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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Law and Order
used to be so very different


Rangers, vigilantes the norm

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Law and order came slowly in the West, because it required decent citizens, fed up with crime and carousing, to finally stand up and put up the money to hire a sheriff or marshal to maintain law and order.

If crime became rampant, those same citizens might form a vigilante committee and make their own law. If handled right, with good men in charge, the problem was solved. If handled wrong, with the wrong men in charge, the group could become a greater problem than the crime beforehand.

History tells of a time in early Donley County, Texas, when the rustlers and ne'er-do-wells became so numerous, they threatened the outcome of a trial of one of their peers.

Rancher Charles Goodnight, tired of suffering cattle losses to the thieves, heard of the threat. He rode into Clarendon with a tough-looking bunch of cowboys wearing sidearms and carrying rifles across their saddles. They took up positions around the courthouse during the night.

The next day's trial went off without a hitch, with the thief convicted and sent to prison. One citizen observer commented later as how "the population of Donley County 'dropped considerably' thereafter in a short period of time."

The Law Texas Ranger, Smithville TX PO Mural detail
Smithville, Texas WPA Mural "The Law Texas Rangers" detail
TE photo

A big-time feud between competing free-range ranchers in South Texas once threatened a small community. A plea for help was sent to the Texas Ranger camp located about 100 miles distant. Help came as fast as a horse could travel as one scrawny, big-hatted Ranger rode in and placed his jaded mount in the livery stable. The community groaned as the skinny runt sat down on the courthouse veranda, believing their plea would be in vain.

The next morning, the toughest of the feuding ranchers rode into town at the head of his tough cowboys, threatened the Ranger with his gun, yelling what he was going to do. The Ranger merely drew his pistol, shot the rancher between the eyes and stood ready to continue the argument. The feud was over in that instant.

The employees tied their boss' carcass across his saddle and left town spreading word to the others involved.

Some problems have simple answers.

Down in Concho County, Texas, law and order came with several tough cattle thieves being caught and sent to prison in Huntsville, Texas. At that time, the state had little money in its coffers and the prison raised thousands of acres of cotton in order to pay for its operations. The convicts planted, chopped and picked cotton in the hot sun, instead of busting rocks for punishment.

Two of the former cattle thieves served their time and moved on to Colorado, where they began robbing stagecoaches and trains. After killing a time or two, they were caught, convicted and were sentenced to be hung.

They were asked why, after being in prison down in Texas for cattle stealing, they had came to Colorado to rob trains. They explained, "If caught stealing cattle in Texas, you went to prison, where you had to chop and pick cotton. In Colorado, when you are caught, you are hung."

Somehow, in their mind at least, being hung was much better than having to pick cotton.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
March 3, 2010 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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