Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 – 1881, by James B. Gillett

Six Years with the Texas Rangers

1875 to 1881

By James B. Gillett

Six Years with the Texas Rangers

1875 to 1881

By James B. Gillett

What an exceptional story of just six years of a man’s life which reads like a lifetime, but it’s an easy read – just watch dodging the bullets! This is an extraordinary story of an extraordinary man, copy write 1921 by Gillett and dedicated to “My Old Ranger Comrades Wherever They May Be’.

 

There are three listings of our Ware family name: Charlie, Dick and R.C. in Gillett’s story.

 

The Foreword is a history of the Texas Rangers written by Oliver Knight, he seeks to set the historical background for Gillett’s experiences. The Texas Rangers, which Gillett joined in 1875 had an off and on existence since 1823. Stephen F. Austin formed a band of ten rangers to protect the first American settlements from Indians. The formally organized force of the Texas Rangers did not appear until the outbreak of the Texas Revolution in 1835 at which time they were formed as an irregular military body. They were irregular as hell, states Knight, in everything except getting the job done.

 

The earliest members of the force established by Austin were not known as the Texas Rangers.

They were usually designated as mounted volunteers, mounted gunmen, spies, and rangers. They were distinct from a regular army, Texas militia and local police. The earliest rangers were frontiersmen and – frontiersmen were never noted for obedience to anybody.

 

The Texas Ranger assumed one of the characteristics that mark the plainsman from the woodland man as he was mounted and he had to be for his enemy, the Comanche’s, were mounted. The Comanche’s had a reputation for being one of the best light cavalry forces the world had ever seen.

 

The history of the Texas Rangers throughout this time period illustrates in large measure why Texas has the fierce state pride, which Knight calls, a form of nationalism which many outlanders either do not understand or misunderstand.

 

During the 1880’s the Rangers operated as an irregular body, each man largely self supporting and still required to furnish his own equipment – saddle, ropes, guns, bedding, horses and clothing. From the state he received a small monthly ration of ammunition, small salary and fed him. As in the past the Ranger was clothed the large white hat of the Texas cowboy, which shaded him from the sun, protection from a blizzard or pelting rain and as a water bucket for himself and his horse and as a signal instrument. On his feet were shop made boots, which were knee high and cut round at the top. He preferred Petmecky spurs made in Austin or the Mexican Chihuahua spurs and in between the hat and spurs – anything he dang well pleased.

 

The Introduction by M.M. Quaife dated May 1923 addressing Gillett’s book states “the story of the Texas Rangers has never been told in its entirety, nor can it be told without recounting the history of Texas itself.

 

 

 

The modest volume of Sergeant James B. Gillett does not undertake to recount the history of the ranger organization, but merely to present a cross section of that history during the picturesque, lurid years of Sergeant Gillett’s service as a ranger”.

 

In the Preface Gillett explains that this volume is about the years he served, 1875-1881, as a Texas Ranger and he details his experiences. Gillett made notes of those experiences and with whom he shared those times and events. This is a very interesting and “get-you-involved” bit of history

 

Chapter I: Intro:

The great shaping force in human life is heredity, and from my father I inherited my love of the open frontier and its life of danger and excitement. This inheritance was further strengthened by environment and training, and finally led me to embrace the life of the Texas Ranger.

 

Chapter VIII – SERVICE WITH REYNOLDS, THE INTREPID

 

As soon as Sergeant Reynolds was commissioned first lieutenant he was placed in command of Company E, then stationed in Coleman County, but immediately ordered to Lampasas. Company C was also ordered to Lampasas at the resignation of Captain Sparks and reported to Lieutenant Reynolds. The two commands set up into camp at Hancock Springs. Major Jones then authorized Reynolds to pick such men as he desired from these two companies for his own company. Reynolds knew what qualities were needed in a good ranger and made his selections.

 

From Company A: C.L. Nevill, Tom Gillespie, Shape Rodgers, Jack Martin, W.T. Clements and four others names not remembered.

From Company E: Dick Ware, who one year later killed the noted train robber, Sam Bass then served Mitchell County as its first sheriff for many years, and was finally appointed United States marshal for the western district of Texas by President Cleveland. Henry Thomas, Millard Mourland, George Arnett and other Company E boys were selected and some Company C boys.

When Reynolds had exhausted the two companies he turned to General Jones and stated that there was a ranger down on the Rio Grande in Neal Caldwell’s company that he wanted and that was Private Jim Gillett, you shall have him replied Jones.

 

In the month of February, 1878, Lieutenant Reynolds started to Austin with five prisoners we had captured in Kimble and Menard counties. They were chained together in pairs, John Stephens, the odd man, being shackled by himself. As guard for these prisoners Reynolds had detailed Will and John Banister, Dave Ligon, Ben Carter, Dick Ware, and myself. On the Junction City and Mason road, some ten miles east of our camp, was the small ranch of Starke Reynolds, a fugitive from justice, charged with horse-stealing and assault to kill. Company E had scouted for him in Kimble County and had rounded up his ranch many times. We knew he was in the county, but he always managed to escape us.

 

 

As we passed this ranch, Lieutenant Reynolds and Private Ware, Carter, Ligon, and myself were marching in front, with a four-mule wagon following us, in which were the chained prisoners. Behind it came the Banisters, who were on guard that day and detailed to keep a constant watch on the captive outlaws.

They pass the ranch and come face to face with Starke, he drops a bag of flour he was holding and hightailed it away to the bottoms three miles away. Reynolds gave chase emptied his gun and rifle. The race had been fast enough to run every horse into a big limber, and Carter, Ware, and Ligon now dropped out.

 

In the spring of 1879 Dick Ware and I took some prisoners to the Austin jail. Allison saw us and called to me. He and I had been cowboys together long before I became a ranger. He had been in the jail for a nearly a year and felt abandoned by his friends and wanted to put the Peg Leg stage robbers behind bars and said he was going to do it.

Ware, who was something of a diplomat said: “Hold on, Bill. If you have anything to confess we will get an order from the sheriff to take you to see General Jones so you can talk to him.”

They did then returned Allison to jail.

 

After Major Jones was made adjutant general of Texas he caused a small detachment of four or five rangers to camp on the Capital grounds at Austin. Besides General Jones was devoted to his rangers and liked to have them around where he could see them daily. At the time of which I write, four men from Company E – Corporal Vernon Wilson and Privates Dick Ware, Chris Connor, and Gen Harold – were camped at Austin.

 

Chapter IX: SAM BASS and HIS TRAIN ROBBING GANG

 

There is a lot of detail as to Sam Bass’ plots and movements in Texas train and bank robberies

in this chapter. He was really quite brazen and moved about on a regular basis in fact when I finished reading about his travels I wondered if there was any North Texas County he missed! He was finally betrayed in a letter written by Bass gang member Jim Murphy. Murphy had been captured and was in jail when General Jones, Captain Peak and other officers approached and offered him release if he would betray Bass. After protesting Murphy yielded and agreed. Bass confronted Murphy but was assured by a Murphy cousin in the gang that he was alright, so Bass let him live. Now they were out of money and preparing to rob a bank at Round Rock. While Bass was in a store Murphy was able to write a note to General Jones, “We are on our way to Round Rock to rob the bank. For God’s sake be there to prevent it.” The Bass gang proceeded to camp out and rest up for Round Rock.

An old friend and comrade, Jack Martin, then in the mercantile business at the little town of Senterfitt heard us pass by in the night and the next morning said to some of his customers that hell was to pay somewhere as the rangers had passed his store during the night on dead run.

After breakfast we were facing a hot July sun and our horses were beginning to show the results of a hard nights ride.

 

The bandits went into Copprel’s store to buy tobacco and as they passed Deputy Sheriff Moore on the sidewalk with Deputy Sheriff Grimes, decided to check out the pistol on the newcomers.

He confronted Bass and was killed.

 

At the crack of the first pistol Dick Ware, who was seated in a barber shop only a few steps away waiting his turn for a shave rushed into the street and encountered the three bandits just as they were leaving the store. Seeing Ware rapidly advancing on them, Bass and his men fired on him at close range, one of their bullets striking a hitching post within six inches of his head and knocking splinters into his face. This assault never halted Ware for an instant. He was as brave

as courage itself and never hesitated to take the most desperate chance when the occasion demanded it. For a few minutes he fought the robbers single-handed.

 

General Jones, returning from the telegraph office, ran into the fight. He was armed with only a small Colt’s double-action pistol, but threw himself into the fray. Seeing the robbers on foot and almost within grasp, he drew in close and urged his men to capture or exterminate them. By this time everyman in town who could secure a gun had joined the fight. Frank Jackson, the train robber proved himself a hero with Barnes was shot dead at his feet and Bass was mortally wounded and unable to defend himself or even mount his horse while bullets continued to pour like hail from every corner. Jackson held the rangers back with his pistol in his right hand while he unhitched Bass’s horse and assisted him onto the saddle. They passed through old Round Rock where Jim Murphy saw them go by in a dead run with Jackson holding Bass pale and bleeding in the saddle.

 

Reynolds entering Round Rock came within five minutes of meeting Bass and Jackson in the road. After traveling some distance we came upon a man lying under a large oak tree. Seeing we were armed, he called out for us to not shoot, saying he was Sam Bass the man we were hunting. Entering the woods the night before, he was so sick and faint from loss of blood that he could go no farther. Bass sent Jackson on to his own escape.

The next morning he felt good enough to go to a near-by house and asked for water and seeing all the blood the lady was frightened and started to run off. He called to her and said he’d return to a tall tree if would only give him water. She sent him a quart cup of water but he was too far gone to drink it. We found him under this tree an hour later. He had a wound through the center of his left hand, the bullet having pierced his middle finger.

 

Bass’s death wound was given him by Dick Ware who used a .45 caliber Colt’s long-barreled six-shooter. The ball from Ware’s pistol struck Bass’s belt, cutting two cartridges in pieces and entering his back just above the right hip bone. The bullet mushroomed badly, and made a fearful wound that tore the victim’s right kidney all to pieces.

 

Bass was taken to Round Rock and given the best medical attention, but died the following day without revealing his friends saying he might as well die with what he knew inside him.

 

The simple inscription on his headstone reads: Samuel Bass

Born July 21st, 1851

Died July 21st, 1878

A brave man reposes in death here. Why was he not true?

 

Frank Jackson made his way to Denton County, Texas and was hung there. Gillett goes on to say that “of the four men who fought at the Round Rock battle with Sam Bass and his gang, are all dead. Of the ten men who made the long ride from San Saba to Round Rock, I alone, am still among the living.”

 

Chapter X: A WINTER OF QUIET AND A TRANSFER

 

The rangers encountered but one real bad man in Kerr County, his name was Eli Wixon, he was wanted for murder in East Texas. It was known that he would be at the polls to vote on Election Day in November, so Lieutenant Reynolds sent Corporal Warren and Privates Will Banister, Abe Anglin and Charles Ware to arrest him. Corporal Warren found his man and told him what he was there for and he told him to unbuckle his belt and drop his pistol. Wixon hesitated and called to his friends who came to his relief. Wixon abused the rangers and Warren stood resolute and told Wixon that his abuse didn’t mean anything; the rangers were there to arrest him, and were going to do it. The citizens were warned to be careful of breaking the law and if they started anything Wixon would be the first killed.

While Banister, Anglin and Ware held the crowd back with their Winchesters, Warren disarmed

Wixon, grasped his bridle reins, and led him away without further trouble.

When the legislature met in early 1879 it became known that it would be difficult to get an appropriation for frontier defense. (Sound familiar?) General Jones was ordered to discharge three men from each company; this process was kept up until almost one-half its former strength. Lieutenant Reynolds was compelled to sit idly by and see his experienced rangers dwindle away and what he said about those shortsighted lawmakers would not look well in print. A letter telling of a big band of horse and cattle thieves from Captain Pat Dolan of Company F caused a move and when I arrived with my detail of Company E, I marched up to the lieutenant’s tent to make my report and that is when I learned of Reynolds resignation and that he had left the company. I was shocked beyond measure. At sixty-eight years of age I went out and sat down on the bank of the Guadalupe River and cried. It seemed as though my best friend was gone forever. Reynolds had me transferred from Coldwell’s company to his own when I was just a stripling. As I was old enough to be trusted with a scout of men and the vacancies occurred I was made second corporal, first corporal, and then second sergeant. I was given the best men in the company and sent against the most noted outlaws and hardened criminals in the state. Reynolds had given me the every chance in the world to make a name for myself and now he was gone.

On reaching Austin, R.C. Ware and the Banister boys secured their transfers to Captain Marsh’s Company B and others were dispersed as well. This is where the saga of Ware ends and the rest of the story is about Gillett’s last years as a Ranger and his observations during the time of his service and the end of his telling of his story.

 

Chapter XI: THE SALT LAKE WAR AND A LONG TREK

 

There should be a monument created to the memory of these old stage-drivers somewhere along this overland route, for they were certainly the bravest of the brave. It took a man with lots of nerve and strength to be a stage-driver in Indian days, and many of them were killed. The very last year the stage line was kept up (1880), several drivers were killed between Fort Davis and El Paso. Several quit the stage company and joined Lieutenant Baylor’s company, and all of them made excellent rangers.

 

Chapter XIV: TREACHEROUS BRAVES, A FAITHFUL DOG, AND A MURDER

 

During the later part of January, 1880, two mining engineers named Andrews and Wiswall from Denver, Colorado appeared at the ranger camp in Ysleta. They had a new ambulance pulled by two good horses, and led a fine saddle pony. They were well fitted for camping out and had the finest big black shepherd dog I had ever seen. These miners wanted to buy one hundred pack mules and not having found what they sought in the Rio Grande Valley, decided to go over the to the upper Pecos Valley near Eddy or Roswell, New Mexico and they consulted with Lieutenant Baylor about the best route to take. Baylor advised them to travel down the overland stage to Fort Davis, thence by Toyah Creek and on up to Pecos but he engineers thought this too much out of their way and concluded to travel by the old abandoned Butterfield stage route. Baylor warned them it was a very dangerous route, the third day out from our camp they reached the old abandoned stage station at Crow Flat about noon. This was open country and from it one could see for miles in every direction. They busied themselves inside the old station walls after caring for their animals. Like all men traveling they busied themselves with stowing their rations.

Unnoticed the horses had grazed off three or four hundred yards from the station and the two engineers were startled by a yelling and trampling of horses’ feet. Looking up they saw ten to twelve Indians driving off their horses, even hobbled the horses made as good time as though they had been foot loose. This fact was well known to the rangers. The Apaches can be taught nothing about horse stealing as they are past masters of the art. Both being western men and good shots they had seized their guns and opened up on the redskins to prevent the horses from being un-hobbled to no avail. The miner returned to camp feeling very blue indeed.

The story continues with a gun fight with the Apaches where neither side fared too well and the miners made it back to the old stage stand. Worn out and weary after traveling more than fifty miles on foot and with not a wink of sleep for thirty six hours they saw their dummy sentinels still on guard with the faithful shepherd dog still at his post. He was overjoyed to see the miners.

 

Lieutenant Baylor ordered me to take eight rangers and with two mules, proceed to Crow Flat to bring in the ambulance Andrews and Wiswall had abandoned there. When we arrived from Cornudas to Crow Flat we were promptly challenged by the faithful sentinel, old Shep and though we were strangers, the dog seemed to recognize us as Americans and friends. He had been alone for fifteen days and began barking and rolling over and over. The rangers were as happy as if they had rescued a human being.

 

The dog had worn the top of he wall of the old stage station perfectly smooth while keeping off the sneaking coyotes and with the help of the dummy sentinels, Shep had held the fort. Everything was just as the owners had left it.

After the men had been gone from our camp for three to four days a message came that two

men had been found dead. Baylor sent me with a detail of three men to investigate. I knew if I did not follow the Mexican’s tracks closely I could never tell where they had gone.

 

Chapter XV: VICTORIO BECOMES A GOOD INDIAN

 

Old Victorio began his raids again as soon as the grass was green and water plentiful. He was reported to have appeared at Lake Guzman, Mexico and was on his way to just south of the Rio Grande. This old chief was then reported making for the Eagle Mountains in Texas. The Mexican government communicated this information to general Grierson at Fort Davis, Texas, and Lieutenant Baylor was asked to cooperate in the campaign to exterminate the wily old Apache. At once Grierson put his cavalry into motion. Baylor left his camp August 2, 1880 with myself and thirteen rangers, on August fourth our little band reached Fort Quitman. Baylor reported to General Grierson by telegraph, his message was interrupted for the Apaches had cut the wires between Bass Canyon and Van Horn’s Well. After destroying the telegraph the raiders finally moved north toward Carrizo Mountains

While on scouts after Victorio’s band I met many United States officers, and often around the camp fire we discussed the old chief. The soldiers all agreed that for an ignorant Indian Victorio displayed great military genius and Major McGonnigal declared that, with the single exception of Chief Crazy Horse of the Sioux, he considered Victorio the greatest Indian general who had ever appeared on the American continent. Victorio sent his war chief Nana and fifty of his warriors on a raid so he had left in his camp a hundred of his braves, some of whom were old men. He also had numbers of women, children, horses and mules yet the old Indian made no move to escape. During the night twelve of Victorio’s warriors, with four women and four children deserted. Early the following morning Victorio mounted a white horse and, in making some disposition of his braves to meet the expected onset of the enemy, exposed himself unnecessarily. The Mexicans fired a volley at long range and two bullets pierced his body. He fell from his horse dead – a good Indian at last. Nana and his braves joined Geronimo and they massacred more people than any other small band. It was not long until we were called upon to scout after the band of twelve warriors who had deserted the old chief. However, we had first to clean up our company, for many undesirable recruits had seeped into it. This done we were ready to resume our Indian warfare.

 

 

Chapter XIV: LAST SCOUTINGS

 

During the summer of 1881 Captain Baylor’s company made several scouts to the Sacramento and Guadalupe mountains. These were reported to the adjutant general as scouts after Indians, but there were no more Indians in Texas, for the rangers had done their work effectively.

In the later part of the summer of 1881 Captain Baylor moved his company of rangers from Ysleta to a site three miles below El Paso. The sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona warned Baylor to be on the lookout for four San Simon Valley rustlers, supposed to be a part of Curly Bill’s gang.

The robbers names were given as Charley and Frank Baker, Billy Morgan, and a fourth person supposed to be Curley Bill himself. These outlaws had stolen sixteen big work mules and four horses at a wood camp some twelve miles from Tombstone. They had also robbed a store and, assaulting the proprietor with pistols, left him for dead. A $500 reward was offered for the capture of he desperadoes and the stolen stock.

 

Captain Baylor at once ordered me to take seven men and five days rations and scout up the Rio Grande and if I found the trail to follow it up. Early the following morning we rode to the watering place known as Monday’s Springs and stopped for breakfast. The boys (rangers) found some horse and mule tracks and before they had traveled very far they discovered the tracks were traveling the same road. In the description of the stolen stock it was mentioned that one of the small mules carried a small Swiss stock bell. As I neared the wagon yard I heard the tinkle of this bell and felt sure we had tracked our quarry. The robbers were cooking breakfast and I told them we were rangers and they were under arrest. The rest of this story has a typical ranger ending.

In the fall of 1881 Captain Baylor received word from Israel King of Cambray, New Mexico that a band of thieves had stolen a bunch of cattle from him and at last reports was headed toward El Paso with them. Once again Gillett was ordered to take four men and scout up the river to the thickets to interrupt the rustlers. The rustlers were found with much activity and the cattle were returned safely.

While the rangers camped near El Paso I met Captain Thatcher, then division superintendent of the Santa Fe Railroad. He told me of the train and stage robberies and the railroad and Wells-Fargo Express companies had decided to place an armed guard of three men on the main line of the Santa Fe and similar guard on the branch run from El Paso to Rineon, New Mexico. He had known me as a ranger and my kidnapping of Enofre Baca out of Mexico so he now offered me a position with the railroad company as captain of the guard at a salary of $150 per month. I would be allowed to select my own men for guards and would be responsible for their acts.

 

Chapter XX: FRUITS OF RANGER SERVICE

 

My election as marshal of El Paso I attribute solely to my training as a ranger, and to the notoriety of my kidnapping of Baca out of Mexico had given me, so that the marshal-ship of the town was one of the direct fruits of my ranger service. I was an officer of El Paso for several years. Soon after my acceptance of the marshal-ship Captain C.L. Nevill, with whom I had served in Reynolds’ company, resigned his ranger command and became sheriff and tax collector of Presidio County, Texas. Marfa country was now becoming a very promising cattle section, so Nevill and I went into partnership and embarked in the cattle business.

 

In the spring of 1885 a new concern arranged to open a big ranch in Brewster County and asked Nevill to secure a good cattleman as ranch manager for the new company. Nevill wrote me and advised that I take the position. In the letter he jokingly remarked:

Jim, you have had a quarter cup of bullets shot at you while a ranger and marshal, and now that you have a chance to quit and get something less hazardous I advise you to do it. Besides, you will be near our own little ranch and can see your own cattle from time to time.”

 

After careful consideration on April 1 1885, I resigned from the police force of El Paso and became a cowboy again.

 

In accepting the marshal-ship I had reaped the fruits of my ranger service; now, in resigning from that position I severed all connection with the ranger force and all that it had brought me. Henceforth my ranger days and ranger service were to be but a memory, albeit the happiest time of my life. I managed the ranch for six years and during that period increased the herd from six to thirty thousand head.

 

Though today I own a large and prosperous ranch in Marfa country, and though my business interest are many and varied, I still cherish the memory of my ranger days and am never too busy to see and old ranger comrade and relive with him those six adventurous, happy, and thrilling years when I was a member of the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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