In the realm of larger-than-life lawmen, it doesn't get much bigger than Harry W. Bludworth, a renowned "man tracker" with the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
You've never heard of him because he died in 1913.
But I'm going to tell you everything I've learned about him for two reasons.
He was a fascinating part of Kern's bare-knuckled history and he is buried in an unmarked grave in Union Cemetery, which is a terrible shame.
But first, let me introduce you to David Dyas, who brought me the Bludworth story.
If you think I get obsessed by my little history hunts, I’ve got nuthin' on Dyas.
Dyas was researching a completely different figure from Kern's past when he stumbled over, and over and over, stories of Bludworth and his various deeds.
Dyas lives in Tehachapi and volunteered to help tend graves at the old Tehachapi Cemetery.
He was assigned to the grave of Thomas Godwin, a much-loved constable murdered in 1876 by a man named James Hayes.
Dyas was intrigued and started researching Godwin and Hayes (who wasn’t really James Hayes at all, but that’s a whole other story).
That’s where Dyas ran into Bludworth.
After killing Goodwin, Hayes ran.
Kern County sent Bludworth to get him.
“As I was researching different aspects of the story, I kept running across this Bludworth. He just seemed to be everywhere,” Dyas said.
Dyas started collecting articles on Bludworth and learned the tracker was buried in Union Cemetery. He was disheartened when he found there was no headstone.
“He’s not in a pauper’s grave or anything like that. But it’s unmarked.”
Dyas and a circle of friends who run the “Kern County of Old” Facebook page want to buy a proper marker for the former lawman.
They’ve started a fundraising effort to help pay for a headstone (see side box).
LAW IN HIS BLOOD
But back to Bludworth and his exploits.
Bludworth was born in New Orleans in either 1852 or 1853, according to Dyas’ research.
By 1858 the Bludworths had moved to Texas. His father, Samuel Bludworth, had been a Confederate soldier and died during the Civil War.
Bludworth’s mother remarried and by the late 1860s the family had relocated to Snelling, near Merced. (Interesting aside, Bludworth’s first cousin once removed was Charles F. Bludworth, Merced County’s first sheriff and a member of the posse that tracked down and killed the infamous bandit Joaquin Murrieta.)
As a young man, Harry Bludworth had a series of small jobs from mining to clerking.
It’s unclear exactly when he came to Kern, but by January 1875 he was already involved in a high-profile chase.
He helped then-Kern County Sheriff William Bower capture two “road agents” who had robbed the Lone Pine stagecoach in Havilah, according to the book “Wells, Fargo & Co. Stagecoach and Train Robberies.”
Then came the famous Hayes capture in 1876.
Bludworth and another man tracked Hayes over to Ventura, where Hayes was set to board a schooner.
“They tracked him to a little cabin and when they went in, Hayes threw his hands up and said, ‘I’m your man,’” Dyas said.
Hayes was later found guilty and hanged, the first legal hanging in Kern County, Dyas said.
Who Hayes really was turned out to be quite a mystery, one that Dyas wrote about in a piece called “Who Killed Thomas Godwin?” in case you’re interested.
Anyhow, Bludworth continued to make the papers, getting assigned to a high-profile murder by Sheriff Matt Wells in late 1876, according to an article in the Southern Californian.
Another article notes that Bludworth spent weeks tracking stolen horses into Los Angeles, bringing back both the thieves and the horses.
He once tricked another horse thief into getting in a stagecoach with him, then had the driver take them to the courthouse where he arrested the man.
Four would-be, and apparently inept, bank robbers caught Bludworth’s attention in 1877.
He kept them under watch for about a month, eventually learning they planned to rob the Kern Valley Bank using some kind of acid that would supposedly “consume iron and steel.”
Bludworth and several officers waited in the bank on the appointed night of the robbery but the robbers didn’t show because they couldn’t get their hands on the acid.
Bludworth arrested them anyway as the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s office telegraphed that the same robbers had tried, and failed, to rob the Bank of San Luis Obispo.
Another of Bludworth’s chases was related in the book “Shotgun Messenger.”
Members of the Santos Sotelo gang went on a crime spree in early spring 1877, robbing settlers and store owners throughout Tulare and Kern counties.
Bludworth and a posse caught one gang member and several horses. But Sotelo and his brother got away.
Bludworth’s posse tracked them to the home of a George Reeg outside of Tehachapi where they found Reeg murdered.
Bludworth never caught up with the Sotelos, whose gang scattered. Sotelo was eventually captured by Los Angeles County officers.
UNLUCKY IN LOVE
In 1878, Bludworth married a woman named Emma.
A blurb in the Southern Californian on Aug. 22, 1878, noted that “Our young friend, Mr. Harry Bludworth, now says there is no place like home; ‘home, sweet home.’ Well, Harry, we are inclined to believe you in your case, and we hope you may always have reason to feel so.”
But his happiness was short-lived as Emma Bludworth died in November 1881 after an illness.
During his wife’s illness, Bludworth was arrested for killing a man named Perez. The details are sketchy, but Dyas said back then if a deputy killed someone, even in self-defense, they were arrested.
“He didn’t have money for bail, so he stayed in jail,” Dyas said.
He was acquitted but the trial wasn’t without controversy. A July 30, 1881, article in the Kern County Californian accused the prosecutor of throwing the case in order to protect Bludworth.
After that, Bludworth left Kern County.
MAKING A NEW WAY
An 1882 item in the Livermore Herald says H.W. Bludworth opened a saloon in San Francisco.
He eventually made his way back to Kern County and worked as a “fence rider” for the Kern County Land Company in 1895 keeping settlers from making claims to company lands.
Then in 1901, he was working for the Jewett & Blodget Oil Company in the Sunset field near Maricopa.
Then, as now, oil companies needed water to run their equipment. Jewett & Blodget had more than enough and, apparently, didn’t want rival companies getting their hands on it.
Occidental Oil Company had access to a spring but needed to run pipes across Jewett & Blodget’s land to get the water to their wells, according to the book “Black Gold in the Joaquin.”
Occidental’s superintendent, A.J. Waltman, relates how the situation got pretty heated with each side employing “hired guns” to protect their interests.
“The most noted gunman of the opposition was a deputy sheriff named Harry Bloodsworth (a common misspelling),” Waltman recalled in the book. “We laid all kinds of plans to get Bloodsworth off his horse and disarmed without getting hurt.”
In one scheme, Waltman sent a note to notorious gunman Jim McKinney, who ran a nearby saloon at the time to “fix Bloodsworth up with a bottle of whisky.”
McKinney took Waltman’s not to mean he should drug Bludworth, which he did. (Two years later McKinney would die in a famous shootout in Bakersfield considered the last shootout of the “old west.”)
Word came back to Waltman that Bludworth was dead as his horse had returned to McKinney’s saloon with blood on the saddle.
Waltman raced out and found Bludworth with a cut on his forehead, the whisky by his side half empty.
“I broke the bottle, threw water on him, and finally brought him around,” Waltman said.
Bludworth survived that ordeal and settled into mining. He owned two claims, the Emma and Alice B., in the Sand Canyon area, according to Dyas.
It’s unclear how Bludworth died, perhaps an illness as he spent some time in a hospital before his death.
Though obituaries at the time said he was 70 when he died, Dyas said records show he was only 60.
Friends of Bludworth put on his funeral, according to newspaper accounts. But apparently they didn’t have funds for a marker.
I’d say that’s an oversight that should be corrected.