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  Texas : Features : Columns : Lone Star Diary :

THE DEMISE OF BAD MAN BUCKLEY
James Buckley of Hallettsville

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

During the days of early Texas, there were many a scoundrel packing guns and causing panic and mayhem amongst the town folk.

Hallettsville had one of the worst of these villains in a fellow known as "Bad Man Buckley." His given name was James Buckley and he was a murderer, rapist, and all-around bad guy. He was the worst of the worst and from the years 1877 through 1883, Buckley ran roughshod over the citizens of Hallettsville.

Well-known Lavaca County historian Paul C. Boethel wrote an article about Bad Man Buckley which appeared in the Lavaca County Tribune back in 1951. Boethel said that Buckley lived in the country but was known to ride into town on his horse, armed with a pistol; back then, the law required that fellows carrying guns who were inclined to be heavy drinkers had to turn their weapons in at the saloon until they were ready to leave. But there were many times when Buckley failed to do this.

Buckley killed a cattleman named Ragsdale in a dispute in one of the saloons on the square. After he was indicted for this crime, he took a shot at the district clerk one night who was working on the paperwork for Buckley's indictment. It is unclear if anything was done to the bad man for that particular incident.

In January 1877 he got in trouble with the law and had to stand trial for assault with intent to rape but he won an acquittal for that crime.

In his article Boethel wrote: "On October 7, 1880, Buckley was in a boisterous mood, presumably in Kroschel's Bar, when John K. Smothers, the city marshall sought to arrest him; Buckley resisted arrest, contending Smothers had no warrant for him. Smothers said that he needed none as the peace ordinance was violated in his sight and hearing. A shooting occurred as both men went for their guns."

Buckley was arrested for the gunfight with Smothers and placed in the city jail. Evidently neither man was hurt in the fight because both survived without a scratch. Buckley was indicted in this case and charged with intent to murder. But when the trial was held on August 5, 1881, he was found guilty of a lesser crime, namely aggravated assault, and fined $75.

In February 1882, Buckley was back in the "lock-up" when City Marshall D.W. Merritt arrested him. Merritt succeeded Smothers and Bad Man Buckley despised him just as much as he did Smothers. After Merritt arrested him Buckley said, "It is your day now but it will be my day some other time and I'll kill you."

Bad Man Buckley's threats against Merritt eventually led to his demise. The story goes that Buckley came into town one day in a vicious mood and after he tied his horse behind one of the saloons, he went looking for Merritt. He told all the boys gathered 'round that he was going to spit in the marshall's face before day's end.

Around four o'clock Buckley found Merritt and Parson Lee Green sitting on the front steps of Woodall's and Ballard's store on the north side of the square. Buckley walked up to the two men and spoke to Parson Green. Trying to be friendly, Merritt invited Buckley to have a seat. To this Buckley replied, "I do not sit by a damned dog," and with that remark, he spit in Merritt's face.

After he spit on Merritt, Buckley walked over to the post office where he commenced to brag about what he had done. While the "bad man" was doing his bragging, Marshall Merritt was quietly making plans to take care of Buckley.

Merritt got his shotgun and was inside Woodall's Store telling everyone that he planned to arrest Buckley. The bad man got the word and although some folks tried to get him to get on his horse and ride home, Buckley said he would take care of the consequences. With that comment, he started trying to borrow a pistol from some of the bystanders. It is unclear if he ever got his hands on a weapon.

Merritt came face-to-face with Buckley in front of Pepper's Store. He called for the bad man to "hold up" but Buckley ignored the marshall's remark and continued to walk away. Merritt approached three or four feet closer and told Buckley, "You scoundrel, you spit in my face a while ago, but you shan't do it again."

At that instant, Buckley turned towards the officer and when he did Merritt fired both barrels at a distance of about ten paces. According to Boethel's article, "Buckley fell, shot through the head and brain, twelve buck shot hitting him and killing him instantly."

Merritt was indicted for manslaughter, February 10, 1883, and although some called for the charge to be raised to murder, the Grand Jury refused this notion and reported that they found the circumstances justified the killing. Merritt stood trial on August 18, 1883, and the jury found him not guilty.

Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary >

September 1 , 2006 Column


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