least-known outlaw, newspapers dubbed him "Kid" Murray.
By 1903, the Old West lived mostly in the imagination of people who
read dime novels or went to the new-fangled moving picture shows.
Still, the sense of frontier endured in some areas, particularly the
Though only the bones of buffalo littered the plains and the blue-clad
cavalry had ridden out of Fort Elliott in Wheeler County in 1892,
that part of Texas remained lightly settled in the first decade of
the 20th century. Crisscrossed with barbed wire, this vast grassland
had far more cattle than people.
An outlaw named Murray found those conditions to his liking. With
impunity, he stole horses and cattle from Panhandle ranchers. As angry
owners and frustrated lawmen began combing the country for the talented
rustler, he went on the lamb.
Eventually, a Wheeler County sheriff's deputy tracked him down, possibly
in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). During the pursuit, Murray shot
and wounded an officer, though a spare newspaper account printed downstate
in Austin offers no details. Unlike that other "Kid," one William
(Billy) Bonney, little is known about Kid Murray. But one thing stands
out, even more than a century after the exploits that got his name
in the newspapers: He was only 11 years old.
So who was "Kid" Murray? Obviously, he was a boy who grew up in a
hurry -- a child "man" enough to ride a horse, herd cattle and handle
a gun. He could have been an orphan, or an errant run away. Maybe
even a loving couple's son. The imagination presents numerous possibilities.
But the next several issues of the newspaper offer no follow up story,
leaving the questions unanswered.
At only 11, the "Kid" probably got a second chance. Many a captured
horse thief ended up dangling from a tree limb, but Texans were softer
on their young. Most parents did not spare the proverbial rod when
it came to disciplining their offspring, but few could abide the notion
of putting a kid behind bars with older hard cases.
As early as the 1850s, state lawmakers had realized that children
should not be treated the same as adult offenders. The Legislature
passed a statute exempting anyone under 13 from criminal prosecution
and approved a separate institution to house wayward children adjudicated
for delinquent conduct. But the sectional friction that turned into
the Civil War soon put matters of juvenile justice on the governmental
Some three decades went by before any further progress occurred in
Texas. Finally, understanding that it did little good to send a youthful
felon to the state prison in Huntsville,
in 1887 the Legislature passed a law creating the first juvenile rehabilitation
facility in the South. The House of Correction and Reformatory (later
better known as the Gatesville School for Boys) opened in Coryell
County in January 1889.
The "Kid" likely ended up in Gatesville,
though records from that era are sketchy and no paperwork proving
the disposition of his case has been located. It is known that as
of Aug. 31, 1904, Texas had 3,975 felons in custody, more than 700
of them younger than 20, and some under 15.
Did the system succeed in straightening "Kid" Murray up or did he
continue down a road that eventually led him to Huntsville or on a
last walk to the gallows? With such a common surname, his trail has
proven hard to find.
He would have been born in 1891 or 1892, meaning he easily could have
lived well into the 20th century, possibly into the 1970s or 1980s.
If he settled down, it was not in Wheeler County. On-line cemetery
records contain no deceased person named Murray who would have matched
Whoever he was, the "Kid" made history. As the short newspaper piece
touching on his crime and apprehension concluded, "He is believed
to be the most youthful criminal who has ever figured in the criminal
history of Texas."