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The Whitley-Cornett Outlaw Gang
Bill Whitley and Bracket Cornett were two Texas outlaw gang leaders who robbed banks and trains in the late 1880s. Cornett was from Goliad County, Texas, and virtually nothing is known about him before he met Whitley. Even his birth date is unknown.
Whitley was born September 7, 1864 in Itawamba County, Mississippi. When the two met they organized a gang of outlaws numbering about 12 members.
Whitley’s older brothers fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. One was shot and killed by a lawman in 1884. That may partially explain his choice of professions. It is said he may have killed upwards of eight men during the short life span of the gang. But some of Whitley's descendants, however, say tales of his deeds were greatly exaggerated.
Sometime in the mid 1880s he married Lucinda "Cord" Cox of Lampasas, Texas, . The marriage produced two children but it was also a rocky one. A few of Lucinda’s relatives were charged with harboring a fugitive. When the law began closing in on him he left for England, leaving his wife and children in the care of her brother. It was upon his return, he took up with Cornett.
Up to this time the gang was wanted by authorities but for the most part they were considered more of a nuisance than anything else. That all changed when they committed their first known train robbery in June 1887 near Flatonio, Texas. The haul was only about $600 and close to $1000 worth of jewelry taken from passengers. This simply wouldn’t do, their next robbery would have to be more profitable.
After the Flatonio robbery Wells Fargo put up a $1,000 reward for their capture. Not to be left out, the State of Texas kicked in another $500.
They decided a bank might net them a better return on their efforts. Their target was the bank in Cisco, Texas even though there was snow on the ground. With a string of robberies already behind them, three gang members casually strolled into the bankon February 15, 1888 just before closing and one asked cashier, C.C. Leveaux, for some change. The next thing Leveaux knew he was staring down the muzzle of a pistol.
While two of the robbers held the cashier and several other bank employees at gun point, a third looted the safe and money drawer. It was reported they stole $9,000 in gold and silver coins and bank notes. Some accounts have the amount lower or much higher. In addition they confiscated a gold watch and other valuables. Then the three hostages were hustled out the back door. The bandits climbed over a fence and hopped into a wagon they had previously hidden there.
When the outlaws got about 200 yards from the bank, they began firing their guns into the air and mocked the citizens of Cisco by shaking their bags of loot at them. Town Marshal J. T. Thomas quickly organized a posse and took out after the robbers who had headed in a northwesterly direction.
About six miles northwest of present day Lake Cisco, the posse lost sight of the robbers for the better part of an hour. When the gang began to move again, it was due east. It was speculated during the lost time the money may have been divvied up and hidden. Once they had shaken their pursuers they could return and split the loot. Rumors the outlaws buried their stolen loot nearby still persist among Cisco locals.
Feeling they were on a roll, the gang quickly struck again a few days later. They held up the Great Northern Railroad and escaped with an estimated $20,000. Despite the bounty on their heads the gang was still at large and folks were getting fed up.
The gang however, felt they were having a streak of good luck and on September 22, 1888 set their eyes on the Southern Pacific train out of Harwood, Texas. It’s not known how the law got tipped off about the robbery, but when the gang boarded the train they found U.S. Marshal John Rankin, Deputy U.S. Marshal, Duval West and several Texas Rangers waiting for them. The outlaws quickly disembarked and fled empty handed. Rankin and his crew went after them.
By this time there were also numerous other posses on the gang’s trail. A few days later on September 25, the gang was cornered by U.S. Deputy Marshals in Floresville, Texas and Whitley was killed in the gun battle that followed. Cornett however, managed to escape and made tracks for Arizona. One persistent Texas Ranger, Alfred Allee, kept after him, the state line not withstanding,.He meant to get his man.
Ranger Allee finally ran Cornett to ground in Frio, Arizona. A gunfight ensued and when it was over Cornett lay dead.
What happened to the rest of the gang remains mostly a mystery. Perhaps with their leaders dead they decided to split up and go their separate ways. However, there is an account of two gang members…Victor Queen and his Uncle Kep Queen.
Vic was born in Arkansas September 5, 1871. While still an infant his family moved to the Lampasas area ofTexas. When he was old enough, he and his uncle rode off to join the Whitley-Brackett Gang. The account reports Kep remained an active member of the gang and participated in many of their robberies. But, it’s not known how long Vic remained with the gang. Suffice it to say, at some point he left the gang and went to New Mexico with his family.
Somewhere along the line around 1890 he became involved with a shady character named Martin M’Rose, a known cattle rustler who taught him the fine art of using a running iron. Their’s became known as the “Golden Ladder brand.” It became dreaded by cattlemen since its cross bar design made it relatively easy to change almost any other brand.
With profits rolling in M’Rose bought a ranch. For a while things ran smoothly. Then the New Mexico Livestock Association heard rumors they were running a shady operation and began poking around. The two “refined gentleman” sold out feeling it was time to move on to greener pastures and headed south to Mexico.
M’Rose’s wife contracted famed outlaw John Wesley Hardin, now practicing law to represent the two rustlers. However Hardin and M’Rose’s wife fell in love with each other. The two lovers left Mexico leaving M’Rose and Queen behind.
Meanwhile, back in New Mexico a trap was being set for the rustlers. When they tried to cross back into New Mexico, M’Rose was killed in a hail of gunfire. Vic managed to escape and made it into Eddy County.
Vic decided to give up his life of crime and turn over a new leaf. He settled down and got married to a Mollie Lockwood on January 2, 1904 and found work at a mining company in Silver City, New Mexico. Apparently, not everyone believed he was now on the straight and narrow.
He was ambushed on December 17, 1904 getting shot twice in the back and taking a shotgun blast to the stomach, which killed him.