John B. Armstrong, Texas Ranger and Pioneer Ranchman
Lawman and Rancher
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
Series: Canseco-Keck History Series
Title Page, Copyright
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The name Armstrong has a colorful history. Around the middle of the eleventh century a Scottish king had his horse killed from under him during a battle. His armor bearer, a powerful Dane, managed to lift the king onto another mount, thus saving his life. For such a heroic deed the warrior was granted a crest and the family appellation of “Strong Arm,” or “Armstrong.” Siward the Armstrong later became the Earl of Northumberland and, under the aegis of Edward the...
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The subject of John Barkley Armstrong has been of deep interest to me for many years. In going through my correspondence I find that some letters are dated as early as 1969. At the start I doubt that I entertained seriously the thought of ever writing a full-length biography of the man, as in those early years my interest lay more in the collecting of information. But through the years ideas develop, or get dropped entirely, or maybe even forgotten. Perhaps it was a combination of...
Chapter 1: Genesis of a Fighting Man
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John B. Armstrong is best known as the Texas Ranger who captured and brought back to Texas justice the notorious man-killer John Wesley Hardin. The capture took place August 23, 1877, at the railroad station in Pensacola, Florida. At the time Armstrong needed a cane to walk, having accidentally shot himself, yet he handled his big Colt revolver well enough to kill one of Hardin’s associates and knock the man-killer unconscious long enough to assure his capture.
Chapter 2: Blood on the Palo Alto Prairie
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During the latter part of 1874 McNelly and his command had been stationed in strife-ridden DeWitt County, where his orders were to quell the fighting between two groups, the followers of William E. Sutton and the extensive Taylor family. Only one Sutton was directly involved, but he had many friends and followers who were enemies of the Taylor clan, a large family whose menfolk were accused of horse and cattle stealing and other acts of desperadoism. One...
Chapter 3: Gunfire at Las Cuevas
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McNelly and his men had little to be proud of following the resounding victory over the bandits on the Palo Alto Prairie; there were no more significant victories against the raiders. Cortina’s thieves were wary of these new diablos tejanos (Texan devils) from the north and rather than chance being run down and killed like the men on the Palo Alto Prairie they abandoned the stolen herds to escape with their lives.
Chapter 4: Engagement at Espantosa Lake
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Following the invasion of Mexico until late 1876, little is known of Armstrong’s activities. He did reenlist for another quarter, as his name appears on the muster and payroll dated February 29, 1876, prepared at Laguna de las Flores by Lt. T. C. Robinson. This shows service was from December 1, 1875, to February 29, 1876, with the rank of fifth sergeant. Other sergeants were George A. Hall, Roe P. Orrell, and brothers Lawrence B. and Linton L. Wright.
Chapter 5: John King Fisher Again
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On January 20, 1877, the Special State Troops were reorganized. McNelly had made them one of the top fighting units in Texas history but their continuation depended on the amount of funding the legislature provided. Furthermore, the end of the pay period gave Adj. Gen. William Steele the perfect opportunity to place a new man in command, as McNelly’s medical bills were too high to retain him. And with McNelly unable to be in the field regularly the...
Chapter 6: Facing the Man Killer
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Although Hall knew he had good men under his command, men capable of tracking and arresting dangerous fugitives as well as handling themselves capably in a gunfight, he also realized that an accidental gunshot might take them out of action at any time. This is what happened to not only one of his men but two—Sgt. Oliver S. Watson and John B. Armstrong. The details are scant. The first official report comes in the form of a telegram...
Chapter 7: Action in Round Rock
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There is considerable question over the matter of the reward for John Wesley Hardin and how it was distributed. The state offered $4,000 for the desperado’s delivery to the Travis County jail. Who actually received the reward or even whether the entire amount was paid is not known. Jack Duncan, in discussing his career with a Dallas newspaper reporter years later, listed some twenty-one fugitives he had captured, naming Hardin first. He stated that he had...
Chapter 8: Pioneer Ranchman
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Armstrong officially retired from the Texas Ranger service on December 30, 1878, receiving $133 for his final payment for his service with Hall’s Special State Troops. He had memories of his time as a Travis Rifleman with bayonets flashing on Congress Avenue while protecting newly elected governor Richard Coke, the gun battles with bandits, recovering stolen cattle and horses, the excitement of the chase, and the capture or killing of wanted fugitives. The...
Chapter 9: Rancher Amid the Rails
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On April 3 , 1888, John B. Armstrong mustered in as a private with the Brownsville Rifles and was promoted to the rank of major and division quartermaster on January 2, 1893. Eight days later he was promoted to the rank of major and assistant inspector general. From May 1, 1895, to July 13, 1900, Armstrong was lieutenant colonel and assistant chief of ordnance, but he always preferred to be called Major Armstrong. During the Spanish-American War...
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John Barkley Armstrong served the Texas Rangers from 1875 through 1878, during what many would consider the classic frontier period of that organization. This was a time when the Rangers were able finally to set aside what had been their primary concern, the Indian problem, and concentrate on the outlawry which was increasing with rapid growth of the state’s population. Though it would be fifty years before the name would become official, the...
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Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 26 b&w photos. 1 map.
Publication Year: 2007
Series Title: Canseco-Keck History Series