A TOWN TREED

JuanHunters are known to tree a mountain lion or a bear now and then, but in 1859, a gang of thugs treed a whole town. That’s right, a whole town.

It was the mid 1800’s. Anglos from other parts of the United States were coming to Texas in groves, and taking over land previously owned by Mexicans.

Juan Cortina, saw his family’s land holdings shrink. When he became a man, Juan put together a gang of disgruntled Mexicans and started taking back some of the land. In mid September of 1859 one of Juan’s men was arrested in Brownsville, Texas. Juan and his men shot the Marshal and freed the gang member. This, of course, infuriated the citizens of Brownsville. For days they talked about putting together a posse and getting revenge. But it seems that talk was all they were want to do.

Juan Cortina, on the other hand, wanted action, and getting tired of waiting for the posse to come after him, on September 27 he led a thousand cutthroats into Brownsville, captured Fort Brown, and took over the town. After killing anyone who had previously caused him grief, Juan demanded one hundred thousand dollars in gold or he would burn down the town.
News of the Brownsville situation got out and a contingency of men came to the rescue. Unfortunately, for them, news of what Cortina was doing also reached his friends and his gang had grown to a much larger size. After defeating the relief column, Cortina went after Edinburg, Texas and then took on Rio Grande.

Cortina then wisely retreated back to Mexico where for 15 years he made raids across the border. Finally in 1875, the Texas Rangers decided to put an end to Juan Cortina’s shenanigans, and went down to Mexico and kicked his butt. From then on Juan stayed south of the border and played politics there.

Texas RangersBack in 1835 there was an area of North America that, like the United States some fifty plus years earlier wanted to become independent of their mother country. On October 17, the people of that rebelling area approved the forming of a group of armed and mounted men whose duty was to range the borders and protect them. Some 175 years later that organization is still in existence and going as strong as ever.

That area of North America seeking independence? It was Texas. That group of armed and mounted men? The Texas Rangers.

In 1835 Texas comprised of isolated pockets of frontier settlers. And Texas leaders needed someone to “range” the frontier and protect the borders from Santa Ana’s soldiers as well as hostile Indians within the territory. And that’s exactly what the Texas Rangers did.

Then, a year later when Texas got its independence, it was decided to upgrade this semi-official force into the primary law enforcement authority.

Although they were created by the Texas government, they were an irregular group of civilians who provided their own horses and guns.

They were given considerable independence, carrying out the duties that would normally be done by the army…such as fighting Indians, and law enforcement agencies…tracking down cattle thieves, train and stage robbers and murderers.

As Texas entered into the 20th century the Texas Rangers were still very much an independent agency. But, they were receiving more and more criticism about their using excessive violence and ignoring the finer points of the law. So, in the 1930’s, the state got control of the Rangers, making them a modern and professional law organization.

TOM MIX

On October 11, 1940, the famous cowboy actor Tom Mix is killed in a freak car accident near his ranch in Florence, Arizona. He was driving his single-seat roadster with luggage on the rear shelf of the car. Tom was traveling along a straight desert road, when he unknowingly came to a bridge spanning a shallow gully that was out. When his car went down into the gully a heavy suitcase flew off the rear shelf of his car and crushed him.

Tom Mix had been one of the biggest silent movies stars in Hollywood during the 1920’s, appearing in more than 300 westerns and making as much as $10,000 a week. Unlike most of the actors appearing in westerns, Mix had actually worked as a cowboy, and had been a Texas Ranger.

In 1906, Mix joined a Wild West show, and four years later he started acting in motion pictures. He helped define the classic image of the western movie cowboy as a rough riding, quick-shooting defender of right and justice, an image that would be copied by hundreds of other actors who followed him.

With the coming of talking pictures, Mix’s movie career stalled. When he died in 1940 at the age of 60, he had lost most of his wealth and was largely forgotten.

Today a black iron silhouette of a riderless bronco marks the site of Mix’s death on the highway about 17 miles south of Florence, Arizona.

JOHN WESLEY HARDEN ARRESTED

August 23, 1877 climaxed probably the most dramatic manhunt in the Old West.

Although John Wesley Hardin had killed a number of men, on May 26, 1874 Harden Killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Texas and killing a lawman couldn’t be overlooked.

For three years Harden was able to elude the Texas Rangers by using an alias and keeping a low profile. He also moved to Florida.

But, the Rangers discovered where he was, and even though they had no authority in Florida, sent John Armstrong after him.

Acting on a tip, Armstrong spotted Hardin in the smoking car of a train stopped at the Pensacola station. Local deputies were stationed at both ends of the car, and the men burst in with guns drawn. Hardin reached for the gun holstered under his jacket. The pistol caught in Hardin’s fancy suspenders, this allowed Armstrong time to club Hardin with his long-barreled .45 pistol instead of having to shoot him.

They spirited Hardin back to Texas on the next train. Hardin was tried and found guilty of killing Sheriff Webb and sentenced him to life in the Texas state prison at Huntsville. He served 15 years before the governor pardoned him.

CYNTHIA ANN PARKER

On this date back in 1836 one of the Old West’s most tragic events began to unfold.

At the age of nine, Cynthia Ann Parker’s family was killed and she, along with some other children, was kidnapped. The Comanche took her, and she lived with them for 25 years.

She became the wife of Peta Nocona, and gave birth to two boys and a girl. Comanche warriors normally take more than one wife. Nocona was happy with just Cynthia Ann.

In December 1860 a group of Texas Rangers attached Nocona’s village and rescued Cynthia Ann and her daughter.

Rather than feeling she had been rescued, Cynthia Ann felt she was kidnapped a second time. Cynthia Ann resigned herself to a life among a people she no longer understood. In 1863 her daughter died. And she died seven years later of influenza brought on by self-imposed starvation.

Incidentally, her son Quanah Parker became the last great war chief of the Comanche tribe. One wonders if he would have gone to war had Cynthia Ann not been kidnapped.

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