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Texas Tales

published: September 18th 2020
by: Mike Cox

It wouldn't get much publicity at the time, but in 1893 a historian named Frederic Jackson Turner proffered a paper in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Historical Society declaring that the U.S. frontier had ceased to exist as of 1890.
    Even so, West Texas remained fairly wild and wooly in the early 1890s, at least compared with the older, more densely populated eastern half of the state. But with a new century approaching, it was not lost on some that an era was fading. In the cattle industry, rail had replaced trail drives as the primary means of getting a rancher's four-legged product to market and to some that meant that the cowboy was, in a figurative way, riding off to the last roundup.
    At the least, cowboying had entered a transitional stage. By the mid-1890s, the way things had been only 20 years back had begun to look like the good old days.
    In the summer of 1896, as a long-defunct magazine called the Illustrated Texas Monthly noted the following year, the people of Baylor County put together a reunion for old-time drovers and "[an] exhibition of horseback athletics...." In other words, a rodeo.
    The following year, during the first week of August, Seymour saw its second cowboy reunion. An estimated 20,000 people showed up for an event featuring "bronco bustin' by which the tenderfoot will understand the breaking and riding of wild mustangs; steer-roping in ap-proved cowboy style; and a notable gathering of Co-manche Indians under their chief, Quanah Park-er...."
    The magazine's editor opined that the Baylor County reunion-exhibition had proven "creditable alike in its conception and its execution."
    Clearly someone who remembered the trail-driving era, the unnamed editor sought to define the old-time cowboy:
    "Instead of the 'border ruffian' he has been pictured to be by the sensational newswriters of the East, he was never worse than a very lively embodiment of abundant courage, wild and reckless enthusiasm and an untamed contempt for civilized conventionalities."
    Not that the cowboy did not do some of the things those Eastern "newswriters" had them doing in fiction. In fact, the editor continued, "His six-shooter was frequently called into requisition with unnecessary alacrity, and his propensity to 'clean out' a border town, or to tantalize a raw recruit from the 'States' with familiar exhibitions of marksmanship at his hat or shoes, was sometimes a trifle irregular."
    Here, the Illustrated Texas Monthly editor was doing his own exaggerating. While gunplay certainly did happen, since 1874 it had been illegal in Texas to carry a pistol. If a cowboy had a handgun, he generally kept it in his saddlebag.
    No matter the occasional casual discharging of a .44 or .45, the cowboy was generally regarded as an all-round nice guy:
    "But the Texas Cowboy was and is a genuine product of a great and worthy industry, and a rude type of all the qualities that have made life heroic and high-minded at every age," the editor went on. "Shorn of his rough and local peculiarities, he is indeed 'The Last Knight of Chivalry,' as [Frederick] Remington has depicted him..."
    Perhaps, the editor mused, at least in his "original Homeric simplicity and vigor of character" the cowboy was indeed passing away. "But enough of his tribe remain to keep alive the fires of his wonted enthusiasm and to preserve the sports and feats of his splendid horsemanship and dexterity with rope and pistol."
    When the Baylor Coun-ty cowboy reunion played out is not known, but the concept calved again in 1930. Despite the ongoing Great Depression, 13 businessmen at Stamford (which is on the border of Haskell and Jones counties) met to talk about organizing an event calculated to cheer people up -- and maybe stimulate the ringing of local cash registers.
    Given that their town lay near two large ranches, those civic leaders decided to put on a rodeo called the Texas Cowboy Reunion. In addition to giving dispirited Texans something to whoop and holler about, the event would help preserve the state's cowboy heritage. Whether the first cowboy reunion in 1896 led to the later reunion can only be speculated on, but some if not all of those organizers would have been old enough to remember the pioneer cowboy reunion in Baylor County.
    Interestingly, in chartering the Texas Cowboy Reunion Old-Timers Asso-ciation, the Stamford men stipulated that members had to have worked on a ranch prior to 1895 and be at least 55 years old. Now, the only requirement is that a member has to have cowboyed and be 45 or older.
    The annual gathering continued even during World War II and is still held for three days every summer around July 4.
    One of West Texas’ more bizarre and long-standing mysteries began at Fort Griffin in 1877.
    In Shackelford County near the Clear Fork of the Brazos on the western frontier of the state, Fort Griffin was a U.S. cavalry post. The town that grew up next to it, also called Fort Griffin, catered to the non-military needs of the soldiers, offering saloons, gambling dens and brothels. Troopers on a payday spree and the less-than-delicate buffalo hunters who came to town to sell hides and buy supplies made Fort Griffin, the town one of the wildest and woolliest pla-ces in the West.
    A smaller element of the population were the ranchers, folks who knew that once Indians no longer posed a threat a living could be made raising and selling cattle.
    One of those early-day West Texas ranches was owned by James A. Brock and his two cousins, Ed and Frank Woosley. Brock, originally from Madison County, Ohio, had come to Texas in 1870 at the age of 25. Three years later, he had started ranching in Shackelford County. In 1875, his two cousins joined him in the cattle business.
    Though the same blood flowed in their veins, it was well known in town that the three men disagreed over investments and other financial matters. And then on May 22, 1877, Frank Woosley disappeared.
    Local authorities, with the assistance of the military, organized search parties. Two hundred friendly Indians living in the area also aided in the manhunt. Ed Woosley offered a $1,000 reward for his missing family member.
    When the search proved fruitless, suspicion began to focus on Brock. Woosley’s relatives convinced local officers that Brock must have killed the now-missing man in a step toward realizing sole ownership of the ranch and livestock.
    The criminal case against Brock, however, lacked two essential ingredients: Any proof that a murder had been committed and the body of the victim. Brock was released.
    Unfortunately for Brock, the law-abiding citizenry decided to take the case to another court: Judge Lynch’s. Only the intervention of federal troops saved Brock’s neck from getting stretched.
    Following Ed Woosley's death of natural causes in 1880, Brock sold his interest in the ranch and left town, not to start a new life but to find his missing cousin. His family and the people around Fort Griffin did not believe it, but Brock knew he had not killed his cousin.
    In searching for Woos-ley, the cattleman from Ohio spent all the money he made from the sale of the Fort Griffin property, borrowed and spent more, and then took any kind of work he could get to fund his continuing search for the man whose disappearance had cost him his reputation and nearly his life. Nationwide, Brock circulated flyers offering a reward for information on his missing cousin.
    The end came unexpectedly in a small Ar-kansas lumber town in 1891. A private detective, searching for someone else, noticed a man who fit Woosley’s description. The detective contacted Brock, who immediately left for Arkansas.
    Brock spotted his cousin at a train station in Augusta, Arkansas.
    “You scoundrel,” he said, “I knew I’d catch you!”
    The man at first denied his identity, but the barrel of Brock’s six-shooter refreshed the long-missing man's memory. His pistol tucked out of sight, Brock told Woosley that they were going back to Ohio so their family could see that he was not a murderer.
    At Memphis, Woosley tried to escape, but Brock got the drop on him and said if he attempted to get away again, he would kill him for real this time.
    “Here’s your murdered man!” Brock said in presenting Woosley to his astonished parents. Vindi-cated but no less bitter with the family that had accused him of murder, Brock turned and walked away.
    Since all concerned were native Ohioans who still had family there, the discovery was big news.
    "The Brock-Woosley sensation...while having lost its freshness, continues to be uppermost in the minds of the talking public in this vicinity," the Lon-don, Ohio Times observed.
    Woosley told the newspaper he had been returning to the Shackelford County ranch following a roundup when what he called a "depressed feeling" came over him. He said he got off his horse and laid down under a tree.
    "I have no recollection of anything further until about a year afterward, when I found myself in the country," Woosley continued. He did not explain what he meant by "country," but said that he next remembered being in Jewett (in Leon County) and then ending up in Arkansas in the pottery jug-making business.
    Woosley also said he'd had no idea that Brock had been accused of murdering him and that he would have come forward had he known.
    His name finally cleared, Brock went back to Texas, settling in El Paso to make his living dealing in real estate. He died there on April 1, 1913--his 68th birthday--and is buried in the city's historic Concor-dia Cemetery.˚

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