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 Texas : Features : People

A Man to Count on in Big Spring

Big Spring, Texas

A Fool and His Money Are Soon Parted
An Earl and His Money Are Soon Popular

by Brewster Hudspeth

The year was 1883 and Howard County, Texas had just been organized the year before. Big Spring was designated the county seat. A few years before, in Kent, England, Joseph Heneage Finch, the Seventh Earl of Aylesford had "encountered embarrassing domestic difficulties" which is a nice way of saying his wife was having an affair. It had something to do with footprints in the snow leading to her bedroom window. It's hard to come up with an explanation for that.

In 1883 Texas qualified as one of the ends of the earth, which is exactly where the Earl wanted to go. When he got to New York, he heard there was good hunting in Texas. Jay Gould, the railroad magnate encouraged him to head further West on Gould's Texas and Pacific Railroad. He took it to the end of the line, which at that time was Colorado City. It was there he looked up John Birdwell, former Texas Ranger, hunting guide and proprietor of the Lone Wolf Saloon. He later moseyed over to Big Spring. He was determined to forget Lady What's-Her-Name, and this looked like the perfect place to do it.

The Earl arrived with a "carload" of horses, dogs, English saddles, riding togs, two brothers, one valet and probably a few cases of Worchester sauce. He was a little dismayed to find that there were no foxes to hunt, so he made do with antelopes and coyotes. The Earl had hunted tigers in India (from elephant-back, no less) with his boon companion Albert, Prince of Wales.

The Earl's adventures in Big Springs (as it was then called) have become legendary. While there has been some embellishment over the years, the legends were nearly all rooted in fact. A few follow:


An Earl and his money are soon popular
.
The West, known for its democratic ways, wasn't too impressed with the Earl's title. They called him Judge, which was as far as they were willing to go. It is said that John Birdwell was first to call the Earl Judge. The "Judge" was trying to scrape by on only $50,000 per year, which meant that the locals could afford to be nice to the man. He quickly became known for picking up the tab at drinking parties. The town had drinking parties before the Earl arrived, but his generosity certainly increased attendance.

"Mutton - it's what's for dinner."
Since he brought his own personal butcher with him, he set the man up in a proper butcher shop. From the Texas point of view, the Earl had some pretty disgusting eating habits, the primary one being a taste for sheep. The shop was the first masonry building in Big Spring and still stands today at 121 Main Street.


For a few dollars more they threw in the towels
He did buy a hotel (The Cosmopolitan) for his initial lodging. This story sometimes gets confused with Conrad Hilton's purchase of the Mobley hotel in Cisco. The transaction was a little sticky, since the woman who sold the hotel had just purchased it herself. The previous owner still claimed all the furnishings.


He was English, but he lived in a House of Bourbon.
He lived on his ranch, about 12 miles outside of town. Witnesses told of a pile of whiskey bottles "as big as a haystack." There were beer bottles too, but the ratio was reported to be three of whisky for every one of beer.


Please let yourselves out.
On January 13, 1885, the Earl left Big Spring (and this world) with traditional British understatement. While playing cards at his room in the Cosmopolitan Hotel he excused himself by saying "Goodbye, Boys." He then climbed into bed and after pulling a blanket up to his chin, he died.


Hard drinking makes hard livers.
Since the Earl's body was to be sent back to England, the doctor who prepared the remains for shipment removed the viscera. He described the liver as being not unlike a rock. At the time of his death, the Earl was only 36 years old.

March 2001
John Troesser


Big Spring, Texas

Big Spring Historian Doyle Phillips has conducted a survey of the Earl's former ranch and has found several interesting artifacts. Mr. Phillips is currently writing a biography of the Earl.

Information for this article came from Howard County in the Making by John R. Hutto, 1938 and Getting Started by Joe Pickle, 1980

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