The Life of Jeff Standifer, Part 7: More Questions than Answers

This is the last blog post on the Life of Jeff Standifer, for now. If you haven't already check out parts 1-6 before you dive into this roller coaster ride. Buckle up, this is one that is a doozy. Just a quick warning, there is a lot of speculation in this post, and hopefully, that will be made clear to the reader.

In Part 5 of this series, we mentioned an organization called the Knights of the Golden Circle, and here is a very quick primer on that group. Before the American Civil War, groups called "Southern Rights Clubs" formed throughout the South to make sure Southern states would keep enjoying the "right" to own slaves. These clubs were made up of businessmen and politicians, and were in every major city in the South. One of these clubs sprang up in East Texas and Louisiana and called itself the Order of the Lone Star. The OLS set its sights on filibustering, not the kind where a politician blocks a vote by talking for a long time. The other use of the word filibuster means to put together a private army and go to poorly defended countries and take over. Several attempts at this were made by Americans, most successfully by William Walker, who was briefly the ruler of Nicaragua.

Left: William Walker, Center: The Battle of Granada, Right: Walker was expelled from Nicaragua but later returned and was captured and executed.

The OLS decided that the Hawaiian Islands would be a great target for a filibustering campaign, so around 1853, they started sending agents there to begin laying the groundwork for such an operation. If the reader will remember in Part 1, Jeff Standifer was living on one of the Hawaiian Islands in 1854, an odd place for a fighting-age man from Texas. Even stranger that he was forced to leave the Islands unexpectedly, and without any official reason. One source said that he had committed murder and his brother Buford had to sell off his mining interests and businesses to rescue him. If he had in fact committed murder, why was he not hung before Buford could even get there? This seems the norm for the time. It would have taken weeks or even a couple of months for Buford to get a letter from Hawaii, liquidate his interests, and get on a boat to Hawaii. Perhaps the explanation here is that the OLS helped shield Jeff from justice, but needed Buford's money to get him out of that tight spot. Remember, Jeff grew up on the frontier of Texas, a place ripe for recruiting for such an organization. The OLS also briefly set its sights on British Columbia when gold was found there, and of course, Jeff Standifer found himself there as well.

When the OLS organization folded, many of its members joined a new organization known as the Knights of the Golden Circle. The KGC was similar to the OLS in that it wanted to filibuster to gain territory, that could potentially be added to the Union as slave states, but the KGC had an even grander vision. They wanted to build a slave empire, with Havana, Cuba at the center and with a 2,000-mile circle drawn around it. This would allow them to control all of the exports of cotton, coffee, tobacco, and whatever else is produced inside of that Golden Circle. Also, like the OLS and Souther Rights Clubs before them, the KGC used political intrigue to accomplish its mission. In fact, the KGC claimed responsibility for starting the Civil War by getting Abraham Lincoln elected; they knew the issue of slavery had to be decided by war, and that war would only occur if the abolitionist were elected President.

Top Left: George W. Bickley founded the KGC in Cincinati in 1854.

Top Right: An Expostion of The KGC, a book purported to be by one of its members.

Bottom: The KGC used secret messages and symbols to communicate

When the war did start, the KGC went underground and worked with Confederate intelligence. Many KGC members became spies or agents, working all around the country to advance the Southern cause. California had a large contingent of KGC members who planned to disrupt Union forces should the war come that far west. Members of the KGC are also documented in Nevada, Arizona, and British Columbia during this time. In Part 3, we briefly mentioned a man named David Terry, a California Supreme Court Judge who killed U.S. Senator David Broderick in a duel. Broderick was an ardent abolitionist. After he was cleared of charges, Terry moved to Virginia City, Nevada where he conspired to build walls around his mines to serve as forts when the Confederate Army arrived. Jeff Standifer was in Virginia City at the same time, and there is also a documented KGC club there at the same time.

A card found in the William A. Olson Collection, UofI

Standifer's time in Idaho can be called into question as well. Somehow he was appointed Sherriff of Idaho County before he even stepped foot into the area, while his brother Buford was named Mayor of Walla Walla, Washington. Were these political appointments the result of their membership in the KGC, which was known to use political appointments to achieve their goals? It is also interesting that as soon as Federal Troops came to Southern Idaho, Standifer left town. The Boise Basin mines were still years from being played out, so why leave then? One theory is that some of the gold from Idaho and Montana was to be sent to the Confederacy, a task made much more difficult by the presence of the U.S. Army.

Of course, Standifer's next move should make it clear to anyone that he was working as a Confederate agent. From Idaho, he goes to Mexico where he meets with a known Confederate spy and helps him and other men get back to the CSA so they can join the war effort against the Union. Standifer and crew disguised themselves as a group of merchants, a common tactic when groups of KGC moved around the West. Once Standifer arrived in Texas, he was given order by a Confederate Colonel, not something that any ordinary civilian would receive, yet Standifer does not appear on any official muster list or payroll from the CSA. Standifer was told to camp at Bastrop, his hometown, and also the location of a KGC "castle", the place where members would meet, similar to a Masonic Lodge.

Illustration of the interior of a KGC Castle where they would perform Masonic-like rituals

That brings us to Standifer's mysterious trip to Mexico when he was supposed to be exploring Wyoming. The timing of this trip does not seem to be a coincidence when it is considered what was happening at that time south of the border. Mexico's civil war had been dragging on, bolstered by France, who placed a puppet monarch on the "throne" of Mexico. Emporer Maximillian of Mexico was an Austrian Prince who had nothing better to do, so he packed up his wife Carlotta and all of his gold and went to Mexico to rule. It went bad for Maximillian and he was captured and shot by a firing squad. The story goes that KGC agents were sent to rescue Maximillian and his gold treasury, which became the basis for several KGC treasure caches placed around the U.S. These gold hordes, along with weapons and uniforms were buried in preparation for the next Civil War when "the South will rise again". Standifer arrived on the Mexican border within weeks of when Maximillian was executed, so could he have been sent there with his men to rescue the fallen Emporer, or at least get hands-on his treasury? If there is a more innocent explanation for his trip, why was it not mentioned in the journal of the expedition?

Emporer Maximilian and Empress Carlotta of Mexico. Rumor has it that the KGC became heirs to his treasure, and one of the men involved in getting a hold of it was Jesse James.

The Knights of the Golden Circle were a secret organization, and as such, they did not keep official records of their membership, or if they did they were destroyed at the end of the war. The conclusion that Standifer was a member comes from analyzing his movements and actions during his life. Perhaps it is all circumstantial evidence, but this is not the first time he has been identified as a member of the KGC. A researcher in the 1960s and 70s named William Olson also connected Standifer to the KGC, and he left several pieces of correspondence in his collection to indicate his strong belief in the matter. How exactly he came to this conclusion remains just another mystery of the Life of Jeff Standifer.

William Olson letter to the Wyoming Historical Society

Perhaps the greatest mystery of Jeff Standifer comes to us around 130 years after he died. Sometime after 2004, someone placed a marker on Standifer's grave at Fort Steele. The marker was not authorized by Wyoming State Parks, which manages the site, nor any veteran organization which typically handles these types of marker.

Seeing this marker in the middle of Wyoming should beg a few questions. Why is this a new-looking marker when all the rest have 100 some year-old stones with numbers on them? Why is there a Confederate battle flag displayed prominently on a grave marker for a man who died while working for the U.S. Army? What is the CSA Calif. CAV 1st. Bn? And what the heck is the 21st Century Confederate legion? We know Standifer was working for the CSA during his life, so that question is easily answered. The other questions though are not so easy. There is no documented CSA California Calvary Battalion, so the organization that is referring to is unclear. Perhaps it was a secret Confederate militia that formed in California, or maybe another name for the KGC in California.

Another thing that does not seem to really exist is this 21st Century Confederate Legion. Google that phrase and you will find several similar markers placed throughout the Southern states and on the spot where John Wilkes Booth was supposedly killed. What you won't find though is a website, or Facebook page, or telephone listing, or really anything official for this 21CCL. There is no information readily available online for this organization, so who are they, and why are they leaving these markers? Standifer's marker, by the way, is the only one west of the Missippi and would have had to have been hauled a great distance before being placed in the Fort Steele cemetery. None of the monument makers in South-Central Wyoming have records of making the marker.

21st Century Confederate Legion marker on the spot John Wilkes Booth was killed

Finally, how did this 21CCL know about Standifer? Before they placed their marker on his grave, Standifer was known simply as burial #39 at the Fort Steele Post Cemetary. Somehow they knew that Standifer was connected with the Knights of the Golden Circle, or at least was working for the Confederacy, and put in the time, effort, and money to have the marker made and placed. Some people claim that the KGC is still around in the modern era, their mission to guard the old treasure caches passed down along family lines; sentinels awaiting the time their treasuries are needed again. Perhaps the 21CCL is something similar, a modern-day remnant of the old KGC? More likely though, it is just another Confederate "heritage" organization that are marking these graves.

One more mystery: What are these strange wires running underneath the Standifer marker?

There is one final piece of information, or lack thereof, that might cause the conspiratorial mind to tick a little faster. The William A. Olson Collection at the University of Idaho is a great source of documents relating the Jeff Standifer's life, and one that connects him to the KGC. Unfortunately, though, one of the files was removed from the collection in 2011. Did this file have more information, perhaps some primary sources connecting Jeff to the KGC? Could a representative of the 21CCL have gone to Moscow, Idaho to research the life of Standifer and took an important clue with them?