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206 As the Reddings and Olneys fled Texas for the safety of New Mexico, the sheriff of Coleman County arrested some of their party. Details of the arrest are lacking, but the sheriff lodged them in the jail at Brownwood due to its greater security. It was a futile effort. On May 11, 1877, a number of men rode into Brownwood and calmly ate lunch. One paper reported that “immediately after dinner” a number of horses were hitched outside the front of the jail and others on the west side. Around three thirty in the afternoon four men entered the sheriff’s office and asked if the County Clerk was present. “They then asked to see the ‘record of Marks and Brands,’ which Mr. Ford very politely placed before them for their inspection.”1 Having gained access to the sheriff’s office, one of the men suddenly drew two pistols and demanded the keys to the jail. At the same time two sentinels posted on the outside of the jail told their comrades to “Hurry up, boys, we are in danger.” The sheriff was forced to release the prisoners they had come for. The men immediately armed themselves, then fled the jail. Outside, chaos reigned in Brownwood. Realizing what was happening , citizens scrambled to locate weapons. The jail breakers quickly mounted and fled Brownwood with an exchange of gunfire that resulted only in one horse being wounded in the neck. A posse abandoned pursuit when they learned that the fleeing men numbered fifteen or twenty, all well armed. About an hour later a rainstorm obliterated the trail. chapter 15 “Casting Out Devils” 207 “Casting Out Devils” The bold release of the prisoners at Brownwood created a sensation across Texas. Not only had the release been during broad daylight , but some of the men tentatively indentified appeared to link the Mason County feudists and fighters from the Sutton-Taylor War in DeWitt County. The following are the names of those who were identified as being with the crowd who released the prisoners: John Wesley Hardin, for whom there is $5000 [sic: $4000] reward; —Olney, murderer of the deputy sheriff of Burnet county; —Caldwell, who had been acting the spy, and one of the Waldrop boys. There is a formidable party organized in Coleman county, who make their headquarters near the Santa Anna mountains, composed of the following parties: The Taylor and Hardin party of DeWitt county, and the desperadoes of Mason, Llano and Burnet counties , making in all about 100 to 150 men strong.2 Citizens of the county wasted no time in requesting Governor R. B. Hubbard to offer a reward for the jail breakers. On May 15 T. R. Fleming wrote that twelve or fifteen men had ridden into Brownwood and liberated five prisoners. “The Sheriff of Coleman County had arrested four or five of the Redden [sic: Redding] gang and one of the Hardin or Clements gang . . . .” Fleming believed that the men had stationed themselves west of Coleman and was in hopes that Rangers would be dispatched to assist the local authorities. I wish you would offer a reward of $1000.00 for their capture. I dislike very much to trouble you because I know you have a great many applications of this kind, but if some desperate effort is not made to capture those fellows then the people in my district will hang them as fast as they catch them. The Brownwood Jail is a good secure Jail one of the best in the state. It is impossible to get out of it except in the way these prisoners escaped. If Gen. Steele will send twenty five men up there I am certain he will get them. 208 Chapter 15 I have instructed the Sheriff of Coleman County to summon 50 or 100 men and to act in conjunction with the Sheriff of Brown County in making the arrests , but the difficulty will be in holding the citizens together long enough. I will take it as a personal favor of you if you will give this matter your immediate attention .3 Fleming added as a postscript a note that the “names of the parties breaking the Jail are unknown.” This was apparently not the case, for several of the party were identified in the newspapers of the time, some doubtless erroneously. The Austin Daily Statesman reported that Bill Redding had led the party that freed the prisoners.4 The Galveston...


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