Charles Everett Mills, born 1876 (the year of the Great Centennial) is perhaps the most widely-famed native son of Luna City, is responsible for at least three historical markers in the vicinity of his birthplace, and the small farm/ranch which provided a living for his parents, in the decades following the Civil War. He was the youngest child of James Bowie Mills, and his wife, Jane Everett: James Bowie Mills was the son of an old Texas family, reputed to be one of Stephen Austin’s original 300. Jane Everett was of a similarly old and respectable lineage, settling in South Texas shortly after the Civil War. At the time of Charles’ birth, James and Jane were the parents of three daughters, attractive and intelligent girls  familiarly known as the Three Graces: Mary Faith, Elizabeth Hope, and Annabelle Charity.

James B. Mills’ property lay somewhat to the south of Luna City, and under his management prospered sufficiently to enable James and Jane to educate their son and three daughters at private academies in San Antonio during the 1880s. Charles, as the only son was much-treasured by his parents and sisters; it would not be too much to say that he was spoiled rotten. The youthful Charley Mills was tall, athletic, handsome and charming, and appeared bound for every success in the world, the pride of his parents and community. Alas, this was not to be; Charley had a taste for fast women, easy living, and not to put too fine a point on it, a dissolute and criminal life-style. This did not become immediately obvious; to the end of their respective lives, his parents defended him as a good son and an upright citizen, claiming that Charley was the innocent victim of jealousy and slander.

At the age of 22, Charley was supposedly attending a business college in Topeka, Kansas. As it turned out, he was actually a member of the Doolin-Dalton ‘Wild Bunch’ Gang, and then of a relatively obscure group of professional robbers known as the ‘Bent Cactus Gang’ for a mocking scrawl left at the site of various robberies, the most famous of which was that of a Santa Fe train west of Cimarron, which netted several thousand dollars worth of silver and gold, both coin and ingots. A quantity of this loot was never recovered, leading to apocryphal stories of Old Charley’s Treasure being secreted somewhere around Mills Farm early in the 20th century. Charley, whose sense of self-preservation became sufficiently acute to override his affection for making an easy living through train, bank and store robberies, prudently severed his association with the Wild Bunch and the Bent Cactus Gang by mid-decade, and so escaped the various violent ends dealt out by law enforcement to his former associates. Doubtless he reasoned that a living from immoral earnings might possibly be a little safer.

His movements in the decade afterwards remain obscure; some accounts have it that he was serving as a mercenary in the service of Pancho Villa, but that kind of strenuous adventure seems out of character for Charley, whose bent towards indolence became even more pronounced. He returned to take over management of Mills Farm following upon his father’s death in 1903. His three sisters were all married by then; his mother went to live in Houston with Mary Faith and her family. Sometime during the years following, he built a still, or hired someone to build a still, and began distributing various home-distilled spirits. By the time that Prohibition became the law of the land, Charley was a full-time bootlegger. He made not the slightest pretense of farming; and the well-ordered and profitable enterprise that his parents had established fell into rack and ruin. The pastures and fields became overgrown with cedar, cactus and impassible canebrakes along the length of river which formed a boundary of the property. The largest stock-pond became home to a pair of native alligators; the source of the legend that Charley Mills disposed of the bodies of his rival bootleggers by dumping them in the pond and letting the alligators feed.

It is presumed that Old Charley and his confederates in the local bootlegging business made sufficient from it to maintain a prosperous living throughout Prohibition. It was during this period, though, that close neighbors and his sisters – perhaps with some regret – gave up any public pretense of Charles Everett Mills being a solid and respectable citizen. His inclinations towards sloth, debauchery and general low-level criminality made him notorious as far as Karnesville, a constant burr under the saddle of local law enforcement, and those of his neighbors who suffered from that petty thievery, vandalism, and drunken misconduct which could be laid at his door. As frequently as charges were brought against him, very few actually came to court, and those were often dismissed. Charley, by whatever means, was always able to pay for the services of an excellent and combative lawyer. Community frustrations came to the point of him nearly being lynched from a tree in Luna City’s Town Square in 1926. Rescued by several of the more sober citizens, Charley thereafter became somewhat of a recluse.

The beginning of the Great Depression and the repeal of the Volstead act spelled an end to whatever shreds of prosperity Charles Everett Mills had been able to hang on to. The last of a series of female companions or common-law wives, Carolina de san Pedro, reported finding him one morning early in March, 1935, slumped over the fence which enclosed the alligator pond. He had been dead for hours. Much to the surprise of the official Karnes County coroner, death was from natural causes.

The disposition of the Mills family acres then descended into a kind of Texas version of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce. Charles Everett Mills had seventeen acknowledged children, resulting from 45 years of cohabitation, affairs and brief encounters with a dozen women who can be named with certainty, and another two dozen whose names are a matter of conjecture. In the cases of the acknowledged children, Charles Everett Mills did make some kind of provision for them, in that he handed most off on his sisters and the others set out on their own as soon as they were able. Of his various paramours, three stand out; the the first being the only one who actually achieved the status of legal marriage with him, sometime in 1892. That would be Josephine Courtemanche allegedly from Paris: a brothel-keeper in Tulsa more readily known by her real name, Bertha Potts from Poughkeepsie. She was nearing forty, when she and Charley married before a justice of the peace. She choked to death on a fishbone on their wedding night, and Charley was chased out of Tulsa by the brothel’s real owners; a pair of gamblers who took exception to the then-twenty-one year old Charley trying to throw his weight around.

It is considered likely that his next significant female companion was the woman suspected of being the real brains behind the Bent Cactus Gang, Odette Peterson, dubiously a widow who kept a livery stable in Fort Worth. She was described as a ‘fine figure of a woman’ by those who admired her and ‘Gargantua in a blond wig’ by those who didn’t. It is a recorded fact that when the Bent Cactus Gang held up a bank in Spearville, Kansas, Odette Peterson was eight months pregnant, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun and a pistol … and smoking a Cuban cigar. She and Charley Mills eventually separated; Charley to return to Texas with their two children, while she became the mistress of a US Senator and learned more subtle forms of looting money from the common people.

Carolina de San Pedro, Charley’s final common-law wife, was three decades his junior at the time of his death. It eventually came out that she had been overseeing his illicit distilling operations for a number of years, and that she was quite the expert at filtering blending and aging. Her various concoctions were popular in the most discriminating and expensive speakeasies in the United States during Prohibition. Her Mills Farm scotch whiskey led to her being hired by Hiram Walker and Sons, of Windsor, Ontario. She settled there with her new husband, Ambrosiano Gonzales, of the Luna City Gonzalez/Gonzales clan. An eighty-year old bottle of Carolina’s Mills Farm Scotch recently sold after a furious bidding war at Sotheby’s in New York for $28,000, reportedly to international financier Collin Wyler.

 

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