the wild oil boom that came with the discovery of a rich field in and around Burkburnett,
Falls was just a cattle town of around 5,000 folks. When someone other than
a cowboy, rancher or traveling salesman hit town, people noticed.
when a crisp and proper gentleman who spoke with a classic British accent arrived
and took a room at the city’s best hotel, word got around quickly. Identifying
himself as Capt. Henry Navarre, he told folks he was a remount officer in the
Royal Horse, the British cavalry. The purpose of his visit to Northwest Texas
was to procure 1,000 fine Texas horses for His Majesty’s mounted forces.
traveled by rail with a good-looking horse in the train’s livestock car, the captain
sat swagger stick straight in the saddle wherever he went in Wichita
Falls. Men grudgingly admired his military bearing while single women and
not a few married ladies fairly swooned at his dashing good looks and impeccable
manners. He even knew French.
on that foolproof means of small town communication – the grapevine – the captain
made it known that he and another officer had been traveling through the Southwest
to acquire horses for the British Empire, a commonwealth upon which the sun then
never set. And nowhere else, Capt. Navarre added graciously, could better horses
be found than around Wichita
Regrettably, the other officer had been quarantined in New
Orleans due to a smallpox outbreak. However, the captain said, as soon as his
comrade-in-arms could travel he would be coming to Wichita
Falls to handle the monetary side of the transactions.
Anyone in that
part of Texas with horses to spare started looking
over their remuda, envisioning a handsome profit. After all, everyone realized
that governments tend to spend excessively.
As the days passed, Capt.
Navarre quickly became the proverbial toast of the town. He had more social invitations
than he could accept. While the people of the county plied him with gratis food
and drink, the handsome officer stood equally ready to buy meals and drinks for
prospective vendors, not to mention his many newly made friends.
long, however, Navarre let it slip with all due embarrassment that his funds had
temporarily played out. With his fellow officer still indisposed in Louisiana,
he had no means of getting any more of the Crown’s money until that worthy soldier
arrived in town.
Since many in Wichita
Falls would be making plenty of money when their horses sold, the mayor approved
the printing of special coupons the captain could use at local businesses in lieu
of cash until his colleague arrived. Caught up in the enthusiasm, a state revenue
agent affixed stamps to the coupons so the distinguished visitor from England
could tender them as currency.
As the captain waited for his partner to
arrive – while continuing to enjoy the largesse of Wichita
Falls -- fingers were prying open the mouths of virtually every horse in the
county. Seeing an opportunity for quick profit, men who fancied themselves as
good judges of horseflesh bought up every nag they could find on the theory that
they could foist them off on a Brit who couldn’t possibly know his horses as well
as even an average Texan.
Soon, Wichita County was awash in money, though
most of it was merely local dollars changing hands. Not only that, every livery
stable and corral in the town were full beyond capacity as an almost pre-Christmas-like
expectation of good things to come settled over the county seat. Nothing of any
greater magnitude had transpired in Wichita
Falls since certain members of the community had taken it upon themselves
to lynch two captured bank robbers back in the 1890s.
Finally, three weeks
after the captain got off the train in Wichita
Falls, he spread word that he was ready to start buying stock. Inspections
would begin the following Monday morning, and the now-released officer with control
of the purse strings would be arriving soon after to start dispersing funds.
weekend long, hundreds of horses of all size and color filled the streets as area
ranchers and cowboys awaited the big bonanza. For his part, with no work to do
until Monday, the captain continued to bask in Wichita
Falls’ hospitality, politely washing down a succession of good meals with
equally good whiskey. Too, he enjoyed the company of a young lady who had been
doing all she could to make him feel welcome in the Lone Star State.
Early Monday morning horse owners and wranglers stood with their milling herd
outside the captain’s hotel eagerly waiting to cash in. When the captain didn’t
appear as scheduled, the crowd assumed he was in some manner delayed. Perhaps,
having enjoyed one toddy too many, he had elected to sleep in. But as the sun
rose higher, the captain still didn’t show.
someone thought to inquire at the front desk. No, the clerk said, the captain
wasn’t in. He had left Sunday afternoon, saying he’d be back in the morning.
course, “Capt. Navarre” never returned to Wichita
Falls. If he had, the community might well have seen another lynching.
- January 2, 2013 column
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