Saturday, March 12, 2016

‘War, War on the Range…’ – Texas Range Wars

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word—

Now hold up there just a cotton-picking minute. What gave anyone that idea? “Discouraging,” my hind leg. Nineteenth-century Lone Star language could get downright inflammatory, especially on the range.

Take these four Texas quarrels, for example.

Texas vigilantes, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated
, Nov. 12, 1881
Regulator-Moderator War, 1839-1844
Also called the Shelby County War, the first major battle to pit Texan against Texan erupted in the eastern part of the newly minted republic. The whole thing started with a land dispute between a rancher and the county sheriff. The sheriff called for help from the leader of a lynch-happy anti-rustling vigilante bunch known as the Regulators, and the rancher soon thereafter shook hands with Saint Peter. The Moderators, a group of anti-vigilante vigilantes who called the Regulators terrorists, jumped into the fray, and before anyone knew what was up, a judge, a sheriff, and a senator died, and homes burned in four counties. After a gun battle between 225 Moderators and 62 Regulators near Shelbyville, Sam Houston himself rode in with the militia and suggested both groups shake hands and go on about their business before he lost his temper

Texas cowboys, circa 1880
Hoodoo War, 1874-1876
Also called the Mason County War, this Reconstruction-Era Hill Country dust-up over dead and disappearing cattle pitted Union-supporting German immigrants against born-and-bred, former-Confederate Texans. A lynch mob of forty Germans lit the match when they dragged five Texans accused of cattle rustling from jail and executed three of them before the county sheriff, who had been elected by the Germans, reluctantly put a stop to the proceedings. In a sterling display of what can happen when a Texas Ranger goes bad, a vigilante gang led by a former Ranger embarked upon a series of retaliatory attacks against the German community. At least a dozen men died before still-commissioned Rangers restored order. Johnny Ringo spent two years in jail for his role on the side of the Texans, only to end up on the wrong end of Wyatt Earp’s good nature five years later in Tombstone, Arizona.

“Them Three Mexicans is Eliminated,” Frederic Remington, 1897
El Paso Salt War, 1877
The only time in history Texas Rangers surrendered happened in the tiny town of San Elizario, near El Paso. An increasingly volatile disagreement over rights to mine salt in the Guadalupe Mountains began in the 1860s and finally boiled over in September 1877. A former district attorney, intent on laying claim to the salt flats, rather flagrantly murdered his political rival, who had insisted the flats were public property and the valuable salt could be mined by anyone. The dead man’s supporters, primarily Tejano salt miners, revolted. A group of twenty hastily recruited Ranger stand-ins rushed to the rescue, only to barricade themselves inside the Catholic church in a last-ditch effort to keep the instigator alive long enough to stand trial. Five days later they admitted defeat and surrendered to the mob, who killed the accused murderer, chopped up his body, and threw the pieces down a well. Then the rioters disarmed the Ranger puppies and kicked them out of town.

Fort Bend County Courthouse
where the violence took place, 1889
Jaybird-Woodpecker War, 1888-1889
The last major set-to in Texas took place in Fort Bend County, near Houston. The liberal-Republican Woodpeckers, most of them former slaves, swept the county election in 1884. The conservative-Democrat Jaybirds, primarily white former Confederates, objected to such inconsiderate behavior for racist reasons. After Woodpeckers swept every office again in the 1888 election, retaliatory violence on both sides resulted in the deaths of several people. During the Battle of Richmond—a twenty-minute gunfight inside the county courthouse in August 1889—four men, including the sheriff, were killed. The white Jaybirds won the fracas, and with the assistance of Governor Sul Ross’s declaration of martial law, seized control of county government. Jaybirds forcibly ousted every elected Woodpecker and proceeded to disenfranchise black voters until 1953, when the Supreme Court put a stop to the whites-only voting shenanigans. Intermittent Jaybird-Woodpecker violence lopped over into 1890, when a white Woodpecker tax assessor, accused of murdering a white Jaybird who had been his political opponent, was gunned down in Galveston before he could face a judge.

These kinds of unpleasant situations are what comes of messing with Texas. If Texans can get this peevish with each other, just imagine the can of whoop-a—


Y’all just mind your manners when you visit the Lone Star State and you’ll be fine. Texans can be downright friendly when we’re not fightin’.

Speaking of mannerly... My publisher, Prairie Rose Publications—based in Texas—was feeling downright friendly and plunked my novel Prodigal Gun into the Kindle Unlimited program. Subscribers can read the book at no charge. See how nice Texans can be?

I may as well mention these fine works of western historical romance fiction, know, just in case.

To thank y’all for being so polite and well behaved—and not letting your tempers run away with you as has been known to happen on occasion ’round these parts between the Rio Grande and the Red—I thought I’d give a choice of one e-book from my backlist (which you can find here) to a person who answers this question in the comments: If you could go back in time, which of the range wars above would you put a halt to by slapping somebody upside the head and telling them to get ahold of themselves?

I’ll pick a winner Sunday night.

A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperadoes. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.

Her story “The Second-Best Ranger in Texas” won the coveted 2015 Peacemaker Award for Best Western Short Fiction. Her novel Prodigal Gun is the only western historical romance ever to receive a Peacemaker nomination in a book-length category.

Visit Kathleen
’s hideout at You can subscribe to her newsletter here.


  1. Kathleen, I imagine every state/territory has their own tales of wars and disagreements, but you've shown that Texas didn't fool around that's for sure. Up here in the north I've heard it said that everthing in Texas is big or done up big and you certainly gave this northerner an eye opener. So very interesting, yet so sad to see what a waste of humanity before it could be stopped. Thanks for a delightful and most informative post. I've read all your books and enjoyed each and every one of them--probably because of that strong Texan flavor. Keep them coming.

    1. Bev, Texans never do anything small. That whole joke about "big hair"? It's not a joke! :-D

      Thank you for the kind words about my stories. I may have to call in some of the folks from these range wars to kick a couple of fictional butts if characters don't start getting with the program around here.

  2. Wow...and Whoa! I know about the Shelby Co. War, and the HooDoo War (love this name), and the Salt War, too. But the Jaybird-Woodpecker Wood War? A new one on me. You are so right about Texans jumping in feet first in a pertinent war, and some that weren't all that important, just "there." Oh, my, we are a quarrelsome lot.
    My husband dragged me to New Mexico to live one year, and to Oklahoma (Yikes!) three years so he could get his final degree..but after that, I said, "Honey, I know you need a job for all of us, and I know it's tempting to move to California or Colorado or wherever, but if you want to make me happy, just TAKE ME BACK TO TEXAS!" Whew. He listened, thank goodness. In addition, I really wanted our son and daughter to grow up "Texas."
    You know I think highly of your Western/Romance novel Prodigal Gun. You did a bang-up job...get that?...and I loved this post, too.

    1. Oh, Celia! Please tell me you haven't joined the Hole in the Humor Gang! :-D (Thank you for your kind words. :-) )

      I can't imagine you living anywhere except Texas. Oklahoma? Sacrilege! I would have helped you escape.

      Texans are a fractious lot, but I suppose if that weren't true there never would have been a Texas. At least folks don't fool with us...often. ;-)

    2. While in Oklahoma, our son entered second grade. Come Spring, the school had Sooner Land Rush Days. So, the kids were divided into groups...Sooners, and those who opposed it. He wore his beloved cowboy boots...this was a second grader who loved his boots, jeans, and cowboy hat..he was a Texan, of course. After school, he was stomping around at home, yelling and throwing a general Hissy only a Texas can do. Why? He said, "I won't go back to that school. They tried to make me an OKIE, and I'm a TEXAN!" (Remember...second grade.) Oh, we have laughed at that so much. And even he remembers it.

  3. Each of those wars was just ridiculous greed or racism. I think the first one is where I'd like to slap someone upside the head, but I could level a fist at the others too. As usual, a wonderful, educational, and entertaining post, Kathleen. No wonder I love your book and stories so much!

    1. Caroline, we really do have a mutual-adoration society going here, don't we? :-D Your books and Celia's were what convinced me to try my hand at western historical romance. I've always loved westerns, but you two combine all that good ol' western flavor so distinctive to Texas with wonderful love stories. I had to give that a try myself. So, see? Y'all have no one to blame but yourselves for my irritating presence in the genre. ;-)

      I'm with you about smacking people. I think I'd gladly smack them all -- especially that former Texas Ranger. What was he thinking?

  4. I love the sound of the Hoodoo Wars, and since there were only a handful of men waiting to be lynched, might as well pick that one. Really great article, thanks.

    1. Thanks, Janet! I'm so glad you stopped by.

      I love the name of the Hoodoo War, too. It's more often known as the Mason County War around these parts, but Hoodoo is just so much more fun to say. :-D

  5. Dang! Texans are about as bad as the Scottish clans from the old country. Give 'em any little excuse and it leads to a fight. I'm beginning to think maybe a Texan should never be allowed to get bored on account of it will lead to them gettin' into an altercation.
    I'm still amazed anyone would fight over salt.
    I noticed in the Hoodoo War that Texans still had some residual anger over the Civil War and I couldn't help but think about how it was still like that in North Carolina back in 1952 when we first arrived from Pennsylvania. My schoolmates tormented my sister and me for "talking funny" and for "being Yankees." I didn't know anything about the Confederates or the Civil War--but I found out pretty quickly that the old wounds hadn't healed.
    This was a great blog, Kathleen. It was a history lesson with funny bits.

    1. That salt war was a HUGE mess, Sarah. The jostling back and forth went on for more than a decade before the salineros -- normally peaceful folks just trying to make a living -- decided they had had enough. I can't blame them for their frustration and anger -- if I'd been used as a pawn by politicians who summarily excluded me from having any say in the political process -- I'd probably start a revolution myself. I do think they may have gone a bit too far when they chopped up the dead guy and tossed him down a well, though. ;-)

  6. Not only are these fascinating accounts, they have great names! Jaybirds and Woodpeckers! And I thought we had awesome monikers up here with Red Legs, Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers. Same brand of crazy, just different states.

    P.S.: I love how you seamlessly weave history into your books.

    1. Aren't those great names? I've always been kinda partial to your names up there -- in fact, I used a Red Legs character in a story. He was not a nice man...

      Thank you for the compliment. We seem to have a mutual admiration society going on here. I get completely lost in your stories because they're so authentic and evocative. :-)


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