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Captain J. A. Brooks, Texas Ranger

Paul N. Spellman

Publication Year: 2007

James Abijah Brooks (1855-1944) was one of the four Great Captains in Texas Ranger history, others including Bill McDonald, John Hughes, and John Rogers. Over the years historians have referred to the captain as “John” Brooks, because he tended to sign with his initials, but also because W. W. Sterling’s classic Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger mistakenly named him as Captain John Brooks. Born and raised in Civil War-torn Kentucky, a reckless adventurer on the American and Texas frontier, and a quick-draw Texas Ranger captain who later turned in his six-shooter to serve as a county judge, Brooks’s life reflects the raucous era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American West. As a Texas Ranger, Brooks participated in the high profile events of his day, from the fence-cutting wars to the El Paso prizefight, from the Conner Fight–where he lost three fingers from his left hand–to the Temple rail strike, all with a resolute demeanor and a fast gun. A shoot-out in Indian Territory nearly cost him his life and then jeopardized his career, and a lifelong bout with old Kentucky bourbon did the same. With three other distinguished Ranger captains, Brooks witnessed and helped promote the transformation of the elite Frontier Battalion into the Ranger Force. As a state legislator, he brokered the creation of a South Texas county that bears his name today, and where he served for twenty-eight years as county judge. He was the quintessential enforcer of frontier justice, scars and all.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Frances B. Vick Series

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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-10

Captain Brooks stood at the edge of the slightly rolling hills that spread across to the horizon, his eyes fixed on the vibrant colors of the autumn sunset. A slight rustle of wind pressed gently against the field grass. ...

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1. Old Kentucky Home

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pp. 11-24

John Strode Brooks stood at the corner post of his new property, surveying a portion of the 247 acres of Kentucky bluegrass he had recently purchased. A tributary of Houston Creek flowed easily along its rocky bed through the eastern acreage. ...

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2. A Texas Ranger

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pp. 25-41

San Antonio was a bustling town in 1880, filled with every opportunity imaginable, and every temptation, for an impressionable twenty-four-year-old cowboy just stepping off the train. Whatever Jim Brooks hoped would happen for him there, however, never materialized. ...

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3. The Shoot-Outs

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pp. 42-56

On May 26, 1886, Obediah Y. Love wrote the following letter to Montgomery A. Sandels, the district attorney for the federal court located in Ft. Smith, Arkansas: “Dear Sir, I as a personal friend of Albert St. John, who was murdered at Alex, Chickasaw Nation, Ind. Ty., under direction of Dept. U.S. Marshal Menohan ask that writs be issued for the murderers and they be arrested...

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4. The Garza War

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pp. 57-78

Based on the affidavits, memoirs, and trial testimony of the three defendants it is clear they believed themselves to be innocent of this crime: each in his own way had presumed he was doing his duty, following the law, and assisting in the lawful arrest of Albert St. John. ...

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5. Prizefight in El Paso

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pp. 79-94

On March 22, 1892, Ranger Pvt. E. E. Doaty of Company E was gunned down by fleeing Garcista rebels, renewing with full force the hunt for the last of these border ruffians. Captain Brooks joined McNeel’s force as they combed the Valley. ...

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6. Deadly Streets of Cotulla

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pp. 95-108

“Which accounts for a trainload of extremely disgusted gentlemen in an uproar of fancy vests and neckwear being spilled from their Pullmans in the early morning following the fight,” concluded O. Henry in his short story Hygeia at the Solito.1 ...

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7. Trouble in Colorado County

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pp. 109-124

Ben Stafford stepped out of the barbershop onto the main street of Columbus. It was a cold, blustery December morning. Sumner Townsend was waiting for him in the street. The hot words that had been exchanged for months between the two cattlemen were suddenly replaced by gunfire. ...

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8. The Ranger Force

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pp. 125-137

As the Twenty-seventh Texas Legislature convened for its 1901 session, Governor Sayers entered his “Message to Congress” into the records on January 10. Under the title of “The Adjutant General’s Department,” Sayers wrote this about the Rangers: ...

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9. The Baker/De La Cerda Incident

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pp. 138-150

Three years before the four captains assumed their duties for the Ranger Force, an outbreak of smallpox in Laredo caused a minor panic in the mostly Mexican town that turned into a full fledged riot by March 1899. Dr. Walter F. Blunt, the state’s chief health officer, called for a quarantine across the city and ordered fumigation for most of the homes. ...

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10. Batson Prairie Oil

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pp. 151-162

The assignment given Captain Brooks on March 18, 1903, must surely have opened a festering old wound in his soul. Even as he was making preparations to complete the move of Company A out to Laredo, Brooks was ordered to Yoakum to assist Atascosa County Sheriff Matthew Avant and two Rangers from Captain Hughes’s com-...

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11. Keeping the Peace in the Valley

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pp. 163-175

It must have been an interesting assignment for Captain Brooks in the middle of the summer of 1904, ordered to Minera to halt a violent railroad strike. Twenty-two years earlier as a too-often drunken laborer, the Kentucky wanderer had spent the miserable part of a year working in those same coal mines, loading rail cars and helping with the transport to Cotulla and San Antonio. ...

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12. Texas Legislator and County Judge

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pp. 176-189

“Nov. 14, 1906
“General Hulen, Austin:
“I desire to tender my resignation as captain of Company A of the Texas Rangers, said resignation to take effect on Nov. 15, 1906, which action on my part is due to pressing private business which demands my personal attention and which renders my further service in such position detrimental to my best interests. ...

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13. Falfurrias, Brooks County

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pp. 190-211

Judge James A. Brooks, who preferred to be called “Captain” for the rest of his life despite three decades on the bench, worked diligently to make the county named after him a viable entity. He presided by virtue of his office over the county commissioner’s court and as ex-officio superintendent of the public school system that he helped cre-...


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pp. 213-244


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pp. 245-253


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pp. 255-272

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413908
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412277

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 29 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Frances B. Vick Series