Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Old West: Texas - The Horrell Brothers

The Horrell Brothers were also referred to as "The Lawless Horrell Boys." All in all there were five brothers from the Horrell family of Lampasas County, Texas.

All outlaws of the Old West. They committed numerous murders over a five year period before four of the brothers were finally killed in different incidents.
Although relatively few deaths compared to other feuds, the brothers are probably best known for the Horrell-Higgins Feud. That feud started in 1873. That was when the brothers went on a killing spree during which time they killed two lawman in New Mexico, one white and the other Hispanic. After that they went on to kill eleven Hispanic men along with wounding one Hispanic woman before they were done. Yes, it was considered a racially motivated killing spree. Even in the Old West, there were such things.

How bad were these brothers? Well, it is said that the brothers had killed five lawmen prior to that spree in Texas. Imagine that? Five lawmen get killed and these bad guys still ran around to spread more evil.

The Horrell and Higgins families had both settled in the Lampasas County area several years before the Civil War. The two families got along well for over a decade. That all ended by the early 1870s when the Horrell boys, Mart, Tom, Merritt, Ben and Sam, became involved in numerous lawless activities.

You've heard of the James boys and the Youngers, well neither were as deadly as the Horrell brothers. In fact, by January 1873, Lampasas County Sheriff Shadrick T. Denson attempted to arrest two brothers, Wash and Mark Short. He was stopped by the Horrell brothers when a gunfight ensued and Sheriff Denson was shot dead.

Since things looked completely out of hand, a county judge appealed to Governor Edmund J. Davis for help. This prompted the Texas State Police to dispatch a number of lawmen to settle things down.

On February 10th, 1873, Governor Davis issued an order prohibiting the carrying of firearms inside the town limits of Lampasas, Texas. That's right, Gun Control from the Governor himself. Of course even back then they found out that when law abiding citizen lose the right to carry a gun, only the outlaws have them. In this case the Horrell brothers.

Seven Texas State Police Officers arrived shortly after went into place. They were under the command of Captain Thomas Williams. On March 14th, 1873, state officers Wesley Cherry, Jim Daniels, and Andrew Melville arrested Bill Bowen, a brother-in-law to the Horrell brothers. He was arrested for carrying a firearm.

The officers made the mistake of then entering Jerry Scott's Saloon with Bowen in tow. This sparked a verbal confrontation with the Horrell brothers who were drinking heavily inside the saloon. Soon enough a gunfight ensued. It resulted in four of the officers being shot dead, including Captain Williams. Before succumbing to his wounds, Captain Williams shot and badly wounded Mart and Tom Horrell.

Following the gunfight, the Governor sent several more state police to the county. Outnumbered, Mart Horrell and three friends were arrested and taken to the Georgetown, Texas, jail. But that didn't stop more than 30 of their friends, all who decided to break into the jail and free them. After being freed from jail, the brothers fled to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where Ben Horrell is said to have quickly befriended Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Gylam.

On December 1st, 1873, Sheriff Gylam and Ben Horrell are said to have rode into Lincoln, New Mexico, where they began drinking. They visited several brothels and saloons before deciding to shoot up the town. Yes, discharging their firearms in the street while drunk.

Constable Juan Martinez arrived on scene and immediately demanded that the two turn over their weapons. Surprisingly they complied but were not arrested. Sadly, their being disarmed didn't last. Both were said to be mean drunks, and soon enough they had found more pistols. So again they started shooting up the town, but this time they started inside a brothel.

Constable Martinez is said to have confronted the two with the intent of disarming them again. Ben Horrell shot and killed Constable Martinez. After that, he and Sheriff Gylam attempted to flee town. Luckily, both were stopped before getting away and a shootout took place. The result was that the two never made it out of town as other lawmen caught up with them before they were able to leave town. Both Horrell and Gylam are said to have been killed.

The Horrell brothers retaliated by killing two prominent Mexican ranchers. This resulted in newly appointed Sheriff Alexander Hamilton Mills to gather up a posse and hunting them down. Then after an intense standoff outside Lincoln, the posse was so shot up that they retreated and the brothers escaped.

On December 20th, 1873, the brothers stormed a Hispanic celebration in Lincoln, killing four Hispanic men and wounding one Hispanic woman. Again they were pursued, but evaded capture.

Proving that these brothers hated Mexican-Americans in the worse way, shortly after that, Edward "Little" Hart, a cohort of the Horrell brothers, shot and killed Deputy Sheriff Joseph Haskins because the Deputy married a Hispanic woman.

Less than a week later, the brothers and their friends came into contact with freight wagons just outside Roswell, New Mexico. Since the wagons were being  maintained by five Hispanic men, the Horrell brothers decided to kill all five of those men.

Now enters John "Pink" Higgins

John Pinckney Calhoun Higgins
By early February of 1874, the brothers had returned to Lampasas, Texas. As soon as arriving, they found that they were no longer welcome. Fact is, by that time, they were no longer viewed as simply fun-loving local cowboys. Instead, they were seen as the outlaws and killers that they were.
Soon after arriving, the brothers were arrested for the murders of the lawmen in Lampasas. Sadly, because an intimidated local jury heard the case, they were acquitted.

Shortly after their acquittal, John "Pink" Higgins accused the Horrell brothers of cattle rustling. The brothers were arrested again and went to court. Again, mostly out of fear of the brothers, the local jury hearing the case acquitted them.

Although things were tense between the Higgins and Horrell families, nothing really happened until January 22th, 1877. On that day, while in the Wiley and Toland's Gem Saloon in Lampasas, John "Pink" Higgins shot and killed Merritt Horrell in a gunfight.

The three remaining Horrell brothers vowed they would take revenge against John Higgins, his brother in law Bob Mitchell, and their friend Bill Wren. And they didn't keep their plans a secret. In fact, it's said they made their plans of killing Pink Higgins and the other very public on several occasions.

On March 26th, 1877, Tom and Mart Horrell were shot and wounded during an ambush but both survived. At the time, John Higgins and Bob Mitchell were being sought for the Merritt Horrell gunfight. Both surrendered shortly after the ambush. They surrendered to no nonsense Texas Ranger Captain John Sparks who is best known for his 1876 capture of gunman Billy Thompson.

After the arrest, both men posted their 10 percent needed for their $10,000 bond. Both were released. Interestingly, right after that, the local courthouse was said to have been burglarized with several records stolen which included their bonds. In the meanwhile, an inquest ruled the shooting of Merritt Horrell as self-defense and the charges were dropped.

Lampasas Square Shoot Out & John Higgins

On June 7th, 1877, John "Pink" Higgins, his brother-in-law Bob Mitchell, Bob's brother Frank, Bill Wren, and another brother-in-law Ben Terry, all rode into Lampasas, Texas. The Horrell brothers and several their friends were already in town that day. They were already gathered at the town square.

It is unknown who fired first, but it is believed that someone within the Horrell gang opened fire on the Higgins faction. This resulted in a shootout that resulted in Bill Wren being wounded and Frank Mitchell being killed. The Horrell faction didn't make out any better as their friends Buck Waltrup and Carson Graham were killed.

Texas Rangers descended on the town only days later. With that all three Horrell brothers were arrested, and Texas Ranger Major John B. Jones acted as a mediator between the two sides to calm matters.

Less than one year later, Mart and Tom Horrell were arrested in Meridian, Texas for armed robbery and murder. While confined to the local jail, a group of concerned citizens, read that as "vigilantes,"broke in and shot both of the Horrell brothers. It's said that the citizen's committee shot them, and shot them, and shot them to make sure they were dead. And although never proven, it was speculated later that John "Pink" Higgins was involved in the murders.

Sam Horrell was now the only remaining Horrell brother, and he moved his family to Oregon in 1882 before finally settling later in California. He died there in 1936.

John "Pink" Higgins was viewed as a local hero. He's often credited with bringing down the Horrell Brothers and their murderous gang. His legend would grow later worked as a range detective while developing a considerable reputation as a gunman.

In September of 1877, Higgins killed cowboy Ike Lantier. He caught Lantier in the act of stealing cattle. Lantier made the mistake of drawing on Higgins. He is said to have killed Lantier with a single shot. That shooting was later ruled self-defense.

On October 4th, 1903, already an old man by the standards of the day, John Higgins killed gunman and former lawman Bill Standifer in a gunfight. Standifer had threatened John Higgins' son Cullin who was a local district attorney. Pink Higgins wasn't going to stand for it.

John "Pink" Higgins died on December 18, 1914. At the time of his death, he was known to have killed at 14 men in gunfights. Yes, in reality, he killed more men than Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp combined. He was one tough hombre. If you doubt that, just ask the Horrell brothers.

Tom Correa

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