Tuesday, October 1, 2013

John "Pink" Higgins - The Good Badman

Pink Higginsby Jerry Sinise
Editor for Grain Producers News,
January, 1972

He Believed Right was Right and Killed 14 Men to Prove It

By all rights, John Calhoun Pinkney Higgins should have died an unnatural death.

He fought Indians, hunted rustlers, punched wild cattle and was the center of a bitter South Texas feud.

But death came quickly and quietly to Higgins on a blustery winter morning, Dec. 18, 1914, as he built a fire in the rock fireplace in his weather-beaten, slab-sided ranch house 13 miles south of Spur, Texas.

He had been told by his doctor that it might, and it did. He died of a heart attack. His death was far more peaceful than his life. He killed at least 14 men in gunfights and once said that there might have been more.

He wasn´t sure, but it had gotten to the point that if anyone was found shot or had disappeared, everyone said: "Pink Higgins did it."

Once, looking at an indictment stating he killed 14 men, Higgins said: "I didn't kill all them men - but then again I got some that wasn't on the bill, so I guess it just about evens up."

Higgins, however, didn't consider himself a gunfighter in the accepted sense. He wasn't a hired gun. He just didn't take kindly to derogatory words about his family, his friends or himself.

Higgins was more accurate than fast with the pistol he carried, a .44 in a .45 caliber frame. Once he cleared leather with it, though, the offender´s chances of survival were lessened considerable. His favorite weapon, however, was a Winchester 30-30, and his speed and accuracy with it were legendary.

Old-time ranchers around Spur still recall that Higgins could hit an erratic jackrabbit dead center at 100 yards. He always pulled the trigger with his thumb, which was opposite the trigger when the lever was thrown.

The last man Higgins killed was with that Winchester at a marked-off 60 paces, and, although the shooting took place 68 years ago, folk around Spur talk about it as if it had just happened. The loser's name was Bill Standifer. The words on his grave marker say that he died on October 4th, 1903.

Stories differ slightly as to why Higgins and Standifer shot it out. They once were friends. Even his own family was never quite sure why the two fell out.

One story goes that Standifer and his wife separated, and Cullin Higgins, a son of Pink's by his first wife, was Mrs. Standifer's lawyer. Standifer made Cullin's life miserable and is said to have raked Cullin over the coals pretty good one time.

Pink stepped in and told him that the next time he did something like that he'd be by his son's side, and he´d settle the argument permanently. Standifer, showing more bravado than common sense, indicated he would be ready anytime, anyplace.

The second story, which sounds more plausible, is that Higgins, who was hired in 1899 to protect the Espuela Land & Cattle Co., Ltd. of London, former owners of the Spur Ranch, from cattle thieves, caught Standifer and his friend, Bill McComas, showing too much interest in cattle other than their own, and warned them to watch it.

Standifer made threats, backed by McComas, and Higgins watched his back trail after that. Stanifer obviously wasn't too interested in a face-to-face gunfight. He knew of Higgins´ reputation with his rifle.

One time the two met in Clairemont, and Standifer, who had been drinking heavily, suggested they shoot it out the next day on the town's main street. Higgins agreed.

Early morning found Higgins riding slowly into town with his Winchester lying across the front of his saddle. He waited all day, but Standifer never appeared. That event didn't add much to Standifer's reputation, which wasn't any great shakes to speak about anyway.

One Spur old-timer summed up Standifer this way: "He was a drinking man and a hell-raiser. If he got it in for you, he´d go out of his way to make trouble for you."

Standifer tried several times to ambush Higgins, but the latter was as wary as an Apache, and none of Standifer's trick worked. Higgins had an uncanny sixth sense. Many times he'd suddenly change the way he'd head home, because he felt he shouldn't go down a certain trail.

Invariably, when it was checked out, there'd be evidence that someone was waiting to ambush him. No one knew how Higgins knew. He'd just know. It saved his life many times.

Once Standifer sent one of his friends to Higgins to tell him that rustlers were working in a certain area. Higgins, knowing that the messenger was Standifer's man, took off in another direction, climbed a hill and with field glasses spotted Standifer waiting for him. Higgins returned home.

Another time, Higgins started out afoot to drive his horses from the pasture into a corral, and spotted Standifer in some rocks within rifle range of the horses. Again Higgins went home. That same night he heard some coyotes, yipping close to the house, but he knew Standifer could give a pretty good imitation of a coyote and judged rightly that Standifer was just waiting for him to open the door.

This conviction was strengthened by the behavior of his dogs. Instead of giving chase as they always did when coyotes were near, they merely barked. Standifer and McComas almost cut Higgins off from his rifle one time when they caught him in a pasture, but he managed to get to his horse and a weapon, and the two ambushers took off.

Once again Higgins was watering his horse at a tank when a rifle bullet cut into the top of the tank near him. He dived for cover. The ambusher didn't try a second time.

The day came when Higgins said he couldn't "live holed up like a rat any longer."

He rarely had a light on at night in his home, and he stayed away from the windows. It was a standing rule that any noises outside the house sent the children under the kitchen table while Higgins checked the disturbance. He never took his eyes off anyone approaching him from a distance until he was sure of his identity.

Spur old timers vow that Higgins never wanted to fight Standifer and made every effort to avoid it. But enough was enough, and when Higgins saw Standifer in the distance one morning riding toward the house, he saddled up his favorite horse, Sandy, stuck his Winchester in the boot and rode out to meet him.
They approached each other at an angle. Standifer was on Higgins' right. Higgins told the story: "I was sure he wouldn´t get off his horse on my side, but would try to use his horse for protection. So I made up my mind to keep my eye on his left foot, and the minute that foot left the stirrup I would get off and go for my gun.

When we were less than 100 yards apart and getting closer every step our horses took, he slipped her out and off I went. My rifle sorter hung in the saddle scabbard, and as I got it out Standifer shot, hitting old Sandy. He jumped against me and made me shoot wild - I always hated to lose the first shot.

Standifer was shooting, but he was jumping around like a Comanche and his shots were going wild. He was sideways to me, and so I knew I had to shoot mighty accurate to get him. I knew he couldn't do any good with his gun till he stopped jumping.

So I dropped on my knee, trying to get a bead on him, and when he slowed down I let him have it. I knew I had got him when the dust flew out of his sleeve above the elbow and he started to buckle.

He dropped his gun into the crook of his other arm and tried to trot off. I called to him, saying if he had had enough I wouldn't shoot again and would come to him, but he fell face forward, his feet flopped up and he didn't speak.

I was afraid to go to him, fearing he was playing possum after being shot, so I got on my horse and started home. I got another horse and rode to a telephone and told the sheriff at Clairemont I thought I had killed Standifer. He said if I wasn't sure I had better go back and finish it."

One thing everyone knew about Higgins. He was a man of unusual nerve. His moves were deliberate, his demeanor cold. He'd been smoking a pipe when he rode out to do combat, and when his horse was hit and had gone down, Higgins calmly put the pipe on the ground before reaching for his rifle - this while Standifer was shooting away.

When Standifer fell, he jammed his rifle barrel-first into the ground. The bullet that killed him went through an elbow and into his heart. The late George Underwood of Spur stepped off the distance between Higgins and Standifer, counting 60 paces. This was verified by others who rode to the scene later. A light rain had fallen that morning and signs of the battle were quite clear in the red dirt of the range.

There were two witnesses to the shooting, McComas and one of Higgins' daughters.  Evidence was found that McComas was standing on a knoll some distance away from the shoot-out, and he hightailed it when the shooting stopped.

Higgins, by the way, didn't waste any time with McComas. He saw him shortly after the shooting and gave him 10 days to pack up and leave. McComas made it in one. Mrs. B.I. (Bonnie Bay) Scoggins of Morgan climbed on top of the roof of the Higgins house to see what was happening. Her mother and other children waited anxiously below. When the shooting stopped, Mrs. Higgins wanted to know what had happened.

Bonnie Bay saw "a big, beautiful bay horse trotting fast toward the west, saddled and holding his head like he was dragging his bridle reins. It was Standifer's horse. Then I told my mother I saw my father coming home, slowly."

Sandy died when Higgins rode him into the yard. Higgins was never indicted for the killing. Standifer was buried close to where he fell in a place now called Standifer's Thicket on the J.B. Morrison Ranch, formerly part of Higgins' land.

A marker was placed on the spot about 15 years ago. In the same grave are the bodies of two small children some believe belonged to the McComases.

Higgins was never reluctant about talking about the shooting or any others he was involved in. He was a good story-teller, and usually had 10 or 15 people around him listening to his tales whenever he was in town. He probably inherited his gift for talk from his father, John, a full blooded Irishman.

Pink Higgins was really an O'Higgins. His father moved from Ireland to the east coast of the United States, dropped the O' from the family name and settled finally near Atlanta, GA. Pink was three months old when his father, in 1848, packed the family into a cumbersome prairie schooner, joined up with 35 other wagons and headed west. More than 100 slaves went along, walking the entire distance.

The wagon train stopped near Austin, Tex., and the Higgins family stayed there until 1857, then moved to the head of Beehouse Creek near Lampasas. Higgins Gap nearby was named for Pink's father.

Pink was nine years old by then, and he'd gained a pioneer's working knowledge of horses and Winchesters. He learned to survive in a hostile country dominated by Indians and unpredictable weather. His education saved his life more than once. When it came to fighting off Indians, Pink stood shoulder to shoulder with the men.

In the fall of 1859, the frequent Indian raids forced the Higgins family and others to move, and they packed into Bell County, staying there until the spring of 1862, then returning to Lampasas. As childhoods go, Higgins never had one. He played a man's part and did a man's work from his earliest recollections.

His father raised him with a sense of responsibility demanded by the circumstances of their life in Indian country. He grew into quite a man - six feet two inches tall, 190 pounds, muscular and straight as an arrow.

Higgins had soft black wavy hair and his skin was as white as a child´s under his sleeve where the sun hadn´t burned. His eyes were grayish green with brown spots in them, and some folks called them "tiger eyes." He was quick, alert and active.

Higgins fought Indians all over the western part of Texas. He was wounded twice, once in the leg and another time in the boot. On one occasion some friendly Tonkawas were helping a Higgins group trail some raiding Indians.

The Tonks, in his opinion, were worthless as fighters, but unsurpassed in trailing. They caught up with the marauders. After the fight, Higgins was broiling a piece of buffalo meat over the coals of his campfire.

One of the Tonks came up with meat on the end of a stock and squatted before the fire. Higgins yelled at him to quit letting that greasy beef drip on his buffalo, and the Indian said: "Him no beef, Him Comanche."

The Tonkawas, hated by other Indians because of their cannibalistic practices, believed that eating an adversary transferred whatever bravery the dead man possessed to the victor. Higgins' comments weren't fit to print.

When he was 18, Higgins was a member of the Law and Oder League, one of many similar organizations about the state made up of citizens to handle horse thieves and other lawless characters who overran the border country between the Red River and Rio Grande.

The league had the blessing of the Adjutant General in Texas. Members of the league had a way of making themselves known to each other. If unknown to each other, one would ask: "How may I know you?" The reply would be "I'll word it for you."

Then they'd give, alternately, the letters "D-N-R-S," being careful never to use them in that order. The code probably was taken from the French "Dennier Ressort."

If they came upon each other at night, one would say: "Who comes? to which the answer would be "Moon up" if the moon were down, and "Moon down" if it were up.

Higgins was a member of a posse that ran down an over-active horse thief, and he adjusted the hangman's noose around the culprit´s neck. The thief stood on his horse under the limb of a hackberry tree and said he knew he was going to hell, and that he wanted to get there in time to ask his partner for the first dance. With that, he kicked the horse out from under himself.

Pink's toughest fight came when he was least expecting it. He wasn't looking for trouble, but it was waiting for him and he took care of it in his customary fashion.

It happened on the border at Del Rio during a time when Texas was having problems with Mexico. Mexican authorities had arrested a man named Cutting on a charge that seemed to be false, and Texas Gov. John Ireland (1882-1886) gave the Mexicans 24 hours to release him.

Pink arrived on the scene at this inopportune time to do some horse buying. He had arranged to get 125 head on the Mexican side of the river, and although he had made a down payment, which guaranteed their delivery to the United States side, the Mexicans reneged. They had Pink's dollar a head and laughed at him when he tried to impress them with the fact that he had bought the horses in good faith and wanted them.

Not listening was their first mistake. The second came when one said he'd never seen Pink before. Pink said something to the effect that he'd never see him again, either. When the smoke cleared, the Mexican was full of holes and Pink and his three associates were heading double-time for the river.

The International Bridge was guarded and there wasn't much they could do but try to swim for it, but then the Mexicans opened fire, killing one of Pink´s men and wounding another. The third tried to swim off and urged Pink to do the same, but Pink wouldn't leave the wounded man and threatened to shoot the other if he attempted to leave. The man came back.

The battle lasted until nightfall. Shots fell around them like hail and it was a wonder they weren't killed. The two and the wounded man took their toll of the 20 or 30 Mexicans shooting at them. When night came, they buried three six-shooters in the sand, tied the others around their necks with as many cartridges as they could carry and swam across the Rio. Higgins said afterward that he fought harder then and under less favorable circumstances than at any other time in his life.

Not all of Pink Higgins' time was spent fighting. On the contrary, he was rather a peaceful man and had a westerner's desire to be left alone. At Lampasas he owned a combination meat shop and saloon, and had them wiped out by fire.

People owed him about $1,500 in meat bills and about the same for whisky. All his records went up in smoke, and he didn't know who owed how much, but more than half the liquor debts were paid voluntarily.

None of the meat bills were ever paid. Higgins found cattle more reliable than people, and he spent most of his life raising cattle around Lampasas and Spur. He owned three or four sections south of Spur and ran about 100 head of Herefords on the sandy land. He also raised feed, cotton and peanuts. He used to haul his cotton to Snyder for ginning.

In 1871 he bought 900 head of steer yearlings for 50 cents a head and the year following bought another 1,700 head at a dollar a head. ­­ In 1873, he trailed them to western Kansas and sold the two-year-olds for $8 and the three-year-olds for $11 a head. Cow and calf in those days sold for about $15.

It was a custom then, prior to trailing a herd, to shoot all calves younger than a year old as being unfit to make a rough trip and as being an added drain on the mother cows. The calves were skinned, and their hides, in addition to camp meat, were the only salvage. The flint hides sold for 11 cents a pound then.

Once heading out toward the range, Higgins was bitten by a rattler with 17 buttons. The snake bit him through his boot top and hung on until Pink kicked it loose. He whipped a cord around the leg below the knee and split three live chickens up the back and applied them to the bite. The chickens turned green.

Higgins shared the belief of many cowboys that the rattlesnake wasn´t really as poisonous as a skunk. The "Hydrophobia cats," as they were known, were looked upon with dread.

Higgins was something of a practical joker. He could take a joke just as well as he could hand one out. Higgins, Baxter Scoggin, his son-in-law, and Chalk Brown once reversed the wheels on a buggy driven by Clifford Jones, then manager of the Spur Ranch. They took the large wheels off the back and switched them with the front ones, Jones, who didn't spot the change, said afterwards he felt as if he'd driven uphill all the way home.

Down in Lampasas, before Higgins moved to Spur about 1898, a man had a standing offer to meet all comers in a chicken-liver eating contest. Higgins accepted and ate 48 to the challenger's 28. Frank Jones of the "James Boys" fame held the stakes. No one, though, ever called Higgins "chicken livered."

His sense of humor, or perhaps the unconscious thinking of a man who sees a lot of desert, came out in naming the children of his second wife, Lena Rivers Sweet. They had six girls and a son. One girl, and the boy died in infancy. He named the girls Bonnie Bay, Ruby Lake and Rocky Rivers before his wife put a whoa to that and named one Rena and other Nell.

Higgins had two boys, Tom and Cullin, and a daughter by his first wife. Both boys became prominent attorneys. Cullin, at 27, was elected district attorney of the 39th Judicial District, which included Scurry, Stonewall, Kent, Fisher, Jones, Throckmorton and Haskell counties. He was re-elected at the end of a two-year term, then elevated to district judge.

Cullin liked it quiet in his courtroom, and once after a particularly noisy session, he said he´d fine the next one who made any unnecessary noise in the room. Higgins chose this time to stomp into the courtroom in his cowboy fashion and Cullin fined him $25. Pink paid it.

Cullin was a bold and fearless prosecutor, and his tough prosecution of a Kent County murder case resulted in his own death. He was shot in the back one Sunday night as he was sitting before a window in a Clairemont hotel. A shotgun blast at short range ended his life. Sy Bostick was said to have killed him, and an incensed mob hung him in jail.

Tom Higgins, a county judge at Lampasas, died June 19, 1944, of a heart attack. When it came to his family, Pink Higgins knew no bounds. He was a strict disciplinarian, and any infringement of the Higgins house rules resulted in quick, hard-handed justice. His daughters recall that they had a place, and he made sure they stayed in it.

Higgins had a heart as big as the wide open spaces he lived in. He adopted and reared five brothers and three sisters of his first wife. He saw to it that none of his neighbors ever went hungry if they were in need.

His generosity was unlimited. Anyone visiting Higgins stayed for dinner, and if it were late, stayed the night. He made sure they had a meal and food to carry with them when they left the next morning.
He treated all visitors that way, and he expected the same treatment in return - and got it.

Higgins was in Muskogee, Okla., one time representing a Texas company in a large cattle transaction. A man passed him on the street, then repassed him several times. Higgins finally smiled at the man and said: "Yes it's me."

The man, who later became a prominent Oklahoma banker, was overjoyed to see Higgins. Seems that Pink had given him $50 and a fast horse once when some gamblers tried to ride him down one night. The man had caught one of them trying to put away an ace in a poker game and had shot him dead center. The man came to Higgins' camp a perfect stranger, and Pink helped him out.

There never was a man Higgins wouldn´t help out if the man came to him. Higgins wasn´t a religious man in the strict sense of the word. His mother was a Hardshell Baptist, and she made sure Higgins read his Bible. He read it completely through at least three times.

Religious instruction in his home was left mostly to his wife, but when he was home he'd sit and listen. His wife was a Methodist, Higgins' conversion was sudden, according to his family. It was about 1910-1911, while listening to Rev. Fern Self, a Baptist minister preaching in a school house near Spur, that Higgins made his peace with God. He was baptized in the Tabernacle in Spur. Higgins gave two acres of his land as the site for a school house.

Higgins knew only one way to do business, and that was the honest, honorable way.

At Spur, they still say he was "as honest as the day is long." He was slow to anger and had an unusual amount of patience. There was a point, though, beyond which he couldn't be shoved.

The Higgins-Horell Feud at Lampasas was a case in point. Cattle rustling was at the bottom of the feud. Pink didn´t take kindly to having his cattle stolen. The Horrell brothers, Merritt, Tom and Mart, used to forge bills of sale; they did it to Higgins several times and once too often. Pink let them know that "they had bill-of-sale" the last bunch of his cattle, and if they stole any more, he was coming after them.

The Horrell brothers apparently were the juvenile delinquents of the late 1880s. Their father was a law abiding man, and he reared the boys to be "honest, good men," but someplace along the line he lost control of them and they became "dishonest, bad men."

Many times Higgins saw Old Man Horrell take off his six-shooter belt and whip the boys for stealing his neighbors' calves, but it was the six-shooter that finally made the most impression on them. Higgins and the Horrell brothers had been good friends. They were neighbors, and they had followed raiding Comanches and fought them side by side. Higgins didn´t participate in their rustling, though.
The brothers first became conspicuous for their part in the killing of Capt. Thomas Williams of the state police on Jan. 19, 1873, in Jerry Scott's saloon in Lampasas.

He, with seven men, had come to town to arrest Bill Bowen, a friend of the Horrells. Capt. Williams spotted Bowen entering the saloon, and after placing his men at different locations, entered the bar and said to Bowen: "I see you are wearing a pistol. I arrest you."

Mart Horrell said: "You haven't done anything, Bill. You don't have to be arrested if you don't want to." What happened after that isn't clear, but in the shooting that followed, Williams was killed, three others died and Mart Horrell was wounded.

Higgins came into the story three years later when the Horrells, his so-called friends, stole too many of the wrong man's cattle. The brothers took 36 head of Higgins' cattle and started them on the trail.

Higgins went after them and cut his out of the herd, held by some of the Horrells' cowboys. He sent word that they could come and see what he had done if they wanted to, and they replied they would "get him on sight."

Pink wasn't one to wait around. He acted. So against the advice of his wife's father, then sheriff in Lampasas, Pink rode into town and up to Dead Man's Saloon, where he expected to find one or more of the Horrells.

He slipped his Winchester out of the boot and walked into the saloon. Merritt Horrell was sitting with his back quartering to the door. Higgins saw him and kept walking straight toward him, rifle ready.

The bartender headed for the door and two customers jumped out the window. Merritt went for his six-shooter in a holster under his arm. His shot went into the ceiling when HIggins' bullet hit him in the chest.

Pink shot him three times more to make sure. Any one of the four bullets would have killed Merritt. Higgins then stepped to the door and called to the bartender to "set them up" and he drank to his success in "getting the rest of the Horrells."

Pink took the fight to the brothers. It now became a case of kill or be killed. On his side were Bill Wren, a rancher who later became sheriff, and Pink's brother-in-law, Bob Mitchell. Both were good men with a gun. There were others, and there were several who sided with the Horrells. Both sides had spies in the other's ranks.

Higgins was able to keep up with the movements of the opposition through a spy who posed as a gunman from Mexico employed by the Horrells. This man put his unsigned letters in an old hollow tree, advising Higgins what the plans of the Horrels were.

Two Negroes in town tipped off the Horrells to the movements of the Higgins group. The feud lasted three years. Higgins was wanted by the authorities for at least a dozen killings, either on indictments by grand juries or warrants.

Higgins gave himself up to an old friend, Judge W. A. Blackburn of Llano, and bond was set at $40,000, all paid by friends of Higgins.

Some of the Horrells' friends appealed to the governor to send troops to stop Higgins and his party in his "killings." But the captain of the Texas Rangers in Lampasas wrote the governor to let Higgins proceed unmolested and that he would clean up the lawless element. But it wasn't for Pink to complete.

The Rangers finally arrested Tom and Mart Horrell on a cattle theft charge and took them to jail after a gunfight at the Horrell ranch. It's ironic that when the two boys were captured, they begged the Rangers to turn them over to Pink and his men for safe delivery to jail at Lampasas or Meridian.

They both feared a lynch mob would get to them first. Pink and his men did provide protection and the two were taken to the Meridian jail.

One Sunday night the sheriff received word that his mother was dying in a nearby town. It was a ruse to get him out of Meridian, and it worked. When he got back, after nearly killing his horse, he found a mob had tricked their way into the jail and had shot the Horrell brothers several times.

The indictments against Higgins were dismissed. Neigh he nor his men stood trial for the several killings in the feud. Pink Higgins always did what he felt he had to do. He never indicated that he regretted the killings. He probably felt justified, and according to his code of honesty and right, he had no cause to be sorry for what he did. He was, according to his friends, a good badman.

Information concerning Higgins was provided by two of his daughters, Mrs. Nell Henry of Spur and Mrs. B.I. Scoggins of Morgan, and Dr. Clifford Jones of Lubbock, a former manager of the Spur Ranch. Dr. Jones had an unpublished interview he had made with Higgins shortly before the latter's death. Dr. Jones also snapped a photo, one of the few of Higgins in existence.

There is some conflict concerning Higgins' death. One source said he died Dec. 21,1913, and another said it was 1912. Dr. Jones provided the 1914 date.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

The story above has not been edited by me at all. It is just as it was written back in 1972 by Jerry Sinise.

Tom Correa
Editor



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