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Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

What Happened To
Jesse Evans?

by C. F. Eckhardt

Jesse Evans is one of the more enigmatic characters in the annals of West Texas and New Mexico outlawry. He’s a shadowy figure, referred to far more often than actually seen. He’s known to have worked with John Selman when Selman was robbing homes and stores in Fort Davis during the late 1870s. He’s rumored to have been associated with Billy the Kid in New Mexico. Then he just quietly disappeared sometime around 1879--and nobody knows what happened to him. Or maybe not.

In Vol. I, No. 7 (April, 1924) of J. Marvin Hunter’s original Frontier Times magazine, there’s a story about a Texas Ranger fight with bandits high in the Chinati mountains of the Big Bend country. The fight occurred in 1879. The story first appeared in the San Antonio Light in 1914. There’s no byline attached, but the writer apparently interviewed former Ranger Sam Henry, then living at Rock Springs. Henry was one of the Rangers in the fight.

According to the story, SGT L. B. Caruthers was ordered to take four more Rangers—Sam Henry, Tom Carson, Ed Seiker, and ‘Red’ Bingham, to Fort Davis to put down some of the outlawry that was rampant in the area. They were accompanied by an Hispanic man who apparently took care of the pack animals and did the camp chores. Ed Seiker was also a sergeant and, according to the story “some say” he commanded the unit, “…but Sam Henry, who was in the fight and now lives at Rock Springs, says that Caruthers was in command.”

At Fort Davis the Rangers “…learned that the most daring of the desperados were four in number and led by Jesse Evans of New Mexico. They would rob stores in daylight in Fort Davis and terrorize the citizens generally, and the latter had offered a reward of $500 for their capture.”

A local black man—his name is given as ‘Louis’—was apparently on somewhat friendly terms with the outlaws. He told the Rangers the outlaws were holed up in the Chinati mountains. He also told the outlaws the Rangers were after them. He apparently didn’t tell the outlaws he’d talked to the Rangers and told them where to look. The outlaws told him not to bother to tell them if there were no more than four Rangers, since they would be able to take care of that many. At that point Louis bows out of the story and we read no more about him.

SGT Caruthers led his men some 80 miles from Fort Davis to the Chinatis, near the Rio Grande. While cutting for sign they spotted four men, horseback, above them in the mountains. This corresponded to the number of men they were looking for, so the Rangers started toward them. The men immediately turned tail and spurred their horses, opening fire on the Rangers as they did so. This removed all doubt as to who they were.

The outlaws holed up atop a flat-top mountain that had a ridge of rock about four feet high, behind which they took up firing positions. They had a clear field of fire across the open ground the Rangers would have to cover to get to them.

Each Ranger was armed with a Winchester as well as at least one sixshooter, usually two.

Caruthers had the men charge afoot, firing furiously with their Winchesters as they did. The outlaws got off a few shots—one killed Ranger ‘Red’ Bingham—but the volume of fire the Rangers were putting out made it impossible for an outlaw to show his head above the ridge.

The ‘leader’ of the outlaws—and remember, the Rangers knew Jesse Evans was the leader of this particular gang—got off the shot that killed Bingham and was immediately shot “between the eyes” by SGT Ed Seiker. The other three tried to escape by staying low behind the ridge but ran head-on into Ranger Tom Carson. They then dropped their guns and surrendered.

The killing of Bingham enraged the two Ranger privates, who were all for killing the remaining outlaws on the spot. The sergeants prevented that. The outlaws were bound and placed on their horses. Using their belt knives, the Rangers dug a grave on the rocky mountaintop and buried ‘Red’ Bingham. The dead outlaw they left for the buzzards. The remaining outlaws were taken to Fort Davis, where they were eventually tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison.

Now the question—who was the outlaw whose corpse was left to the buzzards high in the Chinatis? The Rangers knew they were after a gang led by Jesse Evans. They killed the leader of this particular gang. It’s been very hard to trace Jesse Evans’ whereabouts after 1879. Did four Texas Rangers, after burying their comrade, leave Jesse Evans to rot in the Big Bend country? I can’t say, for absolute certain, they did. I also can’t say, for absolute certain, they didn’t. All I can say—for certain--is this. You don’t find much mention of Jesse Evans after 1879.

Note: SGT Caruthers’ last name may have been spelled Carruthers. Both spellings are in the article in Frontier Times. I picked the first spelling used.


© C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" January 5, 2011 column
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