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|
Newspaper, Nov. 12, 1881
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|
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|
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
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, too...you 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.
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 KathleenRiceAdams.com. You can subscribe to her newsletter here.