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Cheney’s Got a Gun: Part 3

According to the report filed by Gilberto San Miguel Jr., the sheriff’s deputy who allegedly questioned Cheney the day after the incident, potential witnesses to the shooting included: Richard Cheney, the current Vice-President of the United States; Pamela Pitzer Willeford, the current US ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein; Harry Whittington, a wealthy Texas attorney and Republican Party operative; Katharine Armstrong, the hunting party’s hostess and the daughter of the owner of the ranch; Sarita Armstrong Hixon, some random member of the Armstrong family; Michael Andrew “Bo” Hubert, the hunting guide; and Oscar and Gerardo “Jerry” Medellin, the outriders.

Curiously, there is no mention in the deputy’s report of the Secret Service agents or the medical personnel who accompanied the hunting party, though they obviously were all potential witnesses as well. And even more curiously, no report on the incident has been released by the Secret Service, though you would think that they would weigh in on a shooting involving the Vice-President that occurred on their watch.

It’s hard not to notice, by the way, that two alleged members of the hunting party just happen to have the same last name as the police constable who determined in record time that “this in fact is an accident.” Small world, isn’t it? It’s also hard not to notice that the name of another member of the party contains the names of two of the handful of towns that make up Kenedy County, Texas: Armstrong and Sarita. One wonders if Kenedy County is little more than the Armstrong family’s private fiefdom. Perhaps this is a good time to take a quick look at some Armstrong family history.

The 50,000-acre Armstrong Ranch was established by John Barclay Armstrong, great-grandfather of star witness Katharine Armstrong. As Wikipedia tells it, “Armstrong was born in Tennessee, and moved to Texas in 1871. After a short experience as a lawman, in 1875 he joined the Special Force under Captain Leander H. McNelly, a newly created quasi-military branch of the Texas Rangers that was to operate in southern Texas. His role as McNelly’s second in command and right hand earned him the promotion to sergeant and the nickname ‘McNelly’s Bulldog.'”

The Handbook of Texas Online provides some additional context to the story: “American settlement in the region [that was to become Kenedy County] was slow but increased after the Mexican War. New settlers were generally welcomed by the Mexican rancheros, and a number of the newcomers married into prominent local families. Ethnic relations began to change during the second half of the nineteenth century, however, when steadily growing numbers of Anglo-Americans began to settle in South Texas. Increasingly, Mexican landholding families found their titles in jeopardy in the courts or were subjected to violence. The so-called ‘skinning wars’ of the early 1870s were indicative of mounting ethnic and racial tensions in the area. Because of rising prices for hides and the large number of mavericks, or free-ranging cattle, some ranchers went on skinning raids, killing the animals and taking their hides, a practice that often pitted Mexican and Anglo ranchers against each other. Tensions grew in 1875 after a group of Anglos attacked several ranches in the future Kenedy County in retaliation for raids made by Mexican ranchers. Vigilantes and outlaws from Corpus Christi raided the area, killing virtually all of the adult males on four ranches-La Atravesada, El Peñascal, Corral de Piedra, and El Mesquite-and burning the stores and buildings; many of the remaining Mexican rancheros were forced out.”

Elsewhere in the Handbook, we find that “in 1874 the state Democrats returned to power, and so did the rangers. Texas was ‘overrun with bad men,’ with Indians ravaging the western frontier, with Mexican bandits pillaging and murdering along the Rio Grande. The legislature authorized two unique military groups to meet this emergency. The first was the Special Force of Rangers under Capt. Leander H. McNelly. In 1874 he and his men helped curb lawlessness engendered by the deadly Sutton-Taylor Feud in Dewitt County. In the spring of 1875 they moved into the Nueces Strip (between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande) to combat Cortina’s ‘favorite bravos.’ After eight months of fighting, the rangers had largely restored order, if not peace, in the area. In 1875 the Special Force enhanced its fearful reputation by stacking twelve dead rustlers ‘like cordwood’ in the Brownsville square as a lethal response to the death of one ranger.” (

(Before moving on, a quick clarification is in order here: when The Handbook of Texas Online says that Indians were “ravaging the western frontier” and Mexicans were “pillaging and murdering along the Rio Grande,” what they really mean, in a politically correct sort of way, is that indigenous peoples were doing their best to defend their land and their way of life from brutal and barbaric foreign invaders, much as the people of Iraq are trying to do today.)

Julian Borger, writing for the Guardian, informs us that “the Armstrong Ranch … [was] founded in 1877 by John Barclay Armstrong.” Borger adds that Tobin Armstrong, Katharine’s recently deceased father, “helped get Cheney his job running the oil services company, Halliburton, and his backing ensured Karl Rove’s fledgling political consultancy became a success.” Other sources, it should be noted, claim that the Armstrong Ranch was established in 1881 or 1882. My guess is that the land was acquired in 1877 and the ranch was built on that land a few years later.

Let’s briefly review what we have learned here thus far. In 1875, John Barclay Armstrong joined a Special Forces unit of the Texas Rangers (which was itself formed as something of a Special Forces unit, tasked with ‘protecting’ the Western frontier from ‘marauding’ Mexicans and Native Americans). Armstrong’s unit proved to be a particularly brutal one, engaging in psy-war tactics such as building gruesome displays of dead bodies (can you say Phoenix Program?). In the spring of 1875, the unit was operating in the Nueces Strip, which just happens to be where Kenedy County is now located. That very same year, a group of unnamed Anglo terrorists laid waste to what would become Kenedy County, wantonly slaughtering the native residents and destroying their homes. Just two years later, John Barclay Armstrong took possession of a 50,000-acre chunk of that very same bloodstained plot of land.

Now, I’m not suggesting here that the Armstrong land was acquired through an act of mass murder … well, actually, if we’re to be perfectly honest, that is exactly what I am suggesting. There isn’t likely to be any documentation in the official record to prove that the “vigilantes and outlaws from Corpus Christi” were in fact elements of John Armstrong’s Special Forces unit, but the pieces of the puzzle certainly seem to fit together nicely.

Armstrong was certainly no stranger to the ways of the gun. During his checkered law enforcement career, he killed or assisted in the killing of at least a half dozen men, and probably considerably more. His biggest claim to fame was the capture of the nearly mythical figure of John Wesley Hardin in 1877, for which he reportedly received a $4,000 reward, a considerable bounty in those days. It was with that money that he reportedly built the Armstrong Ranch.
( and John Cloud “Inside the Shooting at the Ranch,” Time Magazine, February 27, 2006)

Who John Wesley Hardin really was is difficult to determine, though we do know that he was also no stranger to the ways of the gun. As with other Western ‘outlaws,’ the true story of Hardin undoubtedly bears little resemblance to the grandiose legend. The fact that there was more to the Hardin story than what is revealed in the fictionalized accounts that pass for history was strongly hinted at when Hardin, credited with some 30-40 murders, including the killing of numerous soldiers and law enforcement officers, was ultimately pardoned and released from prison, after which he promptly was admitted to the bar and magically transformed himself into a successful attorney. But here, alas, I have digressed.
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Returning to The Handbook of Texas Online, we find that “most of the land [in Kenedy County] still remains in the hands of the Armstrong, King, Kenedy, and Yturria interests.” Reading on, we find that these four families are closely interwoven through marriages and business partnerships. The King Ranch was “founded in 1847 by Mifflin Kenedy and his partner Richard King, who acquired their vast holdings by both legal and questionable means. In the early 1880s, for example, Kenedy reportedly fenced in a lake that by tradition belonged to Doña Euliana Tijerina of the La Atravesada grant. To enforce their rule the Kings often called on the Texas Rangers, whom locals sometimes referred to as los rinches de la Kineña – the King Ranch Texas Rangers. Commenting on such practices, an anonymous newspaper article in 1878 averred that it was not unusual for King’s neighbors ‘to mysteriously disappear whilst his territory extends over entire counties.'” (

So we see that the Kenedy and King families have been business partners for more than a century and a half. And so it is with the Yturria family as well: “Mexican-born Don Francisco Yturria founded the [Yturria] ranch and Brownsville’s first private bank in the mid-Nineteenth Century. A Confederate war profiteer, Francisco Yturria formed a shipping company with several partners, including legendary King Ranch founder Richard King. The company monopolized the region’s Civil War trade by registering ships in Yturria’s name, sailing under Mexican flags and thereby moving through Union blockades.”

In 1944, so as not to feel left out, Katharine Armstrong’s uncle (Tobin’s brother) “wed an heir of legendary King Ranch, linking two of the biggest ranches in Texas. The Armstrong Ranch has since gone global, with tracts in Australia and South America.” ( Thus we see that the four families that own Kenedy County are essentially just one big, happy family. And one extremely wealthy family. Among the “Armstrong, King, Kenedy, and Yturria interests” is oil; “between 1947 and January 1, 1991, a total of 31,800,494 barrels was produced” from wells in Kenedy County. At today’s prices, that’s roughly $2 billion worth of oil. Not too shabby. (

Some other interesting facts about this most unusual Texas county emerge on a website run by a guy who apparently has an obsession with visiting the highest point of land in each of Texas’ 254 counties. Why? I have no idea, but here is a portion of his report on Kenedy County: “Kenedy County is one of those peculiar counties created at the behest of wealthy ranchers (in this case, the King Ranch) so that the county can be run as a sort of fiefdom. About 400 people live in the county, most of them in the little town of Sarita. Only one paved highway enters the county: US-77, which makes a straight shot north-south. Aside from the few roads in Sarita, the entire county is essentially company land, and access is not permitted anywhere without permission. The maps show virtually no realistic road network near the Kenedy highpoint from within Kenedy County … One other interesting side note: Kenedy County is the only county out of the 254 in Texas not to have any secondary Farm to Market (FM) highways within its boundaries. Somewhere (I forget where) I read that there are only 7 miles of paved road in the entire county, not counting US-77.” (

And now, after that lengthy digression, it is time to return to where we left off with our story. In case you have forgotten, we were discussing the Sheriff Department’s official report, as co-authored by Sheriff Ramon Salinas III and Chief Deputy Gilberto San Miguel, Jr.. And when we left off, Deputy San Miguel had just finished identifying for us the members of the alleged hunting party, whom he claims to have deposed, although no such written statements have ever seen the light of day and probably don’t actually exist.

There is little information of value in San Miguel’s 2½-page “Incident Report.” The first page contains an account of his arrival at the ranch, his greeting by Secret Service and Border Patrol agents, his meeting of Dick Cheney, and Cheney’s one-paragraph account of the shooting, including the bizarre claim that “Mr. Whittington was standing on ground that was lower than the one he [Cheney] was standing on.” (

On page two, San Miguel briefly describes the weapon Cheney was using. He then claims that he spoke briefly with Katharine Armstrong, “who told [him] pretty much the same story” as Cheney. San Miguel then parenthetically advises readers to “See her written statement for further details,” which is, of course, rather difficult to do since no such statement is actually attached to the report.

San Miguel next describes his visit the following day with the hospitalized victim, Harry Whittington. The deputy claims, rather preposterously, that he “asked Mr. Whittington if we could record our conversation and Mr. Whittington requested not to be recorded due to his voice being raspy. It was then I requested a written affidavit be done and Mr. Whittington gladly agreed to do one as soon as he returned back to his office.” There is, needless to say, no indication that such a statement has ever been taken.

According to San Miguel, “Whittington did speak of the incident and explained foremost that there was no alcohol during the hunt and everyone was wearing the proper hunting attire of blaze orange.” Before Whittington could discuss how the shooting occurred, however, “a nurse came in the room and asked Lt. [Juan J.] Guzman and I to kind of hurry up so Mr. Whittington could rest. Mr Whittington again reiterated that this incident was just an accident.” So Whittington apparently had enough energy to preemptively deny that there was any misconduct involved, but not enough to discuss what actually happened.

On the final page of the report, San Miguel gives a very brief description of his alleged visit to “the area were [sic] the incident occurred.” The deputy reveals nothing of significance about the shooting site, offering only that he “was able to understand more how Mr. Cheney and Katharine Armstrong described the area in their statement.” There was no need, of course, to take any photographs at the scene or attempt to gather any sort of evidence.

San Miguel ends his report with the claim that he had obtained, or planned to obtain, sworn statements from each of the named witnesses. But as we know, no such statements have ever been released, just as no sworn statements by the shooter and victim have ever been released, no Secret Service report has ever been released, no medical report on the victim’s condition upon admission to the hospital has ever been released, and no evidence has ever been gathered and analyzed. There has been no mention by anyone, for example, of what became of Whittington’s alleged hunting garb and other clothing, though such items would obviously contain evidence of the shot pattern and the amount of blood shed by the victim.

The report authored by San Miguel, and the supplemental report added by his boss, Salinas, are quite obviously tailored to accomplish several goals: absolve Dick Cheney of any responsibility for the shooting; deny that the Secret Service overstepped its authority by denying an investigating officer access to a potential crime scene; deny that the Sheriff’s Department offered preferential treatment to the shooter; downplay the gravity of Whittington’s wounds; and, finally, do all that while revealing as little as possible about the actual shooting.

There is little doubt that even if all the witnesses had been questioned, none of them would have deliberately contradicted the official account. In the vernacular of organized crime (which seems appropriate when dealing with members of the Bush Administration), these were all “made men.” We know this because we know that only Cheney’s most trusted friends and associates can get anywhere near him with a loaded weapon. So it seems a pretty safe bet that none of the alleged witnesses would openly contradict the tall tale told by Cheney and Armstrong. However, the official story is so sketchily defined, and so fundamentally absurd, that it is a given that if it were to be told in sworn statements by multiple parties, those witness accounts would contain numerous obfuscations and unintentional contradictions.

Unfortunately, we don’t have access to those statements, which in all likelihood don’t even exist. But from what little evidence is available, we can safely conclude that the official story of the shooting incident is yet another web of transparent lies being sold to the American people. Harry Whittington was not shot from 30 yards away and he almost certainly wasn’t shagging a downed bird, and Dick Cheney wasn’t likely shooting at a bird. Considering that Whittington was shot at fairly close range, and that the shot was apparently centered approximately on his right collarbone, it is inconceivable that Cheney could have thought he was firing at a quail at the time he pulled the trigger.

And yet, strangely enough, it seems safe to assume that Dick Cheney did not intend to shoot Harry Whittington. We know this because if he had intentionally shot Whittington in the face and chest from close range, it is a foregone conclusion that Harry would have never made it to the hospital alive. You just don’t normally shoot someone with the intent to kill and then shuttle them off to the hospital to recover and tell their tale. It’s considered bad form among criminals of the caliber of Dick Cheney.

So what really did happen at the Armstrong Ranch that day? How are we to explain a shooting that is difficult to interpret as being accidental, and yet doesn’t appear to have been intentional, and that has been presented to the American people through a tapestry of obvious lies?

The most prevalent theory that briefly circulated in alternative media circles adds the consumption of alcohol to the equation. And to be sure, there are clear indications that the boys were doing some drinking that day. As with all other aspects of this story, the alcohol question has elicited contradictory answers from the ‘witnesses.’ Armstrong first claimed that there was no alcohol involved, “zero, zippo,” and then later allowed that maybe some members of the party were drinking, but that the drinkers weren’t doing the shooting. Cheney was initially said to have not been drinking at all, but he later acknowledged knocking back a beer at lunch, which of course contradicted both of Armstrong’s versions of events. References to alcohol consumption mysteriously went missing from posted media reports and interview transcripts. Both the Parks and Wildlife Report and the Sheriff’s Department Report proclaim Cheney to have been alcohol free, but he was not even questioned for more than twelve hours after the incident, so he was obviously never tested for drug or alcohol consumption, or even observed for signs of intoxication. And doctors, as previously noted, have refused to release the results of Whittington’s blood-alcohol tests.

So was alcohol involved? There is little doubt that it was, possibly along with other intoxicants as well. And it is tempting to conjure up the mental image of a hopelessly drunk Dick Cheney recklessly swinging his shotgun around and blasting poor Harry Whittington in the face … and then possibly slurring out orders for someone to clean up his mess while he stumbled off in search of more phantom prey. Alternately, some have suggested that Cheney didn’t actually shoot Whittington at all, but rather drunkenly dropped his gun, causing it to accidentally discharge.

Both of those are possibilities, I suppose, but I suspect that something darker and more sinister lies beneath this hastily assembled cover-up. If Cheney were inclined to get so drunk on hunting excursions that he could accidentally shoot a partner in the face and chest from close range, then you would think that he might have a bit of trouble finding hunting partners — as well as guides, hosts, security personnel, and medical attendants. And if he had dropped the gun and it accidentally discharged, wouldn’t it have been much easier to just go with that story, rather than cooking up an obviously fraudulent one? Would dropping the gun have cast Cheney in a worse light than spinning around and shooting someone in the face? After all, you don’t have to be drunk to drop a gun — just careless, which is certainly no worse than being reckless.

The fact that “Cheney was drunk” theories got a considerable amount of play on obviously fraudulent ‘progressive’ websites (Arianna Huffington’s blog being a prime example) tends to indicate, to skeptics such as myself, that the alcohol angle is a classic case of a “limited hang-out.” (I’ve probably explained this before, but as a courtesy to new readers, I’ll do so once again: within the intelligence community, a “limited hang-out” is a damage-control tactic that basically involves pleading guilty to jaywalking in the hopes that the judge won’t notice that you are also a mass murderer.)

So again we must ask: what really happened at the Armstrong Ranch that day? Perhaps what we need to do here in order to answer that question is think ‘outside the box.’ Perhaps we need to look beyond those aspects of the official story that have been universally accepted as true. Perhaps we need to question the basic premise that this shooting occurred while some gentleman hunters were out on a quail hunting expedition.

I have never quite believed that Dick Cheney has any real interest in hunting quail (and I have an even harder time picturing Karl Rove out on a quail hunt, though he is also said to hunt at the Armstrong Ranch). And though no one seems to have noticed, the official cover story spun by Cheney and Rove tends to strongly indicate that neither of the two knows the first thing about quail hunting. In fact, it would appear that I have learned more about the sport of quail hunting by spending a couple of afternoons on the Internet than Cheney has learned by allegedly spending a lifetime out in the brush.

Let’s be honest here: Dick Cheney is a good-ole-boy quail hunter from Wisconsin in the same way that George W. Bush is a good-ole-boy Texas rancher. Like Bush, Richard Cheney was born a blue-blood elite. The media-crafted public persona has no basis in reality; it exists only in the collective mind.

Consider that Cheney and Rove had almost an entire day to craft some sort of credible cover story for the shooting. And they were free to invent virtually any scenario they saw fit to invent, since all the witnesses were going to go along with the charade, and the fully-owned Keystone Cops of Kenedy County were ready to close the case before Whittington had even hit the ground. And yet the Seasoned Hunter, working hand-in-hand with The Great Spinmeister, concocted what has to be about the lamest possible story they could have come up with. And incredibly enough, the pair actually thought that the fable they had constructed completely exonerated Cheney!

In fact, it is safe to say that portraying Cheney as blameless was the primary concern of our two script writers. And yet the story they produced, after mulling it over for quite some time, failed miserably in achieving that goal. The most likely reason for that failure is that the dynamic duo have virtually no knowledge of safe, time-honored hunting practices.

But if the party wasn’t out on a quail hunt, then what were they doing that day, and how did Whittington end up with a chest full of birdshot? The best we can do is take an educated guess based on the following, which are the most reasonable conclusions that can be drawn from the available evidence.

  • Harry Whittington was not shagging a downed bird when he was shot, and he probably wasn’t wearing hunting gear.
  • Cheney almost certainly wasn’t shooting at a bird when he blasted Whittington.
  • Whittington was hit in the kill zone from relatively short range with a stationary (point and shoot) shot fired from Cheney’s gun, which strongly suggests that the shot was fired intentionally.
  • Nevertheless, Harry Whittington was likely not the intended target.
  • The incident took place in Kenedy County — a sprawling, 1,500-square-mile patch of land in South Texas that is fully owned and controlled by a network of wealthy families, and that is – with the exception of a few public roads – completely inaccessible to the general public, and that is, by all appearances, beyond the reach of any law enforcement agencies.
  • The Armstrong Ranch, and Kenedy County in general, would be the ideal place for a sociopath like Dick Cheney to indulge in his most depraved fantasies.
  • Dick Cheney could not possibly have mistaken Harry Whittington for a bird.
  • Cheney could, however, have easily mistaken Whittington for another person.

The scenario that best fits these facts, although it is an entirely speculative one, is that Dick Cheney shot Harry Whittington accidentally when he thought he was taking aim at someone else. As Whittington would have had to be directly involved in the activities being pursued, it was obviously in his best interests to go along with the Cheney/Rove story and discourage anyone from looking too closely at the facts of the case.

And that, my friends, is my best guess as to what occurred on the Armstrong Ranch at approximately 5:30 PM on February 11, 2006. Not that it matters, of course. As Time Magazine opined, “What took place in the hours before and after the shooting is a largely mundane tale that became extraordinary” only because Cheney, for several days, “seemed unwilling to tell it.” Of course, there is, as Time acknowledged,”a small and geeky but persistent debate over whether Cheney might have been closer to Whittington than 30 yds., the figure in the sheriff’s report.” Luckily though, ‘real’ reporters don’t engage in “geeky” debates, so the American people have been spared from exposure to such trivialities.
(John Cloud “Inside the Shooting at the Ranch,” Time Magazine, February 27, 2006)

After the passing of just a few short weeks, the shooting incident has become little more than an obscure historical footnote. It may provide fodder for an occasional late night joke, but it hardly merits any serious discussion. There is, however, one final observation that can be made here: if Cheney was destined to have such a hunting ‘accident,’ he could at least have had the decency to let it happen a couple of years ago, when he was out on an alleged duck hunt with a certain Supreme Court justice. Quack, quack.