13 Slices
Medium 9781574413908

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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7. Trouble in Colorado County

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

7

TROUBLE IN COLORADO COUNTY

Everyone had a pistol and guns were hidden all over the train.

Ben Stafford stepped out of the barbershop onto the main street of Columbus. It was a cold, blustery December morning. Sumner Townsend was waiting for him in the street. The hot words that had been exchanged for months between the two cattlemen were suddenly replaced by gunfire. Ben drew his pistol faster and his first shot pierced Townsend’s arm. Sumner’s pistol jerked downward at the impact of the bullet, and his wayward shot imbedded in Stafford’s ankle. Ben fired three more times, wounding Townsend in the shoulder, before both men slumped to the ground in pain.1

The shoot-out between these two men of Colorado County took place in 1871, and trouble simmered another two decades before boiling over once more, although later stories of an ongoing “feud” were greatly exaggerated. Still, there were plenty of Townsends and Staffords to go around, and everyone kept an eye on the other. Light Townsend was sheriff in 1890, and his nephew Larkin Hope city marshal. Capt. Bob Stafford, Ben’s brother, had a son named Warren who drank a bit too often when away from his mother’s watchful eye. Bob had an understanding with the law that they would let him know whenever his boy needed attending to.

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13. Falfurrias, Brooks County

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

13

FALFURRIAS, BROOKS COUNTY

For some reason kind Providence has been good to me for which I am truly thankful.

Judge James A. Brooks, who preferred to be called “captain” for the rest of his life despite three decades on the bench, worked diligently to make the county named after him a viable entity. He presided by virtue of his office over the county commissioner’s court and as ex-officio superintendent of the public school system that he helped create. He oversaw the initial laying out of the county roads and the bridges, and in 1912 steered the county citizens through a deadly smallpox epidemic. On a monthly salary of $150 plus $600 annually as school superintendent, Brooks led the groundwork that established the new county.

A courthouse was built in 1914 on the Falfurrias town square and the captain was honored at the festivities for his efforts to bring that project to fruition. The original plans for a courthouse had been shelved when most of voting Precinct Four was carved away into the new Jim Hogg County, and a construction bond issue of $68,000 did not pass until February 1914. Construction began in the spring and was completed on October 29, when two cornerstones were laid under the watchful eye of the county judge; meanwhile, court sat in session in the Donaho building near the square. On November 5 schools in Falfurrias were closed, the citizenry gathered behind the high school band as they paraded around the new edifice, and a brief ceremony took place prior to a community picnic served on the school grounds.1

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6. Deadly Streets of Cotulla

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

6

DEADLY STREETS OF COTULLA

On account of old troubles, too much talk, and reported threats the two factions came very near having serious trouble here.

“Which accounts for a trainload of extremely disgusted gentlemen in an uproar of fancy vests and neckwear being spilled from their Pullmans in the early morning following the fight,” concluded O. Henry in his short story Hygeia at the Solito.1 But not everyone who disembarked exhibited gloomy dispositions. The Rangers had not stopped the fight, but what had transpired hardly counted for much of a success for the redoubtable Dan Stuart and his pugilists. Wrote the adjutant general in his official report: “I desire to express my approbation for the intelligent and efficient manner in which Captains Brooks, McDonald, Hughes and Rogers executed every order and performed every duty. The Rangers conducted themselves in such manner as to reflect additional credit upon the name of a ranger—already a synonym for courage and duty well performed.

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9. The Baker/De la Cerda Incident

Paul N. Spellman. University of North Texas Press ePub

9

THE BAKER/DE LA CERDA INCIDENT

My men are crack shots and I am not afraid of them getting the worst of anything.

Three years before the four captains assumed their duties for the Ranger Force, an outbreak of smallpox in Laredo caused a minor panic in the mostly Mexican town that turned into a full fledged riot by March 1899. Dr. Walter F. Blunt, the state’s chief health officer, called for a quarantine across the city and ordered fumigation for most of the homes.

The townspeople, misunderstanding the health officer’s intentions, reacted as if they were being permanently evicted. The local constabulary called for help, and the Rangers of Company E moved in to assist Blunt and his staff. On March 18 a fight broke out in the streets of Laredo, with snipers firing from rooftops and the Rangers returning fire. Capt. John Rogers was gravely wounded and rushed to a San Antonio surgeon to save his shattered arm. Agapito Herrera, a former deputy sheriff who led the insurgency, was shot and killed. The riot was quelled and the quarantine instigated without further incidents, except for the growing resentment in that community towards the Texas Rangers.1

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