The Lawless Horrell Boys
Lampasas, Texas Circa 1882
Sometime in 1857, the Horrell family hailing from Arkansas, settled in Lampasas County, Texas. Their five sons would leave an indelible mark in the pages of Texas History committing numerous murders during a five year period before four of them were killed.
The Horrell’s had set up a ranch next to the Higgins family who had migrated from Georgia in 1848. Their son, John Calhoun Pinkney “Pink” Higgins, would play a major role in a bloody feud to come years later.
In the beginning the two families were good neighbors. But that began to change around the 1870s when the Horrell boys grew up. At first their rowdy ways were tolerated by the people of Lampasas as merely the antics of "fun-loving cowboys.” But eventually the troublesome boys wore out their welcome.
At the time, Lampasas was a wild frontier town. But even so the Horrell brothers pushed their luck to the limits by shooting up the town, being a general nuisance and getting into all sorts of trouble. They were bound to have a run in with the law sooner or later. That happened in 1873 when County Sheriff, Shadrick T. Denson, tried to arrest two brothers named Wash and Mark Short.
For some reason the Horrell boys decided to make it their business and stopped the sheriff and his posse. They shot the sheriff mortally wounding him. The posse felt it best not to pursue the matter any further at that particular time and returned to town.
By this time Lampasas had become a den of lawlessness and an appeal was made to Governor Edmund J. Davis to issue a proclamation prohibiting the carrying of side arms in Lampasas. Seven Texas State policemen soon arrived to enforce the proclamation.
In March Bill Bowen, the Horrell’s brother-in-law, was arrested for breaking the ordnance. The team of state police next made the mistake of going inside Jerry Scott's Saloon, with their prisoner. The saloon was filled with the Horrell brothers and a host of their friends also wearing side arms. When they saw the officers had arrested their brother-in-law a gunfight ensued leaving four state policemen dead, including their captain, Thomas Williams. Before he was shot Williams wounded Mart and Tom Horrell who managed to escape along with the rest. Before long more state police and other lawmen descended on the area searching for the Horrell boys.
Mart and three others were soon arrested and incarcerated at the Georgetown, Texas jail. However, in May the other Horrell’s and an army of about 30 friends stormed the jail and freed them. With the situation in Lampasas being a little too hot for comfort the Horrell’s decided to sell off their cattle and moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico.
However, the brothers hadn’t learned anything in Texas and continued their rowdy and reckless lifestyle making friends with others of the same ilk. In December of 1873 Ben Horrell, along with former Lincoln County Sheriff Jack Gylam and his friend Dave Warner, rode into Lincoln looking for a good time. After getting drunk the trio began shooting off their fire arms.
The local constable, Juan Martinez, was summoned to put an end to the troublemaker’s idea of a good time. Martinez confiscated their guns and let them off with a warning. However, the three inebriated men somehow managed to find more guns and began shooting up a brothel.
Irritated, Constable Martinez and four officers went to arrest the revelers. Warner, who didn’t like Martinez anyway, shot and killed him. Warner died instantly in a volley of return fire. Horrell and Gylam fled with the lawmen hot on their heels. The two didn’t get far before the law caught up with them and they were killed. Ben Horrell was shot nine times and Gylam thirteen.
When the remaining Horrells found out their brother had been killed they retaliated by killing two leading Hispanic citizens.Sheriff Alexander Hamilton Mills rounded up a posse and headed for the Horrell ranch where the outlaws were holed up. However, after failing to penetrate the Horrell defenses they gave up.
In December the Horrells returned to Lincoln still bent on revenge. They crashed a Hispanic celebration, killed four men and wounded a woman. Again, the Horrell’s managed to elude capture. Warrants were issued for their arrest but the now infamous clan continued harassing Hispanic citizens.
It was obvious they didn’t like Hispanics as proven by one Horrell gang member, Edward "Little” Hart. In early 1874 he murdered a deputy sheriff in Picacho, New Mexico simply because his wife was Hispanic. Later, the band killed five Hispanic freighters they encountered on the trail. It’s estimated the Horrell gang killed at least thirteen Hispanics in their bloody wake.
Returning to Lampasas, they found themselves no longer welcome. Many citizens even took potshots at them. The surviving Horrell brothers stood trial for the murder of Captain Thomas Williams in 1876, but were found not guilty.
Later the same year, Pink Higgins accused Merritt Horrell of rustling his cattle. Although Merritt was tried for the offense he was acquitted. Higgins didn’t agree and on January 22, 1877 shot and killed him in a Lampasas Saloon. The three remaining Horrell brothers vowed revenge. But Higgins, his brother in law Bob Mitchell and friend Bill Wren drew first blood. On March 26, they ambushed Tom and Mart Horrell four miles east of Lampasas. They were injured but not killed.
Soon after a warrant for the arrests of Higgins and Mitchell was issued for the murder of Merritt Horrell. Both posted bond, and were released. However, the Lampasas courthouse was soon after conveniently burglarized and incriminating bond documents concerning Higgins and Mitchell mysteriously disappeared.
In June of 1877, Higgins, his brother-in-law Ben Terry, Mitchell and Wren rode into Lampasas where they encountered. the Horrell’s and some friends, gathered in the town square. Nobody knows who fired the first shot but the air was soon filled with flying lead between the two factions. When the smoke cleared Bill Wren had been wounded and three others were dead.
The peaceful citizens of Lampasas had had enough of the blood feud and called in the Texas Rangers to put an end to the senseless killing. Major John B. Jones convinced the two sides to sign documents agreeing to stop fighting.
The following year, Tom and Mart Horrell were arrested for a robbery and murder of a country storekeeper in Bosque County. The two were tossed into the Meridian, Texas jail, where they were shot to death by a band of vigilantes. Many believed the Higgins outfit planned the incident.
Sam Horrell, the only surviving brother, died in California in 1936.
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