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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' McPeters
Real name variations: Taylor Curtis Mc Peters, Curtis Taylor Mc Peters
1899 - 1962
appeared in at least 151 westerns and 12 serials

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 group that included Len Slye, several years before the formation of the Sons of the Pioneers and Slye becoming Republic Pictures' hero Roy Rogers. Roy recalled 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 had a copy of this photo, and on the back were 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 - 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).

From L-to-R in the backrow (standing) are: Johnny Luther (nickname: 'Arkansas' Johnny), unidentified man (in suit), unidentified woman, Calvin Short (or Shorts) playing harmonica (nickname: 'Sleepy'), James Burtis, and leading lady Jean Rogers.

From L-to-R in the front row (seated): Glenn Strange (nickname: 'Pee Wee'), Charles Hunter (nickname: 'Iron Tail'), John Jackson (nickname: 'Stony' or 'Stoney'), Laverne F. Costello (nickname: 'Slicker'), Curtis McPeters (nickname: 'Cactus Mack').

(Courtesy of Jack Jones)

1938 personal appearance tour
with singin' cowboy Fred Scott

Circa 1937 - 1939, singin' cowboy Fred Scott did personal appearances at various theaters and the above ad is from an April, 1938 performance in Missouri. Those shows provided an extra source of income as well as publicizing Fred's series of westerns for Spectrum Pictures. "Marietta - Cowgirl Tap Dancer Star of 'George White Scandals' " was Scott's wife Mary. And 'Cactus Mack' was also a member of the Scott touring group.

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 played 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 does some yodeling with Johnny Luther's band in the Rex Lease ROUGH RIDING RANGER (Superior, 1935).
  • In STORMY (Universal, 1935), Mc Peters, Glenn Strange and the Arizona Wranglers singin' group provide support to Noah Beery Jr., Jean Rogers, and Rex, King of the Wild Horses.
  • Mc Peters - along with Johnny Bond, Dick Rinehart, Frankie Marvin and Jimmy Wakely - are the tunesmiths supporting Roy Rogers in SAGA OF DEATH VALLEY (Republic, 1939).
  • Cactus has a good helper role with Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette in THE SINGING HILL (Republic, 1941).
  • Mc Peters is one of the Three Wiseman - I mean Three Cowboys - in STAR IN THE NIGHT (Warners, 1945), a 20+ minute Christmas short that was run during the holiday season on the Turner Classics Movie (TCM) cable channel.

Cactus got a fair amount of paydays from Republic Pictures - he appeared in fourteen with Roy Rogers, ten with Allan Lane, eight with Don Barry, 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 background roles in BONANZA, MAVERICK, HAVE GUN - WILL TRAVEL, CHEYENNE, LAWMAN, many others. And he portrayed townsmen, barflies, etc. in over sixty 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. He did lots of TV work including over sixty appearances in GUNSMOKE:

The Family Search website (free), (subscription), death certificate, and the California Death Index provide more on Cactus Mack and family. Note the Texas vs. New Mexico birth location variations for Cactus Mack:

  • 1880 census - Sarah Byrd, the mother of Glenn Strange, and Leona Byrd, mother of "Cactus Mack" McPeters were sisters. 1 year old Leona Byrd (born about 1879 in Texas) and 10 year old Sarah E. Byrd (born about 1870 in Texas) reside with their parents and siblings in Brown County, Texas:
  • 1890 census is unavailable - it was lost in a 1921 fire (and water damage) at the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.
  • Marriage index record (not the marriage license) of John Mc Peters to Leona Byrd on June 16, 1896 in Brown County, Texas:
  • 1910 census - the family's last name is "Mcpeeters" in this census and listed under that spelling in Family Search and Ancestry. 36 year old John S. Mcpeeters [sic] (born Texas), his 30 year old wife Leona (born Texas), three daughters (Rada, Odie and Vera) and two sons (Curtis T. and Johnie) were renting in Justice Precinct 3, Coke County, Texas. 10 year old Curtis T. Mcpeeters [sic] was born in New Mexico. The other children were born in Texas. Father John and 10 year old son Curtis T. have occupations of "Farmer-General Farm" and "Farm Laborer-Home Farm", respectively:
  • World War I draft registration dated September 12, 1918 at the Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona draft board - 19 year old Curtis McPeeters [sic] was born August 8, 1899, but birth place is not specified; he lived in Mc Allister, Arizona; occupation was "Farming" and he worked for his father, John Stuart McPeeters [sic]. And he signed the registration as "Mc Peeters" (with two e's):
  • 1920 census - living in Galiuro, Graham County, Arizona are 45 year old John Mcpeters (born Texas), his 40 year old wife Leona (born Texas), three daughters (Sadie, Vera and Ruby) and three sons (Johnnie, Rex and Ray). All six children were born in Texas. Cactus Mack is not with the family:
  • Arizona marriage license of 22 year old Curtis McPeters and 18 year old Sarah Jessee on July 4, 1922 in Willcox, Cochise County, Arizona:
  • 1930 census - renting at 406 Cordary (sp?) Street, Los Angeles are 30 year old Taylor C. Mc Peters (born Texas), 21 year old wife Etta S. (born Virginia), 6 year old daughter Marjorie M. (born Arizona), 4 year old son Duane C. (born Arizona) and 1 year old daughter Nedra L. (born Texas). Taylor was not a military veteran and his occupation was "Musician - Radio Station".:
  • had a 1932 Phoenix, Arizona City Directory - Curtis T. McPeters and wife Etta were living on S 24th St nr E Palm av.
  • had the 1936 Los Angeles County City Directory - Curtis McPeters (occupation Studiowkr meaning "Studio worker") and wife Etta were living at 4029 Monroe.
  • 1940 census - owning their home at 11924 Hart, Los Angeles were 40 year old Taylor C. McPeters (born New Mexico), 32 year old wife Sarah E. (born Virginia), 16 year old daughter Margie M. (born Arizona), 14 year old son Duane C. (born Arizona), 11 year old daughter Nedra Lee (born Texas), and 9 year old daughter Barbara L. (born California). Taylor's occupation was "actor - pictures", and in 1939, he worked 26 weeks and earned $1780.00:
  • Death certificate - 62 year old Taylor Curtis Mc Peters was born August 8, 1899 in New Mexico; parents were John Mc Peters (born Texas) and Leona Byrd (born Texas). Occupation was "Actor - Universal Studios - Motion Pictures". On April 17, 1962, he was DOA at the Universal Studios Hospital, 3970 Lankershiem Boulevard, North Hollywood. An autopsy was done and cause of death was heart attack due to coronary thrombosis. Wife Etta S. McPeters was the death certificate informant, and they lived at 11924 Hart Street, North Hollywood. Funeral director was Glen Haven Mortuary and burial at Glen Haven Memorial Park.
  • The California Death Index has a record for Taylor C. McPeters which mirrors the death certificate: he was born 8/8/99 in New Mexico and passed away on 4/17/62.

Notice the name variations of Cactus Mack's wife - sometimes she's listed as Etta S. or Sarah E. Am guessing they are the same person, and their first and middle name/initial got reversed in one of the census. Family trees on are somewhat inconsistent and have her full name as "Sarah Etta Jessee" or "Etta Sarah Jessee" (1907 - 1994).

Find A Grave website has a photo 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:

Charles Patterson's genealogy website has info on Cactus Mack McPeters:

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:
The Arizona Range News newspaper has an article with comments from Julie about Cactus Mack, Glenn Strange, Rex Allen and their Arizona connections:

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:

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:

(From Old Corral 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.

A few examples of him wearing this hat style include: STORMY (Universal, 1935) with Noah Beery Jr.; FOR THE SERVICE (Universal, 1936) with Buck Jones; THE UNKNOWN RANGER (Columbia, 1936) with Bob Allen.

(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 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 him entering World War II service.

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