Friday, June 1, 2018

James Brooks -- Legendary Texas Ranger

Here's a story that I've been working on for a while. So please sit back with a cup of coffee, and try not to let the kids hear you cussing me when you stumble across my spelling mistakes. I think it may be a little too long but I still hope that you enjoy this story about a true Texas legend. A truly great man.

His name was James Abijah Brooks. He was born on November 20th, 1855, in Bourbon County, Kentucky. His family was considered wealthy and successful until his father was killed and his family's home was destroyed during the Civil War. 

Like many during that horrible war, his family felt the impact of loss and despair. In fact, it's said he wasn't yet 10 years of age, when he worked at whatever job that could be found to help provide for his widowed mother who still had the tough job of raising his seven siblings.

It wasn't until he was about 20 years old, when he felt as though his mother would be able to make ends meet without him, that he left to make his fortune. While some say he headed West, he actually went South to Texas in 1876 and ended up settling in McKinney, Texas. 

Knowing of the cattle boom at the time, he is said to have had bought a ranch in Collin County to raise cattle to supply the drives North. While I can't verify that, it's said his intent was that of many young men at the time. He wanted to be self-sufficient, own his own spread, raise cattle, and start a family of his own. Yes, ambitious but modest goals compared to where life would take him.

To start his ranch and raise cattle, he was smart enough to know that working as a cowboy would give him the skills and knowledge that he'd need to pursue his dreams. In 1879, he is known to have worked as a cowboy with a few of the outfits moving cattle North on the trail drives headed to Kansas. After that he settled in San Antonio, Texas, and then found work easier to come by in Shafter, Texas.

For five years, he worked the long grueling hours of a cowboy. We should understand that by 1883, life was tough on a cowboy just about everywhere but especially in Texas. There were a couple of events that made life very hard for those who wanted to keep working as cowboys. 

First thing that happened by January of that year was that the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad (GH&SA) connected up with the Southern Pacific Railroad about 225 miles West of San Antonio. That took place West of the Pecos River near Langtry. It's said the GH&SA President actually drove a silver spike on January 12th to signify the event. That line opened a new route across Texas for the Southern Transcontinental Railroad. That meant that Houston and San Antonio, and later New Orleans, would be connected. In fact they would be connected all the way to the West Coast.

Of course for cowboys that meant was there was less of a need for so many cowboys to move cattle to railheads in the North. It was just two years earlier that the Texas and Pacific connected with the Southern Pacific near Sierra Blanca in West Texas. That event marked the completion of America's second Transcontinental railroad. 

The second thing that really started hurting Texas cowboys by 1883 was the loss of small spreads. Many of the small spreads were being bought out by big Eastern cattle syndicates. Those big corporations back East didn't know shit from Shinola about cattle, but they had the money to entice many a small ranchers with offers that made those ranchers feel like he just found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

By March of 1883, cowboys who worked from what was known as “can see” early in the morning to “can’t see worth a damn” late at night, those who worked in the heat drenched in sweat, riding herd in the rain during lightning storm, wet through and through, cold or freezing, they found themselves no longer working for many of the failing small family ranches simply because they were being cobbled up by Eastern big money.
As for how life was on small ranches before the cattle syndicates started buying them out, life was actually pretty good for a cowboy on a small ranch. Before the big Eastern money bankrolled the creation of the cattle syndicates, the cattle industry was made up of many small spreads where cowboys were made to feel like part of the family that owned the ranch they were working at.

Before the syndicates, a cowboy like James Brooks could take a calf in lieu of pay.  By doing so, and getting the mavericks that they'd gather on the open range, he and other cowboys were able to start up their own small herds. Subsequently, a cowboy had a stake in the success of the ranch that he rode for while he was creating a tangible future for himself.

The myth of all cowboys being transients just passing through is not the way it was for the majority of hands. While, like any job, there were those who took it for temporary work, the majority of cowboys were loyal to their brand. And while some hands raised families, and worked for ranches generation after generation, many a cowboy had dreams of also having a brand of his own one day. It was the cowboy version of the American Dream.

Ranchers were known to be loyal in return, even with those who wanted to strike out on their own as ranchers. It was a great relationship because the rancher treated his men, and their families, as family while the cowboys also felt like they had a vested interest in the struggle to keep that spread afloat.

That all changed when Eastern know-nothings bought out small ranch after small ranch and started treating cowboys as low-wage unskilled labor. Imagine that. Just a decade earlier, big and small rancher, along with many of those hands, were the very tough as saddle leather men who fought the Comanche threat. Those men built Texas and the early to mid 1880s, those same men were being looked at by Easterner cattle syndicates as easily replaceable employees. 

In contrast to the small ranches owned by men who started their outfits from scratch, the Eastern cattle syndicates knew very little about ranching and less about cowboys. If their "investments," the ranches, loss profits, they blamed their ranch managers and cowhands for the problem.

Subsequently, this led to those syndicates cutting wages, stopping the use of exchanging calves for pay, stopping cowboys from gathering mavericks, stopping cowboys from using ranch owned horses for personal use, and more such as forbidding any sort of  drinking and card playing in the bunkhouse. Because life had changed for the worse for cowboys, cowboys no longer had a stake in how things turned out for the corporations. Because of this, many a cowboy went into other occupations. 

James Broke found himself in a similar boat and was out of work when he was offered the opportunity to join the Texas Rangers. Little did he know that he would start a 23 year career with the Texas Rangers when he was assigned to "Company F" in January of 1883. 

During his time as a Ranger, Brooks garnered a reputation of quickly drawing his gun. He was known to do that rather than negotiate with a known criminal. This defense tactic served him well. In fact, just three years into his time as a Ranger, he was in a gunfight that almost cost him his life. Fortunately his quick defensive action resulted in an outlaw being killed after a pursuit in Indian Territory.

It's said that less than a month after that deadly encounter, Officer Brooks was in a gunfight with an out of work cowboy in Alex, Oklahoma. It was over the cowboy carrying a pistol while in the city limits. In that encounter, Brooks was forced to kill the cowboy. 

It went bad for Brooks when he was in turn charged and actually indicted for manslaughter. Believe it or not, he was convicted of manslaughter in a trail that took place in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Though he was convicted, he was never sent to prison because his case was taken up by the Texas Rangers who actually lobbied for a Presidential Pardon by Grover Cleveland. 

James Brooks was actually granted a pardon by President Cleveland. And as incredible as it may sound by today's standards, Brooks was actually allowed to re-enlist as a Texas Ranger.

Thinking about President Cleveland giving him a pardon, one shouldn't be too surprised that he gave a lawman a pardon. After all, Cleveland had a lot in common with Brooks. Cleveland was in fact the only President who was ever a lawman before becoming President. In 1870, Grover Cleveland was elected the Sheriff of Erie County, New York. He took office as the Erie County Sheriff on January 1st, 1871, at the age of 33. 

On September 6th, 1872, Patrick Morrissey was executed after being convicted of murdering his mother. As the County Sheriff, Grover Cleveland was the man who was responsible for carrying out the execution. While it's said that he could have paid a Deputy $10 to carry out the execution, Cleveland executed Morrissey himself. Cleveland would later also hang murderer John Gaffney on February 14th, 1873. President Cleveland is the only President to have to act as an executioner.

Brooks returned to duty as a Texas Ranger that same year that he was pardoned by President Cleveland. Then almost a year later, on March 31, 1887, Brooks and a number of other Rangers were in Sabine County, Texas, pursuing the Connor Gang.

The events of the troubles with the Connor Gang was carried by newspapers across the country at the time. The stories were reported from San Francisco to New York, below are a number of articles from The Galveston Daily News which also carried reports of events regarding the Texas Rangers and the Connor Gang:

A BLOODY FIGHT

Terrible Battle Between the Conner Family and Rangers in Eastern Texas - Several Persons Killed
SAN AUGUSTINE, TEX., March 31, via NACOGDOCHES, TEX., April 1 - A terrible and bloody fight occurred ten miles below Hemphill in Sabine County this morning about sunrise, between Captain Scott and his rangers on one side and old Willis Conner on the other, in which three of the Conners and one ranger named Rogers were immediately killed, Captain Scott and another of his men badly if not fatally wounded. The Conners escaped, but the rangers are in hot pursuit. The Conners brought on the fight, firing from ambush. News reached here by a ranger who came after Dr. F.H. Tucker to attend the wounded. -- The Galveston Daily News, April 2nd, 1887.

THE EAST TEXAS WAR

Captain Scott, Although Wounded, Will Recover - One Ranger Dead - Bloodhounds on the Trail

NACOGDOCHES, TEX., April 2 - Allen Newton, a ranger in Captain Scott's Company arrived here early this morning and telegraphed for bloodhounds from Rusk, which arrived this evening, and he is again on his way back to to the scene of action in Sabine County. He states that Captain Scott, though seriously wounded, is doing well, and will probably recover. J.H. Moore, a ranger, and Will Conner were killed in the fight of the 31st ultimo and it is reliably reported that Fred Conner was badly wounded. Sabine County is thoroughly aroused, and there is no doubt but that all the Conners will be captured or killed in a few days.

SAN AUGUSTINE, TEX., April 2 - Dr Tucker returned yesterday evening from the scene of the bloody tragedy of the 31st ultimo in Sabine County between Willis Conner and three sons on one side, Captain William Scott and his five rangers on the other, and reports Bill Conner was killed instantly. Willis Conner and his two sons, Fred and Barber escaped, old Willis losing his horse, hat and spectacles. 

Captain Scott was shot through his left lung and the ball was cut out of his back. He is now doing better. Sergeant J.C. Brooks lost three fingers off the left hand and was shot through the right hand. J.H. Rogers received a flesh wound in his left arm, between the elbow and shoulder, and flesh wound in left side, not serious. J.H. Moore was shot through the heart. Great excitement prevails, and the whole county is up in arms. -- The Galveston Daily News, April 3rd, 1887

FROM THE SCENE OF BATTLE

During the afternoon County Judge E.G. Bower, of Dallas County, visited the branch office of The News. He had just returned from the scene of the battle between the State rangers and the outlaws Conner in Sabine County. The judge stated that all the wounded men were doing well and should recover should no unforeseen phase in their condition develop. The excitement in the neighborhood continues unabated and nearly all citizens are under arms and searching for the desperadoes. 

On Tuesday morning Sergeant McNelly arrived on the grounds and assumed command of the state force. At daylight he left with his command, accompanied by five bloodhounds from the Rusk penitentiary. The trail was taken by the dogs at the point where the terrible conflict ensured, and it is almost certain that fresh scents will be found as the progress through the county. 

The pursuers were stimulated by reliable report that one of the fugitives had been seen on Monday afternoon, at 2 o'clock; besides a light rain had fallen, which made the conditions for trailing with the hounds very favorable. 

During the conservation, Judge Bowers spoke in praise of the gallant rangers, saying that men with less nerves than that possessed by the six men who fought the Conner family would have been slaughtered, and that too much praise could not be given to Carmichael and Treadwell for their great courage with which they held their ground and finally advanced upon the outlaws while their comrades-in-arms were lying on the ground seriously wounded and helpless. 

Sergeant McNelly on his arrival was accompanied by Jack Scott, brother of Captain Scott, of the rangers. Mr Scott served with the rangers years ago. Judge Bowers is a brother-in-law to Captain Scott. He left Houston for Dallas tonight. -- The Galveston Daily News, April 8th, 1887

Citizens Still Vigorously Searching for the Conners - A Hot Trail

SAN AUGUSTINE, TEX., April 17 - Jack Scott and Miss Vernon Scott, his sister, passed through here en route from Hemphill, returning home yesterday. Mr Scott reports his brother Captain Scott, and Messrs Rogers and Brooks are convalescent, and doing as well as could be expected.

F.M. Moore, the sheriff of Kerr County, stopped here last night on his way to Hemphill, to see after making arrangements for suitable enclosing and marking the grave of his deceased nephew, J.H. Moore, the ranger killed by outlaws Conner on the 31st of last month, while so nobly and manfully fighting to maintain law and order.

Your correspondent has just had an interview with Mr William Johnson, a reliable gentleman who lives near the line of San Augustine and Sabine counties, who says that a large posse of citizens and rangers took dinner at his house yesterday, and that in the evening they discovered two fresh camp fires on the northeast side of a large hill, known here as Iron Mountain, in the eastern part of this county, about nine miles from here, and thought that they had satisfactory evidence that the Conners had been camped there, and had been notified by two men, one riding a mule and the other a horse, as they were, tracked to and from the camp fires.

A large posse was organized at Sexton to join in the search, Sabine County is in the worst state of excitement ever known there, and were if not for the sympathizers of these terrible outlaws they could be easily hunted down. Strange to say, among them are many men heretofore considered respectable. -- The Galveston Daily News, April 18th, 1887 

One of Concern Killed

SAN AUGUSTINE, TEX., November 7 - Reliable news has reached here that in a attempt of a posse of citizens to arrest the Conners south of Hemphill Friday night, Fred Conner was killed and old Willis Conner was wounded but escaped. One of the posse lost a finger. -- The Galveston Daily News, November 8th, 1887

The Fight with the Conners - To The News
HEMPHILL, TEX., November 7 - The report of the Conner fight on the 4th instance was incorrect in that only one of the Conners was killed. For several months R.C. Turner of Hill County has been here hunting for Sabine's outlaws.

Last Friday R.C. Turner, Dan McNaughter, Ike Low, Tom Anthony and Melton Anthony were concealed in a little log house, about eight miles south of Hemphill, waiting and watching for the Conners. The posse had just finished eating supper when they were startled by the two Conners appearing within twenty feet of the door, and as soon as they saw who was in the house opened fire with their Winchesters, and were ambushed by the posse in the house, who shot through the cracks between the logs.

At the first fire Fred Conner fell, not being but ten feet from the door of the little house. Being only wounded, he drew his pistol - a colt's frontier - and continued to shoot until a bullet from a Winchester rifle ended his life. As soon as the fire opened, old man Willis Conner squatted behind a stump and opened fire on the house, and it is thought, emptied his Winchester. 

When the posse had emptied their guns he got up from behind the stump and jumped behind a tree, and one shot from a shotgun was fired at him there, and it is thought wounded him. He then ran to a wagon, about sixty yards from the house, stopped and commenced to load his gun, but the posse had reloaded by this time and, jumping out of he house, ran after the old man, who ran as soon as they got out of he house. Five shots were fired at him as soon as he ran off, and he fell when the last shot was fired, which was from a Winchester rifle.

It was almost dark by that time and the posse had exhausted all their ammunition, and thinking he was dead or badly wounded, did not go after him for fear of being killed, which was doubtless had been the case had they gone. They withdrew and when they did go to where he fell he was not there. Those who were in the posse think he is badly wounded, and it is the impression among some that he killed himself, as he had been heard to say that he would do this if he ever was wounded. An extensive search will be made for him tomorrow.

They fought with all the desperation of madmen, and had Fred not been shot down at the first fire, he would in all probability have reached the door just about the time the posse emptied their guns and would have killed some of them. The fight occurred just about sunset. It is thought that at least fifty shots were fired. No one in the posse was hurt, except Mr Tom Anthony, who was slightly wounded on one finger. Melton Anthony and Tom are brother-in-laws of Fred Conner, the man killed. -- The Galveston Daily News, November 11th, 1887 

Fought To The Death

Willis Conner and Grandson Killed by Turner Posse - The Old Man Would Not Surrender

SAN AUGUSTINE, TEX., November 13 - Reliable news has reached here that another fight occurred about ten miles south of Hemphill between old man Willis Conner and R.C. Turner and posse, resulting in the death of Willis Conner and a ten year old grandson who had gone to carry dinner to old Willis, who was followed by the Turner party. Conner was ordered to surrender and immediately began firing and fired three times before the fire was returned. The Turner party ordering the boy to run, and he refusing, a general fusillade followed, the boy being killed and old Willis shot down. The Turner party, advancing until within fifteen feet, ordered old Willis to surrender and he continued to try to shoot and was shot to death. This breaks up the desperate gang of outlaws except John Conner, who deserted them and fled the country last spring. -- The Galveston Daily News, November 15th, 1887.

Brooks himself later wrote, "In 1887 while I was a Sergeant in the Texas Rangers company of which Capt Bill Scott was commander, I lost three fingers in a gun fight with outlaws on the bank of the Sabine. We were after the Conner gang, and had two posses, one composed of citizens and one of Rangers. The citizens' group was commanded by an old line Army man who had gotten orders on how to proceed, and when he heard shooting, after we stumbled on the outlaws in the brush unexpectedly, the Army's training for obedience held. The citizens stood by and listened while the fireworks went off. Jim Moore of our outfit was killed at the first volley. Capt J.H. Rogers and I were wounded. The gang was later either killed or captured entirety."

Just for the record, while the Connor Gang was in fact made up of family members wanted for murder, a family of pig farmers who had turned outlaw, this gang was one of the toughest in the history of Texas. In fact, all in all, it was probably a lot more deadly than the famous James Gang or even Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch because of its murderous ways.

After convalescing from the loss of three fingers and being shot in the hand, Texas Ranger Sgt. Brooks was with the Rangers during what was called the "Fence Cutting War" which was also known as the "Fence Wars" or "Range Wars." Actually, the fence wars were a series of range wars that took place in many parts of the West as well as down South in Texas. It was a number of disputes over land and water during a time period that actually lasted for longer period than many realize as it stretched well in the 1920s in some places.  

Fact is, with the government's homestead laws, it didn't take long for cattle interests to fence off their land with barbed wire in order to protect their land from encroaching farmers and sheep. Many ranchers posted notices in newspapers claiming land areas. Cattle Associations, also known as Stockgrowers Associations, swelled with members who banded together to enforce their land claims. This all led to the closing off open range, and soon people started cutting fences. This resulted in a land war that cost lives. 

While there were worries about settlers, there were also concerns about "Free Grazers" who were used to feeding their cattle on what they considered "open range" or "public land." So depending on what faction you were aligned with, barbed wire was seen as either a gift from God or a tool of the Devil. Of course among the benefits of using barbed wire was that ranchers quickly realized that the use of hedges as boundaries which were difficult to grow and maintain and  rock walls which were costly to construct in as far as the manpower involved in building them, all could be replaced with relatively inexpensive barbed wire. 

Besides reducing the cost of enclosing an owners land, there was another cost reducing benefit that ranches enjoyed. Moving large herds on open range required a rancher to hire a large number of cowboys. Around the West, with the availability of a relatively inexpensive method of dividing and sub-dividing one's land to control one's cattle, the need for a large number of cowboys became unnecessary. So by the 1880's, a number of ranchers saw that they simply didn't need as many cowboys to maintain their herds. This in turn reduced their payroll. Going back to the Eastern cattle syndicates, this money saving reduction in manpower must have pleased them to no end.

It should be noted that some attribute barbed wire as being part of the problem that contributed to the "Big Die Up" in the winter of 1886. It's said that because cattle had previously been moved away from the blizzard conditions of the Northern Plains to the warmer and plentiful Southern Plains, that barbed wire prevented that from taking place and added to the reasons that the cattle died. Ranchers in warmer places, such as the Texas Panhandle, knew that their land wouldn't have been able to support the huge influx of cattle grazing on lands that they needed to support their herds. So instead of allowing cattle to be moved out of harm's way and into warmer areas, many ranchers blocked off their lands with barbed wire.

Of course, this goes back to the Free Grazers who were cattlemen opposed the closing of the open range that they saw as public land. They began cutting fences to allow their cattle to find grazing land. The war that erupted over land rights included many vigilante groups who supported the local ranchers against what they saw in many cases as free loaders.

While the Texas Rangers were part of trying to maintain order, the so-called "Fence Cutting War" in Texas really only let up a little when a federal law was put into place forbade fences across what is the public domain. Texas legislature passed a law stating among other things that fence cutting was a felony. After Texas, other states followed. But frankly, from what I can tell, the war actually continued into the opening years of the 20th century. 

While barbed wire is seen by some historians as the invention that tamed the West, I see it as increasing tensions and costing lives on both sides. Yes, everything but tame the West.

As for James Brooks involvement with the Fitzsimmons-Maher Prizefight on February 21st, 1896. He was part of the group of Texas Rangers who were dispatched to uphold the law regarding the unofficial 1896 World Heavyweight Boxing Championship between Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher. To avoid breaking Texas law which state boxing was illegal, promoters held the fight on a sandbar in the Rio Grande River just outside of Langtry, Texas.

I believe James Brooks was a Captain with the Texas Rangers by time he went head to head with none other than Judge Roy Bean over the Fitzsimmons-Maher Prizefight. Bean actually made national headlines when he promoted the fight to held after the Texas Legislature outlawed boxing, then known as "prizefighting," in Texas. 

Judge Roy Bean actually arranged for spectators and the press to travel by train from El Paso to Langtry where he held the match on a sandbar on Mexico's side of the Rio Grande. While Texas lawmen had no authority there and Mexico had no law enforcement on hand, the Texas Rangers and other even Mexican troops were on hand. 

It's true. Believe it or not, there were U.S. Marshals, Texas Rangers and soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss were ordered on alert during the event. On the Mexican side of the river, 150 Mexican soldiers were sent to Juarez to block spectators from the event. One thing that Judge Roy Bean and the other promoters failed to observe was that the location they picked was not the perfect spot for a fight where you want to charge admission. Fact is the ring was located below cliffs of the Rio Grande Canyon, so in reality many spectators saw the fight without paying anything for admission. And because the fight was considered technically in the Mexican state of Coahuila de Zaragoza, Rangers couldn't do anything to stop it. 

Then there's the story about the unluckiest spectator there. He was a New York sporting man who traveled to El Paso, stayed there for days while waiting to see the fight, and then took the "fight train" to where the fight was held. He is said to have paid top dollar for a ringside seat, but as the story goes:

"As the fighters stepped to the center of the ring, he pulled a cigar from his pocket. He then turned to another spectator seated just behind him to get a light for his cigar. When he turned toward the ring again, Maher was on the mat and the fight was over." 

It's true. for the record, the fight began when the timekeeper used a hammer to strike the bottom of a tin pail. That was when Maher rushed Fitzsimmons. It was reported that Maher was swinging wildly until they ended up in a clinch. 

Fitzsimmons then pushed Maher aside. Maher landed a left to Fitz’ mouth, but all, that did was make Fitzsimmons pound Maher halfway across the ring before landing a right uppercut to Maher's jaw. It's said that Maher was "like a steer struck by an ax." Maher just slumped to the mat. For one brief second, he looked as though Maher tried to pull himself up. But he just "crumpled unconscious."

Since Fitzsimmons used to be Blacksmith, he was a powerful puncher, he knocked out Maher in ninety-five seconds of the first round. Fitzsimmons ended the fight with a single right uppercut to Maher's jaw. 

As for Brooks part in the Reese–Townsend Feud? Texas Ranger James Brooks took part in putting down the Reese-Townsend feud in Columbus, Texas, as he was part of the Rangers who were sent there to stop an out of control situation from getting further out of control.

It was called the Reese–Townsend Feud, also known as the "Colorado County Feud." It actually lasted about nine years from 1898 to 1907. It was mostly politically motivated between rival political factions, but there was gunplay involed.

It started as a result of the County Sheriff's race. As with politics, it got nasty when incumbent Sheriff Sam Reese ran against Town Constable Larkin Hope. During the campaign, a former state senator by the name of Mark Townsend withdrew his support from Sheriff Reese and threw it to Constable Hope. Of course this didn't sit well with Sheriff Reese.

Then on August 3rd, 1898, Constable Larkin Secrest Hope was killed when he was shot by an unknown assailant in downtown Columbus while standing in front of Byars & Byars drug store. As with most killings, it was an ambush.

His killer was said to have been standing in the alley between the store and a butcher shop. It's said two loud shots were heard. Then a few seconds later, three shots were heard fired.

The last three shots were fired by Constable Hope as he lay wounded in the gutter next to the sidewalk. His killer had his horse tied in the alley, and was soon seen heading out of town. His killer was never identified. 

For the record, some sources say he was a County Deputy but most others say he was a Town Constable. Either way, he was shot in the hip and abdomen at close range. When asked who shot him, he tried to answer but wasn't clear enough for folks there to understand what he was saying. He was carried into the Byars & Byars drug store while his wounds were being attended to. Sadly, he died about a half an hour later. 

Right after the shooting, Sheriff Reese immediately responded to the scene. He set about gathering evidence all in an effort to find the killer. Though a suspect was never apprehended, Jim Coleman was rumored to be the killer. Coleman was known to have been a close friend to Sheriff Reese's sons Walter and Herbert,  

Officer Larkin Hope served that community for three years and was survived by his wife and four children. He was buried in Odd Fellows Rest Cemetery, Columbus, Colorado County, Texas.

As is the way of politics, it's said that even before Officer Hope was buried, former state senator Mark Townsend chose another candidate by the name of Will Burford to run against Reese. Because of Townsend's support, Burford was elected Sheriff of Colorado County.

Of course Will Burford being elected Sheriff of Colorado County didn't end the animosity between Reese and Townsend. In fact, on March 16th, 1899, believe it or not, Mark Townsend, Will Clements, and Marion Hope, who was Larkin Hope's brother, were in a gunfight in downtown Columbus with Sam Reese and his supporters. 

It's said that during the gunfight, former Sheriff Reese's supporters fled the former Sheriff's side. Their running away resulted in Sam Reese being shot to death. Also killed that day was a bystander by the of Charles Boehme, and a young boy named Johnny Williams was shot and wounded during the melee. 

On May 17th, 1899, then on January 15th, 1900, and July 31st, 1900, and on June 30th, 1906, and then again on May 17th, 1907, separate gunfights took place in Columbus. All as a result of the feud. During those gunfights, Sam Reese's brother Richard, Will Burford's son Arthur, Will Clements' brother Hiram and Jim Coleman were all shot dead. 

Richard Gant who was a bystander during one of the gunfights was also killed, and as with Johnny Williams, a number of bystanders as well as participants were shot and wounded.

The investigation looking for the killer of Constable Hope was said to have been dropped for unknown reasons. Some later speculated that Townsend himself arranged the killing of Hope who he saw as being unable to win against Reese. Others later speculated that Townsend had Hope killed to incite public animosity against Reese to sway the election. But really, who knows if either claim has any validity to them?

Either way, the citizens were outraged by the feud and their anger finally reached the Texas capital. So finally, in 1907, Texas Rangers were sent to Columbus to end the violence. By that time, it's said that James Brooks had developed a reputation as a gunman. His reputation alone helped stop the killings. 

Of course such a reputation may not have been a bad thing to have considering how rough Texas was during those days. Make no mistake about it, Texas was a violent place prior to World War I. For example, Will Clements was shot from ambush in Matagorda County, Texas, by a man who Clements supposedly had an argument with a few days earlier. Jim Townsend was also shot to death in 1911 in a gunfight with a saloon owner in Louise, Texas. 

As for James Brooks, he retired to live a quiet life in Falfurrias, Texas. But soon afterwards, his retirement was cut short when he was pressured to run for the state legislature as a Texas State Representative. He served two term as he was reelected. And in his honor, Brooks County, Texas, was named after him.

So now, he worked as a Texas Ranger and a State Rep in the state legislature. And for most, that would be enough for one lifetime. Well, no for James Brooks. He went on to serve as a local Judge for 30 years before he died of kidney failure on January 15th, 1944. 

James Brooks was a Texas Ranger, a Texas State Representative, and a Judge. Some say he was quite a gunman in his own right. Today, he is an inductee in the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame where he is celebrated in Texas as being known as one of "the Great Four Captains" of Texas Ranger history. 

To say he was tough as nails would be an understatement. The man who started out as a cowboy with fairly modest goals of wanting to start his own ranch, ended up being a legendary Texas lawman. He helped transform the elite Frontier Battalion into the Ranger Force in Texas today. Yes, he was one of the leaders of the Texas Rangers who helped bridge that organization from the Old West into the 20th century. He is a true Texas legend for all of the right reasons.

That's just how I see it.
Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth L. Johnson said, I liked your well-done article; all the fighting sounds like today's world of incidents across the nation with mass shootings because some one was mad during an argument!

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