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Six-Shooters and Shifting Sands: The Wild West Life of Texas Ranger Captain Frank Jones

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Many well-read students, historians, and loyal aficionados of Texas Ranger lore know the name of Texas Ranger Captain Frank Jones (1856-1893), who died on the Texas-Mexico border in a shootout with Mexican rustlers. Inª_Six-Shooters and Shifting Sands,ª_Bob Alexander has now penned the first full-length biography of this important nineteenth-century Texas Ranger.

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1. “Dragged to the Ground Lanced and Scalped”

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“Dragged to the Ground Lanced and Scalped” at the time frank jones came into a Texas world the place could still be legitimately characterized as the wild and woolly West.

The Lone Star State was a hotbed for Indians with ideas of raiding and revenge on their minds.1 Widespread lawlessness had not yet gained its post-Civil War notoriety—that was a few years into the future—but scattered settlements were still in need of sheriffs and town marshals. Even tenderfoot voyagers were counseled about the wisdom of traveling armed, at least with a revolver, preferably with a rifle or shotgun, too! Though it may ring of the melodramatic, if a mid-nineteenth-century player was desirous of finding some genuine blood and thunder adventure, frontier Texas was an ideal piece of real estate.

Texas was tough ground to cover, not only in the countryside but nearer in, say in a burgeoning municipality like Central Texas’ Austin.

The county of Travis was named after the fallen Alamo commander

 

2. “Beneath the Heel of an Indignant Legislature”

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“Beneath the Heel of an

Indignant Legislature” the u.s. army, according to most Lone Star settlers, was near useless—a belief not a fact. Comanche and Kiowa had treated to a tentative peace with the United States and were for the most part residents of the Fort Sill Indian Reservation, though several tribal bands yet roamed and hunted the unsettled Llano Estacado when not treading the warpath. Many self-confident warriors made a distinction between white folks south of the Red River and midWesterners or Easterners, seeing them as differing people, thinking there was “no inconsistency in signing treaties with the Americans while continuing to war on the Texans.”1 Not at all inaccurately, as many grumbling Texans were perceptively claiming, the mismanaged

Indian reservation was but “a city of refuge where warriors received government supplies and protection while resting between raids.”2

From many frightened settlers’ perspective it seemed the raiding Indians never took a holiday. Two lightning raids into the Texas

 

3. “We Fought under the Black Flag”

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“We Fought under the Black Flag”

the first of the jones brothers to become Frontier

Battalion Texas Rangers were William Kenner and Pinckney. Both enlisted in Neal Coldwell’s Company F in Kerr County on June 4,

1874. Following the footprints they laid down hunting for Indians in the Texas Hill Country and later chasing bandits in South Texas below the Nueces Strip—The Wild Horse Desert—is achievable but only serves, in this narrative, to sidetrack their brother Frank’s story.

Though, before they mustered out during the summer of 1875,

William had made the rank of lieutenant and Pinckney figuratively wore sergeant’s stripes.1 The bottom line is not blurred—Will and

Pink Jones were lawyers—not lawmen.

The daring Jones boys were not participants at the time, but episodes of historic proportion transpired in North Texas and the

Panhandle during 1874, subsequent to charter formation of the famed Frontier Battalion. The exhilarating events, scores of miles removed from Curry Creek, would have considerable bearing on the future of Frank Jones.

 

4. “Several Shots and Run Him into the River”

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“Several Shots and Run Him into the River” subsequent to the annual reshufflings and readjustments and more readjustments mandated by budgetary constraints and unremitting administrative tinkering, the Frontier Battalion’s Company

F was strategically positioned at Camp Wood in the northwestern corner of what was at times wrongly referred to as Uvalde County, but was then Edwards County (county seat Rocksprings), and is now guaranteed to be spotted in southwestern Real County (Leakey).1

The unit’s commander, Lieutenant Pat Dolan, was a veteran frontline settler, survivor of a shoot-out with Mexican bandits, Indian chaser, a tried and true Ranger, the former sheriff of Uvalde County and the future sheriff of another county.2 Pat Dolan was legit!

Probing the mindset of Frank Jones, now a civilian Kendall

County farmer and a sideline spectator of the Frontier Battalion’s doings would be an unworkable exercise—at least for the short go. Such would not be the case with one of Frank’s older brothers.

 

5. “Sworn Enemy to Rangers and Sheriffs”

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“Sworn Enemy to Rangers and Sheriffs” incessant comings and goings of fellows jumping back and forth, into and out of the Frontier Battalion makes for a mindboggling task. Thanks to Major Jones’ bureaucratic leanings, paper trails are extant. Resultantly, while retaining their lines on the payroll, most Texas Rangers and their company’s enforcement activities may be followed—even if loosely and from afar. When an impulsive fellow drops off the company books is when it sometimes turns foggy.

Private citizen Frank Jones, at age twenty-one, is no exception.

For whatever reason young Frank wanted to give life on Curry

Creek another try. Unlike so many rural raised youths and although he was handy with a gun and at home horseback, an ever vigorous

Frank opted to forego the cowboy life and give farming a go.

Although no longer an active Texas Ranger, it is quite clear Frank

Jones was somewhat still in the loop—and more than favorably recognized by Major John B. Jones. The Frontier Battalion’s commander cut Frank Jones in on an alert: the Rangers were hunting for and looking to arrest John Gorman. Did the ex-Ranger know his whereabouts? In a December 17, 1877, letter Frank Jones responded: “I am told by a young man recently from the Llano that there is a man living somewhere above Junction City whose name is Gorman but he is living under an assumed name and that he had

 

6. “Sixty Thousand Dollars to Spend”

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“Sixty Thousand Dollars to Spend”

Sergeant Frank Jones was as unyielding as Captain Sieker with bringing Company D Rangers up to snuff in regards to professionalizing and transitioning into crackerjack law enforcers. Frequently, during

Captain Lam Sieker’s absences from camp, Sergeant Frank Jones was left in command of company operations.1 Such hard work and dedication was not lost on Captain Sieker but, perhaps more notably, the Frontier Battalion’s front office was attuned to the young top-sergeant’s keenness for accomplishing those ends. On May 13,

1884, Adjutant General King agreeably signed off on the Frontier

Battalion’s General Order No. 15. Among other noteworthy personnel actions, 1st Sergeant Frank Jones was officially commissioned as

Company D’s lieutenant, the promotion backdated to the first day of the month for payroll purposes.2

A new world had opened up for Frank Jones. Now he was fortunate enough not to have a roommate; lieutenants were afforded the privilege of privacy in their very own tent. Overnight he had transitioned into an elite status, more pay and more prestige.

 

7. “Most Bold, High-Handed Murder”

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“Most Bold, High-Handed

Murder” for the moment—and it would not hold—the Texas/Mexican border was reasonably tranquil. Pinpointing with exactness—from outside the tent—words exchanged in private between Captain

Sieker and Lieutenant Jones is excusably not doable. Real big doings, though, were astir. The Company D commander was actively hunting advancement and that, in and of itself, was no deep dark secret.

There was not any under-the-table inter or intra agency machinations. True to form Captain Sieker was upfront and aboveboard.

Though it cannot measure past speculation, it’s a reasonably safe bet that a young lieutenant from Kendall County was spring-loaded, ready to jump at the chance to backfill behind the company captain being promoted to headquarters. That Frank Jones was biding his time is but a safe call.

Taking pen in hand Captain Lam Sieker made his thoughts and aspirations a matter of Frontier Battalion record. Within the framework of political gossip Sieker had learned that the battalion’s quartermaster, Captain John O. Johnson, was a likely candidate to receive the patronage position as postmaster for the city of Austin, a lucrative and laudable political plum. Should that be the case, and should the rank of battalion quartermaster be vacant, Captain Sieker wanted his name in the hat. Not only did he deem it appropriate to

 

8. “Damnable Act of Savagery”

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“Damnable Act of Savagery”

the year  didn’t open with the sound of gunfire for the

Texas Rangers of Company D but there was an explosion—of paperwork. From his base in Concho County, though he picked up mail at Brady, McCulloch County, Ranger C. W. Giffin was caught up in a whirlwind of communication—all relating to expense accounts and vouchers and IOUs detailing the purchase of food for his men and fodder for the horses—and “two large mules.”1 Though he wished

Captain Lam Sieker a “happy and prosperous New Year” the real purpose of Lieutenant Frank Jones’ letter to the battalion quartermaster was final submission of “monthly and ration reports for Dec.

1885.”2 As the first month of 1886 waned the actual policing work of

Company D was less than inspiring. Only two misdemeanor arrests were made and one of those was A. J. Spence, for a second time,

Disturbing the Peace inside the cooperate limits of Uvalde. A pair of

John Wolfgang Braeutigam’s alleged murderers Wes Collier and Jack

 

9. “He Caught for a Pistol”

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“He Caught for a Pistol”

within reasonably short order Sergeant Lindsey and his detachment had their assigned section of the Rio Grande under control. Enough so that he could report to Captain Sieker that even though some thieving “Mexicans had been depredating” along the river, since his arrival and commencement of the overt and random scouts everything—relatively speaking—was “quiet.”1 All was not serene for Frank’s older brother William Kenner Jones, however, now the elected county judge of Val Verde County (county seat Del Rio).

Judge Jones was miffed that more than one of his inquiries to the governor’s office concerning the posting of a reward for the apprehension of suspected killer Ricardo Esparza, “a Mexican who was indicted in this Co. last Fall for the murder of one James Woods” had been ignored: Or in the judge’s words, his letters had “simply been pigeonholed.”2 Collectively the Jones brothers were not the Lone Star State’s most influential powerbrokers but by any standard they spoke with authority, antedated by the fond and positive memory of their patriarch, William Early Jones. Casually sloughing off their concerns was maybe not suicide politically but it was not real smart politics. The

 

10. “A Strong Undercurrent of Excitement”

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“A Strong Undercurrent of Excitement” though it would take several months to unravel, an assertion that it was Ranger Private Dillard that had actually popped the cap—or was thought to have popped the cap—killing Abraham

Recéndez is further buttressed by another missive. Captain Jones posted AG King: “The Jury in the Dillard case could not agree, some for conviction and some for acquittal.”1

What could be agreed on by most everyone was that things were a mess in South Texas. Rightly or wrongly the killing of Abraham

Recéndez fanned the flames of cultural, racial, and economic discontent. Perhaps true character is best defined by actions. Depending on perspective, Catarino Erasmo Garza Rodriguez was either a firebrand or patriot. Or both! Highly educated and articulate, Catarino

Garza over the years had cleaved unto himself a burning—raging—purpose in life. Maintaining residence on the Texas side of the

Rio Grande, though a Mexican by birth, Catarino harangued and agitated for political and philosophical and pecuniary and personal causes dear to his heart and/or self-interest.2 As with most men of the place and time, Catarino Garza carried his own baggage of interpretative nationalism and racial insensitivity.3 More popular with

 

11. “By God, They Will Never Come Back”

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“By God, They Will Never

Come Back” for the most part—and facts seem to confirm—the year’s first couple of months for spirited Company D Rangers were rocking along at a reasonable pace. There were scouts and arrests. During one investigative assignment, Captain Jones and Sheriff Baylor working in tandem ten miles below Uvalde tracked down an alleged embezzler, Sebe Elliott, wanted by authorities in Travis County.

In the vicinity of Wilderness Lake, Privates Riley Barton and Cal

Aten latched onto two suspected burglars, Bud Saunders and Blake

Rowland. After his pilfering from a Uvalde business house had been discovered, R. L. Rauge was trying to lie low in neighboring Kinney

County, but Sergeant Aten cold-trailed him and cuffed him.1 As the year continued to unwind the Company D Rangers—all fifteen of them—were inordinately busy, primarily hunting for and occasionally catching cow thieves.2

Captain Jones was dutifully spending most of his time in camp coordinating investigative activities, dealing with matters of expenditures and market value prices for corn and hay for horses and six mules and foodstuffs and camping necessities for the men. Paperwork, well, there was plenty of that: Bureaucracy is demanding, red-tape unremitting. There’s little doubt that thirty-four-year-old Frank

 

12. “Just Plain Legal Assassination”

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“Just Plain Legal Assassination”

whether or not captain jones was riding and hiding his pain is, of course, but speculation. Men raised on the wild and woolly

Texas frontier, as had been Frank, were well attuned to the fragility of life. Perhaps as a career lawman he was even more aware that the

Grim Reaper was always lurking nearby. For good guys and bad guys heartbreaks and heartbeats were but hanging by a thread; a split-second could change all, every plan, every dream. However, the record is clear. Captain Frank Jones was not content to sit around Camp

Leona in a blue funk. During the first part of November 1889 he personally supervised a horseback scout through Zavala and Dimmit

Counties hunting for cow and horse thieves.1

Exposure to the chilly November elements coldly robbed Captain

Jones of vigor and vivacity. He took sick. Somehow, even though feverish and weak, he had managed to make it to Del Rio, where he could be cared for by his older brother William K. Jones, the powerhouse Val Verde County lawyer and public official. Surrendering to illness was grating on Frank Jones’ nerves: “In nearly nine years service I was never before compelled to give up and go under the treatment of a physician and it has been a pretty expensive case.”2 Under the care of a doctor the prognosis was realistically good, but being bedridden was as tough to swallow as Doctor Nicholson’s prescriptive

 

13. “The Shooting Was Promiscuous and Lively”

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“The Shooting Was Promiscuous and Lively” cognizant of the necessity for maintaining a Ranger presence in La Salle County the adjutant general ordered J. A. Brooks, since promoted to captain, to move his Company F to Cotulla, replacing Company D. Following an exchange of letters between Captain

Jones and Ranger headquarters regarding the pros and cons, principally economic issues, it was determined to move Company D to Marfa by rail rather than the time consuming overland route.

Although they arrived in Presidio County on June 4, 1890, a permanent camp for Company D two miles outside Marfa was not officially sited until the twenty-sixth day of the month.1

While in transit, other forces that would impact Company D were in the works. In the end, years later, a great deal of heroic blathering would attach to the running down of at least one of

Charley Fusselman’s killers, primarily from secondary sources.

Closer in, time-wise and closer to consciousness of the contemporary Company D Rangers, another revealing chapter was unfolding—long before any overly pumped mythology overrode the hard truths of Texas Ranger history were corrupted for a twentieth-century marketplace. But halfway through 1890, however, the indisputable—irrefutable—identity of the murderers was yet a mystery.

 

14. “We Have Been Compelled to Do Some Killing”

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“We Have Been Compelled to Do Some Killing” november  would not be a fun month for Captain

Jones. A type of traveling circus, Zamloch’s Congress of Wonders, had made a stopover at Marfa. Promoters were promising a freaky and magical performance, guaranteeing attendees would be astounded but entertained. Naturally it was a big attraction for locals—plus several unnamed Rangers from Company D. Well, all but one of the

Texas Rangers was unidentified. C. E. Van Horn, the show’s manager, made sure Governor J. S. Hogg had the name of Sergeant Baz Outlaw.

According to Van Horn, Outlaw in “a drunken condition” had tried to

“force his way into the house without paying,” even though the other

Rangers had willingly forked over admission fees. The manager was asserting that quite a scene took place. Outlaw was making six-shooter threats and declaring that the only thing saving Van Horn’s bacon was the “presence of ladies.” Adding insult to psychological injury happened the next day in downtown Marfa. Still drunk and geared for a fight,

 

15. “Boys, I Am Killed”

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“Boys, I Am Killed”

county judge f. e. hunter, acting as spokesman for the El

Paso County Commissioner’s Court, signed off on a typewritten appeal to Governor J. S. Hogg. The gist of his message was up-front and clear-cut: the county was overrun by a “band of marauders.”

The desperadoes had developed into experts at stealing cattle at an alarming rate on the Texas side and selling them in Mexico. The wholesale thefts had become so outrageous that eighty-three signatories had signed the dotted line on a petition seeking relief. The good work of former chief deputy Frank B. Simmons, but now the new El Paso County sheriff, his deputies, and precinct constables was not questioned—they were simply overwhelmed. In their own minds and heart of hearts these wrought-up citizens were in dire need of help and that could best be accomplished by stationing a company of Texas Rangers on the Rio Grande about twenty miles below the city of El Paso. The petitioners would, respectfully, await word from the governor.1

 

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