The Capture of the Horrells - By Captain Dan W. Roberts
[From J. Marvin hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, January, 1944]
In 1867, when Texas was trying to rebuild her torn up government under a guard of United States soldiers, Edmund J. Davis was elected governorof Texas. Governor Davis commanded a regiment in the Union army, although a Texan, and his regiment was composed of Texans. While reconstruction was going on, Governor Davis put out a State Police to keep down disorders until civil government could be established. He appointed Captain Tom Williams as captain of police. Captain Williams served with Governor Davis in the Union Army.
The Horrells lived in Lampasas county, Texas, there being three or four brothers of them, and all being old settlers there they had many loyal friends. I do not believe they had "smelled much blood" in real conflict—not at least to the extent which makes opposing forces friends in mutual admiration of courage. They were very zealous in keeping up strife over the "dead war" issues, and caused much trouble in Lampasas county. Captain Williams was dispatched to Lampasas to quell the disturbances. The Horrells were defiant and considered Captain Williams an intruder into their dominion and openly murdered him. This put the United States soldiers after them. They dodged from place to place until it got too warm for them, when they left for New Mexico. They went to where the city of Roswell is now located, and there being no law in that territor ythen, except military, and that "only in spots," they had a clear field to work in.
In 1868 some big cattle ranches were being established in that country, and in the latter part of that year John Chisum started his big ranch on South Spring river, four miles south of Roswell. Soon after that, 'Billy the Kid' started a little war of his own up in Lincoln county, and the details of that being too tedious to write, it need only be said that murder and robbery were its leading features. Mr. Chisum found that "fighting men" were in demand to protect his cattle; and the Kid bunch and the Horrells being the strongest and they together having absorbed about all the fighting characters in the country, he had to use some fine diplomacy in securing one or the other, or both, to help him out. I have been told that fighting wages didn't satisfy them and that they appropriated Mr. Chisum's cattle very freely to make up the deficit.
The Horrells were not common thieves, but necessity had driven them to do things of a lawless character that made outlaws of them. They became very desperate men. They killed several Mexican citizens in Lincoln county. After their stay of several years in New Mexico, Democracy had been restored to voting power in Texas, and Richard Coke was elected governor; and the Horrells made the mistake of going back to Lampasas county, Texas. A democratic administration had to deal out justice to them for the murder of Captain Tom Williams and some other men. In the meantime the Ranger force had been put into the field by Governor Coke, and political sympathy didn't figure with them. The civil officers were still unable to cope with the situation and the Rangers were called on for help. Major Jones went in person, and took my old duty sergeant, N. O. Reynolds, with him, in command of the squad. I loved Major Jones, but he played an Irish trick on me when he took Reynolds from me. But I was compensated later on when the Major secured a Captain's commission for Reynolds.
The Horrells were known to be in Lampasas county, but they were kept posted as to the movements of the Rangers. On the other hand, the good citizens were trying just as hard to locate them for the Rangers. in a neighborhood some eight or ten miles south of the town of Lampasas the people got positive information that the Horrells were fifteen or twenty miles southeast of the town, on the Lampasas river. Now, to get this information to Major Jones might appear to be a small matter, but the Horrells had spies on every road leadingin their direction. There was a young fellow from the East, the veriest tenderfoot’, visiting in the neighborhood, and he told them that he would deliver that message to Major Jones. They saw that he had the backbone to try it and they let him go with it. That young man was J. M. Hawkins, who was afterwards postmaster at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Sure enough, Horrells' spies rounded him up on the road, but I imagine Hawkins tried to appear greener than he really was, playing the "baby act" successfully, and went on his way rejoicing, and delivered the message to Major Jones. This located the Horrells, and no time was lost in starting the Rangers after them. It was on a rainy evening and the Horrells had sought shelter in a vacant house near the river. Some of the most bitter enemies of the Horrells wanted to go with Sergeant Reynolds and assist in capturing them, but Reynolds declined their help, except to take one man with him to show him the house they were in. When he got near this house he told his man to go back as he needed no further assistance. Reynolds advanced cautiously, in the night, and encountered no guard or watchman in his approach. The Horrells were all asleep the house. Reynolds placed his men around the house with orders not to shoot until he ordered them to do so; then he opened the front door and walked into the house alone. He lighted a match and saw the situation in the front room, and had to act at a flash, as Tom Horrell was sleeping in that room with his rifle on the bed with him. Tom Horrell saw Reynolds by the light of the match, and Reynolds saw his gun. Both men grabbed the gun at the same time. The Horrells were big, powerful men, while Reynolds was no less powerful although he didn't look it. In the scuffle over the gun the weapon was discharged, whereupon the men in front pushed into the house, and in that crucial moment Reynolds told them not to shoot, that the discharge of the gun was an accident. Reynolds wrenched the gun out of Herrell's hands and told him that they were Rangers. The men in the other room had made no demonstrations so far, knowing that if they ran out they would meet bullets. Reynolds talked Tom Morrell into calmness and told him to go into the other rooms and tell his men to come out and surrender and he would see that they were not mobbed. Horrell had struck the one man in his life that was the finest of steel, and he appeared to like Reynolds from that moment. Tom went in and told them and vouched for it himself that they would not be mobbed, and they all came out and surrendered to the Rangers. They were taken up to the town of Lampasas,and no considerable crowd of men were allowed to come near them. Major Jones, conferring with the civil authorities knew it would not do to put them in the Lampasas jail, and they were sent to a jail some 100 miles north of there, thinking they would escape mob violence. When Reynolds parted with them at the jail the Horrells shed tears and told him they never expected to see him again.
The Rangers were kept at Lampasas awhile, and as long as they were there the Horrells, were pretty safe, notwithstanding they were some distance away. As soon, however, as they were taken from Lampasas a mob was organized which was sufficiently strong to go to the jail where the Horrells were incarcerated. They overpowered the sheriff, entered the jail and shot the Horrells to death.
The ugly crime was never righted by law.
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