Category: Texas History

The Ghosts of Galveston

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

At only twenty-seven miles long and three miles across at the widest point, Galveston, Texas, is not a big place. Located about two miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico an hour south of Houston, the barrier island and tourist Mecca is home to 48,000 year-round residents.

At least, that’s the number of residents the most recent U.S. Census counted. Those who call Galveston home know the population is much larger, because a goodly number of the island’s dearly departed…well, never departed.

Bettie Brown

Ashton+Villa

1859 Ashton Villa
courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

Built in 1859 by a wealthy hardware merchant, Ashton Villa is one of Galveston’s most striking museum houses. Miss Bettie Brown, the merchant’s eldest daughter, was quite the character during her lifetime. She never married, drove her own carriage, and smoked in public, scandalizing the community. She lived to a ripe old age and died in 1920…but that doesn’t mean she left the property. Today, she reportedly scandalizes tour groups by appearing in the Gold Room and her private dayroom, roaming the grand staircase, locking and unlocking one of her lavish trunks, stopping clocks, and playing the piano.

Clara Menard

menardatnight

1838 Michel B. Menard House
courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

Also called “the Mardi Gras ghost,” the spirit that inhabits Texas Declaration of Independence signatory Michel B. Menard’s 1838 mansion is thought to be that of his daughter Clara, who died in her teens. According to legend, within the first few years after it was built, the house was the site of one of the first Mardi Gras balls in the country. During the festivities, a young woman slipped on the staircase, fell, and broke her neck. Ever since, the hazy figure of a young woman dressed in party regalia of the era has been seen standing at the foot of the stairs during Mardi Gras season.

 

Daniel Brister

1877 Smith Brothers Hardware Store

1877 Smith Brothers Hardware Store

In 1920, twenty-five-year-old police officer Daniel Brister attempted to stop a robbery outside the 1877 Smith Brothers Hardware Store. He had just handcuffed one of the perpetrators when the second one shot him in the chest. Though bleeding, Brister chased down and cuffed the second robber, too…only to die of his wound moments later. Brister seems to have become less upstanding in the afterlife. These days, he pinches women’s posteriors and breathes down their necks in the restaurant now located at the spot of his death. He also throws pots and pans in the kitchen.

Jean Lafitte

Jean Lafitte, artist unknown courtesy Rosenberg Library, Galveston

Jean Lafitte, artist unknown
courtesy Rosenberg Library, Galveston

The pirate Jean Lafitte built the first permanent structure on the island. All that remains of the 1816 smuggler’s refuge Maison Rouge, originally painted red and surrounded by a moat, is a crumbling foundation. The U.S. Navy chased the privateer off the island in May 1821, but Lafitte reportedly loved Galveston so much, he returned in 1823…after he was killed during a sea battle off the coast of Honduras. Legend holds the pirate buried a treasure beneath three oaks on the western end of the island. Treasure hunters never have found the loot, but several have reported encountering Lafitte—right about the time he chokes them.

Lovelorn Lady

1911 Hotel Galvez, courtesy Hotel Galvez

1911 Hotel Galvez, courtesy Hotel Galvez

Because of its location overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the 1911 Hotel Galvez once was a favorite getaway for Frank Sinatra and several U.S. Presidents. The most famous guest of the “Queen of the Gulf” never checked out of Room 501. According to generations of hotel staff members, the lovelorn lady awaited her fiancé in the room. When his ship went down off the coast of Florida and he was not listed among the survivors, she hanged herself. Sadly, the fiancé showed up about a week later. These days the Lovelorn lady doesn’t confine herself to Room 501, although that seems to be her favorite haunt. She has been seen or felt throughout the hotel, wandering the halls, breaking dishes, turning on water faucets, slamming doors, and blowing out candles.

Capt. Marcus Fulton Mott

After serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Marcus Fulton Mott became a prominent lawyer and state senator. He built a grand Victorian mansion in Galveston’s upscale East End in 1884. The home burned in 1925. Prominent businessman George Sealy Jr. subsequently built an 8,200-square-foot “summer retreat” on the site after acquiring the property in 1926. Although the existence of a cistern on the grounds has never been confirmed, Mott’s son may have murdered three women and thrown their bodies into the well—or at least that’s what Mott’s ghost has told people. Reportedly, he vowed never to leave until the women’s bodies are recovered. Reports of supernatural activity at the house have died down in the past two decades, but prior to the mid-1990s, the ghost at the Witwer-Mott House allegedly ordered people out of the home, threatened them, and threw mattresses across the room…while people were on them.

Point Bolivar Lighthouse Ghost

1872 Point Boliver Lighthouse, courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

1872 Point Boliver Lighthouse
courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The original Point Bolivar lighthouse, built in 1850, was pulled down during the Civil War so the Yankees couldn’t capture the light and use it as a navigational aid. The new lighthouse, built in 1872, still stands, though it was decommissioned in 1933 and sold to a private individual in 1947. No one has been inside the 116-foot-tall structure for years, yet people—including Patty Duke and Al Freeman Jr., who filmed a movie there in 1970—have reported seeing a figure on the light deck at the very top. Some say the ghost may be that of a lighthouse keeper’s son who killed his parents at the scene. Others believe Harry C. Claiborne, who began a twenty-four-year, two-hurricane tenure as lighthouse keeper in 1894, was so devoted to duty that he still mans his post.

Samuel May Williams

1838 Samuel May Williams House courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

1838 Samuel May Williams House
courtesy Galveston Historical Foundation

Samuel May Williams served as Stephen F. Austin’s secretary, became the first banker in Texas, and founded the Texas Navy. The home he built on Galveston in 1838 is the oldest standing residence on the island. Known as “the most hated man in Texas,” Williams had a habit of pinching pennies and ruthlessly foreclosing on mortgages. Few are surprised he apparently hung around to terrorize the living. Fires have been lit in fireplaces when no one was in or near the home, there’s a “cold spot” outside the children’s rooms on the second floor, and a misty figure appears in the windows of the cupola atop the roof.

Tremont House Ghosts

Tremont House, courtesy Wyndham Grand Hotels

Tremont House
courtesy Wyndham Grand Hotels

The Tremont House opened with great fanfare on April 19, 1839, in commemoration of the Battle of San Jacinto. By the 1860s, the Tremont had fallen on hard times—in more ways than one. In 1862, the Union Army commandeered the hotel to quarter soldiers. In 1865, the Tremont burned to the ground. Seven years later, the phoenix rose from the ashes even bigger and grander than before. The Tremont hosted guests including Buffalo Bill Cody, Clara Barton, Stephen Crane, and five U.S. Presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant. More hard times and several hurricanes later, the Tremont was demolished in the 1920s…only to be rebuilt once more in the 1980s. Somewhere along the line, a whole passel of ghosts moved in. A Confederate soldier marches up and down the lobby, where a little boy the staff calls Jimmy plays with bottles and glasses at the bar. Jimmy is thought to be the child who was run over in front of the hotel in the late 1880s. “Sam” was murdered on the fourth floor by a thief who wanted the haul Sam had made at one of the city’s storied casinos. The spirit in Room 219, assumed to be a disgruntled former employee, scatters the contents of guests’ luggage.

Unknown Schoolteacher

1895 Hutchings-Sealy Building courtesy Mitchell Historic Properties

1895 Hutchings-Sealy Building
courtesy Mitchell Historic Properties

Among the many acts of bravery and selflessness recorded during the Great Storm of 1900, one stands out as especially poignant: That of a young schoolteacher who had taken refuge on the third floor of the Hutchings, Sealy and Company Bank on the Strand. As the seventeen-foot-storm surge submerged the island, sweeping property and lives from the face of the earth, the schoolteacher climbed through a window, perched on a ledge, and dragged people out of the flood and inside the building. She cared for the living for several days, until she succumbed to a fatal fever. To this day, no one knows her name, but she has a familiar face. Ever since the disaster, residents and visitors alike have seen a young woman dressed in the fashion of the day in various parts of the historic bank building. Before the restaurant that occupied the building for many years closed in 2008, some employees reported hearing her call their names.

William Watson
(May disturb some readers.)

Galveston Railroad Museum, courtesy Nsaum75

Galveston Railroad Museum
courtesy Nsaum75

Of all the ghost stories on Galveston, William Watson’s may be the most gruesome. A bit of a daredevil, the thirty-two-year-old engineer was standing on the cowcatcher of a locomotive as it left the Santa Fe Union Train Station September 1, 1900—one week before the Great Storm destroyed the city. According to reports at the time of his death, Watson frequently pulled the stunt. Something went horribly wrong that day, though. He slipped from his perch, went under the train, and immediately was decapitated. His body stayed put; his head ended up one-quarter mile down the track, where the engine stopped. Watson reportedly haunts the former station (now the Galveston Railroad Museum), though not usually in visual form, thank goodness. Most of the time he merely makes strange noises and redecorates.

A second spirit hangs out at the museum, as well. For a time, part of the building served as a residential psychiatric treatment facility. In the 1980s, a female patient jumped to her death from a fourth-floor window. Since then, the gauzy form of a woman has been seen sitting on windowsills, one leg outside, before disappearing.

These are only a handful of the non-corporeal residents of Galveston. Sometimes called “a cemetery with a beach attached,” the island is second only to New Orleans in the number of reported hauntings. In addition to the celebrity ghosts, other spirits with unknown names and less spectacular stories remain on the island, partly because of Galveston’s dramatic history.

The island switched back and forth between Union and Confederate hands several times early in the Civil War (the Rebs finally managed to hang onto it from January 1863 on), and both sides left bodies behind in buildings along the Strand. After the Great Storm, the surviving buildings along the Strand became temporary hospitals and morgues. The Strand fell into disrepair for a number of years until late Galveston philanthropist George Mitchell stepped in to renew and revitalize the area in the mid-1980s. During renovations, a number of skeletons were discovered in the walls, left there by war or storm victims who literally “slipped through the cracks,” evidently. That may explain why Galvestonians and visitors frequently notice vague forms in uniforms or period clothing floating near ceilings in some of the historic buildings.

Other reported hauntings include:

  • Orphans who drowned during the Great Storm have been spotted at the Walmart built on the site of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word’s doomed orphanage.
  • The Flying Dutchman was reported in Galveston Bay twice in 1892.
  • Bishop’s Palace may be haunted by the spirit of a former owner, who checks the building’s structural integrity when hurricanes threaten.
  • An unknown man, possibly a Great Storm victim, sometimes runs along the sand at Stewart Beach.
  • A pack of twelve phantom dogs with glowing eyes allegedly appears as an omen of impending tragedy or disaster.

Robbing Banks Stealing Hearts

 

 

Two well-meaning ghosts bedevil Tombstone Hawkins and Pansy Gilchrist in “Family Tradition,” one of two short novellas in Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, and Smashwords.

 

 

 

 

 

History, Ancestry & Story

I’m Jane Porter and new here, but not a new author. I’ve written 50 stories since I sold my first book to Harlequin Presents in January 2000, including 10 women’s fiction titles and 40 romances.

With that first sale, I launched my career writing about alpha heroes and glamorous, international settings, but long before that, I wrote cowboys. Lots of cowboys. None of them sold, even though I did win a Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America for Best Long Contemporary with my western romance, ALL-AROUND COWBOY, so I shelved my cowboys when a London editor encouraged me to write a story for her. I did, and I built a career writing sexy Greeks, Sheikhs and Italians, but I began to miss what I knew best: small towns, ranches, and independent, rugged men who love the land.

1df6eb37-fac9-47a5-b2b8-3170c96116f4You see, I’m a small town girl myself, growing up in Central California with miles of farmland stretching in every direction, spending vacations on my late grandfather’s cattle ranch near tiny Parkfield, California. My grandfather Lyles was from Texas, just like his grandfather was from Texas, having moved there as a young boy from Mississippi following the end of the Civil War.

According to those that knew him, that great-great-great grandfather, William Durham Lyles, was big and physically tough. He stood 6’4”, had dark hair, dark-eyes and an intimidating stare. He also had a reputation for being able to work as hard, if not harder, than any professional cowhand.

According to an article on the front page of the New York Times in May 1889, he was a desperado.

NYT May 4 1889 article WD Lyles murderBy definition a desperado is someone who is a “desperate or reckless person, especially a criminal.” (Synonyms: bandit, criminal, outlaw, lawbreaker, villain, renegade.)

That sounds bad. And there are plenty of newspaper articles claiming that he was a cattle rustler, stealing cattle and horses in Texas and crossing state line to sell the stock in Louisiana.

There is no proof he did it. We, his descendants do know he settled in Vernon, Louisiana because he fell in love with my great-great-great grandmother, married her, moving to her hometown to raise a family. My great-great-great grandmother came from a wealthy family. William Durham Lyles wasn’t wealthy. Just big, and powerful, as well as fast with a bullwhip and gun.

Not everyone liked him. In fact, the wealthy establishment really disliked him. He was so disliked, that he was murdered at the age of 37, when a group of concerned citizens (vigilantes?) fired 18 rounds of buckshot, peppering his body, leaving him to die on a bridge six miles from his home.

His death would have been just one of many in the still wild west, if his murder hadn’t created tremendous controversy, with his close friends and family vehemently protesting Lyles’ innocence, while the media reported that he was “inclined to murderous aggressiveness”. True, he nearly always carried a gun, a rifle or a pistol (or both), and famous for his adroit use of the bullwhip, but he was a farmer, a rancher, and the border of Louisiana and Texas was still little more than a frontier.

IMG_2899William’s younger brothers rode over from Navarro, Texas to investigate the death, and things got pretty tense in Vernon, Louisiana. It didn’t help that one of William Durham’s friends was an editor at a small newspaper called People’s Friend, and the editor, Sorrell demanded justice for William Durham Lyles. “The editor of the People’s Friend, attacked State Senator E.E. Smart, a prosperous and influential citizen, demanding punishment. The Vernon News defended the Senator. The parish speedily divided into factions, the old element supporting the News and the border ruffians the Friend. Sorrell, the editor of the latter, has made himself very conspicuous and its feared he will be killed.” (NYT May 4, 1889)

WD Lyles grave marker Vernon Parish, LouisianaThe media loved this story. The New York Times was just one of a dozen papers to report on the “Texas Border Town on the Eve of Bloodshed”.

The newspapers focused on Lyles’ aggressive personality, repeatedly sharing colorful gossipy tidbits like, “He was said to have struck several parties with his rifle and deliberately stepped upon the toes of men while entering stores.” But family and friends claimed Lyles was definitely tough, but also fair. I can’t help wondering if part of the problem might have been that he wasn’t local, and he wasn’t born into money. And yet his gravestone in the Vernon cemetery is impressive. Someone must have loved him.

William Murray LylesWas he a cattle rustler? A criminal? A desperado? Or was he a fierce, independent Texan who rubbed the wealthy and influential the wrong way?

I won’t ever know what really did happen, but I do know this. William Durham’s first born, my great grandfather William Murray Lyles, attended LSU where he ran track and played football, and earned a law degree.

My great-grandfather “Pap” was a brilliant, athletic, kind man. I don’t know how he could have turned out quite so wonderful if his father had been such a ruthless, terrifying desperado.

TakeMeCowboy_JanePorter_thumbnailI love history, ancestry, and stories. Especially stories with tough heroes and the strong women who love them.

What do you like to read? I’d love to know. And I’d also love to hear if you have any juicy stories in your family. I can’t be the only one with a desperado in the family tree!

I’m giving away three digital copies of Take Me, Cowboy so leave a comment, share your thoughts and you could be a winner!

 

 

 

 

Updated: August 31, 2015 — 6:52 pm

Black Jack Ketchum: An Outlaw Meets a Gruesome End

Kathleen Rice Adams header

“Can’t you hurry this up a bit? I hear they eat dinner in Hades at twelve sharp, and I don’t aim to be late.” —Black Jack Ketchum

"Black Jack" Ketchum as a young man. (Image: University of New Mexico)

Black Jack Ketchum as a young man. (Image: University of New Mexico)

Whether or not he aimed to be late, Thomas Edward “Black Jack” Ketchum missed the dinner bell by more than an hour on April 26, 1901. In fact, his original 9 a.m. appointment on the gallows was delayed by more than four hours while authorities tried to ensure Ketchum’s execution was both humane and permanent.

They got the permanent part right.

Ketchum, the youngest of five children, was born in San Saba County, Texas, on Halloween 1863. His father, a prosperous farmer, died when Black Jack was five years old; his mother when he was ten. Because the family’s property went to the eldest son, Black Jack and his other brother, Sam, made their living cowboying in Texas. The work never suited either of them. By 1890, both had left the state.

By 1892, they were robbing trains.

Together with a gang of other young men—all of whom were described as well-mannered and well-dressed, riding good horses, and flashing plenty of money—between 1892 and 1899 the Ketchum gang liberated payrolls and other large sums of cash from trains passing through the Four Corners area of the Southwest. In 1895 and 1896, the gang included Kid Curry and his brother Lonnie Curry, who reportedly departed after a dispute over the division of proceeds from a holdup.

(Image: Herzstein Memorial Museum, Union County, New Mexico)

(Image: Herzstein Memorial Museum,
Union County, New Mexico)

In 1897 alone, the Ketchums heisted more than $100,000: $42,000 from a Wells Fargo safe outside Langtry, Texas, in May and another $60,000 in gold and silver near Twin Mountain, New Mexico Territory, in September.

Two years later, in July 1899, Sam Ketchum partnered with Wild Bunch members Will Carver and William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay to rob the Twin Mountain train a second time. A posse chased the outlaws into Turkey Creek Canyon near Cimarron, New Mexico, where Sam was wounded in a shootout. He died of his wounds in Santa Fe Territorial Prison a few weeks later.

In August 1899, unaware of his elder brother’s fate, Black Jack lost his right arm to a shotgun blast fired by the conductor of a train he attempted to rob alone. “The handsome train robber” didn’t resist when either a posse or a railroad crew (there’s a dispute) found him near the tracks the following morning.

At trial, Ketchum was sentenced to hang, but the date of execution was delayed several times by arguments about where final justice should take place, since several towns wanted the honor. Finally, reacting to a rumor that the old gang planned to break Black Jack out of jail, the hanging became the center of a carnival in Clayton, Union County, New Mexico. Despite an extended debate about the length and strength of the rope necessary for the deed, something went horribly wrong.

"Black Jack" Ketchum, center. (Image: National Archives)

Black Jack Ketchum, center. (Image: National Archives)

Shortly after 1 p.m., the scaffold’s trapdoor opened and Ketchum, 37, plunged through. He died instantly, decapitated by the fall.

Black Jack Ketchum bears the dubious distinction of being the only man sentenced to die in New Mexico for “felonious assault upon a railway train.” Apparently his botched execution set the residents of Union County back a mite, because Black Jack also was the only man ever hanged in Union County. Until serial murderer Eva Dugan suffered the same fate at the Pinal County, Arizona, prison in 1930, Black Jack Ketchum was the only person in the U.S. who literally lost his head to a hangman’s noose ordered by a court.

****

No train robberies or grisly executions take place in the Civil War-era duet The Dumont Brand, although the hanging of a cattle rustler in her past plays a role in one heroine’s present. The book, which contains two stories about two brothers, debuted July 24. It’s the first in a trilogy about a Southeast Texas ranching dynasty with more skeletons than you can shake a stick at in its closets. Links and excerpts are on my website.

Here’s the blurb, and below that is a video trailer.

The Dumont BrandThe Civil War burned Texas…and fanned the flames of love.

On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until one son finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother’s wounded soul.

The Big Uneasy: To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

Making Peace: After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.

These Boots Were Made For Walking


LLBroday
In historical westerns four things are always in everyone of my stories – Hats (Stetsons usually,) Guns, Horses and Boots. Not necessarily in that order.

 

But who were the boot makers?

 

New BootsThe first boots, and for sure the forerunner of the western kind, were reportedly worn by Genghis Kahn way back in the Mongol Empire. He wore a pair of red boots with wooden heels. But definitely the Wellington boots worn in 17th and 18th centuries of England were a precursor of the boots cowboys wear. They rode high on the leg, had a low heel and were made of the same four part construction as cowboy boots.  Soldiers in the Civil War preferred them and when they went home from the war, they took their boots with them.

 


Old BootsOne on the earliest known cowboy boot makers was Charles Hyer in Olathe, Kansas in 1872. He and his brother Edward founded the Hyer Brothers Boot Company and outfitted many a trail driver.

 

Down here in Texas as the cattle drives accelerated, bootmakers popped up in the towns along the trails. The Justin Boot Company and the Nocona Boot Company in Texas are among two of the earliest makers of western footwear. I’m sure there were many others. Justin Boots is world famous. It was founded in 1879 and George Strait still wears them today.

 

Justin Ropers

Worn Justin Ropers

Nocona boots were long made by H. L. Justin before he ever formed the company. He was a maker of fine boots in Spanish Fort, Texas which was on the Chisolm Trail. Cowboys would stop on their way north and let him measure their feet and pick up their boots on the way back.

 

In 1911, Italian immigrant Tony Lama, who learned the trade at age 11, set up shop in El Paso, Texas and began that lucrative business. Today there are many, many brands.

 

Boots are worn by rich man and poor, presidents, country singers and the cowboys of today who work the ranches, herding cows and riding the rangeland.

 

I have three pair of western boots– an old pair I bought in Reno, Nevada in 2002, my Justin Ropers and a new pair I bought last month to wear to NYC to a writers’ conference. The new pair is made by the Abilene Boot Company and they’re as comfortable as my Justins. I’ve always had trouble finding shoes that don’t hurt my feet. I never have to worry about my boots.

 

So what about you? Have you tried cowboy boots?

 

I love talking to readers. You can reach me at these links:

WEBSITE      FACEBOOK AUTHOR PAGE     PERSONAL FACEBOOK    TWITTER

 

 

Love in the Time of Miscegenation

Kathleen Rice Adams header

She’s the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.

Those are the original words to the chorus of “The Yellow Rose Texas,” a folksong dating to early colonial Texas. The first known transcribed version—handwritten on a piece of plain paper—appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.

Marie Laveau 1774-1881 Marie Laveau by Franck Schneider

“New Orleans’ Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau (1774-1881) was a free Creole of mixed race.

In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man (“darky”) who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. The lyrics indicate the sweetheart was a free mulatto woman—a person of mixed black and white heritage. In those days, “person of color” was considered a polite way to refer to black people who were not slaves. “Yellow” was a common term for people of mixed race.

During the Civil War, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became a popular marching tune for troops all over the Confederacy; consequently, the lyrics changed. White Confederates were not eager to refer to themselves as darkies, so “darky” became “soldier.” In addition, “rose of color” became “little flower.”

Aside from the obvious racist reasons for the modifications, legal doctrine played into the picture as well. Until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in 1967, all eleven formerly Confederate states plus Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia outlawed marriage and sexual relations between whites and blacks. In four of the former Confederate states—Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—marriage or sexual relations between whites and any non-white was labeled a felony. Such laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or simply miscegenation laws. In order to draw what attorneys term a “bright line” between legal and illegal behavior, many states codified the “single-drop rule,” which held that a person with a single drop of Negro blood was black, regardless the color of his or her skin.

Texas’s miscegenation law, enacted in 1837, prescribed among the most severe penalties nationwide: A white person convicted of marrying, attempting to marry, or having sex with a person of another ethnicity was subject to a prison sentence of two to five years. Well into the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for the non-white half of the illicit relationship to be severely beaten or killed by irate local citizens.

The first American miscegenation laws arose in the colonies in the 1600s. The laws breathed their last gasp in 2001, when Alabama finally removed the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution after a referendum barely passed with only sixty percent of the popular vote.

Texas’s miscegenation law plays a role in “The Big Uneasy,” one half of the duet of stories in my new release, The Dumont Brand. The father of the heroine’s intended “lives in sin” with a free Creole of color. Under a tradition known as plaçage, wealthy white men openly kept well-bred women of color as mistresses in the heroine’s hometown, New Orleans. Texans frowned on the practice nonetheless. The situation causes no end of heartache for the heroine.

The Dumont Brand releases Friday, along with 20 other books, as part of Prairie Rose PublicationsChristmas in July event. About half of the books are holiday tales (like The Last Three Miles), and the other half are stories set in other seasons (like The Dumont Brand). Each of them will warm readers’ hearts all year long. Prairie Rose will host an extra-special Facebook fandango to celebrate the mountain of releases July 28-29. You can RSVP here. Did I mention the Prairie Roses will be giving away free books, jewelry, and other fun prizes?

The Dumont Brand 2 Web

 

On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until Amon Collier finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother Ben’s wounded soul.

The Big Uneasy: To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

Making Peace: After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.

 

The-Last-3-Miles-Kathleen-2-Web_FinalThe Last Three Miles also will debut Friday as part of PRP’s Christmas in July:

When an accident leaves Hamilton Hollister convinced he’ll never be more than half a man, he abandons construction of a railway spur his lumber mill needs to survive. Believing no woman shackled by social convention can be complete, railroad heiress Katherine Brashear refuses to let the nearly finished track die.

The magic of Christmas in a small Texas town may help them bridge the distance…if they follow their hearts down The Last Three Miles.

You can read excerpts from both books and peruse a complete list of the titles that are part of PRP’s Christmas in July event here.

 

To do a little celebrating of my own, I’ll give an e-copy of The Dumont Brand to one of today’s commenters and an e-copy of The Last Three Miles to another.

Please note: Both are available only as ebooks.

 

Famous Last Words: “Killer” Jim Miller

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

“Let the record show I’ve killed fifty-one men. Let ’er rip.”

Jim Miller, c. 1886

Jim Miller, c. 1886

With those words, “Killer” Jim Miller, a noose around his neck, stepped off a box and into eternity. The lynch mob of thirty to forty outraged citizens who had dragged him onto a makeshift gallows may have found it irritating Miller didn’t beg for his life like the three co-conspirators hanged with him.

Then again, perhaps they rejoiced at the professional assassin’s departure, no matter how defiant his attitude. By the time of his 1909 lynching in Ada, Oklahoma, Miller had earned a reputation as sneaky, deadly, and slippery when cornered by justice.

Born James Brown Miller on October 25, 1866, in Van Buren, Arkansas, Miller arrived in Franklin, Texas, before his first birthday. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumors claim he was only eight years old when he did away with a troublesome uncle and his grandparents. His first confirmed kill—and his first jaw-dropping escape from justice—happened a few months before Miller turned 18. After arguing with a brother-in-law he didn’t like, Miller shot the sleeping man to death. Had the subsequent sentence of life in prison stuck, Miller’s reign of terror might have ended right there—but a court overturned the murder conviction on a technicality.

Upon his release, Miller joined an outlaw gang that robbed stagecoaches and trains before turning his back on a life of crime and taking a succession of jobs in law enforcement. Reportedly, he even briefly served as a Texas Ranger. Based on his boasting, the badges may have been a calculated way for Miller to indulge his bloodlust behind a thin veneer of respectability.

And he was respectable, at least on the surface. A Bible-thumping Methodist who never missed a Sunday church service, Miller didn’t curse, drink, or smoke. In fact, his clean-cut appearance and apparent piety—bolstered by an ever-present black frockcoat that made him look a bit like a minister—earned Miller the nickname Deacon.

James Brown Miller and wife Sallie Clements Miller with one of their four children, 1890s

James Brown Miller and wife Sallie Clements Miller with one of their four children, 1890s

Miller married John Wesley Hardin’s second cousin in 1888, fathered four children, and enjoyed a financially rewarding career selling real estate in Fort Worth. Reports indicate the family was considered a pillar of the community.

Behind the scenes, though, Miller advertised his services as a killer for hire, charging $150 a hit to “take care of” sheep ranchers, fence-stringing farmers, Mexicans, and almost anybody who got in someone else’s way. He specialized in doing away with lawmen, lawyers, and personal enemies, most often employing a shotgun from ambush under cover of darkness. Murder charges caught up with him several times, only to evaporate when witnesses for the prosecution mysteriously disappeared.

Frontier justice finally caught up with Miller on April 19, 1909. A cartel of ranchers outside Ada, Oklahoma, paid him $1,700 to silence a former deputy U.S. marshal who was a little too outspoken in his opposition to a shady land-acquisition scheme known as “Indian skinning.” Before the marshal-turned-rancher died, he identified his murderer. Miller and three of the conspirators were arrested, charged, and awaiting trial when an armed mob broke into the jail, overpowered the guards, and wrestled Miller and the others into an abandoned livery stable. Fearing Miller would slip a noose yet again, the mob hanged all four men from the rafters.

JimMillerLeft1909AdaOK

A souvenir photo taken at the scene of “Killer” Jim Miller’s lynching. Miller’s body is on the far left.

By the time of his death at age 42, Miller was known to have killed fourteen men. His boast of fifty-one executions may have been truthful. A photo of the grisly scene became a must-have tourist souvenir.

Killer Jim Miller was buried in Fort Worth’s Oakwood Cemetery. At the time, one respectable citizen reportedly commented, “He was just a killer—worst man I ever knew.”

 

 

 

Wild Bill Longley: ‘The Most Dreaded Man North of the Rio Grande’

Kathleen Rice Adams header

The years following the American Civil War were particularly difficult for Texas. The state fought reunification for five long years, insisting it had the right to become an independent republic once again. While the U.S. Army attempted to enforce martial law and the feds dragged the battered would-be empire before the Supreme Court, outlaws, freedmen, and carpetbaggers flooded the wild and wooly, wide-open spaces.

The era produced some hard men. None were harder than Wild Bill Longley.

The sixth of ten children, William Prescott Longley was born October 6, 1851, on a farm along Mill Creek in Austin County, Texas. His father had fought with Sam Houston at San Jacinto. Little is known about Wild Bill’s youth until December 1868, when, at the age of sixteen, he killed his first man — an unarmed former slave he claimed was cursing his father.

Wild Bill Longley

William Prescott “Wild Bill” Longley

The episode set Longley on a path he would follow for the rest of life.

After the black man’s murder, Longley and a cousin lit out for southern Texas. They spent 1869 robbing settlers, stealing horses, and killing freed slaves and Mexicans — men and women. A virulent racist with a hair-trigger temper and a fast gun hand, Longley quickly gained a reputation for picking fights with any whites he suspected of harboring Yankee sympathies or carpetbagging. In early 1870, the Union occupation force in Texas placed a $1,000 price on the cousins’ heads. Longley was not yet nineteen.

Not that he saw the bounty as a cause for concern. Standing a little over six feet tall with a lean, lithe build and a gaze described as fierce and penetrating, Longley “carried himself like a prince” and had “a set of teeth like pearls.” One newspaper writer called him “one of the handsomest men I have ever met” and “the model of the roving desperado of Texas.” The same writer called Longley “the most dreaded man north of the Rio Grande”: What his looks couldn’t get him, the brace of fourteen-inch, six-shot Dance .44 revolvers he carried could.

As news of the reward spread, Longley and his cousin separated, and Longley took up with a cattle drive headed for Kansas. By May 1870 he was in Cheyenne, Wyoming; by June, he was in South Dakota, where for unknown reasons he enlisted in the army. Within two weeks he deserted. Capture, court-martial, and prison time followed, but evidently none of that make a big impression. After his release from the stockade, Longley was sent back to his unit. In May 1872, he deserted again and lit a shuck for Texas, gambling, scraping — and killing — along the way. Folks as far east as Missouri and Arkansas learned not to get in his way, not to disagree with him, and for heaven’s sake not to insult Texas. Longley was rumored to have shot white men over card games, Indians for target practice, and black folks just for fun.

By the time he killed another freedman in Bastrop County, Texas, in 1873, Longley was well beyond notorious. The murder jogged a local lawman’s memory about the federal bounty still outstanding from 1870. The sheriff arrested Longley, but when the army wasn’t quick to hand over the reward, he let the surly gunman go.

Longley visited his family, worked a few odd jobs, and fended off several reckless sorts who hoped to make a name by besting a gunman known as one of the deadliest quick-draw artists in the west. In March 1875, he ambushed and killed a boyhood friend, Wilson Anderson, whom Longley’s family blamed for a relative’s death. That same year, Longley shot to death a hunting buddy with whom he’d had a fistfight. A few months later, in January 1876, he killed an outlaw when a quarrel-turned-ambush became a gunfight.

Illustration of Longley's hanging from National Police Gazette, Oct. 26, 1878

Longley’s end (National Police Gazette, Oct. 26, 1878)

On the run, using at least eight different names to avoid the multiple rewards for his capture plastered all over East Texas, Longley hid out as a sharecropper on a preacher’s cotton farm, only to fall for a woman on whom his landlord’s nephew had staked a prior claim. Longley killed the nephew, then took off across the Sabine River into De Soto Parish, Louisiana. Reportedly turned in by someone he trusted, the law caught up with him on June 6, 1877, while he was hoeing a Louisiana cotton field, unarmed.

Though historians dispute the figures, Longley confessed to killing 32 men, six to ten of them white. Later, he retracted that account and claimed eight kills. A court in Giddings, Texas, convicted him of only one murder, Anderson’s, and sentenced him to hang. While awaiting execution, “the worst man in Texas” wrote his memoirs, embraced Catholicism, and filed a wagonload of appeals. All of them were denied.

Facing an ignominious end, Longley seems to have had a change of heart. On the day of his execution, October 11, 1878, the 27-year-old sang hymns and prayed in his cell before mounting the gallows “with a smile on his face and a lighted cigar in his mouth.” After the noose was placed around his neck, the man the Decatur [Illinois] Daily Review described as “the most atrocious criminal in the country” held up a hand and addressed the crowd:

“I see a good many enemies around me and mighty few friends. I hope to God you will forgive me. I will you. I hate to die, of course; any man hates to die. But I have earned this by taking the lives of men who loved life as well as I do.

“If I have any friends here, I hope they will do nothing to avenge my death. If they want to help me, let them pray for me. I deserve this fate. It is a debt I owe for my wild, reckless life. When it is paid, it will be all over with. May God forgive me.”

 

 

Texas Ranger Badges: Fact or Fiction?

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Texas Ranger badges are a hot commodity in the collectibles market, but the caveat “buyer beware” applies in a big way. The vast majority of items marketed as genuine Texas Ranger badges are reproductions, facsimiles, or toys. Very few legitimate badges exist outside museums and family collections, and those that do hardly ever are sold. There’s a very good reason for that: Manufacturing, possessing, or selling Texas Ranger insignia, even fakes that are “deceptively similar” to the real thing, violates Texas law except in specific circumstances.

According to Byron A. Johnson, executive director of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum (the official historical center for the Texas Ranger law-enforcement agency), “Spurious badges and fraudulent representation or transactions connected with them date back to the 1950s and are increasing. We receive anywhere from 10 to 30 inquiries a month on badges, the majority connected with sales on eBay.”

If you had to, could you identify a legitimate Texas Ranger badge? Test your knowledge: Which of the alleged badges below are genuine? Pick one from each set. (All images are ©Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas, and are used with permission. All Rights Reserved.)

Set 1

1889Badge_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

SpecialAgent130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

Answer: The left-hand badge, dated 1889, is the earliest authenticated Texas Ranger insignia in the collection of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Badges weren’t standard issue for Rangers until 1935, although from 1874 onward, individual Rangers sometimes commissioned badges from jewelers or gunsmiths, who made them from Mexican coins. Relatively few Rangers wore a badge out in the open. As for the item on the right? There’s no such thing as a “Texas Ranger Special Agent.”

Set 2

FakeShield_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

1938Badge_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

Answer: On the right is an official shield-type badge issued between 1938 and 1957. Ranger captains received gold badges; the shields issued to lower ranks were silver. The badge on the left is a fake, though similar authentic badges exist.

Set 3

FrontierBattalionBadge_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

1957Badge_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

Answer: The badge on the right was the official badge of the Rangers from July 1957 to October 1962. Called the “blue bottle cap badge,” the solid, “modernized” design was universally reviled. The left-hand badge is a fake. According to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, “No genuine Texas Ranger badges are known to exist with ‘Frontier Battalion’ engraved on them.”

Set 4

1962Badge_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

COF_130

©TRHFM, Waco, TX

Answer: The left-hand badge, called the “wagon wheel badge,” has been the official Texas Ranger badge since October 1962. Each is made from a Mexican five-peso silver coin. The badge on the right is a “fantasy badge.” According to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the most common designation on such badges is “Co. A.”

How did you do? If you answered correctly for more than one without benefiting from a lucky guess, you did better than most people, including Texans. Give yourself extra points if you knew Rangers proved their legitimacy with Warrants of Authority, not badges, prior to 1935.

For more information about the Texas Rangers—including the history of the organization, biographical sketches of individual Rangers, and all kinds of information about badges and other insignia—visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum online at TexasRanger.org. The museum and its staff have my utmost gratitude for their assistance with this post. They do the Rangers proud.

 

While we’re on the subject of Rangers…

TheSecond-BestRangerInTexas_200x300On June 1, Western Fictioneers, a professional organization for authors of western novels and short stories, announced the winners of the 2015 Peacemaker Awards. Presented annually, the Peacemakers recognize the best western historical fiction published during the previous calendar year.

I’m happy to say “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” received the award for Best Western Short Fiction. “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” tells the story of a washed-up Texas Ranger and a failed nun who find redemption in love.

The award marked the second time in two years a short story published by Prairie Rose Publications has been honored with a Peacemaker: Livia J. Washburn’s “Charlie’s Pie” received the Best Western Short Fiction award in 2014.

Available in paperback and e-book

In addition, Prodigal Gun, also published by Prairie Rose, was named a finalist in the Best Western First Novel category. Prodigal Gun is the first novel-length romance ever nominated for a Peacemaker.

I don’t say any of that to brag…

Oh, heck. Who am I trying to kid? I’m bragging. (Sorry, Mom!)

There really is a larger point, though: I think the award and nomination are important, but not because the books are mine. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right stories. There’s a hint at something much broader here: At long last, it seems, romances of all lengths are being recognized as “respectable literature” outside the romance category. That’s good news for all of us who enjoy a genre too often scoffed at and snubbed by the larger community of authors and readers.

Over the past eighteen months, a number of books published by Prairie Rose Publications have been nominated for or received awards of all kinds. If that’s any indication, PRP is off to a great start. Founded in August 2013 by Livia Washburn Reasoner and Cheryl Pierson, the company is and always will be dedicated to publishing traditional westerns and western romance written by women. Nevertheless, in less than two years, PRP has expanded to include young adult, inspirational, paranormal, and medieval lines. The “little publishing company” releases some darn fine fiction. I’m proud it publishes mine.

 

To celebrate good fortune in so many areas of my life, I’ll gift a copy of “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” to two folks who are brave enough to tell us how many of the badges above they identified correctly. To the comments with you!

 

 

Tidbit about the Texas Rangers

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P Bluebonnet

In 2010 Kensington released the fourth of our of anthologies written by sister filly, Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, the late DeWanna Pace, and me. Following in the theme of the other anthologies, six in all, the name of this book is Give Me a Texas Ranger and of course sent us all into research mode about the history of the Texas Rangers.

In 2008, Linda and I even went to the Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas.  This is a picture of the Writing the Ranger exhibit during our research.

TR Hall of Fame Exhibit Before

Below is the same exhibit 2 years later.  I bet you can see the difference.  This exhibit, of course, is changed out so I doubt we’re still there along with The Lone Ranger, Lonesome Dove, and Elmer Kelton but needless to say just seeing it there regardless of how long it was on exhibit was one of our milestones.

PC032830

Needless to say,  I love tidbits of history, particularly the legendary Texas Rangers, so it seems fittin’ to share some of the things I’ve learned. 

Since 1823, the Texas Rangers have represented the highest ideals of Texas and America to admirers around the world. Individually, they are some of the most colorful heroes in American history. Together, they brought peace to an untamed frontier, and in the process became one of the most famous and respected crime-fighting forces anywhere.

Hitler and the Texas RangersThe name “Rangers” is synonymous with the Texas Rangers, and never was it more clear than during WWII. On August 19, 1942, three Commando units of the British 2nd Canadian Division landed in France. The purpose was to create an illusion of a major invasion and force Hitler to halt troops bound for the Russian front. However, somewhere along the line the British Commandos became the Texas Rangers. Apparently the confusion came with leaks that a special American combat unit, the legendary U.S. Army Rangers, who were modeled after the successful British Commandos, had invaded. Hitler was rumored to have watched Amerikanische westliche Filme (American westerns), and only knew of the Texas Rangers who were depicted in American movies played in European theaters during the 20’s and 30’s. As a result, the only American “Rangers” known to Hitler were heroic men in white hats, who single-handedly cleaned up entire towns with blazing guns.  Ironically, the Texas Rangers did volunteer to go to Europe but were not allowed to do so by our military. For a short period of time, thanks to rumor, the legend of the Texas Rangers offered hope to the residents of occupied France, two years before the Allies successfully landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Texas Ranger uniform.  Before the 1950’s there was no official uniform, although someTexas Ranger Hat companies tried to administer the coordination of outfits that proved unpopular. Traditionally, Texas Ranger clothing is conservative western attire, specifically with white or tan hats, cowboy boots, white western cut shirt, tie, pants and belt.  But there is one requirement. A Ranger must wear an “appropriate” Texas Ranger hat, which is light-colored and shaped in a businessman’s style, commonly called the Rancher or Cattleman. Brims must not exceed 4 inches or be flat with edges rolled up. Hats excessively crushed, rolled, or dipped are not acceptable.  The elite lawmen own both a quality straw and a felt hat to be worn as determined by the weather or assignment.

The Texas Rangers and the Alamo. In answer to Col. Travis’ request for assistance in defending the Alamo, a party of Texas Rangers responded. The Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers answered the call, fought, and died alongside the other defenders of the Alamo.

In western historical romances, Texas Rangers make a terrific hero because of the qualities they are known for. I have to admit, I love ‘um too, although my favorites to write are crusty ol’ retired Ranger sidekicks. In my newest contemporary romance, needless to say my hero and heroine have a Texas Ranger connection. “Out of a Texas Night” eBook from Kensington is due out in late summer or early fall. It’s the third in the Kasota Springs Romance series.

Whether it’s television, movies, or books, who is your favorite Texas Ranger?

 

 The Troubled Texan GoodGIVEMEATEXASRANGERlittle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To one reader who leaves a comment, I will send you the choice of a copy of Give Me a Texas Ranger signed by all four authors or a eBook copy of The Troubled Texan.

Updated: June 1, 2015 — 10:58 pm

Is that a gun in your pocket, or…?

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

Life is full of little ironies. Every so often, a big irony jumps up and literally grabs a person by the privates. Just ask late Texas lawman Cap Light.

Bell County Courthouse, Belton, Texas, late 19th Century

Bell County Courthouse, Belton, Texas, late 19th Century

Many of the details about William Sidney “Cap” Light’s life have been obscured by the sands of time. His exact birth date is unknown, though it’s said he was born in late 1863 or early 1864 in Belton, Texas. No photographs of him are known to exist, although there seem to be plenty of his infamous brother-in-law, the confidence man and Gold Rush crime boss Soapy Smith. Several of Light’s confirmed line-of-duty kills are mired in controversy, and rumors persist about his involvement in at least one out-and-out murder. Even the branches of his family tree are a mite tangled, considering the 1900 census credited Light with fathering a daughter born six years after his death.

What seems pretty clear, however, is that Light survived what should have been a fatal gunshot wound to the head only to kill himself accidentally about a year later.

Light probably lived an ordinary townie childhood. The son of a merchant couple who migrated to Texas from Tennessee, he followed an elder brother into the barbering profession before receiving a deputy city marshal’s commission in Belton at the age of 20. Almost immediately — on March 24, 1884 — he rode with the posse that tracked down and killed a local desperado. Belton hailed the young lawman as a hero.

For five years, Light reportedly served the law in an exemplary, and uneventful, fashion. Then, in 1889, things began to change.

In August, while assisting the marshal of nearby Temple, Texas, Light shot a prisoner he was escorting to jail. Ed Cooley tried to escape, Light said. Later that fall, after resigning the Belton job to become deputy marshal in Temple, Light shot and killed Sam Hasley, a deputy sheriff with a reputation for troublemaking. Hasley, drunk and raising a ruckus, ignored Light’s order to go home. Instead, he rode his horse onto the boardwalk and reached for his gun. Light responded with quick, accurate, and deadly force.

The following March, Light cemented his reputation as a fast and deadly gunman when he killed another drunk inside Temple’s Cotton Exchange Saloon. According to the local newspaper’s account, Felix Morales died “with his pistol in one hand and a beer glass in the other.”

Light’s growing reputation as a no-nonsense straight-shooter served Temple so well that in 1891, the city cut its budget by discontinuing the deputy marshal’s position. Unemployed and with a wife and two toddlers to support, Light accepted his brother-in-law’s offer of a job in Denver, Colorado. By then, Jeff “Soapy” Smith was firmly in control of Denver’s underworld. After the Glasson Detective Agency allegedly leaned on one of Smith’s young female friends, Light took part in a pistol-wielding raid meant to convince the detectives that investigating Smith might not be healthy.

Main Street in Creede, Colorado, 1892

Main Street in Creede, Colorado, 1892

In early 1892, Smith moved his criminal enterprise to the nearby boomtown of Creede, Colorado, where he reportedly exerted his considerable influence to have Light appointed deputy marshal. At a little after 4 o’clock in the morning on March 31, Light confronted yet another drunk in a saloon. Both men drew their weapons. When the hail of gunfire ceased, Light remained standing, unscathed. Gambler and gunfighter William “Reddy” McCann, on the other hand, sprawled on the floor, his body riddled with five of Light’s bullets.

Despite witness testimony stating McCann had emptied his revolver shooting at streetlights immediately before bracing the deputy marshal, a coroner’s inquest ruled the shooting self-defense. The close call rattled Light, though. He took his family and returned to Temple, where in June 1892 he applied for a detective’s job with the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railroad. His application was rejected — possibly because his association with Smith and lingering rumors about the McCann incident overshadowed the stellar reputation he had earned early in his career. According to a period report in the Rocky Mountain News, “Light’s name had become a household word, and for years he was alluded to as a good sort of a fellow ? to get away from. He was mixed up in many fights, and after a time the ‘respect’ he had commanded with the aid of a six-shooter began to fade away. It was recalled that all his killings and shooting scrapes occurred when the other man’s gun was elsewhere, or in other words, when the victim was powerless to return blow for blow and shot for shot.”

With his life apparently on the skids, Light developed a reputation of his own for drunken belligerence. With no other options, he returned to barbering in Temple until, during one drinking binge in late 1892, he pistol-whipped the railroad’s chief detective — the man Light blamed for the end of his law-enforcement career. During Light’s trial for assault, the detective, T.J. Coggins, rose from his seat in the courtroom, pulled his pistol, and fired three .44-caliber rounds into Light’s face and neck. Although doctors expected the former lawman to die of what they called mortal injuries, Light fully recovered. Adding insult to injury, Coggins never faced trial.

GunmanIt’s unclear how well Light adapted to circumstances after the Coggins episode or why he was traveling by train a year later. What is clear is that his life came to a sudden, ironic end on Christmas Eve 1893. As the Missouri, Kansas & Texas neared the Temple station, Light accidentally discharged a revolver he carried in his pocket. The bullet severed the femoral artery in his groin, and he bled to death within minutes. He was 30 years old.

In a span of fewer than ten years, Light’s brief candle flickered, blazed, and then burned out. Though once hailed as a heroic defender of law and order on the reckless frontier, not everyone was sorry to see him go. An unflattering obituary published in the Dec. 27, 1893, edition of the Rocky Mountain News called him “a bad man from Texas.” Beneath the headline “Light’s Ready Gun. It Took Five Lives and then Killed Him,” the report noted “‘Cap’ Light of Belton, Texas, shot himself by accident the other day … thus [removing] one who has done more than his share in earning for the West the appellation of ‘wild and woolly.’”