the late winter of 1896, two Waggoner Ranch cowboys took a notion that robbing
banks would be less work – and definitely more profitable -- than wrangling cattle.
Foregoing any fond farewells or formal notice of resignation, William
Foster Crawford and Elmer “Kid” Lewis left the sprawling ranch and rode toward
Falls, a county seat cowtown only 15 miles south of the Red River. One of
the men sat astride a thoroughbred that just happened to be ranch owner W.T. Waggoner’s
Suffice it to say, the horse had not been a going-away
present. Whether Crawford or Lewis stole the horse has blurred with time, but
whoever rode Waggoner’s prized mount did so without permission.
into City National Bank with pistols drawn, the two cowboys demanded money from
chief cashier Frank Dorsey. After the well-liked teller handed over $410, the
robbers gunned him down and ran from the bank to their waiting horses.
to be checking a nearby saloon, deputy sheriff Frank Hardesty heard the commotion
and ran outside to see what was going on. As the robbers raced by, Hardesty opened
fire. The lawman missed the riders, but one or more of his bullets brought down
the stolen Waggoner horse.
Proving there is at least some honor among thieves, the robber who still had a
healthy horse beneath him waited for his partner to jump up behind him before
galloping out of town. Local officers and a number of deputized citizens soon
took to the saddle to track down the killers.
Texas Ranger Capt. Bill
McDonald and most of his company worked out of Wichita
Falls, but were on the 1 p.m. train headed toward Fort
Worth when the holdup occurred. When the train stopped at Bellevue,
the captain received a telegram informing him of the robbery-murder. The captain
wired back to request that horses be waiting for him at the station and took the
next train back to Wichita
Falls. Arriving that evening, the rangers rode out of town to catch up with
Meeting the empty-handed posse members on their way back to
town, McDonald declared that he and his men would press on. Inspired by the captain’s
tenacity, the posse decided to stay on the chase. Late that night, the captain
and two of his men slipped up on the suspected robbers as they rested under a
tree near the Red River.
men held cocked pistols, but they decided against a shootout and surrendered.
Back in town, the rangers locked their prisoners in the Wichita County jail and
went to get some sleep.
The next day, satisfied that local officers augmented
by 25 deputized citizens could protect the two prisoners, McDonald and his rangers
left again for Fort Worth. Unfortunately
for the two men behind bars, the captain had underestimated the determination
of local citizens to speed up the justice process.
A mob surrounded the
jail, using a telephone pole to break down the back door. Once inside, they quickly
convinced the jailer of the futility in trying to protect the two prisoners. The
vigilantes bound the two bank robbers with ropes, dragged them from their cells
and roughly returned them to the scene of their crime.
Outside the bank,
at the intersection of Seventh and Ohio, two wooden boxes stood beneath a telephone
pole. A pair of ropes dangled from the cross arm of the pole. Nearby sat a coffin
and the crate it had come in.
Showing no fear in his final moments, the
19-year-old Lewis cursed the mob until he had no more breath to do so. Taking
a different tact, Crawford, a man in his mid-30s, kept a civil tongue and begged
for mercy. As soon as he realized he had no hope of that, he asked for whiskey.
Whether the mob allowed him to knock down a bracing shot of alcohol went unreported,
but before the drink could have taken affect, Crawford had begun a suspended sentence
not subject to appeal.
Downstate in Austin,
when Adjutant General W.S. Mabry learned of the double lynching, he ordered McDonald
to make a full report on his actions in the affair. The adjutant general accepted
McDonald’s assertion that he had thought the prisoners would be safe and took
no further action.
With one of their bodies in a coffin and the other
in the crate it had come in, the two robbers ended up in Riverside Cemetery. Someone
was at least thoughtful enough to place a white marble marker over their grave
bearing their names and date of death, Feb. 27, 1896.
Not far from where
the bank once stood, the Museum of North Texas History has an unusual artifact
on display – a hair-covered jewelry box that Waggoner Ranch foreman William Carrigan
paid a taxidermist to make from one of the hooves of his boss’s dead horse.
© Mike Cox
- September 25, 2013 column
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