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Life of the Marlows

A True Story of Frontier Life of Early Days

Revised by William Rathmell. Edited with an Introduction and Annotations by Robert K. DeArment

Publication Year: 2004

The story of the five Marlow brothers and their tribulations in late nineteenth-century Texas is the stuff of Old West legend (and served to inspire the John Wayne movie, The Sons of Katie Elder). Violent, full of intrigue, with characters of amazing heroism and deplorable cowardice, their story was first related by William Rathmell in Life of the Marlows, a little book published in 1892, shortly after the events it described in Young County, Texas. It told how Boone, the most reckless of the brothers, shot and killed a popular sheriff and escaped, only to be murdered later by bounty hunters. The other four brothers, arrested as accessories and jailed, made a daring break from confinement but were recaptured. Once back in their cells, they were forced to fight off a mob intent on lynching them. Later, shackled together, the Marlows were placed on wagons by officers late at night, bound for another town, but they were ambushed by angry citizens. In the resulting battle two of the brothers were shot and killed, the other two severely wounded, and three mob members died. The surviving brothers eventually were exonerated, but members of the mob that had attacked them were prosecuted in cases that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The original 1892 edition and expanded reprint of 1931 are both quite scarce. Later writers drew upon Rathmell’s account when telling the story of the Marlows, but all accounts were slanted sympathetically toward them, given the same bias by Rathmell. Now Robert K. DeArment, a noted historian of outlaws and lawmen of the West, has sifted through the evidence and presents herein an objective, annotated edition of Life of the Marlows , which contains extensive clarifying and corrective footnotes and an index. Now the complete story can be told and readers can judge for themselves: were the Marlows as law-abiding as Rathmell claims? Or was the mob reacting with justified anger?

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Dramatis Personae

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pp. vi-ix

List of Illustrations

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pp. x

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Editor’s Introduction

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pp. 1-19

The story of the five Marlow brothers and their tribulations in late nineteenth century Texas is the stuff of Old West legend. Violent, full of intrigue, with characters of amazing heroism and deplorable cowardice, it was first related in a little book published in 1892, shortly after the events it described. It told how Boone, the most reckless of the brothers, shot and...

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Chapter I: Pioneer Days—An Indian Scare

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pp. 9-13

In Nashville, Tennessee, in 1822, there lived in happiness and comparative prosperity, a very youthful married couple, the husband being scarce eighteen years of age. This was the handsome and ever good-natured Williamson Marlow Sr. and his child wife.1...

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Chapter II: Adventures in the Southwest—A Love Affair

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pp. 14-20

The Marlow family located near Denver in 1865, and at that place the two oldest daughters of Martha, Nannie and Charlotte, were married to two worthy brothers, John and William Murphy. The girls were young to leave a mother’s care, being about 13 and 17,1 but love triumphed over reason, as usual, and the weddings took place on the same day,...

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Chapter III: Scenes and Adventures in Mexico

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pp. 21-31

In the spring of ’77, rumors of the wonders of South America havingreached them, Dr. Marlow and the boys, together with about thirty others,mostly relatives, sold off their stock, bought mules, wagons and othernecessities for a long journey, and began a trip overland to the balmyclime and flowery land of the tropics. It was a lovely morning in March...

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Chapter IV: An Indian Chase—Marriage and Death

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pp. 32-37

The next four years was spent near old Fort Sill, in the Indian Territory,1 where the five brothers worked for the heavy cattle barons of that section on their immense ranches, some of which included whole townships. Little change had taken place in the Territory since they had...

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Chapter V: Boone Kills a Man—Terrible Battle With Wolves

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pp. 38-44

After the death of the Doctor, Mrs. Marlow, her four sons1 and George’s wife moved to a place on the Fort Worth & Denver railroad, where the boys took a grading contract.2 At this place Alfred made the acquaintance of the woman whom he afterward married—a Miss Venie Davis, who was a handsome Western lass, brave and true-hearted, and...

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Chapter VI: A Dark and Diabolic Plot

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pp. 45-49

While still out on the hunt mentioned in the preceding chapter, and three or four days after the terrible experience with the wolves, the memorable blizzard that swept that section of the country with its wintry blasts in ’87 came upon them and caught them far from home and entirely shelterless. Many settlers and hundreds of head of stock froze to death...

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Chapter VII: The Plot Deepens—The Marlows in Chains................

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pp. 50-59

Had E. W. Johnson known how terrible and disastrous would be the result of the dark scheme he planned that bright August day in 1888, he would have paused ere making so fatal a move, but alas! He could see nothing but popularity and gain as an outcome, “for,” he soliloquized, “if I go up to the Indian country and arrest these five brothers I will...

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Chapter VIII: War Clouds—Boone Gathers Another Victim

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pp. 60-67

Upon arriving at Graham, George’s first efforts were endeavors to provide bail for his imprisoned brothers, but in this he was temporarily balked, and instead was himself thrown into jail with them,1 by Johnson and Criswell who, having started in, were as relentless as death in their prosecution. In the few days prior to his arrest George had secured the...

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Chapter IX: Reward for Boone, Dead or Alive—His Escape

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pp. 68-72

A large reward was offered for the capture of Boone Marlow, dead or alive, and in consequence the country swarmed with men eager to obtain this reward, either by fair means or foul.1 Boone soon learned of this, and fearing detection, he retraced his steps back to the home place and hid for the time being in a large stack of wheat straw, half a mile from the house. He tunneled into this big hill of straw for quite a ways,...

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Chapter X: Escape From Prison—Recaptured

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pp. 73-78

When the four brothers were taken to jail in Graham they were stripped naked and their clothes searched for arms or weapons of any description. Then they were shoved roughly into a small steel cage and locked and barred in with extra precaution. The turnkey and other jail officials and peace officers seemed determined to make their existence...

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Chapter XI: Lynch Law—At the Mercy of the Mob

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pp. 79-86

Stronger and stronger grew the sentiment against the Marlows. The officers who had in the beginning started out to ruin them left no stone unturned to accomplish their purpose, but actuated by the hope of gain and personal aggrandizement they spread abroad every lie and innuendo which could suggest itself to their fertile and scheming minds....

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Chapter XII: Removal and Final Attack—Battle of Dry Creek

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pp. 87-95

The prisoners feared a mob worse than ever when they saw the crowd, and asked Johnson if he would arm them if they were attacked. “Yes, I will,” he said. There were two hacks and a buggy in sight. The six prisoners and...

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Chapter XIII: The Story in a New York Paper, in June 1891

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pp. 96-104

We make a chapter here from a detailed statement of the facts now being narrated, which appeared and was elaborately illustrated in the National Police Gazette during the summer of 1891.1...

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Chapter XIV: The Home Besieged—One Hundred to One

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pp. 105-109

Brief time was there for the wounded brothers and grief stricken women to lament over the death of their loved ones, for their frail cabin had to be turned into a fortress, and hasty preparations made to defend their home and lives from the blood-thirsty horde which would be sure...

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Chapter XV: Prisoners Again—Boone Murdered

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pp. 110-118

On Tuesday morning, in answer to a telegram sent the Sunday before to U. S. Marshal Cabell, stating that they would never surrender to anyone but he or Morton, Morton with his guard arrived.1 A mattress was placed in the hack they had brought for them, and the brave and self-sacrificing Clift, at his own request, was placed in first in such a position as to hold...

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Chapter XVI: Arrest and Trial of the Conspirators

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pp. 119-137

On leaving Gainesville, Charley crossed the Red River at Brown’s Ferry, north of Gainesville, crossed the Indian Territory and entered Kansas at Kiowa,1 took a westerly course here and entered Colorado at Coolidge,2 and two days later they reached La Junta, where Ellie, one of...

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Chapter XVII: The Result—Extracts and Opinions

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pp. 138-145

Such a long chapter of testimony may tax the reader’s patience somewhat, but as this book is a history as well as a romance, it is necessary to give facts as they occurred. There were many more important witnesses on both sides, whose testimony was but a reiteration of that...

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Chapter XVIII: Retrospective—The Marlows’ Lives, Their Happiness and Grief, Past and Present

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pp. 146-154

In reviewing these pages one can not help but consider how true the saying, “truth is stranger than fiction.” It seems incredible that men could pass through such hardships, rough usage, danger, and perils untold, and yet survive to tell the tale; and it seems doubly incredible that such atrocious and heinous crimes and outrages against law, society, and...

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Chapter XIX: Old Wounds Reopened— The Colorado Home Invaded

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pp. 155-187

In the summer of ’91 the peaceful serenity of the Marlows’ cozy mountain home was suddenly invaded by officers who came up from Texas to tear agape the old wounds of their tribulations, to re-arrest them and take them back again as prisoners to the scenes of all their woe....


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pp. 188-194


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pp. 195-206

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photo section

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pp. 98-223

The five Marlow brothers on horseback, circa 1887. Left to right: George,Map of the haunts of the Marlow brothers in Texas, Indian Territory, andOuray, Colorado, as it looked about the time George and Charles Marlow arrivedThe prisoners feared a mob worse than ever when they saw the crowd,There were two hacks and a buggy in sight. The six prisoners and...

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414127
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411799

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 11 b&w illus., 2 maps
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

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Subject Headings

  • Marlow family.
  • Murder -- Texas -- Young County -- History -- 19th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas -- Young County.
  • Young County (Tex.) -- History.
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