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Legendary Lawman "Little Bill" Standifer

Updated on August 8, 2015
Little Bil, left in back row.
Little Bil, left in back row.

Life in the Old West was hard and as a result many young boys were forced to grow up fast and take on the responsibilities of a man. J. William "Bill" Standifer was one of those. He was born in either Burnet or Lampasas County, Texas around 1853. By his early teens he had left home and was working as a cowboy.

Standifer was of small stature with dark hair and brown eyes. Because of his size he became known as "Little Bill." He may have been small, but by the time he matured he had made a big name for himself. His reputation began to grow when at the age of 14 he caught four men in the act of rustling cattle. They pistol whipped the lad leaving him lying in a bloody heap. However, Bill was of hardy stock and stern determination. He recovered from the beating, tracked down each of the four heartless thieves and killed them. Charges were leveled, but he was later exonerated.

In April, 1879, Bill was working as a cowhand for Ike Mullins in Tom Green County, Texas, when he became involved in a dispute with a cowboy named John McMahon. The argument began when Bill, following orders, refused to let McMahon drive his cattle across Ike Mullins’property. McMahon whipped the smaller man mercilessly with a bullwhip while a companion covered him with a rifle.

After a few days Bill had recovered sufficiently to go after McMahon. He found him herding cattle at a camp near Pony Creek in Coleman County. McMahon was sitting on his horse engaged in conversation with several other cowboys when Bill rode up. As he approached McMahon knew by Bill’s expression he meant to kill him.

McMahon was known to be quick with a gun, but so was Bill. McMahon drew, fired and missed. He never got a second chance as a bullet smashed into his wrist. McMahon’s pistol fell from his grasp. Fearing for his life, McMahon turned his horse and fled. It appeared the man wasn’t so tough without a gun.

He made it less than 600 yards before Bill’s next shot struck him in the back knocking him from his mount. The terrified man struggled to his feet and tried to run, but was killed by another bullet to his back.

Knowing the law would soon be on his trail, Bill high tailed it to Marfa, Texas. Unfortunately, he got into trouble there also. He got into an argument with three black soldiers in a local saloon. Nobody knows what started the fight, perhaps they were poking fun at his size. In any case, Bill’s fast gun quickly dispatched two of the drunken rowdies with serious wounds. The third quickly realized the little man was big trouble and decided it was best to clear out.

Standifer was forced to flee again. However, he was captured shortly afterwards by Texas Rangers for the earlier McMahon incident. Fortunately a trial deemed his actions were justified and he was released. By this time Little Bill had gained a reputation as a deadly gunman. Men of that caliber were in high demand by cattle barons who had to contend with outlaws and rustlers. He soon found employment as a Range Detective. Bill shot and killed a rustler near Estacado, Texas. Afterwards, the mere mention of Little Bill’s name caused many rustlers to seek other pastures to pursue their profession.

In 1888 Standifer was elected as sheriff for Crosby County, Texas. He hired a competent man named Charlie Quillen as his deputy. The two lawmen tracked a band of three thieves who had robbed a post office in 1891 into Lincoln County, New Mexico. They were successful in capturing them. But, getting their prisoners back to Texas proved to be easier said than done. When the group stopped to rest at a ranch they were jumped by the outlaws.

While Bill was outside tending horses they managed to grab Bill’s shotgun from Quillen and shoot him in the chest. The shot also wounded the ranch owner’s wife. Quillen was wounded but still managed to wrestle the outlaw to the floor. Meanwhile another of the outlaws took possession of the shotgun and as Bill ran inside, tried to shoot him. Fortunately, the shotgun misfired and Little Bill beat the bigger man within an inch of his life. With the outlaws subdued he shackled all three and then the group rode to find the nearest doctor for Deputy Quillen. After Quillen recovered sufficiently the outlaws were returned to Texas to stand trial.

Standifer was reelected in 1890 and again in 1892. However, the years of being a lawman had taken their toll and Bill increasingly took to alcohol. In 1894, he was not reelected.

Bill returned to being a Range Detective, most often for the large Spur Ranch in Spur, Texas. It was there Little Bill would meet up John "Pink" Higgins, a well known gunfighter. Bill was familiar with Higgins as they were both from the Lampasas area. No one knows why the two gunmen disliked each other. Some say it was because Higgins had taken down the notorious Horrell brothers who were distantly related to Bill. This fact was to figure prominently in Little Bill’s future.

Others say the animosity between the two was more likely due to Higgins’ son Cullen a prominent divorce attorney who had represented Bill’s wife during their divorce proceedings. As a result of their constant bickering the Spur Ranch manager had fired both of them. However, Higgins was allowed to stay on until he found other employment…a decision that angered Standifer to no end.

In the meantime, Standifer had become a famed tracker, known for always getting his man. While tracking rustlers in 1898, Standifer drifted into Clairemont, Texas where he ran across known rustler Bob Kiggins. Kiggins refused to be arrested. In the following gunfight Standifer shot and killed him.

In 1900, Standifer decided it would be prudent to leave the Spur area since people he didn’t like seemed to end up dead. He wound up in Hartley County, Texas where his no nonsense approach to law enforcement got him elected as sheriff. During the course of his duties he was sent to investigate cattle rustling at the Spur Ranch. By this time Higgins was no longer employed there but was still hanging around. Bill had heard rumors Higgins was gunning for him.

Higgins spotted Standifer in a clump of trees and naturally assumed he was there to ambush him. Rather than confront him, Higgins went home. However, on the morning of October 4, 1903, Standifer was again at the ranch looking for rustlers. Higgins, saw him from his house and rode out to meet him. Standifer fired first, killing Higgins horse, which caused Higgins return shot to go wild. In the following exchange of gunfire, Standifer was shot and killed.

Higgins contacted Clairemont Sheriff B. F. Roy and told him he believed he had killed Standifer. Sheriff Roy, who didn’t care much for Standifer anyway replied, "Well if you're not sure, you'd better go and finish the job.”

Since Standifer had fired first, which had been witnessed from the top of a hill by some of Higgins’ family, Higgins was never arrested and he buried Standifer on his property. Higgins named his burial spot "Standifer's Thicket.”


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    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Very nteresting. Never heard of this character... quite interesting. Up and shared

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      There are many more just as good or better. Thanks

    • The Frog Princess profile image

      The Frog Princess 

      6 years ago from Florence area of the Great Pee Dee of South Carolina

      I enjoyed your blog.


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