Sometimes when I can’t think of anything interesting to blog about, I search for inspiration on the Texas State Historical Association website on their Day-by-Day segments of “Today in Texas History.” Boy, was I glad that I had writer’s block! Because without it, I never would have run across this historical gem.
On January 28, 1891 – A man by the name Fine Gilliland got in a dispute with cattleman, Henry Harrison Powe during a roundup in Brewster County. Gilliland had been hired by the firm of Dubois and Wentworth to ensure none of the local ranchers absconded with their company cattle. A dispute arose regarding a single, unbranded yearling steer that had been separated from its mother. Powe believed the steer belonged to one of HHP brand cows. Gilliland disagreed.
Now, Gilliland must have been a hired gun, for the way he “disagreed” was to start a gunfight. Gilliland shot and killed Powe, then fled on horseback. Killed a man over ONE steer! Really???
Never fear, though. Justice in the form of the Texas Rangers tracked Gilliland down. Ranger Jim Putman and Deputy Sheriff Thalis Cook tracked Gilliland through a canyon during a January snowfall. They came across a man on horseback and when Cook asked him if he was Gilliland, the hired gun responded with two shots. One hit Cook’s kneecap, the other felled his horse. Gilliland then spurred his mount into a run, but Ranger Putman kept his cool. He dismounted, aimed his rifle, then shot Gilliland’s horse out from under him. (Anyone else feeling bad for the horses?) Putman ordered Gilliland to surrender. How did Gilliland respond? You guessed it – with gunfire. Using his fallen horse as a shield, Gilliland fired at the ranger. Putman took cover and returned fire, taking Gilliland out with a shot to the head the next time the fellow raised up to shoot.
The canyon where Gilliland dies was later named Gilliland Canyon. Seems to me, it’d be more noble to name it for Putman, but whatever.
Now here’s the cool part . . . Remember that unbranded steer that started this whole mess? Well, the poor thing got branded. And not just with a little HHP. Nope. They branded the word “MURDER” one one side of his hide and “JAN 28 91” on the other. Then the steer was released into the wild to roam the countryside. For years, there were sightings of the “murder steer” and it became a thing of legend. Ghost stories were told that if you saw the murder steer (or its ghost) it meant that someone would die. Others claim that the murder steer shows up whenever there is foul play. Tales carried down through history, and they even inspired an episode of the classic western TV show, Rawhide.
- Have you ever heard tales of the murder steer?
- Any of you remember the Rawhide episode with this story line?
- If you’re interested in the Rawhide episode, you can watch it on You Tube here.