1897, when a Texas peace officer needed to go somewhere to do his
job, he walked, rode a horse, went in a wagon or took a train.
The image that has endured, of course, is of a rough, tough lawman
galloping after miscreants and felons on the back of a strong, fast
horse. But a horse had to be fed and cared for. It had to be saddled
and couldn't go much farther than 30 miles a day. And snorts and hoofbeats
made it a challenge to sneak up on someone.
deputy sheriff Josh Messenger turned to a state-of-the art form of
transportation in the performance of his duties - he began using a
two-wheeled bicycle. The incident that really sold Messenger on the
value of a bike started with the receipt one night of a telegram from
a railroad stop 12 miles from Sherman,
the county seat. The message reported a shooting incident, but provided
no useful details.
Getting to the scene would have taken at least half a day by horse,
longer by wagon. A train would have been faster, but in this instance,
the scheduling wasn't right. So Messenger hopped on his bike and pedaled
in the moonlight to Southmayd
via what he called "the wagon road."
Once on the scene, he gathered what information he could, including
a general description of the at-large shooter. On his return, he stopped
at a water hole at about the half-way point, thinking of taking a
little time from his official duties to see if any ducks or geese
were on the water.
That's when he noticed a light inside an old shack near the pond.
Slipping up to the structure, he looked through a crack in the boards
and saw a tough-looking character cooking a meal.
The concept of probable cause not being such a fine point of the law
in 1897, the deputy drew his six-shooter and went in to talk to the
stranger. The man did not own up to the Southmayd
shooting, but Messenger considered him the likely suspect. For the
time being, that did not make any difference, because the man had
a gun. That was a violation of the law suitable for a trip to jail.
Messenger disarmed the man and told him he was taking him in. "After
some little argument," Messenger later related, "I persuaded him to
get up behind me on the step of the bicycle."
After they had ridden in silence for a while, the prisoner began to
"You seem to be a sort of an expert with a bicycle," the man said,
"but how do you know I may not be just as good as you myself? My thigh
[is] pressing against your six-shooter, but what is there to prevent
me from taking it away from you, and then riding off on your wheel?"
Messenger laughed and said he didn't reckon the man would try a stunt
Just then, the deputy felt the man make "some peculiar kind of motion."
He did not know if his prisoner was kidding around or meant business,
but he did not take time to find out. He wasn't even sure if the man
behind him knew.
"The first thing he really did know," Messenger continued, "he was
crawling out from under a barbed wire fence, and was looking up the
barrel of a big...six-shooter...and me at the other end."
The rest of the trip to the jail was uneventful.