- Death on the Lonely Llano Estacado: The Assassination of J. W. Jarrott, a Forgotten Hero by Bill Neal
Bill Neal's forty years of experience in criminal law in West Texas provide him with excellent skills in tackling cold cases. Twice winner of the West Texas Historical Association's annual Rupert N. Richardson Award for the best non-fiction book on West Texas history, Neal has produced another intriguing work, this time on the unsolved case of the assassination of J. W. Jarrott in 1902. Neal, who was raised on a ranch started by his grandfather in 1897 in Hardeman County, tells how Jarrott brought twenty-five homesteader families to the South Plains of the Llano Estacado, west of Lubbock, a tiny town in 1900 of fewer than three hundred residents. One of the homesteaders, Mary Blankenship, wrote her memoirs later, which Neal uses to good effect in depicting life on the South Plains, where a round trip to Big Spring by wagon for food and goods took up to two weeks.
Owners of the big ranches, accustomed to running their cattle on the unfenced open range, were quite displeased with the newcomers, and especially with Jarrott. They threatened the settlers, filed lawsuits against them, and cut their fences. Then on August 27, 1902, someone murdered Jarrott, who was traveling from Lubbock to his home. The killer was never identified, tried, or convicted. But at this point Neal introduces Deacon Jim Miller, a "bad seed" who had a remarkable career as a paid killer and scam artist. By Miller's own count, he killed fifty-one people, receiving one hundred dollars for killing a Mexican and five hundred dollars for an Anglo. Impressively shrewd, Miller was never convicted of any of his crimes, despite the evidence against him in case after case, including the murder of Jarrott. But he did make enemies, and in 1909 he met his demise after murdering a prominent cattleman. His enemies broke him out of jail and hanged him in a livery stable.
The book does not end with Miller's death. The next question: Who hired Miller to kill Jarrott? Neal's investigation leads him to M. V. "Pap" Brownfield and his son, Dick, and their ties to Miller. Brownfield was leasing fifty-two sections of rangeland, and he was one of the few ranchers who actually lived on his land. Miller helped the Brownfields scam a neighbor out of several sections of land. On the day of Jarrott's assassination, Miller raced from the Brownfield ranch to the site of the murder, then raced back to the Brownfield ranch. Sixteen-year-old Grace Cowan, a member of a homesteading family, saw Miller go back and forth, not knowing who he was, or what he had done. But Grace Cowan's family would eventually be joined by many more homesteaders. All of the efforts of the cattlemen ultimately failed. Jarrott was dead, but homes were being established all over the South Plains of the Llano Estacado. [End Page 345]
Neal's account of the settling of the South Plains, the clash between homesteaders and cattlemen, the assassination of J. W. Jarrott, the killer's remarkable but brutal life of murders and scams, and the person who hired the killer to kill Jarrott, makes for a quite impressive investigation of a cold case more than one hundred years old.