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Kinch West

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Kinch West's name does not rank high on the list of infamous Texas outlaws, but he must have been quite a rounder in his younger days.

Born in 1842 either in Tennessee or Missouri (where he grew up), he fought as a Confederate guerilla during the Civil War. He claimed to have ridden with William C. Quantrill's raiders, which conferred the frontier equivalent of a doctor of philosophy in violence, but family researchers have not documented that. No matter who he rode with, West definitely lifted a gun in behalf of the South.

After the war, having fallen into the habit of riding when and where he wanted, doing whatever he wanted, and shooting whomever he wanted, he drifted into Texas. West quickly established a reputation as a bad man in Hill County, successfully dodging the Reconstruction-era Texas State Police in 1870.

When officers arrested two of his wife's brothers, West managed to waylay the lawmen and spring his in-laws. On another occasion in Hillsboro, West won a horse in a game of cards fair and square. But the fellow holding the losing hand had not come by the animal as honestly. Knowing West's reputation, when the horse's lawful owner came to recover his missing animal, he came armed. Rather than waste a lot of time talking things over West reportedly shot the man through a knothole in his door.

The Texas shooting may have been what inspired him to move to Kansas, where he spent some time in Greenwood City. In the early 1870s, until the railroad bypassed it, the place had a deserved notoriety. Writing about Greenwood for the Kansas State Historical Society in 1911, former resident Edwin Walters said the town had been "headquarters for cattlemen…cowboys and dozens of outlaws."

Among the rowdy set, he continued, were West, Jack Tedford, Bill Holliman, Vid Farr, "Leather Bill," "William the Innocent," and others. All of those men, apparently, had spent some time in the Lone Star State before finding it expedient to relocate without leaving forwarding addresses.

"While these gentlemen lingered on the classic banks of the Verdigris the Texas authorities were offering rewards for them," Walters continued. "At that time the reward for Kinch West was $10,000." (That's a little steep. Standard rewards of the day were usually less than a tenth of that, more often in the $100 to $200 range.)

One day, Walters recalled, Holliman approached him and asked, "Don't you shorthorns have what you call a Sunday school?"

Walters replied that they did, though the faithful gathered only infrequently. "Why don't you start one here?" Holliman asked.

"You boys would try to break it up," Walters remembered saying.

"Not much we wouldn't. I've talked it over with them," Holliman continued. "They think it's too damn bad that there ain't no place to go on Sunday. You start it and I'll come and Kinch West will come. We'll shoot the first man that misbehaves."

Well, Walters replied, if he started a Sunday school, they'd have to leave their six-shooters at home on the Sabbath.

"Can't do that," Holliman replied, "some marshal or detective might get the drop on us."

Walters finally relented, telling Holliman to collect "the boys" and show up for a little singing, praying and preaching at 3 p.m. the next Sunday.

"No," Holliman said, "let's have it in the forenoon. The boys will want to git drunk in the afternoon."

True to Holliman's word, West and other members of the local the rough set all showed up for Sunday school. Not only did they behave quite angelically, in singing from the hymnal they raised their surprisingly melodious voice to high heaven. The Sunday school continued to flourish long after its founding sinners had ridden on.

Walters said in his recollection that West's story came to a violent end five years after he left Greenwood when a Fort Worth police officer shot him to death as he resisted arrest. Might have been one of the outlaws Walters had met, but not Kinch West. Research by a descendant of West shows the outlaw died in bed of "consumption" (tuberculosis) on June 9, 1896 in Catoosa, Indian Territory.

An obituary published two days later in the Muskogee Phoenix said the 54-year-old West was "well known throughout this country and Texas as a daring man when in his younger years….His deadly aim had brought down several men, but he was never punished for it."

In time, the newspaper continued, West "had settled down on a farm in this nation, and spent the latter part of his life in a quiet, peaceable manner."

Maybe a little of his Kansas Sunday School learning had rubbed off on him after all.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
May 16, 2007 column

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