I recently turned in my fifth manuscript, and in this latest story, my heroine’s father is a reformed outlaw. His colorful past made for some great dialogue and a couple crazy scenes. So when I was browsing the web and came across the account of an actual reformed outlaw named Texas Jack, I just had to learn more.
Nathaniel “Texas Jack” Reed derived his moniker from the time he spent in the Rio Grande Valley in the late 1880′s and early 90′s. However, he pulled jobs all over the southwest, including a bank holdup in Riverside, Texas in 1888, a train heist in Arizona following that, and even the capture of a gold bullion shipment out in California.
He was born in Arkansas during the Civil War, and lost his father to the Union cause. Orphaned early on, Reed lived with various relatives until he decided to set out on his own. As a young man, he traveled the west, taking whatever job he could find. He finally settled in Oklahoma Territory where he found work as a ranch hand. During the summer of 1885, the foreman he worked for recruited him to help rob a train up in Colorado. Reed assisted in subduing the passengers, and ended up with $6,000 in his pocket for his trouble. Having made more money in that single day’s work than he could make in years as a wrangler, Reed hungered for more easy money. During the next several years, Reed collected a gang and robbed everything from stagecoaches to banks to trains. When the Texas Rangers tried to chase him down following a bank robbery in Brownsville in 1891, the journalists reporting the events dubbed the unknown leader of the outlaw gang Texas Jack. Liking the name, Reed decided to keep it, and a legend (at least in his own mind) was born.
His life of crime came to an end, however, during a botched train job in 1894. Texas Jack heard of a train supposedly carried a gold shipment from Dallas, Texas and schemed to take it down. He would throw Blackstone Switch as the train approached Wybark, OK sending it onto a sidetrack where his gang could dynamite the express car and steal the strong boxes. Texas Jack manned the switch. So when he threw it early and gave the conductor ample time to stop the train short of the side track, he had only himself to blame. Unwilling to abandon the shipment, Texas Jack and his gang ran toward the train, hollering, and firing their guns. Only to find that the railroad had outsmarted them, moving the gold to another train and replacing it with a contingent of armed guards. In an effort to salvage something from the debacle, Texas Jack stormed the passenger car and collected a small bag of loot. During his getaway, he took a bullet to the leg and was forced to go into hiding.
That bullet served as a wake-up call, and the mind Texas Jack had used to plan robberies, he now turned to scheming his way out of trouble. He contacted “hanging judge” Isaac Parker and arranged for a safe surrender. When Judge Parker pressed him for the name of the leader of his outlaw band, Texas Jack immediately gave him a name – Jim Dyer (from all accounts an ordinary, law-abiding citizen). Texas Jack even testified against his “boss” and received a reduced sentence. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison but was paroled after serving one year.
After his release, Texas Jack fully reformed and took up the Lord’s work. He became an itinerant evangelist, preaching the gospel and warning folks of the evils found in a life of crime. Unable to completely abandon his glory days, however, Texas Jack toured with a number of Wild West shows, touted himself as the last survivor of the “47 most notorious outlaws” of the Indian Territory, and even wrote his memoirs, The Life of Texas Jack: Eight Years as a Criminal-41 Years Trusting in God. He never reached the dime novel fame of outlaws like Billy the Kid who went out in a blaze of gunfighting glory, but unlike his outlaw compatriots, he lived a full life, dying at his home in Tulsa, OK at the age of 87.
Texas Jack turned his life around because of a bullet, not the love of a good woman, but I still can’t resist the romance of his tale. Outlaw turned preacher. Pretty fabulous.
What about you? Know any good stories of men who made dramatic changes for the better?