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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Tragedy of
Rance Moore

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Shot through his kidneys, as Rance Moore lay dying, it's not hard to imagine that he almost looked forward to it. Not so much to end his agony, but in atonement for what he had done eight years earlier.

Moore first came to the Texas Hill Country during the Civil War. Living in Milam County when the rebellion began in 1861, about a year later Moore enlisted in state service to protect the frontier from hostile Indians. Originally considered more of a military force, the men who guarded the far settlements during the war between the states are today generally regarded as Texas Rangers. While they conducted regular patrols and had a military style command structure, they wore no uniforms and furnished their own weapons and mounts.

Scouting the Edwards Plateau, Moore liked the land he saw. Later, in what is now Kimble County, he bought some acreage along Bear Creek. Despite the ongoing Indian threat, after his enlistment, Moore moved his family to his new property in West Texas. With a wife and six children, he raised cattle and most of the food his family needed. What couldn't be grown could be harvested with a rifle or a baited hook dropped in the creek.

An assortment of friends joined the Moore family along or near Bear Creek. More settlers gave a heightened sense of safety, but more horses, cattle and people made for a more attractive target for raiding Comanches and Kiowas. Depredations increased to the point that in 1867, for their safety Moore decided to move his family to Mason County.

Still, his new home still lay on the on the edge of the frontier.

On the night of February 5, a noise from the stable awakened Moore. His horses sounded agitated. It could be wolves or a mountain lion, but the former ranger thought it more likely that Indians were trying to make off with his stock. Grabbing his rifle, Moore looked out into the dark.

At first he saw nothing. But as his eyes adjusted, he made out a human silhouette standing near the corral, an Indian. Squeezing the trigger, Moore put a rifle ball in the center of the Indian's chest and the figure toppled to the ground.

As he stood grimly waiting for more Indians to appear, he realized something wasn't right. No arrows or bullets flew in his direction. No cries of mourning came from the dead Indian's fellow warriors.

Rushing outside, Moore found to his horror that he had just killed his teenage son, Danie. The boy would have turned 15 on February 10.

Why the youngster had ventured outside while everyone else in their cabin slept was not explained in the primary recounting of this story. Of course, the reason would have meant nothing to Moore. What mattered, and would remain with him like a festering, embedded iron arrowhead, was that he had mistakenly shot down his own flesh and blood.

The boy's simple and misspelled grave marker, carved into local stone, makes no mention of the heartbreaking circumstances of his death:

"Danie More, Son of Permelia And Rance More.
"Born February 10, 1852-Died Feb. 5, 1867"

The grieving family moved back to their Bear Creek ranch in Kimble County not long after the tragedy. They stayed there until 1873 when Moore had an opportunity to sell the place along with all his cattle. Using the profit from that transaction, he acquired a tract of irrigated farm land on a fork of the Llano River.

While Moore did well as a farmer, the change of location did nothing to alleviate the enduring pain he lived with. After about a year, Moore sold out and moved again, this time to a place on Saline Creek.

Salt in the unhealed wound for Moore was another harsh reality: Indians continued to prey on the people living in Texas's western-most counties. Two days before Christmas in 1874, nine warriors swept down on Moore's ranch and herded away several head of horses.

Knowing that a company of Rangers were camped only five miles from his ranch, Moore dispatched one of his other sons to alert the state lawmen. Under command of Capt. Dan Roberts, the rangers followed the Indian's trail up Saline Creek but never encountered the raiders or recovered the stolen horses.

By 1875, the Rangers and U.S. Cavalry had finally made serious inroads on the Indian problem in West Texas. Meanwhile, Moore continued to have to make a living for his family. He made a deal with two men named Jim Mason and Henry Sharp to brand his calves and otherwise manage his cattle. In the fall of that year, they settled up and Moore got ready to drive his share of the herd to market.

In the process, Moore and Mason had a profanity-laced disagreement over some of Moore's camp equipment that Mason and Sharp had used. They men eventually parted company and Moore thought the matter over.

However, on December 12, Mason and one Wes Johnson showed up at Moore's place. While warming their hands at the fireplace, Mason vented over the earlier incident as Moore heard him out. Finally appearing to be satisfied, Mason walked outside.

The unarmed Moore followed and the argument rekindled. Accounts of how things unfolded varied, but Mason shot and mortally wounded Moore. His family buried in him in the Koocksville Cemetery next to the son he had mistakenly killed.

Johnson ended up spending four years in prison following his conviction as an accomplice in the killing. Mason was indicted for murder but never found.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" June 7 , 2018

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