Here is an updated and expanded GBU timeline, incorporating further research into the state of the American Southwest, i.e., New Mexico Territory, the Gadsden Purchase, and Texas in the period just prior to the breakout of the American Civil War, and more details on Sibley's Brigade. The breakdown will begin with the Jackson-Bill Carson narrative, with some sidebars added, followed by a strict timeline for the purists.
Background Info: By the late 1840s, the tension in the United States between free and slave states was building to a boil. Each side in the controversy was fearful of the other getting an upper hand and the new territories in the West became pawns as to whether they would be free or slave. The South was interested in the territories seized from Mexico, the present Arizona, Utah & New Mexico and they believed also that a majority of the population of the southern portion of California was pro slavery. For a decade, Southerners promoting a southern Pacific railroad were particularly interested in New Mexico and they negotiated the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 (which at that time came to be known as Arizona, (more specifically, the southern area, AZ didn't become a state until Feb 1912) solely with that in mind. New Mexico was key to Southern expansion and a port on the Pacific. Pro Southern sympathizers in the US Government proceeded to establish an almost "U" shaped overland communications and stagecoach route (The Butterfield Overland Stage Co.) from terminals in Missouri & Ft. Smith, Arkansas swinging through Texas to El Paso and then utilizing a route through the recent Gadsden Purchase to Los Angeles then up to San Francisco rather than a more direct central route. The Mesilla Valley of the Rio Grande in New Mexico Territory formed the eastern extreme of that part of southern New Mexico called "Arizona" and contained 2/3s of Arizona's population, most of them Mexicans, but the minority Americans were mostly from Texas and far more active and aggressive in dominating political affairs, and closely associated with staunchly pro-southern Texans living in and around El Paso. If ever an area epitomized lawlessness and wild frontier it was Western Arizona at the time of secession. Tucson was a place of resort for traders, speculators, gamblers, horse thieves, murderers, vagrant politicians, and a center of prostitution and crime. One critic observed that those that were not permitted to live in California found Tucson welcoming. Western Arizona was in a state of anarchy. The Tubac silver district area near Tucson and Pinos Altos near Mesilla were lively mining districts.
1861: Soon after the start of the War Between The States, in late April or early May of 1861, a group of Southern patriots that include men with the names of Baker, and two friends Stevens and Jackson leave their West Texas homes and take the stage to Dallas where the Texas 3rd Cavalry is mustering. In early July the regiment leaves Dallas and heads for Missouri on the "Texas Road" through the Indian Territory to Ft. Smith, Arkansas. They participate in the battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861, CS casualties 1,095, US casualties 1,235 . The Regiment remains stationed in the border area of Missouri-Arkansas-Indian Territory. The 3rd Cavalry fights in the Battles of Chustenahlah on December 26, 1862
At the end of January 1862 Jackson, Baker, and Stevens are detailed as a part of a 25 man Paymasters detachment for I Corps of the Trans-Mississippi District. Around the first of February, near Ft. Smith, they blunder into a Union Cavalry reconnaissance party. In the heat of battle the Paymasters wagon and $200,000 in gold coins disappears. The sole separated survivors, all wounded, are Jackson, Stevens, and Baker. At the beginning of the 2nd week of February back in Dallas a military tribunal conducts an inquiry and acquits both Jackson and Stevens. Stevens is discharged and immediately heads back to his El Paso, TX hacienda. Jackson, beginning to worry about being reassigned back to points further East, either changes his name to Bill Carson and telegraphs ahead to re-enlist in Sibley's Brigade, then hops a stage to El Paso, or Jackson, kills the real Bill Carson who is already on his way to join Sibley and assumes his identity.
The fact that Jackson has a snuff box embroidered with Bill Carson's name points to the latter scenario (he wouldn't have time to create an elaborate prop such as this), so in this latter scenario Jackson, after his acquittal, meets a dispatch-bearing corporal in Dallas on his way from Richmond to Sibley with orders to attach himself to the 7th Texas Cavalry (7th Mounted Volunteers) 3rd Regiment. The man is Jackson's age and build and Jackson decides to kill him and take over his identity and assignment. What better way to disappear. Jackson hops the stage to El Paso to catch up with Sibley's Brigade.
(Sibley's Brigade or Army of New Mexico consisted of the Fourth Regiment Texas Mounted Rifles called the 1st Regiment, The Fifth Regiment Texas Mounted Rifles called the 2nd Regiment, and five companies (A,B,F,H,I) of the Seventh Regiment Texas Mounted Rifles known as the 3rd Regiment, and three independent companies of volunteers, the "Arizona Rangers", the "Brigands", and the "San Elizario Spy Company" in addition there was Teels Light Company B, First Texas Artillery (four cannon, & eight howitzers)and a long supply train and thousands of draft and beef animals. All in all between 2,300 to 2,500 men. The Texans were armed with practically every type of firearm in existence: squirrel guns, bear guns, buffalo guns, single & double barreled shotguns, navy revolvers, six shooters, etc., etc.)
A wounded Baker belatedly arrives back in Dallas and finds out that Jackson has completely vanished. Baker begins to suspect that Jackson along with Stevens has the missing gold. Baker heads back to El Paso and starts to threaten and torment Stevens as to the whereabouts of Jackson and the cash box. Getting no satisfaction, Baker hires Angel Eyes to find Jackson.
Jackson/Carson arrives in El Paso and attempts to find Maria, his "soiled dove" paramour. He is, however, unable to locate her and makes a tactical mistake, visiting Stevens to find out what he knows of her whereabouts. Stevens tells Jackson/Carson that he thinks she followed Colonel John Baylor's Second Regiment Texas Mounted Rifles up into the Mesilla Valley to ply her trade.
Jackson/Carson tells Stevens his new identity at the outside chance of his not finding her and Maria coming to Stevens and inquiring for him. Jackson/Carson heads north from El Paso after speaking to Half Soldier and he finds Maria in the New Mexico Territorial town of Santa (Dona) Ana. He spends the night and then follows Sibley's line of march up the Rio Grande.
Part 2: Jackson/Carson reaches Paraje where he is warned by Confederate pickets to travel around Ft. Craig by night to avoid detection by Union "spy" Companies. He leaves the river and follows the road through the Journada del Muerto desert, a 100 mile short cut around the Union stronghold at Fort Craig. He rides at night and rests by day to avoid detection from the spy companies.
(Independent "Spy" Companies were the eyes & ears of both Union & Confederate armies in the Southwest, for the Confederates Captain John Phillips "Brigands" known to the Texans as the "Santa Fe Gamblers" were a group of mountain men, gun & Indian fighters, ne'er do wells, and general trouble making rowdies (originally from Santa Fe, hence their other name) but were recruited in the Mesilla Valley to act as scouts. For the Union Army, Captain James "Paddy" Graydon an Irish immigrant and ex-army officer/saloon keeper from the abandoned Ft. Buchanan "Arizona" vicinity started an Independent Spy Company working for Colonel Canby. Graydon hatched an interesting "raid" on the Texan Camp the evening before the Battle of Valverde. With Canby's permission Graydon packed a dozen 24 pound Howitzer shells in two boxes and after packing then on to the backs of two worn out old mules. He, with three or four of his men, crossed the Rio Grande at Ft. Craig under the cover of darkness and crept up to the Texan Camp. When they were about 500 feet from the Confederates, they lit the fuses and drove the mules towards the Texan mule herd, and hastily retreated. They figured they would trot over and join their mule brethren. Looking back, Graydon and his men were horrified to see that instead of heading over to the tethered herd the two mules were following them! The two explosions sent the Confederate Camp into an uproar, and it also resulted in several hundred very thirsty Confederate mules breaking loose and they, smelling water, headed off in a stampede to the Rio Grande where Union pickets collected them through the rest of the night. The result in the loss of mounts and teams caused the Fourth Texas Regiment to be converted into infantry and Sibley had to abandon 30 wagons containing tents, blankets, and papers of the Regiment.)
Back to Jackson/Carson he reaches the North end of the Journada, passes Sibley's abandoned wagons, and re-crosses the Rio Grande at the Valverde ford observing the detriments of the recent carnage of battle (Valverde Ford Feb 21). On or about February 25th, south of Socorro near the Stapleton Ranch, New Mexico, Territory Jackson/Carson reaches the rear guard of Sibley's Brigade deposits his dispatches and joins the 7th Texas Cavalry (7th Mounted Volunteers) 3rd Regiment under the command of Powhatan Jordan. Sibley's Army of New Mexico takes Albuquerque on March 8th and Santa Fe on March 13th.
On March 21, Jackson/Carson in a battalion of the 7th commanded by Powhatan Jordan along with the Fourth Regiment under the overall command of Colonel Scurry headed north from Albuquerque by way of the Galisteo Road. On March 24 they made it to the village of Real de Delores, that had a gold & silver smelter and ore diggings at the bases of nearby mountains, on the 26th the 7th arrives in Galisteo. A dispatch rider appears from Major Pyron disclosing that he was in a sharp conflict with a superior enemy sixteen miles away in Apache Canyon. At sunset the troops march off directly across the mountains on a bitter cold night in some places the snow was ankle deep. At 3 o'clock in the morning Scurry reached Pryon's encampment.
March 28th at Pigeons ranch the Battle of Glorieta Pass was fought, the field of battle at the end of the day was in possession of the Confederates but the Confederate supply trains were completely destroyed by Chivington, Sibley's invasion plan is equally & effectively killed. Jackson/Carson is wounded badly in the battle and is brought back to Albuquerque with the rest of the wounded men of the 7th.
On April 6th & 7th Sibley now totally discredited and disparaged by his army is known to his troops as a "walking whiskey barrel", with no supplies to sustain his army is forced to retreat from Santa Fe. At Albuquerque he splits his forces in two each traveling down the East & West sides of the Rio Grande. At the village of Perlata, Canby attacks the East side Confederate column under Green and during the skirmish a few wagons and an ambulance carrying Jackson/Carson is separated from the main column and continues down the East side of the river.
The small train and its occupants reach the north end of the Journada Del Muerta and enter the desert. Somewhere south of Ft. Craig the wagons & ambulance are attacked by a small "spy" company. During a running fight the wagons separate from the ambulance, and though the men in the ambulance kill or wound all of the spy company pursuers all in the ambulance are critically wounded and the panicked team of the ambulance bolts off to the south out of control.
* Sibley was never present at any of the battles his Army of New Mexico participated in. He was always "under the weather" i.e. drunk in his "ambulance".
Part 3: From the clues we get in the film we can surmise that Angel Eyes is a competent hired gun of some high repute who "always gets the job done" and that he has been in operation in West Texas, Mexico, New Mexico and "Arizona". I include Arizona because its the most lawless and plausible area where Angel Eyes, Tuco and Blondie would probably have been operating and the most likely area where they would have seen or met up with him prior to the events depicted in GBU. As I mentioned above it was the most lawless and remote area in the Southwest at the time, El Paso & Mesilla being slightly more civilized.
Early March 1862: Baker, back in El Paso, hires the notorious Angel Eyes to find Jackson and kill Stevens.
Mid March 1862: Angel Eyes (AE) rides out to the Stevens hacienda, he questions Stevens and discovers through intimidation the fact that Jackson changed his name to Bill Carson and that he joined Sibley's Brigade. Stevens also inadvertently spills the beans about the missing cash box. Stevens gives AE $1000 dollars to try and buy off his life, and for AE to kill Baker to boot, but AE always finishing his job kills Stevens and one of his sons. AE goes back to Baker and collects his money and kills him. AE is now on a personal hunt for Carson and $200,000.
In El Paso as AE watches the second hanging of Tuco "The Rat" Ramirez, he questions "Half Soldier" (who was in the 3rd Texas Cavalry and lost both legs at the Battle of Wilson's Creek ) about the whereabouts of Bill Carson. Half Soldier also tells AE that Carson re-enlisted, and that he lost an eye, and that AE can find out more information from the whore Maria in the town of Santa Ana ( perhaps actually Dona Ana). Maria talks.
End of March - 1862: AE is at Ft. Marcy converted into a makeshift hospital outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory (the other two Confederate hospitals were in Albuquerque, and Socorro). He finds out that Canby and the Union Forces have cut the Confederates to pieces at the Battles of Apache Canyon & Glorieta. If Carson is taken alive as a prisoner he will be sent to Batterville Camp (900 miles East). AE leaves for Batterville along the Santa Fe Trail, traveling at an average of 30 miles a day he reaches the vicinity of Batterville in a month. (what makes the most sense is for Batterville to be near Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas & St. Joseph, Missouri, historically the closest Union POW Camp was in Illinois but this early in the war prisoners were actually most likely pardoned).
Mid May -1862: AE waylays a Union Sergeant newly assigned to the camp assumes his identity, and awaits the possible arrival of Bill Carson while running a black market ring at the camp.
Of Tuco Benedicto Juan Pacifico Ramierez, we can surmise quite a bit about since his character in GBU reveals the most back story. Between the litany of crimes read at his hangings to his reunion with his brother Pablo his life can be pretty much mapped out. A good subject for another post.
December -1861: Tuco hides out in one of the boom & bust ghost towns that always dot the landscape in a volatile mining district in the Pinos Alto-Silver City area in the Black Range of New Mexico west of the Mesilla Valley. Hes tracked down and attacked by three bounty hunters, he kills two and wounds one. On his escape route out, three more bounty hunters shoot him off his horse. Tuco is "saved" by Blondie. If we go by fragmented clues provided by the film, and say Blondie was about 35 years in age, and then take into account his crack shot prowess with all firearms, his knowledge of military ordinance, and his ability to easily navigate about and survive in the harsh desert wilderness. And then if we can assume that if Blondie was telling the truth when he told the Union officer at the bridge that he was from Illinois we can probably assume that Blondie was involved in the Mexican War in 1846-1848.
The scenario would go something like this; born in Illinois, his family decides to emigrate to the West, while in Missouri/Kansas border area at age 16, Blondie enlists in the army, most likely a dragoon company. He goes with General Kearney on his march down the Santa Fe trail to New Mexico and points South & West. This would be a most likely back story if you take into account all the similar narratives of the men who roamed that area of the West, and explain how he acquired all his abilities, skills and knowledge. This scenario would put him in the right place and at the right time and since he has run into Angle Eyes before it would have been in the stretch of Southwest between Yuma and Mesilla called "Arizona." I would also go as far as to say that a similar Mexican War scenario could be applied to AE.)
Back to the GBU timeline
Blondie's con game with Tuco begins. Blondie takes Tuco into Socorro, Texas, and collects the bounty. Before Tuco is hanged, Blondie shoots the rope and they escape North out of town and into New Mexico territory to lay low until things cool off for a while.
Part 4: Here occurs the first major time jump in the film.
Mid March - 1862: El Paso, second Tuco hanging (observed by AE). Blondie and Tuco (B&T) escape again north into New Mexico Territory. Blondie severs relationship, takes Tuco's half of the reward and leaves him 70 miles out in the middle of nowhere. Tuco heads to the town of Dona Ana, New Mexico Territory, arriving in the early evening terribly dehydrated. He rearms at the local general store. Tuco, recovered, goes back to one of his abandoned mine hideouts and recruits some of his old henchmen from the Pinos Altos mining district to track down Blondie.
Second Time Jump
April 7th - 1862: Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, Sibley's Brigade is retreating through town at the head are three bearded scouts, members of the "Brigands" or "Santa Fe Gamblers" a notorious independent company composed of trouble makers, ne'er-do-wells, and back country mountain men. Tuco spies Blondie's saddle rig & horse. Blondie kills the three men that Tuco has recruited, but is caught by Tuco. Blondie, about to be hanged in his hotel room by Tuco, is saved by a cannon shot from an artillery barrage that blows out the floor under Tuco. (This incident of the Union Army shelling a town actually happened in New Mexico and the women of the town went to the Union commander and told him that his shells were destroying their houses, so they actually stopped the bombardment.). Blondie escapes back to Texas (250 miles + or -) about 6 days travel.
Second week of April - 1862: The Socorro, New Mexico Territory sequence (fits in here). Tuco tracks Blondie South back down to Texas by following his campfires. Three campfires (50 miles a day more or less). The scene where he finds the cigars, the last one still smoldering & smokeable, indicates he's VERY close to finding Blondie.
April 15th - 1862: Blondie & Shorty this time are running the con game again in San Elizario, Texas. Tuco captures Blondie, preventing him from rescuing his friend, Shorty. Tuco marches Blondie north back into New Mexico planning a special surprise for his friend.
April 17th - 1862: Tuco gets supplies (food, water, water basin, parasol) in Dona Ana and marches Blondie into the "Journada del Muerta" (March of Death) desert, 100 miles stretching North to South with no water. B&T meet "The Carriage of the Spirits" (an ambushed Confederate 3rd regiment Headquarters Ambulance wagon full of bodies). Tuco begins to rob the dead but discovers Bill Carson/Jackson barely alive. A delirious Carson/Jackson tells Tuco about the buried gold in the Sad Hill Cemetery, Tuco asks about the name on the grave, but Bill Carson/Jackson begins to go into convulsions and demands water. Bill Carson/Jackson dies but tells Blondie the name on the grave. Tuco now must save Blondie, so he loads him in the ambulance and heads for help.
April 18th -1862: B&T arrive at night at Confederate Picket Post probably near Paraje and find out they are at a place called Apache Canyon. Tuco asks for the closest infirmary and finds out that he is near his brothers San Antonio Mission hospital.
April 19th - 1862: B&T arrive at San Antonio Mission. Blondie recovers at the mission, under Tuco's watchful eyes.
Third Time Jump
May - 1862: B&T leave San Antonio Mission cross the Rio Grande at Paraje Ford and head North into the dry Plains of San Augustine passing around the Union stronghold of Ft. Craig. Tuco has a map and talks about heading Northwest and the Sierra Magdalena on their left and about crossing back across the Rio Grande and then going all the way across Texas (to the East). B&T are captured by James "Paddy" Graydons Independent Spy Company on a patrol following the retreating Sibley, North and West of Ft. Craig. (This scout of Graydon's really occurred. They picked up numerous stragglers, found buried supplies and cannon, many vulture picked over bodies, so the guy slapping his gloves to brush the dust off his uniform in the film was most likely Graydon.)
Fourth Time Jump (from here to the end of the film its pure fiction, Leone gave one clue in an interview saying the battle of Langston Bridge was envisioned as taking place further East not in New Mexico)
July - 1862: B&T marched into Batterville Camp, from Ft. Craig, 1,020 miles ( at a pace of about 20 + or - miles a day, over the Santa Fe trail. It would have taken them about 50 days) to this fictitious camp (again, the closest real Union POW camp was in Illinois). This site also is located near the longest railroad existing at the time (St. Joseph & Hannibal RR) west of the Mississippi. Tuco is tortured and tells AE that Sad Hill near Ft. Smith Arkansas is the name of the cemetery. Tuco & Wallace to St. Joseph & Hannibal RR. After ten hours on the train Tuco escapes and catches the next train back. Tuco tracks AE & Blondie South towards Ft. Smith, and Sad Hill. AE & Blondie & AE's gang traveling about 30 miles per day and Tuco traveling about 40 miles per day both reach Ft. Smith at the same time. (Ft. Smith, Arkansas changed hands several times during the Civil War and makes a good candidate for the battered town on a major river the Arkansas.) Tuco kills one armed bounty hunter who has been on the lookout for him for eight months. B&T kill AEs gang and head for Sad Hill.
2nd week in July 1862: B&T blunder upon a battle for Langston or Langstone bridge over the Arkansas River. The small cemetery nearby at Sad Hill has swollen with the dead from the various skirmishes & battles in the border area of Northwest Arkansas ( Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern) was on March 6-8th 1862, US Casualties 1, 349, CS Casualties 4,600). B & T & AE shoot out at Sad Hill.
List of various sources for those wishing to read more:
"Sibley's New Mexico Campaign" by Martin Hardwick Hall
"The Civil War In The American West" by Alvin A. Joseph Jr.
"Bloody Valverde" by John Taylor
"Blood & Thunder" by Hampton Sides
"The Battle of Glorieta Pass" By Thomas S. Edrington and John Taylor
"Desert Tiger, Captian Paddy Graydon" By Jerry D. Thompson