Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Very Corderly Yours: The Tom Averill Vernon Letters.
Personal correspondence to and from the 1929 Saugus train robber.

Tom Averill, alias Tom Vernon, derailed the Southern Pacific's West Coast Limited train in Saugus on the night of Nov. 10, 1929, and robbed its passengers — a capital offense. Averill fled to Cheyenne, Wyo., where he held up another train, and then to Pawnee, Okla., where he was apprehended Dec. 1, 1929. He was extradited to Los Angeles and sentenced to life imprisonment on Dec. 18, 1929. Averill was paroled sometime before August 1953 and pardoned by Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown in 1964.

Averill always maintained he was the son of the notorious Cattle Kate and Jim Averill, and that he was the same prize-winning "Buffalo" Vernon who bulldogged at the Pendleton Round-up in 1910 and 1911. We question the former, and we know the latter is untrue.

The bulk of this correspondence was written in 1962 and 1963 by and between our train robber (as Averill), then living in Sacramento, and E.C. (Eric Christian) Matthews of St. Louis, Mo. Matthews (1892-1977) was a bronc rider at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in 1911, when Buffalo Vernon was active. Matthews later authored books on the American West and other topics, most notably "Sketches of the Old West" in 1962, mentioned herein.

The 1929 letter from Tom C. Grant, who ran the Ayers hotel in Deadwood, S.D., for many years, is most interesting. Note that it was sent to Averill in care of Pawnee Bill (G.W. Lillie), in reply to a letter Averill wrote to Grant while on the run in Cheyenne. At minimum, the Grant letter proves our robber told people where he was going — which, historians agree, led to his capture.

But was our robber truthfull? In his letter to Grant, did he falsely assume the identity of Averill, as he later did with Buffalo Vernon? His name at Folsom Prison was Tom Vernon, not Tom Averill. In 1962, he sent Matthews the 1929 Grant letter and other items as proof of his identity/ies. Did he use an old ruse to support a new one?

This entire set of correspondence comes to us (as jpeg files) in February 2017 from Gina Koesterer Portuguez of Santee (San Diego County). Gina's mother, Darlene Roth, knew another Matthews brother, Hugh H. Mathews/Matthews (1902-1988), and was executrix of his estate. Darlene Roth and Hugh Mathews were neighbors in Lemon Grove, San Diego County, at the time of his death.

Our robber doesn't discuss any crimes in this correspondence, but his admonition, "I hate Los Angeles," makes sense if you know the story.

Click to view.

Deadwood. S.D.
November. 21 1929.

Mr Tom Averill Vernon.
c/o Major. G.W. Lillie.
Pawnee. Oklahoma.

Dear Tom;

It was a grate surprise to me when I open your letter. Dated Nov. 17th. from Cheyenne. it was the first word I have had of you after you left the 101 Ranch show. at Madson Squar Garden new York in May 1914.

It don my heart good to read your letter. knowing your Father Jim Averill and your Mother Ella. like I did and the cowderly way they were murder. and as I recall the hardship rendered against you as a child. it makes me feel as tho I should strap on my trusty old gun and help you run to earth those that have hounded you through your past life.

Tom. I was Riding for the U.T. Ranch, owned by the Durbin Brother's. at Split Rook Wyoming. at the very time your Parents were lynch. becaus they were Homesteders / some of the Boys from this Ranch found your Parents and maid the report. But we were on able to find you. and not until Jim Mitchel came to old Fort Fittmer. Wyoming with White Eagle. a Chief from the Oglalas. did we lern as to your wharabouts.

I left the old U.T. Ranch. and returned to Pine Ridge. S.D. with Mitchel White Eagle and American Horse / I wanted to be sure you were safe. Major Gallagher the Agent at Pine Ridge. and Rock Bear. told how and whar you were found. and that Doctor Glennan. of the Eight's U.S. Cavalry had probed a bullet out of your throught. whar you had been shot by some of the same one's that had murder your Parents.

Pleas extend my good wishes to Major Lillie. and Miss May. and be sure to write me again soon.

Your Good Friend.

/s/ Tom C. Grant
Old Silver Tip.
Deadwood. S.D.


Webmaster's notes: (1) We've never seen the letter of Nov. 17 from Tom Averill that triggered this reply. (2) May Manning was Pawnee Bill's (Major Lillie's) wife.

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July 3rd 1962
825 V St

Dear Friend Mr. Matthews

Your letter of July 1st 62 reach me this morning. I was surly surprised & real glad to hear from you.

Yes I am the same Buffalo Vernon you met at Cheyenne, Wyo. in 1911. Bull-dogging in Contest's / was purty young at that time.

I had Bull-dogged the first steer from the back of a running Horse. in a contest under Rules at Pendleton, Org. in 1910.

I am enclosing 2 Pictuer's of myself. you can see my name stamped on the Pictuer. & the way we done Bull-dogging, when it was real. the other Pictuer was taken of me my last Birth-day January 28th 1962. I was 78 years old. I lost a lot of weight during a Curious[?] Operation, & never have regained it back. I am retired. draw army Penchen, gun shot wound Pay, & Social Security. I make out purty good. No income Taxes to pay. Gaby Hay's & Pat Brady, Roy Rogers & his wife Dale, stoped by Sunday to see me. Gaby & Pat were on the 101 Ranch wild west show with me & I helped to greet Roy & his wife Dale in Pritner's[?]. they are two of the finest people ever lived.

They want me to come & live with them, but I hate Los angeles.

Sure Hope you have a good time on your trip.

Best ove wishes in the world for you always.

Your old Friend

Buffalo Vernon


Webmaster's note: In 1929, Vernon said he served in the U.S. Cavalry from 1917-1919 and then "broke into the movies, doubling for big stars that couldn't ride." We're still searching for evidence.

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August 2, 1962
Buffalo Vernon
825 V Street
Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Old Friend:

Your letter and all the fine photos were here waiting for me when I returned from vacation in the west. Thanks a million and if you ever want the pictures for publication they are still yours, whenever you ask.

Most of the old timers you mention are names I remember although I knew few of them personally. Glad to hear that so many of them are still with us.

During the trip I called on a number of book stores in Denver, Colo. Springs, Cheyenne and Casper and took orders for quite a few copies of the "Sketches of the Old West." It will be a slow seller, due to high price of such a limited edition. But there are no doubt many collectors who would like to have all those old pictures, if I can just get in touch with them.

The celebration in Cheyenne was very good compared to most of the rodeos I have seen elsewhere. They had a bunch of broncos fresh off the range for the wild horse races and didn't need any bucking straps on them. But they didn't have a wild mule race. Probably the wild mules are too hard to find.

Many other features of the old time celebration were missing. There were no trick ropers or trick riders. No fancy shooting and no Indian attack on the emigrant train, which was a big feature in the old days. The Brahma bull riding and chuck wagon races are big features now.

They put me on radio for an interview about difference in the old show in 1911 and one of today. I seemed to be the oldest bronco buster present, but there was one spectator interviewed who said he had attended all the Cheyenne shows since 1907.

Will have to agree with you that the publishers want murder, gun play and other violence in all the western stuff they publish. That is why I published my own. Am like you in that respect and prefer to stick to the facts rather than to invent lurid lies about the west. Some of my books on other subjects were put out by big publishers, but my memories of the west wouldn't measure up to what the publishers want.

However, I still think the story of your life might find a market somewhere. The lack of education might not hinder as much as you think. Such little things as spelling and grammar could easily be corrected, if once you wrote up the facts, told your memories of famous people you met over the years etc.

If you have time to write it up and have no one there to revise and type it up, I'd be glad to help with getting it corrected and typewritten. Then see if a publisher can be found for you. If you happen to have a scrap book of the old days, it should be helpful in preparing the material. Think it over and see what you can do.

Thanks again for the many photographs etc. They are still yours if you ever need them. Best wishes from your old friend

/s/ E.C. Matthews

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Jan 29th 1963
825 V St

[to] Mr. E.C. Matthews
#2325 Cass Ave
St. Louis 6, Mo.

Dear Friend Mr. Matthews;

Your Birth-day Card & letters reach me right on the dot / My Birth-day the 28th.

Thanks ever so much. Now you ask me if I knew what time of day I was Born. I half to take the word of Tom C. Grant, better knowen as Old Silver Tip, who was a close Friend of my Parents. he was Present when I was born, & he told Chief & Mrs. Iron Tail & me it hapon Sunday morning at 10 minutes past 4 — January 28th, 1884. at Sweeetwater, Carbon County, Wyoming.

That's the best I can due on that matter. I received 21 Birth day Cards & $100.00 in money. My Gosh its cold out hear for California.

They Call it the land of Sun-shine & Flower's. dont beleave that / the Sun hasent been out for 2 weeks.

I have been on the verge of Packing up & going up to Alaska, whear its warm. I half to keep a Heater on all the time in the House, or freaze. I was Invited out for a big Dinner my Birth day, & we had some old time squar dancing, but I hato Play & Call off for them. they keep me bussy on the old time squar dance's all over the City & County.

The Mexican People out hear has gone crasy about or squar dances, walsey & 2-steps. They have me to partys all over the Country out hear & they realy have some Party's beleave me.

I will ring off for now / best ove wishes in the World for you always.

Very Corderly yours,

Buffalo Vernon


Webmaster's notes: (1) Jan. 28, 1884, was a Monday, not a Sunday. (2) January 1963 was cold for Sacramento, with lows dipping to 27 and a mean temperature of 42.9 degrees. As of 2017, there hasn't been a colder January since.




Passengers / Earliest Known 11-10-1929


Daybreak 11-11-1929


Newsreel Footage


Loren Ayers x5



Boynton Story


Pollack Story


LAT 11-11-1929


Vernon Captured


Mugshots 12/1929


Extradition 12-12-1929


AP 12-19-1929



REAL: Tom Vernon Prison Records


REAL: Horse Theft 1920


BOGUS: Tom Vernon Letters 1929-1963


BOGUS: Tom Vernon's Fake Photo ID 1962


BOGUS: Vernon's Own Story in 3 Parts


BOGUS: Cattle Kate Story 12-7-1929


BOGUS: Vernon Retells Story in 1953


BOGUS: Sweetwater Incident 1967


BOGUS Sideshow: Lester F. Mead
'Confessor' 11-1929


REAL: Buffalo Vernon 1884-1939



1957-1958 x3


Pardon 1964


Death Cert. 1967


After the Wreck
No. 5042 x3

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