Pale Horse Revelations #29: The Horrell-Higgens Feud
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.
This week we'll pick up where last week's edition of Pale Horse Revelations left off by continuing our exploration of the murderous Horrell brothers. In the aftermath of their ethnically motivated killing spree in Lincoln County, New Mexico, the brothers realized that they had overstayed their welcome. So, they decided to return home to Lampasas, Texas, no doubt expecting a warm welcome.
Instead, they quickly found themselves at odds with a local rancher by the name of John "Pink" Higgens. Higgens was, himself, an interesting character, and we'll delve deeper into his story next week. What is pertinent to this week's entry is that he spent much of his youth working as a cowboy in Texas and during that time was involved in a number of skirmishes with hostile Native Americans, as well as the hanging of several cattle rustlers. By the time the Horrell brothers returned to Lampasas Higgens had become an active member of the Law-and-Order League, and organization dedicated to battling horse and cattle thieves.
The feud with the Horrell family began when Higgens swore out a warrant against the Horrell brothers for the rustling of his cattle. The brothers were arrested and stood trial. Due primarily to the fact that the case was heard by a local jury, the brothers were acquitted. Needless to say, this did not sit well with Higgens.
Hard feelings would eventually boil over into violence, launching the feud in earnest. On January 22, 1877, Merritt Horrell and John Higgens, both found themselves in Wiley and Toland's Gem Saloon. Horrell began to goad Higgens over his family's acquittal. A gunfight erupted between the two and Higgens killed Merritt Horrell. The surviving Horrell brothers soon made it known around town that they intended to retaliate not just against Higgens but his brother-in-law Bob Mitchell and friend, Bill Wren, as well.
On March 26, 1877, Tom and Mart Horrell were ambushed outside of Lampasas. Both men were wounded but survived. Although Higgens was implicated in the ambush, it could never be proven. By May of 1877 Higgens and Bob Mitchell were being sought by the law for the killing of Merritt Horrell. The two turned themselves into Texas Ranger John Stark, who had captured the notorious gunman Ben Thompson a year earlier. Higgens and Mitchell quickly posted bond and were released. The killing of Merritt Horrell was eventually ruled a case of self-defense.
Things came to a head on June 7, 1877. That day Higgens rode into Lampasas with Mitchell, Wren, brothers-in-law Frank Mitchell (Bob's brother) and Ben Terry. There they encountered the Horrell brothers, along with several friends, gathered in the town square. No one is certain who fired the first shot, but it is believed that someone within the Horrell faction opened fire on the Higgens group. When the gun smoke cleared three men lay dead, and another was wounded. On the Higgens side Bill Wren was wounded and Frank Mitchell was killed. Two members of the Horrell faction, Buck Waltrip and Carson Graham were also killed in the gunfight.
All three Horrell Bothers were arrested and Texas Ranger, Major John B. Jones, became the mediator between the remaining faction members. Not quite a year later Mart and Tom Horrell were arrested in Merridian, Texas and charged with armed robbery and murder. While being held in the local jail a group of vigilantes broke into the jail and killed both men. Many speculated that Higgens had instigated the murders, but once again his involvement could not be proven.
With Sam Horrell left as the only surviving member of his family, the feud came to a sudden end. Sam moved his family to Oregon in 1882 and eventually made his way to California. There, he lived a peaceful life until his death in 1932. Higgens, on the other hand, was just getting started. He would go on to be involved in numerous gunfights and establish himself as a Bonafide gunfighter. But that's a story for another day.
This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week to learn more about John Higgens. As always, thank you for your continued interest and support.