of West Texas' more bizarre and long-standing mysteries began at
Fort Griffin in 1877.
County near the Clear Fork of the Brazos on the western frontier
of the state, Fort Griffin
was a U.S. cavalry post. The town that grew up next to it, also
called Fort Griffin,
catered to the non-military needs of the soldiers, offering saloons,
gambling dens and brothels. Troopers on a payday spree and the less-than-delicate
buffalo hunters who came to town to sell hides and buy supplies
made Fort Griffin
the town one of the wildest and woolliest places in the West.
A smaller element of the population were the ranchers, folks who
knew that once Indians no longer posed a threat a living could be
made raising and selling cattle.
One of those early-day West Texas ranches was owned by James A.
Brock and his two cousins, Ed and Frank Woosley. Brock, originally
from Madison County, OH, had come to Texas in 1870 at the age of
25. Three years later, he had started ranching in Shackelford
County. In 1875, his two cousins joined him in the cattle business.
Though the same blood flowed in their veins, it was well known in
town that the three men disagreed over investments and other financial
matters. And then on May 22, 1877, Frank Woosley disappeared.
Local authorities, with the assistance of the military, organized
search parties. Two hundred friendly Indians living in the area
also aided in the manhunt. Ed Woosley offered a $1000 reward for
his missing family member.
When the search proved fruitless, suspicion began to focus on Brock.
Woosley's relatives convinced local officers that Brock must have
killed the now-missing man in a step toward realizing sole ownership
of the ranch and livestock.
case against Brock, however, lacked two essential ingredients: Any
proof that a murder had been committed and the body of the victim.
Brock was released.
Unfortunately for Brock, the law-abiding citizenry decided to take
the case to another court: Judge Lynch's. Only the intervention
of federal troops saved Brock's neck from getting stretched.
Woosley's death of natural causes in 1880, Brock sold his interest
in the ranch and left town, not to start a new life but to find
his missing cousin. His family and the people around Fort
Griffin did not believe it, but Brock knew he had not killed
In searching for Woosley, the cattleman from Ohio spent all the
money he made from the sale of the Fort
Griffin property, borrowed and spent more, and then took any
kind of work he could get to fund his continuing search for the
man whose disappearance had cost him his reputation and nearly his
life. Nationwide, Brock circulated flyers offering a reward for
information on his missing cousin.
The end came
unexpectedly in a small Arkansas lumber town in 1891. A private
detective, searching for someone else, noticed a man who fit Woosley's
description. The detective contacted Brock, who immediately left
Brock spotted his cousin at a train station in Augusta, AK.
"You scoundrel," he said, "I knew I'd catch you!"
The man at first denied his identity, but the barrel of Brock's
six-shooter refreshed the long-missing man's memory. His pistol
tucked out of sight, Brock told Woosley that they were going back
to Ohio so their family could see that he was not a murderer.
At Memphis, Woosley tried to escape, but Brock got the drop on him
and said if he attempted to get away again, he would kill him for
real this time.
"Here's your murdered man!" Brock said in presenting Woosley to
his astonished parents. Vindicated but no less bitter with the family
that had accused him of murder, Brock turned and walked away.
Since all concerned were native Ohioans who still had family there,
the discovery was big news.
"The Brock-Woosley sensation...while having lost its freshness,
continues to be uppermost in the minds of the talking public in
this vicinity," the London, OH Times observed.
Woosley told the newspaper he had been returning to the Shackelford
County ranch following a roundup when what he called a "depressed
feeling" came over him. He said he got off his horse and laid down
under a tree.
"I have no recollection of anything further until about a year afterward,
when I found myself in the country," Woosley continued. He did not
explain what he meant by "country," but said that he next remembered
being in Jewett (in Leon
County) and then ending up in Arkansas in the pottery jug-making
Woosley also said he'd had no idea that Brock had been accused of
murdering him and that he would have come forward had he known.
His name finally cleared, Brock went back to Texas,
settling in El
Paso to make his living dealing in real estate. He died there
on April 1, 1913--his 68th birthday--and is buried in the city's
historic Concordia Cemetery.
"Texas Tales" October
19, 2017 column