first dispatches from a writer who signed his work as “Pidge” appeared in the
Austin Democratic Statesman in April of 1874 and continued for a couple of years
in that paper and in the State Gazette. And what stories they were!
the front lines of the Texas Rangers, this Pidge character wrote first-hand accounts
of the Taylor-Sutton Feud, John Wesley Hardin and the pursuit of Juan Cortina
along the border. He wrote about rustlers and outlaws, good guys and villains,
and usually with a laugh or two thrown in for good measure.
But who was
For the longest time, nobody knew. As was the case with many who
had fled to Texas before and many more who came after, he didn’t necessarily want
anybody to know who he was; that was sort of the whole point of coming to Texas.
Pidge, as it turned out, was Thomas C. Robinson, who joined the rangers in 1874
as T. Chanders but at the time of his promotion with McNeely’s volunteers to first
lieutenant he went by his given name.
a.k.a. Pidge, was born in Virginia in 1847. He grew up with a literary bent and
a wise cracking sense of humor, but he had a deadly serious love affair with a
17-year old woman named Pidgie, which put him in conflict with her protective
older brother, Jesse E. Mitchell. Matters deteriorated to such a point that Robinson
felt the need to visit Texas and be T. Chanders for a while. He settled in Austin
where Democratic Statesman editor John Cardwell encouraged him to share his musings
with readers. Robinson did so as Pidge.
Historian Chuck Parsons finally
figured out that Robinson was the writer known as Pidge while conducting research
on the rangers. Parsons later wrote a biography of Robinson, “’Pidge’: A Texas
Ranger from Virginia” that says it all very well.
Pidge’s dispatches stand
out today as sort of an early example of gonzo journalism – irreverent, first-person
accounts of otherwise serious topics of the day. He was one of the few who wrote
about the notorious Taylor-Sutton feud who didn’t have sympathies or ties to one
faction or the other. He was also very funny.
Writing of the rangers’
pursuit of Hardin, Pidge wrote: “Captain McNeely seems to be impressed with the
idea that I am suffering because I cannot get at him (Hardin); but…if I never
see him, I will try to survive it.” He wrote that Hardin “can make Catherine-wheels
of a pair of six-shooters and drop a man with each barrel.” Such prose was largely
responsible for forging in the public’s mind John Wesley Hardin’s image as a romantic
outlaw rather than simply a psychopathic killer.
Here are Pidge’s uncertain
recollections of Cuero:
“The town is situated almost in the center of the county, near the banks of the
beautiful Guadalupe river, as pretty a stream as there is in Texas. DeWitt County,
as everyone knows, is bounded on the north by Gonzales,
on the east by some county the name of which I don’t remember, on the south by
one which I do not recollect, and on the west by another, the name of which I
have since forgotten.”
Of Joe Tumlison he wrote: “Tumlison goes about like
Robinson Crusoe with a gun around each shoulder and two Smith and Wessons in his
boot.” It was almost like Hunter Thompson was sent back in time to see what the
Texas Rangers were up to in the 1870s.
In 1876, Robinson took leave from
the rangers and went home to Virginia to settle some family business, which consisted
simply of resolving the feud with Jesse Mitchell. It was resolved in a tragic
manner; the two men killed each other in a gunfight. The chronicler of the best-known
feud in Texas history died at age 29 as a result of a much more piddling feud
Robinson is buried and all but forgotten in his home state.
It’s only recently that historians, especially Parsons, have taken the full measure
of Pidge’s Texas writings and realized that behind the sly humor and self deprecation
were were some immediate and authentic accounts of how most of the young rangers
probably actually felt about their adventures.
It’s a joy to read Pidge’s
accounts today.The shame is that there are so few of them.
July 22, 2012 Column
from Central Texas"
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