a man, from preacher to pistol-packer, had a hand in taming the Wild
West. Bob Russell's modest role in that epic pacification was to bring
about a certain civic improvement for the then-booming Panhandle cow
town of Tascosa.
Nearly a half-century later, in the spring of 1929, 71-year-old James
H. Harshman took time from his strawberry picking in Florida to answer
a letter from Neil Clark. Clark had been interviewing him by mail
about his Old West experiences and later used the correspondence as
the basis for a book, "Campfire Tales."
Harshman wrote Clark that he'd been in Tascosa
in March 1880 when Russell made his contribution to the betterment
of the community. Then a young man, Harshman and a traveling partner
were sitting outside a general store visiting with Jules Howard, its
co-owner. Howard, Harshman recalled, was then about 50 years old and
had been in the West for some time. Instead of depending solely on
a retail business subject to the vagaries of a frontier economy, Howard
operated a room in the back of his store as a gambling den.
"…We were all talking and gossiping when a man by the name of Bob
Russell rode up on a fine American bred horse of which he was very
proud and called out 'Hello' to the crowd and we all saw he was drunk,"
An acquaintance of Howard's, Russell was a "fine looking six-footer"
who came from somewhere downstate, as Panhandle
folks tend to refer to the rest of Texas. "He was a joking good natured
fellow and well liked and a good friend of Howard," Harshman continued.
They talked a bit, but then Russell had an idea.
"Howard," he pronounced, "I am going to ride my horse in your store."
The proprietor said no. He catered to horsemen not horses.
At that, Russell dismounted, mouthed to Howard that he would show
him and marched to his nearby house to get his gun. Hoping he could
mitigate the situation, Harshman followed Russell to his place. He
knew Russell and his new wife Lizzie and thought he might be able
to settle Russell down. But Russell already had his .45 in hand.
Seeing Lizzie trying to take the handgun away from her husband, Harshman
endeavored to intervene but "found the gun pointing at me and then
at her and Bob swearing he was going to ride in that store." Harshman
told Lizzie she'd best let him go.
As Russell stormed off in the direction of Howard's store, Harshman
tried to comfort Lizzie. But any progress he had made toward calming
her went away when moments later, they heard four shots. Running across
the street, Harshman found Russell on the floor of the store in a
pool of blood.
Howard said he'd shot Russell when he entered his store and pointed
his revolver at him. One of Howard's bullets had shot off Russell's
trigger finger. Another shot hit him just above the heart and another
slug tore into Russell's head. Even so, Russell had managed to fire
one round as he went down, but the bullet went into the ceiling.
Amazingly, Russell was still alive. The shooting happened about 4
p.m. and with Lizzie and Harshman nursing him, the unconscious Russell
lived for another four hours. Tascosa had no doctor but even if there
had been one, he wouldn't have been able to save Russell's life.
Something else Tascosa
lacked was a supply of caskets or enough lumber to build one. "Howard
had some boxes his goods came in, so we took a few of them and made
a rude coffin," Harshman said. "I was the youngest one there and supposed
to have fewer sins…so I was delegated to read the burial service."
For that he used a small Bible that belonged to the widow Russell
"and we buried him on a high bank overlooking the [Canadian] River
and covered his grave with a lot of stones so the coyotes could not
dig him up."
And that was Bob Russell's part in the development of Tascosa.
the community's cemetery.
The old graveyard is still there, but not Tascosa.
Bypassed by the railroad, the once wild and wooly cow town became
a ghost town. In the 1940s, Amarillo boxer Cal Farley bought the property
for conversion into a ranch
for troubled boys.
For years, before electronic devices stunted children's urge to play
outside, if a Boy's
Ranch resident wanted to prove how tough he was all he had to
do was accept the dare and spend the night at Boot