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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Wild Times
in Old McDade

McDade, Texas

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Much has been written over the years about the days of the outlaws in Texas and the citizens who opposed them during those wild times of the 1860s and 1870s.

Gonzales, Texas, had its share of violence with outlaws such as John Wesley Hardin and others like him walking the streets - a situation that made the local citizens uncomfortable, I'm sure.

But Gonzales wasn't the only place that had to put up with lawlessness back in those days. Take for example the little Texas town of McDade over in northern Bastrop County. Located on Highway 290 about eight miles southeast of Elgin, McDade was founded in 1869 in the expectation of the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad.

According to information found in The Handbook of Texas, the town was named after James W. McDade. In the early days it was also called Tie Town or Tie City. It supposedly acquired this name because ties and logs cut for the railroad tracks were stored at the site.

No matter what it was called, McDade was a mighty rowdy place. The first business was a saloon that operated out of a tent. There a thirsty man could buy a tin cup full of whiskey for ten cents. When the town was incorporated in 1873, it had a post office, cotton gin, and a small Baptist church.

In 1879, a school was formed and McDade was called a "thriving depot town" - the population of the community had grown to about 150 people. Although you would think that this place had everything going for it as a law-abiding locale, it was not to be - violence and vigilante justice soon became a serious problem.

A group of outlaws known as the "notch cutters" took up residence in McDade. As there was no local law enforcement, the citizens of the town decided to deal with the bandits in their own way. They hung two of the outlaws and the bad guys retaliated by murdering two of the vigilantes. The citizens returned the favor by hanging a third outlaw.

In 1876, the citizens caught two men skinning a cow that was displaying the brand of the Olive Ranch. The men were shot on the spot - no questions asked. Again the outlaws retaliated. About 15 men, supposedly led by the son of one of the men shot, attacked the headquarters of the Olive Ranch. Two cowboys were killed and the ranch house was burned.

Again the local citizens cried out for justice and another group of vigilantes caught the suspected killers kicking up their heels on the dance floor. They stopped the dance and drug four men outside and hung them from the nearest tree. Needless to say, the party was over. This incident happened in June of 1877.

According to Paula Mitchell Marks' article in The Handbook of Texas, McDade remained relatively free of violence for the next five years. But in 1883, the trouble started again. Two of the locals were murdered and a third man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. A deputy sheriff investigating the crimes was shot to death in McDade.

So much for law and order - the vigilantes returned to their bloody work and hung four of the suspected murderers. On Christmas Eve of 1883, they executed three more suspects. This event led to a gunfight at a local saloon and three more men died in a violent barrage of lead.

It has been noted that this was the last occurrence of vigilante justice in McDade, but other reports indicate that the violence and gunfights continued until 1912.

In the face of all the turbulence McDade seemed to continue to prosper. In 1884, it had a district school and a successful broom factory with 10 employees. The Randolph Factory, a pottery manufacturer, relocated from Bishop to McDade to be near the clay deposits there. It later became known as McDade Pottery and it caused the town to gain attention from around the state.

Robert L. Williams, owner of McDade Pottery, also invented and patented a charcoal cooker and this item became a big seller. There were also several coalmines in the area. The town got a weekly newspaper in 1890, as the McDade Mentor was founded.

The little community prospered through 1925, when it had increased its population to 600. The town had three churches, two doctors, and more new businesses began to open their doors. By 1930, however, things started to go bad. McDade Pottery closed at the beginning of World War II and in the 1950s, the population fell to 220. What had been a four-block business district was reduced to less than a block.

Today, the once-so-violent railroad town is a small and tranquil agricultural community best know for the melons that it grows in the fertile, sandy soil - that same soil covers the remains of the outlaws and vigilantes - grim reminders of those rough times in early Texas.

by Murray Montgomery
November, 2000
Published with author's permission.

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