Sterling County Sheriff S.T. Wood twisted a little more wax on his handlebar mustache
and leaned back comfortably in his captain’s chair.|
That hot afternoon
in June 1906 he might have been thinking about catching a short nap. Nothing much
had been going on of late, and seldom did anything go on in the sparsely populated
West Texas county.
Then the telephone rang.
Picking up the earpiece,
the lawman heard one of his constituents shout into the receiver of his ranch
“Sheriff, somebody’s made off with my Sunday coat.”
any good peace officer, Wood made note of what the complainant reported missing.
Then, again like most good lawmen, the sheriff promised to see what he could do.
Forgetting his nap, Wood walked over to the livery stable to saddle his horse.
The following saga of the Old West could have been lost to history, crowded out
by Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Sam Bass and others, had it not been for
an enterprising reporter in Garden City, the county’s second community. Like most
journalists, he sometimes could have been correctly accused of making something
big out of something little – especially on a slow news day.
that appeared concerning the Case of the Missing Coat made page-one news in volume
one, number one of the Garden City Gazette, a weekly then published and edited
by J. Marvin Hunter.
Four decks of type touted the tale:
Sterling County Chase|
Sheriff Has a Merry Race
After Two Young Men
Wanted for Theft of Clothing
Dropped Their Booty
Made Good Their
Fences No Obstacle to Their Flight. Closely Pursued.
story, with true names omitted, begins:|
“[John Doe], who lives near Garden
City, had missed his Sunday coat and vest from the ranch house, and [name omitted],
who lives on [Blank] Ranch, had also missed a hat and a pair of valuable spurs
from the ranch house, and having suspicion that [names omitted] had gotten them,
he phoned Sheriff Wood to look out for them.”
The story continues, reporting
that “the gents came to town” and that the sheriff “requested an interview with
them to which they consented, but made some excuse and rode off toward the river,
where they were followed by the sheriff who saw them emerging from under a bluff.”
caught them, searched them and found nothing of the missing articles. Having no
reason to further detain them, the lawman allowed them to go on their way.
Wood believed in putting in a day’s work for the taxpayers, so long as there was
work to do. Not satisfied with their story, Wood returned to where he had first
seen the suspected garment heisters. There, much to his consternation, he saw
a vest floating in the river.
Looking around along the river bank, he discovered
a coat with a hat wrapped up in it.
Leather creaked as the lawman mounted
his horse and galloped off in the cloud of clods and dust, the late frontier equivalent
of Code 3.
According to the Gazette story, the coat culprits could be
seen in the distance “making tracks for San Angelo.”
They rode down a lane
at a fast pace, passing through a gate into another ranch pasture.
this time the sheriff was pressing them hard,” the story continued.
Wood gained on them, the pair crossed a stream and disappeared into thick brush.
this time, several ranchers had come to the aid of the sheriff. The posse stayed
on the trail, cutting their quarry off at the proverbial pass, the pursuers surprising
the thieves when they rode into a clearing. That’s when the real chase began,
spurs pressing into horseflesh in an early 20th century version of “World’s Scariest
“No one threw off,” the newspaper account continued. “For
more than a mile it was nip and tuck as to who would win, but [the suspects] having
about 300 yards the start, won out and made their escape in the brush, and they
have not been seen since.”
Even so, all was not lost. The crime victims
got most of their property back (whether the missing spurs turned up went unmentioned)
and Wood could count on at least two votes for the rest of his tenure as Sterling