As documentary records of Tascosa’s early history are sparse, establishing just how many men died violent deaths there is difficult. According to lawman Jim East, from 1880 to 1886—the four years he served as sheriff and the two years prior when Cape Willingham wore the badge—26 men were killed. Ella Sheets McDonald, a Tascosa resident in the mid-1880s, said there were 28 bodies in the cemetery, among them a woman and two babies, a lightning-strike victim named “Big Jim” Benson and Johnny Page, an alleged suicide. No markers exist for these last two, but not everyone killed in Tascosa was buried in Boot Hill.
In the fall of 1878, a young Mexican named Trujillo made slighting remarks about Texas, for which LX rider Henry Stevens shot him dead. At Salinas, a plazita near Tascosa, cowboy Al Westover was stabbed to death outside a dance hall. In the summer of 1879, cowboys decided to shoot up the home of an old Mexican, who “picked up his gun and killed two of them.” Around the same time, in Hogtown, a Mexican killed buffalo hunter Louis Keyes during a poker game and was killed in turn by one of Keyes’ pals. Then, over at Salinas, an American named Kincade got into an argument with one Guadalupe Circenos and was killed. Soon after, a man named Clark rode over to a Mexican sheep camp looking for trouble and found it, getting himself killed. Late that same busy year of 1879, Jack Long, a Lincoln County War veteran, won a stash in a card game at Trujillo, a plazita west of Tascosa. The saloon owners gave a Mexican $50 to kill Long, which he did the same night.
In 1881 a cowboy named Pat Dudley killed a boy working in a store at Trujillo. Why, no one knows. In July 1882, Deputy Sheriff Henry McCullough went down to Hogtown to arrest Mexican gambler Frank Largus, but as he walked into the saloon, Largus gut-shot him. McCullough managed to make it back to his shack but died a few days later. Mexican Frank skinned out, but Sheriff Willingham soon brought him in. It was later established that Charlie Donnelly, a close pal of town boss Jesse Jenkins, had given the gambler $10 to kill McCullough. The killer got a 21-year stint in Rusk Penitentiary. Some say McCullough was buried on Boot Hill, but there is no marker.
In March 1884, the Mexican community urged Sheriff East to appoint one of their own, David Martinez, as a deputy. East bluntly told them that if he did, the cowboys would kill Martinez. Still, he deputized the man. The very next night, David’s brother Guillermo got into an argument with Jesse Jenkins’ Hogtown bartender Gene Watkins and killed him. Jenkins then shot Guillermo, and two of his thugs killed the short-lived deputy, who had tried to help his brother.
That makes 15 dead men who never made it to Boot Hill. But plenty more did.
The March 1881 death of saloonkeeper Bob Russell prompted the establishment of Boot Hill. Russell’s wife, Lizzie, was a sight too fond of flirting with any cowboy she met. When storekeeper Jules Howard disapproved, Bob took offense (and a few shots of snake juice), strapped on his six-shooter and rode his horse into Howard’s store. Howard put three bullets into him; Russell’s one shot went into the ceiling. The embittered Lizzie buried her husband on a knoll west of town; beside it she erected a sturdy post Howard would see every time he stepped out of his store. And so was born the Tascosa version of Boot Hill. Legend says gambler Mickey McCormick suggested the tried-andtrue name. Russell occupies what is now Grave No. 7.
In the summer of 1881, Englishman Fred Leigh helped trail the first herd of cattle brought to the Texas Panhandle. When he rode into Tascosa with his cowboy pals on August 8, Leigh shot at some ducks playing in a ditch, frightening a woman bystander. Willingham demanded his weapon, but Leigh told the sheriff, “You will not get this gun from me unless you take it out of cold hands.” The unarmed Willingham backed off, and Leigh and company rode for the saloon, laughing all the way. But the sheriff had other ideas. He fetched a shotgun from Howard and McMasters store and came around the building to confront the cowboys. When Leigh made the mistake of going for his gun, the no-nonsense sheriff blew him out of the saddle.
At the same time, Tascosa Marshal Henry Brown stepped into view, backed up by Jim McMasters, Henry Kimball, Marion Armstrong and Ike Rinehart, all armed with Winchesters. Whipsawed, Leigh’s pals fogged it out of town. The dead man was buried the same day (Grave No. 6), “the second one whiskey had sent to Boot Hill.”
Late in 1882, a cowboy calling himself Bill Gibson (actually Frank Norwood) drank, danced, dined and flashed money in Jenkins and Donnelly’s Hogtown saloon. Bartender Johnny Maley persuaded broken blossom Sally Emory to invite Gibson to sleep it off in her cabin. Gibson took her up on the offer. Maley then headed to the cabin, where he shot the cowboy dead and took his money. In the absence of any proof, Maley and Emory escaped legal punishment. What the pair didn’t know was that Gibson’s brother, Ed Norwood, worked on the LE Ranch. On Friday, March 9, 1883, Norwood rode into Hogtown and proceeded to duplicate his brother’s reckless behavior, even persuading Sally Emory to let him occupy her bed. When Maley failed to show up, Norwood returned to the dance hall and shot the bartender through the heart. Norwood/Gibson occupies Grave No. 10, with John Maley right next door at No. 11.
In March 1886, Tascosa’s big shootout put four men in Boot Hill—innocent bystander Jesse Sheets (Grave No. 1, though his body was reburied in Roswell, N.M., in 1929) and LS men Ed King (Grave No. 3), Frank Valley (Grave, No. 4) and Fred Chilton (Grave No. 5). The next fatality, though, was accidental. On July 25, 1886, Tascosa’s Mexican population celebrated El Día de Santiago, and some of the young men played gallo, or chicken. The game called for a rooster to be buried up to its neck and each mounted participant, one after another, to ride past trying to grab the exposed head. If someone managed to jerk the rooster out of the ground, which typically broke its neck, he galloped off with the prize while the others gave chase. In one race this particular Sunday, Bacilio Sanches’ horse fell, rolling over on its rider, leaving him with a fractured skull and internal injuries. He was buried the next morning (Grave No. 9), one of the few internees not to have died of “lead poisoning.”
At about 2 o’clock on the morning of June 22, 1887, two teamsters told a drowsy Dutchman in the back of the Cone & Duran store he could sleep in a corner of the corral. John Gough, the Catfish Kid, soon arrived and, seeing a golden opportunity, the Catfish Kid shot the Dutchman, later identified as Pete Fulton, and “rolled” him for his money. The killer slunk off to Jesse Jenkins’ cabin but then, on Jenkins’ advice, surrendered to Sheriff Tobe Robinson, who put him in jail. When the grand jury handed down its indictment, the foreman announced: “Gentlemen of the jury, if the petit jury fails to convict this man, we’ll take him out and hang him. Every man that will help me in this, rise.” All stood. The Catfish Kid was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to 16 years at Huntsville Penitentiary, where he died of tuberculosis on January 28, 1890. Fulton, the Dutchman, rests in Grave No. 8.
Little to nothing is known of the others buried in Boot Hill, who are: Ruben Juice (Grave No. 12); Apple Ax, a cook’s helper (No. 13); Bill Smith (No. 14); Overton Bounds (No. 15); Ralph Ledbetter (No. 16); Jim Jones (No. 17); Bill Klim (No. 18); Carl Yowell (No. 19); Bob Luker (No. 20); an unknown woman and two children, thought to have died of smallpox (Nos. 21, 22 and 23); Hugh Dickey (No. 24); George Findley (No. 25); Ed Morgan (No. 26); and Bobby Hughes (No. 27). No. 2 is listed as John Leverton, but he was not buried in Boot Hill. Requiescat in pace.
Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.