Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> 1929 SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY
Tom Vernon's Fake Photo ID
1929 Saugus Train Robbery


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Actual photograph used by 1929 Saugus train robber Tom Vernon (1884?-1967) to "prove" his identity as Buffalo Vernon, rodeo star.

It's really a picture of a picture — everything you see above is the photograph, except for the white space around it. This approx. 2¾x4-inch photographic print shows a real photo postcard (RPPC) that shows the back of Buffalo Vernon as he bulldogs a steer at a rodeo.


Different publication of same underlying image. Click to enlarge.

The underlying image was published as an RPPC more than once and was described in different ways. In Tom's version, the printed caption reads: "Reviewed by Col. Roosevelt / Cheyenne, Wyo." That would be the 1910 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo, which was held in August 1910. Col. Roosevelt (President Theodore Roosevelt) reviewed the Cheyenne rodeo in 1910 but not in 1911. Another printing (at left) identifies it as the 1910 Pendleton Round-Up. According to Pendleton Round-Up at 100, Buffalo Vernon gave a bulldogging exhibition at Pendleton in 1910; the following year (September 1911), bulldogging was an event at Pendleton, and Buffalo Vernon took home the $75 cash prize.

On the back of his photo-of-a-photo, Tom Vernon writes: "I don this to pleas old Bill Pickett at the request of Col. Joe Miller of the 101 Ranch. /s/ Buffalo Vernon."

Willie M. "Bill" Pickett (1870-1932) was a famous African-American cowboy who is credited with inventing bulldogging, which is to pull down a steer the way cowdogs (literally, bull dogs) did it — by biting the steer on the muzzle. Pickett once described that he would "sink his strong ivory teeth into the upper lip of the animal, and throwing his shoulder against the neck of the steer, strain and twist until the animal, with its head drawn one way under the controlling influence of those merciless teeth and its body forced another, until the brute, under the strain of slowly bending neck, quivered, trembled and then sank to the ground." Buffalo Vernon reportedly used the same technique.

Tom Vernon included this photograph (and others) with a letter he mailed July 3, 1962, in reply to Eric C. Matthews (1892-1977), a Western buff, author and onetime rodeo contestant who had participated in the 1911 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. Somehow Matthews, of St. Louis, Mo., traced him to a tiny bungalow at 825 V St., Sacramento (see below); perhaps Matthews had seen a feature story about him like this one. Matthews must have asked him if he was the same Buffalo Vernon he remembered from his old rodeo days, because Tom Vernon replied (see letter below):

"Yes, I am the same Buffalo Vernon you met at Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1911. ... I had bull-dogged the first steer from the back of a running horse in a contest under rules at Pendleton, Org. [sic] in 1910."

The 1962 letter and the inscription on the back of the photograph are written in the same 78-year-old hand, and with the same pen.

Clearly, Matthews was not aware the real Buffalo Vernon — Jesse Shisler, aka Jess "Buff" Vernon — had died in 1939.

And Tom failed to mention that while Buffalo Vernon was wowing crowds and rodeo judges on all of the dates in question — Cheyenne in August 1910 and 1911, Pendleton in September 1910 and 1911 — Tom himself was safely behind bars in San Quentin State Prison. He wasn't released until December 16, 1911, after serving three years of a 4-year term for larceny. (Probably horse stealing; he had a nasty habit of taking other people's horses without their permission.)

How do we know our train robber Tom Vernon wrote the letters and sent the photos to Matthews, and not some other impostor? Because the letters and photos are intended to prove Tom's identity as both Buffalo Vernon and Tom Averill (supposedly the long-lost love child of the notorious Cattle Kate and Jim Averill/Averell).

"Tom Averill" is how the newspapers knew our train robber. "Thomas Vernon" is how the California penal system knew him.

Provenance.

This photograph and related documents were among the personal effects of Eric C. Matthews' brother, Hugh H. Mathews [sic], upon his death in Lemon Grove (San Diego County) in 1988. Next it was in the possession of Hugh Mathews' neighbor and executrix, Darlene A. Roth, at the time of her death. From there it went to Roth's daughter, Gina Koesterer Portuguez of Santee (San Diego County), and then to us in 2017.



Compare the handwriting of the photo inscription to Vernon's 1962 letter to Matthews. Click to enlarge.



Tom Vernon was living at 825 V St., Sacramento, when Matthews contacted him in 1962. 825 is the small bungalow, possibly a converted garage, between the two-story buildings.


LW2914: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 3-5-2017 by Leon Worden from Gina Koesterer Portuguez.
1929 SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY

THE ROBBERY

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Passengers / Earliest Known 11-10-1929

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Daybreak 11-11-1929

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Newsreel Footage

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Loren Ayers x5

THE MANHUNT

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Boynton Story

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Pollack Story

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LAT 11-11-1929

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Vernon Captured

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Mugshots 12/1929

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Extradition 12-12-1929

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AP 12-19-1929

THE FAKERY

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REAL: Tom Vernon Prison Records

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REAL: Horse Theft 1920

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BOGUS: Tom Vernon Letters 1929-1963

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BOGUS: Tom Vernon's Fake Photo ID 1962

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BOGUS: Vernon's Own Story in 3 Parts

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BOGUS: Cattle Kate Story 12-7-1929

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BOGUS: Vernon Retells Story in 1953

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BOGUS: Sweetwater Incident 1967

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

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REAL: Buffalo Vernon 1884-1939

THE AFTERMATH

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1957-1958 x3

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Pardon 1964

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Death Cert. 1967

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After the Wreck
No. 5042 x3

• A New Ending (Now Obsolete)


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