The Horrell Wars: Feuding in Texas and New Mexico

The Horrell Wars: Feuding in Texas and New Mexico

by David Johnson


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The Horrell Wars: Feuding in Texas and New Mexico by David Johnson

For decades the Horrell brothers of Lampasas, Texas, have been portrayed as ruthless killers and outlaws, but author David Johnson paints a different picture of these controversial men. The Horrells were ranchers, and while folklore has encouraged the belief that they built their herds by rustling, contemporary records indicate a far different picture. The family patriarch, Sam Horrell, was slain at forty-eight during a fight with Apaches in New Mexico. One Horrell son died in Confederate service; of the remaining six brothers, five were shot to death. Only Sam, Jr., lived to old age and died of natural causes.

Johnson covers the Horrells and their wars from cradle to grave. Their initial confrontation with the State Police at Lampasas in 1873 marked the most disastrous shootout in Reconstruction history and in the history of the State Police. The brothers and loyal friends then fled to New Mexico, where they became entangled in what would later evolve into the violent Lincoln County War. Their contribution, known to history as the Horrell War, has racial overtones in addition to the violence that took place in Lincoln County.

The brothers returned to Texas where in time they became involved in the Horrell-Higgins War. The family was nearly wiped out following the feud when two of the brothers were killed by a mob in Bosque County. Johnson presents an up-to-date account of these wars and incidents while maintaining a neutral stance necessary for historical books dealing with feuds. He also includes previously unpublished photographs of the Horrell family and others.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781574415506
Publisher: University of North Texas Press
Publication date: 06/30/2014
Series: A. C. Greene Series , #15
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,353,783
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

DAVID JOHNSON has received degrees from Pennsylvania State University and Purdue University. He is the author of John Ringo, King of the Cowboys and The Mason County “Hoo Doo” War, 1874–1902, both published by the University of North Texas Press. He lives in Zionsville, Indiana.

Read an Excerpt

The Horrell Wars

Feuding in Texas and New Mexico

By David Johnson

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2014 David Johnson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57441-560-5


"I Raised My Boys to Be Fighters"

During their lifetimes the Horrells were controversial amidst the violence that swirled around them in Texas and New Mexico. Contemporary John Nichols knew them recalling "They were not really quarrelsome, but clannish." Texas Ranger James B. Gillett concurs. "They stood well in the community, but were considered dangerous when aroused." Another Ranger, Dan Roberts, recollected, "The Horrels [sic] were not common thieves, but necessity had driven them to do things of a lawless character that made outlaws of them. They became very desperate men." "The boys were free hearted, open and generous to their friends—to their enemies, remorseless and unrelenting—always fighting under the black flag," an 1889 newspaper comments. "They were utter strangers to fear." "The Horrells were fine men," another adds, "born of a splendid lineage, brave and courageous to a fault, but a little wild, possibly extraordinarily wild, when it came to drinking and shooting up the town at night for fun or sport." Robert Adam Casey remembered that the Horrells "were so tough down there they run them out of Texas." The most insightful comment is attributed to their mother. "I raised my boys to be fighters."

Little has changed in the century and more since their deaths, with modern historians reflecting diverse views. "They were good boys, or had been, and they came from one of the most highly respected families in Central Texas." Dr. C. L. Sonnichsen wrote: "They stood up for their rights, as they saw them, and took nothing from anybody." Others note the Horrells succinctly as "a clan of fighting men." Certainly they could be "troublesome and dangerous." "In retrospect, it all seems predestined, as if the Horrells were born to be bad. …" Their contemporary, Reverend L. R. "Lally" Millican agreed. "There were plenty of outlaws in that country then and perhaps none were more desperate, or greatly feared, than the Harrell boys, Tom, Mart, Ben and Merritt, with whom I went to school." The truth concerning the Horrells lies in their actions, what they did and, more importantly, did not do.

Horrell antecedents are obscure. Early census records note the name alternatively as both Harrell and Horrell. The identities of Benedict Horrell's parents have not been determined with certainty. Regardless, Benedict D. Horrell, grandfather of the Lampasas Horrells, appears no different from thousands of individuals moving west during the early 1800s. Census records indicate he was born around 1791 in Virginia. When Benedict arrived in Kentucky is unknown, but it was here that Samuel Horrell, his only known child by his first wife, was born around 1820. No other information concerning Benedict's immediate family has been confirmed to date.

The early 1830s found Benedict Horrell residing in Hot Spring County, Arkansas. Here he married Mary A. Wells and around 1836 their first child, John Horrell, was born. "Benedick Horral" was assessed $40 for cattle and horses over three years in 1838. Intriguingly a Whitfield Horrell was also noted in the tax records, but his relationship, if any, to Benedict remains uncertain. "B. Harrol" is documented in 1839 with taxable property of two horses and six cows worth $155 and living on land originally owned by Levi Dean. In 1840 his taxable holdings were five horses and five cows worth $430.

At the same time Samuel Horrell was starting a family of his own. On July 15, 1838, Samuel married Elizabeth Wells in Hot Springs County, Arkansas. Elizabeth and Mary Wells were daughters of John and Lydia Collier Wells. The couple had fourteen children including Mary, born 1818, and Elizabeth born 1822. The Wells family had lived in Hot Spring County, Arkansas, since 1830. John Wells did not enjoy a sterling reputation, having fled to Texas in 1837 after killing William McKinney.

Another Outrage—In an affray in Hot Spring County, on the 1st inst., [December 1, 1837] between John Wells and Wm. McKinney, the latter was shot dead by Wells, who immediately fled, it is supposed, towards the Sulpher Fork of Red River. A reward is offered for his apprehension, by the widow of the deceased.

Oral tradition maintains that McKinney found silver on his land. Wells was paid to kill McKinney by others who coveted the land. The family eventually joined him in Walker County, Texas. Jackson Collier, one of Lydia's younger brothers, was the father of James H. Collier who was later immersed in the Horrells' troubles in Texas.

William C. Horrell was born in 1839 to Samuel and Elizabeth. In 1840 both Horrell families were listed on the federal census for Marble Township in Hot Spring County. Living adjacent to Benedict was his son Samuel.

Tax records indicate the Horrells prospered in Hot Springs County. Around 1843 Benedict and Mary added a daughter, Mary Elizabeth, to the family. Samuel's fortunes were also on the rise. In the summer of 1841 John W. was born. Their next child, Samuel M., was born on December 23, 1843. By 1844 the family owned a 142-acre farm.

On December 9, 1842, Montgomery County, named in honor of General Richard Montgomery, was formed from part of Hot Spring County. Here records become confusing. While it appears that both Horrell families remained in Hot Spring County and later moved, it is possible that they continued to pay their taxes in Hot Spring County while they were actually residents of newly formed Montgomery County. Regardless, family records indicate that Samuel's next two children, James Martin "Mart," born in 1846, and Thomas L., born in 1848, first saw the light of day in Montgomery County.

Benedict Horrell was definitely in Montgomery County when he was named a grand juror in 1845. Here two more children were born to Benedict and Mary, James R. in 1846 and Nancy J. in August 1847. The census for Caddo Township reflects Mary Horrell's death after Nancy's birth although the family is incorrectly identified as "Howell." On May 15, 1853, Benedict married Sarah Ann Wood in Montgomery County.

Close to Benedict lived Samuel "Howell" (sic: Horrell). Samuel gave his age as 30, a farmer with property valued at $1000 born in Kentucky. Other children followed for Samuel and Elizabeth: Benjamin F. in 1851, Merritt in 1854, and Sarah Ann in 1856 or 1857.

Living near the Horrells were the Grizzells, a family they developed strong ties with. James Daniel Grizzell lived south of the Horrells in neighboring Clark County. In time, three of the Grizzell sisters would marry Horrell sons and one brother would marry a Horrell widow. Still another brother married a Horrell cousin.

Born in Georgia on April 11, 1809, James Daniel Grizzell married Georgia-born Nancy Jane Brown, born October 24, 1816, around 1834. The family was living in Alabama by 1835 when their first child, Mary Elizabeth, was born on January 7. Many of their children were born in Alabama: Sarah Ann on May 31, 1837; Samuel on December 11, 1839; Jane on April 16, 1841; James Daniel on January 22, 1844, and William on May 17, 1847. Not a few of them would play a role in the Horrell brothers' later difficulties. After William's birth the family moved to Clark County, Arkansas, where twin daughters, Melissa and Artemissa Elimina, were born on January 20, 1850. The 1850 Census notes them incorrectly as "Griswald." Other children followed: Martha Virginia on November 26, 1853; John Henry on January 21, 1856; and Josephine on April 6, 1858.

Evidence suggests that the Horrells and Grizzells met as early as 1860 if not earlier. On August 3, 1860, the 52-year-old James Grizzell was listed as a "Stock Raiser" at Tahuacana Springs, Texas. In addition to his family, a J. W. Horrell, aged 19 and born in Arkansas in 1841, is noted in the Limestone County census. The presence of J. W. Horrell is notable. The 1860 Lampasas County census taken July 11 notes John, age 18, living with his parents. It appears John left Lampasas County shortly after the census for Limestone County, possibly to court his future wife. The Grizzells soon joined the Horrells in Lampasas County.

Lampasas County is a rich, hilly land bordering the Texas Hill Country lying roughly eighty miles northwest of Austin. Wildlife was plentiful in the mid-1800s. Live oak, post oak, pecan, mesquite, hackberry, and cedar trees grew abundantly, and the region has numerous springs. As early as 10,000 B.C. the Clovis people hunted the region.

The origin of Lampasas' name is obscure. The Galveston Daily News suggested, "Lampasas is of Spanish etymology and signifies a level plain or tract of country." The Lampasas Leader agreed. "The most plausible theory is that it was borrowed from the name of the Mexican town, Lampazos, and the stream first became known to the Spaniards in 1721, when the Aguayo expedition crossed it going to Eastern Texas. The expedition crossed it where streams come together and formed what was known at different times Primeria Brazos, San Andress, and now known as Little River. Spanish names were given to these rivers: Salado, Lampasas and Leon." One source offers the probability "that the name Salado, Spanish for salty, was intended for the stream of water running through Lampasas County" and the names were transposed. Others suggest Indian origins. "Some say it is an Indian name meaning firefly, so named because of the number of fireflies that stayed around the bones of the buffaloes that had bogged in the swamp where Hanna Springs is now located."

The first permanent settlers, Moses and Hannah Hughes, arrived in 1853. Tradition recalls Hannah suffered from a liver disease. Moses learned of the springs' healing properties, "Medicine Waters," from the Indians and settled near what became known as Hughes or Gooch Springs. Hannah survived her illness, eventually dying on May 5, 1863. The springs were first described in 1854, and in 1855 a newspaper called attention to the "box spring" where people came to drink "to their own health."

In 1855 John "Hopping John" Burleson platted a town site he named Burleson. Lampasas County was created on February 1, 1856, and the town of Burleson soon became known as Lampasas. In the decade that followed, the springs drew coveted tourist dollars. In 1867 Austin tourists were applauded for "setting a good example by patronizing home institutions." Two years later boarding was advertised at $10 to $20 monthly, and those who camped out could "buy provisions at very cheap rates." One, known as the Scott or Hannah spring, was "as pure and fresh as the water of a cistern" while the Hancock had salty properties.

Tourism notwithstanding, Lampasas was the frontier. In 1853 what would become Lampasas County had a taste of things to come when Robert Willis killed a man named Nixon. The difficulty occurred at a horse race. Nixon and some friends had driven him off, but Willis returned. As Nixon and the others attempted to drive him away a second time Willis shot Nixon and fled. He was captured by J. R. Jackson.

On September 28, 1857, Andrew Bell Burleson quarreled with saloon owner Joel P. Franklin over gambling concessions. Franklin was shot and left crippled for life. Another Burleson, John Tyler, killed Clinton Hurley on October 6, 1861, and fled to Mexico.

A more serious problem was the town's location. Lampasas lay within Comanche territory, and they frequently raided the settlers' livestock. In June 1856 a small band of Indians stole some horses near McAnelly's Bend along the Colorado River in western Lampasas County. The horses were recovered by a group of men led by Thomas Pratt. Moses Jackson's family was nearly massacred on October 25, 1858, at Pecan Bayou just north of Lampasas. Two of the Jackson children were recovered.

This litany of violence was far from unique. As a whole, Lampasas County was more violent than some counties during its early years and less than others. Had the county's history proceeded in this typical manner, it is unlikely that Lampasas County would have achieved notoriety. A defining factor was required. Lampasas' was the Horrells.

The Horrells arrived quietly in Lampasas during 1857. When the Lampasas Guards were organized under the command of Hillary Ryan, Sam Horrell Sr. did his civic duty and enlisted on July 6, 1859. In 1860 Moses Hughes organized another company. This time William C. Horrell answered the call of duty, enlisting on March 26, 1860. He served a total of 86 days as second sergeant.

In 1860 Samuel Horrell purchased a farm from Moses Jackson along the Lampasas River seven or eight miles northeast of Lampasas. James Daugherty enumerated Benedict "Herrald" as family 89 in dwelling 89 on July 11, 1860. Adjacent to Benedict was his son Samuel "Herrald," noted as age forty. Living with the family was twenty-year-old Elizabeth A. Logan, born in Texas, whose occupation is not given. Possibly she was helping Elizabeth Horrell with the younger children.

On January 2, 1860, Samuel Horrell purchased land from Moses and Hannah Jackson for $500. The same year Samuel Senior's son John Horrell married Sarah Ann Grizzell on October 10. The year also brought with it the threat of war looming in the east. Lampasas had a dozen slaveholders, and slavery was not a pressing issue. Lampasas County voted for Unionist Sam Houston 221 to 65. When South Carolina violently seceded after Lincoln's election, Democratic slaveholders lobbied to leave the Union. Lampasas County's voters split over the question of secession: 85 for and 75 against.

On February 14, 1861, the younger Samuel Horrell married Martha A. Stanley, a daughter of Sands and Nancy Stanley. The couple had their first child, Samuel, in late 1861 or early 1862. The same year thousands answered the call to arms, the Horrells among them. William and John "Harrill" (sic) enlisted in September 1861, both men appearing on the muster roll of Captain R. Y. Cross' Company, 27th Brigade, Texas Militia mustered in Lampasas.

There is some confusion as to which John Horrell served under Cross. Nichols mentions William Horrell as serving in the war but makes no mention of their Horrell cousins in his memoir. The evidence indicates a strong probability that John was Samuel's half-brother. John's oldest child was Nancy Elizabeth born in 1862 followed by Sarah Ann, born on September 10, 1865, and James Samuel on September 3, 1866. This demonstrates John W.'s presence in Lampasas throughout the war. His uncle, also John Horrell, was apparently not married at the war's outbreak although he wed Emily Ledbetter before May 1864 when his first son, John J. Horrell, was born. This allows John ample time for service in the army. John Nichols confirms this. "Bill Horrell died with the confederate army from sickness, I think. He was the only one that really went into the forces." More evidence occurs in a grant from the state of Texas to John W. Horrell on March 23, 1861, for land on Lucy Creek. John received the land patent on July 29, 1863.

On January 15, 1862, William reenlisted at Belton. Two months later he was enrolled in Captain Milton Wesley Damron's Company, Darnell's Regiment Texas Volunteers in Dallas for a period of one year. At this point William vanishes from documented history. One theory advanced is that he may have been captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post on January 10–11, 1863.

The Battle of Arkansas Post was brief. A naval bombardment by gunboats drove Confederate forces from their front lines. Skirmishers then advanced driving the Confederates from their rifle pits. After a brisk battle on January 11, the Confederate forces surrendered. The fort's capture may have reflected unwillingness by many Confederates to fight at all. Colonel W. F. Lynch reported "that nearly one half the prisoners confined here were pressed into the Confederate service and are anxious to take the oath of allegiance and then join loyal regiments. They are foreigners, Germans, Polanders, & c." Lieutenant George Swain further noted that the prisoners "are principally from regiments raised in and about Texas." Many of the prisoners were of Irish, German, and Polish nationality, some of whom claimed "they were conscripted and forced into the rebel army against their will." Lynch concluded that "They are willing to take the oath of allegiance and fight for the Union, and but for the misfortune of locality would ere this be found in the ranks of loyal regiments."

Samuel Horrell enlisted in Captain J. J. Callahan's Company, Frontier Regiment of Mounted Volunteers in 1862. "Old man Sam Horrell" enlisted in the state troops. "He was with it about six months and then his son, Sam, substituted and served out the remainder of the term," Nichols recalls. The company was organized to combat Comanche raiders. On April 9, 1862, Comanches killed James E. L. Gracy. Gracy was out hunting horses when a party of Indians discovered him. The raiders "seized him, stripped him of his clothing and scalped him alive. Then telling him to go, the little fellow started off, and as he did so, the Indians followed him and amused themselves by shooting him with arrows until he fell dead."


Excerpted from The Horrell Wars by David Johnson. Copyright © 2014 David Johnson. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

Foreword xi

Introduction xv

Chapter 1 "I Raised My Boys to Be Fighters" 1

Chapter 2 "A Lame Texan Is Suspected of the Deed" 15

Chapter 3 "The Lampasas Horror" 31

Chapter 4 "The Ways of the Transgressor" 45

Chapter 5 "Begged for Mercy" 59

Chapter 6 "Nothing Was to Come of It" 71

Chapter 7 "Would Have Surrendered… at Any Time" 83

Chapter 8 "Didn't Fire a Shot" 95

Chapter 9 "The Latest Blossom of Lampasas Chivalry" 107

Chapter 10 "A Shooting Picnic at Lampasas" 121

Chapter 11 "Bloody Murder in Bosque" 133

Chapter 12 "This Saturnalia of Blood" 145

Afterword: "A Shocking Murder" 161

Appendices 169

Endnotes 177

Selected Works Consulted 223

Index 239

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