Anyone familiar with my books might think I have a thing for Texas Rangers, and they be would right. The Texas Rangers are the oldest law enforcement agency and will celebrate their bicentennial in two years. Stephen F. Austin organized the first group of 10 Texas Rangers back in 1823.
Those early Rangers had no formal law enforcement training, used their own horses and weapons, and faced some of the deadliest outlaws alone. Some even worked without pay. It was a hard job, requiring countless hours in the saddle and endless nights beneath the stars.
Some modern historians take issue with the Rangers’ “brutal force,” but times were tough and the stakes high. Historical events are often subjected to differing interpretations when viewed from modern times.
Most agree, however, that many Texas Rangers made their mark in Western history. Too many, in fact, to name here. But here are a few:
Frank started out as a blacksmith and then became a cowboy. He may have remained so had he not helped in the arrest of a horse thief. That’s when the crime-fighting bug bit.
Counted as one of the most fearless men in Western history, he is credited with killing more than 60 outlaws. In the course of his work, he sustained 17 wounds and had been left for dead four times. He retired in 1932 but, even then, no outlaw was safe. Two years after his retirement, he retained a commission as Special Investigator in the case of Bonnie and Clyde. His work ended their deadly crime spree and resulted in their deaths.
Considered by some to be the greatest captains in Texas Ranger history, McDonald’s distractors considered him an irresponsible lawman who precipitated violence and sought publicity. Most, however, agreed that he was “a man who would charge hell with a bucket of water.”
“No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’,” was his motto. Upon being sent to Texas to prevent a prizefight, he was asked by the sheriff where the other rangers were. According to legend, this was when the phrase “One riot, one Ranger,” was coined.
Texas Ranger Armstrong didn’t let anything get in the way of catching his man, not even a bullet wound to his leg. On assignment to capture notorious criminal John Wesley Hardin, Armstrong cornered the outlaw on a train. Limping aboard, Armstrong switched his cane to his left hand and drew out his gun. (Now that’s something you don’t see in movies.)
He shot and killed one of Hardin’s gang members, knocked Hardin unconscious, and disarmed the other three outlaws. Once he had everything control, the other law enforcers filed onto the train to take the men into custody.
John “Rip” Ford
Ford couldn’t seem to make up his mind what profession he wanted to pursue. He was a lawyer, doctor, surveyor, newspaper editor, teacher, historian, playwright, printer, mayor, sheriff, chief of police, city marshal, and state and national senator. But he’s most remembered as a Texas Ranger.
He was nicknamed Rip because of his habit of writing the words “Rest in peace” next to the names on the company’s casualty list, and for leading his men into successful battles.
Ira joined the Rangers in 1878 and played a central role in the Fence-Cutting Wars. Barbed wire put an end to the once-open range. Disgruntled cowboys, hustlers, and outlaws became fence clippers. Attempts to stop the wire cutters failed until Ira came up with a solution: dynamite.
He rigged the wires so if the one on top was cut, it would trigger an explosion. Word quickly spread that bombs were planted under the fence lines, effectively ending the “war.”
In this time of ‘house arrest’ we are all staying home most of the time. Now I don’t know about other writers (haven’t seen any) but I started out the first two weeks thinking I’d write like crazy.
Didn’t work. I cleaned closets, cooked, watched TV, read books.
When the two weeks continued on and on, I made a list every morning of what I would do. Pretty soon I learned I could keep my Monday to-do-list all week and just change it to Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday.
THEN I discovered a box of old music, country of course. I bounced out of bed, put on my sweat pants, didn’t bother with shower or makeup half the time, and flipped on Only the Lonely by Roy Orbison. We danced around the house.
I know it sounds strange but it cheered me up. By the time I played it three times, I was ready to write.
Then I found a CD of Riders in the Sky with a song Gene Autry wrote. Back in the Saddle Again. I learned to sing Whoopi-ty-aye-oh. Dancing again. To hear the song click here.
I played it as I saddled up for work. When I was a kid I loved nothing more than riding across open country and today (as I have for thirty years) I love writing.
I’ve stepped into fiction in good times and bad. When my heart’s been broken, I fall in love with my characters. When reality gets too much, I make my own world. When I simply want to have an adventure, I travel in my mind.
During this time of isolation, I still feel connected to my readers and all the writers I know. We may be home dancing to Only the Lonely but we’re together.
After I took a bad tumble riding in my teens, the hardest thing I ever did was climb back on a horse, but the strange thing was, once in the saddle, I wondered why it had taken me so long.
My advice for this time:
Be good to yourself. Get lost in a good book whether you’re reading it or writing it. Have a party every night. Popcorn and a movie or cookies and milk on the porch watching the rain.
Be happy. Sure you don’t get to see the people you love, but the upside is you don’t have to be around all those folks who bother you.
Dance. Personally, I never learned to dance, but I do it anyway. I told Tom once that I may look like I’m standing still, but I’m dancing inside. He smiled and said, “I know.”
I’m in the middle of a series and I’m loving it. Book One, BREAKFAST AT THE HONEY CREEK CAFÉ came out last week. It’s packed with action and love stories that will keep you reading through the night.
Please add it to your reading list and ‘if you have time’ leave a comment and tell me what you’re dancing to during this isolation. One reader’s comment will be selected to receive my first book out of the box.
Joke of the day from Riders in the Sky. “If the world was logical, men would ride sidesaddle.”
He may be a Texas Ranger, but he only has eyes for the outlaw’s beautiful daughter…
I’m happy to announce that my new book has just been released! This is book three in my Haywire Brides series, but each book stands alone.
I’m giving away a book today to one of you. So be sure to leave a comment!
Texas Ranger Matt Taggert is on the trail of a wanted man. He has good reason to believe that Ellie-May’s late husband was involved in a stagecoach robbery, and he’s here to see justice done. But when he arrives in town, he discovers the thief has become a local hero…and his beautiful young widow isn’t too happy to see some lawman out to tarnish her family’s newly spotless reputation.
Ellie-May’s shaken by her encounter with the Ranger. Having grown up an outlaw’s daughter, she’ll do anything to keep her children safe—and if that means hardening her heart against the handsome lawman’s smiles, then so be it. Because she knows Matt isn’t about to give up his search. He’s out to redeem himself and find proof that Ellie-May’s husband wasn’t the saint everyone claims…even if it means losing the love neither expected to discover along the way.
Ellie-May has lived all her life in the shadow of her outlaw father. Do you think a parent’s reputation has the same impact today as it did in the 1800s?
“No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-coming.”
– Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger
Almost since their inception, the name Texas Rangers has called up a romantic image of the men who valiantly stood against any and all enemies. Brave, noble, and true, they fought to protect the land they loved, and they became legends for it. There are lawmen, and then, there are Texas Rangers. In his book The Men Who Wear the Star: The Story of the Texas Rangers, Charles Robinson quotes former adjutant general William W. Sterling, a former Ranger himself, who said, “There is no question but that a definite potency exists in the name ‘Texas Ranger.’ Take two men of equal size and arm them with identical weapons. Call one of them a deputy sheriff and the other a Ranger. Send each of these officers out to stop a mob or quell a riot. The crowd will resist the deputy, but will submit to the authority of the Ranger.”
Texas history is full of examples of these legendary champions of the state. Consider men like John Coffee Hays who single-handedly held off a band of Comanche Indians at Enchanted Rock in 1841, Samuel H. Walker who helped develop the Colt Walker single-action revolver, and Frank Hamer who helped hunt down Bonnie and Clyde. Captain Bill McDonald was once sent to stop a prize fight, and when asked when other officers would arrive, he said, “Hell! Ain’t I enough?” “One Riot, One Ranger.” They’re just that great!
The Rangers have a Major League Baseball team named for them. They have their own museum in Waco, Texas. The one and only Chuck Norris chose to play a Ranger on TV! Let’s face it – Texas Rangers are Just. Plain. Cool.
When I started The Lawmen of Texas series, I had no idea it would even be a series, but while I was working on the first book, my cousin Erick Reed passed away after twenty years of battling a kidney disease. He was only 42. Since we were kids, he dreamed of serving his country as a fighter pilot. He would have been a doting husband and a fun dad, but the disease kept him from those things and ultimately took him from us. After he was gone, my heart needed to rewrite his story for him, to give him the adventure and happy ending he should have had. Once I got the idea, book two practically wrote itself. I don’t write about pilots, but, I think, making him a Texas Ranger is just about as cool! The Ranger’s Purpose is my gift to Erick.
Texas Ranger Erick Carlton is tough, intimidating, unyielding, but two gunshots to the shoulder can render a man useless. He’s got outlaws to track down and can’t afford time to heal, but these injuries have knocked him flat. It doesn’t hurt that the nurse tending him is a beautiful young woman, and taking time to recover might not be so bad, if only the damage from the gunshots wasn’t so life-altering.
Mahala Peters doesn’t want to be anywhere near this stranger, or any man for that matter. Since a terrifying attack three years ago, she’s been in hiding and would like nothing more than for Erick Carlton to pack up and head out. But as his wounds heal, so does her heart. She knows she shouldn’t get attached. The man is on a mission, after all, bound to leave as soon as he’s healed. Only now, does she really want him to go?
With lingering complications from his wound and the draw of a woman he can’t provide for, can this Ranger find his true purpose?
If the very words “Texas Rangers” make you think of heroes, you’re not alone. For many of us, those men who wear the star are legendary, their stories larger than life. That’s one of the reasons I made Jackson Guthrie, the hero of A Tender Hope, a Ranger. But as I researched the Rangers, I discovered a number of things that surprised me.
It started with the stars. Did you know that the early Rangers did not necessarily wear badges, and if they did, they were ones they’d either created or purchased? It’s true. The state did not issue badges to Rangers until 1935. Prior to that, the only official proof that they were Rangers was the documentation the state provided, a description of their physical appearance that served to identify them. The early badges were often
made from Mexican silver eight-real coins or simply tin.
Then we come to the uniforms. There were none in the early days. While Rangers are often shown wearing slouch hats, those were not mandatory. Instead, those particular hats were chosen for their practicality, keeping the sun and rain out of the Ranger’s face.
Do you picture the Ranger carrying his Colt revolver? While it’s true that many of them had Colts after Jack Hays, who was famous for his one-man stand against a band of Comanche near Enchanted Rock, introduced them to the Rangers, they weren’t something the state provided. The first time the state issued firearms to Rangers was in 1870 when they provided breech-loading cavalry carbines. But – and this is a big but – the cost was deducted from the Rangers’ pay.
So, what did the state provide to its famed peacekeepers? Food, forage for their mounts, ammunition, and medical assistance. The Rangers were responsible for their horses, their weapons, and their clothing.
Until 1874, the Rangers were citizen-soldiers, meaning that they were called when needed and disbanded when the need was over. While the 1866 legislature established three battalions of Rangers, the bill to finance them failed. In 1870, the legislature authorized the creation of twenty companies of Rangers, but only fourteen were actually established.
The creation of the Frontier Battalion in 1874 marked a significant
change for the Rangers, creating a professional law enforcement agency with civil police powers. The Frontier Battalion consisted of six companies, each with a captain, two lieutenants, and 72 men who enlisted for twelve months.
How much were these men paid? In 1835, the daily pay was $1.25. You might have thought that by 1874, the pay would have increased, but a private’s monthly pay was only $30 and a corporal’s was $40. Sergeants made $50, lieutenants $75, and captains $100. Since pay day was once a quarter, I suspect that the state-provided meals were critical to a Ranger’s survival.
Does all this make you want to enlist? I didn’t think so. The men who joined the Rangers were men who believed in justice, men who wanted to keep their home safe, men who sought adventure rather than comfort. Men like Jackson Guthrie.
(Note: These are all photos I took at the Ranger Museum in Waco. We won’t talk about the challenge of getting these pictures from a machine running Windows 95 to one with Windows 10. Such fun!)
As far as Thea Michener is concerned, it’s time for a change. With her husband murdered and her much-anticipated baby stillborn, there is nothing left for her in Ladreville. Having accepted a position as Cimarron Creek’s midwife, she has no intention of remarrying. So when a handsome Texas Ranger appears on her doorstep with an abandoned baby, Thea isn’t sure her heart can take it.
Ranger Jackson Guthrie isn’t concerned only with the baby’s welfare. He’s been looking for Thea, convinced that her late husband was part of the gang that killed his brother. But it soon becomes clear that the situation is far more complicated than he anticipated—and he’ll need Thea’s help if he’s ever to find the justice he seeks.
I’m giving away a print copy of A Tender Hope to a US winner.
Just leave a comment to be eligible to win!
Amanda Cabot’s dream of selling a book before her thirtieth birthday came true, and she’s now the author of more than thirty-five novels as well as eight novellas, four non-fiction books, and what she describes as enough technical articles to cure insomnia in a medium-sized city. Her inspirational romances have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists, have garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and have been nominated for the ACFW Carol, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers Best awards. A popular workshop presenter, Amanda takes pleasure in helping other writers achieve their dreams of publication.
In April, I’m attending an arts workshop, including authors, in Canadian, in the Texas Panhandle. You can’t think about this part of Texas without giving a great deal of thought to one of our pioneers, Captain George Washington Arrington, who was also one of the first Texas Rangers. His ranch is now an historical site with a Bed and Breakfast. I’m hoping to take a tour while we’re there.
“Cap”, as he was known, was not just a lawman, rancher, spy for the Confederacy, and Texas Ranger, but also a murderer.
Arrington was born in Alabama under the name of John C. Orrick, Jr., and at the age of sixteen enlisted in the Confederate Army. But, in 1867 he murdered a businessman in his hometown; and after a while, he moved to Texas and changed his name to Arrington to escape his troubled past. He did many things during his lifetime; worked on the railroad, at a commission house, and farmed in Collin County, Texas, which led him to get hired on to be a drover in cattle drives. That seemingly changed his life.
In 1875 he enlisted in Company E of the newly organized Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers, where he excelled and after only two years was promoted to Captain of Company C because of his accomplishments of tracking down fugitives and outlaws. In 1879, his Company was moved to the Texas Panhandle to investigate depredations at area ranches. He eventually established the first Ranger Camp in the Panhandle.
After breaking up a major rustling ring, he left the Rangers and became the sheriff of “the mother city of the Panhandle”, Mobeetie, a wild and woolly town with a reputation for fast gunplay, sporting women and quick-dealing gamblers.
Although, Capt. Arrington had dealt with hostiles and outlaws, and had even murdered a man, he couldn’t deal with card sharks, cattle rustlers and ladies of the evening. But, the best thing about him living in Mobeetie was meeting and marrying Sara Burnette. Out of that union came ten children. The first two were born in the Old Mobeetie Jail, where part of the two-story structure was used as a resident.
After Arrington left his office as Sheriff, he managed the Rocking Chair Ranch, until it was sold to a large conglomerate. Involved in the civic affairs of Canadian and helping to establish their first rural school, Cap purchased his own ranch.
The Arrington Ranch Headquarters, which still stands today, is located south of Canadian adjacent to the Washita River. The house was ordered from the Van Tein catalog, delivered by railroad, moved pieces at a time by wagon for the first ten miles, and set up on the prairie in 1919. The building site was well chosen; sweeping vistas offer unobstructed sunsets and sunrises across the grassland.
Captain Arrington was definitely a self-made man of his era, harsh but fair. He was rarely seen without his sidearm, fully aware of the long list of enemies made during his tenure as a lawman. If the Captain wasn’t wearing a six-shooter, he had one within easy reach.
In his later years, he suffered from arthritis and made frequent train trips to Mineral Wells for their hot baths. In 1923, on one of these trips, he had a heart attack. He returned to his beloved Canadian where he died on March 31, 1923. He and his wife are both buried in the Old Mobeetie cemetery.
The Arrington Ranch House Lodge is alive and well owned by 5th generation Arrington, who have worked hard to keep Captain George Washington Arrington’s name alive and well in the Texas Panhandle.
Have you ever spent time in an historical home or building? How did it make you feel?
To one reader who leaves me a comment, I will give them an autographed copy of my latest Kasota Spring Romance Out of a Texas Night.
I’m on the last draft of the third book in my Haywire Brides series (at least I hope it’s the last draft). My male protagonist is a Texas Ranger and, as some of you might have guessed from my earlier books, that’s my favorite type of hero to write about.
The Texas Rangers have a long and checkered history, starting in 1823. When Stephan F. Austin hired ten men to protect the frontier, he probably never imagined that nearly two hundred years later, the force would still be going strong.
Those early Rangers were called various names including mounted gunmen, mounted volunteers, minutemen, spies, scouts and mounted rifle companies. The term Texas Rangers didn’t come into use until the1870s.
Maintaining law and order on the frontier wasn’t easy, but those mounted gunmen still managed to move with quick speed over long distances, and settle trouble on the spot. Those early rangers were called upon to serve as infantrymen, border guards, and investigators. They tracked down cattle rustlers and helped settle labor disputes. They both fought and protected the Indians.
The job didn’t come cheap. A man was expected to provide his own horse and it had to be equipped with saddle, blanket and bridle. A man also had to supply his own weaponry, which included rifle, pistol and knife.
As for clothing, a Texas Ranger wore what he had. It wasn’t until the Rangers became full-time professional lawmen in the 1890s that many started wearing suits. (Today, Rangers are expected to wear conservative western attire, including western boots and hat, dress shirt and appropriate pants.)
He would also have carried a blanket, and cloth wallet for salt and ammunition. To alleviate thirst, a ranger would suck on sweetened or spiced parched corn. Dried meat, tobacco and rope were also considered necessities. What he didn’t carry with him was provided by the land. It was a tough life and it’s not hard to guess why a man seldom lasted more than six months on the job.
Those early professional Rangers received twenty-five dollars a month in pay and worked hard for it. An officer’s pay was seventy-five dollars.
Today, the Texas Rangers enjoy a stellar reputation, but that wasn’t always the case. Frontier justice could sometimes be harsh and cruel, and some Rangers fought according to their own rules. This led to excesses of brutality and injustice, including the massacre of unarmed citizens. The Rangers were reformed by a Legislature resolution in 1919, which instituted a citizen complaint system.
The Texas Rangers have undergone many changes and transformations through the years. But the biggest change of all probably has such legendary Rangers as John B. Jones and Big Foot Wallace a-whirling in their graves; The Texas Rangers recently allowed women to join the ranks. (Hmm. I feel a story coming on.)
I told you the kind of heroes I like to write. What kind of heroes do you like to read about?
When courting a woman don’t ask advice of a bachelor.
-Cowboy Charm School
I’m excited that my next book Cowboy Charm School will be published September 4th (but can be ordered now.) I played with the idea for four or five years before I actually got around to writing the book. Book ideas generally come to me in scenes. I’ll suddenly visualize someone atop a runaway stagecoach or scrambling over a roof and then have to figure out who, what, and why.
The scene that popped into my head for Cowboy Charm School was a wedding scene with a handsome stranger running down the church aisle yelling, “Stop the Wedding!”
It took me awhile to figure out that the man was Texas Ranger Brett Tucker, who thinks he’s saving the bride, Kate Denver, from marrying an outlaw. He’s mistaken, of course, but the groom jealously jumps to all the wrong conclusions and the couple breaks-up.
Brett feels terrible for what’s he’s done and is determined to set things right. Since the hapless groom hasn’t a clue as to how to win Kate back, it’s up to Brett to give him a few pointers–and that’s when the real trouble begins.
For a chance to win a copy of the book, tell us the best or worse advice anyone ever gave you. (Contest guidelines apply.)
Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arm will be released on October 3rd. Don’t you just love that title? I’m so excited to be part of the collection, which also includes stories by Leigh Greenwood and our very own Linda Broday!
My story is titled A Texas Ranger for Christmas and I’m giving away a copy (giveaway guidelines apply). So be sure to leave a comment.Here’s a sneak peek:
Sadie had just put Adam down for his afternoon nap that second week in December when a hammering sound drew her to the kitchen window.
“Dang that man!” Now the ranger was on the barn roof hammering down shingles. Last week, after he’d spent the day repairing the fence, he’d run a fever and had to spend two days in bed.
Now here he was at it again, overdoing it.
She pulled a woolen shawl from a peg by the back door and stepped outside. The wind was cold and angry clouds crowded in from the north like a bunch of wooly sheep.
Upon reaching the barn, she yelled up to him. “If you fall and break your neck, don’t come runnin’ to me!”
He peered over the edge of the roof. His nose was red from the cold and his hair tossed about like sails in the wind, but he sure was a sight for sore eyes. “I guess I’d just have to wait ‘till your friend Scooter comes.”
She balled her hands at her side. “I’d think you’d have a little consideration for my reputation.”
His eyebrows quirked upward. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“How do you think it looks for a woman to entertain a man that’s not her husband?”
She’d not yet told anyone of Richard’s death. She didn’t want friends and neighbors coming to her door to express condolences until after the ranger was long gone.
He shrugged. “Isn’t it a little late to worry about that? Some of your neighbors already know I’m here.”
“I told them my husband sent you here to recover from your bullet wound.”
“Your husband sent me? That might be hard to explain when the truth comes out that he’s dead.”
“That’s my problem.” She tossed her head. “I mean, it Captain.” She grabbed hold of the ladder and gave it a good shaking. “If you don’t come down, I’ll see that you’re stuck up there for good!”
“Why, Mrs. Carnes, is that a threat?”
She glared up at him. “You’ve already had one relapse and I’m not about to take care of you for another. So what’s it gonna be?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll come down, but only on one condition.”
She straightened, hands at her waist. “What?” “You stop calling me captain. My name is Cole.”
“Not gonna happen,” she said. Calling him by his given name would only strengthen the bond between them, and she couldn’t let that happen. It was hard enough trying not to like the man more than was absolutely necessary.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I never name an animal I plan on eating, and I sure don’t aim on naming a man who’ll soon be gone.”
“All right, Mrs. Carnes. Have it your way. But could you at least tell me what your Christian name is? I promise not to use it unless you say it’s okay.”
She chewed on a bottom lip. “Sadie,” she said. “And I don’t want you calling me that, you hear?”
“Nice name,” he said. “It suits you.”
She didn’t know what he meant by that and she wasn’t about to ask. “So what’s it gonna be, Captain?” She grabbed hold of the ladder and rattled it. “You coming down or ain’t you?”
“Oh, I’ll come down, Mrs. Carnes. But only because I don’t want you complaining about me to your dead husband.”
Short stories and novellas are popular around the holidays. I don’t mind writing short, but I prefer reading full-length novels. Which do you prefer? Also, has a short story ever inspired you to check out the author’s novels?
What do you call Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms?
First published in 1820, Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been terrifying children for almost 200 years. Though the tale of a hapless schoolmaster’s midnight gallop through the New York woods made the phrase “headless horseman” a household term in America, by the time Irving’s story appeared headless horsemen had been staples of European folklore for centuries. German, Irish, Scandinavian, and English legends all offered versions of the ghoulish phantoms, who usually were said to appear to proud, arrogant people as a warning.
Texas has its own gruesome headless horseman legend. Unlike Irving’s unforgettable spook, though, Texas’s headless horseman rode among the living once upon a time.
Some say he still does.
In the summer of 1850, a Mexican bandido by the name of Vidal made an egregious error: He and several compadres rustled a sizable herd of horses from several ranches south of San Antonio. One of the ranches belonged to Texas Ranger Creed Taylor, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence and a man not inclined to forgive his enemies. (Taylor later would be one of the participants in the Sutton-Taylor Feud, a bloody, years-long running gun battle that resulted in four times as many deaths as the better-known fracas between the Hatfields and McCoys.)
Rustling cattle already had earned Vidal’s head a dead-or-alive bounty. Stealing a Texas Ranger’s horses was the proverbial last straw. Together with fellow Ranger William A.A. “Big Foot” Wallace and another local rancher, Taylor set out to put a stop to Vidal’s unbearable insolence.
As a group, the early Texas Rangers were hard men. Tasked with protecting an enormous patch of land rife with outlaws and Indians, the early Rangers were expert trackers, accomplished gunmen, and not opposed to meting out immediate — and often brutal — “frontier justice.” Vidal was about to discover that in a very personal way.
After tracking the bandidos to their camp, Taylor, Wallace, and the third man mounted a surprise attack while the outlaws were asleep. Killing the desperados was not enough for Taylor and Wallace, though. The entire Ranger force was fed up with the rash of rustling plaguing Texas at the time. Not even leaving bodies hanging from trees or hacking them to pieces and using the bits for predator bait had made a strong enough statement.
So, Wallace got creative. After beheading Vidal, he secured the corpse upright on the back of the wildest of the rustled horses, lashed the bandido’s hands to the saddle horn and his feet to the stirrups, and tied the stirrups beneath the animal’s belly. Just to make sure anyone who saw the ghoulish specter got the message, he looped a rawhide thong through the head’s jaws and around Vidal’s sombrero, and slung the bloody bundle from the saddle’s pommel. Then Wallace and his friends sent the terrified mustang galloping off into the night.
Not long thereafter, vaqueros began to report seeing a headless horseman rampaging through the scrub on a dark, wild horse. As sightings spread, some claimed flames shot from the animal’s nostrils and lightning bolts from its hooves. Bullets seemed to have no effect on the grisly marauder. They dubbed the apparition el Muerto — the dead man — and attributed all sorts of evil and misfortune to the mysterious rider.
Eventually, a posse of cowboys brought down the horse at a watering hole near Ben Bolt, Texas. By then the dried-up body had been riddled with bullets and arrows, and the head had shriveled in the sun. The posse laid Vidal’s remains to rest in an unmarked grave on the La Trinidad Ranch. Only then did Wallace and Taylor take public credit for the deed. The episode contributed to Wallace’s reputation and had the intended effect on rustling.
Even the revelation of the truth behind the legend did not end el Muerto’s reign of terror. Until nearby Fort Inge was decommissioned in 1869, soldiers reported seeing a headless rider roaming the countryside around Uvalde, near Taylor’s ranch. Thirty years later, a rise in the ground 250 miles to the southeast, near San Patricio, Texas, was christened Headless Horseman Hill after a wagon train reported an encounter with el Muerto. A sighting occurred in 1917 outside San Diego, Texas, and another near Freer in 1969.
El Muerto reportedly still roams the mesquite-covered range in Duval, Jim Wells, and Live Oak counties — still fearsome, still headless, and still reminding those who see him that Texas Rangers didn’t come by their tough-hombre reputation by accident.
I haven’t written any tales about headless horsemen — yet — but ghosts play a significant role in one of my short novellas. Family Tradition is one of two stories that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts.
Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?
Here’s a brief excerpt:
Stone blinked at the apparitions. If not for Madame Minerva’s confirmation, he’d have sworn he was seeing things—and he hadn’t touched a drop of whiskey in weeks.
He eased backward a step.
So did she, sidling up next to him until her hipbone collided with his leg.
The two ghosts floated around the table, one on each side, and planted themselves close enough for Stone to poke a hand through either misty shape. Forcing a swallow down his throat, he squinted at the nearest. He’d been on the receiving end of that old man’s irritated glare far too often.
Heart racing fast enough to outrun a mule with a butt full of buckshot, Stone faded back another step.
The fake gypsy stayed with him, as though she were glued to his side.
The gauzy forms kept pace.
“Emile?” Madame Minerva’s voice squeaked like a schoolgirl’s.
Even on a ghost, disappointment was easy to spot. A pained frown gripped one apparition’s face. “I’m not part of the con any longer, Pansy. You can’t call me father just once?”
Stone ducked his head and tossed the woman a sidelong glance. “Pansy?”
“Said Tombstone,” she hissed.
The second ghost spoke up, his voice strangely hollow but recognizable. “Boy, you got nothin’ to say to your ol’ pop?”
“I uh… I…” Stone’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Thank God, Emile picked up the conversation. “I see my little girl is keeping the family tradition alive.”
“I am.” Pansy’s breathy whisper carried a hint of tears. “Oh, Emile, I wish you had stayed.”
“I’ve been here all along. You just haven’t looked for me before.” Emile’s specter extended a hand to cup his daughter’s cheek. Pansy leaned into the phantom caress.
Stone snatched her before she toppled over. Too late, he discovered she weighed little more than a ghost herself. His grab yanked her off her feet and slammed her into his chest.
He exercised quite a bit more care setting her back on the dirt floor.