year was 1883 and Howard
County, Texas had just been organized the year before. Big
Spring was designated the county seat. A few years before, in
Kent, England, Joseph Heneage Finch, the Seventh Earl of Aylesford
had "encountered embarrassing domestic difficulties" which is a
nice way of saying his wife was having an affair. It had something
to do with footprints in the snow leading to her bedroom window.
It's hard to come up with an explanation for that.
In 1883 Texas qualified as one of the ends of the earth, which is
exactly where the Earl wanted to go. When he got to New York, he
heard there was good hunting in Texas. Jay Gould, the railroad magnate
encouraged him to head further West on Gould's Texas and Pacific
Railroad. He took it to the end of the line, which at that time
City. It was there he looked up John Birdwell, former
Texas Ranger, hunting guide and proprietor of the Lone Wolf Saloon.
He later moseyed over to Big
Spring. He was determined to forget Lady What's-Her-Name, and
this looked like the perfect place to do it.
The Earl arrived with a "carload" of horses, dogs, English saddles,
riding togs, two brothers, one valet and probably a few cases of
Worchester sauce. He was a little dismayed to find that there were
no foxes to hunt, so he made do with antelopes and coyotes. The
Earl had hunted tigers in India (from elephant-back, no less) with
his boon companion Albert, Prince of Wales.
The Earl's adventures in Big
Springs (as it was then called) have become legendary. While
there has been some embellishment over the years, the legends were
nearly all rooted in fact. A few follow:
An Earl and his money are soon popular.
The West, known for its democratic ways, wasn't too impressed with
the Earl's title. They called him Judge, which was as far as they
were willing to go. It is said that John Birdwell was first to call
the Earl Judge. The "Judge" was trying to scrape by on only $50,000
per year, which meant that the locals could afford to be nice to
the man. He quickly became known for picking up the tab at drinking
parties. The town had drinking parties before the Earl arrived,
but his generosity certainly increased attendance.
"Mutton - it's what's for dinner."
Since he brought his own personal butcher with him, he set the man
up in a proper butcher shop. From the Texas point of view, the Earl
had some pretty disgusting eating habits, the primary one being
a taste for sheep. The shop was the first masonry building in Big
Spring and still stands today at 121 Main Street.
For a few dollars more they threw in the towels
He did buy a hotel (The Cosmopolitan) for his initial lodging. This
story sometimes gets confused with Conrad Hilton's purchase of the
hotel in Cisco.
The transaction was a little sticky, since the woman who sold the
hotel had just purchased it herself. The previous owner still claimed
all the furnishings.
He was English, but he lived in a House of Bourbon.
He lived on his ranch, about 12 miles outside of town. Witnesses
told of a pile of whiskey bottles "as big as a haystack." There
were beer bottles too, but the ratio was reported to be three of
whisky for every one of beer.
Please let yourselves out.
On January 13, 1885, the Earl left Big
Spring (and this world) with traditional British understatement.
While playing cards at his room in the Cosmopolitan Hotel he excused
himself by saying "Goodbye, Boys." He then climbed into bed and
after pulling a blanket up to his chin, he died.
Hard drinking makes hard livers.
Since the Earl's body was to be sent back to England, the doctor
who prepared the remains for shipment removed the viscera. He described
the liver as being not unlike a rock. At the time of his death,
the Earl was only 36 years old.
© John Troesser
Howard County in the Making by John R. Hutto, 1938 and
Getting Started by Joe Pickle, 1980