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Riding Lucifer's Line

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The Texas-Mexico border is trouble. Haphazardly splashing across the meandering Rio Grande into Mexico is—or at least can be—risky business, hazardous to one's health and well-being. Kirby W. Dendy, the Chief of Texas Rangers, corroborates the sobering reality: "As their predecessors for over one hundred forty years before them did, today's Texas Rangers continue to battle violence and transnational criminals along the Texas-Mexico border." In Riding Lucifer's Line, Bob Alexander, in his characteristic storytelling style, surveys the personal tragedies of twenty-five Texas Rangers who made the ultimate sacrifice as they scouted and enforced laws throughout borderland counties adjacent to the Rio Grande. The timeframe commences in 1874 with formation of the Frontier Battalion, which is when the Texas Rangers were actually institutionalized as a law enforcing entity, and concludes with the last known Texas Ranger death along the border in 1921. Alexander also discusses the transition of the Rangers in two introductory sections: "The Frontier Battalion Era, 1874-1901" and "The Ranger Force Era, 1901-1935," wherein he follows Texas Rangers moving from an epochal narrative of the Old West to more modern, technological times. Written absent a preprogrammed agenda, Riding Lucifer's Line is legitimate history. Adhering to facts, the author is not hesitant to challenge and shatter stale Texas Ranger mythology. Likewise, Alexander confronts head-on many of those critical Texas Ranger histories relying on innuendo and gossip and anecdotal accounts, at the expense of sustainable evidence--writings often plagued with a deficiency of rational thinking and common sense. Riding Lucifer's Line is illustrated with sixty remarkable old-time photographs. Relying heavily on archived Texas Ranger documents, the lively text is authenticated with more than one thousand comprehensive endnotes.

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Introduction to Part I - The Frontier Battalion Era, 1874–1901

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The Frontier Battalion Era, 1874 – 1901

1

Introduction to Part I

The Frontier Battalion Era

1874–1901

Setting the chronological and geographical stage seems but obligatory before tackling the challenge of recounting true-life Texas

Ranger stories within an anthology. By and large it is acknowledged that birth of the Texas Rangers—as a legit law enforcement agency—can be traced to 1874 when the Frontier Battalion and Special Force were legislatively built and launched. To say there were no

Rangers prior to that—besides being Texas blasphemy—would simply be historically erroneous. Ranging companies dating to the days of Stephen F. Austin during the early 1820s are a genuine part of rilling camthe Lone Star State’s abundant and unique portfolio.1 Th paigns pitting part-time Rangers against barbaric marauding Indians raiding the Texans’ farms and ranches, or, from that other perspective, peacefully disposed Indians resisting wild-eyed and merciless

Anglos invading their territory, is meat on the bone for generic and often slanted treatments of Texas history. Perspective does matter.

 

Chapter 1. Sonny Smith, 1875

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Sonny Smith

1875

Sonny Smith’s death earned him distinction. It was not a highly sought-for spot in the Lone Star State’s overall history, but nevertheless a unique spot. Th e seventeen-year-old Ranger was the youngest

Texas peace offi cer to forfeit his life in the line of duty—by gunfi re.1

And not surprisingly the tragedy took place while the teenager was riding the Devil’s line.

Smith was very much a real Texas Ranger in the Special Force, a rookie private in Leander Harvey McNelly’s hard-riding and some ough his initials were L. B. the times high-handed company.2 Th young Ranger was popularly known as Sonny, and occasionally as

Berry, name designations as yet to be fully and satisfactorily untangled, as is Captain McNelly referring to him as Benjamin and L. B. or

Texas Ranger George Durham calling him Febe.3 Factually, as previously stated, Sonny was the youngest lawman in McNelly’s company and somewhat ironically his father D. R. “Dad” Smith was the oldest.

 

Chapter 2. John E. McBride and Conrad E. Mortimer,1877

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

John E. McBride and Conrad E. Mortimer

1877

Th e earthly life of Texas Ranger Sonny Smith had been snuff ed out near one end of Lucifer’s Line. For this narrative the geographical setting moves upstream to an arena just as wild and woolly, but much farther removed from the Texas seat of government. As the story unfolds in El Paso County it will not go unnoticed that this isolation from legislative hallways and the governor’s offi ce contributed to brouhaha of epic proportion in the writings of history, even for

Texas. Hard truths about the El Paso Salt War are readily retrievable and often misunderstood. Misinterpreting or manipulating or massaging facts is not a rare practice for agenda-driven scribes. Optimistically this try at recounting Ranger McBride’s and Mortimer’s journey along Lucifer’s Line will set fi rmly the pilings of historical transparency.

Ambitiously El Paso County—in the fi rst instance—had been one of four surveys lopping off land when Texas claimed a boundary stretching to headwaters of the Rio Grande in Colorado. Ultimately a compromise was reached ceding the two northernmost subdivisions and the boundary line readjusted so that El Paso County, as it does today, is bordered by the country of Mexico and the state of New

 

Chapter 3. Samuel “Sam” Frazier, 1878

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Samuel “Sam” Frazier, 1878

Chapter 3

Samuel “Sam” Frazier

1878

Twenty-four-year-old Sam Frazier, a North Carolinian from Randolph County by birth, was one of those privates in John B. Tays’ detachment of Texas Rangers, having enlisted on November 21, 1877.

Swearing his oath at San Elizario, Frazier tendered his horse for the required neutral appraisal. It must not have been a hot-blooded thoroughbred. Th e gelding was marked down as being worth $60.1

Sam Frazier would be the pattern for the type of Texas Ranger one would want by his side during a serious diffi culty, gunplay. Th at

Sam was reasonably handy with a six-shooter is backed up by his contemporaries who with envy boasted Frazier “was the best shot in the company with a revolver.”2 But, once the tunnel of immediate danger had been passed through, giving Sam Frazier a wide berth was smart. He was not a likeable fellow. In fact, as one Ranger who knew him well remarked, Sam was “abusive and insulting,” classifying him

 

Chapter 4. George R. “Red” Bingham, 1880

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George R.“Red” Bingham, 1880

Chapter 4

George R.“Red” Bingham

1880

Bad news would break from the border country. Reverberations scorched across Texas in a heartbeat, well, in the pulsations of a telegrapher’s fast-tapping fi nger. Outlaws were on the loose in far

West Texas. And, they were a nasty set indeed.

Less than thirty days had elapsed in the new year of 1880 and already a Trans-Pecos county sheriff was hollering for help.1 Heavily armed bands of highjackers and cow thieves were rampantly gaining the upper hand, outshooting, outdistancing, and outfoxing local lawmen. Th ese bad boys “were some pretty desperate characters … that did not value their lives anymore than you would a pin.”2 By one report fourteen or fi fteen “robberies and assaults” had been committed in but one town, inside of one month.3 Not only were West Texas peace offi cers crying for relief, county administrators and private citizens were petitioning the chief executive at Austin.4

 

Chapter 5. Frank Sieker, 1885

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Frank Sieker, 1885

Chapter 5

Frank Sieker

1885

For genealogical lineage few families come near matching the contributions to Texas Ranger history as do the Siekers. Four of Dr.

Edward Armon Sieker’s sons would—at one time or another—enlist in the Frontier Battalion’s memorable Company D, a frontline unit with more than its fair share of ultimate sacrifi ces. Th e oldest of the four Ranger brothers was Lamartine Pemberton Sieker, best known to history as Lamar, but family, friends, and fellow Rangers simply called him Lam. Lam Sieker, a charter member of Company D, would rise through the ranks to a captaincy, and then assistant adjutant general of the state. Edward Armon Sieker, Jr., likewise was a Company D charter member, attaining the rank of sergeant, a position he held while leading the Presidio County chase after Jessie Evans’ gang and the subsequent gunplay wherein Ranger Red Bingham gave up the ghost. While age-wise Tom Sieker fi t between brothers Lamar and Ed, his entry date as a Company D Ranger was early on, too,

 

Chapter 6. Charles H. V. Fusselman, 1890

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Charles H. V. Fusselman, 1890

Chapter 6

Charles H. V. Fusselman

1890

John Wayne and Jeff Bridges playing the part of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn undeniably owned a plateful of true grit—on the Silver Screen. For a catchy stage moniker the subject of this sixshooter vignette may have very well been outnamed, but not outgunned. Charles Henry Vanvalkenburg “Charley” Fusselman was the real deal, a Texas Ranger with documentable true grit. And, lots of it!

Charley Fusselman was not a native Texan. Th e son of a carpenter and farmer, Charley was born on the sixteenth day of July 1866 in Greenbush, Sheboygan County, which lay on the eastern edge of Wisconsin touching Lake Michigan. By the time he was a teenager the family had relocated to Texas, fi rst settling near Corpus

Christi, but then moving to nearby Live Oak County (George West), close to Lagarto in the southern section of the county.1 With salty

Gulf breezes blowing west across brushy plains carrying necessary moisture, Live Oak County, at the time, was cow country—good cow country. Stagecoaches running back and forth between Corpus

 

Chapter 7. John F. Gravis, 1890

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John F. Gravis, 1890

Chapter 7

John F. Gravis

1890

Downstream from its fl ow through gigantic Presidio County the

Rio Grande makes its most prominent dip—the big bend—in the extreme southern section of Brewster County. Both counties mutually share geographical designation: Th e Big Bend Country. Th e seat of government for Presidio County is Marfa, sixty miles due north from the river.1 Situated on Cibola Creek, southeast of the rocky

Chinati Mountains’ foothills, between the blustery border town of

Presidio and the county seat is Shafter, only eighteen miles above the

Rio Grande. In its heyday Shafter was booming—literally.

At the time this ill-fated story unfolds bitter legal rows over land titles had already been resolved by the Texas Supreme Court.

Th e Presidio & Cibola Mining Company was now, 1890, in full swing, employing near 300 men, mostly of Mexican ancestry. Silver ore was the product, profi t was the game.2 A workforce of lonesome men is manageable providing there is an escape valve for venting off the steam. An eighteen-mile horseback ride to Presidio or crossing the river into Ojinaga for purposes of lustful indulgence was not an everyday undertaking, not for men working twelve-hour shifts. Th e forty-two mile excursion to lively Marfa for satisfying such personal wants or needs was out of the question. Solution for such misery was ubiquitously easy throughout the American frontier West, Presidio

 

Chapter 8. Robert E. Doaty, 1892

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Robert E. Doaty, 1892

Chapter 8

Robert E. Doaty

1892

Coincidence is astonishing on the one hand, perplexing on the other.

At this late date with names already hand-carved into marble markers memorializing fallen peace offi cers, this rundown will accept written tradition and use the name Doaty as it appears in certain Texas

Ranger records, though his real birth name was Robert E. Doughty.1

Th e Texas Ranger killed in the previous chapter, John F. Gravis, and the protagonist in this one were relatives—of a sort—cousins by marriage. Whether she was a widow or divorcee is immaterial, but the mother of our new subject, Elizabeth Doughty, had married Frances

C. “Frank” Gravis, brother of Charles K. Gravis, father of the Ranger gunned down at Shafter. At the time of the 1870 federal census both families were residents of South Texas. Th irty-three-year-old Frank was living near Concepcion, Duval County, and twenty-six-year-old

Charley in nearby Nuecestown, Nueces County picking up mail at

 

Chapter 9. Frank Jones, 1893

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Frank Jones, 1893

Chapter 9

Frank Jones

1893

Th e maelstrom of calls to establish a Texas Ranger presence in El Paso

County was mounting as the third year of the 1890s opened. Sitting members of the El Paso County grand jury had submitted their petition to the governor on the last day of January requesting protection from “the depredations of criminal characters who fl it across e next day, the county sheriff , Frank B. Simmons, the frontier.”1 Th made his thoughts and assessments known to the adjutant general.2

Two weeks later George W. Baylor, a former Ranger commander and infl uential Texas politico, piped in with his alarming message. He was particularly incensed about the murder of two fellows just the day before, and was claiming that the “theft of horses and cattle is nearly an everyday matter.” Furthermore, Baylor, if it were left up to him, would not let any blasted international limits squelch a damn good fi ght, pointedly reminding: “Th e men who Killed Fussleman

 

Chapter 10. Joseph McKidrict, 1894

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Joseph McKidrict, 1894

Chapter 10

Joseph McKidrict

1894

New Year’s Day of 1894 opened with an ear-splitting bang for some

Company D Rangers stationed in West Texas. Handling fi rearms, an everyday task for career lawmen, is best carried out with due caution. Private Alonzo “Lon” Van Oden carelessly mishandled his Colt’s six-shooter that fi rst day of January. He “accidently shot him self in the foot.”1 Even his captain, John Reynolds Hughes, at a later date, would similarly suff er the physical hurt and emotional humiliation of a self-infl icted accidental gunshot wound: one to the “right foot from the inside.”2 All too soon other shots would be heard: No rehabilitation period with crutches for Texas Rangers would be necessary.

Hardcore details of Joseph W. “Joe” McKidrict’s childhood are scant. Th ere are, however, a couple of particulars worthy of mention.

Joe’s father had been killed by Indians, and his mother, Samantha

Howell McKidrict, had tied the matrimonial knot a second time. She had married Alby O. Cooley, “a prominent attorney and member of the Texas legislature.”3 In those early days in and around Austin, Joe was known by his stepfather’s surname, but according to the best evidence now at hand a formal adoption process had never been initiated. At sometime during the maturation process Joe began having thoughts of moving west. As a young man Joe McKidrict migrated to the Big Bend country perhaps with a plan for his future in mind, perhaps not. For the West Texas sojourn Joe had reverted to using the name given him at birth. After working a stint pulling guard duty at the mines Joe put his name into the hopper for a Texas Ranger job on July 8, 1893, along with applicant Joseph R. Sitter.4 Captain John

 

Chapter 11. Ernest St. Leon, 1898

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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Ernest St. Leon

1898

Looks can be deceiving. In police work it is smart not to be fooled by appearance; the wolf may be wearing a sheep’s clothing. Harmlessness or dangerousness cannot be accurately registered with a glance.

Baby-faced Ernest St. Leon is paradigm. He would carry the childlike look of innocence into adulthood, but rest assured, throughout the

Texas/Mexican borderlands St. Leon wore the stripes of a prowling tiger. He owned an overabundance of stamina and courage, enough to underwrite near any challenge a mortal human could throw down. Ernest thrived on—lived for—taking risks others couldn’t or wouldn’t endure.

Born at San Antonio circa the late 1860s, Ernest’s mother was an English immigrant and, purportedly, his father was a politically active Frenchman of blueblood linage who had sought refuge in

America.1 An assertion that Ernest had “received a good education and was naturally bright” and that he was “intellectually above the average man” can be legitimately sustained by cursory inspection of primary source documents penned in his own hand. At some point in his maturation process Ernest studied law under the tutelage of the prominent Texas attorney Trevanion Th eodore “T. T.” Teel.2

 

Introduction to Part II - The Ranger Force Era, 1901–1935

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The Ranger Force Era, 1901 – 1935

Introduction to Part II

The Ranger Force Era

1901–1935

From time to time citing random facts can prove thought-provoking.

Markedly, such is the case within the framework of Riding Lucifer’s

Line. As noted in closing the preceding chapter, Ernest “Diamond

Dick” St. Leon was the last nineteenth-century Texas Ranger killed in action. His passing did not, however, register as the last Texas

Ranger to give up the ghost while serving with the Frontier Battalion.

Th at history will belong to another Ranger. For this narrative it’s not unfi tting to note that since the 1874 birthday of the Frontier Battalion, Company D, St. Leon’s unit, would mortally forfeit more Texas

Rangers than any of the other companies. And it’s not out of place to mention that twice as many Rangers were killed along the border as within the state’s interior counties during that same turn of time.

Notwithstanding that the 1800s were but now days left for historians to dissect, Texas Rangers were yet living in real time and still facing real tests. Armchair thinkers looking backwards have opportunity to capriciously draw imaginary timelines. For everyday Rangers posted in the borderlands crossing a line from one century to the other was, as a practical matter, meaningless. Riding Lucifer’s Line is but at the halfway point. Th e new century’s opening year would hasten bitter news for a Texas Ranger’s family and for the Frontier Battalion. A deathbed would receive both.

 

Chapter 12. W. Emmett Robuck, 1902

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W. Emmett Robuck, 1902

Chapter 12

W. Emmett Robuck

1902

Emmett Robuck’s family tree was fashioned from sturdy oak. Service in the Confederacy had claimed the life of his paternal grandfather.

Emmett’s father Elias A. “Berry” Robuck was a fi rst-rate stockman, having early on gathered and trailed cattle into the faraway Rocky

Mountain country while but a lad of sixteen years. Of this particular trip, one of many up the well-worn cattle trails, Berry recalled:

I made my fi rst trip up the trail to Utah Territory with old man

Coleman Jones, who was boss for a herd belonging to Colonel Jack

Meyers. Th is herd was put up at the Smith & Wimberly ranch in

Gillespie County. I gained wonderful experience on this trip in the stampede, high water, hailstorms, thunder and lightning which played on the horns of the cattle and on my horse’s ears. We suffered from cold and hunger and often slept on wet blankets and wore wet clothing for several days and nights at a time, but it was all in the game, and we were compensated for the unpleasant things by the sport of roping buff alo and seeing sights we had never seen before.1

 

Chapter 13. Thomas Jefferson Goff, 1905

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Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Thomas Jefferson Goff

1905

Although he would become a genuine Lone Star State cowboy, Th omas

Jeff erson “Tom” Goff could not lay claim to Texas as his birthplace.

Tom Goff came into the world at Keetsville, Barry County, Missouri.

Keetsville no longer registers on the roadmap. Th e quiet little Ozark

Mountain town in the southwestern quadrant of the state, just north of the Missouri/Arkansas line, now renamed Washburn, has somewhat confused the scant retellings of Tom Goff ’s thrilling life’s story.1

At about age eighteen months, after his March 11, 1871, birthday, toddler Tom accompanied his parents James M. and Nellie Goff back to Texas, where they had previously lived, having been married in

Cherokee County (Rusk) on October 8, 1866. With an evident touch of wanderlust in his veins James settled his burgeoning family in surveyed but yet to be organized Jones County, almost in the shadows of abandoned Fort Phantom Hill’s ghostlike towering and yetstanding stone chimneys. Th e county was hardly inhabited, except for Indians and buff alo. Illustratively, the legendary hide-hunter J.

 

Chapter 14. Quirl Bailey Carnes, 1910

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Quirl Bailey Carnes, 1910

Chapter 14

Quirl Bailey Carnes

1910

Texas history of the family Carnes can be written in blood. Th eir epic story of Lone Star adventures is punctuated with bullets. Th e oldest of three law-enforcing brothers, Alfred Burton Carnes, held twenty-year tenure as the elected sheriff in Wilson County, southeastern neighbor of the Alamo City in Bexar County.1 Herff Alexander Carnes, two years younger, would see service as a Company D

Texas Ranger and U.S. Mounted Customs Inspector in West Texas, surviving the Culberson County gunfi ght which claimed the life of

Pascual Orozco, Jr. and four suspected desperadoes, only to be killed e focus of later by Mexican smugglers crossing the Rio Grande.2 Th this chapter is on the youngest brother, Quirl Bailey Carnes.

Hardly a whole year had elapsed since the June 1, 1884, birthday of Quirl, when the shiretown honors for Wilson County were wrested away from Lodi and formally awarded to Floresville. West of the county seat by twelve miles was the tiny community of Fairview, ough it’s but a ghost the generally professed birthplace of Quirl.3 Th of its former self, Fairview, at one time, could lay claim to having

 

Chapter 15. Grover Scott Russell, 1913

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Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Grover Scott Russell

1913

Seesawing back to the other end of the Texas/Mexican border is where another sad story will in due course play out. Stephenville,

Erath County, Texas, was the birthplace of Grover Scott Russell, popularly known as Scott, but he would earn Ranger pay in faraway West

Texas, primarily scouting along Lucifer’s Line in El Paso County.

Samuel Nicholas “Sam” Russell and Clara May (Chastain) Russell were proud parents of eight, Scott being the second child and the fi rst-born son, greeting the world on the second day of December

1887.1 Sam Russell was a full-time farmer and part-time deputy for

Erath County Sheriff John Chesley Gilbreath. Somewhat later he gave up his deputyship and was elected to the position of Erath County

Constable.2 Reportedly, Sam went about his law enforcement duties armed with a long-barreled six-shooter once belonging to the notorious Bloody Bill Longley, the self-promoting Texas rascal hanged at

 

Chapter 16. Eugene B. Hulen, 1915

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Eugene B. Hulen, 1915

Chapter 16

Eugene B. Hulen

1915

Th e native Texan warranting a spot in this coverage of bloodshed along the Rio Grande was product of a border county—just not a

Mexican border county. Eugene B. Hulen had been born in Cooke

County (Gainesville) adjacent to the Red River, the dividing line separating Texas and Oklahoma. Eugene’s parents, Harvey and Frances

“Fannie” Hulen, could rightly be proud of their family’s contribution to Lone Star State history. Th eir fi rst-born, John Augustus Hulen, would serve for a time as the adjutant general of Texas, the Rangers headman, and as brigadier general of the National Guard. During

1879 the month of March blew in with the breath of a proverbial lion and made her exodus leaving behind the gentleness of a lamb’s bleat—and baby Eugene, seven years junior to his oldest brother.1

Eugene would grow to manhood topping out at a middling fi vefoot, nine-inches, underneath a crop of light brown hair. Unlike so many fellows heretofore profi led, Eugene was not a career cowboy shielding his fair complexion and blue-grey eyes from beneath a wide-brimmed hat, spending long days and longer nights in a slickforked Texas stock saddle. Nope, Eugene Hulen was for the biggest portion of his allotted time as an adult, a “contractor.”2 Contracting for what is left unanswered, and for the unwinding episode at hand, really not too signifi cant. Th ere is, however, a critical point demanding explanation and consideration.

 

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