Vigilantes - Page 4
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Shelby County, Texas Regulators - In 1839 land disputes, fraudulent
land transactions, and cattle rustling in Harrison and Shelby Counties led
to the formation of the Regulators the following year. The principal
leaders of the Regulators were Charles W. Jackson and Charles W. Moorman
with its primary goal to prevent cattle rustling. However, as the
Regulators' actions became too extreme a counter-vigilante
group was formed, called the Moderators, to "moderate" the Regulators.
This opposing faction's principal leaders were Edward Merchant, John M.
Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens. The roots of the
conflict lay in the land disputes over the neutral ground that lay between
the American and Mexican borders. As the violence between the two factions
escalated and eventually spread to San Augustine, Nacogdoches, and other
counties, the conflict became known as the
Regulator-Moderator War. Of the whole affair, Sam Houston reportedly stated, "I think it advisable
to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent
governments, and let them fight it out." By the time the conflict was
finally resolved in 1844, at least ten people had been killed, including
Regulator leader Charles W. Jackson.
Stranglers or the Montana Stranglers (1884) -
best known as being a
cattleman, he is also credited as earning his living as a miner, a
merchant, horse trader, banker, rancher, real estate investor, historian
and writer. What many may not know is that he was also the leader of an
extremely successful group of
In the early 1880’s,
still a wild and lawless place with wide expanses of land and with more
heads of cattle living there than people. Under those conditions, it was a
haven for cattle rustlers and horse thieves. In April, 1884, a number of
cattlemen met in Helena to try to come up with a solution to this ever
growing problem, but they could not agree to a solution other than to
gather as much information as possible on the rustlers.
Determining that the leaders of these rustling
gangs were a number of hard cases, Stuart soon gathered up 14 fighting men
to go after the outlaws and stop the thievery. Though Stuart called his
men a "Vigilante Committee,” much like those that had operated in the
City area two decades
earlier, they would forever be remembered
"Stuart’s Stranglers” or the "Montana Stranglers.”
Within no time dozens
outlaws had either been strung up in trees or riddled with bullets.
The Montana Stock
Growers’ Association was so appreciative of Stuart’s efforts that they
elected him president of the organization that summer of 1884.
- In the two decades following the
was a lawless place and in many sections of the
frontier, courts and jails had not been established. In others, the
authorities could not be depended on to take action against the many
criminal elements flooding into the state. To counteract the
outrages caused by these outlaws,
vigilante groups formed all over Texas
to stamp out lawlessness and rid communities of desperadoes. Often formed
by decent law-abiding citizens, most vigilante groups handled criminals by imitating legal court
procedure where the offender was "tried" before a
vigilante judge and a jury.
Convictions often resulted in
whippings or expulsion from the community, but at least 17 Texas
vigilante groups used hanging to curb the criminal mentality. Though their original focus may have been admirable, many of these
vigilante committees degenerated into warring mobs committing
criminal acts themselves.
At other times, these groups were used for
private vengeance or personal gain. While many of the groups were
successful, driving out murderers, horse thieves, cattle rustlers, and
train robbers, they were finally put to an end in 1897 when the
Rangers broke up a group of vigilantes who frequently gathered at Buzzard Roost. Over
the years, these many vigilante groups claimed some 140 lives, with the most active
being the san Saba County Lynchers, who killed approximately 25 people
between 1880 and 1896.
Fort Griffin Administration Building, June, 2007, Kathy Weiser
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Tin Hat Brigade (1874-1878) - The
best known and probably the most active vigilance committee in Texas
was that of the Tin Hat Brigade of
Griffin. The settlement that
grew up around the post quickly became a bustling frontier town
attracting an array of buffalo hunters, tradesmen, soiled doves, and
cowboys passing through with their cattle herds on the Western Trail.
The town also attracted a host of the outlaws,
thieves, and desperate characters, becoming a hotbed for violence.
Before long, the town sported a roster of those who passed through the
area that reads like a "whos-who of the
Wyatt Earp, Johnny Golden,
Lottie Deno, and Mollie McCabe.
Law and order was much
needed in the wild and wooly community, in fact it became so bad, that in
1874, the lawlessness required the military to declare martial law on the
town as the
soldiers tried to run many of the lawbreakers out of town for good.
However, this was not
enough for a certain faction of men who in the town who decided to take
the law into their own hands. Seeing to the protection of the lives and
property of the people in the surrounding area, this band of men, who
called themselves the Tin Hat Brigade, determined that swift "justice" was
more effective. Soon, many a horse thief was found hanging from a tree
near the river.
In 1874, a man named
joined the brigade and the respect that
as a member of this group helped to get him elected sheriff of
in April, 1876. That same month, the
Tin Hat Brigade caught a man in the act of stealing a horse
and promptly hanged him to a pecan
tree. Leaving his body hanging there for all to see, they also left a pick
and shovel below his gruesome remains for anyone who might have wished to
remove the thief and bury him. In the next three months the
vigilantes shot two more horse thieves and hanged six others. In the
John Henry Selman to work for him, but the two were not what they
appeared to be.
Instead of controlling the area crime, they controlled the vigilantes,
rustling cattle and otherwise terrorizing the county. After serving less
than a year as sheriff,
resigned and moved on to outright cattle rustling. Within a year, a
warrant had been issued for Larn's
arrest, and the the new Sheriff William Cruger, who had formerly been
deputy, was tasked with arresting him. Bringing
in on June 22, 1878, he shackled him to the floor of the jail house to
prevent a breakout by
Larn's supporters. Instead,
the next night, the Tin Hat Brigade stormed the jail intending to
When they found they couldn't lynch the shackled man, they shot him in his
cell. At about the same time an
unknown man was found hanging outside of town and the town marshal,
William C. Gilson, went missing. The rumor was that Gilson knew too much
about the going-ons of the vigilantes and was killed in order to keep him
of America, updated August, 2017.
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