|Unkempt, rough and tough looking members of the gang, or lynch mob, or vigilantes, or posse riders, or cow herders. They had minimal or no dialog, not much screen time, and were generally not listed in the film credits. Some would show up as a face in the crowd, portraying townspeople, barflies, deputies, wagon drivers, ranch hands, etc. We tend to recognize some of their faces, but have no clue as to their real names.|
Cactus Mack - circa 1936
Cactus Mack - circa 1947
Depending on the source, Taylor Curtis 'Cactus Mack' Mc Peters was born in New Mexico or Texas ... or more specifically, in Weed, New Mexico or Coke County, Texas. His cousin was actor and singer Glenn Strange, and western movie hero Rex Allen was also a cousin. The mothers of Mc Peters and Strange were sisters.
In the early 1930s, Glenn Strange and Mc Peters joined the 'Arizona Wranglers' western musical group and did tours as well as broadcasts over KNX radio in Hollywood. There was some bickering over money, contracts or sumthin', and a split occurred during Summer, 1933. Wranglers manager and frontman Loyal Underwood formed a contingent named the 'Range Riders' which also toured and broadcast over KNX. Strange and Mc Peters went with the Range Riders.
In addition to the Arizona Wranglers and Range Riders, Cactus was one of the "O-Bar-O Cowboys" (or O Bar O Cowboys), a short-lived cowboy music organization which included Len Slye, several years before the formation of the Sons of the Pioneers and Slye becoming Republic Pictures' hero Roy Rogers. Roy recallsed Cactus and the O-Bar-O Cowboys in the book Happy Trails : our life story / Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Jane and Michael Stern (Simon and Schuster, 1994) - a few quotes:
"We became the O-Bar-O Cowboys - Tim Spencer, Bill 'Slumber' Nichols, Cactus Mac [sic], Len Slye and a fiddle player known as Cyclone. Cyclone was the one with the car, an old broken-down Ford. In June of 1933, we strapped our instruments to the roof and hit the road to find our fortune."
"Cactus Mac, the leader of the band, was a native of Willcox, Arizona, so when we rolled into that town, we got a hero's welcome."
"The townspeople were so danged friendly ... that Cactus Mac [sic] decided he never wanted to leave home again. He quit the band on the spot, pulling his guitar out of the car and waving good-bye as we drove out of town, one member short."
Cactus may have loved Willcox, Arizona or he may have grown weary as the O-Bar-O Cowboys road trip and tour wasn't successful. A few months later, he was performing with Loyal Underwood and his Range Riders. And Mc Peters and Strange were with the Arizona Wranglers for STORMY (Universal, 1935).
With the Range Riders
(Courtesy of Belinda Kirkhuff)
L-R in the back row - Jack Kirk, unknown (white shirt, standing, possibly Ace Spriggins), Hilo Pete McKinney (white shirt w/ guitar, sitting), Oscar Gahan (w/ fiddle), unknown, Jack Jones.
L-R in the front row - Glenn 'Pee Wee' Strange (kneeling & whittling), Curtis 'Cactus Mack' McPeters (kneeling w/ guitar), Sheriff Loyal Underwood.
Jack Jones also has a copy of the above still, and on the back of his photo are names of most of the faces with their nicknames: Jack Jones (Pocatello Kid), Jack Kirk (Pecos) and Pete McKinney (Hilo Pete).
The July 11, 1933 Variety tradepaper carried news about the Arizona Wranglers and the creation of the Range Riders. Excerpts from that article: "In an argument over commission for stage appearances, Arizona Wranglers have split with their organizer, Loyal Underwood, and are now on their own at KFI. Cow yippers had been a KNX act for three years. Since splitting, Underwood has organized another group of cowhand singers and stringers and goes KNX with them under title of 'Range Riders'."
(Courtesy of Jack Jones)
Above is a tannish herald/flyer used to announce the band's performances. Wednesday, September 20 occurred in 1933. In the bottom right corner of the flyer are the nicknames of the band members - Cactus is Cactus Mack and Pee Wee is Glenn Strange.
With the Arizona Wranglers
(Courtesy of Herb Stokes)
Above - the Arizona Wranglers plus others in a still from STORMY (Universal, 1935). Below right is a crop from the July 29, 1935 Call Bureau cast listing for STORMY with names of the Arizona Wranglers members (note the incorrect spellings on several names).
(Courtesy of Jack Jones)
Cactus - along with cousin Glenn Strange and buddies Jack Kirk, Chuck Baldra and others - became regulars in low budget oaters, initially doing background music and portraying "cowboys sittin' around the campfire singin' and strummin' and yodelin'".
As time passed, 'Cactus Mack' did less tunes and turned up in minor supporting roles in westerns and serials - he was a ranch hand, stage/buckboard driver, deputy, saloon patron, townsman, etc. Occasionally he had a meaty role ... or some screen time doing tunes. Examples:
Cactus got a lot of paydays from Republic Pictures - he appeared in fourteen with Roy Rogers, ten with Allan Lane, five Monte Hales and four with Sunset Carson. He also worked in 21 of Gene Autry's films at Republic and Columbia.
Mc Peters had his own western musical group called "Cactus Mack and His Saddle Tramps", and in the 1930s and early 1940s, the group did personal appearances as well as transcribed/syndicated radio programs, one of which was a 15 minute show titled "Songs of the West". You can see Cactus and his Saddle Tramps in the Buck Jones cliffhanger THE PHANTOM RIDER (Universal, 1936). He also fronted "Cactus Mack and his Circle B Cowboys". From newspapers and movie pressbooks, members of Cactus' Saddle Tramps included 'Guitar Bob' Fite, 'Hi-Pockets' Busse, 'Shorty' Bill Scott, Little Jimmie Carrol, Curley Fletcher, Len Dossey, and Al Irwin.
As the B western faded away, he transitioned to television programs and can be spotted in the ROY ROGERS SHOW, LAWMAN, BONANZA, CISCO KID, MAVERICK, others. And he did about fifty GUNSMOKE episodes during the years 1957-1961.
Wading through newspaper archives, I found an interesting Cactus Mack mention in a September, 1944 paper: "McPeters is the voice of Pluto for Walt Disney." I asked cartoon and voice expert and author Hames Ware for any info on Pluto, Disney and Cactus Mack. Hames writes:
"... let me share what little info I have been able to glean re Cactus Mack's work for Disney. I can find no confirmation for him actually supplying Pluto's voice. But your mentioning the 1944 date, my notes tell me that Cactus provided the folksy narration for 1945 Disney cartoon releases, CALIFORNY OR BUST and THE LEGEND OF COYOTE ROCK."
Hames did a follow-up and got in touch with his British friend, Graham Webb, author of the Animated Film Encyclopedia. Graham advised that Cactus Mack provided only the voice over narration for two Pluto cartoons, THE LEGEND OF COYOTE ROCK (1945) and R'COON DAWG (1951).
Cactus Mack suffered a heart attack on April 17, 1962 and was DOA at the Universal Studios Hospital, North Hollywood.
At the 2014 Silver Spur Awards at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City, California, 'Cactus Mack' McPeters was posthumously presented with the Jack Iverson Founders Award.
Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Cactus Mack: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0532952/
Cactus appeared in nearly fifty episodes of the GUNSMOKE TV series with James Arness, and he generally portrayed a background role as a townsman, barfly, etc.: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0532952/filmoseries#tt0047736
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), death certificate and the California Death Index provide more info on Cactus Mack and family. Note the Texas vs. New Mexico birth location variations for Cactus Mack:
Notice that the wife of Cactus Mack is named Etta S. (21 years old and born in Virginia) in the 1930 census, and Sarah E. (32 years old and born in Virginia) in the '40 census. I'm guessing they are the same person, and their first and middle name/initial got reversed in one of the census.
There's a couple genealogy websites which include more on Glenn Strange, 'Cactus Mack' Mc Peters, and the Strange and Mc Peters families:
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has a picture of the grave marker for Taylor C. Mc Peters (1899-1962) and wife Etta Sarah Mc Peters (1907-1994) who are interred at Glen Haven Memorial Park, Sylmar, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=73234486
Julie Ann Ream has been involved in the Silver Spur Awards, Rex Allen Days, more. "Cactus Mack" Mc Peters was Julie's grandfather, and on her website, there's a photo of Cactus Mack with a Tony Jr. lookalike horse that he bought from Tom Mix: http://julieannream.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Cactus_Mack.93211833_std.jpg
The Arizona Range News newspaper has an article with comments from Julie about Cactus Mack, Glenn Strange, Rex Allen and their Arizona connections: http://www.willcoxrangenews.com/news/article_a17617d4-b76f-11e2-bc14-0019bb2963f4.html?TNNoMobile
As mentioned, Cactus Mack was a member of various singing groups ... including the Arizona Wranglers, Range Riders, Radio Buckaroos, Wranglers, Texas Cow Town Boys and Girls, and more groups. Some appeared in B westerns and most did radio and personal appearances. Click HERE and a separate tab/window will open with an Old Corral webpage with more on the singing/musical groups which included Cactus Mack.
J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website lists Cactus Mack and His Saddle Tramps in two 15 minute radio programs for Radio Producers Sales Company syndication circa 1931. When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select C and scroll down for Cactus Mack radio credits: http://radiogoldindex.com/
|Right is Glenn Strange, prolific B western bad guy, occasional sidekick, and "Sam Noonan", the Long Branch saloon bartender, on TV's GUNSMOKE.|
He and "Cactus Mack" Mc Peters were cousins.
Sarah Byrd, the mother of Glenn Strange, and Leona Byrd, mother of Mc Peters were sisters and hailed from Texas:
1880 census - 1 year old Leona Byrd (born about 1879 in Texas) and 10 year old Sarah E. Byrd (born about 1870 in Texas) are with their parents and siblings in Brown County, Texas: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFFP-TD2
(From Old Corral image collection)
Glenn Strange - circa 1940
Cactus Mack - circa 1936
The Cactus Mack Hat
As shown on the left, Cactus wore a unique hat in several of his early to mid 1930s film appearances.
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
From left to right are Charlie/Charley Sargent, Jack Kirk, John Wayne, Cactus Mack Mc Peters, Chuck Baldra and Glenn Strange in a scene from Wayne's WESTWARD HO (Republic, 1935). On the far right is the non-singing Tex Palmer. In the film's opening titles, Glenn Strange is credited and "the Singing Riders" is listed under Strange's name. These "guys in black shirts" did double duty as singers as well as members of the "Singing Riders" who rode white horses and assisted Wayne. Below are crops/blowups showing the faces in more detail.
Below: Charlie/Charley Sargent, Jack Kirk, John Wayne, Cactus Mack McPeters.
Above: Chuck Baldra, Glenn Strange, and non-singing Tex Palmer.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above are Jean Porter (cowboy hat and buckskin jacket), heroine Fay McKenzie (white blouse and green scarf), Edith Fellows (blue blouse), Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette. The tall galoot in the back row center is 'Cactus Mack' Mc Peters and a youthful singer/songwriter Johnny Bond is on the far right. Lobby card from HEART OF THE RIO GRANDE (Republic, 1942) which is among the last batch of films that Autry did at Republic Pictures prior to entering World War II service.