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 Texas : Features : Columns : Lone Star Diary :

Rustlers and Outlaws
Were Common in Early Days

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
Folks 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 formidable reputation.

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, Flatonia, Luling, 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.

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 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.

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.

© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary July 19, 2005 Column

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