Medium 9781574415858

Texas Ranger N. O. Reynolds: The Intrepid

Views: 1200
Ratings: (0)

Historians Chuck
Parsons and Donaly E. Brice present a complete picture of N. O. Reynolds
(1846-1922), a Texas Ranger who brought a greater respect for the law in
Central Texas. Reynolds began as a sergeant in famed Company D, Frontier
Battalion in 1874. He served honorably during the Mason County "Hoo
Doo" War and was chosen to be part of Major John B. Jones's escort,
riding the frontier line. In 1877 he arrested the Horrells, who were feuding
with their neighbors, the Higgins party, thus ending their Lampasas County
feud. Shortly thereafter he was given command of the newly formed Company E
of Texas Rangers.

List price: $29.95

Your Price: $23.96

You Save: 20%


19 Chapters

Format Buy Remix

1. Continuing the Warrior Tradition




“Private in Company B, 147th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.”

—Orcelus Reynolds

Moonlight rays fell on the sentinel’s Winchester, creating glimmers of light in the camp of the sleeping men. A young Texas Ranger paced the ground nervously, realizing the urgency of his guard. He had to protect the horses and the other Rangers, but he also had to prevent the mobs from taking the prisoner . . . and more importantly prevent him from escaping. John Wesley Hardin was the prisoner guarded so closely, the man-killer for whose capture Rangers John Armstrong and Jack Duncan earned a reward of $4,000. Hardin had been the most wanted man in Texas, but now he was a prisoner in the camp of Lieutenant N. O. Reynolds. It was abundant glory for the Rangers, but what if Hardin should escape? What if he was mobbed by friends of his victims? Who would pay for the carelessness?

Texas Ranger Lt. N. O. Reynolds, known as the “Intrepid” by fellow Ranger James Buchanan Gillett and history, is not among the better known of the nineteenth-century lawmen. No other biographies have appeared before, and the few articles discussing his most noted exploits reveal him only in the reflected light of the outlaws he pursued and captured. During his lifetime, however, especially during the 1870s and 1880s, he was widely recognized as an intrepid lawman. He had risen steadily on the ladder of law enforcement, beginning as a jail guard, then serving as a sergeant in the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers, then rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commanding of Company E. Later he was city marshal of Lampasas and then sheriff of Lampasas County. His experiences were extensive, and during his career he earned the respect of countless Texans, the lawless and the law-abiding alike.


2. Joining the Frontier Battalion




“[O]nly sound young men without families and with good horses will be received.”

—Adj. Gen. William Steele, May 6, 1874

Orcelus Reynolds was mustered out of the Union Army at Springfield, Illinois, in late January 1866. He then traveled 100 miles north to join his family in Coleta where he resided for three years. It must have been a happy reunion; many families suffered the loss of a son or father, or a brother, but the Reynolds family was whole once again. Unfortunately father Hiram Reynolds died in November of 1866, of unknown causes. With the head of household gone, there was little to hold the family together. The widow Reynolds and daughters Louisa, Ella, and Edla moved back to Granville Center, Pennsylvania. Emma remained in Illinois, but brother Orcelus relocated in Roscoe, St. Clair County, Missouri.1

Why Reynolds chose to move to Roscoe, some eighty miles southeast of Kansas City, is unknown. From 1869 to 1872 he did reside in Missouri, hence in later years it was easy for him to say he was “from Missouri.” St. Clair County was in the heart of the home country of the notorious Younger brothers—Cole, Jim, Bob, and John—whose fame as brigands would only be eclipsed by the James brothers with whom they would share notoriety. During Reynolds’ residence there he may have become acquainted with members of the Younger family, although he did not live there on March 17, 1874, when a gun battle between the Youngers and Pinkerton agents cost the lives of John Younger and two detectives. By then Reynolds had moved on but he certainly read of the battle as it received considerable newspaper coverage at the time.


3. Removal of Cattle from their Accustomed Range




“I sent Sergeant N. O. Reynolds . . . to quell the intended riot.”

—Captain C. R. Perry, October 24, 1874.

Governor Coke received many reports of Indian sightings in the months prior to the organization of the Frontier Battalion. The settlers were pleased at the prospect of the protection of Rangers when they saw Captain Perry establishing his first permanent camp at Celery Springs, six miles northwest of Menardville (now Menard) in Menard County. He was to operate generally north to the Colorado River and south to the mouth of Bear Creek on the North Llano River.

Captain Perry and the men of Company D experienced numerous engagements with hostiles during 1874 although the company saw no action during the month of June. Daniel Webster Roberts, now promoted to the rank of 2nd lieutenant after George Freeman declined the appointment,1 was absent from camp with a squad from June 14 to 19. He returned after a 120-mile march on the South Llano and its tributaries but reported finding no recent sign of Indian activity. During the same period Lt. William H. Ledbetter and a squad were scouting on Brady Creek; after a march of 118 miles they gave up on finding any recent Indian sign.2


4. A White Man Takes a Scalp




“. . . whereupon the fiend mounted his horse and rode off.”

—Fredericksburg Freie Presse, August 17, 1875

Fort Mason had been established in 1851 on Post Hill in Mason County by Brevet Major H. W. Merrill. Through the years the fort had been abandoned and then reoccupied, before being abandoned for the last time on March 23, 1869. In 1936 the state erected a State Historical Marker which made only a brief allusion to the violence the fort had witnessed, which once flared between white men and Comanche, between American soldiers of differing ideology, and then between the feuding factions designated as “Anglos” and “Dutch”: the followers of Sheriff John Clark and the friends and associates of William Scott Cooley, one-time Ranger of Company D and friend of N. O. Reynolds.1

There was no single cause for the difficulties that have become known as the Mason County War, or “Hoo Doo” War, but the problems were exacerbated by the ethnic differences between the Germans and the Americans. The former had supported the Union in the late war and the hard feelings between them and southern-sympathizing Texans had not entirely subsided even a decade later. As cattle theft increased, hard feelings turned to violence and men formed mobs to protect their property due to the ineffectiveness of the local law. The most violent action of the feud was the lynching of several prisoners, arrested for cattle theft, who were taken from the Mason jail in February 1875. An additional important “spark” was the killing of Tim Williamson on May 13 of the same year. Lieutenant Roberts investigated and concluded that the killing was committed by the Germans. Other cattlemen, less than honest in their own dealings, took advantage of this turmoil “to excite the Americans against the Germans.” This, in Roberts’ opinion, amounted to the causes of the Mason County War.2


5. Death of the Avenger




“But for God[’s] sake don’t take the Rangers away.”

—George W. Todd to Major Jones, December 14, 1875.

Major Jones, writing from Mason on October 25, ordered Neal Coldwell of Company F to make a scout to the Upper Llano where “some fifteen men, very suspicious looking fellows” had been seen. If they were not found there he was to continue scouting for them on the Nueces, further south. He was specifically told to keep a “sharp lookout” for Scott Cooley and George Gladden, who, it was believed, intended to rendezvous there with other outlaws.1 They, along with John Baird, were considered the leaders of the Cooley faction.

Although some believed that Cooley and his closest associates had left the area, Lieutenant Roberts continued to send scouts out in hopes of running them down. “Desperadoism has somewhat ceased” he wrote to Major Jones in mid-November from Menard. Then he told of an “old man” identified as Miller, who somehow had feudist Coke in custody, and had been shot at in his house in Mason. He was possibly wounded, “but was not killed.” Supposedly a man named Johnson, possibly Charles Johnson, had been the man who shot Miller. Roberts continued his report saying that Cooley had been seen in Menard a few days before, had called at the blacksmith to have his horse shod and wanted it done quick. “[U] pon being informed he was in Menard I started in pursuit of him and by trailing his horse I found he went West—in the direction of Llano. I could not follow his track far [fast?] enough to overtake him.”2 A month later Cooley was reported to have been seen in the town of Mason itself with a dozen others, one of whom was James Polk Mason3, who, with Wesley Johnson, had shot and killed well-known pioneer rancher Rance Moore a year before, on December 12, 1874, in a dispute over cattle. Both were now on the list of fugitives from justice.


6. Rangers Against the Confederacy




“I find that Kimble County is a thiafs [sic] stronghold. [T]he two Llanos and all tributaries are lined with them.”

—Private H. B. Waddill, Company C, February 27, 1877

The beginning months of 1877 must have seemed terribly uneventful for Reynolds and the boys of Company A, stationed at Camp Hubbard in Frio County—named after Gov. Richard B. Hubbard, who had succeeded to the governorship upon the resignation of Richard Coke—as scout followed scout in the same general area with very little probability for action. On December 27, 1876, Captain Coldwell sent Reynolds with a nine-man squad up the Sabinal River, reaching Sabinal post office, some sixty miles west of San Antonio, the next day. They remained there for three days and then went to the small settlement of D’Hanis, a stage stop on the road between San Antonio and the Rio Grande. They remained there but one day and although they were unaware of it at the time a party of Indians had just passed through the country; when the Rangers learned of their presence it was too late to follow the trail. The squad returned to camp on the evening of January 2, having marched a total of eighty-two miles.1


7. A Single Shot Ends a Feud




“[The Horrells were] the most dangerous band of men that ever lived.”

—James Buchanan Gillett, 1921

There was virtually no time for the Rangers to rest after their work in Kimble County. On April 29 Reynolds left camp to arrest J. E. Burt and Jack Jones. He scouted from the head of Copperas Creek on the Llano River to Fort McKavett and Menard but failed to find them. By May 4 he was back in camp with no prisoners, but rode out the next day hoping to locate a party of Indians reported to be on Celery or Scalp Creek in Menard County. Reynolds and his ten-man squad went as far as the head of Brady Creek in McCulloch County where they found the trail but were unable to track them down. After a march of ninety miles there was nothing to do but return to camp, now at Kickapoo Springs, reaching there on the seventh.1

Two days later Major Jones headed for Coleman County in pursuit of cattle thieves. During that sixty-mile scout they met with some success, capturing J. H. Curtis and Pete Cassimer. Cassimer had escaped from the Burnet County jail. Curtis was one of three men wanted for the murder of Lewis Stone in Kimble County on August 9, 1876. J. H. Curtis, William M. Curtis, and Samuel Williams were all charged with the murder two days later. J. H. was easily recognizable: he was about forty-five years old and had been shot in the mouth. William M. was about twenty-five years old, “spair made” and of light complexion. Sam Williams was also about twenty-five years old, heavily built and of dark complexion. A reward of $250 for each of them had been offered on September 5, 1876.2 Major Jones was keenly aware of the reward and reminded Brown County Sheriff R. B. Willson to be sure to give Reynolds a receipt for Curtis specific enough so that his description would result in the reward being paid.3 Reynolds did receive the $250 reward after delivering Curtis to the Brown County jail in Brownwood. Cassimer was delivered there as well.4 Other fugitives believed to be in the area and who were still high on the Rangers’ wanted lists included rustler Caleb Hall, Lewis “Luke” Cathey,5 charged with a murder in Kimble County on April 16, 1877, Richard Dublin, charged with murder and cattle theft in Kimble County, and Mac Potter. They were frequently not only the subject of Reynolds’ scouts but other Ranger patrols as well.


8. A Prisoner Lost in Indiana




“[Sergeant Reynolds is] . . . a man of splendid courage, active and energetic, has good control of men and has been remarkably successful both as a scout after Indians and in finding and arresting fugitives from justice.”

—Major John B. Jones, August 20, 1877

Back in Austin, although he would have preferred to remain in the field working directly with his commanders to continually improve efficiency among the Frontier Battalion, Major Jones was forced to deal with administrative matters. With the fiscal years ending on August 31, not surprisingly the legislature had forced a reduction in the Battalion’s strength. Each commander was ordered to reduce his company. Every man would be discharged on that day, then reorganized on September 1, with each commander choosing who he wanted to continue to serve the state, only now the company would consist of two sergeants, two corporals, and twenty privates. But the criminal element or Indian raiding parties did not concern themselves with such elements of Texas frontier existence. Of concern as well were such things as changes in other areas of law enforcement. The death of a sheriff or a controversial election could produce a violent situation, such as old feuds flaring up again. Such a fact of life became apparent in nearby Hamilton County, although Reynolds was not personally involved.


9. One Dublin Taken, One Dublin Escapes




“Get out . . . don’t you see the Rangers have got me?”

—Dell Dublin to his brother Richard, November 21, 1877

On August 23, 1877, Dallas detective and Ranger Jack Duncan and Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong, with several Florida officials, captured John Wesley Hardin, the Texas man-killer wanted for more than a score of murders. Hardin, now with a reward of $4,000 for his taking, had enjoyed eight years of lawlessness since his first killing in 1868, eluding members of the Texas State Police, county sheriffs, detectives, bounty hunters, and Rangers for years. Occasionally he had been captured but always managed to escape, sometimes shooting his way to freedom. In mid-1874, after the killing of Brown County deputy sheriff and former Texas Ranger Charles M. Webb,1 Hardin felt the increasing pressure of the law and fled to Florida where relatives of his wife lived. As “John H. Swain,” Hardin may have lived out a quiet life if Armstrong and Duncan had not plotted his successful capture. In resisting the lawmen one of Hardin’s companions was killed, but he was taken back to Texas alive.


10. A Killing in Scabtown




“[Lieutenant Reynolds] of the rangers fears the consequences of his bloody work.”

—Widow Ida Miller, March 21, 1878

By 1878, Menard County, once on the very edge of the frontier, was considered settled. The county had been organized in 1871 and in the following year a courthouse was erected in Menardville (now Menard). Former Frontier Battalion member William W. Lewis, who had joined Captain Perry’s Company D at the same time Reynolds had back in 1874, operated a saloon there. Lewis’ saloon, according to the San Antonio Daily Express traveling reporter Hans Mickle, displayed a large canvass sign depicting an imaginative steamboat going up the Salt River in which Lewis was a “distinguished passenger.” The most prominent buildings were the two-story rock courthouse and Mr. Becker’s store.1

The community of Menardville had organized around a military post established in 1852, which was named after Captain Henry McKavett, killed at the battle of Monterrey during the Mexican War. Fort McKavett originally boasted five companies of the 8th Infantry stationed there to protect incoming settlers and to push the frontier further west. By 1859 the Indian menace was considered minimal and the post was abandoned. Then during the Civil War with many able-bodied men serving in the eastern theaters Indian activity increased in the area. In 1868 the fort was re-established; at its peak in the 1870s four hundred troops were stationed there, including units from the 1st, 10th, 16th, and 22nd Infantry along with “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 24th Infantry and 9th and 10th Cavalry. A variety of civilian establishments were there to provide services to the troops. After the Civil War, substantial homes were built and according to correspondent Mickle, there was “the air of comfort and convenience” everywhere.


11. Protecting the Man Killer




“I was carefully guarded by Lieut. N. O. Reynolds. . . . But I knew the power of the mob, the spirit that possessed them, and knew that my life hung on a thread.”

—John Wesley Hardin, April 22, 1878

Two events in March of 1878 had to cause some frustration for the commander of Company E, Frontier Battalion. On March 4, in Austin, Reynolds arrested a black man, whom he believed to be Mitch Cotton, wanted for a killing in Limestone County. There had been a gunfight during the elections in Groesbeck, the county seat, on September 30, 1871. At the time contemporary reports issued from Groesbeck indicated that gamblers D. C. Applewhite and Dan Gallagher entered a saloon to have a drink when Cotton observed the former displaying a derringer. As to who fired first after Cotton’s initial demand for the weapon—Attorney J. S. Thurmond stated that Cotton fired first—should have been irrelevant. Applewhite wounded Cotton in the left arm before he was shot and then died. Almost immediately a riot erupted, the town of Groesbeck becoming “almost instantly a carnival of raving, debauched and blood-thirsty men.” Many white citizens “took possession of the town, threatening to exterminate the negroes and white Republicans.” Governor E. J. Davis declared martial law before the crisis was over.1


12. Gunsmoke at Round Rock




“Then, mounting his own horse, Jackson and his chief galloped out of the very jaws of Hell itself.”

—James B. Gillett

Even with the feud between the Horrell and Higgins factions essentially over, there were still troublesome individuals in Lampasas County who demanded the attention of the law. On the 4th of July Reynolds wrote a hurried note to Major Jones concerning the arrest of W. H. Crabtree “for False Swearing In Navarro Co.” Reynolds wasn’t positive as to his true name, explaining that his initials might be H. W. but his name appeared on the Fugitives list. Reynolds believed he was wanted in other counties but did not identify which ones nor what made him think that. He asked to be informed “At Once” as to what he should do with the man. In reality the man referred to was the fugitive J. W. Crabtree, indicted for “false swearing” committed in 1874.1

D. B. Kennedy, editor of the Daily Times of Lampasas, which he had founded just over a year previously, provided this glowing report of Reynolds’ men’s accomplishments.


13. A Sheriff vs A Ranger




“[T]hey are a different set of rangers to what Waller’s men were. Besides I believe they would of stood by me until the last hour in the day.”

—John Wesley Hardin to Jane Hardin, October 1878

Certainly any action following the defeat of the notorious Sam Bass gang, even if Reynolds had missed the big street fight, would be anticlimactic. He had fought against Indians, had delivered John Wesley Hardin safely to and from jail during his trial, had captured the Horrell party, had safely delivered Thomas G. T. Kendall to Austin, rescuing him from the hands of the San Saba mob, and now his men had captured Sam Bass. By July 26 he and his command were back in San Saba. George Herold requested a discharge on July 31, stating a need to visit his sick father in San Antonio. Herold later worked in far West Texas fighting Apaches, and then joined the El Paso police force.1

The month of August 1878 was occupied with scouting, dealing with problems in San Saba County, and guarding the Lampasas County jail. Sergeant Nevill and a squad of four men were there as well to assist the sheriff as needed due to the crowds swelling the population during the county fair. Nevill made numerous arrests between August 5 and 11, three of them for indecent exposure: James and Henry Fry and John Blackwell. He also arrested John Z. Bean and an unidentified man for assault and battery. Curiously some five years later Bean would be a candidate for the position of Lampasas City Marshal, running against N. O. Reynolds. Bean received only eleven votes. Two fugitives not found were Joe Henry and George Hoy, both accused of stealing cattle and horses.2


14. An Outrage Upon Children




“Wixon would be the first man killed.”

—Corporal J. W. Warren, November 3, 1879

Even though it had been some time since the citizens of Kerr County had suffered from Indian raiding parties, the menace was far from a distant memory. It is not known why the James Dowdy family had left their home in Goliad County, Texas, but in the fall of 1878 they had located in Kerr County and continued to raise sheep. No one suspected there was any real danger from Indian raiding parties, but on the fifth of October something happened to bring back all the old fears. On that day the four youngest children of James and Susan Dowdy were watching the sheep, their chores to perform in the morning. That day also, Richard, the eldest son, and a young man engaged to a Dowdy daughter, were to have their meal first, then go and relieve the other children watching the sheep. After their meal the two young men went out and discovered the sheep scattered and the four others nowhere in sight. They returned to the house to spread the alarm; after a brief search all four of the children’s bodies were discovered. Although some citizens were firm in their belief that a band of Indians returning from a horse-stealing raid chanced upon the children away from their home and killed them, others believed that it was a combination of Indians and Mexicans, while others believed there were renegade Anglos involved. This last Indian raid in Kerr County, as the state historical marker put it, took the lives of four of the Dowdy children: James C., eleven years old; Susan V., fourteen; Martha, sixteen; and Alice C., eighteen.1


15. Dealing with Fence Cutters




“Hands up or we will shoot!”

—Sheriff Reynolds to the fence cutters, summer 1886.

The Sixteenth Legislature met in early 1879 and perhaps to no one’s surprise determined that it was again necessary to reduce the number of Rangers, due to financial uncertainty. Gillett recalled those sad days, especially how his commander, Lieutenant Reynolds, “was compelled to sit idly by and see his experienced rangers dwindle away before his eyes, and what he said about those shortsighted law-makers would not look well in print.”1

The oath prepared at Camp Contrary on January 1, 1879, to which all solemnly swore to “bear true faith and allegiance to the State of Texas” and to “serve her Honestly and faithfully, and defend her against all her enemies or opposers whatsoever” as well as to “observe and obey the orders of the Governor . . . and the orders of the Officers appointed over me” carried the names of only twenty-two men, a drastic reduction from the seventy-one men enrolled in Captain C. R. Perry’s Company D back in May of 1874.2


16. The Cornett-Whitley Gang Emerges




“The fire was returned with interest.”

—Lampasas Leader, October 6, 1888

The typical felonies of the late nineteenth century were those of a century before and the same as the century following: arsonists deliberately set fires; burglars invaded homes and stores; women were raped; men and sometimes women murdered others; cattle and horses were stolen. The cutting of fences now became a new felony, adding to the range problems of the 1880s. One can learn of the frequency of such felonies by reading the Texas attorney general’s reports, a publication that apparently did not appear with any regularity until 1885. It is nigh impossible to make comparisons between the terms of Sheriff Reynolds and his predecessors not only because of missing records but also because the character of the frontier had changed. Men no longer concerned themselves—at least in Lampasas County—with Indian raiding parties stealing or killing livestock, taking women and children captives or simply killing settlers attempting to establish a home on the frontier. Now fears were more concerned with the doings of white men, stealing horses or cattle, fence cutting, or robbery. However, the 1885–1886 report can be compared with the available 1887–1888 and the 1889–1890 reports. The felonies reported were arson, burglary, embezzlement, forgery, murder, perjury, rape, robbery, theft, and others.


17. A Loss and a Final Guard




“Night Foreman Paper Mill.”

—N. O. Reynolds

Following his 1889 resignation as sheriff of Lampasas County, N. O. Reynolds, now nearing his mid-forties, left the Hill Country of Texas to live in the Gulf Coast at Angleton, Brazoria County. It was here that he again worked in the shoe business. He spent at least four years there, 1889–1893, prior to relocating in Lockhart, the county seat of Caldwell County.

Information is not available about what Reynolds did in the intervening years, but ten years after leaving the saloon business in Lampasas, Reynolds again became a saloon operator in Lockhart. In June of 1899 the Lockhart Post announced the transfer of two saloons in the city: Louis Halfin purchased the Iron Front Saloon, proprietor T. A. Reed having retired. Reynolds, “formerly in the shoe business at Angleton,” purchased the stock of liquors and unnamed business from George S. Moon. “Mr. Reynolds,” reported the Post, “says he has traveled over Texas since last December seeking a location and to his mind Lockhart is the best town in the State.”1 Lockhart was the “best” town in the state apparently due to its rapid growth, not to mention its proximity to Austin, only some thirty-five miles northwest. After Caldwell County had been established in 1848, Lockhart was named the county seat, attaining incorporation in 1852. With the beginning of the cattle industry in the late sixties Lockhart became a starting point for the Chisholm Trail and developed into an important trading center. As early as 1890 there was electricity, waterworks, streetcars, four schools, seven churches, and a national bank to serve the population of approximately twelve hundred residents. Three railroads added to the economic growth of the area. Ten years later, or roughly when Reynolds had made his decision to settle there, the population had almost doubled, now numbering more than 2,300.2


Appendix A. The Gentlemen in White Hats—The Men of Company E, Frontier Battalion




The Men of Company E, Frontier Battalion

Final resting place of Reynolds’ brother-in-law, Charles L. Nevill. The grave is near the opening of City Cemetery # 4, San Antonio. Photo by Parsons.

Claude Leroy Douglas authored three books dealing with Texas history, two of which dealt with the Texas Rangers and Texas feuds. The first was The Gentlemen in White Hats, Dramatic Episodes in the History of the Texas Rangers, published in 1934, and we acknowledge borrowing that title for this section. Famous Texas Feuds, published in 1936, ushered in the Texas Rangers during such dramatic incidents as the Mason County War and the Horrell-Higgins Feud. Although the men of Reynolds’ day had no official uniform and wore whatever headgear they chose, they did at times ride fast and fight hard; the mystique of the Texas Ranger almost demanded that he wear a white hat as the symbol of his being the “good guy.” The outlaw and desperado wore the black hat in the collective mind of those of us who grew up with Saturday afternoon western “oaters” and black and white television. The Texas Ranger invariably rode the white horse as well.


Load more


Print Book

Format name
File size
35.5 MB
Read aloud
Format name
Read aloud
In metadata
In metadata
File size
In metadata