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About Gunplay Maxwell
Clarence L. Maxwell, known as Gunplay Maxwell (1860 - August 23, 1909) was a late 19th-century Old West gunfighter and businessman from Boston, Massachusetts.
Born the son of a hotel manager (Alfonso Bliss), Maxwell was often involved in fights even in his youth. He received a good education, but in 1875 he was involved in a bar room brawl that resulted in him shooting and killing a friend of his. Maxwell fled to Texas, and later Montana, to avoid being arrested for the murder. While in Montana and working as a cowboy, Maxwell began selling his gunman skills during the cattle-sheep wars.
He later became involved in cattle rustling in Wyoming and Utah, resulting in his being arrested and sentenced to three years in the Wyoming State Prison in 1893. While in prison, he became associated with Butch Cassidy, and the two were released within a week of one another. It was later said that he attempted to join Cassidy's gang, but was rejected. As to whether this is true or rumor is not confirmed. In any event, he formed his own gang, but it did not last and by 1898 he was riding alone again.
That year Maxwell and another man robbed the Springville, Utah bank, taking $3,000. More than one hundred posse members pursued them, killing Maxwell's partner, and capturing Maxwell after a brief shootout. He was taken to the Provo, Utah jail, but never revealed the identity of his partner, despite the latter being dead. Most of the money was recovered, either in the possession of the two robbers, or hidden near where the posse caught up to them. Maxwell was convicted of robbery, and he was sent to the Utah State Prison. Five years later, after he helped to stop a prison escape, his sentence was commuted.
While working as a mine guard, Maxwell discovered ozokerite near Colton, Utah, and filed a claim, then started the mining company "Utah Ozokerite Company". The mine soon became the largest known ozokerite mine in the world, and Maxwell opened it to the public. Despite the success of his business venture, Maxwell for unknown reasons moved on, although it is believed he retained ownership of the mine. He surfaced in Goldfield, Nevada, where he worked for mining companies by spying on striking miners. Also while there, he killed a man named Joseph Smith during a dispute, but was not prosecuted. In 1907 he was involved in another gunfight in Utah, with a man named L.C. Reigle. Both were wounded, but neither killed. Maxwell was initially arrested, but again was not prosecuted.
Later that year, in San Francisco, California, Maxwell married wealthy widow Bessie Hume, with whom he eventually moved to Ogden, Utah. However, by June 1908, Maxwell was again on the move, and while in the company of William M. Walters he robbed a Wells Fargo in Rawhide, Nevada. Both were captured, and released on bail, and were never brought to trial.
On August 23, 1909, Maxwell confronted Deputy Sheriff Edward Black Johnstone in Price, Utah, who had been tasked to stop a possible robbery that Maxwell had been planning. Maxwell also, allegedly, held a grudge against Johnstone due to the deputy having previously identified Maxwell as being a "bad man" and an ex-convict to the sheriff of Goldfield, Nevada. Maxwell confronted Johnstone in the Price Saloon, and informed him that he intended to kill him. The dispute moved them out into the street, where Maxwell drew his pistol and opened fire, but missed. Johnstone returned fire, hitting Maxwell in the elbow and the chest, knocking Maxwell to the ground. Maxwell attempted to fire yet again, but Johnstone fired a third shot, hitting Maxwell in the lung. Maxwell reportedly then said "Don't shoot again Johnstone, you have killed me." Maxwell died shortly thereafter.
When his body was prepared for buriel, it was discovered that his arms were covered with track marks, and opium was found in his pocket, giving rise to the suspicion that he had become a drug addict. He was, at the time, going under the name William H. Seaman, and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, and his grave is today unmarked, making its location not certain.
Making a name for himself on the western frontier was gunfighter and outlaw, "Gunplay” Maxwell.
Maxwell, who would use several names during his lifetime while hiding from the law, was born James Otis Bliss somewhere around Boston, Massachusetts about 1860. The son of a hotel owner, the boy received a good education, but while still a young man, got into his first trouble. Sometime around 1875, he got into a bar room brawl with a companion and ended up shooting him dead. Afterwards, he fled westward, first going to Texas, before moving northwest to Montana. There, he worked as a cowboy, honed his shooting skills, and was soon involved in the cattle/sheep wars.
Sometime later, he drifted into Wyoming and Utah where he made his "living” primarily rustling horses and cattle. In the early 1890’s, he joined up with a man named Johnson, and the two stole a bunch of horses in Wyoming, and then drove them to Nebraska to sell.
Stiffing Johnson out of the proceeds, Bliss took off back for Wyoming, where he then began to go by the name of "Catamount." However, the law finally caught up with him, charging the rustler with grand larceny. During the trial, Bliss went by the name of Clarence L. Maxwell. He was convicted and sent him to the Wyoming State Prison in 1893.
During his three year stint in prison, he met Butch Cassidy and the two were discharged within a week of each other and continued to associate together after their releases. Though Maxwell never rode with the Wild Bunch, it is said that he wanted to, but was rejected. Instead, he formed his own gang and tried to emulate the more famous gang.
However, Maxwell simply wasn’t as good an outlaw. In May, 1898, he and another man robbed the Springville, Utah bank of some $3,000. Afterwards they fled towards Hobble Creek Canyon, but were immediately pursued by a posse. In no time, nearly 100 horsemen had caught up with them and the two robbers hid in the brush. When the authorities came upon them, shots were fired, and the second bandit was killed. Maxwell was apprehended and taken to the Provo, Utah jail, where he was positively identified. He refused to reveal the identity of his accomplice. Most of the money was recovered on the robbers or found buried near their hiding place. Maxwell was soon convicted of bank robbery and sent to the Utah State Prison. However, just five years later, his sentence was commuted when he helped to stop a prison break in 1903.
After his release, he went to work as a mine guard during a strike in Carbon County, Utah and did a little prospecting on his own. In the fall of 1904, Maxwell found ozokerite, an odoriferous mineral wax in Colton, Utah. Maxwell soon formed the Utah Ozokerite Company with his lawyer and the pair hired a superintendent to manage the operations. The mine soon became the largest known ozokerite mine in the world and did so well that it went public.
But Maxwell evidently wasn’t interested in mundane mining operations, preferring his "role” as a gunfighter. He was next known to have been in Goldfield, Nevada, using the name of Thomas Bliss and allegedly working as a spy for mine owners, keeping an eye on the union’s striking workers. While he was there, he was involved the death of a man named Joseph Smith, but was not prosecuted. He soon drifted back to Utah, where in July, 1907; he was involved in a gunfight with a railroad foreman named L.C. Reigle in Helper. When the smoke cleared, both were wounded. Maxwell was initially arrested but was never prosecuted for any crime.
Later that year, he appeared in San Francisco going by the name of William H. Seaman and telling everyone he was "a descendent of one of the oldest titled families in Italy." While he was there, he married a wealthy widow named Bessie Hume in January, 1908. Though he allegedly pawned most of her jewelry, she stayed with him and the two soon moved to Ogden, Utah. At first, Maxwell shaved his mustache, donned fashionable clothing, and lived the part of an "upstanding husband.” But, that wouldn’t last long. He soon took up with a rough crowd again.
In June, 1908, he and another man, by the name of William M. Walters, held up a Wells Fargo stage at Rawhide, Nevada and were captured. He was released on bail and never brought to trial.
The next summer, on August 23, 1909, Maxwell confronted Deputy Sheriff Edward Black Johnstone in a local saloon in Price, Utah. According to the tale, Johnstone had been tasked with stopping Maxwell’s plan to rob a large payroll. In the meantime, Maxwell already held a grudge against Johnstone because he had earlier identified him to a local sheriff in Goldfield, Nevada as a "bad man” and ex-convict.
When the two men came face to face in a Price saloon, Maxwell challenged him and two were soon outside in the dusty street. Maxwell told Johnstone he intended to kill him, drew his gun, and fired upon the deputy. However, his shot missed, going through his opponent’s shirt and scratching his arm. In the meantime, Johnstone fired back, hitting Maxwell first in the elbow and then in his heart. Now lying in the dusty street, Maxwell tried to shoot again, when Johnstone fired a third shot into his lung. Maxwell’s last words were: "Don't shoot again Johnstone, you have killed me."
When his body was being prepared for burial, it showed that his arms were covered in track marks and opium was found concealed in a pocket. "Gunplay” Maxwell was a drug addict. He was buried in the pauper’s section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery under the name of William H. Seaman. However, his final resting place lies unmarked today.
The day after he was buried, the Salt Lake City Tribune printed a fitting epitaph:
"Whatever his tempestuous career may have been, matters little; his earthly record rests with him in the grave."