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The Reckoning

The Triumph of Order on the Texas Outlaw Frontier

Peter R. Rose, with foreword by T. R. Fehrenbach

Publication Year: 2012

Isolated by geology and passed over by development, the vast, waterless tablelands of the Edwards Plateau of Texas became the stage for one of the great nineteenth-century dramas of western justice. In 1873, opportunistic Anglo-Celtic cattlemen and homesteaders, protected by little other than personal firearms and their own bravado, began settling the stream-laced rangelands east of the plateau. An insidious criminal element soon followed: a family-based tribal confederation of frontier outlaws took root in the canyonlands around the forks of the Llano River, in unorganized and lawless Kimble County. Sometimes disguised as Indians, they preyed on neighbors, northbound trail herds, and stockmen in adjacent counties. They robbed stagecoaches repeatedly. They traded in border markets alongside Mexican Indian raiders, and may have participated in the brutal Dowdy massacre of 1878.Outnumbering and intimidating law-abiding settlers, the confederation took over the nascent Kimble County government in 1876. Only dogged persistence by Texas Rangers, with increasing support from citizens and local law officers, would stem the tide. Meticulously researched and documented, The Reckoning examines all the players. Rose shows frontier West Texas as it really was: a raw, lawless, unforgiving place and time that yielded only stubbornly to Order and its handmaiden, the Rule of Law.

Published by: Texas Tech University Press

Series: American Liberty and Justice

Title Page, Map, Copyright

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pp. iv-viii


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p. xi-xi

Maps / Figures

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pp. xiii-xiv

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p. xv-xv

This book is a microcosm of what was a macrocosmic crime war in Texas.It creates a feel for country, time, people—the dramatis personae in a narrative that no “big picture” can achieve. Many Texans descended from frontier times will find something familiar to their own past. Newcomers may marvel at Overlooked by historians (but not by makers of song and story) is the great cleanup of crime and general disorder in Texas’s inner border regions between ...

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Series Editor's Preface

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pp. xvii-xix

Peter R. Rose’s The Reckoning: The Triumph of Order on the Texas Outlaw Frontier is a most welcome addition to the American Liberty and Justice series. Rose artfully describes the progression from anarchy to the rule of law in Kimble County, Texas. The county was home to an “entrenched confederation of criminals” locked in a five-year struggle with the Texas Rangers and “law-abiding settler-citizens.” Rose analyzes the struggle in terms of family history and the ...

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Author's Preface

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pp. xxi-xxvi

It is partly true that Kimble County, Texas—isolated by nature and passed over by unfolding events of the 1870s—was founded by outlaws. It is wholly true that a few dozen mostly law-abiding settler-citizens, supported by Texas Rangers, struggled against an entrenched confederation of criminals for more than five years before a lawful, functioning local government was finally At first, Texas Rangers of the Frontier Battalion spearheaded the fight against ...

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pp. xxvii-xxix

My first thanks must go to Frederica Wyatt, the director of the Kimble County Historical Commission in Junction, Texas, and a superb historian. Her remarkable memory for names, relationships, and events greatly facilitated my research, provided informed insight into the community that grew around the forks of the Llano, and prevented or corrected many of my errors. Ms. Wyatt also supplied rare photos of the Dublin brothers, her great-uncle ...

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1. Oasis of Outlaws

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pp. 3-6

The word was out: the U.S. Army was finally doing something about the Indian raiders who had for years plagued the western Hill Country of Texas. Comanche raids from the north and Mexican Indian raids from the south-west would be eliminated, or at least greatly curtailed. Now the wide apron of vacant, well-watered lands that bordered the vast, empty Edwards Plateau—west of the Hill Country counties that had organized before the ...

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2. The Country

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pp. 7-16

The geology of west-central Texas, especially the presence and geological attributes of the Edwards Plateau, profoundly infl uenced the settlement history of the region. It controlled where reliable water was, and wasn’t, which governed where settlers located and what remained uninhabited wilderness. It controlled the natural distribution of arable soil, necessary for subsistence corn patches and kitchen gardens. It influenced the occurrence of timber, necessary for ...

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3. Indian Raiders from Mexico

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pp. 17-23

Like dried leaves accumulating in an eddied bywater, disparate and broken remnants of different Native American tribes began to settle in northern Coahuila after the Texas Revolution, seeking refuge from the recurring storms of the American westward movement. All of them bore a grudge against Texas and ...

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4. The Potters

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pp. 24-34

New settlers William and Thomas Potter, together with their large families, arrived at the forks of the Llano in early 1874. They came from Mendocino County, northern California. According to family tradition, the two brothers made the two-thousand-mile, three-to four-month journey by wagon, bringing with them a sizeable herd of good horses.1 Even though they were southern sympathizers, they were not typical Kimble County settlers—they were not veterans ...

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5. Responding to the Indian Threat

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pp. 35-45

By 1875 Indian raids into Texas from Mexico had resumed, with even greater frequency and damage than before.1 One of the worst raids targeted Corpus Christi, on March 26, during which many settlers and their families were killed. This raid raised regional tensions to such a level that they gained the attention of the U.S. government.2 On June 3, 1875, General Edward O. C. Ord assumed command of U.S. military ...

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6. The Confederation

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pp. 46-65

From the forks of the Llano, the nearest towns—Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Mason—lay fifty to sixty miles away, to the southeast, east, and north-east, respectively. In 1875 all had existed as organized, lawful communities for at least twenty years. Fort McKavett, only thirty miles to the northwest, had been an active military establishment since 1852, except for the Civil War years.With a history of frequent Indian raids, neighboring Kimble County had ...

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7. The Roundup

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pp. 66-72

Paint Rock Spring, so-called for Native American pictographs on adjacent limestone cliffs, was a lonely and remote place in northeastern Edwards County. It was also an important place because it was the headwater spring of the South Llano River, providing the first reliable water for riders on the trail from Fort Clark and Camp Wood northward to Fort McKavett. Once northbound travelers left Hackberry Spring (the corresponding headwater spring of the East ...

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8. Ranger Law

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pp. 73-89

The forks of the Llano was a rough place, even by 1877 standards. An objective measure of just how unsettled and violent it was can be gained simply by reading the Ranger accounts of their patrols and arrests in Kimble and adjoining counties for the eighteen-month period from May 1877 to October 1878. Names of the Kimble County confederation are conspicuous by their frequency in the Ranger records, involved in a variety of offences. Cross-border raids ...

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9. The Dowdy Raid

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pp. 90-105

For the first twenty-five years of their married life, James Elias and Susan Cassell Dowdy lived a settled farming life on the lush rolling prairies and moist fertile bottom lands of the Texas Gulf coastal plain. They had married in 1852 in the old Goliad County was a relatively benign area, for pre–Civil War Texas. The violence of the Texas Revolution was sixteen years in the past, and the Karankawa ...

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10. The Pegleg Robbers

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pp. 106-113

William Steele, adjutant general since 1874, resigned his post in January 1879. John B. Jones succeeded him two weeks later, but did not relinquish control of the Frontier Battalion.1 Lieutenant N. O. Reynolds, whose health was suffering from nearly five years in the saddle, resigned his command of Company E effective March 1, 1879.2 He was succeeded by Charles Nevill, under whom Company E ...

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11. The Cousins

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pp. 114-126

Tom Potter’s name shows up only twice in the official records of Texas Ranger activities in Kimble County. The first occurrence was when he was arrested by Lieutenant Frank Moore and nine other Rangers on March 14, 1877, with Charles Edwin and William Meeks, and charged with theft of cattle.1 The second mention of his name is in connection with the killing of Dick Dublin at ...

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12. The Chase

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pp. 127-137

Moving out at a purposeful trail-eating trot, Corporal Rush Kimbell’s six-man squad rode away from Company D’s camp on the San Saba River before noon on September 25. His command included Privates N. J. Brown, Ed Dozier, W. H. “Hick” Dunman, J. V. Latham, “Mac” Smith, and R. C. Roberts, and They headed south across the muddy divide toward old Fort Terrett, on the headwaters of the North Llano River (see map 7).2 Rancher Sam Merck, who had ...

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13. The Return

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pp. 138-143

Shot “through-and-through” his left lung, John Potter’s gunshot wound remained professionally untreated for twelve days. The last four of those days he was being transported about 110 dusty, bone-rattling miles in the bed of a wagon to the post hospital at Fort Davis. Lieutenant Charles Nevill had recently established the headquarters camp of Company E near the army post.It is a testament both to Potter’s frontier-tough constitution and will to live as ...

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14. Meeting at Mountain Home

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pp. 144-155

In the spring of 1879, Bill Dunman was working as a cowboy for Creed Taylor at Taylor’s ranch on the headwaters of the James River in eastern Kimble County. Dunman was then about nineteen years old. Another cowboy named John Condy worked for Taylor’s neighbor, Jim Davis, who lived about three or four miles away. Bad blood had developed between the two young men, and ...

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15. The Trial

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pp. 156-160

Less than three months after John Potter was executed near Mountain Home, Adjutant General John B. Jones died in office on July 19, 1881, aged forty-six.1The Frontier Battalion had been his life’s work.2 In 1874, as Major Jones, he had organized and staffed it, set its priorities and standards, and guided it through the next five turbulent years of frontier unrest and lawlessness.3 He had started ...

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16. Afterward

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pp. 161-175

The dramatic events and remarkable coincidences associated with the main characters who figured in “The Reckoning” did not cease with the execution of John Potter in May of 1881, or the acquittal of Tom and Dick Dowdy, and Bill and Dan Dunman, two years later. Indeed, the lives of these disparate individuals continued to be filled with surprising twists and turns, unforeseen ...

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17. Judgments and Insights

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pp. 176-184

I started this project with the intent of weaving together and tying up the various loose ends of a fascinating larger story that—inescapably—had been described incrementally in the literature of the time as eight separate inci-dents: the Kimble County confederation, Major John B. Jones’s Kimble County Roundup, the killing of Dick Dublin by Corporal Jim Gillett, the murders of the Dowdy youngsters, the capture and trials of the Pegleg robbers, Corporal Rush ...


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pp. 185-225


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pp. 227-234


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pp. 235-247

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About the Author

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p. 248-248

Peter R. Rose is a fifth-generation Texan and a geologist with more than fifty years of professional experience. The author of the definitive monograph on the Edwards Plateau of West Texas, he is descended from nineteenth-century settlers in Kimble County, where his family maintains ranching operations to the present day. He and his wife, Alice, divide their time ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780896728011
E-ISBN-10: 0896728013
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896727694
Print-ISBN-10: 0896727696

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 43
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: American Liberty and Justice