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Ben Thompson: The Greatest Texas Gunfighter?

Ben Thompson Texas Gunfighter Under the Lone Star John Spiars


As much as I love westerns, and especially the quintessential gunfight, it must be pointed out that very few of these actually happened in the history of the “Old West.”  The subject of this post, Ben Thompson, however, breaks this rule as he was involved in several gunfights, and came out on the winning side of all but one of these.  Gunfighter, lawman, gambler, and saloon owner, Ben Thompson was without a doubt a nineteenth century over-achiever, and while he was definitely a Lone Star original, his family roots were about as far from the Texas frontier as one could get.

Ben Thompson Texas Gunfighter Under the Lone Star John Spiars
                  Ben Thompson

Thompson was born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, England in 1843, and immigrated with his family to Austin, Texas in 1851.  As a young boy, he worked in the printing industry in various capacities, though his most important education was gaining the skills to survive among the harsh elements of the Texas frontier, and as it turned out, he was a very quick study.  He learned to use a gun at an early age, developing a temper that was as quick as his draw, and at fifteen, he wounded another boy who had made derogatory comments about his shooting ability.  Young Ben also developed his own moral code, which occasionally prompted him to use his skills in the defense of others.  While working for a bookbinder in New Orleans, he came to the aid of a woman who was being assaulted and killed her attacker in a knife fight.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ben Thompson joined John Rip Ford’s Second Cavalry, eventually participating in the battles of Galveston Bay, where he was wounded, and the Confederate’s defeat at La Fourche Crossing, Louisiana.  His promising career in the Confederate military came to an abrupt end in May of 1865, when he killed a teamster in Austin after an argument over an army mule. Thompson was arrested by the army, though he quickly broke jail and fled to Mexico.  Always a firm believer that when God closes a door He opens a window, Ben joined the army of Emperor Maximilian and fought for him until the empire fell in 1867.  With no options remaining in Mexico, Thompson returned to Texas, where he was once again arrested and sentenced to four year’s hard labor at the Penitentiary in Huntsville, though two years later his conviction was overturned by President Grant.


Wild Bill Hickok Under the Lone Star
           “Wild” Bill Hickok

Hoping for a change in fortune, he left Texas and headed to Abilene, Kansas.  His time in Kansas coincided with the heyday of the Texas cattle drives, and not being one to pass up on a good opportunity, Thompson opened a saloon with friend and fellow Civil War veteran, Phillip H. Coe in 1871.  Thompson was later hurt in buggy accident that also injured his wife and child.  While Ben was recuperating, his partner was killed in a gunfight with Abilene Marshal, Bill Hickok.  The nature of the dispute is not clear, but with “Wild Bill,” it could have been anything from a serious violation of the law, to a minor disagreement over a hand of cards.  Once again, circumstances turned against him, and by 1874, Thompson was back in Texas making his living as a  gambler.

On Christmas day in 1876, Ben was at Austin’s Capital Theatre when a fight broke out.  Thompson attempted to help one of the troublemakers, when he was fired on by theatre owner, Mark Wilson.  Thompson fired back at Wilson, killing him, though he was found to have fired in self-defense.  Since arriving in the United States, Ben had been forced to grow up fast, but he had displaced grit and courage, and he was able to hold his own against the most brutal characters that  the west had to offer.  His knack for survival, though, left little time for building wealth, or even a structured life for his family.


John King Fisher Under the Lone Star John Spiars
                         John King Fisher

Always lured by the promise of easy money, the Leadville silver strike drew Thompson to Colorado in 1879.  There he signed on with a group of gunmen led by “Bat” Masterson, who were fighting for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway in their right-of-way dispute with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  With the money he received from the railroad, Ben was able to return to Austin and open another saloon, although any hope he may have had at finally settling down to enjoy a normal family life were soon to be doused permanently.

With a reputation as an honest and generous businessman, as well as a fast and deadly gun, Ben Thompson was twice elected as Austin City Marshal.  In 1882, his main vocation of gambler interfered with his job as town marshal when he killed Jack Harris, the owner of the Vaudeville Theatre, during an argument over a game of cards.  After once again winning an acquittal on a murder charge, Thompson returned to Austin to a heroes’ welcome.

His warm reception may have given Ben a sense of over confidence that trumped his own instinct for survival.  On the evening of March 11, 1884, he walked into the Vaudeville Theatre with his friend John King Fisher, the Deputy Sheriff of Uvalde County.  Within minutes of entering the theatre, both men were shot in the back and died instantly.  While no one was ever charged in the assassination, most locals believed that partners of Jack Harris were behind it.

In what may be the highest praise a gunfighter could receive, Bat Masterson said of Ben Thompson, “It is doubtful if in his time there was another man living who equaled him in a life-and -death struggle.”  I can’t improve upon Bat’s words, so I’ll just end by saying that Ben Thompson lived life on his own terms and by his own code and has given Texas something that all historians can appreciate, a collection of colorful stories to pass down to future generations.

Thank you for your readership and support. Until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©05/22/2018 Under the Lone Star LLC

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Benjamin McCulloch: Warrior for Texas Freedom

In my western novels, I enjoy using as many historical figures as I can, and while I will usually adapt them to fit the story line, I try to keep them as historically accurate as possible.  Part of the fun of using real people from history is learning their story during the research process, and never was this more true than when I researched Benjamin McCulloch for my second novel, Hell and Half of Texas.  Like many young men of the time, he came to Texas to fight for independence, and ended up helping to build the early history of his adopted state.

        Ben McCulloch

Benjamin McCulloch was born on November 11, 1811 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, though like many families of that time, the McCulloch’s moved between Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama as they sought to improve their circumstances.  Ben’s father, Alexander, came from a prominent North Carolina family, but the Revolutionary War decimated much of the family’s wealth, and he managed to squander what little inheritance he did receive.  By the time that Ben came along, the family could no longer afford to even educate their children, although several of his brothers were taught for a time by close family friend, Sam Houston.

Young Benjamin made his way the best he could, earning money by farming, hunting, and rafting, but he soon realized that his future lay beyond his home state.  In 1835, Ben and his brother Henry, seeking adventure and a better life, followed another family friend, Davy Crockett, to Texas.  Revolution was brewing in the Mexican Province, and many young men flocked from the United States to find their fortunes as Texians.

By the time that Ben and Henry arrived in Nacogdoches, Crockett had already moved south, and Ben set out for San Antonio by himself.  In what may be the most fortunate cases of the measles in history, Ben McCulloch was delayed in reaching the Alamo, and by the time he was well enough to travel, the mission had already fallen to the Mexican Army.

Having avoided the massacre at the Alamo, McCulloch joined Sam Houston’s army, who was currently staying just one step ahead of the pursuing Mexican forces.  At the battle of San Jacinto, Ben commanded one of the Twin Sister cannons, and distinguished himself so much in the eyes of Houston that he was given a battlefield promotion to First Lieutenant.

John Coffee “Jack” Hays

After the Revolution, Ben joined the Texas Rangers under John Coffee Hays where he distinguished himself as an able scout and Indian fighter.  As a ranger, he made such a name for himself, that in 1839, he ran for and won election to the House of Representatives for the new Republic of Texas. The campaign was contentious, and resulted in a dispute with Rueben Ross, with whom McCulloch fought a rifle duel.  During the duel, Ben was wounded in the right arm, which remained crippled for the rest of his life.

Ben chose not to run for re-election in 1842, and instead lent his services as a scout to the Texas Army, who were once again battling incursions by the Mexican Army.  In the army, he was once again serving under John Hays, who’s Texas Rangers formed the bulk of the Texas forces.  As a scout, McCulloch was instrumental in helping to force the Mexican Army back below the border, and in the process, he once again endeared himself to his adopted country.

In 1845, after Texas was annexed into the United States, McCulloch parlayed his popularity into a seat in the new Texas State Legislature, though once again a war would soon lure him from politics back to the battlefield.  After the outbreak of war with Mexico, he raised a company of Rangers and moved with them to the Rio Grande, where he was made Chief of Scouts by General Zachary Taylor.  His scouting expeditions into Northern Mexico proved invaluable in securing important intelligence for the army and earned him adulation from Taylor and the nation.  Taylor promoted him to Major of the Texas Volunteers.

Never one to waste an opportunity, Ben McCulloch made good use of his popularity and political capital to try and secure an appointment to a military command, but his lack of education foiled these attempts.  In 1852, Ben was made United States Marshal for the eastern district of Texas under Judge John Charles Watrous.  In this role, he was appointed to a commission that met with Brigham Young, and McCulloch was credited with helping to stop an armed conflict with the Mormons.

When Texas succeeded from the Union, Benjamin McCulloch was commissioned as a Colonel and ordered to accept the surrender of all U.S. forts in Texas.  On February 16, 1861, he took control of the arsenal housed in the Alamo, which were used to arm the newly formed Texas regiments.

        Jefferson Davis

On May 11, 1861, Jefferson Davis appointed McCulloch a Brigadier General and he was assigned to Indian Territory.  Eventually, he established his headquarters in Little Rock Arkansas, where he began to build his army with regiments from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

On March 7, 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ben McCulloch led his army and drove the Union forces from their position, but as the day wore on, the enemy regrouped and fortified.  McCulloch rode ahead of his own lines to scout the enemy position, but as he made his way through the thick brush, the Federals opened fire, knocking McCulloch from his horse and killing him instantly.

His command passed to General James Mcintosh who was killed moments later as he led an expedition to recover Ben’s body.  With the death of the two commanders, the confederates lost the Battle of Pea Ridge and ultimately Arkansas.

Ben McCulloch was not born here, but through a dedication to service and a drive to build this land into something great, he became a native Texan and earned his place as one of the great heroes of the Lone Star State.

As always, your readership and support of Under the Lone Star are greatly appreciated, and I am gratified to see that my love of the stories and legends of Texas are shared by so many others.  Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©04/22/2018  Under the Lone Star LLC

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Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, Texas: A Life-Changing Experience

Marys Cafe Strawn Texas


I don’t consider myself an expert on many things, certainly nothing that could be called terribly important or would improve humanity in any significant way. I have no special knowledge that will change people’s lives, and no marketable skills that have as yet added many zeroes to the end of my bank account, but one of the things I do know is the food of my native state.

The wait is over! I have arrived.

My life has been a quest. Not a quest that would lead to fame of fortune, but a quest to find Texas’ best cuisine. In past posts I’ve covered some of my favorite places for Tex-Mex, and the very best barbecue to be found anywhere (The Salt-Lick), but today I’ll be talking about that most Texan of all foods, the chicken fried steak. While there are many establishments that produce a fine version of this Texas classic, the top of the list would have to be Mary’s Café in Strawn, Texas.

Like all quests, this one is not without it’s trials and tribulations, but going through them is the test one must pass to be deemed worthy.  In the case of Mary’s, the trial involved is the drive, which, from most places, is considerable. Strawn is roughly 75 miles west of Fort Worth on I-20, so it’s not exactly around the corner, but trust me, it’s well worth the drive.

My friends, I give you the biggest MEDIUM chicken fried steak I’ve ever seen. It was DELICIOUS!

The chicken fried steak can be ordered in small, medium, or large, and comes with a serving of mashed potatoes the size of a small mountain, toast and a side salad. On our visit, my wife and I both ordered the medium, and we took home enough steak and potatoes to have an enormous lunch the next day. Truth be told, if we had ordered the small, we would have had plenty left for a proper lunch.

While most restaurants that boast a huge chicken fried steak provide more crust than steak, Mary’s steak is a perfect combination of breading and meat. It is fried to perfection with just the right amount of seasoning and would be wholly enjoyable by itself, but in Texas that would be near sacrilegious, so it is served with a large side of cream gravy that is pure perfection itself. The mashed potatoes are blended with sour cream, which I am not opposed to, but if I had one complaint, it would be that there was a touch too much sour cream in mine. That one small complaint aside, I will have to concur with all of those who put the chicken fried steak from Mary’s at the top of their list. For those who, for whatever reason, don’t care for chicken fried steak, there are plenty of other offerings on the menu, which I’m sure are equally delicious, but to me that would be like going to my favorite barbecue spot and ordering a salad.

                Mary’s Café is located at: 119 Grant Ave. Strawn, Texas 76463

                I started this post by stating that whatever expertise I might possess would not be capable of improving humanity or changing lives, but on second thought, a trip to Mary’s might just accomplish both. Now that you are suitably hungry and probably plugging Strawn into your phone for directions, I will sign off by thanking you for your loyal readership. Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.

©04/05/2018 Under the Lone Star LLC

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Elizabeth Lizzie Johnson: The Real “Cattle Queen” of Texas


Carving a life out of the Texas frontier took extremely brave and strong people, both men and women. History has definitely highlighted the achievements of the men, but behind every one of them, there was a woman sharing the same hardships. They had to be wife, mother, cook, seamstress, doctor, barber, and on top of all that, when the men were away for extended periods, they had to do all of his chores as well. This post is dedicated to all of those unsung heroes without whom the Texas frontier would never have been settled, but in this post, I will be highlighting an amazing woman who did achieve a fair amount of notoriety in her time.

During the early to mid-1800’s, the cattle industry began to boom in Texas, and while many cattle barons were made along the way, several women made there mark as well. The title “Cattle Queen,” was given to several different women, and in their own way, each of them certainly earned the name, but as I searched the histories of the amazing women, I found one whom I believe deserves the title more than anyone else. Not only did Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson operate a cattle business, but she was involved in every aspect of building her cattle operation, matching and even surpassing the successes of her male counterparts.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson

Lizzie Johnson was born in 1840 and moved with her parents to Texas at the age of four. Her parents were educators and her father owned a school along Bear Creak in Hays County. After graduating from Chapel Hill Female College in Washington County, she began teaching at her father’s school. Lizzie went on to teach at several other schools in the Austin area before eventually starting her own school in a two-story house she bought in Austin. During the 1800’s, it was very uncommon for women to buy property, but it was almost unheard of for one to run their own school. It was considered well and good for women to teach children, but the difficult work of administering the curriculum was a job for men.

Lizzie was not only smart and hardworking, she was ambitious as well, and she began writing articles for magazines and working as a bookkeeper on the side to make extra money. While keeping the books for various ranchers, she began learning all she could about the cattle business, and Lizzie was a remarkably quick study. With the extra money she was earning, she began investing in land and cattle, building a herd that would have been the envy of any rancher. Most stockman of the day were more than content to hire a team of drovers to move their cattle to market, but not Lizzie, she accompanied her cowboys up the Chisolm Trail not just once, but several times.

Lizzie and Hezekiah Williams

During the 1870’s, Lizzie fell in love with Hezekiah Williams, and on June 8, 1879, the couple were married. While all evidence suggests that she really did love the man, Lizzie the business woman was not going to risk losing all that she had built. She insisted that they sign a prenuptial agreement, ensuring that her assets were completely separate from his. Ever the tough businesswoman, on cattle drives she even directed that her cattle were to be physically separated from those of Hezekiah.

Her business acumen was only matched by her husband’s lack of it, and while she was considered an iron lady when it came to money, she never failed to bail him out when his ventures inevitably failed. Once, while conducting a land deal in Cuba, Hezekiah was taken hostage, and Lizzie paid the $50,000.00 ransom, proving that her love for him would always win out over sound business.

Lizzie and Hezekiah Williams

When Hezekiah died in 1914, Lizzie took it very hard, and when commenting on the $600.00 coffin she bought, she said, “I loved this old buzzard this much.” After her husband’s death, she lived the life of a miserly hermit and rarely left the small apartment she lived in above one of her buildings. Lizzie Johnson died on October 9, 1924, leaving an estate valued at more than $250,000.00. She not only invested in land and cattle, but also diamonds and other jewels apparently, because while cleaning out her various properties, her heirs found stashes of both.

Elizabeth Johnson was a strong woman who broke down many barriers of her day and not only survived in a tough world, but also thrived. While speaking of amazing women, I want to thank the amazing woman in my life. Most of what you see at Under the Lone Star is due to my wife, who works tirelessly every day to make sure that my writing efforts see the light of day. I had a crazy dream to be a writer, and she has done everything she can to see that dream come true.  To her, I again say thank you!  Until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.


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Christopher Columbus Slaughter: A Man of Vision


Hey, friends. We’re only a month into 2018, but it’s already been a busy year at Under the Lone Star, and while we have great things planned, none of it would be possible without you. Thanks as always for your readership.

Have you ever wondered how Texas went from lawless wilderness to becoming the economic powerhouse it is today? It happened the same way the United States went from being just thirteen British colonies to a global superpower, because men and women of vision risked everything to achieve their dreams. One such man is the subject of today’s blog.

          Christopher C. Slaughter

Christopher Columbus Slaughter was born in Sabine County, Texas on February 9, 1837, and claimed to be the first male child born of marriage under the Republic of Texas. He was born less than a year after Texas won its independence from Mexico, and he certainly was not one to squander this hard-fought freedom.  History doesn’t reveal where Slaughter got his drive to succeed.  Perhaps it was from his parents, or maybe it was from the scores of settlers he saw pulling a living from the land despite the dangers faced on the Texas Frontier. No matter where it came from, he hit the ground running and would eventually become one of the richest men in Texas.

As a child, young Christopher worked cattle with his father, and by the age of twelve, he was helping the family drive a herd to their new ranch in Freestone County. He became such an expert at crossing the swollen Trinity River that he hired out to drovers moving cattle to Shreveport, and by his late teens, he had saved enough money to buy out his uncle’s interest in the family herd. As a natural entrepreneur, Slaughter learned everything he could about the cattle business, and observed that the Brazos River stock was superior to their own herd, so he persuaded his father to relocate their ranch further west in Palo Pinto County. There they developed a thriving trade selling cows to Fort Belknap and the local Indian Reservations.

During the wars with the Comanche, he joined the Texas Rangers and took part in the expedition that liberated Cynthia Ann Parker. He continued to serve with the Rangers during the Civil War, providing much needed protection from those seeking to take advantage of the fact that all the troops had been moved out of the state to take part in the war. In 1861, he married Cynthia Jowell and together they had five children. After her death in 1876, Slaughter married Carrie Averill in 1877, with whom he had four children.

        C. C. Slaughter home in Dallas

After the war, Slaughter led an expedition to Mexico in search of ranch land, but during the venture, he suffered an accidental gunshot that left him incapacitated. During his long recovery, he saw his fortune start to slip away, so in 1867, he organized a cattle drive to New Orleans. Along the way, he was able to make a deal for his herd with a packing company, selling them for thirty-five dollars a head and paid in gold.

Flush with cash, Slaughter began regular drives to Kansas City, Missouri, where he sold his cows for as much as forty-two dollars a head. With his fortune, he expanded his interests into cattle breeding and bought many acres of land in West Texas, including the Long S Ranch in 1877, which stretched from Plainview to Big Spring. Eventually he became one of the largest land owners in the state, and the largest tax payer. By the time he was done, he owned over one-million acres of land stretching across nine west Texas counties earning him the name “Cattle King of Texas.”


    First Baptist Church of Dallas

During the 1870’s, he diversified into banking, establishing both City Bank and American National Bank in Dallas. Christopher Columbus Slaughter was not only a rancher and businessman, but was also a devout Christian, and he used a large portion of his riches to help the church. He donated two-thirds of the cost for the construction of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and he also contributed to the establishment of the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium, which later became Baylor Hospital.

C.C. Slaughter breaking ground for the new Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium building, November 5, 1904.

In 1910, Slaughter suffered a serious hip injury that caused a steep decline in his health. Unable to maintain the rigorous demands of running his many businesses, he turned control of them over to his oldest son, George. On January 25, 1919, Christopher Columbus Slaughter died at his home in Dallas.

The history of Texas was built on the dreams and ambitions of ordinary people who put everything on the line to see their vision come to life.  It is these same types of visionaries that today are creating the history of future generations. What is dreamt today will become tomorrow’s reality. Until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.



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More than a Tradition: The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo


         Fort Worth Stock Show in 1922

Hey friends, it’s mid-January here in North Texas. The temperatures are dropping, and as I write this, there is ice in the forecast. This can mean only one thing. It’s Stock Show time!! It’s that time of year when everyone in Fort Worth, from lawyers to stock brokers, from salesmen to school teachers, are, if for only a few weeks, cowboys. They dust off their Stetsons and boots, load the family in the pick-up, and spend the day immersed in a tradition that’s been going on for 122 years. That’s one of the reasons I love living in Cowtown so much. We’re a modern, cosmopolitan city, but we’re never too far from our wild west roots, and we embrace our history. After all, what is history, but tradition, and what is tradition, but the affirmation of what makes a community and its people who and what they are. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show is much more than a few weeks of family fun. It represents the Texas spirit and what is best about Fort Worth and our heritage. It is also the oldest continuously running livestock show and rodeo.

Starting way back in 1896, several prominent businessmen, along with local ranchers, and representatives from the Armour & Company and Swift & Company meat packers, wanted to find a way to promote the local cattle industry. The first stock show was held in October 1896 in a large field with only a few trees for cover from the elements, but it was such a success that it was held again the following spring. For the first several years, it was known as the Texas Fat Stock Show, and tents were added so that the people and animals would be a bit more comfortable. At first, it was strictly a Texas affair, which drew visitors and contestants from farms and ranches all over the state, but over the next several years, it would draw people from all over the country, and eventually the world.

In 1908, the Northside Coliseum was built to house the Stock Show, which not only provided a more substantial venue for the event, but just ten years later, it allowed for the most important addition to the Stock Show, the now famous Stock Show Rodeo. Among other innovations, it was the first indoor rodeo and the first to feature Brahma bull riding, and remains a huge draw for the Stock Show to this day.

     Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo NOW

In 1944, the Stock Show was moved to the Will Rogers Memorial Center where it remains today, and over the years it has expanded to include multiple cattle barns and such technological advances as indoor plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. In 1978, the name was changed to the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, and it just seems to get better every year. Today, the Stock Show includes horse and cattle shows, a world class rodeo with thirty-six performances, hundreds of vendors selling their wares, and a carnival midway with games and rides. I’ve been attending the Stock Show since the late 70’s and now it is my privilege to build that same tradition with my own children. I hope it comes to mean as much to them as it does to me, so that one day they will carry on the tradition with their kids. This year, the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show runs from January 12th to February 3rd, so pay a visit and see why Fort Worth, Texas still lays claim to the title of “Where the West Begins.”

Don’t forget to check out my video blog and photos from my recent visit to the 2018 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on my Facebook Page Under the Lone Star and until next time, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.



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A Home for Texas Heroes: The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas

At this point, I think my love of Texas and its history has been firmly established, so it should be no surprise that I happily promote any institution or organization with Texas history as its mission. Our history includes everything, from great military heroes to cowboys, from famous outlaws to brave lawmen. When it comes to great lawmen in Texas, the first thing that should spring to mind are the best of the best, the Texas Rangers. For me, the very mention of Texas Rangers, brings to mind men like Bigfoot Wallace, John Coffee “Jack” hays, Ben McCulloch, and Frank Hamer, and the tenacious spirit these men exhibited in the pursuit of law and order. From their inception in the 1820’s to the present day, the Rangers have embodied the rugged individualism, bravery, and commitment to duty that Texans pride themselves on. Texas Rangers are a focal point of my western novels, and I have spent many hours researching their history and the men who have worn the badge, which was originally formed from Mexican Pesos. In all of my research, The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas has been an invaluable resource. Through artifacts, documents, genealogical research, and educational programs, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum keeps the spirit and mission of the Texas Rangers alive for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

As an author of western novels with a slightly romantic bent, the notion of “one riot, one Ranger,” has always appealed to me, and while this motto may be more apocryphal than historically accurate, the spirit of this ideal has been alive and well in everyone who has worn the Ranger badge. The historical records of the Texas Rangers are also the history of Texas, and they closely parallel each other as Texas grew from a lawless frontier to economic powerhouse, and thankfully, every one of them also offers an endless supply of great story ideas.

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 1976 as a memorial for the 150th anniversary of the Texas Rangers. The complex included a small library which housed a few documents, service records, and photographs. Through the years the collection has grown, and with it, so has the inquiries for research, so now the museum employs a full-time research staff. The collection of records has grown so large that it’s recognized by the Texas Legislature as an official repository of archives for the state of Texas. For this reason, the Museum holds a special place in the hearts of people like my wife, whose passion is genealogy, and whose family line includes a former Texas Ranger.

The museum is divided into several galleries, which give various perspectives on the Rangers and some of their more memorable missions. From their search for the captured Cynthia Ann Parker to battles against prohibition era gangsters to modern investigations, photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal accounts give visitors the real stories. They also have an extensive collection of firearms used by the Rangers and criminals alike, and for an avid gun enthusiast like myself, it’s worth the trip to Waco just to see the historic guns. There is also a gallery of western art, as well as one with photographs of current Rangers, and at the end of the tour, there is a 45-minute documentary on the history of the Texas Rangers.

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm, and the last guest is admitted at 4:30pm.

Admission is:


Children-$3 (3-12)

Children under 6-free

Seniors (60)-$6

Military (with ID)- $6

Of all those that made Texas the great state it is, none have done more than the Texas Rangers, so no study of Texas history would be complete without learning about them and their exploits. The Museum offers a comprehensive look at the Rangers, but we should not forget that it began life as a memorial, so it also stands as a symbol of respect to a law enforcement agency and all those that have worn the badge. If a person is able to visit only one site of historical significance in Texas, they could not visit any better place to learn what Texas is all about than the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Now saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.


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A Most Unusual Christmas Story: The Cisco Texas Bank Robbery of 1927

Howdy y’all! The Christmas season is upon us, so first let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas. For this post I decided on a Christmas tale of sorts, but let me warn you, it contains precious little cheer or goodwill towards men. It is a tale of violence, desperation, greed, and vengeance, but it did take place at Christmastime and involved a man dressed as one of the most iconic characters of the season, so I don’t feel I’m going too far afield by going with this story.

Marshall Ratliff was a career criminal from Cisco, Texas, who had been arrested and sent to prison by Cisco Chief of Police, G.E. Bedford. Like most criminals, Ratliff was short on brains, so after being paroled, he figured his best option was to go back to his hometown, where he was widely known, and rob the local bank. For this job he enlisted the help of Henry Helms and Robert Hill, two friends he had known from prison. The group had also retained the services of a safe-cracker, but after he came down with the flu at the last moment, he was replaced by Louis Davis. It should be mentioned, that as a result of the bank robbery epidemic that was plaguing the Southwest during the 1920’s, the Texas Bankers Association had offered a $5,000.00 reward for anyone who shot a bank robber during the commission of a crime. It is not known for sure whether this reward was motivation for some of the events that transpired, but as a student of history, I’ve learned one truth that seems to apply ubiquitously, always follow the money.

On the morning of December 23, 1927 Marshall Ratliff walked down the main street of Cisco, Texas in a Santa Claus suit he had borrowed from the woman who owned the boarding house he had been staying at in Wichita Falls. Ratliff was a notorious criminal, and was very well known around town, so he decided that some sort of disguise would be in order. I’m not sure whether Mr. Ratliff had a sense of humor or if he just decided on a costume that would allow him to blend in.
It’s not surprising that as he walked towards the First National Bank, he attracted a large number of children anxious to speak with Santa Claus. To keep up his disguise, Ratliff eagerly indulged the kiddos and allowed them to follow him. Some even trailed behind him into the bank.

First National Bank of Cisco

Once inside the bank, Ratliff met up with Helms, Hill, and Davis, and all four immediately pulled their guns and demanded the bank’s money. While his partners held the customers at bay with their guns, Ratliff emptied the cashier drawers and then began gathering the money from the vault.

Chief George Bedford

Police chief Bedford was informed of the robbery, and immediately mobilized his men. Together they surrounded the bank and waited for the robbers to exit the building. No one is certain who fired the first shot, but whoever did, set-off a volley of bullets that seemed to come from every direction at once. Chief Bedford and officer Carmichael traded shots with the robbers as the entered the alley behind the bank. Many townspeople who had armed themselves, descended on the bank and began pouring fire into the building, striking one of the robbers, as well as several of the innocent bank employees and customers.
During the gun battle, Ratliff, Helms, Hill, and Davis, made their way out of the bank and into their car, using twelve year old Laverne Comer and ten year old May Robertson as shields. The only obstacle to their escape were Bedford and Carmichael, who stood their ground despite the hail of bullets being fired in their direction. Chief Bedford was shot five times and died on Christmas day, while officer Carmichael died from his wounds almost a month later. In all, there was an estimated two hundred bullet holes found in the bank, two police officers were dead, one bank robber, Davis, had been injured, along with six townspeople, though no one is quite sure who fired the shots that injured the innocent bystanders.

Officer George Carmichael


Henry Helms

The four robbers took off down Main Street pursued by the police and several cars full of armed townspeople. They traded gun fire with their pursuers for miles, eventually stopping to carjack another vehicle. Unfortunately for them, the kid they carjacked managed to pull the keys from the ignition before he left the car, so the robbers were forced to retreat back to their original vehicle. During this comedy of errors, Hill was struck by a rifle bullet, and they were forced to leave the wounded Davis and the money behind. The police and the mob ended the chase when they found the money, and Davis was transported to a hospital, but quickly died from his wounds.

Members of crowd that pursued robbers

The three remaining criminals made their way to Young County, which was patrolled by Sheriff’s Deputy Cy Bradford, who had achieved fame for taming the wild and lawless oil boom towns. He caught up with the robbers in an oil field. With a double-barreled shotgun and a handful of shells, Bradford shot all three fugitives, but was only able to capture Ratliff.
Helms and Hill were finally captured in Graham, Texas on December 30 without incident. Helms received the death penalty and was executed in the electric chair. Hill was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison, but was paroled in the 1940’s, and against all odds, he went on to become a productive citizen.

Marshall Ratcliff

Marshall Ratliff was convicted of murder for the deaths of Bedford and Carmichael and sentenced to death. On November 19, 1928, while he was awaiting execution in the Eastland County jail, a mob formed and dragged him out of his cell. Ratliff was taken to a lot behind the Majestic Theatre and lynched. A grand jury was formed to look into the lynching, but no one was ever tried for it, and the case just went on to become part of the vast tapestry that is Texas lore.
So ended what was the largest manhunt in Texas history, and what would become known as the Santa Claus Bank Robbery. I warned you it wouldn’t be your typical feel good Christmas story, but you’ve got to admit, it makes for quite an amazing tale and is quintessentially Texas. Until next time, thank you very much for supporting Under the Lone Star. Your readership means more to me than you can possibly know. Now, saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!


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The Cowboy Spirit Alive in Cowtown

The reasons I am proud to call Fort Worth home are too numerous to list, but at the top of the list has to be Fort Worth’s heritage as king of the cattle towns, and its official designation as Cowtown. It should come as no surprise that I love westerns. Movies, television, books, it makes no difference. I love them all, and have since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of watching the Lone Ranger, the Rifleman, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke on Saturday afternoons. My childhood hero (actually, he’s still my hero) was not an athlete, or a rock star, but John Wayne. Yes, the Duke himself. The western characters he portrayed epitomized everything I believed a good man should be; brave, honest, and selfless. In short, I idolized the Hollywood cowboy. Once I grew up and became addicted to American history, I discovered that the image I grew up watching in the movies and on TV, bore very little resemblance to the real thing. However, unlike most people who finally meet their heroes, when I discovered the true history of the cowboy, I was even more impressed with the men. These were men who gambled everything on the vagaries of the open range, just to make enough money to survive to the next year so they could do it all again. In the process of battling weather, harsh terrain, Indians, outlaws, and a hundred other things that could kill or maim, they built an industry and a way of life that continues to stir the imagination a hundred and fifty years later.

Until I was a teenager I had no idea that there was an actual real, tangible, connection to the world of the nineteenth century cowboy right in my home town. When I was sixteen, I visited the Fort Worth Stockyards for the first time, and I was in awe. It looked exactly like the Old West towns I grew up watching, right down to the saloons, boardwalks, and even the occasional gunfight in the street (staged, of course).

Home to some of Fort Worth’s most historic locations, such as the White Elephant Saloon, the Stockyards Hotel, and Miss Molly’s Hotel, the Stockyards gives visitors an entertaining yet authentic look at Fort Worth’s wild and wooly past. A twice daily cattle drive through the stockyards offers a quick glimpse of what it was like to drive a herd of unruly cows to market, and if that’s not enough excitement, hang around for the staged gunfights that follow the cattle drive every Saturday and Sunday. Take it from me, kids love it, as well as the kid in all of us. The full old west experience wouldn’t be complete without a guided horseback ride, which you can arrange at Stockyard Station. The horses are all seasoned trail horses and the rides are led by experienced guides, so it is a fun time for even the most novice cowboys.

If shopping is more your thing, the Stockyards has got you covered as well. The many shops along the boardwalk sell everything a cowboy or cowgirl with a little cattle money in their pocket could possibly want. Antiques, collectables, one of a kind souvenirs, they’re all available for purchase, but don’t forget to stop in one of the many western wear and tack stores. A visit to Cowtown would not be complete without getting a new pair of boots or a beaver hat, shaped to order.

After a long day of riding, gunfighting, and shopping, enjoy a relaxing dinner at one of the many fine restaurants. Tex-Mex and seafood are all readily available, but after a day of cowboying, a thick char-grilled steak is really what you’re going to want. I suggest either Cattlemen’s Steakhouse or H3 Ranch for the best steaks in town. If you’re making it an adults only trip, then end the day with a beer or shot of your favorite adult beverage at one of the Stockyards plentiful saloons.

Whether you’re from Paris Texas or Paris France, there is a cowboy in all of us. We all have a part of us that longs for a simpler life where loyalty to the brand and dedication to your pals still means something. I know enough about history to know that I’m very happy and fortunate to be living in a time where food, water, medicine, and good paying jobs are all readily available, but the romance of the Old West still calls to me, and I am happy there are places where the spirit of the cowboy continues to live. It is my sincere hope that in some small way, I’m doing my part to keep that spirit alive. As always, thank you for reading. Now, saddle up and get out there and enjoy all the great state of Texas has to offer.






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A Real Texas Mystery: The Servant Girl Annihilator

Howdy folks! Today’s blog is a bit of a divergence from the historical topics we normally discuss. Let me state right now that this is a story about some extremely violent murders, so readers who are squeamish about such things should consider whether they want to read further.

My wife made the suggestion that I do a kind of dark topic for Halloween, and I had recently heard the story of the Servant Girl Annihilator, so it seemed like a natural choice. I found it very odd that as a lover of history, especially Texas history, I had never heard of this horrific tale. I knew about other serial murders that occurred in roughly the same time frame; Jack the Ripper, H. H. Holmes, and the Axman of New Orleans, but these killings that took place in my own state had somehow eluded me. It seems that you couldn’t swing a cat during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, without hitting a knife or axe wielding killer.

      Austin, Texas in the 1880’s

In late 1884, the city of Austin, Texas was already emerging as the cultural and educational capital of Texas, as well as the literal capitol. There was great enthusiasm and hope that as the century was drawing to a close, the violent events of the nineteenth century were giving way to a more peaceful and perhaps even idyllic age. This hope would soon be shattered, and it would start with the discovery of Mollie Smith’s body. She was the black cook for a wealthy family, and her dead body was found next to the outhouse behind her employer’s house. Her cause of death was a massive head wound, which was caused by blows from an axe.

         Mollie Smith

Over the next year, several more black servants were brutally murdered with an axe, and in one case, with a knife. In one instance the boyfriend of one of the victims was killed, and in another instance the eleven-year-old daughter of a victim was also murdered. As horrible as the killings were, the white population could at least take comfort in the fact that all the victims were black, even though several of the murders were committed at the homes of the victim’s wealthy employers. This veil of comfort, however, was about to be ripped from the eyes of the cities elite, and it would come at what is normally the happiest and most peaceful time of year.

       Susan Hancock

On Christmas Eve of 1885, the body of the first white victim was found. Sue Hancock was discovered by her husband in their back yard, and had been struck on the head with an axe. An hour later, Eula Phillips was found in the alley behind her father-in-law’s home. Phillips had been savagely beaten with an axe and was found in the nude. Inside the house, her husband was discovered severely injured, but still alive. These latest victims were not only white, but they were wealthy as well, and unfortunately, in a sign of the times, it was their race and status that finally caused the police and politicians to take action. Large rewards were offered and investigators flooded into Austin from all over the country but to no avail.

             Eula Phillips

The killings stopped with the deaths of Phillips and Hancock, but the murderer was never found. In a surprising turn, the husbands of the last two victims were arrested and tried for their killings, but both were acquitted. The murders were used to advance careers and to destroy political rivals, but little actual progress was ever made, even though theories and rumors persisted for years. Most of the families and officials involved left Austin afterwards and quickly faded into obscurity, much like the killings themselves. In a city trying to grow and evolve from its frontier past, leaving the past buried with the dead may have seemed like the wisest and most expedient option available. Whatever the motivation may have been, they did a good job because this historian was taken totally by surprise by this gruesome tale.

As always, I’d like to thank you for reading Under the Lone Star. If you enjoy this site and the stories I provide, please become a subscriber by entering your email address in the box at the top of this page. I promise I will never sell your information, and I absolutely will not inundate you with frivolous emails. I will simply provide you with bonus blogs that do not appear on the main site, as well as excerpts and updates from my latest books. Your support is greatly appreciated. Now, saddle up and enjoy all that the great state of Texas has to offer.