Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten: Enforcing Law on the Texas Frontier (Frances B. Vick Series)

Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten: Enforcing Law on the Texas Frontier (Frances B. Vick Series)

by Bob Alexander

ISBN: 9781574413151

Publisher University of North Texas Press

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Professionals & Academics

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Sample Chapter


"When he got a little older"

Ten-year-old David "Dock" Davis fidgeted. He was idly kicking Texas dirt, shifting weight from one scuffed brogan to another as he held the team's reins. Dock's instructions had been short and simple: stand by with the family's wagon in front of a hardware store on Georgetown Avenue. Whatever he did, he wasn't to let those mules stray. Perhaps he waved to a fellow ten-year-old, James Warden, who likewise was in Round Rock with his father, sitting beside him while their wagon's wheels churned July's powdery dust. For sure, Dock knew when his papa returned to their wagon he'd be the proud owner of a spanking new pocket knife. Daddy had promised. William F. Davis' word was good, always. Twelve-year-old Jefferson Dillingham was not anticipating presents—from anybody—he just wanted to finish unloading that wagonload of feed at Henry Highsmith's livery stable. After all, the hour hand was nearing four o'clock and it was a Friday afternoon. Near Brushy Creek on the worn road passing through Old Round Rock, the initial town site, for-the-most-part now unoccupied due to the railroad passing it by, thirteen-year-old Clara playfully sat in the fork of a giant live oak shading the Fahners' front yard, casually swinging her legs and daydreaming. Lonesome? She was a carefree teenage girl and the 1878 subscription school-year was out—shut down for the summer. Lazily, so it seemed to the outside world, the evening of the nineteenth was peacefully closing in on Williamson County. Tomorrow, the weekend, and after a few Saturday chores the afternoon fishing and fun would take over. Then church on Sunday, followed almost routinely by a grand picnic with the red and white checkered tablecloths spread for wicker baskets overflowing with fresh sourdough bread and fried chicken—maybe even a chocolate cake.

Dock seemed not to notice the mules in his charge perk their ears, but at the sound of gunshots he felt the volcanic tug on the leathers as his team quaked in its traces, the wagon rocking forward for a split-second before it and the frightened animals were again parked, stock-still. He, too, heard the shrieking cry—a desperate plea for mercy—"Don't, boys!" Then deputy sheriff Ahijah W. "Caige" Grimes, a man chasing after him, gun in hand and shooting, fell flat on his face, dead, right in front of Henry Koppel's corner store. Inside the German merchant's emporium the crescendo of gunfire did not abate, but rhythmically echoed. Again! Again! The roar was deafening. Pungent wisps of blue smoke—burnt gunpowder—billowed from merchant Koppel's doorway. First one man emerged, leaking blood and wobbling, steadying himself by leaning against a nearby post, a cocked Colt's six-shooter dangling at the end of a quivering hand. Two more fellows, one with the ring and middle finger shot off his right hand and, mad as hornets it seemed, burst from the tiny store racing for safety and sanctuary—somewhere. Weak and losing consciousness the man already outside, the one needing support, with considerable difficulty raised his arm and let go with another round—the last in his six-shooter. Then he crumpled to the street gasping for breath. Such goings-on were heady doings for a boy of but ten years. The show, however, was far from over, not by a long shot. Dock's mules could stand it no more, nor could a startled boy hold back the team's temperamental lurching. They pulled loose from Dock's grip, try as he might. Alas, at the first sound of gunfire Dock's father had rushed outside to protect his son. Just in the nick of time. He leaped into the wagon, fighting to control the spooked team: Dock leaped too, straight into a store. From within, the curious ten-year-old peeked out. It was irresistible high drama: Too good to miss.

Regaining his feet, with trembling fingers trying to stuff cartridges through his Colt's loading-gate, the lung-shot man was clearly chasing after the other fellows—three in number. All of them, the shooter and the runners were foreigners to young Dock. None were from Round Rock. At that instant a fellow dashed out of Henry Burkhardt's barber shop. His was a new face in town, too, but plainly he was a lawman, a Texas Ranger if Dock were to hazard a guess. He soon began taking potshots at the fleeing trio with a long-barreled Colt's six-shooter. Quickly he was joined by another man with a smokin' pistol, a newfangled Colt's self-cocker. He must have been a fellow Texas Ranger also, Dock would sure bet the new pocket knife on that. Unbeknownst to little Dock Davis, normally sedate Round Rock was brimming with Rangers. They had slipped into town on police business, and they meant business. More were on the way at the gallop—and by train.

On Georgetown Avenue the gun battle was raging, a ghastly street-fight. Even citizens, faces well-known to Dock, were lending a helping hand—popping caps as three obviously bad men were racing to regain their saddles. Assuredly young Dock didn't have a hint about what the Texas Rangers knew, or thought they had known—that part about Mr. shameful Sam Bass and his gang planning to rob the Williamson County Bank, the old Miller's Exchange Bank on Georgetown Avenue. Dock was not alone in being clueless. The would-be robbers also didn't have an inkling about two items of the utmost importance: For a time now they had been carelessly conspiring with a shrewd snitch in their midst and, more germane for the blistering moment, Texas Rangers were already pre-positioning themselves in the alley behind the bank where they had tied their horses. Uncompromisingly pushed by the crowd of lawmen and citizens on the street, and wholly unawares their mounts were now under surveillance, there was every reason to proffer the hot little game would soon be over. Such was not to be, not just yet. The badmen had made it to the alley, trying to climb atop gyrating horses high-stepping to the tempo of pinging Colt's and zinging Winchesters. The bandit newly missing two fingers caught a spiraling bullet left of his spine, one that ranged upward into the kidney region, exiting three inches left of his bellybutton. Shaken horribly he screamed, pitiably, "Oh, Lord!" He did, though, manage to mount and ride out of town, thanks in large part to the gutsy aid of an unscathed companion in crime—much to the amazement of excited Texas Rangers. The third owlhoot, well, he was not near so lucky: He too managed—with difficulty—to gain stirrups, for an instant. A lawman's bullet fiercely plowed into his head just behind the left ear, channeling toward exposure through his right eye, smooth knocking him out of the slick-forked saddle: The ill-fated outlaw was a dead man falling, lifeless even before his body slammed into the narrow alley's bloody grime.

Clara Fahner, the stonemason's daughter, perched in her tree, could hear the fast pounding of eight hooves. Suddenly they were in sight, two very scary-looking strangers racing by the yard-gate fronting the Old Round Rock Road. Plainly one was reeling in the saddle, barely able to hang on as the horse charged beneath him. The man was hurt, badly, to be sure. He did, however, muster from within a warning: She should get in the house, right now! Presumably the injured man was thinking a gun-happy posse would be but a hoof-beat and a heart-beat behind. Clara in a single bound dismounted the limb, and hurriedly ran for home seeking comfort and reassurance from her mom and dad, Barbara and Paul. During the madcap dash she inadvertently stepped right out of her shoes, but she kept running, ruining "a good pair of stockings." She would have a good story to tell, though. Her girlfriends would want to hear all about such an adventure, such a close call.

In town the imminent danger had passed, but the excitement had not ebbed. Men were scrambling, securing whinnying saddle-horses and searching for wheel-guns, Winchesters, and double-barreled shotguns. Pursuit was mandatory, at least for the Texas Rangers. Dock Davis, awestruck, took it all in. He, like the rest of his childhood pals in town that day, would have a whopping good story to tell playmates—those not there—and it would all be true. It was exciting. He had been right there when Hell popped at New Round Rock. Listening to the big folks Dock picked up a few details.

The two that got away, he soon learned, were none other than the disreputable and heretofore wily Sam Bass, now severely wounded, and his coconspirator Frank Jackson. The fellow lying dead in the alleyway, well, that was Seaborn Barnes, an outlaw deluxe. Of course Dock knew the dead deputy Caige Grimes, or at least knew who he was, but that other guy, the wounded one, was an unfamiliar face. He wanted to know more. Especially about that fellow, one who suffered a bullet hole in his chest yet kept coming, shooting and shooting and shooting some more—then reloading as spurting blood painted his blouse. Dock was brought up to speed. That guy was an ex-Texas Ranger by the name of Maurice B. Moore, now working as a Travis County Deputy Sheriff at Austin. He had come to town, on the quiet, with the Texas Ranger's headman, Major John B. Jones. And it was Jones, with plenty of pluck, who had joined that Ranger surreptitiously stationed in the barber shop, Richard Clayton "Dick" Ware, a cool customer, a man as brave as courage itself. Ware was afterward credited with firing the shot that killed Seab Barnes. Texas Rangers in the alley, who were they? The Ranger shooting the reckless Sam Bass was George Herold, a career lawman and border country veteran, and although illiterate, he was widely known as a Spanish-speaking terror to thieves. Herold's salty partner during the heat of battle had been twenty-eight-year-old Christopher Reyzor "Chris" Connor, a stand-up Texas Ranger whose nerve was never doubted.

Whether he wanted to go with the posse or not was immaterial; his youth capped any such notion. Without a doubt Dock was spellbound with the commotion uncorking before him—and the cast of colorful, if not hard-looking, characters suddenly appearing in town that Friday. Rangers seemingly came out from under the woodpile, from nowhere, but they were everywhere. Texas Ranger Captain Lee Hall was there from the get-go, although he missed the actual fireworks. After a punishing ride from San Saba County, Lieutenant N. O. "Mage" Reynolds and his boys made their presence known, but were two hours too late for the grand ball. Then, that evening, Lieutenant John Barkley Armstrong and several other Texas Rangers arrived. For a boy, any boy, it was a fantastic program. The Texas Rangers were wearing wide cartridge belts stuffed full, and all had at least one Colt's six-shooter—some had two—and most everyone of them were toting a Winchester carbine. They were a dashing set, iconic molds for men or boys wanting to jump from following the plow or quit chewing dust while trailing the "festive cow." Wherever they went, in a cluster, the Texas Rangers caught notice—favorably most of the time. Others were in town, too. One thousand folks were calling Round Rock home. They were all on the jam-packed streets, men, women, and children—inquiring, gawking, gossiping, and guessing. This was no humdrum day, it was newsy. Many of the grownup townsmen, like the Texas Rangers, were sporting long guns. Maybe, a few just had them for show.

Though an initial posse had left town in the late afternoon, sundown forced its return to Round Rock. Chasing after bad guys at night, those that were not in the least reluctant to shoot, did not make for good common sense, not even for a toughened Texas Ranger. The hunt could wait till daybreak.

Hot news broke on Saturday morning, further setting Round Rock's folks agog. Texas Rangers and two Williamson County deputy sheriffs, without too much exertion, had found Sam Bass under a big tree, alive, but bloodied and suffering terribly. Quickly Texas Ranger Sergeant Charles L. Nevill, at gunpoint, had disarmed Bass, making him a prisoner. After calling for an "ambulance" (light wagon), and an exploratory examination by Doctor C. P. Cochran, the severely injured but lucid Sam Bass had been started for town. In Old Round Rock, another physician, Dr. Alexander McDonald, physically examined Bass, offering a second opinion—the prognosis was not good. Before restarting the prisoner for Round Rock, the exasperated doctor shooed his sons Alec and Robert off the wagon's rear wheel. They had climbed aboard for a disapproved peek along with Livingston M. May's children. Everyone—young and old—was anxious to catch a glimpse of America's most wanted badman.

Adamantly refused admittance to the Hart Hotel, Texas Rangers prevailed on August Gloeber to allow a cot be placed in his Round Rock tin shop next door, a makeshift hospital of sorts, with bedding furnished by the Harts. Dr. Cochran and a colleague, Dr. A. F. Morris, confirmed the worst, but the obvious: Bass was on his deathbed. Fearing Sam might die too quick, taking all the secrets with him, Major Jones quizzed him about past crimes and accomplices, hoping to clear cases, nabbing others involved in the gang's Texas crime spree. Sam Bass, in this regard stood pat: "It is agin my profession to blow on my pals. If a man knows anything he ought to die with it in him." Astutely after hiring a black man, Jim Chatman, to serve as a private nurse, Major Jones stationed a Texas Ranger in the room with pencil and paper—take down his every word was the unambiguous order. During a fit of delirium might he spill the beans?

Round Rock was buzzing. Crowds of spectators were milling. "No other Saturday in the history of Round Rock had seen such excitement.... The news of the capture had traveled throughout the countryside and the streets were filled with horses, buggies and wagons." Newsmen were in town jotting in their notebooks. At least one reporter representing the Galveston Daily News was allowed a brief bedside visit with the dying outlaw. It was page one news, even back East: The New York Times headlined, "Capture of a Texas Desperado." Steely-eyed Texas Rangers, armed to the teeth, paraded the Round Rock streets in high-top boots, jingling spurs musically announcing their presence. Certain Texas Rangers were laughing and joking, no doubt glad that such a nasty desperado as Sam Bass was low-sick, about to die. Other Rangers were somber, stomping their feet in feigned disgust and whining because they'd been too late for the finale. By any man's measure though, these Texas Rangers were a remarkable and admirable lot. Winchester Warriors, if you will. They had nailed Sam Bass' hide to the wall, even though he wasn't dead—yet. Seaborn Barnes had paid the price too, a terminal toll for his day of Round Rock badness. A good number of men romanticized action, and the state's Texas Rangers were men of action. Williamson County's boys, too, were morethan-a-little captivated, their eyes and minds spinning with expectancy of additional episodes of six-gun excitement. Immature and starry-eyed imaginations ran wild.

Other eyes were tearing-up. Should not a touch of sympathy be in order now that the real threat had been annulled? Was not that severely injured boy—yet in his twenties—going to have a chance to make things right, a time to repent? Could not Texas Rangers grant him a moment to talk with the Lord? Or, a man of the cloth? Even though Bass had spurned prayerful overtures earlier in the day, a few citizens religiously bent had concocted a spiritual plan. Persuasiveness they owned. A preacher they knew.

Forty-six-year-old Minister of the Gospel Austin Cunningham Aten, pastor of the Round Rock Christian Church, had made a Saturday trip to Round Rock from his farm a few miles outside town. Enthusiastically accompanying him were two sons, Frank, seventeen years old, and fifteen-year-old Ira. The two youngest boys, Cal and Eddie, had been left at home doing odd jobs with their industrious mother Kate. Though fortuitous, that twentieth of July excursion to Round Rock would appreciably impact the life of Ira, and with a domino effect, his younger brothers, too.

Excerpted from "Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten: Enforcing Law on the Texas Frontier (Frances B. Vick Series)" by Bob Alexander. Copyright © 2013 by Bob Alexander. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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