1976 was a great year; I graduated high school that year, America celebrated the bicentennial and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame was added to the Texas Ranger museum in Waco, Texas. Among those added to the hall of fame was Ira Aten, a man who led a full and colorful life as a Texas Ranger.
I happened upon this individual by accident when I was researching another topic. I became intrigued and bought a bibliography of the man; Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten, Enforcing Law on the Western Frontier by Bob Alexander. While it’s a great bibliography, the book is also a great resource. If a writer ever wanted a better sense of what duties the Texas Ranger enjoyed and how he went about those duties, this book’s for you.
Ira Aten knew in his heart he wanted to become a lawman when he heard other lawmen conversing. He’d just witnessed the death of Sam Bass.
Aten joined the Texas Rangers in March 1883. As a new recruit, he was sent to the Rio Grande area where he encountered all sorts of dangerous situations. The mid 1880s saw a lot of strife when ranchers began fencing their property. Ira became involved in the Fence Cutting War, often infiltrating various ranches as a ranch hand to keep an eye out for hombres intent on cutting those fences. After his involvement with the Jaybird–Woodpecker War, he was elected sheriff of Fort Bend County.
|Johann Braeutigam circa 1880|
And while all of these events helped cement his induction into the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, the event that caught my interest happened on September 3, 1884 when the proprietor of Braeutigam’s Garten in Fredricksburg, Texas met with an untimely death. Johann Braeutigam was alone in his saloon when four men entered and demanded the cash box. Johann reached for his musket. The bandits shot the man and left the premises with very little cash.
As the Braeutigams were well respected and loved, the town cried out in anger and the Texas Rangers were brought in to help local law enforcement track down the killers. The rangers hunted down three suspects a month later. Jack Beam, Wesley Collier, and Bill Allison were originally housed in the Gillespie County Jail but later moved to the more secure facility in San Antonio. A little over a month later, Ira Aten and a fellow ranger would apprehend another suspect, Ede Janes in Braeutigam’s murder who also landed in the Bexar County Jail.
Later, the Bexar County Jail proved to be not so secure when Braeutigam’s murders escaped by digging under the foundation to freedom. Bill Allison was caught and returned to the jail in Fredericksburg. That night the jail burned to the ground, thus killing its prisoner. In January 1886, Ira, with help from a local sheriff, intensified his search for the escaped murderers but to no avail. However, the governor had taken notice of Ira’s exploits and being sympathetic to the German community’s need to “put the matter to rest” and wanting to ensure the German vote during the next election had given Ira the green light for bringing Breautigam’s murders to justice by any means possible. March 6, 1886, Ira Aten turned over suspect, Jack Beam, to the authorities in Fredericksburg. Jack confessed Jim Fannin’s part in the killing as well.
April 29, 1886, he confronted suspect, Wesley Collier. Gunfire was exchanged and while Ira’s bullet found its mark, Wesley Collier managed to escape. But not for long. On May 25, 1886, Ira caught a break in the case, discovering that Wes had designs on a certain maiden. He set up surveillance to watch the girl’s home. Wes showed up. Ira and another lawman waited all night for him to come out of the house but when he didn’t, they lost patience and crept into the house looking for him. When they found him, Ira confronted him. Wes went for his gun and Ira shot him. Wes Collier died as a result of a bullet near the heart.
Having earned his reputation now as a “good” ranger and a dependable man hunter, Ira continued his pursuit of the last suspect in the Braeutigam murder, Jim Fannin. Unfortunately, Fannin was never found. Charges against suspect Ede Janes were dropped. Jack Beam pled guilty and was sentenced to 9 years in the state penitentiary.
Now, as Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story; Johann Braeutigam was my great, great grandfather. Learn more about my family history by reading my blog post at Cowboy Kisses on Monday, October 7. One of these days, his story is going to inspire one of my romances.