Who Was Tracy Richardson?

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Tracy Custer Richardson was an adventurer, gold miner, explorer, soldier of fortune, writer, reporter, spy, police investigator, patriot of three countries, and a loving husband and brother. He was born at Broken Bow, Nebraska, November 21, 1892, the sixth child of his family. (His death certificate gives his birth date as 1889, but this probably is an error.) He moved to Lamar when only a few months old and later attended school through the eighth grade at the public school. He completed high school classes at the Lamar College.

(Ed. Note: Read a 1915 NY Times Magazine article on Richardson on the NY Times website: The "Machine-Gun Man of the Princess Pats"; Tracy Richardson, Adventurous Young American Who Has Seen Service in Mexico and Nicaragua, Getting Famous with the Canadians in Europe)

Tracy was appointed a corporal in Co. C, 2nd Infantry Missouri National Guard in Lamar in March 1905. Depending upon which birth date is correct, he was only 13 or 16 years old at that time. In 1908 he left Lamar to work for a pipeline company. One story tells that he left because he had stolen a gun and been ordered to eat all his meals with the sheriff. Getting tired of seeing the sheriff across the table three times a day, Richardson simply left town. He worked for the pipeline in 1908 and 1909 and then went to the tropics. In 1909 and 1910 he joined the Nicaraguan rebel army under General Luis Mena. While serving with the rebel army, he found himself in Managua, surrounded by federal soldiers. Tracy told the commanding general that the city was surrounded by rebel forces. Believing the story, the general surrendered the city to Tracy. (This is a documented fact.) Tracy took part in a Venezuelan revolution in 1911 and then joined the rebel army in Spanish Honduras. Each time he joined a force to overthrow a dictatorship or tyrannical government. He was paid $500 or $1,000 per month for his knowledge and his ability with a machine gun. (The most publicized picture of Tracy Richardson shows him sighting a machine gun.) He also received $500 cash for each battle won.

From 1911-1914 Tracy joined the Mexican revolutionary army fighting against Madero. Richardson and a friend wired a locomotive with dynamite and sent it crashing into an on-coming federal troop train. Hundreds of soldiers were killed. Pancho Villa placed a reward of $10,000 for Tracy. Meeting Villa in a saloon in El Paso, Tracy supposedly forced him (with the aid of a gun) to apologize for the inconvenience the reward poster had caused. When the American army landed at Vera Cruz, Tracy Richardson left the Mexican army and joined General Funston as an intelligence officer and guide with the rating and pay of captain.

In 1914 he left Mexico to go to Canada. There he joined the Princess Patricia Light Infantry Regiment. He fought with the unit in Belgium and was decorated for breaking up a machine gun attack at Ypres. In 1916 he transferred to the American Air Service. During the time he was hospitalized in Manchester, he completed work for a degree which was granted at this time from the Royal School of Mines.

Released from service in 1919, Tracy prospected and explored in Canada. In 1920-21 he inspected mines and forests and explored in Spanish Honduras. In 1922 he was asked to make an oil survey of the entire Republic of Guatemala. Also in 1922 he shot and killed a man in New Orleans. The case was presented to the Grand Jury which called it self defense. He worked again in Mexico but returned to New Orleans to work as a detective. Later he sold real estate in Florida and worked as an investigative report in Washington D.C., and served in New York as an agent for prohibition.

In 1932 he was employed by the Pelican Gold Mining Company, whose president was arrested for mail fraud. Tracy was twice arrested as a fugitive from justice because the company owner had used his name in the fraud. Eventually Tracy's name was cleared. In 1934 he moved to New York where he wrote for several magazines. Then in 1941 he entered active service in the United States Army. He was discharged in 1946 as a Lt. Colonel. He returned to New York where he lived until his wife died in 1947. Then he came back to Lamar, Missouri which he had always listed as his home. There he lived with his sister Lelah in the family home until his death on April 20, 1949 of heart failure. He is buried in the Richardson family plot in Lake Cemetery in Lamar. He served the United States in three wars - The Mexican Border War, World War I, and World War II. He also served in Canadian and British armed forces as well as selling his services to rebels trying to overthrow a dictator. At some time he also worked for the Civil Service because he was granted an annuity in 1948. No record has been found of what he did to qualify for this. The full story of the life of this fascinating man may never be known.

Presented to the Barton County Historical Society April 12, 1987 by Bob Douglas

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