living in Lavaca County
in this day and time might be surprised to know that back in the 1870’s,
1880’s and 1890’s this was quite a wild place – at least that’s what
the local Hallettsville
paper, The Lavaca County Tribune, reported in a story they
published in 1946.
It seems as if bad men flourished in these parts and cattle rustling
was a frequent occurrence. The outlaws seemed to be running “roughshod”
over the local citizens until a man by the name of J.A. Jamieson
was hired, in 1877, as town marshal and constable. Jamieson came with
some evil credentials that made him perfect for the job. He had rode
with Quantrell’s guerillas, in Missouri, during the Civil War and
this bunch were known to have pulled off many murderous raids back
then. They weren’t highly thought of by most folks but they had a
The local paper described Jamieson as a quiet individual with steel
gray eyes, who knew no fear and handled the toughest bad men with
such ease and fearlessness that his name struck terror into the hearts
of the lawless. Jamieson supposedly “cleaned up” Hallettsville
during the years 1877 and 1878. He must have been pretty good at his
job, because he went on to serve as a lawman in the communities of
He died of pneumonia while living in Yoakum in February of 1906.
According to the Tribune, cattle rustling was common in the
early days of Lavaca
County. The paper reported that, “range law and justice were enforced
frequently and invoked when a rustler was caught ‘red-handed,’ and
often a gun duel decided ownership of a beef with a blotched brand.”
Besides the rustling there were ongoing range wars between the fence-cutters
and the homesteaders. Back then, there was a state law prohibiting
fence cutting – but even though the local peace officers enforced
the law; the practice continued for some time. In August of 1887,
Sheriff Smothers and his deputies arrested a band of fence-cutters
who had troubled cattlemen in the southern part of the county, and
their speedy trial ended the war.
The old newspaper reported that the last revolt by a cowboy against
the coming of civilization occurred when he shot out the electric
streetlights in downtown Hallettsville.
The lights had just been placed in the city when the wrangler decided
to do away with them.
Lavaca County had its share of bad men – none of them more notorious
than Jim Buckley. It seems that this individual had little
regard for the numerous city ordinances. According to the newspaper,
“he broke them with impunity.” Around town he was known as “Bad
Man Buckley” and he did his best to live up to the name. In 1880
he had a dispute with a fellow in one of the local saloons on the
square; Buckley promptly killed the cattleman named Ragsdale.
Buckley was indicted for the murder, and shortly afterwards made a
daring attempt to steal the indictment by shooting the district clerk
while he was working on the court records late one night. Unbelievably,
Buckley was acquitted for the act and this only led to fuel his disregard
for the law. He became quite cocky and one day showed his loathing
for the local lawmen by spitting in the face of Marshal Dan Merrit.
The paper reported that “Bad Man Buckley” paid for that insult with
When the 1890’s rolled around, many lawmen didn’t feel the need to
always be armed. After all, by this time Lavaca County had become
civilized and the area was fairly quiet, for the most part.
Sheriff J.W. Bennett had been serving some papers one day in
the early 1890’s and was returning to the district clerk’s office
when he was told that a fellow by the name of Ben Stoner was
looking for him – the word was that Stoner intended to shoot it out
with the sheriff. Although Bennett was unarmed, he borrowed a pistol
from the clerk.
Just as the sheriff walked out of the north door of the courthouse,
he saw Stoner waiting for him. Stoner, who was mounted, had already
drawn his gun and was holding it by his side away from Bennett. As
the sheriff walked towards him, Stoner brought his gun across the
saddle and fired; his shot struck Bennett above the right ear but
inflicted only a slight wound. Bennett’s quick draw probably saved
his life – his first shot disabled Stoner who fled towards a store
on the east side of the square. Stoner never made it to the store;
instead he toppled off his horse and was dead before he hit the ground.
We see a lot of bad things reported today via the newspaper and television
but we can feel fairly comfortable that we can go downtown without
seeing a murder or gunfight – this wasn’t the case in the days of
early Texas, and Lavaca
County certainly had its share of those unruly times.
Star Diary July
19, 2005 Column