and Outlaws by
Were Common in Early Days
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
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 formidable
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 Schulenburg,
Gonzales, and Yoakum. 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.
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
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.
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 his life.
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.
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.
© Murray Montgomery
Star Diary July
19, 2005 Column
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