in the early 1920s, a dead squirrel was as negotiable as coins or
paper money in the Big
And given his prowess with a rifle, Sim Collins knew he'd never
go hungry. Sure, the law might catch up with him some day, but if
he had his Winchester with him, he didn't figure on going to jail.
Born Jan. 29, 1875, Collins grew up in the thicket. As Joe Richards
recalled in "Another Keechi Kreak," his second book of recollections,
Collins knew the Thicket "from top to bottom, inside out and wrong
Having come to manhood in a stand of timber where deer, turkey,
squirrel and even mountain lions and black bears were plentiful,
Sims had learned to put a bullet where he wanted it to go. A friendly
merchant in Livingston
would accept a squirrel, or a mess of them, from Collins in exchange
for staples. Most of the squirrels tendered as "currency" would
have been hit in their eye with a .22 round so as not to damage
According to Richards, one day the merchant was taken aback when
Collins brought in a squirrel that had its left front leg missing.
While a human might have survived such a wound, the squirrel had
not. When the merchant chided his customer for missing his standard
eye shot, Collins replied, clearly affronted: "That's all I could
No matter a man's proficiency with a rifle, the law's the law. Collins
did something that resulted in a warrant being issued for his arrest
and the Polk County
sheriff's office knew they had to bring him in from the Thicket.
But they also realized how well Collins knew the Thicket. The only
reasonable way to find him would be through a snitch.
Someone had been taking the wanted man supplies from town, and that
someone began to get nervous that he could go to jail for harboring
a criminal. His reluctance to give up a friend watered down by a
decided lack of interest in going to jail, the man finally went
to Sheriff John McCloud to report Collins' whereabouts.
The sheriff turned to two of his best deputies, both future Texas
Rangers, to lead a posse to go after Collins. One was Roscoe
Holiday, who later served as Polk
County sheriff before joining the Rangers. The other was Hardy
Purvis, who would rise through the Rangers to the rank of captain.
His son one day also would wear the cinco peso Ranger badge.
The two lawmen
and other officers approached Sims' hiding place after dark. As
they moved quietly toward him through the timber, they could see
him sitting cross-legged next to a campfire, his rifle in his lap.
"Get 'em up, Sim, we've got you covered," Purvis yelled.
Before saying anything, Purvis had dropped to one knee and sighted
his rifle on Collins. Holiday and the other officers also had the
man in their sights.
course, had no intention of surrendering. Other officers in the
posse later said it sounded like only one rifle went off, but Purvis
reacted so quickly when Collins raised his rifle and fired that
he pulled the trigger at almost the same moment.
Both men had well-deserved reputations as dead shots, but both men
missed, at least in a manner of speaking. Collins' bullet hit Purvis
in his leg above his knee and exited near his hip. Purvis's slug,
surely intended for Collins' heart, slammed into the right side
of his chest, just missing the vital organ. Though seriously wounded,
it didn't stop Collins from shooting at the officers until he emptied
Meanwhile, a couple more bullets hit the gunman, neither where they
needed to be to put him down for good. In fact, when the lawmen
ran up to him, Collins was struggling to get his pistol out of its
No matter that
he had three bullets in him, Collins survived the shootout. So did
Purvis, though his wound left him with a slight limp for the rest
of his life.
Purvis went on to join the Rangers in 1927 and served until 1933.
He rejoined the law enforcement agency two years later and wore
the Ranger badge until his 1956 retirement. At the time, he was
a captain stationed in Houston.
He died in 1961.
The excellent squirrel hunter but so-so gunfighter who gave Purvis
his lasting limp got convicted and sent to Huntsville.
No matter that he'd shot a peace officer, Collins time in the joint
lasted only until the election of Gov. Miriam "Ma" Ferguson. She
pardoned him along with hundreds of other felons.
Collins lived until May 9, 1951. He's buried in Peeble's Cemetery
in Polk County.
In the same cemetery, not far away, rests the lawman who wouldn't
have become a ranger if Collins had gotten off a better shot that
distant night in the Big
December 29, 2016
& Outlaws | Animals