before she died, Julia Collins gave her son Bob a leather-bound book that had
belonged to her mother and before that, his grandfather Emery S. Hughes.
few years back, Bob Collins let me look through the book, which he later donated
to a museum.
Labeled “Horse Record – Hughes Bros.” the book contains hand
written records of horses sold and traded by two brothers who owned a 76-acre
spread in the vicinity of Liberty Hill on the Travis-Williamson County line. They
called it the Long Hollow Ranch and their brand was the Running H.
first entry in the ledger, dated Jan. 7, 1879, notes that the brothers had acquired
$160 worth of horses. They conveyed those horses in Cheyenne, Wyo. for cash and
four horses they listed as being worth $250. In other words, at least according
to their paperwork, the brothers had realized a $90 profit on their investment.
business has its hazards. On a couple of occasions, the book notes, wolves killed
some of their colts.
At some point in August 1883 – neither brother noted
the day of the month – parties unknown stole 16 of their horses. The remuda had
been purchased on Nov. 11, 1882 for $15. Judging by their first transaction, the
brothers knew their horses – and the fine art of horse-trading. Doubtless, those
horses were worth more than $15.
The brothers dissolved their partnership
on July 18, 1885, but the 30-year-old older brother continued in the horse business.
His name was John R. Hughes.
One morning in the spring of 1886, he arose
to discover that someone had stolen another bunch of his horses. Among the missing
animals was Moscow, his prized stallion. Losing one string of horses to thieves
was bad enough, but losing two was intolerable.
More than a little annoyed,
Hughes struck a deal with his neighbors. If they would look after his property
while he was gone, he would see if he could locate their missing horseflesh. On
May 4, about two weeks after the crime, Hughes saddled up his best remaining horse
and took up the thieves’ trail. The pursuit went all the way to New Mexico.
weeks short of a year later, Hughes returned to Williamson County leading his
recovered stock. The exact date is not noted in the book, nor are the circumstances
of the recovery.
“I…got all my horses back and a lot of my neighbor’s horses,”
he would recall years later. “The band of [horse thieves] was all broken up. Two
of them were…sent to the New Mexico penitentiary.”
What Hughes failed
to mention is that he had shot and killed three of the thieves, leaving the two
survivors to stand trial.
came back to Texas, hung his six-shooter on a peg
in his ranch house and “went about attending to my stock.”
the younger rancher, a friend of one of the horse thieves Hughes had permanently
reformed had ridden to Texas seeking revenge. But
when the man arrived at Hughes’ ranch one day in the summer of 1887 with the intention
of killing him, Hughes wasn’t there. Also unknown to Hughes was that a Texas Ranger
had been on the man’s trail with a murder warrant in connection with some other
Ranger Ira Aten happened to ride up on the wanted man at Hughes’
ranch and a gunfight ensued. Western movie-like but more probably by accident,
the ranger shot the pistol out of the outlaw’s hand. Disarmed, the man wheeled
his horse and escaped. When Hughes showed back up at his place, Aten asked him
to help catch the man.
weeks later, Aten and Hughes located the fugitive.
later said, “he would not surrender and was killed. His friends were so annoying
to me that I could not go without arms, so the ranger persuaded me to enlist in
the company with him.”
That happened on Aug. 10, 1887 in Georgetown.
Hughes had not planned on staying in the Rangers for more than a few months, but
law enforcement agreed with him. He ended up serving 27 years, finally leaving
the service in 1915 as one of its most respected captains.
Hughes did not use his six-gun to solve every problem he encountered, but that’s
the way he chose to end his life. Ninety-two and living with relatives in Austin,
he committed suicide with his trusty pearl-handled .45 on June 3, 1947.
his old friend Ira Aten heard the news, he wrote: “Oh, why did he want to leave
this beautiful world.”
© Mike Cox
8, 2009 column