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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Yalgo,
the Legendary Horse


by Clay Coppedge

If there's one thing Texans like as much as stories about legendary Texans it's stories about legendary critters. Dogs and horses are particularly popular.

The tear-jerking classic "Old Yeller," written by Fred Gipson of Mason, is a Texas and national classic. If Gipson had known about Yalgo - which is an Indian word for "yellow" - he might have had another yellow-hued classic on his hands.

Yalgo was a horse, a race horse equally at home with desperate outlaws and law abiding settlers. Andrew Jackson Turnbo, who lived in the Youngsport area in the mid-1880s, owned Yalgo. Turnbo prized the horse enough to build Yalgo his own stable because a big, fast horse like Yalgo would be much prized among the Indians who still appeared from time to time.


Here's a story they still tell out at Peaceable Kingdom, a retreat in southwest Bell County for ill children. It happened in 1863, when A.J. Turnbo's wife, Louisa, and a friend, Amy Smith, were on their way back from Florence. A group of Indians took notice, then gave chase.

Louisa Turnbo was riding Yalgo, but Amy Smith was on a smaller pony. Louisa asked her friend to abandon the pony and ride with her on Yalgo, but Amy refused and was soon overtaken and captured by the Indians, never to be seen again. Yalgo and Mrs. Turnbo lived to ride another day.

A horse can be a hero in a way that a fast car never can. A horse can be an inspiration in a way that the fastest vehicle can't. Even when involved with outlawry and banditry, the horse is always blameless.


Yalgo's name will be forever linked not only to A.J. Turnbo and his wife, but also to one of the Old West's most notorious outlaws, King Fisher. In that blameless way of horses, Yalgo is linked to King Fisher's first foray into a life of crime. When Fisher was 14 years old, he borrowed Yalgo without telling Turnbo.

Charlie Turnbo of Salado has spent much of the last two years tracking down the Turnbo family history. Stories of Yalgo and King Fisher keep turning up in family accounts.

"King attended school in Williamson County and was a fairly good student, although reportedly quite good at fist fighting," Charlie Turnbo writes in his history of the Turnbos in Texas. "As an enterprising teenager, King found that he could break wild horses and sell them for a tidy profit."

Turnbo and his neighbors hauled Fisher to Georgetown for a meeting with the sheriff, but A.J. Turnbo slipped Fisher a pocket knife, which the fledgling outlaw used to cut the lead rope to his horse, facilitating his escape to Goliad.

"With hindsight, it's easy to say he (A.J. Turnbo) made a mistake," Charlie Turnbo says today. "Who knows how things might have turned out for Fisher if he'd faced the music in Georgetown."

Fisher proceeded to set up his own criminal empire in South Texas, evidently specializing in cattle rustling. He is remembered for a sign he put up at the intersection of his private road and a public road. "This is King Fisher's road. Take the other," the sign read.

Fisher said he was just trying to be helpful. Other people took it as a threat.

Texas Rangers Leander McNelly and Lee Hall captured and arrested Fisher more than a few times, but he managed to avoid prosecution. He eventually became a deputy sheriff of Uvalde County. He became acting sheriff in 1883, and was set to run for the office in 1884, but he and another notorious gunslinger/lawman, Ben Thompson, were gunned down in a shootout in the Vaudeville Variety Theater in San Antonio.

As for Yalgo, he was a hard horse to forget. King Fisher apparently never did. When he settled down on his own ranch, he named one of his four daughters Florence. His favorite chestnut stallion was named "Yellow."



Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" May 17, 2006 column



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