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Captain John R. Hughes: Lone Star Ranger

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Captain John R.
Hughes, Lone Star Ranger is the first full and complete modern biography of a
man who served as a Texas Ranger from 1887 until early 1915. He came to the
attention of the Rangers after doggedly trailing horse thieves for nearly a
year and recovering his stolen stock. After helping Ranger Ira Aten track
down another fugitive from justice, Hughes then joined Company D of the Texas
Rangers on Aten's recommendation, intending to stay for only a few
months; he remained in the service for nearly thirty years.  When Sgt. Charles Fusselman was killed by
bandits, Hughes took his place. When Captain Frank Jones was killed by
bandits in 1893, Hughes was named captain of Company D. As captain, Hughes
and his men searched the border and identified every bandit involved in
the killing of Jones. They all received justice.  Toward the end of his career Hughes became
a senior captain based in Austin, and in 1915, having served as a captain and
ranger longer than any other man, he retired from the force. His later years
were happy ones, with traveling and visiting friends and relatives. He became
a Texas icon and national celebrity, receiving more awards and honors than
any other Texas Ranger, before or since. 
Due to Chuck Parsons's extensive research, we now know more about
Hughes than ever before. This biography of one of the "Four Great
Captains" sheds light on his life prior to becoming a Texas Ranger and
on his love interest, though he never married. From joining Company D in 1887
until retirement, Hughes served the state honestly and proudly, earning the
respect of all he met. Zane Grey dedicated his most popular novel, The Lone
Star Ranger, to Hughes and his Rangers.

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1. A Terror to all the Bad Men

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A Terror to all the Bad Men

“. . . THIEVES STOLE ABOUT SEVENTY-FIVE HEAD OF HORSES FROM MY RANGE. AMONG THEM WERE SIXTEEN HEAD OF MINE. I FOLLOWED THEM TO NEW MEXICO, GOT ALL MY HORSES BACK, AND A LOT OF MY NEIGHBORS’ HORSES. THE BAND OF MEN WAS ALL BROKEN UP.”

—John R. Hughes, interview in the San Antonio Light, May 30, 1915

If Texas Ranger John R. Hughes had been a boastful man, he could have prided himself on his ancestral background. His grandfather, Ezekiel Hughes, a native of Montgomeryshire, Wales, came to America to avoid religious persecution. Ezekiel settled in the Miami River area in Hamilton County, Ohio, on land that was known at the time as the Northwest Territory. Looking westward Ezekiel Hughes could see Indiana; southward Kentucky. He purchased the first land sold by the government from this territory, paying $2.50 per acre for it. According to his most complete obituary, Ezekiel Hughes was “a thrifty, hard working man, a staunch Presbyterian and at his death left each one of his ten children a good farm.” A “good farm” for each of ten children certainly was a sizeable amount of acreage. Among his neighbors was the U.S. president-to-be, William Henry Harrison, “their farms being in close proximity.”1 Just when Ezekiel Hughes made the acquaintance of Mary Ann Ewing of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, is unknown, but the pair married on July 10, 1805, in Hamilton County, Ohio. They gave ten children to the world, all born in Hamilton County: the first in 1806 and the last, two decades later in 1826. They named their fourth child and second son Thomas, born in July of 1812.2

 

2. “Hold up, Wesley!”

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“Hold up, Wesley!”

“YOU WILL OF COURSE BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR ANY FUGITIVES FROM JUSTICE WHO MAY BE ON OR NEAR YOUR ROUTE.”

—Captain L. P. Sieker to Private Hughes, December 24, 1887

By 1884 the future looked bright indeed for John W. Braeutigam, a popular and respected businessman residing near Fredericksburg, Texas. He had, years before, chosen to leave his native Saxony and had brought his wife Christine to the “new world,” where he became a successful businessman. After more than three decades he could look with pride on his family—a wife and eight children—besides his successful business. It was on the former United States army post known as Fort Martin Scott, long abandoned by the government for lack of any military need, where he established a beer garden. Described by some as an amusement center, Braeutigams Garten to the native German-speaking population or simply Braeutigam’s Garden was used for local “gala celebrations,” including the Fourth of July. Local residents established the first Gillespie County Fair in 1881 and chose Braeutigam’s “garden” for the fairgrounds. The businessman was popular and respected in the community.1

 

3. Challenging the Odles

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Challenging the Odles

“PRESIDIO . . . IS A CENTRE POINT FOR ALL EVIL DOERS.”

—Corp. Charles H. Fusselman to Capt. L.P. Sieker, July 20, 1889

Ranging during the early months of 1889 was relatively quiet, as no significant action took place on the part of Hughes according to the monthly returns until April. While scouting in the Edwards County area he made several arrests, probably considered inconsequential, although of course one never knew when an arrest could turn deadly. On February 16 he and Pvt. Charles B. Barton1 arrested Dave Sweeten, charged with theft of cattle. On the next day Sergeant Aten was out on scout with five others, unidentified, and arrested Sweeten’s brother John. On the eighteenth Hughes with Captain Jones arrested John Chapman, charged with theft of cattle. These three men were all delivered to Edwards County Sheriff Ira Wheat.2

Between March 7 and March 12 Hughes and two others scouted in the area around Kickapoo Springs on the West Fork of the Nueces River. They gathered in William and Joseph Thurman, charged with assault to murder in Uvalde County, and one C. E. Tucker who was charged with hog stealing. Hughes turned this trio of alleged malefactors over to an Edwards County constable.3

 

4. Another Ranger Killed

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Another Ranger Killed

“[CARRASCO] GOT DOWN AND DELIBERATELY SET ABOUT GETTING HIS RIFLE OUT OF HIS SCABBARD. ONE OF US KILLED HIM.”

—Alonzo Van Oden, June 1892

For the Rangers of Company D, or any other company of the Frontier Battalion, boredom sat in on occasion; at times matters of seemingly little consequence had to be dealt with. One such incident had originated with Fusselman, and now that he was dead the matter fell into Hughes’s hands: what to do with a “locoed” mule? Back in late February, Sergeant Fusselman had informed Quartermaster Sieker that one of the mules, property of the State of Texas, was “locoed” and “unserviceable & likely to remain so” and inquired as to what was best to do with it. Sieker responded with instructions that if the mule had any real value to have it sold; if the mule could not be sold then it should be shot.1 Apparently Fusselman had not attended to the matter in a timely manner, as on April 11, 1890, Sieker wrote again to Fusselman advising that if the mule was “impossible to cure” it should be sold or shot. Expenses were always a prime concern to the quartermaster, and the sick mule was costing the state fifty cents per day just to keep it in a stable. He was told to get a certified statement from a disinterested witness once it was sold or shot.2

 

5. Battling the Olguins

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Battling the Olguins

“I EXPECT TROUBLE HERE[.] CAN YOU SEND SERGEANT HUGHES AND OUTFIT UP TONIGHT[?]”

—Corporal Carl Kirchner to Adj. Gen. W. H. Mabry, June 30, 1893

During late 1892 and the early months of 1893, Hughes daily scouted after fugitives and frequently arrested wanted men. Charges against these men included simple theft of miscellaneous goods; obtaining money under false pretensions; theft of a horse; aggravated assault; assault and battery; and theft of a saddle or theft of a horse and saddle. He probably considered much of the work routine. His scouts were of course not always successful. On January 17, 1893, Hughes and one other man scouted to Fort Davis “and other points” in search of one Marcos Justilla, charged with theft of a mare and a gun. After eight days scouting they had to give up without having found him. They had covered over 200 miles in their unsuccessful hunt.1

Ironically, on that same day, Captain Jones penned a letter to Adjutant General Mabry praising his sergeant. Captain Jones noted that he was “very much of the opinion” that his company could do excellent service in El Paso, and that “it will be a new field and we will be more interested and can work with renewed energy.” He praised Hughes, but recommended he be left at Alpine. “Sergt. Hughes should, in my opinion, be left at his present station. He is a fine officer and is in full accord with the best people in the Country and is very familiar with the entire section for several Counties along the Rio Grande.” Further, “Hughes Knows the people and Country and can do better service than any one I can think of unless he was in the country for many months.”2

 

6. Scouting on Pirate Island

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Scouting on Pirate Island

“I WAS FOUR YEARS SHERIFF OF REEVES COUNTY AND WHILE I WAS SUCH SHERIFF THIS TROUBLE CAME UP AND IT HAS BEEN GETTING WORSE ALL THE TIME AND WHILE I WAS SHERIFF I DONE MY WHOLE DUTY AND NOW IT IS A YOUNG WAR.”

—George A. Frazer to Gov. C. A. Culberson, February 24, 1895

Adjutant General Mabry as well as Governor Hogg now faced the decision of who would be the best man to replace the dead captain. State Senator John M. Dean telegraphed the governor recommending Hughes, “next in line of promotion please appoint him Captain.”1 El Paso’s mayor, W. H. Austin, even though out of town on a visit to McMinnville, Tennessee, quickly learned of the sad news. He telegraphed the governor that he “earnestly” endorsed Hughes.2 Acting Mayor James P. Badger agreed, stating simply that Hughes “is the man we want.” Trevanion Theodore Teel, attorney, Mexican War hero and veteran of the Confederacy’s failed New Mexico Territory campaign, not only fully endorsed Hughes but telegraphed that he was “the best appointment that could be made” as he was “sober capable honest brave.”3 Robert Cross, an El Paso policeman, also telegraphed the governor, stating: “I know him to be tried and true[.] I have been an officer on the frontier long enough to know.”4 Atkins Jefferson “Jeff” McLemore, member of the House of Representatives from the Corpus Christi district, nearly 700 miles east from Ysleta, telegraphed that the appointment of Hughes “will be gratifying to the people of this section.”5 Attorney Peyton F. Edwards Sr. telegraphed the governor “our people want Hughes.”6 W. W. Turney “heartily” recommended Hughes for the position.7 Sheriff Frank B. Simmons telegraphed both the governor and Adjutant General Mabry indicating he personally preferred Hughes but in addition Hughes was “the choice of the people of this County to Succeed Capt Jones.”8 J. D. Escajeda, District Clerk of El Paso, requested Hughes be appointed, stating he knew him “to be tried and true.”9

 

7. Spectators on the Rio Grande

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Spectators on the Rio Grande

“I WILL KEEP A CONSTANT WATCH ON THE MOVEMENTS OF THE SPORTING CLASS AND THE ONLY WAY THEY CAN HAVE THE FIGHT IN TEXAS IS TO HAVE IT OVER WITH BEFORE I REACH THE PLACE FOR IF I CAN LEARN WHERE IT IS GOING TO BE IN TIME TO GET THERE I WILL PREVENT IT.”

—John R. Hughes, November 8, 1895

In the nineteenth century, bare-knuckle fighting was among the most popular “sports” in the country, although in most states it was illegal. To those who favored the contests, boxing was the prime example of American manliness; to those who opposed boxing, it was no different from Emperor Nero throwing early Christians to the lions, a simple act of barbarity. The bare-knuckle contests ended with the implementation of the Marquis of Queensberry rules, requiring fighters to wear gloves and giving them to the count of ten to recover if knocked down. Sporting man Dan Stuart, a Vermont-born gambler and entrepreneur, arrived in Texas in 1872 at the young age of twenty-six intending to find success on his own terms within the sporting world. One historian described him as a “portly, genial, prosperous-looking man with a fashionable full mustache and dark hair parted straight down the middle.” He had integrity as well as a vision: he planned to erect a “monument to sport” in the form of a 52,500-seat coliseum in Dallas. This structure would feature, at its grand opening, a contest between two recognized champions of the ring: James J. Corbett and Robert P. Fitzsimmons, the latter recently declared the heavyweight champion of the world by the prestigious New Orleans Olympic Club.1

 

8. The Hardest Man to Catch

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The Hardest Man to Catch

“I CONSIDER THE LEADER OF THE LOZIER TRAIN ROBBERS THE HARDEST MAN TO CATCH THAT WE HAVE HAD IN TEXAS FOR MANY YEARS.”

—John R. Hughes, May 27, 1897

Hughes entered his tenth year as a Ranger in 1897, rising from private to captain in ten dangerous but exciting years. His work had dealt with such various activities as following the tracks of sheep thieves, enforcing a quarantine line, trailing fence cutters, and challenging desperadoes to surrender, only to be met with gunfire. Although occasionally under fire, as yet he had not been wounded.

Hughes as well as any of his men faced the possibility of sudden death in gunfights or from some deadly disease: in addition to the shooting deaths of Joe McKidrict, Charles Fusselman, and Frank Jones, Hughes had experienced Company D Ranger George P. Leakey’s death from tuberculosis on the train between Pecos and El Paso in April 1896.1 In early 1897 Hughes feared Ranger James Maddox Bell would not long survive, and discharged him so he could be nursed by relatives. Bell, discharged on January 31, 1897, died from tuberculosis on July 29 of the same year at the young age of thirty-two. Relatives had cared for him, and provided a large memorial marker above his final resting place in the Stockdale City Cemetery in Wilson County.2

 

9. From Ysleta to Alice

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From Ysleta to Alice

“. . . AS YOU WELL KNOW A RANGER SEEMS TO HAVE A HEAP MORE INFLUENCE OVER THESE UNRULY CHARACTERS THAN A COUNTY PEACE OFFICER.”

—Sheriff Denton G. Knight to Capt. J. R. Hughes, May 12, 1900

Historically, the days of the horseback Ranger ended during the early years of the twentieth century. The men of Company D continued to pursue lawbreakers on horseback, but now with the use of the railroad the time spent getting from one point to another was greatly reduced. Nevertheless, intrigues along the Rio Grande became an even greater reality than the changes in how to get from one place to another. Revolutions and talk of revolutions as well as the threat of Germany involving Mexico in the events leading to World War I were a constant concern.

The area around Shafter in deep Presidio County continued to pose problems for lawmen, especially Texas Rangers. On May 11, 1900, Harry S. Gleim, manager of the Cibolo Creek Mill and Mining Company of Shafter, wrote Hughes complimenting the work of two of his men who had made an impression on the six-shooting characters there. Rangers John W. Matthews and H. B. Elliot had only arrived the previous week but their presence alone “had a very quieting effect at once on our turbulent population,” which resulted in three of the “worst six shooter offenders” being arrested and fined. That “made quite an impression,” commented Gleim.1 The mining manager, aware of not only the good work of Rangers Matthews and Elliot, now learned the unwelcome news that they were going to be ordered elsewhere very soon. “It is regretted by all good citizens here,” agonized Gleim, “and we trust it is [only] temporary.” Gleim felt confident that somehow Hughes had enough influence with the adjutant general that some Rangers could be sent there to continue the good work initiated by Matthews and Elliot. Several of those good citizens had asked Gleim to write for such a favor, and he reminded Hughes: “I know you have a friendly feeling towards all your old friends down here and will do so if you can.” He concluded his missive by pointing out that if there was anything they could do “in the way of punching up the legislature” Hughes should call on his friends at Shafter.2

 

10. From East Texas to the Texas Panhandle

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From East Texas to the Texas Panhandle

“CAPT. HUGHES . . . IS MORE THAN ANY OTHER, PERHAPS, THE IDOL OF THE FORCE . . .”

—Editor J. C. Howerton in the Cuero Daily Record, July 3, 1908

An urgent call for help from Wood County began the new year of 1906. Sheriff William J. Ray1 had brought an accused murderer to the jail at county seat Quitman, a small community located in far east Texas. He had been held in the Dallas County jail while preparations were made for his trial. The sheriff feared a lynch mob would storm the jail; he understood completely what the mob would do once his prisoner was in its hands. Captain Hughes with three Rangers left Austin headquarters on January 3 to assist the sheriff in protecting his prisoner during his court proceedings. Not surprisingly the presence of Hughes and his three men prevented any mob violence, which was appreciated by Wood County authorities, especially the district judge. They were back in Austin on the thirteenth, having logged 531 miles in all. On the same day Robert W. Simpson, judge of the 7th Judicial District, wrote Governor Lanham to compliment the work of Captain Hughes and his men. “I desire to thank you for your prompt action in sending the Rangers to this place,” he began. There had been no trouble, and of course maybe there would not have been anyway, but, he added, “I feel sure that the presence of Capt. Hughes and his efficient force had a very desirable effect.” Simpson continued: “Permit me to say in behalf of Capt. Hughes and each of his men here, that they are estimable gentlemen, and have so conducted themselves that every one is complimenting them.” The judge believed the service of the Rangers would not be needed again, and expressed to the governor the idea that the Rangers were “more efficient” than the local militias. In addition he recommended the force should be increased and perpetuated “as long as mob violence is threatened in this state.”2 Mob violence was a very real fear in Texas, as elsewhere in the country. Many blacks suffered at the hands of mobs, as did suspected horse thieves in many western counties.

 

11. A Ranger in the Panhandle

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A Ranger in the Panhandle

“UPON COMING UP WITH THE HOWE’S [sic] . . . THEY OPENED FIRE ON THE POSSE, AND IN THE FIGHT FOLLOWING BOTH OF THE HOWE’S WERE KILLED.”

—Sgt. Herff A. Carnes, January 30, 1911, Scout Report

Amarillo’s newspaper, the Daily Panhandle, interviewed Captain Hughes as soon as possible and headlined the write-up as if the man had been totally silent previously: “Capt. Hughes of Rangers Talks” the sub-headline read, noting that he was a “Fine Type of the Real Texas Ranger of Olden Days.” Hughes stated, with reference to Amarillo,

I am thoroughly well pleased with Amarillo, and more so to note the quiet trend in the peace [police?] departments of the city and county. I am grateful to note that the local option situation is being cared for in a thorough manner by local officers. I hope and believe that they will continue in the course now outlined. I trust I shall not be forced to send a report to headquarters having on it a case of the class indicated. I am convinced that the local officers are equal to the task of caring for the policing of the city and the county, and shall not feel badly if the situation remains such that my force will not be compelled to make an arrest in this line. A blank report will not hurt me with the department.

 

12. Capt. John R. Hughes—Lone Star Ranger

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Capt. John R. Hughes—Lone Star Ranger

“I HAVE ENDEAVORED TO PERFORM MY FULL DUTY TO MY STATE, TO MY GOD, AND TO MYSELF . . .

—John R. Hughes to Miss B. Mathews, February 3, 1915

With such frequent visits to Brownsville, some 800 miles down the river from El Paso, at times Hughes must have considered other opportunities to earn his livelihood. He had been in the dangerous work of being a Ranger since 1887, and was now nearing the age of sixty in 1914. The position of county sheriff attracted him. In June Cameron County voters were excited about the possibility of who would become sheriff if former Ranger Carl T. Ryan, the incumbent, chose not to run. Ryan had served five years under Capt. W. J. “Bill” McDonald prior to running for sheriff. Captain Hughes would make the sheriff’s race very interesting if he threw his hat in the ring: he certainly had the name recognition as well as the experience behind him to be a strong candidate. If Sheriff Ryan announced his intended resignation at the end of the year, the field would be open for the primaries.

 

13. Texas State Cemetery

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Texas State Cemetery

“EVERY SCHOOL BOY IN TEXAS CUTS HIS EYE TEETH ON STORIES ABOUT THE TEXAS RANGERS. I WASN’T ANY EXCEPTION.”

—Lyndon Baines Johnson to John R. Hughes, May 31, 1946

Among the first, if not the first, to review Martin’s Border Boss was noted Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie. He provided a lengthy review for the Houston Post, certainly one of the highest circulating newspapers of the state in 1942. Dobie’s review linked the Rangers with the men fighting in World War II: “Texas Rangers Operated on Lines Now Used by Commandos” the headline read. Hughes, in smaller type, is described as “One of the Best.” Dobie’s review actually summarizes Hughes’s life as told in Border Boss, again pointing out how the Rangers enforced their own brand of justice in the vigilante killings of the eighteen men of the Olguin gang who had killed Capt. Frank Jones. Not Hughes, but an unidentified “remarkable undercover man” was responsible for the detective work that identified the men who killed Jones.

 

14. The Great Captains

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The Great Captains

“TEXAS RANGER. [T]HERE IS A SORT OF MAGIC ABOUT THE WORD. THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT IT THAT MARKS THE MAN SO TITLED AS AN ELEMENT APART FROM THE GENERAL TERM OFFICER; SOMETHING THAT MARKS HIM IN THE PUBLIC MIND AS A SUPER-LAW ENFORCER. AND THERE IS SOMETHING MORE THAN MEN BEHIND IT ALL; THERE IS A TRADITION, AND EACH MAN—LIKE CAPTAIN JOHN HUGHES—CONTRIBUTES SOME PART TO THAT TRADITION.”

—C. L. Douglas, The Gentlemen in White Hats, 1934

In the history of the Texas Rangers there were many captains; the names of Jack Hays, Samuel Walker, Ben McCulloch, Rip Ford, Sul Ross, John B. Jones, and L. H. McNelly deserve the title of great as much perhaps as Brooks, Hughes, McDonald, and Rogers.1 Of those featured in chapters in the 1996 Rangers of Texas, all were deceased prior to the “great captains” beginning their careers. They were Rangers during the heyday of the horseback Ranger while the careers of the four “great captains” transitioned from the horseback days into the beginning years of the automobile. All were instrumental in creating the mystique of the Texas Ranger, the recognition of which exists perhaps more so today.

 

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