published: February 17th 2017
source: Mike Cox
Back in the early 1920s, a dead squirrel was as negotiable as coins or paper money in the Big Thicket.
And given his prowess with a rifle, Sim Collins knew he'd never go hungry. Sure, the law might catch up with him some day, but if he had his Winchester with him, he didn't figure on going to jail.
Born Jan. 29, 1875, Col-lins grew up in the thicket, which writer-folklorist Frances Abernathy later described as:
Or, as Joe Richards recalled in "Another Keechi Kreak," his second book of recollections, Sims knew the Thicket "from top to bottom, inside out and wrong side up.
Having come to manhood in a stand of timber where deer, turkey, squirrel and even mountain lions and black bears were plentiful, Sims had learned to put a bullet where he wanted it to go. A friendly merchant in Livingston would accept a squirrel, or a mess of them, from Collins in exchange for staples. Most of the squirrels tendered as "currency" would have been hit in their eye with a .22 round so as not to damage any meat.
According to Richards, one day the merchant was taken aback when Collins brought in a squirrel that had its left front leg missing. While a human might have survived such a wound, the squirrel had not. When the merchant chided his customer for missing his standard eye shot, Collins replied, clearly affronted: "That's all I could see!"
No matter a man's proficiency with a rifle, the law's the law. Collins did something that resulted in a warrant being issued for his arrest and the Polk County sheriff's office knew they had to bring him in from the Thicket. But they also realized how well Collins knew the Thicket. The only reasonable way to find him would be through a snitch.
Someone had been taking the wanted man supplies from town, and that someone began to get nervous that he could go to jail for harboring a criminal. His reluctance to give up a friend watered down by a decided lack of interest in going to jail, the man finally went to Sheriff John McCloud to report Collins' whereabouts.
The sheriff turned to two of his best deputies, both future Texas Rangers, to lead a posse to go after Collins. One was Roscoe Holiday, who later served as Polk County sheriff before joining the Rangers. The other was Hardy Purvis, who would rise through the Rangers to the rank of captain. His son one day also would wear the cinco peso Ranger badge.
The two lawmen and other officers approached Sims' hiding place after dark. As they moved quietly toward him through the timber, they could see him sitting cross-legged next to a campfire, his rifle in his lap.
"Get 'em up, Sim, we've got you covered," Purvis yelled.
Before saying anything, Purvis had dropped to one knee and sighted his rifle on Collins. Holiday and the other officers also had the man in their sights.
Collins, of course, had no intention of surrendering. Other officers in the posse later said it sounded like only one rifle went off, but Purvis reacted so quickly when Collins raised his rifle and fired that he pulled the trigger at almost the same moment.
Both men had well-deserved reputations as dead shots, but both men missed, at least in a manner of speaking. Collins' bullet hit Purvis in his leg above his knee and exited near his hip. Purvis's slug, surely intended for Collins' heart, slammed into the right side of his chest, just missing the vital organ. Though seriously wounded, it didn't stop Collins from shooting at the officers until he emptied his rifle.
Meanwhile, a couple more bullets hit the gunman, neither where they needed to be to put him down for good. In fact, when the lawmen ran up to him, Collins was struggling to get his pistol out of its holster.
No matter that he had three bullets in him, Collins survived the shootout. So did Purvis, though his wound left him with a slight limp for the rest of his life.
Purvis went on to join the Rangers in 1927 and served until 1933. He rejoined the law enforcement agency two years later and wore the Ranger badge until his 1956 retirement. At the time, he was a captain stationed in Hous-ton. He died in 1961.
The excellent squirrel hunter but so-so gunfighter who gave Purvis his lasting limp got convicted and sent to Huntsville. No matter that he'd shot a peace officer, Collins time in the joint lasted only until the election of Gov. Miriam "Ma" Ferguson. She pardoned him along with hundreds of other felons.
Collins lived until May 9, 1951. He's buried in Peeble's Cemetery in Polk County. In the same cemetery, not far away, rests the lawman who wouldn't have become a ranger if Collins had gotten off a better shot that distant night in the Big Thicket.
Wearing cowboy boots today?
Unless you’ve been horseback riding, you’re wearing those boots more because they are Texas icons than for practicality. Boots were specifically designed for saddle sitters: The narrow toes facilitate placing your feet in the stirrups, the high heels help keep them there, the strong soles make it easier to stand in the stirrups and the high tops protect your ankles in brush country.
These days, of course, most Texans who wear boots pull them on because they represent us. Yankees expect their vision of a Texan to wear boots. Beyond that, a good pair of boots -- once broken in -- are just plain comfortable. And in cold weather, they keep your feet warm.
However, until you or a professional has stretched them a bit, brand new boots are not always pleasurable to wear. That phenomenon, so well known to any boot wearer, led to the expression: "The reason I wear boots is because it feels so good to take them off!"
In the Lone Star state, and indeed across the West, there's more to boot-wearin' than breaking them in. Beyond their practical value as foot protectors (they're pretty much guaranteed to give a rattlesnake a toothache), boots can be worth a lot of money. Custom-made boots, once not too much more expensive than manufactured boots, have long since become quite pricey.
A quick Google check brings up a high-end pair of American alligator boots listed online by one Austin boot seller for $12,995. That's roughly 25 percent of what a new pickup can set you back, gun rack not included. If the size $13K boots don't fit your budget, the same Capital City store does have a nice pair for $2,295 and others on down from there into the few hundreds of dollars.
Even old boots can have value as collectibles. A pair of hand-tooled boots once worn by a Texas Ranger, for example, can fetch big bucks at auction simply because a ranger had stood in them.
Money aside, if you really want to look like a Texan, boots properly worn should have the pants legs stuffed inside the tops. Look at pictures of old time cowboys, or go hunt up a present-day cowboy. Chan-ces are, their pants legs are inside their boots.
Women have one more option when it comes to boots -- they can wear them with skirt or dress. (It must be admitted that men also are perfectly free to wear boots and a dress any time they by gosh want to. But even in these modern, open-minded times, in some parts of Texas doing so still might lead to a lively, or even hands-on, interaction.)
Drugstore cowboys– okay, most of us–wear our jeans or slacks over our boots.
No matter how you wear your boots, you probably don’t want them on if you’re going to walk a lot, especially in rough country. Walking or hiking shoes and rubber-soled boots are made for walking, just like leather-soled cowboy boots are made for riding or looking like a Texan. Yes, Nancy Sinatra was just plain wrong in her 1966 hit song, “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”
High-top rubber boots are made for walking in water. That said, cowboys did not wear rubber boots. So what did old time Texans do when they got their boots wet?
First, consider the consequences. Wet boots mean more to the wearer than the discomfort, if not outright danger in freezing weather, of having wet feet. Boots being made of leather, wet boots can lose their shape.
Savvy hands knew to take their boots off when they got wet and stuff them full of oats. The oats absorbed the water and held the boot in shape until it dried, a long-defunct magazine called Texas Week reported in the fall of 1946.
Think boots weren’t important to Texans back when?
In 1947, a 17-year-old from Ohio passing through Jeff Davis County in far West Texas got arrested for stealing a pair of boots and a coat.
Taken before a grand jury, which shows how seriously folks around Fort Davis took their boots in those days, the teenager from the heartland readily admitted that he had stolen the cowboy footwear and coat. But he had not done so to be fashionable. He did it because he was cold, caught unprepared in high country where the mercury at times can get downright low.
Grand jurors, knowing what the temperature had been at the time of the offense, opted to soften the rule of law. They bought the kid’s story and passed another Texas icon–a cowboy hat–to raise money for the kid's bus fare home. He even got to wear the coat and boots home, providing he agreed to send them back when he got there.
Whether he returned the property was not reported, but I'd bet my boots that he did.