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Winchester Warriors

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The Texas Rangers were institutionally birthed in 1874 with the formation of the Frontier Battalion. They were tasked with interdicting Indian incursions into the frontier settlements and dealing with the lawlessness running rampant throughout Texas. In an effort to put a human face on the Rangers, Bob Alexander tells the story of one of the six companies of the Frontier Battalion, Company D. Readers follow the Rangers of Company D as--over time--it transforms from a unit of adventurous boys into a reasonably well-oiled law enforcement machine staffed by career-oriented lawmen. Beginning with their start as Indian fighters against the Comanches and Kiowas, Alexander explores the history of Company D as they rounded up numerous Texas outlaws and cattle thieves, engaged in border skirmishes along the Rio Grande, and participated in notable episodes such as the fence cutter wars. Winchester Warriors is an evenhanded and impartial assessment of Company D and its colorful cadre of Texas Rangers. Their laudable deeds are explored in detail, but by the same token their shameful misadventures are not whitewashed. These Texas Rangers were simply people, good and bad--and sometimes indifferent. This new study, extensively researched in both primary and secondary sources, will appeal to scholars and aficionados of the Texas Rangers and western history.

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Chapter 1 “A carnival of crime and corruption”

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Chapter 1

“A carnival of crime and corruption”

Luke Gournay in Texas Boundaries: Evolution of the State’s Counties writes that Lampasas is a Spanish translation for an English language word: Lilies.1 There is another truism about Lampasas. Despite the genteel sounding name, at nineteenth-century Lampasas, Texas, there were not many lily-livered folks tramping around town or scattered throughout the county of Lampasas. Cobardes (cowards) were in short supply. The town, sitting at an eastern entrance to the enchanting Texas Hill Country, southwest of Waco and northwest of Austin, was “wide open and the saloonkeepers and gamblers had things their own way.” The sporting crowd was nervy, and growing more bold as each day folded into the next, that year of 1873. Legal statutes were but pesky inconveniences. Outside town limits the surrounding countryside was wonderfully productive cow country.

The range country was unfenced. Fattening cattle could during good weather nonchalantly graze on gently rolling uplands, slaking daily thirst in dependable spring-fed creeks sheltered by towering post oaks shading the rich bottom lands. When the mercury plunged, which was not too often, and frost nipped the air, those same limestone creek beds afforded warm and welcoming protection for Lampasas County cattlemen’s walking assets. Problematically those same secretive geographical sanctuaries shielding mamma cows and their newborn calves from nature’s indifference, were also screens for those bent toward a dab of cow stealing. Not so happily Lampasas

 

Chapter 2 “A big six-shooter and a good horse”

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Chapter 2

“A big six-shooter and a good horse”

With gusto, Major Jones began exercising managerial duties and earning his $125 per month salary. There was a lot of work to be done. Six captains, with two lieutenants for each company, had to be found and employed at $100 and $75 per month, respectively.

Thereafter the call would go out for privates desirous of filling the ranks. Non-commissioned officers would be named from that pool.

The quarterly pay checks for sergeants would total $150, corporals and privates $10 per month less. The practical extent of Major Jones’ influence or input into the selection process of subordinate officers is historically foggy. Of course, discounting Governor Coke, the final choice was Adjutant General William Steele’s call. The recruiting of privates was left up to the company captains’ discretion within a framework of explicit guidelines. Although General Order No. 2 was issued over AG Steele’s signature, Major Jones’ behind-the-scenes shaping may be seen by reading between the lines. The unmarried

 

Chapter 3 “I’m shot, sure as hell”

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Chapter 3

“I’m shot, sure as hell”

The morning of July 12, 1874, found Major John B. Jones and his permanently assigned escort detachment in the broken and hilly country northeast of old Fort Belknap, then abandoned, near present day

Graham, Texas.1 Fortuitously they were not the only band of heavily armed horsemen in the sparsely settled frontier neighborhood. In fact, the region was literally crawling with competing cavalries.

The Frontier Battalion commander had managed the arduous overland journey to look over the tactically placed encampment of

Captain George W. Stevens’ Company B. The Texas Ranger camp was in reasonably close proximity to Fort Sill and the loosely superintended tribal reservations in Indian Territory. Known members of

Major Jones’ escort detachment from Company D were John P. Holmes, D. Ross James, William W. Lewis, Horatio Grooms Lee, Walter

M. Robertson, John V. Wheeler, and Edward B. “Ed” Carnal. Their ages averaged 22.8 years.2 Rangers Robertson and Carnal would later narrate in published accounts their experiences of what would become an adventurously harrowing and sad day. Supplementary commentary would be potted in unpublished ranger remembrances.

 

Chapter 4 “I was acting the fool kid”

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Chapter 4

“I was acting the fool kid”

The Company D boys detailed as part of Major Jones’ escort would have a whopping good story to tell upon returning to Menardville, the company’s headquarters station.1 Though they may not have mixed it up with vengeful Kiowas that summer, the main body of Company

D rangers had not been idle. Numerous were the gut-wrenching days each spent forked in the saddle scouting for Indian trails under the commands of Lieutenants Ledbetter and Roberts, and even Captain

Perry himself.2 The Company D fellows would, however, have big news of their very own to share when the escort detachment worked its way back through the section during its next stopover. The month of July 1874 would mark a first for the Frontier Battalion’s Company D: They would make arrests. Their law enforcing career as Texas

Rangers had been set in motion. Not all of the Company D rangers would find it agreeable or personally rewarding work.

On July 29 at Menardville, Captain Perry with a ten-man ranger squadron “aided the Civil Authorities….in bringing Felix

 

Chapter 5 “As yet they’ve harmed no good men”

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Chapter 5

“As yet they’ve harmed no good man”

The boys of Company D were simply attending the schoolroom of hard knocks. Continually they were being pitched into the churning waters of manmade turmoil and indifferently told to either sink or swim. Most of these young Texas Rangers, and it speaks rather well of Company D, were little by little shaking off inexperience, emerging individually as fighting men; together as a cohesive fighting unit. They could not efficiently fight their biggest and most powerful enemy, however: the parsimonious cigar-chomping politicians comfortably shuffling papers behind little maple desks at the other end of Austin’s

Congress Avenue.

The Legislature’s originally authorized budget for funding the

Frontier Battalion and the subject-to-call-out county militia units,

$300,000, was woefully inadequate. The Texas Rangers, not six months into the job, were running out of money. Furnishing the necessary commissary and supplies coupled with meeting demands of a recurring quarterly payroll were undoable if operating in the black was the goal. The first baby-step solution was simplistically clear—a

 

Chapter 6 “They’d killed every damn one of us”

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Chapter 6

“They’d killed every damn one of us”

The peaceful accord reached between the “Germans” and the “Americans” lasted exactly nine days. Then, Timothy P. “Tim” Williamson, a thirty-three-year-old cowman and no virgin when it came to a fracas, was arrested at Castell in Llano County by Mason County Deputy

Johann Anton “John” Wohrle.1 While traveling the road to the jailhouse at Mason, on the morning of May 13, 1875, the deputy’s party was surrounded by masked Hoo Doos who had obviously received an insider’s tip-off. Deputy Wohrle’s true colors were revealed when he shot Williamson’s horse out from under his captive to keep Tim from taking flight and escaping summary justice.2 Subsequently, acting as Sheriff Clark’s henchman, Wohrle idly stood by while his horseless prisoner was mercilessly gunned down by a worked-up vigilante.

Peter Bader was then and is now the suspected triggerman.3 Later,

Heinrich “Henry” Doell, Sr., was mortally ambushed by unknown parties—some say Indians, others say white men—and the so called ferocious Mason County or Hoo Doo War raged on. By this time it really wasn’t a war, but had degenerated into a brutal feud: blood for blood, eye for an eye!4 It too was a hands-off, look-the-other-way, sad state of affairs for Lieutenant Dan Roberts and, correspondingly, the

 

Chapter 7 “Buckskin officials in full blast”

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Chapter 7

“Buckskin officials in full blast”

While it is abundantly clear Lieutenant Ira Long’s platoon of Texas

Rangers continued to garner the good will of many Mason County folks, it does not signify the boys of Company D were relegated to the ash heap of Hill Country doings.1 To the contrary—and commendably—from the Menardville base camp they were industriously scouting for fresh sign of Indian incursions and, too, warily feeling their way onto another front: transitioning into one of the state’s long-reaching law enforcing tentacles. During the first month of

1876, not two full years into existence, the Company D rangers had made nine felony arrests. Legal infractions ran the gamut: Willfully

Allowing A Prisoner to Escape Custody, Swindling, Handling Stolen

Cattle, Theft of Cattle, Bond Forfeiture, and Murder.2 Sometimes a local gendarme was downright overwhelmed. Menard County’s sheriff, J. M. Blakey, wrote to Lieutenant Roberts asking for help: “the parties in charge of the herd are well armed & refuse to give up the cattle and it being almost impossible for me to make the Seizure by myself, would most respectfully request of you to furnish me with ten men to assist me in furthering the ends of Justice.”3 The overwrought sheriff received the manpower boost from the Texas Rangers, and the “alleged” thieves were arrested.4 The ends of Justice had been served. Not only were the Company D boys now being called to hurriedly saddle up and chase after rustlers and robbers, frequently their services were rendered to local authorities when extra manpower was necessary for guarding and/or transporting prisoners.5

 

Chapter 8 “Or borrow from some of the men”

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Chapter 8

“Or borrow from some of the men”

Lieutenant Moore’s command was not short of work. There was plenty. Herds of suspected stolen cattle were held for closer inspection, citizens’ reports of alleged Indian depredations poured in compelling highly mobile and exhausting horseback searches, and local lawmen continually made known their want for a detachment of rangers to help out with this or that tribulation.1 One such request even caught the governor’s attention:

Domingo Calderon, a Mexican of Bad Character who committed a murder in this County [Tom Greene] two years since is now in this neighborhood with fifteen men from Del Monte,

Mexico. Horse stealing and perhaps murder his object[.] Could you not send a detachment of State troops here to arrest him?2

Not unexpectedly, some stuff rolls downhill—like a constituent’s plea to the governor. Right fast, the next day, Major Jones telegraphed Lieutenant Moore to without delay send ten Company

D rangers to Fort Concho and “arrest Domingo Calderon, a Mexican, and assist the civil authorities.”3 Not long thereafter he penned another August 1877 missive to the beleaguered Lieutenant Moore, telling him that once Company D had been reorganized on September 1, he must lead a patrol and check into allegations that “Creed

 

Chapter 9 “Walked into his own trap”

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Chapter 9

“Walked into his own trap”

As the new year of 1880 kicked off, it may be reported that since the Frontier Battalion’s formation in 1874 several rangers had made the ultimate sacrifice. Five had been killed by Indians; two more by rioting Mexicanos during the recklessly wasteful El Paso Salt War; and one by former members of the Seminole/Negro Indian scouts by some accounts, or Tenth Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers in other versions.

Anglo adversaries, Kiowas, and south of the border bandits, and the

Company D rangers, of course, had locked up in ticklish situations, too. But, thus far those ranks had come through the maelstroms sans any funerals. Such could not be said for many of their brothers of the badge, the city and county officers. For that same time period the good folks of Texas lost a total of sixteen lawmen killed in the line of duty, fellows from municipal police agencies, sheriffs’ departments, and the precinct constables’ offices.1 Texas had more than her fair share of rough and ready rascals, badmen and wanna-be badmen who had cut their teeth on blue-steeled six-shooters and soothed their bleeding gums with sour-mash. They didn’t all come from the headwaters of Bitter Creek—but they could have.

 

Chapter 10 “Got drunk often, and stayed drunk long”

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Chapter 10

“Got drunk often, and stayed drunk long”

Although written documentation is elusive there really is little doubt

Captain Roberts had undervalued the antipathy of Menard County’s electorate. Dan Roberts’ Texas Hill Country standing as a gutsy

Indian fighter was rock solid. Citizens throughout Texas—those that were paying attention—could easily conclude Captain Roberts was also overseeing Company D’s transformation into a well seasoned brotherhood of peace officers. Conversely, for good or bad,

Roberts didn’t have any political muscle power. Just as fuzzy are N.

O. Reynolds’ true thoughts when he learned that Dan Roberts had now undergone a change of heart and would tightly clutch control of

Company D.

Even cursory examination of Company D’s Monthly Returns and other official correspondence with Texas Ranger headquarters at Austin is illuminating. These records reveal the men of Company D were almost constantly scouting or assisting local sheriffs as guardians of the District Courts when in session. Fresh reports of cattle rustling poured into the Texas Ranger camp at an alarming rate. Their hard days and long nights spent in the saddle chasing after badmen—and sometimes catching them—is worthy of esteem. Often as not they returned to camp empty-handed. Making an arrest is never routine.

 

Chapter 11 “Smoke boiled from that gentleman’s gun”

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Chapter 11

“Smoke boiled from that gentleman’s gun”

Realizing practical advantages of disbursing his troops, especially after the triumphs of the West Texas detachment, Captain Sieker deployed a three-man squad to Eagle Pass, Maverick County, straight across the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.1 After assuming their post, Texas Rangers assigned to Eagle Pass demonstrated their worth to Maverick County Sheriff Tom Oglesby, the former commander of Company F. In but short order they made a number of significant arrests for Theft of Cattle, Smuggling, Assault to Murder, and Assault and Battery. Prisoners were quickly turned over to Sheriff Oglesby for safekeeping until their appearance before a judge.2

Tom Oglesby’s quitting the Texas Rangers had sparked a political firestorm, one touching Company D. Although himself a candidate in a hotly contested bid for sheriff of La Salle County, Charles

Brown “C. B.” McKinney, Oglesby’s lieutenant, was given command of Company F, at least until the shrievalty matter was settled. In the end, after a second county election, C. B. McKinney won the prize.

 

Chapter 12 “A deplorable mistake on both sides”

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Chapter 12

“A deplorable mistake on both sides”

After the Menard County sojourn at Camp Johnson, Captain Sieker moved the Company D base back to Camp Leona in Uvalde County— briefly. The company was ordered back to the border country—cow stealers and killers were running wild. Sheriff Oglesby was overwhelmed, bandits and bandidos shamelessly jumped back and forth across the Rio Grande with no fear of apprehension. In adjoining

Dimmit County, the sheriff, Joe Tumlinson, had launched a search and destroy mission after Mexican horse thieves, chasing them across the river—only to be chased right back.1 Along the river sovereignty had meaning to diplomats and military attachés; but it was a meaningless notion to thugs lying low in the sweltering tangle of willows, canebrakes, and cattails. The governor directed Adjutant

General King and Texas Rangers to tidy up the mess.2

The chicanery was so hot it had sparked a parley in the middle of the river on a neutral sandbar, Las Isles, between Texas Ranger bigwigs and Mexican jefes. Looking on from both banks of the Rio

 

Chapter 13 “A dynamite cartridge under the saloon”

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Chapter 13

“A dynamite cartridge under the saloon”

Dawn may have broken for a new decade, but the history of Company

D reveals some things remained unchanged. Texas Rangers, in most instances, were not making state service a career. Again, comparing two Company D Muster Rolls is illustrative. A 1890 roster contains but one name that was listed on a 1885 Muster Roll, that of Frank

Jones who had managed the evolution from lieutenant to captain.

There was, however, one dynamic that merits mention. On the Muster Roll for 1890 there are as many unpaid Special Rangers as there are salaried Texas Rangers.1 Two aspects of Texas Ranger lore were rooted too deeply for any change: peril and politics.

The policing of people can be a markedly hazardous line of work, which 1890 will confirm in spades for the Texas Rangers of Company

D. Corporal James R. Robinson had that message driven home during the year’s first month. Robinson, in charge of a three-man detail, had been sent to Sonora, Sutton County, to keep the peace in an asof-yet unorganized county. The town, ninety miles due north of Del

 

Chapter 14 “Compelled to do some killing”

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Chapter 14

“Compelled to do some killing”

The case had been closed on Gus Jones, too. Although it troubled him, Captain Jones fired his cousin along with Private J. L. Faubin.

The fellows had failed to properly maintain respective nighttime watches, leaving the camp unguarded. There were excuses of course, but they fell on deaf ears.1 The booming reports of Winchesters, however, were heard by Captain Jones. January 1892 was a killing month for men of Company D.

At Shafter mining executives were beside themselves. Ore was mysteriously and systematically being stolen—by the pack train load, no doubt crossed into Mexico for refinement. The losses, dollar wise, had been staggering. Corporal John Hughes was tasked with putting a cap, or popping a cap, on the problem. On the sly Hughes contacted

Ernest St. Leon, the ex-Texas Ranger, who was then living and working at Shafter. Either operating undercover, which St. Leon excelled at, or through the deft cultivation of a confidential informant with key information, Ernest learned who the thieves were and when they would strike next. The crucial intelligence was passed to Hughes. On the night of January 12 Corporal Hughes, riding his eight-year-old dun branded IVP, and twenty-seven-year-old Private Alonzo Van

 

Chapter 15 “But such is life in the far west”

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Chapter 15

“But such is life in the far west”

The early 1890s may have been a period when Company D Texas

Rangers were compelled to do some killing, but as time ticked toward an upcoming century mark gunfire would still be a constant reminder lawmen ever walked a tightrope precariously stretched between complacency and calamity. Aside from Company D’s tragic losses of Fusselman, Garvis, and Jones, two other Texas Rangers, these from Company E, had made the ultimate sacrifice during a

1890–1893 bracket. Ranger R. E. Doaty had been killed during a resurgence of the “Garza Troubles,” and Private J. W. Woods fell off the face of the earth in Menard County while working a case on ruthless cow thieves, his undercover identify somehow compromised.

Others, too, had given up the ghost in the hard law enforcing game; two county constables, five city policemen, and ten sheriffs or their deputies had been killed.1 Company D’s Private Oden was the first for 1894 to hear the booming report of ignited gunpowder and feel a piercing pain in his foot. He had accidentally shot himself on New

 

Chapter 16 “Wants us in the parade”

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Chapter 16

“Wants us in the parade”

For the Texas Rangers of Company D, 1897 had ended on a sour note. Privates Wood Saunders, Sam Newberry, and Ernest St. Leon, who was back on the Muster Roll as a state paid Texas Ranger as of

October 1, jointly arrested fugitive Harry (Henry) English. He had been sought by New Mexico Territory authorities for an undisclosed criminal act, but was wanted in Llano County, Texas, for Bigamy.

The closest jailhouse after making their sweep down the Rio Grande had been at Ysleta, and that is where the three Texas Rangers lodged their prisoner. During the night, in a pigheaded escape attempt,

Harry English set fire to his cell trying to burn a hole to freedom on ­Christmas Day. “He could not control the fire and the Jail was burned down and he was burned to death with it.”1 Harry English’s demise was not a good omen for Company D’s upcoming year and its fluctuating cast of Texas Rangers.

As surprising as it might seem, even a State of Texas agency was wanting their man enrolled as a member of Company D—as a

 

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