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The Horrell Wars

Feuding in Texas and New Mexico

David Johnson

Publication Year: 2014

For decades the Horrell brothers of Lampasas, Texas, have been portrayed as ruthless killers and outlaws, but author David Johnson paints a different picture of these controversial men. The Horrells were ranchers, and while folklore has encouraged the belief that they built their herds by rustling, contemporary records indicate a far different picture. The family patriarch, Sam Horrell, was slain at forty-eight during a fight with Apaches in New Mexico. One Horrell son died in Confederate service; of the remaining six brothers, five were shot to death. Only Sam, Jr., lived to old age and died of natural causes. Johnson covers the Horrells and their wars from cradle to grave. Their initial confrontation with the State Police at Lampasas in 1873 marked the most disastrous shootout in Reconstruction history and in the history of the State Police. The brothers and loyal friends then fled to New Mexico, where they became entangled in what would later evolve into the violent Lincoln County War. Their contribution, known to history as the Horrell War, has racial overtones in addition to the violence that took place in Lincoln County. The brothers returned to Texas where in time they became involved in the Horrell-Higgins War. The family was nearly wiped out following the feud when two of the brothers were killed by a mob in Bosque County. Johnson presents an up-to-date account of these wars and incidents while maintaining a neutral stance necessary for historical books dealing with feuds. He also includes previously unpublished photographs of the Horrell family and others.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

David Johnson has followed the trail of the Horrell-Higgins Feud with the tenacity of Pink Higgins tracking down one of the Horrell brothers. A veteran researcher of Texas blood feuds, Johnson checked every document, enlisted local historians, re-thought every accepted conclusion...

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pp. xv-xix

By feud standards, the Horrell-Higgins feud was a short lived affair spanning only a few months in the late 1870s. Unlike west Texas’ Johnson- Sims feud that occurred from 1916 to 1918, it occupies no unique place as Texas’ last feud. Nor was it a major conflict like the Sutton-Taylor War...

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Chapter 1: “I Raised My Boys to Be Fighters”

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pp. 1-14

During their lifetimes the Horrells were controversial amidst the violence that swirled around them in Texas and New Mexico. Contemporary John Nichols knew them recalling “They were not really quarrelsome, but clannish.”1 Texas Ranger James B. Gillett concurs. “They...

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Chapter 2: “A Lame Texan Is Suspected of the Deed”

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pp. 15-30

Perhaps the most controversial and tumultuous period in American history, Reconstruction followed hard in the wake of the South’s defeat as Federal forces flooded into the south. Until then Texas had seen limited conflict, but now citizens found themselves confronted by an...

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Chapter 3: “The Lampasas Horror”

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pp. 31-44

Trouble for the Horrells began two weeks into 1873. On January 12, 1873, Ben Horrell allegedly threatened the life of Judge William Pace.1 It was a prophetic omen. That same month Sheriff Shade Denson reported, “There are men here who disturb the citizens of the town at night, by...

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Chapter 4: “The Ways of the Transgressor”

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pp. 45-58

On March 20 the inquest jury named Tom, Mart, and Merritt Horrell, Ben Turner, Joe Bolden, Allen Whitcraft, James Grizzell, Jerry Scott, Bill Bowen, and Bill Gray as the killers of Williams and the other State Policemen. Scott was identified as “the man who fired the first shot and...

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Chapter 5: “Begged for Mercy”

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pp. 59-70

The Horrells’ settlement in Lincoln County was not unprecedented. By 1872 John S. Chisum and Robert K. Wylie had both driven herds into the region and settled down to stay. Other ranchers drove herds there as well, some as settlers, some in transit to other areas, among them...

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Chapter 6: “Nothing Was to Come of It”

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pp. 71-82

Ben Horrell was scarcely cold when two Mexicans were killed by unknown parties. The men appear to have been found on December 4 and were identified as Seferino (or Severiano) Trujillo and another Hispanic.1 Major Mason reported that the men “were murdered near...

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Chapter 7: “Would Have Surrendered … at Any Time”

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pp. 83-94

The Horrells were well aware that the animosities in Lincoln County would not permit them anything resembling a normal existence. Following the second attack on their ranch, the brothers approached Robert Casey and asked for permission to leave their women and children...

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Chapter 8: “Didn’t Fire a Shot”

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pp. 95-106

The retreat of the Horrells to Texas was not the finale of the Horrell War. “We fought them all the way to Fort Davis,” one source reported to C. L. Sonnichsen in 1957.1 From primary sources there are indications that it was a sobered, more mature group. During the previous year their...

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Chapter 9: “The Latest Blossom of Lampasas Chivalry”

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pp. 107-120

For the Horrells, January 1877 began with determining guardians for the children of John and Ben Horrell. For some reason, Samuel and Annie Horrell’s guardianship case was separate from that of their sister Nancy. The court ordered “all persons interested” and the children to...

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Chapter 10: “A Shooting Picnic at Lampasas”

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pp. 121-132

Peace lasted a week into June following the Rangers’ departure. On June 4 the courthouse was burglarized. The burglar or burglars knew exactly what they wanted. One news account notes that the door had been forced open. The perpetrators “entered the District Court room and carried...

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Chapter 11: “Bloody Murder in Bosque”

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pp. 133-144

The year 1878 opened calmly for the Horrells. Tom Bowen married Margaret Josie Dixon during January. On January 26 Sarah Ann Bass was ordered to file an inventory of the estate.1 At the same time Merritt’s children were ruled to be without a guardian under the law and an...

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Chapter 12: “This Saturnalia of Blood”

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pp. 145-160

Crabtree’s arrest for the murder and robbery of Vaughan was big news across the state. Quoting a dispatch from Meridian, Texas, dated August 26, the Galveston Daily News reported: “About the 26th of May last Mr. Vaughn, one of the best citizens of this county, engaged in merchandising...

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Afterword: “A Shocking Murder”

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pp. 161-168

Any hopes that 1879 would prove less violent than the previous year were swiftly dashed. Word arrived in Texas that George Doolittle had been killed in the Indian Territory by Bluford Cox.1 On February 13 it was reported that Mrs. Smith, wounded during the Stull murder, was...

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Appendix 1

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pp. 169-172

On December 25, 1873, in response to the violence that took place in Lincoln during the early stages of the Horrell War, Major John S. Mason, 15th infantry, wrote to his superiors requesting instructions. The letter is a key document in understanding why the Horrells finally struck...

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Appendix 2

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pp. 173-174

The Lampasas Dispatch of August 9, 1877, published Sergeant N. O. Reynolds’ account of the capture of the Horrell brothers. Written a week following the arrests, it serves to dispel some of the misinformation around the event...

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Appendix 3

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pp. 175-176

The Horrell family was prone to using family names for their children so much that it could prove confusing to most people. To provide a quick reference to their children, the following lists the known descendants of the Horrell brothers and their sister...


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pp. 177-222

Selected Works Consulted

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pp. 223-238


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pp. 239-249

E-ISBN-13: 9781574415605
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574415506

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus. 1 map.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Horrell family.
  • Higgins, Pink, 1848-1914.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- New Mexico.
  • Vendetta -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950.
  • Lampasas County (Tex.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • New Mexico -- History -- 1848-.
  • Lincoln County (Tex.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Violence -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Violence -- New Mexico -- History -- 19th century.
  • Outlaws -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Outlaws -- New Mexico -- Biography.
  • Ranchers -- Texas -- Biography.
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