Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word—
Hold up there just a cotton-picking minute. What gave anyone that idea? “Discouraging,” my hind leg. Nineteenth-century Lone Star language could get downright inflammatory, especially on the range.
Take these four Texas quarrels, for example.
Regulator-Moderator War, 1839-1844
Also called the Shelby County War, the first major battle to pit Texan against Texan erupted in the eastern part of the newly minted republic. The whole thing started with a land dispute between a rancher and the county sheriff. The sheriff called for help from the leader of a lynch-happy anti-rustling vigilante bunch known as the Regulators, and the rancher soon thereafter shook hands with Saint Peter. The Moderators, a group of anti-vigilante vigilantes who called the Regulators terrorists, jumped into the fray, and before anyone knew what was up, a judge, a sheriff, and a senator died and homes burned in four counties. After a gun battle between 225 Moderators and 62 Regulators near Shelbyville, Sam Houston himself rode in with the militia and suggested both groups shake hands and go on about their business before he lost his temper.
Hoodoo War, 1874-1876
Also called the Mason County War, this Reconstruction-Era Hill Country dust-up over dead and disappearing cattle pitted Union-supporting German immigrants against born-and-bred, former-Confederate Texans. A lynch mob of forty Germans lit the match when they dragged five Texans accused of cattle rustling from jail and executed three of them before the county sheriff, elected by the Germans, reluctantly put a stop to the proceedings. In a sterling display of what can happen when a Texas Ranger goes bad, a vigilante gang led by a former Ranger embarked upon a series of retaliatory attacks against the German community. At least a dozen men died before still-commissioned Rangers restored order. Johnny Ringo spent two years in jail for his role on the side of the Texans, only to end up on the wrong end of Wyatt Earp’s good nature five years later in Tombstone, Arizona.
El Paso Salt War, 1877
The only time in history Texas Rangers surrendered happened in the tiny town of San Elizario, near El Paso. An increasingly volatile disagreement over rights to mine salt in the Guadalupe Mountains began in the 1860s and finally boiled over in September 1877. A former district attorney, intent on laying claim to the salt flats, rather flagrantly murdered his political rival, who had insisted the flats were public property and the valuable salt could be mined by anyone. The dead man’s supporters, primarily Tejano salt miners, revolted. A group of twenty hastily recruited Ranger stand-ins rushed to the rescue, only to barricade themselves inside the Catholic church in a last-ditch effort to keep the instigator alive long enough to stand trial. Five days later they admitted defeat and surrendered to the mob, who killed the accused murderer, chopped up his body, and threw the pieces down a well. Then the rioters disarmed the Ranger puppies and kicked them out of town.
Jaybird-Woodpecker War, 1888-1889
The last major set-to in Texas took place in Fort Bend County, near Houston. The liberal-Republican Woodpeckers, mostly former slaves, swept the county election in 1884. The conservative-Democrat Jaybirds, primarily white former Confederates, opposed such inconsiderate behavior for racist reasons. After Woodpeckers swept every office again in the 1888 election, retaliatory violence on both sides resulted in the deaths of several people. During the Battle of Richmond—a twenty-minute gunfight inside the county courthouse in August 1889—four men, including the sheriff, were killed. The Jaybirds won the fracas, and with the assistance of Governor Sul Ross’s declaration of martial law, seized control of county government. Jaybirds forcibly ousted every elected Woodpecker and proceeded to disenfranchise black voters until 1953, when the Supreme Court put a stop to the whites-only voting shenanigans. Intermittent Jaybird-Woodpecker violence lopped over into 1890, when a white Woodpecker tax assessor, accused of murdering a white Jaybird who had been his political opponent, was gunned down in Galveston before he could be tried for the alleged crime.
I hope everyone’s holidays are shaping up to be much more peaceful than some of Texas’s merriest and brightest moments. To help with that, I’ll give an e-copy of Wild Texas Christmas to one of today’s commenters. The anthology of five Christmas romances set in the Old West will bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.