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TEXAS RANGERS! In Navasota, Texas

If you've read this blog long, you know I often refer to my home as the "Center of the Universe," and that is because of our fabulous if not enviable local history... Very few other towns, of any size,  sport the citizenship of four Ranger Captains... including one of the most famous Rangers in history, Frank Hamer, and the most famous TV Ranger.. Chuck Norris.

Many history lovers will find this page for one reason, an obsession like mine, for anything, everything Ranger. I thought I would string along all the blogs about our most favorite subject!





The Texas Rangers of Navasota

Photo courtesy of University of Oklahoma.

Made around 1908, this photo was taken in Alpine, Texas, and features four Texas Rangers who served here in Grimes County. 1)Frank A Hamer, . 3) Marvin E. Bailey  4) R. M. "Duke" Hudson and 8) Sgt. Dibbrell.  The first two became Ranger Captains, and served as Navasota's City Marshal, and Duke Hudson was elected to County Sheriff in 1924. The last was a mentor of them all... and the first to charge the hill!

There was an era when nothing less than Texas Rangers were effective to keep the peace in Grimes County.  It all started with Sgt Dibbrell, of Company C, on special assignment from in Alpine Texas... Click on the link to take you there... or keep reading!

http://russellcushman.blogspot.com/2014/06/sgt-dibbrell-led-half-ranger-company.html



A rare and wonderful example of a Texas Ranger Captain's badge, found here in Navasota.

Around 13 years ago a neighbor of mine was digging in his yard and found something shiny. Under almost a foot of Texas dirt he found a genuine Texas Ranger badge, a rare and sought-after collector's item, something of historical value, something that would fetch upwards to a thousand dollars or more in some circles. Not only was it a rare captain's badge, but it had the name of the Ranger Captain right on the front of it, that of M. E. Bailey.

M. E. Bailey, a lifelong associate of Ranger Frank Hamer, the City Marshal in Navasota between 1908 and 1911, also had served in Navasota and, as it turned out, had lived in the house, thought to have been built in the mid-twenties, where my neighbor had found the badge. One can only imagine how it ended up in the flower garden. And we can only speculate how it got so deep in the ground. But unaware of the historical importance to local history enthusiasts like myself, the old corroded badge was conveyed, via another neighbor who was a retired State Trooper, to Bob Connell, former interim Police Chief of Navasota and a retired Texas Ranger in College Station, Texas.

Thanks to my friend Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell, the Ranger and the badge recently made a return visit to Navasota, where the old badge had rested for perhaps seventy years. And I got to see it firsthand.

Frank Hamer, Marvin E. Bailey and R. M. "Duke" Hudson joined Company C of the Texas Rangers about the same time, and were receiving their monthly payroll out in Alpine, in far west Texas in 1906.

Three of these Texas Rangers ended up serving here in Navasota, Texas: Hamer, Bailey and Hudson. Look at those scowls! Photo courtesy of the University of Oklahoma.
Hamer left the Rangers for awhile and answered desperate pleas here for Law and Order and came to Navasota in 1908. Records are scant, but Mance Lipscomb remembered a deputy of Hamer's he called "Bailiff" who was here around 1913 when Hamer had returned as an interim Marshal. "Bailiff" must have been around Navasota at least a decade, because Mance tells a story where it took the lawman that long to find out who stabbed his cousin and tell is uncle. It appears he also may have served in Navasota sometime later... as a deputy under Sheriff Harris, perhaps in the early thirties, and that is when he lived in the house where the badge somehow found its almost final resting place on Church Street in Navasota.

The owner of the badge, M. E. Bailey started his law enforcement career in 1906 as a Private in Company C of the Texas Rangers, based in Alpine, Texas. Photo courtesy of the University of Oklahoma.

When Bailey died, Hamer gave a rare interview about his old buddy, where he told the reporter that Ranger Bailey had once captured four Mexican Revolutionary Generals, all at one time, who were in south Texas recruiting for Pancho Villa. It seems he may have been made a Captain for that, but it might also have been his undoing, as there were powers in Austin who were sympathetic to Villa and the Mexican Revolution.


Still "wet behind the ears," Rangers Frank Hamer and Duke Hudson pose with their Winchesters around 1906, when just starting their careers as Texas lawmen. Hamer was Navasota City Marshal, Hudson was elected to County Sheriff.

About the same period, the last of the threesome, R. M. "Duke" Hudson came to Grimes County and was elected for two terms as County Sheriff from 1924 through 1928. Hudson carried a letter to whomever might be concerned, endorsing him as a friend and dependable lawman, personally signed by then famous Ranger Captain Frank Hamer. This was as good as an appointment to office in the place where Hamer established his own sterling reputation.

Sheriff Duke Hudson and his family in front of the old Grimes County jail... and their home, around 1924.

These three Rangers helped to cement the longstanding ties between Navasota and the Texas Rangers. The Rangers had once been based just across the river in Washington on the Brazos during the Republic years. One Montgomery County historian placed a Ranger camp at Navasota, fighting indians before the Civil War. Future Ranger and Arizona lawman Jeff Milton landed here in Grimes County to join his sister in Yarboro after leaving Florida after the Civil War, before answering the call of the west. And there were former and future Texas Rangers in Navasota in modern times as well.

Ranger W. F. Quinn was based here in Navasota in the 1970's. Ironically, amazingly, Navasota Police Chief Bob Werner, a former Ranger Captain, lived right next door to the house where Bailey's Ranger badge was exhumed.

It is not insignificant that both Rangers Werner and Hudson chose to be buried here in Navasota.

Ranger Bob Connell (retired) was a State DPS Trooper here for 14 years, and later served as a temporary Police Chief for the City of Navasota in the late eighties. Ranger Major Bryant Wells, now one of the highest ranking Texas Rangers, also served as a policeman here in Navasota.

So when the bronze sculpture of Frank Hamer comes back and is dedicated as a public monument, it may be the beginning of a Texas Ranger driving tour, right here in Navasota, once the home to eight Texas Rangers, including at least four Ranger Captains. Not to mention the most famous Texas Ranger, TV Actor Chuck Norris, star of Walker Texas Ranger.

Navasota: "Home for Texas Ranger Legends," where you could dig up a badge in your flower bed...

Many thanks to Ranger Bob Connell (retired) for sharing his knowledge, research and artifacts with the Navasota Current. And thanks to the University of Oklahoma for the great pictures!








Sul Ross... (not from Navasota but spent some time in nearby Bryan as President of Texas A&M University!) 















Lawrence Sullivan Ross; Texas Ranger, General, Governor, and Grand Aggie of all. 

As Texans, we have lost our identification with the mystique so commonly attached to our State. The Wild West is as foreign to us as it is to some Japanese tourist. In fact we have much more in common with that person from the other side of the world, than our own predecessors. Your home is full of things manufactured in Taiwan, Korea, Pakistan or Japan, but how many things can you point to and know that they were made in Texas? More specifically, what in your material sphere speaks of the Republic of Texas, or the culture that established your town?

Part of my goal as a writer and an artist is to keep my culture in touch with…. My culture. The Navasota Chamber of Commerce once adopted a slogan I really liked: “Where Texas is still Texas,” and I was really excited that somebody else appreciated the importance of taking our history and cultural identity serious. Austin wants to keep its weirdness. We should want keep our unique character as well. One way we can establish what that is, and protect our cultural identity, and hopefully some of our material culture as well, is to know the people who forged this community. 

I want you to know the essential personalities of this wonderful region, who gave us our specialness. And one of them was Sul Ross, a worthy member of my "Top Ten in Texas" list. Texas' history patriarch J. W. Wilbarger called him the "Chevalier Bayard of Texas." So let me just give you the highlights of the life of this extraordinary Texan. Lawrence Sullivan Ross.

After leaving Iowa, his family had come to Texas just three years after independence was won, in 1839. He was just a baby when they settled up in Robertson County on the Little River near present day Cameron, where they lived in constant fear and harassment from Comanches. The family moved to a more civilized environment in Austin and later moved to Waco.

Lawrence "Sul" Ross was just a boy when he participated in his first skirmish with Indians. He would grow up to become one of the most famous Indian fighters in the West. He began his formal education across the river at Independence, at the first site of Baylor University, then transferred to Wesleyan University in Alabama.

He came home for the summer, and at age nineteen, found himself acting as an impromptu captain of a local militia of 135 Tonkowa and Caddo scouts, when his father fell ill. They were headed to assist the U. S. Cavalry in finding and fighting the Comanches, after numerous atrocities. His father was the Indian agent at the Brazos Indian Reservation, and when he became unable to travel, the Indians eagerly elected the young White brave as their War Chief.

The Indian scouts were more than game and knew right where to find the ferocious and elusive Comanches, and led young Sul Ross and the cavalry unit into a life or death battle inside the very heart of Comancheria, the lair of the legendary Chief Buffalo Hump. Way up in Indian Territory, in the Wichita Mountains, they descended upon 500 or more Comanches, stampeded their horses, and began a five hour battle where Ross took a bullet and an arrow, while retrieving a White captive child. The Comanches were subdued and scattered, but his wounds caused him to beg his comrades to kill him and put him out of his misery. When General Winfield Scott heard of his bravery, he immediately offered him a commission in the Army, but Sul shook off the glory of Indian fighting and went back to finish school.

After graduation, he learned that no one had claimed the little girl he had risked his life to rescue in the Indian Territory, so he adopted her himself and named her Lizzie, after his bride to be. He got married, joined the Texas Rangers, was elected captain, and by 1860 he was literally ranging under the direction of Governor Sam Houston. He and his Rangers supposedly tracked down Chief Peta Nokona, the scourge of the Llano Estacado, on the Pease river. [ Official and unofficial reports were a bit contradictory, but the public concensus then was that Ross led his rangers and a token detachment of U.S. troops and killed Chief Peta Nokona and many of his braves.] The actual facts seem to have turned out something less than this, but there was no doubt, in the process he solved one of the greatest mysteries in Texas lore, and that was the whereabouts of Cynthia Ann Parker. For twenty- five years she had been the most famous white captive in Texas and was then the great Chief’s wife.

• This made young Sul Ross a veritable Texas giant. Soon he was leading the way in the War Between the States, rising quickly through the ranks, becoming one of the youngest generals in the Confederate States of America.

• At age 26, he returned after the war to farm near Waco. He and Lizzie had eight children, six of whom lived to maturity.

• In late 1873, Sul Ross was elected Sheriff of McLennan County. He hired his brother as a deputy, and within two years had captured over 700 outlaws. One of the more notorious was Belle Starr and some of her gang.

• He served as a delegate to the 1875 Texas Constitutional Convention, where his name and reputation grew rapidly.

• In 1880 he was elected to the Texas Senate as a compromise candidate.

• In 1886 he was elected by a landslide as the 19th Governor of Texas. And then to a second term, overseeing the construction and dedication of the Texas State Capitol building.

• In 1890 Lawrence Sullivan Ross became the first official President of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College. We call it Texas A&M. That’s not all, the college had been traditionally run by a faculty chairman and was in desperate straits, even threatening to close its doors, when Sul took over. As soon as he accepted the challenge, enrollment skyrocketed. Understanding well the needs of a military and agricultural school, Sul Ross rescued the Aggies as much as he had Cynthia Ann Parker.

• Outside of Sam Houston, no other man has left such an imprint on the life and lore of the Brazos Valley, as Ranger Captain, General, Senator, Governor, and Texas A&M President as L. S. Ross.


"Texas, though her annals be brief, counts upon her roll of honor the names of many heroes, both living and dead. Their splendid services are the inestimable legacies of the past and present, to the future. Of the latter, it is the high prerogative of the State to embalm their names and memories as perpetual examples to excite the generous emulation of the Texan youth to the latest posterity. Of the former, it is our pleasant province to accord them those honors which their services in so eminent a degree entitle them to receive. Few lands since the days of the Scottich Chiefs have furnished material upon which to predicate a Douglas, a Wallace, or a Ravenswood; and the adventures of chivalric enterprise, arrant quest of danger, and the personal combat were relegated, together with the knights's armorial trappings, to the trusty archives of Tower and Pantheon, until the Comanche Bedouins of the Texan plains tendered in bold defiance the savage gauntlet to the pioneer knights of progress and civilization. And though her heraldic roll glows with the names of a Houston, a Rusk, Lamar, McCulloch, Hays, Chevellier, which illumine the pages of her history with an effulgence of glory, Texas never nurtured on her maternal bosom a son of more filial devotion, of more loyal patriotism, or indomitable will to do and dare, than L. S. Ross."

(From "Ross's Texas Brigade")




Jeff Milton

The first Texas Ranger from Navasota, Jeff Milton’s story is an extraordinary one. Probably one of the most famous lawmen of the west, he was the subject of J. Evetts Haley’s A Good Man With A Gun.Born the son of the Governor of Florida, Jeff Milton became a Texas Ranger and ultimately a famous lawman of the American West, his legend stretching over three states.

Jefferson Davis Milton was born at the outbreak of the Civil War, the son of privilege on a Southern plantation. His father, Governor John Milton, refused to accept the failure of the Confederate States of America and took his own life. Little Jeff was raised by his mother and doting big sisters, and it is easy to imagine his character traits given these circumstances. By the time he was fifteen, he was spoiled, arrogant and restless, with a great deal to prove to himself. The Milton women could not handle him, and one of his sisters thought she could, given a better environment in Texas.

He came to Texas in 1877 as a teenager, eager to see and experience all the wild and wooly West he had read about in dime novels. This was the land Davy Crockett had died for at the Alamo, and where Bigfoot Wallace had fought the Comanches. Where buffalo still ran wild and cowboys lived free on the American plains.

The Wilson & Yarborough Mercantile in Anderson, Texas. This picture is an illustration from A Good Man With a Gun, by J. Evetts Haley.

Jeff’s sisters had migrated to Texas after the war and Fannie Miltonhad married Colonel James Quincy Yarborough, a Texas merchant who was building a small retail empire in Grimes County.A partner in Wilson and Yarborough, they had established several mercantiles in Grimes County. So it was the hope and prosperity there, and the promise of change which lured Jeff halfway across the country. He would join the Yarboroughs in Grimes County and hopefully see some“greener pastures” and live the life of a westerner.
Just sixteen, Jeff Milton entered Texas like a blank canvas with visions of grandeur. He was pleased when Colonel Yarborough handed him his first cigar and loved what it symbolized. He was being accepted as a man. He could not have asked for a better situation, a fresher start, or a more thrilling prospect. But soon Jeff would realize that it was not a home or retail business which made him feel complete. Hauling sacks of corn or sweeping out one of his brother-in-law’s stores seemed too mundane for the son of a governor. Jeff had always heard about Texas, but this was not it.
Colonel Yarborough ultimately owned four stores, including one in Anderson the County Seat and one in Navasota, the largest store in town. There was plenty of excitement in the gambling halls and saloons down the street, but there was also plenty of work to do, and Jeff was not allowed to go there. And there was a predictability and jadedness that repulsed him in such places, as they reminded him too much of Florida. Overall, these towns were all fairly civilized places and Jeff was seeking a proving ground… and vindication of sorts. Too young to enlist, he had missed out on “forging his own mettle” during the War Between the States, and his father had died shamefully. Every young man needed a way to establish his manhood, and establish his own name. He thought he would not be satisfied until he was a cowboy, living on the range, facing adventure or Indians out west, or some kind of adversary where he could display his Southern fire.

Young Jeff Milton about the time he left Navasota and joined the Texas Rangers... considerably under-aged.
Then one day two bookkeepers, Billy Barry and Ben Calhoun left the employ of Colonel Yarborough. Billy’s Uncle Buck had made a name for himself as an Indian fighter, and Billy felt some kind of itch that only west Texas could scratch. They took their earnings and headed west, to join a fellow named Hatchett in starting up a ranch on the “Clear Fork” of the Brazos, wherever that was. Maybe someday if Jeff got bored around Navasota, he would come up and join them… For Jeff, this development became the proverbial seed of discontent. The three men named their outfit the “Saw-Horned Cattle Company.” Veritable geniuses, it was obvious they planned to skip a step in cattle management, by just nipping the horns of their long-horned cattle, rather than branding them.

The magnet of the West for young Jeff was suddenly magnified to an irresistible strength. He began to save back his money to buy himself an "outfit." He would need a good horse, saddle and tack, spurs, lariat and weapons and the leather to hold them.
Then one day Parham Yarborough gave Jeff something hotter than a cigar. It was a Winchester 44.40 lever-action rifle. Like all young men, as soon as he held it, he hungered for a place to shoot it and a chance to use it to right the world! And that Winchester told him right where he needed to go. After considerable deliberation, he and a buddy, Allen Morrison, decided to head west. They would go hire out at the Saw-Horn ranch in west Texas, where men still lived free and even a little wild; where the name Milton would be whatever he made it to be.



It turns out this ingenious cattle operation on the Brazos River was in far northwest Texas, 500 miles from home. Comanches and outlaws still ran amuck there and dangerous adventure was not just a possibility, it was guaranteed. Soon Jeff bought himself a horse and he and Allen left with little fanfare, and much against his sister’s advice. All they had to do was follow the Brazos River...

Jeff had already come all the way from Florida. Following an old muddy river did not sound that intimidating. Finally, they were on their way, gladly escaping the pastoral life in East Texas. And mile by mile, the West began to unfold. And Jeff Milton began to set things right.

They made the long trip following that deep sluggish river, until it narrowed and ran clear between arid mountains. And sure enough they found their Navasota associates on the High Plains where streams ran clear and nights were cool. It felt like heaven. So far from home, it was easy to play on the sympathy of the cattlemen who hired them on. The ranch was situated a day’s ride from the old Fort Phantom Hill. It was the nearest remnant of civilization, and it was abandoned and in ruins. The ranch house was really more like a badger hole. Literally a “dugout” made of logs and mud. The buffalo were being decimated, and the antelope were skittish. Sometimes ranch hands had to eat turkey, or jack rabbits or prairie dogs, or even snakes. But Jeff was determined to stick it out.

The cowboy life was lonely and challenging. Often a cowhand was stationed completely in the wilderness, with only his wits and gun to feed himself. And in the midst of this battle for survival he had to put the herd's needs before his own... painting by Russell Cushman

Come that winter, it got even worse. Captain Pete Hatchett bunked him in a tent, all by himself, way off in the wilderness to watch his sizable remuda of horses, which were left to run wild. His job was to keep the “broke” horses from amalgamating with the mustangs, which ran around tauntingly like kings of the plains. If he was not yet a prince of the West, never-the-less he got to watch or even match wits with some. And it was as grand as he ever imagined.
Two young cowboys met on the high plains of Texas and became fast friends. Jeff Milton and George Scarborough would work more together handling outlaws rather than cattle.

When Jeff got to go into Fort Griffin for supplies, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Army scouts, trail drivers, buffalo skinners, suspicious looking gunslingers and Texas Rangers. This had been the proving ground for Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Billy Dixon and many others. He saw the outlaw John Selman. He met the dashing young George Scarborough, a future legend in law enforcement whom he would often team up with. He witnessed a shootout between two buffalo hunters, so close that when one shot the other’s brains out, Jeff caught the explosion of body fluids as he tried to stop them. THIS was Texas. Here he was Jeff Milton, man among men, even if he was only seventeen. Here life was measured by each breath, and your reputation was as infinite as the Llano Estacado.

In the spring Jeff and Allen Morrison decided to mosey back home to Grimes County and enjoy a few creature comforts. But they had blown their earnings before they ever got home. Jeff took a job as a guard on a prison farm near Huntsville…maybe he would get a shot at John Wesley Hardin, the famous Texas gunslinger who now resided inside the walls. But the Huntsville Prison cotton plantation was in practice and principle everything he hated about Florida. All Jeff could think about was what he might be missing out west. He made himself a modest “grubstake”and quit his life as a “straw boss.” He had to do better than this.

When Jeff finally came home to Navasota, his pocket was full of money and his heart was won over. Cowboying was tough. But the West was his first love. He put his money in the bank one Saturday in Navasota and began to stroll around like a man with a purpose. He just had not identified it yet. It is no doubt that he began to think about the gallant yet unpretentious Rangers he saw on patrol in west Texas. They seemed to embody everything he wanted to be. But he had never thought about being a lawman… at least not until his choices were made clearer.

A (good?) man with a gun: Jeff Milton went through several Colt revolvers and had this one custom- made at the end of his career.

Then that next mundane Monday morning came along. Jeff could never know how important the next few moments would be in his life. He went to go cash a check… just to see how it all worked. You put your money in the bank, and then you draw it out as you need it. This sounded fairly uncomplicated. But when he got to the bank, he ran into a wall more arresting than one of those cold “blue northers” he had endured on the plains. A sign announced, quite matter-of-factly, the bank was closed. Forever. Nobody could make a withdrawal. Ever.

Jeff stood devastated and angry. He had never trusted anyone with so much money. His money. Suddenly the sheriff came by and Jeff told him his problem. Sheriff Dan Woods was sympathetic to the young man and gave him some unofficial advice. The sheriff knew which entrance the bankers used, and suggested that Jeff hide under the rear stairway and wait for them with his check in hand, and demand satisfaction when they opened their doors. Sheriff Woods then made himself scarce and stood back to watch the fireworks, kind of like something Andy Griffith would do. This was the way the Law operated in Navasota in those days.

And Jeff was game. He did just as suggested. The bankers probably saw him as a person of no consequence, just old Colonel Yarborough’s young brother-in-law. Certainly no threat to them, whatever his claims. They had much bigger problems on their minds… as they unlocked the back doors. Jeff presented his check, and his intention of getting his money out. The bankers shook their heads and shrugged, as they heard his request. It was impossible. If they coughed up his money, they would be expected to do it for everyone...

But Jeff made a telltale move at that point. He pulled out his six-shooter and demanded all of his money. Technically, at this point he was robbing the bank. But quickly, amazingly, Sheriff Woods sauntered in and backed him up. Jeff explained non- chalantly that the men were cashing a check for him… which was true, albeit by gunpoint. Sheriff Woods must have reasoned that a man had a right to demand his own money, gun or not. The bankers saw they would get no help from Woods so they somehow satisfied Jeff, probably out of their own pockets. Jeff got his money and, soon to become the toast at every bar, he soon got out of town.

This was not the kind of reputation he had wanted. It was obvious to him and anyone paying attention that his six-shooter had become an extension of his temper. Jeff suddenly knew he had to find a legitimate expression  for this propensity, or things could get ugly. About this time he heard that Major John B. Jones in Austin was recruiting good men with shooting skills to join the Texas Rangers. Jeff knew exactly what he had to do. He was too young to join... but he might be able to swing it if he played his cards right. He asked one last favor of his brother-in-law. For his plan to work, he had to let somebody else do his bidding for him. He convinced Colonel Yarborough to write him a letter of recommendation, and his friend, the former Attorney General of Texas, and Civil War hero, H. H. Boone, as well. Even young and na├»ve, Jeff still understood the world of his father, of politics and influence, and he used it shamelessly. After all, he did not want to go down in Navasota, robbing his own bank. Next time things might not go his way.

Yarborough and Boone did their part and Jeff convincingly lied about his age. Even though he was obviously not old enough, Major Jones hired him on sight. Law enforcement often requires the talents of a poker-faced negotiator. And Jeff Milton would become infamous for his creative deceptions. Soon he would end the romance of one of his fellow rangers by telling his infatuated lover that the man was a convict! Jeff Milton lived most of his life with his impish tongue in his cheek.

Suddenly within a few weeks, Jeff had gone from taking a few bucks at gunpoint from unsuspecting bankers, to swearing an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Texas. You gotta love this country! Where else could men find their hearts and shape their destinies and carve out their legacies in such amazing twists and turns of events?

Acquired in Navasota from Rodes and Owen, this A fork, high-back saddle, circa 1890-1900, belonged to Jeff Milton, and was acquired by J. Evetts Haley for the immense saddle collection at the Panhandle - Plains Museum. Thanks to the late Marcus Mallard, who told me about it, I went to Canyon, Texas and arranged to photograph it.
Jeff Milton only served on the Texas Ranger Force for around three years. In 1881 he had to kill a violent, belligerent drunk in the line-of-duty, in a five-way gun battle in Colorado City and was prosecuted for it. When the smoke cleared, three armed Rangers stood over one popular, dead cattleman. The townspeople insisted that Jeff had killed the man unnecessarily. Once again Jeff called upon the powerful services of his friend in Navasota, H. H. Boone, who got him off but managed to get the whole Frontier Ranger Battalion dismissed in a cloud of legal questions in the process. All this trouble, and Jeff was still not old enough to even be a Texas Ranger.
After acquittal Jeff returned to store keeping in Ft. Davis, and later Murphyville. In short time he had gone into the saloon business and almost immediately pulled his gun on a customer with intent to kill, over the wanton destruction of a shot glass. Worse than that, his target was a member of the famous Kokernot ranching dynasty. He quickly divested himself of that tempting situation, but then ended up shooting at and hog-tying his barber one day after he became suspicious of the barber's razor. He thought the barber was crazy.

Jeff, born to be wild Milton had become a fugitive from society and himself, and would be on the run the rest of his life, trying to find that legitimate expression of his trigger finger. He soon struck out for New Mexico, and another fresh start...
He would return to the Brazos Valley of Texas many years later in 1900, his one good arm toting a briefcase full of cash and land leases in Walker County. Although disinformation placed it elsewhere, records showed that drilling began in 1901 in "Macedonia," known today as Mustang Prairie. Dead-eyed and dry as an uprooted prickly pear, Jeff Milton was no longer the bright-eyed gent looking for adventure. He was in fact an over-the-hill hired gunman who had faced loaded guns and death so many times, and never with the appreciation of the corrupt local population, that he had to be a bit cynical about lofty ideals such as Justice or the "Rule of Law." He appeared in Navasota as an oilfield investor and driller. But that hair-brained scheme turned out much like the rest, and after a year of drilling, his black-gold well ended at 800 feet. All the reward for his famous Wells Fargo robbery intervention had gone down an endless hole...
Simultaneously, (coincidentally?) the White Man's Union of Grimes County initiated the most successful, violent drive against Reconstruction ever seen, using terrorism, racial cleansing, and assassination. As a result, several black officials were dead, the Populist County Sheriff Garrett Scott had been shot and escorted out never to return. And Jeff Milton rode out with a beautiful, brand new saddle from Rodes and Owen, from Navasota, Texas. Hundreds of defendants were named in a sham trial in Galveston, but the "good man with the gun" was not one of them, and was long gone. We will never know the details... but I suspect that he might have paid some old debts with in-kind services. And this would not be a surprise given the racial views expressed in his biography.

Still, Milton was once quoted as saying, "I never killed a man that didn't need killing; I never shot an animal except for meat."
You can read the rest of the legend in Haley’s book, a standard of Western Literature, if you can find it. Haley was the curator at the Panhandle-Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas and got to know Milton in his later years. Although I think his book is somewhat of a whitewash of Milton and his career, with a generous layer of gloss, it is worth the read. As the early bank episode suggests, Jeff Milton was not quite the Southern cavalier that Haley created in his biography, but he was a bigger-than-life Texas Ranger, and a one of kind Western legend, who once called Navasota Home.
Jeff Milton was known to use a cut-down version of the 1887 Winchester lever action Shotgun... one of the most ominous firearms ever used to bust up rowdy crowds, or in his case, several train robbers trying to heist a Wells Fargo express car in Fairbanks, Arizona territory... He took several of them out and severely wounded, put a tourniquet on his fractured arm and tossed the keys to the Wells Fargo safe out of reach, before passing out. The remaining outlaws took him for dead and only stole a small amount.







Ranger Frank Hamer

Just 24, Frank Hamer stepped down from the Texas Rangers to serve the City of Navasota as Marshal. He brought a revolutionary new standard of race equality with him.

It was great when a friend showed me the October, 2011 American Rifleman Magazine, to see that Texas Ranger legend Frank Hamer is slowly but surely getting the recognition he deserves. It may be ironic then that people here in Navasota still refuse to recognize him. Perhaps now we have a chance to change that.



Since I have begun to meet many tourists who visit Navasota at our blues museum, I have run into at least two writers working on books about this real life hero. Hal Herring is one of them, and he has already published a chapter about Hamer in his book called Famous Firearms of the American West. Currently planning a book on three of the Hamer brothers who served as Rangers, Herring writes that Frank Hamer “was among the most ferocious and dogged lawmen of any age, in any nation.” Like the American Rifleman article, the focus of Herring’s chapter was on the famous lawman’s marksmanship and weaponry, which was second to none. But I’ll bet nobody ever does an article about his feet, even though eye-witnesses insisted he used them much more often to subdue lawbreakers.

There have been numerous accounts of Frank Hamer’s life, but none offer more intimate and interesting details than those gleaned by Glen Alyn from Mance Lipscomb. In an excruciatingly detailed and faithful biography of the famed Texas bluesman called I Say Me for a Parable, Alyn concentrated a whole chapter around the relationship between young Mance and his idol, the young Marshal who came to clean up the town, whom he remembered as “Charlie Hayman.” Mance was getting along in years and was depending on the memories of his youth, around the turn of the Century, and consistent with the book, he recalled names and dates through a muddy lens. Referring to Hamer and his deputy Bailey, Mance consistently dubbed them “Hayman” and “Bailiff.”

He was quite possibly offering a little protection according to Alyn, from those who might not approve. Mance considered the big Texas Ranger as a close personal friend, and it is possible that he knew that any kind remarks he might have about the Ranger, even in the 70’s, might have put him in a bad light with many racist whites. And Alyn saw firsthand that they were still a formidable reality, in Mance's part of the world.

Mance Lipscomb, the famous Texas Songster who inspired the likes of Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal, started his legend driving the buggy for a great lawman who transformed many deadly Texas towns. All but one, anyway.

Still, the size, temperament and talent that Mance described in detail could be no other than Frank Hamer. Frank Hamer was indeed a Texas Ranger before he came to Navasota in 1908. Appeals from citizens and the Navasota City Council got action from the Governor who sent for the best Ranger available. Although Mance recalled that he was just nine years old, he was more likely around 11, when his mother released him from the cotton fields to drive the buggy for “the baddest man ever been here.”

In this case bad meant good, as Mance told how the Marshal checked on planters to make sure they were not abusing their field hands, and treatment of blacks improved. When one nosey farmer teased Hamer about hiring Mance when he should have been working in the fields, the Marshal was quick to intimidate him into apologizing. Mance quoted the Marshal in his own, somewhat colorful dialect... “He doin' what I want ‘im ta do, and he aint gonna plow til he quit driven roun’ an openin’ these gates fur me.”

Mance remembered how they would stop sometimes and just listen to the cotton pickers as they sang, and sometimes they put on quite a show. Once when a cotton planter came out to see what was going on, Hamer gave him notice… “Landowner, how you treatin’ these fellas?” ( Mance spoke again in his own dialect…) ”An you know all this lynchin'? An all this colored beatin’s? Knockin’ em in the head? You know, I come here to stop all that…”

Mance told Alyn in detail how the Ranger used his feet when a suspect might slow down on the way to the jail… “He’d kick ‘em from here yonda to yo car. He’s a big man enough to do it. Strong enough to do it… When you git tired of him kickin’ you, why, you done got to the jailhouse. He’ll let you rest awhile from here to that car. Turn around an’- he was a man, he could kick you down. But if he hit ya, he knock you down. .. One lick, you goin’ down…”

Mance spoke of these incidents like it was a daily affair, something he had witnessed countless times, and quoting Hamer again as he finally brought a criminal to the jail door, “Well, git in…. I said git in! I done kickt you all the way up here. I don’t wanta kick you in the jail. I want you ta walk in there free.”

“Then he go down the street, whistlin’. Lookin’ for somebody else…”

One can easily see old Mance smilin’ as he declared “…Man, he was the purdiest white man I ever laid eyes on… He had the eyes of a eagle. .. he could shoot a gun better’n inybody ever been in this county…”

Hamer, then only about twenty four years old, had already been in several life or death shoot-outs with dangerous killers, and had busted numerous cattle rustlers. But from Lipscomb's account, he far preferred to use force without using guns. Hamer had already done his share of killing, and avoided it if he could. For two years, he kept the little black boy entranced with his recollections of chasing cattle rustlers and banditos.

As Mance gathered a lifetime of lawman stories, the youngster also got out of hard labor as he drove for Marshal "Hayman," and as he fetched for him and set up his shooting targets and opened gates and generally tormented the jealous white folks for two years. Mance remembered “Charlie Hayman” as a generous boss, who even indulged him. Although many people might make assumptions about Frank Hamer’s attitudes towards race, according to Mance Lipscomb, he was not the typical Texas lawman, in fact its antithesis.

Hamer was born in a west Texas family of German immigrant stock, and Germans had little patience for the racial injustices of the South. But Mance shared another reason as he is quoted in Alyn’s book, quoting the young Ranger…

“Now look. A colored man was the best friend I ever had in my life. Listen, I don’t want ya’ll ta be mistreatin’ these colored folk. Cause I been a Ranger. A colored man pickt me up, while the Carr boys shot me down. Shot my guts out, and left me layin’ there. An a colored man come along, and my guts was hangin’ out. An’ toted me, an rested, and carried me to a hospital,. An’ let 'em wash that sand off my guts, and sewed me up, and I’m livin’ today… I want y’all to be surer than hell respect ‘em.”

Hamer was remembered as an equal opportunity enforcer. Once, according to Mance, a white woman begged for the Marshal to let her husband out of jail so he could sleep in his own bed and Hamer refused, saying he had to stay in jail all night. The woman said the Marshal was mean, and insisted her husband was after all, a white man! And deserved to be treated as such.

Lipscomb must have cherished what the young Marshal said next, for the rest of his life: “Yeah, that’s what’s a madda with this town: White. I’m a white man, but I’m doin’ my job. He kin come out in the mownin’. But he caint git out with no amount of money that you offer me. Cause money don’t buy me. I’m already bought, to take this here position. Now you come down in the mownin’ bout nine O'clock, I might let im out fur nothin’. But he gonna be in there til tomarra.”

Lipscomb gave Marshal Hamer credit for leveling the playing field for blacks. “Boy, he cooled that town down. Po colored folks was scared ta meet white folks on the street… ‘bout bein’ around ‘im, cause they was white and they was niggas, they don’t wanta touch up against no white folks. But them white folks commenced to letting the colored folks git by. Give some room fur them. But wadn no room fur nobody but whites until he come there… Man, not nary another colored man was lyncht after he tuck the job bein’ a Ranger there.”

It is impossible to gauge the impact this friendship had on either person, but it must have given Mance hope and inspiration, and the heart to sing his songs, no matter the fear of reprisal. Marshal Hamer had been the first ray of hope since the White man’s Union had murdered several black elected officials in 1900 and seriously wounded and ran their popular white Sheriff off for good. Soon a cunning underworld started to conspire against the young Marshal, making threats and even trying to assassinate him, as they had done uncooperative lawmen in the past. After three butt-kicking years taming Navasota, Hamer wisely took a new job in Houston, where he eventually wore out his welcome with the corrupt bankers there.

He soon exposed their thinly veiled murder for hire racket, inadvertantly created while trying to shut down Houston bank robbers. Hamer proved that bounty hunters were setting up stooges and killing them to collect the generous rewards.

Regardless of the odds against him, Frank Hamer stood up time and time again for what was right. He was sent as a Ranger all over the state, wherever there was big trouble. Oil boom towns were his specialty, and he made a lasting impression at Mexia, Borger, and other hot spots where organized crime brought in bootleggers and prostitutes and gambling dens. The no-nonsense west Texas cowboy always seemed surprised when certain "special" segments of society demanded special consideration. To Hamer, the law was the law, and anybody, no matter how rich or powerful or white they were, who broke the law, was merely a lawbreaker, and treated as such.

This dangerous objectivity, especially racial objectivity, was later demonstrated when Captain Frank Hamer was serving Texas on the Mexican border. Texas based gun-runners had convinced Austin politicians that illegally selling arms to bandit Pancho Villa was a necessary, if not profitable evil, and soon the Rangers were getting suggestions through the grapevine to put on the correct show, but to leave those helping the Mexican Revolution alone. But Hamer told his men to enforce the law. Next Hamer saw most of the men he had gradually reassigned, to other parts of Texas. He was left almost to himself to police thousands of miles of west Texas trails, which were becoming a network of contraband traffic.

The resourceful Captain Hamer just shrugged it off and crossed the Rio Grande. Soon the legendary Ranger was working in cooperation with the Mexican police, who were more than glad to have his talent and help. Hamer constantly used creative solutions to fight crime, and later this flexibility came in handy in getting Mexican cooperation in foiling "The Plan of San Diego," a Mexician born conspiracy to recapture the American Southwest. In 1920 he was photographed along with his men for a magazine article, once again working with Mexican authorities, this time to curb the bootlegging of Mexican liquor into south Texas.

Over and over, Frank Hamer fought some of the most dangerous and powerful underworld cartels in Texas. If criminals despised him, the corrupt and powerful loathed him. In his controversial career, Hamer was known to challenge governors, bankers, even other policemen, if they were hindering or breaking the law.

Captain Hamer has a Pow Wow with Mexican authorities, who learned to trust him about issues concerning smuggling between the U. S. and Mexico.

But the Sherman riots of 1930 are probably the most telling about Frank Hamer’s race convictions. The County Seat of Grayson County, Sherman was the scene of one of the most outrageous race conflicts in American history. The May, 1930 Literary Digest called it a "wild orgy of venomous hate and frenzied violence..." A black man named George Hughes had been arrested and charged with rape of a white woman. He denied raping her, but had confessed to her assault, over wages owed him, and when the trial required his victim to be brought into the courthouse on a stretcher, the crowd outside became violent. Soon the word got out, and a huge vigilante mob formed outside of the courthouse. In their minds there was no need for a trial.

As usual, Ranger Captain Frank Hamer was sent into the most dangerous and unpredictable situations. He and three other Rangers discreetly entered a pot of heated tempers that was about to boil over. Advising the Judge to get a change of venue, Hamer and his few men braced themselves to keep the peace. Mance Lipscomb quipped that he was a true PEACE officer, and most others were just piece officers.

True to his character, Hamer once again found it necessary to stand against the growing tide. Unfortunately, the locals overheard the discussion about changing venue, and decided to act very forcefuly before their prey was snatched beyond their reach. A large mob broke down the double doors in the hallway Hamer and his Rangers drew their guns down on the crowd as they tried to overtake the courtroom. They were able to bluff the crowd outside, temporarily, at the point of their guns and the use of tear gas.

After the halls were cleared of troublemakers, the court tried to proceed, a fatal mistake, to allow the judge to affix punishment. But the crowd came back like a tsunami, and the jury had to be dismissed, and the Rangers began to use tear gas once again to repel the rioters. When this did not work, and more Shermanites rushed up the stairs, Captain Hamer fired his shotgun, wounding two men, according to his own reports. This seemed to make the vigilantes more afraid of the Rangers, who had been rumoured to be under orders from the Governor not to fire on civiliians. Frank Hamer settled that question.

The beautiful old Grayson County Courthouse was the scene of horrible white wrath towards blacks, in fact, it was the very last scene of its existence...

Hamer and his men took position inside the second story of the courthouse, outnumbered 500 - 1. They had to continuously threaten the mob, and pushed them back again with tear gas. When one leader of the mob announced that he was coming up to get the prisoner, Hamer told him to do so any time he felt lucky, but that if they came up the stairway one more time, there would be many funerals in Sherman. Still the rioters beat on the doors and climbed through the courthouse windows. The suspect had been locked away, by order of the Judge, in a large steel safe in the County Clerk's office to protect him in case the Rangers were overtaken. When a throng of men once more busted through the doors of the courthouse, the Grayson County Sheriff and his deputies fled, and Hamer and his men fired their guns, once in the air, warning the mob to get back. This was a moment of truth...

But the moment did not last long. Hamer and his men were finally forced to leave their post when Sherman youths threw rocks through the windows and spread gasoline and sent the first floor up in flames. The Shermanites burned their own courthouse down, in retaliation for not having their way. And they finally got what they wanted.

This is one of very few times, perhaps the only case in American history from this era, when white police stood up to, and fought off white people in defense of a black prisoner. Later, the Rangers regrouped, and Captain Hamer phoned the Governor's office. As he tried to place his call, he even heard the phone operator speaking satisfaction that the courthouse had been torched. Meanwhile the charred lifeless body of George Hughes was extricated by cutting torches and dynamite and dragged through the city and hung, followed by perhaps 2,000 (some reports said 5000)onlookers. Sherman was one town that would not ever be tamed... except perhaps by its own shame.

The burned out hull of the Grayson County Courthouse after Texas Rangers, led by Frank Hamer, refused to let them have their prisoner.

When, in other similar instances lawmen stepped aside rather than draw the wrath of a Texas lynch mob, Frank Hamer was impartial and steadfastly professional. And yet, this great man, respected by Hollywood western stars, historians and the people he defended, has never been honored by the erection of a statue commemorating his stellar service. If there ever was a man, black or white, that was the vanguard in the last Century for equal justice under the law, and the impartial enforcement of law and order, with authentic first hand sources to prove it, it was our own town Marshal, Frank Hamer, whose story is yet to be told. And it started right here in Navasota.

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