Vigilantes were the law in frontier townsby
military post of Fort Griffin was established by the U.S. Army in July 1867 along
the banks of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Named for General Charles Griffin,
the site was deemed necessary to protect settlers from Indians and several outlaw
bands operating in the area. |
Later, it also served as a supply depot for
the southern expeditions sent to the Great Plains during the Red River wars.
With the huge southern herd of buffalo ranging in the area, the new garrison gave
protection to large numbers of hunters migrating down from Kansas where the Republican
herd had been decimated. Proceeds from sales of hide and meat hunting, the garrison
payroll of Fort Griffin and additional money spent by trail herds moving north
to Kansas brought gamblers, criminals, shady ladies and bunko artists by the droves
into the new town.
This so-called civilization settled in a nearby ramshackle
town called "The Flats" made up
almost entirely of saloons and bordellos. Many occupants lived in tents and dugouts
and every form of lawlessness known existed within its city limits.
military had no jurisdiction over civilians and there was simply no law available
because the town was not organized enough to collect taxes for salaries for lawmen.
Crime ran rampant, and citizens finally saw something had to be done.
As happened in so many lawless boom towns of the West, the only answer seemed
to be a citizen's committee to take control. No matter the title, all were eventually
called vigilantes. In Fort Griffin, the violence grew to the extent a vigilante
group called the OLM, or Old Law Mob, was formed. The group's members met, made
up a list of the undesirables, posted it in saloons, told those on the list to
leave town or suffer the consequences. After a short waiting period those listed
and still in town were simply captured, shot to death or hung from the nearest
tree with the letters "OLM" printed on the bodies for all to see.
crime rates dropped drastically and calm reigned. Suddenly, almost overnight it
seemed, the buffalo herds were gone, the Indians were forced to leave to hunt
food, which left little for the military to do. A railroad came to the area bypassing
Fort Griffin many miles to the south and the trail herds now diverted to new loading
pens in Abilene.
|The military closed
the fort, selling the premises to the public. The good citizens of the town worked
hard but failed in their bid to become a county seat of the newly formed county.
Slowly but surely, the old boom town faded away, with the last store closing in
1950. Today, only foundations and ruins remain of this once-rowdy metropolis,
home to the unlawful element of the Texas frontier. |
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" July 14, 2008 Column
Flat, AKA Fort Griffin, Texas
Herd by Linda Kirkpatrick