executed what would today be called a commando-style raid to free her imprisoned Poker Studs. This escapade infuriated Judge Bean so much that Bryant took to freeing many of the other prisoners Bean had sentenced to death. She was so successful at this that, from then on, despite the many felons given a capital sentence by the power-crazed Judge only one was ever actually hanged. One of the men Jo rescued from Bean’s demented form of “justice” was the wandering gunfighter Juniper Johnny Depp, said to be a descendant of the notorious pirate captain Jack Sparrow. Depp and Bryant had a brief affair, which ended when the next paying client for his skill at gunplay came along and he rode off.
Buckshot Bryant and the Poker Studs are still a very sore subject with the Texas Rangers since no other band of outlaws was as skilled at foiling their pursuit. If cornered Jo and her minions were more than happy to resort to gunplay and Bryant’s shotgun sent many a law enforcement officer or bounty hunter to their graves.
Ranger William “Bigfoot” Wallace so admired Buckshot’s pluck that he had an unofficial “truce” with the rustling queen and would often get together with her and the Poker Studs across the border in Mexico to raise Hell in saloons.
Texas Ranger Mark Wahlberg came the closest to actually bringing Buckshot Bryant in, but, supposedly smitten with his gorgeous quarry, he let her go free instead. Unable to reconcile this with his devotion to law enforcement Wahlberg shot himself to death after watching Bryant ride off.
Buckshot’s friendship with Poker Alice, the frequently widowed card-player who roamed the west, is legendary. Bryant was far too shrewd to ever get involved in a poker game with the gun-toting mistress of the card tables but the two loved tearing up the saloons during the many times their paths crossed, often with mutual friend Doc Holliday present as well.
The biggest strain on their friendship came when Poker Alice was working as a dealer in a saloon owned by Bob Ford, the killer of Jesse James and the would-be lothario whose antics had led to Buckshot being so named during their years in Missouri. Jo threatened to blow Ford away for his betrayal of Jesse and had to be physically restrained by Poker Alice to prevent her from killing Ford in front of a room full of witnesses. Alice persuaded her old, dear friend to leave, but Bryant vowed to never speak to Poker Alice again as long as she worked for Ford. That promise was kept but after Alice wandered on to another location the friendship between the two legends resumed.
Many books have been written about Buckshot Bryant’s involvement with various Native American leaders. Debate over her motives for assisting them in their battles with the bluecoats of the U.S. army continues to this day. Bryant would see to it that meat from rustled cattle would find its way to hostile chiefs like Red Cloud, Geronimo and Cochise to keep their people fed during hard times. Not only that but horses that she obtained in Mexico in exchange for rustled livestock would sometimes be given to those same chiefs to help fuel their war effort. In exchange the chiefs would help Jo and her gang to hide from particularly dangerous pursuit.
Buckshot was especially close to Cochise, who named her “Shoots Deadly Woman”, and the Queen of the Rustlers was foolhardy enough to visit Cochise in disguise when her old friend was on his deathbed in 1874. Bryant even accompanied the burial party and was said to be the only white person who ever knew Cochise’s exact resting place.
With the death of this friend of hers, Buckshot Bryant’s conviction to assist the warring Native American leaders was doubled. She took to leading her Poker Studs in running guns to the Sioux during the Sioux uprising. These activities led her into contact with former Lieutenant John Dunbar, noted for his years living with Native Americans, who named him Dances With Wolves.
Dunbar had once been mistakenly arrested for a few days because of his uncanny resemblance to Bryant’s old beau Colorado Costner. Dunbar’s philosophical musings about the plight of the Native Americans helped strengthen Jo’s resolve.
One day in the 1880′s who should come riding into the canyon hideout of Buckshot Bryant and the Poker Studs but that same Colorado Costner. He hadn’t lost his touch, and had tracked the gang down and penetrated their lair without them so much as noticing. He and Buckshot embraced and he related to her how he had been caught and arrested less than a year after riding off following their argument long ago. Luckily, when he left them the gang was not yet under a death sentence so he was not hanged but he had served a long prison term. His sentence was lengthened by his refusal to cooperate by giving law enforcement any information that would help them locate the woman he loved. Kevin told Jo how the thought of being able to one day hold her in his arms again was the only thing that kept him going during his time suffering in the hellish prison conditions of the time. This time Jo wasn’t too proud to admit her feelings for this man who had endured so much for her sake and the two were supposedly wed, although no records to support that assertion have ever been found.
Costner enthusiastically embraced his true love’s desire to aid Native American resistance and the two spent several happy years devoted to each other (the gang was now the Poker Studs in name only since Jo and Kevin were deeply in love). Their lives were filled with rustling, periodic train robberies, hair’s-breadth escapes from the law and with providing surreptitious aid to the Native American cause. The two felt a tight bond with the Native Americans, whom they saw as kindred spirits in living on their own terms against the power of outside forces.
In 1890 events came crashing down on Buckshot Bryant and Colorado Costner. After the gang was very nearly caught while running a supply of fresh beef to a suffering Native American community, the Poker Studs were fed up with risking their necks in such endeavors and abandoned Jo and Kevin. The two spent a few weeks in the village and therefore got to be first hand witnesses when the Ghost Dance spread into the community. The Ghost Dance has been classified as a semi-ecstatic state in which the participants were encouraged to believe all the dead Native Americans of the past, as well as all the dead buffalo, were going to return and the white people would all be driven away. This was all misinterpreted as another uprising and troops were sent to squelch it.
Thus it was that Buckshot Bryant and Colorado Costner were on hand at Wounded Knee when the army moved in to massacre the Ghost Dancers, who were all dancing, not fighting. From what has been reconstructed of the scene, Bryant and Costner, presumably sickened at what they were witnessing, savagely fought off the attacking bluecoats for as long as they could before the overwhelming odds caught up with them and they perished alongside the people with whom they had shared their strongest bond of kinship.
Buckshot Bryant has been portrayed in films by…
and Angelina Jolie.
Tristan Ludlow himself was said to be inspired with his interest in the Native Amerian lifestyle by reading dime novels and history books about the legendary Queen of the Rustlers.
Now admittedly I have posted this in the early days of my blog. But Ed [who wrote this masterpiece] and I got talking on his recent post about: TEN NEGLECTED GUNSLINGERS: COUNTDOWN TO FRONTIERADO and Buckshot, as she tends to do when Ed and I get talking, made a few waves about being forgotten. So…to keep her quiet while I work, I gave in…and I hope those of you who have not met her before will enjoy her adventures as much as I do !!!
If you want your own saga then contact the Balladeer here.
To The Blackwater Kid – thanks for this great story from your friend Buckshot Bryant.
Buckshot is mentioned in The Amazing Saga of Lady London.
And although she plays no part in these sagas – Buckshot recommends you check them out:
Buckshot did manage to get her adventures with the Winchesters chronicled: Buckshot Rides Again…with the Winchester Boys. Well worth a read if you ask me.
Another vavavavoom lady for you to enjoy – complete with her own brand of Poker Studs !!!!