It is the remarkable story of the stone-throwing Angus lad whose 19th century journey Stateside brought him brim to brim with some of the Wild West’s most famous names.
But now, thanks to the talents of an Arbroath songwriter, the Ballad of Thomas Moonlight has revealed the life of the little-known Lichtie who pardoned Harry Longbaugh, releasing him to pursue a robber’s life as the Sundance Kid.
Retired journalist Ian Lamb has shone attention on Moonlight in the opening track of the newly-released Arbroath Songbook by Slipway, the band in which he plays guitar alongside vocalist Alan Mowatt and accordionist and keyboard player Tony Simpson.
The new album is the realisation of a dream for the group, and especially Mr Lamb, whose first new song, The Bell Rock Light, lit the creative flame to pen a collection of songs about the Angus town.
Despite extensive knowledge of many famous Arbroath names, the songwriter was astonished to uncover Moonlight’s amazing story.
Born into a farming family in 1833 and educated at Arbroath Educational Institution, Moonlight was noted for leading stone-throwing gang fights against pupils from the town’s High School.
He left school at the age of 12 and was put to work in the draper’s shop of his uncle Charles on Brothock Bridge, but ran away a year later and worked his passage from Dundee to Philadelphia with dreams of farming in the New World.
In 1856, Moonlight was ordered to Texas with the Western Army to fight hostile Seminole Indians, to be discharged with the rank of captain and enough cash to buy a farm in Kansas.
Mr Lamb said: “At the start of the Civil War in 1861, he re-enlisted and fought on the side of the Union rising to the rank of Colonel.
“Warfare emerged again in Wyoming and with the brevet rank of Brigadier General, he was appointed commander of Fort Laramie.
“He retired from military service at the age of 35 and returned to farming whilst developing an interest in politics.”
It was Moonlight’s appointment as Adjutant General of Kansas which first brought him into contact with famous names of the Wild West including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, as the Scot became involved in helping to clean up the infamous Dodge City.
Mr Lamb added: “In 1887, Moonlight was appointed governor of the then territory of Wyoming and presided over its development towards becoming a state.
”In 1888 he granted a pardon to Harry Longbaugh who had served 18 months in prison for stealing a horse, a gun and a saddle.
“However, Longbaugh went on to develop a full-time career robbing railroads and banks. He took pride in his prison sentence and his boasting led to a nickname taken from the jail where he’d served his sentence – Sundance. Longbaugh was the Sundance Kid.
“Moonlight’s final call to serve his adopted country came when president Cleveland appointed him US Ambassador to Bolivia. He died in 1899 at the age of 66 and is buried in Leavenworth, Kansas.
“He’s not received much recognition and I thought it was just a great story for a song,” said Mr Lamb.
Local charities will benefit from the sale of the cd, which is available at the town’s Abbey Music, the Meadowbank Inn and the Signal Tower museum.
Arbroath Smokies and the Red Lichties famous 36-0 win also feature on the songbook, alongside the famous Bell Rock and the Round O of Arbroath Abbey.