On the west side of the courthouse lawn in Lampasas there are two Texas Historical Commission (THC) markers that tell separate but related tales of the wild frontier days of Lampasas Texas. These markers tell a story of frontier life and justice.
Gunfight at the Lampasas Saloon
The first marker tells of the “Gunfight at the Lampasas Saloon” in 1873. According to the THC marker, in the 1870’s Lampasas was a wild frontier town. In January of that year Sheriff S.T. Denson was shot while arresting the brothers Wash and Mark Short. The district judge sent out a posse to apprehend the Short brothers, but they were stopped by Ben, Tom, and Mart Horrell and several other bad guys.
Because of the Sheriff getting shot, and because the Horrell brothers turned around the posse, the county judge appealed to then Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis for the help of the State Police. On February 10, Governor Davis issued a proclamation prohibiting the carrying of sidearms in Lampasas. About a month later, state policemen came to Lampasas to enforce the Governor’s proclamation. They immediately arrested Bill Bowen for carrying a gun in town. Bowen talked State Police Captain Thomas Williams and some of his men into entering Jerry Scott’s Lampasas Saloon. Entering the saloon was a grave mistake for the police, that day. Once inside the saloon, a gunfight broke out between the State Police and the Horrell brothers and their accomplices that resulted in the deaths of four state police officers.
After the shootout at Jerry Scott’s Saloon, many more police and frontier soldiers came to look for the Horrell brothers. Several men related to the incident were tracked down and jailed, but the Horrell brothers that remained free broke Mart Horrell and Jerry Scott out of the Georgetown Texas Jail in May of 1873. The Horrell brothers stayed in the Lampasas area until September and then escaped to New Mexico. In 1874 The Horrell brothers returned to Lampasas Texas. In 1876 the brothers stood trial for the murder of Captain Thomas Williams, but they were acquitted.
According to the THC marker for the Horrell-Higgins Feud, Pink Higgins was a cattleman and trail driver who in 1876 started accusing the Horrell brothers of stealing his cattle-one of the lesser crimes the Horrell brothers had been accused of by that time. On January 22, 1877, Pink Higgins confronted, shot, and killed Merritt Horrell in the Gem Saloon in Lampasas. This was the beginning of a six-month battle between the Horrell brothers and Pink Higgins that’s considered to be the worst frontier feud in Texas history.
On their way into Lampasas on March 26, Mart and Tom Horrell were ambushed by Pink Higgins and his accomplices. Texas Rangers went in pursuit of the Higgins gang but they got away. Eventually, Pink Higgins turned himself in to authorities. In June of 1877 the Lampasas County District Clerk’s Office was burglarized and records related to the feud stolen. Three days later the biggest battle of the feud was fought on the public square in Lampasas, and one man from each side was killed.
Major John B. Jones of the Texas Ranger’s came to Lampasas and sent Sergeant N.O. Reynolds and a company of Rangers out to capture the Horrells. The brothers were arrested and they agreed to make peace with Pink Higgins. This treaty was the formal end to one of the worst feuds in Texas history.
In 1878 in the town of Meridian Texas, Tom and Mart Horrell were murdered in their jail cell by a vigilante mob. Sam Horrell ,the only Horrell brother still alive, left Texas and resettled in Oregon. Pink Higgins eventually settled near Spur in West Texas and worked as a range detective.
What ties these two stories together, of course, is the crime wave of the Horrell Brothers. During the time that lapsed between the “Gunfight at the Lampasas Saloon” and the “Horrell-Higgins Feud” the Horrell brothers escaped to New Mexico. They settled west of Roswell and immediately got into more trouble. When they eventually returned to Lampasas Texas in 1874 they were pursued by New Mexicans angry over the deaths resulting from the bloody “Horrell War.” These cattle rustling bad guys could have been the inspiration for a hundred Hollywood Westerns.
Pink Higgins, the apparent good guy in this tale was a murderous fellow himself. Legend has it that after resettling in Spur Texas, Pink shot and killed a fellow range detective over a difference of opinion. Although Hollywood may have embellished, a little, the glamour of the cowboy lifestyle, they apparently didn’t even come close to portraying the true brutality of Texas frontier life.
The information presented here was collected while visiting the town of Lampasas Texas. Material was also extracted from the Texas Historical Commission Atlas, and The Handbook of Texas Online. Western writer Bill O’Neal has written a book about Pink Higgins, and you might read it if your interested.
Copyright © 2009 by Sam Fenstermacher
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