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  • The Horrell Wars: Feuding in Texas and New Mexico by David Johnson
  • James Blackshear
The Horrell Wars: Feuding in Texas and New Mexico. By David Johnson. (Denton: University of North Texas, 2014. Pp. 249. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.)

In this history of the Horrell clan of Lampasas, Texas, David Johnson demonstrates that the bad guys portrayed in the grade B westerns of the 1950s were more than fictional characters. After reading this book, one comes to the conclusion that cattle rustling, barroom shootouts, jail breaks, posses, and vendettas were almost common-place in the lives of the Horrells. The central theme revolves around the violence that followed Sam, Mart, Ben and the rest of the Horrells like a dark cloud from central Texas to southeastern New Mexico and back.

The Horrell Wars centers around three events. The first involves the brothers’ conflicts with Lampasas authorities and later reconstruction governor Edmund J. Davis’s racially integrated State Police. The second occurs in Lincoln, New Mexico, five years before the famous Lincoln County Wars of Billy the Kid. The final act finds the family back in Lampasas with outstanding warrants for the deaths of three state policemen. Surprisingly, the brothers were acquitted of these charges, a verdict that bolsters Johnson’s argument that while the Horrells were no angels, they were not as bad as historians have painted them. Despite the not-guilty verdict, a trail of dead men followed this clan wherever they went, which leads to the last major portion of the book, a bloody Lampasas conflict called the Horrell-Higgins Feud.

Johnson’s attempt to rehabilitate the Horrells fails to persuade. While he does note that “there were rights and wrongs on both sides,” he also cites how this family’s history has been “complicated by modern progressive revisionists and traditionalists” imposing their own values “on the nineteenth century” (54).Yet despite the author’s attempt to present what he believes to be a fairer picture, the Horrell brothers and their cohorts drink, insult, fight, and kill their way through the 1870s. Furthermore, the evidence that Johnson uses to justify what they did in New Mexico is weak to non-existent. The author argues that the brothers’ indiscriminate shooting of several Hispanic citizens at a dance was an act of self-defense. To bolster this argument he relies on the biased assertions of Maj. John Mason of the 13th United States Infantry, who reported to his superiors that the Horrells were in conflict with “a very ignorant class of Mexicans” and only the Texans or “the whites and the better class of Mexicans” were willing to peacefully settle the feud (170). As to other issues, Johnson inserts too much genealogical information into the text, disrupting the flow of the narrative. Such information would be better suited for endnotes.

The author does capture just how dangerous Reconstruction-era Texas was. He details how former Confederates, including the Horrells, were affected by the war, and graphically illustrates the callous disregard for human life that pervaded the frontier as a result of the war. This disregard, when mixed with a ready supply of guns and alcohol, proved a potent brew. Additionally, using primary source materials, Johnson is able to demonstrate how the Texas Rangers were used to quell [End Page 327] violence in places like Lampasas. Maj. John B. Jones and his fellow Rangers shine in Johnson’s detailing of how they brought the Horrell–Higgins Feud to a close. Historians interested in the Lampasas area and the 1870s southwestern frontier will find a trove of genealogical information and local history in this look at the Horrells and their wars against folks who dared to cross them.

James Blackshear
Collin College


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pp. 327-328
Launched on MUSE
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