13 Slices
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10. Batson Prairie Oil

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

10

BATSON PRAIRIE OIL

There is no way of holding a prisoner here except to chain him to a tree with chain and lock

The assignment given Captain Brooks on March 18, 1903, must surely have opened a festering old wound in his soul. Even as he was making preparations to complete the move of Company A out to Laredo, Brooks was ordered to Yoakum to assist Atascosa County Sheriff Matthew Avant and two Rangers from Captain Hughes’s company in escorting Gregorio Cortez Lira to his trial in Pleasanton. Gregorio, the man who had killed Brooks’s friend Brack Morris two years earlier, had been in a San Antonio jail most of that time awaiting this next turn in the judiciary system. His stay in a Yoakum jail resulted from one of many changes of venue. Brooks reports only that he met the Rangers and Avant at the depot in Floresville where they headed to Yoakum, and that Cortez was safely brought to Pleasanton.1

The story of Gregorio Cortez’s many trials and acquittals stretched on into the next decade. In a personal letter, Capt. John Rogers, the Ranger who captured Gregorio, recalled seeing the just released defendant walking along a San Antonio street some years later, noting the revulsion he felt. One of Cortez’s several trials was presided over by Judge Stanley Welch, a key figure in South Texas politics who had also presided at the Baker trial in early 1903.2

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8. The Ranger Force

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

8

THE RANGER FORCE

5’10” tall, 170 pounds, blue eyes, joined the Rangers on January 15, 1882, in Cotulla

As the twenty-seventh texas legislature convened for its 1901 session, Governor Sayers entered his “Message to Congress” into the records on January 10. Under the title of “The Adjutant General’s Department,” Sayers wrote this about the Rangers: “This body of men cannot be too highly commended for the manner in which they have discharged the many dangerous and delicate duties incident to their employment. They have been used only where necessary to repress lawlessness, to detect crime, and to arrest and bring to trial the more serious classes of offenders. Their services in this respect have been invaluable, and may be regarded as an absolute necessity to the State.”

Clearly, the exigency of the argument to disband or reorganize the Rangers was on the governor’s mind as he penned his report to the legislature. “Failure to provide properly for the continuance of this force,” Sayers continued, “would involve the assumption of a responsibility which no one at all acquainted with prevailing conditions should care to assume. It is earnestly recommended that the men be invested with such powers of arrest and detention as are conferred upon the officers.”1

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1. Old Kentucky Home

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

1

OLD KENTUCKY HOME

My father having gone to his final rest, my mother was left in the midst of that great struggle with six daughters and two little boys.

John Strode Brooks stood at the corner post of his new property, surveying a portion of the 247 acres of Kentucky bluegrass he had recently purchased. A tributary of Houston Creek flowed easily along its rocky bed through the eastern acreage. A stand of maple trees promised maple syrup the next season, a rolling field just past the grove looked favorable for summer corn, and an apple orchard would complete the annual harvest.

The pike road that connected tiny Paris to the growing town of Lexington drew one line for his land, a small road that wound northward along the Fayette-Bourbon county border marked another. New neighbors included Aaron and Mary Smedley, John Giltner just across the pike road, Frank and Nancy Willmott, Joshua and Rachel Corbin to the north, and the James Baggs family on the southern boundary. The main house would go there, he pointed up the pike, and the slave quarters in the hollow not far from the corral and barns.

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2. A Texas Ranger

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

2

A TEXAS RANGER

Capt. Scott encouraged me to be a real worthwhile Texas Ranger under all circumstances.

San Antonio was a bustling town in 1880, filled with every opportunity imaginable, and every temptation, for an impressionable twenty-four-year-old cowboy just stepping off the train. Whatever Jim Brooks hoped would happen for him there, however, never materialized. His later memoirs pointedly omit nearly all of the events of the next three years of his life, except the confessions of an old man that the most famous distilled product from his Bourbon County home now became his lifelong partner. In one recollection Brooks simply wrote: “I located in San Antonio, [and] after a number of trips looking over South Texas, and a few business adventures most of which failed, one took me to Cotulla, La Salle County, several times.”

But another memoir, scribbled on a desk calendar when Brooks was in his eighties, gives more insight into one of those “failed ventures.” After spending a few days in San Antonio, first at the old Southern Hotel, and then at “Miss Porter’s boardinghouse,” Brooks came back in contact with William Bartlett, the Kansas cattleman, and befriended Jerry Burnett’s son Sam, who had established himself in the Wichita Falls area (and who lent his name to the town of Burkburnett years later), as well as the Maltsbergers, father and son, of La Salle County.1

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11. Keeping the Peace in the Valley

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

11

KEEPING THE PEACE IN THE VALLEY

My private business being such that I could not do justice both to myself and the state, I tendered my resignation.

It must have been an interesting assignment for Captain Brooks in the middle of the summer of 1904, ordered to Minera to halt a violent railroad strike. Twenty-two years earlier as a too-often drunken laborer, the Kentucky wanderer had spent the miserable part of a year working in those same coal mines, loading rail cars and helping with the transport to Cotulla and San Antonio. Perhaps the bourbon-induced fog of those early days prevented the Ranger captain from remembering any of those moments now; perhaps a sense of pride welled up within him for the successful career he had managed since. Either way it made for interesting serendipity that Brooks would purchase “retirement property” the same month that he would return to the scene of the sordid days that propelled him into the Texas Rangers.

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