The Legendary John/Jack Donaldson
aka William Orr
- Born: 1828
Unknown – Texas, Kentucky, or Ireland
- Military: US Confederate Solider, Civil War
- Married: Marcelina Gurule
1 April 1861
- Died: 1877
Silver City, NM
- Children: Andrea, Anita “Annie” , Juanita “Whanita” Lyda, and Enriquez “Henry.”
In 1985 Otto Parson’s great-granddaughter Leith Dist contacted the Silver City Museum in New Mexico to inquire about Juanita (Donaldson) Parson’s father. The Museum Director researched “Jacques Donaldson,” the name of the father recorded on the baptism certificates for Juanita’s siblings. Juanita’s father was also remembered by family members as both John and Jack. The museum director was unable to find any information on a “Jacques Donaldson” but concluded that he was probably “John Donaldson,” a settler in the Mangus Valley. She provided several news articles and census records that supported her belief that John Donaldson was the husband of Juanita’s mother Marcelina.
The first article entitled “Mining Life” was written on December 20, 1873 about Farming on Mangus Creek. Mr. J. K. Metcalf was the source of the information in the article. Mr. Metcalf reportedly owned a 160-acre ranch on Mangus Creek. He said the first claims were taken in the spring of 1862 by John Donaldson, himself, and Alexander Holoway. Donaldson reportedly raised 16 acres of barley but after losing a pair of mules and because of the threat of Indians, in the beginning much of his land was not cultivated. Claims by Donaldson, Metcalf, Holoway, Brannin and Lindale reportedly covered nearly all the good land in the valley. Most of the farmers raised corn. In addition to barley, Donaldson planted Hungarian grass seed and reaped hay from which he threshed seed. In the summer of 1873 most of the farmers planted winter wheat in May which they reaped in September of that year. It was reported that as of December 1873 they were again planting winter wheat which would be ready for reaping in May or June, leaving time to sow and reap a crop of Hungarian grass, giving them two crops of wheat and one of Hungarian grass in less than 18 months. In addition to these crops the farmers also raised watermelons, cabbage, cucumbers, and other vegetables. The families of the farmers moved in with them on their “ranchos” and other settlers began to rapidly move in and take up claims on the Gila River.
The second article was published four years later, on June 23, 1877, in the “Grant County Herald.” The news article reported that a gang of thieves and assassins was broken up, resulting in the deaths of four persons including John Donaldson. According to the report, at 1:00 in the morning Bill Martin, alias Jones, alias Wild Bill assassinated Captain R. N. Calhoun at the ranch owned by John Perry located at the mouth of Mangus Creek where it enters the Gila River. Horses were stolen from the ranch. Suspecting who had committed the murder, Perry sent word to John Donaldson to come to his ranch to talk with him. Donaldson allegedly expressed an unwillingness to go, saying he was afraid that Perry might attempt to kill him. When he finally met with Perry, he told him that if he kept quiet the horses which were taken from his ranch at the time of the killing of Calhoun would be returned. The next morning Donaldson returned to the Perry ranch with Bob Nelson, Bill Martin, and Portuguese Jo, each having a gun on his shoulder. When opposite the door they reportedly advanced upon the house with guns drawn and ready to fire. A fight commenced without a word being spoken. All four men were shot, with Bill Martin being the first to fall followed by Portuguese Jo and Donaldson. Bob Nelson was believed to have been fatally shot in the hip and thigh but managed to escape on his horse. His horse was also shot and fell dead near Donaldson’s house. Although never confirmed, a Mexican who witnessed Nelson’s fight reported that Nelson got another horse at Donaldson’s and rode for the hills.
An inquest was held and satisfactorily ascertained that Wild Bill Martin was the person who killed Capt. Calhoun and it was determined that justice was appeased by Martin’s death. It was believed that Calhoun was killed because he had spoken of seeing stolen cattle in the possession of some of Wild Bill’s party. A Dick Gagen aka “Frenchy” and a man calling himself Hunter were also believed to be participants but the extent of their involvement was not known.
Wild Bill and Portuguese Jo were buried in the valley below Perry’s ranch and the remains of Donaldson were given to his family and buried in the Silver City cemetery.
It was reported that it came as a great surprise to the community that Donaldson and Gagen were accused. Donaldson had the reputation of being a hard-working man and by his industry had acquired a comfortable home.
On June 30, 1877 a news article reported that while Mrs. Donaldson, the widow of John Donaldson, was in town for the purpose of consigning her husband’s body to the grave, an old man named Rafael the Trapper stole from her house on the ranch, taking blankets and other valuables. The articles were recovered from Rafael’s house. In that same edition of the news it was reported that three of the horses taken from the Perry ranch were found picketed in a secluded spot in the mountains.
On July 6, 1877 R. F. Gagen wrote a letter to the paper claiming that he was arrested by the sheriff investigating the incident at the Perry ranch and charged with aiding and abetting in the killing of Calhoun. He said he was taken to the ranch where the bodies of three men, known to him as J. Donaldson, W. Martin, and J. M. Carroll, lay dead. In the letter Gagen proclaimed his innocence, saying he purchased cattle from Robert Nelson before the shooting but only after Nelson had shown him a bill of sale.
The Saturday July 7, 1877 edition of “The Herald” included an article reporting that E. D. Willis and the widow of John Donaldson had been appointed administrators of the Donaldson Estate. In that same edition there was a report that stated: “The real name of the late John Donaldson was __ Orr. During the late war he was a sergeant in the Confederate Company of Robert B. Metcalfe. He deserted from it carrying off his arms and equipment and Mr. Metcalfe never saw him again until he met him here in Grant County under the last name of Donaldson.”
The following entry was published in “Legends of America”: John Orr, aka: Donaldson – Outlaw member of Wild Bill Martin’s Gang, he was killed by a rival gang led by John Perry in June, 1877.
The Silver City Museum Director provided 1880 and 1885 census records for Marcelina Donaldson (using the names Garcia and Gurule). The census records confirm that Marcelina was a widow living with three children, Anita, Henry, and Andrea. The museum director also provided information showing the Lyda family leaving Silver City in 1878. Juanita left Silver City with the Lyda family, which is why her name is not listed with her siblings in the 1880 and 1885 census.
Otto’s great-granddaughter-in-law Lynn Brosy did some Civil War research that seems to support the report that John Donaldson’s true name was William Orr. Her conclusion was that John Donaldson was quite possibly William Orr, born 1828 in Ireland. Drawing on the newspaper article where Robert B. Metcalf reported Donaldson’s real name as being “__ Orr” and that he deserted from the Civil War, she began by looking for a Metcalf/Orr connection in Civil War records. Robert Metcalf was originally from Paris, Bourbon City, Kentucky. He had two brothers, James and John. In 1860, several members of the Metcalf family were living in Gay Hill, Washington City, Texas. In their same household was a John Baylor. J. W. Metcalf was a 2nd Lt. with Griffin’s Battalion (also known as the 21st Regiment or Battalion and as Griffin’s Regiment) Texas Infantry. This group was organized in 1862 with 6 companies. Capt. J. R. Baylor was in charge of the Independent Company Texas Cavalry and was assigned to this aforementioned battalion in 1864. Baylor is also known for the “Arizona Rangers.” A William Orr is in Company D of Griffin’s Bn. He is shown on the 1860 Columbus, Colorado County, Texas census as 32 years old, with a birthplace of Ireland. He was living with a Wallace family. The Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus, Texas shows this Orr as enlisting on April 24, 1862 to the 21st Texas Infantry. In May of 1862, at Dragoon Springs, Arizona some of Baylor’s company was ambushed. According to a Tucson newspaper, at least 4 men were killed, including a John Donaldson. Metcalf, Orr, and Donaldson were all in the same military arena during the same time period. Many Confederate soldiers deserted, and it makes sense that William Orr may have taken the name John Donaldson when he deserted, someone he knew was dead, to avert any trouble with the military.
Caption to photo above:
The above photo adds some additional support to John Donaldson possibly being an alias for William Orr. The white-haired and bearded man more closely matches the age of William Orr who was born in 1828 than John Donaldson who was reportedly born in 1850. If born in 1850, he would have been only 27 years old at the time of his death. Oral histories of family members who knew John Donaldson stated that he was much older than Marcelina. Further support that John Donaldson was really the William Orr who immigrated from Ireland to Texas can be found in the 1880 US Census when Juanita stated her father’s birthplace was Texas and in the 1900 US Census when she said her father was born in Ireland.