Category: Texas History

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.’”

 

Fallen Lone Stars: Indianola

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Founded in 1840 as an Indian trading post, Indianola, Texas, served as a major seaport from 1844 to 1886. The city and Galveston, about one hundred fifty miles northeast, had many things in common—including a desire to outstrip the other and become Texas’s maritime leader.

Indianola in 1860 (Helmuth Holtz, Library of Congress collection)

Indianola in 1860 (Helmuth Holtz, Library of Congress collection)

For a long time, Indianola seemed to be winning. Companies in the city’s industrial district began canning beef as early as 1848. In 1869, Indianola became the first U.S. port to ship refrigerated beef to New England.

The city’s reputation for innovation and dogged determination paid off handsomely. Ships arrived from New York and other New England ports, ferrying passengers and goods bound for San Antonio and California. Indianola became a major debarkation point for European immigrants…and a few boatloads of camels imported for the U.S. Army’s notorious Camel Corps experiment. (The experiment was abandoned at the outbreak of the Civil War, and some of the camels were turned loose. The last feral camel sighting in Texas took place in 1941.)

“Union Troops in the Streets of Indianola, Texas.” Civil War wood engraving by Thomas Nast, published in the New York Illustrated News, April 6, 1861. From the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.

“Union Troops in the Streets of Indianola, Texas.” Civil War wood engraving by Thomas Nast, published in the New York Illustrated News, April 6, 1861. (From the collection of the Calhoun County Museum, Port Lavaca, Texas.)

Indianola did so well that it made itself a target during the Civil War. Determined to cut one of the major Confederate supply lines, Yankee vessels blockaded the port in October 1862 and demanded surrender. Being Texans, the nearby fort politely declined with a cannonade. Several scuffles later, Indianola and its port fell to the Yanks on December 23, 1863. One of the jewels of Texas remained in Federal hands for the rest of the war.

In 1867, fire and a yellow fever epidemic ravaged the town. Indianola rebuilt bigger and better, reaching a population of 5,000 by the time the first death knell rang. Although the city had been damaged by a strong storm in 1851, a major hurricane in 1875 demolished almost everything. Tough to the core, the people of Indianola used the debris to rebuild again.

Indianola ca. 1875. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Indianola ca. 1875. (Texas State Library and Archives Commission collection)

Then, in August and September 1886, two major hurricanes six weeks apart left Indianola and its celebrated seaport in ruins. Sand and silt blown in by the storms made the bay too shallow for big ships to navigate. Most of the residents moved inland.

The post office closed in 1887, and what remained of the town was abandoned.

The storms ended Indianola’s competition with Galveston for maritime supremacy. Galveston got its comeuppance in 1900 when the Great Storm leveled the island city, giving Houston the right break at the right time to become—and remain—the dominant economic power in Southeast Texas.

The city once known as “the Queen City of the West,” today is “the Queen of Texas Ghost Towns.” Though an unincorporated fishing village stands on the shore, Indianola lies beneath the water, 300 feet off the coast in Matagorda Bay.

 

Fallen Lone Stars: Chappell Hill

The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1850. (photo courtesy of Larry D. Moore)

The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1847. (photo by Larry D. Moore)

Chappell Hill, Texas — founded in 1847 on 100 acres owned by a woman — is located roughly halfway between Austin and Houston on part of the land Mexico granted to Stephen F. Austin in 1821. Mary Haller, the landowner, and her husband Jacob built a stagecoach inn on the site, at the junction of two major stagecoach lines. Soon, other folks from the Deep South migrated to the area and planted cotton, for which the climate and soil were perfectly suited.

By 1856, the population had risen to 3,000 people, eclipsed only by Galveston and San Antonio. The town included a sawmill, five churches, and a Masonic Lodge, in addition to two of the first colleges in the state — one for men and another for women. A railroad line followed soon after.

A longhorn dozes among bluebonnets outside Chappell Hill, Texas. (photo by Texas.713)

A longhorn dozes among bluebonnets outside Chappell Hill, Texas. (photo by Texas.713)

During the War of Northern Aggression (otherwise known as the American Civil War), the men of Chappell Hill served in both Hood’s Texas Brigade (infantry) and Terry’s Texas Rangers (cavalry), participating in most of the major battles of the conflict. Two years after the war ended, in 1867, many of the Chappell Hill men who survived the fighting perished in a yellow fever epidemic that decimated the town and the rest of the area around the Brazos River.

Chappell Hill never recovered, plunging from one of the largest, most vibrant communities in the state to little more than a memory.

Today, with a population of 300 in town and approximately 1,300 in the zip code, Chappell Hill is an unincorporated community that retains its fighting spirit and independent nature. A May 2008 special election to determine whether the community would incorporate drew two-thirds of eligible voters to the polls. Incorporation was defeated by a vote of three to one.

Today, Main Street in Chappell Hill, Texas, is a National Historic District. (photo by stevesheriw)

Today, Main Street in Chappell Hill, Texas, is a National Historic District. (photo by stevesheriw)

Widely regarded as one of the best historically preserved towns in Texas, Chappell Hill maintains its landmarks with admirable zeal. The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since the doors first opened. Main Street is listed as a National Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. Restored homes, churches, and businesses offer tours to visitors, and the annual Bluebonnet Festival and Scarecrow Festival attract tourists from all over the state.

If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a visit.

 

Kathleen Rice Adams header

 

Fallen Lone Stars: Llano, Texas

Llano's Southern Hotel, built from 1880-83, also served as a stagecoach stop. Today, the building serves as office space for The Buttery Co., one of Llano's oldest businesses.

Llano’s Southern Hotel, built from 1880-83, also served as a stagecoach stop. Today, the building serves as office space for The Buttery Co., one of Llano’s oldest businesses.

Llano (pronounced LAN-oh) is located in the Texas Hill Country about an hour north of Austin, very near the geographic center of Texas. Founded in response to a legislative act creating Llano County in February 1856, the town was established June 14 of the same year. A public vote under a live oak tree on the south side of the Llano River chose the town’s location: a tract of 250 acres donated by a local rancher.

The area boomed from 1886-1893 after iron ore deposits were discovered in nearby Iron Mountain. With high hopes for the future, the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company embarked upon a mission to build an iron furnace and foundry. Land speculators from Dallas and northern states poured into the area with investment money, wanting to be part of “the Pittsburgh of the West.”

The Llano County courthouse, built in 1893 and still in use, is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Larry D. Moore)

The Llano County courthouse, built in 1893 and still in use, is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Larry D. Moore)

The population soared to 7,000 in 1890, encouraging the Austin and Northwestern Railroad to extend its line to a terminal on the north side of what promised to be a thriving metropolis. Increased access to transportation attracted granite quarrying and finishing companies intent on profiting from the abundance of granite in the surrounding hills.

Then the bubble burst. The iron ore deposits proved insufficient for commercial exploitation, and the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company abandoned its project. The company’s withdrawal threw the town’s big plans into disarray. Although charters had been sold to construct a dam, an electric power plant, a streetcar system, and electric streetlights, only a small dam and the streetlights were completed. Speculators and local businesses lost fortunes as a result.

A wagon hauls a slab of granite through the streets of Llano in this undated postcard photo.

A wagon hauls a slab of granite through the streets of Llano in this undated postcard photo.

A series of fires in the late-1890s, probably set to collect insurance money, destroyed much of the town. Consequently, insurance companies refused to provide any coverage in the area until well into the 20th Century.

The granite processors remained. Today, Llano’s primary industries are farming, ranching, and granite quarrying and finishing. The town’s population is roughly 3,000 people except during November and December, when the undisputed “Deer Capital of Texas” overflows with hunters.

 

Kathleen Rice Adams header

‘A Criminal with a Badge’

DallasStoudenmireDesperate times call for desperate measures, and in April 1881, El Paso, Texas, was about as desperate as a town could get. Four railroad lines had converged in the city, bringing with them gamblers, gunmen, and “ladies of questionable virtue.” Within spitting distance of Old Mexico and the lawless western territories, El Paso became a haven for vagabonds, thieves, murderers, and other criminals.

The city was not entirely without a law-and-order presence. The county sheriff’s office was only fifteen miles away — a half-day’s ride on horseback. Fort Bliss was closer, but the Army had its hands full defending settlers from Indians and cross-border marauders. Nearest of all was an entire company of the Texas Rangers Frontier Battalion, headquartered right there in town. Even a force of forty fearsome men who a few years later would adopt the motto “one riot, one Ranger” couldn’t be everywhere at once, though, especially when they had a 1,250-mile unruly border with Mexico to police.

El Paso needed a tough city marshal, and it couldn’t seem to find one. During the eight months starting in July 1880, the town employed four different men in the position. One resigned after two months in office. Another was relieved for “neglect and dereliction of duty.” A third was allowed to resign after a dispute over his pay left El Paso full of bullet holes. By April 1881, the town drunk wore the badge because he was the only man who would take the job.

City fathers thought they were in luck when, on April 11, they enticed a six-foot-four shootist with experience as a soldier, Texas Ranger, and city lawman to claim the marshal’s star. Dallas Stoudenmire, 36, was described by newspapers of the day as a temperamental, physically imposing man with an even more imposing reputation for gunplay.

El Paso leaders realized they had made a hiring mistake in only a few short days, but a total of thirteen violent, frightening months would pass before they removed the new marshal from office. Ultimately, only Stoudenmire’s untimely demise freed the city of his presence. Some called the man a criminal with a badge; others credited him with doing more than any other single individual to tame El Paso’s lawless element.

The trouble started three days after Stoudenmire pinned on the marshal’s star. In an incident that came to be known as the Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight, Stoudenmire’s twin .44 Colts dispatched three people — one an innocent bystander attempting to take cover. The other two were an accused cattle rustler and one of El Paso’s former city marshals. The fourth casualty, whose death at the hands of the alleged cattle rustler started the ruckus, was a county constable. Stoudenmire, unscathed, received a raise.

Dallas Stoudenmire had the barrel of this 1860 Colt Army revolver sawed off so the gun could be concealed. The Colt was retrieved from the El Paso street where Stoudenmire was killed in a shootout on September 18, 1882. (from The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West by R.L. Wilson — I highly recommend the book)

Dallas Stoudenmire had the barrel of this 1860 Colt Army revolver sawed off so the gun could be concealed. The Colt was retrieved from the El Paso street where Stoudenmire was killed in a shootout on September 18, 1882. (from The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West by R.L. Wilson — I highly recommend the book)

Three days later, friends of the dead men hired another former El Paso city marshal to assassinate Stoudenmire. Eight or nine shots later, Stoudenmire had obliterated the would-be assassin’s privates.

The notorious gunman continued to collect enemies while he performed some aspects of his job admirably. Even his detractors credited him with a steel-nerved ability to face down miscreants, six of whom he reportedly introduced to Boot Hill. Stoudenmire collected fines and taxes with alacrity, at the same time shooting dogs whose owners neglected to pay the $2 annual license fee. He angered the local religious community by using a prominent church’s bell for target practice, usually in the middle of the night. The jail and prisoners were well tended, but the marshal’s records were a mess, and unauthorized expenditures caused friction with the city council.

Stoudenmire also drank heavily, often on duty, leading the editor of the El Paso Times to call into question his fitness as an officer of the law. When the Texas Rangers took an interest in Stoudenmire’s idiosyncratic approach to law enforcement, he called them a pack of cowards and liars and tried to get the entire force banned from El Paso, predictably without success.

The city decided it had endured enough in February 1882, when Stoudenmire and his new bride returned from their wedding trip to find her brother murdered and the accused killer absolved of charges. Vowing revenge, Stoudenmire went on a violent drinking binge. One writer called his behavior “as irresponsible and dangerous as the town hoodlums.” Right away the city council passed a resolution mandating a stiff fine for any lawman caught drinking in public. Since Stoudenmire collected the fines, the law was woefully ineffective.

Public sentiment against the marshal had reached a crescendo…and so had the city council’s fear of the monster they had created. In May the council called a meeting to fire Stoudenmire, but when the marshal showed up drunk and waving his infamous Colts, the meeting quickly adjourned. Two days later he sobered up and resigned.

Despite the public’s ill will, Stoudenmire and his wife remained in El Paso. The now ex-marshal continued to drink, get into fights, and settle arguments with his guns; nevertheless, in July he was appointed deputy U.S. marshal.

Dallas Stoudenmire had the barrel of this 1860 Colt Army revolver sawed off so the gun could be concealed. The Colt was retrieved from the El Paso street where Stoudenmire was killed in a shootout on September 18, 1882. (from The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West by R.L. Wilson — I highly recommend the book)

In May 2001, Dallas Stoudenmire’s Smith & Wesson American, serial number 7056, sold at auction for $143,000. His El Paso city marshal’s badge sold for $44,000 in a separate lot. (from Little John Auction Service catalog, May 2001)

Over the next few months, Stoudenmire’s feud with the man accused of his brother-in-law’s murder escalated. Stoudenmire mocked and insulted the man and his two brothers in public, daring them to fight. When other citizens ventured an opinion about his behavior, Stoudenmire cursed and threatened them. The El Paso Lone Star warned “citizens stand on a volcano,” and the streets might be “deluged with blood at any moment.”

On September 18, the volcano erupted. Stoudenmire and the three brothers met in a saloon and argued. One of the brothers and Stoudenmire drew their guns. Stoudenmire was hit twice: The first bullet broke his gun arm, and the second knocked him through the saloon’s batwing doors. Lying in the street, Stoudenmire pulled his second gun and wounded his attacker just before another of the brothers killed him with a shot to the head. The wounded brother pistol-whipped the body.

Separate trials acquitted the brothers of murder. They left El Paso and died of natural causes in 1915 and 1925.

Stoudenmire’s widow buried him in Colorado County, near Columbus, Texas, where they had been married a few months earlier. The Freemasons, of which he was a member, paid all funeral expenses for the destitute widow. No stone marks his gravesite, and all records of the grave’s location have been lost.

An obituary in the Colorado [County] Citizen called Stoudenmire “a brave and efficient officer, and very peaceable when sober.”

 

Those Crazy Texas Town Names

MargaretBrownley-header

As I told you last month, I’m writing a new series based in Texas and I’ve been studying maps. Texas sure does have some odd, charming and altogether weird or funny town names. Here’re just a couple that caught my eye.

City_HallCut and Shoot, Texas
Believe it or not, this town name was the result of a church fight. No one really knows what the dispute was about. Some say it was over the new steeple; others say there was a disagreement as to who should preach there. Still others insist that church member land claims was to blame.

Whatever the reason, the altercation was about to turn violent. A small boy at the scene declared he was going to take up a tactical position and “cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes.”

Later, after the matter was taken to court, the judge asked a witness where the confrontation had taken place. Since the town didn‘t have a name the witness described the location the best way he knew how. “I suppose you could call it the place where they had the cutting and shooting scrape,” he said, and the name stuck.

Ding Dong, Texas (which just happens to be in Bell County)DingDong

As the saying goes, if you find yourself in Ding Dong, you had to be looking for it. Two early residents Zulis Bell and his nephew Berth ran a general store and hired a local painter named C.C. Hoover to make a sign for their business.

Hoover illustrated the sign with two bells inscribed with the owners’ names, and then wrote “Ding Dong” on the bells. No one remembered the Bells but they sure did remember Ding Dong and the name stuck.

jotemdowntexasJot-Em-Down, Texas
This is a small unincorporated community in Delta County, Texas, United States.

The town’s name comes from the name of a fictional store in the Lum and Abner radio show, which aired in the 30s and 40s.

Dime Box, Texas
The name originated from the practice of leaving a dime in the box at Brown’s Mill to have a letter delivered. The practice stopped when a post office was opened in 1877.

The following town isn’t in Texas but I just love the name—and of course the love story.

Total Wreck, ArizonaTotal_Wreck
Total Wreck was discovered by John L. Dillon in 1879.  He named it such because he thought the ledge the mine was on looked like a total wreck. A man once got into a shooting at Total Wreck and survived because the bullet lodged in a stack of love letters he had in his jacket. He later married the girl who wrote the letters!

 

What is the strangest named town you ever visited?

For me it would have to be Monkey Eyebrow, Arizona.

 

“How come no one ever told me that kissin’

is even more fun that fighting a bear?”-A Lady Like Sarah

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‘You Take that Back!’ — Texas Feuds

HatfieldClan_1897

The notorious Hatfield clan, 1897

Although lesser known than the notorious Hatfield-McCoy fracas that claimed about a dozen lives along the West Virginia-Kentucky state line between 1865 and 1888, six and a half of the ten bloodiest American feuds took place in Texas.

Yes, six and a half. Just hold your horses and I’ll explain.

Two of Texas’s feuds were deadlier than the quarrel between the Hatfields and McCoys, and most of them erupted over a bigger insult than laying claim to a wayward pig.

In ascending order of body count, the feuds were…

Early vs. Hasley, 1865-69

Sam Hasley did not take it well when he returned from fighting for the Confederacy to discover his elderly father had been roughed up by a member of the Union occupation force sent to keep order in Texas during Reconstruction. Hasley vowed vengeance not only upon the culprit, John Early, but also on every other Federal in Bell County. He and the friends and family who gathered around him openly defied the authorities, leading the Early faction to accuse Hasley’s group of any crime of any kind anywhere in the vicinity. Yankee soldiers ambushed and killed one of the Hasley contingent in mid-1869, effectively disbanding the gang. One rogue member, however, pursued one of Early’s friends into Arkansas and killed him later that year. Sam Hasley went on to become a deputy sheriff. In 1889, drunk on duty, he was shot and killed by a deputy city marshal while resisting arrest in Temple, Texas. Body count: two.

PlantationHouseColumbusTXBuilt1840Photo1933

A plantation house in Columbus, Texas, ca. 1840

Reese vs. Townsend, 1898-1907

The Reeses and the Townsends got crossways over politics. U.S. Senator Mark Townsend, the Boss Tweed of Columbus, Texas, withdrew his support from incumbent sheriff Sam Reese and threw his considerable political clout behind former deputy Larkin Hope instead. When Hope ended up on the wrong end of a broad daylight assassination in downtown Columbus, Reese was the most likely suspect, though no evidence surfaced. Townsend’s handpicked replacement won the election. Perturbed by the unanticipated turn of events, Reese picked a gunfight with a Townsend supporter, thereby moving out of politics and into a casket. The former sheriff’s family vowed to avenge him, provoking five shootouts in Columbus over the following six years. Four combatants died, including Sam Reese’s brother Dick. Body count: six.

Lampasas texas ca 1882

Lampasas, Texas, ca. 1882

Horrell vs. Higgins, 1874-1877

When the five Horrell brothers—Ben, Mart, Tom, Merritt, and Sam—took it on the lam to Lincoln County, New Mexico, in order to avoid a murder rap in Texas, they probably didn’t plan to leave one of their number under six feet of dirt before scrambling back to Lampasas barely ahead of a posse. They fared no better in their hometown, running afoul of former friend and neighbor John “Pink” Higgins right away. Higgins accused the high-spirited Horrell boys of rustling cattle…and that’s when the trouble started. A jury acquitted the Horrells of all charges, but continuing ill will led to Merritt Horrell’s death at Higgins’s hand during a saloon fight. Folks lined up behind both families, swore to wipe the opposing faction from the face of the planet, and set about their task with admirable devotion. By the time the Texas Rangers put an end to the running gun battles in June 1877, four men were dead, dozens more were injured, and the three remaining Horrell brothers were behind bars. Although they were released in short order, two of the three were arrested on suspicion of murdering a shopkeeper less than a year later. A vigilante gang shot them to death in their jail cells. The feud ended when both sides signed a written promise to leave one another alone. Amazingly, they kept their word. Body count: seven.

Boyce_Sneed_feud_1912_New_York_Times

1912 New York Times report about the Boyce-Sneed disagreement. (Click to read.)

Boyce vs. Sneed, 1911-1912

Wealthy ranchers John Beal Sneed and Albert Boyce, Jr. came to blows over Sneed’s wife. After more than a decade of marriage and two children, in 1911 Lena Sneed admitted to having an affair with Boyce and asked for a divorce. Sneed straightaway had her committed to an asylum. Boyce rescued the damsel in distress, and the couple ran off to Canada. Incensed when kidnapping charges were dropped, Sneed upped the ante: In early 1912, he murdered Boyce’s unarmed father in the lobby of a Fort Worth hotel. Widely publicized court proceedings ended in a mistrial, spurring a mob of Boyce supporters to storm the courthouse and kill four men. Sneed’s father was the next to go, in an alleged murder-suicide. Although John and Lena Sneed reconciled in mid-1912, he could not let the insult go: Wearing a disguise, he shot and killed Boyce in broad daylight on a Fort Worth street and then surrendered at the county courthouse. Juries later acquitted Sneed of all charges, calling the killings justifiable homicide. Body count: eight.

creed_taylor

former Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, ca. 1880

Sutton vs. Taylor, 1866-1877

Dewitt County Deputy Sheriff William Sutton set off the longest-lasting and most widespread feud in Texas history when, in three separate 1866 incidents, he shot and killed three members of former Texas Ranger Creed Taylor’s family. In 1867, two more Taylors died while Sutton was attempting to arrest them on a minor charge. After adopting the motto “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall,” the Taylors retaliated by killing two Sutton allies. Mob violence, ambushes, prison breaks, and lynchings ensued. Sutton himself was gunned down while attempting to board a steamboat and high-tail it out of the area. After numerous attempts at peacemaking failed, Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly and his Special Force put a stop to the violence. Body count: at least 35.

FredericRemington_Fighting_over_a_stolen_herd_1895

Fighting Over a Stolen Herd, Frederic Remington, 1895

Lee vs. Peacock, 1866-1871

Only Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War, which took the lives of twenty to fifty men between 1887 and 1892, outstripped the Lee-Peacock feud of northeast Texas. Like the Early-Hasley dustup, the Lee-Peacock fandango grew out of lingering animosity over the Civil War. Confederate veteran Bob Lee butted heads with an organization of Union supporters, leading Lewis Peacock, the leader of the Union bunch, to round up a posse and arrest Lee for alleged war crimes. To “settle the charges,” Peacock seized Lee’s valuables and exacted a promissory note for $2,000. Lee won a subsequent lawsuit, earning an assassination attempt along with the money. His doctor was murdered while Lee convalesced in the medic’s home. Thereafter, Northeast Texas fractured along Union-Confederacy lines and bands of armed men proceeded to track down and do away with their ideological opponents. The Fourth United States Cavalry’s arrival to end the fracas only made things worse: Although a house-to-house search failed to turn up Lee, it sparked several more gun battles. Lee was betrayed by one of his own men in 1869 and died during the cavalry’s attempt to arrest him. Fighting continued until Peacock’s shooting death in 1871. Body count: about fifty.

And now for the one-half Texas feud…

Brooks vs. McFarland, 1896-1902

Although most of the violence took place on Oklahoma land belonging the Creek Nation, a fatal attempt to rob a former Texas Ranger started the fight. After would-be robber Thomas Brooks was killed, family patriarch Willis Brooks accused neighbor Jim McFarland of planning the unsuccessful crime and then tipping off the Ranger. Not disposed to sit idly by and watch the family name besmirched, the McFarlands lined up behind Jim and faced off with the Brooks clan. Both sides vowed to shoot members of the other on sight. The conflict came to a head in a Spokogee, Oklahoma, gunfight in September 1902, when Willis Brooks and his son Clifton were killed along with a McFarland family ally. The survivors were arrested, but allowing them to make bail may have been a mistake: One month later, Jim McFarland died in an ambush at his home. McFarland’s death put an end to the feud.

 

Sunday Houses

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I”m writing a new series set in Two-Time, Texas (wait till you out find out why it”s called Two-Time). Like an old teabag I”ve been steeped in research since the first of the year, and just learned that not everything in Texas is huge.  Take for example Sunday houses.
A Sunday house was a small (and I do mean small) second dwelling located next to a church. These houses were built by devout German farmers and ranchers who lived in the Texas Hill boonies.
sh2Originally, German settlements were laid out as farm communities and farmers were given town lots. They were expected to live in town and drive out daily to their farms or ranches to work. It didn”t take farmers long to figure out that it was less of a hassle to live on the farms and travel to town on weekends.
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 This led to the building of Sunday houses. Every Saturday farming families traveled to town to purchase supplies, attend to business and, if necessary, receive medical treatment.
Saturday nights was a time to socialize and this generally included a dance. They would then spend the night at their Sunday houses so as to attend church the following morning. They would either return to farm or ranch on Sunday afternoon, or wait till Monday.
These wood-framed weekend houses were small and usually had only one and a half rooms. Many had gabled attics reached from an Snday houseoutside staircase where children would sleep. The pitched roofs were made from handmade cypress shingles and the windows and woodwork embellished with mill work.
The first floor had a lean-to kitchen and covered porch. A fireplace provided warmth and cooking facilities, but there was no running water.
These second dwellings fell out of favor in the 1920s. Improved roads and automobiles made Sunday houses no longer necessary. Fortunately, many of these charming houses still exist in Gillespie County and supposedly cost a bundle.
Now if I could just figure out how to work a Sunday house into my story.  Anyone seen one of these?

 

 Hot Flash: Book two in Margaret”s Undercover Ladies series

UNDERCOVER BRIDE can be ordered now (hint, hint).

Who in the name of Sam Hill was the green-eyed beauty

with the iron-like fist?-Petticoat Detective

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To order, click cover

The “Murder Steer”

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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.

Cow and CalfOn 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???

Four Texas Rangers - Jim Putnam is standing, third from the left.

Four Texas Rangers – Jim Putnam is standing, third from the left.

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.

steer branded murderNow 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.

Law Comes to the Nueces Strip

Texas always has been a rowdy place. In 1822, the original Anglo settlers began trickling into what was then Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government, which hoped American immigrants would do away with the out-of-control Comanches. Texans dispensed with the Comanches in the 1870s by foisting them off on Oklahoma, but long before that, the Texans ran off the Mexican government.

Republic_of_Texas_labeled_smallFrom 1836 to 1845, Texas looked something like the map at right. The green parts became the Republic of Texas as a result of treaties signed by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana after Sam Houston and his ragtag-but-zealous army caught the general napping at San Jacinto. The treaties set the boundary between Texas and Mexico at the Rio Grande.

This caused a bit of a fuss in the Mexican capital. No matter how embarrassing his situation, Santa Ana did not possess the authority to dispose of large chunks of land with the swipe of a pen. Mexico eventually conceded Texas could have the dark-green part of the map—bounded to the south by the Nueces River, which lies about one hundred fifty miles north of the Rio Grande—but the light-green part still belonged to Mexico.

Arguments ensued.

While Texas and Mexico were studiously avoiding one another in the disputed territory, outlaws, rustlers, and other lawless types moved into the patch between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. After all, no respectable outlaw ever lets a perfectly good blind spot on the law-enforcement radar go to waste. The area, 150 miles wide by about 400 miles long, came to be known as the Nueces Strip.

NuecesStrip_smallIn 1845, the United States annexed all of the land claimed by Texas, including the disputed territory, and came to military blows with Mexico over the insult. By the time the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 to settle once and for all (sort of) who owned what, the lawless element was firmly entrenched in the strip of cactus and scrub between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. For nearly thirty years, brigands raised havoc—robbing, looting, raping, rustling, and killing—on both sides of the border before retreating to ranchos and other hideouts in the Strip’s no-man’s land.

That began to change in 1875 when Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly was charged with bringing order to the southern part of Texas. Newly re-formed after being disbanded for about ten years during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Rangers were determined to clean up the cesspool harboring notorious toughs like King Fisher and Juan Cortina. With a company of forty handpicked men known as the Special Force, McNelly accomplished his task in two years…in some cases by behaving at least as badly as the outlaws. McNelly was known for brutal—sometimes downright illegal—tactics, including torturing information out of some prisoners and hanging others. He and his men also made a number of unauthorized border crossings in pursuit of rustlers, nearly provoking international incidents.

Nevertheless, the “Little McNellys” got the job done. By the time McNelly was relieved of command and subsequently retired in 1876, the Nueces Strip was a safer place.

McNelly died of consumption in September 1877. Though he remains controversial in some circles, the residents of South Texas raised funds and erected a monument in his honor.