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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"


by Clay Coppedge
Life ain't easy for a man named Pink, or so you would think. But if you're talking about Pink Higgins you might look at it another way. There is no record of anybody making fun of Pink Higgins.

John Pinckney Calhoun Higgins - known to friends, enemies, legend and lore as Pink Higgins - grew up in Lampasas County when that part of the country constituted the western frontier, when danger lurked every which way. He learned to rope and ride and be handy with a gun. All three skills, especially the gun part, would come in handy in his adult life. Pink began driving cattle herds north in the mid 1860s until the 1880s when railroads and fences put an end to that particular vocation.

He would later wander north to the Spur Ranch in the Texas Panhandle where he was hired to eliminate cattle rustling on the ranch, a task he carried out with extreme prejudice, as the saying goes.

Pink lived out the rest of his life in Kent County, where he established a farm and ranch that was remarkably free of cattle rustlers. After a time, the Panhandle was free of another Lampasas native, Bill Standifer. More about that later.

Once, shown a list of the 14 men he is said to have killed, Higgins said, "I didn't kill all of them men - but then again, I got some that wasn't on the bill, so I guess it just about evens up."

Higgins first became known as a gunfighter during the notorious Horrell-Higgins Feud in Lampasas County in the 1870s. The Horrell and Higgins' families were both early settlers of Lampasas County and were close friends for a time, but that time passed, beginning in May of 1876 when Pink found one of his calves tied to a tree on the public square in Lampasas.

Pink hadn't tied the calf there so he set about finding who did. He was told that one Merritt Horrell had sold the calf to Jim Grizzel, a relative of the Horrells and owner of a meat market on the square. Higgins had a warrant sworn out for Merritt Howell but a jury would find him not guilty. Higgins lost faith in juries at that point and assured Horrell that a repeat of the incident would not require the services of a jury.

That turned out to be the case in January of 1877 when some of Higgins' cattle ended up in Horrell's possession.

Higgins, along with Bob Mitchell and Sam Hess, took the matter to trial two days later when they walked into the Gem Saloon in downtown Lampasas. Higgins, with his trusty Winchester rifle in tow, filed his opening and closing arguments in the case by shooting Horrell four times.

In Higgins mind, this closed out the punishment phase of the trial.

A couple of Horrell brothers and two other men formed a posse and arrested four known Higgins associates, but Pink himself was nowhere to be found.

In March of the 1877, Tom and Mart Horrell were on their way to court for reasons that are unclear but were ambushed along the way at a place on the old Belton Road that would come to be known as Battle Creek.

Captain Sparks and a company of Texas Rangers just happened to be in town at the time. They formed a search party for the men responsible for the ambush, but little came of it.

Later, Pink Higgins surrendered to stand trial for the murder of Merritt Howell. This was seen as a bright spot in what had become a bloody and spreading feud. The Lampasas Dispatch noted "we are all civil now, nobody having been killed in a week or more." (Higgins would later be acquitted of the murder charge.)

In June of 1877 somebody - no idea who - broke into the Lampasas County Courthouse. Every scrap of paper pertaining to various charges against the feudists simply disappeared.

Not so with the Higgins and Horrells factions. Each had the misfortune to be in town at the same time on Sunday, June 11. The ensuing gun battle in downtown Lampasas left two people dead. The Horrell faction ended up in a nigh impenetrable rock building on the west side of the square.

Cooler heads, along with the Texas Rangers, persuaded both factions to call it quits for a day.

A detachment of Rangers later surprised the Horrells while they were sleeping and arrested them. Even so, no one was looking forward to another court date, when Pink Higgins and his bunch would know exactly where the Horrells would be and at what time they would be there.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the saga was the way it ended. Both sides signed papers agreeing to end the bloodshed. More remarkably, both sides kept their respective ends of the deal.

Truth be told, the feud officially ended the next year when Tom and Mart Horrell, suspected of complicity in the murder of a storekeeper in Bosque County, were shot to death by vigilantes in the Meridian jail.

Higgins made his way to the Spur Ranch in the Texas Panhandle where, for a time, he partnered with Jefferson Davis Hardin, the younger brother of John Wesley Hardin, as a stock detective, or protection man as they were known. (The younger Hardin would later carry on a family tradition of getting shot to death.)

In the Panhandle, Higgins ran afoul of Bill Standifer, another range detective who was likewise pretty handy with a gun. Standifer, a Lampasas County native like Higgins, might have been connected to the Horrell clan through his stepmother.

Whatever the cause, two men had a falling out that proved to be fatal when they rode up on each other, both armed, and Higgins shot Standifer to death. That killing closed out the most violent part of Pink Higgins life. He died of a heart attack at either the age of 52 or 55, depending on which source you believe.

Pink Higgins' two sons grew up to be respected lawyers.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" September 19, 2007 Column

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