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?
The 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.
One 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.
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?
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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.
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 Publications‘ Christmas 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?
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.
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.
“Let the record show I’ve killed fifty-one men. Let ’er rip.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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…
On 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 Rangers. The 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 some 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’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.’”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.